Thursday, December 28, 2017

What The Church Can Learn From 60 Minutes

I recently watched an interview with Jeff Fager, the executive producer of 60 Minutes, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. While 60 Minutes has had its problems, it has been the most watched television show of its kind throughout its history - nothing has come close to rivaling it.

Fager said that 60 Minutes has never done audience surveys, it has never asked audiences what kind of stories they wanted 60 Minutes to produce. The 60 Minutes philosophy has been to produce journalistic stories with integrity and high production standards. When it has failed to do this, when it has not done its homework, it has, according to Fager, apologized and set the record straight.

Fager spoke about many audience comments over the years that said (in effect), “I didn’t think I’d be interested in how widgets in lower Georgia were made, but your story drew me in and I enjoyed it.” The power and attraction are in the story, in the integrity in which it is conveyed.

Why doesn’t the church have as much faith in the Bible and the Gospel as 60 Minutes has in its journalistic and production values? 60 Minutes is not “seeker-sensitive”, it is not doing audience surveys, and yet people respond as they do to no other competitor. This doesn’t mean that 60 Minutes ignores communication principles, but it does mean that they focus on the power of the story.

Why is so much of the church afraid to teach what Jesus actually said about denying ourselves and losing our lives if we want to follow Him? Why don’t we teach Leviticus? Why must we entertain with self-centered music and messages? Why don’t we admit our mistakes?

Maybe seminary students ought to study 60 Minutes.

I’m reminded of the story of Ben Franklin going to see the evangelist George Whitfield preach. When someone asked Franklin why he was going since Franklin did not believe the Gospel, Franklin replied along the lines of, “Yes, I do not believe what he preaches, but he does.”

Is it possible that 60 Minutes has more faith in its message than the professing church?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Letter to a Brother - Marriage (5)

Pygmalion - more reflections:

As I thought about my last letter, the more I considered our tendency to try to make our spouse into our image of what we think he or she should be, the more I realized that I ought to specifically mention this tendency when it comes to the Christian life. There are few things as dangerous as self-righteous religion, no matter the flavor. Self-righteous religion is religion that insists on conformity in order to measure up and to be accepted - by God (or a god) and by the people within the circle of the particular religion - including Christianity. Because self-righteous people delude themselves into thinking that conformity, whether in terms of thought life or behavior, is critical to eternal destiny, and because it also validates their own religious life, they often adopt a tyrannical posture toward others; this can be especially true in marriage when one spouse seeks to dominate the other - naturally all for the other spouse’s good and spiritual health (this can also be sadly true in parenting).

What might this look like in a marriage? It can mean that one spouse insists on the other spouse having the same devotional life; reading the Bible in the same way and with the same methodology. It can mean that both spouses are expected to pray the same way, or that both are expected to be interested in the same spiritual gifts and graces, or the same opportunities to serve church and community. It can mean that books on the Christian life that appeal to one spouse must appeal to the other spouse. It can mean that the wife gives up her individuality and personhood and sublimates her gifts and graces and personhood to the point where she ceases to have functional independent thought and action. There are times when a spouse no longer has the freedom to express herself - whether in thought, in prayer, or in the expression of God’s grace and giftings in her life.

Instead of being heirs together of the grace of life, instead of the husband laying down his life for his wife, a Pygmalion marriage can become one of emotional, mental, and religious tyranny - this is hardly the image of Christ and the Church, it is hardly in harmony with God’s design and intention for marriage. Yet it happens; and while it may happen less frequently in the general population than it once did, I wonder about its frequency within religious families, even professing-Christian families.

A role of a spouse ought to be that of encourager, of affirming the other spouse’s unique God-given personality, interests, talents, and desires. Yes, hopefully there will be common interests in a marriage (after all, there must have been some common ground as a marital foundation), common desires to serve together, to grow exploring the same things in Christ and in friendships with others; but a healthy marriage is also a complementary marriage, an interdependent marriage, in which husband and wife not only grow as heirs together in common expression, but in which they also learn to be heirs together as each encourages the other to grow up into Christ as the man or woman that God created. As we have unity in diversity in the Body of Christ, so can we have unity in diversity in marriage.

This means that we must give our spouse room to grow, whether or not our expressions of grace and relationship with God are identical, whether or not they always appeal to both of us. Some people are more disciplined and methodical than others. Some people are more practical than others. Some of us tend to think abstractly more than concretely and some of us are the opposite. Some of us are more comfortable being demonstrative in worship and some are not.

God is the One who is forming us into the image of His Son, the Holy Spirit is the One who is convicting us and animating change, the Word of God is that which is renewing our hearts and minds - none of the foregoing is the job or calling of a husband or of a wife toward his or her spouse.

Husbands and wives can be artful in subtle manipulation, and they can be subtle in passive resistance; when this is allowed to continue an underground relationship burrows into the marriage, a relationship of thoughts never clearly spoken, of hurts not disclosed, of forgiveness not asked, of perfunctory prayer, of public personas and private realities.

Perhaps we try to manipulate others when we do not allow the Holy Spirit to reveal our own need for transformation into the image of Jesus Christ. Perhaps we insist that others measure up to our standards so that we can cling to a vestige of self-righteousness. Maybe we try to change our spouse to avoid learning humility and to avoid relinquishing control of our marriage. Giving up control does not mean abdicating responsibility for either the husband or the wife, but it does mean submitting to the lordship of Jesus Christ and the husband and wife learning to serve and love each other - trusting the Lord of the marriage to transform them as individuals and as husband and wife into His image.

When we are self-righteous we justify our attempt to control others by telling ourselves and others that it is for their benefit - such control can be particularly heinous in marriage. I use the word “heinous” because (Psalm 139) each of us is created by God, He designed us, He knows us, He has a purpose for us; and when one of us tries to usurp the place of God in the life of another we are not only attempting to wrest control from God, but we are attempting to mar His image in the other person; only Michelangelo could call forth the image of David from flawed marble and only God can call forth His image from within our spouse...or from anyone else.

Marriage lived in the freedom of Jesus Christ is beautiful, with the glories of God unfolding ever brighter. The discovery of God’s image in marriage, as heirs together of the grace of life, is a marvel. For the husband to see God’s glory in his wife, for the wife to see God’s glory in her husband - to discover the glorious transforming grace of Christ in marriage, in safety, in trust, in longsuffering - this is a taste of heaven on earth.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Dangerous Birth

It’s hard not to be sentimental about babies, and it’s natural to be concerned about mother and child during delivery. Many of us have known the sorrow of births gone awry, of either mother or baby or both not making it through delivery; and then there is the loss of children through miscarriage. When a baby is born mother and father want to know it is okay, want to count its fingers and toes. Even in developed countries, with hospitals and technology, babies are not guaranteed to live, and mothers still die in childbirth. In Afghanistan and Niger the 2017 infant mortality rate is estimated at one in ten, what must those parents think and feel during delivery?  

It is one thing to look back at a healthy birth and feel sentimental and sweet, but even healthy births may have their bittersweet elements, their tinges of sorrow. What of babies born in prison hospitals? While we may rejoice at the birth we may be concerned about the future of mother and child. How about babies born in war zones with carnage a daily fact of life? How many babies born in squalid refugee camps will ever know a week of healthy meals? How many will die of starvation?

We ought not to hide ourselves from these realities, as much as we would like to; much of the world lives in poverty, much of the world lives without knowing where the next meal will come from, babies are dying today from disease and malnutrition and lack of medical care. If we live in the USA, children are born everyday who will grow up in violent neighborhoods; who will not know the blessing of a balanced diet - both in rural and urban areas. Babies are born today in affluent families and in poor families who will one day die from a drug overdose.

While we may be sentimental about babies when the baby is all we see, when we place the baby in the context of our violent and hurtful world we find that our sentimentality is tinged, if not overpowered (depending on our immediate context) by the harsh realities of life on earth.

Can we imagine Prince William and Kate choosing to have their children born and raised in Afghanistan, or in a violent inner-city environment in the USA? Can we imagine photo-ops of William and Kate with their children in these contexts after a car bomb or a drive-by shooting? Can we see William and Kate walking with their children down streets filled with litter, dilapidated buildings, and burnt out cars?

We want the best for our children and we expect others to want the best for their children - whatever station of life we find ourselves in, we expect parents to do their best. We would not understand William and Kate if they lived with their children in dangerous environments when we know they could do better - it would be hard to be sentimental about William and Kate.

And so we come to Bethlehem and a most dangerous birth; for the holy is born into an unholy world, love is born into a realm of hate, peace is born into a society of war and strife, hope is born into despair - and while we can be sentimental because we are looking back, should we really isolate our sentimentality from the harsh realities surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ; should we isolate our sentimentality from today’s realities of hunger, hatred, disease, war, and...most of all...sin...from a humanity in rebellion against God, with much of this rebellion in the form of a war against the baby born in Bethlehem, who was born to die on the Cross and rise from the dead? Do our own souls provide a hospitable place from Him to live, or do oceans of rage and selfishness and anger toss our hearts and minds?

Have we transformed a feeding trough into a stain-lined comforter in a beautiful crib? Have we removed the smell of sheep from the shepherds? Have we taken Joseph and Mary and cleaned them up so they will be presentable for our candlelight service?

And what of Herod? What of that murderous beast? Why do we not portray Herod hovering over our nativity scenes? Is it for the same reason we shield our sentimentality from the harsh realities of present-day violence, addiction, war, famine, disease, refugees, poverty in all of its forms, and most of all...sin and rebellion against God? (Are we thanking God that the Holy Family did not encounter a wall prohibiting them from entering Egypt?)

What kind of father would knowingly have his son born in an impure environment, in an environment of death and disease and hatred? What kind of father would knowingly place his baby son in a situation in which the most powerful king of the region would seek to kill him? What kind of father would have his son born in a place in which the son would meet an excruciating death?

As we ponder these things let us remember that “God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son…”

Let us not forget that “while we [that is you and me] were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.”

Should we bow in awe at the birth of Jesus Christ? Yes. Should we marvel at the love of God? Yes.

Should we allow sentimentality to isolate us from the realities surrounding His birth and the realities in our world today?

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Caesar Augustus, The Left, The Right...or Jesus?

In Luke 2:1 - 5 we read, “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.”

Luke the physician, with his method of detail, grounds the birth of Jesus in history, just as he does with the beginning of the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus in Luke 3:1 - 2. The Gospel of Luke is a narrative rooted in history, an account of events that took place during a defined period in history - which of course have ongoing consequences as the torch of testimony is passed from generation to generation.

However, the birth narrative is not confined to a place or a time, but it encompasses places and times past and times and places future as witnessed in the words of angels to Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds; and the songs and prophecies of Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna (Luke chapters 1 & 2). The birth of Jesus and what it means are linked to prophecies past now being fulfilled in Him with that fulfillment expanding and enlarging into the future and affecting all peoples and nations, as Simeon says, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

There is a contrast and a challenge between Jesus and Augustus that we can easily miss, a contrast and a challenge that ought to cause us to look into the mirror in our politically charged society and world.

Augustus was viewed as a son of god, portrayed as a savior, as a giver of light and peace - he was viewed as divine.

Here's a quote about Augustus from Paullus Fabius Maximus, proconsul of Asia:

"(It is hard to tell) whether the birthday of the most divine Caesar is a matter of greater pleasure or benefit. We could justly hold it to be equivalent to the beginning of all things...; and he has given a different aspect to the whole world, which blindly would have embraced its own destruction if Caesar had not been born for the common benefit of all."

The birth of Jesus is set against the great Augustus. Jesus placed in a feeding trough at His birth, Augustus reigning in Rome. Who is the one who will really save us from destruction? Who is the real savior? Who is truly divine? Who will bring lasting peace to the earth?

While Mark begins his Gospel not at the birth of Jesus but rather at the beginning of His ministry, Mark also challenges political assumptions when he writes (Mark 1:1), “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” For after the death of Augustus, subsequent Roman emperors also assumed the title, “Son of God,” meaning that Mark was presenting an immediate contrast and challenge to the subjects of Rome - was Caesar the Son of God or was Jesus the Son of God?

Let us remind ourselves that had Christians worshipped Caesar as a god that they likely would not have been persecuted; their crime was not worshipping Jesus so much as it was not worshipping Caesar in addition to Jesus. In the eyes of Rome the problem with Christians is that they exclusively worshipped Jesus Christ.

Could it be that a problem with professing Christians today is that we do not exclusively worship Jesus Christ? Our minds and emotions are often filled with political rhetoric, we disparage men and women who have been duly placed in office. We vilify those with whom we disagree. We turn our eyes from immorality and injustice, or even scantion it with our vote if it will benefit us. We hurl labels such as “right”, “left”, “conservative”, “progressive”, as we might use the words ebola, polio, plague, and cancer. We think we are in a “culture war” and justify virtually any means to achieve our ends whether or not those means are righteous and holy.

We forget the words of Mary that God is bringing down rulers and their thrones, we forget that Jesus Christ is the eternal reality and that His reign is being worked out on the earth...and hopefully in our lives. We forget that salvation does not lie in Augustus or his successors; whether those successors are Roman caesars or American presidents.

Jesus says that we cannot serve two masters, perhaps we do not believe Him? Perhaps we think that we can disprove Him? Certainly He will understand.

Those who follow Jesus Christ are called to experience a reorientation of their thinking, a reorientation that includes governments and politics - whether domestic or international. The followers of Christ are called to love all, to care for all, to seek equity and justice and peace for all - knowing that in Christ alone can these things be lasting. We are called to be God’s ambassadors, His representatives (2 Corinthians 5:20), citizens of His Kingdom (Philippians 3:20).

The birth narrative in the Gospels presents a contrast between the kingdoms and “saviors” of this world and Jesus Christ. The beginning of the Gospel of Mark presents a challenge as to who we will worship as the Son of God. The beginning of the Gospel of John challenges us as to whether we will order our lives according to the Word which is God or the words of man. The Logos of God is not the word of man, God’s order of things is not man’s order of things. If Jesus Christ is the image of God then Caesar is not the image of God, and that includes all subsequent caesars in all subsequent governments and political systems - including whatever political system the reader may reside in.

“Little children, guard yourselves from idols,” (1 John 5:21).

Friday, December 15, 2017

Marketplace Reflections (12)


I was led into a relationship with Jesus Christ because a coworker cared enough to share the Gospel with me. Howard Wall asked me, “Bob, are you a Christian?” I said “Yes” because in the regional America of my youth unless you were Jewish you were a Christian. Howard’s question led me to the Bible, and as I read the Bible and interacted with Howard I came to know Jesus Christ.

The Church exists for three reasons; to worship God, to edify and nurture the Body of Christ, and to share Jesus with the world. This is our purpose for living - it is pretty simple, and it is not optional for a follower of Jesus. In fact, we can distinguish followers of Jesus by the way they live - Jesus says as much when He teaches that others will know we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34-35), that others will know that the Father sent the Son by our unity (John 17:21 - 23) - in other words the world has a right to judge us by the way we live.

In what we call The Great Commission Jesus tells His followers to go into all the world and to make disciples (Matthew 28:16 - 20, see also Luke 24:44 - 53, Acts 1:1 - 8, and John 17:18, 20:21). Notice that He says “make disciples” - disciples are men and women and young people who follow Jesus as a way of life, it is who they are, it is how they think, how they love, how they make decisions, how they choose to spend their time and money; Jesus is the core of life for His followers. Actually, in a comprehensive sense, Jesus is everything to His followers; and because He is everything His followers need not hold back anything as they love God and love and serve others.

The subject of “witnessing” is so vast that it can be hard to know where to begin. Perhaps it is so vast because we have made it complicated, and perhaps one of the reasons it’s complicated is because we insist on knowing all of the “what-ifs” of witnessing. “What if I’m asked this question, what if I’m asked that question? If I don’t know the answer I’ll fail, be rejected, maybe even be ridiculed.” Perhaps we also make it complicated when we confuse witnessing with “apologetics”, for once we start thinking about “defending” the faith we often begin comparing ourselves with leaders in apologetics and we think that if we can’t come close to their knowledge base or communications expertise that we ought not to witness. Whatever the reason, and there are many, Christians seldom share their faith with others, at least in North America.

I’m reminded of how the Federal Reserve teaches its employees to recognize counterfeit currency - it has them study legitimate currency. There are so many variations of counterfeit truth in the world that it’s doubtful that any of us can examine them all, but we can all know the truth of Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and what the Bible teaches. We can all know Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

This may sound simplistic, but if we love God and love others we will share the Gospel. I’m not suggesting it will be easy, going against the grain is not easy; and I’m not saying that it won’t be costly, the Cross is costly; but if we love God we will share Jesus Christ with others; if we truly love and care about others we will share Jesus with them - for it is a matter of life and death.

As I write these words I am convicted and challenged and I’m asking myself, “Does my own life line-up what I am writing? Do my actions demonstrate my love for God and others?”

I believe that if we are honest with others that we will share Jesus Christ with our coworkers - so in one sense this is about whether we are honest people or deceitful people. I know this sounds harsh, but consider: If I am indeed a follower of Jesus Christ, if my life truly belongs to Him, then if I am not sharing Jesus with others - especially with those with whom I have relationships - then I am pretending to be someone I am not, I am pretending not to know Jesus. It is analogous to me pretending not to be married, to taking off my wedding ring, to speaking and acting as if I have no wife when in fact I am married - to do so would be deceitful.

A holistic witness is a credible witness, for a holistic witness is grounded on who Christ is in us and who we are in Christ - our lives are integrated in Jesus Christ. Our words, our actions, our motives, our love, our care, our decision-making - flow from our relationship with God in Christ and in our fellowship with the saints. The Great Commandment is that the Lord our God is One Lord, and that we are to love Him with all of our heart, all of our mind, all of our soul, and all of our strength...and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:12:28 - 31). A consuming obedience to the Great Commandment results in a consuming obedience to the Great Commission.

We are not called to be salespeople peddling the Gospel, we are called to be people who love God and love others. A holistic witness in the marketplace includes integrity in our work, excellence in our work, a thankful attitude, respect for authority, respect for others, telling the truth, asking forgiveness when we ought to, apologizing when we should, and praying for our coworkers, clients and customers. If we have relationships with others we have many opportunities to faithfully witness because the very nature of relationships means that subjects and issues come up to which there are distinctly Christian responses - so we have a choice, to be who we are in Christ or to suppress our identity and act as if Jesus is not our Lord.   

The nature of the human condition means that our coworkers have times of pain, suffering, sorrow, and despair, as well as seasons of joy. In our fragmented society it is unusual when others take the time to care, to express concern, to listen, to pray - or to rejoice when good things happen. The stress and anxiety in today’s workplace is such that a word of comfort, of peace, and of reflection can be like a glass of cool spring water in a desert.

Over the past few years there have been attempts to introduce various vaccines, such as the polio vaccine, into areas of the world which have resisted inoculations. Some medical professionals have been beaten, others killed. Many people in these populations do not understand what a vaccine is, others are intimidated by radical groups opposing vaccines, others brave the risk of violence and are inoculated. The medical groups keep coming back, doing their best to educate both the general population and those violently opposed to inoculation. The medical professionals see their work as a mission; opposing paralysis, debilitating disease, and early death. They desire to improve the health and wellbeing of a population unware that there is medical help that can improve their lives, and especially the lives of their children. The medical professionals fight ignorance in the general population and ignorance in the violent opposition.

There is truth to the saying, “People don’t know what they don’t know.”

What does our mission look like?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Letter to a Brother, Marriage: Page 4


While there are various ancient versions of the Pygmalion myth, the core story centers around a sculptor named Pygmalion who falls in love with with a female statue he carves.  Some of us may be more familiar with the story through George Bernard Shaw’s book (and later play), Pygmalion, or through the musical adaptation, My Fair Lady.

Consider the storyline, a sculptor creates a female statue, an image - he crafts the image and then he falls in love with the image. He superimposes his “ideal woman” on the image, attributing to the image inner characteristics, emotions, and intellect that he, the image-maker, wants the statue to have. Then the image comes to life...but what then? Will the living person continue to conform to the sculptor’s image, or will she become her own person? There are many possibilities.

In Shaw’s original book Eliza walks away from Henry Higgins. This caused a stir among readers and play producers - they did not want a bittersweet ending; they did not want an unresolved ending. In the musical Eliza returns, but is this really satisfactory? How can Eliza be her own person if she remains with Henry Higgins, if Henry Higgins has not changed? This is simply no way to live...or to love.

And yet, married couples often insist on playing the Pygmalion game, with the husband trying to change the wife and the wife trying to change the husband. When we try to make others into our own image we have a recipe for conflict, whether open conflict or suppressed conflict; but I think more importantly, when we attempt to make others into our image of who and what they should be we try to play God. It is bad enough when this occurs within extended families or in friendships; it is particularly toxic when it happens in a marriage.

Oh the games we play when we take our hammer and chisel and insist that others think and act like we want them to. We play emotional blackmail. We toss the guilt card on the table. We use reward and punishment. We indulge in self-pity. We get angry and then blame it on the other spouse - “You made me angry, I didn’t want to be angry!”.

I have listened to more than one spouse tell me how he (or she) is acting a certain way to get his (or her) spouse to do a certain thing without disclosing the motives behind the actions, the true hidden agenda.

When spouses play games of manipulation, when they attempt to mold the other spouse into another person, they fail to honor the Creator - God who created and formed that spouse. Psalm 139 provides us with an intimate picture of how our Creator has formed each one of us, and of how intimately He knows and cares for each of us. When one spouse tries to make his or her spouse into his or her image it is as if he or she is saying, “God, I can do better than you can.”

When we fall into the trap of trying to recreate others it often indicates that we don’t appreciate how God has made us and that we don’t really know ourselves - it often means that we are unsure of ourselves and insecure, and therefore we try to control others. Secure people can give others their freedom. When we begin to realize how deeply God loves and cares for us, then we can trust His creation in others and give them room to grow and to discover the love that God has for them - then we can learn to encourage them...not to conform to how we think they should be, but to discover an intimate relationship with God so that they can learn how God wants them to be.

Manipulation short-circuits honesty and communication. When we pull relational strings we don’t communicate honestly, the more we hide behind games the more difficult it is to escape the facade, the harder it is to actually talk and to listen and to understand each other. If I am trying to superimpose what I think you should be on you I am not likely to be interested in how you think or feel or what needs and desires you have.

Husbands and wives are not to be “projects” - and when they make each other “projects” there is conflict (open or hidden), frustration, less communication, and dwindling honesty. The Christian husband or wife who insists on making his or her spouse a project not only dishonors his or her spouse, but dishonors God by rejecting the work of God in the other spouse.

This is not to say that we are perfect, we are not; our alienation from God has marred His image within us. The Good News is that when we come into a relationship with Jesus Christ that a process of restoration beings in which the Holy Spirit draws us deeper and deeper into friendship with God and into His image...including the particular way and fashion that He molded each of us (again, see Psalm 139).

If husbands and wives are “heirs together of the grace of life” then they are equal and joint recipients of His grace and, by His grace, they learn to encourage each other in discovering who God made them to be - as a man, as a woman, and as a husband and wife who have become one flesh in Christ.

An ongoing Pygmalion project cannot end happily, the sooner it stops the better. The most tragic Pygmalion project is one in which the will of one spouse triumphs over the other - this is a desecration of the image of God in the marriage.

And what of the children in Pygmalion marriages? What do they see? Will they model their parents? Will they seek spouses with the same patterns? Will they insist that their future spouse acquiesce in a Pygmalion project?

If you are involved in trying to change your spouse into your image, if you are engaged in a Pygmalion project - take your hammer and chisel outside, dig a deep hole, and bury them. Better yet, throw them into the ocean. Let Christ be the Lord of your marriage, let Him transform both you and your spouse into His image - learn who you both are in Him...with all your similarities and your differences - and rejoice in them both. You may just be surprised at what you’ll discover about yourself...and about your spouse.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Marketplace Reflections (11)

Subject to Authority - (2)

When we submit ourselves to the authority of God, and when we submit ourselves to the authority of God as it is expressed in the authority structures of this age, we position ourselves to learn obedience and to be formed into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).

In Hebrews 2:10 we see that the Father perfected Jesus through sufferings, and in Hebrews 5:8 - 9 we read, “Although He [Jesus] was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect He became to all who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.” In Philippians 2:5 - 11 Paul writes that Jesus “...humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even on a cross.”

The writers of Hebrews and Philippians are exploring the Incarnation and the mystery of God becoming a man; as they draw back the veil they tell us that Jesus engaged in a Divine - Human process of maturation, Divine in the sense of God acting upon humanity, Human in the sense of responding in obedience to the Divine.

In Hebrews 10:5 - 9 and Psalm 40:6 - 10 we see that God prepared a body of flesh for Jesus and that Jesus came, according as it was written in the Divine book, to do the will of God. We also see in John 17:4 that Jesus fulfilled the Father’s will while He was on earth - as Philippians says, even to death on a cross.

One of the points of the above is that Jesus didn’t do what He whimsically wanted to do; He didn’t do what was convenient, He didn’t go with the flow; Jesus lived a life of deliberate and intentional obedience to the Father and this often entailed suffering - in fact Jesus is described as a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” - for He took the sorrow of the world upon Him.

Another point is that it was through His obedience and suffering that He was (humanly speaking) made mature and perfect. While I don’t pretend to understand this incarnational mystery, I do know that we are called to participate the the Divine Life in Christ as His life is lived in us and through us in obedience to the Father, which necessarily means that we live subject to earthly authorities.

To be sure there are myriad tensions in all of this, or at least there should be. If someone is living a life under authority without tension then most likely he or she is asleep and simply going with the flow - after all Jesus, even though He is a Son, learned obedience by the things which He suffered. If we are always seeking to remove ourselves from difficulties, or if we live lives of acquiescence to the ways of this age, or lives in rebellion against authority - we are removing ourselves from a place where the Father can transform us into the image of the Son. We are called to live intentionally obedient lives to the will of God.

To go back to the previous post in this series, what was it that the centurion recognized about Jesus (Matthew 8:5-13)? The typical answer is, “He saw that Jesus had authority.” That is incorrect. The centurion says to Jesus, “For I also am a man under authority.” The centurion understood that legitimate authority is derived from beyond the person in a position of authority, and that legitimate authority is under authority.  When the centurion spoke to his soldiers the Emperor was speaking. The centurion saw something in Jesus that caused him to know that Jesus was not a loose cannon, that Jesus was not out doing His own thing, and that Jesus was living a life of accountability under authority. The centurion may not have known exactly who Jesus was or what Jesus’ mission was, but he knew that here was a man under the authority of a particular nature, and so unusual a nature that the centurion knew that all Jesus had to do was to speak the word and his servant would be healed.

An element of being under authority is the willingness to bear the consequences of disobedience when we disobey earthly authority in order to obey heavenly authority. A danger is that when a conflict arises between earthly and heavenly authority that we use the conflict to justify our own rebellious and ungodly attitudes - if we cannot obey earthly authority because it conflicts with the will of God, our focus should be on obedience to God and a sensitive witness to others, including those who we cannot obey. We must ask God to guard our hearts and minds in these things lest we become people of vitriol and rebellion and assume the cloak of the those who pull down and destroy.

Conflict between good and evil, right and wrong, light and darkness in the workplace provides the Christ-follower with an opportunity to share Christ with others. It gives us an opportunity to think things through and to hopefully engage others on the problem. How can we help others think about the consequences of their actions? Can we show them another way? Can we appeal to their God-given sense of right and wrong? If we cannot obey or endorse an action or way of thinking, how can we respectfully and thoughtfully communicate our decision? We are not called to shut doors on relationships but to considerately engage others. How is God using difficult circumstances to form us into the image of Jesus Christ?

Living under the authority of Jesus Christ means obedience to Him and service to others. When we must disobey the authority of man, that disobedience must be not disobedience to man per se, but obedience to God in service to both God and man...whether others see this or not.

We are not our own, we are bought with a price..

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Altar

The Altar
Robert L. Withers; December 6, 2017

Let my heart be an altar
On which the fire of love for You,
Of worship and of praise,
Shall never die or smolder,
But rather shall ascend to You
With increasing fervent
Heat and light.

May  this altar radiate warmth for others,
And may its flames direct
Their eyes upward to You.
Let the fire of Your Holy Spirit
On this altar consume all
That is not of you, and let the
Son of Man be seen in its flames.

Oh may the hot lava of Your love
Flow from this altar.
Purifying and renewing my mind,
Burning away blindness from my eyes.
May Your Word from the altar
Shine a pathway for my feet,
Guiding the work of my hands,
Infusing my tongue and lips with life.

Behold the dwelling place of God is in man,
And man comes home to live in God.
Heaven and earth kiss each other.
The Word was made flesh,
Is being made flesh;
Christ in you, Christ in me, Christ in us.

Let my heart be Your altar,
Let it know no unholy fire.
Guard it, protect it, watch over it,
Let Your Holy Spirit and Your Word tend it;
May it be joined with other hearts and altars,
And by Your grace may we set souls aflame
With the fire of Your love in Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Letter to a Brother - Marriage (page 3)

Jesus is Lord

A few years ago as I was preparing to meet a husband and wife whose marriage was in crisis, I found myself reviewing the various approaches I could take in my initial time with them. There is no shortage of material on marriage for the average person or for the pastoral counsellor, and I learned early in vocational ministry that it was easy to be overwhelmed by the volume of advice and coaching - it was like dining at an “all you can eat” buffet with hundreds of options.

While my typical approach to initial meetings with couples in crisis is more of asking questions and listening and praying than anything else, I had a sense that this was going to be different because I knew that this husband and wife had reached the breaking point - they had a volatile history and it seemed that a final eruption was possible. I did not know either the husband or wife well, having only lived in the area a few months, but as I prayed about meeting them I had a sense that I needed specific direction from God to relieve the built-up pressure in their marriage that would hopefully help reset the stage.

As the time of their arrival at our home drew near (I often meet folks at home to provide a different atmosphere for them), a clear thought came into my mind, a question that I should ask them, again and again if necessary, a question that would hopefully cause them to pause and consider their attitudes, decisions, and the dynamics of their marriage.

After they arrived and some brief small talk, I asked a question or two and listened, asking clarifying questions as necessary. As is often the case, the story I heard was one of mutual destruction, of a shared history of poor decisions, of accusation, of retaliation, of keeping score, of unforgiveness, and at times of just plain stupidity. No matter how good things might be going for a week or two, or a month or three, it was only a matter of time before one of the spouses would fail to be perfect and then the other would detonate a hand grenade and then the other would fire a rocket and then other other would drop a sad but so common. The only thing they could agree on was a “scorched earth policy”.

Both of these people were professing Christians, both held leadership positions in their church, both were visible within their broader community.

After a while of listening, asking questions, and praying silently through all of this I looked at them and said, “Wallace, Susan, can you tell me where the lordship of Jesus Christ is in all this?”

I then went back to specific things they had shared and at the mention of each thing I asked, “Where was the lordship of Jesus in this?”

They were stunned. Item by item they were stunned.

“I didn’t think about Jesus being Lord,” Wallace admitted.

“I didn’t think about Him either when I was doing that,” Susan said.

That was the question that came to me as I prayed in anticipation of our meeting. I sensed the Holy Spirit saying to me, “Ask them where the lordship of Jesus is in their marriage. In their decisions. In the way they are treating each other.”

I said to them, “During our time together, for however many weeks it will be, we will certainly look at some practical day-to-day things that you might consider doing to build a healthy marriage; we’ll explore some strategies and ways of thinking. But right now, the most practical thing we can think about is this basic question, “Where is the lordship of Jesus Christ in your individual lives and in your marriage? - because we can’t separate you as individuals and your obedience to Christ and you as a husband, and you as a wife, and your obedience to Jesus Christ.”

(The other thing I talked to them about was praying together. Before they left that evening I asked Vickie to join us and Vickie and I prayed together in front of them to give them a model. Once they saw how it could be done they began praying together! In the ensuing months they talked to other couples about praying together. Some things are better caught than taught.)

Since that evening with Wallace and Susan the lordship of Jesus Christ has continued to be a focus when I meet with couples; whether in crisis or in premarital counseling, or in helping husbands and wives strengthen their marriages. Is Jesus Christ the Lord of our marriage? Are we being obedient to Jesus Christ as those who are “heirs together of the grace of life”? Am I, as a spouse, being obedient to Jesus Christ in my marriage?

All too often Christian husbands and wives isolate their marriages from the lordship of Christ; much the same many Christians erect a firewall between Christ and the workplace, or Christ and a civic organization, or Christ and educational institutions. Obedience to Jesus Christ means obedience to Him in all facets of life, in all relationships - it means obedience to Him whether we feel like obeying or not. As I write these words the idea that Christian husbands and wives don’t consider obedience to Christ in their marriages seems absurd; yet many Christian spouses will apologize to others before they will apologize to their spouse, they will seek forgiveness from others before they will seek forgiveness from their spouse, they will be kind and considerate and patient with others before they will do so with their spouse. Many times Christian spouses act as if their spouse should give them a free pass on selfish and petulant behavior, on temper tantrums, and on language that often would never be used with friends, coworkers, or in church.

We may call this whatever we like; compartmentalization, “that’s just the way we are”, it’s part of our history, it all started 20 years ago, he (or she) makes me act like it what we will - when we disobey God in the way we treat our spouse it is sin. Mechanistic language with terms like “dysfunctional” can be used to cloak sin and absolve us of ownership for our actions and be used to cover the need for repentance and seeking forgiveness from both God and our spouse. Sin is sin - call it what it is.

“What does Christ want me to do? How should I respond? How am I to be obedient to Jesus in this? How can I serve Jesus and my spouse?”

Where is the lordship of Jesus Christ? No matter what the marital situation may be, whether good and healthy and growing, or stagnant, or facing the danger of dissolution - we must always be looking to Jesus; as husbands, as wives, as those joined as one in the mystery of marriage, as two who have become one as heirs together of the grace of life in Jesus Christ.