Sunday, August 28, 2011

YGITS: Meek-and-Mild

                Charles Wesley once wrote a poem now considered a classic for children. The first line states, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon this little child.” Cecil F. Alexander wrote in Once in Royal David’s City, “Christian children all must be, mild, obedient, good as He.” I find it both sad and offensive that the only word they could come up with to rhyme with the word “child” was “mild”. I find it patently offensive that they chose to apply this term “mild,” to Christ Himself! This situation isn’t helped by the often flowery, soft images that portray Christ. Even in images of the crucifixion, reality is often sanitized to the point where it becomes impossible for one to see it truthfully in their mind’s eye.

                Please don’t get me wrong. I am not charging Mr. Wesley or Mr. Alexander with purposefully insulting Jesus by calling Him “mild,” but I do believe it is wholly incorrect and harmful to our thinking that they chose that word for Him. Mild, the Man who flipped tables in the temple not once, but twice! Mild, the Man who challenged and exposed the hypocrisy of the powerful religious forces of the day, who knowingly walked resolutely to His death despite His closest friends begging Him not to do it! Mild, the Man whose personality, 2000 years later, has not been extinguished or slowed down despite every effort being made to do so!

                Is it a wonder that as children grow up they begin to find their heroes (spiritual or otherwise), in others besides Christ? Growing up with a view of a soft, sentimental Jesus who is so sickly-sweet as to become inhuman, a wallflower who occasionally says some words on a page, gives nothing to hold onto. What is worse is that if Jesus is an accurate depiction of God in human form, then it makes God out to be this overly-soft, pushover-sentimental being as well. It makes a caricature out of Him, exaggerating His sentimental care for us at the expense of all His other qualities. How well can a mature adult follow and worship a God who is seen as less emotionally developed as his own? Furthermore, since God is love, how can we have an accurate picture of love if this is our foundation for it?

                Love is more than always saying kind words and soft phrases. It is more than hugs and kisses and rainbow lollipops. It is an area of truth, sometimes hard and sometimes not. It is a place of helping and guiding, which can involve pain and a firm hand. Love is both a blade and a bandage, both a safe-house and a revealing mirror. If we withhold the hard aspects of love from those we claim to love the most, we are hurting them far more than the loving truth would.

                This view of Jesus as being “mild,” also poses a grave threat to our Christian walk if we are not careful. Because if we are to be “like Christ,” (2nd Cor. 3:18), and we see Christ as being a “mild,” person, then we will become the same way. Strange, that a Christian would consider being “mild,” when we are told in Scripture to fight the good fight, put on armor, and wield a sword. This world wants to devour us, and it will go after the weakest of us first. We must be truth and light in this world. We must love this world and those in it enough to go out and speak the same truth that Christ spoke. At times this means being a painful blade, at times this means being a pillow to be cried on. But it requires the full spectrum of love, and it requires the full spectrum of Christ’s truth. It is not something we can be mild and do. We must be powerful, strong, and resolute. Just as He always has, and always will be.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

YGITS: Grand Old Man

“It was as though they were revering the memory of a Grand Old Man, who was a great power in His day, but who could not possibly be expected to keep pace with modern progress!”
                                                                                                                                -JB Phillips

                There is a poison today which holds many back from seeing God as He truly is. It is not necessarily a deadly poison, but it is a potentially dangerous one, and should be considered with great care. It is the view that God is but a Grand Old Man who doesn’t really understand the complicated lives we live today.

                It begins naturally enough. As children we almost must see God as an “Old Man” simply due to the fact that since all of our superiors are older than us, then God, being the most superior of all, must be that much more ancient. This is natural and acceptable, but it cannot be where the journey ends. Unfortunately this perception is often one that is allowed to follow us throughout our lives, and indeed tries to lead how we think, feel, understand, and worship God. In reading the Bible we sometimes get caught up in the language it is in, rather than what it says. At times prayers can become so formalized that they lose the intent behind them. How many worship services have we attended where our speech becomes technical jargon and we sing about the “Night with Ebon Pinion?” God is not just the God of the past and ancient terms and old paths. He is a living, breathing, present God who knows just as well how to handle modern terms as ancient ones, and who calls us to Himself either way.

                This is not to say that there is no place for it, and this article is not to say that there is no beauty or truth to be found in it. This article is to say that if we allow ourselves to get caught up in the “right” way of doing/saying/singing things, simply because since God is “old” He must like the “old” way of doing things, we miss the point. There are without doubt certain ways that God has made clear He wants things done, but whether or not it is done in a modern tone or an ancient one is not, what I believe, matters to God. What matters to Him is whether we are fully embracing Him and working to follow His will in a way that allows Him to strengthen us.

                Worship is to God, but it is for us. Worship and communication to God is what He has blessed us with so that we can be in tune with Him and His will. If every human on the planet decided to quit worshiping or believing in God, He would not be any less God. In the same way if we speak to God in our normal manner of speech, and we worship Him in our normal manner of life, without coating it with an extra layer of “ye olde English,” it will not make any our worship any less acceptable to Him.

                This Grand Old Man concept is important to me. Personally I like using a little bit older language and thought process. God is the Great King and Creator who is worthy of every ounce of respect we can muster and more. But He is not an Old Man who cannot understand cell phones, cars, and daily life in the modern world, and there are too many today (especially among younger people), who get stuck on this point. Yes, God was and is the God of the ancient world, but He is also the God of today, and is just as active and powerful as He ever has been. He is a personal God, and He is a modern God, who is here, and who understands everything (even better than you do).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

YGITS: Parental Hangover

One thing God is not is our parents. This does not mean that our parents cannot show us God in truth by their actions, but they are not God. They are human, mistake-ridden people like the rest of us. Now God is called our “Heavenly Father,” but unlike our parents here on earth He is perfect, all-loving, and truly all-knowing. Furthermore, He is fully in control of what happens in this universe, and that control cannot be wrested away from Him by anyone or anything.

                The fact is that our view of our earthly parents (especially fathers), has a huge impact on our initial view of God Himself. If God is our Father, then He must obviously be somewhat like our parental father, any child would reasonably conclude.  This can be a beneficial thing if the child’s father is a moral man doing his best to walk the Christian life, and it can also be something that warps the child’s view of God if the father is someone who the child fears or feels continually guilty in front of. It can also be any myriad of views in between. This is not to be used as an excuse for viewing God one way or another, but it does provide a point of entry to be able to say “my earthly father was A or B, but my Heavenly Father is not like that.” In any case as we grow and mature our view of God must grow and mature as well. God is much too big to be confined to human terms and analogies, and we must accept that if we are to chase after a fuller view of God.

                It is true that Jesus used the image of God as our Heavenly Father, and we should accept that analogy, for it describes the relationship that He wants with us. But God does not want us to view Him as we view our earthly fathers, good or bad, for our entire lives. He is much, much more than that, and gives us much, much more love, attention, and devotion than even the best of fathers could manage. When we take away the limiters that restrain our view of God in human terms, we approach a view of God that is closer to how the Bible describes the Almighty King and Creator of All Things, and the love that causes Him to come down to our level and aid us and love us in our everyday lives. As Phillips puts it, “we must leave behind ‘parental hangover’ if we are to find a ‘big enough’ God.”