Scandalous Parenting

I’ve been writing small group studies through the Gospel of Luke this semester. So I’ve spent the past five weeks praying through, fasting over, and reading about Luke 1 and Luke 2. Those two chapters are concerned, primarily, with two families: John’s family, and Jesus’ family.

In both cases, the parents were devout. John’s parents were devout to the letter. His father, Zechariah, was a priest, honored with the extreme opportunity to serve in the Jerusalem Temple. And though we initially saw Zechariah’s doubts,  he praised God as soon as he saw God’s incredible plan unfold.

Jesus’ parents were devout to the letter. Even when Augustus’ census forced families across the Roman Empire to travel, Joseph, who was not yet even married to Mary, took his young fiancee, and her unborn child, across the Palestinian desert to his hometown, per the Roman Imperial decree — because they were going to do the right thing, regardless of the suspicious murmurs that would be sure to happen once he arrived back in his hometown of Bethlehem.

Later, Joseph and Mary made sure to consecrate Jesus, and Mary, according to the Jewish standards. And we find out, too, that this family, though poor (we know they were poor because of Mary’s sacrifices, which were animals for the impoverished), they traveled to Jerusalem every year, for Jesus’ first twelve years, to celebrate Passover.

Devout. Loyal. Worshipers. It’s startling to find that Luke spent no time on the trivial.

John, who lived “in the wilderness” was a child of anticipation, waiting for deliverance, like Israel did in the years preceding their entry into Canaan. This is how he spent his childhood — waiting for the movement of God. I wonder if we are encouraging our kids, while they are in our care, to wait, daily, on the movements of God.

And Jesus spent a week, once a year, listening to the Jewish scribes. These boys grew up in homes where the parents knew the value of worshiping the Lord.

American parents are challenged in difficult ways, in a Disney-world utopia, where we can provide iPhones, expensive cars, meals at restaurants, personalized bedrooms, and individual Netflix accounts for our kids.

We give them these things, and still have the audacity to think they are deprived.

We even start leaning on churches, then, to continue the fun, thereby ensuring our kids learn that the value of their faith is built on the corruption of a personalized experience at their every turn.

The gospel I read is filled with suffering. Bearing burdens. Total depravity. Total dependence on God. Mission. Mobility. Devotion.

I want to be a dad who leads his family as did Zechariah and Joseph. I want my kids to learn to wait on the Lord, and to anticipate the times they listen to the Word. And I want the parents I know to do the same.

In America, this is scandalous parenting.

Because if we become scandalous parents, we will see the explosion of the kingdom that Luke shares in the first few chapters of Acts of the Apostles. The kingdom will flourish when we sacrifice these candy-land desires, die to ourselves, and surrender our families to the sovereignty of God.

Lord, help us to no longer chase fun, and help us to chase joy. Help us to be scandalous parents.

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Three Years Without Cable TV

I cancelled my cable service three years ago.

And it still has been one of the best decisions I, and my family, have ever made.

After our first year, without cable TV, I wrote four posts to describe the process. They were great journeys in writing for me. They are raw, I think, but were certainly written out of passion and intensity. They are a little bit funny, a little bit satirical, and a whole lot serious. And in 2011, I wrote one addendum on what I believe to have been a spiritual battle, and my subsequent failure of such.

Here they are, again, for you. May they inspire you a bit today to think about what you allow your eyes to see.

Part 1 :: Television and Life: The Beginning of the End of My Cable Subscription

Part 2 :: Television and Life: The Philosophical Reasons We Cancelled Our Television Subscription

Part 3 :: Television and Life: My TV, My Movies, and Jesus

Part 4 :: Television and Life: What I’ve Done Since Canceling My TV

Part 5 :: Name: The Name of God and My Mistake

A Church in Trouble

The church in the city of Ephesus was in trouble.

Even though today’s reading covers only the first three chapters of 1 Timothy, I want to include a few passages from the latter chapters of this letter, and 2 Timothy, to show you this crisis. (By the way, of all of my posts this summer, this is the longest, primarily because I’ve included many passages here.)

Here was what troubled Paul the most:

False doctrines, consumed with myths and endless genealogies:

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work—which is by faith. (1 Timothy 1:3, 4; NIV84)

Propriety and attire during worship gatherings:

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. (2:8, 9)

No rigid leadership to help “right the course”:

Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. (3:1)

Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. (3:8)

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:2; NIV84)

Demonic teaching:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. (4:1-7)

Disrespect of the elderly, younger men and women, family, and widows:

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. (5:1-4)

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (5:8)

Disregard for the gospel:

If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. (6:3-5)

A teaching that the final resurrection had already taken place:

Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

Weak-willed women in Ephesus were especially receptive to these false teachings:

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. (2 Timothy 3:6, 7)

I think we’ve missed the forest, because of the trees, because this letter has been so scrutinized for Paul’s writings on leadership and his perspective on women.

What we’ve missed, though, is the troubling reputation this church had. In just a few short chapters, Paul encouraged Timothy to see what he saw, and to hear what he heard.

It’s also no surprise, then, that we find such rigid instructions, by Paul, to this church.

Because of this serious crisis, the entire church, and it’s purpose and function, was under attack. It had essentially no hope of offering any sort of rescuing message to the entire city, while it was being seduced by teaching that was demonic and harmful.

The men of the church in Ephesus were susceptible to this false teaching. They were praying, in public, even though everyone seemed to know they were engaged in public disputes and arguments (1 Timothy 2:8). That was no longer acceptable.

The women of the church in Ephesus were susceptible to this false teaching. They wore clothing, to a public worship gathering, that was immodest, and, according to some scholars, probably very similar to the attire worn by prostitutes (1 Timothy 2:9, 10). That was no longer acceptable.

There was no one to guard the teaching in Ephesus, hence Paul’s very rigid instructions about overseers in Ephesus (2 Timothy 2:2), and 1 Timothy is the first time, in the New Testament, we find any such qualifications. They were, essentially, a very detailed and very public image of these overseers.

But this isn’t the first time we find overseers in the New Testament. Paul and Barnabas appointed some in Acts 14:23, in the first church plants in Lystra, Iconium, Derbe, and Pisidian Antioch. And according to what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy, his own appointees would have been disqualified.

In those cities, in Acts 14:23, the elders that he and Barnabas appointed would have been recent converts, some as recently as a few months, if you follow the timeline of this first missionary journey. Yet in 1 Timothy 3, in the city of Ephesus, overseers could not be recent converts (3:6). Which I find very interesting.

But there were other strict guidelines Paul encouraged Timothy to enforce regarding overseers. They were so strict, in fact, that they excluded single men, married men who had no children, married men with only one child, and married men who were fathers of disobedient children.

Moreover, the requirements for deacons seem to be more strict than the requirements for elders. In 1 Timothy 3:10, they had to be tested, and had to pass that test. Paul required no such rigorous test for those becoming overseers.

(It’s also interesting to note, too, that the only person specifically called a “deacon” in the entire bible is a woman, not a man — Phoebe, in Romans 16.)

The prohibition against women, too, is startling, in 1 Timothy 2.

Not only do we have Romans 16, and the various women who served, and led, in various churches in the Roman empire, and not only do we have Galatians 3:26-29, which declared everyone, both male and female, as legitimate sons and heirs of Abraham’s promise, and the declaration that there is no distinction among people before the throne of God, we read in 1 Timothy 2 that women were to no longer teach in public. Evidently they were teaching, and teaching the wrong things.

It sounds very similar to what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 14.

Back to 1 Timothy, though, could Paul’s restriction (1 Timothy 2:9 — “I do not permit …”) have something to do with the women’s reputation, and their propensity of dressing in very immodest and promiscuous ways, which he addressed a few sentences prior? Could it be because they were most susceptible to this false teaching (2 Timothy 3:6, 7)? Could it be that they were teaching this sort of false teaching?

It’s interesting to note that in Titus, a letter written at the same time as 1 and 2 Timothy, Paul encouraged women to teach. Titus 2:3 encouraged them to be faithful, so they could “teach what is good.” He even encouraged them to teach the younger women, perhaps because of the crisis in Ephesus regarding the women there.

It’s easy to get lost in these particulars. So let’s pull back, and see the real issue here. Paul had a serious concern about the church in Ephesus.

The easiest thing to glean from this letter is a proper evaluation of our own churches.

  • What are the crisis points?
  • What areas are contributing to spiritual deficits?
  • And, going to the Word of God, and relying on the guidance of God’s spirit, how do we start reconstructing a place where people can connect with God, instead of connecting to a group of people heavily influenced by the evil in our culture?

Holiness and the Human Body

Holiness is all-encompassing.

In Leviticus 19:2, God made this pronouncement:

Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

No one else, in the world, understood holiness. There was no way to be holy in other faiths, because holiness was never a requirement. To worship any number of national or imperial gods, in the ancient world, meant to live your life as a constant appeasement, fearful that anything you did would upset and anger the gods. In turn, they would punish you.

So for God to require holiness was a big step. He included, in his ownership, the people who followed him, and he made them holy. Sanctified. They were special. They belonged to God.

Holiness was such a profound ideal that throughout Leviticus 19, there were lists of behaviors for holy people. Some of them strike us as strange.

Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. (Leviticus 19:27)

Others are incredibly familiar.

Do not go about spreading slander among your people. (Leviticus 19:26)

These moral behaviors were different from the surrounding culture of the Israelites. God needed his people to be distinct, by the way they dressed, to the way they lived.

Paul used the idea of holiness when he wrote to the Thessalonians. Like ancient Israel, they were establishing a new culture in the midst of a very pagan culture. Yet, they had sworn their allegiance to God. But holiness wasn’t a common ideal.

Here is the Word of God, in 1 Thessalonians 4:3.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality …

Holiness, for this gathering of believers, was apparent by the avoidance of sexual immorality.

And again, we find this idea. This morning, as I read through these three chapters, my first thought was of how many times Paul speaks of this avoidance.

Lots.

The ancient Greek and Roman cultures had no concept of sexual immorality. Men had mistresses, concubines, and wives. To say that these Roman men had no problem with these various sexual relationships would be an understatement. It was just their life.

So to avoid this sort of lifestyle was very different. Men, and women, who refused this lifestyle would be immediately and distinctly different in Thessalonica.

But Paul was probably speaking in a very specific manner here. One of the greatest things about the Word of God is its rawness. Most of our English translations are afraid of that. Let me show you what Paul may have actually said.

Here is how the NIV84 translates 1 Thessalonians 4:4.

… that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable …

Yet here is a good literal translation, straight from the Greek text, from the KJV:

That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor …

Maybe the NIV, and others, have the word “vessel” correctly translated as “body.” But maybe not. Maybe Paul is being very specific, and very frank here — some scholars believe Paul used the word “vessel” to refer, specifically, to a person’s sexual organs.

And if that is true, then Paul was doing some pretty amazing teaching.

Your entire body, from head to toe, including your sexual organs, belongs to God.

Holiness is a complete concept, not just reserved for your emotions or attitudes. It is all encompassing.

And sex isn’t separate from that.

It’s so powerful, that Paul finished this brief passage of teaching with this final admonishment:

For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. (4:7, 8)

The basic call of God is to be different. Act different. See sex differently. See culture differently. See your bodies differently.

Because God sees you differently.

A Scandalous Marriage

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I want to show you an incredibly scandalous marriage paradigm. But before I get do, I have to talk a little history. So let’s go way back. Back to the first century. Back to the Roman Empire. Back to when people didn’t really marry for love, but married for peace.

Yes. Peace. Good community reputations. Good community relations. Stability. So-no-one-will-talk-about-you peace.

__________

Ancient Roman historians often wrote that a husband and a wife strove to live in peace together. They also wrote that peace was the highest aspiration for any marriage – not love.

So it’s no surprise that Roman marriages, in the time of the New Testament, were generally arranged marriages, made by over-zealous families to ensure peaceful communities and to solidify, or build, good reputations. Love, or even romantic love, was not a necessity, or even an ingredient, in most marriages, because love could be unsteady, emotional, passionate, and, at times, unstable. (Still can be.)

__________

Power and stability had to be maintained and contained at all costs, and due to millennia of patriarchal cultures, even in Rome, men held all the power. They controlled the marriage. They ran the household finances. Their power was so supreme that if they wanted a divorce, they just had to say the word and the wife would be commanded to leave (commanded!) … because, again, peace was the highest aspiration, and if a man believed peace could no longer be maintained in his marriage – for whatever reason – he could just say the word.

Wives, then, held no power at all. Even in the ancient Roman city of Corinth (where slaves outnumbered free people), slaves in households ran the day-to-day responsibilities of the family, including meeting the needs of the kids. Wives weren’t even allowed to he mothers.

So, really, the wife of a well-to-do Roman marriage had little to do, and little to offer. The culture of Rome liked it that way, because it was how the Empire thought peace was maintained.

And they inherited that idea from all of the history that preceded them. Men were in charge.

But that would soon change.

__________

To a culture, dominated by men, with women having little influence, married or otherwise, this is what Paul wrote in his first letter to the people who lived in the Roman Empire, in the imperial city of Corinth, almost 2,000 years ago::

__________

History tells us that the Corinthian culture, and the Roman Empire, gave all marital authority to the men.

But the kingdom of God, as ushered in by Jesus, shatters the presumptions of our fallen world, and restores marital, and gender, equality back to the Garden of Eden.

Men are no longer in charge.

So let’s go back to the Garden of Eden for a moment.

__________

In Genesis 2, God noticed Adam’s isolation. Specifically, God noticed Adam’s loneliness.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

The word “helper” has lots of different meanings, and nuances, and here, it actually means something like “rescuer” or “deliverer.” Obviously, Adam didn’t need help with naming the animals. He had already completed that task. There is nothing he needed help doing.

But he did need help being.

Eve rescued Adam from his isolation. From his loneliness. Because by himself, he wasn’t complete.

The same was true for Eve. In Genesis 3, when she was tempted to eat of the forbidden fruit, she was alone. Alone, and without Adam, she, too, was incomplete.

God’s design – his original arrangement – for the gift (i.e., the grace) of marriage was mutual completion, with a man and a woman completing the other with full equality in the relationship.

That idea, though, was paused, when Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden. Genesis 3:16 says that their relationship would now be at the expense of sin, and it would no longer be a mutual completion, but rather, outside of the Garden, each would constantly desire to control the other. And, until Jesus, all marriages were trapped in this relationship hell.

And, honestly, if you’re trapped in this relationship hell, then you’re living in a marriage that was designed by God to be without Jesus, meant only allow you to see what marriage can be with Jesus. Simply put, you have not experienced the manifest presence of God.

Because it is Jesus who repairs all of this, who restores all things, who makes all things new, and restores even the relationship between husbands and wives. He brings it back to its original intention.

And this is where Paul takes the Corinthian church.

Men, and women, who receive God’s gift of marriage have full, equal authority in the marriage relationship. In Jesus, they are holy people, sanctified in Christ Jesus. That was scandalous. And it still is. The husband and wife receive this gift as a covenant, and God holds that covenant as holy.

And, if God manifests himself in the marriage (1 Corinthians 12:7-11), then their gift of marriage will be a relationship neither would want to break.

That’s powerful.

__________

But what’s equally powerful is that marriage isn’t a foregone conclusion. It may not even be God’s calling for every person. Paul wrote that celibacy is a gift from God, equal to the gift of marriage, because both are gifts – are graces – given by God, and are to be used for God. Neither is superior in God’s gift-giving.

__________

But Paul wasn’t finished. He had one more scandalous thing to say about marriage to the young church in Corinth:

But let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short. So from now on, those with wives should not focus only on their marriage. Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away. (1 Corinthians 7:29-31; NLT)

The New Living Translation, above, may have made the passage easier to read. Here it is from the New International Version:

What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

After everything Paul wrote to counsel the Corinthians, he then told them that their status in the Kingdom of God is much more important than their status in society.

This matters to us, dear readers, because we live in an American culture obsessed with marriage therapy that limits itself to the strange idea that a husband and a wife should meet the specific needs of each other, even while idolizing the marriage to an unhealthy level. Against this, then, Paul delivered a scathing indictment.

In the Kingdom of God, it is God who meets people’s needs.

Period.

__________

You may be married, and have received the grace of marriage, but even then, you must live like you aren’t because the time is short, and whatever you think you need is “passing away.”

In fact, and even more scandalous, is that whatever need you have is a need supplied only by God, to be filled only by God. Don’t think for a moment that anyone – even a husband or a wife – could ever fill the need God has given you.

In other words, your marriage shouldn’t be your kingdom.

The Kingdom should be your marriage.

And that is scandalous.