Month: April 2014

What Got Jesus Killed?

This is holy week.  This Friday through Sunday we celebrate the central event of human history.  In one sense, as Jesus said Himself, “no one took His life from Him; He willingly laid it down.”  As the sovereign God of the universe, without His voluntary sacrifice of Himself for our sake, He would never have been able to have been killed as unjustly as He was.  He could have prevented the entire thing, sending legions of angels to destroy His adversaries with ease.  He chose to die.  Nonetheless, those who killed Him are fully culpable for what they did [Acts 2:23].

From a human perspective and from the vantage point of those who sought to kill Him, why were they so convinced that He needed to be destroyed?  There are two main reasons.  From the perspective of the existing religious power structure, He had to go to satisfy their envy and to protect their business.

The first of these motivations is identified as envy [Matt. 27:18; Mk. 15:10].  Envy is an interesting thing.  It is unable to rejoice in the blessing of others because it seeks the blessings that others enjoy for itself and at their expense.  It has often been inferred that Lucifer’s original sin was pride.  That may be correct.  But, envy was just as present.  He envied the unique place of worship that God alone enjoyed and sought to receive the same.  When he thought within himself, “I will be like God,” it was envy that ruled his heart.  Envy wants what someone else rightly has and it wants it at the price of their destruction.  Examples abound of this deadly path.   Cain envied Abel and his acceptance with God.  Abel needed to die.  Joseph’s brothers envied his special relationship with the father and his unique relationship with God.  Joseph needed to die.  Saul envied David’s acclaim among the people.  David needed to die.  Haman envied Mordecai’s influence.  He needed to die.  The religious leadership envied Jesus authority, His piety, His authenticity, His influence among “their people.”  He needed to die.

The second motivation is that He was rightly understood as a threat to business.  Quite simply, He took on the status quo and had the audacity to call into question the corrupt practices of the religious establishment.  The lavish lifestyle of Annas and Caiphas, father and son-in-law in the family business, and their entourage was at stake.  They had parlayed their positions of authority into a comfortable lifestyle.  They could not allow Him to successfully convert the Temple back to a house of prayer, ruining their chief profit center.  They had built a highly successful business on the backs of faithful pilgrims for years and they were not about to give that up as a result of an upstart rabbi from the Galilee.

Because they felt the need to eliminate the threat to the family business and envied His popularity among the people, these wicked men conspired to crucify the Lord of glory.  This holy week, as we contemplate the wonder of God’s ability to turn the greatest injustice ever perpetrated into the ground of our redemption, let us also consider the seeds of the same evil that conspired unto His death in our own hearts.

Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? [Prov. 27:4]



A Conversation with a Rabbi about Introversion

I recently had the good fortune of meeting Rabbi Dan Fink from Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise, Idaho. We met in the context of my introduction as a coach of introverted leaders and began to discuss introversion as it relates to faith and leadership. We recently met to continue our conversation at a local coffee shop in Boise. If you were a fly on the wall, here are some of the thoughts that you would have heard us exchange.

Highlights from our conversation that are meaningful to introverts:

  • According to Rabbi Fink, God appears to have introverted traits, especially from a Jewish mystic tradition. He seems to hide Himself and asks us to search for Him.
  • In the U.S. on January 1st we say, “Happy New Year!” with the emphasis on “happy.” Not so in Judaism. They celebrate their new year in September and say, “shanah tovah,” translated “have a good year.” There is a great difference between happiness and goodness. The Hebrew word tov refers to things being right, whole, the way that they were intended to be. It is this wish that Jews exchange during Rosh Hashannah.
  • I had made the comment that Americans don’t know how to grieve well, that our culture is so obsessed with happiness we don’t know how to do sorrow well or to lament. According to Rabbi Fink, Jewish culture is different (though many in his congregation are affected by the American culture). In Jewish tradition, grieving follows a much more deliberate and lengthier process. For example, you don’t leave your house for the first week, the community comes to you, services are held in the home, etc. Sounded like a much healthier way to recognize loss.
  • We discussed famous introverts in the Hebrew Scriptures including: Abel, Abram, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon. We also spoke about famous extroverts in the Hebrew Scriptures: Cain, Esau, Reuben, Aaron, and Saul.
  • I told Rabbi Fink that I had recently read Clash: 8 Cultural Conflict That Make Us Who We Are. In that book, Hazel Markus and Alana Conner discuss the core cultural difference between a society based on independence and one that values interdependence. We both saw the correlation between the independent mindset of the West and extroversion and the opposite tendency toward interdependence assumed in the culture and mindset of the Jewish faith.

Thanks to Rabbi Fink for a stimulating conversation that continues to shed new light on the nature of introversion and leadership.

rabbi dan

The Fruit of a Culture of Personality

Well-documented by Susan Cain in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is the shift in America from a culture of character to a culture of personality.  At the turn of the twentieth century, the modern industrialized world began to emerge.  People like Dale Carnegie began to lead the discussion on leadership in a very new direction contrasting with the existing “outdated” paradigm.  In her description of the cultural shift, Cain borrows from cultural historian Warren Susman.  Listen to her summary of the shift:

In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined and honorable.  What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private.  The word personality didn’t exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality” was not widespread until the twentieth.  But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them.  They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining.  “The social role demanded of all in the new Culture of Personality was that of a performer,” Susman famously wrote.  “Every American was to be a performing self.”

The American culture had become enamored with personality.  As the broader culture goes, so goes the church, typically several steps behind.  Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) has often been criticized for this reality.  It apes the culture but always follows, never leads, and is always a bit out of date.  As the culture of personality hit the American church, the form of leaders began to change.  Less and less was it about character and sound teaching, doctrine and life, orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  Now it had become, like the culture around it, about having charismatic, winsome, dynamic, gifted leaders capable of increasing numbers and the bottom line.  The church became less about being a pillar and ground of the truth and more about feeding a need for an increasing consumer mindset to be entertained and inspired.

What we are experiencing today is the fruit of our acceptance of an unbiblical preference for personality over character in our chosen leaders.  In biblical criteria for the qualification of leaders, character traits are first and foremost.  In practice, character has been replaced by personality and not without some serious consequences.  Recent trends have caused destruction to the reputation of the American evangelical church for both insiders and onlookers.  Winsome, gregarious, engaging dynamic leaders have been found connected to sexual scandals, child abuse, financial impropriety, plagiarism, bullying and a host of other ills that have been the fruit of our exalting people to leadership thrones who lacked the personal character or integrity to act as under shepherds of Christ.  In short, these leaders didn’t really look much like Jesus.  In a very real sense, we have received what we as a society have deserved.  Not that their innocent victims were in any way deserving of either what was perpetrated against them or of being secondarily wounded by the systemic cover ups.  As a community, we always get the leaders we deserve, the ones that reflect our real values.

This obsession with golden-tongued speakers and larger than life personalities isn’t a new thing for the church.  In the first century, no less than the apostle Paul was criticized for his not charismatic enough preaching style by the metropolitan community at Corinth.  Many preferred Apollos, the more dynamic speaker that might have been a bit off on his theology, but was so fun to listen to, so captivating, that his lighter content was a lesser concern.  It was Paul, after all, that had offered the warning to young Timothy about a coming generation and their unhealthy appetite for the wrong kinds of leaders:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. [2 Tim. 4:3-4]

The church always lags behind the broader culture.  American thought leaders in the business world began to question this false ideal of personality-driven extraverted leadership a few years ago.  Peter Drucker wrote about this myth of charismatic leadership in 1996.  Jim Collins saw it in 2001 and concluded that extraversion had nothing to do with level 5 leadership.  The questioning continues.  Many contemporary thought leaders (Susan Cain, Adam Grant, Simon Sinek et al) are pointing us back to a culture of character as the healthier expression of the higher ideals of our humanity.  The personality culture driven by self-centeredness is being replaced by a more humane, other-oriented culture of character in many American companies.

If the church follows the culture, as it normally does with a significant lag time, one can only imagine what the next twenty years of Evangelicalism in America will look like.  God help us.  When will the church in America return to a character-based definition of leadership?  Will she repent of her folly in light of reaping the fruit of an unhealthy desire for personality-based leadership?  It remains to be seen.



Do As I Say, Not As I Do

When parents either explicitly or implicitly tell their children to do what they say which is directly contradicted by what they actually do, we call it hypocrisy.  I saw a great commercial recently that portrayed this reality in regard to smoking.  The parent lectures the child on the evils of tobacco use with a cigarette hanging off of their lip.  I suspect that parent had a bit of a credibility problem with their child.  As parents, we are often guilty of hypocrisy due to the fact that the standard to which we aspire and that to which we point our children is something of which we all fall short.  Hopefully, however, the way or the degree to which we fall short of our aspirational values is not too large.  If it is, it creates confusion, disillusionment and disengagement in our children.  Parental hypocrisy has a stumbling effect.  This, you remember, was the chief aspect of the leavening effect of the Pharisees of which Jesus warned His followers.

I think we would all agree that it is bad parenting to ask our children to do something we ourselves are unwilling to do.  And yet, this is precisely what the modern view of forgiveness asks God’s children to do.  Most evangelicals would agree that God ultimately does not and will not forgive everyone.  Most of us are not universalists, despite the resurgence of that ancient belief.  God relates to a world that is filled with forgiven and unforgiven people.  Despite His call to all to find His forgiveness, many remain estranged.  He does not unilaterally grant forgiveness to all, but rather, offers them a way to be reconciled to Him if they so choose.  He warns of impending judgment on those who refuse His kindness.  So, not only does He not forgive everyone, He as the just Judge must in the end do what is right and pronounce a just verdict over those who are outside of Christ and the forgiveness that He alone brings.  This is not controversial for most Christians.

If then, God does not forgive everyone unconditionally, how can He ask us to do so?  It is, according to His rightful place of authority and ownership over all things, His divine prerogative to do whatever He pleases.  However, He tells us that He is bound by His own character not to be hypocritical.  He is light.  There is no darkness in Him.  He walks (conducts Himself in all things) in the light and asks us to do the same.  If these statements are true, how can He ask us, or would He ever ask us, to do anything that He Himself will not do.  I think the answer is clearly, “No.”  God is the ultimate Parent.  There is nothing He asks us to do that He does not practice Himself.  He never says to us, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

The Good Judge

The parable of Jesus recorded in Luke 18:1-8 is most often called the Parable of the Persistent Woman.  The application that follows from this title is generally that we ought to strive harder in prayer.  Persistence pays off.  We can “wear God down” with our commitment to prayer.  Those conclusions have their own set of problems, which are not the topic of this article.

I think we’ve missed the point. The parable centers on the character of the Good Judge contrasted with the character of the unjust judge.  It is an argument from the lesser to the greater.  If an unjust judge would do the right thing under duress, how much more a perfectly righteous judge who happens to be the Father of those who cry out to Him.  With this overlay, hear the parable again.

1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” [Lk. 18:1-8, ESV]

The reason Luke comments that the parable teaches us to pray and not to lose heart centers in the character of the Good Judge.  If we know Who we are praying to, His heart, we will be more likely to go to Him with our cries, our laments.  Notice the content of the prayer under discussion.  It is a cry for justice.  In the same way that the woman cried out to the unjust judge for justice against her enemy, so the elect (i.e. believers) cry out to God day and night, asking Him for justice.  And, shockingly to many of our modern sentiments, He hears them, answers their prayer and gives them the justice they seek.

Put this parable and its teaching into the context of contemporary American Evangelicalism.  The dominant position in our culture advocates for what I have called universal and unconditional forgiveness.  In fact, the common position is that anyone who for any reason does not grant forgiveness to those who have wronged them is in danger of damnation.  If that were the teaching of Jesus, this parable makes absolutely no sense.  The elect are wrong for crying out for justice, just as the woman is wrong seeking justice from the unjust judge.  In fact, seeking justice is often seen as synonymous with the dreaded problem of “bitterness.”  If every offense ever committed against us is to be immediately and unconditionally forgiven, there is nothing to cry out about.  All is forgiven and whether true or not we are to carry on as if “all is well.”  One thing we are not to do as modern American Evangelicals is to seek justice, either through human means or by praying for divine intervention. I’ve argued elsewhere (The End of Conflict) that vengeance is not ours, but the sole right of God Himself.  To attempt to bring justice to bear in terms of executing vengeance on adversaries is playing God [Romans 12:12-21].

Praying for our enemies, however, is explicitly the teaching and personal example of Jesus to be followed by his disciples.  Praying for our enemies changes our hearts and affections toward them while it guards us from an unhealthy desire for personal vengeance. This does not preclude asking God for justice in regard to our case (the just thing for them and for us) nor does it include the requirement to unilaterally forgive impenitent offenders.  In this pattern, we follow the example of Jesus Himself, God incarnate who also perfectly mimics His Father and the Holy Spirit.  He prays for His crucifiers, asking His Father to have mercy on them.  Their actual forgiveness from God for their culpability in the greatest injustice of human history was not granted apart from their confession and repentance in time [Acts 2:38].

Listen to John Calvin’s thoughts on this passage:

But it is asked, How does Christ instruct his disciples to seek vengeance, while he exhorts them on another occasion, pray for those who injure and persecute you, [Matthew 5:44.] I:reply: what Christ says here about vengeance does not at all interfere with his former doctrine. God declares that he will avenge believers, not for the purpose of giving a loose rein to their carnal affections, but in order to convince them that their salvation is dear and precious in his sight, and in this manner to induce them to rely on his protection. If, laying aside hatred, pure and free from every wicked desire of revenge, and influenced by proper and well-regulated dispositions, they implore divine assistance, it will be a lawful and holy wish, and God himself will listen to it. But as nothing is more difficult than to divest ourselves of sinful affections, if we would offer pure and sincere prayers, we must ask the Lord to guide and direct our hearts by his Spirit. Then shall we lawfully call on God to be our avenger, and he will answer our prayers.

God is a just Judge and a loving and protective Father.  If a corrupt judge would hesitantly respond to a widow’s request for justice in her case, how much more will our Father respond to the cries of His elect?

Once again, we are confronted with the contradiction between the biblical doctrine of forgiveness and the contemporary evangelical adoption of therapeutic forgiveness.


Emily and Her Grandfather

Sometimes we need to be jarred by seeing the logical outcome of our line of reasoning . . .

There once was a man of great stature in the church.  He knew his Bible more than the rest.   Others came to him for advice.  What they did not know was that this man had a secret.  Emily, his granddaughter, had lived with her mother and him ever since her father had died.  What Emily’s mother agreed not to see were her father’s nighttime visits to Emily’s room.  Emily dreaded the night and her grandfather, the pillar of the church.

Many years past.  Emily’s grandfather and mother died.  Emily died as a result of her boyfriend’s beating.  She was carried by the angels to a place of torment.  She lifted up her eyes and saw afar off her mother and grandfather in the bosom of Abraham.  She cried out, “Grandfather, have mercy on me; send my mother over here with a glass of water so that I can cool my tongue.  I’m in anguish in these flames.”

But Abraham replied, “Emily, remember in your life how you struggled to forgive your grandfather and your mother for what happened to you.  You never quite forgave them.  You had the privilege of growing up in a Christian home.  You never wanted for anything.  They forgave you for your angry outbursts, your false accusations and your disruption of the family.  They were faithful church goers and gave their life in service to the local congregation that you abandoned years ago.  So now, they are in paradise and you, well, you know where you are.  Besides all this, Emily, there a great gulf between you and and us so that they could not pass from here to you, even if they wanted to.”

Emily pleaded with Abraham, “Please, let me go back and warn my daughter.  She has never forgiven her father for what he did to her just as I could not forgive my grandfather.  If I don’t warn her, she will end up here with me.”  Her mother and grandfather said nothing.  But Abraham replied, “She has all the Christian self-help books she needs to help her see her need to forgive.  If she doesn’t listen to them, she won’t listen to anyone.  If she does not forgive her father, she will likewise perish.”

This fictional story is a grotesque adaptation of Luke 16:19-31.  It represents, however, the unseen conclusions of the American Evangelical doctrine of forgiveness.