For His Good

Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

–Romans 15:2


Those of you who know me may know I have an agenda against the glory of God, at least as I’m hearing it talked about in a lot of churches. There’s a tendency to overstate the case.  God is himself intrinsically glorious, and we are to glorify God, in the sense that we should always be acknowledging His glory in our talk and actions.  But a lot of times we use the idea of glory as a way of explaining God’s motivation, and as a key for identifying what our motives should be. And often, this gets in the way of simpler, more accessible objectives.

So looking above at Romans 15:2.  Each of us should always seek to be pleasant to our neighbors.  Why?  For their benefit, to build them up. Should our goal be to glorify God?  Yeah, sure.  But if you aim at God’s glory without looking to our neighbor’s good, I doubt you’ll have much success at hitting either.

I often think that love is a bit like happiness: it’s a byproduct, and can’t be got by aiming directly at it.  So, looking at the cross, I’ve heard it said that as Jesus died, he was thinking first of the glory of God.  Now we can’t know what Jesus didn’t say, but what does scripture say?  “The son of man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

There are lots of ways that Jesus could have given glory to God, in a maximally efficient manner.  Most of the ideas that come to mind involve lightning bolts.  But he came as a servant, and was humbled unto death, for the benefit of people who had made Him their enemies.  This is the apex of glory, but what makes it glorious is His humility and his care, not for himself or for the Father in any direct way, but first for us.  If you say that Jesus came looking for glory, and after a little research settled on saving the world by dying as the best among many options, it cheapens it a bit, doesn’t it?

Similarly, if I come looking for glory (glory for me or for God), and I settle on helping my neighbor as a good way to get it, I suppose it’s as Jesus said, “surely you have received your reward.” There’s a better, more direct way.  Jesus has been good to me, so let me be good to my neighbor.  Why? For his good, to build him up.  My neighbor is in God’s image.  It is good to be good to him.  No other motivation is necessary.

Skipping Church

I don’t think I’ll be going to church today.

It’s the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, and I’m a US Army officer, deployed. I know how the service is going to go, and it isn’t going to have much to do with Jesus.

I’m as patriotic as I know how to be, and I feel the weight of the events of that day, though I’m sure I don’t feel it as heavily as some. 9/11 isn’t a harrowing echo in my soul, because I love Jesus more than America.

The United States may still be the greatest nation in the world, if only because we are still the most Christian nation in the world, and even our charlatans must live according to some shadow of Christian principle. We are involved in two wars that may, in some strange sense, be considered acts of charity.

But noble intentions and holy obedience are two different things. And the travesty that happened 10 years ago is nothing, compared to the triumph that happened 2000 years ago. The memory of the twin towers is no substitute for Jesus Christ.

For the armed forces, true Christianity is practiced mostly on the down-low. I’m forbidden to evangelize, except in pre-announced, private settings. People ask me in quiet, personal conversations what kind of religion I practice, and if I will pray for them. As an officer, I can enforce ethical standards, but not explain why those standards must exist.

Meanwhile, in public settings, God is invoked, without any inquiry into the nature and character of this God, without any discussion of what he has done, or what we might owe him. He will come to our aid, in some stabilizing way, because he is God, and we have mentioned him.

On a day like today, when a 10-year milestone falls on the Lord’s day, The service will go like this: Everything is combined to make a display of unity, and the heroes of our war will be remembered. The Creator of the universe will certainly be mentioned. His Son may or may not be referred to, by a brave chaplain who wants to do what’s right. But the redeeming work of the Jesus’ death and resurrection will not be put on full display; it will not be given proper honor on the dearest day of all. There may be a cross, but it will not stand taller than the towers.

I don’t know how many people will think to call that kind of service wrong, or how many will roll their eyes and say I’m making something out of nothing. I am sure, that around the world this kind of subversion of the gospel will be going on, as has been done in many times and places. But I’m not used to it, and I don’t like it. I’ve always been in a place where religion was unregulated. There was always room for a little dissent.

Please pray for the soldiers, and for all the other armed service members. I know many of you do pray, for protection and for strength. But pray also for the condition of our souls. Their bodies are in danger to enemy fire and to privation, but their souls are in danger of anemia and even hellfire. Pray for chaplains to learn to read their Bibles more deeply than they have been, and to see the current of the gospel surging under every text. Pray for leaders to see their sinful nature and look to the cross in repentance. Pray for every converted Christian to learn the gospel deep enough that they may every day, quietly if they must, always preach.

The church in the army is hardly persecuted, but it is asleep.

The Way of Kings

Just finished reading The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson. It was very good. Sanderson is pushing into the realm where he’s starting to possibly compete with Tolkien. He certainly handles religion better than any fiction author I’m aware of.

The beautiful thing is that he goes there, when so many writers, infected by the practical atheism of the day, are writing stories about a magical world where people have no religion, and religion never occurs to them. Sanderson takes religion seriously, and he doesn’t lay all his cards down either. While it does come out that there are some “right” answers, in the mean time the opposing views get their say, and some times the argument that wins is clearly not the author’s own. That said, there’s still just a hint of a Mormon squint to it. So, like with Orson Scott Card, somewhere you’re going to find out that “God” is a little more mortal than you expected, and that holiness comes to those people who just work hard enough at it. (My standard caveat: if you’re afraid of that awful Mormon cult, don’t be. They aren’t a cult, they’re heretics, on a level with people who think Jesus was a great teacher. Mormonism is Pelagius, plus science fiction)

In the mean time, his characters and world building are believable, and they have good reasons for some pretty decent philosophical and theological debates. There were a couple of different places where he got my heart rate up.

The book is a little thick: At 1000 pages plus, it took me a little over a week to read.

Now I’m going to switch back to non-fiction, and see if I can plow through 200 pages in a month. I’ll probably quit the book, as usual.