Nietzsche & Jesus

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We were walking through the hall on our way to the elevators after a particularly intense class lecture on Nietzsche.  I was a grad student working through my doctoral course work and my companion was a seasoned professor, an expert on ancient and modern philosophy.

For many Christ followers Nietzsche was an evil mastermind, bent on destroying faith in God.  Some of these criticisms seemed well founded, but I was beginning to think that Nietzsche was critical of religiosity and had little understanding of true Christianity.

So, I prompted my professor with further questions. “What did Nietzsche think about the claim that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead?”  I could tell my question caught my companion off guard.

“Well,” he said, “He didn’t think it happened.”

Now I was confused. “How did Nietzsche explain away all the evidence for this event?”

I could tell by the look on his face that two things had happened.  First, I had asked a question he had never heard.  Second, my expert in ancient philosophy was unaware of the “evidence” for Jesus’ rise from the dead.

His simple, “I don’t know” was telling.

The Achilles Heel?

How could this be?  If Nietzsche was one of the leading critics of Christianity, wouldn’t the Resurrection be the easiest way to take down the truth claims of the faith.  After all, even Paul the Apostle said, If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (I Corinthians 15:17)  For the atheist or die hard critic, wouldn’t this be the Achilles heel?

Over the years I have found myself surprised at how little critics of Christianity reference the Resurrection.  Even fewer still will deal openly with the historical evidence for this event.  But then again I get it.  You would have to really have a grudge against Christianity to spend the time necessary to go through all the evidence.  When guys like Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig research entire dissertations on this one event, few people have the time to do the same.

What is more surprising is how many Christians talk about Jesus as if they are explaining an idea, a philosophy or a teaching.  Sure, Nietzsche and Dawkins can dismiss Christianity as an idea to refute but then it is not our faith they are referencing.  Our faith is grounded in a person: a person who showed up during the Roman empire, fulfilled countless prophesies from hundreds of years before his time, taught men older and more educated than himself, claimed to be God, performed miracles, died at the hands of his enemies and then rose from the dead.

Drop the Mic

Let that sink in… rose from the dead.  Yes, now would be where you drop the mic.  This is not blind faith.  This is historical confidence.  Do you believe that Alexander the Great lived the life you learned about in school?  Why?  You have the same reasons to believe that Jesus of Nazareth lived the life you learned about as well.

Christianity is not a set of propositions to believe.  It is not a practical way of living for a better life.  It is not an experience of fullness.  Christianity is God coming to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  He is personal, relational and rescuing.

For the one who is drowning in their own self help exhaustion and moral sickness, Jesus draws near and offers life and forgiveness.  No one else even offers.  Go ahead.  Look.  No one else offers.  Nothing else offers.

Celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the cornerstone of our faith.  So celebrate with confidence.  He really did come to life after being dead.  It was a moment in time when all of the laws of nature and physics were upended by the one who created them.

Does your heart leap and stir at this? Is your own life anchored to His?  Do you need to remember you don’t follow an idea, but follow a real person?

 

 

For more information about the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus go to http://www.str.org

 

I love you. You’re wrong?

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I clearly remember the rain fitting my mood one evening in southern California as my friend told me of his dreams.  He wanted what so many others wanted: a spouse, children, a home, a white picket fence.  Why should it matter that he wanted this with another man?  I wished to tell him that I believed it was possible for God to honor the life he craved.  After all, I understood some of it.  I was single, in my early 30’s, with no prospects of marriage or family.  I understood this deep longing to share life and love.  I wanted to affirm his vision of a happy life.  I wanted to agree, so badly.  But I couldn’t.

What do we do when we are caught between a moment when we can either hurt our friend’s feelings or betray our understanding of God’s goodness?  In these moments we are faced with a decision that could cause disagreement, pain, or worse, the belief that we don’t value or love our friend.

The most popular advice is to simply change our mind.

In some cases, this is not only reasonable but good.  My mind needs to be changed.  I used to believe that God operated under a system of rewards for good behavior, relating to us merely in response to what we deserve.  Time, study of the Bible and good theology changed my mind.

But some things are impossible not to believe.  When I visit my doctor and he says I’m pregnant after one little pee test, I’m stuck.  I believe I am pregnant.  Could he be wrong?  Yes.  Could I be one of the few cases in which the test is flawed?  Sure.  Do I believe I am pregnant anyway?  You betcha.  In some cases, changing my mind is not only impossible, but my friend wouldn’t really want me to change my mind anyway.

The Reality in Which We Live

Our ability to change our minds on moral questions will always be anchored to our understanding of reality.  Do you believe God is there?  What then?  If reality begins with God creating the world for specific purposes and with design elements that work well when followed, then this reality bears upon us and is inescapable.  If our starting point is God, His creation and His goodness we have no more control over Him than we do over a pregnancy test.

If you don’t believe God is there, I expect you will see reality very differently and this makes sense.  Without God, goodness and any moral fabric for life unravels.  In the end, Dostoevsky was right, “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.” Without God’s goodness to constrain us, we can do whatever we want.

Perhaps you believe God is there, but His moral goodness is flexible to your own desires.  Perhaps your notions of right and wrong are tied to your own intuition or rationality rather than his revealed will (the Scriptures).  In this case you will be more able to change your mind about right and wrong, good and evil.  You will also live in a constant state of confusion and disobedience, failing to surrender to the holiness of your Maker.  (Hebrews 5: 12-14)  Sadly, you will miss out on the beautiful life God offers.

If you believe God is there, but believe Him to be what you want,  I caution you about the lie you are believing.  The nature of someone’s identity (God included) can never be changed by the desires of another.  My daughter may believe I should approve of living on a diet of sugar and popcorn, but her belief does not make it so.  If someone told her, “Oh, I know your mommy.  She is the one who serves candy for lunch everyday.”  My daughter would simply reply, “I don’t who you met, but it wasn’t my mommy.”

For the person who believes God is there and that He has told us about Himself and His creation, we can’t change our mind about that reality simply because we want to.  It would be like trying to believe I’m not pregnant after the pee test.  We don’t make up what is morally right or wrong for us.  Right and wrong are not about us.  We must submit to what is good.  We cannot create it.

Is it loving?

Being constrained by the reality of God and His goodness in this world is risky.  We are often charged with being unloving.  But what love is this?

Encouraging something as harmful as sin (opposite of God’s goodness) is worse than unloving. It is malicious and self-serving.   I have to love my friend toward what is good and beautiful and face the cultural firing squad.  Moral sickness is neither right nor beautiful nor desirable.  If it is the case that God is really there, He really has revealed Himself in the Scriptures and His gentle path is the best way for all of us, what else should we do?  How could I betray my friend and withhold God’s gracious will?

Love, which finds its origin in God rejoices in truth.  This means rejoicing in what is true for me and my friend.

When asked on that rainy day in California, I shared my honest understanding of how goodness is experienced in God’s moral boundaries, including the sexual boundaries I desired for my friend and the ones I sought to hold in my own singleness.  The goodness I offered my friend was not just some archaic rule to follow and avoid sin.  It was an invitation to a fuller experience of life itself: goodness and beauty known and experienced.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does NOT rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. – I Corinthians 13:4-8

Yes, we can talk about whether God is there.  We can talk about whether the Bible is true.  We can talk about whether God says murder is wrong, sex is reserved for marriage or we should love our enemies.  We can talk about whether Jesus really was the son of God and rose from the dead.

And I would love to be challenged on all of these beliefs.

You would not like me otherwise

Finally, I suggest you like me better this way.  I thrive under the authority of a living and good God.  My final authority is not myself.  He is far better than me.  God does not just help me understand the goodness of sexuality, life and justice in the world, He constrains and releases His goodness in me.  His goodness shapes me.

The humbled and submitted person that bends to the God of creation is commanded and empowered to love, be kind, never act out in violence, be faithful in marriage, diligent in parenting and forgiving as we have been forgiven.  Much like the curator of a museum can never harm a work of art, we can’t harm others.  They don’t belong to us.  But like the curator, we are charged with participating in God’s restoration of people through the person of Jesus.  We are called to deeply struggle for the good of our neighbor.

It is no small thing that we would walk away from submitting to a real and living God.  It is no small thing that we would uproot His authority and displace it with a crown on our own heads.  You would not like the prideful person it would create.

The Anger in Forgiveness

 

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“Why should I be sacrificed on the altar of his growth?!”  I remember the day I said these words out loud to God.  I was angry.  Angry and hurt.  I didn’t think I could get that angry.  Now it seemed like God was taking his side.

For an entire year a young man in my Christian community had publicly insulted my weight and femininity. His sideways, passive comments were lobbed in front of our friends and although we tried to ignore the jabs, we all knew what he thought of me.  I was fat and unattractive.  In private, friends tried to assure me, “He’s wrong.” “Stacie, you are pretty.”  But these comments went to the heart of my insecurities.

At the end of the day I was left to struggle with his words.  The worst part was that deep down I believed he was right.  I knew enough theology to know that God saw me as precious and beautiful, but the rest of the world?  This man was just voicing what everyone thought and no one was willing to say.  I was undesirable.  So, there I was, hurt and angry.

Growing Anger

Months passed.  I sank into sadness and isolation, functional on the outside and withering on the inside.  Prayer became a plea for God to rid me of this person and help me feel better about living in a world where I was less than everyone else.  Wasn’t God angry too?  Then came a pivotal conversation.  A trusted friend stepped into my world and offered his help, with one condition.  I needed to confront the person hurting me, share my injury and forgive.  Nothing could have seemed more unwise to me.

Although I had read the passages in the Bible about forgiveness and confrontation (Ephesians 4:32; Matthew 18:15), this had to be an exception.  Isn’t is unwise to confess hurt to someone who has only shown that they can and will hurt you?  I was pretty certain he had no idea of his effect on me and I was determined to make sure he would never know.

But then the Scripture became inescapable.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. -Ephesians 4:29-32

I was not allowed to attack back, scream and rant in anger.  I had to go to him for HIS good. I read and re-read and screamed through Ephesians.  Someone else’s behavior never lets me off the hook for acting for their good.  I am never off the hook of love and forgiveness.

My choice seemed terribly simple.  I could either die the slow death of withering from the inside, wallowing in anger, hurt, and bitterness, or I could obey God and move toward my enemy’s good.  Two paths that felt like death lay before me and God would only walk with me down one of them. God would sacrifice me on the altar of his good.  I wish I could say I had spiritual strength, faith and foresight.  What I would do next was merely obedience and little else.

Forgiveness Deserved?

I knew pride, resentment and ugliness were rooting deep in my heart and I was desperate for their death.  I was desperate enough to submit to God and confess in deep repentance the ugly truth: I didn’t care about his good.  I didn’t want to love this person.  I didn’t want to forgive.  I wanted him to pay.

In order to share with this man how he injured me I would have to be filled with the Holy Spirit but this didn’t feel strong.  It felt open, vulnerable and weak.  I didn’t even think I could talk without crying.  I prayed through Ephesians 4 over and over again, unsure of whether I could even be kind or civil.  I prayed for the heart I wanted, but didn’t have.  I prayed for strength and compassion. I prayed to expect nothing.  It could not be about getting an apology or seeing repentance.

At this point you may be tempted to think, “But he is wrong.  He doesn’t deserve kindness.”  That’s true.  But neither do we.  Why is it that when I wrong someone I want mercy, but when someone wrongs me I want justice?  The cross of Jesus shows how equally in need of forgiveness we all are and how graciously it has been offered by the One who has never been in need of it.

So, we talked. I cried.  Then, something miraculous happened.  He didn’t understand.   He did not apologize.  His words were stoic and formal.  He was caught off guard and at a loss for how to respond.  I didn’t get deep sensitivity or caring.  But it didn’t crush me.  I climbed on an altar, expecting to be sacrificed but found myself freed.  Like a tiny seed in my heart, something began to bloom.  I wanted this man’s good.  I wanted God to be kind to him.  I was able to forgive.

A Miracle

I have rarely in my life felt so protected, loved and cared for as I did the day I walked away from that conversation.  I had done as God asked, not just for his good but for mine.  My heart could break without breaking me.  God’s rebuke of me could be kind.  God saw my pride, self protection and rebellion.  I had dared to ask God to choose my good over another one of His other children, as if I were faultless.  Something in me was ugly, prideful and demanding.  Here in the ugly bits of myself there is forgiveness, mercy and grace.

Since that time Paul’s words on forgiveness live in me like light in darkness.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  -Romans 5:6-8 

Forgiveness is a miracle.  It is one of the most amazing ways we as Christians can experience the miraculous nature of the cross in our relationships.  His forgiveness of us births in us the humility to forgive, even those who hurt us.  Forgiveness is still hard, but necessary.

Do you know what it is to be forgiven?  Do you need to forgive?

 

 

Why I am a Vintage Value Christian Feminist

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Four nights ago I was driving in a van through the Zona Norte section of Tijuana, Mexico.  This is the”red light” district, complete with dark back alleys, girls on every corner, and men shopping for whatever entertainment is offered.  Street after street reminded me of the heartbreak surrounding the treatment of women around the world.  Over the next few days I would meet women who had been sold into prostitution or just plain seduced into servitude.  Encounters like these have shaped the way I define words like oppression and power.

You might consider me a feminist.  Years of study in academic philosophy told me that feminism is simply for the equality of women and against the oppression of women.  Of course, equal pay for equal work, educational opportunity and protection from harm seemed obvious.  Why wouldn’t someone identify as a feminist with these kinds of definitions?

Then I was introduced to a kind of feminism that screamed at high decibels in affluent western countries.  This brand of feminism was angry and carried an odd mixture of jealousy toward men while sporting a superiority complex.  This brand of feminism didn’t empower me to be woman, it simply told me to be a man because we don’t need them, as if an entire gender was expendable.

A Female Pastor

Now as a wife, mother, Christ-follower and “pastor” I get the question all the time.  “What are you as a woman allowed to do?”  There is a subtle insinuation in the question.  Hasn’t the Christian church so oppressed women that your role can never exceed childbearing, cooking or knitting, because we know there is no power in these things?   Aren’t you told to submit to a man?  Does your boss really value your contribution?

I love these conversations and I wish the Christian church had more of them.  It is here that we learn the heart of Jesus.  As a Christian, I have more ground to defend oppressed woman than any other worldview.  We have a God who made male and female to bear His image, with all the dignity and worth that goes along with that image.  (Genesis 1:26)  How we treat people comes from our view of creation.  He who mocks the poor taunts his Maker.  (Proverbs 17:5).

Much like a Monet or Picasso painting, we are priceless not because of our usefulness, but because of our Maker.

It is still a wonder to me how one can reject the notion of God and yet cry foul when people are oppressed. In a world without God, the oppressed are just too weak to defend themselves.  The lion doesn’t feel guilty for eating the bunny rabbit.  It is simply the natural order of things.  Without God, the natural order rules and there is nothing morally wrong with the powerful winning.

Even with a high view of human value and dignity, we must admit that some Christian churches have a poor track record for the treatment of women.  I have been encouraged by men, objectified by men, patronized by men and empowered by men.  How do we make any sense of such confusing messages and a culture that is slipping into further decay with each passing day?

Asking the Right Question

May I suggest that we are asking the wrong question.  God does not ask me to respond to all the world, just my little piece of it.  How then does God ask me to live as a woman in my world?  I am called to ask a better question.

“How can I, uniquely gifted as a woman, be for the good of those around me?”

It is not about how much power I can have, but about how much I can serve those around me.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  (Philippians 2:1-7)

This passage is not for the faint of heart.  Why should I submit myself to the good of someone else when they are no better than me?  Because Jesus did.  He, although being God himself, took on service, humility and yes… submission.  An outflow of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is our ability to submit ourselves on the altar of someone else’s good. (Ephesians 5:18-21)  This mutual submission, from men and women, reflects the humility of the cross of Christ.

Over the years I have seen women who fall into bitterness and hate the men around them.  These same women long for marriage.  I don’t know how we can expect to hate men and love any one of them very well.

Everyday Life

What does this look like everyday?  I don’t need to fight for some misguided attempt to be a man.  I am not a man.  God has a much more feminine approach to my calling.  As a created female, I have immense power to inspire the men around me to be what God calls them to be.  This doesn’t mean I am silenced or kept from using my gifts.  This means that I have no right to bemoan the passivity of men and then trample on them with my competencies.

As men, my husband and the elders of my church bear a leadership and responsibility that God would not have me lift from them.  They rightly feel the weight of being for my good in ways that are different than my weight.  I am for their good.  They are for mine.  This is the heart of Christ. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

Finally, deep in our hearts we may be tempted to seek the safety of power in order to take care of ourselves.  Who will look out for you?  That’s God’s job. If power is your main goal you are the last person who should lead.

Ironically, I have worked with those who long for power.  It looks ugly on both men and women.  I have worked in academia, smaller organizations, and corporate structure.  I find myself now in a work environment with men who feel the weight of being for my good while empowering me to be all that God has made me.  Funny that it’s an evangelical church. And that is saying something.