Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reformation Week 2010

Of all the holidays that enjoy a place in the Christian calendar, among the most understated must be the one packaged and prepared for believers to celebrate God's correcting providence when the Church has wandered into error. Indeed she has wandered from time to time, and as a loving Father and Good Shepherd, God in his wisdom has moved her to cast off fanciful inventions and harmful speculations, returning to faithful orthodoxy. Such was the case when, on October 31st, 1517 a young Augustinian monk in Wittenberg, Germany took the bold move to nail a list of topics for debate to the door of the town church. Each thesis (or point of debate) represented an area of conviction where the Church seemed in need of correction; needing to return to the plain teaching of Holy Scripture as it had been understood by more ancient church fathers. Devoutly catholic, Martin Luther's clear intent was not that the Church should experience rifts and divisions, but that she should reform, and return to faithful and orthodox doctrine and practice - as one spotless and holy "Bride."

But human nature being what it is, there were diverse and varied responses to this bold critique of the Roman Catholic church at the time. Within a century of its humble beginnings, the Protestant movement (those "protesting" Roman Catholic authority in various ways) saw a fracturing of the Church on continental Europe into factions that no only persist to this day, but have themselves splintered into innumerable subsections. The body of Christ has indeed experienced great trauma in the West. Nevertheless, this tragedy can, by no means, negate the necessity of setting aside deviations from ancient biblical orthodoxy that erode the Church's faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Inappropriate responses to the Reformation can be observed in how many seek to reinvent the church according to popular business models and entrepreneurial instincts. The Anglican Church took the wise path of simply casting off Roman inventions that were not defensible from Scripture or supported by Church Fathers in the first millennium, but saw no need to "throw the baby out with the bathwater." Nevertheless, difficult as it may seem; painful as it may prove; the Church must reform when necessary, and remain thankful to God for leading her to do so.

Thus Reformation Day is, (1) a commemoration of God's providence in reforming the Church at a critical moment in history, (2) a celebration of the God who reforms us - not leaving us to languish in error, and (3) an anticipation that he will faithfully continue this work until the return of Jesus Christ. Paul assures the Philippian church, "For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil 1:6). Reformation Day offers a superb opportunity to (1) look back at what God has graciously done, (2) look around at how he shows grace to us now, and (3) look forward at his grace will sustain and preserve us in the future - as is the case with all other celebrations such as Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, Anniversaries, etc.

For this reason, we rightly take this week leading up to Reformation Day (October 31st) as a time to reflect on our own need for semper reformanda ("always reforming"). What erroneous assumptions regarding God and his work have I picked up over time that need correcting? How do I contribute to the Church's faithfulness to time-honored and biblical truth? Are my instincts that she should reform intact rather than split further asunder?

In addition to these points of meditation, it is also appropriate to make of this a joyous and festive occasion that celebrates God's reforming work in us. Blowout parties and fun-filled gatherings should mark the Church at this time. Mine certainly is going to party over it. I recommend that yours does too.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Baseball Gloves and Cobwebs

I recently had an episode that was very, very humbling as a father. Though there were no witnesses, it was still one of the most embarrassing moments in my recent history. I may have been the only one to perceive it at the time, still I swore I heard a collective sigh escape from even the surrounding furniture in the room. Perhaps it was just as well that no one was around to offer absolution; no one to dilute the sense of secret shame.

The exchange started out innocent enough. I turned to my youngest son and asked if he would like to go outside and play catch. It had been some time since I had thrown the baseball with him, and the spontaneously open afternoon before me left ample time to resurrect that practice (I couldn't recall the last time we had played catch). He said that he would like to throw the baseball with me, but then added that he didn't know where his glove was.

Now at this point it's important to remember how normative it is for young boys to sleep with their baseball gloves under their pillow. Such vital equipment is practically an extension of their body. You might sooner ask a policeman where they have misplaced their firearm than ask a little boy where their sports gear has disappeared to. Nevertheless, the eleven year old male in front of me didn't know where his glove was, and as a result I began to shrink inside.

"Go check in your room," I commanded. "It's got to be in there." To this he responded by immediately excavating through his bedroom rubble. After three to five minutes he emerged empty-handed. This was getting less pleasing by the moment. The next phase was obviously to check in the garage. I couldn't believe I was directing him to search for his baseball glove in the garage, but at this point I was determined that this would end with us play catch if I had to buy him a new one.

Dutifully, he ventured into the wilderness of our stored belongings to seek out the wayward mitt. I could hear my son rummaging through boxes and tools, around bicycles, rakes and shelves. He came back with something in his hands, presented it to me and asked, "Is this it?" To my horror he held in his little palms an unused baseball glove. Still retaining its original rigidity, the basket was even stuck spread open. I looked down and saw that the palm of the glove had collected cobwebs.

I swear I am NOT making this up. COBWEBS!

To say that I took the image of this personally is an exercise in understatement. Instead of having a baseball glove worn and weathered from frequent use playing catch with his brother or his father, my son had a glove filled with cobwebs languishing out in the garage. My paternal instincts had been subjected to a "pass/fail test" and come up short. It was painful.

Walking outside, I grasped the baseball intensely, feeling its stitches dig into my palm. "OK, let's go play catch," I whimsically added, trying to shrug off my shame.

"I'm not sure I know how," he sheepishly countered. Really kid. Do you have to twist the knife in my heart THAT much?

"We'll figure it out," I assured him. We started pretty close, tossing the ball lightly. Slowly we bravely moved away from each other so that the throws could become more powerful and the catches more difficult. With each subsequent catch and throw he seemed to grow in stature and pride. Though it was a delight to witness him exult in the new skills developed with his father, it did not absolve me from the guilt of time lost up until now. The image of a baseball mitt covered in cobwebs is burned into my brain. Not only did that event leave me with a resolve to never again be confronted with that type of neglect, but perhaps my humiliating moment, confessed here, will be beneficially instructive to some other father that has just gotten too damn busy. By God's grace and with his help, we will keep the cobwebs out of the baseball gloves.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Deadly Sins: Pride

Among the oldest and most deadly of sins (considered by some to be the sin from which all others spring) is destructive pride. It is the attitude of superiority that renders the proud quite above all influence from outside sources. I've had the unfortunate opportunity to watch some lives simply implode because pride kept them from ever thinking that self-evaluation was appropriate, thus submitting themselves to healthy wisdom. Even when confronted with pending catastrophe, the proud will maintain that all others have unreasonably collaborated on their doom. They will debate, and haggle and negotiate the terms of their situation; but never once will they entertain the notion of submitting to wisdom regarding their specific situation.

Having witnessed the proud follow their foolish path, and even having experienced it myself before, is what led me to once codify:

Pride is the path of destruction.
Pride leads to defiance.
Defiance leads to rebellion.
Rebellion leads to blindness and death.

The wide swath of debris left behind as stubborn hubris traverses through a household is a wonder of nature. Not all people deserve the relational, financial or emotional (or sometimes even physical) carnage wrought upon them; but sometimes one "sows wheat and reaps a harvest of it." Their life is a fitting lesson to the rest of us that must learn the key principles they have collided with. It's tragic, but instructive.

I dare not develop the pride that thinks myself above learning such lessons or susceptible to such folly. The correct response is not to gloat and think, "You may have fallen into such folly, but I would not." Instead the appropriate response to think, "But for God's grace, I too could welcome such calamity upon myself as well." The antidote to destructive pride is submission to the wise - the wise that offer wisdom in the Church, from the position of faith. If the fear of the Lord is indeed the beginning of wisdom, then the folly the leads to self-destruction must have started with something else - with no humble "fear of the Lord" rendering one teachable.