Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Four Point Five

So, the publicity team at HarperCollins excitedly sent me the following review last night, from RT Book Reviews.

“Bartels’ debut novel is a page-turner from the very beginning.  His excellent use of foreshadowing and his glimpses into the past create a story that readers can’t put down.  In the vein of Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti, Bartels weaves the supernatural into the natural in ways that are gripping and realistic, adding a shocking surprise that will leave readers stunned. ★★★★½” —RT Book Reviews

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Don't Be a Blockhead

So my last post was a little swipe at the boringness of football season, so maybe I'm trying to cosmically make up for that here. 
My church is having a "Kickoff Sunday" this week, celebrating the return of Sunday school, choir (oh yeah, we still have a choir), and our Wednesday evening activities. In order to try and cement this into their collective minds, I have been running at a football each Sunday morning, while announcing the date and festivities, only to have my lovely wife pull it away at the last minute, causing me to fall down, just like sad-sack comic strip character Charlie Brown.
Some have expressed concerns that I was going to break a bone if I kept this up. Others have politely hinted that, at some point, the congregation at large will begin to doubt my intelligence if I continued falling for the same gag. Hopefully all the bruises have been worthwhile and we will have a great turnout on Sunday. 

Either way, no regrets. After all, pratfalls are funny. Always have been, always will be. 
But have you ever thought about the theological ramifications of this recurring gag? Not surprisingly, I have. And not surprisingly, I'm going to share my insights. Let's just start here: you can’t pin all the blame on Lucy because Lucy can’t help it. Look at the above graphic; she’s taking no joy at all in what she’s doing. It’s just her nature. If you look into dark void of the soul of Lucy Van Pelt, you’ll see nothing but a fierce hunger for nickels, for affirmation of her own beauty, and for making Charlie Brown fall down in front of a lot of people. And, while it’s easy to blame Chuck himself for being such a stupid kid (albeit a “good man”),falling for the same trick again and again, we should be careful not to be too smug. Because we do the very same thing.

Sure, it's pathetic (and kind of a blockhead move) for Charlie to fall for the same old lie (“This time, I’ll actually let you kick the football”) for like fifty years of newspaper run, but you’ve got to remember that in those fifty years, Charlie Brown did not age. Therefore, he (ostensibly) gained no actual wisdom. What’s our excuse?  

Ultimately Satan only has one lie. He uses the world’s values and the desires of the flesh to prop it up, but “This time, it will be different” has been his mantra from the beginning. “Yeah, God said that you would die if you ate that fruit and every single thing he’s ever said has come to pass, but this time, following the appetites of the flesh will end with you gloriously kicking the game-winning field goal (or something equally satisfying).” “Sure, the last time you gave in to rage, bitterness, lust, drunkenness, or covetousness, it ended with a rift between you and God—a rift that damaged more than one relationship and grew until you finally repented, but this time will be different. This time, we’ll keep it under control. Just a little bit of hate, a little glance, a little taste. It won’t end with a huge, painful fall onto your back.”

It’s easy to frown and shake our heads when we see the obvious manifestations of this behavior, for example, when addiction blinds people to reality. The gambler who thinks this time she’s due for a pay--out while she spends the mortgage money, the alcoholic who insists he can have just a couple shots and keep it under control. But the fact is that all of us tend toward Charlie Brown stupidity when it comes to our own pet sins. Everyone. Even the Apostle Paul describes his own feeble struggles against his Charlie Brown mentality:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-- this I keep on doing.   Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God-- through Jesus Christ our Lord!  (Rom 7:15-20, 24, NIV)

Not only does the apostle artfully and fully describe the problem in that passage—he also identifies the solution: Jesus Christ, who gives us the victory. As we lay there on our backs, looking up at Lucy, it’s easy to say to ourselves, “Next time, I’ll remember how badly this ended, how awful I feel, what damage was done.” But we won’t. The solution is not to keep doubling down on our inner Charlie Brown, giving him more and more responsibility. It’s to saturate ourselves—our thoughts, the firstfruits of our time, our attitude and motivations—in Christ. 

Did you spend less than ten minutes praying that you would not fall to temptation today? If so, you may as well have put on a yellow T-shirt with a black zig-zag because you’re setting yourself up to go down in the most sad-sack possible way. Has it been two weeks since you’ve really been in the Word? May as well shave your head to go with that T-shirt and start embracing the sort of “Everything In touch I ruin” ethos of old CB.  Because, in our own strength, we will fall again and again, while continually chiding ourselves for stupidly believing Lucy-fer’s lies. 

But if we are in Christ, we can rejoice with Paul, as he proclaims, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me!” That verse is so often ripped out of its context. Paul was not talking there about living out his dreams, being victorious and successful, or “making it” from a worldly perspective. To get the context right, just go back a few verses, and read these words: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things.” (Phil 4:8).   

We are to have the same mind in us as Jesus—the same grace, love, holiness, and forgiveness. How can that happen when we are so prone to fall for that same old stupid lie? The answer: Thanks be to the Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us the victory. We can do all things in him!