Monday, December 5, 2011

The way of non-violence

Palmer describes violence as anything which violates the integrity of anotherPalmer person. The examples he gives (e.g., insults, demeaning, treating others as disposable, etc.) make me think that dignity might be a better term than integrity in this definition. Regardless of this minor issue, he points out that a circle of trust can show how abnormal violence really is. This reminded me of a story told by a military chaplain out on patrol with fellow soldiers yet he was the only one without a weapon. One soldier noticed this and remarked that not carrying a gun must feel strange to the chaplain. The unit’s leader corrected the soldier by saying the chaplain “is here to remind us that it’s unusual to be carrying weapons in this world.”

Palmer outlines three options of conflict responses: fight, flee or honour the soul of the other. The purpose of this chapter is to encourage his reader to choose the third way. I think this chapter would be complemented greatly with Ken Sande’s (2004) The Peacemaker : A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. Sande is actually an attorney who explores in greater detail what peacemaker responses – as opposed to escape responses or attack responses – can look like. Here is Sande's model.

For Palmer, acting non-violently means holding the tension of opposites long enough to break our hearts open to new ways or ideas; or as he puts it, “until a new vision emerges” (p. 176). I like this idea quite a bit as I tend to shy away from hasty decision-making, especially when it is not clear what to do next. Holding such tension open (i.e. neither fight nor flee) seems to bring more creativity to the surface.

I imagine some situations limit this though. For example, workplace bullying is sometimes called workplace violence. How long does one neither fight nor flee from that? A lack of safety can only be tolerated for so long. Palmer suggests four resources for the person wishing to serve as an agent of non-violent change (p. 171) but I think these should take the direction our moral compass points in the situation.

I do find it surprising how little forgiveness is discussed in this chapter. While it is important to teach on honouring the soul of another as to not enact violence on them, what are we to do with those who bring violence to us? Practicing unforgiveness in the workplace has many expressions: gossiping, workplace deviance, grudges, refusing to trust, exclusion from power, etc. Honouring the soul of an offender is equally important and part of keeping civility. In fact, I would suggest that forgiveness is a pillar moral virtue in Christian spirituality.


Palmer. P. J. (2004). A Hidden Wholeness. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Expressions of companioning

“He who falls alone remains alone in his fall, and he values his soul little since he entrusts it to himself alone.” - St. John of the Cross

Palmer begins the chapter “Living the Questions: Experiments with Truth” byPalmer relating his personal struggle with growing older and the fear of “becoming a 72 year old man who doesn’t know who he is when his books are out of print and the audiences are no longer applauding” (p. 131). Confronting this fear with a group of friends led him to develop a retirement plan for exploring who he might be besides a writer and speaker. This reminds me of a story well-known Christian author James Dobson told during a time when he put so much pride in being a good writer. His perspective on the importance of writing books changed after finding his first best seller Dare to Discipline (1970) in a garage sale for less than a dollar! Suddenly he realized the longevity of even his “best work” was not that long after all. This event triggered a time of soul searching for Dobson much like Palmer describes.

It is at these times Palmer recommends a person seek the help of a “clearness committee” – a concept from the Quaker tradition whereby a group of trusted friends gather around a focus person to ask the right questions that enable to soul of that person to arise and provide clarity. This concept reminds me of Proverbs 20:5, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out” (NIV). For Palmer, the drawing out of the soul’s purposes comes through a structured session of open-ended questions, observing, confidentiality and prayer.

Such spiritual support has been well-known throughout church history and across many traditions. In many cases it has been referred to by the catch-all term “spiritual direction”, whereby directors help a person notice and respond to the movement of God. In my spiritual tradition, (Evangelical/Pentecostal) people have long gathered in small groups for cottage prayer meetings, as accountability partners, and so on. However, the dynamic of strictly following open-ended questioning, listening, observing, and drawing out the soul/inner teacher seems like a much needed addition. I would guess it is because Pentecostals are so drawn to manifestations of spiritual gifts of prophecy and words of wisdom or knowledge that there seems to be a lot more telling than asking in that tradition!

What seems common to all these expressions is companioning. The inner journey is probably best not taken alone. We are either too soft on ourselves or too hard on ourselves – I know I do. It has been suggested to most important things ever said are the things we say to ourselves. A fellow traveler often helps us find a better perspective.


Palmer. P. J. (2004). A Hidden Wholeness. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Friday, November 4, 2011

What is the spirit of leadership? Part 3

Here’s a collection of particularly good quotes from Miles Munroe’s Spirit of Leadership (Witaker House, 2005):

  • Learning comes from education, while knowing comes from revelation.Munroe Learning is cognitive, while knowing is spiritual. You do not really change until you “know.” Knowing changes your mind, which transforms your attitude, which, in turn, directs, and regulates your behavior. (pp. 44-45)
  • …the secret to greatness is in serving everyone else. To understand this principle, you must answer the question, “What do I serve to others? I believe that this is the greatest revelation of true leadership I have ever discovered and exceeds all the theories and research from the past. What Jesus is stating here is that, to become the great leader you were created and destined to become, you must discover your unique inherent gift and assignment (your original purpose) and serve that to the world of mankind. Do not seek greatness, but seek to serve your gift to others to the maximum extent that you can, and you will become a sought-after person. (p. 96)
  • If you find your unique gift or special talent and commit to serving it to the world of mankind, then your significance will cause people to seek you out. You will become an influence through exercising your gift, rather than through manipulation. The more you become a person whose gift is valued, the greater your influence will be. (p. 97)
  • Exerting proper influence means inspiring others through the leadership gift that we have been given. The true nature of leadership is the attraction of others to our gifts, which are deployed in their service. (p. 103)
  • In effect, the nature of the leadership spirit is to be comfortable in the presence of power, authority, and might without being intimidated. When the leadership spirit is fully restored, you revere and respect God and his authority but are never fearful in his presence; you rejoice in his company. True leaders respect and honor authority but are comfortable in its presence. (p. 116)
  • The nature of the leadership spirit includes the following: 1) manager of one’s environment; 2) exerter of influence; and 3) comfortable with power. (p. 122)
  • Manifesting the spirit of leadership is a matter of discovering and nurturing your true self so that you naturally evidence your leadership nature. (p. 124)
  • Again, self esteem is your awareness of your value to your environment…Our disposition toward ourselves and the world comes from our self-estimation. Our self-estimation, in turn, comes from our awareness of our value to our world. This is where we get our sense of significance and contribution in life…You must come to the point where you are convinced and convicted that you and your gift are necessary. True leaders believe that they are needed by their generation and the world. (pp. 133-134)
  • The answer, I believe, is not a lack of raw material or potential but the absence of right information, training, and an environment conducive to producing the mentality, mind-set, and altitudes necessary for this leadership potential to be ignited. This is the spirit of leadership. True leadership has more to do with mind-set than with methods and techniques. (p. 186)
  • Attitudes are nothing more than habits of thought produced by your self-image, self-worth, and self-esteem, and habit can be acquired and changed by the reconditioning of the mind. (p. 219)
  • The day we take responsibility for our attitudes is the day that we truly grow up. (p. 220)
  • One of our major responsibilities as leaders is determining what is best for us according our life’s purpose and vision. (p. 240)
  • Attitude is the power of leadership. Nothing can stop a person from achieving success who has the right attitude. You can always make up in attitude what you lack in education. Yet nothing can help the person who has the wrong attitude. (pp. 288-289)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Quotes: Leadership attitudes worth catching…

Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, on Learning: “The one thing I have learned as a CEO is that leadership at various levels is vastly different….As you move up the organization, the requirements for leading that organization doesn’t grow vertically; they grow exponentially….If you want to improve the organization, you have to improve yourself and the organization get pulled up with you….Just because you are a CEO, don’t think you have landed. You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organization.”

One of the most important leadership lessons Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn/Ferry International learned in his career was that “leadership is all about the other person. No matter the topic—whether someone is being fired or has just told you about a serious health issue—that person should leave your office feeling better than when he or she entered.… For the CEO there is no off-the-cuff remark. Leadership demands introspection and an understanding of the clout that one’s words and actions carry.”

Sam Palmisano, Chairman and CEO of IBM remarks, “Some of the best advice I ever received was unspoken. Over the course of my IBM career I've observed many CEOs, heads of state, and others in positions of great authority. I've noticed that some of the most effective leaders don't make themselves the center of attention. They are respectful. They listen. This is an appealing personal quality, but it's also an effective leadership attribute. Their selflessness makes the people around them comfortable. People open up, speak up, contribute. They give those leaders their very best.

Indra Nooyi: Chairman and CEO, Pepsico: “Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how yournooyi-pepsi3 whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you're angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don't get defensive. You don't scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, "Maybe they are saying something to me that I'm not hearing." So "assume positive intent" has been a huge piece of advice for me.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What is the spirit of leadership? Part 2

Munroe heavily weights his theological position on Gen. 1:26, 28. He interprets God’s design for mankind to “rule” and “subdue” the earth as denoting leadership. Probably as a means of supporting this thesis, the author refers to God as “the Creator” the majority of theMunroe time. Since this book is boldly Christian in its worldview, I find it odd that Munroe does not explore the spiritual gift of leadership (cf. Rom. 12:8). Then again, to do so would probably undermine his thesis that every human is created to be a leader, rather than acknowledging leadership as a distinct spiritual gift – a gift not everyone would possess. Taken together, these are examples of a limited theological premise in Spirit of Leadership.

Unfortunately, Munroe also makes insufficient use of theological resources by merely stating the lexical root definitions of key Hebrew and Greek words (pp. 89, 109) without studying the word in its context or its morphology. This is worth mentioning because Munroe makes key points in support of his message here, yet claims it is “careful investigation of the Greek.” He also uses some eisegetical approaches (i.e., the interpretation of a text by reading into it one’s own ideas) in his exposition of John 14:1-2, especially the meaning of the term “mansions” (p. 109). Overall, the author is not really demonstrating scholarly theological competencies in this book.

The question remains then, has Munroe solved the problem? Has he provided the “missing ingredient” that many people lack in becoming the leader they were created to be? I would suggest that any encouragement in attitude development is a valuable resource. Spirit of Leadership is probably most valuable for emerging or reluctant leaders and those breaking free of fatalistic mind-sets. I hesitate to endorse Munroe’s over-generalized interpretation of Gen.1:26, 28 as indicating every human was created to be a leader, but I can support the critical importance of attitude development he so fervently posits.

Spirit of Leadership admirably addresses the importance of matching your gifts to your environment for ensuring leadership success. Its emphasis on the fruit of a proper attitude is certainly appropriate and offers well thought out counsel for improving attitude. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Munroe’s perspective of viewing leadership as a gift you serve to others is good theology and an essential part of a healthy philosophy of leadership.

Monday, October 24, 2011

What is the spirit of leadership?, Part 1

Dr. Miles Munroe is a noted author and international motivational speaker who focuses on numerous issues pertinent to government, business and discipleship contexts. In this series of posts I will look at his popular book, Spirit of Leadership (Witaker House, 2005). Munroe

According to this book’s biographical information, Munroe’s ministry purpose is “the transformation of followers into leaders and the maximization of individual potential” (p. 299). Munroe’s motivation for writing Spirit of Leadership is to address a problem he perceives as “the missing ingredient” that prevents many people from breaking through to the leadership capacity he believes exists in every follower (pp. 13-14, 26). With this book, Munroe examines how any person can experience his or her personal revelation of leadership. According to the author, “every human has the instinct and capacity for leadership, but most do not have the courage or will to cultivate it” (p. 15). Therefore, Munroe’s goal is to help his reader rediscover and recover that leadership spirit.

The author argues that leadership has become a role that one plays rather than a life that a person leads (p. 19). This, he says, causes people to lead double lives. As a result, leadership must be seen not as a technique, a style, or the acquisition of skills, but rather the manifestation of a spirit (p. 20) and an attitude of the heart (p. 22). For Munroe, a converted attitude is the key to a transformed life (p. 29).

Munroe justifies his message theologically by rooting it in creation theology – equating leadership with God’s command to rule andCreation of Adam subdue the earth (Gen. 1:28). He insists that “each of us was created to rule, govern, control, master, manage, and lead our environments. You are in essence a leader, no matter who you are” (p. 33). For Munroe, leadership is the essence intrinsic to all human beings (p. 37). It should be noted that the author does not appear to negate the appropriate place of followership (see pp. 34, 82), but repeatedly posits his thesis that leadership is God’s intention and purpose for every person.

So what is the “spirit of leadership” as Munroe defines it? He believes it is “the inherent capacity of the human spirit to lead, manage, and dominate, which was placed there at the point of creation and made necessary by the purpose and assignment for which man (humanity) was created” (p. 83). In Munroe’s theology, this “assignment” is the Creator’s purpose for mankind – “to rule (i.e., have dominion) over all the earth” (p. 91; cf. p. 196).

For Munroe, training in the spirit of leadership is essentially training in attitude. He writes:

Attitude determines everything. It is not enough to know the principles, precepts, and skills of leadership. We must acquire the spirit of leadership by discovering and applying the attitudes of true leaders. Training in leadership really means training in attitude because attitude has to do with how we respond to life. (p. 212)

Munroe challenges his reader to discard their intimidation and develop the spirit of leadership they were created to manifest (p. 30). He spends the first half of the book building this case. In the second half of the book, he discusses key attitudes that will transform followers into leaders.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Unfriending the false self

In chapter three, Palmer describes “living behind a wall” as the truth of our inner self living in disparity with our outer performance. He illustrates various expressions and motivations for such a way of life Palmer(the Saddam Hussein illustration is especially disturbing). Yet he astutely observes that while there are clear external enemies of the soul, there appears to be collaborators to those enemies right within our true self. For example, Palmer writes: “When our impulse to tell the truth is thwarted by threats of punishment, it is because we value security over being truthful” (p. 34).

One example from my experience stands out here. I have noticed a dilemma in my own life and others when faced with an authority figure’s leadership style, ethics, or direction that not a fit with your true self. Human resources management experts say when employees feel this way about their leader but do not leave they inevitably begin to act out in deviant ways at work, e.g. showing up to work late, leaving early, phoning in sick when they are not, deliberately taking longer to complete tasks, isolating themselves from others, etc. So I wonder what the collaborating aspect of their true self is that makes them put up with this?


Another similar example is becoming absorbed in values that are at variance with the true self. There are many reasons why a person begins to conform to such incongruent values. I found an interesting illustration recently when listening to a radio theater broadcast from the Adventures in Odyssey series (my kids and I love these!). In one show, a dialog occurs between two characters – Kelsey and Eugene – about the problem Eugene has with embracing the Hollywood lifestyle when give the opportunity. Kelsey defends this life as, “Here you have to keep moving. You have to play the game like everyone else does. That’s the way it is.” Here is the remainder of the dialog:

Eugene – “Perhaps I’m just uncomfortable with all the artifice, the fakery, the make believe. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that everyone in this town is acting. Acting like a friend only so long as it serves a purpose. Acting as though they care when they really don’t. Acting as though the entire world revolves around what happens here without any regard for the rest of the world. Frankly I’m not sure how you cope with such a life.”

Kelsey – “You cope by doing it the same way. You cope by becoming a big star making tons of money so you buy whatever you need including friends. You cope by becoming powerful enough so you can create your own world. You cope by being better at it than everyone else!”

Eugene – “I think that’s very sad…to be so cynical. Couldn’t it be argued that by creating your own world you are actually missing out on the real world? True friendships, true feelings? Don’t you every wonder what would remain if the artificial world you created suddenly collapsed? What would you have left?”

Kelsey – “No Eugene, I don’t wonder. I don’t want to know.”

Sadly, it is as Palmer says: “Live behind a wall long enough and the true self you are trying to hide from others becomes hidden to yourself as well” (p. 43).


Palmer. P. J. (2004). A Hidden Wholeness. Jossey-Bass.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What is “true community”?

I was told once that the journey of following Christ also involves a journey of self-discovery. Spiritually speaking, I have been socialized in the Pentecostal/Evangelical tradition which has advocated authentic community or circles of trust through expressions like the small group movement, accountability groups, and cottage prayer meetings. In each of these I have found the more I learn about Christ the more I learn about my own soul.

Parker Palmer discusses true community in his book, A HiddenPalmer Wholeness (2004). In this section, he presents reasons as to why we need to be in community with others if we seek to live an undivided life. He refers to his own experience with Quakers at Pendle Hill in what is called “circles of trust.” He says these groups “taught me about the reality and power of the soul, about a way of being together that allows the soul to make a claim on our lives, and about the miracles that can happen when we do" (p. 28).

Those from the Pentecostal/Evangelical tradition would prefer that the "inner teacher" is best thought of as the Holy Spirit. This view is generally thought to be more reliable than one’s own heart (cf. Jeremiah 17:9), but as we mature spiritually the assumption is our own inner voice does become more reliable. In the meantime circles of trust like I mentioned do help in discerning the inner voice (i.e., the Holy Spirit or my true self) from the voices of sin, worldiness, deception or evil. These are times when fellow Christians have been the most valuable.

I found a unique parallel in my professional life with the attitudes and processes required for school accreditation. One co-worker described the relationship between schools and accrediting bodies this way: “We must submit to evaluation from outside ourselves to give us insight into ourselves because on our own we will deceive ourselves.”

Palmer feels there are certain principles and practices that shape a circle of trust which creates safety. He says, “…the soul can feel safe only in relationships that possess certain qualities” (p. 29). What Palmer describes requires a certain amount of intimacy in the relationship. However, not everyone is comfortable with intimacy. Moreover, the level of intimacy expressed depends on the context. Wise people express certain things only with friends they would not with co-workers, even if those co-workers were Christians. So I suppose true community depends on what’s at stake in being honest with others.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Building or breaking trust

Trust is a kind of “psychological contract” between persons in organizations. Zigarelli (2005) defines this “contract” further: “It simply means that employees perceive that there is an unwritten bargain in place between employer and employee. The employee’s end of the bargain is to do a decent job and to function within the established rules of conduct for the workplace. In exchange for this, the employee believes the employer has obligations in the areas of pay, promotion, job security, work assignments, hours required, and so on.”

Trust is critical in an organization because people will only take creative risks when they feel secure.  Elmer (2006) defines trust as, “the ability to build confidence in a relationship so that both parties believe the other will not intentionally hurt them but will act in their best interest.” In the leader-follower relationship, both parties contribute to the level of trust that exists between them. Consequently, if a person inherently lacks trust in his or her leaders without just cause, that relationship will be quickly deteriorate and eventually everyone loses.

Scheld and Dodrill (2003) researched whether or not Christian organizations have intrinsically high levels of trust. They surveyed over 15,000 employees of these organizations and the results show that simply being a Christian organization doesn’t mean immunity from low trust levels. The authors identified specific organizational attitudes, norms, and values that influence trust. The five key factors they discovered (in order of significance) were: a) concern for employees, b) openness and honesty, c) identification [with the mission, vision, and goals of the organization], d) reliability, and e) competence.

The move toward building trust in an organization begins with the leader. Zigarelli (2005) reminds Christian leaders that the “principle of reaping and sowing is in full operation here. Trust begets trust, distrust begets distrust.” He encourages Christian leaders to permit trust-oriented questions to enter the decision-making processes of their organization. He suggests questions such as: “Will my decision have the effect of increasing or decreasing the trust that employees place in me?” “Will the manner in which I am reaching this decision make my employees suspicious?” And “If I were on the receiving end of this decision, would I trust that the decision maker had my best interests in mind?”


Mike Henry offers these lists of trust building or breaking behaviours in two separate blog posts:

Trust building behaviours

  1. Give Win First. No one ever created a win-win relationship without letting the other person win first. If you refuse to let the other person win, you force everyone to contract and withdraw.
  2. Listen and learn. Attention, focus and time are scarce commodities. Consider how much (or little) time you spend focused on a single activity or person. Actively listen to others and work to understand them twice as long as normal today.
  3. Appreciate and value others. Simply forcing yourself to listen and focus doesn’t mean you will learn. Appreciation is the point at which you engage. Bring energy to maintain the connection with others out of your own internal desire. Appreciating and valuing another person builds trust. (Hat tip: Monica Diaz’s book “Otheresteem.”)
  4. Remember what you hear and see. If you appreciate something, you will process and consider it in a way that will help you remember. As you remember what you hear and see, others rest more in their understanding of you, and that builds trust.
  5. Trust others. Nothing betrays trust more than the lack of trust. Most often, people who won’t trust others do so because they can’t be trusted either. If you would never steal from someone else, why are you always afraid the other person will steal from you? Trust first.
  6. Find solutions. Begin with the belief that the other person can succeed. Don’t tell them their idea won’t work. Help create ways to make them successful.
  7. Make a sacrifice. Sometimes the solution to someone else’s problem is a sacrifice on your part. Be willing to be the solution to your teammate’s problems.
  8. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t make the same mistake twice. People will forgive errors made by genuine people attempting to do the right thing. Work hard to avoid repeat mistakes.
  9. Make it right. Even though errors can erode trust, you build trust when you fix a mistake well. Be proactive and do the right thing.
  10. Give generous credit and praise. People want to matter. If you help people be important and valuable, you become valuable.
  11. Do what you say. It all comes down to this. If you are not capable of delivering, people will like you but not trust you to lead.

Trust breaking behaviours

  1. Practice creative paranoia. Remember, you’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you.
  2. Make commitments to get others to do something. Choose what you do based on how you feel at any given moment.
  3. When someone suggests an idea, show them everything that’s wrong with it. They’ll love you for speaking the truth.
  4. Point out the mistakes of others. “Hey, they can’t get better if they don’t know where to improve!”
  5. Take credit for every good thing that happens on your team.
  6. Keep score on who drops the ball and remind frequently.
  7. When your leaders ask about a mistake that was made, make sure and let them know which team member made the mistake.
  8. Change your mind frequently with little reason or input.
  9. Speak in vague terms. If they go off and make a mistake based on their misunderstanding, that’s they’re fault.
  10. Look out for Number 1. Let’s face it, no one is more important than you. You’re at the center of the universe. If you don’t look out for yourself, who will. So make sure you get yours. After that, you’re free to try to be fair to others.


Elmer, D. (2006). Cross-cultural servanthood: Serving the world in Christ-like humility. Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press, p. 77.

Henry, Mike. (July 19, 2011). 11 Ways to Build Trust in Your Team. Smart Blog on Leadership, Message posted to

_________. (July 20, 2011). Top 10 Trust Killers. Lead Change Group. Message posted to

Scheld, K. & Dodrill, C. (2003). How High is Your Trust Level?: 5 Steps to Creating a High-Trust Organization, Christian Management Report, December 2003.

Zigarelli, M. (2005). Building Trust in Your Organization. Regent Business Review 18, (July/August)

Monday, July 18, 2011

The best of all professions? Really?

“The Christian ministry is the worst of all trades, but the best of all professions.” – Sir Issac Newton

Here’s a portion from a paper presented at the Orthodox Church in America’s 14th All-American Council “Our Church and the Future” in Toronto (2005): “A “normal” North American family seldom if ever encourages a child to pursue a religious vocation. Why is this so? This may be a generalization, but the priesthood is suffering from low self-esteem. Whether this is the product of priests giving a poor impression of themselves or from widespread secularization, priestly ministry is not the high profile career it once was. If in past times an ecclesiastical career was synonymous with social prestige and financial security, today pastoral ministry means being part of a class of people who are on the fringe of society and who may in fact be destined for a life of financial insecurity.” (p. 9)

I am reminded of the "hireling" figure mentioned in John 10:11-13 when considering some that might pursue ministry for its “social prestige and financial security.” Motivation for vocational ministry is such a dynamic thing. A once enthusiastic pastor can sadly be drained of their motivation by the struggle with conflict, bureaucratic structures, the slow pace of change, and a nagging sense of powerlessness to make a difference.

Consider Paul’s experiences compared to the “super-apostles” as recorded in his second letter to the Corinthians:

“Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? ” (2 Corinthians 11:23–29, NIV)

But then suddenly Paul pauses to write: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (v. 30). Garland (2001) writes: “It is odd to boast about one’s weakness, but Paul’s declaration in 2 Cor 12:10 becomes the key for unlocking the purpose of this peculiar tactic. His weakness has a “revelatory function.” He will therefore tell tales of battle skirmishes, heavenly journeys with divine revelations, and miraculous cures but turn them on their heads. They do not show how brave and wonderful he is, but how great and wonderful the grace of God is that sustains him in his weakness.”

God triumphs amid human weakness, embodying the principle of Christ’s crucifixion and perhaps the notion of filling up in our flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions (cf. Col. 1:24).

Maybe now is the best time to encourage a child to pursue a religious vocation. When the social prestige and financial security are lessened the wonderful grace of God that sustains us is truly known.



Garland, D. E. (2001). Vol. 29: 2 Corinthians (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (p. 504). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

“Our Church and the Future”. (2005). Orthodox Church in America’s 14th All-American Council, Toronto, ON. Retrieved from

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Forming a Christian Heart: The Dream

One of the most popular worldview storylines is the story of the Dream (i.e., the American dream, the European dream, the Canadian dream). These dreams tell of a place where you can start with nothing, and, by your own hard work and determination, rise out of poverty and obscurity to become a successful person. Or perhaps a story of individuals finding security not through connectivity, kindness, sustainable development, and respect for human rights.

Our major institutions—education, business, even family—distribute this story to us in various forms. The media (esp. advertising) take this story and then reinforce it with alarming effectiveness to every component of our lives.


Jon Tyson (2011) in his article “Breaking the Mold” says the result of buying into this worldview holds “massive sway over the actual practices of our lives. Afraid of being left behind or missing out, we shop, browse, sit, watch, work, and spend, all in pursuit of this dream story. These practices set the pace for what we actually value, and these values often determine the major choices and habits that define our lifestyle. Here lies the tension we all feel: Our theology is defined by Jesus, but our lives are defined by some other lord.”


Reflect on this image as you read this quote from Tyson’s article:


Imagine yourself in first-century Rome, walking to attend one of the local house-church gatherings. You walk past the Palatine Hill, where the elites of Rome watch over the world's most powerful city and where Christian martyrs had been set on fire in order to light up Nero's drunken parties. You walk past the local theater, and hear the crowds roar at the retelling of the stories of Rome's history. You pass a group of Roman soldiers, taking a break from enforcing peace in the world—the kind of peace that had crucified a Jewish rabbi named Jesus about 25 years earlier. You continue on past the Circus Maximus, a giant chariot-racing stadium and gladiatorial complex, and you realize other believers had been martyred there for disloyalty to the empire.

You walk past dozens of temples to Roman gods, houses of prostitution, images of the emperor on buildings, temples, coins, and benches, and then enter a house where believers are meeting to worship Jesus as Lord and seek first his kingdom. There one of the elders announces that Paul has written a letter to your church. As you listen to teachings about…Then he reads: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom. 12:2, NIV)

You, a first-century Christian, would not have thought of one immediate social or political issue when hearing these words. Instead, you would have been overwhelmed with the reality that everything in your life—the story, institutions, practices, values, entertainment, and lifestyle of the empire—was working in unity to conform you into a good Roman citizen.

It was not one thing in particular, but everything in general, that was pressing you into its mold. The goal of a good Roman citizen was to embody Rome's values, to be an icon (a small image) of the empire as a whole.

Now reflect on this image as you read this:


Look around your lives today. You drive past hundreds of billboards everyday, all kinds of stores and services that want to convince you to spend your money with them so you can have possessions and symbols of success designed to produce envy in others.

You log on to your computer and can socialize with friends anywhere; some take on a second identity and form dangerous relationships that can get them into deep trouble.

You turn on the TV and can easily find images of violence you would never want to invade your real life – yet it’s entertainment to most of us.

Then you turn to read Romans 12:2 in your Bible: “Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (The Message)

Now you too realize that everything in your life—the story, institutions, advertisements, practices, values, entertainment, and lifestyle of the culture—is all working in unity to conform you into an icon of a good secular citizen.


Encouraging people to think Christianly about worldviews requires teaching approaches that raise awareness of an array of influences and processes by which people determines the pursuits of their lives. A worldview emerges from both the activities individuals engage in and the beliefs they maintain.

Many people in our congregations  interact daily with institutions, businesses, and schools that promote worldliness for our time. Any serious discipling work here has to take into account not just the sinful nature and tendencies of the flesh, but the realities of the world that powerfully and discreetly pull us into its story and mode.

How do these everyday worldviews play out in real life? Consider that if my identity – my heart – is invested in financial security rather than relationships then I may not think twice about long-distance relocating to pursue that dream opportunity with the big salary, even if it means leaving long-term relationships. Or, if my heart is invested in drawing my worth from what I own, then I will be much more vulnerable to using credit (money I don’t have) and go into debt to gain the possessions I don’t need to impress people I don’t even like. Smile

Our worldviews form in us like a story we buy in to. They are built on our desires (sinful or pure), they play off of our fears and drive us toward the things that make us feel validated. Because of this, we are attached to them, we feel deeply about them, and in some cases, we are neither fully aware of them nor able to explain them.

These series of posts have not been about forming an infallible way of thinking because forming the heart is about more than ideas. It takes into account the things we believe about what is real vs. what is not, how we respond to injustice, human need or evil, how we come to value work or play, our attitudes toward people who mistreat us, the relationships we choose to enter into, how we understand our identity, and what we do with our money.

The point of all this is not to develop an abundant intellect but to live an abundant life (cf. John 10:10). Let me close with this prayer from Paul:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14–19, TNIV)


Tyson, J. (2011). “Breaking the Mold”, Leadership Journal, June 13, 2011. Retrieved from

Friday, July 1, 2011

Forming a Christian Heart: Therapy

What aspects of modern life do you most appreciate?


Let’s consider the advances in knowledge which have made these possible. For example, technology relies on advances in sciences like physics, biology, geology, etc. The result is that we can build homes and cities, stay warm, store and cook food. Advances in medical knowledge rely on sciences like chemistry, biology, physiology, etc. The result is that we can treat illness; cure diseases, relieve suffering, etc. Overall, these things positively affect our quality of life.

But where does the knowledge of psychology and therapy fit into Hidden Worldviewsthis? What benefits has it brought? Wilkens and Sanford write: “The prevalence of therapy tells us something about the pursuit of salvation – we have this inkling that our lives are not yet as good as they can or should get. This represents a discontent with a partial life and a desire to pursue fullness.” (Hidden Worldviews, p. 161)

Discussions about wholeness in the Christian life bring to mind Paul’s comments: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (1 Thess.5:23-24). Throughout the letter Paul has been concerned with his readers dedicating their lives to God. Now he prays that God will “sanctify” his readers “through and through”; i.e. no part of our lives are unaffected by God’s influence.

Psychology seeks to help people through advancing research knowledge and practices of psychotherapy, consulting, counselling, etc. In general, the goal is to build whole and healthier people and communities.


But, what does it mean to be psychologically healthy? In general, it means possessing the tools for coping with difficult situations and maintaining a positive outlook in which a person remains focused, flexible, and creative in bad times as well as good. As a worldview, psychology and therapy are affected by assumptions about the nature of humankind (and by what authoritative source we know this), the source of the problems people encounter, what solutions are effective, and what “health” looks like. 

Is “psychological health” a preoccupation for you? Your worldview may start being affected depending on how you interpret Counterfeit gospels2salvation through Jesus Christ. Trevin Wax in his book Counterfeit Gospels (2011) describes key points in the aberrant “therapy gospel” as: a) the Fall (i.e. human problem) is primarily about woundedness; the failure to reach our potential or wholeness, the lie we bought in to; b) Christ’s incarnation and death prove our inherent worth as humankind and empowers us to wholeness; c) salvation then is about healing or wholeness.

Aside from these obvious interpretive concerns, it seems there are aspects of following Christ that surpass the prominence of achieving psychological health. For example, the primary goal for a Christian is to know the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ which is eternal life (Jn. 17:3). Also, sometimes the primary way Christians know God is by enduring trials and experiencing troubles (cf. James 1:2-4; 1 Cor. 1:8-11). Do we talk about these harder aspects of discipleship enough? Perhaps we would prefer to think, counsel, and teach about the healing benefits of discipleship rather its costs. 

Still, an important biblical concept in this discussion is peace. Its nuances include fulfillment, completion, maturity, soundness of mind, harmony, security (both individual and communal), and well-being. However, peace could be disturbed if one does not live before the Lord and others in righteousness. In fact, peace is one of the fruits of righteousness (cf. Isa. 32:17–18). 

Traditionally, biblical teaching tells us it is knowing God through Jesus Christ (i.e., eternal life) and holiness that leads to peace not vice versa. When psychological health is pursued for itself, it doesn’t always lead to greater holiness.


Wax, T. (2011). Counterfeit gospels: Rediscovering the good news in a world of false hope. Chicago, ILL: Moody Publishers. 

Wilkens, S. & Sanford, M. (2009). Hidden worldviews: Eight cultural stories that shape our lives. Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Forming a Christian Heart 4: Nationalism

Isaiah 26 is a future picture of God’s people Israel, banished and driven out by the sin of the former times now restored as a nation to God’s favour. The prophet Isaiah wrote a song for the people when the Messiah will establish his kingdom. Isaiah was picturing himself standing in the redeemed land listening to the people express their gratitude to God. The days of distress are over; God has ordained peace on earth and the nation is prospering again. This passage represents a worldview known as religious nationalism.


Here are some key verses that demonstrate this worldview:

26:4 Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.

26:8 Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.

26:11 Lord, your hand is lifted high, but they do not see it. Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame; let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them.

26:15 You have enlarged the nation, Lord; you have enlarged the nation. You have gained glory for yourself; you have extended all the borders of the land.

A worldview is an orientation of the heart; or a lens through which we see and interpret reality. Religious nationalism is the worldview where a shared (or dominant) religion contributes to a sense of national unity, a common bond among the citizens of the nation.

Nations arose as political systems grew from bands to tribes to chiefdoms then states. As a result, the progressive concerns of the people move from daily survival to keeping tribal unity to maintaining power and finally, as nations, to identifying national character. Nationalists tend to react with fierce devotion to preserve a particular national character; often with a belief that any changes will bring disaster. Religious nationalism believes that God has a special relationship to and mission for my country and the nation’s faithfulness to God will determine its prosperity or downfall.

Wilkens and Sanford write “when God and country are intertwined,Hidden Worldviews ones’ national culture can be viewed as God’s will (his Kingdom) manifest on earth” (Hidden Worldviews, 2009, p. 73). Therefore, to the nationalist, the pursuit of national character is the measure of faithfulness to God.

While this worldview was entirely appropriate for the Hebrews of the Old Testament period, nationalism has been a seductive worldview for Christians since the 4th century when Roman emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion. What followed was the long creation of Christendom with its vision of a Christian government devoted to the enforcement of Christian values, and whose institutions are covered with a veneer of Christian holiness. 

But is it the church’s mission to create Christian nations (i.e., politically organized people groups)? Is that “making disciples”? This vision can still be tempting for Christians. You may be influenced by nationalism if:

  • You believe our national character is and should be Christian and you lament its diminishment;
  • You believe the political goal is to ensure that Christianity prevails as the dominate value shaper in our country and to denounce secularism;
  • You believe that once we are a Christian nation, we must ensure that our nation’s interests prevail in the world because it means God’s interest’s will prevail.

Wilkens and Sanford insist that this discussion “should not be taken as a condemnation of patriotism…love of one’s country is a good and necessary thing…[and] there’s no simple way to determine…when patriotism degenerates into nationalism…but we do need some benchmarks for self-examination” (p. 62).

The authors give this sober warning: “When Christian and nation are fused, Christianity inevitably takes on a secondary status as the legitimating mechanism for the goals of the state and ceases to be a prophetic voice to the nation. (p. 75)…Nationalism is really a corporate variation on the sin of pride” (p. 77).


Wilkens, S. & Sanford, M. (2009). Hidden worldviews: Eight cultural stories that shape our lives. Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Forming a Christian Heart 3: Consumerism

What images come to mind when you think of consumerism? Perhaps troubling images of maxed out credit cards, deforestation, crowded malls, hoarding, or open pit mining.


But Wilkens and Sanford (2009) reminds us that “the Bible clearly teaches an idea you will seldom hear from the pulpit…This idea…is that God created us to be consumers. Really! In Genesis 2, God created [humanity] and then proceeded to give [them] the things [they] needed for a good life. “The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit.” (Hidden Worldviews, p. 44).

Consumerism is the tendency of people to identify strongly with and/or attach security to products or services they consume or own. Conspicuous consumerism refers to lavish spending on goods and services with admired brand names and status-enhancing appeal, especially for the purpose of causing envy. A few special brands take consumerism to a different level. These are the so-called cult brands: Cult brands sell lifestyles, not just a product or service; cult brands get into your heart and create absolute loyalty and fierce opposition to their “evil, third-rate” competition – lit. redefining the consumer relationship into a community identity and just cause. Examples include Harley-Davidson, Star Trek, Volkswagen, and Apple (esp. the Macintosh computer).


A person might be able to work for two different employers at the same time. However, God and money (Mammon) are not employers but slave owners. Mammon roughly equals our concept of “net worth” which is the value of a person’s assets, including cash, minus total liabilities. Of course, many people do try to cherish both God and net worth, but ultimately only one will be chosen. “Love” and “hate” in early mid-eastern thought are often roughly equivalent to choose and not choose. So the one not chosen will be “hated,” even if only by neglect.


The Brethren in Christ church declares one of their values as: “Living Simply: We value uncluttered lives, which free us to love boldly, give generously, and serve joyfully.”1 In advertising-filled culture where everything seems more complicated than it needs to be, it’s natural to long for “the simple life.” But as this core value suggests, the commitment to living simply is not just a reaction to our consumerist culture, it’s deeply connected to a desire to trust in God and be generous to others.

This does not imply that rich people cannot be Christians. It does imply that wealth brings grave dangers, not least of which is the extra anxiety of having to protect one’s possessions for fear of losing. To serve the consumerist worldview is to serve a hard, unloving taskmaster; it’s one that will never say “it is enough; it is finished.”

“These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Mt. 6:32-33).

1 Brethren in Christ Canada, Core Values, retrieved from 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Forming a Christian Heart 2: Individualism

A worldview is often described as the lenses through which we see the world and our place in it. But this metaphor, while somewhat helpful, implies a worldview is something external like glasses. The view put forth by Wilkens and Sanford (2009) is that a worldview is more internal – an orientation of the heart.

Hidden Worldviews

The authors describe individualism as a worldview that emphasizes that meaning in life is found in a person’s ability to think and make choices for his or herself especially without reference to any external relationships or authority. In Western Christianity individualism has had the unfortunate effect of portraying Christianity primarily a relationship between an individual and God, generally without enough emphasis on the believer’s relationship with a church family or identification with the larger faith tradition of the church.

You can hear it in phrases like “I make my own rules; my personal relationship with God; religion is a private thing” etc.

How did this arise and why is this admired? Wilkens and Sanford note that the era after World War II is marked by a decline in trust, loyalty and commitment to established institutions in society like government, the legal system, financial systems, large for-profit corporations, and religion (esp. the Christian Church).


The reason for this decline is generally attributed to perceptions of the increased inequality of wealth and the exploiting of privileges and people from these institutions.

This tends to reflect a cultural worldview shift away from collectivism to individualism. Collectivism stands for a society in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups (extended family and more), which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect and provide for them in exchange for absolute loyalty. Whereas individualism stands for a society in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after themselves and their immediate family only. This continuum illustrates the contrast:


In church circles, individualism also describes the attitude of persons who refuse to agree with defined statements of belief or creeds, join themselves to a church family, or to submit to any external religious authority. Throughout history certain breakaway groups like this would call themselves freethinkers; others would profess to be Christian but refuse to adhere to any particular denomination or even a local church.

You can hear it in phrases like this: “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian!; I have my own theology thank you!” etc.

Four times throughout Ephesians 1-2 Paul emphasizes that we are united in Jesus Christ (1:3, 11; 2:6-7). This united status comes not by performance or human choice, but by God’s grace. Those who believe are called “God’s masterpiece” (Eph. 2:10), but there is a different spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God (Eph. 2:2).

Individualism emphasizes that meaning in life is found in a person’s ability to think and make choices for his or herself, without reference to any external relationships or authority. It is good to remember that God’s purposes are not primarily about me but rather about us. Wilkens and Sanford write: [Individualism represents how] influential a worldview can be once it becomes ingrained into the culture (our hearts) and how its power is magnified when we are no longer conscious of its pull on us. As a result, it is difficult for us to feel like we are valuable unless we can point to an impressive list of accomplishments. We sing “Jesus loves me” so loud it drowns out the proclamation “For God so loved the world.” The word freedom generates thoughts of what we want to be free from rather than what we are free for. The Christian faith is reduced to my faith [personal, private]. Commitments to others (preferring other; looking out for their interests) are potential obstacles to happiness rather than a source of happiness. God becomes a power source for the achievement of my goals, but I never get around to asking how my life lines up with God`s goals. (Hidden Worldviews, p. 41)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Forming a Christian Heart 1

I’m doing a series of messages at my church based off the book Hidden Worldviews by Wilkens and Sanford. The purpose of this book is to persuade and equip Christians to adopt a Christian worldview! (put another way, to keep forming and guard their Christian worldview). Hidden Worldviews

The authors’ premise is that the everyday influences of our culture – not the formal philosophies of academics – are the greatest challenge to faithful Christian living because they are hidden in plain sight. Their affect is stealthy and corrupting. As Wilkens and Sanford put it; “their power over us is increased since we are often unaware of how they shape our life and ideas” (p. 13).

Romans 12:1-2 provides the theme for the book. Here’s the passage from The Message: “Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

A worldview is defined as a way of looking at the world and assessing my place in it; it is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart. I describe a worldview as the knowledge worth knowing; the values worth holding; the actions worth taking. It is the foundation on which we live and move and have our being (cf. Acts 17:28)

The biblical concept of the heart involves emotions, wisdom, desire, will, spirituality, and intellect. The heart is what defines us! It is what God is most interested in when it comes to forming Christ in us (cf. Gal. 4:19). Wilkens and Sanford explain that we don’t think our way into holding a worldview – the shaping of our heart – we experience it. It comes to us not like a textbook but rather a story; a story we buy in to – sometimes without even realizing it.

The topics I will cover are part of the cultural water in which we swim, soak, and splash. This past summer I took a Discover Scuba class at our local outdoor pool. We swim in this pool regularly and never think much about what’s in the water – after all, with the naked eye we can only observe it from above. But with scuba goggles on I saw our pool from a whole new troubling perspective! There was an incredible amount of debris in the water I was swimming in – it was hidden in plain sight.

Underwater particles 

The goal of this series is to become more aware of the cultural water we are swimming in. Following the book’s content, I will address topics like individualism, consumerism, naturalism, scientism, etc. By examining these worldviews we can learn their heart orientation, their effect on our lives, and as a result equip ourselves to test for God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.


Wilkens, S. & Sanford, M. (2009). Hidden worldviews: Eight cultural stories that shape our lives. Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What do you mean by “learning”?

Seymour Sarason’s 2004 book And What Do YOU Mean by Learning? keeps pushing the reader to think about what we define as learning. "Learning" is the word most used in educational literature and yet educators have great difficulty in defining it. Sarason demonstrates that the lack of clarity about the concept of learning is at the root of the disappointments of educational reform, the inadequacies of teacher preparatory programs, and policy writing.


Central to Sarason's questions is the distinction between the contexts of productive and unproductive learning; the latter being far more frequent than the former. Here are Sarason’s two main points for the book:

  • First, we’ll never get true “reform” in education until we come to some consensus on a more accurate definition of learning.
  • Second, that “productive learning” as he defines it doesn’t happen much at all in schools.

Sarason writes:

“Learning is not a thing, it is a process…I try on these pages to distinguish between contexts of productive and unproductive learning. And by productive, I mean that the learning process is one that engenders and reinforces wanting to learn more. Absent wanting to learn, the learning context is unproductive or counterproductive. Is it not noteworthy that the word or concept of learning probably has the highest of all word counts in the diverse literature in education and yet when people are asked what they mean by learning they are taken aback, stammer or stutter, and come up with a sentence or two which they admit is vague and unsatisfactory?” (from the introduction)

Learning = participating in the divine nature. 

Let’s consider how Peter describes the learning process of the Christian life:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if any of you do not have them, you are near-sighted and blind, and you have forgotten that you have been cleansed from your past sins.” (2 Peter 1:3–9, TNIV)


So then learning is truly productive learning when it makes you want to learn more. Or as Peter might say, it makes you want to add more godly qualities to your faith. In the context of Christian education, I would suggest that learning that is productive makes you want to learn about God more and be continually transformed into the image of his Son.

Glossing over what we mean by learning limits our teaching efforts. An educator’s business is learning. Only when we become aware of what learning encompasses and the contexts in which it occurs can we have a starting point for real education

Monday, March 21, 2011

The strange prosperity of the ungodly 2

Psalm 77:17-20

17 Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.

18 Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction.

19 In an instant they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors.

20 When you arise, O Lord, you will laugh at their silly ideas as a person laughs at dreams in the morning.


Siffleur Falls and Canyon come to mind when reading this portion of Psalm 77. One side of the canyon is a sheer, jagged drop while the other is a smooth slope. The mist from the falls and churning river below keep the sloped side moist and very slippery. The hike up to the falls features danger signs about standing too close to the slippery slope. Some have actually died from foolishly stepping too far out on the slope only to be swept into the icy rapids below. 

From his new perspective, Asaph sees the ease, wealth, comfort, good health, and security of the ungodly are clearly temporary. A life of worldliness is its own undoing; it contains the seeds of its own destruction. Gradually, then suddenly, the ungodly will be faced with the emptiness and consequences of their life’s pursuits

Asaph had no reason to envy the ungodly. Ironically, their prosperity would contribute to their downfall.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.

26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is my portion forever.

This psalm puts the spotlight on the struggles believers have concerning disparity of lifestyle. After all, shouldn’t it make sense that the godly should enjoy life while the ungodly should go with less!? To persist in trusting God when the ungodly prosper is a maturing test of faith. In those times, the believer can struggle with envy, futility, and weariness (c.f. Psalm 73).

Asaph’s renewal underscores the importance of regularly placing yourself in the path of God’s influence, especially in times of great doubt. The mature understand, albeit with difficulty, that the immediate benefits of the “good life” the ungodly live will come at the price of the eternal “better life” with God. Oh, what a challenge these times can be!

“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD.
There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.”
(Proverbs 23:17-18)

Monday, March 14, 2011

The strange benefits of temptation

According to Luke’s gospel, after being anointed with the Spirit (3:22), Jesus is now “full of the Holy Spirit” and “led by the Spirit into the wilderness” to be tempted (4:1-13). Why was this event important for Luke’s reader? The lengthy genealogy and wilderness setting portrayed by Luke evoke images of Adam and Israel’s disobedience and their failure to resist temptation. For the reader, these allusions are contrasted by the victory of Jesus as God’s faithful Son.


The story brings out a faith dilemma for modern Christians: Why does God allow Satan to tempt us?

The biblical writers did not sharply distinguish between tests and temptations. We often separate these as if they are different experiences. However, the biblical writers had no problem using one word to mean tests in one verse and then using the very same word to mean temptations just a few verses later.

Temptations are a normal part of the Christian life. They are part of God’s curriculum for us. Either you are in one now, you are just ending one, or you are getting ready for the next one (Amen?!).

God seems to present us before a test/temptation so that by following him and by trusting his Word in those circumstances we become stronger. Our faith is confirmed and we become an example to other people of victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Because of this, we would do well to recognize when we are in a temptation, especially when Satan’s comments are like those said to Jesus: “If you are…” Here are some I have learned to recognize along with some scriptural responses:

1. “If that is what Christians are like this, why bother? You are a better person than they are.”

a. It is written: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34); Have mercy on me Lord, a sinner (Luke 18:13); Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners of whom I am the worst (1 Tim. 1:15).

2. “God is silent to you. It seems you are on your own.”

a. It is written: Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you (Heb. 13:5)

3. “God helps those who help themselves. You need to do something now!”

a. It is written: They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. (Isa. 40:31)

4. “Maybe all this “faith” stuff is a little immature. Perhaps it’s time to put away childish things and take responsibility for your own life.”

a. It is written: “Lord, to whom else shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. (John 6:68)

Heart Bible

5. “You need to keep building your qualifications, accomplishments, and reputation. That’s the only way to get the respect of your church leaders.”

a. It is written: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ (Phil. 4:7-9); Am I now trying to win human approval, or God’s approval? (Gal. 1:10)

6. “You’ll have time to focus on your spiritual life later. It’s time to make relationships with those who can further your career. Besides, you won’t be affected by their questionable ethics. That’s what you can look back on and be proud of.”

a. It is written: Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. (Ps. 84:10)

7. “Look at all you have invested in your education, your connections, and your accomplishments. You deserve more reward than this.”

a. It is written: Those who love money never have money enough; though who love wealth are never satisfied with their income (Eccl. 5:10); the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The strange prosperity of the ungodly 1

A frequent strategy in my teaching is to contrast the Christian life with the worldly life. Aspects of our struggle with worldliness always seem to arise. This often causes a faith dilemma for those who trust in God’s goodness but also witness an odd disparity in lifestyle with some of those who dismiss God but are quite wealthy.  The dilemma leads to the question: why should the people who reject God be better off than those who trust Him?

This situation reminds me of the expression “Keeping up with the Joneses”, which refers to the comparisons people draw to their neighbours as a benchmark for social or financial success. Their homes, cars, clothes, and other possessions are the evidence of such success. To fail to "keep up with the Joneses" is perceived as inferiority.


In Psalm 73, Asaph describes his mental and emotional struggle when he compared his life as one committed to the LORD with the lives of his acquaintances who did not put God first. It causes him deep discouragement:

1 Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure.

2 But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.

3 For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.

4 They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong.

5 They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.

6 They wear pride like a jewelled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty.

The evidence before Asaph challenged him to his very core. Is godly living a joke? Were the irreligious and ungodly enjoying the only real goodness available? Was he missing out on the actual “good life”? He goes on to describe this:

12 Look at these wicked people—enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.

13 Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?

14 I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain.

15 If I had really spoken this way to others, I would have been a traitor to your people.

16 So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is!

Consider the parallels today:

  • A single Christian remains lonely while their promiscuous friend never seems to be without a romantic relationship.
  • An ambitious co-worker who “doctors” reports and curries favour receives a promotion while an honest man of integrity is laid off.
  • A wealthy celebrity retains legions of adoring fans despite blatant acts of irresponsibility and disregard for the law.
  • An incompetent politician is elected to office because of their charisma then proceeds to mismanage the budget and dole out patronage appointments.

How can we learn to nurture our desire for God and his ways? Especially when there’s such an onslaught of messages, desirable material goods, relationships, and influences around us every day. What a difficult task this is!