Spiritual Bureaucracy

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been reading my way through the archives of a blog called Farnam Street.  Among other interests, the blog maintainer is a big fan of Warren Buffett (Buffett’s home and office are both located on Farnam St. in Omaha).  In a recent post, he noted that even though Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, has over 300,000 employees, its central office is so small that it doesn’t even have an HR department.

Why?  Because Buffett’s management style is so minimalist as to be nonexistent.  Rather than trying to dictate policy and procedure for every Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, Buffett hires competent managers and tells them, “You do you.”  His success is based not on micromanaging, but on trust.

This pattern, though extremely successful, is rejected by nearly every other large company.  Most CEO’s prefer to manage through bureaucracy, not trust.  As the Farnam Street blogger observes, “It’s a seductive illusion to think that we can create a system where people can’t mess up.”

Oh, wow, is that ever true!  Nor is its application limited only to the business world.  In fact, I think a lot of well-meaning Christians have embarked on the spiritual equivalent of bureaucracy-building.  Continue reading

The Memorial Stone of the Gospels

If the Bible were not well written, I probably would not be a Christian.  It seems to me that any book that claims to be the inspired word of God ought to have at least some literary merit (sorry, Book of Mormon!).  I shouldn’t be a better writer than the Almighty.

Of course, I’m not.  The Bible is a magnificent literary work, a wordsmith’s delight.  When I’m studying with Shawn, it’s often the case that I’ll pause over a particular phrase and exclaim, “Oooh, that’s so pretty!”

I love it all, but perhaps more than any other part of the Bible, I love the gospels.  The writing of the gospel authors is terse and understated, but like a master sketch artist, they can capture a likeness in half a dozen strokes.  Consider the description of the lawyer in Luke 10:29 or Pilate’s rejoinder to Jesus in John 18:38.  I learn more about those men in a phrase of Scripture than a volume written by an ordinary author could tell me. Continue reading

Whatever Happened to Shiloh?

The other day, I got in a conversation with a sister about Jeremiah 7.  This was not coincidence; my co-worker and I are currently studying our way through Jeremiah, and I’m always eager to talk about the things I’ve learned in my study.  This sister, though, wanted to know what I thought of Jeremiah 7:11-14.  The text reads:

“Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD.  Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.  And now, because you have done all these things, declares the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh.” Continue reading

Resolving “Yanny” vs. “Laurel”

It seems like every so often, some perceptual illusion goes viral on the Internet.  A few years back, it was whether the dress was black with blue stripes or gold with white stripes.  Yesterday, I started encountering a recording which, when played, sounds either like “Yanny” or “Laurel”, depending on who you are.  I’m Team Laurel, by the way, which I suppose means that you hear “Laurel” if your three-year-old son ruined your hearing by repeatedly sneaking up behind you and screaming in your ear.  Thanks, Marky!

Such differences in perspective are trivial, but similar differences emerge in the critically important realm of understanding God’s word.  For instance, a week or two ago, I put up a sermon manuscript in which I argued that in the Exodus account, God began actively hardening Pharaoh’s heart sometime in Exodus 9.  However, I have some friends who are hardly Biblical lightweights who see things differently.  They think God began to harden Pharaoh’s heart from the very beginning of his encounters with Moses.  We’re reading the same text, we agree on what each verse says, but we disagree on what it means.

How do we handle that? Continue reading

More Bible or More Virtue?

Last week, I wrote about the problem of the development of authoritative tradition within churches of Christ.  Though I don’t believe that either I or anyone else know the extent of this problem, I think few would dispute its existence.  I suggested that the cure for the disease was, simply, more Bible.  The more we are willing to return to the word and the word only, the more we are willing to follow wherever it leads, the more we will move away from human tradition.

As a rule, simple solutions to complicated problems are either elegant or (more commonly) simplistic.  Not surprisingly, I collected some thoughtful comments that suggested that I had fallen into the latter error.  With the commenters’ permission, I’m going to address two of them in this post.  They are as follows: Continue reading

Additional Bible Reading

Good Morning, Dear Brethren,

After doing my Bible reading for the week, I am reminded of how rich and important the book of Numbers is to understanding the difficulties the children of Israel faced as they made their way to the land of Canaan. In chapters 13 and 14, we see why God sentenced every Israelite (20 years and up) to wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and never reaching the Promised Land. An entire generation (with the exception of Caleb and Joshua), would die in the wilderness because they lacked faith and trust in God.

After reading Numbers 11-14 and 23 already this week, it occurred to me that many of the chapters in between contain critical information that we don’t need to overlook. When putting this schedule together, I tried to make it very doable and convenient for us all. Reading one chapter a day five days a week should not be very hard to do.

That being said, before you read Numbers 23 on Friday, I want to ask you to please read some additional chapters this week. This will take an additional few minutes to do each day, but I promise you, you won’t regret it. These additional chapters are critical to the story of Israel’s journey to Canaan. The additional chapters are as follows: Continue reading