A Judgment, Not A Salvation

17 March 2020

Once upon a time, David led Israel into sin. In response, God judged Israel, but He offered David a choice of which judgment he would rather have. The story is in 2 Samuel 24:11-15.

Now when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and tell David,`Thus says the LORD: ‘I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.'” So Gad came to David and told him; and he said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or shall you flee three months before your enemies, while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ plague in your land? Now consider and see what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.”
And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
So the LORD sent a plague upon Israel from the morning till the appointed time. From Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand men of the people died.

The 2016 presidential election was just such a choice. Either major candidate would have lost if they’d had to run against anybody else. Can you imagine Trump beating Obama, or Bill Clinton, or Al Gore, or heck, even Walter Mondale? Can you imagine Hillary beating Reagan, or Bush — either one — or even Bob Dole? I can’t. They only had a chance because they were running against each other, and the vast majority of the country would have preferred neither one of them.

God offered us a choice between Jezebel and Belshazzar. It’s not like there was a good option; we were getting the candidates we deserved. 2020 is shaping up to be more of the same.

David didn’t “betray his principles” by having a preference among the bad choices available to him. Neither will we, as long as we remember that every choice we’re being offered is a judgment, not a salvation.


Searching for Spiritual Reality

28 January 2020

Spiritual experience is like sexual experience; it matters who it’s with. There’s more than one being out there to interact with, and not every encounter that seems to start out safe, sane and consensual ends up as advertised. It’s far easier to find something real than it is to find something good.

It’s important to pay attention to the Scriptures, in which God tells us how to lean into good spiritual experience and avoid experiences that will hurt us. From earliest days, we’ve been ready to ignore what God said and seize anything that seems good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and desirable to make us wise. And there’s always some snake ready to say, “Go on–take it. It’ll be fine.”


A Branding Problem

28 January 2020

Alistair Roberts weighs in on the way the term “biblical” has been exploited as a brand. Well worth your time.

 


Little Books That Matter

21 January 2020

Here are four very small books about how we interact with the world in which we find ourselves. I recommend all four highly.

Metropolitan Manifesto by Rich Bledsoe

Christendom and the Nations by James Jordan

The Theopolitan Vision by Peter J. Leithart

Theopolitan Liturgy by Peter J. Leithart

 


Leaving Well

10 September 2019

Having left more than a few places, and on a variety of terms, I have a few thoughts to share about what it looks like to leave well.

  • Fighting
    • Most of us find it easier to be angry than sad. When we’re hurt, we default to anger.
    • It’s easier to go out fighting than to just go out wounded. Therefore, you will be tempted to find things to fight about.
    • I have seen massive division and destruction come from succumbing to this temptation.
    • Part of what’s wrong with it is that when you’re finding things to fight about, you will rarely pick the real issues. You will pick the fight you think you can win — or at least the one where you can do the most damage to the other side. And there is no surer road to irreconcilable differences than fighting about things that are beside the point and ignoring the real issues.
  • Learning the wrong lessons
    • We often learn the wrong lessons. Be willing to reconsider the lessons later. It might feel right now, and there may be some truth to it — but the lesson may need to be modified later.
  • Throwing Spears
    • Read Tale of Three Kings. Don’t be a Saul or an Absalom.
    • Understand that your organization may actually value and reward Saul/Absalom behavior. Sometimes it’s accidental, but you’d be surprised how often they know exactly what they’re doing.
    • Determine ahead of time that you will not accept that from yourself, regardless. Membership in an organization is not worth your soul.
  • Severing Ties
    • You need not be hesitant about cutting ties to the parts of the thing that are no longer your business or aren’t productive. “Not my circus, not my monkeys” can be your mantra…internally.
    • Externally, there’s no need to be snarky about it. You can just say, “I’m not sure who’s responsible for that now – why don’t you ask around and find out?”
    • You aren’t required to sever all ties, even if they want you to. Personal relationships don’t just evaporate because the organizational relationship has changed or ended. Keep your friends.
    • You will be surprised at which friendships stay, and which ones evaporate.
    • When a friendship you were counting on evaporates unexpectedly, it’s okay to be hurt — that’s completely natural. But don’t force it, and don’t go to war with the person that hurt you. It’s a waste of effort, and it won’t get you what you want anyway.
  • Loose Ends
    • The more professional the organization, the less this is a factor — the contents of your desk are boxed up by security while HR is giving you the bad news, you’re escorted from the building, and that’s that.
    • In less formal situations, there will often be phone calls later — “Hey, where are the _____?” Or “How did you do _______?” When you get that phone call, don’t be a jerk.
    • That said, those calls can be painful. Try to set it up so you don’t have to deal with that later. Tie up the loose ends. Transfer responsibilities. Tell someone where to find the key to the paper towel dispenser. Then when people call you, refer them to that person: “You’ll need to check with ______. I don’t know what he’s done with it since I’ve been gone.”
  • Tell the Truth
    • You and the other actors involved did what you did. Own your part of it, and let the others own theirs. If they canned you, say so. If they had good reason, admit it. If you think their reasons are nonsense, say that. If they never gave a reason, you can say that too.
    • Hide nothing. Gossip thrives on secrecy and the appearance of secrecy. Defuse it with total openness.
    • Don’t hide your feelings either. If it’s painful, say so. If you’re kinda relieved, admit it. Don’t lie.
    • Care for the People…including the ones responsible for the separation. You don’t get to ignore the golden rule, even if they did.
    • Organizations are totally dispensable; they are vehicles that travel a certain distance in time and space, and then fall apart. Don’t feel at all bad about dropping or walking away from an organization.
    • People are another matter. People are eternal, and are of incalculable value. Don’t make the mistake of treating the people as gears in the organizational machine. Treat them as people, no matter how you were treated.
  • Changing Relationships
    • Some of the relationships you had were built entirely on you representing the organization. Those relationships will go away or transfer to someone else in the organization. If you were a barista, your customers won’t come to your house to get coffee from you instead of the shop. They won’t even follow you to your new shop — they had a relationship with the shop, and your personal identity was largely irrelevant.
    • Some of the relationships were more personal, and they will endure. You may be surprised which are which.
    • The relationships that endure will change, because the rhythms of the relationship have changed. The transition changes when you see each other, in what context, how often, and so on. That will change the relationship, often in unpredictable ways.
  • Unintended Consequences
    • Take a long look at what you’re being spared here. In what ways has the separation liberated you?
    • Don’t assume you know what the separation means for the future. Many things change.

I’m hoping to turn all this into a booklet one day. Let me know what you think — if I fleshed it out, is this something you would buy, read, give away?


Grinding Down Mountains

16 July 2019

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were very focused on moral and ritual purity.  If only Israel would be pure enough, they believed, God would return to Jerusalem, and bless her as He had in the days of David and Solomon. They were so focused on purity that when God actually did return to Jerusalem, they missed it. Jesus wept over the city:

“For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
(Lk. 19:43-44)

Where we focus is very important. It’s possible to make a serious mistake by focusing on the wrong true thing. The Law is holy and just and good, Paul says. But if you focus on the Law, you run headlong into the rocks of Romans 7. You can’t keep it, and the Law does not confer the power to keep it. Nothing does.

In my corner of the Evangelical world, we have mostly learned this lesson when it comes to moral purity. If we focus on moral and ritual purity, we will become Pharisees, and we know it. So we avoid that mistake…and focus on doctrinal purity instead.

Purity is a good thing. Doctrinal purity is a good thing. But if we focus on any form of purity as the bullseye, we will develop the same trouble the Pharisees always had. It’s just a different version of the same basic mistake. Like the Pharisees, we will make ever-finer divisions in a pursuit of ever-greater purity, and the price of our impatience will be disunity.

If we focus on love and unity–which is what Jesus told us to focus on, in the upper-room discourse–it’s been my experience that we will grow toward greater purity together. Slowly. The speeds can be glacial at times. But glacial speed has its advantages: even mountains cannot stand in our way.

 

 


Smiling at Error?

11 June 2019

“The truly wise talk little about religion and are not given to taking sides on doctrinal issues. When they hear people advocating or opposing claims of this or that party in the church, they turn away with a smile such as men yield to the talk of children. They have no time, they would say, for that kind of thing. They have enough to do in trying to faithfully practice what is beyond dispute.”
-George MacDonald

I want to affirm that MacDonald is offering up some real wisdom here. I also want to say that this is wisdom, not law, and as with all wisdom the crucial skill is knowing when to apply it.

There’s no time like the present, but look before you leap. The more, the merrier, but three’s a crowd. The clothes make the man, but don’t judge a book by its cover. The pen is mightier than the sword, but actions speak louder than words. All these proverbs are true in the way that proverbs can be true, and MacDonald’s advice is right up there with them. When to do which? That’s the question.  

To MacDonald’s point, there certainly are niggling doctrinal disagreements that just don’t matter. It’s fine for first-year seminarians to talk them over for the sake of the mental exercise, but how many angels can dance on the head of a pin is not a question that should divide brothers.  

My concern with bandying about a quote like the one from MacDonald, above, is that people come away with a sense that it is always wisdom to remain airily above the fray. Couldn’t Luther just go back to his prayers and agree to disagree with the Pope? What was Athanasius thinking, making such a pill of himself? Would it have killed Paul to just let Peter sit where he wanted at the church potluck? Did Jesus really need to go out of His way to pronounce woe on the Pharisees?

These men were addressing false doctrines that do real injury to God’s people, and in such cases, a wise man answers Jude’s call to contend earnestly for the faith.

Anybody can hate error because it is wrong. It takes real wisdom to hate important errors because they’re injurious, and leave the unimportant ones for a casual chat over coffee someday. May God make us wise.