The Testimony of Jesus

“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)

The Basket Case Chronicles #161

Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1).

The justly famous thirteenth chapter of Corinthians has firmly established the ranking of the fruit of the Spirit over against the gifts of the Spirit. Out of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love, and in his description of the fruit of the Spirit elsewhere, he lists love in the first place (Gal. 5:22). We saw this same truth earlier in this book. The Corinthians were gifted with every spiritual gift (1 Cor. 1:7) but that did not make them spiritual men (1 Cor. 3:1).

Having established this, he then turns to give us a ranking of the spiritual gifts themselves. Just as the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit are not equal, so also the gifts of the Spirit are not equal. That is why he says here that they are to pursue love in the first instance, and after that they are to desire the spiritual gifts. Once they have turned to the gifts, the gift to be valued above all the others is the gift of prophesy.

What is it to prophesy? The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19:10), and so to speak the Word of God faithfully, in such a way as to turn everyone to Jesus, is the spirit of prophecy. That spirit can come upon a man directly, as it did the prophets of old, or it can be given to a man ministerially, as he speaks authoritatively from the Scriptures.

In a World Gone Crazy

In a world gone crazy, it is important for us to learn how to see the root causes. I use the phrase “root causes” deliberately, because it is the kind of thing that liberals love to appeal to, whether we are talking about race riots here, or barbarity in the Middle East. But when they get to talking about root causes and the “broader context” of whatever outrage it is, they invariably veer toward their programs which desperately need more funding.

The root cause is sin — high handed sin in the first instance, and a quiet and mousy enabling sin in the second. What we are talking about is basic — evil behavior in the first instance, and bewilderment about what to do about it in the other. We are now seeing on the national and international stage, over and over again, the same realities that play out when a three-year-old flips out in a restaurant because he didn’t want that kind of ice cream, and his hapless parents are completely and utterly at a loss about what to do about it.

All of these issues are matters of understanding the moral center, and the attendant issues of discipline, strength, incentives, disincentives, resolve, and leading from somewhere other than from behind.

Whether it is a micro issue or a global one, life is a power struggle. There are those with power, and there are those who want it. There are those with power, and there are those who have figured out that those with power don’t know what to do with it. There is right-handed power, Putin-like, which God hates, and there is also limp-wristed power, Obama-like, which God detests. Then there are the bad actors who decide to make the challenge. You show weakness and in about fifteen seconds the challenges come.

And of course every Christian knows that we must distinguish the weakness of the cross, which is true strength, from the weakness of timidity. Christ before His accusers was silent, and He overthrew them all. Belshazzar went weak in the knees at the written word that came to him, and he was overthrown that night. A great deal of weakness is not the hidden wisdom of God. A great deal of weakness is just the manifest folly of man.

ISIS has apparently beheaded an American journalist, James Foley, and threatens to behead another one. Aside from everything else involved in this, who does not see this as a challenge, a taunt, a “what are you going to do about it?” An appropriate response should not be medium level, moderated disapproval by a ditz at the State Department.

When the governor of Missouri calls for “vigorous prosecution” of the the police officer who shot Michael Brown, we all need to know that it is because the evidence demands an indictment. We need to know that it is not because a part of his state is burning down, he is starting to look bad, and he needs a sacrificial lamb. But that is plainly something we do not know. A thousand people in the street with their hands up in a universal sign of surrender does not mean that is what Michael Brown was doing with his hands moments before he was shot. But we do know what Pilate did with his hands — he washed them because a mob was yelling.

If Darren Wilson did an indefensible thing, he should be prosecuted for it. Absolutely. And if Michael Brown did an indefensible thing, we should find out what it was, and there put the matter to rest.

And in the meantime, we need to pray for leaders who understand the world that God made, a world of cause and effect.

Like a Postprandial Sloth

I have to say that I didn’t expect that reaction. Courtship is a hotter/bigger topic these days than I realized.

What I would like to do is throw together a series of brief responses to some of the issues raised in the comments. The results may or may not come together as a coherent post. One can only hope.

What effect does a conversation with a father have on the daughter? There is no one answer — people are different, and every situation is different. If she has been desperately in love with the suitor from afar, the response is joy. If he would be perfect for her, but she is skittish, the reaction is different. In such cases, the parents can help her walk through the skittishness — they see that she likes the suitor fine, but that she is nervous about the whole idea. In other cases, the suitor may have been her Platonic idea of a bore, and so a negative reply comes back to him rather quickly.

At what point should a young man make himself vulnerable by going to the father? He should do so when his interest is becoming obvious to others, and three people on three different occasions have asked him if he has talked to her dad. In other words, he should make himself vulnerable when his public demeanor toward her is making her vulnerable. If he knows his interest, but is not flirting his head off, then he can wait as long as is prudent — till he finishes his junior year, or till he notices other guys noticing and doesn’t want to be left standing at the gate. But if his public behavior toward her is above reproach, he goes to the father when he is ready to see something happen.

One commenter said courtship was akin to Communism: “it only works on paper.” I think it would be better to compare it to wealth acquisition within a free economic system; some people do better than others. Freedom means freedom to fail. There are risks involved, and I am not tagging the young men as the automatic reason for the failures. Sometimes they are, sometimes the father is, sometimes the young woman is. But other times, when everyone involved is walking in wisdom, the thing runs like a Singer sewing machine. This goes back to my earlier point about the tendency to assign a false cause.

A young man gets fired from his job stocking shelves at Safeway, largely for moving like a postprandial sloth in the sunshine, and the conclusion he wants to draw is that “capitalism has failed me.” Well, it might not be the system that needs to get its butt in gear.

That said, the anecdotes of courtship weirdness being described are not instances that make me want to say “impossible!” I know that this kind of thing happens, and I know that in some places it can happen a lot. But people behave foolishly in every system — so what system anticipates that, and accounts for it beforehand? If I could paraphrase Winston here, courtship is the worst system imaginable, except for all the others.

Why Courtship Is Fundamentally Awed

Thomas Umstattd Jr. recently made a splash with his article “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.” To be perfectly honest, I thought a number of his points were very good, like frosted flakes in the bowl glinting in the morning light of your quiet breakfast nook. But I also thought, retaining the honesty theme here, that a number of his other points were like mushrooms that somebody stuck in there.

His good points were the kind of points that would be made by sane people anywhere, whatever steps in the mating dance they might want to use. I am a courtship advocate, and yet have often said that the courtship model too frequently means that six idiots are involved instead of two. So my purpose here is not to defend indefensible things, like courtships from Hell, or power-tripping fathers.

So, Suzy, I have been praying a lot about this, and I have taken the fact that your last name is Lordschoice as a sign . . .

So, Suzy, I have been praying a lot about this, and I have taken the fact that your last name is Lordschoice as a sign . . .

Nor do I want to be dismissive of some of his other good points — such as courtship ramping up an unnecessary intensity for some folks. Sometimes courtship is treated like a done deal, like a fait accompli. Billy is courting Suzy, let us say, and people bustle up to Billy at say, “Congratulations!” That is like being congratulated that you applied to Harvard, and you haven’t even taken the GREs yet.

Whenever you have a lot of human beings doing something, a good number of them are going to do it with less wisdom than others. The bell curve follows large populations inexorably. So nothing said here should be taken as a dismissal of Umstattd’s right to point out the problem cases. I myself have seen more than a few.

But as someone who helped to put the courtship paradigm on the map, I do think I have a responsibility to respond to some of the mushrooms. The mushrooms in this instance would be those areas where he solves problems that are not necessarily problems, or where he fails to account for other obvious possible explanations for the problems he sees.Courtship3

An example of the first would be his discussion of divorce, and the problem presented by those who thought that courtship was divorce insurance. Why are so many couples who courted now getting divorced? His whole article is directed at solving this problem (along with the problem of people who haven’t been able to get married at all), but he acknowledges that we don’t really know if the divorce rate is a problem.

“Then couples who did get married through courtship started getting divorced. I’m talking the kind of couples who first kissed at their wedding were filing for divorce. The deal was that if we put up with the rules and awkwardness of courtship now we could avoid the pain of divorce later.  The whole point of courtship was to have a happy marriage, not a high divorce rate.”

His reasons for writing include this high divorce rate, but his evidence for this is anecdotal, which he acknowledges. But he still assumes — in one of his headers — that the courtship divorce rate is in fact high. “Why the Courtship Divorce Rate is So High.”

He calls for research on the courtship divorce rate, knowing that we don’t really have hard numbers to go on. But if this is the case, then why are we calling for solutions?

The Edge of the Sword

“It is a matter on which preachers seldom bestow any thoughtful attention; and yet few things are so important to their real success, as the possession, the culture, the control, of imagination” (Broadus, Preparation and Delivery, p. 396).

Proclamation

Proclamation and Theology (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2005)

I found this book very helpful. Willimon is writing from a different place theologically, but his observations here were very shrewd and biblically grounded. A lot of good food for preachers here.

Surveying the Text: Exodus

Introduction:

The three great themes of Exodus are the deliverance God brings to His people, the giving of the law, and the establishment of the tabernacle. There are other important themes as well, such as the recurring disobedience of the people. Remember as we work through the Bible, each book contributes to the grand theme of all Scripture, which is the redemption of God’s people, accomplished in the context of His reconciliation of all things in Heaven and on earth (Col. 1:20).

The Text:

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Ex. 17:5–7).

Summary of the Text:

What are the dates of the book? The book of Exodus begins with the death of Joseph (c. 1600 B.C.), but most of it centers on Israel’s encampment at the base of Mt. Sinai (c. 1440 B.C).

The first part of Exodus is simply narrative (Ex. 1-20), showing the deliverance from Egypt and culminating in the giving of the Ten Commandments. In chapters 21-24, we find a collection of assorted laws which amplify the Ten Commandments, and then the last part of the book concerns the building of the tabernacle (25-31). Woven throughout the whole thing we find the grumbling and disobedience of Israel.

The Definition of Israel:

This is the book that defines Israel for us. There are three distinctives that set Israel apart from other nations. The first is their national deliverance from the tyranny of Pharaoh. They have a historical foundation as a people together. Second, on the basis of this deliverance, this exodus, God gives them His law as a sign of His grace to them. Note particularly the preamble to the Ten Commandments. God identifies Himself as the one who brought them out of the house of bondage, and so the law represents moral liberty. Third, God establishes His tabernacle in their midst so that His presence might be with them. This means that God delivered them, God instructs them, and God accompanies them.