Ted Dahlman, part 4 of 4. He reviews super hero movies.
About the most painful things you can experience is giving birth. I know this for a fact because it even hurts to watch. Continue reading
My task as a missionary is simple: to be a reflection of God’s glory in a culture which is not my own.* And I’m thankful my responsibilities are small and narrow, because I bring so very little to the table. To point others to the infinite worth of God is a job description I can appreciate and, hopefully, accomplish. Continue reading
I am amused.
While I am (mostly) in control of my own blog — I decide what subjects to address, how to write about them, when to publish my thoughts, which photos to accompany them, etc — it is ultimately the reader who decides how my blog will be used.
Why am I thinking about this today? Because of yesterday’s post:
It was a satire piece. I used the 400-year anniversary of the King James Bible to poke fun at some of the arguments conservative Christianity uses to combat Christmas, Halloween, and other popular holidays.
The post was intended as comedy. Humor. [And was accepted as such.] I suppose you could say there was a point. I was indeed speaking to some larger issues, but mostly I felt like laughing. So I wrote a piece that made me snicker.
So why am I amused?
Because the post has generated intelligent discussion. Not concerning the issue I was parodying, but having to do with language constructs and the like.* That’s as funny to me as the post was to begin with. [This is possibly commentary, however, on how humorous the original post was -- or, rather, was not.]
I’m not at all upset with the discussion that follows the KJV post. I am, as I said, amused.
The writer in a public forum has complete control over his written words, but very little control over how those words are received. And even less control (practically none) over the discussions that flow from his work.
Is it any wonder, then, that we have myriad interpretations of practically every passage in the Bible? Are we surprised our churches read the same words but take from them wildly dissimilar meanings? So what’s a Christian to do?
Scripture teaches that unity is a function of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit’s responsibility to “guide [us] into all truth;”** unity is his endeavor. It is our task, then, to be obedient to Christ’s teachings as the Spirit nurtures us, the body of Christ, to maturity.
While personally I believe modern Christianity places too much emphasis on the individual, personal saviors, and the like (surely a product of our American culture), the Spirit does play this role on both macro- and micro- levels. The church as a whole will be built up to maturity by the Spirit’s power and leading. But also we as individuals, the Spirit indwelling each of us, will become more like Christ as the Holy Spirit guides us into obedience to Jesus’ teachings.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35
We don’t love one another in order to be disciples. Rather, our love for one another is a symptom of our condition — that we are disciples of Christ.
I’m slightly uncomfortable, then, with the popular view that unity is equal to tolerance. Unity is not the result of broad-mindedness. It is the result of obedient lives, changed by the Holy Spirit to be more like Christ.
Seek obedience to Christ. Unity will come.
Are our churches made up of infants?
Unity is of utmost important in Christianity. We miss that sometimes. Which, perhaps, is not all that surprising when we look at Christianity as a prescribed set of doctrines to which we must adhere. Alter the interpretation of one passage, and a fence must be built — to separate us from those heathens on the other side. Or we overlook sin and immorality within our own tribe, because it is proper belief that demonstrates salvation — and not righteousness. I’m afraid we’ve placed too great of importance on knowledge and right belief, and too little on loving one another and being obedient to God.
Paul would call us a bunch of babies. No wait… Paul DOES call us a bunch of babies. In Ephesians 4.
In this chapter Paul encourages the church at Ephesus to seek unity. Unity is described as a function of the Holy Spirit, and it is realized as the body of Christ matures. Let me repeat that, because it’s worth repeating:
Unity in the church is the work of the Holy Spirit. And it is one of the most obvious and unambiguous indications that a group has reached maturity in Christ.
And we rarely exhibit it.
Perhaps I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe I’m being too critical. I certainly do want to join in with others in celebrating the unity we already possess — or at least toward which we’re making strides. And I’ve experienced incredible unity in some congregations; I thank God for those churches. But it seems to me these are the exceptions, rather than the rule. And look at the discord between congregations. Or worse yet, between denominations. What’s a Christian seeking unity to do?
Paul happens to offer some very practical advice in Ephesians 4. If you’ll allow me, I’d suggest the keys to allowing the Spirit to bring unity are:
1. Individuals should live as followers of Christ ought to:
2. Within the body, we should love one another. This means:
Some won’t like that I’ve written as if knowledge always stands in conflict with the above behaviors. They want it to be both/and –not either/or. And they’re right to desire such; I’m there with them. Knowledge does not always stand in opposition to love and obedience. Godly knowledge never does. And this knowledge from God is desperately needed for us to reach unity. Paul indeed says as much in Ephesians 4.
My argument today, though, is simply that our knowledge is too often not a Godly knowledge — despite the fact that we come to it by means of Bible study. I learn from Paul (in Ephesians 4) that if ours is a knowledge which does not build the church up to maturity AND together in unity, then it is not a Godly knowledge. It is the knowledge of man — counted as trickery, deceitful scheming, and mere winds of doctrine.
I don’t wish us to do away with knowledge. But no amount of Bible study alone is going to make us into the people Paul describes in Ephesians 4. Nope, that will take 1) the Holy Spirit at work in us and 2) our willingness to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus. Too often this is an unpopular answer. But it’s the right one.
Spiritual potty-training. That’s what we need.
If the church is a theater,
marriage is a play —
Christ’s good and perfect love
for his church to convey.
[The role of Christ is performed by a husband, and the church is played by his bride.]*
Our hero is steadfast in his devotion to his wife. His love is powerful and unflinching. With great determination, he sets off to present his bride to the world as unparalleled in beauty, and of revolutionary perfection. He guards her purity and fights for her honor. His own life he deems of little import when hers is in danger. And, in what would seem to be the end of our tale, this husband sacrifices himself in order to give his bride life. But this is not indeed the end of the play. It is only the beginning.
The world the audience, they misunderstand. And their reactions and reviews vary greatly:
Even the Christians can’t come to a consensus on the play:
As for me, I just hope my wife and I can do this play justice. I’m a bit overwhelmed that I’ve been cast as Jesus in any production — much less one that’s for the world to see. I pray that God will empower me to love my wife just as Christ loves the church. And that he will be glorified in, and through, our marriage. Amen.
Yesterday I wrote about marriage being both a partnership AND a hierarchy. That post has generated some good discussion and I especially appreciate Tisha’s comments and questions (nothing against the rest of yours). I penned a reply in the comments section, but decided it might itself be worth publishing as a post. NOT because it’s a brilliant answer, but because I’d like to invite further discussion on the matter. I’m unsure of my conclusions regarding Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7, and welcome any input you guys have.
Here are Tisha’s words (with portions edited out):
[Brett said:] “A wife who is in submission to Christ cannot conceivably offer full submission to a husband who is not. No man — or woman — can serve two masters.”
I was wondering if a woman is truly unable to fully submit to her husband if he is not in submission to Christ, as long as he is not asking her to contradict her responsibilites as a follower of Christ. Couldn’t him being sanctified through his wife, or being won by her conduct be partly due to her benevolent submission to him?
I was thinking those verses about serving two masters were in regard to serving God vs money. Do you believe they can be applied in the context of marriage as well?
Tisha raises some excellent (and difficult) points. I want to float my reasons for making the statements as I have, and then welcome your thoughts:
First, though, let me clarify that I was not offering the husband in the above scenario as one of the “two masters.” Rather, I was meaning to imply (and probably was unclear) that a man who is NOT in Christ is necessarily serving the world. And a man who IS in Christ is serving Christ. So a Christian woman, it seems, could only submit to the latter, as in doing so (if he loves her as Christ loves the church) she would be submitting to both husband and Christ in one fell swoop. So my two masters here are the same as in Matthew 6 — God versus the things of this world.
In 1 Cor 7:12-14, Paul urges the Christian woman not to divorce her unbelieving husband IF “he is willing to live with her.” In this situation it sounds to me like the non-believer husband is being forced to choose between 3 options:
The Christian woman in this situation has firmly decided to serve the Lord, and if her husband wants to live under that kind of roof with that kind of wife and kids, let him; she shouldn’t divorce him. It seems the roles have now been switched. The wife in this situation is called to love her husband as Christ loves the church, while the husband is choosing to be in willing submission to her — and therefore even to Christ.
I believe this is how “the unbelieving husband will be sanctified through his wife.” So I would suggest it’s not a wife’s willing submission to her husband that convinces him to accept Christ or makes him holy. Rather it is his willing submission to Christ THROUGH HER that sanctifies him. This is exactly the opposite of what I’ve been taught. But it seems to me to make more sense of the text. Also, it’s interesting to note it works the same way for a believing man with an unbelieving wife — though in that situation the roles would not be switched.
[If you think about it, loving an unbelieving husband despite his unbelief is incredibly similar to Christ loving the church. Being submissive to him, though, would not at all be.]
The Christian woman, we’re also told, is not bound to a husband who doesn’t want to live with her (and her faith). If he leaves, she is to let him; and she’s in no way required to chase. This section seems to further support the above ideas. Marriage between a believer and an unbeliever is not what was intended, but if the non-Christian submits to Christ through his/her spouse, it will work. It will not, though, be successful any other way.
So in the situation Tisha mentions — where the husband “is not asking [the wife] to contradict her responsibilites as a follower of Christ” — I would say there are three ways that could happen:
What do you guys think?
I am not a contented person by nature. I’m always wanting more.
I spent three days in a Tanzanian village earlier this week and realized how very discontented I am. I didn’t miss (for those three days) running water or electricity. Taking a bath out of a bowl of water isn’t so bad, and the absence of electricity only meant the night sky would be absolutely stunning.
But I can’t express to you how much I missed soft chairs, beds, and couches.* The cushiest thing I sat on during my stay in the village was a rock; and I thanked God for it’s anatomically-contoured curves. But still I was not content. I secretly longed to go read my Bible while sitting comfortably in the truck that was parked just a few meters away.
Nor was I content with the food I was served. I ate what was placed before me and enjoyed the company,** but I sure missed having some variation in my diet. In my mind, a guy can only eat so much rice or ugali — and dipping it in the same accompanying sauce at every meal is not my forte. Boredom sets in quickly with tasteless starches dunked in tomato-flavored boiled water.
I am not by nature a content person. And neither are you. Contentment is not inherent in fallen man. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Every short-term-mission-trip-goer is an expert on contentment. Because they’ve witnessed firsthand Haitians living in huts and Hondurans living off beans and rice. These Christians return to the states with a renewed appreciation for what they have and a strong desire to be as content as the completely satisfied Latin Americans.
To hear these mission trip goers, you’d think selfishness and materialism is a North American disease, one to which the rest of the world is immune. Not true.
The African living under a thatch roof desperately wants one made of tin. The Haitian family sleeping together in one bedroom lusts after their neighbors’ two-bedroom home. Godly contentment is not something the third-world has a firm grasp on. If you’ve witnessed true contentedness, it’s likely due to the Holy Spirit and not the absence of wealth.***
“…I’ve learned to be happy no matter what the situation. On one hand I’ve experienced not having anything at all, but on the other I’ve at times had more than I could ever possibly need or use. But most importantly, I have learned the secret of being content in all circumstances, whether hungry or full, whether lounging on a rock or a leather couch, and whether or not I own the newest Iproduct. I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:11-13
It’s odd that we’ve interpreted this last verse to mean nearly the exact opposite of what Paul intended. When I see a high school football team with Philippians 4:13 printed on the back of their state championship shirts, or a group of marathon runners who believe this verse means they can, and should, complete 26.2 miles to display Jesus’ power in them, I am saddened.
This verse would be more appropriately demonstrated by the little crippled boy who will never run a step in his life, but is happy just to be in the crowd. Or the football players who can’t play a lick and lose all their games, but enjoy the season and its accompanying camaraderie all the same. The family who has just lost a child in a car accident, but still believes — and acts as if — God is good. Or the Christian couple who desperately desire to have children but are unable and, so, volunteer their time at the local Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs.
While I’m certainly not against accomplishing great feats of athleticism — and am myself a runner and triathlete (though not one with any great feats to his name) — we can’t forget that “doing all things” to Paul meant being content no matter how horrible the situation.
[I would argue that the expression of joy during times of success is not nearly the witness of Christ as is the demonstration of contentment during defeat, poverty, or hard times.]
And Christ’s strength in us is the secret of that inextinguishable joy.
That is the meaning of Philippians 4:13 and the big secret Paul had learned — that Christ enables us to be content in any and every situation. Whether we’re marathon finishers or cassava farmers in Bilyahilu village, whether we’ve just received a raise or a pink slip, whether we live in an air-conditioned home or under a thatch-roof, we can have joy and Godly contentment because of Christ in us.
The Holy Spirit’s not a magic charm. And the grace of God’s not spiritual voodoo.
If you’ve been reading the blog for long, you know I’m promoting a shift from knowledge-based Bible study to an obedience-based approach. I’ve received a bit of pushback at times (not necessarily on the blog) concerning these ideas. Many would suggest that God changes our lives and we shouldn’t be dependent on ourselves for bringing about this transformation. And a fair number of these Christians would then say the answer is for us simply to “work on our relationships with God” — and the Holy Spirit will reshape our lives as a result.
I’m certainly not against having a good relationship with God, but I don’t buy the premise that “I-need-to-work-on-my-relationship-with-God” can be accomplished with Bible study and prayer alone. A Christlike life is not fashioned from minutes spent in the word and a bowing of the head aimed towards a deeper friendship with the Father. There must be practice. Now, I’d never suggest the potential is within me to bring about transformation in my life — except that the Holy Spirit in me does provide such a power. But I am convinced this power will only manifest itself in a changed life when there has been present intentional training. I must rehearse my obedience to God. I must practice living in the kingdom.
Paul writes in (the first chapter of) his letter to Titus:
They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.
He then goes on (in chapter two) to describe this obedience that is lacking as something that can be taught. I find it interesting the the word “self-control” is used four times in the chapter to describe how Christians should behave. Controlling one’s self sounds more like hard work than supernatural voodoo. No question, though, the catalyst for learning obedience is indeed the grace of God:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…
But, still, the grace of God is not some magical charm that, once believed, makes us obedient little Christs. There must be a commitment to change; there must be a training for obedience. Check out these words from Paul (from 3:8):
And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.
So the next time one of us finds ourselves thinking “I should work on my relationship with God,” perhaps we should consider doing so by practicing a little more than reading. Maybe 10 minutes of reading about loving my neighbor and 50 minutes of cutting that neighbor’s grass. Or 20 minutes of prayer, asking God to give me the courage and the stomach to hug smelly old ladies in the nursing home — and a couple of hours of actually doing so.