Damaris Zehner: Should Christians Covet Poverty?

Today let me direct your attention to a post by Damaris Zehner over at internetmonk.com (formerly the blog of Michael Spencer) in which she asks “Should Christians covet poverty?

Many American Christians hold a romanticized view of poverty as something which of necessity draws us closer to God.  This is mainly a reaction against our materialistic culture and what many see as the pernicious influence of materialism in distracting us from the things of God.

In this post Damaris Zehner critiques our romanticized view of poverty, noting that in many instances poverty is a very undesirable thing and has a very corrosive effect on spiritual growth.

Instead, the thing to desire is gratitude.  This is the difference between poor people who are exceedingly generous with the little they have and those who allow their poverty to become an excuse for unceasing dependence which corrodes their relationships with others.

The question posed in the title of this post is a trick question.  When rich Christians covet poverty, as if they believe that poverty would help them to grow spiritually in ways they are unable to as rich Christians, they betray a lack of contentment and a lack of gratitude for what they have.  This does not display a right relationship with God or an understanding of His providence for us.

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All-Skate: Are Short-Term Mission Trips a Good Thing?

My church has a very substantial short-term missions program which consists of ongoing partnerships with several churches around the world who share the same vision.  I know that several of you have been on short-term mission trips over the years; some of you have even led short-term trips.  If this is you then I REALLY REALLY REALLY want to hear from you on this one.

The question:  Are short-term mission trips a good thing?

This issue has generated a quite spirited discussion over the past week on some of my favorite blogs.  I am well aware of the benefits of short-term mission trips:  They increase awareness of what God is doing in other parts of the world.  I frequently hear that people go on these trips expecting to minister, but they are the ones who are ministered to.  I frequently hear of people whose eyes are opened to what God is doing elsewhere in the world as a result of going on a short-term mission trip; for them this is a life-changing experience and they are moved to step up their level of engagement with the cause of Christ.

But there has been some pushback to the idea of short-term mission trips.  The primary objection seems to be that short-term mission trips are not good stewardship.  In A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church, Warren Cole Smith cites Robert Priest, professor of mission and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School:

The number of lay people in the United States involved in short-term missions grew from an estimated 540 in 1965 to 22,000 in 1979. By 1989 it had grown to an estimated 120,000. three years later the figure had doubled to 250,000. It is now estimated that there were at least on million short-termers in 2003.

Source: “Short-term Mission Trip, or Donor-Paid Vacation?”
by Brittany Smith (Evangelical Press News Service, 10/19/06)

Today, estimates of people going on short-term mission trips every year range from 1 million to 4 million.  The cost of these trips easily surpasses the yearly amount given to all long-term missionaries.  Priest refers to this as “the first mission movement in church history that is based largely on the needs of the missionary.”

Another pushback:  Short-term mission trips, as they are done in many parts of evangelicalism, can create and promote a culture of dependence.  If short-term mission trips are a regular occurrence, people and church leaders in the host country are conditioned to sit back and wait for the missionaries to return rather than stepping out and doing anything on their own in the way of building ministries, business, and/or programs.  At the same time, mission trip leaders become glorified tour guides while the work of discipleship and church planting–the reason for doing mission trips in the first place–gets pushed to the back burner.

And with that, I now throw the floor open for discussion.  Those of you who have been on or have led a short-term mission trip:  I REALLY REALLY REALLY WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!!!!!!  DON’T BE SHY!!!!!!  How has going on a short-term mission trip affected you?  What was your experience like?  What specific changes have you made in your life as a result of your experience?  If you have led a short-term trip, how has that experience affected you?  What were some of the challenges you faced?

And if you are on staff with the missions department at my church, then I want to hear from you about possibly doing a guest blog in which we discuss this topic in greater depth.  The format would be thus:  I send you five questions, you send me your responses, then I post the questions and your responses here on this blog.  The questions would be something along these lines:  Can short-term missions be done in such a way as to enhance and support the work of long-term missionaries and indigenous church leaders rather than draw resources away from it?  Is there a trade-off between the benefits of engaging people with the world Christian movement through short-term mission trips and the costs of money devoted to supporting short-term efforts which could have been used to support long-term missions or indigenous church leaders?  If you are interested in this, please do not hesitate to contact me.  You know my email address; if not, then you probably know someone who does.  If you are on Facebook, then you know how to contact me that way.

Here is some more food for thought concerning the issue of short-term mission trips:

The Church of What’s Happenin’ Now:  Michael Spencer gives his thoughts on the world Christian movement and how short-term mission trips intersect with this.

Are Short-Term Missions Good Stewardship? This exchange is the start of a four-part series on short-term missions over at Christianity Today.  This series questions the conventional wisdom that short-term mission trips produce lasting life change in the people who participate in them.

The Monday Melange 07.26.10: Alberto Contador, Bill Hancock, Nick Saban

Aloysius is a little bemused over events in France this week. Wasn't there a bike race or something over there?

–Aloysius, our new Executive Director of Sports Information here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion, is somewhat bemused and befuddled over the happenings in France during the past week.  Seems there’s some kind of bike race or something going on over there right now.

Now I know it’s probably hard to care about a bike race that isn’t happening here in our backyard, especially when Lance Armstrong isn’t a factor.  And for those who do care, the only concern they feel is along the lines of “Yeah, but how does this affect the Auburn game?”

Can’t promise you that the events over in France will have any relevance to the Auburn game, or to any other upcoming college football game for that matter.  But I can promise you that if you hang with me here…well, you may be confused, bemused, and befuddled, just like Aloysius and me, but you will definitely be entertained.  And you may even get a good laugh.  Because from what I’ve been hearing, there hasn’t been a dull moment over at that bike race in France last week.

It started to get interesting when this guy from Spain and this guy from Portugal tried to start a Tour de France Fight Club.  The guy from Spain is claiming that the guy from Portugal elbowed him as he went by.  Dude, if the ref didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.  There should be a Barnes & Noble along the way in one of the upcoming stages; you might want to stop in and take a gander at the self-help section.

Here is the blow-by-blow, courtesy of Youtube:

–But wait.  It gets better.  This other guy from Spain passed a guy from Luxembourg who was busy fixing his chain.  This put the other guy from Spain into the lead.  The guy from Luxembourg was a little upset with this.  Seems that the Tour De France has this unwritten rule (in the unwritten rule book, on my unwritten bookshelf, right next to other great unwritten volumes such as Amelia Earhart’s Guide to the Pacific Ocean, Al Gore: The Wild Years, My Plan to Find the Real Killers by O. J. Simpson (kids, ask your parents), and The Engineer’s Guide to Fashion) that if the leader breaks down for whatever reason you are not supposed to pass him and take the lead.  Great.  How about if we just give everybody a participation trophy and a six-pack of Juicy Juice?

Dude, it’s a race.  People are in it to win it.  Can you imagine at the Peachtree Road Race, if one of the Kenyans tripped and fell and they stopped the whole race so that nobody would pass him and take the lead?  Can you imagine at NASCAR if Kyle Busch were to crash and they stopped the whole race so that nobody would pass him and take the lead?  At NASCAR, the fans would kill you if you were to stop and not take the lead when the leader crashes.

Honestly, people.  What will those French think of next?

–Bill Hancock, executive director of the BCS (not to be confused with the Hancock played by Will Smith in that superhero movie a couple of years back–although if that Hancock were in charge of the BCS it would be infinitely better, wouldn’t it?), spoke at SEC media days last week.  He began his talk with a powerpoint, at the beginning of which he said, “I’m going to tell you how it works and why it works.”  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

–Nick Saban is rip-roaring mad these days.  Seems one of his players might lose his eligibility because of an agent.  So he got up at SEC media days and unleashed this withering diatribe in which he likened sports agents to “pimps”.  Dude, are you calling your agent a “pimp”?  What do you have to say about the agent who pimped you to the Cons and the Miami Dolphins while you were still under contract with LSU back in 2004, and then pimped you to Alabama five minutes later while you were under contract with the Miami Dolphins?

If this doesn’t convince you that Nick Saban is a dweeb, I don’t know what will.

–Seriously, though, the problem of agents interacting with college athletes is something which desperately needs to be addressed.  AJC sports columnist Tony Barnhart has some excellent ideas on how to address this problem.

Quick Hit: Don’t Get Too Excited About Florida Being Investigated by the NCAA

NCAA investigators have reportedly been snooping around Gainesville this week.

Georgia fans:  Hold your excitement.  Don’t get too crunk just yet.

At issue:  Florida center and first-round NFL draft pick Maurkice Pouncey may have received a $100,000 payment from an agent sometime last December, between the SEC championship and the Sugar Bowl.

Worst-case scenario:  Pouncey is guilty.  Which means Florida used an ineligible player in the Sugar Bowl.  Which means they would have to…vacate one win.

Whooooooaaaaaa.

Barring the emergence of additional violations (which is always a possibility), the only way Florida would get a more severe penalty is if the NCAA is able to prove that Florida knowingly used an ineligible player in the Sugar Bowl.  Not likely.

At issue in the NCAA’s investigation of USC and Reggie Bush was that USC knew he was receiving benefits from an unscrupulous agent.  The NCAA was able to prove this because it took place over the course of several months, and the benefits included a rent-free house for his family provided by the agent in question.  Given the size of the benefits and the time frame over which they occurred, there is no way USC could have NOT known what was happening unless they were deliberately looking the other way.

This is a different situation.  In order for the NCAA to prove that Florida knowingly used an ineligible player in the Sugar Bowl, they would have to prove that Florida became aware of the $100,000 that Pouncey reportedly received sometime between the SEC championship (December 5) and the Sugar Bowl (January 1).  Not likely.

Also, how likely is it that Urban Meyer would have cared enough to attempt to cover up allegations of one player taking money from an agent, just for the sake of one game–a game against an overmatched opponent, which he must have surely regarded as nothing more than a consolation game after losing the SEC championship and missing out on playing for the national championship?

So pipe down, my fellow Georgia fans.  It’s not the end of the world down in Gainesville.  Nothing to celebrate here.

All-Skate: Was Patrol Magazine Too Soft on Amy Grant?

Okay people, it’s time for another one of these.  This is an all-skate, so that means you cannot just sit there and idly read the words on your computer screen.  I want to see some good discussion here!

Toward that end, I am posting something that I know will get your juices flowing and make you want to speak your mind on one side or the other of this issue.

A couple of months back, a piece appeared in Patrol Magazine in which Matthew Paul Turner reminisced about an interview that he did with Amy Grant back in 2002, in connection with her then-upcoming hymns album.  At the time, he was the editor of CCM Magazine.  His boss Gerald wanted him to extricate an apology from Amy Grant for her divorce, by hook or by crook if necessary.

The backstory:  In 2000 Amy Grant divorced her then-husband Gary Chapman and married Vince Gill.  The perception in Christian media of how it went down was this:  Amy Grant met Vince Gill, decided that Gary Chapman couldn’t hold a candle to him, kicked Gary Chapman to the curb and hooked up with Vince Gill.  There may have been some illicit hanky-panky along the way, if the rumors floating around tabloids, gossip columns, and internet chat rooms back during the 90s are to be believed.

But if you read this interview from CCM back in 2001, in which Amy Grant speaks candidly about her marriage with Gary Chapman and subsequent divorce, you will see that there is more to this than meets the eye.  Here is a sample quote:  “I didn’t get a divorce because I had a great marriage and then along came Vince Gill. Gary and I had a rocky road from day one. I think what was so hard—and this is [what] one of our counselors said—sometimes an innocent party can come into a situation, and they’re like a big spotlight. What they do is reveal, by comparison, the painful dynamics that are already in existence.”

It was this interview that Gerald had in mind when he called Turner into his office.  God has clear rules which stipulate that a person who marries is to stay married for the duration of his/her life.  Amy Grant sinned against God by violating this rule; therefore she needed to publicly repent and apologize to all her fans and CCM.  Gerald was upset that this did not happen, and he wanted to make sure that it did happen when Turner did his interview.

So Turner did the interview.  Gerald was not satisfied with the results; the article that ran in CCM was a heavily doctored piece in which several quotes from Amy Grant were taken out of context and twisted into an expression of public contrition that would pass muster.

Turner sums up his reaction as follows:

Amy’s face still graced the cover of CCM that month, but the story printed only loosely resembled the one I wrote. Gerald [the publisher] forced my editorial director to rewrite the story. The new story featured Amy miraculously apologizing. Her quotes were fabricated and molded into something that didn’t represent her story or my story, but rather a story that reflected the moral absolutes Gerald believed CCM hadn’t upheld until he was in charge.

According to Gerald, the truth about Amy just wasn’t Christian enough to be put in the pages of his magazine. I’m not sure anybody’s truth was worthy of Gerald’s CCM.

Read the story in its entirety here, then check back with me.

So what do you think?  Was Turner too soft on Amy Grant, or was Gerald out of line for insisting on an apology from Amy Grant?

Now I know that the subject of divorce is a very contentious one among Christians, especially those of the evangelical variety.  So I will put in my two cents’ worth, and then I will open the floor for discussion.

Let’s start with this:  Divorce is contrary to the will of God.  The clear teaching of Scripture is that the Lord hates divorce.

However, we live in a fallen world.  Marriages fail.  Even among Christians who seek to honor God and take His word seriously.

There are many reasons why marriages fail.  Sometimes they fail because of selfishness on the part of one or both of the people involved.  Sometimes they fail because of reasons that are much more graphic and poignant, i. e. adultery, abandonment, emotional or even physical abuse.

And sometimes marriages fail because the people involved are mismatched personality-wise.  They are just not a good fit for each other.  They may try to make such a marriage work, and even succeed for a limited time.  But eventually it becomes clear that such a marriage cannot continue without doing serious violence, emotionally and/or spiritually, to one or both of the people involved.

From the CCM piece that I linked earlier, it seems that Amy Grant and Gary Chapman were a mismatched couple.  They tried to make it work, but things eventually reached a point where Amy could not continue any longer without doing serious violence to herself.  Perhaps Gary was in a similar place himself; the article doesn’t say.  There may have been other factors as well.  Emotional or physical abuse may have been part of the equation.  We don’t know; Amy chose not to mention this in the interview.  If there was emotional or physical abuse, I can understand Amy’s decision to not mention it in an article that would be read by millions of her fans.

Amy Grant made a very bad choice in divorcing Gary Chapman.  But from what she says in the CCM piece that I linked, it seems that her relationship with Gary Chapman had deteriorated to the point where there were no good choices left for her to make.  In our fallen world, sometimes that’s how it is.  Sometimes there just aren’t any good choices; sometimes one is forced to choose the “least worst” alternative.

But whatever the case may be, God’s grace and redemptive power is big enough to cover all of it.  This is the big idea in Turner’s piece, that Amy Grant had found redemption for her failure to fulfill her marriage vows to Gary Chapman by leaning hard into the Gospel.  Too bad that his boss was blinded to this by his concern for upholding what he understood to be God’s moral absolutes.

So what do you think?

Do you believe that God’s moral absolutes concerning marriage and divorce need to be upheld, and that the attitudes expressed in Turner’s piece and the CCM piece come dangerously close to condoning divorce and/or disparaging the sanctity of marriage?  Or is Amy Grant right to lean into the Gospel and cling to the redemption that she has found on the other side of her divorce?

A larger question:  An unnamed counselor told Amy Grant that “God made marriage for people. He didn’t make people for marriage. He didn’t create this institution so He could just plug people into it. He provided this so that people could enjoy each other to the fullest.’  Do you believe this?  Why?  Or is it the other way around, that people were made for the institution of marriage?  If so, why?

The floor is open.  Keep it civil.  But I want to see some discussion!

The Monday Melange 07.19.10: George Steinbrenner, Erik Verlinde, Kim Kardashian

George Steinbrenner died this past week.  He was 80.

Rush Limbaugh has his own take on Steinbrenner.  “That cracker made a lot of African-Americans millionaires…He fired a bunch of white guys as managers left and right.”  Ouch.  Al Sharpton ain’t too pleased about that.  Whatever.

Gravity is just an illusion.  So says Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde in a paper that came out earlier this year.  His basic contention is that gravity is simply a byproduct of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, that is, nature’s propensity to tend toward a disordered state rather than an ordered state.

–Kim Kardashian has a new beau.  Here are five things you need to know about him.  One more:  He’s brain dead.

Les Miserables 50: The Advantage of Going to Mass in Becoming Revolutionary

Marius had just lost his father, yet he felt nothing whatsoever in the way of grief.  M. Gillenormand had done a splendiferous job of making sure that Marius knew nothing whatsoever of his father.  Marius attended the funeral and went through the motions of grieving, yet he felt nothing for this person whom he had never known.  Within a short time, Marius completely forgot about his father.

But all that was about to change.  One Sunday Marius went to Mass and just happened to meet a churchwarden.  This churchwarden dropped sonething on him which completely and totally rocked his world.

Marius had been a little more absent-minded than usual that week.  Apparently the pressures of college life were getting to him that week.  He sat down in a red velvet chair behind a pillar without even noticing that it had a name on it.

Then an old man, a churchwarden named Monsieur Mabeuf, came up to him and asked him to give up the seat.  He did.  After the service, the old man insisted on telling the story of why he wanted to be in that spot even though, as a churchwarden, he was entitled to one of the prime seats up front.  Marius didn’t seem to really want to hear this story, but he humored the old man and heard him out.

Mabeuf had seen an old man who would periodically come to Mass and stand in that spot.  He got to know the old man, and found that he had a son whom he loved very much but was prevented by some family arrangement from seeing.  He would sit in that spot because from there he could see his son without being seen by the family.  This was the only contact he ever had with his son.  He knew a little bit about the family situation:  There was a rich aunt and a father-in-law who threatened to disinherit the boy if he ever attempted to see him.  They were kept apart by political opinions.  Mabeuf then went on to describe his intense distaste for politics:

Certainly I approve of political opinions, but there are people who do not know where to stop.  Good Lord!  Just because a man was at Waterloo doesn’t make him a monster; a father is not separated from his child for that.

He then described a distinctive scar that the old man had on his face and attempted to stumble through his last name:  Pontmercy.

At this point the bells went off inside Marius’s head.  Marius said that Pontmercy was his father.  To which Mabeuf replied, “Well!  Poor child, you can say you had a father who loved you dearly.” Continue reading “Les Miserables 50: The Advantage of Going to Mass in Becoming Revolutionary”