Hoping to grow wise.

Rob Maupin


Posts Categorized as: thinking clearly




The Power of Wisdom and Grace

Caveat: This is a complicated post and might be boring to some readers…. fair warning.

Discouragement

It can be discouraging times for a Bible-believing Christian if you look around at all. The Charleston massacre, racism, the vitriol about Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner’s issues, the decision by SCOTUS on gay marriage, the Pope and ISIS. If you are like me, you might be wondering, “how in the world will we ever be a nation that pleases God?” If you look around a little further, you’ll see the church at odds with itself. Facebook abounds with lazy, ad hominem attacks on why the church has failed (x) demographic and how it has missed (x) teaching of Jesus. I have some smart Christian friends who are avidly anti-gun and other smart Christians who are equally pro-second-amendment. Even the Christians who are trying to do some good tend to take shots at each other regarding justice, poverty, loving your neighbor etc. And, if you’re like most people, this discussion goes at the national or regional level even if you have never met the people involved, or researched the issue at hand. We have, at times, become a church at the mercy of the media. The only vetted purveyors of truth are those self-proclaimed prophets with the fastest internet or the shrillest voices.

Now, in all fairness, this is nothing new in principle. Gossip, rumor, personal attacks and intentional misinformation have been around since the dawn of mankind (e.g. Adam and Eve’s deflection of blame in the Garden). Empires, both old and new, have used these techniques. Mussolini’s first weapon was the newspaper he owned; Hitler had Goebbels. And, while the press has also been a force for truth, freedom and democracy, the issue here is that we have a new platform (internet and social media) but the dangers involved are the same. The biggest change with the new platform?—no editors and no pushback. Anyone can throw out anything they want and escalate things as fast as they like. Passions flare, calls to action abound and clear thinking becomes difficult.

This tends to create camps, groups, and labels. Negative attribution begins to thrive and we start developing a strong sense of who our enemies are. A former student of mine has announced that he’s become “a champion of justice and a defender of gay rights.” according to a social media post. Regardless of your beliefs on gay rights, this person has set up everyone who is not on his side as an enemy. Against whom is he actually fighting? We have turned into a society that demands that you endorse our opinions and feelings. If you don’t, you’re a bigot and,…well, you better watch out because my righteous team is against your evil team. This kind of emotional pain makes us myopic. Our own pain (real, imagined or borrowed) makes us stop thinking about anything other than our wounds. Our “camp” becomes our form of communal sharing of pain. And, when we feel our camp might be threatened, we all tend to get defensive and a little aggressive.

Better Pathways

What pathway do we take to find hope for ourselves and assist in healing? How do we engage the suffering we see around us, actually love our enemy (esp if we’ve never met them personally) and do good work in the world today? How do we address racism and white privilege without separating into camps? How do we love the gay community and still pursue holiness? Who can show us how to address poverty, terrorism, domestic violence and hyper-capitalism?

John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (NASB95). Grace and truth—here is our secret and hope.

Some of us err on the side of grace—we say that there is no room for the church to judge anyone, ever. If we’re not careful, sentimentality becomes our new standard. Statements like “love has no labels” creep into our dialogue. Feelings tend to become the indicators of rightness and anything that hurts emotionally becomes the work of the evil one. We can also err on the side of truth and simply let broken people go on their way and smugly judge them. We fight hard to address things as they really are (e.g. love really actually does have labels) and then let the bodies fall where they may. Over the last few years as a teacher, leader and pastor, I have seen most of my students gravitate toward one side or the other. It is very difficult to walk in both grace and truth. It’s a very, very messy pathway. But I’d like to suggest that the grace-and-truth-way gives us several forms of leverage for the world we live in.

  1. Canceling Revenge: Grace, together with truth stops the revenge cycle. Here’s what I mean—It’s easy to say “you should forgive” if you’re not the one who feels hurt. This is part of the issue of the racism arguments. Truth calls out the evil, the sin, the injustice and takes the brokenness out into the sunlight where we have to address it. However, left by itself, the truth demands action—usually punitive. Our problem is that we all tend to think that we are the judge of what equality should look like. Grace allows us to let God be the judge. We get the chance to forgive, to extend to others the grace that was extended to us. Grace without truth in this situation is a terrible option…we expect people to “get over it” and just decide they shouldn’t be hurt anymore. This just escalates the hurt and the sense of injustice. Grace and truth together give us the chance to address the “Stockdale Paradox”* and still choose to not be chained to revenge. Only then can we move forward. Grace accepts the true debt owed and then cancels it; there is no more need for revenge.
  2. Thinking Clearly: The combination of Grace and Truth helps us to stop and think a bit. Revenge will scream at us but truth tends to whisper. Allowing ourselves to step back from the issue and think a bit gives us a chance to practice Covey’s habit of “seeking first to understand…” Proverbs 18:17 is applicable here. There are two sides to every issue (or more) and truth helps us see clearly what’s going on while Grace allows us to resist judging motives or intentions. When we stop for even a moment, we can start to see that there are more opinions than just ours. This helps us not be afraid. The Gospel turned Rome upside down and has flourished in far worse civilizations. When we think clearly, we see that God is still in control and we have to pay attention to him.
  3. Humility: This awareness of the power and sovereignty of God allows us to genuinely manifest humility. We all tend to think we’re geniuses and prophets. Everyone seems to think the answers are obvious. But grace and truth allows us to partially remove our biases, address our weakness and ignorance (and we are all of us, very ignorant indeed) and see that we are both part of the problem and part of the healing. Very few people belong to actual hate groups. Most of us are just weak and afraid. When we humbly admit our fears as well as our bias, we can look for truth, through a lens of love for others that cannot come outside of Jesus. Truth tells us that we are not the judges or creators; we are derived from the One who can see all things. Grace shows us that while we are limited, we are loved and cared for. That’s what humility looks like.
  4. Courage: When God told Jesus “no” in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was forced to trust God through the worst things imaginable. He was forced to walk through the hatred and violence. He had to trust that God the Father was going to repay him (Heb 12:2). He was an example of suffering unjustly (I Peter 2:21) that we can follow. Trust in God starts with picking up your cross…your death to self. This has never been easy and will not get easy until we have practiced it over and over (Luke 9:23). Courage comes from knowing what really is happening and realizing we can love the messy people around us anyway. And, when action is finally required, we know that grace and truth accompany us as we go.

Grace and truth is what came through Jesus into this world. Law was the option before Jesus and most people are still trying to live by law…only they set themselves or their “community” up as the arbiters of that law. Woe unto those who break their law…

If you would live a life of both Grace and Truth, there are a couple of suggestions I have that might be of help.

Next Steps

First, read a chapter of Proverbs every day and try to think clearly about what’s going on in the text. You’ll begin to see parallels immediately in the culture around you and this will give you a rubric to think more clearly about our issues. I’m not kidding about this one… if you want to think well, you need a teacher. Start here.

Second, take a season and stop listening to social media about the issues and get involved in serving locally. I suspect you’ll find that there are plenty of complicated issues right next door to you that require grace and truth. We all tend to want to have our voices matter on the national (or global) stage but the truth is that what makes the news is probably our local context writ large. If you ask God to open your eyes to the needs around you, he is faithful and will do so.

Next, read wisely. Read Stephan Bauman, or Jud Wilhite, or John Perkins, or Eric Metaxas, or Thomas Sowell or Dallas Willard or… well, you get the idea. Read good history. Read widely—especially books that have been vetted by other thought leaders. What you’ll find as you read really wise books is that our generation is addressing the same problems that have faced humanity since the first day.

Lastly, work through Matthew 5, Habakuk and I Peter to think about how we love those who are against us. Think deeply about what it means to suffer unjustly and yet be pleasing to God in spite of our pain. It doesn’t take much to love the people who look like you or agree with you. It takes nothing less than grace and truth to love your enemies. In fact, you should practice this with the people you work with daily. Let them win….

It can be extremely discouraging if you pay too much attention to the world today. But take heart! God has not left us! The response from the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after the shooting in Charleston has garnered the amazement of millions—grace and truth is being manifested in power. Thanks be to God, grace and truth still are being made real every day. We can be honored that we have a role to play in this era! You can be part of that same power and process.


*I refer here to what Jim Collins discusses in his book “Good to Great.”


Possible: A Book Review

Resurrection

As I write this post, Easter is right around the corner. I love Easter! The resurrection is the single most important historical fact in the world. I rejoice every year that sin has been broken and light came into the world! Through the Pascual Event the redemption of the world began. While I deeply rejoice during this season, I am always tempered in heart by the injustice and suffering I see around our world today. The experience of Easter has still not come for many people in the world today. For the last 20+ years I have had the privilege and sorrow of trying to be part of the solution to this issue. And, as mission practitioner and professor I am always looking for wise ways to help people to engage in being part of what God is doing for those who are most vulnerable. Over these decades I have gone through several iterations of trying to be helpful: Prophet (I’m not very good at that), Activist (exhausting and unproductive for me), Systems-guy (lacking passion) and even scholar (more or less). I have read mountains of books and articles to try to understand what the wise way of engaging this problem is. I’m happy to say that my friend, Stephan Bauman* has written a wonderful book to help people begin the process of standing with the vulnerable.

When I call this book “wise,” it’s a high compliment for me. I know lots of people who become single-issue activists. There are rafts of folks trying to point out where the church is off-base and there are oodles of impassioned pleas for some kind of radical steps. Seldom do you hear voices advocating a way that is both possible, wise, honest and sustainable. So, let me tell you some things that you might need as a caveat before reading this book:

Caveats:

First—this is not an explanation of injustice or an exegesis of poverty. For you analytical folks, the book does not go into macro-economics or the theologically variant positions held by those searching for a true antibody to the global causes of evil. Rather, it is a book that calls us personally to get involved at a whole-life level.

Secondly, for the passionate side of the room, this book is not the common “rah-rah” about how the corrupt American church has abandoned the true gospel and how the tears of a thousand victims accuse us from the yada yada yada. This book is an invitation to get involved with what is hurtful to God. So, for those of you who tend to drop a book at the first hint of passion—keep reading. While the book starts out with an impassioned plea from Stephan, it gets more practical and helpful as you continue to read. And, for those of you who will start to get bogged down in the logic behind a sustainable pathway to wise engagmement—keep reading! The end of the book is a wonderful reminder of what we can do!

Here are some things that I like the book:

  1. I know Stephan. He is both a remarkably gifted leader (on a truly global scale) but he also a poet, a great Dad and a faithful husband. He is smart, gifted and yet surprisingly humble. Do he and I disagree? Probably. But I would never start there. He and Belinda show the fruit of the Spirit and my wife and I just simply love them—we always want to be closer to Jesus when we’re around them. That says a lot to me.
  2. The book is a catalyst rather than an explanation. Poverty and Injustice are categories that are excruciatingly hard to explain. Categorically, for many people there are no words to explain the horrors of the LRA in Uganda or the DR Congo. Sex-trafficking and starvation are not like biological categories—they tend to be protean and inhabited with evil. Even that statement is hard to understand unless you’ve seen and felt it. “Possible” is a book that says that while we may not understand it, we can be part of the solution.
  3. In the book, the central character is God. I love this. Some people sell books or a media empire based on their own personality. Stephan constantly points back to the fact that God is the agent and we are the participants! It is God who holds the responsibility for the movement and the success. He is the standard of what is just.
  4. The stories Stephan uses are people and situations that he personally is familiar with. Almost anyone can use data or stories from others to prove almost any point they like, but Stephan has lived and walked with the people he discusses in the book. That’s pretty rare.
  5. The appendices are extremely helpful. Stephan took some very complicated theories and practices and made them accessible for anyone willing to simply take the time to work a little bit.

Critique

I have two small critiques of the book from my experience as a missionary and as a teacher. First, the book doesn’t address the nature and effect of the spiritual powers that are involved in systematic evils. Second, there isn’t a section on the character formation needed to sustain a lifetime of involvement with injustice and outreach. But, those things being said, no one book can be all things to all people. Stephan’s point was not specifically to explain but to catalyze. In this department he succeeds admirably. If nothing else, read the list of endorsements in the front pages from some of Christianity’s most influential leaders and you’ll understand that this is a book you’ll want to read.

Stephan, thanks for writing. Reader, I hope you’ll take the time to at least give the book a chance. Happy Easter!


*Stephan is the President of World Relief. For more information on World Relief, please visit their website soon. For more of his poetry and writing, check out stephanbauman.com. And, just for anyone wondering, Neither Stephan nor the publisher asked me to write this review. I just wanted to share.


Slow Grieving

Me and Mom in their backyard

I tend to avoid other people’s autobiographical posts. Sometimes it can seem self indulgent or like a form of auto-therapy. Nevertheless, I seem to keep writing them…

During the last six months of my life, I have been in a season of slow grief. It’s a refining time and one I’ve not enjoyed very much. It might be a mid-life crisis but I can’t afford a Porsche. Something deeper is happening. I have sought counsel. Prayer has been a constant practice. I have shared my soul with some dear friends but nothing can change the fact that I’m going through the process of grief. And today, I wanted to write in order to connect with those who might be in the same place.

Grief is not new to me. I experienced it as a boy when our landlord died. As a few more elderly people I loved passed, I began to see it more and more. And then, after my brother Matt was killed in 1985, I endured it first hand in a severe way. Since that time I’ve grieved all kinds of things. You have too. I don’t mean to be maudlin about how we experience sorrow. But this season is different for me. It is a season of slow grief. And it has snuck up on me. It has affected me through at least three areas:

The primary way has been the slow degeneration of my Mom due to her Alzheimer’s. Our family is not unique in this sorrow by any means. And everyone, if they live long enough, has to deal with aging parents. But those are facts and this is about my Mom. My memories of her wisdom and intelligence still amaze me. One time, in order to chastise me for smoking, she sat down by me on the couch and said, “I’m going to the store, do you need anything?” I replied with a negative cro-magnon grunt. She continued, “Do you need me to pick up some more Marlboros? I noticed the pack in your truck is almost empty.” She then walked out leaving me speechless and totally embarrassed. She was so smart! My recollections of her include her impressive office at the hospital, her clean kitchen, her work ethic, and her volunteering at church for almost anything. All of you who know her remember that she had an extraordinary cultural bandwidth. She could work with a crowd of farmers, a ladies’ tea or immigrant women who needed to find a way to immunize their children. She was not perfect, but I am now dealing with a real sadness for her condition and a weird sense of guilt for being so far away, for so long.

The second thing I’ve been grieving has been the health of my wife and daughter. Watching the endless doctor visits has played a weird game with my mind. On one hand, I’m grateful we have great doctors and it’s not nearly as difficult as things that other people face. For example, my sweet niece Hannah has gone through two rounds of cancer and our family has prayed and prayed for her (and their fam) during these last years. I know that Shannon (systemic lupus) and Kate (vasculitis PAN) are not in that same severe journey. Hannah’s processes are far more difficult than our family’s. Yet, on the other hand, the journey of seeing my girls have such vast changes in their lives has developed a grief in me that is hard to describe. It is a dual grief of missing Shannon’s health and grieving the potential future of Kate. God has been so good to us considering the suffering of other people. I can’t deny that nor would I ever want to. Gratefulness pervades my heart about the kind of health-care and provision God has given us for them both. Yet an underlying sadness is there, at the back of my room of my heart that has lost something.

Lastly, our transition to Texas has had it’s own breed of grief. It has manifested in two parts: The first was leaving work and people we loved / the second was arriving somewhere new. All four of us had to leave friendships that had become like family. As we had no immediate family in Lincoln, our friends had to play the role of family for us and for our kids. In particular, Shannon and I both had jobs that we believed to be from God. We worked hard to be competent at those jobs and found them fulfilling. Leaving those was difficult as well. The second part was coming to a new place, with a different culture at a weird time in life. Garrett and Kate were both convinced that God was bringing us to Texas and have done a great job working through the process. And, we are blessed at how wonderful our new church leadership has been. They have helped us and loved us in wonderful, godly ways. Regardless, the leaving of our friends-like-family and the cultural punch-in-the-face that comes from being new have caused another kind of hurt. And watching my kids (as adolescents) suffer through this was harder than I anticipated.

Ok, enough of that…I’m making myself sick. Sheesh. You get the picture—no main tragedy; just a slow grief. But even in this season God continues to teach me.

I believe that feelings are usually not accurate indicators of truth. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane should teach us that at the very least. Sacrifice is a normal part of the way that Christ-followers deal with the demands of Lordship. Sorrow is par for the course for all of humanity. But for me, the season of slow grieving is a new phenomenon and it has been a different challenge. And, like all things broken, God has been turning my grief into good. In particular he has given me three things that I need very much.

The first is a deeper humility. No one I know enjoys the process of growing humble because it involves humiliation. But my inability to effect any kind of change in any of the three areas of grief has dropped me to a deeper reliance on God and on the church than I’ve had in a long time. The fact that our life is a vapor and like the short season when grass grows has never been more apparent. Like many an old-geezer, I marvel at how time accelerates and trends repeat themselves. This kind of humility has kept me from the arrogant passion of younger days and has developed a stronger belief in the body of Christ being mature and faithful. It is a desire to be wise rather than clever.
Another gift that God has given through this grief is more tenderness in my heart. The sorrow of poverty, the sadness of injustice and the deep wounds that infect our nation and our world are less “issues-to-deal-with” and more apparent to my conscience. Resources for “dealing” with these problems have not increased for me but the need to address them in love is growing.
The last one is a growing sense of God’s presence and provision. In my Bible and in my counsel he keeps using the word “wait.” I’ve kinda grown to expect it and hate it all at the same time (when I’m most honest). My need to tangibly trust God has grown. The rhythms of surrender that I have practiced over the years has become a life-line for me and His response to me has increased as well. When he says “wait” I know that he brought us here according to his good purpose. The church here in TX has been another of God’s instruments to remind me that I am still in his hands. It can sometimes be hard to see through the hazy conditions of grieving but his presence and provision is enough to remind me that he sees me. Recently I’ve been privileged to be part of the launch team for Eric Metaxas’ new book: Miracles [1]. God has used that to remind me that he is cooking up a real doozy. I can’t wait to see the finished product.

People innately seem to have a relentless urge to pursue happiness. When it fails we tend to grieve. I want to have a relentless desire to pursue God: I want him to be my “one thing.” He is my portion. He is my prize and he is the antidote to my patient grieving. When other people grieve, try your best to avoid giving “encouragement” disguised as teaching. In my case, I have a long track record of pastoral work. Answers aren’t my problem. What I need now is prayer—and I’ll take it. Jesus will indeed heal Mom…and my family… and me. I’m thankful to have a great family, great doctors, great work experiences and a great church! Hope is on the horizon. The presence of God will be made manifest to us all—soon and forever.


[1] I will soon do a review of this book. Spoiler: it’s fantastic.