Sparing the Rod and Ruining the Parishioner

9780825444456There are few people who enjoy talking about church discipline. Sure, there is the occasional pastor or elder, who probably talks quite a bit about how things used to be, that will speak up when a church member should be brought under the guidance of 1 Corinthians 5. And most will likely shake their head, and move on in the conversation as though nothing had been said. But as Jeremy M. Kimble is quick to point out, that would be a mistake.

Dr. Kimble is a professor of Cedarville University, and he is the author of 40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline from Kregel Academic. And he takes both issues of Christian living seriously (he even wrote his dissertation on church discipline). This passion for an historically droll topic translates into a fairly engaging book that sets a practicable and faithful standard for understanding membership in the local church, and the discipline which is a part of that. With that said, go ahead a get the book. It is worth your time.

As for the details, the book is part of a series from Kregel called 40 Questions About (I reviewed their entry on the Historical Jesus topic as well as the volume looking at the creation debate a while back). Series like this are written for generalists, not specialists, and they aim to present information in a simple, digestible format that is as thorough as it can be. I think this is important to understand up front, because otherwise a review of such a work can easily fall into nitpicking at details which most likely belong in a systematic or extended treatment. If you are a pastor researching the legality of church discipline, this is only a starting point. Such a project will require a different resource. Likewise, if a church member is looking for an exposition on baptism as a requirement for membership, you would do best to look elsewhere. But remember, this book is not meant to be those things.

Consider Kimble’s treatment of 1 Corinthians 5, which only occupies 5 pages of the book. Someone expecting a detailed exegetical study will be sorely disappointed with the simple approach that Kimble takes. But that is why they should begin with the Pillar Commentary or the Baker Exegetical Commentary to get such a linguistic breakdown. Kimble’s take is not flawed, but it is narrow. “What does 1 Corinthians 5 say about church discipline?” In a nutshell, “that this is a non-negotiable matter” and that it is an act of love to “root out unrepentant sin” so that the individual  “will awaken . . . from their sinful propensities” and renew their call to holiness (159).

Such issues are not explored ad infinitum in this work, nor should they be. 40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline does exactly what it should: it hits the high points of debate, and offers a snapshot answer which ought to provoke the inquisitive to further reading on the matter. As such, Kimble’s work is a welcome entry on a topic that receives far too little attention in the modern church, and I whole-heartedly recommend it to pastors and laymen alike.

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Coming Down from the Mountain: A Tribute to Ravencrest

“This strength and comfort from the second blaze / came to me, whence I raised my eyes unto / those mountains that had bowed them.” — Dante, Paradise XXV.37-39

I can still remember roaming the cool mountainside, stopping on boulders that jutted out from the ground which formed precarious cliffs. Those ledges beckoned for any who were brave enough to sit on their edge and breathe in the world that lay below them. The soft breeze coupled with the bright sun created a feeling that, here in this place, Spring was more than a season on the calendar; it was alive. Of course, the livelihood of Spring only came after the snows of Winter and the Autumn trees exchanging their Summer clothes for something more sensible. But it was not the weather, nor the outdoor adventuring which brought me to Estes Park, Colorado in September of 2011. I arrived at the top of Pole Hill because I wanted to study the Bible.

Ravencrest Bible School, a small community based out of Ravencrest Chalet, had not been my first choice out of high school. Hunkering down in a school of some eighty-odd strangers, traipsing through the snows in October, and dodging elk in downtown Estes every Wednesday did not sound like a grand time. My primary desire as an eighteen-year-old was not to dive deep into Scripture, at first. When I had submitted the application that February before graduation, I had merely wanted my parents to be satisfied that I had applied somewhere. When my acceptance letter arrived a few weeks later, I had to come to terms with the idea that I would be spending five hours a day, five days a week, for eight months, reading and discussing and wrestling with the Word of God. I warmed up to the idea slowly, and benefitted from a rigorous education which embodied the admonitions of St. John Chrysostom. We learned hymns, read the stories of the Bible, learned to serve one another, and conducted our relationships in the open light of the community (Gamble 195-200).  I was receiving an education that I did not understand, and in spite of myself, God moved in me.

During my time at Ravencrest, the presence of God permeated our classrooms, dorms, and excursions. This inculcated a devotion to truth that, in the moment, seemed as though it would never wane. In this way, Ravencrest was what medieval Irish monks called “a thin place” (Balzer 29). This idea of thinness, where we are “honest with God and listen to the deep murmurings of his Spirit,” perfectly captures the atmosphere at Ravencrest. God’s Word prompted soul searching, discovery, and repentance. When we wounded one another, there was no place to go hide; a community of eighty people does not make for continual avoidance strategies. At every turn, maturation knocked at the door, and beckoned that we might step further along the path of righteousness. We read through the entire Bible in my first year, and I found myself reading the same Pauline letter every day for a month if I wanted to understand it. I learned “to think nothing of wealth or worldly reputation or power or death or the present life on earth” (Gamble 205). Thus, for two years, the painful pilgrimage in Estes Park paid for itself with the building of friendships and the grasping of God’s word.

The return to the world below, the thick reality of living and working and having to make time to study the Bible, was more than I could handle at first. A desire to retreat back to the shelter of the mountains, to take Jesus’ moments where he “would slip away to the wilderness to pray” as a model for my every difficulty (Luke 5:16, NASB). But the follow through, where Jesus would return to the masses and give of Himself, kept me from the hermitage. It took years to learn the balance in a world thick with voices clamoring for my attention; the goal became more than survival in the dark. I went on to become a teacher of God’s Word, implementing the strategies and lessons which had done so much to shape me.

But unlike Dante or even Aeneas’s men whom he invokes, I do not suffer the loss of memory as  “when the wind blew the weightless leaves away” (XXXIII.64-66). The gift of Ravencrest was the hiding of something invaluable, just as the Psalmist “treasured in my heart” the Word of God (Psalm 119:11, NASB). Still, the sight of a mountain peak still stirs my soul, as if Colorado has seeped into my bones. And when the first real chill of Autumn sets in, I pour a hot cup of coffee, crack open the worn spine of my Bible, and remember that time which some days seems to call out from so long ago.

Bibliography

Dante. Paradise. Translated by Anthony Esolen. New York: Modern Library, 2007.

Balzer, Tracy. Thin Places: An Evangelical Journey Into Celtic Christianity. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2007.

Gamble, Richard M., ed. The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007.

Redeeming the Past (A Convocation Address)

This post originally appeared at the Trinitas Christian School blog. 

When thinking of the past, we often find ourselves in one of two precarious positions: veneration or disdain. Looking back on those “good ole days” can cause us to miss out on the gifts of God before us now. Do we, like Saul, desperately seek to evade the consequences of today by reaching out to the ghosts of the past? Or are we more like Ajax, holding silently onto old grudges, forsaking forever a chance for restoration to a friend and comrade? Surely these are not the only ways to view what has gone before us? Is there a way to recall the past without glorifying it unnecessarily, or a way to avoid treating as an experiment in regret? In fact, when we turn to the Old Testament, we find that the writings of Moses and his fellow authors are replete with reminders to remember: “And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not,” (Deut. 8:2). Verses like this show us that remembrance is not just about the past, but it is even about the present. It is how we know where we stand in relation to what came before. As Jesus said to the church in Ephesus, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent,” (Rev. 2:5). As you go throughout the year, I challenge you to remember the past, so that you might easier repent of your sins and learn to quickly forgive your neighbor. That is how we hold the past in the right relation to the present and future.

Jedis & Hobbits

So my posts on here have been sparse, to say the least, since starting seminary. I wish I could be one of those people who maintains a witty blog while juggling work and school and family, but I’m not. Oh well.

Still, I haven’t stopped writing (or reading) and so I have a few things in mind for the upcoming break. First out of the gate is a piece I’ve contributed over at Humane Pursuits. They’re hosting a symposium on the question, “Which universe is more morally complex: Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?” As a fan of both, I jumped on the opportunity, and they have graciously included my piece. Where do I come out on the issue, you ask? Well you’ll have to head on over to their website to see what I, and many others, have to say on the matter.

It’s worth it. Trust me.

A tragically lost prophet

I have never been a “fan” of Eminem, but I have maintained a healthy respect for what he does. Sounds crazy? Let me explain a bit.

Without a doubt, Eminem changed the face of American Rap music. His style and lyrical insanity pushed the boundaries in a genre that had fallen into trite expressions about women and killing. This isn’t to say others haven’t helped shape the rap game, simply that I don’t think anyone has had the impact Eminem has. I’m not a music expert, so take my opinion for what it is. But to put it in perspective: my 50 year old mother knows who Eminem is. I can’t say the same for any other rapper. And that’s because he impacted more than just rap; Eminem changed the way we listen to pop music in general. His volatile lyrics reflected a struggle that was going on in the consciences of Americans everywhere. This is not that same as saying, “I feel like I know where he’s been.” If anything, I think his success is the opposite; few of us know the kind of rage that he spews in his songs, and as a result, his hatred assuages our guilt. “If he feels that way, maybe I’m not as bad as I think.” That’s a crushing indictment, but I think it’s the right one.

Over the years, I think Eminem sensed this as well (or something akin to it), and he began to transition from a reflection of our culture to a prophet speaking to it. That is a big shift. And I think the damage has been great, both to Mr. Mathers and to the people who absorb his lyrics. It’s hard to pinpoint how this shift happened, but there are some clear markers in his music along the way. “Lose Yourself,” “The Way I Am” and “Sing for the Moment” are just a couple examples. These are not passive songs, merely describing his own situation (like, say “Stan” or “The Real Slim Shady”), but these songs actually try to steer the direction of interaction. In many ways, these are a form of worship music, although I think many would be uncomfortable with the idea that people worship Eminem. Still, I think the argument stands. Music is emotionally charged, and has an effect on its listeners. Some of his albums have more of this than others, but what has always been prophetic about it is the tension Mathers details between his position of “responsibility” and how the fame destroys him.

I would say that the prophetic element of his music came to a head with “Love the Way You Lie.” This is probably the ultimate expression of what I mean when I call Mathers a “modern-day prophet.” Here is a man outright identifying the sins of the culture in which he is a part, and not letting anyone off the hook for it. Why do people hate his music? Well, a number of reasons, but I think the main reason is that he does not describe people as they want to be; he describes people as they are, in all their sin and muck and self-destruction. The problem is this: Eminem does not call people to repentance because he does not understand the problem. He can identify the problem, but he has no clue how to fix it.

This is evident in his newest album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2. It’s an interesting title in my opinion, because it is a regression from the prophetic stance that has characterized his music for so long. This album is a return to basics: it is a passive, descriptive attempt to wrestle with the life Mathers finds himself in. In “Rap God,” he declares how awesome he is, peppering the verses with references to “helping people” with his music, and feeling as if he is superhuman because of the power his music wields. But as with all who revel in power, he lacks authority, and as such this illusion of grandiosity comes tumbling down in songs like “The Monster.” He is still saying he hopes he helps people, but now he is the one crying out for help as well. Songs like this demonstrate the one incontrovertible fact that has dogged Mathers for so long: he is not a savior. He’s known this all along, and reminded people of it frequently (again, see “Stan). Yet somewhere along the way, the lines between prophet and savior became blurred, and Eminem lost his way.

So what do we have? A prophet, who is lost as to what he is supposed to do with his gift, firing off his mouth as fast as he can as if speed will somehow mask the futility of his efforts. Just bear this in mind: if he is indeed a prophet (even a false one), he is a mirror image of the culture he damns. Pray for Mr. Mathers. I think he needs it more than people might think.

Resist with Caution

The Lorax is one of my favorite Dr. Seuss tales. I remember watching the old animated version for the first time. I was in the 4th grade, and there something about that gruff Once-ler’s voice at the end that really made an impact on me: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

The environmental overtones never seemed apparent to me until much later in life, but that never gave me any reason to disagree with the overall premise. I was not excited about the Danny DeVito version when it first came, primarily because I had been so appalled at Horton Hears a Who and it’s overtones of acceptance. I was pleasantly surprised by The Lorax, and found that although it still maintains a bit of the old pantheism that often characterizes environmental propaganda, it had many redeeming characteristics. The Once-ler’s refusal to believe the Lorax could have been something lifted straight out of the Bible. And the scene where he watches as the Lorax ascends into the heavens still looks a lot like an allusion to Jesus. I’m not saying the writers or director were Christians; I’m simply saying that Christian themes are there. I was surprised when many of my Christian friends hated the film. It was the same vitriol I had encountered when Wall-E came out, and for many of the same reasons.

“It’s preachy.”

“It’s propaganda aimed at children.”

“Hollywood is pushing the environmental agenda.”

“Not all American’s are lazy (or greedy), so this is an unfair caricature.”

Fair enough. With both of these films though, I find this line of thinking to be missing the larger point. It’s like watching Man on Fire, and taking away from the film that revenge is a good thing. I have no problem admitting the flaws of these films (despite loving both of them). What is problematic in my mind is how much this “environmentalist” message ousts other issues for do many Christians.

Take Shark Tale for instance: this is a movie where the character of Lenny clearly represents homosexuality. Or in Horton, where the motherly kangaroo represents the puritanical Christian, who rejects people who are “different.” Or Pixar’s Brave, which was so deep in feminism the company ultimately let the director go in order to tone it down a bit. These films are hardly protested by evangelical Christians, despite having a more detrimental message about Christianity. Compartmentalizing the Christian life leads to this kind of half-sight, which only singles out particular themes to oppose. It is like being a “single issue voter,” who would elect Hitler again if he promised free healthcare or swore to end abortions.

So why is that environmental care sets Christian off? Why does this message overshadow messages of connection, relationship, and redemption? I don’t have an answer. But I would suggest Christians resist “cultural agendas” with caution. Some of them may be closer to home than we think. And others, they may just be the undoing of what Christian foundations remain.

Reclaiming Education (or why Mike Rowe is only half right)

The last couple of years has seen a renewed interest in the restoration of vocation and education. There’s a piece over at the Acton Institute, featuring a short video of eminent vocation defender Mike Rowe, that highlights some of the main points: debt related to education is too high, labor jobs go unfilled while people scour the Ivy League hotspots for six figure checks, we’ve lost a proper sense of the good that comes from hard work, etc. These are all valid points, in my opinion, but I think they are missing something. Rowe, and Glenn Beck who is interviewing him, are still defining education in terms of its ends. Without saying it like this, it boils down to: “why get an education if I will never use it in my job.” This idea is just as flawed as the notion that, “everyone should get a college degree to get a better job.”

The latter statement belittles the value of education by making it the standard; college doesn’t afford real advantages in this situation because everyone now has the same advantage. Debt is seen as acceptable in light of the long term pay off, even though the statistics suggest there never will be that perceived pot of gold at the end of the collegiate rainbow. Some have proposed lowering the cost of schooling to avoid the debt debacle, but that doesn’t really solve the problem either. Theoretically reducing the cost of something in order to make it available to everyone, even if some individuals don’t desire to have said service, does not in fact end up lowering the cost. Head over to MyCancellation to see this playing out in the healthcare world right now.

The former concept reduces education to knowledge versus skill sets; but aren’t all forms of gathering skills an education? This is too limiting in defining education as something that only comes from ivory towered academics who write papers and study dead people more than they interact with those who are still living. But if education is, to borrow a phrase from R.C. Sproul, leading people out… then shouldn’t education be anything that moves me forward in life? This is still an insufficient definition of course, but it at least gets rid of the silly idea of “college” being equal to”education.”

In truth, this is a nuanced discussion that I am painting in broad strokes, but I do that because despite the subtleties, both sides of this argument are missing the whole point of education. John Milton said it best I think,

If Milton is correct, and I believe he is, then to treat education as something other than that which restores the Imago Dei to each of God’s created people is to propose a false education.

If I go to school to “get a better job,” I am making God’s design for education into a mercenary endeavor that will never satisfy my deepest longings. I may earn a more substantial paycheck, and I may even enjoy my job, but I will still be disconnected from what education is really all about. On the other side of that, if I avoid education because I don’t see it as pertinent to my vocation, I will be missing a step on the journey that is designed to bring me closer to my Maker.

What I am advocating is in line with Jamie Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project: reorienting our hearts and minds towards their proper end, namely God. Herein lies the foundation to my calling.

Alarmist? I’m in good company.

I am as sure as I am of Christ’s reign that a comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen. – A. A. Hodge, “The ‘Engine’ of Atheism,” Evangelical Theology 1890

Hodge was one of the leading theologians at Princeton near the end of the 19th century. In himself, he is worthy of study (and Mark Noll has some good stuff to say about him), but I’m interested in him for a different reason now. I don’t prognosticate like Dr. Hodge did, but I have to give him credit for being right.

Sarah and I just finished the IndoctriNation documentary, and I wanted to interact with it for a few moments before going to bed.

For those who don’t know, IndoctriNation is a Christian family’s journey around the country (mostly the Midwest and Eastern seaboard), to check out the state of affairs in public schools. The conclusion is fairly straight forward: public schools are a wreck, and for no reason should Christian families send their kids to one (nor should Christians work there). The film highlights that prominent Christian leaders like Franklin Graham will say we need to take the schools back, but a quick history lesson will show that they were never really “ours” in the sense that Graham means. According to Gunn and the people he interviews, Christianity and government-run schools are simply incompatible. He talks with people who worked in the government school system for years, until the Lord made it clear to them they had to leave.

The movie is worth it for the interviews alone. Seriously.

Now, for a couple of points of agreement.

1) I’m glad Gunn really pushed the Salt & Light mentality. I have family and friends who work in public schools, and I know they are attempting to serve Christ where they’re at, but I do wonder if they’ve ever really thought about what they’re doing. I know after the 6 months I worked in the government sector, I was in the wrong place. And it’s not that I don’t get it: education matters, therefore we shouldn’t abandon educating young people. I agree. But how can you be salt and light in a place that you are legally forbidden to spread your saltiness or shine your light? Jesus said,

You, beloved, are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes bland and loses its saltiness, can anything make it salty again? No. It is useless. It is tossed out, thrown away, or trampled. And you, beloved, are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house. You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it, (Matthew 5:13-16, The Voice).

This is so important: you cannot be light in a place where you are made to snuff out the flame. I hear pastors and lay Christians of all types say it frequently, “We’re sending our kids so they can share the Gospel.” Unfortunately, that means you are sending them to do something (that requires training) to a place that tells them there is no God (where they will receive their training). I’ve written at length about this in my philosophy of education, so I won’t rehash it here. But I just don’t get it.

2) I was stoked that Gunn (and others like R.C. Sproul, Jr.) brought it back to Deuteronomy 6. This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture, and it is a conviction for me every day:

Listen, Israel! The Eternal is our True God—He alone. You should love Him, your True God, with all your heart and soul, with every ounce of your strength. Make the things I’m commanding you today part of who you are. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you’re sitting together in your home and when you’re walking together down the road. Make them the last thing you talk about before you go to bed and the first thing you talk about the next morning. Do whatever it takes to remember them: tie a reminder on your hand and bind a reminder on your forehead where you’ll see it all the time, such as on the doorpost where you cross the threshold or on the city gate, (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, The Voice).

Let it be the first and last thing, every day. That’s powerful, and only reinforces my belief that education belongs first in the home. Even if you don’t feel qualified to teach Chemistry, the Word of God should be so paramount in your thinking that your children don’t know any other way to see you other than through the lens of Scripture. Lord knows I do not accomplish this every day, but man, what an awesome responsibility.

Of course, the movie is not without some faults.

1) While I agree with so much of the film (I found myself saying, “This is what I’ve been saying for the last two years,” quite often much to my wife’s chagrin), I cannot get into the idea that evolution is inherently atheistic. Like any other tool it can be used in that manner (even the Bible can be used by atheists to “prove” God isn’t real), but evolution itself cannot be the starting point. Everyone starts here: god. Capitalize, make it plural, whatever; nothing changes the fact the most foundational belief for every person is what they believe about God.

2) I wish the film had gone on to critique Christian schools. I know, their purpose was fairly pointed, but I worry what will happen when Christians see this film, and then put their kids in a “Christian” school that does all the same things (minus the teaching of evolution of course). Think about it: is evolution really the issue? If Gunn is right and the current model of schooling is based on pagan philosophies which denied the existence of God, and saw humanity as cattle, then why would a Christian school do the same thing? I actually asked someone at ACSI that question, and they deflected the question, got mad at me and hung up without any salutation the first chance they got. I don’t really blame them (I know I can be a pain), but I genuinely don’t get why Christian schools would do the things identical to the public schools while telling parents to pull their kids out of public schools. That’s borderline lunacy if you ask me.

Overall, I cannot recommend the film enough. For the few grievances I might have with it, IndoctriNation is on the money. Christianity, when properly examined through the lens of Scripture in regards to education, is wholly incompatible with government-run education.

I know to many, that sounds like a radical or extremist point of view. Well, if I can count myself in the company of men like A.A. Hodge, men who fear God and love Jesus Christ, then I’ll take any label you want to put on me. Alarmist, included.

The Importance of (Not) Misquoting

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” – C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

Actually, that’s not true. Despite the fact that I’ve seen the quote on numerous websites and blogs, I have been unable to find the quote within the text of TAM. Now, it is possible that I am simply missing it, but I’ve read it twice now (and spent this morning skimming the text + my notes) only to find nothing. So then I resorted to finding an online text version and conducting a search (taking into account that maybe some variations in wording were possible), but still: nada. My initial thoughts are “he never said this.” I could be wrong, and I hope I am because I love the quote, but thus far the evidence is not working in my favor.

Unfortunately, part of my skepticism is due to my past experiences.

Ever heard this one? “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great,” – Alexis de Tocqueville. I heard this a couple years ago, thought about using it in a blog but couldn’t find it in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. I started digging, and found that no one could actually attribute the quote to anything he wrote or said (here’s a decent summary of the “Tocqueville Fraud”). Turns, even great presidents aren’t above the occasional falsifying of a quote if it sounds good.

Or how about this one? “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” – Edmund Burke. Bogus. There are hundreds of variants of this one on the internet, and yet no one ever sources it (here’s another good examination of web forgeries like these). It’s a sentiment that I think Burke might have agreed with, but you can’t put words into his mouth. That’s a terrible way to treat such a brilliant mind.

What bothers me most about this kind of thing is that all three of these examples are perpetrated most often by Christians. While I still hold on to a sliver of hope that the Lewis quote will one day be attributed to him, perhaps through some essay I haven’t read, I will not use the quote to make my point in a discussion. Period. Traditions are fine, but in age where men like these can easily be researched, it’s just sloppy of a Christian to use a quote they cannot validate.

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” It’s hard to do that if you’re constantly perpetrating things that are false.

School Spirit

Every week, one of our faculty writes a short article that goes out with our school letter. Last year, I got by as the “newbie,” and didn’t have to write one. Alas, this year that is not the case.

But I was pleasantly surprised with how it turned out. So here it is:


The Eighteenth Week after Pentecost

The Scribe replied, “Teacher, You have spoken the truth. For there is one God and only one God, and to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves are more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice we could ever give.” Jesus heard that the man had spoken with wisdom. “Well said; if you understand that, then the kingdom of God is closer than you think.” Nobody asked Jesus any more questions after that. – Mark 12:32-34 (The Voice)

Eighteen Sundays have come and gone since the Church celebrated Christ’s ascent to the right hand of the Father and the subsequent coming of the Holy Spirit. The fourth week of school is in full swing. For clergy, students, parents and teachers alike, a certain sense of the ordinary has settled in. The rhythm of school and work and sports has, for the most part, become routine as our calendars and watches seamlessly synchronize with the activities in which we find ourselves engaged.

For each of us, though, every day is an opportunity for illumination. As many churches around the world pause to reflect upon the liturgical selection found above, I too pause to reflect on what it means to be teachable in the midst of the ordinary. Do I, as the scribe, ask questions for my own ends? Do I seek the knowledge of God’s kingdom to justify myself, or to know Jesus intimately? Therein, of course, lies the rub. Just as the scribe who questions his yet unrecognized Messiah, I must genuinely assess whose kingdom I am truly serving.

Yet this story offers hope, especially for those of us with obstinate natures. John Calvin notes, “…it is worthy of notice that, though he had attacked Christ maliciously, and with the intention of taking him by surprise, not only does he silently yield to the latter, but openly and candidly assents to what Christ had said. Thus we see that he did not belong to the class of those enemies whose obstinacy is incurable,” (Harmony of the Gospels, Volume XVII). I have always loved Calvin’s phrasing: silently yielding, candidly assenting. Here, in Mark 12, we find an individual who not only knows when truth has been spoken, but who also allows that truth to melt any agenda that had hardened his heart and mind. That is what it takes to not be overcome by the rote or the mundane; this is the attitude needed to overcome the feeling that we have it all figured out.

As a teacher, this is often an acute struggle for me, and I am sure many others feel the same sting. Yet illumination is a daily opportunity. As I read, I begin to wonder: am I willing to hear the difficult answers when I ask a question? Are we, as a community, open to having our priorities shifted or altered so that we are aligning ourselves with God’s Kingdom? Do I allow my own comfort or malaiseto rob me from seeing God’s redemptive work in the regular days of my life? Are we lost in the ocean of the ordinary, unable to find our way off this unspectacular route that seems so endless?

The answer, I believe, is found in the words of Jesus: “if you understand [the great commandments], then the kingdom of God is closer than you think.” Love God. Love people. That is our compass which points to the abundant life, the life less lived (John 10:10). I’m reminded of Chuck Colson, a man who thought he had it all figured out until he allowed the truth of Christ to melt his own agenda into something kingdom-oriented. At the end of his days, Colson had this to say: “One of the most wonderful things about being a Christian is that I don’t ever get up in the morning and wonder if what I do matters. I live every day to the fullest because I can live it through Christ and I know no matter what I do today, I’m going to do something to advance the Kingdom of God.”

May each of us incline our hearts and minds to Jesus, that we may be co-conspirators in His Kingdom.