Posts tagged ‘Service’

The Pursuit of Something Greater Than Happiness

I’ve heard it more than once from someone who feels weighted down by life’s doldrums: “I just want to be happy.”  Happiness, it seems, is many people’s decisive goal and good.  And who can blame them?  Our nation has as its sacrosanct trinity life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We hold it as self-evident that we should be able to do whatever makes us happy.

But this begs the question:  What does make us happy?

If you believe behavioral scientist Paul Dolan, being a single woman without children is a highway to happiness that too few have travelled.  In an article for The Guardian, Sian Cain reports:

We may have suspected it already, but now the science backs it up: unmarried and childless women are the happiest subgroup in the population.  And they are more likely to live longer than their married and child-rearing peers, according to a leading expert in happiness …

Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics, said the latest evidence showed that the traditional markers used to measure success did not correlate with happiness – particularly marriage and raising children.

The article goes on to explain that men benefit from marriage more than women, mainly because men take fewer risks, earn more money, and live longer when married.  Conversely, women who are never married, according to Professor Dolan’s research, are healthier and live longer than women who are married.

On their face, Professor Dolan’s conclusions sound open and shut.  But the waters become muddied as the article continues:

The study found that levels of happiness reported by those who were married was higher than the unmarried, but only when their spouse was in the room.  Unmarried individuals reported lower levels of misery than married individuals who were asked when their spouse was not present.

Other studies have measured some financial and health benefits in being married for both men and women on average, which Dolan said could be attributed to higher incomes and emotional support, allowing married people to take risks and seek medical help.

Wait.  What?  So it’s not that unmarried women are happier than married women per se, it’s that they’re less miserable?  Less misery does not equate to being happy any more than having fewer cancer cells after chemotherapy equates to being healthy.  Moreover, other studies show, as this article admits, that marriage does bring certain benefits, including better health.  So, which is it?  Are unmarried women healthier or sicklier?  Are they better off or worse off?  The evidence, at best, seems inconclusive, which means that one can’t help but wonder whether Professor Dolan is following the evidence or manipulating it as he formulates his conclusions.

Beyond the evidentiary and interpretive questions surrounding Professor Dolan’s study, there is an even larger philosophical question we must consider:  Should happiness really be our goal?  I’m not arguing that happiness is not good; I’m just not sure it’s ultimate.  Many of history’s most compelling figures – from Socrates to Joan of Arc to Abraham Lincoln to Harriet Tubman to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Winston Churchill to Jesus Christ – sacrificed personal happiness for lasting impact.  Dionysus, it turns out, may be a great addition to life, but if you make him the goal of life, you might just forfeit the very happiness he purports to promise.

C.S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, personifies Eros, which is romantic and sensual love, as saying, “Better to be miserable with her than happy without her.  Let our hearts break provided they break together.”  Sometimes, misery that loves its company is better than happiness that is shallowly self-indulgent.  And this is true not just of erotic love, but of every kind of love.  Just ask the parent who stands by a wayward and wily child or the child who cares for an aging and ailing parent.  They will testify to the righteousness of and strange fulfillment that comes from a willingness to endure misery for the sake of love.

The biblical word for love that endures misery is “longsuffering.”  God is willing, the Bible says, to suffer long with His rebellious people because He loves them.  And in Jesus, He is willing even to suffer long for His rebellious people because He loves them.

Hopefully, your love is not miserable.  In fact, if it is, I would encourage you to seek help.  Just because love that is willing to endure misery can be good doesn’t mean that it is.  Have someone speak into your life who can tell you candidly whether the misery you’re experiencing is nobly selfless or just plain stupid.  With this being said, I am thankful that I have a Savior who was willing to be miserable on a cross for me.  That, oddly enough, brings me great happiness – and thankfulness.

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June 3, 2019 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Politics, Power, and Sacrifice

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Originally, I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to watch last Monday’s presidential debate.  But my curiosity got the best of me, so I turned on the TV.  I have seen many on social media bemoan the state of our politics in this presidential election and, I suppose, I would sympathize with their chorus.  The tone of this election is grating.  The discussion about this election often borders on and even ventures into the banal.  And the goal of this election appears to be little more than an undisguised race for power.  People across all points on our political spectrum are desperate to see their person in power so their interests can be furthered while others’ interests are overlooked, or, in some instances, even crushed.

Power is a funny thing, in part because it is such a dangerous thing.  In the famous dictum of Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”  Power ought to come with a warning label: “Handle with care.”

Power, of course, isn’t always bad.  God has plenty of power – indeed, He ultimately has all power – and is quite adept at using it.  But it is also important to point out that God’s power always comes with a purpose.  He uses His power in order to sustain the world.  He uses His power in order to constrain evil.  He uses His power in order to rescue us from hell.  Power, for God, is a means to some very good ends.

The concern I have with so many in our political system is that power has become the means and the end.  Politicians want power because, well, they want power!  And this means that when they get power, they often use it in a most detrimental way – not to help others, but to help themselves.

Yoni Appelbaum discusses this reality in an article for The Atlantic titled, “America’s First Post-Christian Debate.”  The way he describes America’s situation is jarring:

Civil religion died on Monday night.

For more than 90 minutes, two presidential candidates traded charges on stage. The bitterness and solipsism of their debate offered an unnerving glimpse of American politics in a post-Christian age, devoid of the framework that has long bound the nation together.[1]

He goes on to describe how traditionally Christian-esque values were not only not extolled in the first of our presidential debates, they were proudly repudiated.  Virtues, Appelbaum says, were reframed as vices.  Altruism was painted as a sucker’s game and sacrifice was left for those who are losers.  “The Clinton-Trump debate,” he concludes, “was decidedly Marxian in its assumptions – all about material concerns, with little regard for higher purpose.”  Yikes.  I hope he’s wrong.  But I couldn’t help but notice that not one transcendent concern made an appearance during the debate.  We, as a nation, have become so obsessed with the exercise of power in the material realm that we pay little regard to the transcendent One who gives power as a gift to be stewarded rather than as a weapon to be wielded.

When the high priest of political pragmatism sirens us into trading cherished values like altruism and sacrifice for the formidable forces of power and control, something has gone terribly wrong.  Such a trade fundamentally undermines the very purpose of power – at least in any Christian or morally traditional sense – in the first place.  Power is to be used for the sake of altruism, not to dispense with it.  Power is to be used in concert with sacrifice, not to insulate oneself from sacrifice.  Any of the men and women in our nation’s Armed Forces can tell you that. Jesus certainly expressed His power in sacrifice.  The cross was a place of no power and great power all at the same time.  On the cross, Jesus gave up all power, even power over His very life, as “He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).  But through the cross, Jesus exercised great power, conquering sin, death, and the devil.  Jesus’ power, to borrow a concept from the apostle Paul, came through weakness (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:10).

Political power might not involve dying on a cross, but it sure would be nice if it involved taking one up.  It sure would be nice if politicians used their power to do the right thing, even if it involved some measure of sacrifice.  It sure would be nice if politicians fashioned themselves more as public servants and less as demiurge saviors.  It sure would be nice if voters stopped cynically leveraging the power-obsessed sins of an opposing candidate to minimize and rationalize the power-obsessed sins of their own candidate.  A willingness to see sin as sin, even if it’s sin in the politician you happen to be voting for, is a first step to an honest and healthy analysis of our problems politically.

I understand that politicians are not always Christian, and I understand that non-Christians can be competent politicians.  I am also not so naïve as to think that every politician will see his or her elected office as a cross to bear rather than as a career to manage, even if they should.  I furthermore understand that the civil religion of which Appelbaum speaks in his article is not coterminous with – and in many ways is not compatible with – Christianity.  But the virtues of Christianity it promotes – charity, selflessness, and humility, among others – are good for our world even as they are good in the Church.  We need them.  We need them because, to quote another proverb from Lord Acton, “Despotic power is always accompanied by corruption of morality.”  The curbing of despotic power may not be the ultimate reason to foster and preserve Christian virtue in our political system, but it sure is a good reason.

We the people should expect of our politicians – and of ourselves – something more than a blunt exercise of power, even if that power happens to promote our interests.  We the people should expect real virtue, both in the people we elect as well as in ourselves.  Do we?  If we don’t, there’s no better time than the present to change our expectations.  Remember, the people we elect to public office are not just products of a corrupt political system, they are reflections of the values we celebrate and the vices we tolerate.

Perhaps it’s time for us to take a good, long look in the mirror.

__________________________

[1] Yoni Appelbaum, “America’s First Post-Christian Debate,” The Atlantic (9.27.2016).

October 3, 2016 at 5:15 am 4 comments

At God’s Core: Service

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Credit: Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles by Meister des Hausbuches, 1475

A while back, I was having a conversation with a friend who was going through a difficult time.  He was struggling relationally, vocationally, and financially.  And yet, throughout his struggles, he had managed to keep a remarkably clear head about what was most important.  “No matter how bad things may get,” he told me, “I still want to find ways to help and serve others.  It helps me take the focus off my own pain and remember just how important other people really are.”

I could not agree more.  This is wise insight from a good friend.  Serving others is a surprisingly great salve for a troubled soul.

In Philippians 2, the apostle Paul writes about the difficult times Jesus endured – specifically, His most difficult time of dying on a cross.  Paul also explains that as Jesus endured these times, He did so with the heart of a servant:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  (Philippians 2:5-7)

The Greek behind this passage is interesting and worth a moment of our reflection.  The passage above is taken from the ESV, which notes that though Jesus was God, He became a servant.  The ESV translates Jesus’ servanthood concessively.  That is, the ESV makes it sound like Jesus’ divinity and His servanthood are somehow logically antithetical to each other, or, at the very least, in tension with each other.  Jesus is God and has all the power, perks, and privileges that go along with being God, and even though He could have retained all those power, perks, and privileges when He came to this earth, He conceded them to become a servant.

The actual grammar behind this passage, however, is more ambiguous.  The word for “though” in Greek is hyparkon, a participial form of the verb “to be,” which, at the same time it can be translated concessively as the word “though” as the ESV does, it can just as easily and legitimately be translated causally as the word “because”:  “Jesus, because He was in the form of God…emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant.”

If I had to choose between a concessive or a causal translation of hyparkon, I would opt for the causal translation.  Here’s why.

To translate hyparkon concessively makes it sound like somehow the nature of God and the nature of a servant are at odds with each other.  But what if God is, in His very nature, a servant?  What if, as John Ortberg says, “When Jesus came in the form of a servant, He was not disguising who God is, He was revealing who God is”?[1]  What if the grandeur of God and the servanthood of Christ don’t conflict with each other, but correspond to each other?  What if Jesus not only explaining His mission, but revealing God’s nature when he said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28)?

Sometimes, we can be tempted to treat service as a bother, a burden, or, worse yet, as something that is beneath us.  But being a servant should never conflict with who we are.  It should reveal who we are.  Jesus was a servant not in spite of who He was as God, but because of who He was as God.  God is a servant at heart and so it only makes sense that Jesus would comes as a servant!  Likewise, we should be servants not in spite of who we are as business people, managers, or people who can command respect, but because of who we are as God’s children.

This is what my friend understood when he talked to me.  He wanted his service not to be incidental to his life, but core in his life.  May we want the same.

_________________________

[1] John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 115.

September 5, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Rocking Your Vote

BallotLast Tuesday, I went to vote in the midterm elections. Even though news outlets and political pundits like to play the part of Chicken Little every time an election cycle hits, the line at the voting booth seemed much more reasonable and relaxed.

As I listen to the rhetoric that comes with each passing election, I can’t help but be concerned – not because acerbic political rhetoric is anything new – politicians have been tearing into each other for a long time – but because the rhetoric isn’t right.

The word “politics” comes from the word polis, the Greek word for “city.” Politics has to do with how we order our communities under a set of authorities. The great Greek philosopher Aristotle spoke of the goal of politics thusly: “It comes to be for the sake of living, but it remains in existence for the sake of living well.”[1] For Aristotle, politics was a way of doing what was best for a community by ordering the community under responsible and thoughtful authorities.   The ultimate goal of politics, then, was to serve the common good. Sadly, I think many have lost sight of this goal.

In running for office, one Senate candidate said of his political opponent, “Let’s go out there and sock it to them!” The state chair of this candidate’s party went farther: “We need to crush it. We need to grab it, run with it, push their heads under over and over again until they cannot breathe anymore.”[2] Somehow, I am not sure this was the type of political goal Aristotle had in mind. Many of our politicians have become so obsessed with winning that they have forgotten their true call to work for the common good. Politicians are not be snooty sovereigns, but public servants.

As Christians in a democratic system, we have a unique privilege that is also a heavy burden. In Romans 13:1, we are called to submit ourselves to the governing authorities. But in our political system, as Micah Watson of The Gospel Coalition explains, “We are called to yield to authority, yet we also wield authority.”[3] We wield authority through our vote. My concern is that we, like the politicians for whom we are voting, have become far too concerned with using our authority to defeat and destroy the people and party with whom we disagree and have forgotten that a healthy political process is meant to have as its goal the common good. We have traded Aristotle for Machiavelli.

God has given humans limited and provisional authority in a host of different arenas (e.g., Genesis 1:26-28, Matthew 10:1, Titus 2:15). But because such authority is from God, we must use it only in accordance with God (Colossians 2:10). Jesus reminds us how we are not to use our authority:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave. (Matthew 20:25-27)

Jesus is clear. We are to use our authority to serve others, which means, when we cast our vote, we use our authority as “We the people” not to clobber our enemy, but to love and serve our community. When you vote, what do you have in mind?

____________________________

[1] Aristotle, Politics 1.2.1252b29-30.

[2] David A. Fahrenthold, Katie Zezima & Paul Kane, “Math is forbidding for Democrats in struggle for Senate,” The Washington Post (11.3.2014).

[3] Micah Watson, “Why Christians Should Vote,” The Gospel Coalition (11.3.2014).

November 10, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Ghana Eye Clinic – Day 2

We’re all settled in and things are going great!  Today, we saw 256 people and shared the gospel with each one of them.  We also gave away 220 pairs of glasses.  Four of the people we saw were deaf.  Thankfully, our team leader, Julie, is great with sign language!  Our clinic closed a little early because Ghana was playing against Egypt in a big football game (that would be “soccer” to us), qualifying them for the World Cup.  After our day at the clinic, we stopped by some local markets and perused some of the local wares.

Here are some pictures.  I’ll post more soon.


Does this thing come with a snooze button? Good morning!

 

If you think San Antonio rush hour is bad, you ought to try morning traffic in Accra!

If you think San Antonio rush hour is bad, you ought to try morning traffic in Accra!

Two terrific pastors assisted in helping triage patients, figuring out what glasses they needed and sharing the gospel with them.

Two terrific pastors assisted in helping triage patients, figuring out what glasses they needed and sharing the gospel with them.

Michael and Arnold are hard at working, making glasses for all sorts of different prescriptions.

Michael and Arnold are hard at working, making glasses for all sorts of different prescriptions.

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Julie signs to a deaf man so he can understand what glasses he needs.

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The girl on the left came in yesterday, but we couldn’t offer her treatment without her mother. Today, both mother and daughter came in and received glasses!

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I’m pretty sure Julie is working on a passport for this little man so she can bring him home. She didn’t want to let him go!

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Pam and our host in Ghana, Ivan, screen people for reading glasses.

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There was plenty of fresh fruit at the street market.

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Pam made a new friend with one of the street vendors!

November 19, 2013 at 4:30 pm Leave a comment

Remembering the Lost

Memorial Day 1Today, we remember those who sacrificed their lives in service to their country.  Memorial Day is always a day full of mixed emotions.  On the one hand, we celebrate the bravery, valor, and commitment of these soldiers who were willing to suffer all – even death – to serve our nation.  On the other hand, as with any loss of life, we mourn.  And we should.  After all, in the words of the apostle Paul, death is not only an enemy, but the enemy (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:26).  We want death to be defeated.  We do not want it to defeat us.  But even as we mourn the loss of those we love, we can take heart in the promise of the Gospel that death’s defeat of us is only partial and temporary.  It is partial because death destroys only our bodies and not our souls.  And it is only temporary because when Jesus returns, He will raise our bodies to live with Him forever.

On this Memorial Day, as we remember our fallen, I would point you to some words from one of our nation’s founding fathers, John Hancock:

I hereby call upon ministers and people of every denomination, to…devoutly and sincerely offer to almighty God, the gratitude of our hearts, for all His goodness towards us; more especially in that He has been pleased to continue to us so a great a measure of health, to cause the earth plentifully to yield her increase so that we are supplied with the necessaries and the comforts of life, to prosper our merchandise and fishery, and, above all, not only to continue to us the enjoyment of our civil rights and liberties, but the great and most important blessing, the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And together with our cordial acknowledgments, I do earnestly recommend, that we may join the penitent confession of our sins, and implore the further continuance of the divine protection, and blessings of heaven upon this people; especially that He would be graciously pleased to direct, and prosper the administration of the federal government, and of this, and the other states in the Union, to afford Him further smiles on our agriculture and fisheries, commerce and manufactures, to prosper our university and all seminaries of learning, to bless the virtuously struggling for the rights of men…and to afford his almighty aid to all people, who are established in the world; that all may bow to the scepter of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the whole earth be filled with His glory.[1]

A few things are notable about Hancock’s words here.  First, as Hancock would guide us, it is important that we always remember to give thanks.  We are called by our Lord, even when times are trying and tenuous, to give thanks to Him for His blessings to us, His presence with us, and, most importantly, His gospel for us.  No amount of sin or tragedy can circumvent the good and sturdy promises of almighty God – even the tragedy of losing a loved one in battle.  For this, we can be thankful.

Second, Hancock encourages all of us to acknowledge our sinfulness.  After all, the sinfulness and brokenness of this world is the reason there are wars.  History is littered with tyrants who, rife with evil intent, needed to be defeated in battle so they could not carry out – or, in most instances, continue to carry out – their wicked agendas. When we confess our sins, we do so with the knowledge that the whole earth is broken by sin and needs healing.  We also acknowledge that even if we can curb and contain evil thanks to the valiant efforts of our brave troops, we cannot finally defeat it.  This can only be done by Christ.

Third, Hancock desires that we pray for the safety and protection of our troops.  On a day when we remember lives that have been lost, it is most certainly appropriate to pray that no more will be lost.

Finally, Hancock points us toward the Christian’s hope that, on the Last Day, “all may bow to the scepter of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the whole earth be filled with His glory.”  One day, wars will cease.  One day, tyrants will be no more.  One day, nations will not take up arms against nations.  Because one day, all will bow to Jesus and the whole earth will be filled with His glory.

As we remember those who have died waiting and longing for this day, may we ourselves pray that it would come soon so that we may be reunited with those we have lost and celebrate the final defeat of evil in the presence of our Savior.


[1] John Hancock, “Proclamation – Thanksgiving Day – 1791, Massachusetts.”

May 27, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Problem with Poverty

Poverty 1“The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus said (Matthew 26:11).  This is most certainly true.  Our best-laid plans to abolish poverty have fallen woefully short.  New York Times journalist Nicholas D. Kristof shines a spotlight on just how short our plans have fallen in his recent column titled, “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy.”[1]  His opening paragraphs are bone chilling:

This is what poverty sometimes looks like in America:  parents here in Appalachian hill country pulling their children out of literacy classes. Moms and dads fear that if kids learn to read, they are less likely to qualify for a monthly check for having an intellectual disability.

Many people in hillside mobile homes here are poor and desperate, and a $698 monthly check per child from the Supplemental Security Income program goes a long way – and those checks continue until the child turns 18.

A plan that seeks to alleviate poverty in the form of Supplemental Security Income in some instances actually perpetuates it.  After all, there is no immediate economic payoff for having a son or daughter learn how to read, only a potential loss.  And though a myriad of statistics could be marshaled concerning how, over the long haul, children who enjoy solid educations early in life enjoy economic and social stability later in life, these parents can’t afford to concern themselves with “the long haul.”  They’re just concerned about their next meal.  And so these parents are pressed into a self-perpetuating poverty.

“The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus said.  This means two things.  First, it means that the sinfulness that leads to poverty will always be with us and in us, at least on this side of the Eschaton.  There will always be some people who are lazy and refuse to work, placing themselves in poverty’s grip and on the government’s dole.  There will always be some people who are victims of economic injustice – just ask those who were bamboozled by Bernie Madoff.  There will always be some people who, because of some fortuitous tragic circumstance – a devastating illness, a lost job, a natural disaster – find themselves with bills they can’t pay and a family they can’t support.  Satan will continue to find delight in impoverishing people.

And yet, Jesus’ words are not only a commentary on human sinfulness, they are also a call to Christian action.  For with His words, Jesus opens for us plenty of opportunities to show mercy.  After all, there are hungry people for us to feed.  There are naked people for us to clothe.  There are hopeless people for us to encourage.  There are plenty of people to which we can offer a cup of water in Jesus’ name (cf. Mark 9:41).  In fact, I love how Mark records Jesus’ statement:  “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want” (Mark 14:27).

Jesus says, “You can help.”  So let’s get to it!  How and who can you help this holiday season?  Maybe you can serve at a soup kitchen.  Maybe you can visit someone who is lonely.  That’s your mission.  That’s your calling.  And, as Jesus says, you can carry out that mission “any time you want” – even beyond the holidays.

I hope you will.


[1] Nicholas D. Kristof, “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy,” New York Times (12.7.12).

December 17, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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