Monday

The Church and Guidance #1

The Church and Guidance #1

There is a general impression today that the church is out of sync with society, holds to an outdated mode of thought and practice, and has disqualified itself to serve as any kind of conscience for social mores. Thirty years ago some popular entertainers, both with a Christian background, spoke of their dissatisfaction for the modern-day church. One said, “I don’t need to go to church and listen to some preacher tell me what to believe in. I don’t dig that at all.” Another member of the same singing group spoke with disgust of the “hypocrisy personified” that typifies the contemporary church.

Even though I don’t like what they said, it is hard to argue with their assessments. Some preachers come across a bit too eager in their condemnation of sin, seemingly blurring the distinction between sin and sinner. Love for the soul struggling with a fallen nature often fails to come through. The sinner feels the heat from the preacher, but doesn’t always sense compassion or hear the summons of a loving God to experience life anew in Christ. I’m not sure I’d want much counsel from such a representative of God, either.

Preaching requires that some attention be drawn to sinful and rebellious living patterns. But, that can never be allowed to be our primary focus, or to become regarded as what characterizes our preaching. Preachers are entrusted with the in-breaking of the kingdom, with announcing the good news, with boldly declaring, “The anointed One has come!” Those outside of Christ hearing such pronouncements now have fresh, new options for their lives.

Similarly, churches must give attention to their corporate persona. Do the local folks perceive that they care? Every community has broken marriages, disoriented kids, hungry families, and rebellious teens. Does the church condemn the sin and dysfunction of the fallen, or does it demonstrate care by providing loving counsel and modeling authentic discipleship? Serving the needs of the fallen is more demanding than condemning their choices, but it goes much further in creating the possibility for a genuine hearing of the Word.

Churches and preachers are sometimes called self-righteous, argumentative, misguided, unfocused, and overly harsh. At times those charges may be true. I don’t know of any Christian that would deny that we have at times come across in less than savory ways.

How do we respond? What should the church do? How can we alter community perceptions of our role and function?

I think it begins with how we perceive ourselves. We are not primarily judges of others’ behavior. We must, of course, uphold the standards and value of Scripture. And we must be aware of challenges that will come to us from those who don’t uphold those values. But we are first of all recipients of grace ourselves. As such, we are now the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ. We are the Incarnational presence of Christ in the world. We are part of a lineage whose purpose is to embody the essence of heaven in our very being.

Jesus did that. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 14:6). Jesus brought the essence of heaven itself to earth within his being. He modeled that with his announcement of the kingdom, his healing of the afflicted, and his friendship with the estranged. He made statements about those who don’t believe and accept his ministry, but he didn’t make judgment of others the defining element of his ministry. Instead, he made the in-breaking of the heavenly kingdom the heart of his ministry, with the call to everyone to come enjoy the presence of the Father.

I wish the entertainers I referred to a moment ago, two entertainers I am a huge fan of, could have encountered a church that embodied this kind of ministry. I hope all of you listening can experience it. And I hope all of us who bear the name of Christ will embody this kind of lifestyle in the church we call home.

Warren Baldwin

Wednesday

What Do You Expect of Your Marriage? #1

What Do You Expect of Your Marriage? #1
 
Randall and Kim expected marriage to be a mutual journey into endless joy and bliss. The anticipation of coming together as one flesh physically and spiritually was especially exciting. Then there was the expectation of children in a few years, saving money, buying a large house, fun-filled vacations and exciting reunions with extended family. Marriage promised all the joy and fulfillment they had grown to expect from the sermons they’d heard and the books they’d read.


And there were such periods of excitement and happiness, especially in the early months and years. But, eventually, they found those periods interspersed with other times of disappointment, anger, even despair. At times both Randall and Kim wondered, what happened to the dream? Ironically, even though both of them had those thoughts at times, neither expressed them to their partner. They held them in private.
 
Several common expectations were shattered on the rocks of reality for Randall and Kim. Perhaps the first was that of perpetual happiness. Before they married just the thought of the other could make Randall or Kim smile with delight. Ten years into the marriage the thought of their partner was often accompanied by some duty they were expected to fulfill. "Kim is going to ask if I fixed the lock on the door" or "Randall is going to want his dinner ready when he gets home." Both reflections came with an awareness that their role as husband or wife was laden with responsibility.
 
Another expectation that went through some serious revision was the whole concept of love. Prior to the marriage Randall and Kim thought of love as something they felt. The good looks, welcoming smile, and kind speech of their partner sparked immense joy inside, a feeling they described as love. That feeling was tested severely in time when neither found their needs being met as they envisioned they would be. Only much later did they realize that love has little to do with feeling and more to do with commitment to another person, commitment to be loyal, to honor and to serve
 
Randall and Kim also found that the carefree time they spent in each other’s company before marriage was soon replaced with the demands of house repairs, kids homework, and having to work overtime for extra money. This often left them sapped of time, energy and interest. Their carefree time now was spending a couple of hours watching tv after the children went to sleep.
 
Disappointment and disillusionment followed their shattered expectations, and in their private thoughts both Randall and Kim wondered about the whole purpose of marriage. Where was the endless bliss they were promised? Where was the happiness, the sense of being valued and esteemed by their partner? Those emotions that carried them into their marriage evaporated shortly after.
 
Because of their religious training, and their conviction that God didn’t want them to divorce, Randall and Kim hung in there. They worked through the shattered expectations and processed the disappointment. Gradually they began to see a whole new picture of their marriage beginning to emerge. They realized that when they served each other, even if rather grudgingly at times, they were exercising some important spiritual muscles that gave them strength to endure. They also discovered that when they served their partner without any strings attached, they were served in return, often beyond what they had a right to expect.
 

Fortunately, Randall and Kim did not allow the despair to spiral downward to divorce. Even when it was tough, they honored the vows and hung in there, eventually discovering that marriage, even with its shattered expectations, provided them with much more than either imagined when they walked the aisle. They learned that the trials and hardships were actually blessings that cleared their minds of selfish, unrealistic expectations, and freed them to develop the necessary character to enjoy the genuine companionship and contentment they now find in each other.

How is your journey going toward companionship and contentment?

Warren Baldwin

Thursday

Developing Respect

Developing Respect

Respect can be considered both positively and negatively. Positively, it means we esteem someone as worthy of special recognition. We may call them Mr. and Mrs. or refer to them as sir and ma’am. We also defer to them, remaining silent as they speak, standing when they enter a room, or offering them our chair. Considerated negatively, it means we give care and attention to avoid violating personal and social norms and conventions. We wouldn’t yell at a teacher in the classroom or say, “Hey dude,” to the high school principal or university president.

Respect is taught to children at home, and more is usually caught then taught. That is, our children watch our behavior toward social customs and toward people, and over time they catch our attitudes toward them as well.

If our children see us talking during the pledge of allegiance, the communion service at church, or during the principal’s opening remarks at graduation, they will conclude that these social customs are not really very important, and they can disrupt them as well. No matter how often they hear, “You need to be quiet and respectful during these times,” from other people, they will miss the importance of it if they don’t see respect modeled in their parents’ behavior. They will regard it as funny to disrupt serious and solemn occasions, and will experience bonding with their equally disrespectful and rebellious peers.

Likewise, if our children see us behave disrespectfully to other people, people that deserve our respect, they will never develop the honor toward them that they should. How do we talk about our children’s teachers, coaches, and other adults in their presence? If we are always verbally denouncing them, our children will pick up on that spirit, and will feel free to do so as well. Even if we are right in our position, isn’t it important that we maintain a level of respect, even for the person we are in disagreement with?

If a teacher or coach is doing a poor job, or mishandled a situation, we may need to intervene with the proper officials and discuss it. But, we also need to model a level of respect toward them for the character development of our children. There may be times when it is more beneficial to suffer some mistreatment than it is to undermine the proper channels of respect and honor. If we lose those channels, we lose cohesion as a society. One early indicator of that is the public school classroom.

If you hear your children speak in degrading terms about an adult, it is important to find out why they feel that way. But, it is equally important, perhaps even more so, to stop the disrespectful speech and insist that they discuss the other person and situation in ways that are more appropriate for their age and situation in life.

Numerous times I’ve observed, during 32 years of working with churches, that when parents become disrespectful to other people at church, by either speaking badly of them, or gossiping, that their children pick up on that attitude and soon mimic that behavior. The greatest part of that tragedy is not just that the young people become disrespectful to some adults at church, but that they begin to lose respect for the whole concept of church, worship, and spiritual development. Since they have in effect have become judges of the church, and are positioned such that they feel they can be disrespectful toward it and its people, why do they need to attend a church anymore? So our disrespect not only breeds more disrespect, it breed death.

In the book, Reverence, Paul Woodruff wrote, “A remarkable feature of virtues is that you cannot argue people into having them when they do not,” and “In matters of character, strength leads to strength, and one lapse leads to another” (pp.24 & 25). In other words, a spirit of respect won’t just happen; it must be developed over time. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13:7, “Give everyone what you owe him ... if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

What are ways you try to teach, model and produce respect in your home?

Warren

Wednesday

Resurrection

Resurrection

“Put your finger here; see my hands.”

Assurance. So much in our world is doubtful, uncertain, alarming, even frightening. Just think of the economy, national leadership, world peace. Hey, in some neighborhoods you don’t even have to go that far to experience the disorienting nature of our world. Many people live with bars on their windows, fearful of their immediate neighbors.

Security. The assurance that things will be ok. The sense that even in our topsy-turvy world, where it often feels like our lives are as steady as a ship in a stormy sea, there is something, or someone, that we can always count. Always.

The disciples thought they had found such security in Jesus. He spoke with authority. He showed no fear, even in the presence of the intimidating religious leaders. No situation was too daunting for him. The deaf, blind, lame and leprous found comfort and healing in his presence. Even the dead found healing from Jesus, being resurrected from their dark chambers.

Finally, man had found someone who was dependable and trustworthy. Someone who could be counted on. An anchor.

So sure was he of Jesus, so confident in his person, that one apostle said to him, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

There was too much evidence about Jesus to think any less. His powerful teaching, his miraculous healing, his power over death ... had anyone ever visited Israel with so much clout before? Not even the prophets of the Old Testament presented themselves as convincingly as Jesus did.

Those who spent time with him and knew him best overcame any doubt they may have had about Jesus. He was from God. The Son. The Messiah. The Chosen One.

And then he died.Photo by Ian Britton @ http://www.necklacecrosses.com/cross-pictures.html

Messiahs aren’t supposed to die. The Chosen One is supposed to live and continue to provide that comfort, healing and assurance for generations.

But Jesus did die, and when he did, the old negative attitudes of doubt, uncertainty, and fear invaded the hearts of the people again. Disciples denied that they knew him. Even his closest, most trusted companions were infected. They hid. They huddled behind locked doors. They worried.

When strange reports came in that he had risen, it was more than some of them could take. Messiahs don’t die, and when they do, they prove they aren’t really Messiahs. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” Thus spoke Thomas, one of the chosen.

Then Jesus stepped through the locked door and said, “Peace be with you. Thomas, Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas exclaimed, ‘My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-28).

The resurrection. It confirms everything Jesus did and taught. It gives substance to faith. It makes following Jesus reasonable. It provides the comfort, assurance and certainty we all crave. It makes belief possible.

Warren Baldwin