Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Death of Discourse

(September 27, 2016—The morning after the Presidential debate between the Republican and Democratic candidates for POTUS)

Discourse is dead. I attended her funeral last night. The wake has been going on for years. Now all that is left is the grave side service and the grave dressing.

The eulogies were pronounced by one man and one woman. She seemed to know the dearly departed better than he did. Although, neither seems to have the credibility of deep, firsthand relationship.

The staccato of ad hominem attacks, diversionary red herrings, and hyperbole punctuated the supposed discourse with questionable ethics.

The Roman rhetorician, Quintillian, talked about the character of the public speaker, describing “Good men, speaking well.” Quintillian’s call for goodness of character as the basis of discourse echoed like a distant memory, long past, as last night’s eulogies droned.

Aristotle, the great Greek rhetorician, emphasizes a rhetoric founded upon principles of logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos refered to rational arguments using evidence and data. Ethos, Aristotle emphasized, pointed to source credibility—the essential goodwill and character of the speaker toward the audience. Pathos is the compelling and artful use of genuine emotional appeals through the narrative.

Last night, discourse was slain in the street. The artful trio of logos, pathos, and ethos fled the scene of the crime.

Reason has died. In its place, feelings rule.

Character and credibility have died. In their place, image rules.

Citizenship has died. In its place, consumerism rules.

Abandoning citizenship for consumerism, American culture has throttled discourse in favor of pre-packaged prejudice and propaganda, spending millions in commercials of character assassination, image insults, and soundbite “gotchas.” Handlers measure words and frame phrases to fill time and space with clever comments. We vote our pockets. We vote for the most glamorous package. We vote our purchases. We vote our pleasure. We vote our feelings.

We claim to construct a social reality through our many words. We insist that the “emperor’s new clothes” are the finest ever. We celebrate the finery. We agree upon its glamor. Until someone speaks and the truth is uncovered! Even then, we resist reality, preferring our socially constructed version that we have shaped. Truth eludes our grasp.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “There is hardly anything more depressing for us than when we realize that outwardly we have everything we want, but with all that we have nevertheless remain inwardly hollow and empty and superficial” (A Testament to Freedom, p. 235).

Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

There is no freedom in falsity no matter how cleverly constructed.

God has created humanity in His image. We are created for intimacy with him. Augustine famously said, “We were made for Thee and we cannot rest until we rest in Thee.” The deeply imprinted imago dei upon humanity longs for truth, honesty, and respect for one another. Sin distorts honesty with lies, love with lust, respect with hostility, and otherness with self-centeredness. Sin distracts and deters from truth-seeking. Our abandonment of a quest to know truth, preferring packaged perspectives has slaughtered honest epistemology, and discourse dies along with it. We cannot discuss what we do not know.

Everett Piper writes, “Truth gives us freedom. Lies always lead to bondage and slavery.”

When last night’s eulogies finally ended, the observer had no more knowledge of the dearly departed than at the beginning of the secular “service.” The video caricature of communication, masquerading as a presidential debate, diminished language, leadership, civility, and citizenship.

A free and democratic republic is based upon a freedom of speech which allows a healthy, lively, and civil conversation about a nation, its values, its direction, and its beliefs. When discourse dies, the chains of enslavement clank in the shadows. For when discourse dies, dissent dies with her. Ideas die with her. Integrity dies with her. Honest quest for truth dies with her. Freedom dies with her.

Discourse is dead. We mourn her passing.

Monday, September 26, 2016

"God is at His best in the chaos"

Matthew 11:28-30  "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Dear Jesus,

I hear Your welcome invitation to come. I bring the hurried, harried strain that all too frequently defines my life. I am working hard. I feel the burden. Sleep is all too often disrupted, and restlessness reigns in its place. The yoke chafes. The burden weighs.

My friend, Hubert Harriman, says that "God is at His best in the chaos." I believe it. Show up. I need You in my mess.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: "For he has called all his people who are weary and burdened. He has not made his circle narrow. He has not gathered around himself a spiritual-religious aristocracy. Rather he has made the circle as wide as possible, so wide that actually not a single person could say in good conscience that Jesus' invitation was not meant for him or her because there were not among the weary and burdened" (A Testament to Freedom, 234).

I qualify. I need You to lift the load, carry the burden, heal the chafed spots, and lead me down the path to which You are calling. I feel torn from competing directions. Everything screams "NOW!"  The strain, the confusion, and the contradiction would seek my collapse.

E. Stanley Jones wrote: "Jesus sat and watched the confusion and strain in men's hearts and said: 'Your souls are the meeting place of contradictory currents. You want mutually exclusive things, and in the end you get nowhere--nowhere except into worse confusion.' He would simplify life into oneness of desire and purpose, so that it might take on calm and poise and power. For as long as life is balanced between competing ends there is weakness and inward collapse and lack of outer effectiveness. So relentlessly he puts his finger on the places where we ail." (In The Christ of the Mount, 1931, p. 202).

Touch the places in me where I ail. Speak order into my chaos. Speak rest into my strain. Speak the consistency of Your perfect will into the contradictory demands that seek to shred me. Unify my desire with a laser-like focus upon Your perfect will. Point me with precision through the divine guidance system of Your Holy Spirit. Sustain my spirit within, and grant me effectiveness without.

I love You. I trust You. I lean upon You. Be at Your best, so that I may be at my best for Your glory.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

You Owe Me

All too often, we live with debt—great debt. No, it’s not the money we owe on our credit cards, our car loans, or our mortgage. We live with a debt to those who have poured the riches of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into our lives.

Paul appealed to Philemon about this very sort of debt. Philemon’s slave, Onesimus, appears to have run away. Paul had known Onesimus through his repeated visits to Philemon’s house. There, Paul had shared with Philemon the life of Jesus Christ, and Philemon had embraced Jesus as His Savior and Lord. Philemon owed His very life and soul to Paul, his father in the Gospel.

We conjecture, but it appears that Onesimus had fled slavery at Philemon’s house. Somewhere along the way, Onesimus had encountered Paul. Perhaps they were imprisoned together. Paul had the privilege of a serendipitous moment of realization that he knew this slave, Onesimus. Utilizing his influence and relationship, Paul led Onesimus to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and began to disciple him into a life in Christ.

But a wrong had to be made right. Onesimus had fled his believing owner, Philemon. Philemon still owned Onesimus. Onesimus remained a slave. Restitution must be made.

So Paul wrote a letter to Philemon. The message of his letter? “You owe me.”

Paul appealed to Philemon’s obligation to Paul. Paul addressed Philemon’s obligation to his Lord Jesus, along with his duty to a fellow believer, Onesimus.

“You owe me.”

Sometimes, we are put off by the heavy handedness of the demands of debt, obligation, and duty. Paul did not fear wielding this loving persuasive method. He reminded Philemon of his debt.

To whom are you in debt? To whom do you owe your faith and spiritual life? Parents, church, mentor, or school? Pay your debt. Pay it abundantly. Pay it forward so that others may enjoy the same blessings that you have known.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Breaking Wild

Dear God,

Tame any residual wildness from my soul--that wildness that seeks to break the traces, release the harness, shed control, and demand rebellious autonomy.

Alan Nelson describes the human soul. "The soul of a person, in its early and natural state, is wildly undisciplined. Whether it aggressively rebels against God's harnessing like a bucking bronco, or passive-aggressively resists guiding like an old, stubborn mule, the human spirit resents the influence of God's Spirit."

Discipline me to make me useful. Break any wildness from my character. Purge me of any residue of rebellion, any resistance to Your restraint, and any reluctance to your redirection of my pursuits.

"An unbroken person refuses to accept difficult challenges and questions unexplained events with frustration. This poor soul seeks success and achievement, but, a master of himself, risks depression, disillusionment, failure, and suicide in order to 'do it myself.' This same person fights reliance on God in an effort to go 'my own way.'"

Nelson says that "the world has little use for a wild, unbroken soul. An unbroken soul is primarily a consumer." The unbroken soul reveals itself in embarrassing ways. On the extreme of society, entertainers pride themselves on their lack of restraint, revealing clothing, and outlandish behaviors. All too soon they have consumed all of life they can use, and the shallow shells of humanity they have celebrated drift into self-shattered oblivion. Unbroken souls. But unbroken souls within the majority can be just as consumptive and destructive.

But if I allow You to break me, the fellowship, the intimacy, the bond of love between Master and broken will be intimate, warm, deep, and lasting. You introduce me to a relationship of trust that helps me to become what You have created me to be. When You break me in the right place, I can reach the potential that You have planned. Teleios. Complete. Perfect. Mature. Able to fulfill the Creator's intended purpose.

Break me. Shape me. Mold me. Make me.

Any willful wildness must be broken. Win my heart with Your goodness. Win my trust with Your love. Whisper hope and potential in my ear. Train me. Make me compliant. Make me useful. Chanel my energy toward productivity and success, as You define both for my life.

I love You. I trust You. I submit to Your love. I am Your broken child.

In the Master's Name,

Quotes from Alan Nelson (2002) Embracing Brokenness, Colorado Springs: NavPress, pp. 18-20.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Christ Calls us to a New Humanity

Jesus Christ is calling us to a new humanity. His ethic is based in holy love. E. Stanley Jones develops this thought in The Christ of the Mount (1931).

Jones declares the summary thesis of Jesus' call to a new humanity in The Sermon on the Mount: "Reverence for personality is the basis of Jesus' teaching in regard to our duties to man" (p. 132).

Jones says that Jesus "believed that all men were of infinite worth apart from race and birth and color and money and social standing" (p. 133).

Jones speaks profoundly to the American mistreatment of African-Americans through slavery and subsequent segregation. His words may shock and offend, but he declares a call to holiness in human relationships that is thoroughly Christian.

"He that says to his brother 'N-----,' shall be in danger of the council of growing collective judgment, and he who says, 'Thou fool,' shall be in danger of the hell of fire of seeing the Negro surpass him in intellectual and moral character. 'Thou fool' comes back to you with terrific and terrifying force" (p. 137).

"Jesus has been called 'the great believer in man.' The common people heard him gladly because he did not treat them as common people. Three words were constantly upon his lips: the least, the last, and the lost" (p. 139).

"The Christians of the United States, knowing that the Negro has aught against them, should leave their gift before the altar and go and be reconciled with their Negro brother in a a thoroughgoing reconciliation and then come and offer their gift" (p. 140).

"The white races of the world, knowing that the colored races have aught against them for their snobbery and their exclusiveness and contempts, should go and be reconciled to their brother or else be prepared to pay the utmost farthing--a clash of color" (p. 141).

"The acceptability of our giving to God is determined by our way of living with man" (p. 142).

"Religion that gazes at stars while human needs are crying to it for solution will find itself demoted by the collective judgment of mankind. Religion that cannot discharge its moral and social obligations may be kept alive by means of artificial respiration, but not for long" (p. 143).

E. Stanley Jones highlights the reverence of Jesus Christ for all of humanity. Jesus calls us to a new covenant that embraces a new view of human potential through the transforming grace of God at work in our lives. "Reverence for personality is the foundation of the New Humanity" (p. 145).

Monday, September 12, 2016

Pray for Your Friends

Ephesians 6:18-20 "... praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints— 19 and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak."

Dear Jesus,

Thank You for friends who pray for us. Paul asked his friends at Ephesus to pray for him. As he reached the climax of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul exhorted them to arm themselves with the whole armor of God. After he had delineated the belt, the breastplate, the shoes, the shield, the helmet, and the sword, he called the Ephesians to prayer. Paul's exhortation for prayer concluded by asking the Ephesians to pray for him, their leader, to be bold and courageous as he suffered, stood, and spoke for Christ.

One recent Sunday, a dear friend sent me an email. "I was praying for you this morning during our service; I was convicted of a thought I wanted to share with you. Your board may have chosen you as the leader but it was God who called you to that ministry and has prepared you for a long time to accomplish the task set before you. And because He prepared and called you He will watch over you, protect you, guide you and bless you, His chosen servant. You are blessed and are a blessing to your community at Wesley Biblical."

That prayer from my friend sent a bolt of fresh courage and enthusiasm through my soul. I needed that. I felt the boost, the encouragement, the propulsion of the Holy Spirit moving in my heart. I am blessed by friends and family who pray for me.

Then I remembered that You pray for me.

  • "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth." (John 17:15-17). 
  • "The Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered." (Romans 8:26). 
  • "Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us." (Romans 8:34). 
  • "Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:25). 
Thank You for being a Friend who prays for us. You never forget to pray. You never fail in faith. I need Your prayers to the Father. I depend upon Your intercession for me. I love You. I need You. I thank You that You hear and answer my prayers and the prayers of Your people.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, our Intercessor,

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Poem by Amy Carmichael

If I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve,
then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient unloving word,
then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If souls can suffer alongside, and I hardly know it, because the spirit of
discernment is not in me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in
contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points;

If I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting, “Who made thee to differ? And what hast thou that thou has not received?” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can easily discuss the shortcomings of any;if I can speak in a casual way of a child’s misdoings, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I rebuke without a pang, then I know nothing of Calvary love. 

If I cast up a confessed, repented and forsaken sin against another, and allow my remembrance of that sin to colour my thinking and feed my suspicions, then I know nothing of Calvary love. 

If I can hurt another by speaking faithfully without much preparation of spirit, and without hurting myself far more than I hurt the other, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I forget that it was He who granted the ray of light to His most unworthy servant, then I know nothing of Calvary love. If I covet any place on earth but the dust at the foot of the Cross, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

That which I know not, teach Thou me, O Lord, my God.

Jesus is the Fulfillment of the Law

I am reading a chapter from E. Stanley Jones book, Christ of the Mount (1931), this morning. He says some earth-shattering, mind-bending things!  I am still reeling as I seek to process truth.

Jesus said, "I am not come to destroy the law, or prophets, but to fulfill."

Jones writes: "God intends to save a race" (p. 101). By this, Jones is referring to the human race. He embraces the Biblical perspective that "race" is a social construct. The Biblical perspective is that all humanity is part of one race. Within the human human race, the Bible speaks of tribes, tongues, and nations. Jones' worldview is that the law is being fulfilled through the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God made flesh, who has come to be the Savior of the world. As such, all social truths within world cultures are collapsed into the Person of Jesus Christ, all the while remaining subservient to His Person.

Jones presents Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the quest of each kingdom, nation, and civilization.

  • The Egyptian desire for immortality is fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, declaring, "I am the resurrection and the life."
  • The Greek naturalism is fulfilled in Jesus' becoming the wellspring of life.
  • The Roman authority is fulfilled in Jesus' authority of life.
  • The Buddhist longing for the end of suffering is fulfilled in Jesus' declaration of the Christian joy in the midst of suffering and pain.
  • The Islamists' demand to submit to truth is fulfilled in Jesus' pronouncement that all thoughts are to be brought under captivity to His Lordship.
  • The Chinese reverence for ancestry is fulfilled in the Christian understanding of the self-giving love of the Trinity within the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the extension of that love to humanity, where we, in turn, extend that self-giving transforming love to God and man.
  • The Japanese honor of loyalty is fulfilled in the Church, the Body of Christ, and her call to live in unity in community.
  • The Hindu emphasis upon unity is fulfilled in Jesus Christ's High Priestly prayer (John 17) and the call for Holy Spirit filled unity through the sanctifying Presence of the Holy One.
Jones emphasizes Jesus' words, that salvation comes from and through the Jews.  He then shows how fine qualities of various national spiritual pursuits are collapsed in the Person of Jesus Christ, not as a syncretistic patchwork or an eclectic smorgasbord of contradictory spirituality, but as a new and complete whole.

"The Hebrew word was Righteousness--salt; the Greek word was Illumination--light. Jesus said that his disciples were to be both Righteousness and Illumination--they were to sum up the finest in each national just and genius.  If the Hebrew word was Righteousness and the Greek word was Illumination, the Buddhist word is Desirelessness, the Hindu word is Unity, the Confucianist word is Superior, the Japanese word is Loyalty, the Christian word is Life.  Because the Christian's word is life, he sums up all the lesser qualities of life found in each national bent and genius" (pp. 108-109). 

"Add up all the fine qualities that inhere in a each nationality... when you add all these together in the sum total you have something akin to Christian character" (p. 109).

Wow! Pondering all of this richness.