Sharing the Gleanings

Remember the story of Ruth, an Old Testament typology or foreshadowing of salvation in Christ.  Within the story was an example of the Jewish practice of sharing the gleanings of the field.  This was the benevolent practice of not harvesting all of the crop but leaving some for those less fortunate or foreigners who had not established themselves in order to make a living.  Not only was it charitable, it was required by the law.  Leviticus 23:22 stated,  “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Leave some for the poor and alien.”  Interestingly enough, the context of this law was ceremonial. Moses was laying out the specifics for the Feast of Weeks.  During this festival of harvest, the Church was to sacrifice to God by offering their best livestock, wine and grain.  God was reminding them that all their bounty was His to share.  I suppose this was kind of like the Aynor Harvest Hoe Down. [A reference to a festival held at the end of tobacco growing season in the community I live in, but yet have never attended.  I’m not the festive type, but it sounds festive.]

These historical farmers were to give others some of what God had given to them.  These farmers were given land to cultivate, knowledge of farming practices, and God’s hand of providence in bringing the crop to maturity.  Not selling all of his product was a true sacrifice.  Ask any farmer today and he will tell you that his profit margin is thin.  Leaving a single ear of corn in the field is not a prudent practice.  If modern farmers did this, they would soon be finding new careers.   I am fairly certain that Boaz did not have government subsidies nor federal crop insurance.  To be fair,  he also probably did not have price controls either, but I digress.  Regardless, it would hurt the bottom line.  I doubt many farmers are reading my blog, but since I live in the midst of nothing but farmers, I am not advocating leaving a row or two in the field.  Your taxes take care of the poor and most of you take pretty good care of your aliens.  Excuse my lack of PC, I meant undocumented workers.

These ceremonial sacrifices were never intended to be used to pardon sin or earn God’s favor.  David knew this when, having been made aware of his sins of adultery and murder, he says to God, “You do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite (sorry) heart, oh God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16,17)

I love to read the books of old dead guys.  I also love to tell what I have learned from them.  Just ask my family who receive the bulk of my pontification.  However, reading for comprehension is very hard for me,  retrieving information and then communicating it to others is even harder.  If anyone could have been diagnosed as a child with ADD, it would have been me.[Don’t think they were smart enough to know about ADD back then, right?]  My college education consisted in my parents paying for me to meet the minimum requirements of a degree, while I learned, and I use that term lightly, very little useful information over a four year hiatus from reality.  Finally, a few thousand others and I dressed up as wise men and received, well they mailed it,  the diploma.  Throwing the hats was fun.

I was trained to do nothing in particular, but according to my high school guidance counselor and the rest of the educational industrial complex, I was better off than those who had been learning to actually do something and getting paid for it for the last four years.  Go figure. I admit I did learn how to do laundry very well.  I also learned that I had a hard time sitting still or focusing on anything for very long.  Maybe if I would have had some of those agonists or antagonists,  I would have been a PhD.  Who knows?

Please don’t stop reading!  I’m getting to the point and, no, I’m not having a pity party.  What I’m trying to say is my blog is my attempt to share the gleanings of my harvest, and it is no walk in the park for this dead head. What is great about this forum is you don’t have to listen.  You don’t have to sit in a classroom or church pew and pretend you’re interested.  No head nodding nor amens required.  You don’t have to worry about hurting the teachers feelings or having to participate in one of those poolings of  the ignorant (you’ve been there “Does anyone have any comments or anything to share?”) Although, you’re welcome to comment.  In the words of Pink Floyd, “Is there anybody out there? Is there anyone at all?”  No not Arthur Pink.

God in his infinite wisdom, in times past, raised up men who were given extraordinary insight into His word.  He then blessed their efforts by causing their insights to be preserved in works of literature which have survived the trial of generations of the Church.  Particularly, I speak of the post- reformation preachers of the 16th-18th centuries.  Most of these men were poor parish pastors, some of whom went on to teach at seminaries but received little for their efforts while they lived.  They were persecuted, imprisoned, banished, even killed by the churches and governments they served.  The only inheritances they left were there writings, some not discovered until years later.  Modern church history rarely acknowledges them.  We hear more about those who went to Asia or Africa where the dangers were obvious.  These men faced dangers in their hometowns and their own congregations.  Usually there was nowhere to run.  The truth of their teaching stung the ears of the wicked and shook the foundations of the establishment.  Why now should we not look to them for the answers to our questions since God has preserved their works for us?

There are some hurdles to overcome if you want to enjoy the Protestant Reformers from this period.  The language from several hundred years ago can be difficult but many works have been translated into more modern English.  They were quite long winded, but lets face it they had more to say and no one had ESPN.  You can even find this stuff on the internet.  I still prefer books.

Finding time to read these works will be impossible for some of you so I intend to help.  For some years now I have been given, like the farmers of Ruth, a harvest to share.  In fact I am commanded to share, “to whom much is given” and all.  I’m not saying I have been given knowledge, but I have been given time.   Some of this time has been used for this very purpose.  When I post something here I will assure you someone else, probably quite dead, has already said it.  My thoughts are not my novel ideas.  God does not “speak” to me nor does he reveal anything new to me in scripture that he has not already revealed to many saints before me.  I just want to share with you what I have learned from them.

This is my sacrifice which I hope will be pleasing and acceptable both to you and to God.  Unlike the gleanings of the field, it really costs me nothing tangible  and does not come from a pure heart.  Remember even our “best works are as filthy rags.”  So here old friend, have some of my dirty rags.  That reminds me,  I have laundry to do.

In the following posts I hope to bring you some insight from one of my favorite preachers, Thomas Boston.  Boston was an 18th century parish preacher in Scotland.  In his work “Human Nature in Its Fourfold State,” Boston strikes deeply at our understanding of who we think we are or can be apart from God’s redeeming work.  Boston helps me to have a broken and contrite heart and I hope he breaks yours too.  Sounds like fun, right.

The Law of Opposites

Karl Marx, from whom we get the natural philosophy Marxism, did not invent the “Law of Opposites.”  He merely applied it when observing nature to help his understanding.  The Marxist conclusion is “everything contains two mutually incompatible and exclusive but nevertheless equally essential and indispensable parts or aspects.”  Basic units of matter, atoms, are made up of protons and electrons which are positively and negatively charged.  They are opposite forces but work together to produce all matter.

God uses the law of opposites all throughout scripture to help us understand who he is.  Sorry Marxists,  God invented it.  A few examples are his metaphorical titles.

Lion = Lamb

Consuming Fire = Water of Life

Mighty King = Suffering Servant

We like these contrasting descriptors because they obviously all work for our good. We consent to the concept that he can be both powerful and gentle all at the same time and we marvel at the irony.  That is, until he asks us to be or do something that from our perspective seems utterly foolish and contradictory to reality.

I am in no way suggesting that you study Marx or any other philosopher.  However I do recommend you apply the law of opposites when struggling with issues God puts before us.  Particularly when He asks us to believe Him and not our common sense.  Our Pastor recently preached on James 1:2 and following.  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”  He shows us that the incompatible, joy and trial,  are essential for our benefit.  James’ first advice to these heavily persecuted early Christians sounds a little like that football coach saying “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger” or that army recruiting  phrase “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”  Keep reading and you will continue to find diametrically opposed concepts, at least from man’s perspective, that James says are indispensable.

The Beatitudes, Matthew 5, are probably the most concise example in scripture of the application of the law of opposites.  This description of who the happy people are flies right in the face of any rational thinking.  I say “happy” people because that’s the best modern synonym for the older term “blessed”.  We’re talking blissful or for you more metaphysical types this is nirvana.  Christ’s recipe for this blessedness is the believers drug of choice.  Spiritual need, a realization of your sinfulness, humility and so on.  Hey, this sounds like some Buddhist monk stuff.  That’s not what that TV preacher, the guy with the great hair and big smile,  says. I digress.

Often we picture happy Christians as those who show outward signs of having been blessed.  You know who I’m talking about.  Those who seem to have it all going on. They must be doing something right to be so overflowing with goodness and light.  Certainly, they may be so spiritually mature that they are able to channel spiritual poverty, mournfulness, meekness, etc. into “Church Lady.” [Reference here to the Saturday Night Live character from my college years]  However it is likely that they believe that their own goodness is delightful.  An apparent blindness to their own faults relieves them of the need for mournfulness.  Meekness or humility in their minds is their piety in their poverty, being eager to point out how well they have sacrificed for the cause.  They are quite happy to be persecuted, just ask them, or just wait, they will eventually get to that.

Apply the law of opposites to your own condition and you may discover that God says you are the blessed and you don’t even realize it.  The state that God calls joyfulness and happiness might be the state you are in now.  Is your faith being tried and tested?  Are you spiritually weak, failing daily, always being made aware of your imperfections and need for help from your Heavenly Father?  Then God says you are the “Blessed.”  Because happiness is knowing you are broken and God is repairing you.  The more you are made aware of this the higher the high.  The alternative is that you are blind to your condition.  You continue day after day trying to be happy, maybe trying to be religious or “churchy.”  He did not say “Happy are the members of the Holy Huddle Bible Study Group,” though it sounds rational.  Therein lies the problem, opposite is not rational.

Why “Reformed” Agonist ?

Let me be clear from the start.   My goal is not to be an “antagonist.”  In the following explanation of the origin of the title of my blog page, “The Reformed Agonist,” my hope is that some readers will not be put off by what they read.  However the concept of being “reformed” as it relates to my belief system affects every thought that I have.  In this sense of the term “reformed” I am speaking about Reformed Theology.  Therefore, if you are not reformed in your understanding of Christian doctrine, this blog could be difficult to come back to.  I must also presume that some readers are just beginning to learn what their beliefs are.  In reality we are all just beginning to understand.  We all are just scratching the surface of knowledge and struggling with how it all fits together.  Remember the contrast of terms.  As an “agonist” celebrates the conflicts and the working out of our faith, the “antagonist” contends against or blocks another’s belief.

As we approach the hallowed day of October 31, most in our culture anticipate the fun and somewhat mysterious Halloween celebration. If you did a “man on the street” survey most would not know the origin, nor even care, because it is tradition.  Something they have done from their youth and for generations they presume.  History, particularly Church history, is not a subject that carries much weight in our educational process.  Thus we often blindly follow tradition without once considering why we do what we do.  Even as many congregations within the Christian church take exception to Halloween and offer an alternative, do they know why they do what they do?

Irony may be a bit of a mild word to describe the fact that on the very same date, October 31, in 1517 a Saxon monk protested tradition within the church by posting on the door of a church building 95 reasons that he believed the church was wrong on a particular topic.  Though this event is commonly celebrated as the start of the Protestant Reformation, and many congregations celebrate Reformation Day on or around this date, often the larger point of reformation is missed.  What are we reforming from and what are we reforming to?

The Protestant Reformation began long before Martin Luther. Men like John Wycliff and John Huss died for reformation of the Roman Catholic church in the 14th and 15th centuries.  The apostles constantly worked at reformation.  Christ preached reformation of the Church to the Jews.  The prophets were reformers of Israel.  The Church has been reforming since Adam and Eve fell.

Basically the “Reformed Agonist” is a reforming agonist.  Though my doctrinal belief system comes out of the 16th and 17th century Protestant Reformation,  the struggle is to constantly take information and ideas that are taught in church traditions and are influenced by my own sin nature and compare them to the word of God kept in context.  Remember we do not go alone.  Jesus Christ, the very Word of God,  has said He is doing the reformation.  We are not to congratulate   ourselves on our efforts nor punish ourselves for our failures.  He is doing the work.  He says “Return faithless people; I will cure you of your backsliding.” [Jer. 3:22]   He doesn’t say to cure yourself of your backsliding.  “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them” [Hosea 14:4]  No condition is given.  He loves us freely.  He is not angry with His children.  He is healing us.  That is being reformed.

Introduction to the Reformed Agonist

Unless you are acquainted with medical terminology or are benefiting from various pharmaceutical remedies under the classification with the same name, the title of  this blog may be quite foreign to most.  Some may be familiar with the term “reformed” as it relates to theology.  However, the rather archaic term “agonist” truly describes my intention for becoming a “blogger.”  In this initial attempt at blogging I hope to stir some interest by explaining what an agonist is.

The most common usage of the term agonist today is to describe various drugs.  In this context an agonist is a substance that acts like another substance and therefore stimulates an action.  Opioids are typical examples.  The opposite of an agonist is an antagonist.  Antagonists block or contend against a substance and cause an opposite action.  Antagonist is a more familiar term, is more commonly used in our vernacular, and it usually has a negative connotation.  My intention is not to be considered one of those nasty little buggers.

The Latin origin of agonist means to contend or struggle for something.  It refers most directly to an athletic contest oriented not merely toward victory or defeat but emphasizing the importance of the struggle itself.  Even this concept may seem foreign in a culture where winning is the chief end of the means.

My daughter competed in equestrian sports when she began riding horses.  As parents, my wife and I understood that the particular discipline which she competed in, English Hunters, was judged subjectively.  For a 12 year old who had been competing in soccer and basketball,  the idea that everyone was a winner came as a bit of a new concept.  The judge was primarily observing the movement of the horse and how well that movement conformed to a preconceived model of the stereotypical English Hunter mount.  The event was competitive in the sense that there were winners and losers.  However, the objective was to make your horse do his best and not concern yourself with what others were doing.  The struggle was with yourself.  The goal was to overcome your fear, remember your training, and communicate effectively with your horse.  Most of all you should enjoy the test.  When the event was over whether or not you received a ribbon was not the point.  How well you performed could only truly be judged by those who new you and your horse intimately.  Those who had day after day seen you struggle to train, exercise, care for, teach and love your horse could truly judge your performance.  Those who had seen you fall to the ground bruised, bleeding and crying and then get back on and try again truly had the credentials to judge how well you did.  Of course, you could judge yourself but it required brutal honesty; the honesty of a true agonist.

There are many examples that describe an agonist as it relates to performance struggles where the individual is primarily contending with their own being.  Regardless, the celebration is about the battle itself.  The true agonist would say it is not whether you win or lose but how you play the game.

Returning to the task at hand, this blog will be about an agonist who seeks to encourage and edify other agonists in the struggle that is “being a Christian.”  Emphasis is added here because there are many terms that can describe this state of being adopted children God.  Regardless of what we may call ourselves, our ultimate struggle is the same and it must be celebrated and discussed.  We must be those who are not only content to be agonists but those who derive their joy from it.

My hope is to unpack many topics along the way.  My next post may be even more foreign to some readers.  Dealing with the last first, that is “Agonist” before “Reformed,”  was purposely done so that you might not decide right from the first  post to declare me to be a heretic.  There is usually method in my madness as those who know me well can attest.