Archive for August, 2010

“When good is found and we embrace it with abandon, we embrace the Giver of it…Yes, in church on Sunday at 9:00 AM, but also in the seemingly mundane. In traffic at 5:15 PM. In a parent-teacher meeting. In the colors of a sunset. On the other end of a tragic phone call. Every second is an opportunity for praise. There is a choosing to be made. A choosing at each moment. This is the habit of praise. Finding God moment by revelatory moment, in the sacred and the mundane, in the valley and on the hill, in triumph and tragedy, and living praise erupting because of it. This is what we were made for.”–David Crowder, Praise Habit: Finding God in Sunsets and Sushi, 13-14

I’m required to wear shoes at work. I want to wear shoes at work. Even if I heard the voice of God on my way in saying, “Take off your shoes, the place where you are working is holy ground,” I would be hard pressed to be obedient. I mean people walk in an out of that store every single day with only God knows what on the bottom of their shoes. The other day a teenager walked in wearing only socks. Maybe he had heard God’s voice on the way in to the store; maybe he was a lazy teenager.

But that is where Moses found God, isn’t it? Out in the desert, at his place of ’employment,’ there in the place where only God knows what walked by or through every day, Moses heard the voice of God say, “Take off your shoes, the place where you are standing is holy ground.” I find it strange, maybe I’m over-analyzing, that God did not say, “Come over here and before you do take off your shoes because the place where I am at is holy ground.” No that’s not what God said. According to the strictest translation of the OT (ESV), God said, “Do not come near; take off your shoes, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). Maybe I’m over-analyzing. Maybe I’m terrified that the place where I work, the unholy of unholies, is actually a place where I might find God and embrace him with abandon.

I have always been taught that it was God who made the place where Moses was standing holy. Yet God seems to be saying that Moses had something to do with it also. We cannot deny what God said, “The place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Did Moses have something to do with the consecration of the ground upon which he stood? Did God want Moses, who probably spent a lot of time complaining about those damn sheep, to see the sacred space created each day by his work with sheep? Could it be that there is no such thing as unholy ground if we are standing in a place practicing God’s presence?

I’m sure there will be all sorts of arguments to the contrary: Humans are sinful, we don’t make things holy, we foul things up, Moses was a sinner, only God is Holy. Yeah. Sure. Right. OK. I’m not going to win a theological argument by proposing that it was Moses, not God, who made the earth holy by his presence, by simply standing in a place where sheep likely urinated the day before. On the other hand, who is going to prove me wrong?

Still it is striking, isn’t it, that before Moses arrived the ground was just ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And nothing more. But after he arrived the ground where he was standing was holy because God declared it so. Moses didn’t decide that it was holy. To him it was just urine soaked, sun baked soil. When he arrived, however, God declared it sacred. God declared it sacred. Does he say that about the soil upon which we walk? Could he?

Someone asked me the other day: “This post makes me wonder how you would describe the high calling of working in a video store?” I confess that I find it difficult to practice the presence of God at work. It is extremely difficult to find God in the faces of mostly unhappy and lethargic people who are convinced that we charge too much for our rentals and that it is perfectly unreasonable that their credit card should be on file with our store. I wonder to myself: How can I find God in the face of a customer who is intent on renting the latest installment of ‘American Pie’ or the most recent Zalman King exploration of the world of porn? How can I find the face of God, I’d settle for a burning bush, when a customer is challenging me to a fist fight in the parking lot because his credit card was declined?

There’s also the issue of Jesus. I’m not sure, but something tells me Jesus would not be wearing a Slayer shirt, reek of alcohol and tobacco, curse at me if he had late fees, pre-order the latest episode or Halo, or rent Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus. I could be wrong. Seeing Jesus in the face of customers who refuse to buy their children candy (‘because that junk food is bad for you’) but then rent or buy them Hot Tub Time Machine because, evidently, their minds don’t matter, is impossible. I’m not opposed to seeing Jesus there or meeting God or creating holy space, but, to be sure, it requires some imagination. I do not know if I have that sort of intestinal fortitude.

Then again, maybe it’s not so much about meeting God or recognizing him or receiving a calling from him in a burning widescreen high definition television playing Blue-Rays. Maybe it is simply about the very way I treat all those people just in case it is Jesus. “But Lord, when did we give you a cup of water or visit you in prison or give you a break on late fees?” (the implication being, of course, that when these things happened, Jesus went unrecognized.) Maybe it is the attitude that accompanies the service of the least and lowliest, the bawdiest, the raunchiest, the rudest, the crudest, and credit inhibited. My co-worker said to me last night, after I was challenged to a fight, “What’s sad is that those people are allowed to breed.” I chuckled, politely, but inwardly I was cringing and my heart was broke.

Can it be that the very ground where we stand is somehow or other made holy just by our being there? Is that so much of a stretch? Maybe my problem is that when I go to work I refuse to take off my shoes because I’m convinced in advance that there is no way God could make such a place holy or would even declare it holy. Maybe the problem is that I refuse to see that place as a place where God might show up at any given moment. Maybe I am so intent on God not being in that place that I have refused to invite him in, or see him already there, or practice his presence because he loves all those that ‘shouldn’t breed’. Maybe I’d rather have something to complain about than something to praise him for.

I don’t know what sort of shoes Moses was wearing. Maybe he had on a nice soft pair of Nike’s or some really comfortable Wolverine’s. All I know is that something happened after he arrived on the scene that day. Or maybe it had happened a week prior when Moses walked his sheep through that place. Whatever it was that happened, God told Moses to take off his shoes because the place where he was standing was sacred ground. And I think Moses had something to do with that.

When I go to work this evening to sell Starburst and Peanut Butter Whoppers and Coca-Cola and Jennifer’s Body, I’m going to take off my shoes for a while. I’m going to go ahead and take the chance that there might be holy space at my job. Could be that I spend way too much time waiting for God to show up when, in fact, God is already there and he is waiting on me to show up, take off my shoes, and let Him speak.

Let me begin this post by first showing you a couple of passages of Scripture that I believe fit very well together. First, from the Gospels; second, from Paul; third, from the book of Hebrews. Notice how all three passages speak to the the same ideas, peace, reconciliation, oneness.

“The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”–Mark 15:38

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace…”–Ephesians 2:14-15

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”–Hebrews 10:19-22

All three of these passages, in their context, speak of something that happened when and because Jesus died. He ripped and destroyed and opened. I like these verbs…they are action words par excellence. They speak of the violent nature of the problem he encountered. There were real, significant barriers in the way of peace, reconciliation, and oneness. They also speak to the way he saw them: these were not chicanes that stood in the way that could be spoken to nicely or dealt with in counseling or massaged out of existence. Rather, these were real chicanes that needed ripped, destroyed, and opened. They required a death in order to be destroyed.

They were real strongholds we erected. They separated us from one another, from God, and from God’s kingdom. But because he died, because he did something, the way was opened up, hostility was destroyed, peace has been made, and one new people have been created. This is the action of God. Peterson rightly notes, “When we are pulled into the action, it is God who pulls us in. We acquire our identity not by what we do but by what is done to us” (Practice Resurrection, 117). This destroying, ripping, and opening is God’s action, not ours. We just get to be a part of it and enjoy it. Still, we do play a part in their perpetuation even if the action rests solely in God’s hands.

I’d like to leave it at that. I’d like to leave it with a very simple: God made a way where there seemed to be no way. God opened up what we had closed. God ripped apart that which we sewed together. God destroyed that which divides us and enabled us to be one again. I find this refreshing and encouraging and it gives me hope. There are a million ways we humans try to ‘come together’ and ‘make peace’ and ‘live as one.’ And not one of them ever works. In Jesus, however, and because of his death, all those things which previously kept us apart have been destroyed.

There is only one way we will be one, at peace, and reconciled: In Jesus.

“Evil cannot be overcome by calling in the intimidating principalities and powers as allies.”

–Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 264

Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus
D.A. Carson
Crossway, 2010
168 pages plus 2 indices

It might be a sign that I have read too many of Dr Carson’s books if they no longer truly impact me where I am at any given moment. I have read a lot of his books. I have listened to a lot of his sermons. I have read a lot of his formal journal contributions. I am like a junky for Carson, at one time actually spending money to purchase very poor cassette tape audio recordings of his sermons. But this time I found myself finishing his sentences and skipping over time-worn illustrations and yawning. The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus are amazing, mind blowing, earth shattering, soul undoing events. As Tim Keller notes: If Jesus is who he said he is, then everything changes.

In this book Carson did not do a good job of bringing those earth shattering realities to the surface or bringing my understanding of them to the point that my life is thoroughly, completely, utterly undone.

Scandalous is the first Carson book I have read in some time and, to be sure, I was disappointed. Disappointed enough that this will likely be the last Carson book I read. This is not to say it was a terrible book or that Carson’s scholarship was off or that his writing was, well, not Carsonish enough. It’s just to say that for the most part I was bored.

The book was cobbled together from a series of five sermons Carson preached at the 2008 Resurgence Conference at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. I’m willing to bet that these five sermons were actually written down in other books that Carson has written at some point in the past (many of his illustrations have been used elsewhere). If anything positive can be said about the book it is that Carson is at least consistent: He hasn’t said anything new since I started reading his work twenty years ago. That is what makes the work a rather tedious and hum-drum affair for me.

Don’t get me wrong. As far as theology is concerned, Carson mostly is right on target. He never deviates from his essentially Reformed Calvinist point of view and even though he never once mentions the name ‘NT Wright’ (he does get in a dig at Steve Chalke and Alan Mann in the note on page 69) one can sense that underneath much of what Carson writes is a polemic against the so-called ‘new perspective on Paul’ and what many in the Reformed camp feel is a threat to the grip they have on theological power that goes along with the Reformed interpretation of the atonement (viz., penal substitution). I find it hard to believe that something so obvious needs so much defense.

It’s almost as if someone is trying to dress up an old theologian and make him into a hip, happening kind of guy. The cover is cool: ‘Scandalous’ is emblazoned on the cover in shiny, raised, blood spattered letters that would make Dexter proud. The rest of the cover is an appalling black. All the right cool people are quoted lauding the work. Yet none of this changes the fact that when you open the book and begin reading you are struck by the fact that the most modern poet Carson quotes is himself. There are plenty of quotations from hymns written by Martin Luther, Lidie Edmuds, William Cowper and others, and these folks are fine, excellent hymn writers and poets. But they are from yesterday. I found it terribly disconcerting that Carson resorted three times to quoting his own poetry in the book (72, 109-110, 167-168) and that he was the most modern poet he quoted.

I think if you have never read DA Carson before you will find this a helpful book and, perhaps, even a good book. Like I said, Carson is not wanting for scholarship skills. If you have never read him before you will get a very good introduction to the Reformed view of the cross (although the book is subtitled “The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus” the Resurrection of Jesus only gets one chapter to itself) and resurrection. This may or may not be a good thing. I think when we get so intent on defending a point of view we often fail to be challenged or changed by the story itself.

If you have read Carson before, I think you will be bored and/or disappointed. He has not given his readers anything different or anything new to think about in this book. I wish he had interacted with some of those he opposes since it would have made the book a better read. He would likely be pleased with that fact, but for his readers there will be much yawning and sleepy eyed skipping ahead to the next page or the next chapter. And that will likely not please him one bit.

2.5 Stars out of 5