Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Whatever is good - Part 1

The last week offered me multiple chances to consider the issue of good works in new light -- I am coming to the conclusion that this issue needs more light shined on it, especially in the Reformed church.

So first, a question right off -- please consider what comes to mind when you first hear it:

Why do good works?

The types of responses to this question are varied, not only because there are different issues involved, but also because there are drastically different perspectives to be taken.

First you can just be a religious person (as opposed to a Christian), or someone who has every intention of living a "good life." They may succeed or they may not, depending on what standard of good you are using. So the Buddhist and Hindu and Muslim all base what passes for justification on how they conduct themselves and what they accomplish here on earth.

Moving (theoretically) toward the truth, we have those who take the name of Christ, yet still base their justification on the work of their hands -- this may be in the form of Pelagianism (no original sin, Christ's death an example of love), Roman Catholicism (faith plus works) or Arminianism (salvation is conditional upon continued faith). Naturally, these all tend to have a sense of works righteousness, wherein man has something contributable to his ultimate justification.

And then you have the Reformed Calvinist doctrine which preaches total depravity plus unconditional election. Good works? Sounds like there is no room, I suppose. But then, scripture never asked us to earn our way into heaven -- We still perform good works, says the Heidelberg...

"Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ." -- Lord's Day 32 (Q/A 86)

So there we have it: four reasons all rolled up in and around the fact that none of them are designed to earn justification.

So now the puzzling question: do you and I look forward to greater blessing in heaven among God's elect (still freely justified by grace through faith), as those who pursue good works. This was a point raised at a conference I attended over the weekend regarding our final glorified state -- the answer is yes and no (from what I gathered from our speaker): we will, no matter what, as sons and heirs to eternal life, be equally filled with heaven's blessings -- that said, we can conceivably enter God's presence with differing capacity for blessing. If, for example, God has used us to bring someone into the Kingdom, this should indeed count for something.

One must ask themselves if we truly understand what scripture means when it speaks of a "reward." We usually deign to know what it does NOT mean, just like we know "running the race" doesn't mean running a time-trial against other believers. But what is the best way to view this reward, and coupling it with the aforementioned, "capacity" to be blessed, is there a minor element of good works that we overlook to our loss, something which we are free to employ as a motivator to good deeds, without it becoming a means of earning our salvation?

What do you think?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Old friends and new

Thanks for coming around Jason. It was good to meet you Sandy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


(My contribution this week's Tribune editorial)

Once upon a time there was a family who loved a blockhead unconditionally. They poured all sorts of time and energy into him -- so much more than he deserved -- and God used them in even greater ways than they realize. In other words, I’m thankful for my family and church and all the ways they have pushed me to grow. Above all, I am thankful for my heavenly Father who works all things together for good to those that love Him.

I’m thankful for real people with real problems and for the opportunity to return good for evil.

I’m thankful for the little things like rich coffee, hearty fellowship, blank paper, a comfortable pen, a savory scotch ale now and then and four-part harmony.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Hockey on the rocks

Wandering up the stairs to the Everett Event Center, last Wednesday, I contemplated the step before me -- a simple game of Hockey. I had been told it would be a good first experience.

Whether I believed that or not about the game between the Chilliwack Bruins and the Everett Silvertips, I was committed to giving it a fair hearing. It helped that I was bribed by the promise of a free ticket (thanks Casey).

I even told those with me that I would behave and root for the home team -- which didn’t help because our group had divided loyalties between the two teams.

So the game was intense -- or that’s what they told me as I watched the puck get swatted from one end to the other for the duration of the first and second periods. Half way into the third period the puck somehow ended up in the Bruins net. Hey, that’s good -- something to get excited about.

Feeling a bit for the Bruins fans with us, I tried to cheer them up -- to no avail. The hard lines of despair were already beginning to etch themselves on their faces. I returned to my seat, troubled by their seriousness.

Finally, just before the end of the period, the Bruins fought back and scored. The next thing I knew, what should have been a forth period was being called overtime. I guess that’s why they call it a “period” -- a “third” would sound like you were talking about the minimum number of beers it takes to stay fully engaged in the game.

Perhaps hockey officials got so tired of low-scoring ties, that they decided to shorten the game and call the last quarter “overtime.”

Even though hockey overtime is sudden death, no one scored, sending the game into a shoot out. After Bruins won, deflating the home crowd, the Bruins fans proceeded to make absurd statements like “I knew they were going to win,” and “The Bruins dominated from the beginning.”

I only have two other complaints besides what I have scattered throughout my narrative. First, those uniforms stink. I tried to piece them together in my mind during the game and realized they were wearing shorts over top of what looked like winter underwear. I’ve only known one person to wear his clothes in that configuration, and most people described him with one word: goofy.

The other complaint is the way the game affects cross-border relations. If ever a game had foreign policy implications, hockey would be the one.

First, Canadians claim the game as their own. They play hockey and anyone who doesn’t appreciate it as much as they do should get used to the idea of hate mail (to quote a “true Canadian” friend of mine).

Americans have always played hockey too. But to a “true Canadian,” American players seem to be viewed as the annoying little brother that won’t stop asking if he can play with the big boys.

The only problem with this picture is that a Canadian city has not brought home a Stanley Cup since Montreal in 1993. Granted, it seems like most of these winning “American” teams are made up of Canadian players. But that just makes me wonder all the more why they should make it an issue of national pride if their players are willing to sell to highest (American) bidder.

Now excuse me while I take my bomb-sniffing dog to the mail box with me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

AWOL no more

You all really ought to know:

My good friend Jason Frank is now posting a bit here and there on group blog called Half Past Noon. It's not a blog that just preaches to the choir -- there are diversities of opinion and I'm already appreciating the stimulation. Give it a look. I have it as my featured link.

Friday, November 09, 2007

(In)validating a stereotype

Probably one of the most entertaining parts of writing for a newspaper, is getting the behind-the-scenes look at what journalists really think and do in their private lives.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I looked at the newspaper and wondered what kind of animal would spend his time putting together such a thing as a newspaper. My curiosity only grew with each passing year until one day, I decided I was going to find out.

Let me be clear: I have indeed discovered what kind of animal writes for a newspaper. We call them homo sapiens, or humans, to use the more colloquial term.

Now granted, they come in all forms (don’t we all), but still it is important to remember that the species that writes for the newspaper indeed has feelings, emotions, complex thought processes and problem solving skills just like the rest of humanity. Believe it or not, I’ve even seen a few journalists with a social life. Let’s be objective, though. What are some specific complaints against journalists?

They are:
  • Lazy
  • Biased
  • Arrogant
  • Callous... name a few. Ouch! That hurts.

Lazy? Yes, perhaps we are. We love to over-simplify. It’s in our job description -- the only way a newspaper survives is by keeping its writing as close to the average reading level as possible. Detail suffers, and, in the worst cases, inaccuracies occur.

Biased? Again, yes, reporters are biased. Everyone has their own reason for thinking this, and by now, it’s virtually cliche to say that journalism is biased. One must also consider the cost of no bias at all -- you might lose a lot of common ground with the biased public. Is it even possible to be unbiased?

What we need is a different goal. How about fairness? We can be respectful of the people we quote and recognize that even if we don’t agree with them, representing their view as accurately as possible is the fairest way to handle it.

Arrogant? Again, I must agree that this can be a problem. Absolute power corrupts absolutely -- so said Lord Acton. While I am reluctant (for obvious reasons) to call the power of the press absolute, the principle is worth remembering. Recognizing the job as a service to the community should not give us cause for arrogance, or some kind of unreasonable special status.

Callous? Perhaps. I know how much it gets my blood up when I see a news team put their deadline and desire to be first with the story ahead of the ethical concerns involved. It’s easy enough to rationalize to ourselves that we are doing this because “the public has a right to know.”

It’s true that we often do have to put the truth ahead of our feelings about it. This can be a gut-wrenching process, but that’s no excuse for sensational reporting. The truth is ugly enough without catering to our gossiping side.

As you will see by my responses to these complaints, journalists fail in these ways, not because they mutated into another kind of creature at some point in school, but rather because they are humans.

Just remember that we all commit the same sins and we all need the same grace no matter what our vocation is.