Thinking Out Loud

December 10, 2020

Don’t Get Caught in the Web of Political Distraction

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:18 am

Today’s post appeared yesterday at Christianity 201.

II Timothy 2.4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.

I can’t remember the first time this verse was highlighted for me, but it’s often coming under the teaching of a gifted Bible teacher that the verses come to life. In my personal readings, I find they just don’t ‘jump off the page’ to the same degree. I think much depends on how our different personality types process information and learning.

While Paul’s instruction to Timothy has been quoted at Christianity 201 four times, I was surprised to see it was quoted only four times. This year, while returning to past sources of devotional material, I was disappointed to see how many writers had got entangled — Apostle Paul’s word, not mine — the politics of the U.S. election and the related politicization of everything from the race protests to the virus vaccine.

It’s important to be aware of the times. Karl Barth is said to have told pastors, “Preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other;” though the actual quotation might have been, “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”

We cannot isolate in a Christian bubble and not know what’s going on in the wider world. In Matthew 16: 1-3 we read:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red, and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

And it may be that God has called a few of you to be active in what is called the public square; to run for a governmental position municipally, regionally, in your state/province, or federally. (But note I used the word few. This is not a widespread calling or commandment.) Looking at the words of Jesus in Matthew, I can more readily see Christians serving in journalism (making people aware of the times, from a Christian perspective where opportunity arises) or in law (drafting legislation or being judges.)

When I checked back, the most recent look at Paul’s words to Timothy here at C201 was just three months ago in September. At that time, our focus was on avoiding knee-jerk reactions (or feeling you need to say anything at all). James writes,

And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. (3:6 NLT)

Instead of starting fires, our words should be “a fountain of life.” That phrase is used in scripture to describe the Lord, but Proverbs 10:11 and 16:22 shows that it can be our descriptor, too:

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it,
But the discipline of fools is folly.

If our focus that time was avoiding knee-jerk reactions, our focus in June, 2018 was on the reality that we’re not really part of this world anyway. We don’t belong to it. We’re what the Bible calls strangers and aliens.

Philippians 3.20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We see this most clearly in I Peter 2:11 where we’re called

  • immigrants and strangers (CEB)
  • aliens and temporary residents (CJB)
  • visitors and strangers (ERV)
  • sojourners and exiles (ESV)
  • strangers and refugees (GNT)

Consider also Hebrews 11:13-16

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. (NRSV)

Shouldn’t our thoughts and our writing be focused on the place where we have our citizenship?

The summer previous, in August, 2017, we looked at how in Samuel’s day, the people didn’t want the distinct identity that God desired for them. The surrounding nations had kings. They didn’t have a king. They wanted a king. They asked for a king.

Interestingly enough, God accommodates this request. In I Samuel 8: 19-22a we read,

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

That article concluded: God’s ‘Plan A’ desire would be that his people would be a distinct society even in the middle of a foreign land; even when in exile. He wants us to focus on being the People of God. As Christians, we already have a King.

The oldest instance I could find of Paul’s words to Timothy here at Christianity 201 was one more year prior, in April, 2017. The context that day was spiritual warfare. Do we see this entanglement as a product of a spiritual battle? A battle for us to get stuck in the issues of the world? The political issues? The civic issues? The news-making issues?

I would argue, yes. The person whose writing and conversation has been captivated by political concerns in 2020 has lost a spiritual battle. Consider Philippians 4:8

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

To conclude, here’s how some newer translations (The Voice, and TPT) render our opening verse:

Remember that soldiers on active duty don’t get wrapped up in civilian matters because they want to satisfy those who recruited them.

For every soldier called to active duty must divorce himself from the distractions of this world so that he may fully satisfy the one who chose him.


For a different look at this subject, check out “Never Say the Bible Doesn’t Talk About Politics

 

 

June 23, 2016

The Labyrinth

LabyrinthOne of the Anglican churches in the town where I live has a labyrinth in the field behind the building. I remember the first time I saw it, probably well over a decade ago, and thinking it a rather odd sight for a Christian place of worship. Wikipedia (linked above) offers this origin:

In Greek mythology, the labyrinth (Greek: λαβύρινθος labyrinthos) was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur eventually killed by the hero Theseus. Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape it after he built it.

Later on the article states

Prehistoric labyrinths are believed to have served as traps for malevolent spirits or as defined paths for ritual dances. In medieval times, the labyrinth symbolized a hard path to God with a clearly defined center (God) and one entrance (birth). In their cross-cultural study of signs and symbols, Patterns that Connect, Carl Schuster and Edmund Carpenter present various forms of the labyrinth and suggest various possible meanings, including not only a sacred path to the home of a sacred ancestor, but also, perhaps, a representation of the ancestor him/herself: “…many [New World] Indians who make the labyrinth regard it as a sacred symbol, a beneficial ancestor, a deity. In this they may be preserving its original meaning: the ultimate ancestor, here evoked by two continuous lines joining its twelve primary joints.”

Almost as a postscript, the article ends with a section headed “Christian use”

Labyrinths have on various occasions been used in Christian tradition as a part of worship. The earliest known example is from a fourth-century pavement at the Basilica of St Reparatus, at Orleansville, Algeria, with the words “Sancta Eclesia” at the center, though it is unclear how it might have been used in worship.

In medieval times, labyrinths began to appear on church walls and floors around 1000 C.E.. The most famous medieval labyrinth, with great influence on later practice, was created in Chartres Cathedral.  The purpose of the labyrinths is not clear, though there are surviving descriptions of French clerics performing a ritual Easter dance along the path on Easter Sunday.  Some books (guidebooks in particular) suggest that mazes on cathedral floors originated in the medieval period as alternatives to pilgrimage to the Holy Land…

I’m sure my Baptist friends, if I had some, would be more strongly shocked and possibly even repulsed at the idea of such a very non-Biblical thing being part of the structure of the church. Nowhere do the scriptures suggest the construction or use of such. It’s very foreign to our experience…

300px-Labyrinth_at_Chartres_CathedralIn the bookstore where I work a couple of days a week there are two aisles at the front, three in the middle and one at the back. Occasionally, when there are no customers (which is an increasingly common problem) I will pick up a book, kick off my shoes, and start walking up and down the aisles forming a somewhat random pattern of circles. I’m able to read and walk at the same time without serious injury; although this practice of pounding bare feet on a thin carpet supported by a concrete floor may have led to my current symptoms of plantar fasciitis. For some reason, I find I make great progress reading this way, not unlike the times as a teen I would play improvisations on the piano while studying the geography or chemistry textbook for an exam. Either the rhythm of this type of activity, or the built-in distraction helps me focus.

I wonder if there’s any real difference between what I do at the store and the Anglicans who walk the labyrinth?

We can be so quick to criticize; so hasty in our judgment that we don’t realize we are often doing the same things only differently; or with different terminology. I could just as easily pace the floor and meditate on a passage of scripture or even pray (keeping my eyes open of course so I don’t crash into a display of coffee mugs.)

I’m sure the focus of the labyrinth at an Anglican or Episcopalian church is prayer and meditation. Those are good things, right?

Still…this is clearly an extra-Biblical practice. I also wonder if the more things we add on to the elements of church life, instead of creating forms and devices that aid people in spiritual disciplines, we simply have layered on another disciplines, and thereby robbed people of the more basic approach to prayer and meditation. (Heck, my imaginary Baptist friends really don’t like that last word, either.)

The other challenge is the possibility that a few people make some of these practices which lie on the fringes of the Christian life more central than they need to be. It can be for some an obsession, or a ritual which obscures more important things we ought to be doing.

I’m quite sure there are Evangelical equivalents.


Top image: St. John the Evangelist Church in South Lancaster, Ontario. I tried to find one for the church where I live, but this one is similar.

Bottom image: Wikipedia

October 26, 2010

Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder

I’m the kind of person who walks through the supermarket picking things up and then setting them down again in order to pick up something else.   I’m sure I keep stock clerks busy replacing all the stuff I’ve grabbed and then absent-mindedly deposited in the next aisle.   (You’d think they’d offer baskets or carts or something…)

So when Perry Noble posted today on the topic of distraction I knew I had to re-post this one here.    As someone once said… … …okay, I forgot what it was.   See what I mean?



Getting distracted is DANGEROUS!  (I remember taking my eyes off the road for just a few seconds the other day…and when I looked up I was about to take out a row of mailboxes!  I immediately jerked the car back into the road…and if there had been another car coming I would have NAILED them!)

In ministry we can’t allow ourselves to become distracted (which is SO MUCH more of a challenge than it was 10 years ago because of the “advancement” of social media.)

So…what are four distractions that we are constantly going to have to resist as leader?

#1 – Pleasure – We are going to have to fight doing what is easy rather than what is right!

#2 – Pride – There WILL come the temptation to begin to think, “Look at all of this great work I have done!”  I can think of two leaders in the Scripture who had simular thoughts…it didn’t go well for them!  (See Daniel 4:28-33 and Acts 12:19-23)

#3 – Procrastination – Many times we KNOW what the right decision that needs to be made…but because it may be tough to do so we delay it, hoping that maybe God either just “work it out” or change His mind!

#4 – People – Someone is always going to not like what you do, who you are and what you stand for…always!  When you get in the people pleasing business you get out of the business of pleasing God!  (See Galatians 1:10)

#5 – Performance – One of the greatest problems with success is that leaders can actually begin to believe that they are the ones that caused success to happen…and in order to keep/maintain it they have to work harder and harder…thus establishing a pace that literally sends them into a wall at 100 mph.

#6 – Problems – We can’t view problems as God’s punishment…but rather we must view them as God’s preparation!  David didn’t see the lion and the bear as a problem…but rather he viewed them as opportunities to prepare him for the greater problems in life he knew that were sure to come.  (See I Samuel 17:33-37)

#7 – Passion – Passion can be a distraction when we use it to run over people rather than lead them!  God did NOT give us the Spirit of timidity…but of power, LOVE and self discipline!  (II Timothy 1:7)  Power without love always leads to legalism and domination.  We MUST be passionate about what God has called us to…but we must also learn how to use that passion to lead others to where they need to be…not drive them there!

~Perry Noble

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