Managing Change

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Probably the most difficult aspect of leadership is managing change. Often pain is involved which provides an important clue that the status quo has been or will soon be disrupted. Pain presents a Gethsemane moment (Matt 26:36) when a decision needs to be made—shall I turned into my pain and initiate negative self-talk or turn to God and give it over to him? The answer to the many times this question comes up defines our character both as Christians and as Christian leaders.

Seeking Guidance

As the Apostle James reminds us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (Jas 1:5) A Gethsemane moment poses a need for pain relief, but the need for guidance is almost always a more pressing concern. Guidance is obviously needed to know how to proceed to solve possible problems, but also to know how to respond to the pain. Left to simmer, pain often turns into negative self-talk, depression, and anger.

Anger can be especially destructive. In copying with anger, Lester (2007, 62) presents a 6 step model:

  1. Recognize anger;
  2. Acknowledge anger;
  3. Calming our bodies;
  4. Understanding why we are threatened;
  5. Evaluating the validity of the threat; and
  6. Communicating anger appropriately.

This list sounds suspiciously like how other authors suggest speakers cope with hostile questions—anger is often suppressed and expressed in a devious manner. Lester notes that anger is often camouflaged as procrastination; actions that frustrate, embarrass or causes others pain; nasty humor; nagging; silence; sexual deviance; and passive-aggressive behavior (Lester 2007, 88-89). It is more productive to seek God’s advice—Lord, why have you brought me to this time and this place?

Tension between Stewardship and Theology 

The problems facing church leaders today seem endless, but one problem stands out: stewardship. Real wages have been flat for most workers in the United States since the early 1980s with most income gains accruing to the top earning ten percent (Desilver 2018). If one combines wage stagnation with declining church attendance, the stewardship problem becomes obvious. In many churches, every funeral is accompanied with a financial crisis.

While most people are familiar with the biblical concept of the tithe, relatively few people understand where it comes from. Historically each Jewish worship service requires at least ten Jewish men to be present—a minion. Jesus traveled with his twelve disciples which meant that everywhere he stopped to speak was an official Jewish worship service. Well, if a Rabbi had a minion and each of them contributed the title, then the Rabbi would enjoy the average standard of living of his minion. In the American church where the average congregant donates one percent of income, it basically takes a membership of one hundred congregants to support a pastor, which implies that an American minion is one hundred congregants.

The stewardship crisis facing American churches also poses a theological crisis because the pastors must keep their minions happy. If the pastor’s job is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, a balance is obviously easier to maintain with a Jewish minion than an American minion. In other words, because of how churches are financed, the pastor today must be an expert in crowd control in a society focused more on media entertainment than biblical literacy. Maintaining faithful teaching in the midst of this framework is understandably difficult.

Change as Transition

Change seldom happens overnight. This makes it helpful to think of change as a transition with beginning, middle, and ending phases rather than single event. In pastoral care, the typical hospital visit is a transition—something prompted the visit, the patient requires a period of treatment, and, then, what will be different as they leave the hospital? This final question is inherently spiritual, especially when the patient passed through a near-death experience.

The Exodus experience poses the classical biblical transition. It took Moses maybe 40 days to get the people of Israel out of Egypt, but it took him 40 years in the desert to get the Egypt out of the people. Even then, Joshua, not Moses, was the one that led them into the Promised Land (Bridges 2003, 43). Interestingly, it was in the desert where the people of Israel learned to rely on God (Exod 7:16; Card 2005).

Rebooting a Program or Career

Whenever one invests heavily in a project, program, or career, it becomes like human capital, analogous to the purchase a specialized machine, like a harvester for picking only corn (Johnson and Quance 1972). Once this investment is made, it is fixed and cannot be easily changed. When market conditions change, the value of this investment declines and may become worthless. Still, for the manager making the investment, it may be easier pretending markets will come back than owning up to the loss.

Early in my economics career, I invested a lot of time and effort learning Spanish hoping to work in Latin American affairs. By the time I completed my degree, interest in Latin American development had subsided and everyone was taking about West Africa development, where the dominant language in French, not Spanish. Consequently, I found myself studying French, but before long I ended up going into finance where my language skills were pretty much irrelevant. My willingness to learn new things and switch fields paid off handsomely over the years and I retired with a salary about double that of colleagues who had started out with me in international affairs.

Churches are typically much smaller than government agencies, which intensifies the the need to learn new things. In this context, rebooting programs and careers is an ongoing battle. The need to go to the Lord in prayer is important both in knowing what to do and in managing the painful emotions that change can bring.

References

Bridge, William. 2003. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Cambridge: Da Capo Press.

Card, Michael. 2005.  A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. [Also: Experience Guide]. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Desilver, Drew. 2018. “For most U.S. workers, real wages have barely budged in decades” Pew Research Center. Accessed: 25 July 2019. Online: (https://www.pewresearch.org/staff/drew-desilver) August 7.

Johnson, Glenn L. and C. Leroy Quance [editors]. 1972. The Overproduction Trap in U.S. Agriculture: A Study of Resource Allocation from World War I to the Late 1960’s. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Lester, Andrew D. 2007. Anger: Discovering Your Spiritual Ally. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Managing Change

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Value Of Life

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Beyond Default Settings

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

An important struggle for Christians in this postmodern society is striking a balance between structure and change. Structure can mean worshipping with our preferred music, theology,  or ethnic group while change can mean mixing any of these things up. This tension between structure and change exists in all aspects of life today—family, community, church, and work—which exhausts us constantly. Finding peace in the midst of this chaos is a theme in the postmodern church.

Reverting to Default Settings

In the midst of chaos and the absence of reflection, many people and churches naturally revert to their default settings, which reflect a happy period in their past. In the political realm, we see ethnically-based groups forming that resist compromise and shamelessly promote their own narrow interests at the expense of others. In the church, we see spirited food-fights—worship wars—over small changes in musical genre. These default settings are deeply ingrained aspects of our identity that, as Christians, are supposed to be in Christ, not other things. At least, three explanations can be offered for these reversions:

  1. In a period of fundamental change in life in society, we may look for structure in our Christian lives that previously may have vested elsewhere.
  2. If our faith is not centered on Christ but on other things, then the superficiality of our faith has been unmasked for all to see.
  3. It is amazing how often default settings come into play when people act out of fear or anger.

In all likelihood, all of these explanations work together to intensify the emotions driving these reversions.

The Role of Presuppositions

Default settings often operate at a subconscious or presuppositional level. In its simplest form, a presupposition is an implicit, unstated assumption about how things work.

Think about the colors, white and black. We normally associate white with day—safe time when you can see everything— and black with night—a fearful time when crooks and evil spirits are at work. White is often thought to good, as in the good cowboys wear white hats while the bad ones wear black hats. Old movies may have even reinforced these cowboy stereotypes, which may seem harmless until we start talking about race relations.

Because presuppositions operate subconsciously, they can affect our behavior without us even being conscious of it. In my own case, I volunteer working in Hispanic ministry and often practice my Spanish by listening to Spanish Christian music. One summer day several years ago when I was out driving I caught myself becoming anxious having the windows down as I played my music sitting at a traffic light. Why was I anxious? Subconsciously I was afraid that complete strangers would assume that I was Hispanic. Ouch! I instantly became ashamed of myself.

The way to overcome such presuppositions is to examine our own behaviors and ask: why am I doing this? Presuppositions stop influencing our behavior when we take the time to reflect on why we impulsively do things.

Emotional Clues

One area where reflection is likely to be fruitful in understanding our own presuppositions arises when we get emotional. What makes you mad? What touches your heart inducing sadness?

Lester (2007, 14) observes that we get angry when we feel threatened. While we could be angry because of a physical threat, most often we get angry because of psychological threats:  threats to our values, our beliefs about right and wrong, our expectations about the way good people should act. When threatened: The intensity of our response depends on the amount of personal investment we have in the values, beliefs, and means that are being threatened.  Following this “threat model” of anger, our first responsibility when we get angry is to recognize that we feel threatened and to identify the nature of the threat (Lester 2007, 28-29). Anger always has an object.

What can be mystifying is when you find yourself intensely angry or hurt without knowing exactly why, a phenomena known as an emotional hijacking. On reflection, an emotional hijacking may reveal a repressed grief or presupposition that offers rare insight into your emotional history.

During my internship at Providence Hospital, the head nurse in the emergency department asked me to speak with a young woman who miscarried that morning. I ministered to her for about ten minutes before she began ministering to me, as I recalled a un-grieved miscarriage that my wife and I experienced twenty years prior. The feelings were so intense that I broke off my meeting with the woman and spent the next half hour in tears in the chapel.

What Can Christian Leaders Do?

The more we center our lives on Christ, the less likely we are to revert impulsively to default settings. With Christ as our number one priority and consulting God in prayer when questions arise, we are more likely to reflect on our actions and less likely to act impulsively.

Centering our lives on Christ does not mean suddenly giving up our favorite music, revising our theology, or hanging out with people that make us uncomfortable. What it does mean is that we will not act impulsively when reflection is warranted. It is amazing how quickly secondary things become secondary when we take such things to God in prayer.

References

Lester,Andrew D. 2007. Anger: Discovering Your Spiritual Ally. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Beyond Default Settings

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Holiness

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ“For I am the LORD 

who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. 

You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

(Lev 11:45)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In recent years the list of church leaders and high government officials who careers have tanked due to moral failure seems endless. Factors contributing to these moral failures  include changing mores, increasing social conflict, and the ability of social media to document our private lives from birth to death. Nothing today is off the record.

The Role of the Church

The church bears responsibility for the moral failures of its leaders. Contributing factors include:

1. The focus on the individual has relegated responsibility to families and individuals to teach and practices holiness that is the proper role of the church.

2. In some denominations, theology has divided law from Gospel suggesting that the holiness code in the Leviticus no longer applies to the Christian.

3. In some churches, the emphasis on love is so pervasive that other parts of the Bible are simply neglected.

4. Preaching in many churches offers nice to know guidance and simple eschews hard teaching on morality especially because of permissive attitudes on issues related to marriage and sexuality in society more generally.

While the traditional teaching of the church is clear on the question of holiness, many churches no longer accept this teaching. The watchword for this new teaching comes directly from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matt 7:15-16) False prophets need not be ravenous wolves, but weak teaching can lead to bad fruit resulting in unnecessary brokenness and departures from faith. Clearly, God can use broken pastors and broken churches to advance his kingdom, but we should cling to Christ’s mantel as closely as we can and avoid grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30).

Modesto Manifesto

During an evangelistic campaign in Modesto, California in 1948 Billy Graham asked his team to list the reasons that evangelists had failed in previous campaigns. Four items topped everyone’s list:

1. Excessive interest in money and weak accounting of it.

2. Sexual immorality, especially while on the road.

3. Failing to work closely with and respect local churches.

4. Exaggerating ministry successes (Graham 1997, 127-129).

Among these temptations, sexual immorality stood out as a threat and Graham committed himself to never being alone with any woman other than his wife, Ruth. These rules, together known as the Modesto Manifesto, have been picked up by other Christian leaders, including most recently Vice President Mike Pence.⁠1 While not all temptations can be cited as holiness concerns, moral failures figure prominently.

The Role of Christian Leaders

The Beatitudes have a general audience, but they also appear as a kind of commissioning service for disciples, which today would be of special interest to Christian leaders. The Sixth Beatitude focuses on a clean heart—“Honored are the pure in heart”—but, how can I remove the impurities? This is a call for holiness. Jesus provides two methods that stand out: pruning and intensifying.

Prune

Jesus gives us two metaphors of pruning—cutting away unnecessary or unwanted growth to make a plant stronger and more fruitful (John 15:2). The first metaphor involves eyes: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” (Matt 5:29) The second metaphor involves hands: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matt 5:30) In both metaphors, we remove sin from our lives by pruning.⁠2 Jesus’ pruning metaphors imply that sanctification—casting off sin and taking on godliness—is serious business: eyes and hands are parts of the body—parts of us—that are not easily discarded. If the threat of sin were trivial, then a better analogy might have been to trim your nails or cut your hair. But if sin threatens both our physical and spiritual lives, then amputation is an acceptable option and the analogy is not hyperbolic.

Intensify

Jesus widens the scope of commandments under the law by drilling into the motivation for breaking them, intensifying the scrutiny given to sin. For example, when Jesus talks about adultery, he focuses on the lustful look that corrupts the heart, not the sinful act that follows. If sin begins in the heart, then sanctification must strive for purity of heart, and not only avoiding sin, but pursuing godliness, as the Apostle Paul writes:

“But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:20-24)

The likeness of God, of course, refers to the divine image in creation, as implied in the word, godliness, used by Paul in admonishing Timothy: “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim 4:7). Taking Jesus Christ as our example, we should strive to be a good example to others.

References

Graham, Billy. 1997. Just As I Am: An Autobiography of Billy Graham. New York: Zondervan.

Footnotes

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Graham_rule#%22Mike_Pence_rule%22. 2 The eye gouging and hand chopping metaphors could also have been heard by Jesus’ audience as a messianic call to arms. When the Prophet Samuel anointed Saul messianic king of Israel, he said to him: “And you shall reign over the people of the LORD and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies.” (1 Sam 10:1) Notice the hand metaphor in this charge. Saul’s first act as king was to save the besieged city of Jabesh-gilead from an Amorite king whose condition for surrender was: “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.” (1 Sam 11:2) Understanding the story of Saul, Jesus’ metaphors might be interpreted as saying: stand on your own two feet.

Holiness

Also See:

Value Of Life

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Self-Care

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Christian leaders need to be self-aware and take care of themselves. Self-care is as easy as practicing Sabbath rest (Exod 20:8-11) and its significance arises because tired people can neither love God nor their neighbor (Matt 22:36-40). In a deeper sense, we are obligated to care for ourselves and shun sin because our bodies and minds are a temple for the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Still, in spite of the biblical warrant for self-care, Christian leaders are routinely workaholics and stress addicted, suffering burnout to the point of threatening the ongoing viability of their ministries.

Burnout and Temptation

We are most vulnerable to temptation and sin when our bodies and minds are tired. It is ironic that we think of fasting as a spiritual discipline because fasting weakens our resistance to temptation and sin. After his baptism, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert where he fasted for forty days and the devil tempted three times (Luke 4:1-13). Nouwen (2002, 30,53,75) describes these temptations as the leadership challenges to be relevant, popular, and powerful.

It is widely reported that pastoral burnout often leads to sexual misconduct and departure from ministry. Two pastors close to me early in my career likely succumbed to this temptation. One engaged in a homosexual liaison only to loose his marriage, his job, and, later, his life—he died of AIDS. The other divorced his wife and ran away with a woman in the congregation. Both pastors mentored me for years so I know that such behavior was not typical or expected, but burnout and stress brings out the worst in a person.

I have for years advised seniors that three things were needed for a successful retirement: physical activity, mental stimulation, and connection. For seniors, these three things are need to live a normally, healthy life. They are just as necessary for a healthy life at younger ages, but normally younger people have greater reserves than seniors. Unhealthy lifestyles can, however, cut into reserves at any age.

Physical Activity

Routine, strenuous exercise builds physical capacity by enhancing blood flow, reducing fat, and curbing appetite. It also builds mental capacity in the same manner and by increasing self-esteem. Even moderate physical activity, such walking with your spouse in the evening, can have a positive impact on attitude and physical fitness.

The impact of physical fitness (or lack thereof) on mental agility is directly observable in older people.⁠1 “Sunset dementia” is a condition where seniors are able to remember things and manage life easily during the day but as the afternoon and evening approaches they begin suffering forgetfulness not observed earlier in the day. The condition is perhaps analogous to a younger person drinking a couple beers or suffering sleep deprivation over multiple days in terms of the lost mental capability.

In my own case, appetite is the best indicator of my physical and mental well-being. When I suffer burnout, I eat too much and skimp on my exercise routine. If this goes on too long, I put on extra pounds. Alternatively, the last time I took a consulting assignment I focused so intensely on my work during those three months that lost ten pounds without thinking about it.

Mental Stimulation

As mentioned above, physical activity has a direct, beneficial effect on mental agility. Exercise cleans the plack out of your veins and widens them increasing oxygen flow. This is especially important for mental condition because the brain is single, largest user of blood flow in the body. The more oxygen available to the brain, the clearer our thinking.

The relationship between physical fitness and mentality agility became obvious to me when I was a foreign exchange student for a year in Germany. Germans love to drink beer and play chess so I spent my evenings in local bars playing chess and practicing my German—sober I was too shy at first to speak in my broken German. After several months of drinking beer and playing chess daily, I was unbeatable, but only for the first two to three hours of play. After three hours of playing chess, even known rookies could beat me so I learned to quit after two hours of play.

Beyond physical exercise, the mind also needs a workout. The brain is a physical organ that atrophies with inactivity just like a muscle. In kids under six years old, musical training is known to enhance thinking until much later in life because music employs the entire brain the way that swimming employs the entire body and assure that synapses develop with this wholistic process being employed. For the rest of us, mental exercises, like learning new languages or subjects, alters the brain’s physical structure enhancing our abilities in those directions but also stimulating other parts of the brain to remain fit. Even brain diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease, that cannot be cured are thought to be delayed in their onset by physical and mental exercise.

Connection

Being socially active is important for older people to avoid loneliness and depression, but it is no less important for younger people. It is well-known among educators that college freshman who find clubs and groups to join are much more likely to make a successful transition to college and avoid dropping out.

For seniors, researchers at Duke University (1999) reported:

A study of nearly 4,000 elderly North Carolinians has found that those who attended religious services every week were 46 percent⁠2 less likely to die over a six-year period than people who attended less often or not at all, according to researchers at Duke University Medical Center.

While Christians recognize the role of faith in life expectancy, even, even an atheist will recognize the benefits of having close friends and other people who care for you. Life is simply less stressful when you know that that you can share your trials and tribulations with others.

Good Example

For the Christian leader, practicing self-care obviously enhances one’s durability in ministry, but it is also an important area to model a balanced lifestyle in front of others. It it important to note that this modeling extends beyond the Christian community.

Postmodern people are more anxious and depressed than most previous generations because they are more likely  to be cutoff from traditional society, their families, their faith communities, and the communities that they grew up in. These sources of stress and others conspire together to produce historically unprecedentedly levels of suicide. 

In this context, Christians need together with their leaders to demonstrate what a balanced lifestyle looks like. Who knows who’s life will be spared if we do? The life you save may be your own! After all, burnout comes as more than just a cost to us as individuals.

References

Crowley, Chris and Henry S. Lodge. 2007. Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy–Until You’re 80 and Beyond. Male and Female editions. New York:  Workman Publishing.

Duke University. 1999. “Religious Attendance Linked to Lower Mortality in Elderly.” Updated:  January 20, 2016. Online: https://corporate.dukehealth.org/news-listing/religious-attendance-linked-lower-mortality-elderly Accessed: 18 January 2019.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. 2002. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.

Smith, Houston. 2001. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. San Francisco: Harper.

Footnotes

1 Crowley and Lodge (2007, 7) make an audacious claim:  over 50 percent of all illness and injuries in the last third of your life can be eliminated by changing your lifestyle.  What changes do they recommend?  A big part of their advice is regular, strenuous exercise  including resistance training.  What is regular?  At least six days a week.  What is strenuous?  Exercise able to provide an aerobic effect.  What is resistance training?  They recommend a program of weight lifting.  If you follow their advice, then you can remain like a physically fit, 50 year-old well past the age of 80.

2 Smith (2001, 44) reported the original findings in this study as 28 percent, which substantially underestimated the final number of 46 percent.

Self-Care

Also See:

Value Of Life

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Interpreting Life

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

One can argue that a defining characteristic of the postmodern era is uncertainty, captured in the popular expression: “The only constant is change.⁠1” This uncertainty is compounded by a lack of consensus on basic values and the rapid pace of changes in technology and social conventions.

Postmodern uncertainty is also in sharp contrast with the stability of traditional society where tradition informs every important decision in one’s life—what gender roles we follow, who our friends are, who we marry, what profession we take up, and who and how we worship. Life has meaning in a traditional society because when we accept this guidance, we are rewarded with status and honor. 

Postmodern culture questions tradition and focuses on the individual who is responsible for every imaginable decision with little or no guidance. If we succeed as postmodern individuals, we are fully employed, have a medical plan, and can buy stuff, but we have no guarantee of status and honor because the culture’s standards keep morphing. Thus, anxiety has become a defining characteristic of the postmodern era.

The Indeterminacy Problem

Postmodern anxiety and uncertainty point to a more general problem of indeterminacy that is more typically masked when we act on consensus.

If you think that postmodern anxiety is a myth or an exaggeration, how do you respond to sleep deprivation? At one point, I got anxious and depressed. What was wrong with me? As I thought things through, I realized that my depression typically occurred on Saturdays. Then I realized that I was not depressed, I was tired from a long week. A good Saturday afternoon nap each week did away with my “depression.” I had interpreted my own physical condition incorrectly. Clearly, our attitude about the little setbacks in life can make all the difference in the living of it.

Indeterminacy arise in statistics because we know that correlation does not indicate causality. In theory, many causes can explain a particular correlation so a theory is required to suggest the cause of an observed correlation. Otherwise, the relationship can be entirely a random association.⁠2 If sunspots are associated with weather on earth, what explains this relationship?⁠3 The Rorschach (inkblot) test provides an interesting application of this indeterminacy problem (Smith 2001, 205-206). When a psychiatrist shows a patient a random inkblot and the patients sees patterns in the inkblot, the patterns arise from preconceptions of patient being imposed on the inkblot. Does the patient see angels or demons? Naked women or monsters? These preconceptions (or random associations) provide insight into the interior life of the patient that are hard to track any other way.

Telling a Faithful Story

The anxiety and uncertainty of postmodern society presents the Christian leader with a kind of cultural inkblot test. How can leadership successfully navigate through this perilous test?

One answer can be taken from my earlier comments on the book, Crucial Conversations, where I noted four stages in a dialogue: presenting facts (see and hear), telling a story, feeling, and acting (PGMS 2012, 110). They observe that once emotions take over actions get locked in. The formation of productive stories presents the last best chance to channel a dialog towards useful action. Crafting a vision for the church is an important starting point.

An infinite number of stories can be told, but not all comport well with the facts or are organizationally helpful. Three kinds of unproductive (clever) stories—victim, villain, and helpless stories—arise that are usually counter-productive (PGMS 2012, 116-119).⁠4 More productive is to tune into the church’s history and to compare it with other faithful churches or stories from the Bible.

Example of Barnabas

The story of Barnabas comes to mind when I see many churches in action. In his book, Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement, Paul Moots (2014, 2-3) writes:

“The ministry of encouragement is the art of leading and supporting others in the discovery of their own spiritual gifts and call to discipleship…We can become a Barnabas…encouragement allows the congregation to shape its ministry around its strengths rather than to base its work on some model derived from another congregation’s story, another pastor’s experience.”

Notice the role of story in this description. Each of us and each congregation has its own story of its Christian walk that deserves to be honored and built on. Herein lies our spiritual gifts and our strengths in ministry.

Encouragement is at the heart of the multiplication of gifts and church growth (Moots 2014, 6). It stands in contrast to the usual concept of discipling that implicitly (or explicitly) defines discipling almost exclusively in a teacher-student role and seeks more to replicate than to strengthen. At the heart of encouragement is respect, much like Barnabas clearly respected Paul. Imagine what might have happened had Barnabas attempted to fashion Paul into a mini-me version of himself?

In Hebrew, Barnabas literally means “son of the prophet,” but Doctor Luke gives it a metaphorical translation: “son of encouragement.” Interestingly, it is a nickname given to Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus (Acts 4:36). Would that we all be remembered in such a way.

References

Greene, William H. 1997. Econometric Analysis. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Moots, Paul. 2014. Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement. Herndon: Alban Institute.

Patterson, Kerry Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler (PGMS). 2012. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. New York:  McGraw-Hill.

Smith, Houston. 2001. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. San Francisco: Harper.

Footnotes

1 Ironically, this expression is attributed to Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BC) who actually said: πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει (everything changes and nothing stands still). https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Heraclitus.

2 Statisticians frequently talk about the problem of inferring causality from correlations, but they seldom write about it because it undermines a lot of popular, but spurious statistical procedures. Greene (1997, 816) provide a review of the problem in discussing a statistical procedure called Granger casualty, a kind of statistical work around.

3 Superstition can be defined as a random association being confused with a particular causality. If seeing a black cat is a bad omen, exactly how does that relationship work?

4 Claiming victimhood means accepting no responsibility for what happens next or even offering to help turn things around. The same is true for pointing a finger at a “villain” or claiming a lack of power to change things.

Interpreting Life

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Value Of Life

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Church and State

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Today when we talk about our freedom in Christ, we normally refer to our freedom to live within the will of God through Christ’s forgiveness and the work of the Holy Spirit. In the early church, freedom in Christ also meant freedom from the micro-management of daily life proscribed by Mosaic Law, which encompassed much more than the Ten Commandments and served as the foundation for the theocratic state of Israel.

The earliest mention of relationship between church and state is the reference to Jesus’ suffering under Pontius Pilate in both the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds (PCUSA 1999, 1.2 and 2.2), an explicit statement of religious persecution—a measure of the level of this intrusiveness.

Church and State in the Bible

Two traditions of church and state relations appear in scripture: the theocratic state of Israel and the magisterium of Rome. Tensions between the two conceptions of state authority arise not only in the view of legitimate use of power, but also in influence of law as it effects the distinction between private and public space.

The theocratic state of Israel is most obvious in the Old Testament where we observe tension between king and prophet, but this is also the world into which Jesus was born. When Jesus taught about taxation with a denarius coin—render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Matt 22:21)—his concern was that the religious state—even as a client state of Rome—dominated public life to the exclusion of God.

We are reminded that John the Baptist was executed by King Herod because of his indiscrete comments about Herod’s adulterous marriage (Matt 14:3-11). Jesus’ own teaching on marriage put him at similar risk (Matt 19:9). Although Jesus is formally sent to the cross by Pontius Pilate, it is the Jewish authorities who hand him over to Pilate (Matt 27:1-2). In a theocratic state, the lines between public and private space are blurred and do not always enhance personal faith.

The early persecution of the church, like that of Jesus himself, had a Jewish origin. Before he became Paul the Apostle, Saul was a zealous Jew and persecutor of the church (Acts 8:1-3). Rome allowed Israel autonomy in religious affairs and focused on other matters.

The Apostle Paul, whose ministry was outside the nation of Israel, viewed the state as having more limited influence—that of a civil magistrate —which relieved much of the tension found in Jesus’ ministry. Paul exhorts us: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (Rom 13:1).

Paul could travel the Roman Empire establishing churches—frequently over the objection of his Jewish colleagues—because civil authorities showed interest in matters of faith only to the extent that public order was disturbed. Even in Jerusalem, Paul is able to use his Roman citizenship to garner protection from the magistrates who by arresting him also saved his life from an angry Jewish mob (Acts 21-22). For the most part, religion fell in private space in polytheistic Rome even though Rome occasionally persecuted the church after it became more influential. 

The pertinent question today is this: does the secular state more closely resemble secular Rome or the theocratic state of Israel?

Augustine, Luther, and Calvin

This dichotomy between the theocratic state of Israel (still subject to Mosaic law) and the magisterial state of Rome (subject mostly to civil law) found in the New Testament is lost in the writing of Augustine’s book, De Civitate Dei (The City of God). Augustine pictured two eschatological cities, the city of God, and, the earthly city, in opposition. The city of God consists of those who love God rightly and the earthy city consists of those contemptuous of God (Weitman 2009, 236-237).

Building on Augustine’s two cities and Paul’s magisterial state, Luther divided the world between the Kingdom of Christ (church) and the Kingdom of the World (secular state) which defined the concept of church and state in reformation thinking (Bainton 1995, 186-187). Because the reformation divided the Protestant Churches from the Catholic Church, this division between church and state was pragmatic giving legitimacy to German princes that aided Luther in his break from Rome.

Unlike Luther who was almost exclusively a theologian and pastor, Calvin was both a lawyer and civil magistrate. Calvin’s writing on church and state accordingly lent further credibility to Luther’s teaching on separation of church and state (Calvin 1939, 202-214). We think of Calvin primarily as a theologian, but he is best known in Europe for having been the first to introduce public education and public water works.

Why Do We Care?

One observation that we can draw from Old Testament law is that it tends to pervade all aspects of daily life. This is the nature of using rules verses principles. Principles can be outlined and apply in an infinite number of contexts; rules always to be updated constantly to deal with new circumstances. Secular law is no different.

Ethical behavior defined in secular law binds every Christian and yet the law need not comport with Christian ethical principles. Christians find themselves in an ethical bind with secular laws that legalize immoral behavior. The problem can be overwhelming in trying to explain to your children that the things that their friends are allowed to do, they cannot do because they are Christians. As teenagers, the temptation just to walk away from the faith can be real and immediate. 

The breakdown of the separation of church and state means that churches must lobby government to fashion laws that govern their own members and it makes it harder for them to do so. It also makes it harder for churches to discipline their members when they are unfaithful to biblical teaching and their church’s own confessions.

References

Bainton, Roland H. 1995. Here I Stand:  The Life of Martin Luther.  New York:  Meridan.

BibleWorks. 2011. Norfolk: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.9>.

Calvin, John. 1939. A Compend of the Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Edited by Hugh Thomson Kerr, Jr.  Philadelphia:  Presbyterian Board of Christian Education.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confessions. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

Weithman, Paul. 2009. “Augustine’s Political Philosophy” pages 234-252 of The Cambridge Companion to Augustine.  Edited by Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann.  New York:  Cambridge University Press.

Church and State

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Value Of Life

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Language

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ“And God said, Let there be light, 

and there was light.” (Gen 1:3)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Bible takes words seriously. God uses words to create the universe. The Apostle John equates those words with the pre-immanent Christ:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3)

The original Greek of this passage uses the Logos, which translates into the noun  “word” in English, but in Latin and in modern Spanish Logos is translated as the “verb,” which emphasizes the action implied in the theology of this statement.

The seriousness of words is highlighted elsewhere in the Bible. In Genesis, Jacob tricks his father into giving him his brother’s blessing, but when his deception is discovered, his father refused to take back the blessing. (Gen 27:35) In Exodus, two of the Ten Commandments in the Mosaic covenant govern proper speech: taking the Lord’s name in vain and bearing false witness (Exod 20: 7, 16). Numerous times in the Gospels, Jesus heals and casts out demons with nothing other than verbal commands (e.g. Mark 5:13).

Pentecost Reverses the Curse of Babel

The importance of language in the formation of communities is highlighted in the Tower of Babel narrative, as we read:

“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:1-4)

A couple of points need to be stressed about this account. First, having a unified language is explicitly related to the formation of community, in this case the city of Babel. Second, these people are proud, wanting to make a name for themselves, and they rebel, lest we be dispersed, explicitly against the divine commandment to: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28) So God cursed them to be confused by language and thereby forced them to disperse as commanded earlier(Gen 11:7-9).

The giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost occurred in this way:

“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they [the disciples] were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues [languages] as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)

Pentecost is celebrated today as the birth of the Christian church. Whereas language differences divided people in the Tower of Babel narrative, the gift of understanding and speaking different languages unite people through the gift of the Holy Spirit and the formation of the church.

Christian Culture

Unlike other religions, Christianity does not assert that God prefers any particular language. The Bible is translated into more languages than you can name even though the Old Testament is written mostly in Hebrew and the New Testament is exclusively written in Greek. The “language of the church” is our understanding and worship of God, not the speaking of any particular language. This characteristic is a direct consequence of Pentecost and it is formative.

We know, for example, that many modern languages, such as English and German, evolved in response to translations of the Bible into local dialects and the support that the church has given to literacy and education over the centuries. Left to themselves, many languages fragment along class and ethnic lines leading to greater divisions and conflict. Likewise, national cultures fragment into sub-cultures and lose their cohesion as we have seen in recent years with the development of slang and music traditions more representative of generational and political divisions than of ethnic identities.

The idea that somehow postmodern culture is inherently superior to Christian culture because of new cultural insights suggests primarily a lack of insight into the history of the church. Because Christian culture is truly transnational, multicultural, multiethnic, and transracial, the Christian message need not be watered down or changed to accommodate a local culture so much as be expressed in culturally sensitive language. As at the original Pentecost, the church’s message should be heard by each in their own heart language.

Language

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Value Of Life

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Sailing: Learning to Tack

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

One rare pleasure that I had as camp counselor in high school was learning to sail. Sailboat differ from other boats in being powered by wind rather than someone rowing or by an engine. Winds change. Sailor need to prepare themselves for every eventually. Television ads always picture sailboats speeding along with a good tailwind, but experienced sailors know that tailwinds are an exception, not the rule.

When the wind changes, the sail must adjust to make maximum use of the wind’s force. The hardest maneuver is to sail into the wind because the boat must wind back and forth into the wind—tack—with little, if any, efficiency in moving forward. The only thing worse than headwinds are the doldrums, when the wind simply disappears.

Postmodern Sailing

Being stuck between the headwinds and the doldrums aptly describes postmodern life, especially if you are young. The American dream of a college education followed by a good paying job, which your parents and grandparent enjoyed, now seems illusive and out of reach. For many students, years of hard labor in school are more likely followed by a minimum wage job and crushing student debt.

Headwinds followed but the doldrums is not just a problem for the young. Even well-educated and experienced seniors must frequently reinvent their careers late in life as companies restructure and offer little prospect for a pension or a health plan for most employees laid off. Suicide rates in the U.S. are at record high levels with suicide among older men showing the largest increases. For years, bankruptcy rates in the U.S. were closely tied to a family medical emergency—what do you do if you are disabled and your health plan was tied to your employment?

Storm on the Galilee

The New Testament contains several sailing analogies, as we read:

“And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, Peace! Be still! And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:36-39)

What is most striking about this story is that many of Jesus’ disciples were professional fishermen and expert sailors. When an expert comes to you for advice in their area of expertise, you know that you are in serious trouble. Yet, instinctively the disciples turn to Jesus in their well-founded fears and Jesus calms the wind and the sea.

Summing Up

Two points come to mind in reading this account of the near drowning experience of the disciples and Jesus. 

The first point is that this story occurs early in Jesus’ ministry and the storm on the Galilee is a kind of communal baptism for the disciples. Ministry is not going to be a walk in the park—early in my seminary journey I framed a copy of Rembrandt’s painting, the Storm on the Galilee, and hung it in my kitchen. This same painting appears on the cover on my book, Simple Faith.

The second point is reinforced by the context in Mark—the next story is the healing of the demonaic, a kind of resurrection story. Immersion baptism is a symbolic death and resurrection; sprinkling baptism is more of a symbolic cleansing. The near drowning of the disciples in the Sea of Galilee is more of an immersion experience!

Jesus’ admonition to the disciples remains valid today: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40) When the headwinds blow, the water rises, ,and our expertise fails, we need to turn to Jesus in faith rather than in fear.

Sailing: Learning to Tack

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Value Of Life

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Risk Takers for Christ

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Frequently in the Gospel accounts, Jesus teaches us to be watchful for his return. Mark 13:33 reads: “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come.” Likewise, Luke 12:35 echoes the Parable of the Ten Virgins: “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit.” But right after the Parable of the Ten Virgins we read an enignmatic Parable of the Talents that not only talks about watchfulness, but also gives guidance on how to wait.

First Two Servants

The parable starts off with advice about being watchful, but then goes on: “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.” (Matt 25:14-15) But then we are told how the first two servants invest the master’s money and double his principal, ,while the third servant buries the master’s money in ground. When the master returns, he settles accounts with each of the servants. The first two servants present the master with his principal and the earnings from their investments. In both cases, the master responds with the same statement: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt 25:21,23) Clearly, the money grants were a test, the master is pleased, and the master rewards them with greater responsibility.

The Third Servant

The case of the third servant is most revealing because he acts out of fear: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.” (Matt25:24-25) The master calls this servant “wicked and slothful” and reiterates his characterization by the servant as a hard man, suggesting that he agrees that he is, but he goes on to suggest: “Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” Matt (25:27) In so many words, the master suggests that the third servant is both cowardly and imprudent, because depositing the money with a banker requires accepting very little risk of financial loss. The master takes the money given to the third servant and gives it to the first. Then, the third servant is described as worthless and condemned to perdition, a penalty too harsh for many modern people to even to hear.

Context of the Parable

So what are we to make of this parable? The first thing to note is the context. Immediately after the Parable of the Talents is parable of judgment, where the goats and the sheep are separated. Then, in chapter 26 of Matthew we read: “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” (Matt 26:1-2) The implication is that the three parables in chapter 25 are given to prepare the disciples for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and second coming. All three suggest that the disciples should be watchful of Christ’s return, but only the Parable of the Talents suggests how to spend the time while Jesus is absent.

Lesson

What is the lesson? Knowing that Christ will return, we should be cheerful in our work, not fearful, as we take risks with our spiritual gifts to advance the Kingdom of God. Cheerful risk takers, not fearful hoarders, are the one’s described as good and faithful servants.

Risk Takers for Christ

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Value Of Life

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Ethical Perspective

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Earlier I wrote that if ethics is the study of moral action, then Christian ethics is the study of moral action starting from faith in God. I then proceed to outline a number of philosophical explanations of ethical behavior and decision-making. Yet, what makes Christian ethics unique and simply not a branch of philosophy is the relationship to God.

Vines and Branches

Jesus gives an analogy:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)

Today this analogy evokes the picture of an electric appliance that is perfectly useless until it is plugged in—the power is in the cord, not the appliance. As Christians, we rely not on a philosophical approach to determine our actions, we rely on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, especially as revealed in scripture.

This reliance on the Holy Spirit solves an important ethical problem for the Christian because ethical actions are contextual and, in the absence of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is extremely hard to sort out which philosophical precedents to follow.

Ethical Perspective

Suppose a man gets shot dead. From an ethical perspective, we must immediately ask: what is the relationship between the shooter and the dead man? Was the shooting intentional or accidental, and how do we know? What led up to the shooting? What was the shooter’s emotional state of mind? Where the dead man and the shooter from the same ethnic group? What were their roles in this shooting? From a legal perspective, an public inquiry may be required to sort all these questions out before a court decides what to do about the shooting.

Notice that at least three people are involved in this example: the dead man, the shooter, and a judge. Each will have a perspective on this shooting and the community may be divided on how to interpret this shooting. Ethics always involves interpretation. This implies that the philosophical precedents guiding the shooter could be different from the perspectives of every other participant in this event. The emotional mindset of each participant has a bearing on the interpretation rendered.

In the midst of potentially raging emotions, the Christian guided by the Holy Spirit has a unique advantage in dealing ethically with a situation because God alone knows all the relevant factors to consider and the eventual outcome. Mere ethical knowledge pales in comparison as a guide to behavior because we never control all the factors influencing the ethical interpretation of an event by all the participants. 

It is as if we walk through life as in a room with four different landscapes painted on the walls. One landscape may be a beach; other a bedroom; another an office, and still another a battlefield. Each person we meet may see us against an entirely different landscape, even at a point in time. And we cannot choose which landscape they see or the emotional baggage that they carry with them. We are at the mercy of their projection of these things on us, but the good news is that God is great and his Holy Spirit is our guide.

Ethical Perspective

Also See:

Value Of Life

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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