Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ramblings after Camping

So, we went camping this past week at Shaver Lake. Now, you probably don’t know this, but when we go camping, we go camping. It takes us a full day to pack. RV? Check. 50 pounds of bacon? Check. 5 economy size bottles of syrup? Check. Full size refrigerator? Check. Yes. Full size refrigerator. We don’t mess around. But I digress.
I don’t really even know what this post is about, really. I don’t know that what I want to say has any importance whatsoever. But I’m gonna say it anyway. That’s what having a blog is all about, right?
So, we go camping. When we go camping, we usually go to a different place every day. Some of these are new places—others are places we go to every year. One of these places is called Dinky Creek. Don’t laugh at the name. It’s an awesome place, really rocky, and most years the smooth rock on the riverbed forms natural waterslides. Every year, when we go there, I go exploring upstream by myself, jumping from rock to rock when I can, walking along the river when I can’t. It’s always a pretty cool experience, because I never see anybody else once I’ve been going upstream for about 5 minutes. It’s just me jumping from rock to rock and running along the bank. This year was a little different. I don’t know why, maybe it’s because I’ve been re-reading The Lord of the Rings, but as I was jumping and running and walking along the stream, I found myself kind of murmuring/humming bits and pieces of Tom Bombadil’s songs. And I did feel like Tom Bombadil. I don’t know why. But just now, I realized what I want to say in this post. It’s very simple, but it’s something I think about frequently. And it relates to Tom Bombadil.
Who is Tomb Bombadil? He is master. He is the lord over the land. He appreciates and loves nature (see him carrying water lilies for Goldberry), but he also controls nature, by force if necessary (see him subduing Old Man Willow). As I was writing the previous paragraphs, I was thinking about Tom Bombadil skipping along his path, singing his nonsensical, joyful song, and I was thinking of how I felt, running and jumping along the river, and I thought… nature is fallen. But sometimes Nature remembers when it was unfallen and pure and good, meant for us to enjoy and nurture, and also to rule. I thought of Tom Bombadil, and I thought of Adam, before the fall, and then I thought of us. We are fallen, as is Nature (although I sometimes think nature is not quite so fallen as we are). And here’s something else I just realized—it is our fault that nature is fallen.
When Adam sinned, he not only cursed himself, but creation as well. In Genesis, God tells Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you.” The earth did not originally bring forth thorns and thistles, scratching our skin and choking our plants—these are results of the fall, of our own sin. But just as creation was cursed because of the first Adam, it will be redeemed by the second Adam—Christ.
I was researching for this note, and I stumbled upon Romans 8. I’ve read it before, but I cannot believe that I didn’t remember this part, it’s so crazy-awesome. Check this out: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:19-21. Creation is not just a completely inanimate…thing here. I can’t think of the right words to say what I want to say, but… Creation itself is eagerly awaiting the day when it is set free from it’s bonds of death and decay. When we are renewed, so will creation be renewed. We will once again be the pure stewards of a pure creation. And I don’t think it’s that unlikely that, on the new earth, and under the new heavens, we might run beside clear streams, under green trees, and hear creation itself praising its creator.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Peter, Swordsman Extraordinaire

So, I was just thinking about how I've been slacking lately with the blog, and I decided to write another one. Here we go.

I love Peter. He is probably my favorite disciple. Why, you ask, do I like Peter more than, say, John, or Matthew? I love Peter partly because if I made a movie about the ministry of Christ, Peter would be the comic relief. He is the master of the non-sequitor and possibly the best swordsman in the land, able to cut off ears at a single blow. A good example of his incredible witticisms can be found in Mark's account of the transfiguration of Christ:
"And [Christ] was transformed before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white... and there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.' For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified" (Mark 9:2-6, emphasis mine).

So, Peter sees this glorious, incredible sight, and he doesn't know what to say. Understandable, given the circumstances. But he says something anyway: let's make three tents for you guys to... live... in... maybe? I can imagine the other disciples, terrified as they are, giving him one of those looks. What? It seems to be one of those times when something sounds fine in your head, but then you say it out loud and realize that what you just said was completely nonsensical. That's what happens to Peter.

Secondly, Peter has skills with the sword not possessed by any other biblical character. There they are in Gethsemane, surrounded by probably a decent-sized band of soldiers, armed and armored, and Peter draws his sword from his sheath. The guards are shocked, not expecting resistance, so nobody moves to stop him. Peter quickly steps forward and slashes at Malchus, the high priest's servant, who is stepping forward to take Jesus into custody. Everyone gasps as Peters sword comes down... and Malchus' ear drops to the ground, leaving him otherwise unscathed. How bad do you have to be with a sword to aim to kill somebody, and only get their ear? Not even, like, hitting their ear on the way down to the shoulder, but just the ear. Absolutely terrible.

The third reason, the greatest reason of all, that I love Peter is that he has trouble speaking clearly sometimes, and he is absolutely terrible at sword-fighting, but he does these things anyway. He knows he is not the greatest speaker. Yet his love for Christ is so strong that he wants to speak anyway, to say something meaningful, and next to that love, the fact that he fails is meaningless. He knows he can't do a thing with a sword. Yet his love for his rabbi causes him to draw anyway, to swing his sword, knowing that there is no way he can prevail against the trained Roman soldiers who have come to take Jesus away. He fights anyway, for love of his master.

Yes, he later fails, giving in to fear and denying his Lord and friend. But we see how much that failure torments him in the book of John. Peter, following the death of Christ, is hurting so badly that he goes back to his old occupation, that of a fisherman, for comfort. And yet he is not comforted, for they fish all night and do not catch a thing. Morning comes, and they see Jesus waiting on the shore. When Peter realizes who it is, he puts his robe on and jumps into the sea, swimming the hundred yards to the shore. I love this part most of all. He is still not thinking clearly, because we all know that clothes, especially long, flowing clothes such as they wore back then, make it much harder to swim. Of course he is not thinking clearly--his Lord and master, whom he betrayed, has come back to him, and Peter must see him again.

It is no accident, no coincidence, that it is Peter who gives the sermon at Pentecost and adds to the Kingdom of God three thousand souls. Peter could not speak well on his own, but he desired to, for love of Christ--that day, God used him, spoke through him, and saved three thousand in one day.

The last thing about Peter--the Bible does not tell us how he died, but tradition has it that he was crucified under Nero, around the same time as Paul. Specifically, he is said by several early church historians to have been crucified upside down--he told his executioners that he was not worthy to die in the same way as his Lord and asked to be crucified in that manner.

In Peter, we see great human weakness, and yet that weakness is made utterly insignificant by the imperfect yet still incredible love for Christ that dwells alongside it. We see that same weakness overcome by the power of God, as the one who previously had denied Christ out of fear is the same one who is unafraid and willing to die as Christ did. We share Peter's weakness--let us also share his love and zeal for Jesus Christ.

Oh, I almost forgot, this note was inspired by Five Iron Frenzy's song Far, Far Away. I strongly encourage you to give it a listen.

This post was written in 2010. And in 2014, I published my very own book, Simon, Who Is Called Peter. It's a First-Person narration, meaning it gets you inside the head of Jesus' most notorious disciple. However, it's also extensively footnoted, referencing dozens of commentaries and scholarly works on the life of Peter. CLint Arnold, Dean of Talbot School of Theology, calls it "an account that is both faithful to the biblical text and engagingly expressed," and Darian Lockett, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, describes it as "a comprehensive portrait of Peter that is delightfully and skillfully woven together with the fabric of the New Testament." If that sounds like something you'd like to read, check it out!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Far Country

So, I've been kicking this thought around in my head for a long time now, ever since I read part of Karl Barth's "Way of the Son of God into the Far Country." In that work, Barth mainly focuses, as the title implies, on the Son of God and his incarnation, where he left heaven and came into the Far Country of our sinful, rebellious world. However, he also addresses the Old Testament extensively and says this--
"We are unequivocally and indispensably told by the Old Testament [that] the man elected by God, the object of divine grace, is not in any way worthy of it. From what we hear of the people of Israel and its kings, he shows by his action that he is a transgressor of the commandment imposed on him with his election, an enemy of the will of God directed and revealed to him. The God of the Old Testament rules amongst His enemies. He is already on the way into the far country to the extent that it is an unfaithful people to whom He gives and maintains His faithfulness." (emphasis mine).

Now, I read that last year, but then kind of forgot about it until this last spring when my Torrey group read Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Hosea. If you've read parts of any of those books lately, you'll know what I'm talking about. Those books are built upon the assumption that God is higher than the people of Israel, that God is a holy God and Israel is an unholy people, that God is a loving God and Israel is a rebellious people. I was particularly struck by Hosea (and I encourage you guys to read it, if you've never done so. It's a short book). Throughout the book, God stresses his love and faithfulness and contrasts it with the faithlessness and literal whoredom of Israel. God says that he will punish Israel for this, and says at one point, "I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face." (Hosea 5:15).

This really interested me, especially God saying he will return to his place. It reminded me that God's place is not naturally here, among the sinful, rebellious people that dwell on this fallen earth. God is the Most High God, and his place is the most high place. And yet he shows again and again that he is willing to make this far journey from his high, glorious place to this low, dark, fallen place to be among low, dark, fallen people. Hosea and the other two books I mentioned especially stress this in the Old Testament. In Hosea 11, God remembers the origins of Israel and how he "bent down to them and fed them." When God chooses to interact with us. he really is bending down to us, stooping to our level. In being faithful to a sinful, rebellious, faithless people, God demonstrates the great lengths to which he will go to show love to the world. And they are great lengths. It is no small thing when the infinite Creator of the Universe condescends to not only make himself known to us, but to help us, to reason with us, to remain faithful to us even when we are faithless to him. Praise be to God that he makes this far journey for us, that he is "God and not a man, the Holy One in [our] midst."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sweet, Sweet Poison

As some of you know, this summer I have the privilege to be the Youth Intern at my church. This is a a full-time (40 hours a week) job in which I help out our youth pastor with whatever he needs to do (it's more involved than that, but that's not what this blog is about). As some of you also know, my dad owns an apiary ("bee farm" for the uninitiated). Now, there's a lot of work to be done during the summer, and this leads my dad to ask/tell me to help out.

As I said before, I have a full-time job. Sure, it's not the most hectic or stressful job, but it is still a real, full-time job. And then my dad comes in and tells me I have to get up at 5:50 to help the guys get ready to go out and work with the bees? What the heck? And I need to work with the bees on my days off as well? Are you kidding me? This was my reaction (it still is, in unguarded moments). And this is where the title of this blog comes in.

As a fallen person, I have learned how sweet it is to dwell on the wrongs that have been done to me. To feel that sense of righteous anger and indignation, to think about all the things you could say to expose the injustice for what it is, to imagine the complete vindication you will experience at the end of days when everything is set right and everyone will acknowledge that you shouldn't have had to work with the bees that summer. Glorious... anyways, and in all seriousness, it is pleasurable to do these things. But it is absolutely poisonous.

These thoughts can kill you inside. Dwelling on the perceived injustice of the situation can and will keep you from adjusting, from making the best of it and moving on. Your progress in becoming more Christ-like will come to a complete halt as all of your mental faculties are focused on how incredibly unfair the situation is. You will justify your behavior, thinking that yes, you know that you're supposed to be a servant, but certainly not in these circumstances, not when the situation is so obviously unfair to you. And unless you catch it, you won't even realize how ridiculous it is. And even then, after you catch it, it's incredibly easy to slip back into it. It's addictively sweet--and the sweetness masks the poison.

I'm still struggling with this. I hope that God will give me the strength to be a servant this summer without complaining. It's easier to stop if you never get in the habit of doing it.