Sunday, January 20, 2008
For the purpose of this study, we'll focus on Philippians 2, vs. 1-13.
first, let's take a bird's-eye view of the passage. Inspection yields that the passage breaks easily into three parts:
Part 1 (vs. 1 - 4) - Paul encourages the Philippians to be servants to one another.
Part 2 (vs. 5 - 11) - Paul cites Jesus as an example of servant hood.
Part 3 (vs. 12 & 13) - Paul concludes with admonishing the Philippians to "work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling"
Having broken down the passage into three distinct parts, we can focus on the second part, as it is the key to understanding everything else Paul is saying.
In Part 2, Paul provides Jesus as the example of servanthood in who He was and how He came to earth to provide us a way to God. There are some interesting actions to note:
1. Jesus "did not regard equality with God something to be grasped." (verse 6)
2. Jesus "made himself nothing" and "took the form of a servant" (verse 7)
3. Jesus "humbled Himself and became obedient unto death." (verse 8)
Each verse highlights a component of the servanthood which Christ modeled: Attitude, Being, and Conduct (the ABC's of Servanthood, if you will).
In Verse 6, Jesus displays His servant-like attitude - He "did not regard equality with God something to be grasped". The Greek behind the word "grasped" literally means something which is seized by force. In common use, the word typically implied theft. But in this context, it would probably be best to render the phrase, Jesus "did not regard equality with God something to be seized by force." In other words, even though Jesus was God in the flesh, He did not consider His status as God to be something to be held on to at all costs. He was the Supreme Authority, the Ruler of the Universe. Yet when He was challenged He did not assert His authority (see Mark 4, Matthew 26:50-54; Matthew 27:11-14). Jesus had a servant's attitude - He gave up what was rightfully His for the good of others.
In verse 7, Jesus displays His nature (or identity) as a servant. That is He "made Himself nothing" and "took the form of a servant". It is interesting to note that the word for "form" in the Greek is "morphoo". "Morphoo" is defined as "the essential expression" of something. For example, the essential expression of a song is in it's sound. whether you are enthralled or repulsed by it is a product of your experiences, both past and present, but the song is what it is, nonetheless. The essential expression of a sunset is in it's appearance - the colors and the light that is present as the sun goes down is the sum total of a sunset.
In the same way, if you had met Jesus while He walked the earth, you would have experienced a servant - more exactly, a devoted slave. That was His essential expression. It's also interesting to note that he was previously in the "form of God" - that is, to have stood in Jesus' presence in Heaven,. you'd not have experienced a servant, but the Ruler of the Universe - God Himself. In His being, through and through, Jesus was a servant to the bone - He did not pretend to be something He was not.
In verse 8, Jesus displays His servant-like conduct. Here he "became obedient unto death". It is interesting to note that first He was "obedient" - just like a servant. But more so, He "became obedient", implying a level of obedience to which He had not previously attained - obedience unto death. Thus, this third component is not revealed in merely serving turkey at the homeless shelter at Thanksgiving, but finding yourself in increasingly challenging situations where you function as a servant.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
There are two essential tests for a moral authority:
1. The moral authority must always rule in favor of our best intersets (not based on what we think is right or what is best for something else, but what truly is right and best for us)
2. The moral authority must act consistently with the code which it enforces.
The tests come out of a simple understanding of reality. If we are to submit to an authority for whatever purpose, we must know that this authority acts with the best interests of ourselves (or the cause to which we are committed) at all times. As anyone knows, if someone does not trust an authority, they will not submit to it. Second, it is hard to accept the authority of a person or governing system which does not operate consistently with the code which it is designed to enforce. For example, a government which denies the freedom of speech to certain members of society hardly has the authority to enforce the ideal of freedom of speech for all.
Thus, these two tests must be clearly passed if one is to consider an authority worthy of enforcing a moral code.
Look at some of the systems examined in the previous installment. Some consider nature their moral authority. In one sense, that means whatever is best for planet earth is best for us (it is, after all, our environment). So, if Mother Nature is our moral authority, we can say "she" is consistent with an environmentalist's moral code, but does that mean "she" has the environmentalist's best interests at heart? Of course not. Mother Nature has no one's interests at heart. In the most real sense, "Mother Nature" is nothing more than the collective of natural laws which, from an evolutionary standpoint, has no particular purpose or goal, certainly not the continued survival of society or mankind.
You can look at all the other authorities one may choose and find that while they may satisfy one (or in a limited way) both of these tests, one cannot take the moral codes that are dictated by world religions, environmentalism, or capitalism, and apply them dogmatically and absolutely to every facet of human existence. In some way, every one of these will fall short somehow, somewhere.
But how does Christianity measure up? That is, not the instituion of Christian religion, but the God who stands at it's core? If we are to hold up the God of Christianity to these tests, how does He fare?
See Deuteronomy 7:7,8:
"7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt."
The Bible tells us that God chose Israel not on the basis of any one person's merit, but simply because He loved them. Here the doctrine of undeserved love immediately separates Christianity (and really, the heart of Judaism) from every other world religion. The love of God is determined by who He is, not what we've done. This means that by default, and without question, God has mankind's best intersets always at heart. By extension we see this passed on to Christians in John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world...")
But is God consistent with the moral code the Bible proposes?
Some would say, "No" and piont to the scenes of violence God condones in the Old Testament (and even some of the judgments in the New Testament) and claim God is capricious and uncaring. But one need only consider the fact that if God made all of Creation, He has a right to do what He pleases. And if God is the author of Creation, then He also establishes it's laws and penalties. So the question remains, is God consistent with the moral code the Bible presents?
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23).
The Bible tells us that death is precisely what we deserve, so if one is to say that God is not consistent with His own moral code, it is because He is too loving and gracious (because He has not given us what we deserve), not capricious and unkind (because He has merely passed due judgement on some in history past). Yet even then He remains consistent, for 1 John 4 tells us that God is love and John 14:6 tells us that God (in the form of Jesus Christ) is the truth.
This exposes yet another astounding uniqueness of the Christian faith: God is neither above nor subject to His moral code, He *is* His moral code. He is not above it in that He may disregard it as it suits His purposes (that's caprice), nor is He subject to it, that the Law itself becomes God (that's impotence). Rather, He is the Law - thoroughly consistent and faithful to His moral code (to Himself) in every respect.
"if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself" (2 Tim. 2:13).
In this way, the Christian God establishes His moral authority on the basis that our best interests are always at His heart and that He remains entirely consistent and faithful to the code He enforces, for the code He enforces is the very character of God.
Monday, October 01, 2007
But I never submitted it for publication.
I got to the door of the newspaper office with editorial in hand and suddenly stopped. For some inexplicable reason, I turned around, got in my truck and drove away. Perhaps I just felt it would be wrong to editorialize such a tragedy. Perhaps I was afraid of taking flak for it. For whatever reason, it remains unpublished. I post it here for the interest of whomever browses by.
In 1960, psychologist and president of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Hobart Mowrer, published an article in American Psychologist entitled, "Sin, the Lesser of Two Evils". He wrote,
"[We] psychologists have looked upon ... sin and moral accountability as a great incubus, and have acclaimed our liberation from it as epic-making. But at length we have discovered that to be free [is] to have the excuse of being sick rather than being sinful ... In becoming amoral, ethically neutral, and free, we have cut the very roots of our being ... and with neurotics themselves, we find ourselves asking, "Who am I?", "What is my deepest destiny?" and, "What does living really mean?"
Strangely, the many articles regarding the Virginia Tech shootings protray the killer, Cho Seung-Hui, as a man who was "an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness." Yet rarely, if ever, is Cho described as "evil". To the point, one AP article made mention of "the horror of [Cho's] ... unspeakable acts", but was most concerned with Cho's mental health, as if he couldn't help but do what he did. I'm not saying Cho was not mentally ill. But, as one psychologist put it, he "is not a person who fell through the cracks. He's a person who crawled into the cracks."
I cannot presume to know the mind of Cho Seung-Hui, but this I do know: Good men do not commit evil deeds. We cannot consider Cho's deeds evil without considering Cho evil for committing them - whether he could have helped it or not. I do not say this to garner hatred for Cho, but to recognize the legitimacy of the lost lives and the grief bore by their family and friends. To fail to recognize the evil that lived within Cho is to devalue the lives that were taken that day.
In Dr. Mowrer's own words, to deny the evil bent of human nature is to "cut the very roots of our being." For, we find life's meaning not in its pleasure, but in its pain; and no greater pain can be inflicted upon the soul than the pain suffered from the loss of a relationship. If we cannot see the evil in that, where, then, shall we see it?
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
"How do we enforce a uniform moral code without appealing to theism?"
His question assumes two things:
1. We have a need for a uniform moral code.
2. In order to enforce such a cod, a universal authority is required.
This echoes what we see taking place in the book of Judges. In Judges 17:6 we find:
"In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
In ancient cultures, the king was the law. To the point, our nomenclature for our measurement system testifies to this. The "foot" is an English standard unit that is approximately the length of a foot. But the foot was at one time the length of one particular foot: the foot of the ruling monarch. In cultures of antiquity, the king was, by virtue of his authority, the law.
Even in contemporary American culture, we recognize the need for a uniform moral code. Everyone, after all, knows the difference between right and wrong - and most everyone will concede that there is a difference. The Bible echoes this very idea in Romans 2:14,15:
"(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.
Thus we are left in pluralistic American society with the following dilemma: We recognize the need for a uniform moral code, but we have many options for an authority with which to enforce the code. Some options may include:
We can use one or all of these as a basis for our own moral preferences, but someone who determines right and worng strictly by what is harmful to the environment will have a vastly different moral code than one who determines right and wrong according to their favorite party line.
So how can we judge between these moral authorities in an effort to choose the one that's best for us?
Stay tuned for my next post...
Monday, September 03, 2007
As a state employee, under the direction of our most ethical governor, Rod Blagojevich, I was required to attend the 2nd Annual Illinois State Government Ethics Seminar at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago. It proved to be the expected litany of case studies and "What-do-I-do-if-this-happens?" scenarios. Nothing particularly relevant to most state employees.
However, the afternoon session opened with a panel of ethics "experts" (read: lawyers who deal with ethical/legal issues), one of which included Scott Turow, a well-know author of severl best-selling law / thriller novels, as well as a member of the Illinois Ethics Commission.
Anyway, the moderator opened by first asking the question: "What is ethics?"
Illinois' Chief Ethics Officer began by giving her blaise response:
"Ethics is about doing what's right and being fair to people."
However, one particular individual, whom I remember his first name being Matthew, gave a most intelligent answer. He pointed out that ethics carries both a legal and moral component. Case in point, slavery was considered legal for many years in the United States, but that hardly made it moral. Matthew also went on to point out that American law (especially at the foundation of American government) was based largely on the Bible and the idea that God established these laws; therefore, we are to obey them.
I was surprised. I hadn't anticipated such an advanced argument from a panel of lawyers. The moderator didn't challenge Matthew's arguments, but followed his logic with the question:
"So how do we enforce a moral code without appealing to theism?"
I was astounded. Never could a more relevant or pointed question have been asked in an environment that, by nature, was hardly given to asking such questions. This was, after all, a room full of lawyers and engineers employed by the State of Illinois government.
What's fascinating is that while the moderator asked the question quite clearly, it went unanswered. I'm certain if the moderator had given consideration to his question, he'd never have asked it. But the answers forthcoming amounted to little more than, "Well, we know what's right and we have the law and we just have to make the best ethical decisions we can with what we have."
But the question wasn't "How do we make ethical decisions at all?" but "How do we make ethical decisions without appealing to an authoritative higher power?"
The question was ignored and discussion moved on to the more mundane details of case studies and government employee benefits.
So how do we approach this question? I believe the silence of the panel tells the truth: there is no solvent answer. Yet exploring what lies behind the question, I believe, can prove to be most instructive.
Stay tuned for the next post.
Monday, August 06, 2007
Anyway, I had the pleasure of giving my first sermon a few weeks ago (July 1) and there are a few thoughts from it I'd like to note. The material for my sermon came largely from the lessons I posted previously under the titles, "Vengeance is Mine" Part I & Part II.
The text dealt with Amos 1:11,12 and how Edom pursued his brother (Israel) with a sword - with a vengeance. The key point to my sermon came with the quote of John Stott's (which graces the top of this blog),
"Envy is the reverse side of a coin called vanity. No one is ever envious of others who is not first proud of himself."When Haman ruefully considered the souring effect Mordecai the Jew had on his enjoyment of the good things in life (see Esther 5:9-14), he gives us a perfect model of exactly what John Stott is describing. In the same breath that he boasts about his life (verses 9-12), he declares his envy for Mordecai's worship (v. 13). Haman envied Moredcai's worship because he was first proud of himself - hence the need to hang Mordecai 80 feet in the air.
Thus Haman's life tells us in no uncertain terms that pride lies at the heart of vengeance. Nine times out of ten, when we get after someone for wronging us, it is not because they have actually wronged us, but rather, because they have injured our pride.
But more than that, Amos 1:11, 12 tells us that Edom was not just vengeful, but vengeful toward their brother. If you look at Jesus' own condemnation of hatred in Matthew 5:21,22, he condemns hatred as murder, but qualifies it specifically as hatred for one's brother.
All of this tells us that God values our relationships over our behavior. If you look at the first tenet of the Westminster Shorter Chatechism, it tells us that the purpose of man "is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." What does the word "enjoy" mean, but to partake in a relationship with Him? And that for an eternity?
Look also at the Creation account. In Genesis 2:18, God says, "It is not good for the man to be alone..." It is interesting to note that this is the only aspect of His creation that God specifically said was "not good" - and it had to do with our relationship (or lack thereof) with another human.
It seems there is clear evidence from Scripture that the reason we exist is twofold: to relate to God, and to relate to one another. So what does this have to do with pride and vengeance?
Permit me to define my terms:
- Pride is guaged by our degree of concern for ourselves.
- Relationships are guaged by our degree of concern for one another.
You see, pride and healthy relationships are mutually exclusive concepts. One must be sacrificed if the other is to remain.
This, I believe, lies at the heart of the Christian doctrine of salvation. I have heard some tell me that when they die, they'll "talk it (their life) over with God". But this is tantamount to saying,
"I'm right. I know I'm right. And in the end, I'm sure God will understand that I was right all along and, really, He was wrong to expect me to have faith in an intolerant, outdated system of belief."
In other words, such people value their pride over a relationship with God.
I've posted my sermon in five segments in WMA format. It's not streaming audio, so you have to download each one and each file is about 8 MB in size (about 7 minutes each). It's not a perfect sermon, but it was decent enough I'm not ashamed to post it.
The Heart of Vengeance:
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Unfortunately, due to the demands of personal matters - a new house to renovate foremost among them, I have little time to devote to blogging. If I find the time, I will post on occasion, but my days of regular updates have certainly reached their end.
For those of you who have read regularly (of which I imagine there's only a few), thank you.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
I enjoy talking about what the Bible has to say about drinking. Really, if you investigate it closely, there's a lot more than most people would think.
Compare these two verse selections:
This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: "Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them."
So I took the cup from the LORD's hand and made all the nations to whom he sent me drink it
"Then tell them, 'This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Drink, get drunk and vomit, and fall to rise no more because of the sword I will send among you.' But if they refuse to take the cup from your hand and drink, tell them, 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: You must drink it! See, I am beginning to bring disaster on the city that bears my Name, and will you indeed go unpunished? You will not go unpunished, for I am calling down a sword upon all who live on the earth, declares the LORD Almighty.'Jeremiah 25:15-17, 27-29
The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.
The common image in the above verses is the cup. In these passages, the cup symbolizes the authority and power of i's bearer.
When Joseph tricked his brothers by hiding his cup in the youngest sibling's bag in Genesis 44, the crime is especially grievous because the supposed theft involved an item that was valued, not for its price so much as it's owner. This is especially obvious in Jeremiah, when God states that even if the nations refused to drink His cup, they will indeed drink, meaning God not only had the right to punish the nations, but also the ability to do so.
Of course, we can't overlook the most important aspect of the cup - that it carried something to the drinker. In the Old Testament, God's wrath is often depicted as a cup filled with wine. The wine is described as mixed or filled with spices - characteristics which imply an enhanced ability to inebriate. Moreover, note what God says about the effect of his wine in Jeremiah 25:16:
When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them."Note the effect of God's wrath is twofold: those who drink His cup will stagger and go mad.
Each effect is important. To stagger is to physically stumble. To go mad is to lose mental competence. Thus, those who experience God's wrath will suffer both physically and mentally - in much the same way someone who drinks too much alcohol does.
But don't think that the effect of drinking God's wrath leaves the drinker feeling like a frat boy fully-lit on Absolut. Your typical frat-party patron reels and mumbles because he's so drunk he has no control of his body, but it can be rather pleasant (vomiting and hangover aside). But imagine reeling from intense pain and being so mentally distraught you can't speak a clear sentence. Really, what kind of pain and suffering would it take to reduce someone to a babbling vegetable?
Let's jump ahead into the New Testament. Keep the imagery of the cup and wine in your mind as you read the following verses:
"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?"
"We can," they answered.
"Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."
Jesus commanded Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"John 18:11
If you look at Christ's last words on the cross, John Stott points out that two of them deal with His physical pain. Namely, "I thirst." The remainder of His words dealt with His spiritual suffering. For example, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?", and "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". These words are the results of Jesus drinking the cup of God's wrath. The physical portion was the most cruel, barbaric, and horrible way a human being could (and still can) possibly die. Yet Christ minimized the focus on His physical pain because the mental / spiritual pain was far greater - the experience of being abandoned by God.
But the cup imagery doesn't stop there:
The cup Christ offered to His disciples (and by extension, to us) was a cup of forgiveness. Remember the cup symbolizes authority and power. Christ had the authority to forigve sins (Mark 2:5) and, by His crucifixion, the power to do so.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."
Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Now look at Psalm 23:5:
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
The cup of the children of God is a cup of blessing. Thus, Christians have the right and ability to bless.
1. God gave Christ His cup of wrath.
2. Because Christ willingly drank God's cup, He offered us His cup of forgiveness.
3. If we willingly drink Christ's cup, we can offer a cup of blessing to others.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
New siding and insulation: $5,000
New roof: $10,000
New windows: $12,000
New HVAC: $15,000
Satisfaction in knowing I'm the new poster child for This Old House: Priceless
I am now the owner of a 3,000 square foot money pit. It has no driveway, a dilapidated garage, a bad roof, 50-year-old faux-brick celotex siding, rotting soffits, termite damage, sagging floors, no air conditioning, smelly carpets, a bathroom with a disgusting shower and a chimney that's caving in, (which, incidentally, is still the only way the furnace flue gases leave the house).
So why'd I buy it?
$31,000 on an auction is all I can say.
Maybe I should apply for an Extreme Makeover...