27 December 2012

What's the Best Way to Be Married?

I see a lot to agree with in this sermon by an old childhood friend: The Abundant Life of the Church « Gracious Jots

Here is one of my favorite parts:
Let me be very clear. I do think God wants us to be content. I do think God wants us to have enough food to eat so that we do not go to bed hungry.  I do think God wants us to experience healing and wholeness. However, I do not think that the prosperity gospel is actually good news nor do I think it brings contentment, healing, or even wholeness.
There is abundant life found in the life of the church.  And this abundant life can be experienced by each participating member of the church, regardless of financial situation.
This is a message the American church needs very badly. Too often, we conflate plenty with blessing and lack with tribulation. The New Testament, however, teaches that circumstance should never constrain our contentment or our joy.

As much as I appreciate this sermon's main argument, I do have some concerns with its discussion of Ephesians 5:21-33:
This passage is used in weddings all the time and is used to subjugate women to men.  Let’s acknowledge that this passage has been used for more harm than good.
Abundant life does not flow from harmful hierarchy or even patriarchy within relationships. This model essentially argues for the marriage to be about one person’s needs while another just meets all those needs.  This practice is really unhealthy in marriage.
Furthermore, This passage isn’t intended to explain how to have a Christian marriage in the 21st century.   No, this passage is talking about the unity and intimacy between Christ and Christ’s beloved- the church.
This passage on marriage is the author using what he had to work with (an understanding of a 1st century marriage) to explain how much Christ loves the church, and how the church is supposed to love Christ.
I agree that this passage has been used to justify many ungodly actions. However, that doesn't mean we can completely throw out the model of marriage that it describes.

It is true that this passage is, most importantly, a description of the loving relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. But to say it isn't also God's blueprint for healthy marriages is to miss a significant part of the passage's power.

If willing submission to the authority of another is subjugation, then the Father has been subjugating the Son since before the foundation of the world. Christ has been subjugating His beloved Bride for the past two millennia. Church leaders all over the world subjugate the flocks that their Savior entrusts them to protect and feed.

Would anyone argue that Christ's suffering on the cross was centered on His own needs? Or that God the Father's plan to heal His broken people was a self-centered one? Or that genuinely caring elders in a church weep, pray, and minister to their people out of selfish ambition?

Those examples are within the same model Paul advocates for marriage. In this model, there is danger of marriage being all about one person's needs. That person, however, is the wife. (The one "lower" in the hierarchy is always served by the one "above.")

The sermon claims that this passage "isn't intended to explain how to have a Christian marriage in the 21st century."

That's true. It is, however, intended to explain how to have a Christian marriage. Period.

God's standards for life and godliness don't change from age to age, and He says the best way to have a marriage is when a husband loves his wife more than himself and the wife submits to and respects her husband. This doesn't mean life will be perfect -- but it does mean it will be a lot less painful.

I wrote a lot more about inspiration and metaphor and postmodernism, but it seemed like more heat than light, so I deleted it. I think for me, the important thing is that this is how God wants me to live, so I'm going to choose to do it, no matter what others think (or even what I think).

And I guess that's submission, too.

25 December 2012

Gifts From Afar

I'm very grateful on this day for my Hutchbuddies, the Warnemuendes. As part of the Rabbit Room's gift exchange, they sent me not one, but TWO fabulous books, as well as a beautiful handmade card and bookmarks!

The two books are Sally Lloyd-Jones's Song of the Stars and an omnibus collection of Asterix comics. The former is a book I have been wanting for some time, and the latter is a delightful introduction to a whimsical, pun-filled saga of Gaulish resistance to Roman rule.

The gifts are lovely and thoughtful, but I am still more thankful for the community they represent. These folks have met me in person maybe once, but they still care for me and want to share beauty with me on the occasion of our Savior's birth. How good and pleasant it is to dwell together in unity with brethren I've barely even met!

Take a look at this post's comments to see other people's gift exchange stories.

15 December 2012

Who to Blame

In case you didn't know, a bad man killed a lot of people (including 20 children between preschool and 4th grade)  in Connecticut yesterday. This was an abhorrent act, perpetrated by a strong man in the prime of his youth on some of the weakest people around.

Of course, cable news networks being what they are, the "experts" started coming on within minutes of the event, making intelligent-sounding noises for as long as the show's host would allow them to. They claimed to have the answers for the questions each viewer was asking: Why did this tragedy happen? Where does the blame lie? How can we fix this?

It seems like heartbroken people are most easily comforted when they can pin the blame down. That way, at least you have someone or something to direct your anger toward.

You would be at least partly right to blame any of these:

  • People who insist on having the right to obtain and keep deadly weapons, regardless of how this right (or these weapons) could be misused
  • A culture that doesn't take mental illness seriously ("If I can't see it, it doesn't exist!")
  • Parents who get divorced when they discover that marriage is hard, leaving their children with gaping emotional wounds
  • A media establishment that glorifies violence until it actually happens in the real world, at which point it becomes, of course, an unthinkable tragedy
  • News shows that run stories with headlines like "Inside the Mind of Evil," trying to define what makes "those people" different from good, normal, upstanding folk like you and me
  • A community that doesn't engage people, connect to their places of greatest need, and bring them the deep and abiding healing of true fellowship
As you listen to the "experts," you'll notice a pattern. Most of their ideas involve legislative fixes to perceived problems. 

This is true for the rest of our culture, too. We feel that if we can all just agree on the problem and the solution, then we can simply change the law, and voila! No more problem. So we lobby for stronger gun-control laws, for more mental health funding, for better security systems in schools.

But regardless of how hard we work to fix them, the problems keep recurring. No matter what laws are made, we can't seem to get past the fact that people do terrible things to each other.

So who do we blame for the deeper problem here? The one we can't seem to solve? Here's what I believe: 
The light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. (Jn. 3:19-20)
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless. Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them. (Rom. 1:28-32)
 Making laws, starting committees, and working for social change might have some effect on the world, just as a properly applied piece of gauze might have some effect on a gushing carotid artery. But this patient is going to need surgery if we're going to keep him from bleeding out.

That's why the story of the school shooting is a perfect accompaniment to Advent. It is yet another example of the pain, sorrow, and utter brokenness that Jesus Christ was born to heal.
In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. (II Cor. 5:19)
I haven't shot 20 children in cold blood, but my sinful heart is capable of such evil. And so is yours. He came to right our wrongs and to bring wholeness to a people sickened unto death. He came to heal the rift between God and man -- a rift that we feel most keenly in tragic circumstances.

His death and resurrection on our behalf offers redemption and restoration to you, me, and others just like us whose faults are more evident (and seemingly more tragic).

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

08 December 2012

Chaos, Order, and Creation

It has been a hard week at the LuapHacim home.

Our one-year-old has been -- to put it delicately -- disposing of his stomach's contents more rapidly than is his custom. Much more rapidly. Out of both ends.

Our nearly-three-year-old has been making his first essays into the exciting world of The Potty ("All aboard the Potty Train! Choo choo!"), with a fairly good success-to-failure ratio. Outliers still exist, however.

And the night before last, their mother became violently ill. This has lasted a couple of days so far.

So, between scrubbing "accidents" out of Lightning McQueen underwear, disinfecting vomit-encrusted mattresses, and doing more loads of laundry than you can shake a stick at, I have been quite occupied.

Nonetheless, my existence has not been some toil-laden, grim, unending scene from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

I took the older boy to the library, put up Christmas lights in his room, and had sweet cuddles with the younger boy (after giving him several extremely necessary baths). Since my wife has not been eating much, I made myself a nice lentil curry last night. (She does not normally prefer curry.) I even watched a few episodes of a favorite TV show and read a good chunk of The Non-Designer's Design Book, by Robin Williams (not that Robin Williams).

All of it -- the sickness,  the laundry, the bathing of small children, the cleaning, the cooking, the reading -- made me ponder the joy of creating order out of chaos.

I came home from work yesterday much earlier than I had planned, since my wife was incapacitated and the children were needy. Toys were strewn, toddler-style, throughout most of the livable space in the house. Dishes were stacked in the sink, vomit and fecal stains were abundant, and I was the only one who could make it better.

So, from the disorder, I was forced to weave something better. The toys went to their homes. The messes were cleaned up. The defiled places were disinfected. Little by little, chaos retreated and order was restored.  And when that happened, I felt myself re-energized. It felt like I had accomplished something significant.

I was reminded of Genesis 1, where God creates the world. Bit by bit, He forms light, land, the heavens, plants, animals, and people. He sees the work of His hand and recognizes that it is very good. My Bible's notes tell me that the Hebrew word  for "create" in Genesis 1:1 is בָּרָא (bara’), which often means forming anew, reforming, or renewing (see Ps 51:10; Isa 43:15, 65:17).

I think the desire and ability to remake our surroundings are some of the most important signs that we are created in God's image. We clean things up, we put them in order, we drive out the chaos and confusion, and we embellish our work with some Christmas lights and lentil stew, or perhaps a world of stunning biodiversity (depending on our skill level).

Like the Almighty, when our work is done, we behold it and recognize that it is very good.