Cut or keep: When have you faced this and what do you do about it?
Cut or keep: When have you faced this and what do you do about it?
[From the archives.]
In his short 1946 essay Politics and the English Language, George Orwell describes the decline he saw in the English language.
Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly.
Dying metaphors, pretentious diction, meaningless words
He writes of “dying metaphors”, “pretentious diction”, “meaningless words” and other problems. Essentially, he says all these are not merely the result of laziness, but also cause more laziness in turn. They keep us from thinking about what we are really trying to say.
A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church.
His comparison to participation in church got me thinking. Do we do things in the kingdom of God – not just in the Sunday morning service but beyond that time as well – that have become unclear, difficult to understand, perhaps even begun to lack any significance because we have surrendered to a lazy way of expressing ourselves? In short, are we becoming “those arrogant people” Isaiah wrote about:
You will see those arrogant people no more, people whose speech is obscure, whose language is strange and incomprehensible. (Isaiah 33:19.)
Plain Spiritual Speech
I write about faith and Scripture, sin and redemption, the gospel and God’s glory. Orwell led me to examine my own thought processes in writing these articles. Happily, he offers advice – a cure of sorts.
One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
My first thought on reading that list is that rule vi is the one that makes all the others workable. My second thought is that this advice would not only help me be a better writer; it would help me be a better speaker, whether I’m leading a Bible study, teaching a class full of judges, speaking to a group of schoolchildren visiting the courthouse, or preaching a sermon.
Orwell giving out sermon tips? Whowouldathunkit?*
*And who knows what Orwell wouldathunk about that word!
[This post from the archives was not written about politics, but the point of it applies in elections as well as other aspects of life.]
Did you hear about the Brandon High School quarterback who switched sides at halftime last week?
He’d led his team to 3 touchdowns in the first half, while the other team’s quarterback left the game injured. The opponents had no backup quarterback and struggled through offensive plays (really struggled, as you can see in the video linked above) as they finished the half scoreless.
Brandon’s coach asked his starting quarterback to play for the other team. In a show of great sportsmanship, both teams played hard in the second half and the game ended 46-14.
Quarterback Mason Mathieu said of the other team, “They’re a great group of guys, I mean I loved it. It was great.”
Being in God’s family is great too, and from what I’ve read in the Bible you’re either in or you’re out. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who falls into which category, though.
Jesus’ friends thought they had it pegged: if you’re not one of those who are close to Jesus, traveling with him, sitting under his teaching daily, then you’re not one of his disciples – you don’t belong to him. Jesus said otherwise.
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:38-40.)
Later, people tried to draw the line in different places, telling non-Jews that they could not follow Jesus unless they first became Jewish. Paul had strong words for those who insisted that Christians must also follow Jewish laws and customs (Galatians 5:12), and he set people straight: the old way of dividing people into categories does not apply in God’s kingdom.
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.(Colossians 3:11.)
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28.)
So to analogize from the football story above, the players on the field may have worn different uniforms and come from different schools, but the Brandon High School coach saw them differently. He looked on the field and saw football players – not one team from one school and the other team from another school – just players who wanted to play football. What they wore and where they were from and how well they played didn’t matter.
That’s how it is for us too:
Jesus just sees us as people who belong to God. That’s what he told our heavenly Father, and that’s what the Bible tells us.
“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23.)
Who are we then, in Jesus? We are people that can be with everyone else who belongs to Jesus, no matter where we’re from, no matter what our differences might be.
We are all on the same team after all, because we are one in Jesus just as Jesus and the Father are one.
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5.)
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4.)
The time for humility is now and always. It’s never a bad choice.
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:5.)
I need to remember that. Especially in this season, I need to remember.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:28-30.)
An Oregon church’s worship ministry guidelines took a lot of heat recently for including a position that being overweight could be a disqualification from playing and singing in the band. When the outcry against the superficiality of that rule grew loud enough the church issued an apology.*
I looked through the Worship Team Guidelines to see whether the original criticism concerning the appearance rules was fair, but I’ll let you read them and decide for yourselves. Something else I found in them was much more disturbing to me.
As a part of the worship team, we have specific guidelines that we have established for our team to work together and to be the best we can be. Please read this carefully. You must be in 100% agreement for you to flow with our team and in order for the anointing to flow through you. (Emphasis added.)
If that church thinks 100% agreement with its policies is required or the Holy Spirit can’t work through the worship team, then that church has a weak pneumatology. Our ability to serve God effectively does not depend on forcing ourselves to agree with one another 100%. It doesn’t even depend on 50% agreement. Or 10%. Or whatever.
Our ability to serve God effectively depends 100% on the Spirit of Christ within us. The power he wields within us is not born of agreement, but from the joy and peace God gives us as we trust in his grace:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13.)
Notice where your overflowing hope comes from: “the power of the Holy Spirit.” Notice where it’s not from: your ministry team’s agreement. This includes your hope that God will use your ministry team’s efforts to further his kingdom and serve his people.
Another thing to notice is the silence in the New Testament writings which could support the church’s requirement for 100% agreement. In fact, Paul, the apostle who planted more churches than anyone else in his lifetime, was gracious in the face of disagreement.
He faced something extremely dire in the Philippian church – people boasting of their own accomplishments in order to hold sway over church members. To oppose this, Paul spent most of Philippians 3 explaining his own journey and how he had not yet arrived at the ultimate goal of his life in Christ. He knew some of his readers might have a hard time coming out from under the influence of the bad teaching, and Paul dealt with those people gently.
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:15-16.)
Not one word along the lines of Straighten up and fly right or you’ll never be given a ministry in any church I run! Rather, Paul considered everyone to be in this together.
Someone might point to Jesus when he said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25.) The problem for those people, though, is that verse has nothing to do with agreement. Not one thing. Rather, Jesus was answering accusers who assigned his works to Satan.
And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.” (Mark 3:22-26.)
Nothing in this passage refers to the church at all, let alone can it be used to coerce church members to agree with all policies 100% or find themselves disqualified from church ministry entirely.
No, a church where members find a way to work together without being in 100% agreement is not a house divided. It is a body of believers that is just as capable of being blessed through the work of the Holy Spirit as the churches Paul and Priscilla and John and Lydia and so many others led in those early years under the New Covenant.
You can trust in that 100%.
*The church’s apology says the guidelines aren’t enforced by anyone. A look at the guidelines shows they were updated as recently as 2014, though, so someone looked at them and approved them within the past two years.
Update: Here are a couple of beautiful people – Nicole Paris and her father – using their amazing talents to glorify God. Wait for the Scripture reference she lays down and look it up to see what she’s getting at.
You’ve heard it, I’m sure. Someone is going through a hard time and reaches the conclusion it’s a demonic attack. I’ve heard people pray to bind demons – or even Satan himself – from interfering in their lives. Never mind that binding demons is nowhere found in the Bible. (See, Mark Driscoll’s Demons – the false doctrine of the Mars Hill demon trials.) The prayers can range from binding the demon of sickness to binding the demon of traffic jams, and no I am not making that second one up.
Recently I’ve seen a claim that a concentrated attack on a blogger by those who disagree is an indication of coordinated demonic action. I’m not saying that’s not the case, and it’s important to remember that every person is a spiritual being so every attack on someone is in a sense a spiritual attack with spiritual implications. I can’t help wondering, though, how to determine when something is an indication of Satan’s direct planning and when it’s an indication that a whole lot of people can be jerks without acting under Satan’s direct assignment.
The difference is one of first cause versus direct cause. Sin is in the world because of Satan’s work in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. This is the first cause as well as a direct cause. He directly tempted them to sin and they did. Much sin afterward is due to the first cause in the Garden but is not directly caused by Satan. We live in a fallen world and people sin without Satan putting any of his demons on direct assignment.
Then again, I would not go so far as to say that whether it is Satanic or human means that this also divides the cause between being spiritual and non-spiritual. We are all spiritual beings – demons and humans both – so anything any of us do has a spiritual component. That’s why sin is serious business. Every time you sin at least two spirits are involved: yours and God’s. If your sin reaches others, then add their spirits to the number as well.
Ultimately, though, we need to keep in mind the first cause even if it is not always the direct cause. The people around us, after all, are acting in their fallen nature when they hurt those doing God’s work. Who to blame for that fallenness goes back to Satan and the first cause in the Garden:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12.)
This verse says more than just where to put the blame, though. It tells us where to expend our efforts. And in those efforts we can rely on Jesus, the one who has already defeated Satan and all that he wrought.
He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15.)
And what does it take in this struggle against Satan?
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7.)
Submit to God, resist Satan, and Satan runs the other way. That’s what it takes.