I DON’T KNOW

As the years have passed and I have gained experience I have come to realize I don’t know as much as I once thought I did. And it isn’t that my faith has eroded or I am any less committed as a Christian; it’s just that in some areas I am more flexible than I was in the past. It’s now easier for me to say “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know”.

What brought this to mind was an article I recently read about the Bible’s teaching on the relationship and role of women and men in marriage and the church. Within the greater Bible believing community, there are two basic understandings: complementarianism and egalitarianism.

For readers to whom these terms are new, they represent a more “traditional” view and less “traditional” view. As the terms suggest, complementarianism stresses the complementary nature of men and women while the egalitarianism stresses the equality of both genders. The two basic understandings inform both the role of women in church leadership and a wife’s submission to her husband.

In my teaching from the creation account, I always stress that men and women are equal, but they are not the same. That doesn’t address the issues of submission in marriage and the role of women in church leadership, but I don’t see how anyone could disagree with my statement. The basic meaning of both complementarianism and egalitarianism are true.

In June I read an interesting book, the title of which got my attention. PARTNERS IN CHRIST: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism says a lot about the author, John G. Stackhouse, Jr. Those who hold that all egalitarians are liberal and don’t believe the Bible may be interested in reading Stackhouse’s book.  I also like the primary title because I too see the creation account of male and female in marriage as a partnership.

Paul’s instruction to wives and husbands in Ephesians 5 is challenging. Wives are instructed to submit to their husbands and husbands are instructed to love their wives. I’ve never heard anyone suggest that since Paul does not tell the wives to love their husbands, they don’t need to love them. Of course wives are to love their husbands. It seems to me that in the same way there is to be mutual love in marriage, there also will be mutual submission. Love is not limited to husbands, nor is submission limited to wives.

I am familiar with a variety of Bible passages that speak to the role of women in ministry and leadership in the church, but none similar to Ephesians on marriage. I continue to read those passages, as well as what other informed and committed believers say about them. When it comes to the issue of women and men in church leadership and the role of men and women in marriage, there is a lot I don’t know. I am, however, more flexible than I was in the past.

It is something to keep on thinking and talking about, isn’t it?

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“I WON’T BE BACK!”

“I won’t be back!” That’s what I told our pastor as we left church following worship this past Sunday. In his message he talked about Sabbath, restlessness, always checking our mobile devices, doing too much, always being busy, never slowing down, and a lot of other related things I found offensive. And I told him so.

I asked him why he didn’t just go ahead and call me out by name. I knew he was talking to me, and I told him I didn’t come to church to be convicted and challenged by him about the things he had addressed.

In the sermon he reminded us of when Jesus went off by himself early in the morning to pray and how Peter seemed to chastise him because everyone was looking for him (Mark 1:35). But that didn’t seem to bother Jesus. Our pastor also pointed us to a time Jesus invited the apostles to get away with him by themselves to a quiet place to get some rest (Mark 6:31).

As he neared the end of his talk he took us to Psalm 46 (a passage I was already quite familiar with). In my ministry I often used the opening verses at funerals about God being our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). I knew about the rejoinder in verse 2 that therefore we would not fear no matter how bad things got because God was still in heaven and active.

I also knew about the last verse of Psalm 46 and God’s call for us to “Be still, and know that [he] is God.” And God’s promise that “he will be exalted among the nations and in the earth” (verse 10).

What I don’t think I had ever done before was connect the first part of Psalm 46 with the last part—especially verses 1 and 2 with verse 10. Since “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble,” it seems appropriate that we would take the time, relax, and “Be still, and know that he is God.” Not only does that seem appropriate, I’m thinking it is also very important.

I’ve had a couple of days to think it over, and I’ve changed my mind about not going back. I’m going to go back. And I’m going to take to heart some of what he said on Sunday. But I hope he heard me: I don’t go to be challenged and convicted. Do you?

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WHAT IRRITATES YOU?

If everyone who reads this post would give two or three answers to the title question there would be a lot to read! I’m not asking you to send me your answers, but I would like you to think of a couple of things that irritate you. Most of us probably have a few in common, and a few of us may have one or two that are unique to us. If anyone says nothing irritates him or her, you are more mature than the rest of us, or you may struggle with honesty.

The reason this is on my mind is because I have been regularly irritated with many drivers on my side of the city. There are two specific places where I make a right hand turn from one road to another, and the road I’m turning onto has a lane exclusively for those entering. What irritates me is that almost every driver in front of me stops, looks back, and waits until there is an opening to move into the next lane while ignoring hundreds of feet of entry lane. These are not freeway entries, but the principle is the same. Why can’t these drivers see that and keep going?!?!

As much as I would like to, I do not sit on my horn and shake a fist at them. Surprising to me, I don’t even blow my horn or give them a dirty look. Believe it or not (some of you won’t), I patiently and calmly wait for them to get out of the entry lane, and then I model the way the engineers planned the road construction by slowly continuing in the entry lane and merging behind the person who irritated me. So far I don’t think anyone has caught on.

The purpose of this blog is not to impress you with my driving, or to instruct readers about entering surface streets that have entry lanes. In addition to asking about what irritates you, I want to ask you two additional questions: why does what irritates you irritate you, and what does your irritation lead you to do? Questions two and three are more important than the first one I asked at the beginning. I confess I am a person who is too easily irritated–and that is not becoming of a pastor, Christian, husband, father, or grandfather.

The reason I am convicted about being easily irritated is because in I Corinthians 13:5 the Apostle Paul tells us love “is not irritable” (New Living Translation and English Standard Version) or “not touchy” (Living Bible and Phillips Modern English). I think some the other translations are more definitive: “isn’t quick tempered” (CEV), “is not easily provoked” (KJV), “is not easily angered” (NIV), and “is not quick to take offense” (NEB). Real love is more than just not being irritable–love is not easily irritated. In his commentary on I Corinthians, Gordon Fee tells us the verb is in the passive voice and “it suggests that the one who loves is not easily provoked to anger by those around him or her.”

You can see why I am troubled by being too easily irritated. I want to be a loving person; and being easily annoyed by what others do is not loving. It’s really not about being irritated by drivers who don’t understand the entry lane. It’s about being easily irritated by and expressing that irritation to those who are close to me—those I love. I think what I need to do is stay aware of my tendency, consider why I am too often touchy, and keep on monitoring and restraining my response when I am irritated. After all, these are people I love.

Where are you with this unattractive trait? It can be irritating, can’t it?

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Picture used with permission of our grandson’s mother, our daughter.

SOMETIMES, IT’S JUST EASIER TO . . .

How would you complete the title of this post? The possibilities are endless given the situations and subjects that may come to mind.

The title is part of a quote that caught my eye and sparked my thinking. Talking about our response to new music, American music critic Stephen Hyden suggested, “Sometimes, it’s just easier to stick with what you know.” I think all of us would agree with Hyden’s observation. When it comes to music, it is easier to stick with what we know because it is music with which we are familiar.

I don’t think, however, that Hyden’s insight is limited to music. Do you? When it comes to new things, most of the time it is easier to stick with what we know—that with which we are familiar and comfortable. And that is certainly understandable. With a lot of our preferences, practices, and habits sticking with what we know is fine. But not always.

My concern is that there are times when we stick with what we know when we shouldn’t. A couple of phrases that raise a yellow flag for me are “We’ve always done it this way” and “Let’s not rock the boat.” Those phrases suggest a hesitancy or unwillingness to try something new. Sticking with what we know may be easier and more comfortable, but it very well may also result in our being stuck.

If we never rock the boat, and if we always do it the way we’ve done it, it will be difficult for us to make changes, move forward, and do better. Not only that, sticking to what we know doesn’t require more from us or challenge us. As good as what we know may be, there may be something even better. Sticking with what we know can keep us from learning and stifle our creativity and growth. Not sticking to what we know may enhance what we know and who we are.

When should we stick with what we know and when should we not stick with what we know? When should we rock the boat and when should we not rock the boat? I’m confident there are times when we should stick with what we know and I’m also sure there are times when we should not stick with what we know. How do we know when to do which?

Before I answer the question I want to relay a quote from a book I have been reading today that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this blog post. Yet what the author wrote speaks to pretty much all of life: “there is no point in pretending that we know more than we do” (Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce, p 9). I don’t know when we should stick to what we know and when we shouldn’t. Deciding is part of the challenge, isn’t it?

What do you think?

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ARE YOU SURE THEY ARE BLESSED?

I am currently teaching a Bible study in which we are considering Jesus’ teaching in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). In these verses Jesus pronounces blessed those who have and live out eight qualities and aspects of life.

At first reading, at least four of the characterizations Jesus affirms do not strike us as describing someone who is blessed. On the surface, not many of us would associate “the poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” “the meek,” and “those who are persecuted because of righteousness” as blessed people.

By the way, although some suggest the word “blessed” can be translated “happy”, I think that devalues the idea of being “blessed”. The idea of “blessed” is that God congratulates those who have these qualities and that his favor is on them. Max Lucado writes about the beatitudes with a book entitled The Applause of Heaven suggesting God claps for those with these characteristics.

Out of the four that seem contradictory, the one that seems most paradoxical to me is “Blessed are those who mourn.” If we use the popular translation of blessed some use, the description reads “Happy are the sad.” “Those who mourn” are those who suffer pain and loss, who grieve, and whose hearts are broken. Jesus tells us they are blessed—and we want to ask, “Are you sure they are blessed?”

In preparing to talk about this beatitude, I was struck again as I reread something John Stott wrote in his book about the Sermon on the Mount. Commenting on this second beatitude about those who mourn, he wrote “we need to observe that the Christian life, according to Jesus, is not all joy and laughter.”

The Bible does not tell us that if we worship and love the Lord, have faith in Jesus and follow him we will live problem and pain free lives. As a matter of fact, Jesus said the opposite: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). In Romans 12:15 Paul instructs believers to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” And in the Old Testament there is a book of five chapters entitled Lamentations!

Most commentators note that when it comes to mourning there are different levels. We mourn our own sins, the sins of those around us, and the condition of the world. But we also grief our personal losses. Dealing with pain, suffering, loss, and grief is a part of life. Is there anyone reading this post who has not suffered a loss? It seems like I have had more occasions to mourn the last 10 months than usual.

Dr. David Gallagher reminds us “God never promised an easy journey, but God did promise to be with us through it all.” A little later he warns us, “A major misunderstanding we sometimes face is that grief is our enemy to be avoided. In reality, grief is a dear friend.”

We may not realize it at the time, but perhaps part of the blessing of mourning is the capacity to hurt and grieve—to know and feel sorrow. And maybe part of the blessing is having God with us in our grief, even though he doesn’t immediately take it away.

Let’s keep wrestling with Jesus’ pronouncement that those who mourn are blessed. I’m confident he’s sure we are—and I’m making progress in understanding it.

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