Christian Living

Taking Advantage or Caring?

Aesop told the tale of the Peasant and the Apple Tree.

A peasant had an apple tree growing in his garden, which bore no fruit, but merely served to provide a shelter from the heat for the sparrows and grasshoppers which sat and chirped in its branches. Disappointed at its barrenness, he determined to cut it down, and went and fetched his axe for the purpose. But when the sparrows and the grasshoppers saw what he was about to do, they begged him to spare it, and said to him, “If you destroy the tree we shall have to seek shelter elsewhere, and you will no longer have our merry chirping to enliven your work in the garden.” He, however, refused to listen to them, and set to work with a will to cut through the trunk. A few strokes showed that it was hollow inside and contained a swarm of bees and a large store of honey. Delighted with his find he threw down his axe, saying, “The old tree is worth keeping after all.”

The moral of the story: Utility is most men’s test of worth.

As I thought about Aesop’s fable, I thought how often utility is the rule. Some people are involved in church primarily to receive, not to give. Others view their spouses as servants or keep points as to who owes whom. Countless Christians serve God only for personal benefit. Utility is most folks’ test of worth. But—Praise the Lord—there are many exceptions to this rule.

The Bible speaks against our attempts to take advantage of others

The Bible warns us against utilitarian thinking, but urges us to think in terms of reciprocity, giving, receiving, submitting to one another, etc. Scripture also warns us about abusing our authority or exalting ourselves at the cost of another.

The Bible warns us frequently about taking advantage of others.

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Defeating Boredom

The boredom problem

American Christians and Americans in general are suffering from a plague of boredom. This boredom epidemic is a factor in our moral, social, and spiritual downturn. It contributes toward wasted lives, fractured families, and what seems to me to be a rise in depressed persons. We live in a nation where people work, do what they are constrained to do, and then view DVD after DVD or spend hours with video games.

Evangelical and fundamental Christianity is also suffering from a plague of boredom. It seems that more and more people are bored in our services, tired of the Bible, and cannot focus their attention upon spiritual things for very long.

Decades ago, most Americans belonged to clubs, had people over for dinner, read, and developed a variety of hobbies and interests. Then came the TV, and the more technology we add, the worse it gets. Robert Putnam in his book, Bowling Alone, documents that baby boomers are half as likely as previous generations to read the paper, vote, belong to a club, or have people over for dinner. And Generation X is purported to participate half as much as the boomers (or one-fourth as much as previous generations).

According to Richard Winter in his book, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment, the more we entertain ourselves with movies or the Internet, the more bored Americans become. Most people have no strategy to reduce boredom from life.

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Parable on Sanctification

The army of an evil duke storms the castle gates of an ancient kingdom. With murderous zeal the raiders pillage and torch the city. Amidst the mayhem, the infant son of the kind and noble king is captured and transported to the duke’s castle where the boy is enslaved to the sadistic warden of the dungeon.

From his earliest memories the captive prince is abused. As time passes he knows only the life of a tortured slave whose days are spent toiling in the dank confines of the dungeon. He is denied proper food, shelter and clothing. He is never permitted to bathe. He sleeps on a thin pile of vermin-infested straw, his ankle shackled to a post.

The prisoners he attends verbally abuse him. The warden routinely flogs him and with sadistic glee poisons the boy’s mind to believe that all his troubles are directly traceable to the dominion of the king. Under these horrific conditions the prince’s soul shrivels and becomes a dark haunt breeding many vices.

Early one winter morning, the boy is startled awake by shouts of panic. The king has mounted a successful attack against the traitorous duke’s castle. After the duke’s army is subdued, all the boys of a certain age-range are lined up against a castle wall. The prince, with no idea who he really is, stands in the frigid air shaking, virtually naked, and filled with loathing for the conquering king. The boy is covered from head to toe in grime. His long hair is matted and snarled. His nails are grotesquely long, his lips cracked, his feet bleeding. He nurses infected wounds. He is emaciated and unspeakably repulsive.

Working his way down the line of boys, an armored knight eventually arrives at the prince. The knight grabs the boy’s grimy wrist and carefully inspects his forearm where is revealed a distinctive birth mark. With thunderous voice, the knight turns and announces: “Here he is, your Highness!” To the boy’s utter astonishment, the king’s soldiers immediately drop to one knee, bowing their heads toward him in homage. The regal king who watches the proceedings intently from atop his steed dismounts and swiftly approaches. The boy cowers against the wall, instinctively bracing for the worst. But to his further bewilderment, the king he so despises does not raise his hand to strike, but stands before him with open arms. Tears fill the strong man’s searching eyes. A look of tender compassion graces his rugged face such as the boy has never witnessed. Suddenly, the king embraces the boy and with a strong hand pulls the prince’s head to his chest and speaks lovingly into his ear: “I have at last found you, my dear lost son. Welcome home.”

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The Pursuit of Joy

The author of this essay is no longer involved at SI, but it’s too good to let gather digital dust. First appeared at SharperIron on May 2, 2005. The original post and discussion are available here.

I was surprised the other day by a non-Christian’s complaint that a certain group of Christians was “eternally happy.” Christians often talk about how the unsaved will see their joy and want to have that same joy. This young man, however, saw something forced —something less than genuine— in the happiness of some Christians, as though they were unwilling even to acknowledge the existence of things like sorrow, anger, or fear. He commented that the human experience of joy could only be meaningful if we have experienced its opposite, and the Christians he knew seemed never to be touched by suffering. Though we can’t always be responsible for others’ misinterpretations of our actions, these comments made me start thinking more carefully about joy. Is it our duty to keep a smile plastered on our faces no matter what is going on in our lives or others’? Is that what real Christian joy looks like? What is biblical joy and how do we get it?

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On Being Generous with Grace

The Midrash Key examines selected portions from the Gospel of Matthew and demonstrates that they are expositions or applications of First Testament (Old Testament) texts. But there is no way to address all of Jesus’ teachings in a single volume. As John noted in writing his Gospel, processing the words of Jesus is a major undertaking. John 21:25 reads, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

So we have to deal with a portion at a time, here a little, there a little. The focus here is on some of Jesus’ more famous words in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:38-42. The text reads as follows:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you….

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Apolitical Faith? Objections to Christian Political Engagement, Part 1

Meet the apolitical right

“I’m apolitical,” a pastor friend told me not long ago. His tone and body language communicated disdain for the whole business of candidates, legislation and public policy. The response I did not verbalize was, “Great. Another one.”

This apolitical attitude seems to be on the rise among theologically serious (especially gospel-serious) evangelicals and fundamentalists. An underlying conviction seems to be that the Bible and Christian living have nothing at all to do with any political agenda. Ministry and true discipleship are only hindered by attention to political matters. To the most passionate apoliticals, the correct course is not a matter of balance (moderation in political engagement) or discipline (proper limits on the kind of political engagement). It’s a matter of purity: faith and ministry should not mix themselves in any way with the poison of politics.1

In practice, this means churches should avoid taking positions on matters perceived to be “political issues,” and pastors and teachers should refrain from teaching and preaching on political topics. Above all, believers should not express their political views in any way that might alienate someone with whom they hope to have a gospel witness. Having a mild interest in politics and casting a vote on election day is okay, but going beyond that is heading down the wrong road.

A variety of factors motivate the apoliticals I’ve interacted with. Some simply have temperaments that are deeply averse to the conflict and strife of politics. Others have absorbed some of the thinking of the evangelical left (such as the “Red Letter Christian” fondness for pitting the supposed teaching of Jesus against the rest of Scripture rather than interpreting Jesus in light of the rest of Scripture).2 In almost every case, constituents of the apolitical right see the Moral Majority efforts of the 1980s as a travesty and decry anything today that seems similar.

Whatever the primary motivation, apoliticals offer specific objections to all but the most mild and private forms of political engagement.

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