The Weight of Sin

1 Corinthians 6:13
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

Evil is insidiously multidimensional. In one regard its presence degrades our hope in others — especially those we look up to for their authority or celebrity. Such was the case over the past two weeks in the wake of the Ashley Madison data hacking; the celebrity names associated with Christianity came first.

The problem is not that celebrities have let Christianity down, but that far too many have counted too much on celebrities to validate their faith.

Yet another dimension of evil is its ability to victimize even perpetrators. We sometimes try to dismiss this for fear that understanding a person’s reason will justify their actions. Relativism has led us here — because evil in the face of truth and goodness cannot be explained into feasibility.
Ashley Madison CEO Noel Biderman regularly gloated over a “1:1 male/female ratio among the under 30-set.” The reality of the hacking data revealed just 15% (5 of 35 million names) were women.
The Daily Telegraph reports that, “(FBI) examinations of the database suggest many of the female profiles on the site were created by a relatively small number of individuals.” Ashley Madison effectively acted as a sexual predator to entice and seduce men in order to extract money (membership dues).

The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union. — C.S. Lewis

Evil’s final act in this moment will be to destroy the lives of victims and perpetrators alike — through divorcejob loss, depression, anxiety, and suicide. It is savage and vile. But we are not left to ourselves. We are not without hope. Evil cannot eclipse the multifaceted beauty of good.

Ultimately the Christian sexual ethic is not about less sex, or even regulated sex, but more integrated sex. Sex that flourishes and fulfills on every level of the marital experience.

In his book Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis provides the contrast, “The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again.”


Today’s Readings

1 Samuel 25 (Listen – 7:12)
1 Corinthians 6 (Listen – 3:03)


The Art of Ending

1 Corinthians 5.3
For though absent in body, I am present in spirit.

The magnitude of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys is astonishing — 48 locations, and over 8,000 miles of travel, in less than two decades. Add in the intensity of traveling on foot and animal, without modern cartography or weather prediction, and we begin to see the nomadic apostle’s fortitude.

Physical strain was only part of the weight Paul carried though. He mentions at times ferocity of spiritual attacks, but his writings allude to another pain he would have carried daily: the emotional weight of leaving friends and work behind as he pursued his calling. In his letter to Corinth he reaches back as if to say, though our time together ended, my love for you has not.

“Great is the art of the beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Endings in vocation or relationship are difficult. Industry leaders soften the blow with words like pivot or merger; relationships now dissolve after one party gets ghosted.

“Whether we like it or not, endings are a part of life,” explains Dr. Henry Cloud in his book Necessary Endings. “They are woven into the fabric of life itself, both when it goes well, and also when it doesn’t.”

“Certainly I am not saying that every time something is not working, it should end. In fact, it is usually the opposite…. But there is a time, a moment, when it is truly over.” — Henry Cloud

We try to avoid endings because of the pain they bring. Yet sometimes endings need to happen — new opportunities need to be pursued, painful (or abusive) relationships need to be abandoned.

The word in scripture for life without endings is “eternity” — until that point we must navigate endings well. Dr. Cloud suggests three principles:

  1. Accept life cycles and seasons.
  2. Accept that life produces too much life.
  3. Accept that incurable illness and sometimes evil are part of life too.

Dr. Cloud concludes, “When done well, the seasons of life are negotiated, and the proper endings lead to the end of pain, greater growth, personal and business goals reached, and better lives. Endings bring hope.”

One of the reoccurring themes modeled in the apostle Paul’s life is his profound grasp on hope — Christ himself, who would never leave nor forsake us. It was the good news of Christ’s steadfastness which allowed Paul to traverse the many endings of life, even death itself.

Today’s Readings

1 Samuel 24 (Listen – 3:36)
1 Corinthians 5 (Listen – 1:58)


A Brave New [Digital] World :: The Weekend Reading List

“The basics of the production transformation are increasingly evident; the consequences are much harder to estimate.” — John Zysman

We no longer find it odd to download and tap squares on the screens of our phones in order to purchase the services of other human beings. Whether it’s a meal, homemade good, ride, flight, place to stay or any number of mundane tasks, people ready to help are just a simple icon press away.

Naturally we prefer for our longings to be satiated at the lowest possible cost.
This exerts extraordinary pressure on services providers to keep wages low and shift the risks of doing business onto their workers (many of whom are not employees with benefits and legal protections, but contractors). The gig-economy, which could benefit many, winds up devolving into a low-wage-labor economy. Ultimately the myopic focus on price devalues workers.

The race to the bottom, in the pricing of goods and services, is powered by dehumanized consumption.

“Many peer economy platforms are asset-based. When the primary purpose of a transaction is access to an asset, the value of skills is deemphasized,” observes MIT Researcher Denise Cheng. In Barriers to Growth in the Sharing Economy she continues:

“Everyday people just like you perform tasks and services, and this peer-to-peer commerce creates human connection. However, between price consciousness and a multitude of options for the same service, the service’s human-centered proposition is secondary to consumers.”

How can Christians respond and live out our faith in such a world?
I’ve written before about the tendency toward narcissism for those of us affluent enough to purchase the services of another person by tapping a square.

“One-in-three American workers are independent contractors. The financial software company Intuit projects that by the end of the decade, 40 percent of Americans will be independent contractors.” — Denise Cheng

There is also a massive ministry opportunity in caring for and protecting the service-providers in our new world. The gig-economy exists largely beyond current economic policies. Its workers are often taken advantage of by consumers working aggressively to save money.

“The current reality is that most people do not become independent contractors because they want to, but because they need to,” Cheng says. “The peer economy workforce has not yet hit its saturation point. When it does, services on some platforms may become even more commodified, which would affect the earning potential of providers.”

The words of Jesus should confront and reprove us if we do not rise up on behalf of those marginalized in transactional services, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

The first ministry opportunity is to take what is otherwise a transaction and turn it into an interaction.
We re-humanize the process when we seek understanding of the person to whom we are talking. Are they participating in the gig economy as a casual user to generate supplemental income? Or are they, in Cheng’s words, “independents [who] have no choice but to cobble together a piecemeal income” from a number of apps, gigs, and odd jobs?

Cheaper isn’t always better — theologically speaking. Because human beings are created in the image of God, any good or service that strips another person of their dignity is, by nature, sinful.

Live with less, be willing to pay more.

Christians can also demonstrate sacrificial living through getting by with less in order to pay more for a good or service which comes from a company that takes care of its workers. “In large measure, the current struggle is around efforts to escape what we call ‘the commodity trap.’” John Zysman clarifies in Where Will Work Come From In The Era of the Cloud and Big Data.

The pressure to deliver cheaper — partially in response to dehumanized consumerism — is intense. Zysman concludes, “A diverse array of competitors use widely available conventional technologies to generate roughly similar standard goods, components, and services. The resulting intense competition leads to commoditization, meaning competition based principally on price. The consequence of this commodity trap is intense pressure on wages and profit margins alike.”

The gig-economy will continue to grow aggressively in the next two decades. The Church will grow with it as we Christians in a consumeristic society are able to sacrificially love our neighbors, provide for the marginalized, and live in our world but not of it.

Today’s Reading
1 Samuel 20 (Listen – 6:42)
1 Corinthians 2 (Listen – 2:26)

This Weekend’s Readings
Saturday: 1 Samuel 21-22 (Listen – 6:35); 1 Corinthians 3 (Listen – 3:05)
Sunday: 1 Samuel 23 (Listen – 4:18); 1 Corinthians 4 (Listen – 3:15)

Weekend Reading List


God is No Longer Displeased :: Readers’ Choice

John Calvin — Excerpt from Commentary on the Book of Psalms (1557)

Readers’ Choice (originally published on Park Forum October 2, 2014)

“I have never seen the word ‘irrefragable’ before. And, I’m sort of a ‘word-guy,’ so I looked it up. ‘Ir’ (not) ‘re’ (again) ‘fragable’ (from ‘sufferage’ – ‘to vote’). God does not take a vote about us again after he has set his love on us in Christ. Pure gold.” — Steve

Psalm 85.2
You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah

It was very natural for the faithful to feel alarmed and perplexed on account of their sins, and therefore the prophet removes all ground for overwhelming apprehension, by showing them, that God, in delivering his people, had given an irrefragable proof of free forgiveness.

He had before traced this deliverance to the mere good pleasure and free grace of God as its source; but after it was wrought, the iniquities of the people having separated between them and their God, and estranged them from him, it was necessary that the remedy of pardon should be brought to their aid.

In saying that their iniquities were taken away, he does not refer to the faithful being reformed and purged from their sins, in other words, to that work by which God, sanctifying them by the Spirit of regeneration, actually removes sin from them. What he intended to say he explains immediately after. The amount, in short, is, that God was reconciled to [his people] by not imputing their sins to them.

When God is said to cover sins, the meaning is, that he buries them, so that they come not into judgment, as we have shown more at large on the 32d psalm, at the beginning. When, therefore, he had punished the sins of his people by captivity, it being his will to restore them again to their own country, he removed the great impediment to this, by blotting out their transgressions; for deliverance from punishment depends upon the remission of sin.

Thus we are furnished with an argument in confutation of that foolish conceit of the Sophists, which they set forth as some great mystery, That God retains the punishment although he forgive the fault; whereas God announces in every part of his word, that his object in pardoning is, that being pacified, he may at the same time mitigate the punishment.

The sequence of the pardon of sin is, that God by his blessing testifies that he is no longer displeased.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 19 (Listen – 3:43)
1 Corinthians 1 (Listen – 4:03)


Faith, Love, and Apps :: Readers’ Choice

Faith, Love, and Apps :: Readers’ Choice
Steven Dilla (originally published July 20, 2015)

Readers’ Choice

“This opened my eyes and moved my mind out of its box of what’s comfortable and taken for granted. A topic that needs to be addressed thoughtfully, prayerfully, and unselfishly by any calling themselves followers of Christ.” — Sam

Acts 7:55
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do,” Steve Jobs famously admonished Stanford’s graduating class a decade ago. “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” The message was reverberant; Follow your passion became the central career goal of an entire generation.

Steve Jobs got to do what he loved because tens of thousands of laborers on the other side of the world did not have access to such privilege. They labored daily — and still do — to painstakingly assemble tens of millions of electronic devices for the western world’s insatiable consumption.

We don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to see such effects from technology. The on demand economy is roaring into the mainstream — lead by the likes of Uber, a so-called unicorn, valued at $50 billion.

Uber has over 130,000 drivers worldwide — none of them are employees. They do not get healthcare, holidays, vacation, or overtime. Drivers in California are fighting back — but Uber’s plans for the future don’t appear to be focused around making life better for drivers. The company recently lured 40 robotics engineers away from Carnegie Mellon. Drivers are a stop-gap until the robots take over.

The world does not need another impotent social media campaign against injustice. It needs Christians who, like Stephen in Acts, are willing to lay down their lives because they have a clear vision of God’s glory.

I struggle with this reality. I regularly punch through emails on my iPhone while riding through Midtown in an Uber. I try to connect with my drivers on a personal level, to tip, and to enter into even small moments of redemption in what can otherwise be a dehumanized transaction. But I feel like there is more to be done.

Job’s exhortation, “don’t settle,” which he repeats in the speech, is apt advice. God’s grace frees us from demanding our every need be met and from expecting to spend each day in comfort while others suffer. Christians can engage differently in the on demand economy — starting a conversation around this in our communities would be a first step. We can also encourage one another not to simply make the vocational choices of least resistance or most benefit, but to passionately engage our faith in our work.

We remember Stephen not because he did what he loved, but because he gave up everything to follow the one he loved.

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 18 (Listen – 4:30)
Romans 16 (Listen – 3:30)

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