Friday, June 19, 2015

Righteousness or Willingness?

Though my studies at Bethel University have greatly curtailed time to blog, I have continued to find time for ‘pondertude.’  I have strayed from 15 years of reading Psalms and have been slowly working through Proverbs.  I usually spend a couple weeks on each chapter, supplementing my reading and pondering with The Preachers Commentary on Proverbs written by David Hubbard, former Old Testament professor and president of Fuller Seminary.

I recently re-read chapter 11.  After reading it a few times, I started to realize it was laced with the word ‘righteous’ or ‘righteousness’ – at least a dozen times.  Righteous is one of those biblical terms we often read without thinking about its meaning.  The dictionary definition points to a connection with morality, fitting the common definition we hear in sermons which in our minds translates into ‘right living.’  ‘Right living’ smacks of the Pharisaical moralism of Jesus' day that has managed to infiltrate cultural Christianity of today.  Since the word appeared so often in Proverbs, I figured I better investigate.

Working from a Hebrew lexicon and David Hubbard’s (2004) commentary on Proverbs, I discovered a couple interesting things:
  • The root Hebrew word for righteous and righteousness (Sedeq) speaks of loyal, reliable conduct based on a commitment to God and to his covenant (commitment) to humanity.
  • Sedeq is a term of relationship describing a desire to live a life pleasing to God and a desire to live a life fitting to the members of God's family. 
Simply stated, God is the righteous one and human righteousness is therefore a desire, a willingness to behave toward God and his people with the same care, compassion, and integrity that the righteous God has shown us.

To me, this is freeing.  Righteousness isn’t about getting it right, but rather a desire and a willingness to behave with care, compassion, and integrity.  When we invite people to be Young Life leaders with us, our ‘leadership covenant’ of sorts focuses more on their willingness – a willingness to grow in their relationship with Jesus; a willingness to learn to love kids; a willingness to learn to walk into the world of kids, a willingness to live a life that’s not confusing to kids, etc.  If they are willing, we can do a lot with that.

I'm thinking God isn’t looking for people to get it right.  He’s looking for willing people.  God can do a lot with willing people. 


Reference:
Hubbard, David. (2004). Proverbs:15 (The Preacher's Commentary). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2015


Several years ago I thought it would be a fun exercise to read through the Apostle Paul’s Epistles in the order which they were written, a possible time span of 15-20 years.  I thought it would be interesting to get a feel for Paul’s core messages and see how his theology developed over the span of time.  So yesterday, New Years Day, I thought I would begin the process, starting with 1 Thessalonians.  Below is Eugene Peterson’s introduction to the Thessalonica letters in The Message paraphrase.  It seems an appropriate read as we move into a new year…

The way we conceive the future sculpts the present, gives contour and tone to nearly every action and thought through the day. If our sense of future is weak, we live listlessly. Much emotional and mental illness and most suicides occur among men and women who feel that they "have no future."

The Christian faith has always been characterized by a strong and focused sense of future, with belief in the Second Coming of Jesus as the most distinctive detail.

From the day Jesus ascended into heaven, his followers lived in expectancy of his return. He told them he was coming back. They believed he was coming back. They continue to believe it. For Christians, it is the most important thing to know and believe about the future.

The practical effect of this belief is to charge each moment of the present with hope. For if the future is dominated by the coming again of Jesus, there is little room left on the screen for projecting our anxieties and fantasies. It takes the clutter out of our lives. We’re far more free to respond spontaneously to the freedom of God.

All the same, the belief can be misconceived so that it results in paralyzing fear for some, shiftless indolence in others.  Paul’s two letters to the Christians in Thessalonica, among much else, correct such debilitating misconceptions, prodding us to continue to live forward in taut and joyful expectancy for what God will do next in Jesus.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Ferguson


I, like many, have watched the events in Ferguson these past months, wondering how to view and respond as a Christ-follower.  You may already be aware of New Orleans Saints Benjamin Watson’s Facebook posting.  I think it’s a worthwhile read, so here it is:
"At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:
I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.
I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.
I'M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I'm a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a "threat" to those who don't know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.
I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.
I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self-defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.
I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.
I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policemen abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.
I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.
I'M HOPELESS, because I've lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I'm not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.
I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.
I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope."  (Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/BenjaminWatsonOfficial/posts/602172116576590)
Where I might take exception to his comments would regard education.  I agree education apart from the Gospel might be incomplete.  However, I have to believe a ‘gospel’ apart from education is also incomplete and can exacerbate the issues.  I think that's what the Apostle Paul alluded to when he stated that transformation comes from the renewing of one’s mind (Romans 12:2).  All in all, an interesting perspective from one that probably lives in the worlds of both 'in' and 'out' groups.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Experiences


As we learn to be Christ-followers, God uses experiences to shape us.  My YL College friend, Jake, recently posted on FaceBook one such experience for him.  The present course I'm taking for my Ed.D. at Bethel University required me to think back to an early time in my life that shaped my view of cultural diversity, specifically from the perspective of the ‘in group.’

My life has been shaped by two significance experiences in college.  I started at NDSU the fall of 1968.  Intending to obtain a degree in civil engineering as well as pursue a dream of flying, I joined the Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) program.   I joined ROTC with the intent of making a ‘full commitment’ as a junior, receiving a monthly stipend the last two years, which would help pay for school.  It also meant if I was to serve in Vietnam, it would be as an officer in the Air Force and not on the ground as infantry. 

The first experience came in the form of a roommate.  Freshman year I shared a suite with three other students, one being a black Chicago native, Leon.  Prior to Leon, I don't think I ever had a conversation with a black person, so he was a bit of a novelty (he was one of about five black people on campus).  I really enjoyed getting to know him and his world.  From the South side of Chicago, he had stories that both intrigued and shocked me (looking back, I am sure he embellished a bit).  Leon taught me about prejudice through his stories, which left me feeling pity.  However, the real education about prejudice came through our excursions to stores in downtown Fargo.  In ignorance I suggested that us rural, northern folks were not prejudice and could not possibly be since we had no interactions with minorities (apparently native Americans were not on my radar).  Leon provided me with an education that the higher educational institution could not.

As we visited a number of stores I was appalled at the demeaning treatment he received.  Storeowners and employees watched his every move.  What’s more, because I was associated with Leon, I was suspect as well.  Conducting informal experiments, we compared situations where I was an obvious companion to scenarios where I lingered into the background.  When not associated with Leon, I found myself treated with more respect and at the same time disdain for him increased.  It seemed his connection to me buffered some of the prejudice.  I was appalled, angered and frustrated.  Then Leon brought it all home for me.  I remember telling him I was glad I was not prejudiced.  His response: “What if I wasn't your roommate?  How would you be any different than all these other people that think they are not prejudiced?”  I had no answer.

About a year later, my life completely changed direction thanks to the luck of the draw.  Something Leon helped me realize was the inequity among Vietnam draftees.  He was fortunate that he could afford to attend college.  College students in good standing were exempt from the draft.  Most of his high school football teammates were unable to attend college, save a few that received athletic scholarships.  They were all drafted.  He was the one who pointed out to me that while the black population in the United States was around ten percent, about 40% of the young soldiers in Vietnam were black.  Though he didn't use the term, Leon was teaching me about white male privilege. 

Because of the inequity of the selective service system, laws changed and a lottery was implemented based on one’s birthday.  On December 1, 1969, the first lottery was conducted on national TV.  Every college male watched since the inauguration of the lottery meant collegial exemption was discontinued.  My birthday, April 12, was drawn 346th.  I would never be drafted or have to serve in Vietnam.  Though I wanted to fly, war was not of interest to me.  I discontinued my pursuit of ROTC and my life took a drastic turn.  I am thankful for the education Leon provided me.  And I am thankful for the luck of the draw.  Yes, experiences really do shape us.
 
 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Strength and Courage


My friend Drew and I had a short texting conversation this week.  At Young Life College, we end our evening the same way each week - we each write our name and cell number on a slip of paper and toss it in a hat.  Then we draw someone else’s name, commit to pray for that person through the week; texting them to ask about things for which they might need prayer.

I drew Drew this past week.  Our short text conversation:
Me: Praying for you this week. Anything in particular for which you would like prayer?
Drew: Guidance to go where God wants me, and the strength to do what He wants me to while I'm there.
Me: Strength or willingness?
Drew: The strength to be willing, maybe?
Me: Strength to be willing or courage to be willing?

Our conversation brought me back to something that surfaced for me a couple years ago (I honestly thought I had blogged about this before, but can't find any evidence I did.  If someone discovers otherwise, there might be a free lunch in it for you).  I have always been fascinated with the discourse between God and Joshua that we find in Joshua just before the people of Israel crossed over the Jordon to inherit the ‘promised land.’ 

God: “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.  Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6-9, also Deuteronomy 31)
Joshua: [Silence]

God put strength and courage together in his statement to Joshua – three times.  In Hebrew thought, anything stated three times demand attention. So, being a dabbler in Hebrew, I poked around a bit to see what I could find.  They are kinda the same word.  The Hebrew word for courage (amats) means:
To be determined, to make oneself alert, to strengthen oneself, to confirm oneself.   
Interesting!  Courage in Hebrew thought seems to have nothing to do with acts of bravery, which is what we usually think about courage.  It seems to have more to do with internal resolve.

I immediately thought of the Apostle Paul’s statement of resolve:
[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness].  (Philippians 3:10, Amplified)

So, Drew’s request for strength makes sense.  He’s asking for the courage and resolve to follow God – not a bad thing to pray. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Acting

There is a word we commonly use, usually when referencing the behavior of others – hypocrite.  Conventional wisdom defines hypocrisy as ‘saying one thing, but doing another.’  The dictionary would concur: the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform.  We would all agree hypocrisy is a negative attribute.

Many of us are aware that when Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, he was really speaking of acting.  In the Greek world of the day, thespians (actors) were called hypocrites.  So when Jesus spoke of the scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the law as being hypocrites (Matthew 23), he’s kind of saying an inverse of the dictionary definition.  He is saying that they have learned a behavior that doesn't match up with what they say they believe.  They have learned how to act.

This is something to which we want to pay attention in the context of western Christendom. How often have you heard conversations about how good Christians ought to act?  Good Christian behavior is a positive attribute, correct?  Not a negative attribute as hypocrisy would intimate.  However, if we simply learn how to act as a Christian, are we not a hypocrite?

I was talking about this with my friend Kassie last week when a new thought occurred to us.  Actors learn how to act, to pretend, to play a part.  That’s what they are good at.  However, before they are able to act their part, they need to learn their lines.  This might be something even more important to which we should pay attention.  Kassie and I talked about how many of us learn Christian things to say, unaware of the meaning behind the phraseology (I've always wanted to use that word in a sentence).  As a result, we might well disbelieve what we are saying – acting, pretending. 

This is reminiscent of a conversation during Campaigners (Young Life Bible study) back in the day.  One of the kids said something that smacked of a rehearsed, learned statement.  Jeff, an unchurched kid who didn't come to the conversation knowing any of the traditional Christianeeze responded with something like this: “That’s bulls**t.  You don't believe that for a second.  It's just something you learned to say.”  Pause.  Silence. 

I think Jesus always challenges us to think through what we say we believe.  I think that’s why he was always asking such great questions of people around him.  We always want to have the people around us who can ask us questions that cause us to pause and reflect, don't we?   


PS – this is a fun little video about learned phraseology – Shoot Christians Say.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Barak

There is a reoccurring word (close to 500 times) in the Bible that has always interested me in how it is used and what it actually means. The word? Bless and it’s various derivatives (blessed, blessing, etc.).
 
It is used in a number of different ways, which has always a bit confusing to me. God blesses us; we bless him as well as others (especially when they sneeze). It sounds a bit like a mutual admiration society. Suspecting the word means far more than mutual admiration, I started to look at occurrences of the word in scripture, particularly in the Old Testament. Some significant instances in the beginning of Genesis:
  • God blessed Adam and Eve
  • God blessed the Sabbath (I didn't know that before)
  • God blessed Noah after the flood in a similar fashion as he did Adam & Eve
  • Noah, in turn said, “Blessed be the Lord.”
  • In the calling of Abram, God said he would bless Abram so he in turn would be a blessing to others (a significant departure from God being the sole ‘blesser’)
Interesting, but on the surface it still smacks of a mutual admiration. So, being a dabbler in Hebrew, I decided to see what I could discover about this word ‘Bless.’ The basic Hebrew word for bless is ‘barak.’ Barak is the word for ‘knee’ and implies kneeling. That makes some sense. One approaches royalty on bended knee out of reverence and respect. In Philippians 2, we read that “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” – bended knee.
 
But what of God blessing us? What immediately comes to mind is Jesus' washing of his disciples feet. In John 13 we read:

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end…Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist…and began to wash his disciples feet.”

This is a great visual. Jesus, knowing full well who he was as God incarnate, showed the full extent of his love and began to wash his disciples feet, presumably on his knees. Picture that for a bit. The God of the universe, the Lord of lords, the King of kings in human form on his knees, serves his creation!
 
What kind of God do we serve that serves us? What royalty when approached by a subject on bended knee would in turn kneel before that subject? And then wash their feet? Scandalous! I remember watching a movie in which a young king left his throne to comfort a young subject (female, of course). He was quickly reprimanded by the elders for his scandalous act.

No wonder contemporary gospel communicators such as David Platt and Brennan Manning refer to the gospel as scandalous – becau
se it IS.