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The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Something that has really stuck with me about the account of the events of Good Friday was probably best summarized in a talk given by N.T. Wright. He begins talking about this question of authority that Jesus and Pilate had a conversation about (what amounted to his official trial). There’s quite a bit of background to this question that, in the talk I heard, Wright doesn’t really have time to get into. Essentially, Pilate is trying to ascertain whether Jesus is guilty of sedition, of trying overthrow the empire to establish his own Kingdom. It turns out, Jesus is 100% guilty of that charge, but not in the way that Pilate had suspected. The whole dialogue is spread of John 18 and 19.

Pilate asks if Jesus is a King. Jesus responds by asking why he would think such a thing. Heavily implied in Jesus’s response is that Pilate actually has no authority, but does as others ask him. Yet soon it comes about where we have a key line from Jesus “My Kingdom is not from this (ek tos) world.” This is not saying there is a kingdom and it exists somewhere, but not here. Instead, Jesus is boldly declaring that his kingdom does not arise out of this world. It comes from somewhere else. Because it comes from somewhere else, it will be achieved in a radically different way. Jesus is basically telling Pilate that the Kingdom is coming from God himself, and Jesus’s death will only accelerate its arrival. This is why Pilate tries to release him.

The crowd having none of it, Pilate tries to make him king, in a mocking sort of manner, and in the cruelest way possible. Pilate seeks to make him a king completely according to the ways of this world, through violence and insult. Yet it is to no avail. Instead the people remind Pilate of Jesus’s claim, he claimed to be “the Son of God.”

There is a heavy nuance we often miss today in our modern sensibility. Jesus’s claim to be the “Son of God” was not, exclusively, a claim to divinity. There are other, much more explicit passages about that (“I and the Father are one.” “Before Abraham was, I AM (ego eimi)”). Instead, it’s important to note that, by this time, the Roman emperor had taken on a very specific title: son of the gods. It is for this reason Pilate became terrified. This is a true and unmistakable revolution. It also leads Pilate back to touting his authority, rebellions must be squelched, after all.

It is here that Jesus reminds Pilate of what authority actually looks like. Pilate claims to have authority, but any authority he has “comes from above.” The dual meaning here is that it comes only from Caesar, who is in authority over Pilate, but also that it comes from God. That is if he has authority. As it turns out, Pilate does not act like one with authority. His wish, at that point, is to be done with Jesus and not to crucify him, yet he succumbs to the will of the people, those over whom he claims to have authority. Pilate wants to release Jesus, but that is in violation of his authority from Caesar. Still he wants to to release Jesus, but his authority is taken away by the crowds.

And it brings me back to this line from the lecture by N. T. Wright.

“Pilate and Jesus have this debate about authority and who has authority and where authority comes from. Pilate hands Jesus over to be crucified, and Jesus wins.”

Pilate cannot let it go, and must admit Jesus is King, because he acted with authority. And there, on the cross, he is inaugurated. The Kingdom of God has broken into our world. The sorrow of the Friday will turn to joy on the Sunday. But let us not skip over the sorrow too quickly.

The King is dead, long live the King.

4 Things to know about Non-profits, or Why World Vision’s Change is not about you

After having worked in a variety of roles at various non-profits (both Christian and non-religious), I’ve noticed some misconceptions most of us seem to have about non-profits, including ones to which I sometimes fall prey. Also, and let’s be clear about this, I am very clearly writing this post in the context of the World Vision controversy. If you are unaware, World Vision formally announced that it, as a parachurch organization, was deferring the decision about hiring gay World Vision Logoand lesbian individuals who were married to the churches. For those unaware, employees of World Vision must be endorsed by a church. Some churches marry gay and lesbian couples, others oppose such an act on biblical grounds. World Vision works with both types of churches. They expressly state that they are not theological, but are focused on action. [Complete disclosure, my reading of the bible is that Christian marriage is between a man and a woman] Still, there some common traits of non-profits of which we need to be reminded that are certainly pertinent in this situation.

Update: Just yesterday, World Vision reversed its position and now has stated expressly that it will not hire gay or lesbian individuals.

1. Non-Profits and Charities are Not-For Profit

Really this should go without saying. I mean, it’s right there in the name. Ok, so we know this in theory. Yet often times our actions don’t match up. If it is not-for-profit then that means there are no shareholders, there is no owner. If a non-profit does really well, no one pockets the extra money. All funds raised go into the work of the non-profit.

This is important when we look at World Vision in light of the recent events. Without using the term, many evangelicals engaged in what can only be described as a boycott. They began stop payments on pledged donations, they urged others to do the same, etc. Here’s the problem with that: there is no CEO feeling the pinch. There were no board of directors who were upset by a loss in profits. Instead, without really meaning to do so I’m sure, they were putting the pinch on kids. World Vision does amazing work with impoverished children around the world. Again, I don’t think any one thought of their actions in this way, but the fact is, that people were using children to make a political point (or possibly a religious one) against someone else.

As a certain Ethicist noted a few centuries ago, it is always immoral to use another person as a means only and never as an end in themselves. Why? Because people, all people, are inherently valuable. Kant is also not the first person to make this claim; the bible precedes him by quite a bit. That’s what it means to be in the image of God. That’s the primary argument that James gives in his epistle that’s in the bible: don’t think you can speak ill of someone and then turn around and praise God because those people are made in the image of God. You can’t worship God without regard for other people. All people are integral to your worship regardless of how you feel about them. (James 3:9-10, loosely and wildly paraphrased).

Picture of Immanuel Kant looking wryly at the viewer.

You Called? — Immanuel Kant

In general boycotts are a perfectly acceptable way to indicate dissatisfaction with the policies of a company. After all you’re going to hit them where it hurts: by going after their bottom lines and pocket books. Sometimes they work, other times they won’t (ask Disney how the SBC boycott worked out). But when you are dealing with a non-profit, especially one whose central mission you do not oppose, things get a little bit more complicated. Here a boycott sends a very different message, especially when that central mission is help and aid to children. You’re going to hit them where it hurts: by going after…the children?

That can’t be right. I don’t think anyone thought of the issue on those terms. People who called for a boycott looked at the issue and saw what they perceived to be another step in the gradual erosion of biblical authority and genuine followers of God. This was not motivated out of homophobia, nor would these individuals necessarily stop supporting other charities that help children. However, it does send a very clear message: we will do whatever it takes to make our theological point and our voices heard. Anything. Even holding children hostage.

That may sound harsh, but that’s basically what happened. It may not have even been your intention, but lack of clear intention does not make the action that much better. World Vision changed not because they agreed or disagreed with anyone. They changed initially because they thought they could work better if they widened the pool of applicants and let churches handle the theological issues (which they totally should). They switched back out of concern for the fate of the children. Not you. Not anyone else in comfortable middle-class America. The children. They paid a ransom to hostage takers. And it was wrong of us to take hostages. Nothing justifies that. This doesn’t mean you have to be happy about the decision, it doesn’t mean you have to keep supporting them indefinitely, but the manner in which the fallout took place was just unambiguously, morally wrong. You aren’t going after the people who work there because…

2. Non-Profit Employees aren’t in it for the Money

People work at non-profits because they believe in the non-profit. Very few individuals (though I’m sure there are some) work at non-profits because it’s the only job they can get. There are other reasons to work: a sense of calling, intangible benefits (like flexible schedules, nice people to work with), and the feeling that you are making an impact, not just doing things for a paycheck. I work at a non-profit (a college) and could certainly make more at a for-profit, but I choose not to do so. Why? I really believe that what I do makes a positive impact in other people’s lives and I like being able to see my family. I don’t make more money or get a bonus if I somehow generate extra revenue. In the unlikely scenario that I did (somehow) generate extra revenue, that money would be put right back into the mission of the college. Most people who work at non-profits aren’t really greedy, we’re not doing it for Pennies, Nickels and Dimesfame, or acceptance, or anything else. We believe we are making a positive and lasting impact, usually in people’s lives. That’s why we do what we do.

3. Non-Profits do not have Customers

We don’t. The customer may always be right, but we don’t have customers. If you pay something, whether a donation or tuition, or whatever, that does not entitle you, necessarily, to a product or a service. Now, in general, tuition will get you a seat in the classroom and provide the opportunity to improve your knowledge or skill set (and if successful in doing so to get a degree), but you don’t buy knowledge or skills or credentials. You still earn them. We provide the setting for it. The same applies to a charity. Sure you may receive a nice letter, a picture, a statement of where the funds went. At certain charities (not World Vision as far as I know), top donors get special perks like meetings with famous people or fancy dinners. These are not things you have bought. They are part of a strategy to keep you engaged, to be sure, but they are not items to purchase. The overwhelming majority of the money you send to a (reputable) charity goes to support it’s mission. In the case of World Vision, it goes to children. It does not go to gay propaganda, it does not go to anyone’s salary, it goes to children. To cut off funding so abruptly displays a consumerist mentality at best, and callousness or genuine disdain and disregard at worst.

This is not to say that we don’t value those with whom we work. Of course we do. I want every student I meet to succeed, to excel in classes, to graduate quickly with his or her degree, and to find a fulfilling and great career. I love that kind of thing. But no, you don’t buy your college credits, and no, you don’t buy a right to decide how the HR works. (Sidenote: Please don’t ask to “escalate” a call with me. I don’t work at a call center, and I do want to find a workable solution to any problem you may be having.)

4. A Non-Profits Goals are not necessarily your Goals

This follows on from the previous, but is a common misconception. The fact that you give money to a non-profit, in whatever form it takes, does not give you the right to dictate the mission of that non-profit. If you want to do that sort of thing, you are free to start your own. There are other voices besides yours, and not every voice is equal in this. Someone who has studied poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa for twenty years has a stronger voice than me and my friends do when it comes to making policy decisions for a charity that deals with global poverty. That’s true, even if me and my friends each give ten times more to the organization than the lone researcher. That’s also how it should be. I’m not a customer. I’m a donor in that scenario. I agree to donate because I trust that others know better than me about the central mission of the organization. Also, they know how to achieve that central mission better than I do. If something is a peripheral or minor issue, I should probably leave well enough alone. Once it starts to affect the core mission and goal of the organization, or that goal begins to drastically change, then I may need to pull back (preferably slowly) from donations. But I accept, going in, that I do not control how an organization is run, no matter how much money I give to it.

 

But what do you think? Do you believe non-profits should be run more like a corporation? Do you think some are already run too much like corporations?

Also, if you are able, consider donating to either World Vision (they will never get some of their donors back), or a similar organization with less controversy around it, like Compassion International.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are entirely my own and in no way reflect the position of any of my past or present employers or other individuals who work there. Second disclaimer: Not everything I’ve said here applies to politically based non-profits, they are a whole different beast

4 Reasons I won’t be going to see “God’s Not Dead”

Let me set the record straight before I go any further. I am (obviously given the content of this blog) a Christian. I also used to be a huge fan of the Newsboys, and, when I was in High School, I likely would have gone to a movie liked this and encouraged others to do the same. That being said, I simply cannot advocate that anyone goes to see this movie for the following reasons:

1. It’s just a bad movie.

Unfortunately, as many reviewers have noted, the “Christian movie industry,” if there is such a thing, is doing poorly. They keep turning out mediocre or just bad movies. Stop! you might say, those reviews are from the secular media. Well here’s one from Crosswalk,  a site dedicated to providing Christian resources, news and devotional material for free. That review notes that there have been some good movies (like the animated “Prince of Egypt” and Terrence Malik’s “Tree of Life”), but most of them are just bad.

But don’t we need to support the making of Christian movies so that studies see them as a good investment and will spend more money on them? No. When evangelicals support mediocre movies, the only message it sends is that the quality of a movie doesn’t matter, evangelicals we go to see it no matter what. By supporting sub-par movies we are actually encouraging more subpar movies. If you want quality Christian movies, either get involved in making them, or only see those movies that are genuinely good.

2. It presents a caricature of philosophy

I am a philosopher and a theologian. My current dissertation (aka the reason I rarely update this blog) forces me to study, engage with, dispute, and agree with a wide range of philosophers. I am not, however, an atheist. When I first studied philosophy as an undergraduate student, many people from various churches told me to either “watch out” for it, or else that they were “praying for” me. In case you don’t know, my undergraduate degree was from the very conservative Oklahoma Baptist University. I did not become an atheist, and in many ways actually grew stronger in my faith as I studied these philosophers. Philosophy does not equal Atheism.

The movie would also have you believe that Richard Dawkins is the apex of philosophy. Richard Dawkins: Not being a PhilosopherThis may sound a bit insulting to Prof. Dawkins, but he barely understands what constitutes professional or academic philosophy. Dawkins is, or at least was at one time, an eminent biologist. Unfortunately he has devoted an obscene amount of his time recently to being a pop-philosopher. The vast majority of pop-philosophers could not handle anything beyond what most freshman learn in a first year philosophy course. Now, there is nothing wrong with not knowing anything about philosophy beyond Introduction to Philosophy (although I personally think everyone should take one or two philosophy courses beyond intro.), but to consider him a philosopher of any order beyond a college sophomore is just a mistake. It would be the equivalent of me taking one or two biology classes and then declaring myself to be a preeminent physician.

Additionally, it is a bit insulting to those who are philosophers. This includes Christian philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and Dean Zimmerman who are leaders in their fields, and also members of the Society of Christian Philosophers, which is a completely legitimate group whose members are also part of the American Philosophical Association (of which Dawkins is not a member). It also ignores the fact that no philosopher would want to “avoid the debate and jump straight to the conclusion” as the atheistic professor wants to do. Philosophy is the debate. This, of course, includes the fact that the phrase “God is dead” is not used by any legitimate philosopher today as a declaration of atheism. When Nietzsche used the phrase he was operating under the presumption of atheism, not arguing toward a point. For Nietzsche it was a lament that became a triumph for those who recognize it. It was not, however, his attack of Christianity (that can be found elsewhere).

3. The Non-Christian Characters are One Dimensional

Maybe this is a take off from points one and two, but I think it deserves its own mention. The reason for this is that many Christians have a very simplistic, uncomplicated view of those who are outside of the faith. As long as the religious “other” is viewed as a caricature kept at more than an arms length, there will be no radical transformation of those individuals. Christianity is not about conversion divorced from all else. It is about relationship, family, and citizenship. It is an invitation to a family, a marriage proposal of sorts, not a declaration of war or a debate to be won. The bible declares that “our battle is not against flesh and blood” and that instead we are invited into “the new covenant” in Christ’s blood. This is not the language of putting myself first or being comfortable for my own sake, but of sacrifice for the sake of others. We need, then, to acknowledge those who are not within the Kingdom of God as individuals in their own right.

This may mean that we admit that some atheists (perhaps even most atheists) are actually pretty moral people (or at least as moral as we profess to be). This may mean that we accept that not all who have turned away from the Christian faith have done so for traumatic reasons. This may mean that we note that fundamentalist Muslims are not the only ones who are intolerant of others and who would abuse children who deviate from their perception of the norm (spoiler alert: that happens in the movie). Christian families have kicked out children who have renounced their faith, or who have identified themselves as gay. What’s the difference between that and the girl who comes out to her Muslim father as an evangelical Christian? You can’t have a true and genuine conversation with someone about matters of eternal significance until you recognize them as a person and not an idea, a concept, an adversary, a talking point, or as in any way not created in God’s image just as much as you.

4. They made the wrong movie

If you have Dean Cain and Kevin Sorbo together in one movie, there should only be one reason: A Marvel/DC crossover movie:

Superman versus Hercules

For those of you who don’t know. Dean Cain used to play Superman/Clark Kent on the TV show Louis and Clark. Kevin Sorbo is perhaps best known as Hercules on a different TV show. I used to watch both of them. You may also not know that Hercules is a Marvel superhero and Superman is one for DC. Every now and then Marvel and DC do a crossover battle between their heroes/villains. Really, if you have Hercules and Superman in the same movie, this should be the only logical outcome. It would be Epic!

Man of Steel

Son of Zeus

Plagiarism is a Kingdom issue

Background

So if you haven’t heard: Mark Driscoll has done it, yet again. During an appearance on the radio call-in show hosted by Janet Mefford, Driscoll became incredibly hostile in relation to probing questions about his book and antics related to it. To summarize, there were two issues of conflict. First, Janet Mefford questioned Driscoll as to whether John MacArthur’s security actually confiscated his books, as Driscoll had said, or whether Driscoll tried to make it appear that way, as video evidence has suggested. Immediately Driscoll, rather than owning it, became defensive and began to blame Mefford for not being concerned about the Kingdom, claiming he was doing her a favor by appearing (via phone) to promote his book. Ok, well Mefford let that go and proceeded to actually talk about the book.

After Driscoll gave a summary of the key point of his book, Mefford called him out for plagiarism of that exact point. Specifically, Mefford notes that there are 14 pages representing the crux of Driscoll’s argument in his latest book (A Call to Resurgence) and possibly a few pages later, that represented the ideas and sometimes exact phrasing of Dr. Peter Jones. Specifically Driscoll’s use of the terms “one-ism” as representing “neo-paganism” (the hyphen is somewhat unique to Peter Jones) and “two-ism” as representing a Christian worldview. This, and the specific manner in which Driscoll addresses it, is not Driscoll’s idea. It is clearly that of Dr. Jones. Driscoll, who seems simultaneously shocked and annoyed at this point in the interview, says that it must have been a mistake and that he used to have dinner with Dr. Jones, where he (Dr. Jones) did most of the talking while Driscoll mostly listened, but did not take notes.

At this point Driscoll then begins to again turn the tables on Mefford, claiming that she is following tribalism (declaring that she is merely defending MacArthur), claiming to be the victim in this situation, telling Mefford she has “an opportunity for growth,” strongly implying that she is inappropriately taking on the role of a domineering teacher (a clear no go in these circles), and trying to claim that he is just trying to talk about the kingdom of God and all Mefford is concerned with is a “footnote,” implying again that this is a silly thing to be worried about. After Mefford points out that Driscoll’s own sermons on stealing and lying suggest that plagiarism of the exact same sort that Driscoll has done are wrong and possibly cause for a pastor to step down, and after she notes that on Mars Hill, Seattle’s website (Driscoll’s church), it specifically says that those who use any portion or idea of Mark Driscoll without citing Driscoll, something happens with alarming frequency in pulpits, is plagiarism (and may be subject to lawsuit).

Now the last bit has been up for debate, with Mefford claiming they lost all connection and Driscoll claiming she cut him off and editing the audio. Both sides have released raw audio, one clearly recorded from Driscoll’s end (supporting his version) and the other obviously from the radio recording in a single track (and so it could not be edited as Mars Hill staff have alleged). At best someone slipped and hit a button, at worst this was planned out and intentional from one side or the other. However, such debate misses the point.

Following the interview, when Tyndale House (Driscoll’s publisher) was reached for comment, rather than acknowledging an error in the editing phase, or noting it was an honest mistake, Tyndale House, who as a publisher should know how serious plagiarism is, instead doubles down in defense of Mark Driscoll by attacking Janet Mefford. Additionally, Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition’s “Between Two Worlds” blog (who famously attacked Rob Bell’s last book based almost entirely on its trailer) called for a Boycott of Janet Mefford’s show. Just so everyone is up to speed, Mefford is not some liberal secularist, or anti-Christian brow-beater. She is incredibly conservative. You can read about all this drama from Jonathan Merritt at Religious News Services, and from the blog Pyromaniac (both of which provided additional facts related to this brief summary).

Additionally, to thicken the plot, Jonathan Merritt has reported that Mefford has shown indisputable proof that this was not a one time thing for Driscoll. Specifically, Mefford shows that two entire pages from Driscoll’s book on 1&2 Peter were taken word-for-word from a commentary by D.A. Carson, also without attribution. You can find that story here.

What’s at stake

Throughout this entire ordeal, whenever Driscoll has responded, it has been with a tone of indignation. Without saying it, he, and his supporters, have implied that this is a very minor offense and that it is being used to attack him. To be sure, I have seen anti-Driscoll-ites saying this is like bringing down Al Capone on tax charges on Facebook and Twitter. On the other end, I’ve seen supporters of Driscoll claiming that we’re missing the entire point by arguing about a footnote. Driscoll himself, in the initial interview, claimed that “this” would be used by opponents of Christianity to make fun of all Christians and hurt the Kingdom. What Driscoll meant by “this” seems to be what he considers division. Driscoll, however, has an odd definition of division. If someone disagrees with him, or challenges him, it seems, then they are a cause of division. If the roles are reversed, though, then the one in disagreement with Driscoll are deemed heretics.

Let me be clear, “this” will be used by opponents of Christianity. And most of those involved are missing the entire point. But “this” and the entire point are directly related to these footnotes. Ask anyone in college (or high school) if plagiarism is a big deal. Do the words failure or expulsion ring a bell? This isn’t just for doctoral dissertations, either, as Driscoll tries to intimate (interesting, though, considering he has no issue touting his Masters degree when it suits him), but a universal standard. Nor is it confined entirely to academe.

In the publishing world, such as the press carrying Driscoll’s book, plagiarism often leads to lawsuits and immediate terminations, not to mention someone being “blackballed” from the industry not only for committing plagiarism, but for failing to catch it. The non-Church world seems to take plagiarism very seriously, and not at all in the flippant way that Driscoll and his cadre seem to approach it. But why?

At the heart of plagiarism are two primary issues. One has to do with the act itself, the other has to do with the motivation behind the act. Janet Mefford, who certainly seems to understand the gravity of plagiarism, has said much about the act itself. It is simply lying and stealing, and, by Driscoll’s own admission, a pastor who commits plagiarism is unworthy of the office (see Driscoll’s book Vintage Church).

The second issue has to do with motivation. There are two principle motivations for plagiarism, and both of them may very well be at play in Driscoll’s case. The first is hubris. The thought is that I am so amazing that either a) I certainly thought of that first, or b) it doesn’t matter who thought of it first, people will want to give me credit because of how great I am. This may have something to do with the celebrity pastor movement. Namely, if you have church membership in excess of 15,000 members spread over an area broader than 100 square miles, who are you accountable to, and why do you think that your message is so important that the sermon is divorced from personal pastoral care? Now, I don’t think all megachurches or all multi-site churches are de facto wrong, but one should approach these type of things with an extra measure of vigilance because the Church is not a corporation. The Aquila Report has a post dealing on issues of celebrity and the pastorate related to this case.

The other principle motivation is just laziness. Here it may be primary: “I just don’t care,” or ancillary: “what I have to say is so important I don’t have time for due diligence.” In either case, the issues seem to relate back to pride, though perhaps less of the vulgar sense seen above. Still it does not promote the Christian ideal of hard work and working in all things as unto the Lord.

There is another issue that is also related. This has to do with perception of the Church. Certainly the fallout will lead many to view Driscoll and his ministry as epitomes of liars, hypocrites, thieves, and arrogant or lazy people. But the main issue for most of the “millennial generation” is authenticity. If you mess up, intentionally or not, you should own it. Admit that you are a liar, a thief a hypocrite, whatever. Own your mistakes, especially when you are called on it. Don’t put up a façade to hide behind while you blame those who point out structural issues. Own it, and try to fix it, maybe ask for forgiveness or the help of others.

Driscoll’s response only serves to circle the wagons and alienate those outside. The response of Tyndale House sends the message that they are not be respected by readers, nor to be trusted by authors because rather than investigate plagiarism, they may just side with their superstar author. This is particularly sad given its prior excellent history. All in all, this will not get better until someone steps up and admits that, at the very least, someone made a serious mistake, and then apologizes. If Driscoll really wants to end “tribalism” and move toward a more global view of the church, now is his chance to prove it.

On Waiting

So recently, I’ve been growing increasingly impatient with this waiting business. It seems like all I’ve been doing is waiting.

For those of you reading this who don’t know, let me give you some background:

As of the writing of this post I currently don’t have a job. It’s not that I’m lazy. I’m also a full time student.

Here’s the thing, though: I have no idea where my family and I are going to be. We may be moving across the country or around the world, but I have no idea where. In 3-4 months some big change is very likely, but I have no idea what it is going to look like. So I’ve been waiting.

Here’s the other thing: it feels like I’ve been waiting for much, much longer. While all of my peers have been out buying houses and “climbing the ladder” of their respective careers, I’ve still been in school. My wife and I have often commented on how it feels like we’re waiting for our “real life” to start. To stop living on a student budget. To get a decent car, and nice smartphones. To start putting money toward the purchase of a house. To finally be “adults.”

Common wisdom, and what we’re often told, is simply to be patient. To wait and see what wonderful plans God has in store for us. Now I don’t think that’s entirely off the mark. Yet something that my wife has been trying to tell me, but which has only sunk in little bits at a time, and something I’ve been thinking about has started to change my perspective. And here’s the result: I’m through waiting.

Changing my outlook

While it may be true that patience is a virtue, or at least one of the fruit of the spirit, we are mistaken if we assume that this means we are called to wait around. Patience, at least as I read the New Testament, is always in the context of relationships. We are to be patient with other people. It is a disposition toward someone, even if that is ourselves. It’s transitive (sorta), not intransitive.

Now, for the sake of my children, I’m glad I haven’t been just sitting around all day waiting for my life to begin before I acted as a parent. Clearly, they aren’t going to wait around for me to get my act together before they learn to ride a bike, or play their first board game, or learn how to read. I can’t patiently wait in that aspect of my life. In the past the result has been that my life felt disjointed. Things were moving so slow on one front (starting my “real life”), while moving so quickly on the other (my family). It seems I got it all out of order. But what if it wasn’t out of order. What if it was exactly as it was supposed to be.

Paul tells the Church, in the letter to the Roman Christians, that whatever it is we are doing, we should be doing to the glory of God. By God’s grace I hope I’m doing that with my kids. But can I be “waiting” for the glory of God. To say yes means that “waiting” is something that we do. But that seems to fly in the face of all experience. The thing is, when we wait we aren’t doing something. Now, granted, their can be purposeful waiting, but this is more of an anticipation of something that is going to happen. It seems to have purpose. So much of my waiting felt without purpose. But if I truly take Paul’s message to heart, what I’m doing can’t be purposeless.

Those drafts of chapters that seem to be bleeding red ink when I get them back. They aren’t wastes of time, they’re me glorifying God in my mistakes and in the small bits that somehow carry through to the next draft. The time spent filling out applications for places that will send me “dear applicant” letters aren’t me throwing time away. It is me pantingly following the course I believe God has laid out for me. If I’m mistaken, well as Martin Luther said “Sin boldly that boldly you may be forgiven.”

Waiting versus Waiting

In his, now infamous, play “Waiting for Godot,” Samuel Becket follows the experience of two hapless men waiting. They’re supposed to meet this guy, Godot, but neither of them knows who Godot is, or what he looks like. To complicate matters, neither of them are entirely sure as to when they are supposed to meet Godot, or even where the meeting is supposed to take place. However, they are both convinced they are meant to meet Godot, and so they wait for him.

Time is somewhat ambiguous in the play, but it seems that between the two scenes a considerable amount of time has passed. Yet the two men, Estragon and Vladimir, are still waiting, finding things to fill their time, and complaining they have nothing to do. At the end of each scene the pair decide that, rather than continue to wait, they will depart. Yet neither of them does. And so they wait, largely not doing anything.

Despite the similarity of sounds in English, Becket was adamant that Godot should not be understood as God (the play was initially written in French and the names largely unchanged; Godot does not sound like the French Dieu). Yet, given the highly spiritual and biblical discussion of the pair, it would be a mistake to assume that there is no spiritual commentary that might be garnered from this intentionally absurd play. For many Christians, we are told that waiting is a good thing. While waiting on the Lord is certainly praised in the Old Testament, perhaps e should be clear. There is waiting and there is waiting.

Waiting in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) seems to be not only purposeful, but active. Waiting isn’t sitting around and not doing anything, as is the case in “Waiting for Godot,” but involves seeking, preparation, service. When in Ecclesiastes 3 it says that God blesses those who wait on Him, it couples this with further declarations to seek after God. Waiting, in the Bible, isn’t just sitting around while nothing happens, but is our intentional seeking of God. We search and glorify God in the otherwise mundane, ordinary, and basic.

As Brother Lawrence said,

Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?

and again

We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God

So there is waiting, comprised of “doing nothing”, and there is waiting, comprised of seeking and following God, of honoring God in the little things, in the minutiae of life. That shift in perspective can mean wonders.

Now, I’m not saying I’ve got it figured out, or that I don’t get frustrated by the empty sort of waiting. I just pray that I can spend more days seeking God’s presence where I am, and fewer promising myself to abandon the empty waiting only to return to it the next day. The truth is, though, that we weren’t made for that empty sort of waiting. We were created to do something, and to wait differently. To glorify God in what otherwise seems like the in-between. We wait with purpose, and we don’t need to wait because God is here, his Kingdom is at work. Perhaps, we don’t really wait, but we act. Maybe my writing now, my failed attempts to get to a final draft of my dissertation, my research that sometimes hits a dead end, maybe it is all far more important than I can possibly fathom. Maybe it’s the same with you.

James 4:1-3 (Lent Readings)

Text

KJV Below (link to NIV)

From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?

Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Comment

The problems that the church to which James is writing are having have a common cause: they are selfishly thinking about themselves and what they can get. There is a progression given. They fight because they want what each other has, this fighting is because they don’t ask, and they ask without receiving because they are only asking for selfish reasons. It’s unclear whether it their asking from each other or from God that is not answered, and in a way it doesn’t matter. Selfishness is at odds with the Kingdom of God and will not be honored.

Question

Have you ever been disappointed in the outcome of something? Was it because your expectations were centered on you or on God’s Kingdom? If we change our focus off of us and those with whom we have a vested interest (our family and closest friends) and instead focus on God’s Kingdom, will we really ever fail to see that Kingdom advance when we ask?

James 3:3-6 (Lent Readings)

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KJV Below (Link to NIV)

Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.

Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.

Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

Comment

It seems pretty self-explanatory. Be careful little mouths what you say. I’m sure we’ve heard dozens of illustrations on this. It’s still good to have the reminder that, despite the rhyme of “sticks and stones,” words do hurt. They have a lasting impact far beyond what we expect. How little yet how great a devastation it can have. My mom, a preschool teacher, once read that psychologically speaking it takes 20 positive affirmations to make up for every 1 negative comment, and that’s not just for children. Think on that.

Question

Are you quick to listen or speak? When you talk with others who does most of the talking? Do you talk mostly about yourself, or listen? When you are in a conversation do you listen, or are you waiting your turn to speak? Can people trust you not to speak about them when they aren’t around?

 

James 3:1-2 (Lent Readings)

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KJV below (Link to NIV)

My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

Comment

James begins his well known discussion of the tongue in today’s verses. It begins with a warning to those who would want to become teachers (the KJV rendering “masters” dates to a time when a masters degree was, in essence, a teaching degree, and so teachers were called “masters” (from this evolved the term “headmaster” still in use)). A teacher is someone who uses words as his or her profession. They are the stock and trade of educators. Given that, there is a greater chance that they will, eventually, slip up. Also, since words are the stock and trade, the actions, behaviors, and beliefs of teachers are constantly being scrutinized. Thus, James gives a very practical warning, amounting to saying that you shouldn’t be a teacher for the fame or the sense of superiority, because it is hard and weighty. His statement about taming the tongue is one who is perfect may be taken as hyperbole, but considering how difficult it is to do, need not necessarily mean that. James wants to focus on the importance of the words we choose over the next few sentences.

Question

If you have a desire to teach is because you believe this is the genuine calling on your heart, or do you desire the things that go along with teaching? Have you ever met someone who was perfect in what they said? In light of James’s previous focus on action related to faith, how do we take his claim here that all of us mess up frequently?

 

James 2:24-26 (Lent Readings)

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KJV Below (Link to NIV)

24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Comment

James is not saying your works are what saves you. However, he is saying that your doctrine is also not what saves you. The kind of faith that saves us (that “justifies” us, or makes us righteous), is one that leads to works. As an example he points to Rahab. She didn’t know anything about who Yahweh was or what promises Yahweh made. She knew the gods of Jericho and they were not the God of the Hebrews. However, she decided to trust in this God whom she’d only heard a whisper of, and in doing so saved the spies. That act of faith, which was far from a fully formed and sound dogma, was enough to bring her into the covenant people. Faith is not something done in the head, it happens in the heart.

Question

Do you sometimes feel spiritually dead? Have you lost the passion of that faith which is yours? What are some ways to restore that passion? Rahab didn’t seem to know exactly what she was doing when she stepped out in faith, are we sometimes slow to act upon our faith because of our uncertainty?

French Doctor responds to Dutch Optometrist (Church History Minute)

This Church History minute is about Jean Astruc

Who was he? A French doctor, specifically specializing in the field of dermatology, which was still in its infancy, in the early and mid 1700s. He read quite widely and was familiar with most biological breakthroughs of the time. His family, although likely originally Jewish, had been Protestants, but he converted to Catholicism, likely due to the intense persecution and counter-reformation activities in France. Aside from medicine, Astruc took issue with the suggestion by Thomas Hobbes and Baruch Spinoza that, due to certain supposed inconsistencies, Moses did not actually write the Torah (the first five books of the bible). Thus he published an anonymous work, eventually traced back to him, entitled Conjectures sur les mémoires originauz don’t il paroit que Moyse s’est servi pour composer le livre de la Génèse. Avec des remarques qui appuient ou qui éclaircissent ces conjectures (“Conjectures on the original documents that Moses appears to have used in composing the Book of Genesis. With remarks that support or throw light upon these conjectures”). In it he suggested that there were, in fact, four different voices in the Torah that had different styles and vocabularies, but that Moses had actually written each of them. His argument was that Moses had written the four accounts in parallel form, which matched the four Gospels, and that a later editor had smashed them together, though he allowed for the possibility that the later editor was Moses himself.

Why was he important? Well, somewhat unwittingly, Astruc made “higher criticism” of the bible, and specifically source criticism a thing. This would continue, in a decidedly more liberal direction, until it reached its climax with the Wellhausen or Wellhausen-Graf Documentary hypothesis, before beginning to decline, though certainly not fade away. In short, he set the tone for critical biblical study that had been started by Erasmus, brought in liberal directions by Spinoza, and would continue on well after him.

Fun Fact: Astruc thought of himself as a defender of orthodoxy, even though his theories set the groundwork for a move away from that same orthodox position.

Where might I have heard of him? Only if you’ve taken a course or read books on the history of biblical interpretation. His actual work, while interesting in its methodology, does not really have staying power. Alternatively, if you have an interest in the history of medicine, his name may have come up as something of a footnote.

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