Saturday, June 14, 2008
Old School Unknown
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Friday, June 13, 2008
Humility and Leadership
I’m nervous around leaders of any age who don’t have that limp; who never seem at a loss and always have complete confidence in their direction. They seem impenetrable, which is dangerous.I would say that Wignall, and I for that matter, are nervous around worldly leadership. The problem is that such leadership makes the leader the thing.
But as the people of God's church we have a very different approach. GOD IS THE LEADER, the only leader. The person up front is merely the organizer. This means we are on a mutual journey. We are not being lead by someone who has been there before, we simply have someone whose skills our such that we must rely on their guidance as they journey with us.
The "limp" to which Wignall refers emphasizes that our guides have not completed the journey either. That they are mistake prone, and sinful people just as we are.
As long as we are talking Old testament imagery - think Moses. Moses took the Israelites on the greatest journey of their corporate life, but he was not allowed to reach the finish line. Worse, the nation knew he was not going to get their - it was set forth early in the journey. They knew their leader was FLAWED. They grumbled, complained, and generally did not always respect him as you might think worthy a man of Moses' stature. They felt free to do so, in part, because his flaws were known form the outset.
Are you guiding or leading? Are your flaws exposed for your group to see? Remember - IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU
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Thursday, June 12, 2008
As a refresher, utilitarianism is an "ends-justifies the means" philosophy, and it is one that Christians often engage in during political disputes.David looks at this in two parts first introducing the concept via David Gushee and then asking about the political implications in a second post. Some of David's questions:
Or, if Charlie is correct that politics is fueled by discontent, what does this say about those of us who are to emulate Paul who had learned to be content in any and every situation (Phil 4:12)? Are Christians allowed to be discontent?How shall I put this - there is a lot of bad politics out there and much of it is being practiced by Christians. Let us take each issue in turn.
Or, referencing my last post, one of the applications of David Gushee's concerns about utilitarianism is over ruthlessness in politics, or what appears to me to be "political victory via character assassination":It elevates into positions of leadership and influence persons who gain power because they are effective practitioners of the dark arts of mortal combat rather than having more appropriate qualifications for their roles.Can Christians engage in the ruthlessness and character assassination that seems to be part and parcel of political campaigns these days?
Voters may be fueled by discontent, but politicians rarely are. Most politicians I know are fueled by ego or a desire to wield power, but the good ones, and they are far more numerous than you might believe, truly think that government service is a way to make a significant and useful contribution to society. They are trying to do good.
Bad political operatives may fuel discontent as a means of winning elections, but even that is rare in most elections.
But the real question is who is responsible for creating content? In our system the government is designed to respond to the populace, thus is the populace is discontent, politics will reflect that. The church on the other hand will and should be making efforts to change that discontent. the politicians will follow in the wake.
Is it character assassination to simply make sure the public knows the whole truth about an opponent? It is unpleasant and it is mean, but if it is truthful where is the sin? Combat, political or otherwise, is not prohibited in as I understand it, how we conduct combat is, but competition seems to be a given. It is not inherently Christian to avoid combat or conflict. That means there are winners and losers and people will be hurt if they are losers, but that is unavoidable.
The Bottom Line
Politics are utilitarian, but they are not necessarily "UnChristian" - that is up to the individual doing the politics. Christians, as individuals, can be called politics, and should serve well and honorably if that is true. The church probabaly has bigger fish to fry.
What would politics be like if the church and its values took true hold in the nation? I bet they would be pretty darn good.
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Wednesday, June 11, 2008
This story, written up in BioEdge, raises an important question. Is there some reason why medical professionals should consider themselves qualified to decide when a living human being's life is no longer valuable? Or should they limit themselves to what they actually studied in school — the practice of medicine?We Christians are quick to talk about scientists playing God, but rarely do we talk about medical doctors doing so, and yet in practical terms they do it every day, and far more directly than any scientific experiment or theory. They literally decide life and death.
Now having been through this just a year ago, of course they never really make the decision, but they pressured us to put my father on the respirator saying it would enable him to heal and then they told us he was not going to heal and we should remove it. My sister is a nurse and I am no science naif, and yet we had little choice but to follow their "advice" there was no way we could acquire the necessary knowledge in the available time to make a truly informed decision with independent analysis. Effectively the doctors decided when my father lived and when he died. THAT IS PLAYING GOD!
When you introduce third party payers, you know insurance companies, and their various regulations, such decisions are often made on purely financial terms. And even if independent means of payments are available, a group of people have decided in such situations that this life in these circumstances is not worth the investment. Indeed, the value of life is measured purely in dollars and cents, something we have not done since chattel slavery. THAT ALSO IS PLAYING GOD!
In raw emotional terms, the Schiavo situation came down to those that were willing to hope and those that were not. It was as simple as that. And it is hope in more than medicine and hope in more than science - it is hope in the Lord.
I am no hope-when-there-is-no-hope type, no, but decisions like this are made on levels beyond science, finance, even law. These are spiritual decisions to be made with much guidance and support.
The system is designed to make it the immediate family's decision, but even they have a responsibility to seek higher authorization. In such decisions, above all others, we must seek the will of God.
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Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Science Keeps Overstepping (and journalists help)
Let us suppose that these people get precisely the result they expect, will they have now attained God-Like status? Hardly. They will be able to explain how the four fundamental forces of the universe relate to each other - that is it. Go ahead, try and turn that knowledge into people, I dare you. The path from the initial moments of creation when all the forces existed as one to where we are today is fraught with huge gaps in our knowledge. These guys will be so far from omniscient, let alone omnipotent, as to not be worthy of the term "god" with a little "g."
Newsweek interviewed Steven Weinberg. Now Weinberg is a genius physicist, I won't deny it, but come on:
As we come closer to developing an ultimate theory of the universe, how will this impact religion?Do you note the philosophical confusion in that statement. At naturalistic explanation for even the Big Bang does not constitute a naturalistic universe, or more importantly a SUPER-natural deity.
As science explains more and more, there is less and less need for religious explanations. Originally, in the history of human beings, everything was mysterious. Fire, rain, birth, death, all seemed to require the action of some kind of divine being. As time has passed, we have explained more and more in a purely naturalistic way. This doesn't contradict religion, but it does takes away one of the original motivations for religion.
But more importantly, from my standpoint, if one checks the narrative of virtually any religion, but especially Christianity, it is not "motivated" to explain the functioning of the planet, the universe, or nature. Certainly the narrative of the Bible is about redemption.
I know too many scientists like this - they seek to destroy religion, they truly do, but they do so not based on philosophy, but based on an unwillingness to confront their own need for redemption.
And when you think about it, how different is that than when we warp our churches into "service providers." Are we not as destructive to the redemptive message of scripture with out efforts to keep the church functioning as these scientists are with their desire to explain creation? And isn't it all because we are unwilling to face the real message of our faith - our own need for redemption, our own desire to hide from God.
When I read about scientists like this, I don't want to argue with them, because they are not really arguing with me. But how do I get to the REAL issue?
I confront it in myself. I allow myself to be redeemed, I confess my need for redemption. The path to truth lies now in mastery but in humility. Understanding comes not with power, but with fear.
We live in a hurting world, and we so often look to the wrong places to salve the hurt. We need to start on our knees.
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Monday, June 09, 2008
I have a love/hate relationship with the pastoral office. There, I've said it. I love what the office should be. I hate what it's become. I love the idea of the biblical pastor. I hate the idea of the 21st-century American pastor. I love what I could be, by God's grace. I hate what I'm pressured to be, by man's expectations. I love seeing the flock eat week-in, week-out. I hate the ecclesiastical steroids that tempt them between meals. I love what churches need to be biblical. I hate what churches expect to be successful. I love the institution. I hate institutionalism. I love that Jesus doesn't need me to adorn his bride. I hate that he doesn't need me to adorn his bride.But in the underlying post, here is what really caught my eye:
Like many pastors I've struggled to reconcile what I should be with what "they" say I should be. The tri-fold glossy pamphlets I receive peddle a pastor who is marketable, administratively brilliant, motivational, highly-starched and sharply-creased. A baptized Tony Robbins. A sanctified Gap model. A glorified spiritual guru.
Frankly, I have absolutely no desire to be any of those things.
Maybe I'm dead wrong and prideful, but I've felt (very, very) guilty for a long time that I'm not, nor care to be, that guy. I feared that maybe I don't really love the lost or the church. Who is that guy? Joe Smiley with a PhD, MBA and PsyD who dazzles the masses with his organizational and rhetorical wizardry. He's an entrepreneurial team player who offends no one while defending everyone.When I did professional ministry, such guilt was THRUST upon me - actually is wasn't really guilt is was shame because I was a "failure." To this day there are those that tell me that the tone of this blog and my rather adamant nature about what I expect form the church and clergy is "rooted in the shame I feel about failing at ministry and jealousy over their success." To which I often counter that their stridency towards me in "rooted in their idolatry of their jobs and the church and their guilt at turning their backs on their calling." You can imagine what pleasant conversations these are.
I just want to be pastor.
There is a time for plain talk in this world. The world forces us to certain things. Not the least of these is that those in professional ministry have to make a living, they have family to feed and houses to maintain. Depending on the standard of living they desire that can get pretty tough. Compromise of one's calling is almost inevitable. I personally mind far less that such compromises have to be made THAN I MIND THAT WHEN THEY ARE MADE WE PRETEND THEY ARE NOT COMPROMISES. In fact, many try to dress them up as the genuine calling of the church.
Imagine if you will a church where the pastor weeps openly because of the compromises the church as made. Imagine a ruling board that prays, "Lord we know what we are doing here, but this seems to be the only avenue you have given us to produce the revenue we need. Forgive us our lack of vision and faith. Walk with us on this journey, help us make the best of it, and to get on the right path."
What do you think would happen? I would bet on some pretty amazing things.
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Sunday, June 08, 2008
Sermons and Lessons
George Currie Martin, Professor of New Testament language, etc., and patristics in the United College, Bradford, Yorks, and Lancashire Independent College, 1903 1909; born Portobello, Scotland, July 9, 1865; educated George Watson’s College, Edinburgh; Knox Institute, Haddington; Edinburgh and Marburg universities; New College, London; minister of Congregational churches, Nairn, N. B., 1890-95; Reigate, Surrey, 1895-1903; author of “Foreign Missions in Eras of Non-conformity,” “A Catechism on the Teaching of Jesus,” editor of “Ephesians, Proverbs,” etc., in “The Century Bible,” “New Guinea,” “How Best to Read the New Testament,” etc.
I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me. - Phil. 4:13.
These words constitute a great boast. Boasting is common enough, but justifiable boasting is not so common. It is true that humility is not the very highest quality in character, and that the greatest men have frequently astounded their contemporaries by the confidence of their utterances about their ability. Our Lord Himself found that one cause of the people‘s enmity lay in the statements He made about His own personality, and the claims He assumed as His own right. But here we find His great apostle Paul speaking in a note of absolute assurance that staggers us. The only justification of such a claim is that it should be verified in experience.
First, then, we want to look at the verification of this boast. At first sight, it is true, there does not seem very much justification for it. Paul writes this letter from prison. Now it would appear that the most obvious thing for him to do at the moment, if he were possessed of the power to which he lays claim, would be to escape from prison and go to the assistance of his various converts and churches. This very letter shows us that he had a longing so to do. To break prison only requires a certain amount of ingenuity. It is said that there are no bolts so strong, no fetters so heavy, no arrangement of a prison-house so ingenious that men cannot escape if they set themselves to accomplish the task. Paul never attempted it. If the most obvious and simple thing was not done, how are we to find a justification of the statement?
It will be remembered that a century or two ago one of our English poets was in prison, and in his cell he wrote a song that has floated down the years to our own day:
Nor iron bars a cage;
Hearts innocent and quiet take
That for a hermitage.”
This was a wonderful accomplishment of the poet’s imagination. To him the constraint of the prison became the refuge of the solitary, and he found reasons for thankfulness in the very circumstances of compulsory solitude.
When, in the days of the Scottish Covenant, they exiled Samuel Rutherford from his lovely parish of Anworth to the cold, gray desolation of Aberdeen, he was wont to write letters of comfort and consolation to his parishioners. and sometimes he dated them, not, as we might expect, from the dreary prison-house at Aberdeen, but from “My Lord‘s Palace at Aberdeen.” This was what his faith taught Rutherford, and transformed the place of confinement to a room in which he held high converse with his Lord. But Paul‘s accomplishment is more wonderful than either of these. For him the prison becomes a pulpit. They had confined him in Rome, that they might silence what the Roman historian called “ the mischievous superstition” of Christianity, and, behold, he finds the prison a better place for extending his evangel than the free travel that had formerly been his lot. In this letter he tells us how the whole company of the imperial guard had heard the word of Christ, and those letters of his reached the utmost limits of the empire. Not only so, but they come down through all the centuries, until today we read in this word the same message of indomitable courage, and unconquerable confidence.
But, says someone, at any rate the apostle could not escape suffering and trial. No, he could not, but let us read that great autobiographical self-revelation - the Second Epistle to the Corinthians - and we find the way in which Paul dealt with such circumstances. Once on his missionary journeys the multitude stoned him. His attitude to every form of suffering is just as if he had been able to take the stones his persecutors threw at him, raise them in his hands, and as he did so the stones had turned to bright and flashing gems, which he set upon his forehead as a triumphal diadem. This was the manner in which he treated all the trials that befell him. He made them subjects of boasting. “If I must boast I will boast of my suffering, my weakness, and my trial,” he said. Here again, much more truly than had he escaped all, he overcomes in the power of his Lord.
Nor is death any terror to him. Again, in the pages of this letter we find him saying, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” It is simply impossible to do anything with a man like this. There is no form of barrier known to human skill which will stop him, no form of terror the most demoniacal ingenuity can invent that will in the least degree dissuade him. Truly we find in Paul’s experience this great boast completely verified - “I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me.”
Secondly, there lies in the words a note of victory. Paul is a victorious man, and I beg you to think for a moment or two of the forces that were arrayed against him. I speak of the special forms of enmity with which the apostle in his peculiar work was conversant. In the main there were three: First, the power of the Jew was a mighty force. It was the force of his own countrymen, and we all know how intense a patriot Paul was, and how difficult it is for the patriot to resist the persuasion or the pressure of those he loves with such intense devotion. But not only were they his own countrymen - they were the people who possessed the finest and most spiritual religion of that day - in fact, the most spiritual religion of any day, except that which grew out of it - Christianity itself. It was a religion not only hoary with antiquity, but able to point to vast achievements, and to a large element of spiritual power. Secondly, there were the Greeks. Now the Greeks stood for two things - the religion of beauty, and the religion of pleasure. They taught the world such lessons of loveliness, as it has not been able to surpass in all the centuries since. Even to-day we have to go to the school of Greek sculpture and the Greek architects in order to know some of the secrets of purest beauty. And they were the pleasure-loving folk. They preached the doctrine of enjoyment of life to the full. All the world had listened to the message and thereby it increased its stock of joy. And, thirdly, there was the might of Rome. Rome stood for many things, but in this particular connection let us confine our attention to two - her sense of justice, and her might of civilization. Rome had evolved such a system of law that upon it is based the great legal systems of modern Europe. And the effectiveness of her civilization was such that probably never from that day to this has the world been so safe a place in which to travel.
Now, these three mighty powers were arrayed against the apostle, and he had to contend with them, and, if the words of the text are true, he not only contended with them but felt he had the secret of their subjugation. This might only be an interesting historical fact, if it were not that these same forces are arrayed against the Church of Christ today, and the individual Christian has now a battle upon which to enter similar to that the apostle had to fight. We do not indeed call the forces by the same names, but the realities are there. Do we not all know of churches which pride themselves upon their past achievement, upon the correctness of their creed, or the antiquity of their ritual, or the splendor of their worldly power? Has Christendom ever been free from such conflict, and is it not one of the hardest tasks of the spiritual church today to resist and vanquish such enemies within her own ranks? Was it only the Greeks that preached the popular gospel of pleasure? Are there no echoes of it amongst ourselves? Have not young men and women ever in their ears the voices which bid them fill life with beauty, with gaiety, and with gladness? Take the cup of life, and fill up to the brim, and drain it, care for nothing but pleasure! say these voices. If ever an age listened to that message it is our own. And, finally, the gospel of the might of empire, and the greatness of civilization has never been so loudly proclaimed as to-day. Are there not many who suppose that the great glory of England lies in the extension of her imperial might? Are the English people not told to acquire by any means, but certainly to ac¬quire; and to hold what they have acquired, with an iron hand, if it must be, but certainly to hold? And, further, those who are most keenly interested in the spread of the gospel of Christ in foreign lands are often met with the argument that might well have come from an old Roman. “Go to China, or to India,” we are told, “and take there all that Western science has taught you, all that modern discovery has been able to find, share with these people all knowledge except the knowledge of the cross.” Often, when we are brought into relation with primitive peoples, men will tell us, “Yes, make them good citizens of the empire, teach them how to increase our commerce, how to be of advantage to our moneymaking endeavor, and once you have civilized them, perhaps one day, far off, you may speak the message of Christ.” To a very large number the order of events is, civilization first, Christianity afterwards. There are many even within the ranks of the Church who seem to hold that view. It is said that the religion of the Sikhs in northern India is sometimes phrased by its followers in one brief utterance - “Victory! Victory! That is the” good morning” and “good evening” of Sikhdom. Such is their phrase of confident assurance. I have sometimes wondered whether the modern Church of Christ dare say the same thing. Could we, in the face of the world, declare “Victory! Victory! That is the ‘good morning’ and ‘good evening’ of Christendom? “But if we cannot do so, ought we not to feel ashamed for Paul to do so? For have not we the intervening centuries to add their witness to the faith which he preached, and in the power of which he lived?
Thirdly, in these words we find the note of vision. “In him that strengtheneth me.” All Paul’s religion centered in the person of his Lord. Whenever you come into the secret places of Paul’s inner life you are made aware of one unforgetable event - the event which altered the whole current of his experience - the vision of his Lord on the way to Damascus. Not only before King Agrippa, but in face of all inquiries, Paul would have said” I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” There is no great religion in the world that has not acquired its power, and so long as it had any vitality, preserved it through the strength of its vision. Buddha was able to reach his great achievements, because of the vision he bad seen of the world‘s need, and the means whereby he felt that it might be met. Mohammed found in his religion the light of the vision of the one God he had beheld in the solitudes of the trackless desert, and whatever might has attached to that great faith has been found where such a vision has been renewed. It is not the power of the sword, hut the power of its vision that has made Islam what it is, and Christianity is a religion of vision. The older faith of Judaism said that” To see God was to die,” the new religion says “To see God is to live.” “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” said its Founder. “No one knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him,” and he who knoweth God and Him whom God hath sent has the secret of eternal life.
From vision, then, comes power. Power, in the first instance, of pardon, in the second in¬stance, of peace, and, in the third instance, of achievement. But the vision must not be only for one occasion - it must be a vision that is perpetually renewed. For Paul there was nothing so certain as the presence of Christ, and the lives that are lived in that consciousness are the lives that know conquest. It is said that there was once a great musician visiting this country, and that his host took him to church with him on one occasion. A week later he extended the invitation again, but the musician replied, “No, I will not go with you unless you can take me to hear someone who will tempt me to do the impossible.”
Tempt us to do the impossible - that is what Christ is ever doing. Nothing can have seemed more hopeless than the quest upon which He sent Paul. Standing on the threshold of the Roman world, He beckoned to the apostle to follow Him in order that He might bring all that proud Roman empire to His feet. Nothing could have seemed more quixotic and unpractical than that, yet the apostle not only accepted the challenge, but here, after long years of experience, not any more a young man with untried enthusiasm and Untested zeal, he says, “I can do all things,” and, as we have seen, the boast was no vain one, but a reality that can be tested by his life.
These, then, are the tests of a true Chris¬tian experience. Are they to be found in our lives - these notes of verification, of victory and vision? If not, it must be ours to catch them, or to recall them, and the only secret of their acquirement or renewal is to come into close and intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ through His Spirit, whereby our hearts also will be assured in the day of conflict, strengthened in the hour of temptation, and made more than conqueror through Him that loveth us.
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