The Beatitudes

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, 

for his wrath is quickly kindled. 

Blessed are all who take refuge in him. 

(Ps 2:11-12)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Beatitudes poetically introduce Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7), which sets priorities, redefines honor among disciples, and commissions his disciples. The sermon offers the lengthiest statement of Jesus’ teaching and the early church cited it more frequently than any other passage in scripture (Guelich (1982, 14). As an introduction, the Beatitudes interpret the Old Testament in ways that surprised his disciples then and continue to surprise us now, suggesting that the Beatitudes deserve careful study.

Gospel Context

In both Matthew and Luke, the Beatitudes appear immediately after Jesus calls his disciples and addresses the disciples, serving as a preamble for the sermon that follows.

The sermon addresses the disciples personally, much like Jesus’ earlier call to ministry—“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt 4:19). This is not a passive call to be spectators, but an active call for disciples who will share in his suffering, at a time when the arrest and beheading of John (who baptized Jesus) was still fresh in their minds (Matt 4:12; 14:10).

Suffering—extreme tension—is an obvious theme in the sermon both because of John’s recent death and because of the ongoing threats to Jesus’ life that began even before his birth (Matt 1:18-25; 2:1-13). Suffering, we learn in the Beatitudes, is part of being a faithful disciple and we know that the disciples got the message because ten out of the eleven faithful disciples died a martyr’s death (Fox and Chadwick, 2001, 10).

Literary Context

The Beatitudes take their name from the Latin translation (beati) of the Greek word for honor (μακάριος) which means “humans privileged recipients of divine favor” or “favored, blessed, fortunate, happy,  privileged“ (BDAG 4675, 2, 2a). Jesus repeats μακάριος nine times.

The Bible uses repetition for emphasis—twice is emphasis; three times is highly emphatic; and nine times is unprecedented. This emphatic repetition reinforces the sermon’s content. The sermon in Matthew pictures Jesus as the new Moses issuing a new law of grace on a mountain (like Mount Sinai), while in Luke the sermon presents both blessings and curses (woes), a pattern associated with covenantal law (Deut 28). In other words, the literary style and content of the text are both attention-grabbers for a Jewish audience.

Old Testament Context

Jesus’ repeated use of μακάριος in the sermon alludes to Psalm 1 in the  Greek translation (most familiar to first century readers), where it says:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Ps 1:1-2)

Psalm 1 pictures God’s shalom, a call to holiness, and integration (the opposite of tension) within ourselves, with God (through obedience to the law), and with others with an amazing economy of words. Other references to μακάριος speak, not of integration, but of tension, such as political tension (Psalm 2) and affliction (Isaiah 30). In Isaiah 30, for example, God makes an interesting promise to those that wait for him:

And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. (Isa 30:20)

The teacher here is the Messiah who blesses those who suffer “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction”—a poetic phrase meaning persecution, while the word for teacher (‎מוֹרֶ֔יךָ) also means early rain, a form of blessing in a desert region like Israel.

Commissioning Purpose

In his sermon, Jesus redefines the meaning of honor, an important, but neglected, translation of μακάριος (Neyrey 1998, 164). If Jesus had wanted to convey the idea of blessed—the usual translation of μακάριος, then the more conventional word in Greek would eulogetos (France 2007, 161). Honored is a more appropriate translation  because the ancient world had an honor-shame culture where even a small insult requires an immediate and sometimes deadly response—Jesus forbids such responses. When Jesus taught forgiveness, enemy love, and turning the other cheek, he radically confronted the honor-shame culture, where masters had honor and slaves had mostly shame.

Dishonor in the ancient world Jesus redefined as honor among his disciples. Jesus said:

Honored are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:11–12)

In other words, heavenly rewards follow from earthly persecution. In a culture obsessed with glory and honor—especially family honor, the preferred translation for μακάριος here is honor, not blessing. It is more consistent with the rest of Jesus’ sermon and less consistent with the law of Moses with blessings and curses as in Psalm 1.

The Beatitude

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

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

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Tension with Others

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101You have heard that it was said, 

You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 

But I say to you, Love your enemies and 

pray for those who persecute you, 

so that you may be sons of your Father 

who is in heaven. (Matt 5:43-45)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When we become Christians, tension with others can arise in two ways. First, when we draw closer to God, the gap between the biblical values we are growing into and the cultural values we are leaving behind widens, and people notice. After I started seminary, for example, I noticed that some of my saltier friends stopped using profanity in my presence. Second, because God loves people, when we draw closer to God and become more like Jesus, we cannot help but love people too (John 13:34–35). Although sanctification creates a gap between us and others, God’s love flowing through us works to bridge this gap (Jas 2:15–16).

Abraham and Lot

Consider the story of Abraham and his nephew, Lot. God blessed Abraham and then revealed plans to destroy two sinful cities, Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:17–20). Set apart from the world, Abraham then prayed to God to spare the cities for the sake of the righteous living there (Gen 18:23–32), presumably including his nephew, Lot.

Sodom and Gomorrah

Lot showed no problem living in Sodom or compassion for his neighbors. Quite the contrary, Lot displayed bad judgment in choosing to live in Sodom (Gen 13:10) and only left Sodom on the urging of angels sent to retrieve him (Gen 19:16). Lot’s wife found it even harder to leave Sodom and disobeyed the angels by looking back at the flaming city (Gen 19:26).

Reflecting on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the church can position itself relative to culture in three ways: working to redeem the culture like Abraham, inattentive to the culture like Lot, or beguiled by the culture like Lot’s wife. Jesus commends Abraham’s approach (Luke 9:52–56), but the grace extended has limits, as Jesus instructs his disciples:

And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (Matt 10:11–15)

The disciples are to offer peace (that is, to preach the Gospel) to everyone for the sake of others willing to listen, but those unwilling to listen should have their wishes respected (Matt 10:14).

The Gap

The gap between others and ourselves is the focus of the last three Beatitudes:

Honored are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Honored are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Honored are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matt 5:9-11)

In these Beatitudes, Jesus neither denies, nor excuses, nor runs away from persecution. Instead, he treats persecution as a ministry opportunity—“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44)—and he offers consolation for those suffering it. The implication is that tension with others is the norm, not the exception, for Christian disciples

Tension with Other

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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

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Tension with God

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? 

And he said, Who are you, Lord? 

And he said, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 

(Acts 9:4–5)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The idea of tension with God surprises many Christians for at least three reasons. The first reason is that the church’s focus on the humanity of Christ and off of the divinity of Christ cloaks the urgings of the Holy Spirit leaving us ignorant of our distance from God. The second reason is that a focus on conversion and off of sanctification—the process of nurturing our faith—leaves us living secular lifestyles ignorant of God’s will for our lives. A final reason is that our indifference to sin blinds us to our true selves in Christ, to our neighbors, and to God.

It is not an accident that each of these three reasons is highly theological because postmoderns mostly avoid theology—a fourth reason which may be why tension with God may come as a surprise. The postmodern focus on the emotional content of faith and off of the implications of these three theological trends hides our tension with God and quietly robs our faith of its power, like a vacuum cleaner that has been unplugged. Oblivious to the tension, Christians are lulled into believing in a kind of tension-free, ersatz Christianity that provides individualized services, such as childcare, and generally promises to insulate them from the problems of life without substantial obligation. When life’s problems arise, their ersatz Christianity provides no substantive guidance for dealing with them, leading people to become angry with God, and leave the church. It is accordingly helpful to review the reasons that people are unaware of the tension between them and God.

Humanity versus Divinity of Christ

Our secular society questions Christ’s divinity but has no problem with Jesus’ humanity. If Christ is only human, then Jesus is no more than an interesting teacher, the church becomes another interest group, and conversion is as mundane as joining another club. If Christ is not divine, then Jesus’ teaching has no claim on us (1 Cor 15:17) and we can simply ignore any tension with God that Jesus’ teaching might signal.

Conversion versus Sanctification

Over the centuries, Christian leaders have debated the priority of conversion over sanctification. For example, Jonathan Edwards, often praised as the great American theologian, advocated that church members have a personal relationship with Jesus—a fruit more of sanctification than of conversion—only to have his Northampton church dismiss him in 1750 (Noll 2002, 45). If sanctification can be thought of as a series of conversion experiences whose consequence is a closer relationship with God, then tension with God can be seen as a sign of progress in spiritual formation and maturity.

Think about the tension with God in the life of the Apostle Paul. When God told Ananias to go and baptize Saul, he questioned God’s intentions:

But the Lord said to him, Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name. (Acts 9:15-16)

Paul was called as a Christian and an Apostle to the gentiles and to suffer for the Name. Do you think Paul’s calling created tension in his life, with God, and with others? Paul himself described the life he gave up as a Rabbi and a Jew as rubbish (Phil 3:8) compared to what he gained as a believer. Still, he met every sort of affliction during his  ministry (2 Cor 11:23-28) and struggled with an unanswered prayer—a thorn in the flesh—a euphemism perhaps suggesting a grievous sin over which he was not victorious (2 Cor 12:7). 

The point in this example is that if tension with God is a challenge even for the spirituality mature, then being unaware of our tension with God signals spiritual immaturity or, worse, spiritual lethargy. 

Ignorance of Sin

Spiritual lethargy starts with ignoring sin, which even a hardened atheist should worry about. Sin can be: doing evil (sin), breaking a law (transgression), or failing to do good (iniquity). Sin cuts us off from ourselves, from our neighbors, and from God, which leads to tensions in all three dimensions. Ignoring sin is like driving too fast on an icy road or throwing dirty sand in your gas tank—it can hurt others and messes everything up, including our relationship with God.

God’s forgiveness through Christ sets us right with God and relieves our guilt, but does not in most instances reverse the effects of sin on our person and on others. God can forgive the murderer, for example, but that does not bring the dead person back to life or relieve the perpetrator of punishment under law.

Tension with God is more critical than tension in a human relationship, because our existence depends on God—it’s like a diver at a depth three hundred feet discarding an air tank because life itself is threatened. Sin cuts us off from God, but when we it the channels of communication with God open and we can perceive the promptings of the Holy Spirit. When we obey the Spirit’s promptings we join God in his ongoing creative work in the world and become more sanctified like Jesus, which involves pain and sacrifice. In turn, our sacrifices signal to God, to those around us, and to ourselves that our transformation in Christ is real (2 Sam 24:21-25).

Jesus honors disciples who faithfully pursue godliness:

Honored are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Honored are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Honored are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matt 5:6–8)

Notice that these Beatitudes mirror attributes that God uses to describe himself—”merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6)—and offer a key to growing as divine image bearers. These admonitions remind us that God is interested not so much in what we do as in who we become (Fairbairn 2009, 67).

References

Fairbairn, Donald. 2009. Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Noll, Mark A. 2002. America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. New York: Oxford University Press.

Tension with God

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Corner_2020

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Tension Within Ourselves

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101For I do not understand my own actions. 

For I do not do what I want, 

but I do the very thing I hate. (Rom 7:15)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

As North Americans, we are the best fed and most pampered generation of all time; yet, our young people and senior citizens are committing suicide at historically high rates and “ordinary children today are more fearful than psychiatric patients were in the 1950s.” (Lucado 2012, 5) Why?

Isolated from Ourselves

One answer is that we have become painfully isolated from ourselves: “We live in a society in which loneliness has become one of the most painful human wounds” (Nouwen 2010, 89). Our isolation has been magnified by a loss of faith and community, leaving us vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Isolated people often ruminate about the past. In ruminating, obsessing about a personal slight, real or imaged, amplifying small insults into big ones. For psychiatric patients who are not good at distinguishing reality and illusion, constant internal repetition of even small personal slights is not only amplified, it is also remembered as a separate event. Through this process of amplification and separation, a single spanking at age 8 could by age 20 grow into a memory of daily beatings.

Rumination

Amplified in this way, rumination absorbs the time and energy normally focused on meeting daily challenges and planning for the future. By interfering with normal activities, reflection, and relationships, rumination slows normal emotional and relational development and the ruminator becomes increasingly isolated from themselves, from God, and from those around them. Why do we care? We care because everyone ruminates and technology leads us to ruminate more than other generations. The ever-present earphone with music, the television always on, the constant texting, the video game played every waking hour, and the work that we never set aside all function like rumination to keep dreary thoughts from entering our heads. Much like addicts, we are distracted every waking hour from processing normal emotions and we become anxious and annoyed when we are forced to tune into our own lives, a kind of escalation behavior in the language of psychiatrics. Rumination, stress addiction, and other obsessions have become mainstream lifestyles that leave us fearful when alone and in today’s society we are frequently alone even in the company of others. We are in tension with ourselves.

A Heavy Burden

Jesus sees our tension and offers to relieve it, saying: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt 11:28-30) Self-centered rumination is a heavy burden, not a light one. Jesus models the Sabbath rest, prayer, and forgiveness that break rumination by encouraging us to look outside ourselves. In Sabbath rest we look outside ourselves to share in God’s peace, to reflect on Christ’s forgiveness, and to accept the Holy Spirit’s invitation to prayer. In prayer we commune with God where our wounds can be healed, our strength restored, and our eyes opened to our sin, brokenness, and need for forgiveness. When we sense our need for forgiveness, we also see our need to forgive. In forgiveness, we value relationships above our own personal needs which break the cycle of sin and retaliation in our relationships with others and, by emulating Jesus Christ, we draw closer to God in our faith. Faith, discipleship, and ministry require that we give up obsessing with ourselves. On our own, our obsessions are too strong and we cannot come to faith, grow in our faith, or participate in ministry. For most people, faith comes through prayer, reading scripture, and involvement in the church, all inspired by the Holy Spirit. For the original apostles, the discipling was done by Jesus himself.

Honored

In the Beatitudes, Jesus tutors the disciples and says that we will be honored in at least three ways: Honored are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Honored are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Honored are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matt 5:3–5) Jesus takes the world’s threats to our identity, self-worth, and personal dignity and reframes them as promises that we will receive the kingdom of heaven, be comforted, and inherit the earth. But, Jesus ties these promises to discipleship as part of his yoke (Matt 11:28-30) and does not extended them to spectators.

REFERENCES

Lucado, Max. 2012. Fearless. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Nouwen, Henri J.M. 2010. Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (Orig pub 1972). New York: Image Doubleday.

Tension Within Ourselve

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/XXXmas_2019  

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Divine Template: Monday Monologues, January 13, 2020 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a  prayer and reflect on the Divine Template.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/XXXmas_2019

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Tension: Monday Monologues (Podcast), January 6, 2020

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a  prayer and reflect on tension.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Tension: Monday Monologues, January 6, 2020 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/XXXmas_2019

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Authentic Grief

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristFor godly grief produces a repentance 

that leads to salvation without regret, 

whereas worldly grief produces death. 

(2 Cor 7:10)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

About half of the patients I visited with in the emergency room during my time at Providence Hospital suffered physical maladies as a consequence of unresolved grief. Presenting diagnoses, such as backaches, strokes, heart attacks, failed psychiatric medicines, suicides, addictions, obesity, and head aches, often resulted from unresolved grief over the loss of a close family member. In such cases, treating the presenting ailment proved secondary to helping them cope with their loss.

American society does not cope with grief adequately. In a strong sense, we mask our grief with physical ailments to garner support that would otherwise be withheld. Supporting the grieving in their mourning can therefore promote both their emotional and physical well-being.

Godly Grief

The tension that we feel within ourselves when we mourn forces us to make a decision. Do we lean into our pain or turn it over to God? Standing under the shadow of the cross at Gethsemane, Jesus had to decide whether to be obedient to the will of God and proceed to the cross or to seek another future (Matt 26:42).

Because of the ubiquitous nature of pain and the decision it poses, our response over time to grief defines our character—who we become. It is interesting that grief is the only emotion that appears on the list of Jesus’ Beatitudes (Matt 5:4).

Widening Our View of Grief

Our grief arises out of the loss of the things that are important to us. In writing about the second Beatitude, Graham (1955, 20-26) identified five objects of mourning:

  • Inadequacy—before you can grow strong, you must recognize your own weakness;
  • Repentance—before you can ask for repentance, you must recognize your sin;
  • Love—our compassion for the suffering of our brothers and sisters takes the form of mourning and measures our love of God;
  • Soul travail—groaning for the salvation of the lost around us; and
  • Bereavement—mourning over those that have passed away.

Mitchell and Anderson (1983, 36-45) widen this list to identify six major types of loss, including: 1. Material loss; 2. Relationship loss; 3. Intra-psychic loss—loss of a dream; 4. Functional loss—including loss of autonomy; 5. Role loss—like retirement; and 6. Systemic loss—like departure from your family of origin.

What is surprising about this list is that each loss must be separately grieved. Elderly people find themselves experiencing many of these losses and grieving them surrounded by loved ones who may be completely unaware. But we all face losses in our daily lives that challenge the assumptions that we live by. With each of these events, we find ourselves in a “Gethsemane moment.” Do we surrender ourselves leaning into our pain or do we surrender our griefs at the foot of the cross and stay the course as disciples of Christ?

Ministering to Those in Pain

Do you give grieving people permission to grieve? Or do you try to sweep grief under the rug? VanDuivendyk (2006, 12) observes:

So many well-meaning friends and loved ones may try to cheer us up rather than just be with us in our sadness. Rather than help us grieve through and talk out our pain, they may attempt to talk us out of pain. Rather than be sojourners with us in the wilderness, they may attempt to find us a shortcut. Jesus openly cried over Lazarus and the widow’s son, and raised them both from the dead even though no words of faith were spoken (John 11:1-46; Luke 7:11-17), suggesting that we have permission to mourn rather emulating the stoics with their stiff upper lip.

Worden (2009, 39-50) sees the process of grief as divided into four tasks:

  1. Accepting the reality of the loss,
  2. Working through the pain,
  3. Adjusting to a world without the deceased, and
  4. Finding connection with the deceased while moving on.

The first task is to get beyond denial—a funeral with an open casket helps mourners get over the denial. The second task has to deal with the pain that may be accompanied by anxiety, anger, guilt, depression, and loneliness. The third task is to account for all the activities that the deceased shared with you and to find alternative arrangements. The fourth task is the re-evaluate your relationship with the deceased while moving on.

Unresolved grief—getting stuck in one of the tasks above—results in anxiety attacks and physical ailments when people refuse to honor their pain and are forced to pretend that it does not exist. American culture is complicit in promoting unresolved grief because co-workers, neighbors, and friends often give a grieving spouse or parent about two weeks before signaling that something is wrong if you are not over it. This is why it is important to give the grieving permission to grieve in the funeral to signal to their support group that two weeks is unlikely to be a sufficient period to complete the tasks of grieving.

References

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Mitchell, Kenneth R. and Herbert Anderson. 1983. All Our Losses; All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

VanDuivendyk, Tim P. 2006. The Unwanted Gift of Grief:  A Ministry Approach.  New York:  Haworth Press Inc.

Worden, J. William. 2009. Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practioner. New York: Springer.

Authentic Grief

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

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Dialogue: Monday Monologues, May 27, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will pray and reflect on Dialogue.

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Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Dialogue. Monday Monologues, May 27, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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

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Dialogue

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One practical implication of being created in the image of God is that when you speak with someone, it is like speaking to God himself.  In fact, many times God speaks to us through the people around us. A second practical implication is that each and every human has intrinsic value in the eyes of God. Between the hint of the divine and this intrinsic value, everyone has an interesting story to tell—if one takes the time to listen. One only cares for something of value (Benner 1998, 21).

Dialogue in Writing

Screenwriters understand dialogue better than anyone. James Scott Bell defines dialogue citing John Howard Lawson’s Theory and Technique of Playwriting who described dialogue as “compression and extension of action.” He goes on to say that: “Every word, every phrase that comes out of a character’s mouth is uttered because the character hopes it will further a purpose.” In other words, every character has an agenda. Thus, dazzling dialogue arises from the intersection of two characters’ agendas in opposition. (Bell 2014, 12-13)

The role of compression is important. Bell (2014, 16-17) writes: “Dialogue is not real-life speech. It is stylized speech for which the author, through the characters, has a purpose.” Focusing on the character’s agenda, the dialogue must cut to the chase and reveal underlying conflict, even if in good natured banter. Bell (2014, 22) sees five functions of dialogue: reveal story information, reveal character, set the tone, set the scene, and reveal theme.

In weaving a story, Bell (2014, 25) advises the author to act first, explain later and to hide story information (exposition) within confrontation to avoid appearing too preachy. How people talk reveals their character in terms of education, social position, regional background, and peer groups (Bell 2014, 35-36). Tone is revealed in how characters talk to each other. The scene is described through how characters react to it and to each other. Theme can be revealed without being preachy by embedding it in the dialogue. (Bell 2014, 37-38)

Why do I go through all these writing tips about dialogue? When we listen to each other and to ourselves, much can be learned that might not be discovered any other way.

Dialogue in Business

Corporate lawyer Thomas Stanton (2012, 10) writes:

One of the critical distinctive factors between successful and unsuccessful firms in the crisis was their application of what this book calls “constructive dialogue.” Successful firms managed to create productive and constructive tension between (1) those who wanted to do deals, or offer certain financial products and services, and (2) those in the firm who were responsible for limited risk exposure.

The importance of quality dialog within the firm or government agency arises from the simple observation that no single individual, no matter how bright or experienced, could understand the totality of the highly technical financial environment that now exists. Having an open-minded executive is accordingly insufficient; the firm culture must embrace active learning and open communication.

Good Dialogue is Increasing Rare

If dialogue is important in caring for people, in communication, and in risk management in a corporate setting, why has good dialogue become so rare? These days we are used to commentators and politicians shouting at each on television with virtually no one listening. We are also accustomed to interactions on social media that share information not expecting a response and, if one is given, the person responding is de-friended. 

It seems that our egos have become so fragile that we cannot hear anyone providing an alternative view. We even have a word for this fragile-ego syndrome: micro-aggression. A micro-aggression can be perceived by the smallest slight, like not paying enough attention to all members of a group.

In this context, it is hard for people to hear information inconsistent with their self-image or preconceptions of an issue. Dialogue dies.

Context for Dialogue

For authors (PGMS) collaborated in 2012 to write a book, Crucial Conversations, that became a popular in business circles. One tip worth the ticket of admission is the author’s breakdown of a dialog into four stages: presenting facts (see and hear), telling a story, feeling, and acting. 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.

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).  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.

Dialogue is Transactional

Most dialogue is transactional in the sense that even when we disagree, we both have a stake in talking and are willing to talk to reconcile our differences. This does not imply that the discussion will be easy, but the outcome of the discussion is presumably open-ended. In the framework given by PGMS, this is a sharing of facts and a comparison of stories that explain the facts.

When we start off talking in terms of unproductive stories—victim, villain, or claiming helplessness, we shutdown dialogue with an expression of feelings in the PGMS framework and try to force the other party into surrendering to our interpretation of events. This sharing of feelings signals that the dialogue is over and a digging in of the heels. This all-or-nothing negotiating strategy is likely to produce resentment and risks a violent response. It is unlikely to produce compromise because it is a strategy that shuts down conversation.

A Biblical Example

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus exhorts us to be reconciled with our neighbors before going to church to worship. The example he gives is of a man who has failed to pay his debts. Jesus says:

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. (Matt 5:25)

In today’s context, a lender may extend payments or settle for less than full payment for someone unable to pay a debt for reasons like illness or unemployment, but the debtor must be willing to dialogue with the lender, as Jesus has recommended. Claiming victimhood or having been cheated by a villainous lender will obviously not end so nicely. 

References

Bell, James Scott  2014. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript. Woodland Hills, CA: Compendium Press.

Benner, David G. 1998. Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

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

Stanton, Thomas H. 2012.  Why Some Firms Thrive While Others Fail: Governance and Management Lessons from the Crisis. New York: Oxford University Press.

Dialogue

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/MayBe_2019

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