The Secular Beatitudes

The beatitudes from the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) are some of the most memorized passages of Scripture.  But they were spoken for a greater reason than for getting gold stars at kids church.  They are a demonstration of the upside-down, or rather, right-side-up values of the kingdom of God.  The beatitudes display both the glory of God and the sinfulness of humanity, even at its best behavior.  The beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12) are also a glorious promise what those who place their faith in Jesus Christ will become due to God’s glorious transforming power (2 Cor. 3:18).

Joshua Harris, upon considering the famous passage from the sermon on the mount, developed his own version of the beatitudes based upon what he has observed in the world.  He called them, the “secular beatitudes“:

  1. Blessed are the self-confident because they rule the world.
  2. Blessed are positive-thinkers because they don’t need anybody’s comfort.
  3. Blessed are the cocky and assertive because they get what they want.
  4. Blessed are those who hunger for fame because they get reality TV shows.
  5. Blessed are the vengeful because they get respect.
  6. Blessed are the impure, pleasure-seekers because they see a good time.
  7. Blessed are those who beat their opponents because the victors write the history books.
  8. Blessed are the popular because everybody loves them.

Emotion and Truth Based Christian Lives

“Putting all my desired “Jesus feelings” into words makes me sound like an emotional seventh-grade girl about to leave summer camp. That is not good.  I think many Christians are more interested in chasing a feeling about Jesus than pursuing Jesus himself and reviewing and thinking about the truth of who he is.” -Joshua Harris (Dug Down Deep pp 85-86).

The daily trivia at my Caribou coffee shop was “Name the character played by Johnathan Taylor Thomas (JTT) in the television show Home Improvement”. If you get it right you save ten cents. I got it wrong.  But a conversation ensued with the baristas about teenage heart throbs and how some people can work themselves into an emotional frenzy just thinking about the latest teen hunk. Mention, or even better, trash talk “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” around some teenage girls and you will immediately see this frenzy of emotions.

Christians can fall into this same kind of emotional frenzy about Jesus.  There is nothing wrong with being a “crazy lover of Jesus” and having a bubbling up of emotions. The Bible is full of expressions of deep emotions and crazy love for God (think about the Psalms or David dancing in front of the Arc of the Covenant).  A completely stoic, Spock-like Christian life is abnormal when compared to the Bible’s description of the Christian experience.

On the other hand, an emotionally driven experience of Jesus can eventually become unhealthy. Over time a person can fall in love with the emotions that they associate with Jesus instead of falling in love with Jesus himself.  It is similar to falling in love with bubbly sensations that come with a relationship with another person rather than falling in love with that person.  There is danger of depression when you don’t have the feelings.  Feelings are also not equal to facts. Emotions that are not based on truth can be deceptive and destructive.  Joshua Harris describes a truth-based emotional response to Jesus quite well in his book Dug Down Deep:

I’m not even sure how to describe the feeling that I believe I should have about Jesus. All I know is that I want a really deep and meaningful feeling. I want something to wash over me. I wouldn’t even mind crying. Actually crying is good. The feeling I’m after definitely needs to be passionate and profound. A touch of melancholy works too. Sad and austere feel very spiritual. I want to feel like Jesus is my closest friend, like we could hang out. I want to feel that he likes me – my tastes, my sensibilities, my music, my food. I want a deep bond – the kind that doesn’t even need words to communicate.

Putting all my desired “Jesus feelings” into words makes me sound like an emotional seventh-grade girl about to leave summer camp. That is not good.

I think many Christians are more interested in chasing a feeling about Jesus than pursuing Jesus himself and reviewing and thinking about the truth of who he is.

The irony of this feeling-driven approach to Jesus is that ultimately it produces the opposite of what we actually want. Deep emotion in response to Jesus isn’t wrong. It can be good. But to find it, we need more than imagination and introspection.

One of the most valuable lessons C.J.[Mahaney] has taught me about the Christian spiritual life is that if you want to feel deeply, you have to think deeply. Too often we separate the two. We assume that if we want to feel deeply, then we need to sit around and, well, feel.

But emotion built on emotion is empty. True emotion – emotion that is reliable and doesn’t lead us astray – is always a response to reality, to truth. It’s only as we study and consider truth about Jesus with our minds that our hearts will be moved by the depth of his greatness and love for us. When we engage our minds with the doctrine of his person and his work, our emotions are given something to stand on, a reason to worship and revel in the very appropriate feelings of awe and gratefulness and adoration.

Knowing Jesus and feeling right emotions about him start with thinking about the truth of who he is and what he’s done. Jesus never asks us how we feel about him. He calls us to believe in him, to trust him. The question he asked his disciples is the same one he confronts us with: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ The real questions when it comes to Jesus are, Do you believe he is who he says he is? Do you believe he’s done what he said he came to do? (pp 85-86)

The Fatherhood of God

Living in the present reality of God as Father will radically change your view of the Christian life. I’m in process on this. I can’t say I’ve completely got it. But I’m learning to view my obedience and my struggle with sin through the lens of being a child of God. I have a Father in heaven who has promised to give me his Holy Spirit (Luke 11:11-13). He’s promised to provide me with all the power I need to obey him (2 Peter 1:3).

Holiness is just not a list of rules. It’s about imitating my Father (1 Peter 1:15-16).  He is loving, he is kind, he is pure, he is truthful, he is patient, and he is gentle. And because I’m his kid, I want to look like him and please him.

Turning away from sin isn’t about what I’m not allowed to do. I don’t want what displeases my Father. I want to love what he loves. How can I take joy in what grieves the One who has loved me with everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3)?

Righteousness in relationship is what pleases my Father. I’m not trying to live up to some church standard of self-imposed standard. I want to grow in honoring and knowing and blessing the heart of my Father.

The truth of God’s adopting love for me means I’m not obeying to get into his family or even to stay in the club. I obey because I’m already in. Because of Jesus, I’m family. There’s incredible safety in that.

-Joshua Harris (Dug Down Deep p 173)

Hope for Dead Bones

The idea of walking skeletons seems like something out of a Dungeons and Dragons board game or a scene from Bruce Campbell’s classic movie Army of Darkness.  A bunch of bleached bones getting up and walking around by their own power seems ridiculous. As it should.  Which is why the Bible uses this illustration to describe the condition of man outside of God’s salvation.  Dead. Dried  Up. But in Christ this heap of bones have hope. Not because of their own power (they have none), but because of the power of God.  Author and pastor Joshua Harris describes this hope in his book  Dug Down Deep:

Dead bones brought to life [Ezekiel 37:1-14]. That’s a picture of how God saves people. We have no life in ourselves. No human desire or effort can impart life. How can we live? Only by the bidding of God. Only by the power of the mighty Word of God breathing life into dead people.

Jonah 2:9 says, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” It’s true. Salvation is the supernatural work of God in the human soul. It is owned by God. Only he can give it. It depends solely on the power of God and the grace of God.

This perspective of salvation is incredibly humbling. If salvation isn’t ultimately because of my spiritual insight, my discovery, my inner goodness, my effort, or my religious work, then I cannot save myself. It doesn’t matter what family or church I’ve been born into. It doesn’t matter how moral or religious or respected I am. In this sense the message of the gospel is very bad news for human ingenuity and pride.

But at the same time, it’s very good news for people whom Jesus described as “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) – people who know they can’t save themselves, people who realize that their spiritual poverty and helplessness. For these people, the gospel imparts hope. Because if God is truly the central figure and actor in salvation – if his choosing, his searching, his calling, his grace, his regenerating power giving new life is what makes salvation possible – then no one is beyond hope.

And this is incredibly good news. It means that God can save anyone. Even me. Even you.  ( p 126)

Dug Down Deep Book Review

“Jesus is the center, the focal point, of the Christian faith. But it’s odd how averse we Christians can be to studying and defining a clear “doctrine” of Jesus. That just doesn’t seem relational. We don’t want to study Jesus. We want to experience him”

“I think many Christians are more interested in chasing a feeling about Jesus than pursuing Jesus himself and reviewing and thinking about the truth of who he is. The irony of this feeling-driven approach to Jesus is that ultimately it produces the opposite of what we actually want. Deep emotion in response to Jesus isn’t wrong. It can be good. But to find it, we need more than imagination and introspection.”

“Knowing Jesus and feeling right emotions about him start with thinking about the truth of who he is and what he’s done. Jesus never asks us how we feel about him. He calls us to believe in him, to trust him. The question he asked his disciples is the same one he confronts us with: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ The real questions when it comes to Jesus are, Do you believe he is who he says he is? Do you believe he’s done what he said he came to do?”
-Joshua Harris (Dug Down Deep pp 85-86)

The above quotes capture the kernel of Joshua Harris’ latest book, Dug Down Deep: Understanding What I Believe and Why It Matters. It is not a book designed to be a study in systematic theology, though it does take the reader through some of the core Christian beliefs.  Rather, the book is an easy read filled with great imagery to help the reader gain a picture of the necessity of having a faith grounded in truth and not just our feelings and what we want to believe.  If you are looking for “deep” theological terminology and thoughts, you have the wrong book. If you are looking for a book that takes some critical and deep theological topics and presents them in easy to understand ways, then this is a book worth reading.

Rightly Knowing God

“There’s nothing more important than rightly knowing God and thinking true thoughts about him. But there’s also nothing I find more difficult. And that’s not for the reason you might assume…What makes it difficult for us to see the truth about God, I think, isn’t his overwhelming immensity but our overwhelming self-centeredness. Looking past ourselves is a lot harder than most of us realize. Many have never tired. In this way we’re a lot like the people walking past the windows of the coffee shop. Instead of looking through the window of God’s self-revelation and seeing him, we find it easier to admire our own reflection or to place on him the constraints of our own existence. We judge him by our standards of justice, fairness, power, and mercy. We even measure his greatness by our own ideals of greatness.”
-Joshua Harris (Dug Down Deep p 39)

When getting into discussions about God, or Jesus in particular, whether with Christians or non-Christians, one of the top questions that I ask is “where do you find that in the Bible?”.  I don’t ask this question to be a jerk or obnoxious (though some people may take it that way).  I ask the question because we all fall into the trap of imposing our beliefs about God onto God based not upon His self-revelation in the Word but based upon our personal preferences.  When we fall into this trap we end up worshiping a god made in our own image and according to our likeness rather than allowing God to reveal who He is to us and allowing Him to change our thoughts about Him to match the truth.

Can we humble ourselves to acknowledge God for who He is and not who we want him to be based upon our own (often self-centered) preferences?  Are we willing to submit to God’s self-description as spoken through the prophet Isaiah?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”
(Isaiah 55:8-9).

Rumspringa

“It’s strange to see an Amish girl drunk. The pairing of a bonnet and a can of beer is awkward. If she were stumbling along with a jug of moonshine, it would at least match her long, dowdy dress. But right now she can’t worry about that. She is flat-out wasted. Welcome to rumspringa.” (Dug Down Deep p 1)

Rumspringa literally means “running around” in Pennsylvania Dutch.  It is the period of time starting at sixteen that the Amish teens get to go “sow their wild oats” before the vast majority (80-90%) choose to return to their family traditions rather than being cut off from their family and community by choosing to “become part of the world” through staying in the modern world.  When rumspringa comes the Amish kids go wild with alcohol, drugs, and sex.  The logic is that they will become sick of the world and choose the safe world of Amish life and religion. Rumspringa is blatantly unbiblical.  Even if we were to set that aside for a very brief moment, I must echo author Joshua Harris’ questions, “What are they really going back to? Are they choosing God or just a safe and simple way of life?” (p 4).

As easy as it may be to attack the practice of rumspringa in the Amish community, many of the youth who grow up in Christian homes have their own rumspringa. I have heard the line, “I have been told I shouldn’t do (fill in the blank) and know that I shouldn’t, but how can I really know unless I try it for myself” too many times.  The stupidity of the logic never seems to dawn on the speaker.  Just apply that logic to another area: “I hear that shooting myself in the head can kill me, but I won’t know if I try.”

If they were being honest they would give other reasons.  Maybe there is this desire in some youth to break free from their background, or play around with what they see their classmates are doing (while choosing to ignore the negative consequences that are also visible).  Some may even blame the church for choosing to not attend church (whether or not they dive into drugs, alcohol, or sex outside of marriage) or for entering their chosen debauchery.  Harris describes his entry into this period of his life in Dug Down Deep in the following way:

During my early twenties I went through a phase of blaming the church I had attended in high school for all my spiritual deficiencies. Evangelical mega-churches make good punching bags.

My reasoning went something like this: I was spiritually shallow because the pastors’ teaching had been shallow. I wasn’t fully engaged because they hadn’t done enough to grab my attention. I was a hypocrite because everyone else had been a hypocrite. I didn’t know God because they hadn’t provided enough programs. Or they hadn’t provided the right programs. Or maybe they’d had too many programs.

All I knew was that it was someone else’s fault (p 5).

It is easy to blame others and even the church for our shortcomings.  While there may have been things that could have been better, we are not without blame. When we sin, we must learn to take the blame because we chose to sin. When we choose to run from God and the church we must take responsibility because it is our choice.  I wonder how many non-Amish youth (and adults) could avoid going on a rumspringa if they would take responsibility not only for their sins but also for their spiritual growth (or lack thereof)?