Home Stretch

11 months ago, I made a decision to write 500 words a day on this blog. I was faithful to that goal for the first half of the year. Since moving in June, it’s been a little more hit and miss. I still have things I want to write about, but a few of them will take some extended research. As I see 1 January 2017 quickly approaching, I am pondering what to do. Do I keep going? Do I relax my pace? Do I shift my focus from daily posts in order to conquer some of these potentially more in-depth topics?

My focus remains the same as when I first started this blog. It’s totally selfish; it’s for me. Others may occasionally read what I write here, but I’m not trying to become a popular blogger. I don’t even really want to be a writer, at least not in the sense of someone who makes money from their work, because that is about much more than writing. Being a writer takes self-promotion and marketing and other extroverted business activities that don’t interest me.

I enjoy reading and writing, but mostly I enjoy thinking. That is not meant to make me sound intellectual — I often think about dumb stuff — but merely to point out that what I really enjoy in this whole thing is the pondering of ideas. Writing them down is a means to help make them a bit more concrete, to sharpen blurry edges, and to reveal gaps and inconsistencies.

This blog has often been a means of reacting to ideas that I have encountered and experiences I have had. My wife could tell you which ones and if they apply to you in particular, but she won’t because she has more discretion than that. In some ways this blog is just a more legible companion to my handwritten journal. There has been duplication from one to the other, but not as much as I thought there would be. Some thoughts that were planted in ink bloomed onto the screen, but many have not.

I’m not sure what the future holds for this blog. This isn’t a public service announcement as much as external processing on my part. Trying to write something every day that in theory could be read by anyone has been a challenge. A few times, I have referred someone to my blog when they have asked about something I have already covered in fairly coherent form, though it makes me feel uncomfortably pretentious to do so. At other times, I have drawn on what I have hammered out here when talking with others.

Maybe I’ll at least try to keep going until I hit 365 posts since 1 January 2016. That would carry me a couple of months into 2017. Stay tuned to find out, or don’t. I’m okay either way.

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Filed under General, Writing

Cataclysmic Risk

Yesterday we considered the greatest secret in all creation. Today I want to look at why it was kept secret even from Christ. First we need to understand a little about risk analysis. The general practice is to look at two axis: impact (or consequences) and likelihood.

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What is the risk of my coffee cup springing a leak on my desk? Pretty unlikely and the consequences would be pretty negligible as well, so low overall risk. Unlikely negligible scenarios don’t require much, if any, planning or mitigation.

Driving home last night, there was a higher probability I could have been involved in a collision. The impact could have been pretty severe, so I mitigated this possibility. I wore my seat belt and I own a car with air bags and other safety features. If I knew I was going to be in an accident, I wouldn’t drive home. Given the probability, I felt I took reasonable precautions.

Now let us consider the incarnation. We don’t know what the likelihood of failure was, but we can assume the impact of failure would have been catastrophic. We really aren’t given any clues from Scripture what the consequences would have been.

There are, though, two times in the Gospels that give us an indication that failure was an option. The first is the temptation in the wilderness. It can’t be a temptation if there isn’t potential to carry out the action one is tempted to. I’m not tempted to jump out my window and fly around, because I can’t. I’m tempted to lie, cheat, and steal.

If Jesus had succumbed, he would not have been sinless; he would have been just like the rest of us and would not have been a perfect sacrifice. Not only that, but it seems possible that the Trinity may have been ruptured. God does not tolerate uncleanliness or sin in his presence. If Christ had become a sinner, what would have happened?

The other time we are given a hint that failure was possible is in Christ’s words we considered yesterday:

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven,
nor the Son, but the Father only.

Matthew 24:36 (ESV)

Jesus had to face his temptation, but here, we see evidence of mitigation. Jesus does not posses the information, therefore he cannot divulge it. I’m not sure how he may have been tempted to divulge it, but it was not a risk the Father was willing to take. Perhaps Jesus needed to not know in order to carry out his earthly ministry with proper focus?

Failure on either one of these points is a disturbing proposition. It is not fruitful to speculate on what failure may have led to other than to be grateful that we don’t know what would have happened because it didn’t go that way. Thanks be to God that Jesus fulfilled his mission in the incarnation so that we might be cleansed from our sins and given the opportunity to be in the presence of the Father.

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Filed under Jesus, Obedience

The Ultimate Secret

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Area 51, the nuclear launch codes, the formula for Coke — it’s easy to think of secrets. Sometimes the existence of a secret drives speculation, as in the case of Area 51. Fear of harm, such as nuclear war, often cause secrets to be kept. And sometimes keeping a secret, like the formula for Coke, has a financial reward.

So what is the ultimate secret? It is could be entrusted to only one and it has the potential to do enormous harm if revealed. It was in last Sunday’s lectionary readings:

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven,
nor the Son, but the Father only.

Matthew 24:36 (ESV)

On the face of it, Jesus’ remark on his returning is puzzling. With our limited knowledge of the Trinity, we generally think that everything the Father knows, the Son knows and vice-versa, but this verse contradicts that assumption. We know Christ took limitations upon himself in the incarnation. He, in being made man, generally “played by the rules.” We have no indication that he was exempt from hunger and fatigue, but what about limitations on his knowledge?

In terms of who knows, information “concerning that day and hour” is certainly a top-level secret. This is above the common cliché when something is a mystery to us and we say that God only knows. The day and the hour of Jesus’ return is above the level of classification of “God only knows” since God can be understood as either the Father or the Trinity. It is the ultimate in compartmentalized information.

All of this leads to the question, “Why is this one piece of information so critical to keep hidden?” To answer this, peak into the next school bus you see on your way to work, especially if it’s headed to high school. Things probably haven’t changed that much since I rode one a few decades ago in that you’ll probably still find someone doing their homework on the way to school.

Procrastination is a strong temptation we all face in different areas. But procrastination is really only a viable option when we know the deadline. If we don’t, we’re playing a whole different game of chance. With a known deadline, we’re putting immediate gratification ahead of the quality of our task performance.

Consider if we knew when Jesus was returning. Every person on the planet would be condemned to hell. How so? If at the Ascension, Jesus had said to his disciples, “I’ll be back in 3,000 years,” there would have been no rush to tell people what they had seen. Yes, they may have developed a small following, but without a sense of impending return, would it have carried through? Without a sense of impending return, would we have a church today, 2,000 years later? I think we would not. With the lack of mystery — it could be today — and with our fallen nature, our desires would have turned elsewhere even more than they do already.

The knowledge may have been kept, but it probably wouldn’t have been kept current. Ask a 20-year-old what actions to take in the event of a nuclear attack and you’ll get a blank stare. A 60-year-old, though, could probably at least remember a few things from civil defense drills in school. We don’t see a nuclear attack as an imminent threat anymore so we aren’t passing on the knowledge.

You could argue that we all die and face judgement that way, and I would agree, but I have buried many who did not find that sufficient motivation to conduct their life in a way to reflect that belief. We all know we will die; few live like it will happen to them.

The Epistle reading from Sunday instructs us how we should then live.

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13:11-14 (ESV)

May we be always ready.

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Filed under Discipline, Jesus

The Attaché

I carry a briefcase, more properly an attaché. It’s nothing fancy; not nearly as cool as the Dunhill 1973 Attaché Briefcase that Robert De Niro carried in The Intern, but the function is the same.

Briefcases used to be a common accessory for business people and professionals. The reason was simple. They had important papers to carry around — contracts, reports, projects, and the like. My dad had a hard-sided Samsonite with the most solid latches I have ever seen.

Why have briefcases become rare in recent years? The answer is simple: the laptop computer. Laptops get their own bags, often soft-sided, and most of the documents professionals used to carry now reside on the hard drive.

I received a messenger bag as a gift in college that I used until it completely wore out. Most messenger bags, however, aren’t structured enough. I regularly carry around books, and books last longer in an attaché than they do in a bag. Also, most attachés have a compartment or two for file folders, which fits my workflow well.

Since my college messenger bag died, I have had a couple of backpacks and another messenger-type bag, but none of them were completely satisfactory. The backpacks carry more, but papers don’t do well unless they are in something rigid. It can be nice to be able to carry lunch with everything else, but then there is a risk of leaks.

For me, the briefcase isn’t a fashion statement or my idea of being hipster. It’s about function. I choose to work with paper as much as possible and paper — loose sheets, a journal, a book — lives happier in luggage designed for it. Most laptop bags can hold a file folder or two just fine, but that is about it. They are not made for books to tag along, especially not an Oxford Annotated Bible. It’s a hefty tome, but it is worth it to me to have it on hand for sermon prep and reference.

My attaché is not that difficult to carry. Yes, it can get a bit heavy when I really load it up, but I can set it down anywhere and it will stand by my side like a well trained German Shepherd. Bags tend to slump like exhausted toddlers or completely lay down, shifting their contents and as they do so.

A hard-sided briefcase can also double as a work surface in a pinch. Sitting in an airport waiting area, for example. Break out your paper and pen and get to work. It’s not ideal since the side of a briefcase isn’t really big enough for extended writing, but it’s better than trying to write without something underneath you.

In the couple years since my wife graciously suggested I buy a briefcase as we were out shopping one day, I have become a convert. Thinking about future technology purchases —someday this laptop will die — I first consider how it will fit in my briefcase. The computer, in this sense, has become the accessory. The insanely skinny Macbook Air may carry the day.

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Filed under General, Writing

A Few More Thoughts on Guilt

Saturday, I wrote about guilt and shame, but a few more things ought to be said because some people carry unwarranted guilt and shame. Consider the person abused as a child or caught in their parents’ divorce. Guilt in these scenarios is not warranted because they did nothing to contribute to the abuse or the divorce, yet it is common for those who live through such pain to carry a degree of guilt.

Perhaps this guilt is incomplete grief? The classic 5-stage model of grief tells us that as we mourn, we typical experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance in some degree. It seems that guilt occurs when one becomes entrenched in the bargaining phase.

The bargaining phase is where we tend to play the, “If only…” game. In terms of a physical death, it is not a very constructive phase, and often leads to some feelings of guilt. I encourage people to try not to dwell on the “if onlys” since little can be done to change the facts at this point. Sometimes genuine confession and repentance is necessary.

In terms of an abuse or divorce situation, the “if onlys” can become “what ifs” as the situation is playing out. “What if I try to be really good and not make them angry any more?” and the like. The child is usually taking responsibility that does not belong to them and when their stratagem does not work, they feel guilt because they think they didn’t try hard enough.

This unresolved guilt can feed the depression often felt in a loss. It’s easy to see the loss in a divorce, but with abuse, a victim can often not recognize their own loss. The failed attempts to correct the situation combined with the shame of being abused can create a lasting depression.

How do we deal with this sort of guilt and shame? First, you have to understand that whatever you did that seemed to contribute to the abuse did not actually do so. Other children also misbehave, etc and are not abused. Your actions that seem to have fed into the cycle of abuse were not the cause of the abuse. The abuse was another person’s actions inflicted upon you.

Even the child who places themselves between a mother and a father in order to try to protect one of them and becomes themselves the target of abuse is not guilty of their own abuse. They were acting in hopes of defending and instead found themselves on the defensive.

Issues of guilt and shame in such situations can be difficult to resolve, especially since attempts to cope may have led to sinful behaviors. But with wise counsel, they can be overcome and the guilt can be placed where it belongs, with those whose actions caused the injury. Then subsequent guilt and shame from reactions can be addressed, confessed, and repented as necessary.

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Guilt and Shame

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My wife was in a women’s Bible study that recently brought up the topic of guilt. The comment was made that, “All guilt is from the devil.” As we discussed this on our walk that evening, she said that the comment pretty well summed up the attitude of the group, but that she did not feel comfortable with it. When we got home, we turned to the dictionary to see if maybe we were missing something.

Guilt:
1: the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; broadly : guilty conduct
2a : the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously
b : feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy : self-reproach
3: a feeling of culpability for offenses

2b comes closest to something that may not be an accurate self-assessment, due to “imagined” offenses. Perhaps shame was what these ladies were really speaking of when they talked about guilt.

Shame
1a : a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety
b : the susceptibility to such emotion
2: a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute : ignominy
3a : something that brings censure or reproach; also : something to be regretted : pity
b : a cause of feeling shame

Well, maybe not. What is going on here? These ladies seem to be missing a fundamental truth.

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Romans 3:22b-23 (ESV)

We have sinned, therefore we should feel guilt and shame. So, what are we missing?

The dictionary tells me that guilt is feeling bad for what I have done and shame is feeling bad for what I am. I am what I do; that is the way the world (generally) works. It is also the way Scripture works. If I commit sin, I am a sinner. I am guilty, therefore I should be ashamed.

As we’ve continued to revisit this topic, we think the issue is not that guilt (and shame) are bad. The problem is that we don’t like them. Americans, and their churches, are about feeling good. The internet will gladly give up quotes along the lines of, “Don’t feel guilty; just do what you want.” Sounds a bit like, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5 ESV)

Yet Scripture is clear that we are to feel bad for our guilt.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:7-10 (ESV)

Just in case you think James is too harsh, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21b ESV) “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:25b ESV)

The proud man dwells more willingly on the little good he does, on the little devotion he feels, than on the thought of the evil he has committed and which he does daily. He puts behind him the multitude of his sins, so that he need not be ashamed and humble himself; and he reflects often upon certain of his minute exercises of Christian piety, so as to indulge his self-complacency, as St. Gregory says: “It is easier for them to see within themselves that which is  pleasing to them, than that which is displeasing.” Perhaps you also have this tendency.

Cajetan Mary da Bergamo, Humility of Heart

If we do wrong — and Scripture is clear that we all have — we are guilty and therefore should feel shame. Though it is unpleasant to feel guilt and shame, the answer is not to do away with them, but to fight against sin.

Consider this: Touching a hot stove hurts. What is the answer to this problem? Our society would tell us to find some sort of salve or medicine to deaden the pain. Common sense tells us to not touch the stove.

Some would call this being judgmental. I disagree. If you feel guilt and shame, it is because you think you have done wrong. I’m not going to argue that you haven’t, because we all have. Thanks be to God that we have hope of forgiveness through Jesus.

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Filed under Humility, Penitence

The Daily Lectionary: Why Bother?

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If you’ve read my past few posts, you may be asking yourself, “With all the challenges of creating a good daily lectionary, why not just start at Genesis and read through to Revelation in a year and be done with it?” Good question.

My initial answer is that there is nothing wrong with reading Scripture that way. There are many plans that will get you through the Bible in a year (or less) that you can access for free. There are some advantages to a daily lectionary sanctioned by the church, however.

First is coordinated reading with the rest of the church. You are reading the same passages on the same days. This may seem like a small thing, but there are times when knowing that we are not just making this up as we go along becomes important. There is value in bringing questions about a passage to your priest or your friend, knowing that it will be fresh in his mind since he recently read the same passage. A priest should be able to reference a passage in his sermon, knowing that at least some of his congregation has read it that week.

Having the readings correspond with the seasons of the church year is also an aid in devotion and further solidifies us as we are all figuratively and literally on the same page with where our focus lies. Advent, Lent, and Easter take on deeper meaning as seasons when we follow the lectionary which tries to steer us to appropriate and fitting readings for these seasons.

This leads into the second benefit which is accountability. The church says we are to read this today (just as she teaches us to pray). “Did you read your Bible today?” becomes a more meaningful question when the assumption behind it is “according to today’s lectionary.” There is no waffling and saying “yes” because you read the one verse at the end of a devotional.

But the most important reason to follow the lectionary of your church is submission. Yes, in some ways it is a trivial thing. As I said above, there are multiple ways to accomplish Scripture reading. But if your church says, “This way,” to respond, “No, my way,” reveals a problem. The Church does not say that you cannot also do it your way. Read Scripture as much as you want. But at a minimum, do it her way.

This simple act of submission teaches us to be obedient to the Church and her teaching both on the level of understanding salvation history and doctrine and in actually submitting to something. As you may be able to tell, I have strong feelings on the subject of lectionaries, so this has been tough for me. I have a hard time submitting to one that I think is less than great. But I am trying to learn to color within the lines. My non-parenthetical lectionary is an attempt to add some of my personal devotion on top of the lectionary instead of replacing it.

If you have not been a follower of the lectionary in your devotional practice, I challenge you to try it. If you aren’t Anglican, find the one your church prescribes. If your church doesn’t prescribe one…that’s probably a separate post. Join with the church in prayer, in reading, and in worship, that we might be one.

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Filed under Bible, Lectionary, Reading