Archive for October, 2009

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:14 (NASB)

In recent weeks I have had several people quote this verse to me. They have done so in an attempt to explain why Christians should never be a partner with or cooperate with people who are not Christians. In the context of the discussions it is clear that they are talking about not partnering with non-Christians on any level. Is that really what Paul intends? Are we to not have any dealings of cooperation or partnership with people who do not share our faith in Christ?

If Paul meant that we are to have no association or dealings with unbelievers then I have found my first ever, clear example of the Bible being in contradiction with itself. In fact it would mean that Paul is in contradiction with himself in his communication to these same Christians in Corinth. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul says that he never intended for them to have no association with “sinners” since to accomplish that they would have to leave the world. Paul actually pushes in the opposite direction. We are to be engaged with the lost people of the world so that they come to know Christ. We are Ambassadors for Christ. We are Witnesses to Jesus. We cannot do that if we don’t engage others in some kind of relationship. So the question is, what kinds of relationships are legitimate between followers of Jesus and those who are not and what kinds of relationships are forbidden.

The New American Standard Bible that is quoted above says that we are not to be unequally bound together with unbelievers. The old King James language says “Do not be unequally yoked”. The words are reminiscent of Deuteronomy 22:10 which says not to yoke together a oxen and a donkey in the same team pulling a plow. The two would be mismatched and result in disaster. Being yoked together is a particular kind of relationship. It is one of being bound together. It is one that you cannot easily extricate yourself from. Another good word of translation for yoked would be “mismatched”.

The most common understanding of this verse is that Paul is telling Christians not to marry an unbeliever. He clearly said this in his first letter to the Corinthians. That is an appropriate interpretation and application. Contrary to the wisdom of our age that says what we believe is really not important in the grand scheme of things and that two different religions should have no problem living under the same roof, the reality is the opposite. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you have no business entering into a marriage with a non-Christian. For starters, that which is most important in your life, or at least should be, your relationship with Christ, is not important to that potential spouse. You are starting off like that oxen and donkey trying to plow a field together. It just doesn’t work. More than that, as a follower of Christ you are united with Christ and He dwells in you by the presence of the Holy Spirit. With your spouse you are also to become one. You are to be united in a deep and very real spiritual way. That can’t happen if your spirit is united with Christ and theirs is not.

But the imagery and context here goes beyond that of marriage. The verses following 6:14 bring to mind images related to worship. The Corinthians had a huge problem living in the midst of numerous temples to false gods and a society that was built on such idolatry. Paul is telling the Corinthians to make sure that they keep their fellowship with Christ and their worship of God free from the pollution of idolatry. The references to the Temple, to idols, to Belial, and a quote from Leviticus and Isaiah bring the worship context to the foreground. This is a verse about compromising who God is and our worship of Him. We are not to mix with the religious practices of the idolatry of the world.

That does not mean that we can’t be a business partner with a non-Christian. We certainly need to be wise about the dangers that can result in having two different world views. It does not mean that you can’t have a business contract with a non-Christian. It doesn’t mean that you can’t cooperate with a non-Christian for a common cause. If a Muslim and a Christian and an Atheist all want to end abortion then there is no reason not to work together. They may have different reasons for wanting the same result but that is no reason not to find common ground for common good.

We need to be very careful in declaring that we are not to engage with, and work with, those who do not follow Christ. The danger is that we will draw into our own little Christian ghetto more and more. We cannot be salt if we are not in contact with the world. We cannot be light if we are hidden under a basket. The answer is not withdrawal. The answer is wise engagement under the influence of the Holy Spirit and guidance of God’s Word. We need to know where the line is and be sure not to cross it. That line would be whenever we are so “yoked” together that we are bound and unable to extricate ourselves or when the involvement clearly endorses the worship of false gods. With those two safe guards we are to be Ambassadors who engage the world for Jesus sake.

As the saying goes, you can’t be all things to all people. That bit of cultural wisdom is geared towards helping us cope with the many demands people place on us to try and meet their expectations and standards. It is intended to give us the freedom to be ourselves and not compromise for the sake of others. Certainly one would expect that in Christian circles the idea of compromising is not highly valued. Truth is after all not something to be easily set aside for convenience sake or to fit in with popular opinion.

If this high value of truth and the resistance to compromise is truly a biblical Christian virtue, then how in the world does the Apostle Paul say that not only can we be all things to all people, but that he himself strives with great effort to be all things to all people. He says it this way:

“I have become all things to all men” 1 Corinthians 9:22

That just flies in the face of what most people would consider to be the way Christians should live. Think about it. How many times have you heard preachers bemoaning that fact the people are compromising with the culture and this is the downfall of humanity? In the extreme you get Christians living in their own little enclaves of only people who are very much like them and very unlike the rest of the world. The Amish come to mind, but so do certain fundamentalist varieties of the faith.

What is important to understand is that your motivation can make all the difference in the world. If you are compromising in order to avoid conflict or difficulty, or to be accepted so you don’t have to make a stand, then you are heading down a dangerous path. But when we look at Paul’s words in context we see that his motivation needs to be our motivation as well. “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:22-23

Paul is saying that when it comes to being able to help others know and follow Jesus, then we must be ready and able to fit in with them in their culture. In this chapter he says that to the Jews he lived like a Jew, to the Greeks, he became like a Greek. Whatever the culture was in which he found himself, he did all he could to fit into that culture for the high purpose of demonstrating to people what Jesus is all about. In that way he did exactly what Jesus did. Jesus became like us in order to win us to himself. Our whole theology of the incarnation, of God becoming man in Christ, is about compromising for the sake of the Gospel. We need to cross the cultural gap between Christians and non-Christians in order to help them see Jesus.

That means that followers of Jesus need to being willing to eat, dress, talk, play, and generally do the things that others do, as long as we are not sinning. We do this in order to be Jesus in their midst. On a simple level it may mean something as mundane as learning to bowl and joining a bowling league in order to meet people who don’t know Jesus. Just make sure it is not a church based league filled only with other church people. For twenty years I volunteered as a high school football coach at two different public schools. I went to practice, games, and out to eat after games with the guys I coached with. It was clear that I was a Christian, but it was also clear that I enjoyed their company and was willing to be one of them as much as possible. I accepted them and honored them as people even though we might have very different views of Jesus. As a result of that ministry I have done weddings, funerals, marital counseling sessions, visited hospitals, prayed with numerous people, shared the Gospel many times to entire teams, and been blessed to help some people come to faith in Christ. It could only have happened by being willing to become “all things to all men in order to win some to Christ”.

I wonder, in what way do you need to become like the people around you in order to let them see, up close and personal, what a follower of Jesus is like? What do you need to do in order to be close enough to people for them to experience the love of Jesus through you? If you really want others to come to know and love him, you will find a way to become all things to all people.

One of my favorite books of all time is Band of Brothers written by Stephen Ambrose. It was turned into an award-winning mini-series on HBO. The story followers Easy Company of the 506th Battalion of the 101st Airborne division from their time in training in Georgia, to D-Day in Normandy, all the way to the capture of Hitler’s mountain retreat, The Eagles Nest. One of the threads in this true story follows a young private by the name of Albert Blithe. Following D-Day private Blithe is clearly shaken by the death and destruction that is taking place around him. He becomes very tentative and uncertain. He is clearly dealing with the fear of death. A somewhat cold and harden lieutenant by the name of Spears tells Blythe that his problem is, “You don’t know that your already dead. Once you accept the fact that you are a dead man, there is nothing to fear”. The private considers those words and eventually comes to grips with that reality and begins to do his job as a soldier with confidence that can only come from having nothing left to lose.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was also in Europe during World War 2. He was a pastor in Germany who opposed Hitler and was eventually arrested. Just a month before the end of the war Hitler personally ordered the execution of Bonhoeffer. Prior to that execution Bonhoeffer is quoted as saying that Jesus “Bids us to come and die”. Bonhoeffer, like private Blythe learned an important lesson. It is the lesson found in these words of Jesus in Matthew 16:24-26

24Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

So much of what we do in life seems designed to protect our lives or enhance them in some way. I am speaking not just of our physical lives though that is true enough. Instead I am speaking of our lives even in the less tangible sense of our dreams, hopes, image, comfort, reputation, and pleasures. We spend so much time and effort trying to acquire and hold on to the things that we think make life worth living. Some of those things are tangible, our house, car, corner office, trophies, or relationships. Some of them are less tangible but no less real and alluring. They include things like fame, respect, power, security, or a host of things that are in our “bucket list” that we feel we must do before we die in order to make life complete.

In the face of this massive effort to hold on to our lives Jesus makes it shockingly clear that when we try to acquire and protect such things in our life, even our life itself, what we really end up doing is loosing our life. We can spend eighty years chasing after such things but as Solomon said it is chasing after the wind. The way Jesus put it is that we can gain those things and end up loosing our soul. In the end we will have neither the life we chased nor the life He offers.

There is another option. That is to consider that we have already died. The life that seeks after all the things of this world must be put to death. The sign of such a death is that we have decided to follow Jesus and have hefted our cross onto our shoulders. In the first century, any man seen carrying a cross was a dead man walking. His life was already forfeit. He was breathing and moving but he was a dead man. Jesus is calling us to carry our cross everyday. He wants us to consider this life as dead, to give it up, to release it. It is only in such a posture, that of a follower slumped under the weight of the cross, that we will find the freedom to truly live. In such a position we have nothing to lose.

Private Blithe learned this and it freed him to become the soldier he needed to be. The irony for Blythe is that shortly after embracing the truth that he was already dead, he volunteered to be on point, the first man out front on patrol. It was the most dangerous place to be. He was shot and that was the last any of his comrades saw of him. The book and mini-series report that he died of his wounds a few days later. Private Blithe’s family was rather surprised to hear this, considering that he in fact survived and eventually became Master Sargent Blithe who twice signed up to reenlist in the Army, made over 600 parachute jumps, was awarded a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts. Today he is buried in Arlington Cemetery. Once he accepted that he was already dead, Albert Blithe lived more than more people ever hope to.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew this and it freed him to serve Jesus no matter what. Bonhoeffer opposed Hitler and Nazism from the beginning. He was part of the underground church that worked hard to follow Jesus even as the Nazis tried to restrict and even kill some of them. In 1938 he was back in America and urged by friends to stay there and not go back to Germany. Perhaps the most famous quote of Bonhoeffer is this, “Jesus bids a man to come and die”. Bonhoeffer know that he had to go back to the people of Germany and serve them, even if he die. On April 9th, 1945 Adolf Hitler had Bonhoeffer hung. But in the years between 1938 and April of 1945, Bonhoeffer had the freedom in Christ to live a life that became a legacy and inspiration for millions. He could only have done that if he had already considered his life forfeit for Jesus.

What are you holding on too? What in your life are you clinging to in fear and desperation? The sooner you are willing to release that and give it up to God the sooner you will be free to experience life as never before. In some way, by considering ourselves dead we become truly alive in Christ. The angst that hovers over so many people, the backdrop of uncertainty and discomfort over life, death, and the future, is torn away when we truly take up our cross and become dead men walking. Jesus said that the grain of wheat only truly comes to life when it first falls to the ground and dies. How ironic that we only truly experience life when we first die to ourselves and take up the cross of Christ.

Wives submit to your husbands. It used to be those words were heard in nearly every Christian wedding. Today they are hardly ever spoken and in fact are intentionally avoided. Certainly part of the reason for the change has much to do with a renewed sense of equality that women are striving towards. But it also has a great deal to do with the fact that over the years these words have been used as a hammer to get women to do whatever a man says, no matter what. The fact is, these words are avoided today by men and women in large part because most people have no clue what Paul was really saying. So here is your chance to finally get a correct understanding of this very provocative piece of Scripture.

In order to understand what Paul meant we absolutely must get the context. That means ignoring the little “helpful” headings that most publishers put throughout the passages of your Bible. The passage in question is Ephesian 5: 21-33. Let me print is exactly as it is found in the New International Version. Nearly every publisher has done this so I just use this as one example.

21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives and Husbands

22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

What usually happens is that people jump right in on verse 22, “Wives submit to your husbands”. Any discussion of submission starts and stops with the wife submitting to her husband. But look just before the start of verse 22. What do you see? There is a little heading that was inserted by the publisher. The intent is to let you know that a new subject is coming. The subject is Husbands and Wives. Paul never wrote those words there. It is not a new subject in verse 22 and the heading only serves to cause huge problems in interpretation. Let’s take out this little helpful heading and read verse 21 in context with 22 to 33. Verse 21 is an instruction for all of us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. What Paul then does is give examples for people in various life situations on how to submit to one another. He says “wives, here is what submission to your husband means in your life. But then he immediately goes to the husbands and says, this is what submission to your wife looks like for you, “Love your wife in the same way Christ loves the church. Lay down your life for her”.

Yes wives are to submit to their husbands in the same way the church submits to Christ. What does that look like? It means following his lead and serving him out of love. It is not a blind obedience but a following that comes from a relationship of trust and mutual esteem. Husbands are to submit their desires to their wife by serving her to the point of death. Husbands are to “die to themselves” and do all they can to help their wives becomes the beautiful, precious bride, that Christ also has in mind for the church. For most men the idea of laying down their life for their wife will immediately go to fighting off an attacker or pushing her away from an oncoming bus while you take a grill to the chest. The chances of either of those opportunities happening are astronomically slim. What is far more likely is that husbands will be asked to die to themselves and submit to their wives by doing dishes, caring for the kids so she can have a day away, ironing her clothes, or making her lunch. It includes helping her achieve her dreams and become all that God made her to be. It means putting her first.

For wives, submission means putting him first. It means to honor  and respect him. I have seen far too many cases of wives who never have an encouraging word for their husband. They never have an honoring or respectful thing to say about him or to him. In fact in our culture, ridiculing a husband has almost become a national sport. How hard is it to find something nice to say about the person you are married to? Every man marries a woman wanting her to think that he is the greatest guy in the world. When all he gets is berating and ridicule, the relationship is in deep trouble.

Some will disagree with me that Paul is talking about mutual submission between husbands and wives and try to make a distinction between a wife’s submission and a husband loving his wife by laying down his life. I say they are the same thing. The further proof of that is how Paul continues in chapter 5 beyond verse 33. He goes on to tell slaves how they are to serve/submit to their master and how masters are to serve/submit to their slaves. He goes even further and does the same thing in the relationship between parents and children. The bottom line is back in verse 21. We are all to put others before ourselves and serve one another, even submit to one another as Christ serves us. We are all to submit our desires and wants in order to bring out the best in the other person. This is not about being abused or humiliated. Biblical submission is about honoring another person as one made in the image of God and seeking to do all we can for their honor and well being. That is Christ-like submission of wives to husbands and husbands to wives.

Where Jesus and Moses Meet

Posted: October 9, 2009 in Uncategorized
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I recently spent three days in Egypt doing leadership training for 500 Egyptian pastors and business leaders. During my last night there my hotel overlooked the Nile River. I was reminded once again that Moses took a little float trip down this very river as a baby, nearly 4000 years ago. I later visited The Cave Church. It is a Coptic Christian Church that is literally carved out of a huge grotto beneath a sandstone mountain. There are numerous reliefs carved into the mountain side, one of which shows Joseph, leading Mary and her baby Jesus on a donkey. They are walking by the Pyramids in the relief. In that instant I was reminded that both Jesus and Moses spent their infancy in Egypt.

As I scanned the various other reliefs at the Cave Church I can across a full size cross with a replica of Jesus breathing his last breaths. Another connection between Jesus and Moses filled my mind’s eye. It was the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus met both Elijah and Moses before his death. In that event the long dead Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus as Peter, James, and John looked on in wonder. The speculation has been that those two great prophets were bringing some strength and consolation to Jesus before he went to the cross.

So I began to think of all the parallels between Moses and Jesus.

1) Moses lived in the glory of Pharaohs house and left it as a result to trying to serve his people; Jesus lived in the Glory of the Father and left it in order to serve us

2) Moses has an encounter with God in the Wilderness prior to beginning a ministry of freeing his people; Jesus had an encounter with the Father in the wilderness when John baptized Him prior to beginning His ministry to free His people.

3) Moses went up on the mountain to receive the Word of God; Jesus delivered the Word of God in the Sermon on the Mount

4) Moses led a group of people to freedom yet they often grumbled and complained wanting to go back to the familiar comfort of slavery; Jesus leads a group of people to freedom yet we often grumble and complain about how hard it is to follow Him and we go back to the comfort and familiarity of our sin

5) The people Moses led were convinced that they were not strong enough to enter the promised land even though God had already parted the Red Sea and provided Manna from Heaven; Jesus leads followers who often lack faith that He will do as He promised in spite of the fact that He has done so, countless times in and numerous ways in the past

6) Moses prayed for the success of his people even though they often rejected him; Jesus prays for us constantly even though we often betray Him

7) Moses had people spread the blood of a lamb on the wooden door posts in order to save them from death and release them from slavery in Egypt; Jesus was the Lamb whose blood flowed down on the wooden post of the cross in order to save us from ultimate death and free us from captivity to our sins

Even with these parallels and the many more I can not even think of, there is still this key distinction. Moses was a man called by God to serve fellow man. Jesus is God, come in the flesh as a man to give His life as a ransom for many. We know that God loves us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

In the time I spent with my friends in Egypt recently I was humbled by their ability to live for Jesus while under the constant strain of being a minority that is not trusted or appreciated and is always being watched. I am sure that for some the strain of feeling that you are always under scrutiny would be too much to take. Yet it seems that for these followers of Jesus they view it as an opportunity. Instead of being resentful they express the feeling of being blessed. When a vast majority of the people around you are not Christians and probably mistrust Christians you have an amazing ministry opportunity. How you live your life in such an environment will speak volumes. In that situation you are faced either with the temptation to fold under the pressure or to use all you do as a chance to show others that following Jesus is the way to live. These people have decided on that later of the two. As a result they are serving among the poorest of the poor, among outcasts, among the sick and the forgotten. And their lives are being a light for Jesus.

I also learned that there is an important role for others to play in helping them to serve. I was surprised to find out that ministry among much of that poor population is only possible when people from other countries, ESPECIALLY from America, go with them to serve. In an unexpected way the presence of American Christians opens doors that would normally be closed. There are two benefits that result from this. One is that it gives these followers of Jesus the chance to reach others for Jesus. But the second is that it speaks to people, telling them that Americans care about them and begins to build bridges of trust and friendship on an international level. If we want to really change the world it will require us to get outside our comfort zone and be in places where people will be able to see that as followers of Jesus, we really are different. We are different because we are willing to love and serve them no matter what.

After each of the four training sessions that I taught there were many people who wanted to speak with me. I was reminded of another truth in those times of one on one conversations. People are the same no matter the country, or culture, or language. I prayed with people for things as varied as problems with a boss, concern for a pregnant spouse, illness in a family, and problems with church leaders. There was not a single concern that I heard or prayed about that I had not heard before in the USA. The language might be different. The food might seem strange. Some of the customs may vary. But people still have the same basic needs at heart. They want to be loved, accepted and appreciated. They need to connect with the God who made them. They want to know that they are not alone. They want their families and those they love to be safe. Parents worry over the same things and they are overjoyed over the same things. Spouses argue over the same things and are blessed by the same things. Maybe we need to begin to look at others through a different lens. Not through one that notices all the differences first but one that highlights the similarities, what we have in common as we are made in the image of God and need a savior they same as they do.