Monthly Archives: August 2013

Despair, thankfulness, and paradigm shift

Robinson Crusoe has been on the island for some time. He, clearly, has been able to meet his “hierarchy of needs” – air, water, food shelter. At least enough so that by chapter 5, he is able to start thing theologically about the mess he’s in.

As I sat here some such thoughts as these occurred to me: What is this earth and sea, of which I have seen so much? Whence is it produced? And what am I, and all the other creatures wild and tame, human and brutal? Whence are we? Sure we are all made by some secret Power, who formed the earth and sea, the air and sky. And who is that? Then it followed most naturally, it is God that has made all. Well, but then it came on strangely, if God has made all these things, He guides and governs them all, and all things that concern them; for the Power that could make all things must certainly have power to guide and direct them. If so, nothing can happen in the great circuit of His works, either without His knowledge or appointment.

And if nothing happens without His knowledge, He knows that I am here, and am in this dreadful condition; and if nothing happens without His appointment, He has appointed all this to befall me. Nothing occurred to my thought to contradict any of these conclusions, and therefore it rested upon me with the greater force, that it must needs be that God had appointed all this to befall me; that I was brought into this miserable circumstance by His direction, He having the sole power, not of me only, but of everything that happened in the world. Immediately it followed: Why has God done this to me? What have I done to be thus used?

Rob is struggling with a little theodicy. Dwelling on these thoughts drive him to despair. His despair results in a dreadful physical malady. He searches for relief. He comes upon a plan to mix fresh tobacco and rum. (Frankly, I like where he’s going with that but the execution leave much to be desired.) This, of course, leaves him worse off. He becomes violently ill.

Sick and tired, he takes something else from a chest he brought from the ship and begins to read. The Bible he has falls open to Psalm 50 and he reads this:

“I took up the Bible and began to read; but my head was too much disturbed with the tobacco to bear reading, at least at that time; only, having opened the book casually, the first words that occurred to me were these, “Call on Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.” These words were very apt to my case, and made some impression upon my thoughts at the time of reading them, though not so much as they did afterwards; for, as for being delivered, the word had no sound, as I may say, to me; the thing was so remote, so impossible in my apprehension of things, that I began to say, as the children of Israel did when they were promised flesh to eat, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” so I began to say, “Can God Himself deliver me from this place?” And as it was not for many years that any hopes appeared, this prevailed very often upon my thoughts; but, however, the words made a great impression upon me, and I mused upon them very often. It grew now late, and the tobacco had, as I said, dozed my head so much that I inclined to sleep; so I left my lamp burning in the cave, lest I should want anything in the night, and went to bed. But before I lay down, I did what I never had done in all my life – I kneeled down, and prayed to God to fulfil the promise to me, that if I called upon Him in the day of trouble, He would deliver me. After my broken and imperfect prayer was over, I drank the rum…”

I love this passage. Might be partiality because he ends his prayer with rum. What happens next is worth the book.

July 3. – I missed the fit for good and all, though I did not recover my full strength for some weeks after. While I was thus gathering strength, my thoughts ran exceedingly upon this Scripture, “I will deliver thee”; and the impossibility of my deliverance lay much upon my mind, in bar of my ever expecting it; but as I was discouraging myself with such thoughts, it occurred to my mind that I pored so much upon my deliverance from the main affliction, that I disregarded the deliverance I had received, and I was as it were made to ask myself such questions as these – viz. Have I not been delivered, and wonderfully too, from sickness – from the most distressed condition that could be, and that was so frightful to me? and what notice had I taken of it? Had I done my part? God had delivered me, but I had not glorified Him – that is to say, I had not owned and been thankful for that as a deliverance; and how could I expect greater deliverance? This touched my heart very much; and immediately I knelt down and gave God thanks aloud for my recovery from my sickness.

And this:

“Now I began to construe the words mentioned above, “Call on Me, and I will deliver thee,” in a different sense from what I had ever done before; for then I had no notion of anything being called deliverance, but my being delivered from the captivity I was in; for though I was indeed at large in the place, yet the island was certainly a prison to me, and that in the worse sense in the world. But now I learned to take it in another sense: now I looked back upon my past life with such horror, and my sins appeared so dreadful, that my soul sought nothing of God but deliverance from the load of guilt that bore down all my comfort. As for my solitary life, it was nothing. I did not so much as pray to be delivered from it or think of it; it was all of no consideration in comparison to this. And I add this part here, to hint to whoever shall read it, that whenever they come to a true sense of things, they will find deliverance from sin a much greater blessing than deliverance from affliction.”

His condition never changes. He was no more rescued physically that morning than any other morning since he got on the island. It was his paradigm that had changed. He went from seeing himself as a victim of God to being a child of God who had experienced deliverance. The prayer did not change his dreadful plight but simply showed him the “other side” of his misery. His “blessing.”

The verse quoted is from Psalm 50. This week. This will be my sermon – asking “where is God” is the wrong question. The better questions might be – “where am I and where has God been all along?” And then find the answers.

My condition began now to be, though not less miserable as to my way of living, yet much easier to my mind: and my thoughts being directed, by a constant reading the Scripture and praying to God, to things of a higher nature, I had a great deal of comfort within, which till now I knew nothing of; also, my health and strength returned, I bestirred myself to furnish myself with everything that I wanted, and make my way of living as regular as I could.”

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What goes in…

GIGOGarbage in, garbage out. It is a succinct explanation as to why computer findings would be errant. It first shows up in the 50s as computers begin to be used for actual work! It highlights the idea that if the original data is flawed, the conclusions will absolutely be flawed!

2 millennia ago Jesus of Nazareth put it this way. “You brood of vipers!! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

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Salt

Luke 12:49-53

This generation is noted as being the “most tribal” of many generations before it.

The Mindset List for the Class of 2016 – Beloit College

For this generation of entering college students, born in 1994, Kurt Cobain, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Nixon and John Wayne Gacy have always been dead.

They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics.”

The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them.

Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker’s long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.

Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge.

They have never seen an airplane “ticket.”

On TV and in films, the ditzy dumb blonde female generally has been replaced by a couple of Dumb and Dumber males.

The paradox “too big to fail” has been, for their generation, what “we had to destroy the village in order to save it” was for their grandparents’.

For most of their lives, maintaining relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world has been a woman’s job in the State Department.

They can’t picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it.

There has always been football in Jacksonville but never in Los Angeles.

Since they’ve been born, the United States has measured progress by a 2 percent jump in unemployment and a 16 cent rise in the price of a first class postage stamp.

Benjamin Braddock, having given up both a career in plastics and a relationship with Mrs. Robinson, could be their grandfather.

Exposed bra straps have always been a fashion statement, not a wardrobe malfunction to be corrected quietly by well-meaning friends.

A significant percentage of them will enter college already displaying some hearing loss.

Women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles.

White House security has never felt it necessary to wear rubber gloves when gay groups have visited.

Having made the acquaintance of Furby at an early age, they have expected their toy friends to do ever more unpredictable things.

Outdated icons with images of floppy discs for “save,” a telephone for “phone,” and a snail mail envelope for “mail” have oddly decorated their tablets and smart phone screens.

Star Wars has always been just a film, not a defense strategy.

They have had to incessantly remind their parents not to refer to their CDs and DVDs as “tapes.”

Probably the most tribal generation in history, they despise being separated from contact with their similar-aged friends.

They were too young to enjoy the 1994 World Series, but then no one else got to enjoy it either.

While the iconic TV series for their older siblings was the sci-fi show Lost, for them it’s Breaking Bad, a gritty crime story motivated by desperate economic circumstances.

Simba has always had trouble waiting to be King.

Before they purchase an assigned textbook, they will investigate whether it is available for rent or purchase as an e-book.

History has always had its own channel.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has always been officially recognized with clinical guidelines.

They watch television everywhere but on a television.

Point-and-shoot cameras are soooooo last millennium.

Despite being preferred urban gathering places, two-thirds of the independent bookstores in the United States have closed for good during their lifetimes.

Genomes of living things have always been sequenced.

Why are they so tribal? I suspect that it has something to do with the hyper-differentiated reality that can exist online. There, on your personal screen shared with no one, you only see what you want to see. Advertisements themselves are tailored to your personal habits and desires. More and more children in this generation are being home schooled or in private.

As our world gets more and more global, so our lives get more and more tribal.

The ancient Mediterranean world of Jesus was tribal. The average person Jesus preached to in the countryside didn’t often see others outside of their tribe. It was a homogeneous group. The family system was everything. Your place in the family system determined everything about your life. Who you married, what you did for a living, where you lived, whom you reported to. It was bigger than just some kind of cultural phenomenon, it was how the economy was set up. To retain ties to your family was as important to that world as attending the right college and securing a degree that is marketable is in ours. Maintaining the role in the family system kept the world turning as it needed to. Security. Safety. Tranquility. That’s what was needed at home.

But Jesus comes and says he’s going to turn it upside down.

Our passage opens with the image of the “earth-oven.” It is plausible that this ancient oven is what Jesus is referring to. It is something that everyone in his audience would be aware of. The “earth-oven” was a common stove in Jesus’ day. It was made of mud or brick. The fuel was often camel dung that was dried and salted so that it would burn faster. Salt had this mysterious power. It could heal. It could transform food. It could preserve food and it could be used as a catalyst for fire. Often a block of salt would be kept on the floor of the oven to keep the fire going just as the salt crystals did in the camel dung. Eventually, the salt in the oven would lose it’s catalyst properties and need to be thrown out – reminds me of a passage about salt losing it’s savor and needing to be trampled under the foot of men…

Jesus is not just going to be somewhat divisive. He’s not going to just have these ideas that people will debate about and discuss around the dinner table – his gospel is transformative. His gospel is a catalyst for change. The world will never be the same after Jesus comes through.

Specifically, following Jesus’ word’s will turn the status quo upside down. Following Jesus will drive a wedge between a parent and their children, brothers and sisters will no longer talk, those who depended on one another will no longer be together.

Jesus came to throw some salt on the fire.

How does this interact with the message of Jesus being a person of peace? One has to understand shalom. It is not a world where everyone just agrees. The Mediterranean world was loud and argumentative. In fact, challenging one another’s assumptions is a vital part of the Jewish faith. Questions, arguments, discourse – this is the stuff of shalom. I do not think that Jesus ever meant that a peaceful life would be one without questions, challenges, doubt and even argument – those will always exist in even a healthy family – shalom is where love is.

I read this passage as Jesus recognizing the reality that his disciples have been living in. They have experienced the pain of separating from their families as the cost of following Jesus has set in. Many of them have been on the journey now for many months, some for years and it has cost them dearly. The coming pain (Jesus is now dead set on the Cross) will cost even more.

One needs to read this passage in light of the rest of the chapter. Jesus opens the chapter by explaining that the traditional fears of those who could kill the body (sickness, Romans, civil leadership, bandits etc), the regular fears associated with life are not at all what is real. What is real is to fear the One who can kill both body and soul. He explains that the disciples are living in two planes of existence – the physical and spiritual – they need to remember which is more important. Jesus follows this with the parable of the rich man who thought he had it all. He counted his riches by the size of his 401k and the toys lined up in the garage. He was a fool.

Then Jesus tells them not to worry. They have committed to following God, God will take care of their needs. This must have been some wonderful assurance to those who had followed Jesus to the expense of their future.

I have done several conscientious objector interviews. I have counseled many more who have considered taking that route. Often, they are genuinely troubled at doing something that was just an idea before they joined but now, facing the reality that the Army exists to “close with and destroy the enemy” have trouble integrating that with how they view God and themselves. If someone brings it up to me, I lay out what it might cost them. The Army might just let them go. The safety and security they have come to appreciate might, in fact, go away. For a select few, it is a small price to pay for peaceful conscience. I tell them that if God is indeed calling them to the life of a pacifist, God is responsible to care for them. Are they ready for that kind of faith?

The disciples obviously were. I imagine Jesus identifying that God would care for them through each other – their new family system – was like water to the thirsty soul.

Then Christ gets real with them – get ready, be prepared, be watchful, pay attention – it’s time to get serious about this new thing that is coming. It has cost you, it will cost you – are you ready?

Jesus is a catalyst for change. We are called to be salt of the earth. We are to be catalysts for change. Being a Christ-follower is more than just the stuff of Sunday donuts ritual – it is the stuff of transforming lives. And yes, that is going to cause some division. There will be some separation. It’s ok, the God who called you is faithful and will care for your needs, but it is going to cost you something.

Holiness always costs something.

Forgiveness always costs something.

Humility always costs something.

Righteousness always costs something.

Community always costs something.

Are you ready to be salt?

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George Washington on Religious Freedom

“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.”
~George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792

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