Tag Archives: Challenge

Honor, Challenge, & Letting it Go

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
1 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV)

Along my faith journey I’ve encountered a whole lot of silliness as it relates to fellow believers’ attitudes and beliefs. I’m reminded this morning of the sweet old woman who was dead-set that the King James version of the Bible was the only true version. “If it’s good enough for the Apostle Paul it’s good enough for me,” she said.

Um…ma’am…oh, never mind.”

We’ve been talking a lot about the word “honor” among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. The word picture that always accompanies that word for me is “to attach worth” to someone or something.

In today’s chapter Paul addresses an issue that was relevant to the followers of Jesus in first century Corinth, but rather a strange notion in the modern world. Corinth in 55 A.D. was a major trade hub for the Roman Empire and there were a lot of travelers from all over the known world passing through. As such, there were a lot of pagan temples in town. When animals were sacrificed to a Greek or Roman god at one of the local temples, the meat was first used to provide food for the priests and priestesses of the temple. Any excess was sold in the local market as a source of revenue.

This raised a hot moral debate within the new Corinthians believers. It it okay to eat meat that got butchered as a sacrifice to Apollo or not? I can imagine at least one person claimed that an Apollo pot roast was “of the devil.”

Paul makes it clear in his letter that there was nothing wrong with eating the meat, but he made one major addendum for mature believers to follow. If you know that a fellow believer in your midst gets the spiritual heebie-jeebies from eating Apollo pot roast and considers it personally reprehensible, then you should honor his/her belief (literally attach worth to what you consider a silly, worthless superstition). Don’t cause a “weaker” fellow believer to go against their own conscience. In essence, it’s not my job to convince someone they are being silly. That’s Holy Spirit’s job. My job is to extend honor, love and respect for a fellow believer’s sincere belief.

This morning I’ve been taking stock of my own track record on honoring fellow believers who have a very different conscience than mine. On the whole, I’d like to think that I am, and have been, an honoring person. That being said, I realize in the quiet this morning that along they way I’ve sometimes made distinctions between those Paul would call a “weaker” brother or sister in his/her immaturity, and a brother or sister who should have matured and needs to be challenged to grow up. I’m not convinced my discernment between the two has always been correct.

And then there’s the old lady whose convinced that the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians in the Medieval English of King James.

Sometimes it’s best to just let it go.

The Challenge of Words

“You shall not profane my holy name….”
Leviticus 22:32 (NRSV)

Wall Street Journal columnist, Ben Zimmer, writes a weekly piece in the newspaper’s weekend edition that explores a different word or phrase that has been in the news that week. It’s one of my favorite columns to read over coffee on Saturday mornings.

I have become increasingly fascinated with words as I’ve continued in my life journey. I’m fascinated with their origin, how they become part of our vocabulary, their meanings, and how we use them. I’m intrigued with how our society perceives words as positive or negative, good or bad, acceptable or not acceptable.

Wendy’s and my adventures in community theatre often take us into debates about words. Should we use a word that will likely offend our audience here in rural Iowa? Can we legally change the copyrighted work by using a different word? If we do have the actor use a different word, will it change the play’s character and how the audience perceives him or her? Why would that word offend the audience? Should we risk the offense and challenge our audience to consider their notions about vocabulary? They are challenging questions that prompt fascinating and equally challenging discussions.

Toward the end of today’s chapter God tells the Hebrews not “profane” His name. I was given a definition of the word profane by a professor in college that I’ve never forgotten: “to empty something of its meaning.” I can still remember the word picture as the professor stood in front of the class and mimed turning a cup over in his hand, emptying the contents of the imaginary vessel on the ground.

I’ve always found that an apt understanding of God’s zealous protection of His name. It’s really no different than we as human beings. We don’t like people making fun of our name. We don’t want our name mocked or “drug through the mud.” In Arthur Miller’s classic play, The Crucible, John Proctor tells the witch hunters in Salem to go ahead and kill him unjustly but then begs: “give me my name!

Of course this opens a fascinating and challenging conversation about the name of God. As a child I was taught never to use the word “God” as in “Oh my god.” But, “god” is a impersonal noun that could refer to your generic pagan idol as it could refer to Yahweh (the name God gave Himself to Moses in Exodus 3). The name “Jesus” is much more specific and it packs all sorts of meaning and power. Jesus told His followers to do all sorts of things from prayers to exorcisms “in my name.” History records many signs and wonders that happened “in the name of Jesus.” If I then turn and use “Jesus” as an exclamation of disgust when the restaurant brought me the wrong order it certainly appears that I’ve taken something of spiritual power and authority, emptied it of its meaning, and used it for common swear word. I’ve profaned it.

This morning I’m once again thinking about words. It’s fun and challenging to debate the particulars of words and their usage. Despite the hairsplitting, it’s obvious that throughout God’s Message I’m reminded that words have power to heal, encourage, and build others up. They also have the power to sully, divide, tear down, and profane. I am reminded that the words we choose should be gracious, wise, and kind. May the words of my mouth always exemplify those basic guidelines.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured image by dorkmaster via flickr

Different Times, Same Human Challenges

source: kurt-b via flickr
source: kurt-b via flickr
After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. Acts 15:36-41 (NRSV)

On occasion I will run across fellow believers who hold the early church with high esteem and want today’s church to look and behave in the same way. As I mentioned in my post the other day, I think it’s a bit silly to presume that it is even possible in most respects. Today’s chapter, however, reminded me of a couple of things:

The early church wasn’t perfect nor was it some kind of utopian organization. Read between the lines and you find that the entire period was marked by controversy, politics, arguments, and interpersonal conflicts. Today’s chapter starts with a controversy (i.e. should circumcision be required of all followers of Jesus) that broils into a debate among factions. Those Jesus followers who were of the Jewish sect of the Pharisees were vocal pro-circumcision. The Jesus followers who were non-Jewish Gentiles (and really didn’t want to go through the pain of a very intimate surgical procedure for no good reason) were passionately anti-circumcision.

The church, then and now, is made up of fallible people who inevitably find themselves in conflict. Today’s chapter ends with Paul and Barnabas having a such a sharp argument about whether to bring John Mark on their trip that they part and go their separate ways. Paul had written John Mark off because of an earlier falling out (Where was the forgiveness?) and Barnabas wanted to give J-Mark a second chance. It appears that there was no sweet agreement and reconciliation. There was no idyllic conclusion of unity. There was anger, sharp argument, and division. That sounds like every group of Jesus followers I’ve ever been a part of. So,  maybe we’re more like the early church than we sometimes realize.

Today, I’m reminded of things that change and things that never change. Daily life, work, and culture have changed drastically in the last twenty years let alone the past 2,000. At the same time, our human challenges of love, kindness, understanding, reason, acceptance, and reconciliation have never changed. They simply takes on new guises in changing times and places.

A Proper Challenge for a Go With the Flow Guy

2012 11 Decorations1But be sure that everything is done properly and in order. 1 Corinthians 14:40 (NLT)

Wendy and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary on New Year’s Eve. It was a wonderful occasion and celebration that makes the holiday extra special for us. On New Year’s Day we celebrated by taking down our Christmas decorations and returning Vander Well Manor back to it’s normal daily appearance. The holidays, the celebration of our anniversary, and the extra time we have to be together during the holidays always gives me opportunity to think about our relationship.

Wendy and I have a lot in common when it comes to our interests, but those who know us well will tell you that we are opposites in temperament. I am laid back and tend to go with the flow while Wendy is very particular and highly organized. After seven years of marriage, I realized yesterday that our annual taking down of the decorations was as efficient and stress free as we’d ever experienced. I believe that this was due in a large part to an unspoken understanding of one another and how best to attack the process in a way that played to our strengths.

No matter what our individual bent, the strength of our personal temperament always comes with a corollary weakness. Being laid back and able to go with the flow helps me to weather change and to bring flexibility and stability to rapidly changing circumstances. At the same time, I tend not to sweat certain details and give little thought to the long term implications of my momentary decisions. The result can often create frustration since Wendy’s bent is to give careful thought to each decision in order to anticipate the future chain of events to where it will lead.

Today’s chapter is all about similar differences in the way the followers of Jesus in Corinth were going about their meetings together. Conflict arose because the meetings had become a bit of a laid back free-for-all and Paul was trying to address some of the specific issues the local group of believers were experiencing. I thought Paul’s bullet at the end of the discussion summed things up nicely: Do things properly and in order. I can hear Wendy’s voice in my head lending a hearty “Amen.”.

I’m not one for formal New Year’s resolutions, but as we put away decorations yesterday and cleaned up the house I told myself to make 2013 a year of “getting my house in order.” I find it interesting to wake up this morning and, in a little moment of synchronicity, read Paul’s succinct directive. We don’t make much progress in our personal journey unless we consciously choose to address areas of needed improvement. For a easy going person like me, that means consciously doing a better job of sweating the details, doing things properly, and going about my day in a more orderly fashion.

(Which means I need to end this post and get ready for my day. Happy New Year.)

Roles I’d Love to Play: Willy Loman

1st edition cover (Viking Press)
Image via Wikipedia

The other day Wendy and I were talking in the car on our way back from Des Moines. I don’t even remember the context of our conversation. Our conversations tend to ebb and flow all over the map. Somewhere in the midst of our conversation I mentioned that I would love the challenge someday of playing Willy Loman, the iconic, tragic centerpiece of Arthur Miller‘s Death of a Salesman.

“That would make a great blogging challenge,” Wendy said all of a sudden. “Do a series of blog posts on roles you’d love to play.”

She’s so smart (and sexy).

The truth is that I’m not that fond of Miller’s play itself. I got sick of reading it, and re-reading it in every English and Lit class only to have to read it again in theatre classes. It is depressing, and I can understand the legends of how it drove Lee J. Cobb (the great actor who famously made the role his own) crazy with despair.

Still, I’ve reached the age when you start to look back, think about where you envisioned your life going, and compare it to where you stand. I’ve travelled hundreds of thousands of air miles with salesmen slogging through life shuttling their wares from customer to potential customer. I’ve seen, and shared, the vacant look in their eyes. I’ve eaten alone with them together at another restaurant that’s the same as the one before. I’ve slept alone with them in the adjacent hotel room just like the one we were both in the night before. I get it now.

And so, I think it would be a challenge to play the iconic role, slip into Loman’s scuffed up wing-tips, and hoist his valises onto the stage. It would be fascinating and I think it would stretch me in interesting ways.