Aug31

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)

Aug28

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

Aug27

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)

The Lovelessness of Indecision

Full Text: Job 30; 1 Cor. 16
Highlighted Text: 1 Cor. 16:13-14

Indecision | In 1934, Dietrich Bonhoeffer looked across Europe and lamented the Christian indecisiveness that he saw. Nazism’s influence on the German church was almost complete and Christians seemed unwilling to do anything about it. On April 7, Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to the head of the ecumenical World Alliance, pleading for action:

“A decision must be made at some point, and it’s no good waiting indefinitely for a sign from heaven that will solve the difficulty without further trouble. Even the ecumenical movement has to make up its mind and is therefore subject to error, like everything human …

But to procrastinate and prevaricate simply because you’re afraid of erring, when others – I mean our brethren in Germany – must make infinitely more difficult decisions every day, seems to me almost to run counter to love. To delay or fail to make decisions may be more sinful than to make wrong decisions out of faith and love” [1].

Love | Like Bonhoeffer, Paul suggests that a strong and decisive love – not perfect decision-making – is the mark of a Christian. To the Corinthians, he writes, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” [2]. We can’t know everything. Ever. In every decision we make, there are unknown realities – things about the present that are hidden and things about the future that are unknowable. Yet our lack of information need not lead us into fear – for the Lord repeatedly tells us not to fear, but to stand firm [3].

Fight | How do we fight fear when it rises in our hearts? We cling to hope in God’s promises. In spite of uncertainties, we consider Him faithful [4]. We affirm God’s sovereign rule in our lives as more valuable than our information. We cast out fear and place our hope in God.

Prayer | Lord, We confess that we have oftentimes let fear lead us to indecision. Yet we long to have a strong love for you and others – a love that hopes in your power and sovereignty so that fear is driven out. Therefore, let us admit that making mistakes is a part of this life, but we don’t need to fear our mistakes. Instead, let us put away indecision and fear and, in its place, be guided by love and hope in the one certain thing of the universe – you. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010], 218)  |  [2] 1 Cor. 16:13-14 ESV  |  [3] See, e.g., Is. 41:10, 13; Ps. 23:4; Ex. 14:13; Deut. 31:6; 2 Tim. 1:7; Ps. 27:1; Lk. 1:30; 2:10; Heb. 13:6; Jn. 14:27  |  [4] Heb. 11:11  |  [FN] See also John Piper, “When Is Indecision Loveless and Sinful?” Desiring God. 27 Feb. 2012.

Why We Might Pity Entrepreneurs and Christians

Highlighted Text: 1 Cor. 15:19
Full Text: Job 29; 1 Cor. 15

Entrepreneurs | Entrepreneurs sacrifice a lot to accomplish a greater goal. Many leave successful careers in well-established companies, steady incomes and bonuses, and large staffs that care for all the incidentals of running a business. As a result, entrepreneurs usually live modestly – spending their money and time far more strategically and deliberately than they did before. Of course, in their minds, all the sacrifices are worth it because they have a goal in mind – to make their startup successful. They think, “It won’t always be this way. I will sow the sacrifices now so that I can reap the benefits later.”

Christians | Like entrepreneurs, Christians don’t live for today; we live for tomorrow. Our goal is great – to make much of Christ in the only life that we have. We live modestly because we know that our treasures are in heaven and we spend our time strategically because we know that our lives are short and precious. We think, “It won’t always be this way. We’ll sow the sacrifices now so that we can reap the rewards later.”

Success | In both cases, however, there is a harsh reality – that the worth of our sacrifice depends on the reality of our success.  As Paul wrote, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” [1]. Entrepreneurs and Christians alike pour out blood, sweat and tears into realizing their goal. Yet our ventures cannot be based solely on passion; they must be based on truth. If the startup venture fails, then we pity the entrepreneur. If the biblical portrait of Jesus isn’t true, then we pity the Christian. Why? Because both of them sacrificed so much for nothing.

Prayer | Lord, Many generations have gone before us and have been commended for their faith – yet none of them received what had been promised [2]. Together with them, we live by a faith that looks to the life that is to come. Although we cannot yet see it with our eyes, we thank you for the person of Jesus – who came to live on earth in human form, who bled and died in a mortal body, and who rose again for hundreds to bear witness to his resurrection. Therefore, let us give ourselves to the study of Jesus and to the passionate pursuit of his love. For our best life is later, not today. Amen.

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FAQs

How can I make a tax-deductible donation? Click here.
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What is the reading plan this blog is based on? Click here.

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Footnotes

[1] 1 Cor. 15:19  |  [2] Heb. 11:39

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