Archive for May, 2011

“There is neither encouragement or effective exhortation in telling those who are suffering that others have suffered more, in telling those grieving that others have lost more, in telling the hungry that others have actually starved. Such spoutings produce feelings of guilt, shame, and anger—all of which are not only counterproductive but also destructive of the faith that was already only barely clinging to the altar.”—Fred Craddock, in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, ‘Hebrews,’ p 83

I had to apologize to my eldest son this morning after reading this. Sometimes being a parent is especially difficult and even though he is graduating on Saturday, I realize I am still learning and he is still teaching. Learning how to speak to our children properly and being repentant when we speak to them improperly is a humbling lesson to learn. I confess I have had to learn the lesson more than once.

What I think happens is that there are times when my son will come to me for conversation, for dialogue concerning his life. Lately, it has been mostly about his car. It breaks; a lot. And it frustrates him. It collapses entire days for him. So when he starts in about how terrible his life is because his car is broken, again, my usual response has been something like, “Jerry, it’s a car. It’s not the worst thing in the world. You want to go and see people your age who are having a difficult time?” Ugh. Worst. Response. Ever.

Worst parent ever.

So I have to learn: his suffering does matter. Is the end of the world? To me, no; to him, yes! To a teenager, the car is everything. It is their lifeline to freedom and responsibility. So I err when I am dismissive of something that, to me, seems so miniscule or minor and to him seems so major and life altering. What I have suffered is irrelevant as a means of comparison. Comparison is unnecessary in such situations because that is not what people want or need to hear. Comparison is meaningless because it ends up being like a game of one-upmanship.

People need grace. If they are weeping, weep alongside them. If they are laughing, laugh it up fuzz-ball. If they are angry, join them in anger. If they are dejected, come alongside them and sit in the ashes. I’ve always been impressed with the first seven days and nights of Job’s suffering when his friends sat with him on the ground and said nothing to him for seven days and seven nights. When someone suffers, yes there are probably others who are and have suffered more. Undoubtedly this is true. But that is irrelevant because it minimizes the suffering of the individual directly in front of me. It is dismissive and likely damages them even more. Not to mention that it also sort of cheapens the suffering of others too–those who have become mere props in our game of who has suffered more.

My role is to help them strengthen their grip, not weaken them even more.

Frankly, I don’t even think it is very nice or appropriate when preachers say things like, “You are suffering, but you have not suffered as much as Jesus.” Well, maybe; maybe not. But is that the point? Jesus didn’t say, “Father I am suffering, but I have not suffered as much as David or Job so it’s OK.” No, Jesus said, “Father, I am suffering; take this cup from me.” Even Jesus didn’t minimize his suffering by comparing it with that of others. Jesus suffered.

This is about learning to see the person directly in front of me and loving them regardless of whatever else in the world is going on today. My son’s suffering is as valid as any other person’s suffering precisely because it is he who is suffering. His suffering is not minimized because others have suffered more; his suffering is not maximized because others have suffered less. His suffering is his. And that is where we start.

Lord, forgive me for being dismissive of people who have suffered—especially my son. Teach me Lord to patiently listen to those who speak, to sit silently for as long as it takes, and when I finally speak, if asked to, to speak softly the words of your grace and mercy.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”—Colossians 4:6

I’ll leave it up to you, the reader, to determine how grace fills our conversations.

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Branches that are pruned
Will never fully grow back
But fruit will flourish

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I have the suspicion that men today believe in God more than at any other time in human history. Men know the gospel, the teaching of the Church, and God’s creation better than at any other time. They have a profound consciousness of His existence. Their atheism is not a real disbelief. It is rather an aversion toward somebody we know very well but whom we hate with all our heart, exactly as the demons do.

We hate God, that is why we ignore Him, overlooking Him as if we did not see Him, and pretending to be atheists. In reality we consider Him our enemy par excellence. Our negation is our vengeance, our atheism is our revenge.

But why do men hate God? They hate Him not only because their deeds are dark while God is light, but also because they consider Him as a menace, as an imminent and eternal danger, as an adversary in court, as an opponent at law, as a public prosecutor and an eternal persecutor. To them, God is no more the almighty physician who came to save them from illness and death, but rather a cruel judge and a vengeful inquisitor.

You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose.

Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God’s vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator.

Do you perceive the devil’s slander of our all loving, all kind, and absolutely good God? That is why in Greek the devil was given the name DIABOLOS, “the slanderer”.

Alexander Kalomiros, from The River of Fire

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“It is an ordinary saying that if there is a hell, Rome is built upon it. It is an abyss from whence all sins proceed.”–Spurgeon, from Scala Santa (I just like the hint of doubt.)

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Been thinking a lot about this, and it’s time to shoot off my mouth.  I’m calling “shenanigans” right now on anyone who says that this is just a thinly-disguised defense of Rob Bell, as this is applicable to several incidents in the last few years.

GROUND RULES

I’m going to concede a lot of ground to the critics.  In some cases, I agree with some of these points anyway, but I can make my argument even if I disagree with some of these points.

  • Let us assume that the criticized person is 100% in error theologically.
  • Let us assume that the critics are 100% accurate theologically.
  • Let us assume that everyone who does not disagree completely with the criticized person are sheeple who are totally lacking in discernment, will consume and espouse everything that the criticized person says, and desperately need the critics to straighten out this problem.
  • Let us assume that the error being disseminated by the criticized person is so grave that the critics have carte blanche to use any methodology they choose to confront it, without even the remotest possibility that they will err in their methodology or that their methods will turn off any of the aforementioned sheeple.
  • Let us assume that the method that Jesus gave in Matthew 18:15ff is totally inapplicable.

SIDEBAR

I find it interesting that the Matthew 18 passage gets batted down so quickly.  While I understand that Jesus was particularly referring to more “private”, one-on-one sins, I have searched several translations and have yet to find one with a verse where Jesus says “unless it’s a public sin, then all bets are off”.  The ludicrous speed* with which the applicability of the passage is dismissed speaks not so much of someone who wants to move on as it does of someone who is so loathe to try one-on-one confrontation, that any loophole is seized desperately as a lifeline.

WE NOW RETURN YOU TO YOUR REGULARLY-SCHEDULED POST

But let’s play nice.  As I said, let’s assume that Jesus’ command is inapplicable in this situation.  Does inapplicability automatically mean that we are commanded not to use this method sometimes?

Let me put it another way — the way that (sadly) seems to be the de rigueur method for how this is played out.

SCENARIO #1

  1. The criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates error. In his efforts, he manages to reach and convince 1000 sheeple. **
  2. The critics recognize the error and scramble to publicly disseminate the truth in response. ***  In their efforts, they manage to rescue 995 of those sheeple from the error. ( Highly improbable that the critics will turn around that high of a percentage, but hey, let’s be generous. )
  3. Two years later, the criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates more error. Because of some past success, in his efforts, he manages to reach and convince 2000 sheeple.
  4. The critics recognize the error and scramble to publicly disseminate the truth in response. Their astronomical success rate remains steady so that, in their efforts, they manage to rescue 1990 of those sheeple from the error.
  5. Two years later, the criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates more error. Because of some past success, in his efforts, he manages to reach and convince 3000 sheeple.
  6. The critics recognize the error and scramble to publicly disseminate the truth in response. Their astronomical success rate remains steady so that, in their efforts, they manage to rescue 2985 of those sheeple from the error.
  7. Two years later, the criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates more error. Because of some past success, in his efforts, he manages to reach and convince 4000 sheeple.
  8. The critics recognize the error and scramble to publicly disseminate the truth in response. Their astronomical success rate remains steady so that, in their efforts, they manage to rescue 3980 of those sheeple from the error.
  9. Ad infinitum (or would that be ad nauseum ?)

So, at the end of six years (all but that last bullet), you now have 50 people who have bought into the errors disseminated by the criticized person.

This scenario is particularly self-damning for the critic who chooses to do a series of blog posts detailing the errors of the criticized person over the years. ****

But what happens if we change it up a bit?

SCENARIO #2

  1. The criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates error. In his efforts, he manages to reach and convince 1000 sheeple.
  2. The critics recognize the error. One critic approaches the criticized person and convinces him of his error.  The criticized person then disseminates a mea culpa, and manages to rescue the same 995 people that the critics rescued in the first scenario.
  3. Two years later, the criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates truth in some manner.
  4. The critics only needed response is to praise God and send the criticized person notes of encouragement.
  5. Two years later, the criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates truth in some manner.
  6. The critics only needed response is to praise God and send the criticized person notes of encouragement.
  7. Two years later, the criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates truth in some manner.
  8. The critics only needed response is to praise God and send the criticized person notes of encouragement.

Some other things that might happen if this second scenario occurred:

  • Because of the dissemination of truth by the criticized person (in steps #2, 3, 5, and 7), God is glorified and people are brought closer to the truth.  Hard to believe otherwise.
  • The criticized person and the critic (who originally approached the former) cultivate a strong friendship from which both benefit spiritually.  Hard to believe otherwise.
  • Let’s dream really big and assume that in six years, the critics and the criticized person are able to convince the original 5 (who they didn’t rescue originally) of the truth.

BOTTOM LINE

So, when a critic chooses to go with Scenario #1, he’s treating the symptom while the disease goes on unabated.  So what is he really trying to accomplish?  Is he really rescuing the sheeple *****, or is he just showing off his mad Bible skillz?  Is he really trying to “gain his brother”, or is he merely auditioning for some spiritual MMA league?

No, really.

* yes, that was a Spaceballs reference

** I recognize that these numbers are probably too small.

*** How they do this is irrelevant.  We’ve already established carte blanche in the ground rules.

**** OK, that one was, admittedly, about the Rob Bell situation.  But I’m not giving any Google juice to the critic, so if you don’t know specifically what I’m talking about, c’est la vie.

***** which, it is to be noted, quickly becomes Sisyphean

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John 12:20-26 (NKJV)
Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.

But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.”

If it had only been Martin Bashir instead of Andrew and Philip, I bet this evasive Jesus guy would’ve been nailed down.

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