Grocery Store Ethics and Five Reasons They Belong in Church

I wrote this paper last semester for my Christian Ethics class at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and titled it, “Should Preachers Preach on Ethical Eating?”. Since writing for school has taken over writing for the blog, I thought I’d pass on a couple projects that would benefit more than one (professorial) reader. As I researched this paper, I learned a lot about our food and where it comes from. It’s changed our personal eating habits and will probably show up in my ministry in the church from time to time. 

Photo by Blink. Smatch Supermarket, Deerlijk, Belgium. Public domain. 5 June 2006.

Grocery Store Ethics and Five Reasons They Belong in the Church

Introduction

We all eat. For preachers, eating can be the only time of rest in a day full of good, faithful, and fruitful activities.  It’s hard enough to find affordable, convenient, healthy, and delicious food; the last thing we need is for someone add “responsible” to the list and make our hard won dinnertime an ethical minefield. Yet, the “organic” signs over the apples suggest a growing conversation in our culture, one preachers should heed for two reasons: First, Continue reading “Grocery Store Ethics and Five Reasons They Belong in Church”

Divine Hope and “The Fault in Our Stars”

Spoiler alert: I’ve tried to write Part 1 of this review without spoilers, because I think this book is worth purchasing and enjoying for yourself. Part 2 is full of spoilers.

Part 1: “The Fault in Our Stars,” by John Green

My literary friend Nick chose this book for our reading group because he’d been told “it’s the best writing I’ve read in X number of years” (I can’t recall the X). When I asked about it at my new favorite bookstore, Manchester-by-the-Book, the proprietor raised an eyebrow and walked me back to the young adult section, just to boast, “I’m probably the only book store in America that doesn’t have any John Green.” A mixed reception. What was I getting myself into?

I was getting myself into a book I never would have chosen: A teenage romance set in an oncology ward.

Surprisingly, Continue reading “Divine Hope and “The Fault in Our Stars””

If You Have a Test, Quiz, Paper, or Project This Week…

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If you have a test, quiz, paper, or project this week…remember that someone is giving you a gift. The thought finally snuck into my brain last week, as I sat on the couch reading a book about perceptions-of-Christian-conversion-from-various-world-religions, and Annie worked by the window. The night had been short, the font was small, and my eyes were drooping. My soul, bedecked in running shorts and a marathoner’s bib fell to its knees and cried, How long, O Lord?!

Then the infiltrating thought spoke up: Continue reading “If You Have a Test, Quiz, Paper, or Project This Week…”

The Dumbest Thing I’ve Done This Fall

I stomped around the apartment, digging through bags and overturning stacks of papers and envelopes. I’ve worked so hard to check everything off my list this week–I have 30 minutes to read the last chapter, shut down the laptop, and kick off the weekend with our first date in weeks. Where is that dumb book?! Eventually, I traipsed up the library, borrowed a reserve copy, and read what I could. All weekend, the unread half-chapter lingered in the back of my mind.

Having recently overheated over missing school supplies, it didn’t take long for me to reach the boiling point as I looked for CD of assigned podcasts. I’d checked of my classes, dutifully attended chapel, and heated up lunch. A Costco run with the podcasts in tow was next on my list, but the CD I expected to find on the desk was nowhere to be found. This time, I roped Annie into the search, going through all the closets, drawers, and cupboards. What are the chances that I somehow left this CD under the sink in the bathroom? Enough to give it a try. I went down to the storage unit. I dug through the panniers on my bike. As I dug through our glove compartment and looked under the car seats, I started to pray the prayers that don’t get published or recited: First you let me lose the book, now this CD! I distinctly remember you NOT answering that prayer by revealing “The Hermeneutical Spiral.” Help a guy out, God! Honestly, I’m getting a little frustrated!

Annie finally convinced me to go back up the hill and pay the $12 for a new CD. I pulled one off the shelf, thinking, This says PR601 sermons, not podcasts. Is this what I got last time? It must be what I got last time. I shoved it through the cashier’s window and then into Mrs. Hudson’s CD player. Who sells a CD that doesn’t work in CD players!?!?!, I mused, meekly.

I sped down the hill, marched up the stairs, pressed the disk into this very Macbook Pro, and discovered…no podcasts. This last discovery incited not anger, but embarrassment. Something finally clicked in my mind. I opened up my browser, clicked on “downloads,” and read, “PR601 Pulpit Talk Set.”

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 5.21.39 PMI waited until Annie’s phone call concluded.

“Um…I need to apologize. I took us on a wild goose chase. There was no CD. I downloaded the podcasts. I did end up buying the sermons I still had to buy.”

Annie graciously laughed as I quipped, “If only I’d downloaded that book, too.”

As soon as the words left my mouth, the angel of relief and the demon of shame started playing vertical tug-of-war with my soul. I walked into the bedroom, picked up my Kindle from the nightstand, and swept along the carousel. There, in thumbnail form, was the book that I’d grieved.

“Also, I downloaded that book.”

For a moment, I thought this might be a great illustration of Jesus’ story in Luke 15, who finds her lost coin. Then I realized that the woman in that story represents the sinless angels of God. No, I was an illustration of James’ warning, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” The dumbest thing I’ve done all fall is not forget that I downloaded a book and some mp3s. The dumbest thing I’ve done all fall is get mad at God. When we’re angry, God is absolutely the safest one to confide in, but not the same way that we would confide in a punching bag. We can approach God honestly, but we must continue to respect him as we deal with our frustration and confusion about the present situation. Anytime blame we place on God will be shown to be foolishness in the end.

 

Justify Me

It took me a few seconds to recognize his seizure, two seats away. It took a few more to remember what to do, and by the time I had the wherewithal to “spring into action!” three others already had. Moments before, we’d all been 3 minutes from the end of our Hebrew quiz; now all 60 students were silently staring at our corner of the room. A sense of shame slowly settled into my spirit; why am I such a terrible first responder? After Campus Safety, and eventually the paramedics, came, our class was dismissed early and we stumbled out into the mid-morning sunshine.

Wandering toward the library, I approached a few other students and mentioned how awkward I feel in medical crises, fishing for an “It’s ok.” They offered something of the sort, but I still related it to Annie and another classmate, looking for more justification.

If you’ve spent much time observing amateur musicians, in a school orchestra or leading worship in church, you’ve probably experienced a similar phenomenon. When our voices crack, we give exaggerate our smiles and look for a friendly eye (or away entirely, if we don’t think there will be any), wanting to be assured, “It’s ok!” Even standing in the congregation, we start a verse early, singing half a word into the lull, and can’t quite move on without acknowledging it to our neighbors. We long to be justified. We’re looking for someone to tell us we don’t have to feel bad anymore.

Who will tell us that we are, from the bottoms of our feet to the tops of our heads, from infancy to our furthest future, from our loudest laughs to our deepest tears, “ok”? Who can? Perhaps on Tuesday, that student can forgive me for not rushing to his aid. Surely our pew-mates can let us off the hook for messing up our lines. But will we ever meet the poor who we have overlooked? Who can pardon us for pillaging our planet? Who has the authority to absolve us for our pride?

Only the God of the world can truly call us justified for all we have done in this world.

1. If you believe that God has extended this justification to you in Christ, then rest assured–rest, assured–that it is there for the taking. From silly embarrassment to deep shame, God has already redeemed us from out guilt and has a plan for restoring us to his design. While we do need to reconcile with others, we don’t have to look to them for our ultimate justification.

2. If you believe that God has extended this justification to you in Christ, then tell others about it!

3. Recognize that other are looking for justification. They’re looking to be valued and accepted. They’re not always interested in spiritual realities, but most people are ready for a good friend. At the very least, listen and encourage. Build a relationship across which your hope in Christ can flow.

Deep down, we’re all seeking justification.

Poignant Prayer

It's easy to get lost in the Corpus Christianorum while forgetting that we are the Corpus Christum.
I find myself lost in the Corpus Christianorum, forgetting the Corpus Christi.

Seminary is intense. At least, for one who’s trying to catch up with the second year students and squeeze as much from readings, lectures, and office hours as possible, it’s busy, challenging, and thrilling. Blogging won’t take time from of our church involvement (which is growing) or our jobs/classes (which are getting heated), so it has taken the only seat left, which happens to be in the back.

However, we had a moving seminary-wide prayer chapel today, that I’m open to sharing with you, but mostly want to process and memorialize for my own heart. The time of Scripture reading, singing, and prayer was all the more poignant because of this season’s intensity, and it was a vital reminder of God’s preeminence in my life.

I walked down the hill to our apartment with three snapshots:

  • Walking in late, I caught the end of Dr. Lintz’s introductory remarks: “…would we rediscover our identity in the presence of God.” How easily we–especially those of us full-time focusing on theology, ministry, etc.–forget that we are not working toward a good enough understanding to be with God. Rather, we have been brought near to God by Christ and that relationship gives us value and meaning. In seminary, it’s easy to forget that the presence of God is not something to be dissected, it is something to be acknowledged and received.
  • Partway through, we were given a few minutes to sit silently, open to the voice of the Lord. God’s “speaking” is much debated across the church, and this all quickly bubbled into a verbal question in my mind, the moment we were released to listen: “Who am I to presume upon the Lord.” An answer immediately followed, and here I feel no need to distinguish between the Holy Spirit and theological cognition: “You are my son.” Without the gracious favor of God, everything we do would be presumption in his universe, but as sons and daughters of the Living God, we are invited into a much more glorious life.
  • Toward the end, we had a time of prayer for the nations. A Powerpoint ran up front, each slide presenting a country’s name, a picture, and a couple prayer requests. We had about 20 seconds with each country, and prayed in the South Korean style, with everyone praying out loud at once. It was easier to pray for some countries than others; my words caught as we prayed for countries rife with slavery or rape. It took me a few moments to recover digest my immediate sadness, and pray grieving prayers. I was shocked, however, by my reaction to the slide the read, “Japan.” I don’t know what prayer requests the Student Justice Association picked for that country, because as soon as I slide came up, I just hung my head and wept. I grieve for the lostness of Japan. I grieve that there is so little gospel light there, for the waves of disillusionment and suicide. I am so sad for my ancestors’ country, and I could only bring a wordless prayer. Even this was an important reminder, that the substance of our faith is not essays and philosophy, it is the true growth of the Kingdom of God.

Given a few moments to pray with the people next to us, my request of God is that my learning would not pull me away from prayer. As Andrew James, our student body president of sorts, reminded us: We do not want seminary to be a transactional experience; we want it to be a transformational one. If you think of me, pray for me, that in these two years I would not simply learn more about God, but that I would be drawn closer to him day by day.

Jesus and the Slicker

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The siren song of fame haunts me in Gordon Conwell halls. The brick buildings, the wing-back chairs, and Dr. Gibson’s bow ties all make me think of a happier Dead Poets Society or a duller Harry Potter, and I want the admiration the Academy evokes in my mind. I still want to write, but I long to be read. I still want to teach, but I seek to be sought after. Practically, success could be God’s path for me, but as for my heart, I’m struggling to dispose of the lust for admiration.

In the flurry of orientation, events would end and I would be torn between the student next to me, in need of a friend, and the professor up front, who I hoped to befriend. Even among the faculty, I couldn’t help wondering who could most benefit me, get me into the program I wanted to get into. To my shame, I was discovering my inner “Slicker,” the campus fast-tracker Fitzgerald derides in This Side of Paradise:

Public Domain (Source)

The slicker was good-looking or clean-looking; he had brains, social brains, that is, and he used all means on the broad path of honesty to get ahead, be popular, admired, and never in trouble. He dressed well, was particularly neat in appearance, and derived his name from the fact that his hair was inevitably worn short, soaked in water or tonic, parted in the middle, and slicked back as the current of fashion dictated. The slickers of that year had adopted tortoise-shell spectacles as badges of their slickerhood, and this made them so easy to recognize that Amory and Rahill never missed one. The slicker seemed distributed through school, always a little wiser and shrewder than his contemporaries, managing some team or other, and keeping his cleverness carefully concealed.*

(It’s a bit uncanny to be teased about one’s haircut and glasses in a passage from 1920). The Slicker impresses peers, professors, and potential employers, but his veneer appears gaudy when held up against Jesus’ Beatitudes. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Our friend Daniel McDowell preached a timely sermon on Luke 14 last Sunday, where Jesus lambastes a whole dinner party full of Slickers:

“Do not sit down in a place of honor…for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v.8, 11).

“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (v.12-14).

“…there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who ‘need no repentance'” (15:7).

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And [Jesus] said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (16:14-15).

Woe to us if we, like the Slickers, like the Pharisees, live for others’ acclaim. It is not wrong to end up admired, but if we set out to become famous we will make the wrong decisions all along the course of our lives. When we seek our own honor, God secures his own glory by putting us down. When we pursue proper humility, God displays his own magnanimity by lifting us up.

Last week someone asked President Hollinger how to get involved in the GCTS community. His answer, along with Daniel’s sermon, has become a vital reminder to me this week: “Friendship.” There are societies, jobs, events, etc., but he emphasized that we must not underrate friendship during our time here. Upon reflection, I realized that my vanity often creates “fame vs. friendship” situations. When I walk into a room, I often seek the people who will help me advance, rather than the people in need of kindness. Meeting new people,  I often evaluate their utility, rather than inherently valuing the image and the Spirit of God in them.

As I’m learning to let go of fame and gratefully receive friendship, God is teaching me remarkable things. Our various neighbors who have persevered through sickness, sacrifice, and suffering are teaching me more than I ever expected about the world. In appropriate proportion, networking is wise, but I don’t want to spend these two years grasping for the coattails of the renowned and the published. I want to create friendships with the faithful and the meek, regardless of their acclaim, to nurture a humble heart, and leave exaltation to God’s wisdom.

*Fitzgerald, F. Scott. This Side of Paradise. Kindle Edition, location 450.

Numinous as they are Numerous: The Donkey Prophecy et. al.

Photo Credit: Ropaolo (license)

I stumbled out of Lecture Hall 1, marveling about a donkey.

The “Casket Empty” overview of the Old and New Testaments by Drs. Carol Kaminski and David Palmer had injected me with new understanding and excitement about the Bible. In particular, I was unexpectedly thrilled about the Old Testament prophecies that pointed to the Christ (revealed as Jesus in the New Testament). Until today, if anyone said “Messianic Prophecy,” I fought to keep my eyes from rolling, my gratefulness for Jesus warring with my distaste for cyan websites with out of date fonts.

Oftentimes, preachers and webmasters will try to stun their audiences with sheer numbers of “messianic prophecies Jesus fulfilled.” One About.com article vouches for 44, one website conveniently lists 365, and messianic-prophecy.net eschews numbers for more of a click-through oriented system. Tongue-in-cheek citations aside, these proclamations often cast seeds of doubt in my linear mind for two reasons: First, they often overreach in the pursuit of a large figure. Second, they often try and fail to “prove” Christian orthodoxy on this point alone.

Skeptical of these methods, but thankful for Jesus, I was confused. My appreciation warmed when I started looking to them as a means of adoration, rather than apologetics, but this morning I realized that I was still missing the main point. I was letting the sheer number of messianic prophecies eclipse their numinous elegance. Let me share Dr. Palmer’s example that left me marveling about a donkey.

Scene 1: The handsome, victorious, anointed King David watched his legacy crumble. Having disobeyed God as ruler and husband, the war in his home was spilling into the streets and threatening to crash the country. His son, Absalom, was turning the people against him. So, despite God’s promises that his line would reign forever, he fled Jerusalem on a donkey, in shame.

Scene 2: Eventually, the kingdom split, the people sneered at God, and the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem. Almost 500 years had passed, and by the time Cyrus let some prisoners of war return, the city was virtually gone. Rebuilding the temple and the walls, they could only restore a fraction of its former glory, but a kernel of hope remained: Zechariah spoke the word of the Lord: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Scene 3: Another 500 years went by before Jesus of Nazareth caused a stir in Israel. He performed signs and proclaimed the kingdom of God throughout the Judean countryside. When the proper time arrived, he made his way to Jerusalem (the people did not know he headed there to die for the sins of the world). How did he enter the city? On a donkey, “to fulfill what what was spoken by the prophet,” and to reveal himself as the true “the Son of David.”

Dr. Palmer deftly summarized this progression in a simple parallel:

David fled Jerusalem on a donkey, in shame
The Son of David entered Jerusalem on a donkey, in humility

What a picture of God’s faithfulness! What a moment of mercy! Though David was a sinful man, who forfeited his throne, God sent his own Son to rightfully reclaim it in humanity’s name. Accuracy is a divine mark in the Biblical prophecy, but so is allure.

We should not pin up messianic prophecies as incontrovertible proofs (though for some they are persuasive evidences, for which we should thank God). Rather, we should trace them through the Old and New Testaments to inspire adoration of God Almighty. To this end we must not allow their quantitive magnitude overshadow their qualitative majesty.

Queue This Up: Trip Lee’s “Robot,” “War”

Every so often, I listen to or read something that speaks for itself, needs little commentary, and I recommend adding to your reading list or iPod for your next long wait, run, or drive. Queue this up:

 

Art can accomplish many types of good. It can magnify greatness, reveal evil, and persuade people. Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son shows what words cannot describe. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces draws us into truths about divine sovereignty we would otherwise overlook or reject. Art can also clarify understand and even evoke better emotions on subjects we’re already familiar with. On his 2012 album The Good LifeTrip Lee accomplishes these last two purposes particularly well with his tracks “Robot” and “War.”

The first, “Robot,” is a helpful reflection on the idea that Paul expresses in Romans 6 when he calls us “you who were once slaves,” but declares that in Christ, “sin will have no dominion over you.” Though the essence of the truth is fully expressed in the word of God, Lee effectively amplifies its tone. In his holy defiance and desperation, he attempts to draw a generation back to this doctrine, which they have not made space for, but desperately need.

The second track, “War,” reveals the spiritual battle we live in the midst of, with a rare and proper tone of significance and victory. What are we to make of the one called Faithful and True who, “in righteousness judges and makes war”? What does it mean, for our daily lives, that “death is swallowed up in victory”? Amidst the chorus, “When death and life go to battle, ain’t no tellin’ what’ll happen,” Lee calls us back to these questions, which should arouse neglected celebration.

Good music cuts us like a scalpel. The artist’s character and worldview determine whether they will leave life- or death-giving implants in the spaces they’ve carved. Hopefully you can find some time to listen to these two songs today. More importantly, I pray you can value and recognize the kind of music that cuts clean and implants the mind of Christ.

“Humbled and Encouraged”

“I’m humbled and encouraged.”

I don’t know how many times I said it walking out the door. The people around me were probably sick of hearing it, but that’s exactly what I was (and am): humbled and encouraged.

Annie and I had the opportunity tonight to go to Dr. Hollinger’s and meet other students who are new to Gordon Conwell. Coming in the door, we were thinking about when to arrive and what to wear and how to come across, but by the time we departed we were simply marveling at the remarkable people with whom God has blessed the Church.

We met a couple who had been imprisoned for Jesus, a lady who wants to work with inner city teenagers, a pastor from Kenya, a Bible translator, counselors, missionaries; the list seemed to go on an on. Some laughed about their persecution; others wept out of gratefulness for our Savior. What a blessed evening!

Photo Credit: David R. Tribble (license)

On our trip home, I was struck by the incredible diversity of the church. Not only do we come from a range of cultures, locales, and perspectives, we are also headed out to just as many contexts and ministries. The best illustration I can think of is the intersection at the top of a teepee, that brief space where a number of poles come together before branching out in just as many unseen directions. Seminary is an amazing intersection of brothers and sisters, from hundreds of pasts going to hundreds of futures. For these few years, we meet together around the Word of God.

However, our diversity does not end with our features and experiences; it extends, deep within us, to our personalities, gifts, and desires. I often wonder why anyone wants to do anything other than preach (especially anyone getting an M.Div.), but as each person shared his or her vision for the future, I could only “amen” each dream. Yes, you must teach the Old Testament. Yes, you must go back and correct heresy in your native country. Yes, you must become a hospice chaplain. 

We should expect no less, considering the vastness of the Father who made us, the vivacity of the Spirit who indwells us, and the significance of the Christ who we embody in the world.  Peter, in fact, commands us to live out of and into this God-given variety when he writes, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

So let us, dear friends, celebrate God’s various gifts. Let us surround ourselves with his diverse church, that we might be humbled and inspired. Finally, let us develop, practice, and leverage the skills, opportunities, and desires God has given us, that while our generation carries this torch, the Church might duly embody Christ.