A better way

I was talking recently with my friend (who’s also my oldest son’s father in law) Russell Minick about America. We were discussing some of the ugly things in our country’s past and present, how we should respond, things like that. He said the following:

“We have to come to understand that we are not King David in Israel. We are Daniel in Babylon.”

That has stuck with me, in particular as I face the increasingly likely scenario of a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton next November. Seriously, can I vote myself off this island?

Daniel was exiled in Babylon. It was not his true home, but he was commanded, along with all the other exiles, to make it a home, to do good to it.

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:4-7 ESV)

There is a middle, balanced, better way between anger/frustration and apathy, between “protest” votes and staying home, between avoiding cultural engagement and the contention, bickering and partisan blindness of the political junky.

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf”

America has never been Israel, and we Christians are not the rulers here. We’re Daniel, the blessed exile, and we should be seeking to spread that blessing to the people around us, both our fellow exiles and our Babylonian neighbors.

Should I smash my Jeremiah 29:11 Coffee Mug?

Heres some nice theological and exhortational analysis by Mike Leake: Should I smash my Jeremiah 29:11 Coffee Mug?

When I graduated high school I remember getting key chains, coffee mugs, and probably even socks with Jeremiah 29:11 stamped on there somewhere. It’s a verse which we love to grab ahold of whenever the future isn’t so clear. What a terrific promise:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV)

There is only one major problem with making this my life verse; namely, context. A good rule for faithful Bible study is to always make sure to place a text in its context. If you rip it out of its context you are not being faithful to God’s intention for that text. To accurately interpret what Jeremiah says our interpretation needs to make sense to the original audience.

In its context Jeremiah 29 is speaking to those who were carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon (see 29:4). That “you” in verse 11 is not to an individual it is to an entire nation. God is saying that though they will experience 70 years in exile (see 29:10) that he will eventually redeem the people of Israel. But some of those who heard Jeremiah 29:11 died in exile. This was a promise to a nation.

And so does this mean that I cannot apply it to my own life? Does Jeremiah 29:11 have no meaning to the 21st century believer? Do I smash my Jeremiah 29:11 coffee mug?

Not so fast.

Read the whole thing. I love the balance here.

 

Retreating

I realized something this weekend that I think I’ve known for awhile: I have become unhealthily obsessed with political opinion and especially with dredging through the political opinion on the web.

Part of it is because I’m authentically concerned about what’s going on in our country these days. I haven’t felt this concerned in years, if ever. This is partly due to economic pressures we feel, combined with the fact that we’re currently paying for a couple of college tuitions.

Yet I know in my heart that God provides. And I know that He has everything under control. And that in the large scheme of things the U.S. is just a drop in the bucket. And that the writers of the New Testament did not exhort us to political action (although I do have some theories about the apples/oranges comparisons to our own times there).

It’s ridiculous. I’m in a debate on another blog that’s completely pointless: basically me and another good fellow are calibrating whether lefties were more awful to Bush or righties are more heinous toward Obama or what.

It just dawned on me how much sowing of the wind this is. Yet it engages my attention.

Jill and I are planning something called a “Selah” week. We’re not sure how that will work or when it will start. But it will, hopefully, be a time to focus our attentions on more important things and hop off the gerbil-wheel for a little while. I know that for now I need to unclinch my white-knuckled grip on the shifting political fortunes of our day and devote my attention to other, more beneficial things.

Acting upon that knowledge is, of course, another kettle of fish entirely.

We’ll see how this develops . . .

“This either/or stuff is killing us”

Jared Wilson on social justice and false dichotomies:

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear about the current Christian fascination with social justice – which I’m a fan of – is that seeing these issues with Jesus’ eyes means seeing eternity with them too, beyond the problem that is literally before us. I talked with a guy recently who serves at a soup kitchen for the homeless and he was really sort of annoyed by a preacher who was coming in and preaching the gospel. My friend was saying, “Why would you preach about hell to homeless people? They know more about hell than we do.” And maybe they do. But why would you want to feed a guy a meal for a day but leave him lost for eternity. Maybe that preacher’s delivery was a little rough around the edges. Maybe he lacked sensitivity. I don’t know. But I do know this either/or stuff is killing us and setting up false dichotomies that plenty of younger Christians are willing to ecclesiologically impale themselves upon.

I think if we saw the problems of the world the way Jesus saw them, we would both be moved by compassion to wanting to feed, clothe, heal, and fix and also moved by compassion to wanting to share the bread of life as well. If you’re Jesus, you know man doesn’t live on bread alone.

This was part of an interview he gave for the Your Jesus is Too Safe blog tour. Check it out.

Good day

Due to the rain (resulting in cancelled soccer and a cancelled camping trip), this is one of the first days in memory where I have had absolutely nothing to do. I’ve literally been in my pajamas all day long. Even when I took Bethany to CVS to get a gift card and then to a birthday party, I stayed in the pajamas (no need to mess with that aspect of my day).

We’ve watched movies, hung out, walked Cooper, played some hoops, and I spent some time working on Bloo.

Good day.

Breathing the blog-free air!

I’ve been breathing the blog-free air for about a week and a half now. It’s not a complete blog-abstinence – I’ve continued monitoring spying on interrogating reading my kids’ blogs, blogs of other family members, and two other blogs that edify me. But I’m no longer drinking from the daily firehose of the blogosphere.

All it took was me reading one last snarky, straw-mannish, ungracious comment on another blog to get me asking the question I should have asked a long time ago: “Why do I do this? What earthly good is the blogosphere, anyway?”

I realized there was no good reason for me to immerse myself in the blogosphere. I’ve been heavily into blogs for over four years now, and I’m not sure that the net effect has been good. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some tremendous blogs out there – there are. I will continue reading a very few of them, but I’m hoping I’ll be a lot more choosy. And hopefully I’ll stick with this.

You might think about taking a break from the blogosphere too. Try it, you might like it!

You don’t need to read blogs.

(Um, except for this one. Of course :-)

Balance: Evangelism and mercy

From David Hayes’ absolutely spot-on article, Word vs. Deed:

If we consider it our calling only to preach the gospel, we may address people’s spiritual needs very well, but we miss an opportunity to substantiate the truth of our words through our actions. We miss an opportunity to glorify God by displaying another beautiful aspect of his mercy. I believe Christians need to become more comfortable with the fact that God is glorified through our merciful actions, even if they never lead to the salvation of the person we’re ministering to. If you faithfully care for a suffering friend or family member over a period of years, yet that person dies without Christ, you have not wasted your time. You have greatly glorified God through perseverant, merciful action! This may seem like a startling statement at first, but Scripture does not command us to serve the poor merely as a pretense for evangelism. We care for the poor as a means of reflecting the merciful character of God. As we faithfully do that, his name is glorified. The eternal results are his domain.

We must never confuse these two great mandates the Lord has placed upon us as his people. We can’t accomplish one by doing the other, and the absence or minimization of either represents a failure to carry out the mission God has called us to. Yet even as we distinguish between evangelism and mercy ministry, we recognize that the gospel is the common thread that binds the two together. We desire to take advantage of every opportunity to proclaim the gospel with our lips even as we are demonstrating its authenticity with our deeds. The gospel is central to everything we do. It is the hub from which and to which all ministry flows. Our hope is always to proclaim the gospel, even when our primary ministry activity is oriented toward physical mercy rather than evangelism.

The church is not in an “either/or” situation when it comes to preaching salvation and extending physical mercy. It is in a “both/and” situation.

I’m not very faithful at either one, unfortunately.

[Hat tip: Provocations & Pantings]

Balance: Us versus them, when them are us

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

– 1 Corinthians 1:1-3

I love the beginning of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, for several reasons. But I think this is the main reason:



. . . called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours . . .

If you’ve read this letter you know that the church at Corinth was messed up (the Internet Monk wrote something about this recently that’s worth reading). Corinth was a church that exasperated Paul, and that exasperation is reflected in 1 Corinthians. Paul was frustrated and angry with the Corinthian Christians. And he told them so.

But notice what Paul didn’t do. Paul didn’t disown them. He didn’t pretend that they weren’t family. Paul did not split the Bride into “us” versus “them”.

. . . together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours . . .

It doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t correct them. He did. Paul struck the right balance, spoke hard truth in love, and yet affirmed the Corinthians right at the beginning of his letter and confirmed to them that, no matter what, they were family.

If you are my Christian brother or sister, you are family. We might disagree on important but non-essential matters of theology. We might have wildly different ideas about what church is all about. We might disagree on music. To you maybe I’m a dork. To me maybe you’re uncool. Maybe I embarrass you. Maybe you embarrass me.

But if Jesus has redeemed you, you’re my brother or my sister. And there’s nothing that’s going to change that.

And because of that, as God is my helper, I will not poke fun at you, or act like I don’t know you, or try to wish you away. You are not a “them” to me. We are an “us”.

Like Paul, I may have need to talk to you about important matters of the faith. You might need correction. But, as God is my helper, may I always approach that task with courage and humility, being ready for needed correction in my own life, for the Word is a two edged sword.

My Christian brother or sister, I love you. We’re family.

. . . called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours . . .

Balance: Stay on the horse

There is a famous quotation of Martin Luther in which he compares humanity to a drunken man who has fallen off of a horse on the left-hand side, and then proceeds to get back on the horse and fall off on the right-hand side.

I don’t have the attribution for that quote, but it’s such a wise observation. I’ve noticed this scary human tendency often in movements within the church. For instance, if we think the church is emphasizing social justice at the expense of saving souls, we react to create a church that cares only for saving souls at the expense of social justice. If we think that church has gotten too traditional, formal and stuffy, we leap over the horse and create a church environment totally divorced from church history and where reverence often takes a back seat to relevance.

Arguments tend to be phrased as “either/or” when they really are “both/and”. And I don’t know why we’re this way (note: I’m this way too).

I’ve begun to post a series of my thoughts on “balance”. Now balance is a word that portrays, to some, a sense of the safe, of the non-committal, of the middle-road. I would counter that balance is, in actuality, exciting, dangerous and very hard work. Balance is not a bad thing: there are many times when balance is necessary and desired: when walking or running, for instance. Or when walking a tightrope. Or when riding a horse. Unfortunately, our natural tendencies have us dumping off to one side or the other.

A subject I’ve read a lot about has been the American space program, and especially the Apollo program. The Apollo command module was equipped with a stable element, called the “eight-ball”, which had a set of gimbals that allowed it to maintain a stable, unmoving attitude relative to the stars, and thus gave the spacecraft a point of reference upon which to navigate. There was only one instance in which the ship’s stable element would cease functioning. This situation was called “gimbal lock“, and it occurred when the ship yawed too far to the right or to the left; the gimbals would line up, lock into position, and you could kiss any knowledge of which way you were pointed sayonara. We as humans tend to do that, don’t we? We yaw too far to one extreme, our internal “gimbals” lock, and the next thing you know, we’re passing Pluto and wondering how on earth we got there.

Balance is important, and it is something we learn. Scripture is described in Hebrews chapter 4 as being “sharper than any double-edged sword”. I don’t want to strain a metaphor too much, but the image that has always popped in my mind upon hearing that is of a sword that cuts both ways. Scripture balances against other scripture and drives us to the truth.

Unfortunately, balance doesn’t sell books or get people to read a blog post; if you really want to swing for the fences to make your point, straw-men riding hyperbolic steeds of rhetoric are needed (and, oh my goodness, is this sentence a mess! I think I’ll keep it :-) I think the idea is that by over-emphasizing one’s point at the expense of the contra, perhaps one can pull people into the middle-ground. And that does work, but the things sacrificed in that approach often include clarity, charity, and peace. It’s a lot harder to elucidate a position precisely in a way that makes people want to listen, and that’s why so often pendulum-swinging over-exaggeration is utilized instead.

I long for balance. And if the horse we’re riding is the Gospel, let’s maintain our balance, ride it well and not fall off, even if everyone around us is flinging themselves off into the ditches.

(previous post on the topic of balance: Balance: Heavenly minded, earthly good)