No. Not All of the Time…

This was a short sermon I did for the International Student Worship Group at our seminary.

I like to look at common statements or stories and look at them in a different way. One I like to turn around sometimes is the saying,

God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good.

For me, personally, I prefer to say, “God is good, but not all the time. Not all the time, but God is (still) good.

With the first saying, one is saying that God is eternally good of character. But we don’t live in the eternal state. We live from moment to moment. In often in moments of our lives we are not able to recognize God’s goodness.

In this we are not alone. The Psalmist in Psalm 73 had the same challenge.

A.  Verse 1.  God is Good.

Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.

This is simple and easy. Simple and easy. God is good to Israel. God is good to those who are pure in heart.

B.  Verse 2-15.  … But Not All the Time

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
their evil imaginations have no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.
They say, “How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?”

This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.

All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.

If I had spoken out like that,
I would have betrayed your children.

Verse one says God is Good. But Verses 2-15 say that God is not good all of the time. The wicked prosper. They do evil things and amass wealth. They don’t seem to have any worries. They do whatever they want and God appears to reward them. If God is not rewarding them, he certainly isn’t punishing therm.

In verse 13 the Psalmist wonders if his faithfulness to God is worth it. He seeks to follow God’s commands, and yet he suffers while the evildoer profits. In fact things are so bad that in verses 2 and 3 he says that things are so bad that he sometimes even envies the wicked and is tempted to fall into sin himself.

We are not so different. We want things simple. We tend to want the evil to suffer and the righteous to prosper…. with the assumption that we are the righteous of course.

We want it to be that way… but it is not.

God Is Good. But NOT all of the time. Sometimes God steps back and allows the evil to prosper and go unpunished, and sometimes he allows the righteous to suffer and live without vindication.

We don’t want it to be that way.

C.  Verse 16-25.  Not All the Time

When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.

Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
They are like a dream when one awakes;
when you arise, Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies.

When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.

The Psalmist is struggling with the conflict between what he believes (God is good) and What he perceives (God doesn’t seem to be all all that good often).

However, then he enters the presence of God. Perhaps like Habakkuk, he brings his confusion directly to God. And he sees the bigger picture. Justice may be delayed… the goodness of God may be observable at all times. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but they are on slippery ground. And before you know it, God’s goodness will be demonstrated.

The Psalmist goes on to say… even though he feels abused and is suffering that God is with him and is still protecting him… in the present, and that some day he will be blessed of God.

And this leads to the final “But” in verse 28

D.  Verse 28.  But God is (still) Good.

But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.

I read this as, But God is still Good. Despite the fact that things seem unfair. God seems unjust at times. God doesn’t always seem so God. God is good and good to be near. God is ultimately in control and is his protection.

So: God is good, but not all of the time. Not all of the time, but God is good.

You may be uncomfortable with that wording, but I believe much of the Bible becomes clearer this way.

If we identify God’s goodness in how we feel on a particular day, we will have trouble. Our lives are like a roller coaster… up one day and down another. God’s goodness is not tied to our feelings or whether we had a good day or not. God’s goodness is not liket that.

God’s goodness is seen in His character and in His ultimate intentions. If we want to see the goodness of God, we need to look to God Himself, and where He bringing things to. If we look for the goodness of God in the day to day things around us…. or in whether we are doing better than someone else or someone else is doing better than us… we will be disappointed often.

Advertisements

St. Paul as a “One Idea Man”?

Was St. Paul a healthy-minded missionary, or an obsessed madman. Let’s consider a few quotes from the 19th century and early 20th century to bring some consideration to this thought. This is not an idle consideration. Many see Paul as the ideal missionary. We should consider whether our ideals are, in fact, ideal.

One of my favorite essays is “Men of One Idea”

Image result for joshua g. holland
Joshua Glibert Holland (1819-1881)

written by J.G. Holland back in the mid-1800s. His thesis is that individuals who obsess on one topic only develop a certain mentality that could be described as insanity. He suggests that the human mind was designed to be healthy with a number of ideas; not just one, much as the body is healthier with a range of foods rather than a diet of one food item or category. One time I transcribed that essay but now I can’t find it. Oh well. I have a paper copy in Sanders Union 6th Reader. It originally came from “Lessons in Life: A Series of Familiar Essays.”

 

The essay starts with a quote that expresses the idea:

“Cultivate the physical exclusively, and you have an athlete or a savage; the moral only, and you have an enthusiast or a maniac; the intellectual only, and you have a diseased oddity, it may be a monster. It is only by training all three together that the complete man can be formed.”   -Samuel Smiles

The idea that the “one idea man” is bad is far from universal. A quick websearch shows many who feel that this type of person is healthy and perhaps even bound for greatness. Within Christian circles, I will take another old and rather obscure quote:

being a man of one idea “… was not so bad after all; for were not the best and greatest men, who had achieved most for mankind, men of one idea? Paul himself was a man of one idea; so was the philanthropist Howard. A man of one idea was not to be dreaded, unless he had got a wrong one; if his one idea was a right one, let him have free course. The one idea system has done a great deal of good in this world.

<The Christian Messenger and Family Magazine, Volume II, p. 469.  (1846).>

So here are two very different ideas from the same period of time regarding a person who appears to be obsessed with a single idea. One possible way of synthesizing them is to note that Holland felt that God was a bit of an exception in that God is big enough (speaking about ‘God’ as idea in this context more than being) for a person to be single-minded about. Now, I don’t know about Howard listed above (perhaps John Howard, British philanthropist) applies, but regarding Paul, he had a singlemindedness to obeying God. However, during much of his ministry that singlemindedness led him to a wide range of activities. It led him to evangelism, churchplanting, leader development, writing, and charitable work. The ultimate idea

Image result for anton boisen
Anton T. Boisen (1876-1965)

may have been singular but it manifested itself in a wide range of activities. However, later in life, Paul gained a more focused singlemindedness on the need to stand before and speak to Caesar. This took several years and (possible) resulted in his death. Perhaps that more narrow single idea was self-destructive.

 

I would add an additional voice, that of Anton Boisen. He was a theologian who founded Clinical Pastoral Orientation. He also had several bouts of mental illness where he spent time in mental hospitals. I think his perspective could be said to have bearing on this. In his autobiography,

As I look around me here and then try to analyze my own case, I see two main classes of insanity. In the one case there is some organic trouble, a defect in the brain tissue, some disorder in the nervous system, some disease of the blood. In the other there is no organic difficulty. The body is strong and the brain in good working order. The difficulty is rather n the disorganization of the patient’s world. Something has happened which has upset the foundations upon which his ordinary reasoning is based. Death or disappointment or sense of failure may have compelled a reconstruction of the patient’s world view from the bottom up, and the mind becomes dominated by the one idea which he has been trying to put in its proper place. That, I think, has been my trouble and I think it is the trouble with many others also.

          -Anton T. Boisen, “The Exploration of the Inner World– A Study of Mental Disorder and Religious Experience”, 1936 original publication, 1962 edition, p. 10-11.

Boisen suggests that a toxic fascination on one idea is generally driven by deep trauma that fractures a person’s worldview. That trauma then can lead to fixation on one thing that he or she cannot properly integrate into a new whole person.

Considering Paul again, his Damascus experience would certainly be a fracturing of world view. This fracturing would also bring about guilt and trauma. However, the focus on God is a big enough “idea” for fixation. As such, he was “healthy” with such a fixation. One could argue that his refusal to listen to church leaders and go to Jerusalem, and then avoided early release from jail so the he could see the Emperor, perhaps, shows a more narrow obsession with an idea that was not broad enough. Reading the book of Acts, it certainly seems clear that Luke was uncertain on whether Paul was right or wrong. This is particularly clear in Luke’s recounting of Paul’s arguments with the churches in Asian Minor about returning to Jerusalem.

Jesus speaks that where our treasure is, that is where our heart is also. Perhaps, one idea is too small because it becomes our cherished idol. Only God is worthy of worship so God alone can be our singleminded passion. Ultimately, one might make some tentative conclusions that apply to us:

  • Trauma can disrupt and lead to obsessive thinking.
  • Obsessing on a bad idea, is always bad.
  • Obsessing on an idea less than God is too narrow for humans, and may lead ultimately to unhealthy, even mad, thoughts and actions.
  • God is broad enough to encompass man’s passion/obsession. However, when such passion shows itself with total committement to one narrow activity, the same problem of unhealthiness results.

Satir and The Good Place

satir

My wife and I just started binge-watching “The Good Place” a few days ago. Before that, we had not heard about it— it was only at the suggestion of our daughters that we looked it up and began watching. Being a Newbie, I don’t know to what extent the show has been analyzed. It is a situation comedy show of people who died and are brought together to a heavenlike place that is known as “The Good Place,” as opposed to “The Bad Place” (and we find that there is even a Middle Place). It is not meant to be Christian. It isn’t. It is also not that deeply theological, at least in terms of theological doctrine.

It generally builds on the nearly universal human belief that the universe works on a sort of a weighted scale. Your actions, motivations and the influence you have on the world around you is weighed, and if found good, you go to the good place– a place of delight. If you are found wanting, you go to the bad place… a place where one exists in a place of banal tortures. This operation does not need a Savior, as it does in Christianity. On the other hand, it doesn’t involve a disconnected self-enlightenment, such as in Buddhism, either. We grow as people through interaction with others… and it is in these interactions that our life is measured.

<The story line of the series changes considerably from Season 1 to 2 to 3. I will generally seek to avoid spoilers Especially beyond the middle of season 2.>

While theologically the story is not hugely innovative. It is in psychology that it gets more interesting. My wife noticed that the storyline appears (perhaps intentionally) to work based on Virginia Satir’s Growth Model in Family Systems (a field of Psychology).

The most obvious example of the use of this model is survival stances or coping strategies. Under stress, she describes five coping strategies. Of these one is considered healthy (being congruent), while four are considered unhealthy.

  • Placating. Agrees with the other, seeks to calm the storm, giving up one’s own perspective if necessary.
  • Blaming.  Protects self by lashing out at others.
  • Being Super-reasonable. Ignores emotions and is relationally aloof. Focuses on logic and rationality.
  • Being Irrelevant. Rather than deal with the stressor, does not address it, but redirects through acting out or drawing away.

In the show, Elanor is a blamer. She is aggressive and avoids taking responsibility. Chidi is super-reasonable. He is bookish and analyzes and over-analyzes rather than addressing relational and emotional issues. Tahani is the placator, seeking to be liked by everyone, being a people pleaser. Jason is irrelevant… missing the issue entirely or acting in a way that is often quite random and not towards addressing the stressor. This is over-simplified, but is quite clearly established.

This is not alone. Stories often build around thee four types. Consider “The Simpsons” that tends towards Homer being the blamer, Marge the placator, Lisa the super-reasonable, and Bart the irrelevant.

But in The Good Place, it is taken further. The plot initially builds around an experiment where the four dysfunctional copers are brought together in a seemingly idyllic setting and seeing whether they can “create their own hell.” This is in line with Satir’s Transformational Systemic Theory. In that form of therapy, the goal is to bring relational transformative growth to a group (especially a family) as well as individual through interaction/communication. In the therapy, new elements are brought in that leads to a period of chaos. Out of the chaos is meant to come growth. In the first seaon of The Good Place, the elements that bring chaos are thought to bring misery and a spiralling out of control of the people involved. However, what is found is what Satir theorizes which is a much more positive view of people’s ability to grow and change through the interaction. They help each other.

As we move into season 3, this theme is taken further almost into a Satir-type therapy session where the experiment has changed to an even more important question– Are we able to change? A fifth character, Michael, actually takes on an almost therapist-like role of coming in at times to bring in new elements to push the group towards corporate and individual growth.

As I said before, I am not sure that the writers of the show are intentionally utilizing the work of Virginia Satir, but I suspect they are. I find it nice to find a comedy, a light-hearted romp, that actually takes seriously some very fundamental concerns. While some may complain about the “bad theology,” the show makes it clear that the setting is driven by the human relationships. The theology is just there to make the premise of the relational interactions plausible.

The show in this sense reminds me of the movie “Inside Out.” It tries to use and explain psychological understanding of human development and emotions. The setting of much of the movie is a control room in the head of the preteen girl with beings that serve as the emotional guides. One is not supposed to reify (consider them to really exist). It just serves as a device to set up the interactions in a way that make sense to us.

Brings things back to ministry and theology, I think of the ham-handed way that Christians commonly express their faith in artistic ways. Typically, it has an “in-your-face” and overly simplified manner to it. Frankie Schaeffer talked a bit about it years ago in his book “Addicted to Mediocrity.” Christians today (most definitely including myself) definitely struggle with:

  • How can we teach while still be entertaining? In line with Titus 2:10, how can we “adorn the gospel”?
  • How can we address major issues without cutting short the process of reflection to jump to a quick moral aphorism? Are we really that afraid of personal reflection?
  • How can we address issues intelligently and spiritually with the ambiguity that we commonly find in the “real world?” Watching the movie again, “Candle in the Dark,” on the life of missionary William Carey, the inspiration in the story comes, in part, from its ambiguities. It feels real. Failures and struggles add to a story and message, rather than detracts from it.

Curiously the “real world” is often easier to understand through a well-crafted unreal world. I feel that “Inside Out” has done this through an “unreal world” for psychology. “The Good Place” has done it with another “unreal world” for both psychology and moral philosophy.

 

Fighting Within the Family

Just the other day, I was reading a blogpost about Christianity in the Philippines. It stated that Christian missions has been active in the Philippines for just over 100 years but only about 12% of Filipinos are Christians.

I would not be difficult to question the statistics:

  • Christianity and Christian missions arrived in the Philippines nearly 500 years ago, not 100.
  • Around 90% or more Filipinos describe themselves as Christians.

How does one go from these particular facts and get to the numbers put in the “Tweet”?

To get there, one must make four assumptions:

  • Roman Catholic Christianity is deemed to be non-Christian
  • Real Christian missions only started with the arrival of Protestant missionaries to the Philippines close to the beginning of the 20th century
  • 0% of Roman Catholics in the Philippines can be counted as Christians
  • 100% of Protestant and Protestant-like groups can be counted as Christians

Now, I am not a Roman Catholic, and I do have some issues with certain RC doctrines, but I have great trouble with the four assumptions above.

First, it presumes that the church from perhaps the 4th century (with the establishment of the strongly hierarchal church) to the 16th century (with the development of the Protestant Movement(s)) died, at least in the West— and I am guessing that the Eastern Orthodox groups would not be judged kinder. After all, if the mission work of the Catholic is not described as Christian, and Catholics are not described as Christians, it is pretty safe to say that one feels that the Catholic Church is an illegitimate Christian body. And it is likely that if one feels this way, one probably feels the same for the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Tewahedo, Coptic, and other of the more ancient forms of Christianity. This then suggests a feeling that the church “died” for many centuries or existed in some invisible, hidden, “trail of blood,” movement. However, a better suggestion is that God established the church and has been with it in good times and bad, much like He was with the Israelites in the Old Testament.

Second, it presumes that all Protestants are “Real Christians.” I am familiar with a lot of the groups that could be loosely grouped as Protestante here, and many of them are quite sketchy. It is hard to figure out criteria that would include all of them while excluding the Catholic church. Some might argue that they do not do the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Some do, of course. I have met Catholics who have. And there are Protestants who don’t. However, NO ONE HAS EVER BEEN SAVED BY RECITING THE SINNER’S PRAYER.  We are saved by faith in Christ. If Protestants are concerned that SOME Catholics believe that Mary, the Saints, or the Sacraments aid salvation, they should also be concerned by Protestants who believe that denomination matters (particularism), sinner’s prayer,  or a specific experience (baptismal regeneration or glossolalia). We should be thankful that God saves guided primarily by His grace, than our theological orthodoxy.

Why do I care about this? I live in Baguio City in the Philippines. We have people of all faiths and non-faiths from all over the world. But what are the Protestant churches doing here? All too often, they are focused on treating their nearby Catholic churches as competition, at best, or enemies at worst. It is absolutely true, Protestants were treated as enemies when the Philippines was under Spanish rule. However, as I have said before, in blood feuds, arguing about “who started it” never really leads to resolution.

All I am suggesting, a small thing, is that we should be careful how much we narrow the church. There are bounds for what is the body of Christ, but those bounds are defined by God. While we are not fully able to know the mind of God, that is a good thing. We are not supposed to know. But we should at least be open to the idea that the church is bigger than we are comfortable with.

 

 

 

  • Roman Catholic Christianity is absolutely classed as non-Christian,

  • Real Christian missions only started with the arrival of Protestant missionaries to the Philippines close to 1900 AD.

  • 0% of Roman Catholics in the Philippines are Real Christians

  • 100% of Protestants in the Philippines are Real Christians

Every one of those assumptions is highly suspect, but this is not the forum for this.

The Chicken that Laid the Golden Egg

This is my sermon from last Sunday. 

You may have heard this story before… or something close to it. In fact I hope you have, because I never really found out how the story ends.

Once upon a time there was a poor farmer and wife. They struggled along, but had trouble feeding themselves. They had several children but they all grew up and went overseas for work and hardly seemed to remember them.

The couple sat around every evening talking about the dreams of what their life would be like if only they had a little more. They would fix their house, get a motor scooter to go to the palengke. Maybe a new cell phone with camera. Maybe get cable tv and DSL internet. Oh… and they would be kind and generous to everyone they knew… unlike their ungrateful children.

The farmer raised roosters to take to the cockfights in hopes of making big money. But afterwards he would return and they would eat tinola, or perhaps fried chicken.

They would play the national lottery, and they would pray and pray, “Lord… we are your humble servants. Please make us big winners this time.” Time after time they prayed, and time after time they lost.

Whether it is from prayer or some strange quantum event I don’t know… but one morning, the farmer’s wife went to collect eggs. She found out that one egg collected was much heavier than the rest. When she cracked open that egg, she found that the yolk was pure gold. 98 grams of pure gold, to be exact.

Well that comes to maybe P300,000 in today’s market… almost 5,000 US$. Not bad. They thanked God, and then paid off all of their utang. It was a great day.

The next day, the same thing happened, but this time, the farmer’s wife noted that it was their favorite hen that had laid the egg… more of a pet than a farm animal. They were excited about this unexpected wealth. As days went on they kept getting 98 grams of gold every time their pet hen laid an egg. They began buying things. They bought the new cellphone, and motor scooter, cable TV, DSL internet.

They started to have to change their behavior. They stopped answering the cellphone or the door because of all of their suddenly friendly children, cousins, aunts and uncles, and neighbors wanting gifts or loans from them. They would show up or call at all times of the day and night. Eventually, they felt they had to move away from their friends and family, and so they bought a condominium in Makati., and a vacation property in Boracay … to relax. They bought a Lincoln Navigator and a Porsche Boxter (sweet!) and had a driver available 24 hours a day… but they hardly dared go out of their house. What if someone came and stole their hen. Or what if their hen laid an egg when they weren’t around and one of the servants stole it.

Unfortunately, it can become difficult living on a mere P300,000 a day. Where can one find money to pay for one’s cleaners, security detail for their hen, maintenance on their now numerous properties, and retainers for their accountants and lawyers.

And then were the bad days. I almost hate to talk about them. Hens don’t lay eggs every day, and their gold hen was no exception. Every now and then, it laid no egg at all. The horror. How will they pay for the servants? Their boat. The new clothes they ordered so they could walk proud among the rich and famous?

It began to occur to them that they were too dependent on one little hen. What if something happened to it. So they hired a veterinarian to ensure that the hen was in peak physical condition. They also had the veterinarian experiment with various feeds and work regimens to make the hen lay more eggs or eggs with larger golden yolks. Nothing worked. The hen produced 98 grams of gold a day regardless. They hoped to breed more gold hens, but no matter what they did, gold eggs refused to hatch into gold chicks.

As time went on, the couple started to go into debt. Slowly they began to see the hen differently. The farmer remembered back when he was a small child. Tourists would come to a site not far from his home to see a beautiful waterfall. While there, they would reach into their pockets or purses and toss a few meager coins into the pool below the falls, and watch as half starved children would scramble and dive into the water to collect these treasures. These rich indolent foreigners did not do this because they cared for the children or their families. They did it as their own callous form of amusement.

How was this chicken any different? It had all of that wealth, but only doled out a lousy 98 grams a day. Why could it not at least make it a nice round number like 100 grams… or maybe 200 grams? 200 sounds so much better than 98.

That chicken was, of course, just a stupid animal… but it was a stingy, greedy, stupid animal. It is living a life more posh, more luxurious than any chicken has ever lived, and gives them nothing back for it. This fact gnawed on their minds day and night. They watched the gold commodities market, to ensure they got every centimo out of the 98 grams of gold they harvested daily. Some days, gold prices would go down and the farmer and his wife would yell at their chicken… “Why couldn’t you lay platinum or rhodium eggs. These are doing so much better than gold. With gold prices down, it is hardly worth paying someone to crack open your eggshells!”

One day, workers at a gold mine in South Africa accidently hit an underground stream and flooded a third of the mine. Gold prices spiked high. “Now’s our chance!” said the farmer to his wife. “Let’s get all of the chicken’s gold, and we will be rich for life!”

They took the hen from her own private bedroom. They killed her and cut her open. What do you think they found? Sure, you know. They found chicken and nothing more.

——————-

Of more interest would be what the two would do afterwards.

Option 1 is that they are driven to bankruptcy and forced to live in squalor. They are sour… hating God, the hen, and the world in general for playing such a cruel trick on them. Every night they dream of finding another gold egg, and all of the things they would do from such a gift. Life is frustrating and bitter.

Option 2 is not that different. They sell everything they have and move back onto the farm. However, they gradually learn some valuable lessons from the strange episode in their lives. They even begin to appreciate the hard lesson and find some humor in it. They learn to appreciate what they have now. Life is simple but sweet.

——————

THE GIFT OF CONTENTMENT. It could also be called the Gift of Satisfaction. This is not a big topic on Sunday mornings, I think. However, there is a whole book of the Bible that is written on the topic of godly contentment. It is the book of Ecclesiastes.

Eccl 3:12-13

12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil-this is the gift of God.

Eccl 5:18-6:2

18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him-for this is his lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work-this is a gift of God. 20 He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.

6:1 I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on men: 2 God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.

We see here the gift of God of being content or satisfied, and one who lacks this gift and is discontented.

What is contentment? I am from America, and Americans don’t really think very highly of contentment. Americans like happiness. They like thrill. But contentment? No big surprise then that Stephen Covey’s book on 7 habits of highly effective people does not list contentment. And it is not alone. Church leadership books or Church growth books usually ignore contentment. But this is a mistake. We need to see what contentment is… and is not. Here in the Philippines I believe that contentment is more valued. But still many are like the farmer and his wife… never finding satisfaction with what one has.

1. It is not about rejecting change and progress. Some dislike contentment because they assume that one needs to be discontented to promote change. Paul was a planner, and organizer, a doer. He was on the move. Sounds like someone who has discontent— has “happy feet”. Yet he was the one who said in Philippians 4:

Phil 4:11-13

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. 

(Isn’t it amazing at how we rip verse 13 out of its context so often? “I can do everything through him who gives me strength…” is not about God giving power, but the gift to be contentment.)

Discontentment is not a necessary requirement for change and growth. Perhaps some have chosen to need that, but that is not as it is meant to be.

Discontentment is not so likely to lead to growth and progress as it is to lead to:

               -Greed                        -Covetousness                         -Envy

                        -Spiritual compromise           -Moral Failure

                                        -Anger                         -Quitting

2. It is not just sitting around being happy and doing nothing. Looking back at Ecclesiastes 3… contentment is a gift from God that allows you to find enjoyment in the work that you do. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Not only finding joy in what you do, but enjoy doing it.

I know two people. You do not know them.

One was a single missionary who put off marriage to serve God. Finally, she married in her middle age. They married too late to have children, but they struggled along childless as missionaries until they eventually retired. However, retirement was tough because they were very poor (missionaries and pastors back then, and now, rarely have good retirement plans) and had to do extra work to pay the bills. Her husband died early leaving her as a poor widow. She looks back on her life with bitterness. She feels that God has somehow cheated her out of the best things in life.

The other person had a somewhat similar life story. She is also a former missionary. She had the opportunity to leave the confines of small town America to travel the world serving God as a missionary. Being a single missionary she had the freedom and respect accorded few women in that era. Later in life, she met a good man who shared her passion for cross-cultural ministry. They married and shared many good years living together, working together, growing old together. In time they semi-retired from missionary work… doing some work as time and health allowed. Eventually he died, leaving her with fond memories of life and ministry and spiritual children all over the world to communicate with, encouraging and being encouraged by.

The two people were actually one. The first story is how the woman perceives her life. The second is how she would perceive it with the gift of contentment.

Did you know that God is content? Read Genesis 1. The first thing we learn about God is that He is the God of Creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The second thing we learn about God is the He is the God of Communication. “And God said, “Let there be light.” The third thing we learn is that He is the God of Contentment. He looked at His work and declared it good. Each day, the cycle repeats. God speaks, God creates, God is content. And that contentment does not lead him to stop doing. Rather, it leads to new challenges. Just as a woodcarver produces a sculpture, becomes satisfied with it, puts it aside and begins work on a new masterpiece. Contentment is not about doing nothing.

3. Contentment is not about accumulating or rejecting stuff. Some think that God blesses by giving stuff. Sadly these people do not know their math. Discontentment plus stuff equals Discontentment.

Eccl 5:10

10 Whoever loves money never has money enough;

whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.

I Timothy 6:9-10.

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs

If you think that getting stuff will satisfy you… then by all means pray that God will give you stuff. Pray for golden eggs. If you think that will satisfy, then you deserve it.

On the other hand, some believe that denial or asceticism leads to contentment. —   Suffering comes from unmet desire, so learn to desire nothing. See how often and long you can fast. Minimize sleep. Reject life’s joys. Sort of the health food store mantra… if it tastes bad, it MUST be good for you.

The writer of Ecclesiastes rejects both of these. He said, “Fear God and enjoy the life God gives.” Enjoy the food God gives you. Enjoy the drink God gives you. Enjoy the family God gives you. Enjoy the work God gives you. All else is a waste of time… a chasing after mist. Some Christians don’t like the message of Ecclesiastes. For the life of me, I cannot see why. Paul repeats the message of Ecclesiastes in I Timothy 6:6. “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”

So if you are one who believes in praying for spiritual gifts. My vote is for this one.… the Spiritual Gift of Contentment.

Salvation as a Human Right? (pt 3 of 3)

(Continued from Part 2)       (Or you can start with Part 1)

If looking at salvation as a human right can be seen as valid, then the question is whether it is useful. What, if anything, can be gained from this perspective. Here are a few VERY TENTATIVE suggestions.

  1. It firmly places salvation within a community. It has been common for Christians, especially Evangelical Protestant Christians to focus on the individualistic aspect of salvation. That is quite valid, but the Bible expresses salvation in both individualistic and communitarian terms. In this sense it is more like the public health perspective. Lostness in an individual is a social ill, a failure for the individual members to flourish to their potentials.

  2. Lostness would be seen as a problem. If condemnation is getting what one deserves, then one might argue that condemnation is not really a problem. If salvation is a human right, then lostness is a problem that must be addressed.

  3. It does condemn community complicity in lostness. The public health perspective, or the disease model, is often seen avoiding judgment. This is especially true in the United States, but also true in places like here in the Philippines. When we label a social ill as a disease, many people decry that saying that pulls it out of ethical scrutiny. There is nothing inherent to that, of course. To call addiction a disease does not remove moral issues or judgment from it. Still, the public health perspective does tend to downplay the ethical. Identifying hunger as a public health problem certainly does get people thinking about what can be done to solve the problem. However, if one says that it is a human right for each person to have enough food daily to live, then there is a more clear condemnation of any society that accepts the condition where some people in the society do not have enough food to eat, while there is overall enough food to go around. Likewise, if salvation is a “public health” problem, then it is a problem that must be rooted out and addressed. On the other hand, if salvation is a basic human right, then the community that makes salvation unavailable, through inaction or through making salvation appear undesirable, is held accountable for this. It other words, embracing an ancient metaphor, if the church holds the “keys to the kingdom,” then if people find the door locked, then the church is culpable.

  4. Seeing salvation as a human rights issue balances the focus between God and Mankind. In the criminal justice perspective, God is the standard, the judge, the mediator, and the provider of salvation. This is not wrong. With the public health perspective, salvation is seen as a more human activity. It is a disease that must be rooted out, from causes, the hindrances, to opportunities, and then to holistic transformation and flourishing. God is there, but the human aspect is given greater attention. This is not inappropriate. However, the human rights perspective draws from both. It takes seriously our humanity and communal responsibility for making salvation available, and living out our salvation. However, salvation as a human right only has real meaning if understood as instituted by God.

So is one perspective right and the others wrong? There is great benefit to intersubjectivity or multi-perspectival understanding. Each overcomes the weakness of the other, giving a fuller understanding of what is real– God’s activity for us.

Salvation as a Human Right? (pt 2 of 3)

(Continuation from Part One)

In Evangelical circles, at least, salvation has been classically framed in a CRIMINAL JUSTICE model. We are all sinners, guilty before God, the judge. Salvation is only available through the payment of the judgment against us… that price was paid by Jesus. This is a perfectly fine way of looking at salvation, but of course, it is just a way of looking at it. It is a perspective that does not actually change salvation, just how it is acted upon. This view comes off more individualistic. Also, from a community perspective, the responsibility appears a bit muted since it is seen as primarily a contract between the person and God. Ultimately, however, if someone dies unsaved, it can be interpreted as “getting what he deserved.”

Another perspective a consideration of salvation is through the lens of PUBLIC HEALTH. This main seem odd at first, and yet not only is this perspective with us, it is quite strong. An early adopter of this view in the 20th century was Medical Ambassadors with the development of CHE or Community Health Evangelism. The view is that evangelism needs to have a perspective that is broader than simply a “get out of jail free card.” In fact, a more holistic approach is needed, with the understanding that salvation is meant to be transformative. The concept of Shalom as a condition of spiritual, physical, mental, and social well-being is emphasized.

But what about salvation as a HUMAN RIGHT? From the criminal justice perspective, or metaphor, such a statement appears to be ridiculous. After all, would it not be accurate to say that all humans are deserving of condemnation rather than salvation. This is the basic message of the first two verses of the Romans Road (Romans 3:23; 6:23). However, a perspective is merely that— a way of viewing something. This does not affect the thing itself. As such, all that is really needed is to establish that the perspective has validity, and that it is useful.

Could it be valid to say that salvation is a human right? Since salvation is from God, the concept of a “human right” in this case must clearly come from God. So what might God have revealed that would support the idea that salvation is a human right?

  • Much of Biblical Anthropology is established in the first three chapters of Genesis. According to this section, mankind (male and female) were created by God in His image. There has been a lot of ink used to argue what to make of mankind being created in God’s image, some of which is non-sensical. However, less controversial would be that mankind was a good and intentioal creation of God, that mankind was intended to have a unique yet harmonious position in the created realm, and mankind was meant to have a unique and harmonius relationship with God. In other words, mankind was created to live in a state of salvation— or in a sense to never need saving because the relationship was not broken in the first place.

  • The rest of the Bible maintains the intertwined threads of righteousness (right relationship with God) and salvation (the process to have that right relationship). One can go to one of the most oft memorized verses in the Bible, John 3:16, to see the follow-on to Genesis (and foreshadowed in Genesis 3:15). God’s love of the cosmos (mankind) compels Him to act so that salvation, restoration of harmony, between God, mankind, and the rest of creation can be available to all.

Now if you bring these together, the result is that God created mankind (each person) to live in a “saved state” and with mankind’s failure/fall, has acted for all, to make that state possible.

I think that it would make it valid to say that salvation (or living in a state of “savedness”) is a human right. For one not to be saved is genuine failure to possess whatever is actually their right. This doesn’t cancel out the criminal justice or public health perspectives, but provides another complementary view.

(I am well aware that there are those of the Limited Atonement camp that would argue against both of my above points. In the end for them, God has created some for salvation and some for condemnation. As such, one could neither view salvation as a human right, nor Christ’s sacrifice as their gift of love from God. However, the Biblical and Theological challenges with that perspective appear to me to outweight the interpretive ease it provides for a relatively few verses. For me I have to view it as a sub-biblical perspective.)

(Continued in Part 3)