Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Reputation Protection

Services devoted to protecting online reputations are now a well-established part of the online marketplace. People (and companies) pay good money to keep their public image as untarnished as possible. Who can blame them? Reputation is important. A single malicious review has the potential to ultimately bankrupt a company. One negative comment could keep a person from getting hired to do the job they’re so well qualified to do.

I instinctively protect my own reputation. I suspect we all do. It’s only natural – a bit like our avoidance of physical pain. There are more kinds of pain than physical. Knowing that people think poorly of us is painful, even if the pain isn’t physical.

As I said, I think we all protect our own reputations. We don’t want the pain of shame. But what about our neighbors’ reputations?

The simple truth is that we should be just as concerned for our neighbor’s reputation as we are for our own. We should not needlessly broadcast the faults and shortcomings of the people around us. We should instead be quick to let people know about our neighbor’s strengths. After all, isn’t that how we’d all like to be treated?

Every church I know of accepts the golden rule. Christians claim to be all about “Loving God and Loving People.” The motto is a good one. We want to treat people like we would like to be treated. But living out that lofty ideal is a constant struggle. We can live lives of sacrificial love through the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray for his help in guarding one another’s reputations just as zealously as we do our own.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: Living the Quaker Way

The book begins with a couple of short chapters that give a quick introduction to the Quaker religion (or is it a way of life?). The bulk of the book consists of five chapters corresponding to the five major values of the Quaker way -- Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, and Equality.

Philip Gulley writes well. His chapter on Simplicity is full of wisdom and sound teaching. Other than that, there's not much good I can say about this book. His tone becomes more critical as he moves into the chapter about peace, perhaps reflecting his passion for the subject and the weight he feels it deserves. Unfortunately, he spent an entire lengthy chapter without mentioning abortion(!), the role of police(?), or whether self-defense or the protection of one's family ever justifies violence. The remaining chapters were a mixed bag of a bit of good stuff along with plenty of theological and political liberalism. If you're a fan of gay marriage, abortion, socialism, and religious pluralism you might well enjoy this well-written book.

Thanks to Convergent for a free review copy. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Book Review: Jesus On Every Page

Jesus On Every Page helps us see that the whole Bible, from start to finish, reveals Jesus. The New Testament itself insists that the Old Testament was all about Jesus. David Murray provides helpful guidance for those who seek to read the Scriptures faithfully and typologically. Each chapter includes study questions.

This book is written for a popular audience. You won’t be befuddled by obscure vocabulary or material that depends on extensive prior knowledge in order to be understood. Even though I can’t affirm all that Murray says, what he does say tends to be basic enough that most Christians will take no issue with it.  Most of my criticisms are on the nitpicky side. Overall, this book is a good introduction to an important subject. 

Thanks to Thomas Nelson publishers for the review copy. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Beware the Evil Eye

Remember Gilligan’s Island? Growing up, I spent many yours watching re-runs of that classic (and very silly) sitcom. In spite of it's obvious silliness the show included allusions to Shakespeare, Melville, and Becket. Gilligan’s Island also explored many popular American idioms. Gilligan, the knave character, regularly took idiomatic expressions quite literally, to the amusement of generations of Americans.

Idioms are fruitful sources of humor. My wife has told me about her childhood affection for Amelia Bedelia, a children’s book character who made the same sort of jokes as Gilligan (taking idioms in a wooden literal sense). Not only do idioms provide us with fuel for comedy, they add color to our linguistic worlds. Phrases like: 

“Break a leg”

“Chew the fat”

“Face the music”

“On the ball”

“Let the cat out of the bag”

“Sleep tight”

“Toe the line”

Idioms provide variety, beauty, and clarity. At least, that is, until they don’t.

Idioms make sense when they’re born. Eventually they become so embedded in a language that they die. They lose their poignancy. If I tell you that I’m “under the weather” I suspect that you’ll not think of weather at all. You’ll not even notice the idiom. I might as well have simply said “I’m sick.” And so, new idioms are constantly being born to replace geriatric and deceased idioms. But what happens to the old idioms? Eventually, they fall out of circulation and then cease to communicate.

Take, for instance, the expression “swimmingly.” I think the original idea was that events were transpiring in a way that could be likened to swimming – smoothly, like through water. Only a couple of weeks ago I learned that the term (which until then was a regular part of my vocabulary) is basically obsolete. People no longer know what it means.

The Bible, being as ancient as it is, contains many obsolete idioms. We don’t understand them. And sometimes we don’t even recognize their presence. We’re a bit like Gilligan or Amelia Bedelia – taking things quite literally.

One example of an idiom we miss is the “evil eye” Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6:23.

"The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. "But if your eye is bad [or evil], your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Mat 6:22-23)

The verses immediately preceding teach the importance of laying up treasure in heaven rather than on earth. And the verse immediately following these verses warns against attempts at dividing ones loyalty between God and mammon (an Aramaic word for riches, here personified as a false God). So the context certainly leads us to expect that these two verses (22-23) relate to riches.

An old Hebrew idiom is hidden in this text. “The evil eye” was a way of referring to the sin of greed (Prov 28:22; 23:6; Mat 20:15; Mark 7:22 – visible in KJV). So it may be that the “clear” or “single” eye of verse 22 actually refers to generosity. And “the evil eye” of verse 23 refers to contrasting stinginess.

There remains some question about the “good” eye. It could refer to a singular focus on discipleship. It could also refer to generosity. However, there seems to be some consensus about “the evil eye” of verse 23 – it is a warning against greed.

“Clueing in” (or “catching on”) to this sort of ancient foreign idiom can be difficult. Some translators leave them be in all their befuddling glory while others attempt to adapt them so that their intended meaning will not be lost on the contemporary audience. Yet none of the translations I regularly use (KJV, NAS, NET, NIV, NAB, NKJ, ESV, NLT, NRS, RSV, YLT) gave any indication that covetousness might be in view in verse 23. This is a good example of why good bible commentaries are a valuable tool for Christian disciples.

Perhaps we’d better “hit the books.”

Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
Carson, “Matthew” Expositor’s Bible Commentary
Hagner, “Matthew” Word Biblical Commentary

Monday, August 19, 2013

Are All Sins Equal?

It’s wrong to steal a pack of gum from the convenience store. It’s also wrong to eat a stranger’s face off. Though these two crimes belong to the same category – they are both crimes – they’re worlds apart. And the penalties our justice system metes out reflect this difference.

What about God’s perspective? Does God think chewing stolen gum is just as bad as chewing a stolen face? The answer may not be as obvious as you think.

God is, by definition, quite different from us. If God tells us that, from his perspective, all sins are equally grave then we should take him at his word – even if it violently contradicts our intuitions.

Many Christians believe that God does in fact consider all sins to be equal. After all, Jesus says that to look at a woman lustfully is to commit adultery with her in one’s heart (Matthew 5:28). And his brother, James, says that if one obeys the entire law but fails at one point he is guilty of breaking 
the whole law (James 2:10).

The conviction that all sins are equal in God’s sight (even if not in ours) comes up frequently in current controversies. Most of us recognize that Christians often fail in our aim to live holy lives. From that premise the argument goes something like: Since speaking unkind words to a spouse is on par with aborting a baby in God’s eyes then we should treat the two sins the same (i.e. with equal leniency).

If gossip and rape are equal then I believe we should consider gossip to be a very serious matter. After all, sin is sin. But what if they aren’t equal? What if our intuitions are right?

Different Punishments
You’ve heard the old expression, “an eye for an eye”? That comes from the Bible. The idea was that if a person lost an eye in a violent attack the offender was sentenced to lose an eye too. If a tooth was lost then a tooth was taken. The punishment was tailored to fit the crime.

In the Old Testament some sins were punished by death (Ex 21:16; Lev 20:10-12; 24:17; etc.) Others were punished by whipping or a fine (Deut 25:1-3; Ex 22:1-4; etc.). Before the perfect sacrifice came (Jesus) different sins also required different sacrifices (Lev 4-7).

The New Testament reveals that God still punishes some sins more severely than others (Heb 2:2-3; 10:28-29; 1 John 5:16). The practice of certain sins unequivocally precludes one from entering the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21).

If all crimes were the same in God’s eyes we could reasonably expect that all punishments would be the same. After all, we know that God is just. Since the punishments God issues differ it’s reasonable to think that, from his perspective, there are gradations of guilt – that some sins are worse than others.

Jesus’ Perspective
If God in the flesh said anything about this subject we ought to pay close attention. Jesus told us that some parts of the law were “weightier” than others (Mat 23:23), that some had committed a “greater sin” than others (John 19:11), and he warned that some will receive harsher sentences than others on the Day of Judgment (Luke 12:47-48). Jesus also spoke of one particular sin that could never be forgiven (Mat 12:31).

It sounds like Jesus considered some sins to be worse than others.

Relationships and Transgressions
All sins do not impact our relationships to the same degree. If, for instance, my wife steps on my toe out of anger the effect on our relationship would be minimal. If I then responded by giving her a concussion the effects would be much more severe. I contend that the same is true of our relationship with God – some sins hurt the relationship more than others.

Gossiping would damage my relationship with God (especially if I know better). Abortion, being the greater sin (especially if I know better), would do even greater damage.

This recognition, that some sins are more destructive to our relationships with God and neighbor, should impact the way we exhort (and even rebuke) one another. If I see a brother or sister sin a “small” sin I may only need to pray for them or offer a very mild and meek correction. If, on the other hand, I see my brother or sister engaging in a more serious offense I will need to respond in a way that fits the higher stakes of the situation. The goal is and must always be to preserve and protect sacred relationships.

Hate and Love
As Christians we have two great commandments – Love God and Love our Neighbors. There’s a flip side to that commandment. When our affections begin to line up with God’s we begin to not only love – we begin to hate. Loving my God and my neighbor means hating sin. That means the big sins and the little sins, the few sins and the many sins – it especially means my sins.

Since all sins are not equal we should hate some sins even more than others. But, since all sinners are equal (made in God’s image), we should love all sinners equally – sincerely and sacrificially. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013


We live busy lives. We’re inundated by news, music, phone calls, texts, Facebook, Twitter, and email – and that’s just the drive to work! Our down time includes TV and movies. Books are nice decorations. And we do intend to read them – when we have time. But for now, we’re busy.

How does all this distraction relate to our relationships with God and one another? I think you know the answer. Relationships suffer. Our speed produces an unparalleled quantity of life and an astoundingly empty quality of life. The best things in life are free – but they are not instant. Relationships take time.

The deep thinking and intimate communion necessary for holy living cannot happen without occasions of quiet and solitude. 

A life without meditation tends toward chaos and confusion. In the muddled haze of busyness our relationships suffer and our priorities become misaligned. Meditation helps us to shift our perspectives back into place. Deep peace of mind comes when we fix our focus on the things of God. Soon enough our lives and relationships begin to return to proper order. We see clearly again.

Think about it. When was the last time you sat in silence, pondering and praying, for as little as 10 minutes? Slow down. Read and ponder these verses: Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:1-3; 19:14; 49:3; 63:5-6; 77:11-12; 104:33-34; 119: 15,23,27,48,78,97,99,148; 143:5; 145:5

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Victory of Defeat

Everyone here is at war from the beginning. From childhood we fight against our common enemy. He’s stronger than us, but still we fight. We don’t know him, but still we count him an enemy. After all, everybody knows what he’s out to do. He wants to control our lives. He wants to rule over us all. And so we all participate in the great rebellion. Well…almost all of us.

Some of us end up giving in. A few of us meet the Enemy and experience a crushing defeat. When confronted by his power we find ourselves broken. The few who have met the Enemy and been defeated by him discover something quite strange. The defeat is unique – it’s actually a victory.

When we learn that we’re on the wrong side of the great and ongoing cosmic conflict, laying down our weapons, we gain a Friend who sticks closer than a brother. We find that the One we were rebelling against actually deserves to be king. He’s the only ruler fit to govern the universe.

I’m glad to have lost this battle. This is one defeat I can rejoice about. I welcome him to rule over me and my family. Will you surrender too?