Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Amish Obsession

Today I was standing in our college's library when a student of mine walked up and greeted me.  I was standing by the shelves of New York Times bestseller books that our library displays, and he asked me if I was looking for a book.  I joked, "If you want to read a good book, read mine.  Ha, ha, don't read this trash," pointing to the bestsellers.

My book is NOT a bestseller.  I hope it's not trash. However, whenever I go to the CBD website to check on where it stands, I notice that all the "Christian" bestsellers in fiction seem to be about the Amish people--or better, young Amish women.

I watched a Hallmark movie the other night based on one of them, called The Shunning.  I liked the movie, although it had some plot holes which I will not discuss in case someone wants to watch it.  But it got me to wondering about the Amish obsession in Christian fiction.

I have been to Lancaster, PA.  It was back in the '80s, and a friend and I were up there and took a detour through the area.  She wanted to take a photo of a little boy in his severe black clothes on a scooter (a real scooter, that his body had to provide the energy for), but the little boy had been trained to ignore, quite definitely, us outsiders and he was having none of it.  It is a beautiful, green, well kept area whose ecology has clearly benefited from the Amish farming practices.  It felt like the cleanest place I had ever been up to that point (since then I have been to Bavaria, also very clean).

My questions about the obsession with Amish in what's passing today as "Christian" fiction (I don't believe in that title, but that's a post for another day) also seem to motivate Eric Miller in this article on Christianity Today

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/april/loveamishromances.html

I especially like his paragraph:  "For all these authors' focus on the Amish, there's not a whole lot of evidence of a searching study of them, not of the sort serious fiction at least would require. At their worst, the writers seem to turn to the Amish opportunistically, using them as an adequately alien, adequately familiar community to imaginatively work out persisting cultural and theological questions."

My first question of fiction is always, is it good fiction, does it tell a good story well, not how does it make me feel, or how does he preach the gospel.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Blogging Redux

The Easter Season is technically over and I have been thinking about my return to blogging.  However, I am not bulging with ideas right now, other than some book reviews.  I just finished Mark Noll's Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and have many thoughts about it, which I will share eventually.  Most of my bloggings would be snarky, and snarky is not exactly in short supply.  I could also write about my dog, but I have nothing clever about that.  So I may be less visible on the blogosphere for a while, weighing in once a week or so.  I have neither been well nor energetic lately, and it's the end of the semester,  and a time of transition for my son, so blogging is just not a priority.

A few points:  As mentioned earlier, I am mystified by this Donald Trump brouhaha.  Seriously?  Really?  But I am also marveling about his name.  Is that a made-up name?  Trump "trumps" his foes.  So cute.

Back pain is just dreadful.

It's great to see little green leaves pop up through the dirt of a garden, a promise of veggies. 

We just bought a deep freeze.  Now we have to remember we put food in it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Colossians 1


Background of Colossians:
Although Paul is writing to the church there, he did not start it and had not met them.  He had apparently won some of the leaders to the Lord in Phrygia (not a cold place!)  on his first journey, and they had gone to the city and started a church.  Epaphras and Philemon were two of them.  But he is concerned about them, and the major theme of this book is clear teaching on the identity of Jesus Christ and what that means.  As usual, there are false philosophical teachers trying to dissuade the Colossians from the doctrine that the church should be teaching and that in some cases is trying to "work out," understand, articulate.  To an extent, it would take 300 or 400 years for all the particulars of the doctrine of Christ to be settled, and there are of course still people who teach the wrong things about the identity (I don't want to use "nature" here) of Jesus Christ.

There were two particular types of false teachers:  the Judaizers, and the Gnostics.  The Judaizers speak for themselves; a convert had to go through Jewish rituals to really be right with God.  The Gnostics are the problem in Colossians.  It’s hard to understand the history of the early church or the New Testament without understanding them.  In short, they were:
  • ·         Dualistic, with the body being of no importance compared to the spirit or mind.  This led to either a punishment of the body or an indulgence of the flesh (since it didn’t matter either way.  We see a lot of dualism today.
  • ·         Layers of “beings.”  A good example would be the caste system of Hinduism.   Some religions apply evolutionary theory to spirituality and are therefore Gnostic.
  • ·         The need to be secretly initiated into “knowledge” by various systems and teachers so that you reach higher levels; this reminds me of Masons. 
  • ·         Therefore, faulty ideas about Christ, especially in ways like the DaVinci Code and Nag Hamadi manuscripts.  Gnosticism also lends itself to a lot of wacky theology and myths.

On the contrary, the true gospel of Christ teaches the importance of the body (Jesus had one, and we are “the body” of Christ); that every human being is equally sinful and in need of grace; that God freely reveals himself in the Word.

We have talked in class about a lot of issues over the years.  Just last week we talked about lotteries as ways to get state revenues, and whether gambling is wrong.  A few weeks back we talked about heaven and hell--when do people actually go there.  We have talked about various lifestyle choices, such as drinking. 

In some of these kinds of issues, there is latitude, and I would not make a big deal over them.  I personally strongly believe that gambling is evil in all its forms, especially state-sponsored gambling.  However it could also be argued that my job exists because of state-sponsored gambling; I have bought two lottery tickets in my life; and I buy raffle tickets all the time.  So I admit to being a tad inconsistent on this.

Second, the whole heaven-and-hell, who and when issue is complicated.  "Absent from the body, present with the Lord" is enough for me; "It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment" pretty much takes care of it; and " Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure" satisfies me in terms of the second coming.  It astounds me that Christians who make such a big deal about trusting God in the future can't just trust God about what eternity will be like, so they spend a lot of time arguing over heaven and what we will look like.  I actually heard someone on the radio say we would be 30 years old forever in heaven!  Please.  How can anyone say that?  Then, whether we, or anyone, "sleeps" until the final resurrection, without consciousness, seems to go against who we are as human beings, but I am not going to argue about it.  I just disagree.

Then, things like drinking.  "Take a little wine for your stomach's sake."  Yesterday I was up for two awards at my college.  I lost both of them--dissed twice in one day!!!  But I lost to two phenomenal people, so I couldn't complain.  But I joked that I was going to go out and get drunk.  My friend, who was also up for an award and "lost" and whom I invited to go get drunk with me, laughed and said, "What kind of way is that for a Baptist Sunday School teacher to act!"  (She's a good Baptist herself, so she knew I was kidding.)  Several years ago I would have argued over drinking; my conviction today is that spirits (liquor) should be shunned but beer and wine are not worth arguing over.  But I can respect those who disagree with me, and a true abstinence stand is probably the wisest.

But I said all that to say this:  There are a group of issues that are non-negotiable; they are some doctrines and teachings that are "deal-breakers" as Dr. Phil would say.  And the main one is the identity of Christ.  If you get that wrong, I just don't think you get to call yourself a Christian.  And I'll say something even more radical.  You can talk all you want to about the cross, about the sufferings of the passion, but they don't matter if you get who Jesus Christ was, wrong.  He was just another executed person.  And he wouldn't have been resurrected.

So, Christology is central.  There are several key passages in the New Testament (and a few in the Old) that mature Christians should study with all their hearts and minds.  John 1; Hebrews 1; Philippians 2:5-11; Isaiah 53; and today's passage, Colossians 1.

 That is not to say these are easy passages.  They have been studied and argued about for two thousand years.  For the first 400 years there were some violent contentions about them, and several "councils" of the early church were held to work out how the deity of Christ could be understood in relation to the humanity of Christ.  Some examples: (I'm not going to get into the actual names and councils and creeds here--if you are interested, I can recommend or give you a good book on the history of Christianity.)

  • ·         One teacher taught that Jesus was just a created, but special being who got to his status by the cross and resurrection.  There is some indication in the New Testament that there was a "reward" or "change in role" due to the incarnation, cross, and resurrection, but it didn't change the eternal nature of Christ.  It made him savior as well as creator.
  • ·         One teacher/group taught that Jesus was not fully human, but he was fully God. 
  • ·         One teacher/group taught that Jesus was half-way God and half-way human. 
  • ·         One teacher/group taught that Jesus stopped being God when he was on earth.
  • ·         One teacher/group taught that Jesus did not have a real body, but was a spirit.
The language had to be refined over the years to make it clear to everyone what exactly was taught in scripture about Christ's identity.  In the various creeds--Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian, Calcedonian--the early church leaders tried to clarify the doctrine of the trinity and thus Christ's identity.  They can be found here: http://reformed.org/documents/index.html

I do not consider myself linguistically or theological capable of explaining these matters; there are plenty of resources to do so, but every Christian needs a clear idea within himself or herself so that he or she can defend it, not be swayed by false teachers, and truly worship with an informed mind as well as eager heart.

Some Baptists and evangelicals would say, "Just read the Bible and go by that, don't get caught up in these old-time creeds and confessions."  I guess that's where I differ.  To ignore these documents is to be proud of one's own abilities to study the Word; to disrespect those who suffered for the faith and either served, gave, or studied their lives away for it; and to misunderstand what Bible study is about, because we  always study in a context.

So, all that said, let's look at the passage.

Colossians 1:1-8  Greeting.  Again, I am both warmed and convicted by the affection shown here.  I want that.  But it has to be the focus of our lives.  Let me mention here that verses 3-8 is one sentence in the original Greek.  The modern translations often break those up for shorter sentences, but some translations will be more faithful to the complexity of the Greek.

Colossians 1:9-12:  A prayer.  This is in some ways similar to Paul's prayers in, for example, Ephesians 1. There are two basic "requests" in this prayer, with a lot of related "subpoints" (obviously prayers are not divided up like sermons or essays, but I am left-brained and think that way, so forgive).
I.  that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
      This part of the prayer focuses on the mind, if you will, but in Bible thinking there is not a separation between the head and "heart", the intellect and the emotions.  That is a Descartes, Enlightenment introduction.  In the Bible, the two work together, and I wish they did for us--that we had informed emotions and warm, spiritually guided intellects.  Paul asks for them to have knowledge and wisdom so that they can walk worthy and bear fruit.  In other words, you can't do the "walk worthy and bear fruit" part unless you have something to base it on.  Yes, you can conform and do what the preacher says, but you won't be grounded or knowledgeable or firm.  
I am reading Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.  It is quite a read, and I will blog on it later.  This is his main point:  that evangelicals just did not develop a strong intellectual foundation for what they do and practice.  I see that so much, it's frightening.  Paul says, "I ask that you know God's will, that you have understanding."  And we don't get it just by osmosis or a lightning strike from heaven.  We have to work at it by study.  This will lead to a walk that is worthy and pleasing.  A Christian that works for understanding can't help but walk worthy.  A Christian that just studies for the sake of proudly showing off his/her  so-called knowledge will not apply that knowledge to every day walk.
II.  The second request (11 and 12) is that we would be internally strengthened by the Holy Spirit according to his great power and "glorious might."  This is the flip side of the coin, the completion of the picture.  They can't be separated.
In verses 13-20 is one of the great Christological passages, which I would encourage you to read every day this Holy Week, because it focuses on both the who and the what of Christ.  I will just read with a few comments.
The Father has "delivered" us in the fullest sense--rescued, birthed, transported.   Our new place of residence is the kingdom of God's beloved Son, about whom there are many things to be said.
He is "the" image.  We are created "in the image" of God, but Christ is the image.  Big difference.  The Jamieson, Faucett, and Brown Commentary states that this means "exact likeness and perfect Representative. Adam was made “in the image of God” (Gen 1:27). But Christ, the second Adam, perfectly reflected visibly “the invisible God” (I Tim. 1:7), whose glories the first Adam only in part represented."  The commentary goes on to distinguish between "likeness" and "image", the second being exact counterpart of that from which it is drawn, not just resemblance, which is "likeness."

He is the "firstborn of all creation."   Now, this is a little confusing.  "Born" is not theologically the same as "begotten," which is the word here.  The significance is "priority and superlative dignity."  (JFB Commentary).  Firstborn here is about pre-eminence and rule, because the firstborn got "everything" in that day and time.  The meaning here is his rulership and authority, not that somewhere in the past Jesus was born, which could lead to all kinds of crazy speculation and doctrine (who was the mother?).    So the question is, did the Son of God come around after God the Father?  We are not led to think so by the rest of Scripture, especially the next four verses, which teach that the Son had and has all the creative responsibilities, physically sustaining responsibilities, ruling responsibilities, and saving responsibilities, of the created universe.
The result:  (not in time but in fact).  He is head of the body, the church; all fullness of the Godhead dwells in the Son; he reconciled all things; he made peace through the cross (which had to involve a bloody death--it was not just any death).   Does reconciling all things teach universalism?  I don't think so--I think it refers to the future "making right" of the physical world. 
I can't help reading this and scratching my head over the popularity of a book like The Shack, a true cult favorite in the worst meaning of that word.  It appealed to the emotions, not the understanding.
I would like to end this lesson with a little exercise like the church did last week in the worship service.  That made a huge impact on me, and I've been talking about it all week.  I hope you made your own mental "homeless" signs this week as a way to praise God.   I have some based on this passage that I'd like each of you to show now.

IN THE DOMAIN OF DARKNESS
TRANSLATED INTO KINGDOM OF GOD’S BELOVED SON

IN SLAVERY TO SIN
REDEEMED

GUILTY
FORGIVEN

ALIENATED
RECONCILED

HOSTILE IN MIND TO GOD
BLAMELESS AND ABOVE REPROACH

UNSTEADY
NOT SHIFTING, FIRM

BARREN
FRUITFUL

SPIRITUALLY WEAK
STRENGTHENED WITH ALL POWER ACCORDING TO HIS GLORIOUS MIGHT

LACKING KNOWLEDGE
FILLED WITH
KNOWLEDGE OF HIS WILL IN ALL SPIRITUAL WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Philippians 4: Personal, Practical, and Financial


These are some parting words to the Philippians (not one church, by the way, but a group of churches which would circulate the letters in that area or city, meaning that they had a relationship with one another even though they met separately, and he addresses people who must know each other).  There is a lot of close fellowship talk here.  Paul knows these people and they know him.  What it must be like to not be distracted by media and to be totally dependent on communal activity for information and every other human need.  Today, due to media and big government, we can live almost completely isolated and yet be in a big city.  To be isolated in the past, people had to be hermits, living in the mountain caves. We can have a cave in a subdivision today.  Unlike these folks, we can choose fellowship and relationship.  Modernity has split us up, not brought us together.  Media, which should be a means of communication, have not made relationships deeper.

This can be separated into personal notes, practical notes, and financial notes.

v. 1  Is Paul the only person in history who can say these words in 4:1?  I don't think so.  Anytime we spend significant time on the spiritual development of another--even our children--we can say that that person will be our joy and crown.  The church is talking a lot of discipleship, and that is not just attending a Bible study.  The model is such that a mature person invests his or her life in someone else for a year or so, with accountability and a balance between doctrinal teaching and trusting relationship.  If it's all relationship, the person can't stand firm; if it's all doctrinal teaching, it's dry and unmotivating and impractical.

v. 2 and 3 bring up a practical matter Paul has to address, two women who were apparently leaders and laborers, who have had a severe disagreement that is affecting other people.  What could it be over?  I doubt it was something minor or typically "womanly."   Nor do I think we are supposed to assume that women would have more trouble with this than men.  Again, the instruction is communal help. 

"At Philippi, women were the first hearers of the Gospel, and Lydia the first convert. It is a coincidence which marks genuineness, that in this Epistle alone, special instructions are given to women who labored with Paul in the Gospel. In selecting the first teachers, those first converted would naturally be fixed on. Euodia and Syntyche were doubtless two of ‘the women who resorted to the riverside, where prayer was wont to be made.’" (Jamieson, Faucet, Brown Commentary)

Of course, the fact that companion is singular is interesting.  It means he is addressing a specific person, either Timothy, Silas, or the bishop of Philippi (a bishop would be the spiritual overseer of many house churches).  Companion is actually "yokefellow in the gospel."  So it is someone who has a role of spiritual oversight.

There is a difference of opinion here on who this Clement is, whether it is the Clement who was the bishop of Rome and a very important early church father right after the death of Paul and Peter, or just another one.  If it's the bishop of Rome, it means two things:  That Clement did a lot of writing and never said that Peter was the first bishop of Rome (and therefore Pope).  Second, that this is a rare mention of "next generation" of church leaders and bishops and adds to historical proof and continuity.

The next set is practical living matters.  These are great verses to memorize.  The fact that Paul gives these exhortations shows that he recognizes that Christians deal with anxiety (and this is not just niggling worries but severe, soul-dividing concern and fear) and mental distractions. 

v. 7 is sweet:  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard (set watch over) your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Can you remember a time when this promise was real for you, or a time when your life would have been better if you had held onto it?

I think we probably disobey v. 8 as much as anything.  Now, I don't think Paul is saying "ignore the reality of evil and suffering in the world."  He addresses those matters directly, and all the Christians of that period knew about the evils of persecution.  But what would happen if we focused our thoughts on truthful, honorable, righteous, pure (sexually), beautiful, commendable, praiseworthy matters for just one day?  What if we went on spiritual retreat with that as our goal?  Maybe, just maybe, our appetite for sin would diminish.  I don't think appetites diminish by being fed; they get stronger by being fed.

Someone gave me a murder mystery to read.  I had never read the writer and wanted to see how he wrote.  It was a good read but trashy, and my life was in no way enriched by it.  Since it was about a serial killer, it only gave me ways to kill people.  I read it knowing I was not practicing 4:8.  Our lives would be revolutionized by practicing this verse for just one week.

Starting in verse 10 Paul is addressing financial matters.  Paul did not take a salary from churches so that he couldn't be accused of profiting from them.  However, he did take offerings for others and for specific trips.  On the other hand, in I Corinthians 10 he says that his way is not a model, and that a person who serves a group of people spiritually should be cared for financially.  It was just his choice, so he was a bivocational minister.  Paul made tents for a living, and I think that kept him in the "real world."  I am personally of the opinion that a person who goes into the ministry should work in the business or professional world for a while to understand what the people in the pew go through.  I think it would solve a lot of the "us-them" mentality that happens in churches.

There are two verses in this section that often get quoted a somewhat out of context.  The first is 13:  "I can do all things through him who strengthens me."  The context is the extremes he has gone through for ministry--facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  It doesn't mean "I can win the ballgame" or "I can make a million dollars."  People have used this verse to justify all kinds of behavior.  This is one of the few places where the phrase "learned the secret" is used.  God's revelation is not a secret, but some lessons are learned through hard work and experience and enlightenment by the Holy Spirit.

The second verse is 19:  And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  The context is that the Philippians were faithful in giving.  Many teachers believe that a person who is unfaithful in giving and irresponsible about finances can't use this verse, and then there is the issue of need vs. want, which we Americans are very confused about.  Is a college education a need?  Is a college education at an expensive school a need?  Is a car a need?  Is a specific car a need?  Is a cell phone a need?  Is a Droid a need?  I am pretty sure that need in a Biblical sense boils down to essentials.  I also think that this promise is not limited to physical needs.  

The part to focus on is "his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."  The source of our supply vs. the kind of our supply.  

There is a small note at the end.  All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.  Some servants or family members of the emperor had become  Christians.  The work of God is unbounded; there are no boundaries to His work when we get out of the way.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Thinking Critically About CriticalThinking

Recently we (i.e., the facultyat our college) had to redo all of our student learning outcomes to conform to our authorizing agency.  To some extent we had to put the SLOs in a format tht showed our class taught Global Perspectives, U.S. Perspectives, and Critical Thinking.  It was, as many things are, tedious, but it got done, and we are satisfied with it.  But the process raised a number of questions for me, as did a project I am working on with a colleague in another discipline.

Critical thinking is the buzz word for the ages in higher education, but do we even know what we are talking about?  Below are my musings about the subject, which I put out here in cyber space to see if anyone want to comment upon them.

First, critical thinking is a process, not an outcome.  It is a system for getting to a conclusion, not the conclusion.  The best definition I've read is this one, from the website critical thinking.com, "the skillful application of a repertoire of validated general techniques for deciding the level of confidence you should have in a proposition in the light of available evidence."

However, I don't think everyone would agree with that definition, because it seems to me to be grounded in a certain discipline (natural or social sciences) and not everyone thinks like a hard or social scientist.  But there is another possible objection.

Any educated person thinks he or she is a critical thinker.  The attitude goes something like this:  "I'm smart.  I used critical thinking to come to conclusion X.  Therefore conclusion X is right and anyone who does not come to conclusion X has not used critical thinking."

I'm not 100% sure, but I think there is a flaw in this conditional syllogism, although I am still working on it.   Maybe it's just a flaw in the major premise.

If a person uses critical thinking, then he will come to conclusion X.
If a person does not use critical thinking, then he will not come to conclusion X.
If a person does not come to conclusion X, then he did not use critical thinking.
If a person comes to conclusion X, he did use critical thinking. 

Are we confirming the antecedent or denying the consequent?  Like I said, I'm working on it, which is the whole point of critical thinking--it's a work in progress.

My point is (and I don't blame anyone if the point was missed) that there is a lot of pride involved in what we call critical thinking. 

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Is the World Going Crazy?

I have not been posting, except my Sunday School lessons, and will continue not to until after Easter.  However, the urge just got too much for me and I have given in to writing down some not-so-random thoughts.

The title of this post just reflects how I feel about the so-called news that I see on the Internet, TV, or newspaper.  We are bombing Libya but do not know who the rebels against Quadaffi, or Gaddafi, or whatever his name is, are.  One thousand or more have been slaughtered in Ivory Coast, who knows why; similar killings are going on in Syria, and of course Gaddafi had been murdering his own people.  The only place where chaos doesn't seem to be is in Japan, where the Japanese people are trying to cope despite seeming incompetence in their leadership over this nuclear threat.

We have a Congress that can't make a budget and a president whose decision-making perplexes me and his own party.

And people are seriously talking about Donald Trump being president!  Deliver us!  Does anyone remember Marla Maples (she was from Resaca, Georgia--a place even we around here make fun of!).  Does anyone remember how often he has gone bankrupt?  His management style is to fire people.  But he does have the rhetoric down.  Can you say demagogue?

And then we have the rampant violence in the middle East,and now some of it is over the burning of a Q'uran.  Why kill people who have nothing to do with the act of burning?  I can remotely envision avenging the by doing something to the person who did it.  Now, don't misunderstand that, I didn't say I understand it, I just can see some perverted logic in avenging the act on the perpetrator.  But why just raising H--- ten thousand miles away and killing whoever comes in one's path.  This is insanity.

Speaking of H---, I am also amazed at the craziness now over Rob Bell's book.  Does he think he is saying something new, fresh, or really helpful?  These are old, old debates.  As I have said before, Jesus wins, not Love.   Would he suggest that Mother Teresa spends eternity in the same place as Hitler?  (I know, I know, I'm missing the argument, there's a lot more theology to the issue, and I'm aware of that.)  The foolishness of the contemporary Christian mind boggles mine.  I ordered Mark Noll's book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, and look forward to reading it, although it will probably just depress me. 

On that same line, a speaker at our church recently had the--I don't know what to call it--to name a contemporary figure as the anti-Christ.  I was appalled; I think most of the church who knew who the figure is were appalled, or at least annoyed, too.  He backtracked a little, but the damage was done.  

On the flip side, the weather was beautiful this weekend, I wore myself out gardening, I finished my first James Patterson novel (and last for a while--a good read but trashy, and I don't need help there), and my dog has taken over our existence.   Church today was wonderful and we celebrated the Lord's table.   

Philippians 3: Moving Forward?


Key Questions in this passage.

Who is Paul talking about in verse 2?

To what extent can we forget the past?  Is he referring to a specific aspect of the past? 

Who are examples of Christian living to whom you defer, look up to, or feel inspired by?

How do we achieve spiritual maturity?

I think the biggest struggle we have today is the tension between this world and the next, between our citizenship (or residency) in our culture or country and our citizenship in heaven.  Can we really be full citizens of both?  Is it possible?  Can we be excellent as employees, family members, neighbors, and excellent as God’s children? 

As for the answers, I am reluctant to address them all.  I am a work in progress, so my answers would be a work in progress.  The first is easy enough:  persons who would add man-made or traditional requirements to the gospel, to grace, to full dependence on the cross for our relationship with God.  They don’t have to be Jews, although that is the focus here, since circumcision is mentioned (as it frequently is in Paul’s writing, but it’s a reference we moderns have trouble with.)  Religious people love to add “stuff” to the gospel.  Food; style of worship and music (no instruments/certain instruments); clothing requirements beyond modesty; listening to a particular teacher (or not); I think I’ve heard them all.  One good benefit from living in a dysfunctional, legalistic universe is that I can smell legalism a mile away.  People can get legalistic about all kinds of things—because we can’t accept grace.  Why not?  Because we can’t accept our own complete inability to achieve grace.

As for the second question, yes and no.  There is no pill or medical process for forgetting the past intentionally, as in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  We can simply put in better memories or better points of focus, and we can accept forgiveness.  Paul emphasizes here that he had, humanly-speaking, lots to be proud of.  But he also says later that he had more to be ashamed of, which is another aspect of legalism—if you can point to the impressive stuff, maybe you can detract from, or diminish in importance, the really sinful stuff, such as killing and imprisoning Christians. 

Too many of us live in the past in the wrong way.  The past can be a dungeon or a blessing, depending on how we process it.   Not that we are in denial of it.  The sin is forgiven, that’s the reality, too.

As for the third question, I could name lots of people, some of them in my church. But none of them would be the ultimate, which is the point.  Human examples of Christian living and maturity are valuable, but they should not be the end all.  Study Christ above all, from beginning to end in the Scriptures.

As for the fourth questions, better minds than mine have addressed this for 2,000 years.  The word I would use today, in my journey, is “community.”  Although Paul uses the word “I” or “me” or “mine” or “myself” 22 times here in this passage, and in a sense that is a lot, he uses “we” or “our” or “us” eight times.  We give lip service to community; living in community is a discipline like prayer, fasting, or study.  It is very hard, because it requires honesty, trust, humility, transparency, sharing (instead of always owning!) the ability to confront lovingly (not criticize) when it might not be taken well or rightly, face-to-face time (as opposed to online time!) and daily-ness.  I am lousy at community, so I would not consider myself really spiritually mature at this point in my life.  My comfort zone is my house, my office, my classroom, my kitchen, my books, my bank account, my, my, my……..

Community goes totally against our cultural mindset. 

I am of course not talking about a “commune.”  We are not monks, and while retreating for a particular purpose of service is a valuable practice, I see nothing in Scripture about the monastic life, no matter how romantic it looks.  Which is the point:  how do we live community while still living in a vastly non-communal culture?

And which also brings me to the final question.  We live in constant tension between eternity and time; between our citizenship in heaven (which exists now, not then) and our citizenship (or better residency) on earth.  I don’t think the earth is a bad place, as do some Christians.  It’s an awesome place.  But it’s not the end.  There is no easy answer here, which I think is what Paul means when he says in 3:15:  Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind (of pressing toward the prize of the upward call); and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.  How you reconcile the tension has to be worked out by you, as God works in you, as God reveals it to you.  But you have to be trying to work out the reconciliation, you have to be conscious of the tensions pulling on you.  Some of us give into the residency on earth, and it consumes us; others push toward the relationship with God that we will have for all eternity.

I heard this week a good quote:  If you can’t stand worshipping God for one hour, how will you like doing it for eternity?  Related idea:  Preachers in my past asked, “Are you closer to God than you were a year ago (or some other time period)?”  Instead of measuring it as if relationship were a yardstick, I would just ask, “Do you love God more than you did in the past, and is that love the focus of your life more?” 

So, does the discipline create the heart, or does the heart create the discipline?  It’s a circular.  Discipline without the heart is duty; heart without the discipline is, well, kind of phony in my book. 

Brave, Stereotypes, White Trash, and Yale Professors

Yesterday was an interesting day for me.  I even cleaned my house-- I even cleaned baseboards --which ends up with a  wonderful feeling.  I ...