Points of Interest (2020-06-17)

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George Floyd and Me / Privilege Matters, Part 1 / Stop Preparing For The Last Disaster / Defund the Thought Police / Invisible insulation

Shai Linne – George Floyd and Me (The Gospel Coalition)

“So when I watch a video like George Floyd’s, it represents for me the fresh reopening of a deep wound and the reliving of layers of trauma that get exponentially compounded each time a well-meaning white friend says, ‘All lives matter.’ Of course they do, but in this country, black lives have been treated like they don’t matter for centuries and present inequities in criminal justice, income, housing, health care, education, etc. show that all lives don’t actually matter like they should.”

“For me, ‘life as usual’ means recognizing some people perceive me as a threat based solely on the color of my skin. For me, ‘life as usual’ means preparing my sons for the coming time when they’re no longer perceived as cute little boys, but teenage ‘thugs.’ Long after George Floyd disappears from the headlines, I will still be a black man in America.”

Rut Etheridge III – Privilege Matters, Part 1 (Gentle Reformation)

“’Black lives matter!’ is, in itself, not only an innocuous claim but a statement of absolute, ontological, moral truth. It is a claim implicitly made on page one – page one! – of God’s holy word (Genesis 1:26-27). The foundation upon which this value claim properly rests and rises, that every human being bears God’s image, is stressed throughout Scripture (Genesis 9, Exodus 20, James 2 and 3). So what does it tell us when, as Bible believers, our first or strongest response to the statement is defensiveness, reacting as if we or other kinds of people have been insulted or excluded?”

Stop Preparing For The Last Disaster (Farnam Street)

“After a particularly trying event, most people prepare for a repeat of whatever challenge they just faced. From the micro level to the macro level, we succumb to the availability bias and get ready to fight a war we’ve already fought. We learn that one lesson, but we don’t generalize that knowledge or expand it to other areas. Nor do we necessarily let the fact that a disaster happened teach us that disasters do, as a rule, tend to happen. Because we focus on the particulars, we don’t extrapolate what we learn to identifying what we can better do to prepare for adversity in general.”

“In the aftermath of a disaster, we want to be reassured of future safety. We lived through it, and we don’t want to do so again. By focusing on the particulars of a single event, however, we miss identifying the changes that will improve our chances of better outcomes next time. Yes, we don’t want any more planes to fly into buildings. But preparing for the last disaster leaves us just as underprepared for the next one.”

Doug Wilson – Defund the Thought Police (Blog & Mablog)

“And so it is not whether we will have police, but rather which police we will have. Not whether certain actions and words will be policed, but rather which actions and words will be policed. The choice is between a police that is generally accountable to elected leaders, who in turn are accountable to voters, or a police force who are accountable to no one except themselves and their own disordered ideology.”

Seth Godin – Invisible insulation

“It’s almost impossible to make a list of all the things I didn’t have to worry about yesterday. We need to work overtime to make that true for more people.”

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Points of Interest (2020-06-10)

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Unmasking Racism, Starting with Me / Is physical distancing over? It sure seems to be / The Treason of Epidemiologists

Gene Joo – Unmasking Racism, Starting with Me (The Gospel Coalition)

“We’ve learned in the past few months that COVID-19 is such a formidable threat precisely because it so efficiently spread through asymptomatic hosts. Similarly, racism, under the cover of plausible deniability, makes it that much more difficult to definitively identify and eradicate. What does it take for any person to admit that he’s a racist, when he compares himself to the obvious culprits from the antebellum South or Jim Crow America? How many people today will honestly see themselves as perpetrators of racial injustice?”

Rex Murphy – Is physical distancing over? It sure seems to be (National Post)

“The paradox here is not without poignancy. Civil authorities have kept people from their closest loved ones in times of the greatest emotional stress. You cannot visit. There are limits placed on funeral visitations. Daughter has not been able to visit mother, and forced to lip-speak through a window — and even that pathetic gesture has been frowned upon (Ottawa briefly banned it altogether). All in the name, I note again, of a greater good. We must not spread the virus, and if that means real pain for individual people, we’re sorry for it, but it must be the case. But protest marches fall outside these rigours?”

“This is certainly no condemnation of protests, but the logic behind the authorities who blithely and silently simply dumped or ignored their own rules. If they have a reason for doing so, let us hear it. Explain the different treatment. Justify the departure from the rules…. Is the pandemic over? Or, does its rage stop when people gather for a noble cause?”

Jonah Goldberg – The Treason of Epidemiologists (The Dispatch)

“We spent the last couple of months being hectored by public health experts and earnestly righteous media personalities who insisted that easing lockdown policies was immoral, that refusing to social distance or wear masks was nigh upon murderous. They even suggested that protests were somehow profane. But now that the George Floyd protests are serving as some kind of Great Awokening, many of the same are saying “never mind” about all of that. Protests aren’t profane, they’re glorious and essential—if they agree with what you’re protesting about.”

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George Floyd, Lament and Racism in Our Churches

When a person is murdered by someone in authority who has sworn to protect them, we should be filled with grief and anger and we should take time to lament. If your first response to recent events is not to lament but to figure out “which side” you’re on, your priorities have been shaped not by the wisdom of God’s word but by the rantings of – take your pick – CNN or Fox News reporters.

One who promised to serve and protect instead did fatal harm. This is injustice, it deserves our attention, and it demands that we become more attentive generally to violence and abuse of authority in our society, and specifically that we seek to understand and eradicate violence that is racially motivated.

Lawlessness of All Kinds

This act of cowardly and cruel lawlessness has ignited riots and looting that must also be described as lawlessness. Some looters may admit to simply taking advantage, but most seem to have deeper and more complicated motives. We respond to the unlawful violence of a police officer abusing his authority with outright condemnation. How should we respond to the violent acts committed in response? Clearly, unlawful violence can never be condoned or justified, but we should make a fervent attempt to understand why it is happening. 

From years of talking to people as a pastor, I can tell you that people behave in unconscionable ways every day. But in order to love such people well it is important to both call out sin and at the same time seek to understand what cultivated and ignited such behaviour. The rioters and looters are sinning in stealing and destroying property and, in some cases, brutalizing bystanders and store owners. We can call all of that sin and at the same time look behind the sin and try to address whatever that pursuit of knowledge reveals. The first thing we see when we look closely at what is happening is a lot of anger.

Righteous and Unrighteous Anger Leads to Lawful and Unlawful Violence

Both peaceful demonstrators and violent rioters are consumed with a hot anger that has accumulated over time as images of one killing after another come to our attention. Within that hot anger is a mixture of righteous and unrighteousness anger. How can you tell the difference? Righteous anger rarely leads to violence, but when it does it can be lawful violence. When righteous anger leads to lawful violence, it is always a restrained violence – so restrained, in fact, that it barely passes as violence. In John 2:15 we read this about Jesus: “And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” Jesus took physical, some would say even violent action in the name of restoring the honour of God’s house. 

Could this type of action have saved George Floyd’s life? What if a bystander, filled with righteous anger, had attempted to intervene in the name of preserving the dignity of a human being created in the image of God? Could that subsequently have led to the death of the one trying to intervene? Yes, but “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Would I be willing to lay my life down in such a situation so that George Floyd’s life could be spared? I’d like to believe that I would but, honestly and sadly, I would probably reason my way out of that opportunity.

Righteous anger can lead to a lawful and justified, but restrained and purposeful violence. Unrighteous anger, on the other hand, often results in unlawful violence, violence that has nothing to do with restoring the honour of God’s name or protecting the dignity of those made in his image. Derek Chauvin used unlawful violence; now rioters and looters are doing the same. In both cases we must condemn the violence while seeking to love well the violent offenders.

A Distorted View of Lawful Violence 

It’s worth noting that the violence that’s happening in American streets right now all fits perfectly within the ethos we’ve trained ourselves to believe by watching innumerable Hollywood movies. Many have come to believe that all that’s needed to justify violence is violence done to you or one of your loved ones by someone deemed inherently and irredeemable evil (I’m looking at you, John Wick… also, almost every movie Liam Neeson has done in the last decade). This is not a biblical view but it is commonly accepted as true, and this is what is playing out in the streets. 

We passively absorb this philosophy and while it may not automatically make us into violent people, it seeps into our our foundational beliefs and distorts our understanding of justice, blurring the distinction between lawful and unlawful violence. We cannot condone or approve of any unlawful violence – not the unlawful violence a police officer placing his knee on the back of a man’s neck, nor the unlawful violence of angry rioters destroying, burning, and looting in response. 

We can, however, join with and support peaceful demonstrators in concrete ways. Let me emphasize – IN CONCRETE WAYS. The last thing we need is the faint commitment of virtue signalling, which is merely a promise written with disappearing ink. Such easily issued words are just as easily forgotten.

Let’s Talk About This

As a church leader, what concrete actions can I take? Speaking out is only a first step. We need to have this conversation in the church, but how? It is said that Sunday mornings are the most segregated times of the week. That observation, which doubles as a condemnation, is a valid one where there is racial diversity in the community but racial uniformity in the churches. Specific to my context – and maybe yours too – living in a town with almost no racial diversity, how do we show by word and action that we believe racism is unbiblical and therefore evil?

Please chime in either in the comments below, by email, in the Facebook comments or any other avenue you might want to use.

This Will All End

This all has me longing for the fulfillment of the promises of Revelation 21:3-5:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

We will someday stand together with people of all races and nations in the presence of God and there will be no anger, no violence, no rioting or protesting. There will be no need for the mediation of law enforcement. Strife will have ended and unity will be the law of the land. Until then, we must continue to seek God’s kingdom in this life as we bring as much of it into this world as we can – by word and by action.

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Points of Interest (2020-06-03)

My Expert Opinion / The Law of Unintended Consequences: Shakespeare, Cobra Breeding, and a Tower in Pisa / What Are God’s Purposes in a Recession? / Preaching under the smile and the smiting rod / Coming undone: What COVID-19 pandemic policies have done to our psyche

Alan Jacobs – My Expert Opinion (Snakes and Ladders)

“Americans have never more desperately needed reliable knowledge than we do now; also, Americans have never been less inclined to trust experts, who are by definition the people supposed to possess the reliable knowledge.”

“My suggestion to journalists, then, is simple: Never use the word ‘expert.’ If you are tempted to say ‘We talked to an expert,’ say instead that you talked to an immunologist, or an epidemiologist — and then take a moment to explain what an immunologist or epidemiologist actually is.”

The Law of Unintended Consequences: Shakespeare, Cobra Breeding, and a Tower in Pisa (Farnam Street Blog)

“Many people who experience a rodent infestation will stop feeding their cats, assuming that this will encourage them to hunt more. The opposite occurs: well-fed cats are better hunters than hungry ones. When the British government offered financial rewards for people who killed and turned in cobras in India, people, reacting to incentives, began breeding the snakes. Once the reward program was scrapped, the population of cobras in India rose as people released the ones they had raised. The same thing occurred in Vietnam with rats…”

John Piper – What Are God’s Purposes in a Recession? (Desiring God)

“God is sovereign, which is why you can speak in terms of purposes. God is sovereign over these things. He foresees them all. He causes or permits them all. And when he foresees and he causes or permits, it is always by design. So, whatever comes to pass comes to pass by God’s design, however it comes to pass.”

Andrew Roycroft – Preaching under the smile and the smiting rod (Thinking Pastorally)

“Have we forfeited the opportunity of silence in our pulpits by becoming new heroes of the story in an online realm? Ought we not to have cried out to God to show us what he would have us do in our souls, before we called in technology to show us how to run our services? Have we rushed to solutions when our first note ought to have been sorrow?… Shall we leave lockdown more technically competent, and no more spiritually sensitive?”

Sharon Kirkey – Coming undone: What COVID-19 pandemic policies have done to our psyche (National Post)

“According to the survey, one-quarter of Canadians are experiencing moderate to severe levels of anxiety. A similar proportion felt lonely occasionally, or most of the time, in the past week; 20 per cent reported feeling depressed. Women, parents with children at home and younger adults, the 18- to 39-year-olds, are faring worse than others. Nearly one-quarter of the 1,005 people surveyed between May 8 and 12 reported binge-drinking in the past week. Significant numbers reported feeling nervous and edgy, or having trouble relaxing. We’re feeling easily annoyed and irritable, the survey tells us. We’ve spent an unhealthy number of days over the past two weeks worrying ‘something awful might happen.’”

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Points of Interest (2020-05-27)

The Coming Pastoral Crash / Leaders Who Live to be Admired / Atheists in Praise of Christianity? / Fingerprints

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John Dobbs – The Coming Pastoral Crash – (Out Here Hope Remains)

“All of this leads me to conclude that there is a coming pastoral crash. And I don’t think we can stop it. Our pastoral care providers are maxed out. While some church members might think their preacher’s duties are relaxed, but it is actually the opposite. As we head into the coming months I believe we are going to see the affects of this pandemic on the ministers in all denominations.”

D.A. Carson – Leaders Who Live to be Admired – (Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians)

“There are many different styles of leadership. Some leaders live to be admired, to be praised. Without ever being so crass as to say so, they give the impression that the church exists and flourishes primarily because of their gifts, and the least the church can do in return is offer constant adulation.”

Jonathon Van Maren – Atheists in Praise of Christianity? (The Stream)

“Historian Tom Holland is known primarily as a storyteller of the ancient world. Thus, his newest book Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, came as something of a surprise for several reasons. First, Tom Holland is not a Christian. Second, Holland’s book is one of the most ambitious historical defenses of Christianity in a very long time.”

Lee Eclov – Fingerprints – (Preaching Today)

A good article here, but the highlight quote is this, by Dallas Willard: “Pastors need to redefine success. The popular model of success involves the ABCs—attendance, buildings, and cash. Instead of counting Christians, we need to weigh them. We weigh them by focusing on the most important kind of growth … fruit in keeping with the gospel and the kingdom.”

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Points of Interest (2020-05-20)

The Map Is Not the Territory / Pastor, You Were Made for This / Beyond ‘Plandemic’: A Christian Response to Conspiracies / No, COVID-19 Is Not a ‘Disaster for Feminism’

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The Map Is Not the Territory (Farnam Street Blog)

This blog is quickly becoming a favourite of mine. I have not yet looked deeply into its background, but I like what I’m seeing. For example…

“Maps are necessary, but flawed. (By maps, we mean any abstraction of reality, including descriptions, theories, models, etc.) The problem with a map is not simply that it is an abstraction; we need abstraction… To solve this problem, the mind creates maps of reality in order to understand it, because the only way we can process the complexity of reality is through abstraction. But frequently, we don’t understand our maps or their limits. In fact, we are so reliant on abstraction that we will frequently use an incorrect model simply because we feel any model is preferable to no model.”

Jared C. Wilson – Pastor, You Were Made for This (The Gospel Coalition)

“Christianity was not launched in a world of comfort, and it was not designed to flourish in a world of comfort. If the Lord is doing anything in overseeing this season, perhaps it is a refining, a sifting. Things are going to get weirder, more difficult, more trying. Maybe the true church will rise to the surface. And with her, the true pastors.”

Deborah Haarsma, Jim Stump and David Buller – Beyond ‘Plandemic’: A Christian Response to Conspiracies – (BioLogos)

“Christians seem disproportionately susceptible to misinformation and conspiracies about COVID-19. That is due, undoubtedly, to the way ideas are packaged in the culture wars in our country. Scientists and their expertise have been lumped together with other academics and left-leaning causes. And all of us are hard-wired to find affinity with the groups we identify with.”

“As we steward the power of our influence through every Facebook post and every retweet, we should remember that we’re not following Jesus’ command to be “wise as serpents” if we’re swayed by the emotional manipulation of a conspiracy theory or a slickly-produced video. And we’re not “harmless as doves” if we spread misinformation or sow confusion in the midst of a global health emergency.”

Marilyn Simon – No, COVID-19 Is Not a ‘Disaster for Feminism’ (Quillette)

“Why would anyone find a family unit taking care of its members a “disaster” for feminism? How childish—and frankly un-feminine—has feminism become that it must see childrearing and nurturing a family unit as a step down during a time of crisis? A step down from what? It often seems like it’s mostly feminists who disparage female work and praise so highly the world of corporate and professional success.”

Making Financial Sacrifices For the Sake of the Gospel

If you are regularly making and spending money and not investing in gospel partnerships, then you’re really not participating in gospel partnerships and you may need to conclude that the gospel is not actually all that precious to you.

Extreme Poverty Overflowing in a Wealth of Generosity

Paul writes to the church in Corinth describing the Philippian church’s passion for the gospel and their eagerness to be in a gospel partnership with him:

“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favour of taking part in the relief of the saints…” (2 Cor. 8:1-4)

The people in Philippi didn’t have a lot of extra money lying around. There weren’t surplus funds they were looking to give away as a blessing to the less fortunate. They were the less fortunate, and yet they still possessed a desire and a compulsion to joyfully give to others. Of this ethos among the Philippian Christians, Ralph Martin says this:  “We today might take the lesson to heart that the sign of our professed love for the gospel is the measure of sacrifice we are prepared to make in order to help it progress.

Get Specific

Let’s press ourselves on that idea. What sacrifices – specifically, financial sacrifices – are we willing to make because of our love for the gospel and our desire to see it go out into all the world? 

Now, you should never feel an obligation to give to any ministry that doesn’t have the progress of the gospel as its core mission. With that said, let me ask you this: Should you find a ministry worthy of your financial contributions, especially if those contributions would come as a considerable sacrifice to you, what is the measure of the sacrifice you’re prepared to make? In concrete financial terms, what is the sacrifice?

Let’s go beyond the theoretical. If I ask you this as a statement with a blank space at the end, what goes in the blank?

“You know, if I didn’t give so much to gospel ministry partnerships, I could __________________.” What is it?

Take one more resort vacation each year? 

Afford a bigger house? 

Drive a much newer vehicle? 

What is it for you?

The Last Can in the Cupboard

And then once you’ve done that calculation, realize that for most of us we’re still only talking about how much we give out of our excess, not out of our poverty as the church in Philippi was doing. For most of us, we’re still talking about skimming some of the extra cream, where they were giving of the last cans in the cupboard. 

But once you’ve done the calculation, once you see on paper how much more money you could have for yourself, how much you could have had over the last 10-15-20+ years that you’ve been faithfully giving, I hope that you can say this: “I will gladly go without these luxuries in order to support the progress of the gospel!”

Now, on the other hand, if your statement goes something like this: “You know, if we didn’t give so much to gospel ministry partnerships, we could… buy an extra bag of chips…” In other words, if you are regularly making and spending money and not investing in gospel partnerships, then you’re really not participating in gospel partnerships and you may need to conclude that the gospel is not actually all that precious to you. 

Remember: where your treasure is, that’s where you’ll find your heart. What you most value is where you’ll most heavily invest. Where you invest determines what you value. Give that some thought.

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Is COVID-19 an Obstacle to Overcome or an Opportunity to Embrace?

In this time of suffering and uncertainty, are we primarily concerned with the preservation of our lives or the proliferation of the gospel?

You’ve never seen a river that runs in a perfectly strait line from beginning to end – not a naturally occurring river anyway. Why is that? It’s because as it flows it meets obstacles, and at every obstacle it collects until it either goes over the obstacle or finds another low spot to the left or the right and then it continues its journey. If one avenue is blocked, it will find another.

In Phil. 1:12 Paul writes,I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…” What had happened to him? We read of what Paul knew would, and did actually, happen to him in Acts 20:22-23: “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” He went to Jerusalem, got arrested, stood before the council, and evaded an assassination plot. He eventually ended up in prison in Rome, which is where he wrote his letter to the church at Philippi. 

Paul knows that it is God’s will for him to go and to suffer, and one of the clearest points of Paul’s beautiful testimony to the church then and today is this: He is not primarily concerned with the preservation of his life, but with the proliferation of the gospel.

The Persistence of the Gospel

You might assume, as some did, that what happened to Paul would delay or even stop the spread of the gospel. But no, Paul says, quite the opposite. Despite what seem to be intimidating obstacles, the gospel is making unexpected progress! What has happened to him has actually, by God’s providence and grace, created a new avenue by which the gospel could advance.

Rivers make winding progress. They flow, they go around obstacles. Rivers are persistent, and the gospel is persistent in the same way. If you put a barrier in the pathway of the gospel it always finds a way to go over or around.

The chief obstacle for Paul was his imprisonment, but he saw this as no obstacle at all. In fact, he saw this as opportunity. By way of this opportunity the gospel is advancing in new areas. The message of the gospel cannot be stopped because it is the message of a God who cannot be stopped. It is futile to try to contain it; it cannot be contained. So Paul says, ”You might think this has set me back. But actually, it has put the gospel forward.”

Not An Obstacle to Overcome But An Opportunity to Embrace

Paul knew that many types of affliction would come, but he was confident that God would be at work in it all. He sees it as his assignment to be a willing vessel of affliction and to see that God’s plan is accomplished not despite his affliction – this wasn’t an obstacle to overcome – but because of his affliction – this was an opportunity to embrace.

As Paul writes this letter he sits in prison. He is suffering, and by way of his suffering the gospel is advancing. Long after Paul’s letter was written, Elisabeth Elliot said something that I’m sure Paul would have agreed with: “The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem much worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.”

It’s safe to say we’re in the “much worse” phase of God’s will right now. But we can look forward with hope and trust that in the end this will work out for our good and God’s glory. And the gospel will advance by way of this affliction if we see COVID-19 not as an obstacle to overcome but an opportunity to embrace.

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600Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash