We Don’t Need More Leaders

birdsRecently I heard what has become a common call to Good: someone working to build up more leaders from a particular group of people. In order to try to keep things objective I won’t tell you the description of the group: it really doesn’t matter. Let’s just call them “The Cohort”. This person was on a podcast describing an effort to have more people from The Cohort become leaders. It should be said that this person was entirely well-meaning. I really don’t think they were twisting their mustache because their evil plot to make new leaders was going ahead according to plan. But the whole idea was never even questioned. It was discussed in that myopic way that “Good” things are thought of these days: the same culture that believes in strict moral relativism largely assumes the good of anything that they assume helps people. What could possibly be wrong about wanting to make more leaders? Not wrong: misguided. We must always defend ourselves against our own assumptions and never contract the illness of someone else’s assumption.

Here is what struck me about the plan: it wasn’t to help people feed their children or educate themselves or die in peace: something that might be valuable in allowing people the dignity they inherently deserve. The call to make leaders is different and yet can be sold as being in the same category. It raises leadership to something that all should aspire to; a calling bordering on a human right.

But leadership is not a right; it is a responsibility. The world system believes we should crank out leaders from a diverse range of people not because of what those people might bring to the table but because they have a right to lead and we have no right to choose only certain groups from which to choose our leaders. Few seem to notice that to pick leaders based on a set of demographics is really no different than the problem they are trying to solve. If we have too many leaders from group “A” we think we should add more from group “B”; but we’re still making a person’s group the criteria for being a good leader. We haven’t made much progress.

Saying we need more leaders is like saying we need more airline pilots: a job inherently dangerous to the pilot and, if they perform poorly, to all the passengers. When I heard someone calling for more of The Cohort in leadership roles I couldn’t help but be concerned for them. “Wait, it’s a trap!” I wanted to tell them! “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into!” Leaders suffer: they are alone, they are questioned, challenged, blamed, and are responsible for themselves and others. Like the first bird in the formation they take the wind resistance. Is what’s best for The Cohort really to draw more of them into that jungle?

Now on the other hand I Timothy 3:1 says, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” So maybe wanting to be a leader isn’t so bad. But then the following verses go on to describe the character required of a leader in God’s Church. This is because while in the Kingdom of the World leadership equals authority and authority is a virtue and virtue is a right, the Kingdom of God has no such view of leaders. Leaders are servants in the dark. They do not seek to be seen but to lead people toward the unseen. They see hidden things in hidden people: gifts and potential. They suffer in sacrifice for the good of those for whom they are accountable. They do not feel entitled to lead but a calling to serve.

We do not need more leaders. We need godly leaders.

Down to a Science

Fashion_1Art can be weird. But weird always has rules. Fact can be cold, but it unlocks our wonder.

Some things are subjective: they’re really in the eye of the beholder. Some people wear bright pink hats, but I don’t. Fashion can be weird and people like me don’t often get it. To be honest, I don’t think most people do, regardless of what they choose to wear. But when you hear fashion designers talk about style they stand out from the average person because when they describe what they like and dislike they are able to describe why, and they do it in objective terms. Where most people would feel their way through options on a clothing wrack, style professionals understand why certain cuts, colors, patterns, and shapes (or “silhouettes” to use their term) work or don’t work. Clothing is for them an art, but for the person who really understands an art it begins to border on science. Any art at the highest level of expertise begins to arc away from the realm of the subjective into the land of fact.

The reverse is true as well. Areas that deal in hard facts  will stay in that realm at lower levels. No high school or college physics students are encouraged to discover, only to learn (even if a well-meaning educational culture uses the terms interchangeably). But no professional scientist ever became famous for getting all their facts down correctly and acing their exams. Memorizing information doesn’t excite anyone. Those who are highly skilled in their fact-based craft are able to cross over into the subjective. They discover, conjecture, invent, guess, wonder. The invent new theories to describe things and speculate about what may likely be, even if it is just beyond reach. Science done exceptionally well borders on art.

We are often surprised by our own fascination with facts. We say things like, “You can’t make this stuff up!” and “Truth is stranger than fiction.” But the reality is that you can make this stuff up and fiction will always be stranger than reality. But it’s not really the strangeness that so intrigues us as it is the truth of an event. Why do we lap up “true crime” stories and listen with greater intent to a speaker talking about their own life rather than someone telling a story they made up? It is not because truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction is almost by definition stranger and there will always be a market for fantasy stories. But fact is almost by definition more fascinating. We may be entertained and even transported by pure fiction but fascination requires facts.

I am never satisfied by unfinished stories. I want to know if those two characters got married, if that person survived the rest of his journey. When I’m forced to speculate at fiction I never find it really fulfilling. But to speculate at facts is much more intriguing: What happened to the settlers of Roanoke Colony? Is Bigfoot real? How did the Easter Island Heads get there? We enjoy wondering about the truth.

We need both fact and fiction. Fact would be no fun without a little touch of wonder. Pure imagination wouldn’t come alive without some grounding in fact. I can’t help but to think that when God designed into us a hunger for truth and a sense of wonder He wove them from the same cloth, making imagination a door to truth; fact a window to wonder.

Shacking Up with the Truth

Truth is always exclusive. While it’s a big statement it’s been discussed already in a recent post here: https://thinkingbetweenthelines.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/exclusive-should-christians-claim-to-have-the-only-way/.

For now suffice it to say that all religions are making exclusive truth claims (saying that what they say is the only true option. Now, some are more willing to try to take in other beliefs, something like trying to bring a lion into your house because you thought it needed a home. But wild lions make poor pets and religious beliefs don’t live well within other faiths. For example, Hindus have historically tried to see Jesus Christ as an incarnation of Krishna. The omnivorous Unitarian Universalists would bring just about any truth claim into their circle. So when the lion comes to live in your house you must control it; when you take in another truth claim you must castrate it to make it safely fit.

We cannot have non-exclusive truth. Somebody is always wrong. And there is comfort in that: nobody wants to live in a land without borders. But if we cannot have non-exclusive truth would we prefer non-exclusive love? Perhaps.

Think of this: there are different types of love (the Greek language of the New Testament categorizes several – brotherly, romantic, unconditional, and familial). Of these only one is exclusive: romantic love. By its very nature it falls apart if it gets spread around. All the others can go from myself to any number of people and only grow by being given away to all and sundry. But if I tell someone I love romantically that I feel free to love any number of other people exactly the same do I truly love that person at all? How would you feel if the tables were turned on you?

Sometimes we are confused that Jesus expresses unconditional but not un-exclusive love. He loves just because that is His nature (I John 4:8). But love and truth are always wed and God can’t love everything. Would we want Him to? Would we want evil and good to be equal in His eyes? Would we want promises that we are told we can trust but that are not exclusive and can change at any time?

No, love chooses. It is the nature of love. Truth chooses. God chooses. We choose even if we choose to not choose. The beauty is that God chooses us (John 15:6). Truth and love require choice but they also require commitment and we don’t have a God who commits to move in with us but to marry us (in fact this analogy is used across the whole of Scripture). Because of this Love we need not merely shack up with the Truth.

For the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

crownofthornsWe asked you to change the world but not to change us.

We hid from the wicked and hid our light under a basket.

We distracted ourselves avoiding sin and instead avoided you.

We handed you our sins but not our lives.

We cried out in the gate for our rights, but in our houses we rejected righteousness.

We shook our head at the wicked while we cultivated our sin.

We asked who our enemy is and not who our neighbor is.

We prayed for our sick, but not for those who hate you.

We have believed in you but have not believed you.

We learned our Bible but do not know your Word.

We prayed against them but not for them.

We shucked our crimes onto the cross but would not carry the shames of our world.

We built our churches but broke your temple.

We gained the world and lost our soul.

We wanted to be as Christ to the world but have not been as Christ before you.

We asked you for more when you called us to sacrifice.

We have built our bodies and strangled our souls.

We have broken our families.

We have dishonored our parents.

We have killed our children.

We worshiped our children.

We have raped.

We have given ourselves to others.

We have impoverished ourselves with our possessions.

We have labored in vain.

We cried “Peace! Peace!” when you cried “Repentance!”

We cried “War!” when you said, “Be still.”

We have called the sweet bitter and the bitter sweet.

We have admired and called it love.

We denied your power and called it humility.

We disobeyed you and called it grace.

We obeyed you and called it legalism.

We gnashed our teeth at you and you called us chosen.

We tried to steal your son’s glory and you called us children.

We declared you dead and you declared us righteous.

We broke Him and you called us whole.

We poured Him out and you called us full.

We failed you and you called us victors.

We robbed you and you called us heirs.

We mocked you and you called us friend.

We prostituted ourselves and you called us bride.

We sought to tip you from your throne and you called us to reign with you.

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

Dark Waters: Is Christianity a Mystery Religion?

719100_reachingThe academic community commonly makes the assertion that Christianity is a fusion of Judaism and ancient “mystery religions”. A mystery religion is one in which only those who are initiated into some esoteric secret knowledge are privy to the true meanings of the religion. Some scholars say that Christianity adopted its themes of resurrection and the savior-god from middle and near eastern sources. They say that Christianity originally contained hidden knowledge that only some people can approach.

There really isn’t space here to discuss the historical intricacies of this question but perhaps a general notion of the nature of the Bible from one who has read it closely will suffice. For a scholarly treatment of the question see Ronald Nash’s article here: http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-jrnl/web/crj0169a.html and perhaps Lewis’ discussion of the corn-god in Miracles.

When Jesus taught he taught the common people. His disciples were not all educated men. When Jesus told them mysterious truths they did not understand them most of time. He did not have them undergo any secretive initiation ritual and what they heard from him was written down in the gospels for anyone to read. Perhaps the most mysterious thing Jesus did was to teach in parables rather than plainly: we know he told his inner circle that it had been given to them to understand but to others he spoke in parables. The core disciples were also allowed to see things like the transfiguration that others did not see, although it should be kept in mind that the accounts of even these things are written into the gospel narratives for all to read.

When we look at the message of the Bible we find it to be difficult in its fullness of meaning. It is cavernous and layered. It is not always as simple as we might like and even some of its stories, actual as they may be, seem to themselves be parables for cosmic things we don’t understand. It is not simple, but is it beautiful?

When we talk about the things in the Bible we don’t fully understand do we see mysteries or contradictions? Mysteries are difficult to look into as we do not have all the information. Contradictions are inherently flawed logical systems: they cannot be true since they contradict one another. The Bible is laden with paradox, most of which is in the character of God Himself. But a paradox is not a contradiction, nor is a mystery quite the same as a secret. There is a beauty to a mystery; a sense of wonder and even of fear. A paradox is a marriage; a contradiction is conjoined twins; a secret is a snob in his house on the hill.

I don’t remember who it was, perhaps C.S. Lewis, who wrote that water may be dark either because it is murky or because it is deep. Mystery religions are murky. The Bible is deep.

Privacy, please! Why Christianity Cannot be Secularized

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Today active secularism seeks to push religious practice indoors. I think of France where any public display of faith including a cross necklace or a hijab are illegal under the French law of laïcité. The notion of secularism is that religion is really better left a private affair. It may not be necessarily harmful but is an uncomfortable thing for society, the religious equivalent of going out in public in one’s underwear. The secular approach is to say that because it may be bad manners to discuss religion, being that it makes others uncomfortable, it should be legislated into a private place. “Thou shalt not discomfort thy neighbor”, so to speak.

In places like France the legislation for the privatizing of religion, upsetting as it might be to our American sensibilities, fits in the laws of France. In America, however, we have not only a constitutional right to freedom of religion but of free speech. There is (or should be, according to U.S. law) no rule against public profession and practice of faith, only the government establishment of a religious authority. The sometimes unwritten (and sometimes written) addendum to rules of secularism, not in France but in America, is that one is free to practice one’s religion as long as they do not attempt to proselytize others. But that is really not possible for the Christian. It is contradictory for us because an absolutely key component of practicing our religion is to proselytize. We believe it to be the thing Jesus commanded just before he departed. It is impossible for the Christian to have free expression and practice without proselytizing, but that creates a problem for workplaces, schools, and other institutions that desire a wholesale secular society, whether written or de facto.

I in no way advocate a quiet rollover in the face of curtailed freedom at the hands of country that forgets itself, but allow me to turn the flashlight on the Christian for a moment. Usually the talk about the First Amendment and the separation of church and state is aimed at the public sphere: government institutions to be precise. But the issue for the Christian cannot be one only of the public influence of the gospel without including its private efficacy. So many Christians in America are comfortable voting for someone who claims to be a Christian and makes sure to have cameras document their church attendance but of whom there is no evidence of a new life in Christ (in case you’re wondering I am not writing about anyone in particular). But these same voters would not consider voting for someone who claims to be of a faith different than Christianity, however devoted to family values that candidate may be. We must not call for the Christian faith to be at the forefront of our country’s public stage without concerning ourselves with what goes on behind the door.

The up-and-coming generation of young people has seen too many resignations, lost too many heroes, and ceased to believe in heroes at all, because too many of our leaders were more concerned with their public beliefs than their private beliefs. These young people have become cynical because they want to know if the person is the same person at home as they are on camera. They are asking the right question. May I humbly ask you if you use your right to freely proclaim the gospel? It does not matter if you have the right to share your faith if you do not do so anyway. Do you want to be able to proselytize or do you just want to know you still can? Those who would curtail the Christian from public practice, even proselytizing, do not allow the Christian to practice a most important command of his faith, but those Christians who will not obey the command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth need not take up issue with their country but with themselves.

Do you know what we call people who prefer a public profession and dominance of their religion without any care for the private and internal character? We call them Pharisees. It is time we searched our souls; time the church took back the kitchen table before we worry about the courts and schools, or we will have nothing to offer the country that it doesn’t have already.


Disclaimer: the new way to deny the power of the gospel.

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The Evangelical Church has become what we always despised in others: we are obsessed with sin and not with God. We have made the gospel safe by adding our own disclaimer.

The typical Christian today knows well an unwritten law: that one must never so much as hint at a success in his Christian life without making sure to make known how sinful and flawed he is. In doing so he dishonors not himself but his God.

There are those Christians who are always ready and waiting to talk about their favorite topic: their own self-made righteousness. This person is simply bursting as he hopes you will ask something that will give him the chance to tell you how he is God’s favorite, but since you will not ask he’ll just go ahead and tell you anyway. This person’s God is himself and there is no greater heresy for the self-righteous person than to admit to sin – for that would dishonor his god.

But even should this man come to find himself a sinner he will still learn a terrible habit which probably no one will correct in him.
The self-righteous person must not admit to sin or his god is impugned. The person who claims his righteousness comes from God must not admit to holiness or his God will be impugned, for he feels that he robs God of glory if he does so.Ask a Christian who has discovered he is a sinner to talk about his failures and he is in his element, you have him on a topic at which he is particularly adept. But ask him about his successes and everything within him twists and turns trying to return to the territory he feels is not so heretical: a discussion of his sin.

What both do not know is that their god is themselves and their lord is sin.

Mewling, fevered, downcast Christians who cannot look God in the eye without pausing to scourge themselves are gravely mistaken if they think they are giving glory to God.

It is the more grounded Christian who knows God does not play favorites or give gold stars for good behavior. But the one who refuses to admit freely that God is changing his life denies the power of the gospel. When we are able to talk about our lives with Jesus Christ only in terms of our sin we are saying that there is no life in Him. We are saying that in the end, this gospel doesn’t really work and we are back to being nice people. Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” We might glorify God a little when we know him to be better than we are. We glorify him much more when we are like him.