Tag Archives: paul

My Plans for Destroying Christianity as We Know It (Sarcasm Alert)

When certain people read that I’m putting together a series of guest posts about women in ministry, they may be tempted to think and say that I’m out to destroy the Bible, nay Christianity itself. They may assert that I’m misconstruing clear passages from the Bible based on loose speculation and undermining the very faith I claim to support.

If women are allowed to teach and serve as equals in ministry, what will become of Christianity and the church? I’ve conducted a very thorough risk assessment of my series that kicks off next week, and such detractors are certainly right. There are tons of risks. Here are just a few that I’ve thought of:

Under the cold-hearted leadership of female leaders and ministers, men will be rounded up and locked in the nursery. Children will puke on their shiny shoes. Pastors will lose their expense accounts. Secretaries will stop answering the phone.

THE COFFEE WILL NOT BE MADE!!!

Yes, it is a terrible thing when sinners fall into the hands of an “angry woman.”

Sermons will start to include illustrations based on raising kids and cooking dinner instead of sports and war movies. Women will start to speak their minds to the male authority figures in their lives, thereby causing strain on men who are forced to utilize neglected parts of their brains. Men will have to start vacuuming better, moving the chairs out instead of just going around them. Dinners will not be cooked. Children will stop eating their vegetables.

Dangerous heresies will sweep through the church by “easily deceived” women—just like Eve. In fact, women will start forcing their husbands to eat apples all of the time. The line for the men’s restroom will become oppressive. The parking lot with become a scrap heap of twisted vehicles piled upon one another. The back rows will buckle and break under the weight of disinterested, dispirited men who feel like the church is way too feminized.

Without a man to wear a suit up front, men will no longer know how to dress on Sunday morning. First they’ll forget their ties, and then they’ll soon denigrate to stained t-shirts, slippers, and dirty Carhartts. They’ll stop reading their Bibles because they’ll become convinced that only a woman can interpret it for them. They’ll stop signing up to lead anything in the church. Even the hunting group will be organized through the cabal of the lady’s knitting group. Camouflage will be replaced by knit teddy bear sweaters. Venison dinners will be replaced by crusty, inedible scones and fruity teas.

Yes, letting women teach, speak in church, hold authority, or call themselves “ministers” in any sense of the word could destroy Christianity as we know it. And even if my little series of stories about women in ministry won’t do any of the things I mentioned above, I do hope it destroys part of Christianity as we know it—the part where women think they are somehow designed by God to be inferior to men.

This will be a destructive series. However, we’re not destroying something for the fun of it. This is a matter of obligation, a dirty job that someone has to do: undoing the wrongs of the past and restoring women to their proper place in the church through empowering stories.

I’m not interested in forcing anyone to join me in this. I know there are some men and women who are comfortable with male-dominated systems. That’s fine for them. I’m not forcing them to change anything. I’m far more interested in speaking to the women and men who think there is something wrong with that—who sense in their times of prayer and readings of scripture that God created men and women to be equal partners in salvation, ministry, and the home.

And really, what’s the worst thing that could happen? A woman may discover her calling into ministry?

Can Christians Ever Get Over Paul?

prison

Some days I feel like Paul is that big brother I never could match. I see him as the kind of guy who was always picked first for sports, topped the honors charts in school, and quickly rose to the top of his company. He worked tirelessly, also knowing what to do next.

When mocking a church obsessed with credentials, Paul rolls out a list of accomplishments that include being shipwrecked, imprisoned, and nearly beaten to death for the sake of the Gospel. What have I got? How about an atheist writing a cross comment on Facebook?

I’m not even close to matching Paul, the super-missionary, apostle extraordinaire who wrote the Bible—well, at least the part of the Bible that folks like me read the most. Wink. Wink. To make things worse, Paul mocked people who called themselves super-apostles.

Paul is so awesome that he can mock people who think they’re more awesome than him…

Paul brings up a very real tension for us in the Christian life. The pace of his ministry was furious. He was a true overachiever. There are plenty of reasons why evangelicals in America love Paul, but one reason may be his indomitable work ethic. If there was ever a “git ‘er done” guy in the Bible, it was Paul.

There are other traditions in Christianity besides “git ‘er done,” fast-paced ministry that globe trots from one ministry to another. There are other paces we read about in the Bible. Jesus spent the first thirty years of his life working as a carpenter or doing whatever people in Nazareth and Galilee were up to back then. Even Paul, that tireless worker, took a bunch of years to get his head on straight in the wilderness.

What did he do?

Those quiet years intrigue me. For all our obsession with being “busy” with ministry, there is a tension at play where solitude and leading a quiet life emerge as viable options for either a season or at least a lifetime.

Paul and his fast-paced ministry have become so normal and ideal in my conception of Christianity, that I forget the rest of the examples in the Bible about staying put, leading a quiet life, and winning people over through a gentle holiness.

There are different callings for different people, at different seasons in their lives. There were times when Paul had to stay put and times when he had to roam from one city to another. Some Christians were called to serve in their cities as elders, while others stayed in lonely places where only the willing sought them out.

We don’t have a blueprint for Christianity. What happens is we gravitate toward the characters and lifestyles in the Bible that make the most sense to us. Along the way, we miss the point that God directed people in a wide variety of directions.

American Christians like me long to be busy—busy just like Paul. I forget that Paul looked at all of his accomplishments and counted them as foolish rubbish, counting only the love of Christ as his treasure. May God give us eyes to see the riches that he has called us to in relationship with him.

May we get over Paul and into the love of Christ.

Christianity is Easier Than We Expect and More Demanding Than We Imagine

In the game of hockey, players are only allowed to use one stick. Holding onto the stick of another player in addition to your own is against the rules and should result in two minutes in the penalty box for holding or obstruction.

I think that’s a pretty easy concept to… grasp.

During the playoffs this year, one former player mentioned during the commentary in-between periods that one player on the Flyers has perfected a way of sliding his stick next to another player’s stick in tight quarters, grabbing both, and then using both. It’s clearly a penalty, but it’s almost impossible to see. Only two players on the ice know what’s happening.

The game of hockey relies of referees to keep things fair. In fact, I’ve seen games where referees let certain violations go, and soon the players became more reckless and broke more rules. Without the rules and the referees, hockey games would descend into chaos—which I think says a lot because most people think hockey is already kind of crazy.

Can you imagine a hockey game where players called penalties on themselves?

While such personal enforcement doesn’t seem possible in the game of hockey, there are many ways in which Christianity relies on self-enforcement. We could say a lot about the role of our communities in helping us deal with sin, but there’s a sense in which sin does become a personal matter of personal conviction from the Holy Spirit.

God wants us to learn the rules, stop ourselves when we sin, and then stick ourselves in the penalty box.

On one hand, this could sound crazy, almost reckless on God’s part. However, I think this is part of a wider trend that I’ve noticed in Christianity: Jesus is both more lenient and more demanding than we could ever imagine.

On the one hand, God wants to trust us to make solid decisions about sin with the help of the Spirit. James writes, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” (4:17). Paul follows a similar line of reasoning in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10.

We don’t have a hard and fast rule book to follow in every situation. That can be quite liberating for those of us who grew up under the constraints of fundamentalism that seemed to be little else than rules at times.

However, and this is a big however, we have to open our entire lives to God. If we’re wise, we’ll learn to open our lives to others as well. The implication in James is that we become both player and referee, scrutinizing every aspect of ourselves to make sure we’re in line with God’s desires and commands.

We are both more free and more responsible.

That’s the trend I see over and over again with Jesus. This is a far more relational and personally costly way to live.

Instead of keeping to a list of laws, we have to open ourselves up to God’s Spirit, making sure that our consciences are pure. Bearing that weight of responsibility is a much better way to live in the long run, and it prepares us to become God’s kind of people who can live with him in eternity.

We can place ourselves in the penalty box when we step out of line, but the goal is that we’ll know the rules so well and desire a pure conscience so badly, that the penalty box will one day become a faint memory.

When to Give Up on Unity and to Ignore Criticism-Part 1

I have a secret weapon. You may have this secret weapon too, without even knowing you had it all along. This secret weapon may prove extremely useful in considering how to approach disagreements and conflict with fellow Christians—especially if we think of Christianity as a family.

Over the years I’ve had several relationships with close relatives go south. For a season, I needed to avoid them. There’s no other way to say it. When a relationship becomes destructive and you see it tearing you apart, retreat is sometimes the only option.

A few years after the initial retreat, these conflicts were eventually sorted out. One side confessed to the other and we began the healing process.

If I hadn’t withdrawn at the height of the conflict, I’m not sure if the reconciliation process could have happened. It at least would have taken longer.

My secret weapon is this lesson: There are times in life when we have to give up on unity and ignore criticism. Sometimes relationships become toxic, and the only solution is to withdraw—hopefully only for a season.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen lots of Christian treat each other pretty awful lately. Perhaps it’s time to wave the white flag.

Withdrawing from a relationship for a season is not the same as giving up. We should still pray for healing and avoid burning bridges. The goal of a withdrawal is to cut off the toxic dynamics and to give both sides a chance to process their differences. Oftentimes a period away from conflict builds up sufficient hindsight that enables us to see another person’s perspective with clarity.

There are times in the New Testament when Christians parted ways over a particular issue or calling. While recognizing that each was still a follower of Jesus, they could no longer function together in a healthy way. They recognized their unity in Christ, even though they parted ways on other issues.

I’m not surprised to read that Peter and Paul, and Barnabas and Paul were reconciled to one another after a relational hiatus. They needed time to simmer down.

Thankfully, the vast majority of Christians out there know how to treat one another with love and respect. This is not an excuse to become lazy and to give up on everyone who disagrees with us. Rather, I’m talking about the toxic, angry, judgmental junk—the people who get our blood pressure pumping.

This week I want to discuss our divisions and conflicts in the Christian family, especially my own evangelical camp, and consider the possibility of orderly withdrawals from our most toxic fights with the hope of long term healing and restoration.

Tomorrow’s Post: When Should Christians Part Ways?

The Marks of a Healthy Church: Romans 16

Continuing my meditations on the book of Romans…

At the end of this epistle Paul gives a fascinating role call of his friends and partners in ministry who supported him financially and spiritually. There are accounts of financial gifts, friends who risked their lives for each other, those who worked hard, and those who shared their homes. Many suffered for Christ in prison or through material loss.

In this microcosm of the early church we see models of Christian discipleship at work, the practical unity of the church in daily life, and the costs of following Christ. Whatever the problems addressed in this epistle, we can see that God’s Spirit prompted many to live extraordinary lives as disciples.

As a final word, Paul warned them about those who cause divisions or diverge from apostolic teaching. The divisive and incorrect are serving their own agendas for their own glory. Paul knows the Romans are on the right track, but desires to keep them pure and innocent.

There is a stark contrast that we should notice between those honored by Paul and those who serve themselves. Paul notes those who have risked their money, reputation, and safety for the sake of the Gospel and for fellow believers.

Even so, God will soon crush Satan as they struggle through hard times. They are reminded that Paul and his many friends stand united with them in both suffering and in the power of God.

Paul ends with a massive theological statement that essentially sums up God saving and sanctifying power and plan. In God’s wisdom the Jews and Gentiles have been saved in Christ according to God’s plan that was hidden and mysterious for many generations. This plan that was first mentioned by the prophets has now been fully revealed in Christ.

How We Serve One Another: Romans 15

Continuing my meditations on the book of Romans…

After providing instructions on Christian conduct and asking the Romans to commit to build one another up, Paul continues to instruct the Romans on living in Christian love and unity. Though love and unity are generated by the power of the Holy Spirit through Christ, Paul makes it clear that the Romans have an important role to play.

Christ bore the insults directed to God, much like David in the Psalm quoted, and laid down his life for others. The Romans who have clear consciences and can live by faith without extra limitations in unimportant matters should seek the best for their neighbors and build them up. the goal isn’t winning the argument but remaining confident and selfless, encouraging one another.

There is a balance between God’s work and the Romans’ calling to accept one another. Only God can help them to endure and to remain united with one mind and voice. And much like Christ’s obedience to do God’s work, they are to be servants among one another. In the unifying of Jew and Gentile there are lessons to learn about blessing others above themselves.

After so many strong words in this letter, Paul shares his hope in God and his hope that the goodness of God at work in the Romans will help them live holy lives together. Paul only speaks of Christ’s work and his calling in Christ, aiming to fulfill his duty to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. It is by God’s power that he has spread this message far and wide.

However, in fulfilling his spiritual ministry with words, signs, and wonders, Paul also desires to carry material blessings from Gentiles to the Jews in Jerusalem, even if it puts him in harm’s way. he asks them to join in prayer for his safety and for an audience that will gladly receive the Gentile churches’ gifts.

How to Imitate Christ in Public and Private: Romans 13

Continuing my meditations on the book of Romans…

Obedience to God is the foundation for all obedience to government, and so the order of allegiances is established here. Living in peace and obeying laws seems to be the focus—a balance where God comes first but law and order are still maintained. Rather than providing a blueprint for all Christian involvement in government, this passage addresses extremist who may use their allegiance to the Kingdom of God to justify revolt or the violation of laws.

We dare not take Paul’s command to submit to authorities as a tacit endorsement of all governments or all governmental policies. At the same time, Christians must wrestle with the necessity of obeying governmental authorities while committing to challenge injustice and immorality in their governments.

For the Romans, who are told to love one another with affection, honoring one another, they are once again reminded to love their neighbors as they would themselves. This seems to also satisfy the obedience required under the government, if not with all people.

Paul’s final reason for living in righteousness is the expectation of God’s coming salvation. Time is running out, so stay in step with God, living in his light rather than the darkness of evil deeds. Instead of letting their sinful natures control their minds, they are told to let Christ take control. he will lead them to righteousness and goodness.

Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ carries the sense of playing a role or assuming a part. Left to their own devices the Romans may leave debts outstanding, fail to love one another, or live in slavery to their immoral desires. In claiming their identity under the Lordship of Christ they are choosing to live in God’s light, which will soon come to define all of time and space. By putting on Christ they are claiming the resurrection power he has over sin as explained in Romans 6-8.

Whether in public or in Christian community the Romans should not let financial, relational, or sinful debts remain. They have a new identity in Christ.