The Prayers of a Mother

"Saint Augustine did not start out that way [as a saint]. His mother, Monica, taught him about Christianity carefully and she prayed, but his incredible mind had always troubled her. One day, in his teenage years, he announced that he was throwing aside her faith in Christ to follow current heresies. He went on to live a life of immorality … Monica prayed through her son’s sin and she prayed through her son’s heresy. She prayed her son through his fight with God … Those years were not easy for Monica, as any mother of a child lost in darkness knows. Those years hurt. Finally, she went to the bishop, a devout man who knew the Scriptures inside and out, and asked him to talk to Augustine, to refute his errors. The bishop refused – Augustine had quite a reputation as an orator and debater by then. Instead, he wisely comforted Monica by saying that a mind so sharp would eventually see through the deception … Monica would not be consoled by those words. She continued to beg the bishop, and plead with him through rivers of tears. Finally, wearied by her tenacity but at the same time moved by the ache in her soul for her son, the bishop said, “Go, go! Leave me alone. Live on as you are living. It is not possible that the son of such tears should be lost.” Harshness was interwoven with kindness and compassion.

The son of such tears continued to run from his mother and from his God. He ran for many more years. Then, one day, Augustine listened to Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan and the most eminent churchman of the day. Exhausted by the years of running, convicted and broken, he turned to embrace Jesus … Not too long after her prodigal Augustine came home for good, she told him that she had nothing to live for. Her lifelong quest had been to see him come back to Jesus. Nine days later, she was dead.”

excerpt from Stories for the Heart, Multnomah Publishers, Sisters: Oregon, 1996, p. 185-187

Robin Hood Quote

Here is a leadership quote from Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe.

“To try to build for the future, you must set your foundation strong.  The laws of this land enslave people to its king. A king who demands loyalty but offers nothing in return.  You build a country like you build a cathedral, from the ground up.  Empower every man and you will gain strength.”

Wives, Submit to your Husbands or How to Have a Healthy Family

A study was released in July that described three types of families.  One happy, termed cohesive.  Two unhappy, termed disengaged and enmeshed.
“Typically cohesive families are characterized by harmonious interactions, emotional warmth, and firm but flexible roles for parents and children. "Think the Cosby family," says Sturge-Apple, offering an example from the popular TV series about the affable Huxtable family.

Enmeshed families, by contrast, appears to be emotionally involved and display modest amounts of warmth, but they struggle with high levels of hostility, destructive meddling, and a limited sense of the family as a team. Sturge-Apple points to the emotionally messy Barone family in the family sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond as a good example of an enmeshed family.

Finally, disengaged families, as the name implies, are marked by cold, controlling, and withdrawn relationships. The seemingly pleasant suburban family in the movie Ordinary People provides a classic illustration of a disengaged family, as per the authors. Reacting to the death of their oldest son, the parents in the film retreat emotionally, creating a barren home environment in which feelings cannot be discussed.”
The authors of the study are clear in saying that family life isn’t the only factor that results in troubled children.

Another article describing the same study wrote:

The research found that children from disengaged homes began their education with higher levels of aggressive and disruptive behavior and more difficulty focusing on learning and cooperating with the classroom rules. These destructive behaviors grew worse as the child progressed through school.

By contrast, children from enmeshed home environments entered school with no more disciplinary problems or depression and withdrawal than their peers from cohesive families. But as children from both enmeshed and disengaged homes continued in school they began to suffer higher levels of anxiety and feelings of loneliness and alienation from peers and teachers.
The authors conclude that “children in the early school years may be especially vulnerable to the destructive relationship patterns of enmeshed families.”

Paul, in writing Colossians, wrapped up telling us about the new self with what almost seems to be a sidetrack into the household.  The old self is lying, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk while the new self is compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, thankfulness, forgiveness, and love.

What we see in Paul's passage on the household in Colossians on how to have the family God desires is similar to what the scientists in the studies mentioned earlier would describe as a cohesive family.
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.  Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. Colossians 3:18-4:1 (ESV).
Now, let’s deal with the elephant in the room first.  I would prefer not to deal with the elephant in the room because in dealing with it we risk missing the forest for the tree.  But if I don’t deal with it, I doubt we will get to see the forest because of that tree.  The big, hot button issue is that first sentence.  "Wives, submit to your husbands."  Let's be careful though; we can major on a minor and still have a dysfunctional family.

An exercise that is useful in discovering the meaning of a word is to to examine what it meant in the original language through a Greek word study.  One of the biggest mistakes typically done is to just look the word up in an English dictionary and call it good from there.  The problem with our understanding "hupotasso" is that we don't use the word "submit" much in our normal conversations.  The only places I hear it is in wrestling/mma and in a classroom environment where a student submits a paper to their teacher.  In doing a word study, we can see how the word was used in other sections of Scripture.  So let's look at some of those verses.

And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive (hupotasso) to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.  Luke 2:51 (ESV)
Jesus was hupotasso to his parents.
Let every person be subject (hupotasso) to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Romans 13:1 (ESV).
We need to hupotasso governing authorities.

Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject (hupotasso) to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. 1 Corinthians 16:15-16 (ESV).
We need to hupotasso to every fellow worker and laborer like those of the housefhold of Stephanas.
Submit (hupotasso) yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  James 4:7 (ESV).
We need to hupotasso to God.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting (hupotasso) to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Eph 5:18-21 (ESV).
We need to hupotasso to one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus.

We could get a grand and deeply authoritarian view of submission from the verses that teach us to submit to governing authorities and God, but there are uses of "submit" that throw a kink into that definition.  We see that submitting to one another is something that we are all called to do as believers. 

So the word "submit" is often misunderstood. This teaching of womanly submission has tragically been abused by the patriarchal society of the past and is still being abused in sexist settings.  I have heard of tragic stories of abuse in which a woman has been told to submit to her husband and remain in that abusive relationship.  That is not what this verse in Colossians is implying.

Submit (hupotasso) is voluntarily placing ourselves under someone in order to support them and help them achieve the dreams they have.  When Paul wrote that a wife should submit to her husband he was stating that a wife needs to be a person who is voluntarily supportive of their husband, but that is nothing more than what Paul said we need to be to one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus. It is nothing more than the husband should also be to the wife.

Submitting does not mean that we don’t speak up, that we don’t ever disobey.  It does not mean that we endure torture or abuse under another. It means that we know the dreams of the other person, we put ourselves voluntarily under them to help them achieve those dreams. We become a support to lift them up and help them achieve their goals. 

Each time that the Bible commands the wife to submit to her husband, it joins that with a command for the husband to love and take care of his wife.  Paul even goes so far in the letter to the Ephesians to say that the husband must love his wife like Jesus loves the church.  
A domineering man might then ask, "What does authority matter if it does not mean blind obedience by those under authority?"  It’s mean Christian authority.  If you are over someone in Christ, then you are their servant leader.  Jesus does not force His will to be done through taking away free will.  He leads out of submission and love.  We are to do likewise.

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matt 20:25-28 (ESV).
Jesus also taught that leadership in the church and in Christian relationships is upside-down.  
The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  Matt 23:11-12 (ESV).
Servant leadership is what Christian leadership is all about.  As a pastor, I think about my role a lot and what I am to do.  I am in this position to serve the people in the church I minister at, the community around here, and world abroad.  It is not about me getting special treatment; it's about me serving people through calling on them, meeting their needs, and studying the Scriptures for what I think God wants us to hear.  The other leaders in a church are there to do likewise.  If you are living out the life of Jesus in your workplace, then you should be about serving them.  Government, if it is doing it’s job, is here to serve us.  Christian leadership, whether it is the role of a husband in the house, parents to their children, a teacher to their students, a law enforcement officer to the citizens, is one of sacrifice and service.

We all know in the core of our being what good leadership is.  What kind of cowardly father would flee if his family was endangered?  I know this one is a stretch, but what kind of corrupt politician would seek to gain personally from their position as a representative of the people?  What kind of shameful law enforcement officer would abandon people in need of help?  We all know, in the core of our being, what good leadership is.  And that is what Paul is laying out here because, so often, men can create a destructive family environment from their unhealthy leadership.  The leadership trap for a husband, as Paul warns, is to become harsh with their wives and provoke and discourage their children.     

But a healthy family is not one of selfish and personal ambition.  It’s one of  compassion, patience, love, humility, forgiveness, and love.  It is the new self lived out in unison one with another.  A healthy family is the most basic example of the love of Jesus lived in community.

It is dangerous for someone to get into a relationship with an unbeliever because the believer, if living the way Jesus would have them live, would be walked on by the other. The new self can only truly be lived without being abused when both people are living in the new self.  The family is designed to be a place where people are encouraged and built up to be who Jesus wants them to be rather than a place of manipulation and selfish ambition.
In the healthy family, telling a wife that she is to submit to her husband is also proclaiming that the husband must serve his wife.  We must never separate a wife submitting with the love of the husband that is always connected with that command to submit.

The main crux of the argument, as Paul described the way the household should function is that the man should no longer abuse his position.  At the time this letter was written to church in Colossae, the man was very domineering over the family. Paul gave three warnings to the man. One, he is not to be harsh with his wife. Two, he is not to provoke and discourage their children. And three, he is to treat his slaves justly and fairly.  This was a radical teaching that would be liberating to wives, children, and slaves at that time.

The Roman society was patriarchal and vicious.  The babies would be presented to the father after birth at which he could decide to let the baby not enter the family forcing the baby to die from exposure.  No property was allowed to be owned in a Roman family except for the father; this even included grown men.  All children were to be under the authority of their father until his passing.

Like modern sitcoms jokingly show the faults in the American family, Roman theater did the same for their audience.  And we can see in the family comedies of Plautus and Terrence that the Roman family could devolve into manipulation and greed.  With such a patriarchal structure, the wife, children, and slaves would all try to manipulate the father to get their will done.  Paul's writings were a direct assault on the Roman family structure and would have transformed a Roman family that lived selfishly into one that would be a witness for Jesus.

If the man is the head of the house, it is not a domineering head. Christian leadership is the exact opposite of being domineering. If anyone is the head of anything, then that person is to be the servant of those he is the head of.  True Christian leadership is serving, not domineering. It is an authority to serve rather than an authority to boss around and be obeyed.

Submit does not mean that someone should be silent, obedient at all times, or a slave. Actually, if submit means to support someone to achieve their dreams, then speaking up and telling the other person where they need to improve would be needed at times. So submit, in Paul's command for a wife to submit to her husband, just means that the woman will help the man achieve the dreams he is trying to achieve.  She will be his support. From other verses, we see that a man should be just as supportive of his wife.

Living in the New Self - The Story of Heartsong Church and Their Muslim Neighbors

Steve Stone, the pastor at Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee learned that the lot next to him had been purchased by the Memphis Islamic Center.  Unlike the well-intentioned yet misguided Christians who have taken to protesting against Muslims, Stone placed a sign out where the lots meet that said, "Heartsong Church Welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the Neighborhood."  Stone’s church even invited the Muslims over to the church to share a meal. In a touching moment, the Muslim women brought flowers for their Christians hostesses.  

Instead of protesting against the Muslims, Heartsong Church lived out the life of Christ and started the process of reaching the unreached. Because of this approach, relationships are being built, bridges that Jesus can walk over rather than walls that would obscure the view of Jesus.  

Somewhere along the road to where we are, many churches have become confused and started to think that being filled with slander, wrath, malice, and anger – characteristics of the old self (Colossians 3:8) – is how we should respond to those different than us.  In many circles it has become improper to even dialogue with those that disagree with you because you wouldn't want to appear accepting of them; that might cause people to think that you are like those you disagree with.  We don’t just do this with other religions, we do it with other denominations and even churches within our own brotherhood.  And on a personal level, we do it with other people. 

But the new self is different than that old, hostile self.  Gone is the slander, wrath, malice, and anger.  The new self opens doors rather than closes them.  When we live in the new self, we will be used to build a better world rather than quickening the deterioration of the world around us.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Col 3:12-17 (ESV)
The key is love, a love that leads to a compassionate heart that is kind, humble, meek and patient.  This love will cause us to not count wrongs but to forgive.  This love will cause us to live differently than the grudge holders around us.  Instead of breaking the lines of communication when things get difficult, as much as it depends on us, we will keep the dialogue going.  I have experienced people who no longer want to talk with me because of things I have done to try and further the kingdom, but I need to always leave the door open to further communicating with them.  The same is true in every situation, as much as it depends on us, we live in peace with everyone.  It takes two to have a healthy conversation, but we should never be the person to stop it.  

The story of Heartsong Church didn’t just end with a church being Jesus in their community, welcoming their unreached neighbors into the neighborhood.  Across the world in Kashmir, the contested and violent religion between India and Pakistan, the story of Heartsong welcoming the Islamic Center was covered on the news. 

Jim Wallis shared the following story:

Stone also told me that he got a call from a group of Muslims in a small town in Kashmir. They said they had been watching CNN when the segment on Heartsong Church aired. Afterward, one of the community's leaders said to those who were gathered, "God just spoke to us through this man." Another said, "How can we kill these people?" A third man went straight to the local Christian church and proceeded to clean it, inside and out.

Stone says he is just trying to love his neighbors, as he says Jesus instructs him to do. For their part, the residents of that small town in Kashmir told him: "We are now trying to be good neighbors, too. Tell your congregation we do not hate them, we love them, and for the rest of our lives we are going to take care of that little church."
All of this in Kashmir because a church in Tennessee put on the new self.

Now, if you're like me, chances of a mosque being built in your neighborhood isn't all that likely.  The way we treat Muslims is just a mental exercise that influences the way we converse about world issues.  However, we have people around us who we want to give up on.  People who behave in such a way that we want to put on the old self of malice, anger, and slander.  We know a friend who drinks to much, and we want to give up on her.  We know someone who is lazy causing him to lose job after job, and we want to give up on him.  We know another who just makes bad decision after bad decision, and we want to give up on her.  But if we are living in the new self, we will be compassionate, forgiving, kind, and filled with love.  If we keep them at a difference while we live in the old self, we will never be of any help.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  We need to be about His work.  It might not have an impact like Heartsong had.  In the end, the Christian life is not about effectiveness; it's about faithfulness.  And without a phone call from Kashmir, Steve Stone would not have known what his living in the new self did to impact the world.  And often, we will not see what living in the new self has done to help improve the world around us.  But that's not the point, being faithful, no matter what the cost, is what following Jesus is all about.  Compasssion.  Kindness.  Humility.  Meekness.  Patience.  Forgiveness.  Love.  Thankfulness.   The New Self.  A new life.  Our life.

Love Our Enemies, Really? - Mosques, Christian Protesters, and the Call of Jesus

The headlines read...

At least we can say that we protest more peacefully than others, right?

What if we aren't supposed to compare ourselves to others but to Jesus?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 
for they shall be satisfied. 
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, 
for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 
Matthew 5:3-12 (ESV)
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers,  what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV).
How are we doing now?

May we stop saying that we're better than the other guys; they are not who we should be comparing ourselves to.  We're supposed to be like Jesus.  When it comes to that, we need grace.  May we strive to be the people that Jesus told us to be rather than just puffing ourselves up by being better than others.