Saturday, March 19, 2011

Philippians 1:27-2:11. So What’s Your Motivation?

There’s a funny old commercial for Sprite you can find on YouTube.  Some commercials you ignore, and some stick with you.  “Where’s the beef?” was brilliant.  Everyone who ever saw it remembers it.  Since I study communication, I love to watch commercials, at least new ones.  On the Sprite commercial, it has three young, tough-looking Black guys who are supposedly playing a rough game of basketball.  The commercial is supposedly for a sports drink, called Turboboost or something silly like that.  So the three tough guys are standing, talking to the camera, and the one in the middle holds out the can, but the director of the supposed commercial stops him, “Cut—you’ve got the can upside down, dummy.”  The can-holder breaks into a rage, using a British accent, “I played Hamlet at Cambridge!”  The second actor says, “Once again, you caused me to lose MY concentration!”  And the third says, “Excuse me, what’s my motivation?”  Then the screen says, “Image is nothing, thirst is everything.  Drink Sprite.” 

Of course the commercial is making fun of pretentious actor types, and it is very funny.  But I think of that question a lot—What’s my motivation?  Because that is everything for the Christian life.  We can look really good on the outside—like those actors looked like tough street gang types—but what’s really going on inside?

The key phrase in this lesson is “Let this mind be in you.”  It contains the beautiful hymn passage knows as the kenosis, a word which means emptying, because Paul is describing what Christ did to achieve our salvation—he emptied himself.  Of what?  How?  Why?  And what is the result?  Those are the key questions in this passage.

A principle I would like you to leave with is this:  All doctrine has practical application.  All practical application has a doctrinal basis.  There is no such thing in the Bible as distinction between theory and practice.  Our practice is not to be based on pragmatism (for results), selfishness, popularity, charismatic leaders,  ease, convenience, or expediency.  It is to be based on the doctrinal truths of the character of God, the example of Christ, and the message of the cross and gospel. 

This passage has seven “be’s.” 

1:27a:  Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ. What might that mean?  If you keep the gospel in the box of just being the historical truth of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, you might miss some of the meaning here.  That is the gospel, but that’s not all the gospel means.  The gospel of the kingdom, Christ’s rule because of his death, burial, and resurrection is the bigger picture.  How would our conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ?  What would that look like?  Perhaps the rest of the passage defines that.

1:27b: Be consistent—“whether I come to you or am absent from you….”

1:27c:  Be steadfast, firm.

1:28:  Be brave.  The fact that the Philippians’ persecutor do so is a sign that they are lost (what perdition means) and a sign that the Philippians are found.

2:1-2:  Be unified.  Why?
            The trinity is a unity.  Yet as we see, in a sense Jesus, the Son, is asked to do something really “big” to achieve the goal of salvation.  So the basis of unification is a mutual humility, so

2:3-ff.  Be humble.  Paul can point to no other example of chosen humility (not forced, not social, not genetic) than Christ’s.  Humility that is not chosen at some level is not humility.  We are not natural humble.  The Sunday School literature defines humility as knowing your strength and weaknesses as human beings.  I think that’s a good definition for humans—that is, having a realistic and thankful assessment of who you are—but it doesn’t apply to Christ.  

This is considered one of the great Christological passages in Scripture.  It bears long and repeated study.  In graduate school I went to a retreat where that was all we studied, and I memorized the passage.  Maybe it worked—I think it gave me a deeper understanding of the cross.  However, I don’t consider myself humble.  I know how proud and self-seeking I can be.  I know how little I don’t want to be inconvenienced or challenged.  I know how much I like to show off my little bit of knowledge.  It makes me feel powerful to know stuff other people don’t, and makes me feel insignificant to feel ignorant.  A person can look humble on the outside and be very proud on the inside.  So it goes back to “what’s my motivation?”  a question only the person can answer honestly.  As I said last week, the gospel requires total self-honesty.   I think that is the main reason it is rejected. 

So, the key is “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus …. “  Paul is writing this hymn to teach them doctrinal truth and that doctrinal truth should guide their practice.  What is the doctrinal truth here?

The doctrinal truth is who Jesus truly is and what he truly did.  There can be no mistakes about that.  The word kenosis means emptying.  But of what?  Not his deity, but his display of his deity, the full use of all the divine attributes such as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.  He was in a body and had physical limitations.  “Being in the form of God, he did not consider his deity something to be held on to, stolen, grasped at, or something that he would lose, but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant …..”

Sometimes bondservant is translated slave, but that is not completely it.  In the Old Testament a person became a slave because of debt.  Every seven years the debtors who were slaves were supposed to be made free, but a person could choose to remain a bondservant.  So, it’s a matter of choice—the person was in bondage, was made free legally, but chose to continue in service.  I believe that is the picture here, not slavery like we think of it.

“ … and coming in the likeness of man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death (and not just any death), the excruciatingly death of the cross.”

But as Paul Harvey says, there’s the “rest of the story.”  Verses 9-11.  Therefore God also has highly exalted him.”  Is this more exaltation than he had before, or a return to the exaltation he had before, or a different kind of exaltation he had before?  I would have to go with the second and third—he is now exalted as both Lord and Savior.  He has been given the (not a) name which is above every name (LORD), with the purpose being that at some future time (will) every knee will bow to him, either by choice and gladly or by force and in terror. 

So, Jesus, not necessarily "Love" wins.

So, to wrap up:  Be …….;  Let …..   And then the rest of it will take care of itself.  Focus on the motivation, so you aren’t phony like the guys in the Sprite commercial.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Philippians 1:12ff—Whatever It Takes

A large corporation—it may have been Walmart—used to have a motto, “Whatever It Takes.”  It was a mantra by which employees were supposed to operate.  It meant the goals or mission of the organization (ostensibly customer service) was supposed to drive everything, and personal problems and logistical limitations were supposed to be set aside to serve the customer.

It’s good to think about this.  So many people want to make excuses more than anything else, want to look at the obstacles, and this saying looks at the goal.  I operate this way a lot with teaching my students.  I don’t say, “I can’t do this because …. “  I just focus on what will help the students learn.

I think the Apostle Paul would take this approach to his work in spreading the gospel.  In this part of chapter 1, he discusses four things that could, but don’t, stop him from spreading the gospel.  Whatever it takes, he is going to keep standing for Christ and speaking about Him to whomever he can.

Imprisonment will not deter him.  Verses 12-14.

Why is Paul even in prison?  To answer that you must read the last five or six chapters of Acts to find out.  After his third journey, he ended up back in Jerusalem in a conflict with the Jews.  The Jews accused him of taking a Gentile into the temple, they wanted to use the Romans to kill him, but Paul as a Roman citizen could appeal to the Caesar.  He spends several years under arrest in Israel, goes through a shipwreck, and ends up in Rome.  He spends two or more years (60-63 AD) under house arrest with the Imperial Guard watching him night and day.  The Imperial Guard was very powerful.  As far as Paul is concerned, being in prison is not a deterrent to his ministry.  It’s part of it.  Just like in Acts 16 when he chose to go to prison and met the jailer, he takes this opportunity to get to Rome, speak before the emperor, meet Roman leaders, and minister with the Roman Christians.  He is allowed many visitors and writes Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon at this time.  He is rather optimistic, and mentions that he wants to go to Spain when he gets out.

By the way, don’t get the idea that writing these letters was easy, something he dashed off like we write letters.  These are scholarly arguments, researched, on top of being inspired by the Holy Spirit and a statement of apostolic authority.  So it might have taken quite a while to write it. 

Later, in 64-68, he was imprisoned again, this time because of Roman persecution of Christians under Nero.  That was a totally different imprisonment.  He was alone; he knew he would be executed.  He writes I and II Timothy (and probably other letters we don’t have.)  Listen to what he writes in II Timothy 4:6ff.

Opposition or lack of support will not deter him.  Verses 15-18

Paul states that he has rivals.  We don’t know who these people are.  They are not false teachers, because he says they are preaching the gospel and he is glad for that.  But somehow they do not support Paul, and their motivations are not as sincere as they should be, although it’s not money and it wouldn’t be fame in a society that persecuted Christians.  So this is not like us saying, “Well, that televangelist seems to be in it for the money, but that’s ok because he has a big church and does a lot of good work for poor people,” or “Look at those nice Mormon boys, I should pray for them.”  Again, these opponents may have had issues with Paul’s apostolic authority but they were still preaching the true gospel, and Paul was not going to let them get in his way or deter him.

Even still, that does not condone their motivations.  Only one motivation is really the right one for spreading the gospel:  agape love.

Paul knows that the gospel is good news but harsh medicine.  Medicine sometimes burns, stings, tastes bad, and even makes us feel bad before it cures us.  Chemotherapy works, but what a hard treatment to go through!  Surgery is, in some ways, barbaric, but it works.  The gospel offers everything but to take it, we have to be honest with ourselves, God, and others (because we must publicly state we believe).  And one thing we have a very hard time with is self-honesty.

Paul had some enemies and opponents, but he had many, many friends.  For Paul, “whatever it takes” means that not everyone would love him, but we know everyone is not going love us anyway.  Paul committed himself to presenting the gospel openly, relationally, to everyone, but people can still choose.  I Corinthians 9:19 is another example of “whatever it takes,” but we know not everyone rushed to believe. 

Fear of death will not deter him.  Verses 19-21.  Mainly because he is not afraid of death, because it means a deeper relationship with Christ.  That is what we have to want in heaven.

Desire to see Christ in Heaven will not deter him.   Verses 22-24.  It is still necessary for him to be on earth, but if he really had a choice, he’s not sure—he would probably choose heaven.
Conclusion:   When it comes to obedience to Christ, whatever it takes is a good plan.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Speaking Engagement

You are Invited to Attend…
2nd Annual
Northwest Georgia Valley Writers Conference
May 6 & 7
This Year's Keynote Speaker and author of All that's True, Cold Rock River, Divorcing Dwayne, and Roseflower Creek is Jackie Lee Miles
Learn more about Jackie Lee Miles at

OPTION ONE / For Writers: Pre-Registration at the Harris Arts Center or by Phone (706-629-2599) is highly encouraged as there will be limited registration on the day of the event. $50 for the conference / price does not include meals.

OPTION TWO / For Readers: There is no charge to attend end-of-day events on Saturday. Join us at 5:45PM for a panel discussion on "The Writer's Life" then stay for book sales and signing at 6:15PM Those attending ONLY the "readers" portion of the event do NOT need to register and admission is free


Friday Night: New this Year—Bonus workshop!
7:00 PM Enjoy dinner with several authors & workshop leaders at the Velo Vineyard in Downtown Calhoun while you participate in the workshop, "What a Publisher Wants From You" with Publisher Tony Burton of Wolfmont Press.

If you are joining us for dinner, please check the box on your registration form, as we will need a headcount.
($15 buffet dinner is not included in price of conference)

SATURDAY: Main Event

8:00 AM - 9:00 AM
Check in at the Registration Desk / Authors available for book signing & sales

9:00 AM - 9:15 AM 
Introduction & Welcome with Literary Chair, Gray Bridges

9:15 AM - 10:45 AM 
Five Things that Make a Good Story Great, with Keynote Speaker, Jackie Lee Miles

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM Workshop A:  Recipes for Success; A complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks Food Blogs, Reviews & More, with Aletia DuPree
Workshop B: Writing Through Grief with Jessica Handler

12:30 PM - 1:30 PM Break for Lunch (cost of lunch not included)
 Uncle Dom’s Deli and Red Door CafĂ© are across the street

1:30 PM - 2:00 PM
Panel Discussion: How the Face of Publishing Has Changed

2:15 PM - 3:45 PM
Workshop A:
Writing and Publishing for Children & Young Adults with Donny Seagraves
Workshop B:
Writing Historical Fiction; Imagine the Facts with Amanda Gable

4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Workshop A: Polish; Making your Writing Shine with Barbara Tucker
Workshop B: Stress-Free Marketing for Newly Published Authors with Renea Winchester

5:45 PM - 6:15 PM
Panel Discussion: Living the Writer's Life

6:15 PM - 7:15 PM
Authors Available for books signing & sales

7:45 PM
Conference Attendees are invited to join some of our authors & workshop leaders for dinner at Ruby Tuesday's on Hwy 53 by 1-75
(Optional and dinner is not included in price of conference)

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Spirituality #10 and #11 and the end

With this post I finish my series on traits of spirituality, and I put this blog on hiatus for a while.

One of the traits of spirituality is willingness.  I have been thinking about the place of my online presence for a while.  I spend way too much time on the Internet.  I have to, to some extent, for my work.  I teach online, expect my students to submit papers online, do research online, etc.  This morning, for a short period, the college's network was down and I literally could not teach as I wanted to! 

Beyond that, blogging and Facebook and checking my special sites (such as how my book is doing on Amazon, and it never changes) is a habit, a compulsion.  Since another trait of spirituality is detachment and freedom, I don't like being compelled about anything.  For the Lenten season, at least, I am going to use the Internet only for work and basic email.  I plan not to open up Facebook or post to this blog.

If you happen upon this blog and like it, go back and read former posts--there are almost 540 of them, and I think the writing is very good in places (and off the wall in others).  They vary as to subject matter.

It's not that I don't have much more to write--I do, but what I need to write is longer and more involved.  Blog postings are by nature short, pointed, and a little narcissistic.

So, I will return eventually.  If you post a comment, it will come to my email, and I will respond to that.

Spirituality #9

Gratitude.  No one can be spiritual without gratitude.  Gratitude is the root of humility.  Lack of gratitude is the root of entitlement, meanness, rudeness, arrogance, pride.  Deep thankfulness for everything one has, knowing very, very little is ours of our own work or choice.

Corny but true:  if you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he didn't get there by himself.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Spirituality #7 and #8

Spirituality #7
Another trait of spirituality is to be more positive than negative in one’s approach to life. 

Spirituality #8
Another trait of spiritual is to have a quick, healthy sense of humor about oneself but a slow, underdeveloped sense of humor about others.

The Decision

I cannot let this go by without a post.  I was not surprised by the Supreme Court’s decision, on the "Westboro Baptist" case, 8-1 even, because of their past defenses of free speech.  Good for them in standing by the principle.  I often disagree with them, but they usually get it right on this issue.

Of course, it is obligatory to say that the cult involved in this dispute is detestable, horrible, mean, nasty, vile, etc.  No one is going to contest that point.  But I think we aren’t looking a little deeper.  Why do we think they are so bad?  There are probably three reasons:

The first is that they interfere with the grief of families who are burying their sons (and perhaps daughters—I focus on sons because the Pentagon has a policy that women are not put in direct combat, but if a daughter is involved, I apologize).  That is enough of a reason to detest these people, who are really only a handful.  Thankfully, some veterans groups are uniting to protect these families.

The second is that they have chosen to put Baptist on their name as well as church.  One could say we Christians don’t like the bad press.  But it’s more than that.  They do not represent the rest of us, yet the media wants to act like they do.  99.999999% of Christians are appalled by their actions.  Why isn’t the media out there showing all the Christians building wells in Africa, feeding the hungry, educating the poor?  Not as sexy as nutcases at a funeral with nasty signs.

By the way, I know Baptists can be the foil of a lot of jokes, and we have our quirks, but I would remind folks that Dr. King was a Baptist, as is Jimmy Carter.  Baptist is a very broad title.

Baptists were persecuted in the early colonial period, and we are very thankful for the First Amendment. We and other Christians know that free speech must be protected no matter what, because we will be among the first to lose it.  When people say, “I am so appalled by this decision I want to move to another country,” I can only ask, “and where would that be?  What other country is going to protect your rights to be who and what you are?”

The third reason people might be upset about this decision is that it seems to be a defense of “hate speech.”  I can understand that, especially if someone feels he or she is in a group that has been the brunt of “hate speech” or “hate crimes.”  However, one person’s hate speech is another person’s conviction.  There are Supreme Court decisions that protect against inciting to violence when it’s likely to happen, and this is clearly not one of those, since the place and audience of their hateful speech is highly unlikely to affect anyone.  Their position is not that homosexuality is immoral; that is held by many people (let me add by the vast majority of Muslims, although you never hear that about them).  The  “position” of Westboro cultists is that American soldiers are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan because the U.S. has condoned and allowed homosexuality, that America is being judged in the deaths of these young people who are serving us.  So their “hate speech” is not just against homosexuals (although clearly it is) but against the soldiers, the government, and indirectly the family members of the deceased.

The issue of “hate speech” is more nuanced than I want to get into here; I am just saying that it is one of the reasons why people are angry about the decision.  Neither am I saying people should not be upset about these people and what they are doing; of course we all are, although again I think the media is misinterpreting it and giving it too much play.

In closing, as a college teacher I think there are certain texts that everyone should read before they are handed a degree, no matter how dense the texts are.  One is King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”  Another is the Bible, but that’s not going to happen in a secular college.  Another is Hamlet, as well as Antigone.  Tocqueville’s work, at least part of it, should be in there, with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and probably the Federalist Papers.  But I would also insist on the much forgotten Aereopagitica by John Milton, a foundation to our constitution and free speech. 

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Masterpiece that was Forgotten for Thirty Years

Today I finished Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Magnificent book.  Beautiful prose.  Story and themes reminiscent of The Color Purple.  Janie Crawford/Starks/Woods does not grow as we might expect her to, but she comes to self consciousness by making choices of her heart.  It also reminded me of Kate Chopin in its honest and frank (but not tacky) portrayal of women’s sensuality.   It is clearly a feminist novel and Black men don’t get a good portrayal (as in The Color Purple).

Book that Might be Good to Give to a Friend

Just finished Not God’s Type by Holly Ordway.  This would be a good book to give a friend who is seeking or investigating Christian faith.  She claims to have been a total atheist, a rationalist, and a scholar (she has a Ph.D. in English yet she doesn’t tell us what she’s published in literary criticism).  At times I felt she was giving herself too much credit, and it was a little off-putting, but she writes well and it might help someone to understand apologetics.   What I would have liked from her is a greater sense that what really motivated her search was not her great brain and rationalism but a sense of lostness and pointlessness in the universe that her world view gave her.  Atheism, to me, is more a matter of will than reason, although there are maybe one or two rational reasons to reject belief in God (and a lot more to accept it).  You might ask, what are they?  Reasons that don’t hold up well, but the seeming indifference of God to human suffering (which you only appreciate if there is an objective moral standard in the first place, an argument for God) would be one.    Randomness is another, but again that is seeming.  Atheists don’t go below the surface, I think.

Public Speaking Online: Part III

This is a continuation of articles below on speaking for webinars, etc.  Experts give a few other preparation tips...