Monthly Archives: July 2020

The Common Politic

My sons Joel (PhD, University of Aberdeen) and Brian (PhD, UC Santa Barbara) are starting an online magazine, The Common Politic. It is an ambitious project, meeting a need in the Christian community that has not hitherto been met. It … Continue reading

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The Chosen

St. Peter gives us a picture, drawn straight from the Old Testament, of the people who trust in Jesus (1 Peter 2:9-10). We helps us see who they are and what God intends them to do.

First, those of us who trust in Jesus are a chosen people (or race; genos, in Greek). We constitute a new global race, whatever our ancestry, whether we are Jewish or Arab or Indian or Chinese or European, or African, or American. We are the worldwide family of Jesus. We are a distinct (and distinctive) people, the people of God. We belong to each other and we belong to God.

Peter says that we are chosen. This is the second of three times that he reminds his harassed and maligned family living in Asia Minor of this encouraging truth. The world may not want them but God does. He chose them.

Garrison Keilor, creator of A Prairie Home Companion, once talked about what it means to be chosen. He used the familiar setting of a schoolyard baseball game: Continue reading

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Church as Family: Paul’s Letter to Philemon

Let’s step back for a moment and survey the first century landscape. The earliest church members were almost all Jewish. They were convinced that Jesus – the crucified Jesus – was Israel’s messiah and believed God had raised him from the dead. This was in accordance with their own Scriptures and it proved that Jesus was Lord of all.

Their confession of Jesus created a gulf between them and their fellow Jews. It isolated them from their communities and often separated them from their families. They were excommunicated from their synagogues. They lost so much, but they kept each other. The church became their primary family.

The older men were fathers. The younger men brothers. The older women were everyone’s moms. The younger women were sisters. They looked out for each other. Helped each other; were each other’s friends.

Then non-Jews started confessing Jesus as Lord and that threw a wrench into the works. As Jews, the church family had looked on non-Jews with suspicion. Gentiles were, and had always been, outsiders. Now these outsiders were believing in their messiah. What were they supposed to do with them? How were they to relate to them? Were non-Jews kingdom citizens or resident aliens? An emergency family meeting was called (Acts 15 tells the story) and it was decided to accept these people into full family membership. Never before had Jews and Gentiles related to each other like this.

Most of these new Gentile family members came from the lower socio-economic classes (1 Cor. 1:26) and many were slaves. This threw another wrench into the works. When someone with money confessed Christ and joined the family, they found themselves worshiping alongside poor people, even slaves – sometimes their own slaves! In fact, their slaves might even be leaders in the church – now their leaders!

In the church, people called each other “brother” and “sister,” but how could a rich landowner call a slave – especially his slave – “brother”? What would the rich man’s peers think if they heard that? What would the other slaves think? Wouldn’t they become presumptuous? Shouldn’t a line be drawn?
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As Good as Fingerprints: The Words We Use

The “social psychologist James Pennebaker spent years researching the significance of our words. With a team of grad students, he developed a sophisticated computer program that analyzes what our words say about us. Pennebaker claims that the words we generate over a lifetime are like ‘fingerprints.’ Even small words, or what he calls ‘stealth words’ – like pronouns (I, you, we, they) and prepositions (to, for, over) – ‘broadcast the kind of people we are.’”

Our words show who we are. They also show who we are not. A teacher who speaks of grace had better be gracious. The person who exposits the Lord’s prayer better pray and the one who teaches us to forgive had better not harbor bitterness. Does the teacher’s life match his words? He or she will be judged by them. But the same is true for all the rest of us: Does our life match our words or do our words betray us? Continue reading

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A Plea to Facebook Users

About once a week, I say to myself and anyone listening: “I hate Facebook!”

It’s not that I’ve got something against Mark Zuckerberg. I am not, during these weekly laments, critiquing social media generally, though I am concerned about the losses suffered by those who spend more time in virtual relationships than in face to face ones. My chief complaint is with the lack of charity displayed by professing Christians on their Facebook pages.

I confess that I haven’t seen this for myself. I am not “very online” and have never had a Facebook account. But I frequently hear about these posts and that is almost worse. It means that the unkindness of professing Christians has been common enough to become a topic of conversation.

This is a plea to Christian Facebook users to stop writing posts that go against the teachings of Christ and his apostles. They had a lot to say on the subject of verbal communication. If a Facebook user is going to flout those instructions, at least let him or her include a disclaimer to the effect that the views shared are personal and should not be taken to represent the views of Jesus Christ or his church.
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The Church’s Job: To Declare God’s Praises

St. Peter says that Jesus’s people should “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). That means we are in advertising. Our calling is to announce to everyone the great … Continue reading

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Choose a Side That Does Not Divide Us

I feel like I am in a Doctor Seuss story – like we are all in a Doctor Seuss story – a story I know. My kids and grandkids know it too: The Sneetches.

In The Sneetches, Dr. Seuss presents a race of furry yellow, long-necked, narrow-footed creatures that are nearly identical to each other in appearance. The only difference among them is that some have a star shape on their bellies while others do not. By the third paragraph, we understand that the starred sneetches feel disdain for their plain-bellied cousins.

Into the story comes the ethically challenged grifter Sylvester McMonkey McBean. He sees an opportunity to use the sneetches’ self-righteous contempt for one another to his advantage. He builds a machine that can change a sneetch so that it looks like every other sneetch.

A sneetch, at a cost to itself, goes into the machine and comes out looking just like other sneetches. The grifter, of course, cares nothing for the sneetches, only for their money. He reshapes them for his sake, not for theirs.

Sylvester has reappeared. This time around, he has created a propaganda machine that imprints ideas rather than stars. All day long, people go into the machine – that is, into network, print, and social media – where they are made to look like every other person who accessed the machine through the same entrance. Continue reading

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The Costly Substitution of our Values

The author Max Lucado related the story of some clever thieves who were able to rob a department store in a large city without hiding any items in purses or clothes or taking a single item from the store that was not checked out by a clerk. They received a receipt for everything they stole.

The band went to the store, dispersed and, like other shoppers, quietly browsed through the merchandise. Unlike other shoppers, they furtively removed barcode tags from less costly items and swapped them for the tags on pricier items. They exchanged the tag on a $395 camera for the tag on a box of stationary. They put the price tag from a paper-back book on an outboard motor. Then they left the store without taking a thing.

When the store opened the next morning, there were displaced price tags everywhere. One would expect chaos to ensue but, surprisingly, the store operated normally for some time. A few customers (the thieves were likely among them) got away with steals while others, outraged by what they considered ridiculous prices, refused to make purchases. It took four hours before management noticed the mix-up.

Something is happening in the larger world that mirrors that department store. A hoax has been played on us that has been generations in the making. Price tags on values have been switched and few people have taken notice. Possessions are treasured more highly than people. Greater importance is attached to careers than to children. Fulfillment is esteemed above faithfulness.
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My Declaration of Dependence

The English colonies in America began with land grants made by James I to the London and Plymouth Companies, and developed as business entities managed by shareholders or proprietors in the pursuit of financial gain. Georgia, the last of the thirteen colonies to be chartered, proved to be the exception. Its founder envisioned it as a place where debtors and the “worthy poor” could flourish, though the Crown was more interested in its value as a buffer between Spanish-held territory to the south and its income-producing colonies to the north.

In the beginning, the American companies – whether the Massachusetts Bay Company or the Virginia Company or Lord Baltimore’s Maryland province – were in competition with each other. But as the decades (and centuries in the case of Virginia and the New England colonies) rolled by, their people increasingly recognized their common interests and bemoaned their common injuries.

When representatives of the thirteen colonies assembled in congress on July 4, 1776, they issued a very solemn Declaration of Independence from the British Crown. But before declaring the colonies to be “free and independent states,” the signers emphasized that they were in unanimous agreement as the “thirteen united States of America.”

The representatives recognized their own limitations. They understood that they could not successfully declare their independence from Great Britain without acknowledging their dependence upon one another. Independence from a greater power requires dependence upon another power, whether the collective power of individual states or the ultimate power of a divine being. The founding fathers acknowledged their dependence upon both. Continue reading

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The Bedrock Upon Which Racism Is Built

The author, activist, and preacher Jim Wallis has called racism America’s original sin. Racism is, indeed, an ancient and ugly sin. It is a sin that is even more heinous when it occurs in the Church of Jesus Christ in whom there “is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

Yet I think Wallis is wrong to identify racism as America’s original sin. There is an even older one. It was here before our “more perfect” – though never perfected – union was formed. There is greed.

When I was in elementary school (and, later, junior high and high school), I liked history classes. History texts and history teachers told stories, interesting stories that affirmed my place in the world as an American. Before I left elementary school, I understood that our forefathers and foremothers heroically left their homes and journeyed here to gain their religious freedom.

While this is true it is not the entire truth. Whatever the reason our particular forefathers and foremothers came here, many of them were able to come because their presence in the new world proved economically advantageous to the Crown and to the leading business interests of England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. Continue reading

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