The ARK 2012: Shake Up The World

The ARK Retreat is one of our big youth group events which occurs each spring. Over the last few years it has steadily grown in size and scope and it has actually become a pretty neat event as youth groups from six area congregations spend a weekend playing, fellowshipping, and worshipping with one another. 

For some of the teens, it is one of the high points of the year, and despite all the work and effort that goes into planning the ARK each year, that makes it all worth it.

The theme for the ARK for this year was “Shake Up The World,” and we heard several good lessons on that idea throughout the weekend. It was my task to introduce that theme on Friday night, and you can read a summary of my thoughts below:

I want to explain this year’s theme by telling you two stories.

The Man Who Shook Up The World

The first story is a boxing story, and for it to make sense, you have to realize that boxing used to be a really big deal. Today, if I asked you to name the heavyweight champion of the world, probably very few of you would know the answer. But if you lived, say, 50 years ago, you would’ve known because boxing was a big deal back then. And that’s when our story takes place, almost 50 years ago, in 1964, when two men squared off with the heavyweight championship on the line.

Sonny Liston
The first man was the reigning champion. His name was Sonny Liston, and he was terrifying. He was 35-1 for his career, and he hadn’t lost a fight in almost 10 years. He had defeated the previous heavyweight champion twice, both times via knockout in just over 2 minutes. If that wasn’t intimidating enough, he was also known to have connections with criminals and gangsters.

The second man was young, at 22 years old, not much older than some of you. His name was Cassius Clay, and he was somewhat well-known himself, because he had won an Olympic Gold Medal in boxing four years earlier. After turning professional, he had won 19 fights in a row without a single loss, and he had become the top-rated challenger. Despite this, no one gave him a chance in this fight, and the odds were 7-1 in favor of Liston winning.

But although Liston was regarded as the more powerful fighter, Clay was much quicker, and he used his quickness to duck and dodge most of Liston’s devastating punches, while landing a lot of his own. That was the difference in the fight. Liston didn’t come out to fight the 7th round, saying that he had a shoulder injury, Cassius Clay was declared the heavyweight champion of the world, and at 22, was the youngest boxer to ever take a heavyweight title from a reigning champion.

After the fight, speaking to the press who had doubted that he could win, Clay shouted, “I am the greatest…I shook up the world…I shook up the world!”

Eighteen months later, he defeated Sonny Liston again, and by this time, he had changed his name to name that most people know him by—Muhammad Ali, considered by most people to be the greatest boxer of all time.

Certainly, that’s one way of “Shaking up the world”—doing something amazing and then immediately letting everyone know just how amazing it was—but there’s another way to shake up the world, and that’s what we want to focus on this weekend…

The Men Who Turned The World Upside Down

The second story is about two other guys who shook up the world in a different way, and they lived a long time before Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali. Their names are Paul and Silas and we read about them in the Book of Acts in the New Testament.

Paul and Silas in prison
Paul and Silas were missionaries—they traveled around telling people about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are thrown into prison because people are upset by their preaching, but while in prison, they spend their time praying and praising God in song and they end up baptizing their jailer!

In Acts 17, after being released from prison, Paul and Silas travel to another city called Thessalonica, and there they continue preaching. As was his custom when entering a new city, Paul went to the local synagogue, and there he used the Scriptures (what would be our Old Testament) to show the Jews in Thessalonica that the Messiah of prophecy would have to suffer and then be raised from the dead, and that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah that the Scriptures talked about.

When many of the people believed the words of Paul and began to follow Christ, it made some of the Jews jealous, and they formed a mob and sought Paul and Silas at the home of Jason, a local Christian leader. 
“And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.’ And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things.”
Did you catch what the jealous and evil men said about Paul and Silas? “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…” They could’ve said, “These men who shook up the world….”

The men who said this about Paul and Silas didn’t mean it as a compliment! They’re saying that Paul and Silas have ruined everything—they’ve messed everything up! That seems hard for us to understand though—what were Paul and Silas doing that was so terrible? After all, they were just Christians, doing their best to follow Christ.

What About Us?

And that makes me think: maybe, just maybe, when Christians live like they’re really supposed to, when they really take up their cross daily and follow Jesus, maybe that shakes the world up! If Paul and Silas turned the world upside down by living for Christ, you would think that Christians today would be doing the same thing. But here’s the problem: when you look at Christianity today, do you really see a group of people who turn the world upside down? People who shake up the world? For the most part, I don’t think so.

Why is that? Unfortunately, I think it is because a lot of the time (especially with teenagers), it seems like we dumb down what it means to be a Christian until we basically have a list of do’s and don’ts: 
  • Don’t have sex before marriage.
  • Don’t do drugs.
  • Don’t cuss.
  • Do come to church and youth group activities.
  • Do pray to God and read your Bibles.
And let me be clear, all of that stuff is true—as a Christian, there are certain things that you shouldn’t do and other things that you should do. But this weekend, we want to suggest to you that being a Christian—living as Jesus Christ called us to live—means a lot more than a list of do’s and don’ts.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean that you’re basically like everyone else around you except that you just happen to spend an hour on Sunday morning in a church building. Being a Christian does mean being radically different from your peers and consciously and intentionally denying yourself and sacrificing your life and the things you want to do on a daily basis in order to instead use your life to glorify God.

If you do that, you’ll shake up the world.


Let the Buyer Beware

Over the years, I have purchased a lot of books—for pleasure reading, for classes, as gifts, but I have never experienced the situation I had last night when I began to read one of my books for a summer preaching class (the book review is due a week from tomorrow!)

Everything started off okay as I eyed the cover—the title probably wasn’t as eye-catching as it could have been, but it is a book about preaching, so I wasn’t expecting too much:

When I turned to the title page, I was a bit confused. It seemed that the title and author seemed to be different than the title and author from the cover, but since it awkwardly said “Just in Time!” at the top, I decided that this must have just been a poorly-placed advertisement for another book.

Then I turned to the Table of Contents and noticed that, interestingly enough, the contents seem to be talking entirely about Easter, relating to the title page and not the cover of the book.

At this point, I started to get alarmed and began flipping through the pages. Sure enough, the first several pages were about Easter services, and then, suddenly, page 22 turned to page 43, the type font and type size changed, and the topic changed from Easter to Elijah.

Finally, it dawned on me what had happened: the book had been mis-bound, and I had segments of two separate books bound together.

First thing this morning, I ordered another copy off Amazon (after all, the book review is due in eight days!); hopefully the binding error was an isolated incident and they didn’t incorrectly bind the entire printing series!

Frustrating to say the least.


Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson

Last week I wrote about Jackie Robinson’s integration of Major League Baseball in 1947 and mentioned that, after Martin Luther King Jr., Robinson was the most important figure in the American Civil Rights movement.

Today, while reading an article (which I recommend, by the way) about Jackie’s widow, Rachel Robinson, I came upon this quotation about Robinson from Dr. King:
“Back in the days when integration wasn’t fashionable, he underwent the trauma and humiliation and the loneliness which comes with being a pilgrim walking the lonesome byways toward the high road of freedom. He was a sit-inner before the sit-ins, a freedom rider before the Freedom Rides.”

For more information regarding Robinson’s pioneering efforts in the field of Civil Rights, see this interesting blog post I came across.

Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King Jr. receiving honorary
Doctor of Laws degrees from Howard University in 1957.


God Wants Sons, Not Slaves

In Will God Run?, Charles Hodge writes some powerful words on salvation, grace, and the restoration of relationship with the Father (emphasis is mine throughout):
“The father gave the prodigal a ring. When the son met the father he said, ‘I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and I am no more worthy to be called thy son. I wish to be recognized as a servant, a slave.’ The father’s first impulse is to get that notion from his system. He said, ‘Son, you are my son. I don’t want slaves. I want sons.’ Salvation is restoration!1
Salvation is more than penalty remitted; it is basically relationship restored!…May we suggest again, he is forgiven because he was a son. He didn’t buy salvation because he was penitent. He didn’t earn restoration because he came home. His fondest hope was to be given a decent job as that of a servant. Beloved, we are saved by grace and must never forget it.2 
Religion’s advice is ‘try a little bit harder,’ ‘work at it just a little bit more.’ Christianity is not advanced humanism, not just simply a few good morals! If Christianity were only morals, Socrates could be our savior. But Christianity is the restoration of a father-son relationship.3
Salvation…is the placing of God’s best robe on the worst sinner! We strive to place ourselves not to need the robe when that is our basic need! God’s answer is not ‘clean up, son.’ It’s not “try a little bit harder.’ God’s answer is, ‘Come home, son. Come home.’4 
There is so much to weigh in on in these few quotations, but I’ll just briefly touch on one issue. So often, people seem to think (and maybe they think this because it is implied in preaching), that they just need to ‘get their lives right’ and then in some sense they will be worthy of being God’s children.

This thinking is completely backwards. First, we are at no point worthy of being God’s children, and secondly, while moral living is important, it proceeds from a right relationship with the father; it does not precede that relationship.

• • •

1Charles B. Hodge, Jr., Will God Run? (Searcy, AR: Resource Publications, 2002), 50.
3Ibid, 52.


Forgiveness in Marriage

In Will God Run?, Charles Hodge’s series of sermons on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, he points out that one of the main reasons that marriages struggle and often fail is because husbands and wives have a hard time forgiving one another (emphasis his):
“I think this is one of the underlying causes of unhappy homes and divorce. Maybe this should top the list. Husbands and wives outwardly forgive, but they don’t forget. They say, ‘Yes, you sinned against me, but I’ll forgive you.’ But they have built a skeleton closet in their house or they have a filing system. And the next time that husband or wife does something bad (and it’s really bad if it’s that same thing that has been forgiven) the mate runs over and pulls out the ‘old bones’ and beats the guilty over the head! ‘See, I forgave you. You did it again. Get out.’ 
Consequently, over a period of time and years these things grow because husbands and wives cannot forget. A marriage is destroyed. Again, husbands and wives can say things to each other and about each other that they would not say to their worst enemy! Husbands and wives think, say, and do things to each other that nations as enemies would not do in a world war! Homes can be saved only when husbands and wives will forgive and forget.”
Will God Run?, p. 68
I think these are great words. I’ve written before on the idea of forgiving and forgetting, and again, this isn’t something that comes to us naturally—it involves the swallowing of our pride, and the conscious decision to follow the teaching and example of Christ.


Bad News/Good News

Bad News: I just realized today that I am busy on at least 9 of the next 10 weekends. I hate it when my life does this—I have got to get better at learning to say “no.”

Good News: After over a year of it being blocked off with building materials as part of a construction project, I got my special parking spot back at work today! This is a big deal, because my special spot is one of the main perks that comes with working at a church building (I also get all the free ice I can eat…when the ice machine isn’t broken.).


Guts Enough Not To Fight Back: Jackie Robinson

Jackie steals home against Yogi Berra and the Yankees in the 1955 World Series.

As a general rule in college and professional sports, teams retire the jersey numbers of the all-time greats who played for them. For example, no Chicago Bull can wear number 23, because that was Michael Jordan’s number and it has been retired. No New York Yankee can wear number 3, because that was Babe Ruth’s number and it has been retired. If you play Major League Baseball, regardless of what team you play for, you can’t wear the number 42, because that was Jackie Robinson’s number, and it is the only number to be retired by Major League Baseball.*

Sixty-five years ago yesterday, on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson donned that number 42 Brooklyn Dodgers jersey and appeared in his first regular season Major League game, breaking baseball’s racial color barrier.**

Robinson’s Hall of Fame career and handled himself on and off the field opened doors for other black athletes in professional sports (and ultimately many other fields as well), and it has been said that only Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accomplished more for the American Civil Rights Movement than did Jackie Robinson.

Before he signed a contract to play for the Dodgers, Robinson was called into the office of Team President and General Manager Branch Rickey. To give him a taste of what it would be like to be the only black player in the Big Leagues, Rickey spent three hours taunting and insulting Robinson, calling him every racial slur he could think of. Rickey then told Robinson that this is what he would face every day on the field, and that if he wanted it to work out, he would have to promise not to fight back or respond to insults of any kind for the first three years of his career.

Robinson, who possessed a fiery temperament and was very outspoken, was put of by this and asked, incredulously, “Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a player who is afraid to fight back?”

Branch Rickey replied, “No, I want someone with guts enough not to fight back.”

After some deliberation, Robinson agreed to Rickey’s terms, and he lived up to them on the field. When opposing baserunners tried to spike him when sliding into second base, he didn’t fight back. When fans and players yelled and cursed at him and even questioned his very humanity, he showed them how wrong they were by taking the moral high ground.

He had the guts not to fight back.

What Branch Rickey told Jackie Robinson reminds me of Jesus’ words in The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:
“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
The world tells us to stand up for ourselves when we are treated unjustly. It tells us to have the courage to fight back and not let others push us around. On the other hand, Jesus tells us to have the courage to show that we are different from the world because we don’t fight back, and He tells us to forgive others when they mistreat us.

Jesus wants followers with guts enough not to fight back.

•   •   •

* Yesterday, to commemorate the anniversary of Robinson’s first game as a Dodger, this prohibition was temporarily lifted as representatives from each Major League team wore number 42 in his honor.
**Contrary to popular belief, Robinson was not the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues. That honor goes to Moses Fleetwood Walker, who played for the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884. Regardless of this, Robinson was the first African-American to play Major League Baseball in the 20th century, and it was his breaking of baseball’s color barrier that led to the permanent integration of the Major Leagues.


Why Non-Christians Don’t Like Christians

For the purposes of this post, I am using the term “Christian” in the broadest sense. After all, many of those who aren’t Christians don’t understand the (significant) differences within Christianity anyway.

Generally speaking, I think there are two main reasons why a lot of people don’t find Christians to be very likable:

(1) It can be hard for people to like Christians when they don’t resemble Christ. Another way of saying that is people can’t stand it when Christians are hypocrites:

–When it turns out that famous televangelists have been cheating on their wives for years or embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from their viewers, it turns people off of Christianity.

–When Catholic priests who are supposed to be caring for the members of their parishes turn out to be pedophiles who prey on innocent children, it turns people off of Christianity.

–And perhaps a little closer to home, when Christians spend their Sundays worshipping God and the rest of the week denying Him by lifestyles of materialism, gossip, judgment, and immoral behavior, it turns people off of Christianity.

Non-Christians aren’t the only ones who are turned off by such people—God has never been pleased with people who honor Him with their lips but have hearts which are far from Him (Isaiah 29.13), and Jesus would prefer that such Christians quit pretending to follow Him and get out of the Church (Revelation 3.16)!

Mahatma Gandhi famously summed it up this way:
“I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
On a fundamental level, we as Christians are supposed to resemble Christ. Certainly all Christians fail to do that from time to time, but when we do so repeatedly as a way of life, we invalidate what we claim to be most important.

(2) It can be hard for people to like Christians when they do resemble Christ. This point might be harder for some to understand, so bear with me.

When trying to peg why the world doesn’t like Christians, I think a lot of people easily identify hypocrisy in the church (after all, we hear this reason all the time) and think that the way of Christ is only unappealing to people because we fail to live it correctly.

The thing is, sometimes when we do live as Jesus calls us to, people still don’t like Christians. A good example of this today would be Tim Tebow—although he has a ton of fans, he also gets a lot of negative attention and a lot of people say terrible things about him, not because of his play, but because of his Christianity.*

It might be surprising to us that a lot of people don’t like us for living the way Christ has called us to, but it really shouldn’t, because Jesus Himself explicitly said that it would happen!
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15.18-20)
It’s hard for us to remember this sometimes, but when Jesus was on earth, a lot of people didn’t like Him at all—they disliked Him so much, in fact, that they conspired to have him killed! If we seek to exemplify Jesus in our daily lives, a lot of people won’t like us any more than they did Him.

So, if some people won’t like us if we don’t act like Christ, while others won’t like us if we do, where does that leave us? Basically, there will be people in the world who dislike us no matter what. As Christians, we need to make sure that if the world doesn’t like us, it’s because we do look like Jesus, not because we don’t.

*Certainly people criticize Tebow for his quarterback play as well (and that might even be the main source of the criticism), but some people criticize Tebow specifically for his character or his faith. All of this despite the fact that Tebow uses his fame and wealth to help those who are less fortunate, by all accounts is a genuinely nice guy, and doesn’t at all seem to be hypocritical about his faith.


The Elder Brother of Luke 15

I recently finished reading Will God Run?, a book of sermons on Luke 15 by Charles Hodge, and I’ve also taken another look (after reading it previously) at Timothy Keller’s The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, which also examines the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

When writing about or speaking on Luke 15, there is a tendency amongst many people to focus only on the Prodigal Son himself, while ignoring the Elder Brother. Doing this misses out on a key part of Jesus’ teaching, and one of the best characteristics of both of these books is that the authors focus extensively on the Elder Brother.

First, to some degree, both authors make the point that despite the fact that typical church-goers tend to view the Prodigal Son as the hero of the story, it’s actually the Elder Brother who they more likely resemble (throughout these quotations, emphasis is mine):
“…It is very hard to find one’s self in the elder son. Yet, the readers of this book are not prodigals; you readers are people at home. Your problem is not that of the far country but home. And really the lesson for brethren is not that of the prodigal but that of the elder son! The prodigal to us is the hero of this story and the elder son is the villain. Perhaps the man that we hiss as the villain is the very man we are and the very man we exemplify.1 
“Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers that we’d like to think.2
In the context of Jesus’ parable, both sons are lost, but Hodge writes that in the church, we tend to ignore that in the case of Elder Sons:
“If the elder son could not rule, he would ruin. He was a product of his time and thinking. Perhaps our preaching has been harder on lusts than lovelessness, harder on stealing than covetousness. It is easier to change actions than attitudes! Herein is another lesson to be gained concerning church officers. We put prodigals out of the church because of scandal, but we put elder sons in the church as officers because of their outward rule keeping!3
The Elder Brother had no love for his brother, which also damages his relationship with his father:
“You cannot love a father while not loving a brother. You cannot love a father while hating his son. John said we cannot love God whom we have not seen when we dislike the brother that we do see…Our problem as sons is learning how to be brothers.4 
 And perhaps the biggest danger of all is that the Elder Brother exemplifies a type of works righteousness. The New Testament teaches that while good works are a vital part of the Christian’s lifestyle, all of us are saved by grace. If we aren’t careful, we can fall into the trap of thinking that our good works obligate God to treat us a certain way, and this was the problem of the Elder Brother:
“Now the prodigal son did the wrong thing for the wrong reason while the elder did the right thing for the wrong reason. And that’s the difference. Right deeds for wrong reasons. Now the truth has come out. All these years this son has not been a son. He had been a slave. He offered his work but not himself. Yet, these sons who appear so basically different are, in reality, basically alike. They are alike because both wanted to have his own way. Now to have own way the prodigal thought that he had to go to the far country, and he did. He wanted to have his way in the way of the living as he pleased. But the elder son also wants to have his own way—at home in the church. He is religious profession. A man who takes pride in his own religious accomplishments.5 
“The elder son is a hireling; he thought he could obligate heaven. He thought God and the church owed him something. Perhaps this is one of the hardest lessons a preacher has to learn—that he is serving God and not the church. And since he cannot obligate God, then the church owes him nothing. What if a man gives his life to God? What if the church does not appreciate him? The church has sinned in not showing gratitude and appreciation, yes. But God and heaven owe no man anything!6 
“If, like the elder brother, you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey him and be a good person, then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but he is not your Savior. You are serving as your own Savior.”7
These are some hard-hitting quotations, and for me, some of them strike a little too closely to home. There is room for both Prodigals and Elder Brothers in God’s family, but both of them must have restored and healthy relationships with the Father. The selfish and self-righteous attitudes of the Elder Brother can disrupt that relationship as easily as the selfish and wild behaviors of the Prodigal can.

• • •

1Charles B. Hodge, Jr., Will God Run? (Searcy, AR: Resource Publications, 2002), 74.
2Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York, NY: Dutton, 2008), 15-16.
3Hodge, Will God Run?, 78.
4Hodge, 80, 82.
5Ibid., 77.
6Ibid., 78.
7Keller, The Prodigal God, 38.


Wise Words I Once Heard…and Bobby Petrino

If you pay any attention to sports at all, you are likely aware that Arkansas Razorback football coach Bobby Petrino was in a serious motorcycle wreck eight days ago, and that as more details of the incident came to light, it was revealed that a female passenger on the bike turned out to be an employee with whom Petrino was having an inappropriate relationship.

The national media has been quick to pick up on this story and has been decidedly anti-Petrino (a quick Google search on ‘Bobby Petrino’ will confirm this). Perhaps neither of those facts is very surprising—our culture (and by extension, the media) is always interested in a juicy story about the misdeeds or failure of public figures, and Bobby Petrino has never been very popular with the media anyway (ESPN’s Pat Forde has been on a personal crusade against him for years).

I don’t know if Petrino will be fired or not, and I have mixed feelings about whether or not he should be. I am disappointed in him and embarrassed by his actions, but at the same time, he has been the most successful football coach that Arkansas has had in my lifetime (or at least, in my memory), and I was never under the impression that he was hired because of his reputation for upstanding character.

All of this—the initial report of the accident, the rumors flying around after that report, the revelation of Petrino’s female passenger and his relationship with her, and the response of the national media—has reminded me of some wise words I once heard from Jimmy Allen.

Jimmy Allen is well-known within Church of Christ circles as an evangelist, and additionally, within the Harding University community as a Bible professor. It’s in the latter role that I know him best, as I took his outstanding class on the Book of Romans during my time at Harding. It was in that class (I don’t remember the specific context) that he said these words which I’ll never forget:
“If I hear something bad about someone, I never believe it. If it comes to the point that I have no choice but to believe it, I do not delight in it.”
I’m not entirely sure what it is about us as humans that makes us crave and delight (cf. Proverbs 18.8) in hearing of the failings of others. It likely stems from our own insecurities, and our tendency to feel better about ourselves when we see the shortcomings of others. But that craving and delighting is all closely related to the sin of gossip, which is a topic that the Bible has an awful lot to say about.

In the case of Bobby Petrino, I’m not delighting in the story like a lot of people in the National media and fans of other programs are, but if I’m honest, a lot of the reason for that is because he’s the coach of my team, and I don’t like the ramifications of all this for me. When it comes to hearing gossip about someone I might not like as much, I don’t always do a very good job of following Dr. Allen’s words.

Instead of gleefully focusing on the failings of others, the Apostle Paul suggests an alternative course of action in Philippians 4.8:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”


Opening Day

Baseball is back, and briefly, everything seems right in the world again. My favorite words on the subject of baseball’s return stem from the pen of American poet Donald Hall

The Old Game

The old game waits under the white,
Deeper than frozen grass.
Down at the frost line it waits 
To return when the birds return.
It starts to wake in the South, 
Where it’s never quite stopped. 
Where winter is a doze of hibernation,
The game wakes gradually,
Fathering vigor into itself.

As the days lengthen in late February 
And grow warmer, old muscles grow limber.
Young arms grow strong and wild,
Clogged vein systems, in veteran oak and left fielders both,
Unstop themselves,
Putting forth leaves and line drives in Florida’s March.
Migrating North with the swallows, 
Baseball and the grasses’ first green,
Enter Cleveland , Kansas City, Boston.

Aside: bonus points to anyone who can name the all-time great pictured above.


A Comment on Comments

Some people may have a problem commenting on posts as I seem to be getting notifications of some comments which are then not appearing.

I don’t edit or block comments unless they are clearly spam, so if you are having any trouble leaving a comment, try again and if you are still having problems, please email me.


Lot, His Daughters, And Us: When Cultural Values are Taken to the Extreme

Lot and his Daughters by Artemisia Gentileschi

I’ve been encouraging my High School Bible Class to read through the narrative portions of Scripture this year and have been giving them a daily schedule to help. I think this is a good thing to do for many reasons, but one reason is that there are certain parts of the Bible which are often passed over in Bible classes and sermons, but it’s still important for people to know they are there (especially teens, who should be in the process of developing their own faith rather than relying on the faith of their parents).

When they made it to Genesis 19, I got a lot of questions, and as I discussed their questions with them, it struck me how often certain values that a culture emphasizes (which may be good in and of themselves) can be taken to dangerous and often sinful extremes.

The Importance of Hospitality

Genesis 19 covers the destruction of Sodom, which was something they were vaguely familiar with, but there were a couple of details that they had missed out on. Two angels, appearing as men, come to Sodom and stay with Lot, and the wicked men of the city bang on Lot’s doors and demand that Lot hand over the two men to them so they can engage in sexual relations with them. Lot’s response is shocking to our modern ears:
“Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, ‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have to daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’”
Lot doesn’t seem to be in the running for any Father of the Year awards here, as he offers his daughters to the would-be rapists rather than his guests. That’s hard to understand unless you realize that the idea of hospitality and taking good care of one’s guests was of paramount importance in many ancient cultures (and some modern ones). It’s not that Lot was eager to give up his daughters—I’m sure he wasn’t—it’s just that hospitality was such an important cultural value that it led him to an extreme (and I would suggest, sinful) action. Fortunately for Lot’s daughters, the two angels intervene and strike the wicked men with blindness. 

A Woman’s Value Through Child-Bearing

Another example of example of this phenomenon actually comes from the same chapter of Genesis. Ultimately, only Lot and his two daughters escape the destruction of Sodom, as his sons-in-law remained in the city and his wife was turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back on the destruction of the city.

Lot and his daughters flee to the hills and live in a cave, and here, another shocking development is recorded:
“And the firstborn said to the younger, ‘Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.’ So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 
The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, ‘Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.’ So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father.”
So a few days after Lot offers his daughters to rapists, they now get him drunk in order to sleep with him—Lot’s family seems to be the picture of dysfunction, right? Once again though, I think what we have here is a cultural value taken to an unhealthy extreme. In this case it seems that (as was often the case in many ancient cultures, and even some cultures today) for Lot’s daughters, their entire value as humans was derived from their ability to carry on the family line of their father through the bearing of children. With their husbands-to-be destroyed in the obliteration of Sodom and thus their means of child-bearing suddenly removed from them, Lot’s daughters turn to a sinful and (I imagine) undesirable last resort.

What About Us?

With a little careful reflection on the cultural forces that pulled on Lot and his daughters, I think their actions are a little more understandable. That being said, I don’t think these stories show us that the influences of culture validates sinful behavior—not at all. On the contrary, I believe one thing these stories do show us is how, if we’re not careful, the ideals we value as a culture can push us to do unthinkable things.

For example, in American society, one of our most sacred values is individual freedom. Many of the people who colonized the United States came here out of the desire to find freedom of one type or another. The American Revolution was fought because the descendants of those colonists felt that they should be free to govern themselves. The importance of liberty was hammered first into the Declaration of Independence and later into the U.S. Constitution, primarily through the Bill of Rights. As Americans, we pride ourselves on being free people.

But how could freedom be a bad thing? Well, it is the cultural value of freedom that, when taken to an extreme, is used to justify the yearly destruction of hundreds of thousands of unborn infants in the U.S. As a society, we are engaged in an ongoing genocide against our own unborn, but we pretend it is okay because supposedly, the mother should be free to do whatever she wants with her own body.

Clearly, our cultural values can cause moral blind spots for us today just as they did for Lot and his daughters some 4,000 years ago. Perhaps in the distant future, people will look back on our society and shake their heads in shame at the plague of abortion that we have embraced. And perhaps they will be able to somewhat understand our sin because of the cultural values that influence us and that we use to justify it.

But it will still be sin.

The Doc File © 2006-2012 by Luke Dockery

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