Living the Christian Life Is Not About You

What it takes to live the Christian life:

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Jesus Perplexes Me, and Someone’s Got Some Explaining to Do

Some stories about Jesus perplex me, like this one where Jesus asks a question that in a sense makes no sense.

Luke tells of a healing, and an impressive one at that. Jesus healed ten people at once, transforming them from pariah status and restoring all of them to their communities with the simplest of commands.

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19.)

Why did they stand at a distance? The law required them to keep their distance from people not infected with skin diseases.

Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46.)

The fact they called out to Jesus – loudly asking for his pity rather than warning him off with cries of “Unclean! Unclean!” – showed they expected him to be able to do something. They might not have expected his chosen response, though. He didn’t touch them as he did another person with skin disease (Matthew 8:1-4); he didn’t pronounce forgiveness of sins as he healed (Mark 2:1-12); he didn’t proclaim the power of God in the healing. (Matthew 9:1-7.)

He just told them to go to the priests for inspection.

The Healing of Ten Lepers, James Tissot ca. 1886-1894 (Wikipedia)

This too was in keeping with the law. A healed person would be pronounced clean and able to rejoin society. (Leviticus 13:12-17.) But they were not yet healed when he told them to go. He just told them to go. In their faith they did, not knowing what would happen but trusting Jesus and doing what he said. The story said they were healed on the way.

Next comes the familiar part of this story for most people who have heard sermons and Sunday school lessons on the passage. The Samaritan returns to thank Jesus while the others don’t, which on first read is a surprising turn. Jesus’ companions must have been flabbergasted, “For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.” (John 4:9.) Suffice to say that Samaritans and Jews had (among other differences) conflicting views of proper worship that kept them from one another.

That’s not the surprising twist for me, though. It’s what Jesus says to the man.

“Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Interesting questions, mostly because of the further questions they raise in my mind..

First, the story says they were all healed. If the Samaritan man’s healing was by faith, how were the others healed? The suggestion in the opening of the story is that they all called out to Jesus in an expression of trust and reliance on him. That sounds like an expression of faith for all of them.

Second, in asking where the others are I would expect the answer to be that they were doing as Jesus commanded: they were on the way to present themselves to the priests. They needed a priestly pronouncement of being found clean in order to then be allowed to reenter the village and return to their homes, families, and friends.

Third, the reason the Samaritan man stood alone is because he left the group and turned back. Why would he not obey Jesus in presenting himself to the priests? Because he was a Samaritan and did not fall under the priests’ jurisdiction. Considering the antipathy Jews had for Samaritans, it’s likely the priest might not have even given him a once-over let alone pronounced him clean. After all, Samaritans were unclean in their eyes even if not infected by a skin disease.

Luke never tells us the rest of the story for the other nine. Did the priests ever declare them clean? Did they perhaps offer sacrifices of thanksgiving in the Temple in Jerusalem? These are possible, and these are also prohibited to the Samaritan.

Don’t take me wrong. This is not a criticism. It is me being perplexed. There is something going on that I don’t understand. I don’t understand what the deal is concerning the other nine.

I do understand that the Samaritan man’s faith is a model for people then and now, as is his gratitude for God’s grace and mercy. I get why Luke put this in his gospel of Jesus’ life. I just want to ask him some day what the deal is with the faith and healing of the other nine.

Then again, I have a lot of questions when I read the Bible. It’s a great book for making me think.

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Mail and Female: Women, the Post Office, and Church

Women in the Post Office

Angela Serratore’s 2012 article on 19th Century women and the rise of modern postal service sheds light on a world foreign to people who use modern electronic communications with ease and from the privacy of their own smartphone.

As she notes in Post Secrets, in the mid-1800s New York City established its first post office, causing public concern over the implications for women. For the first time, women who had formerly relied on parents, husbands, or even servants to retrieve their personal mail could now retrieve it themselves.

 Suddenly, wide swaths of women had access to two dangerous things—the mail and the post office. Anthony Trollope’s 1852 invention of the pillar-box had given British girls a chance to subvert the authority of their scandalized parents by mailing letters in secret, but their New York counterparts who visited the post office could both send and receive mail almost entirely unmonitored by those who might want to regulate their epistolary lives.”

ef=”https://timfall.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/womens-postal-window.jpg”> The sign above the small window reads: “Gentlemen not allowed at this window. For Ladies exclusively.” (New York Public Library collection.)[/cap

Ladies’ Windows were common, with some offices even having separate entrances for women where they would not rub shoulders with men at all. A number of contemporary writers warned of the dire consequences of women mailing and receiving letters free of the watchful eye of their husband or parents. One moralist even claimed to have evidence that the practice led to women taking up prostitution because of the danger inherent in “clandestine correspondence with unprincipled men.” (George Ellington, The Women of New York, p. 477, cited in Serratore’s article.)

Serratore notes that eventually public concerns about women visiting the post office without supervision “were mitigated upon the construction of a new, more spatially regulated post office near City Hall, and upon the widespread introduction of home delivery by the Postal Service”.  The original post office was located in a rough part of town that was no place for a lady, and personal servants or private couriers often delivered mail to individual households.

I don’t think the initiation of post office counters just for women was born of altruistic intent. I think it had to do with the economics of letter writing. Women wrote letters and that meant women needed to buy postage. The more letters women could send and receive, the more stamps they bought. The more stamps they bought, the more revenue that came in to the post office.

The effect, though, was a promotion of equal access to communication and speech. Women could now write to friends, put ideas down on paper and send them to magazine editors, coordinate social and political causes with like-minded people far away. No law stopped them. Of course, the law didn’t stop them before these postal services became available. But the prior practices showed how a neutrally written law could be applied so as to keep women from engaging in free speech.

  • Before: incoming letters passed through the hands of parents or husbands before reaching a woman’s hand, and outgoing mail the same.
  • After: women had access to the post without scrutiny, enriching communication for everyone.

Which brings me to the connection between 19th Century postal services and the gospel.

Women in the Church

The Bible says that women have the same standing with God that men do.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28.)

Everyone being clothed in Christ means whatever differences existed before no longer matter in your spiritual standing with God. That standing is defined as Jesus – not as being from one place or another, one social status or another, one sex or another – but as Jesus.

It’s like the post office today. The person at the counter no longer considers whether you are a woman or man. All they consider is whether you have a letter to send and the money to buy a stamp.

In God’s kingdom, too, it’s not a matter of whether you are a woman or a man. It’s a matter of whether or not you belong to Jesus. If you do, your place in that kingdom is defined by who Jesus is, not who or what you are.

This is the gospel truth. You can put a stamp on it. It’s ready for delivery.

***

[This is slightly updated from a guest post I wrote for The Junia Project in 2016.]

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Clarity Can Be Elusive When Serving God – Even for a Writer

[Today’s guest post is from Sarahbeth Caplin.]

Some people have a clear idea of how God will “use” them, especially if they came to faith from a struggle like drinking, drugs, or some kind of abuse. They know exactly who their audience is. The words come naturally and with ease.

I follow lots of bloggers who treat their writing as their “ministry,” which is how I approached my book and blog at one point. It seemed pretty obvious: I was a Jewish girl yearning for a deeper spiritual life that I couldn’t find within the spiritual community that raised me. And so, controversially, I came to Christ, and eventually, to the Episcopal Church.

Over the years, I’ve been pigeonholed into the role of “the Jew who found Jesus,” which never sat well with me. Even if that’s technically true, I never intended for my story to be some kind of universal example. I couldn’t make myself see my people as “lost” and needing to be saved.

Despite yearning for a personal God in the flesh that is expressly forbidden in traditional Judaism, I still recognized the richness of my traditions and the insights of my ancestral sages. It hurt me to see all that denigrated as worthless because Jesus wasn’t part of it.

I didn’t want to angle my writing to change anyone. Rather, I wanted people to find the fulfillment and hope that I had found. I still want that – and that’s what I wish to communicate to anyone who reads my memoir, Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter, be they Jewish, Christian, or something else altogether.

Honestly, I think I have more to say to my fellow Christians at this point than I do to the Jewish community. I want Christians to understand that Judaism is more than the prequel to Christianity. I want Christians to understand that their attempts to host Jewish holidays can come off as exploitive. I want them to understand that Jewish interpretations of Hebrew Scripture still matter and are still relevant, even if the two faiths disagree about who the messiah is.

I write with those thoughts in mind, but I also write for those who feel like they don’t fully belong in any one tradition. This may include Jewish converts, but it doesn’t have to. My greatest influencers aren’t those who feel they have all the answers, but ones who are humble enough to admit when they don’t.

What is my “ministry”? I’m confident that it’s writing. Storytelling. Whatever it needs to be.

***

Sarahbeth Caplin has a bachelor’s degree in English from Kent State University, and a master’s degree in creative nonfiction from Colorado State University. Her memoir, Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter, was an Amazon bestseller in the “personal growth” category. Her work has appeared in Sojourners, Huffington Post, and Christians for Biblical Equality, among other places. Beth lives in northern Colorado with her husband and fur kids, and blogs at www.sbethcaplin.com. You can connect with her on Twitter too.

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Sex and Getting Stoned – a Woman Meets Jesus

He came to the Temple early to teach, so I stayed in the courtyard to hear him before I had to move on. I wanted to listen to him all day, but my master would not be pleased if I was not there to clean his shop before his customers arrived. I had only moments before I would need to move on.

He didn’t get to teach long. A crowd – Pharisees and scribes and a loud collection of men – surged at him. One of the religious leaders motioned for the men to part. In that crowd of men was a solitary woman. Two of the larger men held her in their grips, thrust her forward, and then melted back into the mob.

I knew that woman.

We’d grown up in the same village, a poor and insignificant gathering of huts and shacks, and both came to Jerusalem desparate to seek work. Sarah left our village a year before me. I had only recently arrived in Jerusalem and felt blessed to find a man who needed a laborer for lifting and moving his heavy wares, to clean, and to stand watch over the shop whenever he left. It was not the type of work I’d hoped for, but it was work I could do and it put food in my stomach.

My master was not harsh, but he was also not kind. I was reminded of that when I saw him in that crowd of men. He caught my eye and I knew I would hear of this, of my tarrying in the Temple courts.

What was Sarah doing with all those men?

One of the religious leaders motioned for quiet and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

Adultery? Sarah? She must have married after leaving our little village, and to someone as desperate as she if they’d married so quickly. But was she still so desperate as to now take up with another man? We all waited for the teacher to speak, but he remained silent.

The teacher’s failure to respond alarmed me. Did he have no answer? And did he have no question for them either? I did. I wanted to know where the man she’d committed adultery with was. The man and woman both were supposed to be brought in for judgment according to the Law of Moses, the law these teachers said they were so concerned about.

The teacher stooped down and there, before everyone, started drawing his finger through the dust on the stone floor of the courtyard. He was writing something but I couldn’t make it out from my vantage looking at the letters upside down. The Pharisees and Scribes kept hammering him with questions, the men at their backs shouting encouragement, yet he remained stooped down, tracing with his finger.

He gave no answer. He gave no indication he was concerned with them at all. Finally their questions ceased, the mob-driven strength with which they’d entered the courtyard spent.

Sarah stood there, alone, separated from the mob by the barest of distances, head down, shoulders bowed under the weight of their accusing hatred. Then the teacher stood, closer to her than to the religious leaders. Sarah looked up at him as he spoke to the mob.

Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.

The crowd silenced. Sarah turned from them, her back bowed as if waiting for that first stone to strike. And the teacher? He stooped down and resumed writing in the dust.

If anyone was struck you’d have thought it was the Pharisee who had spoken first. His gray beard swept across his shoulder as he looked at the hushed men behind him. Gathering his robes, he turned his body and strode out the gate to the streets of the city.

All of the elders soon followed, some by one gate and some by another. Then the younger ones – the hotheads, I’d say, who were looking for excitement even if it meant blood – saw there was nothing left to do or say. They too turned and left.

Then the teacher stood again, this time looking directly at Sarah. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” he declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The teacher did not condemn Sarah even though the law said she deserved death!

He was letting her go, and telling her to not get herself into this trouble again. My head swam at the thought of such grace, and my heart melted for Sarah. Then a voice broke through my thoughts.

“Come. We must return to the store.” My master stood at my side. “I must tend to my own business.” He looked back at the teacher and Sarah. “And I must consider these words of forgiveness.”

We walked across the courtyard toward the street.

“Do you think it is possible to leave a life of sin?” I asked him.

“I do not know. That teacher seems to think so.”

“Sarah … that is, the woman … uh, she’s from my village … she’s sitting at the teacher’s feet, listening with the others circled around him.”

My master stopped at the gate and looked back. “Yes, so she is. How odd that he allows women to sit and listen as he teaches the men.”

“I’ve learned that he teaches all who will listen, any woman or man who has ‘ears to hear’ as he puts it.”

“Do you think he would teach me?” my master asked.

“You have ears.” I took his hand. “Let us both go and listen.”

And I led him to the circle, where we both sat by Sarah and listened to the true Master.

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Biblical Stories about Women are for You Too Brothers – a Woman’s Invitation

[Today’s guest post is from Nadine Bent-Russell.]

About 8 years ago I heard a man preach about God’s plan for women and how we are all equal. He humbly spoke about the fact that some women are abused by their husbands who are pastors. I felt healing going through my body as I sat in my seat hearing such transparent truth. Even before that transformational day, I was fortunate to be in a church during my 20s that ordained women much to the chagrin of the convention of which our church was a part.

The man I heard was Lee Grady, the Director of The Mordecai Project. Through him I learned much more about women in the Bible and God’s intention for women, and men for that matter. I was introduced to Christian Biblical Egalitarians International, The Junia Project and many other resources who have studied and published works about Biblical Equality.

All my life I have always known inside myself that we are equal, all of us, in all categories. I read about our equality in the word and drew these conclusions myself, but I never heard it expressly come from any pulpit until then. I never believed that any of us were supposed to be treated like second class citizens. As an example, even though slavery was in the Bible, I didn’t believe that God intended for us to experience bondage and inequality no matter our station in life. Not until I became an adult did I begin to hear of women being ordained or leading anything besides kitchen and children related duties in church.

Ain’t I a Woman?

I have heard many great sermons. Despite that, the first place I felt affirmed as the woman I am outside of my family, was in Women’s Studies courses I took many years ago, and not in the church. When I became an adult I kept running into people who seemed to relegate women to being accessories, sexual objects or somehow second class to men. It was even more disheartening to hear the jokes and ways women were represented by men and some women when preaching. On the rare occasions where women were the topic of a sermon it wasn’t the most empowering reflection for me. These experiences left me thinking, “ain’t I a woman?”

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated Mary’s obedience in receiving the news of mothering the Savior, especially at such a young age and unmarried at the time. What really impressed me was David facing and defeating Goliath, Moses facing off with Pharaoh and the many heroic acts of men. The most heroic thing I was used to hearing was about Esther getting King Xerxes to spare the Jewish people exposing Haman’s plot.

Let Us Accomplish Every Good Work

Then I ran across this blog. Tim’s posts and blog entries struck the perfect pitch for me and I was fueled to continue. Then I read his post Godly Women Teaching Godly Men is Godly (and Biblical). When considering this topic a few ideas that had been with me came rushing back and I posted on Facebook about them:

“I wonder if we accepted the true equality between men and women that God intended, would men read stories about women in the Bible like Proverbs 31, and take some lessons from those lives like women do from the lives of men?

This is another way that the tradition of belief that women cannot teach men hinders all of us. These stories are not just for women.

It would be amazing to hear a male pastor teach a lesson about Esther applicable to all of us and not just women.

#NotJustForWomen

As Tim commented on my Facebook post, “…If all scripture is useful for teaching, etc., then men are to learn from Proverbs 31, the life of Esther, and so on, as much as women.” This is a reference to 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All of Scripture is God-breathed; in its inspired voice, we hear useful teaching, rebuke, correction, instruction, and training for a life that is right so that God’s people may be up to the task ahead and have all they need to accomplish every good work.” (emphasis added).

This passage starts with the word “All” and ends with “so that God’s people may be up to the task ahead and have all they need to accomplish every good work”. Brothers, I know, you may find yourself in the same place as I was before I met Lee Grady since we are all taught similarly. You may only know about a handful of biblical women. Have you considered the stories of the women in the Bible as instructive to you as the stories about men are to all of us? If we all want to be fully equipped for every good work, let us be edified by all scripture, not missing the lessons available in the lives of women.

The Invitation

Brothers, I invite you to discover and to be inspired by the stories of women in the Bible as you are by the stories about men.

My prayer is that more people will pick up books like Fearless Daughters of the Bible by Lee Grady and discover some action packed and heroic stories of women in the Bible. I pray that if you preach, that you will unapologetically teach about the lives of these women just like you do men. Then the warrior women in your congregation will have the opportunity to see themselves beyond kitchen and children duties and be like Martha’s sister, choosing “the good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

***

Nadine Bent-Russell is technical project manager who loves people as much as technology . She periodically blogs on Defying Gravity Talk. Has a degree in Political Science/Public Service and is a graduate of a school of ministry. Travels to many parts of the world and has had many experiences that she is writing about in a forthcoming memoir.

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Race, Gender, and Getting Called a Sissy

I write a lot about egalitarianism and how right doctrine builds up women and men in the family of God, and I expect to take it on the chin once in a while when someone who ascribes to male superiority disagrees more vehemently than most. That’s why comments like this one usually aren’t surprising.

“It is now of my opinion that you are either a sissy or a girl stuck in a guy’s body. There isn’t anything Christian about you. You aren’t a man, you aren’t manly and you probably smell like perfume all day. Dude, you got about one more post about the sissy girl side of things and you’re man card is gonna be revoked…” (Facebook comment.)

As I said, these types of comments usually aren’t surprising. But this one did surprise me since it came in an unusual context: I hadn’t written on egalitarianism and the church; I’d posted a quote on race.

“It’s been said that racism is so American that when we protest racism some assume we’re protesting America.” Beyoncé

Beyoncé

The critical Facebook comment goes not to the quote’s substance but to the quote’s source. Beyoncé is a woman. She’s a woman who sings songs that apparently the commenter considers too womanly? Too feminine? Too girly? And who uses the word “sissy” any longer? That was out of circulation by the time I finished high school forty years ago. But apparently a man quoting a woman means the man actually must be either a woman or gay, as if women are not worth listening to on serious matters and as if men who are gay are not actually men?

The problem with the comment is not that it is directed at me. It’s that it reeks of misogyny and homophobia, while embracing racism by ignoring entirely the real point Beyoncé – a black woman – is making.

There are ways to engage what she said and whether there is merit to it or not. I posted Beyoncé’s thought-provoking quote to get that conversation going on my Facebook page. When the first comment posted is like that one, though, the conversation took a sharp turn from race to women’s rights. That is another worthy subject so I allowed the comment’s sub-thread to continue for people to respond. (Other comment threads spoke to the comment itself.)

As a number of the dozens of responses noted, the comment is dismissive as to racism, women, black women in particular, people who are LGBTQ, and men who write on these subjects. With this dismissiveness, commenters serve to silence all they consider unworthy of consideration – unworthy, that is, for anything but ridicule.

Oppressed People and Scripture Speaking

Notice that buried in the comment is also a dismissal of my faith, with the commenter setting himself up as arbiter of who follows Jesus. He’s as wrong on that point as any other, of course, because Jesus spoke up for people all the time. It’s even in Jesus’ first recorded sermon:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19.)

This wasn’t a new phenomenon, either, since Jesus was quoting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, and there are plenty of other Old Testament instructions on working to end oppression such as:

Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17.)

Give justice to the lowly and the orphan;
maintain the right of the poor and the destitute!
Rescue the lowly and the needy.
Deliver them from the power of the wicked! (Psalm 82:3-4.)

These passages tell God’s people how to love those around them, whether close by or far away. Dismissiveness is nowhere to be found. Jesus had harsh words for those who misrepresent God (as the Facebook commenter did by saying biblically-based concern for marginalized people is not consistent with being a Christian):

You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.” (Matthew 15:7-9.)

Here’s what merely human rules look like sometimes:

  • Dismissing a quote because its source is a woman is a merely human rule.
  • Deciding that a man can’t quote a woman is a merely human rule.
  • The idea of a “man card” and deciding who gets one and who doesn’t is a merely human rule.

Avoid merely human rules. Follow Jesus, care for the oppressed, seek justice, learn to do right – these are the ways God calls us to love others.

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Putting Jesus’ Commands in Context – Law or Love?

Toward the end of his life, John – who traveled with Jesus for years and became one of his closest companions – wrote a letter to some friends. One part has been often used out of context to place a burden on people that John never taught anywhere else and likely never meant to convey.

John in his later years (Wikipedia)

It has to do with belonging to Jesus:

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-6.)

The words “keep his commands” have been mistaken to require that Christians have to keep the Old Testament laws since that’s what Jesus did perfectly, without fail, without sin. Yet that’s not at all what the passage means, as its context dictates a completely different understanding of the commands of Jesus as John had learned them from Jesus himself.

There is a way to understand, from the context of John’s writings, the command of Jesus, though. It is found in God’s love.

The Law of Love

John went on to tell his readers:

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. (1 John 2:7, 9.)

He’s stating the command in the negative at first: don’t hate others. Later in the letter he turns to positive renditions of this command.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18.)

It is this love in action that shows God’s love to the world.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-12.)

Some people go back to the part where John said “I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning” to suggest he is talking about the Old Testament laws and commands. That doesn’t work in the context of John’s writings. It doesn’t even work in the context of that one passage John wrote.

When he assures them it’s not a new command but an old one, he clearly points them not to the Old Testament writings but to what these believers had from the beginning. And then John goes on (as you have seen in these passages) to remind them of the command they received from the beginning: love people because God loves you.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. … We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:16, 19-21.)

Why does he emphasize this? Because it’s the same command John received directly from Jesus decades before.

Going Back to Jesus

Jesus, in his last night with his followers before he was arrested, put on trial, and executed on the cross, told them how to live after he was gone.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35.)

John was there.

Young John with Jesus on that last night (Wikipedia)

He heard this as a very young man and taught it to others as a very old man.

Jesus did not say that everyone would know you follow Jesus if you add loving people to your efforts to follow Old Testament laws. He said they will know you belong to him if you love others. And that’s what John said in his letters to his own friends decades later.

You might read 1 John and point out places where he gave examples of falling short, sinning against others in ways that violate concepts found in the Old Testament. Yet if you consider those parts of the letter carefully, you see that they are each examples of treating others poorly, that is, failing to love them. The command underlying each of those instances is still the command to love others because God loves you.

Jesus made the same point when an expert in religious law questioned him on obeying commandments.

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40.)

If you are loving God and loving others, you need not concern yourself with rules and regulations. And if you are not loving God and loving others, no amount of rule following will help you.

This is the context in which John wrote this letter to his friends, and 1 John 2:3-6 is about love and not law.

Keep loving.

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Men Advance the Kingdom of God While Women Retreat?

I’m not sure when or where I first saw this but it was about fifteen years ago: Real Men Don’t Retreat. Real Men Advance!

Looking closer, I saw it had to do with a men’s outing. That church was organizing a weekend in the woods somewhere for men to learn more about God together. I’m not a fan of institutionalized single sex gatherings in the family of God, but putting that quibble aside for a moment it’s worth noting some troubling aspects of this aversion to the word “retreat.”

“Real Men Don’t Retreat” is not in the Bible

To say “real men don’t retreat, they advance” runs counter to Scripture.

  • Elijah Fed by Ravens, Jan Luyken 1697 (Wikimedia)

    Elijah found a quiet place to rest when he needed a break. God did not chastise him but rather fed him and protected him and met him in that solitary place. (1 Kings 19.)

  • Jesus repeatedly took his friends to a quiet place to rest and prepare after long days of serving others. (Luke 21:37.)

The aversion to the word “retreat” appears to be rooted not in a desire to follow Scripture but in a cultural machismo about what people think “real” men should act like: don’t back down, don’t give an inch, and whatever you do don’t show weakness.

In reality, the real men who really go on these retreats don’t live that way. I bet if asked almost all would admit they wouldn’t want to live that way, either. The point of these types of gatherings – these retreats – is to take a break, have a time of rest, and become prepared for returning to the more active parts of life.

After all, these are not retreats in the sense of giving up ground. They are retreats in the sense of finding a place to rest and recuperate and rejuvenate. That’s what Elijah did on his own and that’s what Jesus did with his friends. It sounds like something men are supposed to do to me.

Women advance too

When a men’s gathering is advertised as an advance (because real men don’t retreat) and the corresponding women’s gathering is advertised as a retreat, the message is subtly spoken but has a powerful import: women retreat because they aren’t big and strong and macho like men.

In the context of God’s kingdom – which is the context for these church gatherings, after all – this teaches that men move the kingdom forward while women do not. Or, for those who recognize that the Holy Spirit is the one who moves through God’s people to achieve God’s purposes, it means the Spirit chooses men to advance the kingdom while not choosing women. Women sit on the sidelines.

Again, this is not borne out in Scripture.


  • Simeon and Anna Recognize the Lord in Jesus, Rembrandt 1627 (Wikimedia)

    Miriam, Deborah and Huldah were prophets used by God to lead and teach God’s people. (Exodus 15:20, Judges 4:4, 2 Kings 22:14.)

  • Anna the prophet announced Jesus’ birth to all gathered in the Temple, while Priscilla and her husband taught other teachers and led churches. (Luke 2:36-38, Acts 18:24-26, 1 Corinthians 16:19.)

These examples from the Bible are not the only times women are described doing things that are active and advancing the kingdom of God, but they serve as sufficient instances to show that the Holy Spirit works through women to advance the kingdom just as men are used to do the same.

Shedding the ungodly burden of being a “real” man

Another hurtful aspect of this theme about men not retreating is that it denies men the opportunity to express weariness, to feel hurt, to call out for help. It’s not that men won’t be weary, hurt and in need. It’s that telling men they only advance and never need a time of retreat tells them they shouldn’t feel those things, or at least they shouldn’t admit they feel that way.

Most organizers of these retreats wouldn’t come out and tell men to stifle these aspects of being human. They’d probably actually tell the men they should turn to one another for help when they are weary and hurt and in need. Yet words carry meaning. When men are told that real men advance and never retreat, any aspect of stepping back or taking time away comes with the message that this person is not a real man in the eyes of the church.

This is not how God made us. God made us like him, and when Jesus lived he showed us exactly what that means for all the people God has created.

  • Jesus got hungry. (Mark 11:12.)
  • Jesus got thirsty. (John 4:7.)
  • Jesus got tired. (John 4:6.)
  • Jesus wept. (John 11:32-36.)

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, by Giacomo Franceschini (Wikipedia)

Jesus took time away – both with friends and by himself – to rest, recuperate and rejuvenate. If asked whether he was on a retreat or an advance, I don’t know what the answer would be. But I do know that from a modern language understanding, these are the aspects of taking time off and allowing a brief retreat in order to be prepared for what comes next.

It fits in with other oddly counter intuitive and contrary ways of the kingdom of God.

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (John 14:11.)

So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:16.)

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45.)

In light of Jesus’ teaching on living in God’s kingdom, retreating to advance makes complete sense. It’s not always go go go. Sometimes God’s people – men and women both – need a break. So feel free to retreat, and rest, and recuperate, and rejuvenate.

Just like Jesus did.

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Name Change for the Better – Courtrooms and Christ

One of the things I get to do in the courtroom is hear people’s requests for changing names. There was the little boy whose parents wanted to change his name to better reflect their faith and culture. Other people seek to honor grandparents by taking their names. Still others are women who have divorced and want their birth names back.

All of these are very serious matters for the people involved, even if sometimes the name change is quite a joyous occasion as well.

I remember one woman whose request I didn’t know whether to take seriously or not at first. She wanted to take the name Major General Deborah Smith. She wasn’t in the military. She just wanted that name. I looked further into the paperwork and saw that she was changing her name from Vice Admiral. Not Vice Admiral Deborah Smith, though. It was Vice Admiral Catherine Jones.

I don’t know whether she was born Smith or Jones. So when the day for the hearing came, I was interested in seeing whether she was playing some sort of game. It turned out she was merely a bit eccentric.

She just liked the sound of the new name and wanted to take it on, and since no laws were being broken in having that name (at least none that I knew of in my state) I granted her name-change petition. And even though I thought her a bit eccentric, this name change was serious to her.

Names With Spiritual Significance

The Bible takes names and name-changes seriously too.

  • The woman named Pleasant (Naomi) tells her friends to start calling her Bitter (Mara) after all the heartache she’s suffered. (Ruth 1:20.)
  • God’s prophets name their children in ways that signify the word of God to his people. (Isaiah 8:3, Hosea 1:4-8.)
  • God himself changed Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of many nations) and Jacob (deceiver) to Israel (struggles with God) because they were instruments of his covenant with his people.
  • And of course Jesus is the Name above all names, the one to which everyone will bow in worship. (Philippians 2:9-10.)

You also have a new name waiting for you as well (Revelation 2:17) and – on top of that – you bear the name of Christ for eternity. (Revelation 3:12.) You don’t even need to explain your reasons to a judge.

These names are yours because God gave them to you.

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