Friday, August 26, 2005

The God Who loves diversity - 1 Corinthians 12

In our weekly Bible study (which I haven't posted in a few months now), we've been studying 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul teaches about spiritual gifts. Two of the things that became really visible to me as we studied were how much God loves diversity, and how He intends for the diversity in His church to be a source of blessing for His people.

God's love for diversity is clearly shown in the two lists Paul gives of the gifts that God has given his people. While the lists overlap, they are by no means the same, which indicates that rather than being exhaustive lists of the spiritual gifts, they are representative of a potentially much larger group of the gifts God gives. God has a vast and diverse array of gifts He means to give to His people, according to His purposes for them and their needs in the particular time and place in which they find themselves. While the focus is on the powerful and spectacular gifts which so entranced the Corinthians, Paul also hints that some of these gifts are not ones we would desire to have in his discussion of how the human body fits together. In verse 23, he makes reference to parts of the body that are less presentable and require more modesty and yet are still essential parts of who we are. Given the force of the analogy with the church, it seems reasonable to believe that God also gifts the church in the same way, with people who are less presentable and require more modesty, and yet are inseparable from what He means His church to be. God likes not only those in our midst who are spectacular and beautiful but also those who are weak and unimpressive, and He's glad for part each of us contributes to the body of Christ.

We, on the other hand, prefer the prominent gifts, and perhaps with some justification, as Paul himself told us to eagerly seek the greater gifts. But the greater gifts are to be sought not because of the added luster they give to us individually, but because of the blessing they give to the body as a whole. The Corinthians were notorious for the factionalism and their tendency to push the envelope of their spiritual freedoms, both of which were rooted in a desire to gain personal prominence and power. Thus they sought gifts like tongues because such gifts made it unmistakable that God was speaking through them even if no one had any clue what He was saying. But God wants us to use our diverse gifts to bring diverse blessings to others because our needs as a body are diverse. We need not only teaching, but also encouragement, not just good leaders, but also faithful followers, not only people with great faith, but also people with only a little faith who provide the strong with an opportunity to use their strength to bless those in need.

This is rather different from many churches today, where homogeneity is considered a strength and personal weaknesses are kept carefully hidden so as not to be a source of embarrassment. But from what Paul says, these churches are actually rather ugly in God's sight, sort of like a gigantic eye with no body to support it, or a torso with a hand and an ear attached to it. While homogeneity may promote efficiency and make it easy for everyone to get along, God seems to prefer a diversity that forces us to move out of our comfort zones and be stretched to bless people who are very different from us, and perhaps even to receive a blessing from them in return. Where we tend to prefer age-segregated adult fellowship groups and would rather keep the disabled and handicapped in "their own place" if we allow them at all, God would rather we bring college students, grandparents, middle-aged homemakers and those on wheelchairs or with speach impediments all together in a diverse group of people who love Jesus. I've seen this diversity in my church, and God uses it in unexpected ways to make something very beautiful.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Technology and the church

My #1 son and I were looking at some computer software designed for churches, and we found ourselves rather bemused by some of the capabilities of the software. You can, for example, create sophisticated personalized letters for bulk mailings and photo id badges for church members that make it easy for church staff to call people by name and can be scanned to record the member's attendance.

One possible use of these features is to make it easier for the staff of a large church to create for people the illusion that they are connected to the leadership. It's comforting to be addressed by first name and to receive letters that contain personal information rather than being simply addressed to "Occupant." And it can be nice to have someone say "we missed you on Sunday" even if they only knew about your absence because you didn't get your badge scanned.

But we need to more than just an illusion of connection, we need to actually be connected to each other, and that's a much more difficult challenge. When the time comes that we encounter strains in our lives and need someone to talk to, what we really want is not simply to talk to a pastor whose only knowledge of us is the information he's reading from his computer screen as we talk. But people have only a limited amount of time for each other and a limited capacity for meaningful relationships, so pastors can very quickly reach the point where they simply can't keep in touch with any more people in a meaningful way. What churches really need from technology is not simply assistance in creating the illusion that people are connected to each other but help in actually connecting people. Software that can effectively help us to identify people who are inadequately connected and to bring them in contact with others who have open capacity for relationships would help churches to take a step towards creating real Christian fellowship within the community.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Unintended consequences of war

The Belmont Club has a fascinating comment on how the rush to get a technological edge on our enemy has unintended consequences that, for better or worse, we have to live with.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Thirteen numbers that tell about George Bush - part 3

Here are the last of the numbers that the Democratic Party believes say something about George Bush. Some of these are guesswork, some are of uncertain interpretation, and none of them in my opinion say anything particularly bad about a man who is a better president than his opponents give him credit for being.

Here are points 9-13 (see below for the others):

9. 5 million - the increase in the number of people who have no health insurance since George Bush took office.
“One of the groups with the greatest risk of being uninsured is non-citizen immigrants; almost half (45.3 percent) were uninsured in 2003.” A better policy for dealing with illegal immigrants would greatly reduce this figure, and would go far to dealing with many other healthcare issues.

10. 20,000 - the number of premature deaths annually resulting from the Republican gutting of the Clean Air Act
This number is not easily proven and needs to be considered against other projections, such as the number of people who would die early because of the loss of healthcare because of their unemployment as a result of their employer’s being forced out of business by the expenses of implementing the Clean Air Act as it now stands. Some of the rationale for President Bush’s Clear Skies act are here. The act will result in more than 60% reduction in major pollutants from current levels - perhaps not as much as the Clean Air Act would have, but a lot nevertheless, and perhaps as much as we can afford.

11. $400 million - ho w much the Bush administration wants to slash the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency.
As documented here, this is a 6% reduction in the budget and reflects reductions in the spending on water cleanup. Other areas of the agency’s budget are increased.

12. 3 - the multiple by which North Korea has increased its nuclear weapons arsenal while George Bush has lead us into Iraq.
I would have thought that the Democratic party would have expected this to be an issue for the United Nations to address, just as it is addressing Iran’s nuclear weapons development plans.

13. 0 - the number of mistakes George Bush admits to making in his first term.
It’s not clear why this should be a surprise.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Thirteen numbers that tell about George Bush - part 2

More on the numbers relating to President Bush (see the previous list for more information on where these came from). I've learned a lot from this exercise, both about how numbers need to be taken in context and how an awful lot depends on whether you trust the sources providing you with the numbers. Here are numbers 5-8 of the list:

5. $236 billion - the surplus Bill Clinton left George Bush
This followed the huge dot-com boom and was diminishing rapidly during the last year of Clinton’s term due to the impending collapse of the boom..

6. $333 billion - the current deficit under George Bush
On the heels of 9/11, the dot-com bust, and Operation Iraqi freedom, this is not a terribly surprising number. As a percentage of the GDP, the federal debt is been smaller under President Bush than it had been at any time between 1998 and 1999.

7. 800,000 - the net loss of jobs in George Bush’s first term
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total number of civilians employed increased from 137.8 million to 140.2 million between January 2001 and January 2004, a growth of just under 2.5 million jobs, and this despite both 9/11 and the dot-com bust. Unemployment levels are now the same as they were during President Clinton’s first term, which is a better base of comparison than his second term when they were artificially deflated by the dot-com boom.

8. $13.1 billion - how much George Bush has underfunded the No Child Left Behind Act.
See here for some rebuttals to this accusation. Education is getting funded at a remarkable level in this country (about $10,000 per pupil from all sources in California, for example) with no real proof that the additional funds are providing a commensurate improvement in educational quality. We need to concentrate on using existing funds more productively before looking at increasing funding further.

Thirteen numbers that tell about George Bush - part 1

The Democratic party recently distributed a fund-raising letter in which it listed thirteen numbers that “tell how poorly George Bush and the Republican Congress have served America.” At first glance, these numbers look serious, but when we look a little deeper they loose much of their force against the President, and in some cases highlight how well he has actually done his job. I’ll post these questions in a couple of chunks together with a brief analysis of why these numbers do not make the point the party leaders apparently think they do.

Numbers 1-4:

1. 1766 - number of American soldiers killed in Iraq as of July 18, 2005
This works out to about 61 casualties per month or two per day. For a war of this magnitude, this level of casualties would seem to be remarkably low. At this rate it would take over seventy years to reach the number of casualties suffered in the Vietnam war (58,226) .

2. $181 billion - spent on the Iraq as of July 18, 2005.
Operation Desert Storm cost $61 billion for about 100 days of combat. Iraqi Freedom cost three times that much for almost ten times a long a period, or one third as much to sustain over a much larger front.

3. 0 - number of weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq
While fear of WMDs was one justification for the war, war was authorized for many other reasons, including Saddam’s support for terrorism and violation of numerous United Nations resolutions. The unanimous opinion at the time was that Saddam had WMDs (even his own generals thought so). If he did have them, he also had plenty of opportunity to get rid of them or convert them to peaceful uses (e.g. fertilizer plants) before we invaded. For all we know they may still be hidden out there, since we’re still discovering new weapons caches every day.

4. $98 billion - how much George Bush has underfunded first responders since 9/11
As of early 2004 (see here) only $1.1 billion of the $6.3 billion allocated for first responders under the Homeland Security grant program had actually been spent. It is difficult to see how we could usefully have spent almost 100 times that much, or given the current budget deficit, how it would have been funded.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Not by might, nor by strength...

When I woke up this morning I found myself thinking "not by might, nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord." God said this to Jeremiah, and I believe that it is the key for me too. Nothing I do on my own propers, but if I let God lead and enable me, then good things start to happen. I found this true at work today; when I let God lead, things moved along ok but if I got distracted or my trust wavered, I started to slump. Now my hope is that tomorrow I'll wake up with the same thought, and the day after as well, until it becomes a habit and a settled conviction. Then God might finally have His way with me as I think He's intended all along.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Still alive...

My family is in a new home and we're mostly oriented to our new neighborhood. It's been a big learning experience for me, with one of the big lessons being that I need more help from more people with more things than I have been willing to admit. Admitting this is tough on my pride, which values self-sufficiency more than a lot of other things. But the effort to be sufficient to all the needs I've been encountering has threatened to make me really sick and has undermined my ability to do the things that I really should have been able to do.

With God's help I've relaxed some, reducing my expectations in some areas and getting help in others. People are graciously stepping in to help, and my stomach has stopped hurting. And I'm hoping now by God's grace to be able to start some low-key blogging, believing that He has a few things He wants me to say here.

Stay tuned...