Thursday, September 21, 2023
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Marriage is different, in essence, from co-habiting. Marriage requires more than just living together.
What is marriage?
In Matthew 19:1-9 we see large crowds of people coming to Jesus, and Jesus healing them. After this happens “some Pharisees came to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’”
This was one of the most controversial questions of that time. It refers to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, where we read that a husband can divorce his wife if he finds “something indecent about her.” The debate was – what does “something indecent” mean?
There were two schools of thought about that. The school of the rabbi Shammai said, “something indecent” means "adultery." The school of the rabbi Hillel taught that “something indecent” means anything, even something so trivial as burning your husband’s bagel. “So, what do you think about this,” the Pharisees asked Jesus? Jesus’ response is brilliant. Instead of dealing with Deuteronomy 24 he takes them back to Genesis 1 & 2.
"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." A very cool response by Jesus. Why?
Because Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is about troubleshooting. Genesis 1 & 2 is the heart of the owner’s manual. Yes, there is a time for troubleshooting. But Jesus asks, don’t you remember what "marriage" really is? It’s male and female, united in marriage, becoming one flesh, whom God has “joined together.”
It’s this “joined together” thing that’s especially important. The word means, literally, “welded together.” New Testament scholar R.T. France says, “It would be hard to imagine a more powerful metaphor of permanent attachment.” A wedding is a welding, done by God the Master Welder.
I asked a friend who welds to give me a definition of welding. Welding, he said, is a fabrication process that joins materials, usually metals or thermoplastics, by causing coalescence. “Coalescence” is the process by which two or more droplets of metal form a single droplet and become one continuous solid. No wonder they call it “wedlock!”
Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, “Don’t you remember what God said about a husband and wife? God has weld-locked them together. Don’t let any person try to separate them!"
Instead of saying he’s for or against divorce, Jesus lifts up marriage. The Pharisees seem to have thought that the very legislation about divorce, within the law of Moses, meant that Moses was quite happy for it to take place. Since there's a law to tell you how to do it, that must mean it's OK to do. That would be like seeing a sign that says “In case there’s a fire, take this emergency exit,” and then concluding “It must be OK to start a fire in this building.”
Jesus shows the flaw in their thinking by pointing back to God's original intention. Marriage was meant to be a partnership of one man and one woman... for life. Marriage was not meant to be something that could be split up and reassembled whenever one person wanted to end it.
This summer it was 50 years ago that Linda and I got welded, wed-locked, together. The result is that a lot of her has gotten into me and a lot of me has gotten into her. I am deeply influenced by her, and her by me. God fused us together into “one flesh.” What a great idea! You can’t get that by cohabiting.
I remember the bond.
I remember when God welded us together.
Tuesday, September 19, 2023
|(On the west side of Michigan, Lake Michigan shoreline)|
My physician possesses high character, and great ability. He has both qualities. But if I was forced to choose between a physician of great character, and one of great ability, I'd lean towards ability. Better is a doctor who knows what he is doing.
In After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters., N. T. Wright says, "The central thing that is supposed to happen "after you believe" is the transformation of character." This is the Galatians 4:19 thing - that Christ be formed in you. Or, as Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:12 - "We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."
This formation, the development of Christ-character in you, is your calling. It happens as you indwell Christ.
The goal of our own character formation into Jesus-likeness is love. Love is "the greatest of the" core virtues. We may disagree with others, but we must never cease loving them. Jesus loved those he disagreed with so much that he died for them. We are to even love our enemies, in spite of our opposing views. Anything less than this and you have left Jesus. (This does not, of course, mean that we affirm everything the other believes. To do that is not love, either.)
What will character formation look like? Because it comes from attachment to Christ, it will look like Christ. Christ forms you, meta-morphs you into one who loves and lives as Christ is.
Wright's example is Sully Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who landed a disabled passenger jet in the Hudson River and saved 155 lives. The character of a pilot had been formed in him. He no longer needed to wear a wristband that asked, "What Would a Pilot Do?" (WWPD) Rather, "the skills and ability ran right through him, top to toe."
Wright says "The key to it all is that the Christian vision of character that has become second nature is precisely all about discovering what it means to be human - human in a way that most of us never imagine."
Regarding Sullenberger, "virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become "second nature." Not "first nature," as though they happened naturally. Like an acquired taste, such choices and actions, which started off being practiced with difficulty, ended up being "second nature." (James K. A. Smith and Dallas Willard say the same.)
For Wright, our "first nature" is our subhumanity. The "second nature" Christ wants to form in us is his nature, which is true humanity. God wants to rescue us out of our subhumanity and transform us into true humanity. Some, when they fail, say "I'm only human." They should say, "I'm subhuman."
Wright's book shows how God metamorphs us from subhumanity into true humanity, how God forms our character into Christlikeness.
What can I do about this? I look at my own self, and focus on my own change. I pray to be transformed into someone who is more like Jesus, and loves their enemies so much they would even die for them. I learn to live an abiding life, which is the place where the character of Jesus flows into me, like a vine resources its branches.
Monday, September 18, 2023
1. Care Enough to Confront
How should we communicate with others, even when we are in conflict with them? Here we see two actions we are to take:
1. Speak truthfully
2. Speak lovingly
Both truth and love are needed. If we only speak truthfully we could hurt people. I could tell you the truth in an unloving way, the result of which could bring harm to you.
If we only speak lovingly we may never address the truth. This leaves issues undealt with. It feels warm and fuzzy for a while, but the bleeding has not been stopped.
Instead, says Paul, we are to speak the truth in love. The formula is: Truth + Love. That sounds like Jesus, right? Jesus always asserted the truth, and he always did so in love.
Practically, says Augsburger, it looks like this.
Speak the truth in love to one another. That is the way out of what seem like irreconcilable differences.
1. Recognize your anger. “Anger” is the emotion a person feels when one of their expectations has not been met. For example, if I drive across town expecting every light to turn green when I approach, I am going to be an angry person. Because this expectation will not be met. Therefore...
2. Identify your unmet expectation. Fill in the blank: "I am angry because my expectation that ________ was not met."
3. Evaluate your unmet expectation. Is it either: a) godly, reasonable, good, fair; or 2) ungodly, unreasonable, bad, unfair. In my "driving" example above, my expectation was irrational.
4. Reject ungodly or irrational expectations. If, for example, you expect people to clearly understand every word that comes out of your mouth, you are now free to reject this as an irrational expectation. Or, if you have the expectation that other people should never make mistakes when it comes to you, I now free you from that ungodly, irrational expectation.
5. If the unmet expectation is godly/fair, then ask: Have I communicated this to the person I am angry with? If not, then communicate it. For example, my expectation that persons should take off their shoes before entering our living room may be both rational and of God. But if I have not communicated this to others, my anger at the unfulfilled expectation is still real. My expectation that people should know such a thing without being told is unfair.
6. If you have communicated it clearly to the person you are angry with, then communicate your anger this way: Say “I feel angry because my unmet expectation is __________________.
Begin your sentences with "I" rather than "You." Say, e.g., "I feel angry, rather than "You make me feel angry" (which is the language of a victim). Doing it this way asserts without aggressing. For the person who hears this, it does not feel attacking.
Get rid of irrational or ungodly expectations. As you do this, you'll find yourself less angry.
Finally, Ephesians 4:26 says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Which means: deal with anger quickly, and in a loving and truthful way. The goal is always restoration of relationship and reconciliation.
- Before we begin we must both agree that the time is right.
- We will remember that our only battle aim is a deeper understanding of each other.
- We will check our weapons often to be sure they're not deadly.
- We will lower our voices instead of raising them.
- We will never quarrel in public nor reveal private matters.
- We will discuss an armistice whenever either of us calls "halt."
- When we have come to terms we will put it away until we both agree it needs more discussing.
|(In Eldoret, Kenya)|
Some of my inner struggles have been healed. Gone! As regards those infirmities, I am free.
Some of my shortcomings have gotten better, but I'm not all the way there yet.
I am unaware, oblivious, to other, perhaps many, of my faults. God, in his mercy, has not shown them all to me at once, since I would fall apart and be undone.
Before I went to India I talked with a friend who had been there several times. I told him the name of the airline I would be taking on the flight from Mumbai to Hyderabad. He said, "They hold those planes together with baling wire."
What holds me together is the love, mercy, and grace of God. God loves me, his mercies are new every morning, and his grace is abundant and overflowing. I am God's child. God views me, not as a problem, but as a person made in his image.
View people as persons, not as problems.
Sympathize with, not criticize, their weaknesses.
Under-stand them. Stand below, not above, them.
Love them, show mercy to them, be gracious unto them.
Help them, as you have been helped.
Forgive them, as you have been forgiven.
See the "weight of glory" upon them.
Thursday, September 14, 2023
The person stood in my office, looked at all the books on my shelf, and said, "I live by faith, not by knowledge."
I responded, "The opposite of faith is not knowledge. It's "living by sight.""
Another person, in another time and place, said, "I live by grace, not by effort."
I responded, "The opposite of grace is not effort. It's "earning.""
Dallas Willard writes,
"To put these ideas together, then, we make an effort to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling,” but in grace “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). It’s right that we are to make the effort to “get understanding” (Proverbs 4:5, 7), yet it is by grace that “the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (2:6)."
(In Willard, Hearing God Through the Year, p. 297)
Wednesday, September 13, 2023
|(Sunset, Monroe County Community College)|
Let's look at the meaning of "meaning." (See this, for some linguistic fun.)
I understand the meaning of a pawn in the coherent, narratival context of the game of chess. But a chess pawn standing on a tennis court is meaningless, because it has no "fitness" there. The pawn has no fit in the narrative of tennis. For there to be meaning, there must be fitness within a coherent context.
The movie Mad Max: Fury Road takes place in a land called "Wasteland." Max sums up the meaning of his life with these words: "My world is fire and blood" where everything "is reduced to a single instinct: survive." The movie longs for redemption as a woman named Inperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) smuggles five women out of Wasteland, hoping to take them to a destination called "the green place." Context affects meaning; meaning changes relative to context. If there is no coherent context in which we fit, then life is meaningless, and nihilism prevails. "Mad Max is about a road that goes nowhere but exists only for itself. It's meaningless mayhem." ("Mad Max: Fury Road - Finding a forgotten Eden in the midst of post-apocalyptic anarchy")
Where can we go to find the meaning of our lives? The options are:
1. An incoherent context where nothing fits.
2. A coherent context where I do not fit.
3. A coherent context where I fit.
Option 1 is atheism and nihilism, ultimately and logically.
Option 2 is the kingdoms of this world which, as a Jesus-follower, I was not made for. I don't really belong, I don't really fit in, to the form and pattern of this world.
Option 3 is the kingdom of God, which, as Jesus said, is "not of this world."
In the pre-modern, existentialist biblical book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher weighs the meaning-options and finds them all wanting. Except for one.
He looks for the meaning to life in nature (Eccl. 1:5-9). But nature is a closed system of cause and effect, an endless circling of sunshine, wind, and rain. The answer, the key, is not in Nature.
He looks for the key to life's meaning in mankind (1:3-4), and humanity's efforts and accomplishments. But this yields only an endless seeking for happiness through this and that, but to no avail.
He looks for an answer in human wisdom (1:12-17; 2:13-17). But even the most brilliant are only learned ignoramuses (cf. Jose Ortega y Gasset), who fail to make sense of it all.
He looks for the meaning of life in pleasure and sensual delight (2:1-11), but finds the same reality: it's all nothing but "vanity and striving after the wind. (Here it feels like Bertrand Russell's atheism has borrowed from Ecclesiastes - see Russell's "A Free Man's Worship.")
The answer? Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 concludes:
To answer the question of life's meaning we must first answer these two questions:
Who, or what, made me?
What was I made for?
The answers to these questions will lead you to either Option 1, Option 2, or Option 3.
I've opted for 3. By experience, and by reason. My life's meaning and purpose are found in these words of Jesus:
Tuesday, September 12, 2023
|(My back yard)|
In the days of my greater immaturity I sang in a college choir. I am a baritone, and I can hold a tune. I can stay on pitch. But X, who sang in the baritone section next to me, could not.
Not only was X tone deaf, he could sing louder than anyone in the choir. X's tone deafness overwhelmed the rest of us. He was an eighth of a tone flat, all the time. Just slightly off pitch. To be slightly off pitch in a choir, and loudly so, is a great sin, for it works to drag everyone else down to its atonal level.
To make matters worse, X always had a smile on his face. I can see his broad smile now, fifty years later. X was upbeat, chipper, as he miserably bellowed. This angered me even more.
"My life would be better if X were not in my life."
But that last statement, of course, is false. And immature. My trouble with X brought out my trouble with me. I, not X (or Y or Z or...), am my greatest problem. Unless I come to see the truth of that, I will be forever miserable.
C.S. Lewis, in a beautiful little piece called "The Trouble with X," wrote:
My books are...
Leading the Presence-Driven Church.
Deconstructing Progressive Christianity.
Monday, September 11, 2023
Sunday, September 10, 2023
If Linda and I are asked what makes for a strong marriage, we usually answer: Practice confession and forgiveness.
Over our 50 years of marriage we have confessed and forgiven each other many times.
When we confess, we do so specifically. Such as, "Please forgive for saying those words (________) to you. They hurt you. I am sorry."
When we forgive, we cancel the debt. "I forgive you for saying those words." To cancel the debt means, I won't punish you for what you said, or did, or did not say or do to me.
Confession and forgiveness are, to us, beautiful gifts from God, and keys to healthy relationships!
We also understand there are some things forgiveness is not.
To forgive is not to trust. I may forgive you. I won't make you pay for what you did to me. But that doesn't mean, in certain circumstances, that I therefore trust you. Someone has said that trust takes a lifetime to acquire, and just a moment to lose. We have seen this happen in many relationships.
I can forgive you, perhaps immediately. But trust is built on doing the right thing, consistently, over time. In this sense trust has a fragility to it that forgiveness does not. You can truly forgive someone and still not trust them. In some cases, you should not trust them
To forgive does not mean you stop hurting. I can choose to forgive, but I cannot choose to stop feeling any pain your words or actions have inflicted on me.
You can forgive someone and still be suffering. This is why to forgive is not necessarily to forget. To remember elicits pain. (If your relationship is healthy, you will just forget most of what your friend has done to you. Linda knows that, over the years, I have confessed to her several times. As she has done, with me. But we now remember nothing about the majority of those interactions.)
To remember what trust is not can help me, if I wound you, to acknowledge, and attend to, two things. 1) I realize you may not trust me to not hurt you again. I have compassion for you. I do not force you to trust me. I don't say things like, "Aren't you over this yet." 2) I am sensitive to the reality that you may hurt for awhile because of what I have done. When I realize that, I may again express my sadness for hurting you such that you still ache.
Saturday, September 09, 2023
(These are some Wittgensteinian aphorisms on the limits of stories that I wrote during my praying time today. Perhaps to be further developed.)
Every person has a unique life story. If the goal is to understand a person, then we must listen to them as they tell their stories, or their sub-stories (stories within their life story).
Uniqueness has nothing to do with truth. A story might be interesting, but "interesting" does not cause the listener to say, "Aha! That's so interesting. Therefore it is true."
The details of their story might not be accurate. For example, there may be exaggeration.
The hearer of the story must interpret it. (Unless the interpreter is a postmodernist, à la Jacques Derrida. According to Derrida, no one can interpret a text, at least in terms of authorial intention. Which means, Derrida expected no one to interpret his texts, thus proving his point, in a self-contradictory way.)
A story is something we listen to, for the sake of understanding.
A person's story is not something to be "affirmed." For example, if the person is a pedophile. If they applaud pedophilia, we can listen to their story (e.g., if we are a psychologist). We may discover how they came to affirm pedophilia. They may say "true" to this statement: Pedophilia is a moral good. But, hopefully, the psychologist does not affirm the statement Pedophilia is a moral good. That statement is false.
A story may be the bearer of truth, or the bearer of falsity. We may ask, "What is the moral of the story?" But the expression of the moral of the story (in a statement) is extrinsic to the story itself.
Imagine I am sitting in your kitchen. It's just you and me. I pull out an assault rifle. While fondling its trigger, I share my story. Of how I grew to love shooting people with assault rifles. After hearing it, you are probably not going to reply with, "I affirm your story."
Stories, whether factive or fictive, can carry emotional weight and transformative power. Stories can move us, in certain ways. That may be good. But from all this emotion, this does not follow:
1) This story makes me emotional.
2) Therefore, I must affirm it as true.
The emotional weight of a story is not equivalent to the truth of its underlying moral point. A story may point us in a truth-bearing direction. Once that direction is identified, we dismount that horse to use reason (logic) to evaluate the truth or falsity of whatever moral point has been made.