Putting It to Work

“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Luke 10:1-2

 One of the most exciting things concerning the Christian life is the opportunities we are given to “be Jesus” in the life of other people. As important as the church is, as important as being part of a small group of disciples is, membership in the group is not all there is to the Christian life. Once we know, we need to share. We need to exercise our spiritual gifts and thereby share the wisdom and love of God with others.

Jesus formed the disciples as a community and enjoyed a wonderful, life transforming fellowship with them. Nevertheless, for the entire time that he was with them, he was also in ministry to others: healing the sick, teaching the multitudes, confronting sin, and showing people what the kingdom of God was really like. Then, he sent the disciples (and us) out to do the same. Mark records it his way: Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them (Mark 6:7-13). What Jesus was doing, they were now about to do. In other words, Jesus was empowering his disciples to do the very things that he was doing.

Expanding the Reign of God’s Love

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:23-24). Later, in Chapter 15, he gives his command: “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17).  Finally, in John 20, after the resurrection, Jesus tells his disciples that, just as God sent him into the world to reveal the wisdom (Logos) and love (Agape) of God, so Jesus was now sending the disciples into the world to do the same: “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you (John 20:21). Sending was always a part of Jesus’ plan for his disciples. It is also his plan for us.

The heart of Christian discipleship is simply this: to spread the love of God as we have seen it in Jesus Christ. This sharing of God’s unmerited forgiving and restoring grace, what Paul called the secret wisdom of God that the world calls foolishness is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. We were not called merely to have private religious experiences of God’s love. We were not called merely to enjoy the life transforming nature of a Christian community. We were called also to go into the world and to share the Good News of God’s mercy, love and grace with others in word and deed.

Our Sending

This week, several times the Lord brought the importance of serving others to my attention. Robert Mulholland defined Christian spiritual formation as the process of becoming more like Christ for the sake of the world. A small group study Kathy and I attended focused on the four aspects of this: our life in Christ as

  1. A process
  2. Of being formed
  3. Into the Image of Christ
  4. For the sake of the world. [1]

Too often we think of our salvation as something God has done for us, and we stop there. It is true that God saves us because of his great love for us. But we are saved so that we can become more like Christ. Therefore, Paul can say things like we should “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”—i.e. Our salvation in Christ is a process that is worked out in some way over time. The “working out” is the process of becoming more like Christ. Not just like Christ on the outside (that is hypocrisy!), but like Christ inside and out. Like Christ in his relationship with the Father. Like Christ is our moral and spiritual being. Like Christ in the way we react to people and situations. Every serious Christian knows that this is a process that takes a long time—our entire lives and is complete only in heaven.

This process has a purpose. John begins with “For God so loved the world that he sent his Only Begotten Son” (John 3:16). John ends his gospel with, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). Jesus was sent into the world to proclaim and live out the Good News. We are sent for the same reason. God is still in the process of loving the world and saving the lost. His Spirit is present empowering people to turn from sin and selfishness to God. For the sake of the world, God has now sent his people, the church, the ecclesia, those called out of the world into God’s kingdom, into the world. He is sending you and me.

God created the human race in his image. The Bible reveals what we all know deep in our hearts—we have defaced that image in selfishness, self-centeredness, and sin. In Christ, however, God has provided way for that image of God to be restored. (II Corinthians 5:17-18) Those of us who were estranged from God have now been “reconciled” with God, brought back into a relationship with God through Christ. We in turn, in our everyday relationships with people, are called to continue our own journey into Christlikeness not just for our own sake, but for the sake of the world God loves, a world God loved enough to send his Only Begotten Son to live, minister, and die for.

Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] M. Robert Mulhollland, Jr,  with Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation Expanded Version (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Press), 1993

An Independence Day Meditation: Media, “Alt-Media” and News Media Lost in Post-Modernism



When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy. Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed (Proverbs 11:10-11 [NIV]).

A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might, for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory (Proverbs 24:5-6 [ESV]).

God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above;
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America, my home, sweet home.
God bless America, my home, sweet home (Irving Berlin, 1918, rev. 1939)

This particular meditation is born of a deep grief for our country and where were are in our political life.

The most recent American elections revealed in startling ways the culture decline of the American media and American Political life  in almost all its manifestations.  Whether one looks at Mainline Media, Print Media, Network Media, Television Media, Internet Media, or Alt-Media (sometimes called “Alt Right Media” by the traditional media) the failures of the media as a whole to accurately and factually report stories was plainly evident. It was as evident on Fox News as CNN, on Yahoo as in the New York Times or New York Post. For whatever reason, generally the media felt it had an open season on one particular candidate. Specially, left and right, the media and candidates demonstrated a complete disdain for a reasonable and dignified public culture. Since the election, nothing has changed. [1]

What is the Media?

The term “media” comes from a Latin word “medi,” which means “middle.” This word forms the root of many English words. “Mediators” stand in the middle between parties to a dispute and help them resolve their difficulties. “Intermediaries” negotiate on behalf of parties who cannot see each other personally in a dispute. The “Media” are intermediaries of a sort. Citizens cannot be everywhere. Therefore, we need the “media” to mediate news for us. Because of the volume of events that may occur on any given day or given period of time, the public relies upon the media to sort through events, prioritize their importance, summarize events in a meaningful and truthful way, and convey the meaning of events to those of us who cannot be personally present to view and participate in events. When the media fails in this task, becomes prejudiced in the task, ceases to believe in democracy and in the power of ordinary people to interpret and act upon the facts, a disaster is in the making.

It goes without saying that the media have an important role in any vital democracy. Citizens rely upon the media to provide them with information without which voters and participants in public life cannot make informed decisions. The media is the medium through which most people, in and out of government, gain the information needed to be responsible citizens and public servants. Unfortunately, the voters have not been well served by the traditional media for some time—and the recent election and the first six months of the new administration were just one more indication of a deep problem.

An Outmoded World-View

Behind the decline of American media and American political culture  is a mindset, a way of looking at the world, an orientation in which words do not convey meanings. Instead words are simply bids for power. Having given up any notion that the voters and the public should be given the facts so as to judge wisely, the media and politicians are  left with using their constitutionally protected position to put into office the candidate/s that support their biases, left, right, or whatever.

This way of looking at the world has two aspects: First, a strictly post-modern (really, “hyper-modern”) view does not believe that there is a “public truth” out there that citizens are discovering over time as we elect candidates and evaluate their performance. There is just an ideology of the left or right that their respective proponents would like to enact into law, and whoever gets the votes can do as they please. There is no truth, no justice, just ideology and the naked search for power.

This a prejudice the practitioners of hyper-modern journalism share with politicians left and right— and increasingly with those who control and teach in our universities. This prejudice contributes to many of our greatest public failures. Just to give one current example, virtually no economist or healthcare expert thought that the Affordable Care Act would work. There were many obvious flaws in the proposal. Most members of the media largely ignored these flaws, pointed out by conservative thinkers and legislators, because of the need to achieve some kind of universal coverage. They favored a single payer solution. The proponents of the Affordable Care Act were willing to deceive and lie to the American people because of an ideological commitment divorced from reality. The coverage of the passage of the Affordable Care Act did not alert the average voter and citizen to the inherent dangers of the way the legislation was structured.

The failure by the media to fully and accurately cover this story resulted in the passage of a deeply flawed piece of legislation. The Democratic Party, which the media was trying to “help,” has paid the price in every successive election. The political disaster consumed the very party the majority of the media was trying to assist. In addition, the taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get more expensive and no better healthcare than before. Finally, confidence in our political institutions and processes have been injured.

Today, a conservative Congress is busy following the same mistake in the opposite direction. The loud calls to “Repeal Obamacare” are resulting in pressure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but not necessarily replace it with a piece of legislation that achieves the two basic objectives of the American people: control of costs to the average consumer together with as broad a scope of coverage as  possible.

I have used legislation concerning medical care as an example, but in a variety of areas (banking legislation comes to mind) the ideological predispositions of an essentially irrational political and media elite are driving legislation that will assure that problems that have occurred in the past will repeat themselves in the future. Reporting tends to speak from the prejudice of those reporting as opposed to a desire to seek the truth. In a variety of areas this is dangerous because the problems we face require new solutions not necessarily available to those trapped in historic ideological positions.

A loss of belief in truth cannot help but be followed by another, perhaps worse, phenomena. We have seen this phenomenon during the past election and in the past few weeks: If facts are not important than sensational, overblown, and highly emotional visual and other images are. If all that counts is power, then getting power over the voters’ prejudices is what matters. Unfortunately, the public interest is what is harmed if the media and politicians engage in such behavior.

The problem of loss of faith in truth is complicated by a focus on sensationalism. The politics of negative sensationalism prevents us from having a conversation about serious national problems. It is easy to win office by stating that the candidate you oppose is worse than the candidate you support. It is harder to prove that your candidate had good ideas and is capable of solving a social problem. When you combine a lack of respect for the truth with a focus on the sensational, you have a recipe for democratic disaster.

The Way of Wisdom in the Post-Modern World [2]

Wisdom literature certainly does not provide a simple road map for contemporary political activity. The culture of the Old Testament is far removed from contemporary Western democracy governing a nation made up of city-dwellers who are part of a complex industrial and post-industrial economy. Nevertheless, certain principles of wisdom are needed to provide a foundation for our contemporary government. Moral decay and injustice still erode the foundations of a society. Moral principles continue to be important for leaders. Leaders still need good character and a willingness to listen to good advice. Wise leaders are concerned about the integrity of the political system, and especially for the courts. Just as in the days of ancient Israel, it is easy for a government to pay attention to the needs of the wealthy and well-connected and hard, sometimes incredibly hard to listen to the cries of the poor.

The philosopher of science, Michael Polanyi points out a paradoxical feature of modern society: it combines a cynical disregard for truth and for justice with kind fanatical devotion to certain moral ideals of an ideology, right or left. The Russian Communists and German Nazi’s were equally mad and equally inspired by an ideological moral fervor cut off from a deep moral ground in a history, religious faith, or tradition. The search for a just society, cut off from a deep transcendental notion of justice moves the practitioners of modern ideological politics into a fanaticism that permits acts of gross immorality in the search for a better or perfect society. [3]

What is needed is for Western democracies, most of which have some basic cultural history in the Judeo-Christian tradition to recover their connection with the moral tradition of the West in the conduct of its political affairs. Most importantly, the West must recover its faith in the reality of Justice and other intangible public values as real qualities which is progressively uncovered in the search for them. In his book Logic of Liberty, Polanyi puts the matter in this way:

The general foundations of coherence and freedom in society may be regarded as secure to the extent to which men uphold their belief in the reality of truth, justice, charity, and tolerance, and accept dedication to the service of these realities; while society may be expected to fall into servitude when men deny, explain away or simply disregard these realities and transcendent obligations.

We may be faced with the fact that only by resuming the great tradition which embodies faith in these realities can the continuance of the human race on earth, equipped with the powers of modern science be made both possible and desirable. [4]

If there is no such thing as truth and justice, if we are not constrained in our political behavior by a transcendent obligation to seek truth and justice in our political lives with tolerance for other views, then the state can and must dictate these matters—and society has turned onto the road that inevitably leads to tyranny. This is the road we have recently been taking. It is a road the leads to death—the death of our society, our freedoms, our culture, our way of life.

If, however, a society believes in the reality of transcendent, moral and ethical realities of truth, justice, tolerance, charity and serve them, not one or the one we find convenient, but all of them, and if we believe that our society will eventually discern these realities and be guided by them, then the foundation of a free society can be maintained, even in the fact of conflict and uncertainty. This is the road to which we must return. It is a road that leads to life.

So much of the frenetic dishonesty of contemporary politics comes from an underlying assumption of the right and left that there nothing involved but the contention of special interest groups for advantage. In the absence of faith in the reality of moral constraints on the political process and upon what special interest groups may seek as well as upon what means may be used to seek them, a free and just society cannot endure.

If, however, we come to believe in something called the “Public Interest” as an invisible reality which can and will be disclosed to us as we truly seek the invisible but progressively attainable reality of a more just order for society, then (and only then) can a free society be maintained in the face of the trials and tests of history. In such a society, the voice of religious leaders can and should be heard in the public arena, for Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18 [ESV]).

Modern advocates of a purely secular state may immediately suspect that any attempt to subject government to religious opinions and moral rules involves an attempt to set up a theocracy or “moralocracy”. An attempt by religious or moral leaders to acquire political power to advance a religious or moral agenda would be contrary to the vision of Polanyi and others. A society in which moral values guide leaders is a society in which leaders have been trained in wisdom and in the principles of moral leadership and instinctively bring them to bear upon the problems of the day. The role of morality and religion is to create a kind of character in leaders, not to mandate a particular moral position enforced by law.


During these past weeks, actors, journalists, politicians, and others have openly suggested the assassination of a sitting President. The facts of certain decisions have largely been overlooked in favor of sensationalist, often violent, speeches and demonstrations. Exactly what these people think they will gain is not clear, but their strategy is clear: Cause chaos and maybe we will come out on top. This strategy is as old as the Communist Revolution in Russia. The problem with the strategy is the inevitable outcome: When violent revolutions occur, a society gets a Hitler, Lenin, Pot Pol, or Stalin not a Harvard Law Professor or an environmental activist. When violence, physical or political, is the way to power, you get violent leaders. Always. Every time. No exceptions.

The American people, the press, the Congress, and the Administration need to take a pause for reflection. The current administration was elected because the voters wanted a change in what the media is calling a more populist direction—what I interpret to mean a more personal, local, and organic direction for government. These changes are now occurring. Perhaps the administration might want to think about the pace and direction of change. Mistakes will be made and they will need to be corrected. Reasoned analysis and critique might avoid unnecessary errors.

On the other hand, a President needs a Cabinet, reasonable and helpful, if sometimes critical, support from Congress for the initiatives he was elected to take, and a “loyal opposition” to hold him accountable so that another Obamacare-like fiascos do not occur. The media needs to report as accurately as they can the facts surrounding the initiatives. Everyone needs to be held accountable to the democratic process. And, in humility, we need to give a new government a chance.

For this to work, in fact for democracy to work, there must be something more important and more fundamental than victory for our side in the next election. There must be shared values and a shared belief that the democratic process works, not always immediately, but over time. There must be a shared commitment to the search beyond ideology and prejudice for the best and most reasonable solutions to our national problems. There must be a shared belief in truth, in justice, in fairness, and in the capacity of our nation to accomplish the creation of a fair and just society for all people. Without that shared commitment, the future is dark. With such a commitment, whatever darkness may periodically erupt, there is always the hope for a better future for all Americans.

Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] The following quote pretty much says it all: “The unhinged reaction of the mainstream media, which Mr. Trump correctly describes as corrupt and dishonest, only confirms their attempt to disguise rank political partisanship behind a phony First Amendment curtain. The fact that so many of the so-called journalists who were working behind the scenes for Hillary Clinton and writing false stories about Mr. Trump and the election are still on the job is inexcusable (when, for example, is CNBC going to fire John Harwood?). I certainly do not agree with everything Mr. Trump says or does (though I agree with much of it), but at least he speaks his mind and backs it up with action. Our country is now run by generals and businessmen, not by the types of academics and politicians who made a shambles of foreign and domestic policy over the last two decades. Before we judge Mr. Trump too harshly, we should give him a chance to implement the policies that he was elected to implement. The fact that a biased liberal medi a and half the country doesn’t like him or his policies is irrelevant. By the time Mr. Trump’s first term is over, the media is going to be a shadow of its former self if it doesn’t start telling the truth and behaving like the Founders envisioned, not like a bunch of political operatives.” Michael Lewitt, “Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear” (Excerpted from The Credit Strategist (February 1, 2017), reprinted in John Mauldin Economics, Outside the Box “More on Complexity Economics” (downloaded February 3, 2017). I do want to point out that the President’s response to his critics in the media has sometimes been short-sighted and fed the dysfunction of our political system.

[2] This part of the essay is based upon a part of a chapter in my book, Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ Followers (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014).

[3] See, Michael Polanyi, Science, Faith and Society (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1946). This little book should be required reading in every college in America. It is an eloquent defense of academic and religious freedom by a scientist/philosopher horrified by what the politicalization of science did to Russian science.

[4] Michael Polanyi, The Logic of Liberty: Reflections and Rejoinders (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1951):\, 57. I am obligated to Polanyi for the argument as well as the quotation.