Monday, July 19, 2010

The Cardinal and the Archbishop

I’ve been rereading a study of Cardinal Richelieu’s rise to political power and in doing so have found myself contrasting the Cardinal with another French Catholic leader, Archbishop Francois Fenelon.

Richelieu (1585 – 1642) is best known as the architect of the centralized French state; Fenelon (1651 – 1715) is not widely known, but his influence continues in the church to this day.

While there are many interesting contrasts between these two Frenchmen, two particularly strike me; character and priority.

With Richelieu, the end justifies the means and relationships are utilitarian; with Fenelon the end and the means are inseparable and relationships are sacred to the point of self-sacrifice.

Richelieu strives to establish a strong French state; Fenelon seeks first the Kingdom of God. Richelieu sacrifices others; Fenelon sacrifices himself. Fenelon desires to impart Christian character to the French Court; Richelieu instills the power of the sword. Fenelon suffers banishment; Richelieu comes to be considered the world’s first Prime Minister – though not a Prime Minister in the parliamentary sense, for he wields an autocratic government.

Richelieu gives his heart to the State of France; Fenelon gives his heart to Christ and His Church. If you read Oswald Chambers, A.W. Tozer, John Wesley, William Law, or Andrew Murray, to name just a few Protestant writers with longevity, you are reading men who have been touched by Fenelon.

Fenelon ministered to troops on both sides of the fighting between England and France as they marched through his diocese of Crambrai; Andrew Murray ministered to both English and Boer troops during their war. The difference was that the English and French respected Fenelon; while the English and Boers vilified Murray – they insisted he take sides. Perhaps in Fenelon’s time the church was seen as transcendent, while in Murray’s time it had degenerated into an arm of nationalism? (Much like our own time?)

I wonder which model the American Church follows today? Richelieu, or Fenelon and Murray?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Decision – LeBron James and Me

We don’t have television and we don’t read the daily paper – I don’t say that with pride but neither do I say it with apology. I do write it to say that there is a lot of trivia that happens that I don’t know about and I’m glad of it. I wish we’d made the electronic-detox decision years ago – and we still probably watch too many DVD’s.

Anyway, yesterday our friend and neighbor Patrick was telling me that LeBron James, the basketball star, had a one-hour television special to showcase his decision of what team he would sign a contract with. People watched it, advertisers paid for time, and people have been talking about it for a few days. Then, Patrick further told me, the team that Mr.James signed with, the Miami Heat, sold out their arena and had a production in which they introduced Mr. James and some of his teammates. I’m told Mr. James and company danced onto the stage with music and smoke and who knows what else.

I thought Mr. James was a basketball player? But that’s really beside the point of this post. Oh well, maybe not entirely – I mean whatever happened to sport for sport’s sake? Or doing a good job for the sake of doing a good job? Whether it is Mr. James or Mr. Trump or all of their wannabes of whatever ilk – it is less and less about the craft or profession and more and more about the image – is it appearance or is it reality (to hearken back to a previous post)?

What struck me is that Mr. James’s one-hour special was called, The Decision. What a fool’s paradise we live in when we think that such a decision deserves notice. What we should be concerned about is the decision we all make concerning Jesus Christ – and there are only two teams in this league, so to speak, that of Christ and that of those in rebellion against Christ. And even when we’ve made a decision to give our lives to Christ, trusting and following Him as our Lord, what do our daily decisions look like? Are our decisions Christ-centered, animated by His grace and life; or are they self-centered and self-serving?

One day Mr. James may wonder why those closest to him never pointed out that there is a decision of eternal consequences that he needed to make for Christ. One day he may well desire the opportunity to trade the jersey of the Miami Heat for an identity in Jesus Christ. But one day it may be too late.

And what about me? While I have decided to follow Jesus, what decisions do I fail to make each day that would bring glory to Him and blessing to others?

I don’t really know that Mr. James is that much different from the rest of us, he is just more overt about it. Most of us wear our jerseys with puffed-out chests, whether they be corporate or civic or political or economic or academic or, sad to say, religious – you name it, we’ve all worn them – we just weren’t smart enough to have a television special.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Appearance or Reality?

Here’s a piece of music I heard this morning, “This was too much in appearance and too little in reality.”

This is a line from one of Fenelon’s letters. I wonder how many times…not in my life, which would be as the sand by the sea, but yesterday…I was too much in appearance and too little in reality? I wonder how many times today I shall be too much in appearance and too little in reality? This reality thing can be swimming against the tide can’t it?

Of course we work around it by saying, “Perception is reality.” That is our trump card, our carte blanche, our Get out of Jail Free card. One would think the way we play that card that Milton Bradley invented the ethical rules of the universe.

Perceptions can indeed be important, but they are important not because they necessarily represent the ground/substance of reality; they are important in the measure they are grounded in reality.

Is my character grounded in the reality of Christ, or is it a facade on a Hollywood movie-studio street? Are the things upon which I base decisions rooted and grounded in the Person of Jesus Christ, or would Machiavelli or Madison Avenue or popular Christianity prove me and find me acceptable?

Is my life embedded in the Prime Realty, the Holy Trinity?

Jesus was constantly bumping up against hypocrisy, but it wasn’t individual hypocrisy so much as systemic hypocrisy – a system of appearances, a matrix of facade, a false persona. This is our challenge. It is the challenge of Revelation Chapter 13 that we have each day, shall we give our minds and hearts to a persona antithetical to the Lamb of Revelation Chapter 14?

We fail to see the danger of false personas. We invite the uninitiated into collective religious personas which are antithetical to the Body of Christ; those religious personas are a matrix within which we live, they form our communication patterns, they become our measure of acceptance or rejection, we become the Corinthians with competing groups – when we do that we “walk as mere men” according to Paul; we do not live as the sons and daughters of the Living God – ah, but yes, we can sell books, pack buildings, and market ourselves when we master appearances.

Perhaps we forget that the beast of Revelation 13 is not the only false persona of the Apocalypse; there is the whore as well – the seductress that is the counterpoint to the Bride of the Lamb. She invites us to a bed of communion that just feels so right how could it be wrong? 

Appearance or reality? What is it in my own life? What is it within the church?  

Friday, July 9, 2010

And The Flood Came

During the time I was reading L’Engle’s Many Waters I was thinking about the words of Christ in Matthew 24, "And the flood came and took them all away.”"

While many folks look at the passage and Christ’s words, “Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left…” and think of the Rapture (a subject I’ve drafted some thoughts on that may appear soon), they fail to recognize that the ones “taken away” in Noah’s time, and therefore in this passage, were not believers but unbelievers; but why let a small thing such as the meaning of the text divert our attention?

As I was saying, I was pondering “the flood came and took them all away.” Now what might a flood without water look like? We know that we have God’s promise that He won’t destroy the world by water again, and while yes, we have an image of fire engulfing the existing heavens and earth – (analogical and metaphorical?) – right now I’m interested in what a flood without water might look like.

What takes people away in judgment? The idolatry of materialism? Humanism – the deification of self? Rejection of the image of God? Yes, I’m sure these things do sweep people away.

What else might sweep people away? Preoccupation with news, speculation about the future, political obsession, retaliation using the weapons of the natural man such as vitriolic, sarcasm, and slander? I think so.

The political and social things many Christians think are dangers to the Church are not dangers at all – unless God has died or shrunk or abdicated sovereignty – what are dangers to the Church in American is the way the Church responds to opposition and pressure – to respond in kind is to be swept away by a flood, a flood of fear, of anxiety, of mistrust in Christ.

We are to overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony, we are to be patient and persevere, Rev. 12:11; 13:6 – 10. If we do not learn to respond to opposition in peace and grace we are deluding ourselves into thinking that we will be faithful as pressure increases. We are not called to stand before Caiaphas, or Pilate, or Herod, or Festus, or Caesar by responding in kind, by being taken away by the very waters that are engulfing the world that lies in the wicked one (1John 5:19) – we are called to stand before all men as subjects of the Prince of Peace.

The flood that spews from the mouths of the talking heads engulfing unwary listeners and drawing them into a thought and emotional matrix is one alien to the Christ who sits at His Father’s right hand. The flood of righteous indignation that issues forth from certain “Christian” leaders does not point people to Christ and it does not teach us how to suffer, nor does it call us to koinonia as Christ’s distinctive people – instead this flood bids us use the world’s weapons and ways – as it draws our minds away from Christ and evangelism and koinonia.

What floods do you see around you?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Madeleine L’Engle – Many Waters

About a week ago I finished Madeleine L’Engle's, Many Waters. It is the fourth book in the A Wrinkle In Time quartet, and I seem to recall that Ms. L’Engle added a fifth to the series, but can’t seem to track down where I read that.

I note that the age level for this book is 9 – 12, which kind of surprises me in that there is subtle and not-so-subtle sensuality in the story – I think when it does appear that it contributes to the story, especially considering that the nexus is the generation of Noah and the Flood – there isn’t anything in the story that isn’t in the Bible in terms of sensuality – in fact, it makes the Bible look tame. Just thought I’d mention this facet of what was an enjoyable read.

Regarding ages 9 – 12, perhaps L’Engle is like Lewis and Narnia in that you probably need to be young or old to appreciate it – otherwise you’re just too sophisticated to enjoy the beauty.

I love what Ms. L’Engle does with time and space in this series, and while she works with some assumptions in this story that rigid theological purists might have heartburn over (for example, she takes the approach that the “sons of God” of Genesis 6:2 were angelic-type beings – something over which reasonable people can disagree) – her assumptions work well within the story – she isn’t arguing theology, she’s taking us on an adventure.

Americans are often limited by the two great ponds on our east and west – the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Whereas my European friends and acquaintances are comfortable with traveling from nation to nation and language to language, we tend to be hesitant about engaging other cultures and isolated in our viewpoints. I wonder if that might be true for most of us in terms of thinking of time and space?

Biblical writers seem comfortable with moving from the beginning to the end and the in-between and then the end and then the beginning – they transition back and forth and touch down in their present with application – perhaps that’s a taste of eternity?

I won’t say anything more about the book lest the plot and the beauty of discovery be marred; but I do think I’ll keep my eye out for seraphim and try not to limit myself to 2010 A.D., or even to this upstairs office I’m in – I mean, you just never know what might occur at the next keyboard stroke.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Will the World End in 2012?: A Christian Guide to the Question Everyone's Asking

The other day I went into a Lifeway bookstore to rest my eyes from the computer at work and to stretch my legs; to just get out of the office for a few minutes. As I began my browsing jog around the store the first rack of books consisted of the latest and greatest releases, and on the top shelf of the latest and greatest releases was a book with the above title by Raymond Hundley.

The first thing that struck me was that I wasn’t aware everyone was asking “"the Question.” Perhaps the editors at publisher Thomas Nelson failed in their PR campaign?

Can someone tell me what possible motive there is in such a title other than raw money? There is no intellectual or moral or Christian honesty in that title. That is exactly the type of hype I’d expect from Oprah or General Motors, or Abercrombie and Fitch – I’m not sure that Hugh Heffner ever used such hype – though to satisfy your curiosity I’m not speaking from personal experience on that one.

And if raw money is the motive, and I can think of no other motive for the title is indeed a patent lie designed to produce sales – then we have Thomas Nelson engaging in what is sometimes referred to as one of the oldest professions known to man – prostitution. However, this is an insult to prostitutes because I believe it likely that most prostitutes engage in their vocational activity in order to support themselves, Thomas Nelson, on the other hand, isn’t likely to starve or be homeless tomorrow if their executives engage in a modicum of honesty and deportment.

Now gentle reader, if you are offended by my comparison of Thomas Nelson with prostitution (and Thomas Nelson has plenty of company in the world of “Christian” publishing) then may I ask “why”? What is the nature and source of your offense? Is it that I invoke unpleasant images of the type that God uses in Ezekiel Chapter 23? Or is it that there is harlotry in “Christian” (and I use the term in its broadest application) publishing and we ourselves have become too promiscuous to sense anything amiss?

And what of Lifeway bookstore? Is there no discernment and integrity in prominently displaying a title worthy of Oprah, the New Age, or the latest Hollywood release?

How can a publisher publish Bibles on one press run and engage in deceptive titles the next? How can a bookstore have Bibles in one aisle and place – front and center – such nonsense as “The Question Everyone Is Asking” as you walk through its door? (When is the last time you went into a “Christian” bookstore and the first thing you saw were Bibles?)

I suspect that, volume per volume, there is more hype in the form of self-centered and self-help marketing, and in creating “questions that everyone is asking” in “Christian” publishing than in general publishing. I suspect there is more literary integrity in general publishing than in so-called Christian publishing. And I’m pretty certain that the atmosphere in Borders or Barnes and Noble is, by and large, a bit more healthy than it is in Lifeway, Family Christian Bookstore, and their competitors, because at least in Barnes and Noble and Borders the selling of sheep and doves and religious money changing is relegated to one or two aisles – the aisles containing “Christian” books.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Continuing with the Puritan Prayer quote from the two previous posts:
Preserve me from the intoxication that comes of prosperity; sober me when I am glad with a joy that comes not from thee. Lead me safely on to the eternal kingdom, not asking whether the road be rough or smooth.
I request only to see the face of him I love, to be content with bread to eat, with raiment to put on, if I can be brought to thy house in peace.

I wonder how often my focus has been “whether the road be rough or smooth”? Is my focus on the road or is it on Jesus? I think I’ve been too occupied with the road. Isn’t much of our teaching in the church about the road rather than about the Way? 

Rough road = not a good Christian life. Smooth road = God’s pleasure.

Where did we get this nonsense? Isn’t it about knowing Him?

“I request only to see the face of him I love…” Is there any other request to be made on our own behalf? I hear the Psalmist crying, “Whom do I have in heaven but You? And there is none I desire on earth besides You.”

“…to be content with bread to eat, with raiment to put on…” I hear Paul writing, “…if we have food and raiment, let us be content.” But we aren’t, are we? We quote Paul’s words, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” yet we seldom catch the context of abasing and abounding, of being thankful, of setting our minds on the pure and holy, of allowing the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

“…if I can be brought to thy house in peace.” This life is a prelude to eternity, it is the foyer, the threshold for the rest of our lives – of which there is – for those in Christ – no “rest of our lives” in the sense of a remainder, of a diminishing time period, or quality, for it is eternal. The “rest” of our lives is not 20 years, or 10 years, or 60 years, or one week – there is no remainder of life – there is only the ages to come in which God is showing His kindness to those who are in His Son (Eph. 2:7).

Do we see ourselves as on pilgrimage? Do we live as if this life is indeed a prelude to eternity? What do our attitudes, actions, words, time, and checkbooks tell us about whether we view ourselves as citizens of this age or of the age to come in Christ? 

Christ taught us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. Is that just a quaint esoteric saying?