Count Your Blessings, If You Can…shh…

ImageIt is the season for award shows and Super Bowl parties, and nothing goes better with these celebrations of human achievement than some name dropping for Jesus/God.  Most recently, Ray Lewis made a bit of a Christian stir for his various references to the role of God in his and his team’s success (here he is after the Super Bowl).  Nearly every Ray Lewis interview is scattered with references to God’s providence…just when you thought Tim Tebow had that market cornered!  Much of the uproar over Lewis has to do with his propensity to take Scripture references out of context, and I doubt any would step up to defend that practice.  But I would like to pose an alternative question:

How can Christians identify their blessings and how can they acknowledge them publicly?

The first question may seem the simpler of the two.  There are many instances of blessings in Scripture that are easily identifiable: gifts of children, abundant harvest seasons, peaceful relationships.  This is not just Old Testament Deuteronomy stuff; James even says things like, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…”  So, reading through these things, we might say, “I can look at my life, and where I see good things, those are my blessings.”

But James, and the New Testament particularly, is filled with more puzzling statements like, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” or Jesus’, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”  So our view of blessings must extend beyond even commonly identifiable “good” things.

But what of these commonly identifiable “goods?”  We can see how Jesus warned those in Israel that they might be missing it, saying, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.  Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”  So even if we give Jesus’ remarks proper context of speaking to Israel’s missing of the Kingdom at hand, we can still see how even commonly held goods might not always be blessings for us.

Which leaves me in a strange place, if the easily seen goods are not always goods, and my trials can sometimes be blessings, how on earth do we discern what are blessings and what are, well, not blessings?  I might propose a new working definition for blessings that reads something like, “Blessings are gifts from God that draw us toward fellowship with and faithfulness to Him.”  It’s a working definition, and I submit it to your critique humbly.

So let’s say they we identify some blessings in our lives, and we feel overwhelmed with gratitude and want to express some thankfulness or praise, how can we do that in a helpful public way?

I feel like that answer is perhaps easier within the church context, so that does not concern me as much, but within a secular or public space, it becomes more challenging.  Back when Tim Tebow was big, I was intrigued by Tim Gombis’ series about why Christian athletes should NOT use their fame as a platform for witnessing.  He offers several reasons like: athletics as Kingdom Sabbaththe advertising misdirectionthe culture war inevitability, and the distortion/over-simplification of popular media.

So, I won’t pretend to have even working definitions of proper ways to speak publicly.  Paul commands us to be wise toward outsiders in our speech and conduct, and I think wisdom demands more than rigid rules and guidelines.  But here are a few things that would want to bring into consideration:

1.  Will my speech be received in a Christ glorifying way?  If we are thanking God for helping us win an award for our violence-glorifying music/movies, does that bring glory to God?  Or if we know our speech will be twisted to support some political/social/economic agenda, is Christ getting glory?

2.  What is the motivation of our heart?  We can be tempted to seek the praise that comes from other Christians when we use our success as a platform for Jesus or conversely to revel in the “persecution” that comes from openly identifying with Jesus.  If our aim is to offer thankfulness, then we need to be taking the attention off of ourselves and placing it on God.

3. Consider whether your private thankfulness/praise/worship is in balance with your public proclamations.  If we are only “thankful” when we are on the stage, something may be amiss.  Let our private or corporate worship temper our times of individual public recognitions.

Father,
We are thankful that You are a God who gives good gives to Your children.
Grant us to discern with worship and prayer the ways that You bless us and draw us to Yourself.
Convict us of our complacency when we miss the Kingdom for the King’s blessings.
Grow us in the discipline of thankfulness in times of both suffering and joy.
Let our speech be saturated with wisdom and grace as we use our speech in the public square.
Forgive us when we misuse Your name before the world in our actions or our words.

May we be a blessing, for Your glory.

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Combating Women and Combating Cultural Blindness

Last week, the military altered its policy to allow women to fight in combat alongside male soldiers.  Some have celebrated this as a triumph for equality; others have expressed outrage that women would be put in greater danger or because they feel women are ill-equipped for combat units.  While I find these debates somewhat interesting, more interesting to me are those who have argued that women in combat is Christianly wrong.  Several people I know have tweeted references to a 2007 John Piper article in which he makes the claim that allowing women to fight in combat violates “manhood as God created” it to be.

It is interesting to me that when it comes to combat, allowing women to fight is often perceived as  offensive or in need of resistance or at least greater discernment, while Christian participation in military campaigns is generally celebrated or accepted uncritically…but perhaps this is a discussion for another day.

I am not resolved on my feelings toward this decision as public policy, but as to whether or not it is within the bounds of Christian ethical decisions, my inclination is to say that women are called to lay down their lives for their brothers and sisters as well as men.  Dr. Piper gives an interesting illustration, saying, “Suppose, I said, a couple of you students, Jason and Sarah, were walking to McDonald’s after dark. And suppose a man with a knife jumped out of the bushes and threatened you. And suppose Jason knows that Sarah has a black belt in karate and could probably disarm the assailant better than he could. Should he step back and tell her to do it? No. He should step in front of her and be ready to lay down his life to protect her, irrespective of competency.”  Now, I would argue that indeed, the Christian response to being attacked is to lay down your life for your friends, but what I am unable to grasp is why if you also accept that “Jason” could/should disarm the assailant, why it would be wrong for “Sarah” to disarm them?  Also, what if the attacker is a woman…boom…moral quandary.

But the opinions expressed on this issue seem to me just the surface of a much larger blind spot in our Christian moral evaluations.  I often find myself being made aware of ways in which I justify or coat my public policy opinions or my cultural preferences in the garb of Christian ethics.  But unfortunately, I am rarely able to see these things on my own.  It usually requires the hard love of a friend to point out my errors.  When issues like this one arise, it is helpful for me to acknowledge that perhaps my initial gut reaction is not Holy Spirit refined yet.  When I am quick to assume that my judgment is in line with Christian ethics, I can sometimes be caught preaching my culture’s ethics under cloak of Christian verbiage and choice Bible interpretations.  

How do we tell the difference between cultural Christian morality and the way of Christ?  And do we operate within the type of authentic Christian community that works together to refine our vision by discerning the Holy Spirit’s voice or one that merely acts as an echo chamber for our cultural guts?  Hopefully this danger leads us to our knees.

Public Thoughts, Here We Go

So, occasionally I will have thoughts on things and I think, “Hmm…I should really write a blog about that…”  Fortunately for the world, I suppose, up until now, I have just decided that it would be too much trouble to start a blog and actually articulate these thoughts in a cogent way.  But I believe it might actually be a helpful self discipline to actually take time to write out more fully my thoughts on various things I hear about or read about.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, a group of young men that I disciple and I have been for the past couple years engaged in the practice of writing community prayers for our group to pray together.  This has been a tremendously profitable discipline for me, and I hope to share some of the fruit of that here.