Are You a Consumer of People?

Consumerism is the mentality that justifies making choices about things, people and places based solely on my personal preference.  With regard to things, it leads to selfish materialism.  With regard to places, it leads to picking churches first according to personal preference and second according to biblical fidelity, integrity of mission and faithfulness.  With regard to people, it is choosing to love those people who meet our our felt needs. The sad truth is that consumerism has infected the way many of us regard the people that God has placed in our lives.  Our default tendency is to prefer the folks who bring pleasure, and despise those who bring challenges.  This heart disposition towards others carries over into the body of Christ.  This should not be.

It is essential to grasp that in the body of Christ there are no distinctions which can be a basis for division among us.  There are distinctions, but they cannot be a basis for division among us.  "There is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).  It's not God's will for us to parse ourselves out according to our natural distinctions and preferences.  As the body of Christ, we are one in Christ.

I've heard some Christians justify diving themselves from the body of Christ.  They say, "Well, God made me this way and, therefore, I am designed to flourish among a certain type of person."  God did make you the way he made you.  But your lack of patience with others whom He did not make like you is a result of sin.  The differences is the body of Christ are intended to make that body more full and rich (see 1st Cor 12), not more divided.

Whom are you not loving?  Whom has God placed in your life that you are regarding as an object of pleasure or displeasure, rather than as a brother or sister in Christ?  "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him" (1st John 5:1).  Everyone and everyone--these two words drive out consumerism with regard to whom we choose to love.  We cannot exclude ourselves from the obligation to love, nor can we deprive others of their status as brothers and sisters Christ.

The Exodus, the 10 Commandments, and Civil Society

Of all the great events in Human Civilization, none surpasses the Exodus in significance for the formation of civil society.  One could argue for the significance of the Exodus along a number of lines.  One obviously fruitful line of exposition would emphasize that the Exodus initiates the formation of Israel as a nation--a formation that was essential to bringing forth the Messiah so that all nations would be blessed as God had promised to Abraham. Here I want to mention another aspect of the Exodus that is more subtle and often overlooked. In the Exodus God defeated Pharaoh through a series of plagues.  As many theologians have observed, the plagues of the Exodus were not chosen at random.  Each plague of the Exodus can be shown to correspond to an aspect of Egyptian cosmology.  God was making the point that He alone was sovereign, and that the Egyptian deities had no power.  The plagues culminate with judgment upon the firstborn, including the firstborn of Pharaoh.  Pharaoh was considered a deity.  There was no law governing his actions.  His will determined the law of the people and he was subject to no one.  The Exodus demonstrated the folly of this ancient Egyptian cosmology and the impotency of the tyrant Pharaoh to stand against the one true God of Israel.

Following the miraculous deliverance from Egypt, the Hebrews were brought to a mountain where God delivered his law to them audibly.  These ten commandments were then written down, expanded upon in case law, and given to them the people to inform every aspect of their lives.  The contrast with Egypt could not have been more profound.  The people of God were no longer subject to the whims of a self-deified human tyrant.  Human beings are equal in the sight of God, and God himself is the only one who has absolute authority over the human race.  Israel would continue to be unique among its Ancient Near Eastern neighbors in this respect: the King of Israel was to be subject to the law himself and subject to the challenges of the prophets of God who proclaimed that law.  The ideal of human political leadership was transformed in Israel from absolute power over inferiors to the stewardship of an authority derived by God and accountable to God.

In a civil society the freedom of religion, which in the context of this post entails the freedom to call to account all forms of human tyranny on the basis of divine revelation, is the only guarantee of civil liberty.  Foolish Christian religious wars have slain their thousands, but atheistic states that limited the freedom of religion have slain their millions.  Secularists must heed this somber lesson of history.  Christians need to see the important link between freedom of religion and the work of gospel ministry.  In the seventeenth century John Locke argued for religious toleration (as opposed to coercing faith through legislation) because anything less would lead to hypocrisy--unbelievers feigning a faith they do not truly possess.  (Locke observed that Jesus was not shy to call out the sin of hypocrisy.)  Free from state coercion to feign faith, individuals are able to confront the claims of Christ from the heart.

The Exodus demonstrates that only God is sovereign over human beings and that no tyrant has the right to govern according to his own whims.  Moreover, the law given at Sinai doesn't merely humble political leaders, it is humbles us all.  For none of us keep the law.  Therefore, none of us can be delivered by the law.  Ultimately we are all law breakers and all subject to the same judgment that came to Ancient Egypt.  And, just as it was the case in Egypt, if we are not covered by the Blood of the Lamb the wrath of God will smite us all.  Thanks be to God for Christ, our Passover lamb.

The Child Prayer Life of a Great Spiritual Leader

Charles Hodge was a great 19th century spiritual leader, theologian, New Testament scholar and preacher.  As we close VBS this week, having thought a lot about prayer and leadership over the past couple of weeks, consider this moving statement from Hodge on his prayer life as a child.  What does it look like to have childlike faith?    To express that faith in prayer?  Hodge gives us an encouraging window in this regard.  As we look into his prayer life, we can be sure that this same privilege of prayer belongs to us as God's children.

In my childhood I came nearer to "Pray without ceasing" than in any other period of my life.  As far back as I can remember, I had the habit of thanking God for everything I received, and asking him for everything I wanted.  If I lost a book, or any of my playthings, I prayed that I might find it.  I prayed walking along the streets, in school and out of school, whether playing or studying.  I did not do this in obedience to any prescribed rule.  It seemed natural.  I thought of God as an everywhere-present Being, full of kindness and love, who would not be offended if children talked to him.  I knew he cared for sparrows.  I was as cheerful and happy as the birds and acted as they did.  (The Life of Charles Hodge, by A.A. Hodge.)

Let's all pray like children today.  God is good, real, and everywhere present.

Criteria of Leadership Potential (Part III)

Today we conclude J. Oswald Sanders' list of criteria for leadership potential.  Here is the final roundup: 
  • Do you possess a strong and steady will?  A leader will not long retain his position if he is vacillating?
  • Do you nurse resentments, or do you readily forgive injuries done to you?
  • Are you reasonably optimistic?  Pessimism is not an asset to a leader.
  • Are you in the grip of a master-passion such as that of Paul who said: "This one thing I do."   Such a singleness of motive will force all of one's energies and powers on the desired objective.
  • Do you welcome responsibility?

To these criteria Sanders adds these attitudes, noting, "R.E. Thompson suggests these tests of our attitudes to people as an indication of our capacity for leadership:

  • Do other people's failures annoy us or challenge us?
  • Do we use people or cultivate people?
  • Do we direct people or develop people?
  • Do we criticize or encourage?
  • Do we shun the problem person or seek him out?"

All of these criteria for leadership require some soul searching and prayer before coming to any conclusion.  The attitudes towards people with which Sanders concludes are especially important.  If we do not have the heart of God for people then we cannot lead them for God.  Pray to love others as Jesus taught us.