Compassed About

Most evangelical Christians don’t need to be talked into the Trinitarian theory; they need to be shown that they are immersed in the Trinitarian reality. We need to see and feel that we are surrounded by the Trinity, compassed about on all sides by the presence and the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God

The Flag of the World

*Image result for miami dolphins take a knee

In light of the recent and growing controversy over pro athletes taking a knee during the national anthem, G. K. Chesterton’s essay entitled “The Flag of the World” is worth revisiting.

True patriots, GKC says, aren’t those who turn a blind eye to a problem. Rather, they love their world enough to seek its improvement. They are like a woman who stands ready to defend her man before enemies but, at home, is “almost morbidly lucid about the thinness of his excuses or the thickness of his head.” Genuine love is like that: it says the hard thing not in spite of loyalty but because of loyalty.

One thing that has struck me about these athletes who #takeaknee is that most of them have managed to do so respectfully. Imagine the difference in their message if they were to turn their backs on the flag or spit on the playing field at the end of the anthem. I haven’t seen anything like that. I’ve seen helmets removed, a humble demeanor, and in some cases hands over hearts while kneeling. It suggests to me that these men do not hate our country but love it. Their desire to see our faults acknowledged and addressed doesn’t appear to be motivated by wholesale hatred but genuine care.

I could be wrong in my evaluation. However, it appears that these men, in taking a knee, aren’t concerned with demolition but construction. They want to remodel, to build, to improve the American experience. To quote GKC again, they’re storming the castle in order to make it a better home:

For our Titanic purposes of faith and revolution, what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralise each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.

Chesterton’s perspective is worth pondering. True patriotism loves a thing enough to think it’s worth improving.


* “The Flag of the World” can be found in GKC’s book Orthodoxy.

* For Tony Dungy’s behind-the-scenes interview with Kenny Stills of the Miami Dolphins (pictured above), click here.

* UPDATE: Colin Kaepernick, who was the first to protest, didn’t begin by kneeling during the anthem but by sitting on the bench. After discussing the matter with Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem in order to show respect. See Boyer’s initial open letter to Kaepernick here, and the article recounting their personal meeting here.

Beware, Beowulf

O flower of warriors, beware of that trap,
Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part,
eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride.
For a brief while your strength is in bloom
but it fades quickly; and soon there will follow
illness or sword to lay you low,
or a sudden fire or surge of water
or jabbing blade or javelin from the air
or repellent age. Your piercing eye
will dim and darken; and death will arrive,
dear warrior, to sweep you away.

(Beowulf, trans. by Seamus Heaney, lines 1758-1768)

The valiant warrior Beowulf is admonished to beware. A trap has been set, though not by the beast Grendel or his grim mother. The trap is within—inside the heart of every person in the prime of life. Arrogant shortsightedness has bested many a great man, and Beowulf is urged to choose otherwise.

Of course this is a lesson for us all. There’s a funeral in everyone’s future. A final heartbeat. A last breath. We will all be swept away, whether through illness or tragedy or the inexorable decline of aging. Don’t think of this as a morbid meditation but an ennobling one. To ignore death and what follows is not only foolish but perilous.

The way around the trap is to live today with an eternal eye and a humble heart. Christ the King has conquered sin and death. A far green country awaits. He bids us come, all who believe that what he offers is better than anything to be gained in this world. “Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part.”

Or, as another poet once said, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

Dying for Sex

image

Is this passage about mantises? Because it could be about men:

The mating rites of mantises are well known: a chemical produced in the head of the male insect says, in effect, “No, don’t go near her, you fool, she’ll eat you alive.” At the same time a chemical in his abdomen says, “Yes, by all means, now and forever yes.” While the male is making up what passes for his mind, the female tips the balance in her favor by eating his head. (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 59)

The rest is downhill from there, unless, of course, you’re the female mantis. She won’t stop until the male has been utterly devoured.

For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death…. And now, O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth.  Keep your way from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner, and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed. (Proverbs 5:3-5, 7-11)

Heavenly Father, empower me and the men in my church – empower all men reading this post who bear the name of Christ – to put to death our lust and to walk in your light. Fill us with your Holy Spirit, who frees us from abdomen-thinking and gives us self-control. Train us in love to treat older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, and all women as persons rather than objects. Thank you for your gospel, in which you have washed us, sanctified us, and justified us. We want to honor you today as clean men who know how not to lose their heads. In the name of Jesus, Amen.  

Asp, Asparagus, Aspartame

Context is important. If you hear a woman screaming in the hospital, it makes all the difference whether she is in an oncology unit or Labor and Delivery. Failure to consider context in that moment will inevitably lead to a misinterpretation of reality. Both are screams of pain, but one is of death and the other of life.

Likewise, we need to consider context every time we pick up our Bible. Correct interpretation of truth is at stake. Is this your approach to the Bible?

When you use the encyclopedia you simply turn to the entry you are interested in, say “Asparagus.” The fact that the entry before “Asparagus” was on “Asps” (cobras) and the one after it was on “Aspartame” (an artificial sweetener) is irrelevant. In fact, you don’t even look at them, unless you get bored with reading about asparagus.

Imagine reading a novel in the same way: you open the book up halfway through, and read the third paragraph down. Try it if you like. We can guarantee it won’t make much sense. You don’t know who the characters are or how the plot is unfolding; you have no idea what is going on. That is why we read a novel from beginning to end.

(HT: Unashamed Workman)

The Bible isn’t exactly like a novel. But it is much more like a novel than an encyclopedia. If we are to interpret the Bible accurately, we will need to understand the difference. Being aware of the context surrounding the verse(s) under consideration will often make or break our interpretation.

So the next time you pick up God’s word, remember. Remember that the text you are reading is part of a larger section (almost always); that section is contributing to an overarching point being made in the book (e.g., all the sections of Mark’s Gospel are telling the good news of Jesus as “the Son of God” [1:1]); and that book is located somewhere in the grand biblical storyline of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation.

Sometimes you can grasp the context with little effort. Other times further reading and reflection will be required. At all times the effort is necessary.

Understanding the verse(s) you are reading within the context of the entire Bible won’t make you an infallible interpreter, but it will make you a better one.