GENEROSITY: That’s what’s on my squirming Scottish mind. As I observe how Luke deals with wealth in his Gospel and the first few chapters of Acts, I want to say that generosity is one of the chief fruits by which we should be known. Love may be warm and fuzzy; in action it is often green, cold and hard (like cash).
(image built from two images on Pixabay, one by Bru-nO and the other by Gerd Altmann).
Today, the Director of the World Missions Center at SWBTS in Fort Worth gave me a great tour of the campus (we’re collaborating on a book for use in Brazil). One fun little thing: in the main foyer of the World Missions Center, the floor is a large map of the world with one color of terrazzo for the land masses and another for the oceans. Dr. Ray pointed out that there are no borders represented EXCEPT for that representing the country of origin of the floor construction foreman: El Salvador. As a lover of maps, I couldn’t help but appreciate this one! I have superimposed a map from Google to show that he was almost on the money (unless he’s actually from western Nicaragua!)
NOTE: This tongue-in-cheek illustration reflects how I’m pondering the book of Titus.
Since my pastor* has begun a series of sermons on Paul’s letter to Titus, I have been contemplating this book. One of the mysteries (to me) that most commentators (at least those I have read) skip right over is how the false teachers (1:10-16) were deriving “dishonest gain” from their teaching. Was this financial gain? If so, how?
Paul seems to contrast what they were “selling” to the fact that “To the pure all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure.” In the next chapter, Paul remarks that Jesus Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Purity—fruitful purity—was in view. It was anything BUT sterile holiness.
By the way, “Morus alba” is the scientific name for the Fruitless Mulberry. If you have ever stood under a FRUITING Mulberry in early summer, you know how messy they can be. The juicy red and black berries fall to the ground, making ugly splats. Birds eat the berries and then make colorful deposits on parked cars. I like to play around with why my imaginary Cretan Purity Coalition would use the non-messy “fruitless” variety of this tree in their logo….
*Any similarity to Sten-Erik Armitage’s Titus sermon series graphic was accidental (at least on a conscious level).
I have just about given up on reforming anyone but myself. Even that is ultimately hopeless. But I do hope to cooperate with the One who can and will reform me. In the meantime, here’s one way I represent the wedge of polarization. Absent humility, and given a desire for power that supercedes any desire for peace, there is a self-feeding wedge that divides “us” from “them.”
It’s probably obvious that I had our current President and his political opponents in mind. This was written a day or two after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. It is my opinion that political “leaders” heighten conflict by their careless and uncharitable words. When they resort to “all or nothing” tactics, it feeds anger and a sense of desperation in the general populace. One could easily conclude that Trump’s remarks foment racism (and ARE racist). But I’d argue that when every word coming out of his mouth is branded as racist, and it’s clear to an objective listener that some of the words are NOT (necessarily) racist, that in itself raises tensions. Civil discourse is incumbent on ALL parties in conflict.
I think the following interview between Ben Shapiro (libertarian) and Jonathan Haidt (left-leaning centrist) is instructive both in the insights of Haidt and the respectful responses of Shapiro:
The chaotic dance of ideas in my head is hard to sort out, especially since the mirror by which I reflect on it is shattered. “So, don’t reflect!” says the voice of distraction. “Brush aside that broken mirror. Simply act on what little you do understand! Follow the Master!”
The Master, you say? The Master, as best I recall, was Himself afflicted with the powerful weakness of a human mind. He was so weighed down by thoughts that He needed rest, and at least once fell to the ground along with his sweat like drops of blood. If I’m to follow the Master, should I not expect Him to lead me through similar anguish?
Just now, in a shard of mirrored glass, I saw that one dancer is not to be trusted. He gently offers his right hand, but in a left hand, hidden behind his back, he clenches a vial of poison. Am I really to ignore such glimpses of the dance, not ask the name and origin of the dancer? Should I not at least be wary?
Breakfast calls to me, along with a dozen duties: “Come to me, you who are wary. Brush aside that broken mirror, at least for now.” And I comply.
Postscript: At the beginning of this year, I wrote a three page paper, listing things I’m “churning” about, and shared it with two of my best friends. As I reflect on my current churnings, there may be more bubbles than butter, BUT, reading back over that document, I’m encouraged that there has been progress. If nothing else, I realize more fully now how utterly merciful and gracious God is, how utterly worthless are my efforts apart from Him. Is it useful to churn? The questions in this post are real. The objections are my own! Given my limited intellect, time, and resources, what use is it to reflect on the cacaphony of ideas that fill my head, the chaotic dance I described? Will it make any difference in the long run for one man to become more aware of how much he has absorbed the false, self-contradictory, and idolatrous ideas of his culture?
Over the last year, I have done a lot of thinking about how society is increasingly polarized, and how Christians get caught up in that trend. Two or three of my efforts to build bridges have been clumsy, and I regret the damage that did. But I don’t think ANYONE has this totally figured out; even the smartest, most spiritually mature people I know sometimes blunder in this area. We’re all slightly myopic (I prefer that to the unnecessarily harsh “blind”). Here are some illustrations that I came up with in the process:
I am just about finished reading an EXCELLENT book by Brian Loritts: Insider Outsider: My Journey as a Stranger in White Evangelicalism and My Hope for Us All. I expect to write more about this book later, but here is a graphic that came to mind while reading this morning. In part, the graphic reflects my gratitude for Loritts’ skillful enlightenment, but it also reflects an insistence on probing deeper for the causes of what Loritts describes.
While Loritts hasn’t touched much on polarization yet in the book, I do think polarization is affecting how readily we embrace one sin or another: if “our side” is for it, then we aren’t going to bad-mouth it, are we? If “our side” is unsympathetic to the suffering of others, then maybe we’ll be just fine with an unloving attitude. If “our side” is for downplaying sexual immorality, then maybe we’ll make sure we aren’t the kind of prudes who are repulsed by sexual immorality.
Reflecting on Loritts’ book also prompted this comment to a friend (how the comment relates to the above is something I haven’t worked out yet, but AM working on!):
I’m trying hard to understand the intersection of Kingdom and culture. That is, which kinds of thinking are RIGHT (aligning with the Kingdom of God), which are WRONG (driven by Satan’s purposes), and which are merely DIFFERENT (benign cultural preferences). In this regard, [name] and I have both found Jonathan Haidt very helpful.
– email to a friend
I know this is undeveloped thinking, but I welcome interaction with friends (and not-yet friends) who would like to reflect on their own journey of self-inspection. How are YOU finding yourself influenced by good, evil, and the indifferent benign*?
*Different from Camus’ “benign indifference?” Let’s think about that…
My coworker was a lot of fun to work with. We agreed most of the time. But not always. When I denounced a “Good Ol’ Boy Network,” he could not understand. For him, a network of such likeable people was surely a good thing! And he could get angry over strange things, like the time I took a heel from the loaf of bread…