Archive for the ‘Vocation’ Category

God Sent Me

September 18, 2019

Miracles come in all shapes and sizes, and in all manner of unexpected timings.

The woman who slipped into the door of our Bible study classroom this evening, for example.  She must have just come from some sort of exercise class, wearing leggings and a tight sort of spandex workout top thingy.  I’m not a fashion expert so I don’t know the terms for these things.  Age is difficult (and dangerous) to surmise with a woman, but I’d put her anywhere from 40-ish to her early 50’s.  A thick Russian accent but good English.

Wednesday night Bible studies are mostly for a small group of ladies in an addiction recovery program.  Others have come and gone but don’t last very long.  These ladies have time on their hands and a mandatory weekly Bible study requirement to fulfill.  We have another woman who has been coming recently, a nonagenarian living in the retirement housing next door to our church.

So to have a complete stranger show up saying God had sent her to my Bible study was unexpected.  She stayed, she participated.  We talked after.

From Moscow originally but I get the impression there have been more than a few stops since there.  In our local area for over a dozen years.  Christian, but dissatisfied with the Bible studies she attended in any given place.  She worships at the Mission but says she hasn’t really connected with anyone there, a situation no doubt accented by her admitted shyness.

I gave her my card and wrote down our worship time and the other weekly Bible study opportunities.  She was pleased and surprised to learn there are three separate, different Bible studies each week.  I hope she’ll come back.  She elaborated that a friend told her while she was lamenting the lack of a good Bible study in town that this church was where to go for Bible study.  I’m wondering who that friend is and how they know about us.

She exited the building about 10 seconds before me.  As I locked the door, I glanced to see where her car was.  I didn’t see either her or her car.  I peered around, up and down the long parking lot towards the sidewalk.  Maybe she walked, lived in the area close by.  Curious, and she couldn’t have gotten out of sight so quickly.

Maybe….

The idea flitted through my head briefly.  Would it be beneath God’s dignity, during a time of professional weariness, to send an outsider with a word of encouragement?  Certainly not, but to speculate on angelic visitations seemed a bit premature.  But still, where did she go?

A second later I heard a car door.  As I peered further I saw a car parked on the other side of our church van, all but invisible behind the larger vehicle.  I’d be lying if I said that a small part of me wasn’t disappointed.  But the larger part of me was grateful.  A real flesh-and-blood visitor might come back.  Might tell others.  Might…might…might.

The near future is never very certain, but the recent past of this evening was a nice reminder that miracles come in different forms and accents.

Dangerous Grace

September 16, 2019

Here’s a good (thought-provoking) article challenging the latent notion in most Christians that the faith is primarily about them doing good things and not doing bad things, rather than about the perfect and final act of Jesus Christ on their behalf.

Good Time Outs?

September 14, 2019

For those of you out there agonizing over whether or not you are – or have, or did – traumatize your child irreconcilably through the use of the dreaded time out method of punishment, you can breathe a sigh of relief.  Maybe.  The University of Michigan has released the results of a study that says, done properly, the time out method of discipline should not cause any lasting harm to children.  Maybe.

While this article doesn’t address or acknowledge whether long-term studies were done on the effects of spanking as a disciplinary methods, I find it curious that the list of criteria for making time out an effective form of discipline pretty much match corporal punishment’s ideal criteria as well:

  • calmness
  • consistency
  • positive environment
  • planning the process beforehand
  • making both parents and child understand it
  • avoid shouting

 

 

Definitions

September 10, 2019

An interesting little piece on real estate and ministers.

I certainly admit to thinking ministers of Christ should think carefully about the decisions they make in regards to where they live – as well as most other areas of their lives as well.  This article raises some interesting questions that are not often asked (or reported on).

At some  point there was apparently an acceptable rationale justifying a 9000 square foot house for the residence of an archibishop.  Many people think that’s funny or unseemly now, but I’m curious as to the original rationale.  Was it an emphasis on the archbishop’s position and authority/influence/prestige?  And here I mean the office of archbishop, not the person who might happen to hold that office at a particular point in time.  Does real estate have a valid role to play in such a commentary?  I imagine a lot of those answers have to do with aspects of Roman Catholic theology I’m not familiar with, but I presume they exist.

It’s easy to point fingers and say that’s too ostentatious, that’s too big.  Except that those notions are acculturated in and of themselves and therefore not necessarily any better than the original assumptions behind building/buying the house.  I applaud the new archbishop’s commitment to “examine everything – including the home that I live in that the people of God provide me” in terms of Christian witness.  But I question a too-hasty, knee-jerk reaction that says any domicile over a certain size or monetary value is automatically inappropriate.

It all depends on how it is used.

There is a nod-wink later in the article to the parties hosted there.  That quote clearly seems condemning of the place and it’s at least occasional use, though the new archbishop specifically says his refusal to live there is not a condemnation of his predecessors.  Were the parties entertainment, as one might think of a wealthy person providing for amusement, or did they serve other purposes?  Does the Church necessarily need to hold meetings in a Denny’s?

Does the archbishop have a staff that supports him in his work?  Cleaners?  Secretaries?  Administrative assistants?  Do they live in the house as well?  Could the house be utilized for multiple purposes, or more appropriately perhaps, could more people live there than just the archbishop?

In other words, it’s easy to look at a price tag or a size or a zip code and pass judgment.  But judgment should take all aspects of the situation into account, both historically, for the present moment, and with an eye towards the future.  It could turn out that renting or purchasing another smaller place might in the long run by more costly than just living in the current building, especially if the current building could be thought of in terms beyond just one person’s abode.

To be certain, there are abuses of the collar and some of the other examples in the article seem to be good examples of this.  But size or cost is only one aspect of considering the appropriateness of a house – or a car, or clothing, or food – utilized by a minister of the Gospel.  Having a large space can provide other options if people are willing to explore and consider those sorts of things.  And I’d have to say if anyone is capable of doing a good job in thinking through sacred space or the use of space for the people of God, it’s probably the Roman Catholics.  I pray they have some good folks working on this situation, and that the resolution is definitely a reflection of the Church’s mandate to equip people (including clergy) to daily think through how to love God and love their neighbor.

Book Review: Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles

September 7, 2019

Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles

From the Witherspoon Institute

I’m positive I’ve read this before but I was too impatient to search out more carefully if I’ve blogged about it.  This is a pamphlet more than a book, only about 50 pages.  And it reads like something out of a time capsule, from the ancient past.  However in this case the ancient past is 2008, before the sweeping judicial decisions that rushed same-sex marriage into public law across our country.

This is a fantastic resource.  It reads very easily, and lays out the basic argument for the primacy of marriage in a democratic and free society, and specifically a traditional understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman for life.  This is not a religious argument, but an argument grounded in research and science.  Research pertaining to the health and welfare of children, and research related to the health and well-being of men and women, married and unmarried.

Against the clamor of  it will be just fine! if we radically redefine marriage stands this brief summary soberly warning that it will not be fine.  A good body of research over considerable periods of time bears witness to the fact that men, women, children, and therefore the society they are a part of are all better off when marriage is upheld, supported and encouraged both privately and in public policy.

I strongly encourage you to consider having this resource on hand.  It’s a reminder that traditional marriage definitions are not simply a religious preference but a time-tested means of ensuring the best for as many people as possible in our society.

 

 

 

Acts 16:6-10 and Change

July 23, 2019

By all  accounts it was a successful trip so far.  Wonderful reunions with congregations Paul founded on his first mission trip.  Congregations in Derbe.  Lystra.  Iconium.  Psidian Antioch.  How the Holy Spirit was at work!  How much more might be accomplished!  Plans were made to build on these successes by further mission work in the area to the north.  But such plans came to nothing.

What does it mean to be forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia (v.6) ?  Was it clear to Paul and his associates that this was the case?  Did the Holy Spirit reveal the divine will in this matter?  It would seem not.  They attempted to go to Bithynia and were unable to.  Confusion.  Frustration.  They had the will and the ability, why couldn’t they make good on their plans?  Why did they reach nothing but dead ends despite all the good work accomplished thus far?

More time should probably be given to considering verses six and seven, to the simple statements that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus prevented Paul and his companions from sharing the Gospel in certain areas.  What a strange thought to us today, who are so certain that we control evangelism, we make our plans, we execute them!  Confident that the Holy Spirit desires all to hear and be saved, how can we make sense of the possibility that for the purposes of God, and without conflicting with the reality of a good God who desires that all would be saved, God the Holy Spirit might for his unrevealed reasons frustrate the plans of faithful Christians to share the Gospel with certain others?  I’d argue we can’t, and we don’t even try any more.  But that’s a secondary consideration for me right now.

In the midst of confusion and frustration comes a vision.  More than a dream, perhaps.  Something visible, and something with supernatural overtones.  Paul can see this man.  Perhaps he can hear him as well.  He understands him despite an accent perhaps.  He sees the different clothing.  Somehow Paul understands where this man is from, where this man represents.

Morning comes.  Paul reports his experience to his associates.  Silas.  Timothy.  And based on the sudden change of pronouns in v.10, many presume also Luke himself was there, the author  of the book of Acts.

What to make of it.  The message is clear – an appeal for help in Macedonia.  Moving from the Asian continent to the European continent.  An entirely different arena for sharing the Gospel.  The vision was clear, but what to do about it?

I imagine that the men were hesitant at first.  After all, they’d had such success in the area of what we call Turkey today.  Thriving congregations!  Certainly, they hadn’t been able to travel north as they intended, but surely that would resolve itself in short order and they could continue with their plans.  Surely there were other opportunities closer to hand.  They weren’t doing anything wrong, but what they were doing wasn’t working the way it had previously.  Was it clear to them this vision came from God?  I presume not necessarily, as we’re told in v.10 they concluded it was.  There was some level of analysis, consideration, prayer.  And the result of all those things was a determination that God was behind this and it was time to follow.

Change is hard.  It isn’t what is expected.  It isn’t what is familiar.  Yet small changes can yield incredible results.  A diversion from Asia to Europe – such a small matter in the moment and yet the history of the world is changed no doubt as part of that change.  Would the Holy Spirit still have worked through Paul and his associates if they came to the conclusion that while the vision was interesting, they really were better suited and preferred to stay in Asia?  Of course.  They might have been mistaken, but that certainly wouldn’t have made them bad or evil.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit would have sent a clearer indication of the proper path.  Perhaps He would have worked with them where they were.

It’s good to remember ultimately that the Church claims that God the Holy Spirit is behind everything we do.  That doesn’t mean we aren’t prone to error, it doesn’t mean we don’t interfere.  It doesn’t mean that things are always clear and simple and easy.  But we have to trust the Holy Spirit to work in and through and at times despite us.  And this should foster a level of humility, a willingness to acknowledge our limitations and brokenness and therefore the very real possibility that we might be mistaken.  And it should drive us to hear in others the possible voice of the Holy Spirit, even if we don’t like or agree with what they say.

Change is difficult.  So is staying the course.  Such forks in the road are an opportunity for faith to work itself out in surprising ways.  Not necessarily pleasant ones, but surprising ones, with the trust and confidence that the Holy Spirit is working things out to the glory of God regardless of what is motivating us and our decisions.

Humbling indeed.  But comforting as well.  Sola dei gloria.  Always and in all situations.

 

Schrödinger’s Meth-Head

July 21, 2019

Almost exactly a year ago I created a Schrödinger’s Meth-Head situation that is still ongoing.

Schrödinger is  famous for a thought experiment involving a cat in a sealed steel box with a bit of radioactive material inside along with a hammer and a small glass vial of hydrogen cyanide.  If a single atom of the radioactive material decayed, it would trigger a mechanism that would drop the hammer, shatter the vial, and the cat would die from the poisonous gas.  On the other hand, if no atom decayed, the cat would remain alive.   There was no way to know the status of the cat without opening the steel box.  The cat effectively would remain both dead and alive simultaneously (effectively) until somebody could verify the status.

I have no idea what happened to that young woman.  I still pray and like to think she got on the bus and did the right thing.  Nothing in my experience with recovering addicts in the last year leads me to think this is very likely.  But I can pray it is.  That she’s in recovery, getting the help she needs, moving on with her life.

I’m undecided as to whether I like this status of not knowing.  It is what it is.  And ultimately, regardless of whether she made it home or not, I can pray that her life is better today than it was a year ago when our paths crossed.

So I do.

Reading Ramblings – July 21, 2019

July 14, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost ~ July 21, 2019

Texts: Genesis 18:1-14; Psalm 27; Colossians 1:15-29; Luke 10:38-42

Context: Two women, separated by roughly 2000 years but perhaps little else. Both tending households. Both given the unique opportunity to serve the Son of God (I side with those who see in Old Testament accounts of a physically present God a pre-figuring of the Son of God, Jesus). Each one listening in to a conversation the Son of God is having with someone else in the household. Each one preoccupied with their duties yet hoping perhaps for something more. So many different nuances in these passages. Hospitality. Domesticity. The presence of God with his people, and the love and care of God for his people even when they are focused on other things.

Genesis 18:1-14 – The assigned reading only goes through the first half of verse 10, indicating that the intended focus is on Sarah serving, rather than the divine exchange with her regarding a promised son and clarifying the relationship between this passage and the Gospel. However the story is so classic that it seems a shame not to finish it out! Sarah is busy with her duties. Her husband sits at leisure with his guests. She does all the work, yet Abraham has the honor of being the host who presents the meal to his guests. Yet as Sarah labors behind the scenes, seemingly unnoticed, it is clear that she is not unnoticed. The Lord inquires of her. But this is hardly necessary. The Lord who created Sarah knows her better than she knows herself. And He loving passes over her dishonesty and incredulity. More important things are afoot, and Sarah is remembered thousands of years later because of them and the promise that she would bear in the birth of Isaac.

Psalm 27 – The assigned portion of this psalm is just the second half – verses 7-14. Again I believe this is done to narrow the focus but I prefer to read complete sections of Scripture rather than fragments whenever possible. These words might well have been spoken by Sarah or Martha in their hearts, but the texts are silent on the matter. Likewise the texts are effectively silent as to what prayers Sarah and Martha might have prayed and waited for answers on, though Sarah’s thoughts in Genesis 18:12 might be interpreted as evidence of many years of frustrated prayer. The emphasis in the latter half of this psalm is patience, trust not only in the Lord’s care and presence but his timing, which may not always line up with our own preferred timelines. The psalmist faces adversity in the form of enemies. If this is a psalm of David then it might refer to the rebellion of his son Absalom. But the main emphasis for the speaker is rightness with God, proper worship and contemplation of the divine more than a particular prayer for deliverance. Deliverance is presumed: the Lord is capable of delivering the psalmist from any situation, and while the psalmist prays for such deliverance from this present situation (vs. 5-6), the psalm as a whole is more an assertion of the Lord’s ongoing and eternal goodness, and the importance of right relationship with God as the foremost concern.

Colossians 1:15-29 – I’m not sure why the assigned reading skips vs. 15-20. Yes, it’s a discrete unit of thought and therefore easily removed, but if the point of lectio continua is to read portions of Scripture in whole, it makes no sense to exclude this. And in fact, what appears to be a tangential discussion of the nature of the Son of God is in fact very important in tying together the assurance of forgiveness and redemption in v. 14b with the reality of who the Colossians used to be in v.21. It is because of the eternal and divine nature of the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah, that the Colossians can rest assured of their grace and forgiveness. These are real things they can trust because of the reality and trustworthiness of God the Father himself, acting through and in God the Son. It is our faith that binds us to these promises.

But invariably the focus is drawn to vs. 24-25. What is Paul saying here? Were Christ’s sufferings somehow insufficient or inadequate? Is Paul adding to what Christ accomplished, improving upon it, extending it somehow? We must be careful with the language here. The concept of affliction is never associated with Christ’s redemptive death. Jesus dying for our sins on the cross is never described in Scripture as an affliction. But the nature of his public ministry might well be described as a long series of afflictions(Matthew 8:20, etc.). And Jesus makes it clear to his disciples that they will likewise endure many things for his name (Matthew 10:25, etc.). So Paul’s meaning here might be better translated as furthering the afflictions which Jesus suffered, just as many of the faithful over the centuries have endured terrible things for the sake of Jesus’ name. Paul’s sufferings in this respect have no bearing on salvation – they are not meritorious for the forgiveness of sins as Jesus’ afflictions and suffering and death were. But they are instructive to those who come after, just as Jesus’ personal ministry style was instructive to those who came after. All this to the end of making the Word of God fully known (v.25).

Luke 10:38-42 – The Gospel reading is the centerpiece text on any given Sunday. I’m not sure I’m completely comfortable with this, as it might mislead people somehow into thinking that it’s really just the red-letter aspects of the Bible – the things Jesus specifically said or did – that are somehow qualitatively better than the rest of Scripture. It might be said that they are oftentimes clearer, clarifying Scriptural interpretation for us, but the entire Bible is the Word of God. Yet it is true that the Old Testament points forward in various ways to the incarnation of the Son of God, and there is a logical rightness to making this incarnation the focal point.

Once again the woman in the domestic setting, providing for the needs of her honored guests. But it is not just a guest but the Son of God she serves, and as such He knows her and her concerns, perhaps a long history of sibling jealousy or small skirmishes based on personality differences. And yet clearly there is more to it than this, as Jesus declares in v.41. Martha has many things on her mind, perhaps perpetually. Yet only one of those many things is important, and only one of them sits in her house, present and tangible, teaching and sharing. Surely this is more important than a meal?

Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell Martha to quit making the food and come in and sit down. It isn’t what she’s doing that’s wrong, but rather how she’s feeling, and her desire to compel her sister to the same priorities as herself. Rather than reinforcing Martha’s request that Mary come and help her, Jesus makes it clear that He will not do this, but rather affirms Mary’s priority. Compare this to Psalm 24. David had many things on his mind as well but he knew what was most important. It is this Martha has lost sight of.

Jesus is the one needful thing. Our acts of service are demonstrations of love of God and neighbor and the world has need of them. We can’t all sit at Jesus’ feet 24/7. But even as we labor in our vocations, we can keep our eyes fixed on him, knowing that what we do ultimately is for and because of him. This should guide not just our actions but our motivations and attitudes.

Pumps & Systems

July 9, 2019

That’s the name of the magazine.  Really.

Thanks to Lois for sharing this article with me.  It’s a brief story about Mike Rowe, the guy who became famous for a show about dirty jobs and has gone on to become a leading proponent for re-introducing the trades to upcoming generations who are almost exclusively steered towards a 4-year degree – and the associated debt which more often than not goes along with it.

It’s something we continue to talk with our kids as they get older (17, 14, and 13) and look to the future.  As a former university faculty member I value education greatly.  But I also know there are many ways to learn throughout your life that don’t require the debt and other issues associated with a 4-year degree.  I worked my way through my undergraduate degree because back then you could still do that with part-time jobs.  Now even if you go to an in-state public school you aren’t going to be able to work and pay your way through it.

There’s nothing wrong with considering the trades.  Lord knows we need good, honest plumbers, electricians, and all manner of other folk to survive, and this is a beautiful way of loving your neighbor as you love God.  It isn’t necessarily for everyone, but neither is college.

I hope more and more folks will consider all of their options – or all of the options for their kids and grandkids.  You don’t need a college degree to be intelligent.  You don’t need six figures of student loan debt to be well-rounded.   You just need to know who you are and how God has gifted you.

People of the State

June 26, 2019

Our state legislature is considering adopting an assembly concurrent resolution encouraging religious leaders to reject conversion therapy and not recommend or promote it within their circles.  ACR-99 has no binding effect – it does not create a law.  It’s simply an encouragement from both houses of the state legislature indicating the hope of the people of the state.  The governor is not required to sign an ACR, but I’m sure he will sign this one.

What I find interesting is how religious leaders are encouraged to act in the best interests of the people of the state by rejecting conversion therapy as an option for people with same-sex attraction.

I’m a citizen of the state, and yet I’m being told my best interests arbitrarily are not to be considered.  Likewise, those desiring conversion therapy in hopes of mitgating  or eliminating same-sex attraction are being told that their best interests are not considered, despite them being citizens as well.

Religious leaders do  not interact with people primarily in terms of their citizenship of a state or a country for that matter.  At least in the Biblical Christian understanding, ministers are ultimately to deal with people as children of God.  Creations and creatures being their most fundamental identity rather than the state flag on their drivers license or their voter registration cards.  And as such, how I interact with people will be driven by that level of identity understanding, not the whims of the current cultural or political climate.  It is not possible for me to adequately love people – as the ACR indicates – reliably from any other source or through any other identity.

I haven’t had to refer anyone for counseling for same-sex attraction issues.  Yet.  But I take issue with the state implying I should take my cues on how to do this from them rather than from the Word of God.