Friday, July 11, 2008

'I Miss Him'

I read an excerpt from an interview of Charles Templeton, the evangelist turned-agnostic, conducted by Lee Strobel. What was said fascinated me.

And what about Jesus? I wanted to know what Templeton thought of the cornerstone of Christianity. "Do you believe Jesus ever lived?" I asked.

"No question," came the quick reply.

"Did he think he was God?"

He shook his head. "That would have been the last thought that would have entered his mind."

"And his teaching - did you admire what he taught?"

"Well, he wasn't a very good preacher. What he said was too simple. He hadn't thought about it. He hadn't agonized over the biggest question there is to ask."

"Which is . . ."

"Is there a God? How could anyone believe in a God who does, or allows, what goes on in the world?"

"And so how do you assess this Jesus?" It seemed like the next logical question - but I wasn't ready for the response it would evoke.

Templeton's body language softened. It was as if he suddenly felt relaxed and comfortable in talking about an old and dear friend. His voice, which at times had displayed such a sharp and insistent edge, now took on a melancholy and reflective tone. His guard seemingly down, he spoke in an unhurried pace, almost nostalgically, carefully choosing his words as he talked about Jesus.

"He was," Templeton began, "the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I've ever encountered in my life or in my readings. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world. What could one say about him except that this was a form of greatness?"

I was taken aback. "You sound like you really care about him," I said.

"Well, yes, he's the most important thing in my life," came his reply. "I . . . I . . . I," he stuttered, searching for the right word, "I know it may sound strange, but I have to say. . . I adore him."

I wasn't sure how to respond. "You say that with some emotion," I said.

"Well, yes. Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. Yes . . . yes. And tough! Just look at Jesus. He castigated people. He was angry. People don't think of him that way, but they don't read the Bible. He had a righteous anger. He cared for the oppressed and exploited. There's no question that he had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus."

"And so the world would do well to emulate him?"

"Oh, my goodness, yes! I have tried - and try is as far as I can go - to act as I have believed he would act. That doesn't mean I could read his mind, because one of the most fascinating things about him was that he often did the opposite thing you'd expect - "

Abruptly, Templeton cut short his thoughts. There was a pause. He glanced up, he looked across the room, he seemed to want to focus anywhere but on me. He was suddenly self-conscious, almost embarrassed, apparently uncertain whether he should continue.

He sighed. "But, no," he said slowly, "in my view. . . ."

Now there was a catch in his voice; he inhaled deeply to try to stop from crying. But as he turned toward me, I watched as tears flooded his eyes.

"In my view," he struggled to say, "he is the most important human being who has ever existed." His voice cracking, he uttered the words I never expected to hear him say: "And if I may put it this way - I . . . miss . . . him." With that, he broke down sobbing. He turned his head and looked downward, raising his left hand to shield his face from me. His shoulders bobbed; his right hand wiped away tears.

HT: Between Two Worlds

This interview struck a chord with me. There’s no question in my mind—Mr. Templeton had bad theology. He was a self-proclaimed agnostic. He didn’t acknowledge Christ as God’s Son. He thought Christ was a mediocre preacher whose greatness lay in how He went to the death for His beliefs.

But I do wonder: If a journalist were to ask me about Jesus, would my answer have been so heartfelt? I might’ve offered some defense of His deity. I would probably have mentioned His sacrificial death and maybe a brief summary of the Old and New Covenants. I might’ve given the Gospel in a nutshell. But would it have been evident in my tone that I miss Him? That I yearn for His Presence?

I’m not implying that Mr. Templeton was saved or was somehow justified by his 'love' for Jesus. (1 John 5:10-11) I am wondering whether half the Christians I know exhibit a love for God appropriate to the truth we know.

Think about it. This Jesus who Mr. Templeton inexplicably longs for has courted and wooed us—His Church—and paid the ultimate price on our behalf. He still faithfully presides over our lives with tender care. On a personal level, you have no hope for life outside of Jesus. I have no hope without Him. Yet with Him, we have hope beyond measure.

Isn’t that something to sing about? If merely knowing about Jesus, without knowing Him personally, was enough to make Mr. Templeton cry, how much more do we have to adore?

I think the Apostle John's student, Ignatius, had the right perspective: "My dear Jesus, my Savior, is so deeply written in my heart, that I feel confident, that if my heart were to be cut open and chopped to pieces, the name of Jesus would be found written on every piece."

That's more like it.

Related post:
What Makes You Cry? by Irish Calvinist
Randy Alcorn on "The Scream of the Damned" (A letter to C.J. Mahaney and John Piper. See half-way down the page)


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jesus Is Just Alright With Me

"'s alright."
Those words have the power to drive me nearly insane. To hear them spoken of a cherished book or a beautiful dress is almost unbearable. In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne Dashwood cries out in similar frustration to her mother, “To hear those beautiful lines, which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness—such dreadful indifference!”
She strikes upon something I think we've all felt at some time. When something we love is not treated with the whole-hearted, passionate adoration we believe it deserves, something within us rebels. We're righteously indignant when a praiseworthy object is left unpraised. Adore it or loathe it, but do not simply tolerate it!

And yet, how often do I apply this very same principle to my personal relationship with God? Realistically, it is of no consequence if someone fails to produce what I deem is the "proper response" to one of my earthly affections. What should I care if my friend gives a favorite book only three stars? It’s small beans. On the other hand, my opinion of God is an unbendable issue. He’s the only One worthy of total devotion. But with a nod of acknowledgement, I'm saying, “Umm…God, You’re alright”-- as if He were a choice dessert or hit song. I wade in apathy where I should dance with zeal.

Missionary-martyr Jim Elliot cried to God for passion:

“God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. God, deliver me from the dread asbestos of 'other things.' Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be aflame. Make me thy fuel, Flame of God.”
Nothing lukewarm there. Can I really say that my love is such a consuming fervor that nothing else matters? That I attribute to Him the adoration and praise He so greatly deserves? Sam Storms put it well, when he wrote in his book One Thing: Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God,

“Apathy is impossible in the presence of the Son of God. Ineffable beauty compels a response: either passionate devotion or hatred. Middle-of-the-road,straddle-the-fence, you-do-your-thing-and-I’ll-do-mine indifference dies when Jesus draws near. Love Him or despise Him, but abandon the myth that He can be tolerated. Sing for joy or spit in His face. Apathy simply isn’t an option.”
Dwell on those words. Passionate devotion—or hatred. There is no room for a response less than the extreme. Christ wants all of ourselves: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) Not part of the time. Not mildly or insipidly. Just as Christ gave us His everything, our everything is demanded in return. It’s radical, fanatic, obsessive, and unreserved. It’s a love that shouts from rooftops, to the God who is never merely “alright.”
Re-post from 8/11/07

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

How To Waste Your Diligence

There's nothing like the winter blues. Cold weather induces feelings of lousiness and encourages hibernation with several blankets, hot cocoa, and pointless reading material. More feelings of lousiness then come with not doing anything. Enter rationalization and such questions as, "But of course, what can be done in lousy weather?" Finally, the conscience catches up and the decision is made to do something of importance, but then a cold is caught too...which induces feelings of lousiness and encourages hibernation with several blankets, cocoa, more pointless reading material and a box of tissues. And what do you know...another cold front arrives.
It was in the midst of this circular reasoning that I stumbled onto this verse in Proverbs 22:29: "Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men." Because that wasn't enough, I tripped over Psalm 119:37, "Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Your ways."

I jumped off the couch and began hustling around the house, trying to atone for lost time. Life's too short to spend hibernating and talents left unused grow rusty quickly. History testifies constantly to the benefit of hard work--in spite of the winter blues. For instance, accompanying his father to France, John Quincy Adams took advantage of his time on the icy voyage from Boston.
On the journey he began to learn French, and due to his diligence, soon gained enough proficiency to become the youngest American diplomat. John Quincy was eleven years old. Instead of applying himself to shivering in the ship's cabin, utilized his time to achieve excellence. (I can't help but wonder if it was that same diligence and wise planning that landed the young diplomat the presidency years later.) While I am increasingly convinced of the importance of diligence, perhaps there is more to "turning away from vanity" than hard work alone.

A recent news story that will probably remain in the tabloids for some time to come: actor Heath Ledger died. For those who don't know, he was a teen heartthrob and is famous for a particularly immoral film. Out of the 150,000 people who die each day, the death of an actor is no more tragic than the death of any other. Nevertheless, Ledger's premature death at the height of fame and fortune is an example of the vanity King David, and later, King Solomon wrote of centuries ago. A week ago, decisions made by this actor could've turned heads in Hollywood. But where is his influence now? His death serves as a reminder that nothing lasts.

"All is vanity," Solomon said. That includes spending life for wealth and popularity, spending life on the couch, or spending every waking moment hard at work. Whether the act is cooking dinner or preventing a nuclear war---big or small--all is futile.

It's hard to forget that ever-potent quote from Napoleon on his deathbed: "I marvel that where the ambitious dreams of myself and of Alexander and Caesar should have vanished into thin air, a Judean peasant, Jesus, should be able to stretch out His hands across the centuries, and control the destinies of men and nations."

In the end, conquering the world wasn't enough for Napoleon; and I don't think it should be for me either. Yes, life's too short to be spent lazily. Since approximately eight years of my life will be spent on sleep alone, I don't want to lose another minute in lethargy. Yet, diligence for diligence's sake is just expending energy without a higher purpose. Hard work isn't the main goal.

The painter who paints only for the sake of holding a brush soon finds his stamina waning. Only when he sets his mind on the finished portrait does the painter's action make sense. Just the same, working hard for me makes little difference in the scheme of things. I'm transient. But when done for the glory of God, effort makes an eternity of a difference.