Clinging to Privilege

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If a dispute is to be just, then no involved party can be allowed to have an unfair advantage. All parties entering the fray must do so with equal benefits, if not an unjust outcome is certain. This insistence on a level playing field is nothing new; back when dueling was a gentleman’s diversion the rules required that both men bear the same weapons. There’s no sport in fielding a spoon when your opponent is wielding a cleaver.

But modern sensibilities insist that fairness is only served when every advantage is scrutinized and addressed. The dueler with a height advantage, keener eyesight, or extensive training is most likely to win. He entered the fight with a distinct advantage. This, we are told, isn’t fair. What needs to happen is that these benefits must be blunted to equalize the field. Excellent combatants must be handicapped to ensure that they are no more able than their opponent.

It is no longer fashionable for angry men to use pointy swords to resolve their disputes, but no one is foolish enough to think we have arrived at peace. Whether it is about the content of curriculum, the norms governing sexuality, the role of the church in society, or any other one of countless issues, there is no end to conflict. Armed with words, legislation, education, and media, our society is overflowing with dueling parties, and these are the modern conflicts that the fairness doctrine seeks to moderate. Those considered to have an unfair advantage are told to voluntarily handicap themselves in order to equalize the contest. The advantaged must ‘check their privilege’ before weighing in on an issue.

Like the apostle Paul I am seeking to fight the good fight. My weapons are love and truth and my enemies are principalities and powers. I don’t count people as my enemies. However, my faith convictions do occasionally draw me into a confrontation with others. According to the fairness doctrine I must ‘check my privilege’ before I enter the fray because I am unusually advantaged. I am a white, heterosexual, Christian, college-educated, male. When it comes to privilege I have just about every advantage (I’m even 6.2”). I don’t dispute it. Nor do I apologize for these advantages or choose to discount them. I am not going to ‘check my privilege’. I will use every benefit available to me because it would be irrational, even wicked, to limit my effectiveness in seeking to do good.

Even more than I, the apostle Paul was endowed with amazing privileges. He was a Hebrew of impeccable lineage (Phil 3:5), a student of the most celebrated scholar (Acts 22:3), and a citizen of Rome by birth (Acts 22:26). In addition to these, he was converted by Christ himself (Acts 9:10). As we read through the book of Acts we discover that Paul used all his privilege to further his work. To suggest that he handicapped himself in some way is foolishness. If he had ‘checked his privilege’ it would have cramped the progress of the gospel. If Paul was to be obedient to his calling, he was obligated to make the most of every advantage.

I am an advocate of Amendment One here in the great State of Tennessee. In 2000, the state Supreme Court decided that the state constitution secured a fundamental right to abortion and all protections for the unborn were lost. The amendment seeks to empower the citizens, through elected representatives, to reenact those protections by limiting and regulating the abortion industry. The amendment will not outlaw abortion (how I wish it did), but it will save the lives of many children. For this reason, I am urging others to vote yes on 1.

Ought I muffle my voice because I am privileged? Should my support be dulled on account of my many advantages? No. I have, and will continue to use every podium at my disposal to protect the lives of the innocent. Because in the end, the question I must answer is not “did you check your privilege”, but rather “did you steward your privilege”. How will you answer when that question is posed to you?

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:48b, ESV)

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Wide Open

money in tight fistI recently had breakfast with a friend and during our time together the conversation drifted into the topic of tithing. While few would know it, this man is remarkably generous to the church. Listening to him talk about his experience was such an encouragement to me that I asked him to share his perspective with others. He agreed, and this is what he wrote.

“It’s more blessed to give than receive.” Acts 20:35

My path to faithful giving has been a long one. Like most people, experiencing the passing of the basket (or plate) during a worship service was my introduction to the practice of giving. I remember, as a child, glancing into the basket and feeling a sense of awe that so much money was freely given away. As I grew older, I would occasionally throw in some loose pocket change or a bill or two just to avoid feelings of guilt. It wasn’t until I saw my mother write out a check for $400 that things began to resonate with me. Keep in mind, we were a lower middle class family and my parents were a case study in living the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle. It was hard for me to understand why she would give such a large amount of money to the church when that money could have been used for better things—specifically me. As time passed however, I began to understand the importance of giving.

The act of tithing is clearly communicated to us through scripture and there are many useful resources that elaborate on this responsibility. My favorite Christian authors on the topic are the late Larry Burkett and Howard Dayton. Howard Dayton’s book, “Your Money Counts” is a wonderful resource for believers on how to handle money and possessions. Dayton points out that Jesus had a great deal to say about how we handle money and possessions. Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with the handling of money. In Chapter 9 of his book, Dayton states, “we must give with the proper attitude, which is out of love.” He further notes that when a gift is actually given as though one were giving it to the Lord, it becomes an act of worship.

Ultimately, he writes, “ the giver benefits in four significant areas: First, giving increases our intimacy with Christ by directing our attention and hearts to Him. Second, it helps to develop our character and to be more unselfish like Christ. Third, we are making eternal investments into our Heavenly account. Finally, giving with the proper attitude results in a material increase flowing to the giver.

I still have thoughts about how much easier it might be for me to keep the money and invest it, or pay down our debt, or simply use it for my family’s enjoyment. But as I write out the check, enclose the envelope, write out the address, place the stamp, and walk it to the mailbox, I remember that Jesus can do much more with the money than we ever could. This is why my wife and I have decided to trust the Lord with our money.

The question then becomes, how much are we to give? The verses that I use as a beginning point for my giving are found in Malachi 3:8-10.

8“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.” “But you ask, ‘how are we robbing you?’” “In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, “ says the Lord Almighty, “ and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Determining how much to give is a personal decision but I have found Dayton’s guidance very helpful. He cleverly points out that “giving”, as found in the New Testament, can be termed as “Paul’s Pod of P’s.” Giving should be personal, periodic, private, and premeditated. If we use these principles to guide our giving we will be a blessing to our families, our church, and the poor (Matt 25:34-45).

I pray these guidelines will help answer questions and ultimately lead you into a deeper relationship with the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May you be blessed in your giving to the Lord and to those around you.

Fear God. Honor the emperor.

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This past weekend a friend asked me a great question. I answered him, but the question kept bouncing through my thoughts so I decided to compose a more satisfying answer and share it with you.

Are Christians subject to the rule of secular authorities? The simple answer is ‘yes’, Christians ought to willingly subject themselves to governing authorities.

The Scriptures repeatedly instruct us to submit to the rulers of the land. Paul puts it succinctly in his letter to the believers in Rome, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1, ESV). Secular powers are legitimate because they have a sacred source, they are established by God.

Peter gave the same instruction, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good….Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13-14,17b, ESV). The apostles have made our duty clear; obeying the law of the land is the obligation of every believer.

But what about those apostolic criminal records?

Both Peter and Paul were formally charged with criminal behavior, both saw prison time, and both were executed as enemies of the state. These men were not always compliant citizens. ‘Agitators’, ‘instigators’, and ‘trouble-makers’ seem more apt descriptions. These two, and others with them, seemed quite willing to challenge established powers. “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”” (Acts 17:6b–7, ESV)

Obviously, these law-abiding men did not view their submission to human institutions as something absolute. They were compliant to a point, but once that threshold was crossed they become defiant. We see this breaking point described in Acts 4 as Peter addresses the governing council of Jerusalem. He presents himself as deferential before these rulers but when they instruct him to be silent about Jesus he defies them, saying it is ‘impossible’ to obey their command. From this encounter we see that it is the duty of every Christian to obey earthly authorities unless they seek to interfere with obedience to God. This is when the Christian becomes defiant.

For American Christians this point has always been somewhat distant—the state has been very kind to our convictions and we have generally been able to fear God and honor the empire with little friction between the two. However, conflict may not always remain distant. There are some who view our long established religious freedom as too generous and wish to curtail it. This they can do. This they might do. But what then would we do?

We must begin by discerning whether obedience to the law really would interfere with our sincerely held beliefs. In the Hobby Lobby case, the owners concluded that paying for certain contraceptives would make them complicit in ending innocent life. Based on this conclusion they defied the law. While some disagree with their conclusion it is evident that they made an informed, prayerful decision. Like Daniel and his friends, who refused to eat choice meats for fear of defilement, the Hobby Lobby owners appealed for leniency, and like Daniel they received it.

But leniency wasn’t always available to Daniel. Like Peter and Paul he was ultimately given a death sentence for prioritizing his faith over his allegiance to the emperor. God delivered Daniel from the lion’s den, but Paul was not delivered from the blade and Polycarp was not delivered from the fire. A time might come when our allegiance to Christ costs us our lives. Will you show sufficient resolve? Until then, will you show sufficient support for the institutions and leaders that have been granted power?

Fear God. Honor the emperor. In that order.

 

 

Sex and Power

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The story may no longer dominate the headlines, but the interest in the Duke student who is paying for her education by making porn continues. This fascination, I’m guessing, is due to the bizarreness of an elite student willingly participating in society’s most notorious profession. Personally, I don’t share the fascination. I simply haven’t had the stomach to follow along. All I know is that a young woman has chosen to sell sex for money. Money and power, that is, for she claims that her current employment is “empowering”.

And it’s this claim that selling sex makes her feel powerful that has left me thinking. I have no reason to doubt her; performing in these films may make her feel very formidable, but that’s not a good thing. Sex is not meant to bestow power, for if it does, it has become a weapon. A very dangerous weapon at that, because it wounds everyone it touches—including the one doing the wielding.

This newest porn star may willingly participate in acts that countless others are enslaved to do, but her choice does not protect her from its costs. The sex industry is no friend to women. For a time, some of them may feel dominion over the men that hungrily watch them, but they will soon discover that they are seen as objects not to be prized, but to be preyed upon. Horror is coiled to strike. This course she has started down might make her feel powerful now, but in the end it will leave her broken.

Men also make the mistake of treating sex as means of power. The charming cad, who woos women to his bed only to abandon them in favor of another, fancies himself as a champion of virility. For him women are simply trophies to be won, but what he doesn’t realize is that this hunt will cost him his dignity. While his friends may congratulate him for his many conquests, his soul cannot not join in the revelry. Overwhelming evidence informs us that men who hunt for sex are generally consumed with self-loathing. They use sex to seize power only to discover that in the process they have crippled their masculinity.

When women and men use sex for power, they always and only reap pain.

Sex is not meant to be about power. In God’s beautiful design, sex is devoid of dominion. Rather, it’s the willing ‘giving away’ of oneself to a spouse in the bounds of marriage. There are no acts of coercion involved, but in mutual submission the husband and wife entrust themselves to each other. The two become one flesh. It’s a union forged in shared vulnerability. The generosity in this joining establishes trust and binds them together. When this happens in sex there are no losers, no vanquished parties, for both man and woman have been honored by the other. In God’s design nobody wields sex, it’s a gift given and received between loving spouses. This is the way sex is meant to be, for when power plays are kept from the marriage bed there is ample space for love.

To Thine Own Self Be True

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A long time ago in a country far, far away, a younger version of myself watched the gyrations with growing unease. Sunday night worship was being lead by a talented youngster, whose gifting was completely overshadowed by his crazed movements. As his behavior sped past peculiar and into bizarre, I resolved to speak with him. The conversation that happened later that evening sounded something like this:

I said, “Dude, that wasn’t cool!” Be nice, I was younger and it was the 90’s. “What were you trying to do?” He said, “Ah, man. I was just being true to myself!”

I don’t remember my response but I imagine I suggested that he aim higher. And yet, in spite of my failing memory, his answer remains indelible. The whole encounter, the gross performance and the disappointing conversation that followed, were all wrapped up in this…”I was just being true to myself”.

The phrase takes self-indulgence and makes it sound noble. Gratifying oneself without concern for others is deemed ‘true’, as though selfishness is synonymous with honesty. In this thinking the best of us really don’t care about the rest of us. It’s supremely self-centered. But pride aside, the perils of this course are greater still. The Christian needs to think about which ‘self’ is being accommodated, because confusion here can lead to real trouble.

But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20–24)

The Christian is a new creation, a man or woman who has been essentially reconstituted in their inner being. This is more than hyperbole—the Christian is made new, as Jesus put it, they are ‘born again’. But even with this new identity and potential, much of the old person remains. This means that in the heart of the Christian is a conflict that cannot be ignored. The Christian needs to repeatedly reject (put off) their old identity while practicing (put on) their new one in Christ. Idleness in this area will result in a slow slide that ends in a return to past ungodliness. Victory is won when the old self is repeatedly crowded out by the new life.

Reminded of this we return to that fateful statement, “I’m just being true to myself”. If we could strip the selfishness from the phrase, it may still hold some value for us. If we use it to explain that our behavior is consistent with our inner self then it speaks of integrity. But even then, we need to be clear as to which self we are being true. For the believer, who is being true to whom they are in Christ, they are going to prove their identity through selflessness.

“Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:10)