Friday, September 28, 2012

Homily 40: On Job and Suffering (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"I had heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees Thee." Job 42:5

The book of Job is an enigma for many, but its main mystery does not lie in the question, "Why do the righteous suffer?" For many, the real mystery is found in why God chose to answer with an apparent non-answer. Job asks for the reason behind his suffering. Fair enough, we say. Then God shows up and never addresses Job's suffering at all. Instead, He uses a series of questions in order to make a statement about Himself: His power, His majesty, and His glory (and subsequently Job's lack of those things). The whole exchange reeks of non sequitur, and yet Job finds satisfaction. Suddenly it is not a matter of bullying on God's part (a case easier to make if the book had ended at 40:5). God does not want Job to shut up, to "place [his] hand over [his] mouth"; He wants him to see something, i.e., Himself. Job does see, and this gives him peace. He asked for an explanation, but what he got was a revelation, and it was enough. Perhaps that is the actual mystery: neither Job's suffering nor God's apparent non-answer, but rather Job's satisfaction. In that mystery, however, there lies a profound significance that we must not miss.

We are all shallow creatures indeed, thinking that some formulaic explanation will bring ultimate satisfaction to our souls. Believer and non-believer alike often think that if God would simply state His case (with flowcharts and footnotes), then we would be content. But we would not be content, for it is not God's case that we need but God Himself. In the book of Revelation, the glory of Heaven is not that we will receive some syllogistic answer for our troubles but that God is there (Rev. 21:1-4, 22-27; 22:1-5), and (as Job seems to suggest) God will be the answer. That is the mystery and the beauty. The gray rain curtain of this world will one day fade away, and as we see the sight all souls long to see, as we catch the beatific vision of the Empyrean Prime in His Beauty, as we come face to face with our Maker and Lover and Friend, there will be no more questions, no more doubts, and no more tears. God's mere presence, His mere Self, will be the answer to all the riddles. Words fail at this point. They always fail the truth at some point, but all shall be well. Like Job, we too shall one day move beyond mere words, beyond mere hearing and into the glory of sight. Amen.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Wriggling in the Crushing Grip of Reason (an aside by Bill Watterson)

I could spend an entire blog post explaining Foucault's fragmentary, decentered view of history, its insidiousness, and how it breaks down under its own weight. Or I could just let Mr. Watterson explain it in far greater fashion than I ever could:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Foucault VS Sayers (with apologies to G.K. Chesterton)

Foucault: I thought that I hated everything more than common men hate anything. But I find that I do not hate everything as much as I hate God.

Sayers: God never hated you.

Foucault: He never hated because He never lived! I know what He is, all of Him, from first to last: He is the people in power! He is the police, the great fat, smiling men in blue and buttons! He is the Law, and He has never been broken. But is there not a free soul alive that does not long to break Him, for no other reason than that He has never been broken? We who are in revolt talk all kind of nonsense about this or that crime of Government. It is all folly! The only crime of Government is that it governs. The unpardonable sin of the supreme power is that it is supreme. I do not curse Him for being cruel. I do not curse Him (though I might) for being kind. I curse Him for being safe! He sits in His chair of stone and has never come down from it. He is the Lord of angel armies, the one who knows the dwelling place of light and has seen the gates of deep darkness, and He has had no troubles. Oh, I could forgive You for everything, You who rule mankind, if I could feel for once that You have suffered for one hour of real agony like I have!

Sayers: I see everything now, including your error and your pain. It is good that you give glory to smallness, to the individual threads of the tapestry. But to say that the tapestry is ignorant of the threads and therefore the two are at odds? It is all a lie! Greatness knows all, including smallness; that is what makes it great. It has touched the heavens and the dirt. It has bent the knee. It has felt the plow and the whip and the horrible boot of the oppressor upon its back. That is the great truth of the Incarnation, which is not just a pious commonplace. It is not commonplace at all. What it means (among other things) is that for whatever reasons God chose to make man as he is---limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death---He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace, and He thought it all worthwhile, if for no other reason than that the real lie of Satan may be thrown back in your face! God has earned the right to say, "You lie!" For it is not true that He has never been broken; He was broken on the cross. It is not true that He has never descended from His throne; He has descended into hell. He too has suffered, beyond any man alive, for none have nor ever can drink of the cup that He drank for us all.

-Jon Vowell, et. al. (c) 2012

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Endless Apple Pie (a musing by an orthodox rebel)

" Your presence is fulness of joy; at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore." Ps. 16:11

God is a hard thing to imagine for anyone at any age. He is either too difficult and "fuzzy" sounding to understand, or He sounds like an incredibly boring person (with His hard rules and His home of harps and tiny wings and clouds as far as your eyes care to see). He seems to be a truly "grown-up" thing: dull and uninteresting and unimportant. Yet we are all supposed to want to know Him because we're told that He is "good": not just good for us (like medicine) but good in Himself (like a Christmas gift). How we ever got to the point where anything good can be both "boring" and "hard to imagine" is anybody's guess, but we all know that it isn't true. If we know anything about good things, we know that they are neither boring nor hard to imagine.

Of course, good things are hard to come by. Good days dissolve with every passing second, like clouds in a hot sky. Good friends and people come and go with the easy unpredictability of characters in our favorite novels. And good food cannot help but be eaten. It is a shame that good things seem so fragile, like they're made of glass, or better yet, snow. Without the right temperature, snow fades slowly and softly, without a word. It is lovely yet perishable, and too often drains right through our fingers.

"Lovely yet perishable" is probably the best definition for what we call "good things," especially good food. Whether it's hot or cold, a colorful collection of either steamed vegetables or spherical ice cream scoops, the whole edible edifice is just waiting for erasure within our mouths and bellies. Someone once said (perhaps absentmindedly) that you "can't have your cake and eat it too." It is a true statement, but it also misses the greater problem, which is that we can only eat the cake that we have. To partake of its goodness (warm from the oven or cold from the fridge, chocolate or carrot or red velvet supreme) is to lose it forever. Pleasing to the eye, delicious in the mouth, but then no more.

Can you imagine, however, if that "no more" was itself no more? It is perhaps a little difficult to do, but think about it if you can. You sit down to a delicious dinner (try and think of your favorite), your stomach not uncomfortably empty but just empty enough to enjoy a full meal. Maybe the food smells warm and thick (like a good potato casserole) or cool and tangy (like a pasta salad), or maybe it is a symphony of smells touching your nostrils in concert: red-centered meats sizzling, fresh baked rolls with browned and buttered hides, and crunchy asparagus stalks looking like tiny tree buds.

Whatever it is that you see or smell, what if you knew that it would never end? What if you knew that the food would never fade, that your stomach would always be just right to receive it, and that you would never grow weary of eating it (nor would you suffer certain "consequences" for overeating)? In short, what if the feast was forever? It is reasonable to assume that you would be more than just happy, for the good thing would be lovely and still precious but no longer perishable. You could have and enjoy it always: never-ending steaks and everlasting green beans and endless apple pie.

If you could (even for a moment) imagine such a thing, then you would understand God a little better. He is the one where all good things last without any fear of fading away. He is where the feast is forever. Old churchmen (living over a thousand years ago) often said that heaven is where "the good" dwells and never ends, and even older churchmen than they spoke of God throwing a "marriage supper" at the end of time when heaven and earth have come together at last. To those incredibly old men and women, God was not about harps and humdrums but rather all good things, filled to the top and imperishable. In Him the good days will never dissolve, nor good friends be separated by time or place. In Him the snow never melts, nor the springtime flowers fail to bloom in their collage of colors. In Him the joys are unending, and you can, finally and wonderfully, have your cake and eat it too.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why Animation Trumps Live-Action: Reason #43,987 (some nostalgia by an orthodox rebel)

Because 80s awesomeness is too much for Michael Bay:

Truth Always Wins (a short musing by an orthodox rebel)

"We can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth." II Cor. 13:8

The deck is forever stacked in favor of truth. There is no escaping it or hiding from it. No amount of spin or bias can dissolve it. No amount of darkness or lies can bury it forever, for the darkness has no substance, but the truth is substance. It is real and solid and has consequence in the real world. That is why it is inescapable: it creates real ripples in the real water, and ignorance can be bliss for only so long before the steady pulse reaches you and the realization falls upon you. And what will you do at that awakening? Will you surrender to its onslaught, its redemption, to the shattering of all your vanities and the extinguishing of all your illusions? Or will you call for the rocks and the mountains to fall on you and hide you from the face of One so terrible, digging deeper and deeper down into futility? The choice will be yours, but be warned that there is no depth nor height that it cannot reach you. In the highest heavens we will bathe in its light and be infused with its reality like heat infuses iron in the fire, being the very air and water and earth of our transfigured existence. In the lowest hell we will wail beneath its judgments and thereby prove its proclamations to be right and eternal, being the very law that we have broken in our rebellious ignorance. So you see, it is inescapable: the undeniable fact. It holds all the keys and guards all the doors, and we all will honor it in the end. Whether by our adherence or our condemnation is for us to decide.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Homily 39: On Charity and Giving (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"As every man purposes in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly or out of compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." II Cor. 9:7

Paul has just finished complimenting the Corinthians on their naturally charitable spirit, and he instructs them to be prepared to demonstrate their charity to some visiting Christians so that his "boasting" will not be "in vain" (vs. 1-5). Then he lays down some precedents about giving, two negative and one positive. The first negative is "λυπης", which is translated "grudgingly". The word means to do an action that causes grief or pain and thus results in annoyance or sour reluctance to do said action. Paul discourages giving based on such gloomy foundations. The second negative is "αναγκη", which is translated "compulsion". The word means to do an action out of constraint or imposition, whether by the law, duty, threat, or mere circumstance. Paul also discourages this giving out of dutiful necessity. The lone positive is "ίλαρος", which is translated "cheerful". The word means to do an action solely on the basis of joy and good cheer. It is this basis for giving that Paul encourages, and it suggests a very astounding thought: if we are to have true charity, then we must have true joy first.

It is a shame that "ίλαρος" gets translated as "cheerful," because the word today has more bad than good connotations. The exact image we generate in our heads is not completely certain, but I image that we picture some goofy-grinned imbecile who is too stupid to realize how horrible the world really is. "Cheer up" is often considered a cheap sentiment to hurting hearts, and to be known as "cheery" can be considered a backhanded compliment. Likewise, a "cheerful giver" seems highly unattractive, sounding like code for doing your duty while faking enjoyment. It is unfortunate, however, that it is unattractive, because it ought to be the most attractive thing. God is not looking for smarmy smiles  and syrupy souls (whether they be sincere or not). What He is looking for, what He asks for and loves, and He alone can give, is joy: abiding, unshakeable joy in God and His goodness and great love that he has demonstrated for us in Christ (Ps. 43:3-5; Ps. 100:1-5; Rom. 5:6-8).

God is not looking for "cheery" givers but joyous givers, givers saturated in the joy of the Lord, joy in His unbreakable promises and his unstoppable power to keep them in Christ (II Cor. 1:19-21; II Pet. 1:2-4). Thus comes the astounding part (and how we miss it today!): If you want to be more giving, more charitable to others (in whatever way), then do not ask God for money or means or a stronger sense of duty. Rather, ask Him for joy, joy unspeakable in your great God. Ask Him to fill your cup to the brim with joy, to fill your whole soul with its enduring substance. Ask Him for joy, and charity cannot help but follow, for joy is the only foundation for charity, even the very charity of God (Rom. 5:8; Heb. 12:2).

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Foucault VS St. Paul (a fragment of a debate on freedom)

Foucault: But can you not see that all discursive formulations hide plays at power? Truth is the illusion that we give to control, and control is the contrivance that we give to oppression so that it may claim objectivity. And every claim or call to "objectivity" (so-called) is merely an attempt to draw the living, fragile, pulsating interplay of all phenomena around a single center. That is the very architecture of tyranny: when the immobility of structures inhibit and demarcate the living openness of life, when closed systems attempt to silence and banish the existence and voice of differences and negations. This must end if we are to know the true, dark freedom of our "selves" (so-called). We must suppress the suppressors and subvert their narratives: narratives of race and gender and class, narratives used as the grindstones of patriarchs and imperialists to efface all peoples and press them into prescribed molds. We must take the hammer of discursive analysis, ever skeptical and critical, and free the world from its subjection to transcendence, its reduction to teleology, and its imprisonment to totalization. We must break down, tear down, inact a willful and purposeful fragmentation whose operation is an endless decentering that leaves no privilege to any center or origin. Only in this, this dispersion and scattering, this transgression of all boundaries, can we hope to find final liberation.

St. Paul: And who told you thus? To what wisdom did you learn such foolishness? To what law did you submit to that told you of the annulment of any and all law? Can you not see that your counsel is darkened with words that lack knowledge? For if you had read the scriptures, or if you knew the power of God, or even if you had properly read the great pagan Plato, then you would have known the truth. You would have known that tyranny cannot be answered by either democracy or anarchy but only monarchy. Wise, benevolent monarchy, ruled by a king who truly knows better than you and who truly seeks your good. And I say to you that there is such a king alive today. A King of kings who is all-Wisdom and all-Goodness, for He is those things and will always be those things, for He was those things even before the foundation of the world and all its imperfect discourses. His name is Jesus, and His title is Christ, and it is in His Lordship and our subjection to it that all oppression fails and our sad divisions cease. For in Him there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. In Him there is neither elitism nor populism, nor racism (from any race), sexism (from either sex), or classism (from any class), for all have found their identity in the objectivity and reality of His preeminence. All are equal when all bow at the name of Jesus. All voices are heard when every tongue confesses that Christ is Lord. Unhappy creature! There is no peace nor love nor joy nor hope in tearing all things down into fragments. Such deconstruction is merely destruction, the way of the Destroyer. But the way of Christ is creation, a building up of a living, unified body of many members into His real, objective, absolute, and essential headship. There is no other way under heaven whereby men can be saved or set free.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Homily Magnus: The High and Holy Striving (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.'" II Cor. 6:16b

It is the presence of God that counts in His children's lives and nothing else. The greatest danger is not always in what you're doing but in how or why you are doing it. Though motivation and intention are often less important than what actually happens, they can still be the greater threat because of their subtlety and insidiousness. They can creep in unawares and poison the most noble of endeavors with foul foundations, twisting them into paths of destruction. It is the fundamental intents of the heart that can lead to actions that we did not intend. Small, blinding miscalculations can bring the whole things crashing to the ground. That is the seriousness of the matter.

The life that seeks holiness and upright living apart from the presence of God in their life will become Pharisaical and legalistic without warning. Hard on themselves, impossible with others, and unable to avoid turning into anxious hypocrites. Meanwhile, the life that seeks some numinous religious experience apart from the presence of God in their life will fall into either a hollow and abstract mysticism or (what is worse) a paranoid and pathological occultism. Locked into themselves, blind to others, and unable to escape being useless statuary in God's trophy room (or being seduced by darker, more treacherous spirits). And the life that seeks social activism and cultural change apart from the presence of God in their life will become hopelessly knitted to the failing schemes of man, replacing God's wisdom and patience with all manner of man-made theories and solutions for utopia. Zealous for passing causes, vindictive of those who do not follow them, and incapable from avoiding fashionable fanaticism.

Do not misunderstand: this is not just a matter of giving God's presence a nod; any fool with a cause can claim, "God is with me!" Rather, this is a matter of recognizing and living out the recognition that without God's presence with you and within you, you can do nothing and are nothing (John 14:20; 15:4-5). It is not merely about knowing that He is there (for that can turn into a highly selfish solace), but rather about knowing that in all things He is first. In other words, it is not about principles and practices only but also priorities, the priorities that shape your principles and practices. And if God is not the priority of your life (knowing Him, loving Him, and trusting Him), then the well is already poisoned. No matter your intentions, the fundamental Intention is wrecked already. If God is not first, then He is not anything.

There is no way to do this perfectly, of course. The whole of the Christian life is this struggle to keep God first, but that is the point. You must struggle: groping and panting and fighting and desiring for the presence and beauty of the living God (Ps. 27:4; 42:1-2); and that struggle, that high and holy striving, must be the wellspring from which all other streams flow. We must ask ourselves the right questions: Do you abstain to honor Him? Contemplate to find Him? Work and create because you love Him? You must do it all for Him and no other goal, for there is no other goal except a chasing of the wind.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

Touched by the Gospel (The Ministers of God, Part 4)

" all things we commend ourselves as the ministers of God...through honor and dishonor, through evil report and good report, though counted as deceivers and yet true, as unknown and yet well known, as dying and yet behold we live, as chastened and yet not killed, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing and yet possessing all things." II Cor. 6:4, 8-10

Paul established that we are the ministers of the gospel of reconciliation with God. He then asserted that we are to prove ourselves to be such ministers in the midst of any situation and by the might of God's goodness. Knowing that no situation can break us and that God's goodness strengthen us, Paul moves on to the final truth about being a minister of God: we prove ourselves to be His ministers through every circumstance. Whatever context befalls us, we are to plow through with all the magnificence of those called by God to proclaim His good news, and Paul lists three kinds of contexts: cultural, spiritual, and physical.

"...through honor and dishonor, through evil report and good report, though counted as deceivers and yet true...." As the ministers of God, we are not bound to cultural drifts and tides. All the cultures of man (whether they be decadent or wise, secular or religious, barbaric or civilized) will find some reason to despise us and our God and His gospel. Every fashionable fad or thought will have occasion to rise up against us, claiming and saying all manner of ridiculous things against us. The worst thing we can do (as some have done) is to surrender to and compromise with our current cultural paradigm, to give in to the crushing pressure of the passing whims of the world. The best thing we can do, however, is to live in the light of the fact that our true honor and acceptance is found in Christ, and our true report belongs with God; and if the world calls us liars, it is because they belong to the father of lies (II Cor. 4:3-4).

" unknown and yet well known, as dying and yet behold we live, as chastened and yet not killed...." As the ministers of God, our prime reality lies with what is (for the time being) unseen and not with what is seen (II Cor. 4:18). You may not be known by the world at large in any significant sense, but you are known by God in every significant sense. He knows you and sees you. His piercing gaze of light and love cuts through all the muck and murk of the world and finds you right where you are currently standing or sitting or laying. He knows you not just factually but intimately, because He made you, and He has made His home with you (I Cor. 6:19; II Cor. 6:16; Rom. 3:20). And though His hand may seem heavy upon you sometimes, so that you die daily and seem to be constantly chastened, yet it is done out of love for your good, to bring you to glory unspeakable and full of joy (Rom. 8:29-30). The worst thing we can do (as some have done) is to grow weary with God's penetrating presence and His constant "meddling" and to desire a repose into spiritual stagnation, holding fast to whatever fleeting pleasures and peace that, if you wish to go deeper into the divine heart, you would have to give up. The best thing we can do, however, is to let goods and kindred go into the hands of God, and in every circumstance march through as one who is known of God.

" sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing and yet possessing all things." Every truly serious-minded civilization has known that the world is built on sorrow. The Christian knows this as well, and yet we rejoice; not in ignorance of sorrow, but in the midst of sorrow. We rejoice because there is a God beyond all sorrow; and yet He is not untouched by our infirmities (Heb. 4:15), and He takes pity on we who are of the dust (Ps. 103:13-14). His goodness outshines all the horrors of evil. Beneath the deep tragedy of the world lies the deeper comedy of the Trinity, and we have been made privy to its inside jokes: even while poor and having nothing, we are rich and have everything, because we possess and are possessed by God. Silver and gold have we not, but we do have the Mighty Maker and His all-consuming redemptive goodness that is full of life and light like lightning caught in a coal cellar.

So you see, we go through every circumstance differently than others, for our reality has changed. The gospel is not pleasant thoughts and phrases to us; it is not mere terminology. Rather, it is our context, our existence, the very air that we breathe. Circumstances cannot touch us like they did before, for we know too much now. We know God and are known of God (Gal. 4:9a). We know Christ and are bound to Christ (Col. 3:3). We know the gospel and have seen its power in our own lives, and we will see its power in the lives of others. So help us God. Amen.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Goodness of God (The Ministers of God, Part 3)

" all things we commend ourselves as the ministers of pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the weapons of righteousness on the right hand and the left...." II Cor. 6: 4a, 6-7

Paul established that we, as new creations, are now the ministers of God, i.e., those who proclaim the gospel of reconciliation with God. Next, he established the hard truth that we are to be such ministers in the midst of every situation, especially times of personal, social, or ministerial distress. Such a truth can seem highly depressing in its negativity, but Paul immediately follows it up with another truth, a great and comforting truth: we are to prove ourselves to be the ministers of God in every situation by the might of good things, of which he lists three kinds: the good for ourselves, the good for others, and the good for battle.

" pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering...." This is what is good for us: neither naivete nor mere factualness and fortitude, but rather an innocence that is both wise and patient. Evil, in all its horrible depths, is understood fully, but as a concept and not a practice. Its presence has no place in us, but its presence also does not surprise us. We know that it exists, and we are not ignorant of its devices. Such a state of innocent, enduring wisdom is not in our power to create; it is all the gift of God who alone purifies (Titus 2:11-14) and gives both wisdom and patience (James 1:5, 17). And it is in such a state that we prove ourselves to be the ministers of God: by His goodness we have been freed from evil's snares, and yet He teaches us its ways so that we may walk carefully and effectively and wisely without weariness or fear amidst a perverse and crooked generation. In short, we prove ourselves to be ministers of the gospel by living out its direct effects: innocence, wisdom, and patience.

" kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by love unfeigned...." This is what is good for others: a genuine affection that is produced by God and produces acts of genuine goodwill. This world is full of lost and broken people, and they need neither our moralism nor our activism. What they need is a sincere love that finds its source in the God who is love (I John 4:7-8) and leads to acts of love (Matt. 22:37-40; I John 5:3). In short, we prove ourselves to be ministers of the gospel when the indwelt Holy Spirit of God lives and acts out through us the very heartbeat of the gospel: love (Rom. 5:5-8; I John 4:7-10). He who does not love does not know God and can never be a minister of His gospel.

" the word of truth, by the power of God, by the weapons of righteousness on the right hand and the left...." This Christian life is a battle. Walking in a dark world amongst fallen people who cannot see their true affliction (II Cor. 4:3-4) and thus do not desire their true salvation (Rom. 3:10-11) is perilous, for we are surrounded by and continually engaged with great spiritual evil (Eph. 6:12). We are "in the thick," and this is what is good for it: God's truth, God's power, and God's righteousness. These things are all at our disposal, for God has given us His truth (John 16:13) and His power (II Tim. 1:7) and His righteousness (I Cor. 1:30; II Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:8-9), and it is by the might of these things that we fight the good fight. We battle against ugly lies and the blinding dark, not by our wits and cleverness, but by the all-piercing truth of the Lord of Light (Heb. 4:12-13). We battle against all the guile and malice of Hell's temptations, not by our own strengths and talents, but by the all-consuming power of the God who loves us (Rom. 8:31-39). We battle against all the vain and wicked ways of the world, not by our own pious moralizing, but by the working out of the inward righteousness of God, which is Christ in us and we in Christ (Rom. 13:12-14; Col. 3:3; John 14:20, 17:23).

In sum, we prove ourselves to be the ministers of God's gospel because we are living proof that that gospel is true. It has made us innocent of evil and yet wise to its ways and patient in its presence. It has indwelt us with the Spirit of love who works in us a genuine affection producing genuine kindness to all. And it has given us all that God is, so that we may fight the damned dark, not as mere men and women, but as new creations, born of God by faith in Christ through the hearing of the gospel of reconciliation (Rom. 10:17). By the might of God's goodness, we are saved; and by the might of that same goodness, we prove ourselves to be the ministers of so great a salvation. We best show our allegiance when we live like the gospel is real.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012

In the Midst (The Ministers of God, Part 2)

" all things we commend ourselves as the ministers of God with much patience: in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in floggings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings...." II Cor. 6:4-5

Paul just established that every one recreated by God has been tasked with one ministry: the proclamation of the gospel of reconciliation, reconciliation with God (II Cor. 5:17-20). Now he shows exactly what such a life ought to look like, starting with a hard truth: we prove ourselves to be the ministers of God in every situation, even and especially in the worst situations. Paul list three specific situations here: the personal, the social, and the ministerial.

" afflictions, in necessities, in distresses...." All of these words point to times of personal headache and heartbreak. (As a matter of fact, in the Greek both "afflictions" and "distresses" carry the idea of "pressure".) Many things will constrain us in our personal lives. Jobs will fail or go bad. Relationships can die or sour or never work out at all. Bills must be paid and futures planned for, and yet money is tight near to strangulation, and everything is uncertain. Coworkers can anger us, family can frustrate us, and strangers can annoy us. It is in the midst of these things, of the constant pressures and dire straits of daily living, that we are to prove ourselves to be the ministers of God. This is not about being pious do-gooders or starry-eyed somnambulists but rather new creations (II Cor. 5:17). Above and beyond the immediate hard situations in our personal lives, we let God and his over-arching, ever-working redemption inform everything that we do. "Yes, times are tough and life is life, but God is still God, and He and His kingdom are mightier than even the toughest troubles that I face."

" floggings, in imprisonments, in tumults...." All of these words point to times of social turmoil and upheaval. This is true in any nation today, whether it is the anti-Christian deathtrap that is China or the post-Christian acid bath that is America. The life of true faith will never be socially acceptable (unless it is watered down into some sort of blathering moralism or inconsequential spiritualism that no one in their right mind would disagree with because no one in their right mind would ever care about it). The real life of faith, the life of being a new creation where God and His kingdom are bigger than any and all present and future social orders, will always be unpopular (and in some cases, illegal), but we must live it nonetheless. We must prove ourselves to be the ministers of the gospel, even in lands where it is punishable (either physically or simply by becoming a pariah) as well as in lands where the social order is unstable and tenuous (which is the underlying idea in the Greek for "tumults"). In the midst of such things, we remain the ambassadors of a greater land to come. "Let every city of man crumble and fall. My hope and loyalty is built on nothing less than the city of God, which is as imperishable and immutable as its King."

" labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings...." Here Paul is being self-referential. He is speaking to what he himself has endured while ministering to the Church. The idea is this: regardless of what specific shape the ministry of the gospel takes in your life, regardless of how the specific facet of grace God entrusted to you takes form (I Pet. 4:10), if you give yourself whole-heartedly to it for God, then you will many times wear yourself out. You will worry yourself to many sleepless nights, and you will lose heart as the world turns more and more against you and its people seem less and less inclined to hear you. In the midst of these things, of working out the calling that God has placed on every one born to Him, we must prove ourselves to be the ministers of God. It is not simply a matter of doing the work (for any unbelieving fool can do something "in the name of God" or "Christ"), but rather remembering who it is that is with you doing it (Phil. 2:13-16). Whether in personal pains, social disorders, or ministerial heartaches, God and His redemption must be ultimate in our minds and in our lives. "Yes, the way is hard right now, and yes the world grows darker even as I spread the light like mad. But I do not strive for victory, or run the race for the fastest time. Rather I endure all things because I love my Lord, because I am His and He is mine."

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012