Rule #1: Don’t get caught.
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On October 27, 1993, a devastating wildfire ripped through Laguna Beach, California, destroying 366 homes and burning 17,000 acres. In one hillside neighborhood, all the houses burned to the ground, except for the home of To Bui and Doris Bender. I remember reading the Los Angeles Times in the days after the fire and seeing a picture of their home, which the Times dubbed a “miracle house.”
There was nothing miraculous about the house’s survival. Bui was a contractor. When he built the house, he built it with safety in mind. “I built my house to last,” he said. “Whatever the minimum codes called for, I went a little further.” And that little further spared his house.
Whenever I read 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, I think of Bui and his house. Paul writes:
If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Throughout Christian history, this verse has meant different things to different people. Catholics see a hint of purgatory in these verses. Protestants argue about the relationship between grace and works in the life of the believer. American evangelicals see a concern for personal purity here.
Paul is not talking about any of these things, however. He’s talking about the leadership of Christian community. Remember the overall context of 1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21. The Corinthians were divided among themselves because they evaluated Christian leaders differently. And they evaluated Christian leaders differently because they were enamored of worldly wisdom and rhetorical skill. According to Paul, all that really mattered was “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” for he was the “wisdom” and “power” of God. In that context, Paul is telling Christian leaders at Corinth and in all places at all times that they should stay focused on Jesus Christ.
Why? Because just as the 1993 Laguna Beach fire proved the soundness of To Bui’s house construction, so the Day of Judgment will prove or disprove the soundness of Christian leaders’ ministries. Sound ministries will be rewarded; unsound ministries will be destroyed, even though the leader will be saved.
I am a pastor, so these words apply directly to me. In my teaching and writing ministry, do I keep your focus on Jesus Christ? Do I bring you to Jesus Christ for salvation? Do I help you grow in Christlikeness? Do I show you how all the Bible is centered on Jesus Christ? Or do I preach my personal politics or economic eccentricities or psychological preferences? Do you?
There’s a place for politics, economics, and psychology, of course. But only if we see Jesus first, last, and in between.
Over at The Hardy Group, Dick Hardy posts an excellent article on “8 reasons why you need to have regular corporate prayer.” Check it out!
You might also want to check out Dick’s new book, 27 Tough Questions Pastors Ask.
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My wife and I recently purchased our first home. During escrow, an inspector crawled under the house, looked through every nook and cranny, and climbed into the attic to see if the house had any problems that needed to be fixed. There were very few, but one caught my attention: there was a crack in the foundation.
In Missouri, houses are built on raised foundations rather than slabs, so it’s pretty easy to spot a crack. I asked the inspector whether the crack was something to worry about. “No,” he said, “although you need to hire a contractor to fill it with resin so it doesn’t grow. If it grows, it will become a problem.” And that’s precisely what we did.
We don’t often consider the foundations of our houses because we almost never see them. But Paul was like the inspector who looked at my house. It was his job to determine the safety of the Corinthians’ spiritual house, so he paid attention to everything, especially its foundation.
But Paul was more than a safety inspector. He was a conscientious builder. He paid attention to the foundation of the Corinthians’ faith because he had laid it. Consider what he writes in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11:
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
In theology, the word grace usually refers to “God’s unmerited favor.” I like the acronym for grace that describes it as “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.” In these verses, grace doesn’t refer to salvation, however; it refers to spiritual gifting. In Greek, the word for grace is charis and the word for gift is charisma. Salvation and spiritual gifting are related. If God saves you, he spiritually gifts you to influence others. Paul’s specific grace was evangelizing Gentiles, such as the Corinthians.
But Paul knew that apart from Jesus Christ, God has no good news for us. In Romans 6:23 he writes: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” We have a choice to make: death or life. Bad news or good news. Life is a gracious gift of God, but it only comes “through Jesus Christ.”
To switch back to Paul’s building metaphor, Jesus Christ is the foundation on which God builds his spiritual house in us. If salvation comes through Jesus Christ, then no one can point to another way. No one can lay another foundation.
Paul wasn’t the only spiritual gifted person. God has gifted you and me too. We too are spiritual builders, though not necessarily in the same way as Paul. Therefore, we too must pay attention to the spiritual foundation.
Do we use our influence to bring people to Jesus Christ and to help them become more Christlike?
This past Thursday, in his monthly online Q&A, my father fielded questions from Assemblies of God ministers about Easter apologetics, dealing publicly with criticism from parishioners, and the controversy over Tony Jones’ recent address to the Society for Pentecostal Studies, among other topics.
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Christians have a tendency to put their leaders on pedestals and then bemoan the fact that they have feet of clay. We see this tendency at work in Corinth, where many Christians idolized Apollos but scrutinized Paul. In Apollos, they saw only fine points; in Paul, only flaws.
In 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, Paul corrected the Corinthian tendency by portraying both Apollos and himself in the proper perspective.
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Paul’s perspective consisted of three crucial insights about Christian leadership.
First, leaders are servants. In Greek, the word Paul uses is diakonoi, from which we get the English word deacons. It probably derived from the obsolete verb diako, meaning to run an errand, and was used for waiters (cf. Acts 6:2). I don’t know about you, but I have never put a waiter on a pedestal. The waiter is there to serve me food. If he does a good job, he has only done his duty (cf. Luke 17:7-10). As a pastor, Paul’s description of Christian leaders as waiters is a humbling one. Do I really serve others? But as a parishioner, it’s also a helpful one. Is my evaluation of Christian leaders a projection of my own need for importance? Christian leaders are servants—no more, no less.
Second, different leaders do different things. After describing Christian leaders as servants or waiters, Paul switches metaphors. Now Christian leaders are farmers. Farmers perform a variety of tasks. They till ground, plant seed, fertilize soil, and reap a harvest. In the Corinthian church’s experience, “[Paul] planted the seed, Apollos watered it.” In other words, Paul evangelized and Apollos discipled. Just as farmers must both plant and water, so Christian leaders must both evangelize and disciple. The Corinthians wanted either/or. They needed both/and. Growing, healthy churches unite for service by dividing the labor.
Third, God gets all the credit. The fundamental problem at Corinth was a desire to get credit rather than give it. The Corinthians wanted to be important, so they inflated their favorite leader’s importance. For Paul, the only Person of real importance was God. Sure, Paul and Apollos did their part, but “God….makes things grow.” Notice how Paul describes himself, Apollos, and the Corinthians: “we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” We are God’s. He gets the credit.
These insights are crucial for both Christian leaders and followers. Imagine what we could do if we served others, worked together, and kept our focus on God.
One of the most tired clichés in American political discourse is that Republicans are shills for Big Business while Democrats are tireless advocates for the Average Person. The healthcare legislation President Obama recently signed into law proves the falsity of that cliché, for the legislation is a federal mandate requiring the Average Person to buy health insurance from – ahem – Big Insurance, one of the larger subsets of Big Business. In other words, Democrats have just done what they and others routinely accuse the Republicans of doing.
The cliché about Republicans is false, then, not because Republicans don’t lobby for Big Business but because Democrats do it too, albeit for the benefit of different businesses. In other words, there is Bushonomics, and now there is Obamanomics. Neither is good for the Average Guy. Both are inherently corrupting of our nation’s politics.
Timothy P. Carney is lobbying editor and columnist for the Washington Examiner, as well as a protégé of the late paleoconservative journalist Robert Novak. He is a political independent with a long libertarian streak and an axe to grind against crony capitalists everywhere. Obamanomics is a muckraking expose of crony capitalism in the Obama administration, written before the president signed the health care legislation into law. One wonders whether a revised edition is in the works. He is rightly critical of Obama, although fair being fair, he points out that many of Obama’s policies are merely continuations of and expansions upon Bush’s policies. TARP anyone?
For me, what is most valuable about the book is not the specific examples of Obamanomics Carney reports on but the strategy and outcomes of crony capitalism in general. These can be applied uniformly to both Bush and Obama administrations, although since Obama is the current president, he’s also the current target of critique.
Carney writes: “Obamanomics is the political strategy of partnering government with the biggest businesses in order to create new regulations, taxes, and subsidies.” He goes on: “The economic law underlying Obamanomics – opaque to most journalists and contrary to conventional wisdom – is this: increased government control centralizes industries and favors the biggest businesses.” Underlying Obamanomics are “Four Laws”:
Alongside these laws are ancillary tactics, such as Making an Offer You Can’t Refuse, “when government requires customers to buy certain products,” and Subsidy Sucking, in which government taxes some to subsidize others.
In the current partisan atmosphere, I’m sure many Republicans will cheer Carney merely because he’s against Obama’s policies, while many Democrats will be against him for the same reason. That’s too bad. Carney’s book, aimed squarely at Obama’s crony capitalism, is a primer in how government favors some businesses over their competitors, at the expense of ordinary citizens. The principles underlying Carney’s critique could be applied with equal force to many of Bush’s policies.
In other words, crony capitalism is bipartisan, even if Obama is currently its regnant practitioner.
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Sometimes, when you’re reading Scripture, it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees. Over the past few Daily Words, we’ve studied 1 Corinthians 1-2 a few verses at a time. We’ve looked at leaves, branches, and trunks pretty closely. Now it’s time to zoom up to 10,000 feet and remind ourselves of the shape of the forest.
In 1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21, Paul refutes the Corinthians’ misguided spirituality, which was dividing their church. The division appeared to be about leaders (1:10-17). But in reality, it was about the heart of the gospel. The Corinthians were looking for a message that embodied philosophical wisdom and was expressed with rhetorical excellence. They shunned the cross because it seemed foolish and Paul’s preaching because it seemed mediocre. So Paul reminded them that “the message of the cross” is God’s wisdom and power for their salvation (1:18-2:5). He then deflated their spiritual self-image by demonstrating that the Spirit reveals God at work in “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Truly spiritual people know this (2:6-16).
With the forest’s shape in mind, let’s go look at another tree.
In 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, Paul writes:
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?
Paul uses the word worldly here twice. A more literal translation would be fleshly, but it amounts to the same thing. The Corinthians viewed themselves as spiritual, but Paul viewed them as fleshly. They rated themselves high on the totem pole of wisdom and insight, but Paul said they were stuck at the bottom. Why? Because there was “jealousy and quarreling” among them.
Let’s think of ourselves as tree doctors for a moment. When I lived in Santa Barbara, California, my house was surrounded by tall eucalyptus trees. One of them looked different from the others. It had few leaves and its color was darker than the others. These were symptoms of a disease, probably caused by a small pest of some sort, perhaps the lerp psyllid. At Corinth, the symptom of spiritual disease was division along party lines. But the root cause of the division was a false spirituality that denied the wisdom and power of the cross of Jesus Christ. As a good tree doctor, Paul treated both the symptom and its underlying cause.
We should too. As a pastor, I think we tolerate too much division in our church. Jealousy and quarreling have no place among people who are being led by God’s Spirit to Jesus Christ. Such division was not, is not, and never will be Christlike. Let’s stop pretending otherwise, and follow the Spirit to greater unity in God’s church.
When I told my wife I was reading The Male Brain, she laughed, “That’s a short book.” Others have joked about the anatomical location of the male brain. But in the companion volume to The Female Brain, Dr. Louann Brizendine demonstrates that the male brain is not simple, even if its thinking processes are closely tied to sex. The book is a real eye-opener into the current scientific understanding of how the male brain works, how it is tied to specific behaviors, and how it is different from women’s brains. The study is not limited to the male brain, however. It also examines “neuro-hormone characters” such as testosterone, vasopressin, Mullerian inhibiting substance, and oxytocin, among others.
Interestingly, the brain and its neuro-hormones are not a static entity; they act and react dynamically as a man grows and develops from infancy to old age. At different stages of life, the brain and hormones play different roles in a man’s life. And the influence of brain/hormonal activity is not one way. They influence male behavior, but they are also influenced by male behavior.
Apple has made the phrase, “There’s an app for that,” a byword. Regarding male behavior, we might say, “There’s a complex brain/hormonal process for that.” Whether it’s sexual drive, territoriality, the protective instinct, or the problem-solving mode, what men do exists in a symbiotic relationship with what’s going on in their brain.
As the parent of a male toddler, I read this book with keen interest, for it helped explain what is happening in my son’s development as well as what will happen as he ages.
As a man with a philosophical bent, the book took me back to college discussion of the relationship between the mind and the brain as well as the possibility of free will. If a man’s actions can be explained neuro-chemically, is he free or morally responsible for his actions?
Brizendine doesn’t reflect on these more philosophical questions, but in an appendix on the male brain and sexual orientation, she notes that one study found that “about 35 percent of sexual orientation is attributable to genetic influences, whereas the rest is due to as yet unidentified factors.” We are, to a significant degree, shaped by our biology, brain structure, and hormones. Shaped, but not determined. Somewhere in that other 65% is what makes uniquely human.
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My father doesn’t like the word spiritual. He calls it a “whoo whoo” word and thinks it’s often used to mask deep irrationality, pride, and un-Christlikeness. He has a point. The Corinthians described themselves as “spiritual,” and they were a hot mess.
In the long history of the church, people have often appropriated the argot of spirituality as a means of distinguishing themselves from and then demeaning other Christians. First Corinthians 2:14-16, along with 3:1, has provided many with their lexicon of spiritual distinction.
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:
“For who has known the mind of the Lord
that he may instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ (2:14-16).
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly… (3:1).
In these four verses, Paul uses three crucial words: psychikos, pneumatikos, and sarkinois. The NIV translates these terms as “man without the Spirit,” “spiritual man,” and “worldly [people].” The ESV, somewhat more literally, translates them as “natural person,” “spiritual person,” and “people of the flesh.” We’ll refer to them as psychics, pneumatics, and sarkics.
Psychics—in my special use of the word, not the palm-reading, crystal ball-gazing use—are people who have rejected the gospel. Paul makes three statements about them. They (1) don’t accept the gospel because (2) it seems foolish and (3) is therefore incomprehensible to them. This is a perfect description of “the rulers of this age” who “crucified the Lord of glory” (2:8).
Pneumatics are people who, under the influence of the Spirit of God, have believed in the message of the cross of Jesus Christ and are therefore being saved by the power of God. They “know the mind of the Lord” because the Holy Spirit has given them “the mind of Christ.”
Sarkics are pneumatics who act like psychics but are too dense to admit that they’ve backslidden.
The Corinthians considered themselves pneumatics. They delighted in spiritual gifts, among other things, and they ran roughshod over one another to exercise those spiritual gifts. Moreover, they combined their so-called spirituality with their so-called wisdom and downplayed the centrality of the cross of Christ, which was embarrassing to them. I’m not sure whether the distinction between pneumatics, psychics, and sarkics is Paul’s or the Corinthians, but I’m quite sure that the distinction accurately captured the Corinthian mood. They rated themselves better than others.
That’s why Paul’s words must’ve shocked them completely. They weren’t spiritual. They weren’t even soulish, which is an excessively literal translation of psychikos. (In Greek, psyche is the word for “soul.”) They were fleshly (sarkinois)—the farthest thing from spiritual as could be imagined.
True pneumatics live at the foot of the cross, accepting the salvation it offers and living the life it models.