1 Corinthians 13: Faith, Hope, and Love

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV).

Attitudes matter.  When we exercise spiritual gifts, do we seek to glorify God or ourselves?

One of the hardest things to do is to give God the glory and not focus on ourselves.  Praying an ACTS prayer—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication—is helpful, for example, because our impulse is to cut straight to supplication—the give me (gimme) part of prayer.  Because God already knows our needs, we are better advised simply to praise God and trust that he will meet our needs.  Focusing on the gimme part of prayer hints that we do not fully trust God; the same is true when we express our love for other people.

Two false views of love are very popular today.  One is a grasping, selfish—stalker—kind of love.  Stalker love says:  if I cannot have you, then no one else can either.  For example, Beetle musician John Lennon was murdered in 1980 not by an enemy, but by a fan who earlier in the day had even sought an autograph from him[1].  The stalker’s love is rooted in desire to possess, not to share affection or relationship.

Another false view of love arises not from the desire to possess, but to project self on the object of our desire. The classic example is that of a parent living vicariously through the child. Unfulfilled ambitions are projected onto the child and the child is then manipulated to live out a hidden script.  Alternatively, a child may simply never be allowed to wander outside the shadow of the parent to develop fully as a person.  These same dynamics can also occur for highly dependent spouses.  This false view of love is motivated by a desire to control explicitly or implicitly.

The context for Paul’s comments about love is the expression of spiritual gifts.  In chapter 12, Paul makes the point that the Holy Spirit is the source of all spiritual gifts (12 v 11) and the purpose of the gifts is to serve the body of Christ (12 v 7).  Here in chapter 13, Paul makes the point that spiritual gifts not motivated by love for one another are not so spiritual.  Speaking in tongues without love, for example, is like beating your own drum (gong or cymbal; v 1).  This same theme continues even in chapter 14 where Paul gives explicit advice about using gifts, such as speaking in tongues and prophecy, properly in worship (14 v 4).

Clearly, like us the Corinthians do not have a proper attitude about gifts and they misunderstand the meaning of love.  Paul redefines love using the word, agape[2].  He does not use either phileo[3] often translated as brotherly love (think Philadelphia—the city of brotherly love).  He also does not use eros[4] usually translated as romantic love.  This humble, sacrificial definition of agape is unique to Paul (vv 4-7).

After defining agape, Paul goes on to suggest that he himself at one point held childish views which he gave up in adulthood—a polite way of suggesting they are childish in their view of love (v 11).  He then goes on to attribute this agape love to God himself, alluding to Moses’ encounter—face to face—with God on Mount Sinai (v 12; Numbers 12:8).  The argument is if God expresses a humble, sacrificial love, then we should too.

While Paul’s lesson here is about having a proper attitude about spiritual gifts, he also is careful to balance his view of agape love with faith and hope.  Love is not simply a warm, fuzzy feeling.   Paul balance faith, hope, and love in at least 4 other places in his letters[5].  Faith and hope balance love by anchoring it in our relationship with God.

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_John_Lennon

[2]ἀγάπη (BDAG 39)—the quality of warm regard for and interest in another, esteem, affection, regard, love–without limitation to very intimate relationships, and very seldom in general Greek of sexual attraction.

[3]φιλέω (BDAG 7742)—to have a special interest in someone or something frequently with focus on close association, have affection for, like, consider someone a friend.

[4]ἔρως (BDAG 3145)—passionate interest…ardor fondness.

[5]See:  (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, 5:8; Colossians 1:3-5; and Ephesians 1:15-21).

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1 Corintios 13: Fe, Esperanza y Amor

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

El amor es paciente, es bondadoso. El amor no es envidioso ni jactancioso ni orgulloso. No se comporta con rudeza, no es egoísta, no se enoja fácilmente, no guarda rencor. El amor no se deleita en la maldad sino que se regocija con la verdad. Todo lo disculpa, todo lo cree, todo lo espera, todo lo soporta (1 Corintios 13:4-7 NVI).

Las actitudes son importantes. Cuando ejercitamos los dones espirituales, qué buscamos para glorificar a Dios o a nosotros mismos?

Una de las cosas más difíciles de hacer es centrarse en dar gloria a Dios y no a nosotros mismos. Rezar una ACTS oración—adoración, confesión, acción de gracias (thanksgiving) y de súplica.  Es de gran ayuda ya que nuestro impulso es ir directo a la súplica—la dame parte de la oración. Porque Dios ya conoce nuestras necesidades, estamos mejor aconsejaron simplemente para alabar a Dios y confiamos en que va a satisfacer nuestras necesidades. Centrándose en la parte de la oración dame insinúa que no confiamos plenamente Dios; lo mismo es cierto cuando expresamos nuestro amor por otras personas.

Dos puntos de vista falsos de amor son muy populares hoy en día. Se trata de un agarre, egoísta—acosador—clase de amor. Amor Acosador dice: si yo no puedo tenerte, nadie más puede hacerlo tampoco. Por ejemplo, Beetle músico John Lennon fue asesinado en 1980, no por un enemigo, sino por un fan que más temprano en el día, incluso había buscado un autógrafo de él[1]. El amor del acosador tiene sus raíces en el deseo de poseer, de no compartir el afecto o relación.

Otra visión falsa del amor no surge del deseo de poseer, sino para proyectar auto en el objeto de nuestro deseo. El ejemplo clásico es el de un padre que vive vicariamente a través del niño. Ambiciones no cumplidas se proyectan sobre el niño y la niña se manipulan para vivir un script oculto. Alternativamente, un niño simplemente no se puede permitir a vagar fuera de la sombra de los padres para desarrollarse plenamente como persona. Estas mismas dinámicas también pueden ocurrir por cónyuges altamente dependientes. Esta falsa visión del amor está motivado por el deseo de controlar de forma explícita o implícita.

El contexto de los comentarios de Pablo sobre el amor es la expresión de los dones espirituales. En el capítulo 12, Pablo hace que el punto de que el Espíritu Santo es la fuente de todos los dones espirituales (12 v 11) y el propósito de los dones es servir al cuerpo de Cristo (12 v 7). Aquí, en el capítulo 13, Pablo hace el punto de que los dones espirituales no motivados por el amor mutuo no son tan espirituales. El hablar en lenguas sin amor, por ejemplo , es como golpear a su propio tambor (gong o címbalo ; v 1). Este mismo tema continúa incluso en el capítulo 14, donde Pablo da consejos explícitos sobre el uso de regalos, tales como el hablar en lenguas y la profecía, propiamente en la adoración (14 v 4).

Es evidente que, como nosotros los Corintios no tenemos una actitud apropiada acerca de los dones y ellos entienden mal el significado del amor. Paul redefine amor usando la palabra, agape[2]. Él no utiliza ya sea fileo[3] menudo traducido como el amor fraternal (piense Filadelfia—la ciudad del amor fraternal). Él también no utiliza eros[4]generalmente traducido como el amor romántico. Esta definición humilde, sacrificial del ágape es única para Pablo (vv. 4-7).

Después de definir el ágape, Pablo llega a sugerir que él mismo en un momento tenían puntos de vista infantil que dio en la edad adulta, una forma educada de lo que sugiere que son infantiles en su visión del amor (v 11). Luego pasa a la actitud de este amor ágape de Dios mismo, en alusión al encuentro cara de Moisés a cara con Dios en el Monte Sinaí (v 12; Números 12:8). El argumento es que si Dios expresa un amor sacrificial humilde, entonces también debería hacerlo.

Si bien la lección de Pablo aquí se trata de tener una actitud apropiada acerca de los dones espirituales, también tiene cuidado de equilibrar su visión del amor ágape con fe y esperanza. El amor no es simplemente una sensación cálida y difusa. Paul fe equilibrio, la esperanza y el amor en al menos otros 4 lugares en sus cartas[5]. La fe y el balance de la esperanza del amor por su anclaje en nuestra relación con Dios.

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_John_Lennon

[2]ἀγάπη (BDAG 39)—the quality of warm regard for and interest in another, esteem, affection, regard, love–without limitation to very intimate relationships, and very seldom in general Greek of sexual attraction.

[3]φιλέω (BDAG 7742)—to have a special interest in someone or something frequently with focus on close association, have affection for, like, consider someone a friend.

[4]ἔρως (BDAG 3145)—passionate interest…ardor fondness.

[5]See:  (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, 5:8; Colossians 1:3-5; and Ephesians 1:15-21).

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Guest Blogger David Wilkinson: Answer the Call!

David_Wilkerson_05232014Our guest blogger today is Chaplain David Wilkinson of the Loudoun County Fire and Rescue.

Answer the Call!

The recruitment campaign for Loudoun County Fire and Rescue has a double meaning for those who serve as Chaplains. We answer not only the call to help people, but also a call from God.

Without the call from God, we would struggle during emergencies to keep our faith and sanity. First responders face numerous stressful situations as they run into burning buildings and deal with other life-threatening emergencies. It should come as no surprise that they often need to talk about it. Unfortunately, it is a surprise to most people who idealize first responders thinking that they are tougher than the rest of us.  Statistically, first responders (police, fire, rescue, military) have a high incidence of divorce and suffer numerous other stress-related problems because of their work. What is perhaps most surprising is that hundreds of volunteers in Loudoun County accept this risk without out pay or other compensation just for the satisfaction of helping those in need.

Rescue chaplains not only aid the emergency medical services (EMS) staff their stress, they also work along side of the EMS staff in aiding family members experiencing these emergencies—injuries, loss of life, and property damage.

The hardest part of an emergency is dealing with the unknown. We typically want answers that only God can supply. What is taking so long? What is EMS team doing? Is there hope for full recovery?  Simple things are not so simple during emergencies. Still, chaplains are trained to be a nonanxious presence in these stressful circumstances.  The Apostle Paul writes:  I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13 ESV).

Medalian_05282014My call story is most personal.  My father was a fireman. One day as he worked under a car it slid off the jacks onto his chest. I was right there.  Being young and naive, I struggled to lift the car. Then, I heard a voice saying:  “Jack the car! Jack the car! Jack the car!” I did, and pulled him out, still living but bleeding internally. Waiting in the hospital for 10 long hours to hear from the surgeons exhausted me emotionally, but I realized that the voice that I heard during the accident was not a neighbor but God.  At that point, I realized that God was calling me to help not only my father but also other people.

What is God calling you to do?

Background

David Wilkinson grew up in Milford, Connecticut. He accepted God’s call on December 16, 1961 at the age of 14. He is now married with two children and six grandchildren. David is a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary [1], a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church [2], Herndon, Virginia, and a Stephen Minister [3].

David has been a member of the Sterling Voluntary Rescue Squad [4] for 7 years.

 

[1] www.WesleySeminary.edu.

[2] www.TrinityHerndon.org.

[3] www.StephenMinistries.org.

[4] www.SterlingRescue.org.

 

 

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Friedman Brings Healing by Shifting Focus from Individuals to the Family

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Edwin H. Friedman.  1985.  Generation to Generation:  Family Process in Church and Synagogue.  New York:  Gilford Press [1].

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Families matter more than normal (individualistic) intuition suggests.  A death in the family may leave one person with chronic migraine headaches; another may develop back pain or experience a heart attack; a third may exhibit psychiatric dysfunction.  A medical doctor or counselor treating only an individual’s symptoms may not have a high degree of success because the cause of the symptoms lies in the family system, not the individual.  While pastors and chaplains may not be surprised by this observation, standard medical and counseling training and practices focuses almost exclusively on the individual.

A relatively new field of counseling, family systems counseling, looks at the family as an emotional system.  What matters in family systems is not so much individual behavior, but how individuals in the family interact with one another.  Because any emotionally connected group—an office, business, or church—behaves in much the same way, family systems analysis has wide applicability.  Edwin Friedman’s book, Generation to Generation:  Family Process in Church and Synagogue, is probably the best known book in this field.

Friedman outlines 5 basic concepts in family systems theory, including:

  1. The identified patient;
  2. The concept of balance (homeostasis);
  3. Differentiation of self;
  4. The extended family field; and
  5. Emotional triangles (19).

Each of these concepts deserves discussion.

The Identified Patient.  Symptoms arise in a family system first in the weakest members of the system.  This unconscious scapegoating effect arises, in part, because they are least able to cope with problems elsewhere in the system like plumbing subject to excessive water pressure (21).  For example, a child may act out (nail biting, bed-wetting, fighting in school, teenage troubles, etc) because the parents have marital difficulties.  Focusing on the child may simply make the problem worse, while counseling the parents may not only resolve the marital difficulties, but the child’s issue as well.

Balance.  The family emotional system strives to maintain equilibrium (resist change) having an effect not unlike a thermostat.  When problems surface, questions according arise like:  what is out of equilibrium?  Why now? (24)  Ironically, familiar dysfunction may be preferred to therapeutic change (25).  Dynamic stability may accordingly be attained, in part, by how loosely or tightly individuals respond to changes.  Friedman classifies families as acting more like a serial (tightly integrated) or parallel (loosely integrated) electrical system (25-26).  Families that are loosely integrated exhibit a greater capacity to absorb stress simply because they are less reactive to the stress.

Differentiation of Self.  According to Friedman:  Differentiation means the capacity to be an “I” while remaining connected.  Differentiation increases the shock-absorbing capacity of the system by loosening the integration.  The ideal here is to remain engaged in the system but in an non-reactive manner—a nonanxious presence (27).  Great self-differentiation offers the opportunity for the entire system to change by reducing the automatic resistance to change posed by homeostasis (29).  Family leaders (including pastors in church families) who develop greater self-differentiation can accordingly bring healing in the face of challenges (30-31).  This is a principle that can aid leaders in many a dysfunctional organization [2].

Extended Family Field.  Understanding one’s extended family and family history can identify unresolved issues and repeating patterns.  The principle is that one cannot solve a family system’s problem by withdrawing temporally or geographically—in such events we simply take our issues with us.  Such problems have a nasty habit of reappearing kind of like genetic diseases transmitted by DNA.  Friedman (32) observes that:  family trees are always trees of knowledge and often they are also trees of life.  This re-emergence of family systems problems across time and distance extends the principle of homeostasis.

Emotional Triangles.  Friedman (35) writes:  An emotional triangle is formed by any three persons or issues…when any two parts of a system become uncomfortable with one another, they will “triangle in” or focus on a third person, or issue, as a way of stabilizing their own relationship with one another. This has the effect of putting stress on that third person to balance the system.  An unsuspecting pastor could, of course, end up participating in many such triangles and simply burn out.  This leads Friedman to observe that: stress is less the result of quantitative notion such as “overwork” and more the effect of our position in the triangle of our families (1).

The importance of the pastor’s stance in a church family is immediately obvious in this framework.  The pastor functions as a parent in the church family system.  Problems in the pastor’s family of origin have the potential to transmit immediately into the church family because of the pastor’s key role in the system.  Likewise, the pastor can also be easily triangled into families within the church family if the pastor is not a nonanxious presence within the system.  Homeostasis can leave a new pastor vulnerable to dysfunction in a church years after the apparent source of the problem, perhaps a prior pastor, has left.

What is fascinating about this line of thought is that, unlike in theories of culture, much of this activity is subconscious—a kind of emotional twin to the thought processes involved in discussions of culture.

Friedman wrote having worked as family therapist and ordained Jewish Rabbi for more than 30 years in the Washington DC metro area.  He writes in 12 chapters divided into 4 sections preceded by an introduction and followed by a bibliographic and index.  The chapter titles are:

  1. The Idea of a Family;
  2. Understanding Family Process;
  3. The Marital Bond;
  4. Child-focused Families;
  5. Body and Soul in the Family Process;
  6. When the Parent Becomes a Child;
  7. A Family Approach to Life-Cycle Ceremonies;
  8. Family Process and Organizational Life;
  9. Leadership and Self in a Congregational Family;
  10. Leaving and Entering a Congregational Family;
  11. The Immediate Family:  Conflict and Traps; and
  12. The Extended Family:  Its Potential for Salvation (ix-x).

Although Generation to Generation is a textbook, it is a fascinating read—Friedman is famous for his story-telling and he wrote another book, Friedman’s Fables (New York:  Gilford Press, 2014), which focuses more explicitly on the stories.

Applying Friedman’s principles in my own family life has brought enormous healing.  My seminary training, for example, worked to increase my level of self-differentiation within my family which is very close (fused in Friedman’s terminology).  This book is well worth the time and effort to read and study.  The life you save may be your own.

[1] www.Guilford.com.

[2] An entire book has been focused on this same principle:  Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky. 2002.  Leadership on the Ling:  Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading.  Boston:  Harvard Business School Press.

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1 Corinthians 12: Spiritual Gifts Point to the Holy Spirit

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (vv 4-6).

Are your talents a gift?

The Apostle Paul is not shy about discussing the role of the Holy Spirit.  In 1 Corinthians 12 he begins a 3-chapter discussion of spiritual gifts.  Hays (207)[1] sees this chapter divided into 4 parts:

  1. Introduction (vv 1-3);
  2. Manifestations of the Spirit (vv 4-11);
  3. Body analogy (vv 12-26); and
  4. Application to gifts and offices of the in the church (vv 27-31).

In his introduction, Paul grabs the bull by the horns and says:  Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed (v 1).  This direct approach is most interesting—these days we often read of churches torn up by controversies—often outright sin—that were allowed to grow in the shadows.  Paul does not let mold grow in the shade; he confronts controversy head on.  And he claims all things for Christ—no one can say Jesus is Lord, except through the Holy Spirit (v 3).

In discussing manifestation of the Spirit, Paul sees a Trinitarian (Spirit, Lord, and God) variety of gifts, services, and activities (vv 4-6).  In claiming all gifts, services, and activities for God, none is excluded and none is more important than the other.  Theologians get excited about Paul’s Trinitarian statement because it seems off the cuff rather than the focus of his comments.  In other words, Paul experiences God in three persons even though his does not articulate a formal theology of the Trinity (Hays 210).

Paul use of the body as an analogy for the church is interesting, in part, because he reframes the analogy from his peers.  Ancient authors often used the same analogy to argue for hierarchy in the social order; Paul uses it to illustrate diversity and interdependence (Hays 213).  In undertaking his discussion, he tailors his comments to the particular needs of the Corinthian church which becomes obvious in comparing the list of spiritual gifts with other lists that he provides, for example, in Ephesians 4:11-13 and Romans 12:6-8.  Neither alternative list, for example, cites speaking in tongues (v 10).  Clearly, Paul’s emphasis in listing gifts is not on the list, but on the legitimacy and use of each gift to build up the body of the church.

In wrapping up his comments, he exhorts the Corinthians to strive to work in building up the church and in attaining the “higher gifts” (vv 27 and 31).  One suspects in reading this section that Paul prioritizes spiritual gifts, in part, because Corinthian priorities were different.

One clue to this deficiency is Paul’s switch in words used in the Greek for gifts.  In verse one, a gift is πνευματικός, (BDAG 5999; mostly in the sense pertaining to wind or breath) already in verse 4 Paul switches to χάρισμα (BDAG 7896; that which is freely and graciously given, favor bestowed, gift).  In switching from an emphasis on the receiver of the gift to an emphasis on the giver, Paul highlights the role of the Holy Spirit.  A spiritual gift is a talent used to build up the body of Christ.

Are you musical?  Do you work well with kids?  How might your gift be used to build up the church?

[1] Richard B. Hays.  2011. Interpretations:  First Corinthians.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

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1 Corintios 12: Los Dones Espirituales Apuntan al Espíritu Santo

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Ahora bien, hay diversos dones, pero un mismo Espíritu. Hay diversas maneras de servir, pero un mismo Señor. Hay diversas funciones, pero es un mismo Dios el que hace todas las cosas en todos (1 Corintios 12:4-6 NVI).

Son sus talentos un regalo?

El apóstol Pablo no se avergüenza de discutir el papel del Espíritu Santo. En 1 Corintios 12, comienza un 3-capítulo de discusión de los dones espirituales. Hays (207) considera que este capítulo se divide en 4 partes:

  1. Introducción ( vv 1-3) ;
  2. Manifestaciones del Espíritu (vv. 4-11) ;
  3. Analogía corporal ( vv 12-26 ); y
  4. Aplicación de regalos y oficinas de la en la iglesia (vv. 27-31).

En su introducción, Pablo agarra el toro por los cuernos y dice: En cuanto a los dones espirituales, hermanos, quiero que entiendan bien este asunto (v 1). Este enfoque directo es más interesante—en estos días a menudo leemos de iglesias desgarrados por las controversias—a menudo basado en pecado abierta—que se deja crecer en las sombras. Paul no deja molde crecer a la sombra; se enfrenta a la cabeza en la controversia. Y afirma tdas las cosas por Cristo—ni nadie puede decir: Jesús es el Señor sino por el Espíritu Santo (v 3).

Al hablar de la manifestación del Espíritu, Pablo ve un Trinitario (Espíritu, Señor, y Dios) variedad de regalos, servicios y actividades (vv 4-6). Al reclamar todos los regalos, servicios y actividades para Dios, ninguno es excluido y ninguno es más importante que el otro. Los teólogos emocionarse declaración trinitaria de Pablo, ya que parece fruto de la casualidad más que el foco de sus comentarios. En otras palabras, Pablo experimenta a Dios en tres personas, aunque su no articula una teología formal de la Trinidad (Hays 210).

Paul uso del cuerpo como una analogía para la iglesia es interesante, en parte, porque se replantea la analogía de sus compañeros. Los autores antiguos a menudo utilizan la misma analogía para argumentar a favor de la jerarquía en el orden social; Pablo la usa para ilustrar la diversidad y la interdependencia (Hays 213). Al llevar a cabo su análisis, se adapta a sus comentarios a las necesidades particulares de la iglesia de Corinto que se hace evidente en la comparación de la lista de dones espirituales con otras listas que proporciona, por ejemplo, en Efesios 4:11-13 y Romanos 12:6-8. Ni lista alternativa, por ejemplo, cita el hablar en lenguas (v 10). Es evidente que el énfasis de Pablo en el listado de los regalos no está en la lista, sino en la legitimidad y el uso de cada regalo para la edificación del cuerpo de la iglesia.

En concluir sus comentarios, exhorta a los corintios a esforzarse por trabajar en la construcción de la iglesia y en la consecución de los “dones superiores” (vv 27 y 31). Uno sospecha en la lectura de esta sección que Pablo da prioridad a los dones espirituales, en parte, porque las prioridades de Corinto eran diferentes.

Una pista a esta deficiencia es el interruptor de Pablo en las palabras utilizadas en el griego para los dones. En el versículo uno, un don es πνευματικός, (BDAG 5999; sobre todo en el sentido de que pertenece al viento o aliento) ya en el versículo 4, Pablo cambia a χάρισμα ( BDAG 7896; aquello que es ofrecido libre y gratuitamente, favor concedido, de regalo). En el cambio de énfasis en el receptor de la donación a un énfasis en el dador, Pablo pone de relieve el papel del Espíritu Santo. Un don espiritual es un talento utilizado para la edificación del cuerpo de Cristo.

¿Eres musical? ¿rabaja bien con los niños? ¿Cómo se podría usar su don para edificar a la iglesia?

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White: The Second Fall and the Christian Call

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

James Emery White.  2004.  Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day.  Downers Grove.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Walking through the bookstore at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary [1] in Charlotte, NC a book by James Emery White caught my eye. The title was: Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day. Being a serious guy, I bought a copy.

White begins with a proposition: mankind has suffered not one but two falls. The first fall occurred when God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. A second fall occurred when modern society turned its back on all notions of transcendence, including God (18). The mantra of the naturalist has become the watchword of the age: nature is all that there is. If it cannot be empirically verified, it does not exist (47). By the processes of secularization, privatization, and pluralization, White argues that we have come to a time when Christianity is treated as a preference fit for private discussion only within the walls of one’s own house.

White’s book is organized into 7 chapters:

  1. The Second Fall,
  2. The World that Lives in Us,
  3. The City of Dreadful Delight,
  4. Deeping Our Souls,
  5. Developing Our Minds,
  6. Answering the Call, and
  7. Aligning with the Church.

He apologizes up front for writing a mile wide and an inch deep (15). He need not have apologized: the hardest part of problem solving is arriving at a clear definition of the problem. For White, spiritual anemia (78) is the pressing problem of our age. We are lukewarm in our faith, in part, because we do not know what we believe. To deal with this problem, White commends the spiritual disciples of prayer, study, and worship.

Of these, the most interesting is worship because he views each Christian as called to treat his vocation as an act of worship. White writes: The Reformation idea of vocation follows from the monastic vision. Luther, himself a monk, was clearly familiar with the monastic conviction that all tasks needed to be offered as worship of the living God (116). This view flies in the face of society’s picture of worship as a Sunday morning activity confined within the walls of a church. Rather than being religious entertainment, worship defines who we are.  Here is our identity in Christ.

Christ calls us to ask a question of every moment of every day: to what purpose has God called me to this particular time and place? In the words of the Apostle Paul: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (Colossians 3:23). If we answer this call, every moment of every day has purpose. If God is present in our lives, we can perform a ministry of presence in the lives of those around us.

A writer’s packaging matters. Even if a writer rambles a bit, my rule of thumb is that a book is worth the time if I find myself quoting from the book and applying its lessons in my life. Two passages from Serious Times come to mind.

In the first passage, White cites a story by Walter Truett Anderson (57) that is helpful in highlighting the distinctions among modernists, postmodernists, and deconstructionists—three important worldviews today.

Three umpires have a beer at the end of the day. The first one says: there are balls and strikes and I call them the way they are. The second one says: there are balls and strikes and I call them the way I see them. The third one says there are balls and strikes and they are not anything until I call them. The first umpire is a modernist who believes in (unconditioned) objective reality. The second umpire is a postmodernist who believe that reality is conditioned on our perspective of it. The third umpire is a deconstructionist that believes that reality is conditioned on who is in charge.

This story sticks in my mind because I can put faces to each of these umpires.

The second passage is his highlighting of the broken glass theory of criminologists James O. Wilson and George Kelling (158) [2]. The idea is that crime is contagious. It starts with a broken window and spreads to an entire community. Cleaning up trash, graffiti, and broken windows and minor violations of law, New York City substantially reduced crime in the 1980s. For those of us who grew up scared to walk the streets of New York, this reduction in crime was a big deal. After reading White’s account I suddenly found ammunition to argue for cleaner kid’s rooms in my household and greater attention to detail in the office downtown. The broken glass theory has a familiar ring: I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy (Leviticus 11:45). Small stuff matters.

I enjoyed Serious Times immensely and have already gifted half a dozen friends and colleagues with copies. Perhaps, you will too.

[1] www.GordonConwell.edu

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_windows_theory.

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Benner Points to God

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

David G. Benner. 2003.  Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction.  Downers Grove:  IVP Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The term, soul mate, is often bantered about in the popular media without a clear definition.  Usually, a soul mate is simply a photogenic member of the opposite sex who understands you. In seminary a friend spoke intriguingly about spiritual friends who: nurture the development of each other’s soul (16). This definition sounded remarkably like the relationship I shared with my best friend in high school who went on to become a pastor. When I learned that my friend took his comments from David Benner’s book,Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction, I immediately ordered a copy.

Some books are good for information; others offer solace in life’s journey. Benner’s work clearly falls in both camps. He writes: The essence of Christian spirituality is following Christ on a journey of personal transformation…Spiritual friends accompany each other on that journey (26). Reading along I discovered things about myself that had never previously been expressed in words.

One such point was Benner’s comment about spiritual direction.  The objective in offering direction is not to provide counsel or even react to things said, but rather to point friends to God’s work in their personal lives.  Benner writes: spiritual direction is not primarily about theology. It is about personal, experiential encounter with God (155).  Soul care consists, not of advice or disciplining, but of compass reading.  Disciplining focuses on first steps while spiritual direction focuses on later stages in the journey (28).

Jesus modeled this focus saying: I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3 NIV). Only someone well along in the journey of life needs to reflect back on childhood experiences.  Paul likewise appeared to position himself primarily as a spiritual traveler rather than teacher.  For example, Paul writes: Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8 ESV).  As a fellow traveler, Paul’s work as an evangelist placed him in the position of a guide pointing the way to Christ.  A guide travels; a teacher waits for students to appear.

This “compass reading” objective of spiritual direction and spiritual friendship is critical in offsetting the idolatry of individualism.  Normally, a preoccupation with holiness is critiqued by our society as “navel gazing” or becoming all churchy.  While is certainly possible to become obsessed with the programs and trappings of the church, becoming sensitive to God’s work in our lives normally has the opposite effect.  God is unseen and speaks through people and things seen.  When we become sensitive to God’s work, we become more fully aware of everyone and everything else in our lives.  This sensitivity accordingly strips away the pretense of individualism.  Compass reading has the effect of providing us a better set of priorities because God moves closer to the center of lives.  Jesus focused on children, in part, because they are more sensitive, not less sensitive, to what is happening around them than most adults.

At the time of this book’s publication, David Benner was a Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Spirituality at eh Psychological Studies institute in Atlanta, Georgia.  His book is written in 9 chapters:

  1. The Transformational Journey;
  2. Hospitality, Presence, and Dialogue;
  3. The Ideals of Spiritual Friendship;
  4. Demystifying Spiritual Directions;
  5. Soul Attunement;
  6. A Portrait of the Process;
  7. Becoming a Spiritual Director;
  8. Spiritual Accompaniment in Small Groups; and
  9. Spiritual Accompaniment in Marriage.

The first 3 chapters focus on spiritual friends; the next 4 focus on spiritual direction; and the last 2 focus on combining the two.  These chapters are introduced with a lengthy preface and followed by an epilogue.

If our faith in Jesus Christ is more caught than taught, spiritual friends play a critical role in our walk with the Lord. Reading Benner’s book was a key point in my journey.

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Prayer Day 27: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Almighty God. We praise you for creating the heavens and the earth, creating all that is, was, or will ever be, and creating things seen and unseen. We look on the order and beauty of your creation and just sing your praises. Grant us strength for each new day to reflect your goodness to those around us in joyful praise. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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