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Written by Sam Logan Friday, 13 September 2013 00:00

What should be done about/in Syria?

How might a missional and evangelical Christian approach this terribly difficult subject? 

The best I can do is offer a few very tentative missional musings. 

These particular musings emerge from the missional commitment that we must be aware of and seek to take full and appropriate account of the perspectives and experiences of evangelical Christians who are not part of our particular culture or milieu.  This does not mean that “their” perspectives are right any more than it means that ours are.  We just need to try to think and act consistently with our belief that we (whoever “we” are) are just a tiny part of the massive church which the Lord is creating for His own honor and glory.

This missional commitment also requires us to be especially careful when interpreting historical events and applying their “meaning” to situations which face us now.  We know that we do not somehow stand outside the flow of history with the ability to look down on what is happening from some kind of epistemological Mount Everest.  We do, of course, have the absolute truth of Scripture to guide us and that is critically important; without it, we would, in my opinion, be totally lost.  But our application of that absolute truth should not be regarded as “inerrant,” especially when brought to bear upon the messy and complicated activities of sinful human behavior.

This missional commitment need not lead to agnosticism in either theology or ethics.  It should, however, lead to a kind of humility when we are dealing with complex situations – like the current situation in Syria.

I will try to apply this general missional commitment to the situation in Syria in two specific ways – first, a factual and historical consideration and second, a personal and spiritual consideration.

Few (if any) people in the entire world have all the facts.  Was sarin gas used in an attack in Damascus?  This seems increasingly likely. But who used that gas? Are we absolutely sure that it was the Assad regime?  Even more difficult (for me, at least) is this question – do we have to be ABSOLUTELY sure before we do anything?  Well, if we don’t have to be ABSOLUTELY sure, how sure do we need to be? 

Many politicians and journalists are comparing the Syria situation to the Iraq situation.  The authorities seemed to be VERY sure that WMD’s were in Sadaam’s arsenal.  It seems they were wrong.  How do we incorporate that lesson into our present discussions?  The September 4, 2013, edition of THE TIMES (London) contained a superb editorial by Daniel Finkelstein entitled “Lessons from Iraq Are Not Lessons at All” (p. 23). In that piece, Mr. Finkelstein gave the best brief analysis that I have ever read of how (and how not) to use the past as a guide to the present or future.  Here are a few of his comments (with which I, as a tiny bit of a church historian) largely agree:

It is quite common in political debate to accuse the other side of fighting the last war instead of the next one.  But it is rare to reflect on the real mistake being made.  The problem is not that the last war was being refought but that a single, individual episode was being relied upon to produce lessons.

So for years, American statesmen were being warned not to engage in military action lest in be another Vietnam.  And indeed, the Vietnam was a disaster that repays careful study.  But it should not be removed from the entire history of the Cold War engagement, the outcome of which was not a disaster.

Generalizing from a single incident is like tossing a coin, having it land heads and concluding that when you toss a coin, it always lands heads.

. . . . . . .

Conflicts always have endgames that are hard to be certain about and aren’t always desirable.  The Second World War didn’t end until 1990 [the tearing down of the Berlin Wall], with a messy stand-off lasting 45 years.  And it could be argued that the Iraq war happened partly to provide a clear endgame because there had been years without one after the Kuwait invasion.

The lesson of history, I’m afraid, is that the lesson of history can never release you from making judgments, ones you sometimes get wrong.

So what’s the result of this particular musing?

It certainly is NOT that we remain paralyzed because of the uncertainty of being wrong.  Judgments must be made.  In this case, a judgment must be made regarding whether military intervention in Syria by the U.S., France, and perhaps a few other countries would be right.  It is just that we all, both those who favor and those who oppose such intervention,  must display historical humility both as we come to our conclusions and as we respond to others who come to the opposite conclusions.  We all have gotten some of our past judgments wrong so it is the height of foolish narcissism to think that there is no way we could be wrong on this one.

This is the factual and historical consideration.  Now for a personal and spiritual consideration.

In all the time that the conflict in Syria has been going on, there had been, every week, a note in our church’s bulletin asking us to pray for a couple in our church.  He is Egyptian and she is Syrian and most of her family is in Syria.  They are both wonderful evangelical Christian individuals with significant experience in living and speaking the Gospel “missionally” to Muslims.  Her family is in great danger in Syria and it is likely that the greatest danger to them comes, not from the Assad regime, but from those who oppose that regime. 

This does not mean that her family’s situation “trumps” all other considerations.  But it does mean that her family’s situation (and the similar situations of other Christian families in Syria) must be fully considered and taken into account as we come to conclusions about what should be done in that battered and beleaguered country.  This couple also believes that if the rebellion against President Assad is successful and he is ousted from power, the result for all Christians in Syria will be dire and will be similar to the situation for Christians in Egypt under the regime of President Morsi.  This is, of course, an “endgame” prediction of which no one can be certain.  But, in what actually did happen in Egypt very recently, there are significant reasons for giving this particular prediction consideration.  And that’s what this missional “musing” recommends – that we seek out and listen to those who have first-hand knowledge of what Syrian Christians are experiencing right now.

I have been in Scotland for the past two weeks and have been particularly fascinated by the intense debates here in the U.K. about Syria.  Inevitably, it seems, harsh words have been spoken by both sides about those who take positions different from one’s own.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if missional Christians could consistently set an example of taking firm positions when necessary but of doing so with the recognition that each of us has been wrong in the past, that we therefore treat our opponents with grace and respect, that we go out of our way to consider the perspectives of those evangelical Christians who are different from us and that we truly seek first HIS Kingdom, even if (as can happen!), HIS Kingdom conflicts with our own.


Sam Logan is Senior Counsel for Major Gifts at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also  http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan

 

Written by Sam Logan Wednesday, 11 September 2013 00:00

It is 9/11.

Again!

And it will be 9/11 every year at this time.

This means that once a year, every year, as long as those of us who were alive and aware of what was happening on that date in 2001, we will be faced with responding to the memory of that trauma.

How might a commitment to evangelical missional theology have relevance to those responses?  In this blog, I want to make just one tentative suggestion.

That suggestion arises from the fact that, during the several weeks just before September 11, 2013, my wife and I have had the privilege of being in Scotland and of reading British papers and watching (a bit of) British television.  I have frankly been a bit surprised by the attention that has been paid in prime time television here both to the events of 9/11 and to later developments relating to that day.

One television program dealt with “The Woman Who Wasn’t There,” the story of an individual who originally claimed she had been working in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11.  She became heavily involved with the work of 9/11 survivors until it was discovered that she was not present at all on the day the planes hit.  A second program, “The Lost Hero of 9/11,” focused on a Marine who raced to the scene of the tragedy and risked his life several times but ultimately was able to rescue two firemen who were trapped in the rubble. And the third story focused on the progress which has been made in “Rebuilding the World Trade Center.”

One thing I noted in all three of these (secular) programs, even in the first of them, was the near total lack of expressions of anger and hatred.  I was especially impressed with this with regard to the survivors of 9/11 when they discovered that a person who had claimed to share their distress was discovered not to do so.  Of course, they were disappointed and, of course, action was taken to remove the person from the leadership of the survivors group.  But no anger, no hatred . . . , at least none that I sensed.

Further, neither Jason Thomas, the “lost hero,” nor those whom he rescued expressed anger toward or hatred of those who caused the tragedy.  It is, of course, possible, that such anger and hatred existed but none was shown.  Perhaps this reflects more the perspective of those who produced the show but my point is that, for whatever reason, those things were NOT highlighted.

So what does this have to do with being missional evangelical Christians?  It certainly does not mean that missional Christians ignore injustice or soft-pedal the need for judgment on sin.  It also does not mean that missional Christians ignore the need, in our fallen world, of police and armies.  Missional Christians are not defined by that bumper sticker which proclaims that “War Is NOT the Answer” because missional Christians know that this depends on the question.

But it does mean that missional Christians know and feel in their bones that the greatest injustice that the world has ever seen – that God’s creatures willfully reject and dishonor Him – has been paid for by the steepest price imaginable – the blood of Jesus – and that, ultimately, our primary task is to go to sinners of all kinds, even those who directly or indirectly supported the 9/11 murderers, and, as winsomely as possible, seek to bring them to the place where they personally embrace the One who paid that unimaginable price.  Why do we do this?  Not because such people “deserve” salvation but because our Triune God does deserve their obedience, worship, and praise.  

No, of course, I don’t think that this is why the three above-mentioned British television shows approached the events of 9/11 as they did.  I am not sure why they did it.  Perhaps their reasons were as bad as Thomas Beckett’s original motives for seeking Christian martyrdom: “The last temptation is the greatest treason - to do the right thing for the wrong reason” (T. S. Eliot, MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL).  But I am not necessarily writing this blog to British television producers (unless, of course, they are evangelical missional Christians).

I am writing this blog for and to those of us who, as evangelical missional Christians face again today the memory of what happened 12 years ago.  I speak to myself at least as much as to anyone else.  Perhaps we can learn from the television programs mentioned above something about ways in which we might respond, both this year and in future years, to that memory.  Without down-playing in any way the importance of horizontal justice for the fomenters of that tragedy or the need to protect our children and our neighbors from the possible repetition of that tragedy, how can we respond to the memory in a way that, to use an old Puritan phrase, “improves” that memory in a vertical way.

To make this is specific and as practical as I can, how might we, as missional Christians, use the occasion of 9/11, as winsomely as possible, to seek to bring those supporting that tragedy (and the rest of the watching world) to the place where they personally embrace the One who paid the unimaginable price of His own life?  After all, He really does deserve it!


Sam Logan is Senior Counsel for Major Gifts at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also  http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan

   

Written by Phil Monroe Monday, 09 September 2013 00:00

Today marks the first day of the 2013-2014 school year here at Biblical Seminary. If you come by the school, you will be able tell who is just starting grad school for the first time by the big smile intended to hide a bit of anxiety. New students tend to arrive early, sit a bit closer to the front, and make a whole lot of eye contact with their professor. They do not want to miss a syllable for fear of ignoring some important detail.

In honor of these wonderful students that make my career possible, I would like to offer 3 recommendations for how they manage their classroom experience. These may not be the most important piece of advice for success in grad school (for that I might suggest learning to speed read, reading the syllabus early and often, and not worrying about grades too much—no one asks you your GPA after you graduate), but they will help you manage sitting in class from 4:30pm to 10:15pm without losing focus.

1.  Turn off your Wifi, put away smart phones, stop using social media.

I love gadgets and electronic toys as much as anyone. However, students who multitask in class don’t tend to do as well on exams and assignments. Their retention of content does not compare with those who avoid the distractions of the Internet. Your professor may not always be scintillating but when you pass the time by surfing the web or updating your Fb posts, you are not as likely to engage the material as well as you should unless you are posting about the content of the class. If you find your mind is wandering, pull out that dusty pen or #2 pencil and see if you can summarize the main content of the class thus far. Doing so may spark a few questions (see the next suggestion). If nothing else works, read some of your required readings related to the night’s topic.

2.  Ask questions (but not too many).

Believe it or not, most teachers do not want to lecture. We get into teaching because we love being part of the learning process. If students do not ask questions or engage with us, we have no way of knowing if learning is taking place. So, if you have a question (closely) related to the topic, don’t hesitate to ask. Some rabbit trails are worth taking and enrich class experiences. If you are exceptionally brave, be willing to ask (nicely) for the professor to defend a bald statement that fails your smell test. Of course, if you ask, work hard to listen with an open mind. And don’t forget to leave space for others to ask questions too.

3.  Move around.

Grad school is all about adult learning. If you come expecting to listen only to the “sage on the stage,” you will find grad school a disappointment. While your teachers do have much to offer, adult learning requires active engagement of the topics for the purpose of higher learning and application. So, each class time, try sitting in different locations so that you get to engage more students during those frequent group exercises. Try not to be a creature of habit and sit with the same people each time. If you get to know all of your peers, you will likely find your life enriched.

If you are in grad school, you count among some of the most blessed people on the planet. Less than 10% of Americans hold a graduate degree. So, enjoy the blessing and the ride of your life.

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He also directs Biblical’s new trauma recovery project. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.

   

Written by Phil Monroe Friday, 06 September 2013 00:00

Consider this scenario:

Cheryl, a wife of one of your deacons comes to you with a story of woe. Though they are seen as pillars of the church, she reports that her husband is emotional abusive. He regularly belittles her at home, calling her names in front of the children. He demands sex on a regular basis, whether his wife is interested or not. He refuses to help with chores around the home. He regularly accuses her of wasting money and demands receipts for all expenditures. He is deaf to her requests for emotional support as she navigates a difficult employer. This experience is not new for her as she reports he has been this way since the beginning of their marriage 15 years ago. As her pastor, you are a bit shocked. You’ve been in their home on numerous occasions. You have had conversations alone with this woman. Nothing in her demeanor would have suggested that she was being harmed. Yet here she is in your office alleging that her husband is a domestic abuser.

And yet you are not so shocked. Your own experiences with the deacon tell you that he has been unempathic to those seeking financial help from the church. He tends to be suspicious of the motives of others on the board. He is argumentative. He uses sarcasm and “friendly” put-downs as a way of relating to others. As you consider Cheryl’s story, you realize you will need to respond. She is looking for more than sympathy. She wants support either to force her husband into counseling (he refused to go at her request) or to ask him to move out.

What advice do you give to Cheryl? What are the issues that come to the forefront of your mind? What goals to you wish to pursue first?

Do you want her to keep trying to please her husband? Do you want her to deal with her portion of the marital problems? Do you want to confront the deacon? Do you want her to go away? Do you want to refer her to a counselor? Do you want to steer clear of the abuse word and just focus on the sin of selfishness?

The issues, concerns, and goals that rise to the surface for you will likely influence the advice and direction you give to Cheryl. Notice the land mines waiting for you? To wade in will cause disruptions to ministry. To wade in will make enemies and potentially divide families and even congregations.

Sadly, pastors and church leaders have not always dealt well with victims of domestic abuse. One of the reasons for this is that when victims get the courage to speak up, they are often frazzled, emotional, confused, and no longer able to be flexible. In contrast, the offenders are often self-righteous, well defended, logical, and armed with scripture to point out the sin of their victim spouses. As a result, many victims of spousal abuse (male or female) are told one of these things:

  1. Go get counseling for yourself, deal with your own log first
  2. Don’t keep a record of wrongs, keep loving your spouse, allow the Spirit to work
  3. God is against divorce

One New Resource to Give You Guidance

Most of us want to do better than the above advice. But, these he said, she said scenarios are difficult to tease apart and the water gets murky really fast. But there are some resources out there that can guide a pastor, counselor or a victim in dealing with domestic abuse. In about 2 weeks, Leslie Vernick will publish her next book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage (Waterbrook Press). Having previewed a copy, I highly recommend it. Here are some of the reasons:

  1. You cannot possibly read this and not get a glimpse of what it is like to be on the receiving end of physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse
  2. The book sets out 3 necessary ingredients of a thriving relationship and 5 patterns that destroy
  3. She gives ample attention to what God thinks about abuse and why some of the theology of “never give up, never divorce” is unbiblical
  4. She differentiates between trying harder (which is damaging) and building the CORE
  5. She explains how to prepare for a confrontation seeking repentance and then how to walk away if the spouse doesn’t respond
  6. Finally, she lists the top 5 mistakes that helpers commonly make

If you plan on serving in the church, you will confront the problem of emotional and physical abuse. There are other resources but I know of none other that are as clear, direct, and helpful.

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program and the Global Trauma Recovery Instituteat Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates and blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.

   

Written by Phil Monroe Friday, 06 September 2013 00:00

In 21st century United States, does spiritual abuse really happen? Can’t we all just choose churches where we feel safe? No one makes us (adults) go to church so shouldn’t spiritual abuse be nonexistent in this day—or at least happen only once (e.g., fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…)?

Sadly, spiritual abuse happens in all sorts of churches and for all sorts of reasons.

What is spiritual abuse?

Spiritual abuse is the use of faith, belief, and/or religious practices to coerce, control, or damage another for a purpose beyond the victim’s well-being (i.e., church discipline for the purpose of love of the offender need not be abuse).

Like child abuse, spiritual abuse comes in many forms. It can take the form of neglect or intentional harm of another. It can take the form of naïve manipulation or predatory “feeding on the sheep.” Consider some of these examples:

  1. Refusing to provide pastoral care to women on the basis of gender alone
  2. Coercing reconciliation of victim to offender
  3. Dictating basic decisions (marriage, home ownership, jobs, giving practices, etc.)
  4. Binding conscience on matters that are in the realm of Christian freedom
  5. Using threats to maintain control of another
  6. Using deceptive language to coerce into sexual activity
  7. Denying the right to divorce despite having grounds to do so

For a short review, consider Mary DeMuth’s 2011 post on spotting spiritual abuse.

Why it is so harmful

If someone demands your wallet, you may give it but you do not think they have a right to it. You have no doubt that an injustice has occurred. You have been robbed! When someone abuses, it is a robbery but often wrapped up in a deceptive package to make the victim feel as if the robbery was actually a gift. Spiritual abuse almost always is couched in several layers of deception. Here’s a few of those layers:

  1. Speaking falsely for God. Spiritual leaders or shepherds abuse most frequently by presenting their words as if they were the words of God himself. They may not say “Thus sayeth the Lord” in so many ways but they speak with authority. When leaders fail to communicate God’s words and attitudes, they are called false teachers and prophets. Some of these false words include squelching dissent and concern in the name of “unity.”
  2. Over-emphasizing one doctrinal point while minimizing another. Consider the example of Paul, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). In three other places in the NT, Paul says similar phrases. The application is that our leaders are to exemplify the character of Christ. Sadly, it is easy to turn this into, “do what I want you to do.” Paul does not say to imitate him. He says to imitate him when he imitates Christ. There are other examples as well: forcing forgiveness, demanding victims of abuse to confront their abusers in private so that they will meet the letter of Matthew 18.
  3. Good ends justifying means. It is a sad fact that many victims of other kinds of abuse have been asked to be silent for the sake of community comfort. Indeed, community comfort is important. But forcing a victim of abuse to be silent and to forego seeking justice is a form of spiritual abuse.
  4. Pretending to provide pastoral care. I have talked with several pastors who crossed into sexual behavior with those they have been charged to counsel. All too commonly, the pastor deceived self and other into thinking that the special attention given to the parishioner was love and compassion. In fact, their actions were always self-serving. However, the layer of deception made it feel (to both parties) like love in the beginning stages.

The reason why spiritual abuse hurts so much is that it always fosters confusion, self-doubt, and shame. This recipe encourages isolation, self-hatred, and questioning of God. When shepherds abuse, the sheep are scattered and confused. They no longer discern the voice of the true Shepherd.

This is exactly why the Old Testament and New Testament speak in such harsh terms against abusive and neglectful Shepherd: Ezekiel 34:2; Jeremiah 50:6; John 10:9. Words like, “woe to you…” and “you blind guides…” reveal that spiritual abuse for any reason is destructive and is not of God. And it gets no harsher than, “Better than a millstone be tied to your neck and thrown into the sea” to illustrate the depth of evil in harming vulnerable people.


Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He also directs Biblical’s new trauma recovery project. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.

   

Written by Todd Mangum Thursday, 05 September 2013 00:00

In a recent issue of TIME, culture analyst James Poniewozik issued a blistering protest to ABC’s decision to add Jenny McCarthy as a co-host to the morning talk show, The View. Poniewozik is not bothered by McCarthy’s being a former Playboy model, nor does he disagree with the observations of many other TV critics that she is winsome, telegenic, funny, and outspoken, who will bring . . . intelligence as well as warmth and humor” to the roundtable discussions.

What bothers him is that McCarthy is all those things, but has used her photogenic charisma to campaign against childhood vaccinations, forwarding the assertion — thoroughly discredited by the medical community — that childhood vaccinations cause autism and other maladies. For this, Poniewozik says, “Putting Jenny McCarthy on The View is media malpractice” (“Bad Medicine,” TIME, July 29, 2013, p. 55).  

It’s a thoughtful piece, in a stream of blogs and articles representing an outcry against this choice of co-host (see http://www.efabula.com/story.php?m=6157440). I do see the danger of lending media credibility to misinformation that could undermine public safety (though I’m not that kind of doctor, so I can’t weigh in on the vaccine debate at all authoritatively).

I am nevertheless struck by a tremendous irony in this uproar. How clearly TIME sees the danger of putting forth attractive people to promulgate viewpoints that lure people into ideas and habits that could undermine physical health. And yet, such media (not just TIME but media outlets across the board) are often the primary agents of legitimizing, popularizing, and sometimes heroizing celebrities advancing the most toxic viewpoints and lifestyles most lethal to the soul.

Supreme Court rulings early on in U.S. history recognized that toxicity is not just physical; protection of morality (of Christianity in particular) was originally thought to be a worthy and necessary defense against moral degradation; erosion of society’s moral fiber was recognized as a threat to public safety and to the health and well-being of the citizenry every bit as dangerous as smallpox or polio.  My, how times have changed.

I am not pining for the days when the State enforced matters of religious conviction. I am aware of the well-documented historical lessons that warn against that. Still, I can’t help but wonder if we are now learning, and are destined to learn the hard way, the lessons of not only allowing, but fully empowering, unbridled expression of ideas, lifestyles, and viewpoints both reckless and dangerous — for this life and the next.

But our culture watchers are upset about Jenny McCarthy being on The View?  How ironic. Is it just me?


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and co-author (with Dr. Paul Pettit of the Howard Hendricks Leadership Center in Dallas, TX) of the just-released book, Blessed are the Balanced: Following Jesus into the Academy (Kregel), and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum

   

Written by Todd Mangum Wednesday, 04 September 2013 00:00

“In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” — Proverbs 14:23

I get what Proverbs is saying. Talking about what needs to be done doesn’t get it done. (There’s a point for preachers — and to preachers — in that wisdom!)

I confess even still that sometimes I wonder if it’s true that “in all labor there is profit.” There are times when I can wonder if labor for the Lord is at all “profitable,” when results seem slow in coming if they ever come at all. I know there are easier ways to make a living.  Anyone who follows a call into ministry better know that up front.  But, did you ever look up from the mass of responsibilities you’re carrying and, in a moment of lucidity (or perhaps more accurately: a moment of thoughtful doubt?) just say to yourself, “What on earth am I doing this for?”  

I believe the Lord gave me a parable in the last couple of weeks to help add perspective.  I’ll call it “Jesse and the Nutsedge.”

Jesse is my youngest son. And nutsedge is a grassy weed that grows in our yard. Now, to people like me, nutsedge just looks like grass; but to people like my wife, it’s a different green, a weed that grows taller than the “good grass,” and for the yard to look good, it needs to go.

Anyway, Jesse’s chores include mowing the lawn and doing the weed whacking in the summer. One day a couple of weeks ago, we told him we’d give him a little more than his normal allowance if, as part of the lawn care that week, he pulled up the nutsedge, too.

Now, keep in mind that this is taking place in the dog days of August, mid-90 degrees. And I won’t say this boy of mine is incapable of complaint, but on this day he went out without a grumble and pulled up the nutsedge for two solid hours.  After which, he came in and told me matter-of-factly that he didn’t think he’d be able get it all done in one day.  I went out to take a look.

Now, I knew he’d been out there for two hours in the hot sun. The back yard where he was working is right outside the window of my office. But, when I went out to check more closely the results of his labor . . . truth is, if I didn’t know better, I would never even have known he’d been out there at all. Two hours of hard labor had not put so much as a dent in the still-flourishing-and-taking-over-the-yard nutsedge.

He had been sent on an utterly futile mission . . . by me. He’d labored hard in the field. He was covered in sweat and dirt. But as far as the task assigned was concerned, it was doomed for failure from the start, and that through no fault of his own.

I felt a tinge of embarrassment. But I was extremely proud of him. He’d worked hard without complaint and did so just because I’d asked him to — obviously not at all out of any pride gained from a task accomplished. Given his persistency in such conditions and the utter absence of any immediate rewards, I took a deep breath and said, “OK, son, you can stop.  We’ll have some professionals come and spray it with some strong stuff; you’ve obviously done all you can and it’s just impossible. No problem. Oh — and on your allowance sheet for this week, put ‘+$50 for nutsedge job, per Dad’” [that’s a lot of money in our house].  (Big smile.)

By the way, here’s what our yard looks like now that we’ve had it sprayed (which cost me another $50):

That’s got to be the most expensive bare spot of dirt in the history of lawn care.

The lessons from all this are proving invaluable, though. I’m still ruminating on them. I think I got a glimpse of some of what God may be up to in sending us on such a mission impossible as “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel,” “Make disciples of every nation,” and “Go out as sheep among wolves.”…

Glamorous sermon illustrations aside, when there’s little to no response from a post-Christian or anti-Christian culture, these are just not fun tasks. Often there’s little to show by way of accomplishment.

But the Father looks down and sees His children laboring in the field, covered in sweat and dirt, stabbing at hard clay, weeds every inch and a half, passers-by jeering and ridiculing besides.

It can be all-too-understandable to look up and say, “What the heck am I doing this for?”

But look all the way up. The Father is watching. And what a reward there must be when He gets His chance to express His pride at how you did it even when the results were painfully slow in coming or absent altogether.

But for now . . . back to work. And remember that fields freshly furrowed always look at first like nothing more than row after row of dirt. The bountiful harvest is a season away.


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, co-author of Blessed are the Balanced, and author of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.

   

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