I recently was asked to attend a party which I was regrettably unable to attend. But this wasn’t your usual run of the mill party either. A student who had been a part of my ministry when I worked with Middle School students was turning thirteen and his dad had planned something special. He had invited pastors, teachers, coaches, small group leaders, male family members and others who he knew had an influence on his son’s life. It was designed as a rite of passage for his son in order to validate him stepping into manhood. And although I wasn’t able to attend I was able to share a bit through the wonders of technology and made a video for this student. The verse I chose to share with him came from 2 Timothy 1:7, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” I look back on that verse and wonder why it stuck out to me to be the one verse out of the vast patchwork of scripture that I would choose to share with a “boy” stepping into “manhood”. Why would timidity or fear be something that I felt the need so strongly to warn against?
Maybe it is because of what I see…
I see men in our day and age who are scared. I don’t think that they are necessarily scared of enemies or boogey men or anything else you want to conjure up out of the darkness. I think they are scared of letting God call them into something greater. It’s almost as if we feel like we are assigned certain roles in life and we are called to fulfill those and to step out of those roles would end in tragedy. And so we become paralyzed…shells of who would should be. It’s almost as if we are scared to be all that God has called us to; one might even say scared to death. But look at what the verse says. We are given a Spirit of power, love and self-discipline. These are, or at least should be, very masculine traits. I think where we error is that we feel like they have to come from within ourselves when clearly these are from the Spirit God gives us. It is this very same Spirit that raised Christ to life and can even bring us back from the dead.
So why are we scared? Or should I say, what are we scared of? If death cannot harm us and the grave cannot hold us back then why aren’t we setting the world on fire for Christ through Power, Love and Self-Discipline? Why aren’t the men of the kingdom of God becoming the shining example of what it means to live life to the fullest? I believe a new day is dawning. A day when the men of the church truly embrace the Spirit God has given them in order to become men of Power (in a way that sets captives free, gives sight to the blind, and pleads the case of the oppressed), Love (in a way that seeks truth and honors others above itself) and self-discipline (a trait given from God to be able to stand above reproach). And if this becomes our defining marks…then what do we have to fear…
For some reason it stuck with me. I imagine that not many of the poems one has to read in high school do, but this one did. The poem was called, “The Collar” and it was by George Herbert. It was basically a lament of the duty of wearing the priestly collar. It’s sadness and frustration stemming from the calling embodied by that holy neck-tie. It really is worth the read even through all the archaic language.*
The weirdest thing about all of this…about every time I see a priest in a clerical collar I start reciting the pieces of the poem I remember (to myself of course…don’t want to look like I am talking to myself in front of a priest and risk a dash of exorcist laden holy water). But in some ways I am jealous of these men/women. They wear an outward sign to show people who or rather Whose they are. There is therefore immediate expectation placed upon their behavior in every encounter they have. Although binding, I can see this as rather freeing.
This is not the case in the tradition I belong to. In fact, due to my choice in attire I suppose, it always seems to sneak up on people when I tell them that I am a minister. It’s pretty fun most of the time. But in the same breath this allows me something…choice. In fact it may even be more profound than having to wear a clerical collar. Can people tell that I am a man of the cloth by my every action and interaction with those around me? For that matter we are all called to be disciples of Christ and is this something we choose to morph in and out of due to the freedom of not having to wear priestly garb? In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” We are the light of the world! But can anyone tell?
I enjoy passing priests. And yes sometimes I am jealous of their obvious statement to the world. But then I think about how much more responsibility is placed upon us in the absence of the collar. Do people know we are the light?
So this all began when my wife and I started having a conversation about Job. It really is one of those books that you come away from scratching your head. I mean I guess there could be simple approaches to a celestial observance of a righteous man’s suffering countered by the intrusive wisdom arguments of supposed friends all driven at the holiness of mortals standing up under the sovereignty of God played out against the backdrop of the demands of freewill…but why would you want to make that simple? Anyway our discussion came around to the nature of God in the whole discussion regarding suffering and contemplating his action or lack there of regarding the life of Job or of those who are suffering in our modern world. Why doesn’t God intervene? Why do people suffer? And I realize that most anyone can try to give you some sort of simple answer but in all honesty not many of them suffice.
Fortunately in the wisdom poem that is Job we are given a response from God…and it is a doozy. God doesn’t condemn Job for questioning Him but his response is still heavy, Job 38:2-3 puts it like this “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” Woh! And then God goes on to ask Job of his omnipotent powers which of course Job has none. Basically setting up that for Job to be able to question the moral character of God, that Job has to be God. For a lot of us this still doesn’t necessarily give an answer as to suffering, but as a dad I am beginning to catch a glimpse. Let me explain…
Often times in the church we forget that we serve a Triune God. We live by the presence of the Holy Spirit and what a friend we have in Jesus, but who wants to submit to the authority and discipline of Father God? I am not saying that God the Father is like the cruel dictator branch of the trinity, but I think that there is a lot of depth behind the revelation of God as Father. In my own life, as a dad, I have a lot of tough decisions regarding the upbringing of my children. My goal in life is to raise up Godly young men and women who are responsible for their actions, own their own behavior and have real life experience. Sometimes the means to that end is not pleasant. I can see that if my son keeps running around the house in his socks (after being warned a couple of times) that he will eventually bust and bruise his pride. But I don’t always stop him from wearing socks or burn them all to prevent future tragedy. I know that my children don’t always listen when they are warned about the consequences of their actions but does that mean I remove the consequence?
Proverbs 3:11-12 reads like this, “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” Now I am not saying that human suffering is a discipline from God (PLEASE HEAR ME ON THAT POINT). But I think that often times our Father in Heaven sees the bigger picture.* He is like a Father to us and the things He allows us to go through I have to believe are one day redeemed. And even with redemption being an end goal I also believe that he hurts in his role as the heavenly father as much as I do, if not more, as an earthly father when my child is hurting. And the magnitude of the suffering that He endures as the Creator of all man kind…I can’t imagine.
I guess at some point we trust in His goodness despite not being able to see the whole picture. And maybe in the midst of suffering we might be able to say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him (Job 13:15).”
* I could really spend paragraph upon paragraph upon this subject. We will let this shortened/simplified answer ride for the sake of this blog post.
So recently my wife and I were made to take part in a financial responsibility class. I only say “made” because I was extremely reluctant to take this class at first and this was something that I and my colleagues were doing for professional development. Not because I think my wife and I make poor financial decisions, it was just I knew that the class was very long and I for one don’t find finances to be the most fascinating subject. However, I have come to see that the world of finance and economics are a much greater ethical dilemma than I ever thought at first. Even last night my wife and I watched a documentary entitled Maxed Out about the United States addiction to debt and we both realized something. The credit industry has become a form of modern day slavery. Essentially you have financial institutions who have enslaved millions of people because they don’t have the learning to say no to savvy financial schemes or the discipline to wait for the things they want.
I say discipline because I recently looked at the etymology of the word and I think it fits so well here. Discipline is taken from the root meaning”order necessary for instruction”. Learning is the take-away of discipline. And learning needs to take place in an ordered environment of sorts. Now think with me for a moment. Do we provide the environment and opportunities to discipline people regarding finances and credit or do we simply allow people to continue to voluntarily sign their lives away into slavery?
I am going to be really honest for a moment. I am not a very disciplined person. I would say to anybody that I love to learn and I love to grow, but I don’t always like to do the hard things for this to happen. And I think a lack of disicipline can be blamed for a lot of my short-comings in life. The apostle Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27, “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Discipline is making your body/mind slave before it unwittingly becomes a slave.If I do not discipline myself to learn and grow in the ways that I know are excellent and Christ-like, I might as well be giving my mind and body license to become a slave to the contrary.
I think about all of the people who have become a slave to the banking, mortgage and credit industries. Much of this comes from being undisciplined. We want and therefore we take regardless of the outcomes. But I don’t want to ultimately place the blame on those who are “slaves”. They really didn’t know any better. And I feel like we have to go back to the root word of discipline: disciple. You see the art of discipline is an art that is ultimately learned…passed down. Poor financial responsibility is inherited when people are raised up ignorant of what they may be stepping into.
So now the question becomes…are we creating more slaves? Where does our responsibility begin? And you can take this into the kingdom discussion just as easily. Are we living out a life of spiritual discipline that will create more disciples or are we simply being sloppy and allowing people to become slaves to their own broken and fallen nature? I for one have to find a way to discipline my body and mind like a slave so I don’t find myself being a slave to depravity…so that those that follow don’t find themselves slaves to depravity…
God is a God with a heart for the oppressed (Exodus 3). May our heart bet in tune with His!
It struck me as I finished penning the last letter today. I really am participating in a lost art. You see every week I try to write at least two hand-written letters. I know that may seem bizarre in this information age of email, instant messaging and text, but I think there is still something special about the written word. It seems weird to think about how technology that has only been around for 2o years or so could so vastly shape the way things are done. Think about it, without the written word there would be no Shakespeare, no C.S. Lewis, no Steinbeck (to name a few) and yet that which composed all of these works is becoming more and more extinct. Just to prove a point, I was recently handed a couple of pieces of paper to look over and help proof/edit. What should have taken probably about two minutes ended up taking me about ten because the script was written in cursive and I hadn’t looked at cursive hand writing in I don’t know how long. I am not saying that the current information age is dumbing us down, but if the shoe fits.
To extend it to another example, if it weren’t for the hand-written word, the Bible would not exist. So often we are spoiled in today’s world. If there is a certain verse I want to read or a text I want to look up in scripture I simply jump online and I am armed with all sorts of ways to examine the Bible. And yet, the Bible was written very differently than in the fashion I am able to disect and written with great intent to those audiences. Paul himself said in Galatians 6:11, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” I don’t think Paul’s intent was boasting with this statement, but rather intensity. I have written all of this for you. And I know how “painstaking” it is to write letters today, think about how painstaking it might have been while you were imprisoned awaiting a death sentence from the Roman empire.
Maybe this post is simply a plea for simplicity. I think sometimes we have become over-indulged in our everything is easy and in front of us culture. Why should I write a letter, place it in an envelope, pick up a stamp, drop it in the post and wait a few days when I can just text someone and it arrives immediately? I guess it all stems from the culture of instant gratification. Maybe I am speaking out a foregone time, but there is just something about opening a hand-written letter. Maybe because I know that there was time and energy spent in moving the pen that isn’t used in every day communications anymore. And maybe that is all that matters.
So maybe today you can pick up a piece of paper and scribble out a letter to an old friend. Maybe you could write a love letter to a spouse or significant other. But whatever the occasion may be, let’s not lose this art.
I can remember it as if it were yesterday. Sitting in the car listening to a tape about a magic “music machine” that sang songs about the Fruits of the Spirit. And then the song about self-control came on. “Self-control is just controlling myself. It’s listening to my heart and doing what is smart”. I am not sure it was my parent’s intent, but all of a sudden my entire theological understanding of self-control was shaped around a kids song that described situations in which the protagonist was in situations in which the would lose their temper. And yes self-control does come into play in these situations, but it is so much more than that. I think if I wanted to define self-control in terms of the Christian life, I would simply define it as discipline/controlled behavior.
For instance, my blog writing has been exhibiting an extreme lack of self-control. I say that I love writing and I love my blog, but my actions betray themselves by my three week absence. I heart it said recently that “it is easier to act your way into a feeling than to feel your way into an action”. In other words discipline yourself into a love for that which you want to do. In the life of faith, there are many thing which we would love to be a part of our character i.e. the Fruits of the Spirit. It is no wonder self-control is listed last among the fruits because only through discipline through the Spirit do the other fruits become a part of our character. The apostle Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Recently I think about all of the professional football players who are about to return to training camp late. I wonder; have they been self-controlled with their bodies and habits. If not, it will be a rough few first days. Likewise, are we being self-controlled in those things that improve our character witness for Christ. Are we exercising our bodies and minds for Christian service or are we wallowing in apathy and self-indulgent behavior? Maybe it is time for all of us to exercise a little more self-control as we are molded into the image of Christ through the discipline of His Spirit.
Every year when we come around to the Lenten season I always have people ask me why I take part in Lent as a Spiritual practice. “Isn’t that something that Catholics do?” And yes, as an ancient spiritual practice and a part of the Christian calendar, this is a practice that is usually reserved for the higher liturgy traditions. But I also believe it is a practice that has great value in other Christian traditions as well.
Lent is defined as the forty day period leading up to Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and is an observation practiced through fasting to symbolize Christ’ forty days of fasting during his temptation in the wilderness. The unique thing about the Lenten fast is that every Sunday during the time period from Ash Wednesday to Easter is a day of celebration from that which you are fasting. This is intended to prepare your hearts for the ultimate celebration in the Christian calendar…Easter! There is a traditional fast prescribed by church tradition, but often in protestant denominations, laity have taken part in a selective fast where they sacrifice part of their daily routine to the forty days.
So how does this add value to our walk with Christ? Lent is really all about appetite…which is ultimately where temptation strikes. We have appetites for all sorts of things and in Lent we sacrifice one of our appetites up to a time to grow with God. In an interview last year, Mike Breen (the head of 3DM), referred to the effectiveness of Lent in the following quote. “Learn to use your will to give something up so that the doors of your heart are crowbarred open just enough so God’s Spirit will give you His power over the other Appetite.” God’s Spirit is partnered with our consecration to Him. If we are yielding our appetites up to Him for forty days, perhaps we are able to easier give the harder things over to Him as well. Growth through Lent can look a lot like growth in Holiness. So may you find forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter as an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to walk with you into the ultimate celebration in the Christian year…the Resurrection of our Lord!
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11