Too Familiar to feel the Bite

too familiar

Sometimes we are just too familiar with some of the things Jesus said and did to feel the bite. Sometimes the meaning of what Jesus spoke eludes us because we are not familiar with the culture of the day or they don’t sound strange in our modern ears of multicultural inclusion. Read the next few verses and then think about them and see what strikes you as shocking about them:

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42 NLT).

Most lessons on this passage talk about the importance of putting Jesus first. Others emphasize the first importance of studying Jesus’ teachings. Some emphasize the danger of being distracted by all the little details in life and miss the truly important one: following Jesus. While these messages are true and are appropriately gleaned from this passage, they each miss the radical bite of what Jesus said and did in this event at the house of Martha and Mary.

A related passage of Scripture can possibly help us understand a key phrase in this event where “Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught.” This related passage lets us hear through first century ears what Mary’s actions meant. The words of this passage come from the apostle Paul and are quoted by Luke who gave us the gospel account we just read. They are part of the Apostle Paul’s self-description of his Jewish background and his training as a Rabbi by the presumed greatest teacher in Israel at the time, Gamaliel. They were spoken in Hebrew and translated into Greek by Luke, so the word choice and parallel to the previous text are no accident:

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day” (Acts 22:3).

To sit at the feet of a great teacher, especially one known as a Rabbi as Jesus was, meant a very specific thing. You were chosen by the teacher to be one of his disciples in training to be a Rabbi. Because of our familiarity with the passage, we largely miss the sharp edges of Mary’s behavior, along with Jesus’ even more radical affirmation of her behavior.

Hospitality in Jesus’ time was a supreme virtue for a woman. It was what women did and was largely their responsibility. It was Mary’s role in culture to stay behind the scenes and serve as a welcoming and gracious hostess.

The first sharp edge we must feel bite into our understanding of this passage: Mary had the audacity to NOT fulfill her role as a hostess.

The second sharp edge: Mary abandoned her sister who was fulfilling this task of hospitality. Her sister, Martha, was (according to their culture) appropriately angry with Mary for shirking her responsibility as a woman and as a hostess.

The third sharp edge: Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught.” This was shocking: women not only couldn’t be a Rabbi,Rabbi’s were not supposed to talk to women in public. Mary’s actions would have be seen by her peers as an audacious move to place herself in the role of a Rabbi in training! She didn’t serve as hostess and she didn’t retreat to the shadows, other room, or behind the tent flap, and leave all talk about important spiritual matters to the men. Instead, she placed herself in the middle of the conversation in the position of a chosen disciple in training: she “sat at the Lord’s feet.”

The fourth sharp edge: Not only does Jesus reject Martha’s culturally appropriate complaint against Mary, but he also gently rebukes Martha for making it. Then, Jesus affirms all that Mary did and what it meant, asserting that her choice to do it wouldn’t be taken away from her!

“My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her”

“It will not be taken away from her!”Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 3.55.09 PM

Pentecost meant the coming of the last days. God’s Kingdom was breaking into human time through the establishment of a new people, Jesus’ church. Restoring God’s original intent to creation through this new movement was emphasized, and one result of that was that both men and women would prophesy (Acts 2:18) in God’s people in whom the Holy Spirit lived. A short time later, in the book of Acts, Luke describes Paul’s visit with Philip the evangelist and his four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9).

Peter spoke at Pentecost of women who would prophesy as part of God’s re-creation of his intent through the church. Paul recognized that there were women in Corinth who rightfully prayed and prophesied in the assembly. Luke spoke of four daughters of Philip who prophesied before Paul and his mission team. These women could be called the spiritual daughters of Mary, about whom the Lord spoke plainly: “There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

We will examine more examples next week if the Lord tarries another week. Until then, may Paul’s blessing to the Ephesians be ours in abundance:

Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love (Ephesians 6:25-26).

Co-Heirs with Christheirs with Christ

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:26-29).

At first listen through our twenty-first century ears, this translation of Paul’s words to the Galatians appears exclusivist or sexist or at least gender limiting. That’s why most modern translations change the phrase “you are all sons of God” to “you are all children of God” (Galatians 3:26). While the latter seems more inclusive in phrasing, it misses the radical point of Paul’s original wording.

In a world where most cultures granted the rights of inheritance only to the “right kind of son,” Paul’s declaration to the Galatians is a racial, social, and gender earthquake. His emphasis in this passage is on who is the “right kind of son.” His answer is liberating.

The “right kind of son” is not based on race — “neither Jew nor Greek”!

The “right kind of son” is not based on social status — “neither slave nor free”!

The “right kind of son” is not based on gender — “no male or female”!

The “right kind of son” is now determined by faith in Christ Jesus as Lord(Galatians 3:26), baptism into a new identity and relationship with Christ(Galatians 3:27), and the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit who gives each person access to the Father as a beloved child (Galatians 4:6-7) — these are the same three points of emphasis at Pentecost (Acts 2:22-41).

This standing as the rightful male heir (the “right kind of son”) for every Christian is true regardless of race, regardless of social standing, and regardless of gender. The newly created person in Christ has the right to call out “Abba! Father!” with all of the full rights of the son who is the rightful heir to all of the Father’s inheritance. As Paul announced to the Corinthians, a new creation had begun and we no longer look at people from a human point of view any longer (2 Corinthians 5:14-17).

Paul’s declaration is sweeping and vast. It is full of promise and rich with implications that would take generations to work out in culture, but was present in the moment the first people called on the Lord to be saved, were baptized into Christ, and were given the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This declaration is re-declared and fully realized each time those events of new creation occur in the life of a person in any age.

What Paul said about race to the Ephesians, he also intended to be true with social standing and with gender:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit (Ephesians 2:14-18)

Paul returns to this theme in several of his letters, extending the theme to all of Jesus’ disciples — those who believe in Jesus, have been baptized into a new identity with Jesus, and have been filled with the Spirit — being heirs of God’s promise and co-heirs with Christ, regardless of race, social standing, and gender:

 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Romans 8:14-17; see also Titus 3:3-7)

With his words to the Romans, Paul moves beyond his expansive you are “all sons of God… and heirs” to you are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”! The human barriers and distinctions have all fallen away with the confession of Jesus, baptism into Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Before God, there is no distinction. We have equal access to the Father. We have equal value and are respected and cherished as God’s children equally. Male and female both are equal heirs to God’s promise and are co-heirs with Jesus!

Paul’s declaration to the Galatians is a racial, social, and gender earthquake.

Yet that leaves some important dangling questions we must address if we are to be honest with the Scriptures and honest with ourselves. Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 3.51.06 PM

If with Pentecost God brings into being a new humanity free of the distinctions that separate us, how far does this go in its implementation in our new life together in Jesus’ church?Did Jesus value and empower others to serve beyond the distinctions that divided people in his day?

Did the early church begin to empower people to serve in Jesus’ Kingdom beyond the social distinctions of their day?

How do we apply these principles in our own day?

Over the next several weeks, we will try to humbly address these questions.

 

The Creator’s Intent

creator

Chaos. Hatred. War. Bloodshed. Crime. Abuse. Illness. Poverty. Hostile weather.

Deep in our bones, we know that something is broken with our world. The breathtaking beauty, symmetry, and diversity of God’s creation reminds us of God’s goodness in our magnificent universe. Yet this breathtaking beauty exists alongside a malevolence and hostility that shows itself in violent eruptions throughout our world and its systems. Paul’s words written to Roman Christians capture this primal disconnect that we feel in our souls:

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (Romans 8:19-22).

This brokenness has impacted the way we treat each other as fellow humans. It has most certainly marred the way men and women have dealt with each other. This brokenness was not what God wanted for us. We live after “the long fall” and we live in the mess of sin — a divine goodness ripped apart by sin and left in its insidious residues. What God had carefully designed to be beautiful is fractured and distorted. The connection between complements, both created of equal value in the image of the Creator, is now fractured. The relationship between man and woman has become a dance of grace now often marred by deception, sin, blame, hiding, abuse, deceit, and regret.

As Jesus’ disciples and as Jesus’ family, we live in the aftermath of “the long Fall.” Yet we live in this aftermath to be salt to counteract the world’s decay and light to help lead the world out of its darkness(Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus taught us to pray:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).

In praying this prayer, Jesus’ disciples are saying, “God our world is broken and we desperately want to see your Kingdom come and bring your full and redemptive grace to our world and restore your original creative grace and divine intent to all that is broken.” By praying this prayer, we are also accepting our role in being partners with our Father’s work at redeeming the world to this original creative grace and divine intent. This is our role as disciples in the Father’s dawning Kingdom.

Pentecost becomes the moment of God’s divine spark of restoration. Rooted in Luke’s account of this important moment in history is a glimpse of our role. We are to be Jesus’ people, participants in the re-creation of God’s creative grace and divine intent. At Pentecost several results of “the long and cataclysmic Fall” are reversed. In these “last days,” Babel and the confusion of languages and division of people (Genesis 11:1-9) are reversed as each person hears the message of Jesus in his or her own language (Acts 2:5-18)).

More than just the separation of language is mended by this flash of divine grace. Young and old are united in dreaming dreams and having visions. Both men and women prophesy and “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” can be saved (Acts 2:21). This promise of the Spirit’s work of re-creating a new humanity while bringing salvation and the forgiveness of sin is not just for those at Pentecost. All whom the Lord calls to himself, even those who are far off, will join with this original group at Pentecost. They share in this new creation through believing in Jesus, by sharing in baptism, and by receiving the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38-41). Built into the fabric of Pentecost, the birth of Jesus’ church, is the promise of the restoration of a people who live out their Creator’s intent in their Kingdom culture.

With Pentecost, God began the work of re-creating his new humanity. Paul talked about no longer viewing anyone from a worldly point of view because he had experienced this new creation:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:14-17).

The implications of Pentecost and this new creation are astounding. What we see in glimpses during Jesus’ ministry are now to be breaking into our world through Jesus’ people who are re-created in him to do his good work(Ephesians 2:10) of building his Kingdom family. This Kingdom family is the place where the Creator’s original intent for all things, especially for valuing men and women as the Father’s precious creations, is experienced. Jesus’ disciples live in a different place — “a new creation has come” — than the world around them. Their lives and their fellowship are to beckon the world to that place of grace. It is through the church, this place of grace, that the barriers that separate people are torn down and a new humanity is created(Ephesians 2:11-16). This place of grace is so revolutionary that it captures the attention of heavenly beings as well as worldly authorities:

His intent was that the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities of the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 3:10-11).

Paul had a way of speaking of this divine intent that was to be restored. He used the same language of Pentecost — faith in Jesus, baptism, and the work and personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit — to talk about this place of re-creation and restoration of the Creator’s intent. While found elsewhere in his letters, Paul’s fullest declaration of it is as breathtaking as it is comprehensive:

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. … And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 3:26-29Galatians 4:6).

What this means for us is terribly important for us as Jesus’ disciples. We must not miss it. So let me re-emphasize a few key points.

God made us, both male and female, of equal value in his divine image.Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 3.46.28 PM

More than just the separation of language is mended by this flash of divine grace.

God made us to be complements of each other — male and female are different, yet essential to the other to be all whom God made us to be.The “long Fall” and the created order has left us in a mess of chaos, division, suspicion, blame, hate, rivalry, abuse, and sin. But Jesus taught us to pray for a different world — God’s creative intent, his will done on earth — to be restored through us in the church.

Pentecost was the beginning of this new Kingdom breaking in on the world through Jesus’ disciples the church where the differences of language and culture, as well as gender, were restored to God’s creative intent.

In the church, Paul proclaimed, this new world is to be demonstrated by Jesus’ disciples as division and barriers that separate humankind fall as we are made into a new humanity in Christ and the ultimate value of each person is restored to God’s creative intent.

Of course understanding God’s design for the church to lead the way in breaking down barriers that separate humankind is one thing, flawed human disciples living it out are another.

How do we capture Jesus’ high view of our role in the world?How do we live more redemptively on the front edge of societal redemption and not on the defensive end, reacting to everything new that we feel might threaten us?

How do we begin with God’s purpose of Pentecost and his Kingdom people restoring his creative intent instead of a few proof-texted passages that support church as we know it?

How do we work redemptively as salt and light and not become co-opted with the world and culture’s agenda instead of God’s intent?

These are all thoughts to ponder and matters for our prayer time as we ask the Spirit to enlighten and transform us as we pray for God’s Kingdom to come and his will to be done in us as it is in heaven.

 

Made to be Compliments

Made to be Complements
The woman was made of a rib of the side of Adam. Not made out of his head to rule over him nor his feet to be trampled by him. But out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected and near to his heart to be loved of him.(Quote widely attributed to Matthew Henry, a famous Bible commentator.)

All of us like compliments, especially if those compliments are well deserved. A sincere compliment gives us confidence and motivates us to try harder. A genuine compliment lets us know that we are on target with what we are doing. A specific compliment helps us realize that we have brought someone else delight in what we did for them. We like compliments.

While we all like a compliment, most all of us need a compliment. I’m not talking about nice things said about us or something we’ve done. Instead, I’m talking about a co-worker, a team member, and especially a spouse who is more than just a partner. A partner walks alongside us and joins in our work, our victories, our sorrows, and our dreams. However, a partner who is our complement is all of these things and more. Our complement is the missing piece in our puzzle of two pieces, our missing skillset in a task we must complete, our counterbalance in our dreaming, and the person who fills in the gaps in our soul as we journey through life. Our complement makes us better than we can be on our own. Together, we make each other better and we fill in the missing pieces in each other’s lives.

God declared this truth about the first human:

It is not good for the man to be alone, so I will create a companion for him, a perfectly suited partner (Genesis 2:18 The Voice).

Adam needed a complement. Despite the beauty of creation and having an important job to do, the man’s life was incomplete and noticeably lacking. So God made Eve as Adam’s complement. She was not only created in the image of God like Adam (Genesis 1:26-27), and created of the same material as Adam (Genesis 2:21-23), but she was also created to be a complement to Adam (Genesis 2:18)— “a companion for him, a perfectly suited partner,” a “helper” who was “suitable” (Genesis 2:18 NIV), and “just right” for him (Genesis 2:18 NLT). While Matthew Henry’s quote doesn’t come from Scripture, it beautiful reflects the intent of Genesis 2!The beauty of the Holy Spirit’s account of the creation of woman is breathtaking. This account is foundational for how we should view a woman biblically. She is part of the fabric of God’s great creative intention — what the Father wanted before sin and the Fall had ripped apart what God had carefully designed and pitted man and woman in a dance of grace marred by deception, sin, blame, hiding, and regret. We are directed to go back to this creative intention by Jesus. Before Jesus would answer a question about divorce, he first pointed to the Father’s creative intention as the goal, not some lowered estimate because of sin:

“Haven’t you read… that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.’” Matthew 19:4-5).

As a new creation in Christ, we are not to look on any person from a “worldly point of view” because we are new creations in Christ and the righteousness of God’s creative intent should shine through in us(2 Corinthians 5:16-21). This theme of being re-created in Christ is important to Paul (Ephesians 2:10Ephesians 4:24Colossians 3:10)and finds definition in his phrase that describes what being in Christ Jesus means for every baptized believer: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

The beauty the Holy Spirit’s account of the creation of woman is breathtaking.Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 3.39.17 PM

As we will see in a few weeks, this restoring of the Creator’s intent is a major theme of God’s new covenant people formed by Christ, born on the day of Pentecost, celebrated in declaration at baptism, and very much aligned to the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10).For today, let’s hang on to these basic truths:

Each person is precious and sacred to God because both male and female are created in the Father’s image.Both male and female are made of the same “stuff” and it is shared “stuff” — one is not more important than the other!

Each is made specifically by the Creator’s design to perform his or her complementary role for the other — they both need the other to be all they were created to be.

The Fall brought deception, sin, blame, hiding, and regret into relationships between a man and a woman. However, our re-creation in Christ Jesus has called us back to God’s creative intent for both man and woman — to value each other as the different, beautiful, meaningful, and necessary complement to his or her life.

Adam’s words of rejoicing, along with the commentary of Genesis, say the truth most beautifully of all:

“At last, a suitable companion, a perfect partner. Bone from my bones. Flesh from my flesh. I will call this one ‘woman’ as an eternal reminder that she was taken out of man.”Now this is the reason a man leaves his father and his mother, and is united with his wife; and the two become one flesh. In those days the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:23-25 The Voice).

Sacred Value. . .

Rattle.

Snap.

Clank.

No, these are not the sounds of a new breakfast cereal. These are the sounds of handcuffs on the wrists, a digital camera flash in the face, and a cell door closing behind another NFL player arrested for domestic violence. Each story sickens us more. Of course these high profile arrests are the headline grabbers. Unfortunately there are many other incidents — far too many others — and because no one of notoriety is involved, these incidents never make the news.

The rising tide of violence against women is a stain on the soul of our western culture. As we have pontificated against the demeaning treatment of women in other cultures, we have neglected to be honest about how little value we place on women in our own culture. Under the masquerade of equal rights, we have tried to assuage our cultural conscience. Yet we sense somewhere deep within us that our culture is deeply flawed and that flaw shows up in our treatment of women. When we closely listen to our prevailing media messages about women, we recognize that our culture does not value a woman for who she is created to be — someone precious and sacred, someone valued by her Creator.

 

 

We give the appearance that a woman has equal rights, but have built into our powerful systems of advertising, music, and visual media easily accepted lies. These lies portray that a woman’s chief value is to be admired, desired, possessed, and used by a man as a sexual object. Our cultural solution to this debased and utilitarian male view of women is to tell women they have the right to become as debauched as a man — they can view and treat men in the same way men treat women.

At the taproot of this soul sickness is a fatal flaw: we have lost a sacred sense of personhood. A sacred sense of personhood means that we value each person — born or unborn, young or old, rich or poor, male or female, slave or free — as a sacred and eternal person, conceived for a life of meaning and purpose and created in the image of God.

When we get to choose who is of value and who is not, we have broken part of what makes us human.

God didn’t make one a first class person and the other a second class person based on gender.

Is a person less of a person based on that person’s lack of productivity in our system?

Is a person less a person because of her or his being less useful or pleasing to us?Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 3.30.12 PM

Is a person less a person because of the demands, discomforts, inconveniences, or embarrassments that person might place upon us?

Because our culture has repeatedly answered yes to these questions, we have already declared that some people are actually less… less than a real person. We don’t have to give that person the right to be born. We don’t have to give that person access to health care. We don’t have to give that person time and individual attention. We don’t have to support that person emotionally or financially because her or his problems are too demanding. We don’t have to protect that person’s rights. We don’t have to respect that person’s privacy or private photographs. We don’t have to pay attention when that person says, “No!”

Despite our protestations, we know that something deeply embedded in our culture is broken. We sense it as our world groans in the death throes of an anguish we cannot identify. We have bought the lies of our fallen world and forgotten one of the cardinal truths about sin: It is sinful to use people and love things, instead of loving people and using things.

Sadly, I fear those of us who claim to follow Jesus have not spoken grace into this cultural black hole. We have politicked for family values and Christian values, but haven’t changed our scale of value for women as defined by Scripture and demonstrated by Jesus. We have chosen the values of our experience instead of the radical kingdom values of our God. We have largely argued politics and demonstrated the status quo instead of providing God’s redemptive model for the fallen world — new creations living out the Creator’s intent and demonstrating Jesus’ kingdom ethic that values people.

My heart is full of anguish at seeing our culture’s despicable violence against women. I will try to humbly offer a few insights over the next several weeks about what the Bible says about the value of women in God’s eyes — if for no other reason at least to remind myself. I pray that these insights are helpful. There will be no political harangue. Only the gentle request that we keep asking the Holy Spirit to remove the scales from our eyes so that we can see all people as the Father does and value all people as Jesus did in his earthly ministry.

Today, I offer one passage for us to ponder as we pray for the Spirit to work on our hearts and mold our understandings over the next week. This passage comes from our beginning:

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!(Genesis 1:26-27Genesis 1:31 NIV).

From the beginning, God wanted us to know that every single person — male or female — is created in His image. Their differences and their unique characteristics are very good. Each is a sacred person who bears the likeness of his or her Father in heaven. Each has intrinsic value because she or he was carefully fashioned by God in the womb. God didn’t make one a first class person and the other a second class person based on gender. To treat one as less than the other, or to speak to one as less than a sacred person, is a violation of the Creator’s intent and not acceptable in the Lord’s kingdom.

This is just one, small, first step in a journey. Yet as small as this step may seem, it is the crucial first step.

How is Your Posture?

posture1

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NIV)

Before our Holy and powerful God, everyone is valuable and weak. His weakness is stronger than our strength, and His foolishness is wiser than wisdom and all who seek to come before Him are humbled by His greatness.

 I Corinthians 1:25 NIV

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

When we attempt to stand strong in our own merit or goodness trusting the lesser gods and the fragile coverings of our weakness, God only knows us from a distance.

“Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar.”

posture 2Only when we humbly acknowledge our weakness, will God step in with His transforming power. God works in our weakness, pain, and vulnerability. Transformation often occurs when the truth of God is applied to a person in a humble posture. Again, we are hoping not to present the transformational framework as a magical formula. At the same time we see the premise of a vulnerable posture in both Scripture and the research of what it takes to live a humble life in the sight of the Lord.

We often find ourselves trying to cover our weakness with status, achievement, money, or relationships. However, all of these crumble before Him, and our reliance on these things only future reveals our weakness. May we surrender to His will and seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and may we do so with a humble posture. How is your posture?

God Wants to Use Me?

use-me

God delights in taking the most unusual circumstances to choose the most unlikely people to do the most extraordinary things.

Don’t believe me? Try these on for size:

  • Abraham and Sarah are the beginning of a vast nation made up of their descendants, but they did not have a child of their own until Sarah was 90 and Abraham was 100 years old!
  • Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers and then thrown into prison when falsely accused, ends up preserving his family and a host of people from other nations by becoming second in command to only Pharaoh.
  • Esther, who hid her racial identity and who had no power other than her beauty, preserves her people from mass genocide because of her courage and willingness to be known as a Jew.
  • Peter, who repeatedly fails in the clutch as Jesus’ disciple, blows it big time by denying the Lord three times even with cursing, but then is reclaimed by Jesus and leads 3,000 people to Christ on the day of Pentecost.
  • Saul, trained to be a Jewish Rabbi, was the lead persecutor of Jesus’ followers who felt that Jesus was a blasphemer and was responsible for Stephen’s death. Yet Saul meets the Lord on the road to Damascus and becomes the apostle Paul, God’s apostle to the Gentiles.

workjesus.jpgYes, God delights in taking the most unusual circumstances to choose the most unlikely people to do the most extraordinary things.

This is the case with Moses. Even though he had been raised in Pharaoh’s palace, Moses had to flee Egypt as a murderer and spent forty years herding sheep in the middle of nowhere — the deserts of Midian. Moses wasn’t good at public speaking before his 40 years of conversations with no one but his family, the endless sand, and the stinky sheep. Yet God calls him to speak for the people of Israel, and for God himself, before the most powerful ruler in the ancient world, Pharaoh.

Despite God’s call to Moses from the burning bush that wouldn’t burn up, Moses gave five reasons why he was the wrong choice:

  1. Who am I? — I’m not good enough (Exodus 3:11).
  2. Who are you? — People won’t know who sent me (Exodus 3:13).
  3. What if they don’t believe me? — They have no reason to believe in me(Exodus 4:1).
  4. Why me? — I can’t speak very well, so I’m not going to convince anybody (Exodus 4:10).
  5. Why not someone else? — I really don’t want to do it (Exodus 4:13).

Screen Shot 2013-12-14 at 9.51.51 PMWhile the LORD grows quite angry by the fifth excuse, he answers each of Moses’ doubts and then uses him mightily for the next 40 years to bring deliverance for God’s people. But, God has to first deliver Moses from his limited view of himself before he can bring deliverance to God’s people.

Satan has a way of beating us up with life, using our own negative self-talk to create doubt in our hearts, and reminding us of our past failures and broken dreams. Our adversary is a deceiver and a liar seeking to kill the dreams in our hearts and sucking the life out of our years (John 8:44).

Before long, we passively sit on the sidelines and begin to believe that others are more qualified than we are. We give up on our dreams and don’t look at other ways to see those dreams come true through others. We become accustomed to living in our own Midian desert — bored and yet comforted by the sameness and predictability of life in our desert, hidden away from the stresses and challenges of doing anything of significance for God.

The-Lords-Prayer-ExplainedThen one day we are praying the familiar words Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In the middle of saying this old, familiar prayer, the Holy Spirit stirs something in our hearts and reminds us of dreams we thought were long dead — dreams to do something great for God, dreams to be used by God, dreams to make a difference for God, dreams that bring a taste of God’s kingdom to a world caught in Satan’s grip. And then we have a choice. We have to choose which voice we will follow: the voice of the Liar or the voice of God. And we have to decide if we believe that what God once did, he still longs to do. Because…

God delights in taking the most unusual circumstances to choose the most unlikely people to do the most extraordinary things.

And underneath this truth, each of us needs to realize that one of those most “unlikely people” he wants to use is… me! He want to use you!

Building a Culture of Honor: Accountability

accountability

“Myself!”

“Me do it!”

“Do it myself!”

Parents often hear these words when their child is about twenty months old. These first stirrings of self-sufficiency are necessary to help a child mature into a responsibly independent person within the context of interconnected sets of relationships.

iphone5_textingToday, however, our sense of connectedness is being distorted despite living in a digitally connected world. We live in a world full of high-tech connections and low-touch loneliness. We live in a digitally connected world, but we often live most of our lives disconnected from genuine, caring, high-touch community. Because there is so much we can do, learn, purchase, and say on our own with a smart phone in our hands, we can easily lose the genuine touch of people who know the real person we are and not just our online personas. We lose touch with the people at our fingertips because our fingertips live in the world of digital independence.

God’s first words to describe our need for high-touch community occur in the beginning chapters of the Bible:

[Then God said,] “Now let Us conceive a new creation — humanity — made in Our image, fashioned according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:24 The Voice).The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…”(Genesis 2:18 NIV).

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-9).

Reflecting the image of God — Father, Son, and Spirit — we were made to live connected to other people and to God.

The old wise preacher who calls himself Koheleth says it this way:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:

If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

three_kids_friendsGod created us to live interconnected lives with people who love us and care for us. This is why Jesus taught us to pray to God as our Father and live in relationship to each other as brothers and sisters. So the two greatest commands focus on restoring the relationships, the connectedness that was lost with sin: we are to love God with all we are and love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).

Church is supposed to be about family, not about being entertained with other strangers in a big box experience. While big group worship and celebration can be a vital part of faith, to lose the intimacy of family and life together is to lose much of the essence of discipleship. Being a disciple is supposed to be about bringing God’s Kingdom with redeemed relationships and building a community of character and compassion — simply go back and read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7 to be convicted of this truth.

Living as Jesus’ disciples means we are genuinely connected to others as family and connected to our neighbors by living with them in character and compassion. So for Jesus, this means we are accountable for how our choices, words, and actions impact others with whom we are connected. If we are going to build a culture of honor — whether it is in our family, church, organization, or business — then accountability is a necessary part of the culture.

Notice how Jesus defines five complementary areas of accountability in his discussion of the church, discipleship, and connectedness:

  • Including:
    I am accountable to God for how I include others, regardless of their apparent status, so I welcome everyone seeking Jesus (Matthew 18:1-5).
  • Influencing:
    I am accountable to God for how my behavior impacts the faith of those who are new followers of Jesus, so I exercise caution to make sure my freedom in Christ does not cause a younger brother or sister in Christ to stumble and fall into sin (Matthew 18:6-11).
  • Restoring:
    I am accountable to God to notice when someone wanders from the faith and needs to be reclaimed, so I lovingly pursue those who wander away from fellowship with Jesus and his followers (Matthew 18:12-14).
  • Redeeming:
    I am accountable to God in how I deal with someone who has sinned against me — my goal must be to reclaim him or her and redeem that person, so I do not try to “get even” with that person (Matthew 18:15-20).
  • Forgiving:
    I am accountable to God to forgive from the heart those who sin against me and then repent and come back to the way of God; so I make a commitment to forgive as I have been forgiven (Matthew 18:21-35).

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 11.10.00 AMYears ago, an older, eccentric, rough-around-the-edges member of our congregation came up and challenged me. “I wish you would never use the phrase ‘member of the church’! Did you know that phrase is never found in the Bible.”

I rarely used that phrase, but this was his soapbox. He was a war vet who had lost one arm and two fingers of his other hand in a land mine explosion. So when he explained what he meant, I understood his point.

“You see, Phil, we are members of Jesus’ body. So when someone wanders away or leaves or stumbles, we are not losing a club member, we are losing a part of our Body. We are not church members, but vital parts of Jesus’ Body!”

life_connectedWe are interconnected. We were all baptized in one Spirit into one Body(1 Corinthians 12:12-14). What each of us does in our interconnected world — family or Body of Christ — truly matters. It matters not just to me, but to all with whom I’m interconnected. I must not live like my choices are just about me. I must not ignore the struggles and failures of others with whom I’m connected. I must not think my behavior is “just between God and me and is no one else’s business.” Jesus made clear that I am accountable for including, influencing, restoring, redeeming, and forgiving those with whom I’m connected.

In a culture of honor, accountability is the lifeblood of interconnected lives. This accountability is built on the teaching of the Lord Jesus and the foundation we have put into place with affirmation, prayer, service, and trust.

Accountability means that we welcome others as we have been welcomed by Jesus into the family of God.

Accountability means that we do not exercise all of our freedoms because we know our influence can have eternal consequences on others we love and with whom we are eternally connected.

Accountability means that when we sin, wander away, or grow weary in our life for the Lord, brothers and sisters in Christ should be there to help bring us back home. It means we notice when folks are slipping through the cracks and don’t rely on some church program to go reclaim people we know and with whom we are connected.

Accountability means that we accept the challenging words of a brother or sister who risks violating the niceties of our culture to confront us about our sin and the wounds we have caused them or others.

Accountability means that I lovingly confront a sinful sister or brother in Christ to restore the relationship and not to get even or ruin their reputation. Gossip, innuendo, and personal attacks are ruled out and restoration of the relationship becomes paramount.

Accountability means that we choose to live as authentic disciples of Jesus, people who are the family of God and fellow members of the Body of Christ, who treat each other and deal with each other with character and compassion. Where this kind of accountability exists, a culture of honor thrives.

Building a Culture of Honor: Trust

trustimagePhil Ware shares a time from his past as follows: A number of years ago, I came in from the garage into our house and was greeted by my daughter, then in high school. Megan hit me with a question: “Dad-dee, can I… ?” I cannot remember what the request was, but I remember my answer: “If your mom says it’s okay, it is fine with me.”

Megan turned around, faced her mom with a smile, and wiggled her left pinky finger in a circle, indicating that she had her daddy wrapped around her little finger. When she turned around and faced me, I smiled and said, “Yes you do, and you don’t want to ever do anything to destroy that trust I have in you!”

So where you live, worship, and work is it “Trust!” or “Trust?”

holy_pathBuilding a culture of honor depends on how you answer this question. Unfortunately, many of us live in religious or organizational systems where trust has to be earned. In fact, having to earn trust is the assumption that stands behind almost everything in many organizations and even families. Having to earn trust is considered a truism. However, let’s ask ourselves a couple of fundamental questions as followers of Jesus.

Did Jesus say we have to win his trust to be considered trustworthy?

In the way the Lord dealt with his disciples, did he show they had to win his trust before he would entrust them with responsibility and leadership?

He did say we needed to be faithful in little to be entrusted with much (Luke 16:10). But, he first trusted them with a little and placed them in situations of opportunity and responsibility. He gave them authority and sent them out under his guidance to do ministry long before they had proved themselves trustworthy of any responsibility (Mark 3:13-15).

So, does anything in the rest of the New Testament suggest that we must earn trust before we should be considered trustworthy?

We do know losing trust can cause a great deal of confusion and conflict. On the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, John Mark deserted the effort and returned home (Acts 13:13). When Barnabas wanted to include him in their second mission effort, Paul — as a driven apostle to the Gentiles — refused. He and Barnabas had such a sharp disagreement about this that they parted company (Acts 15:36-40).

Barnabas, true to his nature as an encourager (Acts 4:32-37), chose to continue to invest in John Mark. Paul, on the other hand, didn’t want to spend more time rehabilitating his trust in John Mark because he felt the urgent need to reach the nations who had never heard. However, both Paul and Barnabas extended trust to their helpers and didn’t demand that that they earn it first. Paul did this with Silas and Timothy (Acts 15:39-40Acts 16:1-3). Barnabas did this with John Mark (Acts 15:39).

Yes, these young men came with good reputations, but none of them had proven themselves trustworthy in missionary outreach across cultures. Yet both Paul and Barnabas invested in these younger men like Jesus invested in his disciples. Their first step was to trust that these disciples would prove themselves trustworthy and so they gave them the opportunity and responsibility to serve.

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 10.58.05 AMMaybe a modern example can clarify this principle a bit further. Some years ago, the director of a Christian school privately came and asked a youth minister how “his” high school kids at “her” school were so much more focused on living for Jesus, when the other church kids at “her” Christian school seemed far less interested in living for Jesus. He didn’t pause for a second in giving his answer:

You expect the kids to misbehave and try to get away with stuff. You don’t trust them to do what is right. You even have said this kind of thing publicly at parent’s meetings and defined your role as keeping in line. So you have to have all sorts of policies in place to explain the rules and deal with this lack of trust.

We, on the other hand, assume that our kids want to honor Jesus. We trust them to do just that. If they mess up, and a lot of them will, we will deal with that directly and lovingly to put them back on the right path. But the majority of the kids do great things because they love Jesus and they know we trust them to demonstrate that in the way they live.

Winning trust is remedialnever primary, in a culture of honor. Winning trust is a corrective for a breach of trust. In a culture of honor, trust is extended because we build our relationships on the basis that our brothers and sisters in Christ are trustworthy.

Trust is built on the foundation of affirmationprayer, and service. Trust is reinforced by accountability (which we will address next week). In a culture of honor, trust is given before it is earned.

helping_hand-climbersIn addition, in a culture of honor, trust can be reestablished by grace after holding someone accountable. That’s what Jesus did with Peter in both confronting him and restoring him to ministry (John 21:1-17).

Even more, in a culture of honor, trustworthiness can be reestablished by being given another opportunity with supervision, after being held accountable for a failure. This is what Barnabas did with John Mark so that John Mark was eventually seen as both trustworthy and useful to the apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:9-11).

When we are a grace-filled family, church, organization, or business, we extend grace by trusting that those around us are trustworthy. Even when they blow it, we love them enough to lovingly confront to restore them and allow them to reestablish their trustworthiness.

A culture of honor will always be a culture of trust. When trust exists, people thrive. When trust is earned, people have to work hard to prove they are worthy of being a part of the system. So much energy is lost trying to prove trustworthiness. So much suspicion is built into the system that thriving becomes very difficult and morale is frequently damaged. There is little honor. At best there is personal achievement. There is little grace. At best there is approval.

A culture of honor will be marked by trust because we consider our brothers and sisters in Christ trustworthy. We do this because our Father saw something in us long before anyone else could see anything of value or any reason for trust and our Father chose to see “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Colossians 1:19-23 NIV).

Building a Culture of Honor: Serving

cultureservingGrowing up in his daddy’s house, he knew hard work. Long before he was a man, he knew what it was like to mash his fingers and have to get a thin piece of hot metal to relieve the pressure under the smashed nail. He had to clean up after his daddy had worked with wood, stone, and mortar — after all, he was the apprentice and his daddy was the master carpenter. He knew what it was like to sweat through his clothes on a hot summer job and finish the day with his arms covered in sawdust or sand and his feet a slimy mess of dirt and sweat.

So as the Master looked over the edge of history and saw three crosses on the cruel hill called Golgotha, he was determined to show his friends, his faithful followers, the full extent of how much he loved them — he was determined to show his love for them to the very end (John 13:1). So, he took off his outer garment, picked up a towel and water basin and began to wash their feet. Not just the feet of the faithful ones. There would be none. Not just the feet of the most important one. He would fail most miserably. Not just the feet of the beloved one. He would watch, but only from a distance. The Master would show his love to everyone. Yes, he would wash each of their feet, including the one who had already sold him out for 30 pieces of silver and would soon betray him with a kiss.

Yes, the Creator of the universe, on the night of his betrayal, stooped down and lovingly cleaned the toe jam from the feet of his betrayer… and the one who would deny him… and the other ten who would forsake him and run away. Even his closest friends, the inner three, would fall asleep when he needed them most. Yet knowing this, Jesus’ concern was not for himself, but for them. He spoke life to them in the face of his own death. He spoke hope into their hopelessness. He spoke promise into their broken promises.

Why?

Love! Yes, love did this. But, look deeper than the concept of love. Underneath was a commitment to love them completely — not just in words, but in action and truth (1 John 3:16-18). He served them to set them an example of how to create a culture of honor* out of a brotherhood of dishonor, betrayal, denial, rivalry, fear, weakness, and hopelessness. He demonstrated what he had so often spoken: “The greatest among you will be as one who… serves” (Luke 22:26 NIV).

Jesus makes clear that if we are going to build a culture of honor, we must follow his example:

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them (John 13:12-17).

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 10.48.47 AMNotice that the Lord made clear, both by word and by example, that this band of brothers would not be blessed because they talked about serving, but only if they went about serving (John 13:17).

 

john13_17-smallThere is something about the unpretentious serving of another that changes hearts — both the heart of the loving servant and the hearts of the ones lovingly served. A family, a friendship, a group, an organization, a fellowship, or a business built on unpretentious sacrificial service creates a blessed people and opens hearts to see Jesus as he really lived. As Jesus himself said:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Jesus’ heroic work on the Cross and at the empty tomb would ransom this rag tag bunch of ordinaries. Before the passion of Christ, however, we see Jesus ransoming this bunch in hundreds of smaller ways, most largely going unnoticed by them. It is not in the seldom required grandiose sacrifice of ransom that we serve each other most frequently, but in the common and costly service most needed (1 John 3:16-18). These acts of service, both large and small, build a culture of honor — a place where flawed people are ransomed and broken people are reclaimed.

Want to know the greatest person around you?

Don’t look at the podium or on the list of official ministers. Don’t check the org chart to see who is at the top. Don’t look for the folks in the corner office with a view calling the shots. In a blessed place to worship or work or grow, you will find the greatest at the feet of others, unpretentiously serving them… regardless if it gets noticed… regardless if those served will be appreciative… regardless of the titles.

To build a culture of honor, we must see that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and that the greatest gift we can give is our self, bent down to lovingly serve those we hold dear… regardless!

Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them(John 13:17).