The Everyday as a Proclamation

As a teenager and a young adult, I read a lot of Christian biographies that set my heart on fire. Hudson Taylor, Henry Martyn, Amy Carmichael, Jim Elliot, Isobel Kuhn, William Borden… My role models all sacrificed normalcy – in relationships, in health, in finances – and many even gave up their lives, for the sake of the gospel. None lived the average life. I wanted that – to live a life above the ordinary; to make a difference. With those biographies as my only reference, I thought the one way to achieve this was through denial of a normal lifestyle, great sacrifices and extraordinary acts of service. What I have been learning since then is that God does his greatest work in ordinary settings, through normal lives. In the everyday, in small circles, in little things. That, as Sarah Bessey puts it, “all of our lives are a proclamation”:

One soul is as valuable as thousands, millions. One soul is as important as ninety-nine, worth leaving behind everything to rescue. If there is one soul in your care, one face in your loving gaze, one hand you are holding, then you are still holding the world. The work you do today, the love you give and receive and lavish on the seemingly small people and tasks – all of these “little” things are tipping the scales of justice and mercy in our world. Everything we do from the mundane to the glamorous to the difficult and all points between can testify.

I believe all of our lives are a proclamation.

Sarah Bessey, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith

Developing Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is crucial to personal growth and the prevention of spiritual abuse. No one is born with it; it must be cultivated. 

The following excerpt from Steven Smith’s article, “A Biblical Perspective on Spiritual Authority and Critical Thinking” might serve as an excellent New Year’s resolution list:

‘How can a Christian develop critical thinking skills? Here are ten steps I wish I had followed:

  • Pray for the Spirit of wisdom (James 1:5-8).
  • Intentionally encounter diverse people and perspectives. Travel. Listen to podcasts from other preachers and teachers. Cultivate friends outside of your church circle.
  • Zondervan’s Counterpoint series is an excellent way to study thorny theological matters. Scholars from each major position present their case on a particular topic, and the other scholars interact with those essays.
  • Learn to dialogue instead of shutting down at the first hint of difference.
  • Educate yourself about the world at large. Read foreign English newspapers. Subscribe to a blog (or ten). Think outside the box.
  • Learning to think critically is like training for an athletic event. Find “trainers” who will stretch you, tone you, and give you a good workout. Ravi Zacharias always helps me to think more clearly (find his website here).
  • Idolize no man or woman. Respect and admire, but put no one on a pedestal except for God.
  • Do theology in community. Yes, discuss spiritual things in your own local church, but also engage with the Church universal, and the historical church. There are (and have been) wise Christians throughout the world who have thought well about God, other people, and themselves.
  • Embrace mystery and give grace for “grayness” in disputable matters. Not every theological issue is critical for salvation. Really. As one of my seminary professors says, heaven will be like torn paper: it tears unevenly. We will be surprised at some of the people who made it in…and even more surprised by who’s missing.
  • Relax. Enjoy being part of the Body of Christ and humble yourself to receive from other people, even people outside your church or denomination. If Solomon’s temple couldn’t hold all of the presence of God, neither can your little church.’

Christianity 1.1: In for a Rough Time

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.
Hebrews 12:7 (N

“We must not be surprised if we are in for a rough time. When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected) he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along – illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation – he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us.”

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Biblical Submission

“[A woman] is to obey her husband as if he were God Himself. She can be as certain of God’s will when her husband speaks as if God had spoken audibly from Heaven.”[1]

And thus,

“[She has] freedom from having to take the consequences of making decisions.”[2]

This, according to Elizabeth Rice Handford (author of the “classic resource”[3], Me? Obey Him?) is what submission looks like.

The true biblical definition of submission is neither “obedience” nor “exemption from accountability”. Biblical submission does not shape wards, subordinates or dependents. It is not the opposite of strength, competence and maturity. Rather, it is “serving one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13) and “in humility valuing others above ourselves” (Phil. 2:3), and it is a way of living we are ALL called to, regardless of gender or marital status.

[1] Elizabeth Rice Handford, Me? Obey Him?, p. 34
[2] Elizabeth Rice Handford, Me? Obey Him?, p. 67
[3] Typical example of conservative evangelical praise for this book: https://www.thebereancall.org/content/me-obey-him

I’ve seen this quote several times on Facebook (I know, the irony) and I have something to say.

I don’t like it.

I realize that people share it with the best of intentions, namely (I assume) to inspire us to be better stewards of time.

But I still don’t like it.

Of course, my taste in quotes is hardly a guiding principle in matters of right and wrong, but let me explain. I think this quote presents problems. It builds on

a) a fallacy about the nature of a proper prayer life, and
b) a fallacy about the role of pleasure/enjoyment in the Christian life.

So about prayer or the lack thereof. Most of us have been thoroughly intimidated by stories of spiritual giants who spent solid, consecutive hours daily on their knees. But let’s be honest: practically no one has the time, liberty or stamina to emulate them. I know I don’t.

But there is good news! The Bible never actually tells us to do this. Neither does it give us to understand that prayer marathons are supposed to be part of our daily routine, or that they give Christians more spiritual status or leverage. What we are told is: Pray without ceasing. Or as other versions put it, Pray continually. Pray all the time. Never stop praying. That is about relationship, not about timetables. It’s about a “continual God-consciousness”, as John MacArthur puts it, about “recurring prayer, not nonstop talking”.(1) About abiding in Christ. I am reasonably sure that on the aforementioned Last Day, the Lord is not going to produce a tally sheet and confront us with the sum of hours we spent using the social networks vs. the sum of hours we spent in formal prayer.

In fact, why time spent on the social networks is presented as a censurable activity brings me to my second peeve.

First of all, WHY do we foster the puritanical notion that anything that gives pleasure or enjoyment is at odds with spirituality? We forget that God is the Designer of the five senses, the Maker – as C. S. Lewis had Screwtape point out – of the pleasures. (Check this out: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/april/lighten-up-christians-god-loves-good-time.html?paging=off). Enjoyment is not a waste of time. It’s part of the God-designed human experience.

And why should we pretend prayer and social networks are incompatible? They needn’t be unless we make them so; no more than prayer and knitting should be incompatible – prayer and family barbecues – prayer and baseball with the kids – prayer and car-washing – prayer and scrapbooking – prayer and eating ice cream – prayer and studying for exams – well, you get the idea. Prayerlessness is not a consequence of Facebook any more than it is of any other normal human activities.

In the second place, please, let’s be real: we ALL do things to unwind, enjoyable things, fun things. Maybe Mr. Piper’s way of unwinding doesn’t involve Facebook or Twitter; he may prefer to sit down with a book, play solitaire on the computer, watch a movie, have a game of chess, go camping, plan a romantic dinner with his wife, play football with his grandchildren. But that doesn’t make a game of Candy Crush, a coffee over Pinterest, some tweets or a debate on a Facebook thread somehow cheaper diversions, less classy choices.

Now before I climb off my little soapbox, I’d like to counterbalance some of the Social Networks Bashing I encounter. These are a couple of the gifts that Facebook drops into my life:

On my Bitmoji soapbox. Make one, they’re fun 😉

Interaction. I have a husband, four kids, a cat and a garden, and that means most of my life right now rolls at home. Facebook, however, gives me the opportunity to meet, chat, laugh, poke, argue and even share coffee breaks with my friends. All without leaving the house!

Fellowship. Most of my family – both my blood family and my Christian family – is scattered across the globe. I owe to Facebook the daily connection I enjoy with them. Stimulating conversations, funny quotes, encouraging words, photos of loved ones, theological discussions, snatches of everyday life… All this and more is channeled to me through Facebook.

On the Last Day I may greatly regret all the time I wasted in edification, fellowship and fun via the social networks. Maybe, John Piper. But I doubt it.

(1) https://www.gty.org/library/questions/QA157/what-does-it-mean-to-pray-without-ceasing

The Debt of Honor

“Honor all people” (1 Peter 2:17). “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). These are two general commandments meant to preside over us as people of God in our relationships throughout life.

If we are to truly live them out, however, we need to understand what we are being summoned to do. We need to be able to distinguish between what genuine honoring is and what it is not. We also need to determine if there are ever any exceptions to these rules. This will keep us from falling prey to unrighteous demands and being trapped in diseased relationships.

What honoring IS

Honor is a word which in Hebrew (kabad), and in Greek (timḗ), means to value, to respect, to give weight to. It has also been translated as “treat honorably”, “show respect for”, “treat with dignity” and “prize”.

Fundamentally, all people deserve to be treated with dignity because of their identity as human beings. We owe one another honor as fellow members of the human race. In this sense we are all peers, no matter what our age or social rank (much less our ethnicity or gender).

Parents, specifically, deserve to be cherished because of their unique role in our lives. We owe them, in summary, everything. They brought us into this world, loved us fiercely, cared for our needs, tried their best to shape us into good and happy people. The bond between us is sacred. The honor we owe them can be shown in many ways, not the least of which is caring for their needs as they grow older. This, as a matter of fact, was precisely how Jesus defined honor on the only recorded occasion that he expounded the Fifth Commandment.

What honoring IS NOT

It is not a synonym for obedience. As someone observed[1], if this were the case, the words could be used interchangeably in Scripture. The most cursory analysis will prove they cannot. The effort to merge the two concepts is simply untenable. Although it is true that in some contexts honor will be expressed through obedience, such as children (those being brought up) towards their parents, it is not true that obedience is mandatory where honor is concerned.

The oft-wielded Ephesians 6:1 – “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” – is not an alternative translation of Exodus 20:12, but the adapted version for children, precisely because they are being prepared for adulthood (this is upheld by the context, see v. 4). That is, in fact, the whole point of obedience. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The goal is transition to sui juris, the launching of a full-fledged person. Parents (or spiritual leaders) that seek to keep their children in perpetual pupilage, making obedience instead of maturity their aim in training, reveal a selfish and ungodly agenda: POWER AND CONTROL.

It does not imply a chain of command. Honoring someone does not mean that they are in charge and that you are to “keep in your place”. It does not mean you are under an obligation to report to them, obtain their consent or follow their orders.

It does not mean relinquishing our critical faculties. Some would have us believe that any criticism of their attitudes or methods constitutes a dishonor to their persons. This is false. Unconditional compliance is not honoring, it is spoiling. It also empowers overbearing and abusive people.[2]

Exceptions

Are there any exceptions to these two general rules? I believe any honest scrutiny of real-life situations compels us to accept that – sadly – there are. Only the most oblivious people could think otherwise. There are indeed people, there are indeed parents, who cannot be honored in any genuine way beyond the most basic respect owed to any person.

People who have inflicted deep pain and lasting emotional and/or physical harm on others (a thousand times more heinous when inflicted on persons under their care), and who are so self-righteous that they are incapable of change. People who poison the environments they control with their hubris, their incessant demands and their destructive behavior. People who, while exacting honor for themselves, systematically dishonor others.

Perhaps the only honor we can give in such cases is that of withdrawing from the sphere of their influence and praying for future healing and reconciliation.

Conclusion

May God give us the wisdom to discern between true and false honor, and may true honor grace all our dealings with one another.

 

[1] http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2011/09/honor-vs-obey/ (accessed January 27, 2015)
[2] More on what honoring is not at http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/09/four-tools-of-spiritual-manipulators/