Category Archives: holiness

Lent

Let me admit something that isn’t very popular in my theological circles. I struggle with Lent. I get Lent. I respect it. But I struggle with it. A big reason why is for most of my life I’ve had to give things up for the rest of the year. Giving things up isn’t new. It’s just October or any given Tuesday or the third week of any month, or any other random season of my life.

That’s not me being unthankful, as I am truly and entirely thankful for the many blessings God has given me. Rather, it’s being honest about the regular experiences of loss and letting go embedded in much of my experience of life so far. Lent is a great discipline, but I wonder if it is appropriate for those who live in such uncertainty and loss. As Ignatius of Antioch put it, “Every wound is not healed with the same remedy.” Yet so often we generalize an experience and a remedy as appropriate for everyone.

Loss and letting go define my experience of Christianity. I’ve learned to trust and hope along the way, so I don’t see these as absolute negatives, just a sense that my liturgical journey with Christ never quite matches the Christian calendar.

I’m not alone in this, of course. Maybe that’s why low-church traditions don’t emphasize Lent, because they are often arising from communities of struggle and loss. I’m not saying anything conclusive here, just wondering out loud.

This isn’t a new struggle for me. Every year I find myself wrestling with the same thoughts. In 2007, I made a curious choice to give up giving up things for Lent. The previous five years had involved me giving up almost everything that made for a normal life in our day and age, so I decided to give up giving up things. And that, oddly enough, was the year that the light switch came on and the bounty of God began a radical rebuilding process in my life, a wave I am in many ways still riding. Not without struggles and certainly not without a radical call to live in faith all the while. Life is still quite tenuous. But there was a fundamental change that happened that went counter to the previous 25 years. I didn’t give up on God in 2007, I gave up assuming that God demanded a life of loss for me. That I had to give up at every turn. He sparked new life into my journey, giving me a testimony that I share in a lot of my classes.

I’m indeed honestly wondering about the role of Lent, even as I read very heartfelt essays on the importance and value of Lent. I believe those who write them. Maybe I’m wrong about it all. Maybe it’s just my low-church tradition revealing itself behind my attempts at sophisticated theological posturing.

This year, I got to wondering about Lent as is my wont, and wondered if the idea of “Lend” might be more liturgically appropriate. Not giving up things to give up things, but instead to give of my time, my energy, my efforts to help those around me. It’s a proactive orientation rather than a self-reflective task. That’s more a discipline I need in my life, as I easily become jealous and hoarding of my now sparse time. It seems that an exocentric reflection fits the pattern of Christ’s gift for us on the cross, not taking or demanding of us but offering himself for us and our salvation. We have been given life itself. And even in times of uncertainly and feeling overwhelmed I can trust in this more than I can ever trust in what I have or don’t have or can’t have.

I yearn for fullness of life, not yet more frustration and discouragement and loss. That’s my liturgical place these days and for as long as I can remember. But life is there and life given so that I can participate in and with the life of others around me. That’s a calling.

Anyhow, as I was thinking about my struggle on this topic I remembered I wrote something on this about six years ago. It’s nice when I find someone putting my vague angst into helpful words. Even if it’s me. Here’s what I had to say then and still affirm today:
(more…)

Posted in holidays, holiness, liberation, personal, theology | Leave a comment

The Spirit of Holiness intro

Doc Holliday: What did you ever want?
Wyatt Earp: Just to live a normal life.
Doc Holliday: There’s no normal life, Wyatt, it’s just life.
Get on with it.
Wyatt Earp: Don’t know how.

A few lines from near the end of the movie Tombstone, a curious choice for a post about holiness, I know. index Yet… as I start looking more at Everett Lewis Cattell’s little book The Spirit of Holiness, that’s the quote that came to mind.

Cattell was a missionary in India during the middle decades of last century.  His time in India pulled him out of denominational boundaries–as missionary work often does–to engage people with the message of Christ, finding co-workers from various backgrounds and traditions.  This introduction to theological diversity pushed him to explore Scripture more, to look at the fundamental truths rather than commonly accepted shibboleths.

In light of this, and his continued wrestling with the work of God in his own life and work, he sought to understand the depths of the spiritual life, to find what holiness really is.
We often see holiness as the impossible dream, or the ever present judge of our seemingly persistent inadequacies. Holiness is often tied to a particular place, building, grove, profession.

We other holiness to be something apart from us, something against us. Or we institutionalize and domesticate holiness, making it a synonym for a particularly rigid religiosity. Stern expressions, textured robes, incense rising, words ponderously intoned.

The Spirit is none of those things. God was not, we might rephrase the line from 1 Kings, in the robes, God was not in the altar, God was not in the legalism, God was not in the blue blazer and tan slacks. The Spirit moves like the wind, water flowing, fire blazing. God is not contained by a temple or building or boundaries, as if people were lord of the Lord.

The Spirit is revealed as the Holy Spirit, and so holiness is tied to this work of the Spirit.
Which brings me back to that quote from the famous theologian Doc Holliday, “There’s no normal life. It’s just life. Get on with it.”

In his introduction, his setup to all that follows that reflects his long exploration, Everett CattellCattell writes, “I am impressed from study that life in the Spirit is hard to express, just because it is life.”

The Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of life. Holiness is life in full, a whole life, being fully alive in a way that resonates with the creator of all of life. This is a celebratory life, a hope-filled life, a life of patience, and kindness, and generosity. It is the life of God expressed in and through us in the unique ways God has made us.

How do we find language for this? Maybe we don’t. Maybe we can’t reign it in or define it down to encapsulate it onto an easily memorized mantra. The work of holiness is the experience of being enlivened, becoming in full.

Many ask, “How should we be holy?” “There is no separate holiness,” might be the best answer, “it’s just life. Get on with it.”

 

Posted in books, holiness | 10 Comments

Holiness and the Holy Spirit

Pursuing holiness without regard to the work and approach of the Holy Spirit leads to either legalism or abandoning the effort altogether.

Indeed, this is a big reason why I pursued the field of theology. I had trouble with holiness and I had trouble with those who talked about holiness.

I knew a lot of people who sacrificed to God, offering this or that, going here or there, doing and doing, then getting exhausted or exhausting others.

I didn’t know a lot of people who were efficiently obedient, walking with God in the midst of storms and success.

ColumbaWhen I wrote my first book, It’s a Dance, the publisher of Barclay Press who had accepted my book suggested I add an additional chapter to the book.  The book itself talks about the Holy Spirit and uses elements drawn from the Gibbs and Bolger book Emerging Churches.

What do (or did) those churches emphasize?  Focusing on Jesus, breaking boundaries between sacred and secular, drawing towards community, welcoming strangers, giving to others, participating, creativity, shared leadership, and worship that draws from the past and present for depth of expression.

These are, I argue, works of the Holy Spirit, so the book is about how the Holy Spirit transforms us into being a people in a community who live in these sorts of ways.  It’s not so much a celebration of the (then) emerging churches as much using those cues to talk about elements Scripture emphasizes.

My publisher Dan suggested a new chapter, one not in the list Gibbs and Bolger put together.  Talk about holiness, he said.  For a second, I was wary about adding more to their framework.  But, I quickly realized two things. First, a suggestion by a publisher to a first time author should be taking very seriously. Second, more importantly, he was exactly right.  Holiness is certainly a work of the Holy Spirit.  It’s in the name, after all.

That’s more of a New Testament title, as a matter of fact, but the themes of the Spirit run all through Scripture.  Holiness is obedience to God’s work and life. I almost wrote “conformity” but that’s a naughty word these days, offputting and reminiscent of the worst elements of religion.  Conformity implies uniformity.  Only that’s not what holiness is about.  Holiness in light of God is about being fully alive, fully whole, finding meaning and purpose and focus in the discipline of walking wholly in God’s creative order.

God is holy.  That’s not saying he’s a legalist or a rule-crushed frump.  God is who God is.  What’s your name, Moses asks.  “I am,” God replies. God is who God is, true to himself.

The Spirit of holiness is God, and God’s work in holiness is drawing all people back to the fullness of life as individuals within a community.  How are we truly ourselves in the context of others being truly themselves?  What does it mean to be true to myself and true to God?

That’s the question of holiness. And we can’t attach outside rules or obligations or styles of music or clothing to our answers.  God is holy. To be holy is to be true to God.

What does God care about? What is God doing in our contexts?  How has God made me? Who has God put in my life and where has he called me to be?  41mUtqqOTmL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

What would God have me do this day?  Who am I to love? How am I to hope? Where shall I place my faith?  The holy life is a dance of answering these questions.

Why do I bring this all up? Dan, my first publisher, wrote me a couple months ago and asked if I would be interested in a new book they’re publishing.  It’s right up your alley, he said (in so many words).  It’s called the Spirit of Holiness, by Everett L. Cattell.

It’s not a newly written book, published originally in 1963.  It is a newly edited and released book, however, and I’m glad for that.  I never heard of it before, and it’s indeed right up my alley (or “in my wheelhouse” as middle-aged celebrities are saying these days).

As a way of getting back into blogging and as a way of sorting through thoughts about The Spirit and Holiness, I’m going to make my way through this book over the next little while.

Posted in holiness, Holy Spirit | 1 Comment

Being Freed to Liberate Others

If we compare the two ways of knowing, it is easy to see that modern men and women need at least a balance between the vita activa and the vita contemplative, the active and the contemplative life, if they are not to atrophy spiritually.

The pragmatic way of grasping things has very obvious limits, and beyond these limits the destruction of life begins. This does not apply only to our dealings with other people. It is true of our dealings with the natural environment too.

But the meditative way of understanding seems to be even more important when it is applied to our dealings with our own selves. People take flight into relationships, into social action and into political praxis, because they cannot endure what they themselves are.

They have ‘fallen out’ with themselves. So they cannot stand being alone. To be alone is torture. Silence is unendurable. Solitude is felt to be ‘social death’. Every disappointment becomes a torment which has to be avoided at all costs.

But the people who throw themselves into practical life because they cannot come to terms with themselves simply become a burden for other people. Social praxis and political involvement are not a remedy for the weakness of our own personalities.

Men and women who want to act on behalf of other people without having deepened their own understanding of themselves, without having built up their own capacity for sensitive loving, and without having found freedom towards themselves, will find nothing in themselves that they can give to anyone else.

Even presupposing good will and the lack of evil intentions, all they will be able to pass on is the infection of their own egoism, the aggression generated by their own anxieties, and the prejudices of their own ideology.

Anyone who wants to fill up his own hollowness by helping other people will simply spread the same hollowness. Why? Because people are far less influenced by what another person says and does than the activist would like to believe. They are much more influenced by what the other is, and his way of speaking and behaving.

Only the person who has found his own self can give himself. What else can he give? It is only the person who knows that he is accepted who can accept others without dominating them. The person who has become free in himself can liberate others and share their suffering.

~Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life

Posted in holiness, Moltmann, theology, Transformative Church | 2 Comments

“Name it, claim it”: Theology as prophetic insight

What is prophecy? A popular understanding sees it as telling about the future, doom or glory, with a prophet more like fortune teller. Indeed, that’s what a lot of “prophecy” that’s out there in popular Christian circles is really modeled after, it’s a way of giving people a cue to the, or their, future so as to 1) make money 2) give the speaker some level of power 3) tickle the fancy of wayward hearts. Which isn’t to say that everyone who is interested in prophetic movements are bad, more often than not they’re desperate. And desperate people eager to hear a word from God in their difficulties fall prey to those who leech off desperation.
Holy-Prophet-Moses
I’m also not rejecting prophetic movements or people in general. I have Pentecostal influences and still see myself in that tradition in many ways. I’ve had people give me helpful counsel, reminders of God’s call, insight into how God is working, and I’ve appreciated that in deep ways. I think there are people out there who really are sensitive to the work of the Spirit and speak words of truth in contexts where the words are important. Such words aren’t just limited to future-telling. Prophecy is a speaking of God, words concerning God, utterances of God’s interests and values. In this way, in Christian tradition, we say that the primary prophet about God is God himself, who reveals himself to people, initiating the conversation.

As I continue my musings from the message notes of last week’s sermon, here’s what comes next:

God’s Unique Name (Exodus 3)

  • God is the “I AM” who is present with his people in their suffering. Thus it is the “I AM” God how has sent Moses to Pharaoh. And now Moses will go as YHWH’s representative and he will be “like God to Pharaoh” (Ex 7:1)

So, we can see the task of prophecy and the task of theology here in God’s introduction. God describes himself. He describes himself as one who is paying attention. He describes himself as attentive to the current issues. He describes himself as being willing to engage the situation. Have hope.

He also tells Moses his name. God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”
jk_prophet
Names are important. In naming something we identify its purpose, meaning, and situate a form of control. Calling someone by name is both endearing and influential, when we hear our name we turn and respond. The ability to use a name, then becomes a source of subsequent power. Bothering me? I know a guy I can call. We use names to create contexts of interaction and, often, bartering. Names imply domains, both in the internet and more broadly. So many gods, all have their names, all have their areas of specialty. Want thunder? Thor. Wisdom? Athena. Flavor for your food? Huixtocihuatl. Trouble with water? Suijin. Need to write? Seshat. Name him, claim him. Name her, claim her.

The Jewish God gives not so much a name as a statement. What is his domain? “I am”. What is his speciality? “I am”. Who is responsible. He is. For everything in essence, but not in a generalized way, in a distinct, purposeful, willful way. Who is this God that gives such a name? Not a god you want to cross. Not a god who is going to put up with distortions or being subverted. That’s what the prophets are about in many ways, God feels slighted and God feels like his people have taken advantage of him, dismissed him, played around with others, while the ones in charge use the name of God to institute perversion or oppression or corruption. The Name claims it all, and judgment is the result. When we name God, God claims us. God calls us to live in light of his claim.

Prophecy then is a telling about God in light of the fact God is particular about his name, his ways, his priorities, his values. He reveals himself and it is not up to us to distort the revelation. However, what the prophets do is relate God’s revelation to contexts, addressing situations, addressing ideas and concerns. Moses asks what he is to say. God tells him. Moses tells Pharaoh and all the people. Prophecy is not an easy task, and it is not a task to be treated lightly.

It is the task of theology. We speak of God. Deeply and thoroughly as we can.

Posted in holiness, musings, spirituality, theology | 1 Comment

Letter to Thyatira

We are very “just the facts” sort of people, we want facts, and figures, and statements that give us intellectual content. That’s how we have been taught to approach religion.  We have worship, sure, that part that is supposed to get to our heart.  But then we get to the head stuff.

The head stuff is separated from the heart stuff.  We’re not supposed to think about worship and we are supposed to think about the content of Scripture.  How can we bullet point each passage?  How can we make it clear the right things to believe and the wrong things to believe.

Revelation isn’t like that.  It’s not about what to believe, sorting it out like a puzzle. It’s meant to provoke an emotional response that affects our commitments and actions. Are we with God or are we against God?

Do you know  Modern Art?  It’s infuriating because it’s not about anything, not portraying anything, but that was the point. It wasn’t about making a copy of something in the real world, it was intended to bypass that intellectual part of ourselves, to hit our emotions.

That’s what movies do? Right?  If you boil a movie down to its essence, just the bare plot, you often are left with a much weaker impression.

Or, if you spend so much time on details, you likewise can lose the point, trying to figure out the symbolism of everything.  Then arguments develop as people disagree, and people who aren’t interested in such detailed examination move on.

That’s why most of us don’t like movie critics.  There’s symbolism in movies and it helps to know some details, but if we get caught up in the details we lose the sense of the emotion.

CS Lewis once noted a similar thing about love. What is love?  Well, it’s a complex chemical interaction in our brain that evokes a sensory response when around particular people or things.  We can get into the scientific or philosophical nature of love.  Go on for hours.  But who would stay for that? No, love is an experience that in the experience defies analysis.

I suggest that’s how we should approach Revelation.  There weren’t movies or television shows in these centuries. What they were was story tellers and they were masters of the craft. We have letters and we have histories, which are useful, but the goal of apocalyptic literature was something different, it was using the context of the time to evoke an emotional response, and in that response get us to go beyond mere intellectual analysis, which often leaves us agreeing but not really changing.

Revelation is intended to lead us towards transformation, to take hold of our mind, but also our heart and soul, to get a holistic response from us that actually leads us to become more in tune with what God is doing and what God will do.  It’s like what we see with Nathan and King David: 2 Samuel 12:1-6

We’re meant to get the message but get the message with an emotional response that is driven by the imagery and allusions, the references to other parts of Scripture and contextual connections the readers would know.

So, our goal should be to get to know the allusions and the context, but not get so caught up in the details we lose the message. We should be emotional about this, God is trying to stir up some kind of passion, a passion that would lead the audience to turn from their ways and turn towards God.

READ PASSAGE:  Revelation 2:18-29

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze:

The core issue in Revelation, like with Genesis, is who is in charge?   Now in Genesis we had images of Creation, as nature was the way people saw who was in charge.>thyatira-clean

Here, the nations and empires had created cults, the gods were expressed through statues, the guilds in this city were themselves centers of both craft and idolatry.  Caesar was often worshiped in other cities, but here we have Apollo, who was often represented on coins and statues.  Thyatira was known for its metal working artisans who were initially supported for their ability to make weapons and armor, then broadened their appeal.

Christ is depicted as being in charge, and using the imagery that put Christ in the place of Apollo, that reflected elements of metal working—furnaces and products, images those in the city would see this in both an emotional and contextual way.  Jesus, the real God, is in charge of all the materials, he is the one who has the ability to judge and condemn.

“I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.

They’re on the right track. They seem to have the right priorities for the most part. Love, faith, patient endurance (which suggests hope).  Faith, hope and love.  1 COR 13:13.  These are the things that matter, the things that will last forever.  And they’re putting it into practice with service.  They’re getting a lot right.  And they’re getting better.

But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols.

I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication.

1 Kings 16:29-31

Jezebel was famous for leading astray because of religious syncretism. Religious justification for the wrong direction and wrong identity. Who is in charge?  Who decides what is right and what is wrong? Syncretism mixes the messages, saying God is in charge of some things, other gods are in charge of other things, and we’re able to decide who is in charge and what we get to do.

That’s the core issue in Genesis too.  Remember the temptation, the serpent told Eve that God was trying to keep something from them, that if she ate the fruit, Adam and Eve would have complete knowledge, complete insight, they could do what they wanted, they didn’t need a relationship with God, and in fact God was keeping them from their fullness.

That continues to be a religious argument. It’s not justifying based on giving into our worst selves, its appealing to our pride, to our sense of supposed religious maturity.

We think we can get away with more because we’re better.  And we end up following people who lead us astray, who mimic spiritual maturity but in fact are false prophets.

But what about eating food sacrificed to idols?

1 Corinthians 10:14-23

Not all things are permissible

In Thyatira, we learn about religious justification for going astray. A prophetess was teaching the people that, apparently, God didn’t mind their behaviors.

Missing the mark can involve going too short or too far.

Too much devotion can lead us astray. If we’re devoted to wrong gods, wrong prophets, wrong ministers. We can put our stock in someone’s seeming spiritual or earthly authority and be led far away from who God is calling us to be in every area of our life.

Too little respect for the limits God has set, saying that one part of our life can be left out of this religious stuff.

Putting stock in the wrong person, letting our identity be shaped by prophets instead of by the Spirit.

What’s the sin here in Thyatira?  Well, the audience knew, no doubt, who and what John was talking about, but we don’t.  Maybe sexual immorality—and there certainly was a lot of that in both the culture and the religions of the day.  We also, however, have echoes of Old Testament prophets.  When the people of Israel worshiped false gods they weren’t just choosing a different way to worship, they were committing adultery with them, they were having an affair.

That’s the imagery here too.  The Christians were being led into behaviors and practices that were adulterous.  They were excusing it based on some kind of prophetic ideal.

This means that we can become fornicators with anything that leads us away from finding our identity in Christ.  Life matters, every part of life matters, that’s what John is saying here, there’s no getting away from Christ, there’s no compartments in which life and religion are separate.ThyatiraMap2

For some, it means sexual activity, excusing immorality because the culture does it, it’s not a big deal, it’s just the body.  For others, there are other ways of fornication, and we continue to hear false prophets leading good Christians astray.  Money, food, power, relationships, things that are good in their place but can easily dominate our attention and lead us away from seeing Christ as lord. The trouble with idolatry is it puts up a false lord for us to worship.

Like with our society, work was tied very closely to identity for the Thyatrians.  What we do is who we are?

We can find our identity and excuses in work, or relationships, or money, or cars, or education, or music, or so many other things. Which isn’t to say those are bad but they become bad when we make them lords of our life.

But Christ demands that all parts of our lives are put under his lordship.

We’re to find our meaning and identity in and through Christ, and when we do that this lordship is involved in all parts of our life.

Our bodies matter and what we do with them.  Our time matters and what we do with it.  Our actions matter and what we do with them.  What we eat, drink, value.  These things matter and we can’t excuse our actions saying they don’t affect our faith. They do!  Even if we don’t want to admit it, they do.

Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; and I will strike her children dead.

This teaching seems to suggest it was appealing to people’s religious pride.  That there were deeper teachings that the “enlightened” people knew and so they justified their behavior from a false sense of spiritual maturity.  We see this a lot even today.  People indulge their passions for wealth, or sex, or power, or whatever and justify it by saying its part of God’s plan, a result of some faith.

But John argues that this is missing the point and leading people not only into error but real adultery with these things. Adultery. We’re having an affair with wealth, power, sin.  And we’re betraying God.

And God is letting it happen for a while, and seeing who betrays him.  There is still a chance for repentance, so there’s hope, hope for all of us, but the time is coming in which God is going to assert his power. That Son of God with bronze boots and eyes blazing fire is watching.

And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.

Psalm 7:9

God is in charge.  God cares not only about our thoughts, what we believe, but also our actions and motives and everything about us. We make religion into intellectual consent, we can get lost. God makes the lordship of Christ about everything, like in Genesis, so too here.  Adam and Eve had an opportunity and they had a temptation. Were they going to find paradise with God, or were they going to give into the deceit and try to indulge what they wanted, thinking they could determine for themselves right and wrong. They ate the fruit.  This prophetess in Thyatira was eating the fruit.  Others in the church were eating the fruit.

Do we eat the fruit?  That is the challenge for us even still.

But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden; only hold fast to what you have until I come.

The warning here is pretty clear. The people who have stayed out of this problem, need to keep doing what they are doing. Hold on, keep at it, John is saying. The temptation is to make the issue a crusade or to over-compensate.

Church history is filled with this, someone doing something wrong, so everyone focusing their attention on it, and forgetting to do what they were called to do. Or someone doing something wrong, so everyone reacts by making their own behavior more severe.thyratira

The holiness movement had this response, over-compensating in so many cases and losing the emphasis that Wesley put on a holistic participation in this world. The worry, for instance, about how early Liberals were both rejecting the resurrection and emphasizing social works, caused people to reject social works and service thinking that it was some kind of package.

We tend to see movements or leaders as packages, either entirely right in every case or entirely wrong.

So, a prophetess has something good to say, and folks follow her wholesale even into the fornication. Then, people might see this error and dismiss everything, even the good. But that’s wrong too.  We need to see through the lens of Christ and Spirit, what is good and bad, fruitful and destructive, not package people as entirely right or wrong.

The issue of “no other burden” comes up in Acts 15:23-29.

To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,

I will give authority over the nations;

to rule them with an iron rod,

as when clay pots are shattered—

even as I also received authority from my Father.

Jeremiah 18:1-11

Psalm 2:8-9

Clay pots are shattered when they are not made right or they have been polluted.  Christ here shows who is in charge of determining this.  Christ is in charge, and those who hold onto his identity, his calling, are going to be saved, and not only saved, they are going to be the ones who are given authority to know true right and wrong as well, through God, not apart like Adam and Eve, Ahab and Jezebel, and us today.

To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

The one who conquer the trials and temptations on earth will be given heaven.  Phil 3:12-4:1

It matters what we do.  We are called to live our whole lives in light of Christ’s lordship, not look for secret knowledge, or excuse our behavior or influences as not mattering.

There are those who will tempt us through our weaknesses, showing what the world offers.

There are others that will use our own religious devotion, leading us astray by making us feel like we’re part of the in-crowd, not limited, and able to use our freedom for sin.

Christ is Lord of all. Every part of our life.  He is calling us to live lives of love, faith, hope, expressed in our practices, not giving into being swayed by people who are tempting us away from who we are called to be in Christ. Some of those people tempt us through the world, some tempt us through spiritual sounding words and encouragement.

We are called to be conquerors with Christ, holding on to who he calls us to be in every part of our life, patiently enduring the trials and temptations, not veering to the right or to the left.  In the power of the Spirit, we can indeed find this way expressed in our lives.  Let us not listen to false spirits, false gods, false prophets, or anyone that tries to steer us away from God.  Let us hold firm to the fullness of truth in heart and mind and soul.  In this is the way of peace and true victory.

I was invited to preach at the PazNaz Saturday evening service last evening. These were my sermon notes.  I write things out first because I think better through writing, but then I use these notes more as cues, not reading it through just giving me a framework along the way. 

Posted in holiness, Jesus, Scripture, speaking, spirituality, theology | Leave a comment

Resurrection hope

In the experience of Christ, the resurrection gathers all people into the power of the messianic moment even now, as such people live in the light of the Spirit’s in-breaking of history. “Only the love which passionately affirms life understands the relevance of this hope, because it is through that that this love is liberated from the fear of death and the fear of losing its own self.”[1]

Rather than losing one’s own self, thus always anxious about the encroaching identity of others, feeling vulnerable and fragmented, thus easily subverted, the person who lives in the light of the resurrection is secure in their identity as being alive in Christ. The substance of Christ gives substance to each person, securing their future as participants with the open fellowship of God. This security frees people to live with openness in their particular contexts.

“The resurrection hope,” Moltmann writes, “makes people ready to live their lives in love wholly, and to say a full and entire Yes to a life that leads to death. It does not withdraw the human soul from bodily, sensory life; it ensouls this life with unending joy.”[2]

We can say yes to death only in light of resurrection hope, which allows us to no longer fear death nor be determined by false forms of identity that we think might protect us from death.

“In this resurrection dialectic, human beings don’t have to try to cling to their identity through constant unity with themselves, but will empty themselves into non-identity, knowing that from this self-emptying they will be brought back to themselves again for eternity.”[3]

The identity that Christ promises to his people, then, substantiates each particular person as a particular subject in God’s particular mission. They do not lose their identity, becoming a drone in a collective, rather the promise of resurrection is a process of becoming in full who a person was always intended to be.

The hope in God is hope in one’s own future in which identity is secured and blossoms into fullness. The resurrection leads a person past the work of the cross, in which history and the past finds resolution, and into the future where a person can truly be who they are in the community of others who are similarly becoming.

“Communion with Christ,” Moltmann writes, “the new being in Christ, proves to be the way for man to become man. In it, true human nature emerges, and the still hidden and unfulfilled future of human nature can be sought in it.”[1]

The goal of much oppression, to secure one’s own identity and power and position—to secure one’s self in a particular context and project one’s security into the future—invariably leads to death, and thus dissolution of that goal. That was the earliest deception of sin, the taking of the fruit to assert one’s own identity and bypassing God.

Only the way of the cross includes the path to resurrection, and only by participating with the crucified God do we then have a substantive hope for not only salvation from but indeed and more importantly, salvation into.

This salvation into includes those ultimate goals for which oppressing tends to be concerned—issues of fulfillment, identity formation, security. Because the cross entails the loss of identity, the resurrection is about more than resuscitation of that old identity into becoming a more successful version of the same.

Jesus does not valorize who we were but awakens us to new possibilities in accordance with who we were always meant to be. “For freedom,” Moltmann writes, “is nothing else than being open for the genuine future, letting oneself be determined by the future.” Yet, while the Spirit of resurrection can thus be called the power of the future, the resurrection is not futuram but an advent, a novum of new life, a new way of living.

This new way of living involves participating not in our determinative future but participating in Christ, “from the knowledge and recognition of that historic event of the resurrection of Christ which is the making of history and the key to it.”[3] The cross opens a person up to be a new person, emptying and forsaking, the resurrection is the promise of filling, of new life.

Thus, the resurrection “means recognizing in this event the latency of that eternal life which in the praise of God arises from the negation of the negative, from the raising of the one who was crucified and the exaltation of the one who was forsaken.”[4]

Hope is not static. Hope initiates movement.



This was a couple of  wee excerpts from my dissertation



[1] Moltmann, Coming of God , 66.

[2] Moltmann, Coming of God, 66.

[3] Moltmann, Coming of God, 67.

 

[1] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 196.

[2] Obviously a statement like this would raise objections concerning the historicity of the Garden narrative. Whatever the historical basis, the narrative intent of the story was to assert a particular kind of action/response that is at the root of human alienation from God and self. It is this narrative intent that is my concern.

[3] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 212. Cf. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 229.

[4] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 211.

Posted in church, holidays, holiness, spirituality, theology | 1 Comment

Entrusting

The process of embedding a transcendent reality within an imminent context is one of illumination, seeing reality for what it is and, in this, making the truly worthwhile stand in contrast to the wrong and misguided. Such a process for a person, or community, or context is not always easy, or welcomed. The whole problem with alternative identity systems is that they are forming identities, and our identities are who we think ourselves to be and orient us in how we act for ourselves and among others. This is why a person who is being illuminated by the Spirit, and seeks this illumination, needs a safe space in order to become who they are called to be—a space where there is encouragement to walk along the way of Jesus Christ and walk with fellow travelers accompanying them on this journey.

Such a community of people are becoming together who they are called to be in their lives and in a specific context, which it itself as a context and as a space filled with many people, called to redemption in the light of God’s immanent transcendence. As people resonate with this work of the Spirit they are both lifted up towards Christ and situated even more in their place—becoming incarnations of God’s reality with, for, and among a particular location. This is a work of transcendent immanence, participating with the Spirit in the redemption of a context, helping it to realize what it was called to be and helping those within it learning who to be.

This is, to be sure, a profound work, a work that we see most fully realized in the work of Jesus, whose incarnation resonated within his particular context, and then as people were transformed beginning to resonate in many other contexts, reaching all around the world. These pockets of resonance carry on this mission of the Father, which is the mission of Christ, which is the mission of the Spirit, gathering all of space and time into the resonance of God’s redemption and relationship. Put in such terms, it seems incredible that such a mission would be entrusted to people—all of whom are not yet fully who they are called to be themselves and yet are, in the midst of their own becoming, called to participate with God in the liberating work of the church. We are being formed as we are being sent. “It is,” as Jon Huckins puts it, “the only way to fully step into a vocation of Jesus apprenticeship. It is emulating our rabbi.”[1] Part of this emulation, then, is the posture of entrusting.

Just as Adam was intended as a mediator and to represent to it God’s identity and to steward it in submission to God, so to Jesus came among us, in part, to serve as a model and a mediator—for creation in general and for the misguided humanity in particular.[2] This role of mediator and representation was passed on by Jesus to his disciples, not staying among them but leaving and in this leaving, allowing the Spirit to enter into the life of the church with new power and authority. This is not necessarily something the disciples would have chosen on their own, as Jesus was, without a doubt, much more trustworthy in such a mission than they were. Indeed, one might say that entrusting such people—then and now—to such a task is dangerous.

Yet, this is the work of God, calling others to be who they were made to be in the midst of the mission each were called to participate in: being sent into this world for the sake of this world. This is a community task, as it is as persons within a community that we begin to represent God to this world. “God’s mission wasn’t designed to advance with a set of sent individuals. It was designed to advance through a faithful people living as advocates of the missio Dei.”[3]



[1] Jon Huckins, Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community (Kansas City: The House Studio, 2012), 133.

[2] See Huckins, 133.

[3] Huckins, 135.

(an excerpt from my dissertation)

Posted in dissertation musings, emerging theology, holiness, Holy Spirit, Jesus, missional, theology | 1 Comment

Triumphant Entry and Turning over the Tables

Here’s the outline/text of the sermon I preached last night on Mark 11:1-11, 15-19. It served more as a guide than as a script, but it’s full enough that I think it’s worth posting here.

The Book of Mark is about what? The Kingdom.

The Kingdom…. But what kind of kingdom? We are told of the Messiah, but what kind of Messiah is this?

The Messiah is the promised bringer of the promised Kingdom.

But so often instead we’re so intent about finding the Messiah that we want, we miss the Messiah that we need. And coming to terms with the Messiah we need is about more than reading the right books, having the right religious statements. It’s even more than about reading our Bible or doing good works. Because the Pharisees did that, did that better than any one of us.

And the disciples did that too, indeed they spent day and night with Jesus, and you know what, up to now, up to our passage, they missed understanding the Messiah they needed because they were so intent on getting the Messiah they wanted, a Messiah who would make them important and put them in places of honor, and help make Israel important again in the world.

They wanted a restoration of the kingdom like David had enacted, and they thought that the Messiah was going to do exactly that. As the earliest followers of Jesus they thought they were in a good place for all the rewards that come with having networked right and early with the key guy.

They had an answer about the kind of Kingdom they wanted and they had an answer about the kind of Messiah who would bring that Kingdom. We have the same answers. We have a kingdom in mind and we have a Messiah in mind. What kind of kingdom? What kind of Messiah?

The whole book is about answering these questions, so we could survey the whole book, but let’s look at the last 2 chapters — 9 and 10 — before we get into our passage.

We have the transfiguration (9:2-13), what does this say about the Kingdom? It’s real and it is cosmic.

We have the demon possessed boy (9:14-29) (note how this ends in v.29, and keep that verse in mind). Jesus frees this boy from the possession, taking away the barriers that have blocked him from experiencing true freedom.

On the other hand, those who make it more difficult for others to get it, to find freedom, are judged. Be ruthless about what is required, right? Get rid of that which gets in the way and get rid of those who get in the way. If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out, right? Give someone water to drink and you’re giving Christ water. If someone gives you water, helping you on your way, they are giving it to Jesus, because as we progress in this real Kingdom, we are progressing right along with the Messiah who makes it possible.

In Mark 9:30-35, Jesus talks about his death and resurrection, but the disciples don’t get it. They miss the point, they miss this whole core message of their Lord, and then spend the rest of the trip talking about who was the greatest.

What does Jesus say in response? He sits them down and says the least are the greatest. What?! He picks up a child, whose name we aren’t given, leaving him nameless to us. This nameless child becomes the model of the mission of the Messiah.

Chapter 9 ends with a more conceptual teaching as the disciples sort out what this kingdom is all about. They want to control the power, but Jesus says whoever is following the Kingdom is part of it, equal to the rest. There’s no power play in the Kingdom, after all. Those who get it, are part of it.

And get rid of anything that gets in the way of getting it, and living it out. If the salt is filled with dirt, it’s worthless. Don’t let it get ruined. Get your way into the Kingdom, and let go of anything that causes barriers to you or others.

But, again, what kind of Kingdom is this? What kind of Messiah is initiating this Kingdom? How do we recognize it? What should we look for?

Chapter Ten carries us forward in answering these key questions. Verses 10:1-12 is about divorce and marriage. The emphasis here is on maintaining the bond of unity, not forsaking the old for someone new, not trying to trade up for some supposed better model. Be faithful, that’s part of the Kingdom, we learn. And be faithful to each other, because in a marriage it’s not about one person carrying the burden while the other gets to do whatever he or she wants. Remember what Jesus said about causing someone to trip? Don’t trip your partner by pushing them down or away.

Verses 13-16
are about children again. The least among them, they’re excluded. Jesus says to include these least, because that is what the kingdom is like. It belongs to the least of these, to children and to people whose humility and inclusion is like children. It belongs to the powerless, the excluded. Yeah, that’s a strange Kingdom. But that’s the Kingdom that Jesus tells us about.

That’s not the Kingdom the rich young ruler wanted or expected. We read about his story in the next verses. Jesus told him what was necessary. This young man didn’t want that Kingdom or this Messiah, so he walked away. He wanted the Kingdom he wanted according to his own definitions. Jesus said, “go and sell what you have.” The young man just went.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. Which is another way of asking “Who do you say that I am?”

With the beginning of chapter 11, Jesus is still asking this question, but more importantly he is also giving us answers. What do you want me to do for you? The people want a triumphant king.

Who do you say that I am? The Messiah, they say, a religious and political leader.

Passage—Read 11:1-15

A bit on Triumphant Entries, Caesar, Alexander, Titus

Jesus showed that he is the Messiah, then he shows what kind of Messiah he is, what kind of Kingdom is declaring.

Some details worth noting.

Followers were not random people. These were people who already believed.

Colt – a gesture of his claim to the throne of Israel. Horses tended to be foreign and exotic. The donkey meant he wouldn’t walk, he would ride. Not as a foreign power copying foreign trends, but as a Jewish King with Jewish habits. The colt, some think, ensures that it had not been ridden before, so Jesus isn’t stepping into anyone’s shoes or following anyone’s pattern. He’s a new King, making his way into the city fresh. Want some confirmation of this? Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Clothes being laid before him and on the donkey – 2 kings 9:13

They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”

Branches – 2 Maccabees 10:1-8

Judas Maccabeus and his followers, under the leadership of the Lord, recaptured the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. They tore down the altars which foreigners had set up in the marketplace and destroyed the other places of worship that had been built. They purified the Temple and built a new altar. Then, with new fire started by striking flint, they offered sacrifice for the first time in two years, burned incense, lighted the lamps, and set out the sacred loaves.

After they had done all this, they lay face down on the ground and prayed that the Lord would never again let such disasters strike them. They begged him to be merciful when he punished them for future sins and not hand them over any more to barbaric, pagan Gentiles. They rededicated the Temple on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev, the same day of the same month on which the Temple had been desecrated by the Gentiles.6 The happy celebration lasted eight days, like the Festival of Shelters, and the people remembered how only a short time before, they had spent the Festival of Shelters wandering like wild animals in the mountains and living in caves.But now, carrying green palm branches and sticks decorated with ivy, they paraded around, singing grateful praises to him who had brought about the purification of his own Temple.

Hosanna: means “God save us”
Psalm 118:19-29

Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD
through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.

22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
23 the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The LORD has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.

25 LORD, save us!
LORD, grant us success!

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.
27 The LORD is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.

God save us from what? God save us for what? These are key questions.

This wasn’t an expression of humility by Jesus. This was him saying that he had the answers and authority. Jesus embracing, setting this up, being surrounded by his followers was a significantly bold statement of who he was. Jesus is declaring himself to be King, to be Messiah. Not a Roman King. Not a Greek King. A Jewish King following very clear Jewish prophecies about who he was as King.

Jesus then went to the Temple, because at the end of a triumphant entry one gets a triumphant welcome at the place of triumphant power. But it was late, Jesus looked around at the Temple, and the Temple was not ready for him. The Temple was not ready to embrace the kind of Messiah he was nor the kind of Kingdom he was bringing. The Temple, up to the time of Jesus the most visible symbol of God and his reign on earth was expressing a different kind of authority. And apparently he did not like what he saw. So he left, but he came back the next day.

And when he came back the next day, we learn what this Messiah of this Kingdom, thought of the Kingdom as it was being expressed in the Temple.
Read 11:15-19

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Jesus has two aspects in his ministry that we see. He confronts established powers and he includes the excluded, liberating the latter from being oppressed and liberating the former from oppressing.

That’s the kind of Messiah he is
. This present passage is a case of him confronting the powers, saying that the established power structures in the Temple are getting in the way of the purpose that God intends.

Note that while we may think of this in terms of being against consumerism, buying and selling, it really isn’t that. The buying and sacrificing of animals is in the Law, in the OT. (Lev 5:7; 12:6-8) People were to bring a lamb or sheep, the poor could bring a dove or pigeon. So if Jesus didn’t come to overturn the Law but fulfill it, what’s this about?

The actions of Jesus go deeper than this, and are attacking the power structures that gain and maintain their power through the use and misuse of religious power, choosing who is in and who is out, who succeeds and who fails. It is a prophetic protest against a broader kind of corruption, one that is declaring its own particular kind of Kingdom, and thus declaring a particular kind of salvation, one that enables Temple leaders to be powerful and wealthy. It’s not the Temple salesmen Jesus is after, it is the Temple power structure, and thus the religious aristocracy. He’s undermining the power of the religious leaders by both attacking a core area of their concern and by focusing the Temple on an area they do not control, that of prayer.

Remember the passage from Maccabees, about their cleaning the Temple from impurities and idolatry. Remember that when we think of what Jesus did. He’s saying to the Temple, you’re getting it wrong and I’m going to clean you out.

He quotes Scripture while doing so. Let me read those phrases in their context.
Isaiah 56:7-8

These [the outsiders] I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.”
8 The Sovereign LORD declares—
he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
besides those already gathered.”

And Jeremiah 7:8-11

But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

The Kingdom is not about transaction, it is about freedom. But, the starting point of freedom does not begin with us getting what we want and doing whatever we want. The starting point of freedom begins with us being freed, first of all, from ourselves, from our attempts to dominate, to compete, to compartmentalize our spiritual and social lives in a nicely wrapped transaction approach to life.

We too often make transaction the substance of our identity: do this, get that. We want a Messiah that fits into this model. Life makes sense to us when he does.

Jesus pushes back against that. Gouge out the eye, cut off the hand, turn over the tables.

And those of us who are claiming this Messiah as our Messiah and this Kingdom as our Kingdom, sometimes experience Jesus as the Messiah who overturns the tables in our own life. Because the Temple, this Temple [point to self], is now the Temple of the Holy Spirit, in us, and we are not to be part of the transactional, power seeking, dominating Kingdom. This house [point to chest], this house [point around to others and repeat], is to be a house of prayer. Are we seeking power and dominance and influence? Do we operate with the assumption of transaction to get what we want? Or do we humble ourselves and listen and follow the Spirit?

Are we trying to assert a different Messiah of a different kind of Kingdom? Sometimes, like with the temple, we may even look very religious and good.

Or are we people of humility and people of prayer who will let go of anything that binds or confuses or prevents us from seeing Jesus as he reveals himself to be? Throwing out the spirits of the world, those false ways of trying to secure meaning or purpose or identity, like with the demon-possessed boy, are driving out through prayer. That’s why the Temple, [point to self] temple, has to be a house of prayer.

When I was at Wheaton, I got my tables overturned. It’s a much longer story, but basically comes down to the fact that life was really falling apart for me in most every way. I became pretty severely depressed my junior year and found light by discovering some deeper truths in Scripture, church history. I really started readding Wesley, fasting, praying, studying at a good college. I thought I was on my way, thinking I needed to sharpen my spiritual life? But the more I did the more went wrong. Why I asked, and I didn’t get it. Because even though I said I was for Christ and His Kingdom, in my heart, in my deepest self, what I wanted was answers to my frustrations, dating, money, success. I was, basically, trying to make a transaction with God. And I got my tables overturned. I had a crisis of faith for a long time because I thought I was doing everything right but everything kept getting worse and worse. Only now I realize that I had a crisis of faith because my faith wasn’t in the Messiah who was and is, but the Messiah who I thought I wanted.

Jesus overturned my tables so that I could realized the Messiah I needed, and become the person, finally, he created me to be. This didn’t just happen at Wheaton. This happened for most of the ten years after Wheaton. I was a mixed bag, doing and thinking a lot of right ways, but mixing in far too much transactional theology. Not intentionally, but it was there. I thought if I did the right things I would get the right things. But I did so much of what was right, but everything kept going wrong. I realize now that much of this was Jesus overturning my tables. I was mixed, because it wasn’t that I was malicious or deceptive. All along I would have said I want Christ to be all and all in me. But, underlying those statements were some wrong assumptions. I had a crisis of faith because my faith was in the wrong kind of Messiah.

This isn’t to say, not at all, that all our problems are caused by Jesus trying to put us right, of overturning the tables. That’s the brilliance of these various passages put together. Sometimes we are sick and need to be healed, sometimes we are being attacked by evil and need to be freed from that, sometimes we are thirsty and need a glass of water, sometimes we are among the excluded, like the little children, and need to be included. The Kingdom is about real freedom, and freedom for some, for so many, means being encouraged and empowered and renewed for this participation.

But others, and the disciples and the religious leaders and the Temple patterns are a model of this, are arguing who is the greatest, and maneuvering for positions of power or going through transactions to trade their wealth or influence for more power. These are the sorts of people who get their tables overturned. Not because the tables are themselves inherently wrong, but because they are in the way of understanding the truth of the Kingdom for what it is. Those people, so many of us, get our tables overturned precisely because we’re trying to do what we think are the right things, in all the right ways, to get noticed and get involved, but in doing so we’re pursuing—often unconsciously—the wrong Messiah and thus the wrong Kingdom.

Sometimes we are in need of both healing and getting our tables overturned.

We like to think of ourselves as the people along the street waving our branches at the Messiah, but so many of us, and I include myself in this, are also the people in the Temple, selling our wares, trying out our sacrifices.

And to us Jesus says, “Stop. I want you, not your performance. I want you, not your transactions. I want you to pray, to listen, to be transformed. I want you to see, see the Messiah for who he is and see the Kingdom for what it is.”

One way or another we will see the Kingdom for what it is, if we are blind in our eyes, Jesus will heal us.

If we are blind in our understanding, Jesus will teach us. If we are blind in our actions, Jesus will stop us and point us the right direction, the direction of real freedom.

If we are seeking the Kingdom, truly open to the Messiah for who he is, we might be healed from our suffering or we might get our tables overturned.

It’s the same work of the same Messiah for the same purpose, to lead us all, however and wherever we’re coming from, into the presence of the King, to be the kind of people who really get, who really live out, this reality of the Kingdom in ways that help others live it out. We are freed and in this freedom we can help others find freedom in Christ.

Who asks, “What do you want me to do for you? Who do you say that I am? We answer this in our actions, with our whole life. Jesus shows us his answer. Are we ready to let go and serve this kind of Messiah? In this kind of Kingdom?

Who do you say Jesus is? What do you want of him?

Be careful, because Jesus will answer you. Because he is the Messiah.

And he may lift you up or he may turn over your tables.

Either way, keep holding on because Christ and his Kingdom is the way of peace and hope and life.

Posted in church, holiness, Jesus, ministry, missional, Scripture, speaking, theology | 2 Comments

Marriage, Singleness, and Sin part 4

Okay, I know. Way, way too academicy recently. So, here’s where I take all that preparatory stuff and finally–finally–get to the point.

Singleness is not a higher calling than marriage. That’s not really a dramatic thing to say anymore. There’s very few people who celebrate that supposed “gift of singleness” after all.

At the same time, and what needs to be said a whole lot more, is that marriage is not a higher calling than singleness.

Neither is better. However, both can be worse. They’re equal callings but they’re different callings. Callings is a terribly religious/Christianese sort of word, isn’t it? I’m not going to use that anymore.

Marriage and singleness each offer their own expression of identity. They are about who we are as individuals and who we are among others and who we are before and with God.

Both suffer if we make either way all about us. If I make marriage all about satisfying my own interests and needs, I’m in trouble with God first of all. If I make singleness all about satisfying my own needs and interests, I’m in trouble with God first of all. We’re not allowed to be selfish either in marriage or in singleness.

This is where these states of calling are the same.

Here’s where they are different:

If you’re married, your identity with God is bound up in your contribution to the life of your spouse, and your family.

If you’re single, your identity with God is bound up in your contribution to others.

This is a tricky bit. Because I’m not saying your identity comes from your spouse, or that your identity comes from others. Rather, our identity can only be grounded in God. But, our identity with God includes contributing to the lives of others. Love God, love your neighbor, thems the rules.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that married people shouldn’t pay attention to others. I am saying, however, that if they pay attention to others more than or in exclusion to their spouse and family, they’re sinning. They’re not right with God.

That’s what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 7.

If you feel your calling is to serve others more broadly, don’t get married. If you can’t focus on others, and spend all your life trying to get married, just get married. Because if you’re single and you’re spending your energy and efforts to find a spouse, and pouring yourself wholly or most fully into the life of a single other person, then you’re not right with God.

So, if you want to be married, great! There’s a way of life God has for us in this path. Your primary contribution is to the emotional and spiritual well-being of this other person. This doesn’t mean you’re to be co-dependent, finding your identity in this other. It means that you’re to help this other person most fully find their identity in and with God, and that person is to help you most fully find your identity in and with God.

If you are single, great! That means you can devote yourself to contributing to the lives of others, free from having to pay attention to the needs of one particular other. Your time is your own, and you are free to go and do all sorts of tasks in all sorts of places. Like Paul did. And because that was his calling (to evangelize and serve others) he saw his state of singleness as a gift. The gift, after all, isn’t being alone, it’s being able to contribute in all kinds of ways to all sorts of people. A single person hsa the gift of time and space, able to use their time for others, and able to spend their time in other places.

Unfortunately for so much of the Protestant churches, and especially in Evangelicalism, these two paths got mixed up. And all sorts of hell, literally, breaks loose.

More on that in the next post, including examples of people who have done each right and examples of people who have done it wrong.

Posted in emerging theology, holiness, ministry, missional, psychology, Scripture, society, spirituality, theology | 1 Comment