For good or for bad

This morning I’m thinking about power. Power is one of those neutral things that can be used for good or for bad. In this modern world we are surrounded by power. I’m riding a large powered rectangular box consisting of metal and rubber and plastic and upholstery and I’m very grateful this box takes me to work every day. I’m typing on a much smaller rectangle that has its own small power source. We are awash in benign, controlled power sources that do all sorts of good things for us: transportation, heating, cooling, comunication, healing, entertainment, education, food preparation and thousands of other uses.

We also, many of us, possess other kinds of power. I have a kind of power over the people who work for me. I have a different kind of power over the ministries entrusted to me. Yet another kind of power over my dogs. While I often don’t think of it this way, my wife and I both have profound power and influence over each other. There’s another kind of power I have over my children (and, again, they also wield a kind of power over me).

In the context of love-relationships it seems “off” to speak of “power over” others, doesn’t it? But think of it this way: over the weekend we bought a bougainvillia and planted it in a planter out front. I have profound power over that little plant. If I don’t water it and care for it this little plant will not make it. If I exercise good, life-giving power over this plant it will grow tall, perhaps taller than I am.

This is power for good.

The problem is that in many relationships and structures our power is not for good. There’s a tendency in the human heart for rationalization, isn’t there? A slaveholder can convince himself that his slaves would not survive under freedom. An abusive husband can tell his battered wife that he loses his temper “because he cares so much” and, tragically, she can even convince herself to believe him. Abusive church leaders can have the conviction that they are on a mission from God and this justifies bulldozing their flock in service of that mission. National leaders can fall under the intoxicating pull of power, convinced, as P.J. O’Rourke once observed, that the world will be a better place if they run it.

We live in a vast, complicated matrix of power relationships. We are often in submission to these  and sometimes, more often than we might think, we are the ones wielding the power. For good or for bad.

Jesus stepped into a world full of power dynamics. I was just reading Matthew 2 this morning; before Jesus was even two years old a mad king decided he would exercise his power to deliberately thwart the promised Messiah of the people he held power over, and so he killed all the boys two years and younger in the region where Jesus was born. This is the world Jesus grew up in. It’s the world he spoke the Sermon on the Mount into. It’s a world in which he flipped, voluntarily,  the power dynamic such that he submitted to hands that he himself had created, allowing them to torture and pierce and even kill him.

Who does that?

God does that. The path to greatness, to true power, to all authority wielded well and good lies this way.

As his followers we must be the first to see this and act upon it. To give up our power and take up our servanthood.

Perhaps more on this later. I’m still figuring this out.

Matthew 25

From today’s reading of Matthew 25

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” – Matthew 25:1 (ESV)

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.” – Matthew 25:14 (ESV)

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Matthew 25:31-32 (ESV)

Throughout the gospels Jesus seems keenly interested in giving his followers a picture of the coming Kingdom. He does this through parables that each give a glimpse of the many sided jewel that is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 present both the beauty of being let in and the horror of being cast out. A unifying thread in these stories is the idea of value. What do we do with the riches Jesus has bestowed upon us?

In the parable of the ten virgins there is the treasure of oil. Oil in scripture usually represents anointing, selection, or the Spirit of God. Five of the virgins had the oil burning in their lamps and were let in. Five did not and were cast out.

In the parable of the master of the servants, there is the treasure of talents; weighed-out money. Two of the servants used the treasures the master had given them to expand the master’s kingdom. One of them had an incorrect/distorted view of the master, the wrong kind of fear of him, and buried the treasure to be safe. He was cast out and even what he had was taken from him.

The final discourse is not a parable, it is a description of what will happen when King Jesus comes in the final judgement, dividing all of humanity like a shepherd would divide sheep and goats. What is the treasure here that the “sheep” valued and the “goats” did not? The treasure is Jesus himself, a King in disguise, as he identifies himself with the hungry and thirsty poor, the unclothed poor, the sick, the ones in prison. He is a King who has humbled himself beyond our comprehension, having left his throne to come to us, we hungry and thirsty poor, we naked paupers, a sin-sick people imprisoned by our trespasses. The citizens of his kingdom follow and emulate their King in his humility and, in small and near ways, reflect the deep dive of humility that Jesus has already undergone as they serve those who are like they were before he rescued them; poor, thirsty, hungry, naked, imprisoned. They may not realize it, but in doing so they are serving the King himself.

Those who do not and have not were never citizens, having devoted their lives to serving other kingdoms that are not of Jesus. They find themselves in the end cast out.

Humility: from unnatural to natural to almost unnoticed

I hope to expand upon this thought at a later time (you ever notice that, with me, the “big post” is always scheduled for “later”? But I digress) . . . *ahem*, but one of the quotes in my rotation played a part in a radical change in my thinking on humility. Here it is:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Humility does not come natural to most of us. It’s just not in our fallen nature. I believe, though, that through the work of God in our lives humility can become a natural state. The danger at that point is that it becomes a natural, very much observed state, with lots of “holy cow, I just did something humble!” moments. Which is one of those two steps forward, three steps back kind of things.

True humility is so natural that it goes unnoticed in most cases.

This intersects with a lot of my thoughts on blogging, social media, and just how we’re to live and move and have our being. More (perhaps) later.

Happy Thanksgiving!

How God works

He works through people like Kumar (as reported on the excellent Letters from Kamp Krusty):

Kumar was on a crowded bus in Chennai, India. He heard God’s voice. “Unmistakably,” he says. I heard God say, twice, ‘Seek Me.’ That was it. Twice.”

Just “Seek Me”?

“Just ‘Seek Me’. And I knew it was God, but which God? I was Hindu. Was it Vishnu? Calli…? No idea. I just knew it was God. Somehow, I knew it. Unmistakable.”

And Kumar isn’t the gullible type. He has multiple advanced degrees in Aero Engineering and Physics, for starters, from the M.I.T.-equivalent in India.

He studied and researched, but just wasn’t satisfied that it was one of his familiar gods, and eventually found a friend with a Bible — a “good luck charm” — and traded a textbook for it. He started reading, got confused, but eventually was pointed to Jesus.

He became a Jesus-follower. Costly decision.

You should go read the rest. And then come sit with me in speechless silence.

[Hat tip: Jared]

The iMonk eats some crow

Willingly.

I found this very inspiring. And not so much because of the controversy that is the subject matter of the post, though I’m pretty sure I agree, limited as my understanding is on the subject, with every word Michael says here.

It’s more than that. I am consistently inspired by people who are willing to publicly admit they may have said or written something unfair in the past, and who are publicly willing to affirm ones that others are trashing, and who write with such generosity and grace (and skill).