Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Why I Cannot Assent To Jesus As Lord


"Assent" is a popular word in many Christian circles. It is used to speak of propositional agreement, of self-conscious intellectual accord, of belief in Jesus. In confessing membership vows we "assent to the following declarations and promises".  We assent to the Westminster Confession of Faith, and to other creeds and confessions. So important is "assent" to us Reformed types that when I searched "book of church order assent" this usage by a church in Chicago appeared: "the membership process culminates with your public assent to faith in Jesus Christ."

To assent is to agree to or approve of something, often after careful thought. Where consent shades toward "agree with", assent is a little more active, shading toward "agree to" or "agree at".

To assent to declarations and promises is a mighty fine thing, and I have in fact vowed the vow that that particular phrase comes from. But the idea of assent, of intellectual lining-up, has leaked out of polity and into expressions of faith and belief. Which is why someone could say "assent to faith in Jesus Christ" when they mean "confession to/of faith in Jesus Christ". Confession is not even profession; confession is almost involuntary, we can't help but do it, we are forced to do it, we admit to it, we acknowledge it.

Now, no self-respecting Reformed Christian would emphasize our own will and deeds over against God's, but in our sneaky intellectual little way, we begin to think that we are saved because we assented. Because we agreed to God's propositions.

We forget that God threw us down on our knees and broke our wills until we acknowledged what was already true. Only then did we believe it. Only then did we admit it. Only then did we confess it: Jesus is Lord.

This has been on my mind over the past couple of days because of my pastor's sermon on Romans 11:11-24 on Sunday. This is the passage about the olive tree into which the Gentiles have been ingrafted.
Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.
We all know why the natural branches, "those who have fallen", were cut off, right? Sure. Not bearing fruit. Israel was the fig tree that Jesus struck. Israel didn't do what she was supposed to do. And what Israel was supposed to do, the fruit she failed to bear, was to believe on Jesus as their Lord. Right?

I was struck by the phrase "they were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith." Were the branches cut off because they refused to assent to the proposition that Jesus was the Messiah? No. They were cut off because they did not bring in the nations. They did not love justice and mercy. They did not believe. Which doesn't mean that they failed intellectually. They failed to bear the fruit of the Spirit. They failed to know God. They failed to have faith.

Unbelief and faith here are contrasted as opposites. Not unbelief and belief, not negation and assent, but unbelief and faith. And this is important, because this faith is not our own, it is a gift. A kindness. And St. Paul makes that point in the passage above. God has been so kind to us, but we must continue in his kindness, lest we be cut off. We must bear fruit, for that is what faith does. What does belief do?

To assent that Jesus is Lord means nothing. Even the demons assent, and shudder. Let the word "assent" remain in its logic classes and its church polities.

Let us instead confess that it is all by God's mercy, whether we understand it or no. Let us admit that any intellectual agreement that we have with the Creator of the Universe only exists because the Lord Jesus beat us down to our knees with his scepter. We do not assent to salvation. We submit to it. We confess it.

And let us always keep an eye out for the wolf of salvation by works. For the Pentecostal is saved by his tongues, the Catholic by his prayers, and the Presbyterian by his assents.


P.S. I know that much of this is about semantics, and that the misuse of assent by the church in Chicago is simply a semantic misuse. But surely our semantic choices are significant, and can show us how we think.

Homeschooler Interest: Entire Town Lives (& Schools) In Same Building

This video about a schoolteacher in Whittier, Alaska, has been making the viral rounds. Nearly the entire town of Whittier lives in one building. Some of the video gives off a depressing Caves of Steel vibe, and if you're like me, you'll notice with relief the first shot showing a window instead of a hallway. But that feeling is probably more Alaska than high-rise; I imagine that small town life in Alaska involves a lot of isolation and a lot of staying at home.

One of the things that drew my attention takes place in the first third of the video. The relationship between this teacher and her students is fascinating, particularly from the perspective of  a homeschooler. Take some time to watch.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Best Way To Upcycle Cigar Boxes

I walked into Cameroon Cigars today and this is what they had done to several of their cigar boxes. Haven't seen a better job done yet.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Morning Cheer

We are definitely not one of those everyone-up-at-the-same-time families, nor are we a family that is efficient in its morning ablutions and preparations. We all just kind of stumble out of bed within a certain hour range and start to get going. L'il Joffre usually makes breakfast, but otherwise there's not much rhyme or reason to our mornings. The same kid who's up and dressed and homeschooling himself at 6:30 one day will stumble out of bed after 8 the next, stretching and groaning. (My wife is reading this over my shoulder and wants you to know that she starts homeschooling faithfully by nine.)

I wake up cheerfully, but I am either out of the house as the first kids are rising, or I am sleeping in. I don't do in between. And wifey is not a morning person. At all.  Which is why what I'm going to tell you is such a miracle.

One of the things I love about my home is that universal "good mornings" fly around as people start to get out of bed. I'm not sure how it happened, but there's no "hey" or "hi" or "mumblemumblegroan". It's always "good morning" when someone emerges for the first time; you can hear, as the kid moves downstairs into the bathroom and then the kitchen and the living room, the series of cheerful greetings.

I'm trying to say that my kids are great. Thanks, kids!

Even little Mara is in on it. Can you picture how adorable it would be to be greeted by a "good morning" from this little girl every day?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How To Tip Like John 10 Is True: A Christian Tipping Manifesto


Jesus said, I and my Father are one.

Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.

And behold, Jesus referred to Psalm 82 and Isaiah 41, making the point that all to whom the word of God has come are gods. Then he upped the ante and again said that he himself was the one true God, and he escaped, because he was definitely about to be killed for blasphemy.

But he left that point hanging there. When Psalm 82 says that you are a god, it's not just saying you're a lord, as some have argued. The lords of men are gods. No qualification needed. There are good lords and wicked lords. And Christians are, by virtue of being the new humanity, lords on the earth. "I have said, ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High." Lords are not just nobility, or gentry. They are the rulers of men, they are powers and principalities.

We should live our entire lives as if we were lords. And what do ideal lords do? They protect, they provide work, they seek justice. In fact, they are obligated to do so. As the elohim of the world we war on its baalim. If we refuse to be generous we are lords of the flies, withholding life when we could give it. We have life, so we must give it. We must be good lords.

We should give a generous reward for work performed. And what is more, we should be gracious about it, not counting too closely how much work was done and by whom. That is, after all, what Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like. Let us do with our denarii as we wish. And we wish to be kind to our vassals, tenants, and servants.

That is, by the way, exactly what waiters and bartenders are. Your employees.

You had forgotten we were talking about tipping, hadn't you?

Did you know that in other countries waiters are employed by the restaurants they work for and are paid a living wage? Not in these here United States. There is a veneer of employment, but they are essentially free agents whom you contract when you sit at a table. That is because they are payed just over $2 an hour by their establishment. This is legal because the establishment is obligated to bring that up to minimum wage if tips don't get them to at least minimum wage. And let me assure you that grown ups with lives can't live on minimum wage. A forty hour work week on minimum wage yields less than $300 dollars per week. That's less than $15K a year. At full overtime it would take sixty hours a week all year to get into the high twenty-thousands. And that doesn't become a question of willingness to work. It's a lot easier to find 40 hours of work than it is to find 60. By the way, most people who make a living as waiters actually get paid nothing by their restaurant once Uncle Sam is done with them.

So when you sit down to eat at a restaurant, you are making a covenant to be that person's employer. You pay them, not the restaurant. They make no money except what you pay them. You should ask as you sit down, what would Arthur Guinness do? How to tip like the gods we are?

1. Act like you're rich. Know that you're going to be hiring a temp for an hour or two, and if that seems too expensive, then you're not rich enough to go out. Or you could go to Five Guys. Basically, don't go out without budgeting for a tip. And don't cut into the tip if you're on a budget. Order less.

2. Pay your waiter like he or she is supporting their family on their own. And I don't mean as a single parent, although that might be the case. I mean pay him as if he's the sole provider for his family. Even if he's not, he's probably working this job because his first job doesn't pay quite enough in this radically individualistic economy in which individuals get paid as if they had only themselves to look after. Waiting tables is one of the most common second jobs.

And if you know for a fact that he isn't the only income in his family, or that he doesn't have a family, it doesn't matter. As the Christian employer of this waiter, you want his spouse at home with the kids, or you want him to one day have a family, and you will totally finance that because you're a rich lord.

3. Honor your contract. Remember, this is a contract! And you've contracted to tip 15-20% of the bill. Since this is not the European system of tipping as a bonus, you can't look at the money as if your waiter has to go through a checklist or do all sort of extra things to earn it. "Okay, friendly greeting, check, that's a buck." "Okay, brought me my drinks quickly, there's another buck." "Oops, just showed a little impatience, lose a buck!" And don't tip by how much work your were, unless you're adding a bonus because he was overworked and you were impressed. Just because you sat by yourself and ordered simply doesn't mean you don't have to fulfill your end. Take up a seat, take up the contract.

If you want to leave feedback, that's fine, but you have to pay the man. You can't stiff him because you didn't like him. Now, I say that as someone who philosophically maintains the right to stiff someone, which I've only done two or three times in my life, and only after talking to a manager. Because the waiter had been so bad, and so rude, that he had broken his contract with me. But unless it reaches that point, tip that 15-20% every time. If you really didn't like him, ask for someone else next time you're at the restaurant. If you had hired a man to landscape your lawn for $100, and you hadn't really liked the job he'd done, you'd have paid your $100 and not hired him again (I hope). Pay your debt. Honor your contract.

4. Represent Jesus Christ, King of Kings, Lord of the Universe, Word of God Eternal. Did you know that the servants of the Most High God tip badly? It's true. Everyone in the service industry knows it. No one wants to work the churchgoer shifts. And it's not just the ones you see at cheap diners and eateries after Sunday worship or Wednesday prayer, drinking so much free-refill sweet tea. It's not a class thing. I've been stiffed by pastors and seminary professors. It's a pervasive problem, and it's a sin problem.

You who like to talk about representing Jesus, represent him, please, in his generosity and kindness. Be the lord who gives a denarius for an hour's work. Stop acting like not tipping is a sign of stewardship. Being a good steward of your money means that you can tip! 

If you can't afford to eat like a king, don't hire like a king. But the fact is, if you're reading this on the internets, God has been kind to you. You can afford to play the king occasionally. So when you go out, be generous. Buy a drink for someone. Pick up someone's tab. Tip well. Give and accept grace with a good conscious. And treat your (contracted) employees well.

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