Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Bible study: responsibilities and obligations in Philippians 1-4

Here are some parts of Philippians that speak to an issue that I think is a problem today for many Christians – self-centeredness. I have three parts of Philippians to present below on that topic.

1) The importance of fellowship – preparing to work together with other Christians towards some end:

Phil 1:3-11:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; 11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Some Christians find it difficult to “participate in the gospel” with anyone because they feel uncomfortable with responsibilities, expectations or obligations to others. In my experience, people who shun responsibilities, obligations and expectations can improve this by taking Paul’s advice – grow in real knowledge and all discernment. In my experience, I have found that people who shy away from responsibilities, expectations and obligations do so because they are afraid of failing. They are proud and don’t want to look bad if they fail to perform something that they are expected to perform. Christians should not shy away from growing though, because growing is what helps us to be better partners in the gospel. We should try to read hard things, study hard things, and take the hardest jobs we can do – so that we build up our tolerance for responsibilities, obligations and expectations. People who do hard jobs like computer programming or nursing know that that you always struggle to learn difficult things and there is always the risk of looking incompetent. But we accept the risk of looking stupid and being judged and this builds a level of comfort with responsibilities, obligations and expectations. That comfort level with responsibilities, obligations and expectations that you get from doing hard things can only help you be a better partner in the gospel.

2) The importance of not being self-centered, but instead being focused on the needs of others:

Phil 2:1-8:

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

And Phil 2:19-23:

19 But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.

Nothing very complicated here, it’s important to look out for the interests of others and to be concerned about their welfare. I think it’s a good idea to be practical about this, and instead of just expressing opinions like “I care”, try to find out what needs to be done and do it. The important thing is that it’s good to be focused on other people, and not on ourselves, and to think of the interests of others, not our own interests. That point about looking out for other people’s interests is said twice, once in each passage from chapter 2 I quoted above.

3) People who are doing good work for the Lord have needs:

Phil 4:10-18:

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

15 You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; 16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. 17 Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. 18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.

I think if you are friends with a person and they are working on some task or other for the gospel, then it’s a good idea to be sensitive to their needs, and be open to caring for those needs. Your goal should not be to make excuses for why you don’t have to do anything to help them. In my case, finances are not a problem, so I don’t have that need. I use money to supply the needs of people that I partner with in the gospel, though. Instead, I have other needs that people can help with – for example, after a stressful day of work, I am always looking for people to play games with me. Some of my friends show an interest in that, and others don’t. The good things that I do for God are not free, and it matters a lot to me whether those who know me want to listen to me and then take responsibility for making sure that I keep functioning and doing the things that I do for God. We have to have an eye out to maintain people who are doing good things for God – not just take it for granted that it will continue. Sometimes, it is not just sending money (gifts), it can be other love languages like touch, service, quality time and words of encouragement. But tuning away from the needs of others is not good for us.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Three ways that generosity makes sense in the Christian worldview

I’m planning to be study Philippians today with the woman I am mentoring in apologetics, so I thought I would post something about generosity and sharing.

First, let’s look at a few passages from the Bible that show the importance of sharing generously with others. I also want to emphasize the need to work and to not be a burden to others, and to emphasize that the goal of sharing with others is to build them up.

2 Thessalonians 3:10-11: (Paul speaking)

10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.

11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.

Acts 20:32-35: (Paul speaking)

32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes.

34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.

35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said,‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Philippians 4:14-18: (Paul speaking)

14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

15 You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone;

16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.

17 Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.

18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.

Luke 21:1-4: (Jesus speaking)

1 And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury.

And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins.

And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them;

for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”

So in an effort to keep this post small, I’m going to be brief. And practical.

Make as much money as you can

The first point I want to make is that it is impossible to share with anyone else unless you have your own financial house in order. Don’t borrow money. Don’t ask for money.  Study hard things (STEM and useful trades) so that you always have work and are always earning money. In the 2 Thessalonians 3:10-11 passage, we learn that able-bodied people need to be working. That is a practical pre-condition of sharing with others. The more money you make the more you have to share. If you want to advance the gospel and build up others, money is absolutely vital. Don’t study crap subjects in school, don’t take useless jobs, don’t neglect the need to build a gapless resume of increasingly more challenging work, don’t get tied down by worldly goods and recreational dating early – so you can finish your education as much as you can. Be practical – charitable giving doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from a person who is ordered and disciplined. Unless you are some sort of skilled Christian scholar, don’t be flying all over the world willy-nilly on expensive mission trips, either – there is plenty of work to do right where God planted you. Be a good steward of your money, and the donations of other Christians.

Partnering with others for the gospel

The second point I want to contrast is the giving I prefer with the giving I do not prefer. The giving I prefer is to give to another Christian who I know personally who is involved in ministry that advances the gospel by arguing for the truth of the gospel using apologetics. So, I like to give to groups like Ratio Christi and to Christian scholars who have ministries or who are doing useful degrees. My goal is to spread the gospel in the only way it can be spread – by demonstrating the truth of it using arguments and evidence. I do not give money to anti-poverty groups like World Vision or to unskilled missionaries who just want an extended vacation in order to satisfy some childhood fancy animated by pride and/or vanity. When I give money to another Christian, my goal is to partner with them, not to feel good about myself. I am trying to get something done for the Lord, not to feel better or to make people think I am nice or to “balance the books” with God (which is heretical).

Building your rewards in Heaven

The third point I want to make is to emphasize that this is not a pointless exercise. Everyone who is a Christian accepts that reconciliation with God is achieved not by human efforts to be good, but by acknowledging and conforming your life to a free gift that was offered by Jesus Christ. Christ died in order to pay the penalty for every individual person’s rebellion against God the Father. That atoning death is the basis for our reconciliation with God, and our eternal life with him. However, the passage in Philippians makes clear that our experience of Heaven after we have been saved by grace is affected by what we do here and now. So often, what you hear in church is do this, do that, and there is never any rationality to it, no emphasis on long-term planning or wisdom in decision-making. It’s all just ad hoc emotivism. But I am telling you something different today. You have a few years on Earth to understand the example of Christ, to follow him, and share in his sufferings as you imitate his obedience. You better have some sort of plan to produce a return on God’s investment in you, and it has to be a good plan. Not one that makes you feel good, but one that is likely to achieve results. Plan your charitable giving like your life were an episode of Mission Impossible, and focus on outcomes, not feelings. That doesn’t mean that results are the measure of success, because that’s God’s job. But it does mean that you should prefer the Thomas Sowell approach to the Disney Princess approach.

The soul-making theodicy

The fourth point I want to make comes from a discussion with my friend Blake Giunta who runs TreeSearch.org. He reminded me that one of the reasons why God allows evil and suffering in this world is to allow us the opportunity to be active partners with him in demonstrating the love of Christ to others. God’s goal for us is not to make us safe and happy. God’s goal for us is to get us to freely enter into and sustain a relationship with him – a relationship that includes an accurate knowledge of who he is, and a free response of love and obedience to him. With respect to that goal, God is fully justified in permitting all kinds of evil and suffering, which in turn provide opportunities for us to 1) enter in to his plan of love and redemption for others and 2) demonstrate his character to the watching world through our actions as his agents. The situation is identical to what parents do in allowing their children to be hurt while learning – God holds back from annihilating some evil and suffering so that we have an opportunity to step into the breach. This advances our relationships with him through shared purpose and shared experiences. This is fellowship with God – not just reading devotional, pious-sounding bilge, but active partnering and dangerous action in some non-trivial enterprise. Give him your best – the same best you bring to your work or anything else in your life that really matters.

Personal application

By the way, if you’re looking for a good place to send a few bucks, I recommend TreeSearch.org.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Is it “brilliant” to accumulate $185,000 of debt studying the humanities?

From the Des Moines Register, an article by Ms. Rehha Basu.

Excerpt:

Sixteen years ago, Patricia (P.J.) Johnston of Des Moines made the front page of this paper for collecting her diploma from Drake University at just 19. “Johnston was reading books on French existentialism while others her age were still buying comic books,” wrote reporter Tom Alex of the young woman who majored in religion and philosophy, dabbled in music and astronomy and found time to take part in online discussions on the Bible.

“I think I’m probably meant to be an academic,” Johnston was quoted as saying. And she has been, getting a master’s in one institution, going to seminary at another, doing field research in India in her area of interest — Indian Catholicism — and currently working toward a Ph.D in religious studies at the University of Iowa.

President Barack Obama came through Johnston’s university on Wednesday, where he said there is no greater predictor of success than a good education. “This country has always made a commitment to put a good education within the reach of everybody who’s willing to work for it,” Obama said. “That’s part of what made us special. … That’s a commitment that we need to reaffirm today.”

He talked about the untenable debt that’s limiting options for today’s college-goers — $25,000 on average — because tuition and fees have more than doubled since they were born.

Johnston didn’t get to hear him since she was teaching a class on Buddhism. But she knows a lot about educational debt. She has $185,000 in student loans to repay.

As it is, she sleeps on her office floor on the days she has to be in Iowa City, riding the Greyhound bus in from Des Moines. She helps support her mother with the approximately $16,000 she earns as a teaching assistant. But she is in danger of dropping out before getting her doctorate because she has hit her limit on loans, and most likely won’t be able to get a teaching assistant position next year because of cuts in undergraduate programs.

If that happens, she wrote me, she would be this far along, “facing the job market in my mid-30s with no marketable job skills of any kind.”

Johnston grew up on welfare and other forms of public assistance. Her divorced mother was unable to hold down a job for reasons that were never diagnosed. Johnston got through college with scholarships, grants, some help from her late grandmother, and only $18,000 in debt.

Student loans should not be connected to the government as they are now – they should be privatized. That way, taxpayers are not stuck with the bill if the person cannot make a career out of what they are studing. What is this person doing going abroad in India? What is she doing riding on Grayhounds? It makes no sense. If she had to go to a for-profit bank, then she would never get a student loan, because they know they would never get the money back. We have to have a system where people pay their own way, so that they can’t take risks with anyone else’s money but their own (or their loan guarantor’s). No taxpayer money should be available to them, and no taxpayer money should be given to subsidize universities, either – it just raises the cost of tuition. Once the number of students applying to the humanities is reduced because no loans are available, then tuition will come down for those who really intend to make a go of it.

I think a lot of the problem here comes from growing up without a father. Fathers teach their children to be practical because they worry more than mothers about the children not being able to be independent and fend for themselves.

UPDATE: The Captain comments on this story here.

UPDATE: This is from the woman’s Facebook page:

I have never asked anybody to pay my student loan debt for me, and I will pay it down someday, even if I have to eat ramen noodles for the rest of my life. I was willing to undertake my studies at any cost and at any degree of personal risk because I believe in God and I am convinced that I am doing what God is calling me to do. If you read the New Testament, you will find a great deal about how people are called to give up everything they own – houses and wealth and family and respectibility and everything else – to do whatever it is that God calls them to do. I am not brave and no longer optimistic, but I have tried to take God at his word.

I am not financing education entirely through student loan debt. I held work study jobs as an undergraduate, and have usually held some kind of on-campus employment. I have been a TA for the university for the last seven years. The fact is, government support of higher education is down and the cost of tuition has outpaced salaries to such a great degree in this country that virtually nobody is able to afford an education on their own wages without taking on a substantial burden of student loan debt. The vast majority of the anecdotes to the contrary concern degrees earned twenty or thirty years ago, before major structural changes in the financing of higher education – in the post-war years, government funding allowed the vast majority of expense for education to be met through Pell grants and scholarships, making it possible for many people to work themselves through school. That hasn’t been possible for most people in most degree programs for at least thirty years, and these nostalgic memories of an entirely different time and set of circumstances are not doing the debate on higher education financing in this country any good at all.

I am not a “professional student” nor am I taking an especially long time to pursue my degree – this is simply how long humanities education takes. http://chronicle.com/article/In-Humanities-10-Years-May/16231

If you only see value in STEM disciplines, I probably will not convince you that humanities education is valuable. There used to be a sense in this country that certain things had value and meaning in their own right, not simply because they produced nice technological gadgets or made bundles of money for businesses. Even conservatives such as Allan Bloom used to realize that it impoverishes us spiritually when we turn away from the humanities, the cultural legacy of Western society. Would that their political descendants had as much grace or wisdom.

She’s not being forced into this course of action. She’s choosing it deliberately, and she wants other people to pay to make her impractical flight from reality financially sound.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Practical apologetics: conversations and interviews

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace has a new post up at Cold Case Christianity.

Excerpt:

Most of us are familiar with these kinds of interactions. Conversations are two directional; they involve a dialogue between both parties. Most of my professional interactions with anyone begin this way. In the early part of my interaction, I want to build relational bridges with the people I engage.

[…]I began to eat meals with the people I arrested. After taking them into custody, I would often ask them if they were hungry, and if they were, I would order something and make sure I ate with them in the interview room. I recognized that many of God’s most important conversations with humans have been over a meal (the Lord’s Supper is the most powerful example of this). We don’t eat with people we don’t know well, and a simple meal can unite two people in a way that few other settings can achieve. Once my heart was broken for people, I was actually willing to eat with the people I arrested. The conversations we had were powerful, even though they weren’t directed intentionally at the issues we would later cover together. Conversations are benign interactions between two people who share something of themselves with the person they are engaging. Be prepared to open up a bit and share something personal if you expect the other person to do this with you.

At some point, conversations turn toward interviews. In an interview, one person begins to probe more deeply into an area by asking specific questions related to that area of interest. Something is usually mentioned in the initial conversation that triggers a line of questioning. When we begin to probe this aspect of the conversation, we are slipping into interview mode. Interviews are not antagonistic, they are simply inquisitive. My questions are not pointed at this stage of the interaction, they are simply curious and directed. My goal is to establish a baseline from the person with whom I am talking. What do they believe? What did they see? What did they do? What happened next? If I am talking to a witness, I am simply trying to collect data. If I am talking to a suspect, I am trying to establish a preliminary story and baseline that I can then compare to later statements and evidence I have at the scene.

I favor the interview approach. Go in there with a list of questions. Buy them lunch or dinner. Ask the questions. Don’t respond to them or argue with them. Think of how you would respond.Write a blog post. Send them the blog post before you publish it to check it for accuracy. Then publish it so everyone else can see.

By the way, Wallace’s new book on apologetics is now available for pre-order.

Here is the description:

Written by an L. A. County homicide detective and former atheist, Cold Case Christianity examines the claims of the New Testament using the skills and strategies of a hard-to-convince criminal investigator.
Christianity could be defined as a “cold case”: it makes a claim about an event from the distant past for which there is little forensic evidence. In Cold Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace uses his nationally recognized skills as a homicide detective to look at the evidence and eyewitnesses behind Christian beliefs. Including gripping stories from his career and the visual techniques he developed in the courtroom, Wallace uses illustration to examine the powerful evidence that validates the claims of Christianity.
A unique apologetic that speaks to readers’ intense interest in detective stories, Cold Case Christianity inspires readers to have confidence in Christ as it prepares them to articulate the case for Christianity.

His book is not a general apologetics book with lots of science and philosophy. It is a homicide detective’s look at the historical accounts about the life of Jesus. This might be a good book to pick up if you want to present Christianity from a practical point of view. Everybody likes mysteries and detectives, after all.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , ,

Is it “brilliant” to accumulate $185,000 of debt studying the humanities?

From the Des Moines Register, an article by Ms. Rehha Basu.

Excerpt:

Sixteen years ago, Patricia (P.J.) Johnston of Des Moines made the front page of this paper for collecting her diploma from Drake University at just 19. “Johnston was reading books on French existentialism while others her age were still buying comic books,” wrote reporter Tom Alex of the young woman who majored in religion and philosophy, dabbled in music and astronomy and found time to take part in online discussions on the Bible.

“I think I’m probably meant to be an academic,” Johnston was quoted as saying. And she has been, getting a master’s in one institution, going to seminary at another, doing field research in India in her area of interest — Indian Catholicism — and currently working toward a Ph.D in religious studies at the University of Iowa.

President Barack Obama came through Johnston’s university on Wednesday, where he said there is no greater predictor of success than a good education. “This country has always made a commitment to put a good education within the reach of everybody who’s willing to work for it,” Obama said. “That’s part of what made us special. … That’s a commitment that we need to reaffirm today.”

He talked about the untenable debt that’s limiting options for today’s college-goers — $25,000 on average — because tuition and fees have more than doubled since they were born.

Johnston didn’t get to hear him since she was teaching a class on Buddhism. But she knows a lot about educational debt. She has $185,000 in student loans to repay.

As it is, she sleeps on her office floor on the days she has to be in Iowa City, riding the Greyhound bus in from Des Moines. She helps support her mother with the approximately $16,000 she earns as a teaching assistant. But she is in danger of dropping out before getting her doctorate because she has hit her limit on loans, and most likely won’t be able to get a teaching assistant position next year because of cuts in undergraduate programs.

If that happens, she wrote me, she would be this far along, “facing the job market in my mid-30s with no marketable job skills of any kind.”

Johnston grew up on welfare and other forms of public assistance. Her divorced mother was unable to hold down a job for reasons that were never diagnosed. Johnston got through college with scholarships, grants, some help from her late grandmother, and only $18,000 in debt.

Student loans should not be connected to the government as they are now – they should be privatized. That way, taxpayers are not stuck with the bill if the person cannot make a career out of what they are studing. What is this person doing going abroad in India? What is she doing riding on Grayhounds? It makes no sense. If she had to go to a for-profit bank, then she would never get a student loan, because they know they would never get the money back. We have to have a system where people pay their own way, so that they can’t take risks with anyone else’s money but their own (or their loan guarantor’s). No taxpayer money should be available to them, and no taxpayer money should be given to subsidize universities, either – it just raises the cost of tuition. Once the number of students applying to the humanities is reduced because no loans are available, then tuition will come down for those who really intend to make a go of it.

I think a lot of the problem here comes from growing up without a father. Fathers teach their children to be practical because they worry more than mothers about the children not being able to be independent and fend for themselves.

UPDATE: The Captain comments on this story here.

UPDATE: This is from the woman’s Facebook page:

I have never asked anybody to pay my student loan debt for me, and I will pay it down someday, even if I have to eat ramen noodles for the rest of my life. I was willing to undertake my studies at any cost and at any degree of personal risk because I believe in God and I am convinced that I am doing what God is calling me to do. If you read the New Testament, you will find a great deal about how people are called to give up everything they own – houses and wealth and family and respectibility and everything else – to do whatever it is that God calls them to do. I am not brave and no longer optimistic, but I have tried to take God at his word.

I am not financing education entirely through student loan debt. I held work study jobs as an undergraduate, and have usually held some kind of on-campus employment. I have been a TA for the university for the last seven years. The fact is, government support of higher education is down and the cost of tuition has outpaced salaries to such a great degree in this country that virtually nobody is able to afford an education on their own wages without taking on a substantial burden of student loan debt. The vast majority of the anecdotes to the contrary concern degrees earned twenty or thirty years ago, before major structural changes in the financing of higher education – in the post-war years, government funding allowed the vast majority of expense for education to be met through Pell grants and scholarships, making it possible for many people to work themselves through school. That hasn’t been possible for most people in most degree programs for at least thirty years, and these nostalgic memories of an entirely different time and set of circumstances are not doing the debate on higher education financing in this country any good at all.

I am not a “professional student” nor am I taking an especially long time to pursue my degree – this is simply how long humanities education takes. http://chronicle.com/article/In-Humanities-10-Years-May/16231

If you only see value in STEM disciplines, I probably will not convince you that humanities education is valuable. There used to be a sense in this country that certain things had value and meaning in their own right, not simply because they produced nice technological gadgets or made bundles of money for businesses. Even conservatives such as Allan Bloom used to realize that it impoverishes us spiritually when we turn away from the humanities, the cultural legacy of Western society. Would that their political descendants had as much grace or wisdom.

She’s not being forced into this course of action. She’s choosing it deliberately, and she wants other people to pay to make her impractical flight from reality financially sound.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wintery Tweets

RSS Intelligent Design podcast

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Evolution News

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
Click to see recent visitors

  Visitors Online Now

Page views since 1/30/09

  • 4,692,371 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,276 other followers

Archives

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,276 other followers

%d bloggers like this: