TBT :: Let Us Use Our Freedom for the Benefit of Others

1 Corinthians 8.1, 9
“Knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up”…. take care that this right of yours (freedom in Christ) does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

By Saint Polycarp c. 125 C.E.

I rejoiced with you greatly in our Lord Jesus Christ… though you did not see Him, you believe with joy unutterable and full of glory; unto which joy many desire to enter in; forasmuch as you know that it is by grace you are saved, not of works, but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.

Be compassionate, merciful towards all men, turning back the sheep that are gone astray, visiting all the infirm, not neglecting a widow or an orphan or a poor man: but providing always for that which is honorable in the sight of God and of men, abstaining from all anger, respect of persons, unrighteous judgment, being far from all love of money, not quick to believe anything against any man, not hasty in judgment, knowing that we all are debtors of sin.

If then we entreat the Lord that He would forgive us, we also ought to forgive: for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and we must all stand at the judgment-seat of Christ, and each man must give an account of himself.

Let us therefore so serve Him with fear and all reverence, as He himself gave commandment and the Apostles who preached the Gospel to us and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of our Lord.

Let us therefore, without ceasing, hold fast by our hope and by the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ who took up our sins in His own body upon the tree, who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, but for our sakes He endured all things, that we might live in Him.

Let us therefore become imitators of His endurance; and if we should suffer for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He gave this example to us in His own person, and we believed this.

— Abridged and language updated from The Epistle of Saint Polycarp to Phillipi.

Prayers from the Past
You created everything, sovereign Lord, for the glory of your name. You gave food and drink to men for their enjoyment, as an occasion of thanksgiving and to us you have given the blessing of spiritual food and drink and eternal life through your Child. Above all we thank you because you are powerful.

— Anonymous, excerpt from one of the oldest eucharistic prayers, in Didache 9-10.

Today’s Readings

1 Samuel 27 (Listen – 1:59)
1 Corinthians 8 (Listen – 1:54)


How Shall We Live?

1 Corinthians 7:31
(From now on let) those who deal with the world live as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. 

Each of us has only one life. This is it. Our time is valuable and our face-to-face meeting with the Lord is imminent and real. As Paul writes, “The appointed time has grown very short … For the present form of this world is passing away.”

How shall we live?

Mourn as Though We are Not Mourning
We mourn. We are sad over great losses – e.g., family, friends, health, dreams. Yet we mourn as though we are not mourning because we know that we cannot lose our ultimate treasure – Christ’s love. Thus, our losses don’t destroy us. We say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Our losses are modest. We lose now, but win in eternity.

We rejoice. We take joy in the thousands of good gifts from God. Beautiful weather. Great food and friends. Art and music. Yet we know that these things cannot satisfy our souls. Only Christ can. Even our present fellowship with him is a mere foretaste: “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” Thus, our joys are modest. They give us tastes of what is to come.

We buy things. We don’t withdraw from commerce. Yet business doesn’t possess us. We don’t love money. Our cars, homes, e-readers, iPhones – we hold them loosely. If they are taken, we sense that they were never really ours because Christ is more valuable than anything money can buy. We’re not here on earth to own things; we’re here to lay up treasures in heaven.

Deal With The World as Though We Have No Dealings With It
We engage with the world. We don’t avoid it or approach it with spiritual dichotomies. Yet we don’t ascribe final greatness to it. We know that there are unseen things that are vastly more precious than the world. We work with all our hearts, but our full passions belong to the heavenly kingdom.

Lord, our lives are short and precious. Let us, therefore, live in death’s inevitability so that we mourn and rejoice and buy and engage as though we are not mourning or rejoicing or buying or engaging. Grow us deep in you as our ultimate treasure. Amen.


Today’s Readings

1 Samuel 26 (Listen – 4:30)
1 Corinthians 7 (Listen – 6:09)


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