i will not take these things for granted

thoughts on this and that in an attempt to live reflectively

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Location: Little Rock, Arkansas, United States

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sacred Marriage

Earlier this evening I attended a presentation by Gary Thomas on Sacred Marriage and Sacred Parenting. He has authored books on the same topics, and if they're as good as his presentation tonight, they're probably worth reading. You can find out more at his website.

He actually didn't get to the parenting part of the presentation because he got a little long-winded on the marriage stuff and ran out of time. The main idea of the presentation was that our culture's expectations for marriage (i.e. perpetual bliss) are unrealistic and are perhaps not the purpose for which God created marriage. Instead, marriage is a means for both partners to become more and more like Christ. In the close, difficult relationship of marriage, each other's faults become evident, thus providing the opportunity for purifying and transformation to take place. Expecting sustained happiness is unrealistic when you realize that marriage is the union of two sinners, both of whom stumble in many ways. Therefore, according to Francis DeSales, marriage could be the most difficult ministry one could undertake. DeSales also said, if you want to become like Christ, get married.

I took a bunch of notes, and here are most of them:

Maybe God made marriage not just to make us happy but to make us holy.

The idea of finding joy in marriage to your ‘soulmate’ is a relatively recent idea in the grand scheme of human history. The idea of marrying for love and happiness did not develop until after the 11th century, developing in fullest form during the Romantic Era in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Often after the romance has faded, couples wonder whether they married the wrong person. But perhaps instead of questioning who they married, they should question their view of marriage.

Perhaps in asking for happiness/romance in marriage we are asking for something it was not designed for. We shouldn't value relationships based on the current level of romance, but whether they last. No marriage can live up to the unrealistic ideals and expectations we place on it.

According to Iris Krasnow, marriage is made up of tortuous work and predictable routine.

Via the character Wormtongue, C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, criticized we humans for valuing the storm of romantic emotion that comes at the beginning of a relationship more than the actual purposes of marriage relationships—mutual help, the preservation of chastity, and the transmission of life.

When people marry for trivial reasons, they get divorced for trivial reasons.

To try to preserve romantic love is to try to preserve the unpreservable. Marriage is not about being young together but about growing old together.

Ask yourself this, does your partner feel like they are married to Jesus Christ? (See Ephesians 5, about husbands loving their wives as Jesus loves the church.)

We need to change our perspective and view a spouse not primarily as a source of fulfillment but as a sister/brother in Christ.

Are we God-centered or spouse-centered? The way a spouse-centered husband treats his wife depends on how she has treated him lately, whereas a God-centered husband treats his wife based on the unconditional love Jesus has shown him.

She is not just your wife, she is God's daughter. Think of God as your father-in-law. Show your respect and love for him by nurturing and loving his precious daughter.

The daily question should not be, am I happier today in my marriage than I was yesterday. Instead, the daily prayer should be, 'Lord, help me to love your daughter today like she has never been loved before.'

Remember that God wants to love your spouse through you.

When you change your view of marriage, from perceiving it as a source of happiness to seeing it as a pathway to holiness, it is amazing that, in Gary Thomas’ experience, happiness in marriage increases. Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness…

Singles, keep in mind that you're not just marrying your spouse, you're marrying your childrens' mother/father. Keep in mind that character is the single most important trait to look for in a potential spouse. Look for someone who can work through conflict in healthy ways, who has a healthy prayer life and is open to the Spirit's work and transformation. Look for a humble person who is eager to grow and mature.

Marry someone who is increasingly like Jesus Christ; who could fall out of love with such a person?

Looks fade, but there is nothing like being married to a godly person. And there is nothing more miserable than the opposite.

Go to God, not culture, for a view of what marriage should be.

Regarding sacred parenting: don't spend so much time trying to purify your kids that you ignore purifying yourself, because your kids are studying you. We have never arrived; our spiritual growth should never stop.

I agree with Gary Thomas that we place unrealistic expectations on marriage. I know that I have typically viewed finding a wife as finding joy. And though I know that joy will be involved, so will much difficulty. I think it is very healthy to view marriage as a discipline of sorts in which two committed people seek to serve each other and to help each other to become more like Christ.

As difficult as it sounds like marriage is, I guess it's kinda nice to be single for the moment. And since marriage is not about being young together but about growing old and growing up together, I guess there is no rush. So, my question is, when is ol’ Gary going to write Sacred Singleness! :)

Remember Who You Are

This semester I’m redesigning a website for Lauren Engineers & Constructors here in Abilene. The cool thing about this gig is that I can work from home and choose my own hours…and that, if I so choose, I can watch movies while I work. Oh yeah!

Recently while working on the website, I watched The Lion King. The climactic scene where Mufasa visits Simba in a vision has always been one of my favorites, and this time around it was even more special because I saw it in more theological/spiritual terms. I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of identity and how one’s identity affects one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions. This scene is therefore meaningful to me because it is one in which Simba is reminded of his royal identity as a son of the king. Putting this scene into my own life, I see Mufasa as God the Father and Simba as me (and in some ways as a Christ figure…though an unsatifyingly wimpy one!).

But before Simba’s vision occurs, he needs the prophet-like Rafiki’s guidance:

Simba: Creepy little monkey. Will you stop following me? Who are you?

Rafiki: {In front of Simba, then right in his face.} The question is: whooo... are you?

Simba: {Startled, then sighing} I thought I knew.... Now I'm not so sure.

Rafiki: Well, I know who you are. Shh. Come here. It's a secret.

{He pulls Simba's head over to whisper into his ear. He starts his chant into Simba's ear and laughs.}

Asante sana!
Squash banana!
We we nugu!
Mi mi apana!

Simba: Ernh! Enough already! ...What's that supposed to mean anyway?

Rafiki: It means you are a baboon—and I'm not. {laughs}

Simba: {Moving away} I think… you're a little confused.

Rafiki: {Magically in front of Simba again} Wrong! I'm not the one who's confused; you don't even know who you are!

Simba: {Irritated, sarcastic} Oh, and I suppose you know.

Rafiki: Sure do; You're Mufasa's boy!

{Simba is surprised by this revelation. Rafiki disappears off stage right.}


Rafiki runs, Simba chases, and a chant plays in the background. The website (lionking.org) where I found the script to the movie (and the image embedded below) includes a translation of the chant. Interesting…

{Cue music}

We sangoma ngi velelwe [Oh, spiritual healer, I'm troubled]
We baba ngivelelwe [Oh, my father, I'm in pain]
We baba ngivelelwe [Oh, my father, I'm in pain]

Simba: Hey, wait!

{Simba chases after him. When the camera catches up, Rafiki is in a meditative lotus position on a rock.}

You knew my father?

Rafiki: {Monotone} Correction—I know your father.

Simba: I hate to tell you this, but… he died. A long time ago.

{Rafiki leaps off the rock over to a dense jungle-like area.}

Rafiki: Nope. Wrong again! Hah hah hah! He's alive—and I'll show him to you. You follow old Rafiki; he knows the way. Come on!

{Rafiki leads Simba through the brush. Simba has trouble keeping up due to his size. The music slips into African chant.}

Rafiki: Don't dawdle.... Hurry up!

Simba: Hey, whoa. Wait, wait.

Rafiki: Come on. Come on!

Simba: Would you slow down?

{Rafiki is seen flitting through the canopy ahead of Simba, laughing hollowly and whooping. Simba struggles to keep up. Suddenly, Rafiki appears with his hand held up right into Simba's face.}

Rafiki: STOP!

{Rafiki motions to Simba near some reeds.}


{He parts the reeds and points past them with his staff.}

Look down there.

{Simba quietly and carefully works his way out. He looks over the edge and sees his reflection in a pool of water. He first seems a bit startled, perhaps at his own mature appearance, but then realizes what he's looking at.}

Simba: {Disappointed} That's not my father. That's just my reflection.

Rafiki: Nooo. Look ... harder.

{Rafiki motions over the pool. Ripples form, distorting Simba’s reflection; they resolve into Mufasa’s face. There is a deep rumbling noise.}

You see ... he lives in you.

{Simba is awestruck. The wind picks up. In the air the huge image of Mufasa is forming from the clouds . He appears to be walking from the stars. The image is ghostly at first, but steadily gains color and coherence.}

Mufasa: {Quietly at first} Simba . . .

Simba: Father?

Mufasa: Simba, you have forgotten me.

Simba: No. How could I?

Mufasa: You have forgotten who you are, and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.

Simba: How can I go back? I'm not who I used to be.

Mufasa: Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king.

{Close up of Simba’s face, bathed in the golden light, showing a mixture of awe, fear, and sadness. The image of Mufasa starts to fade.}

Remember who you are.

{Mufasa is disappearing into the clouds fast. Simba runs into the fields trying to keep up with the image.}

Simba: No! Please! Don't leave me.
Mufasa: Remember...
Simba: Father!
Mufasa: Remember...
Simba: Don't leave me.
Mufasa: Remember . . .

Remember who you are.

Who am I? I'm Yahweh's boy. A son of the king. A man of God. A man sent on a mission.

But so often I forget this. Because, while I know it intellectually, I don’t truly believe it in my heart, with my whole being. Instead I forget, and I see myself as a just some dude. A guy who has to prove himself. A guy trying to live up to the unhealthy perfectionist standards he places on myself. A guy who looks to others for approval rather than to his Father.

"You have forgotten who you are, and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life."

In forgetting my own identity, I also forget God—his presence, his love. As Rafiki said, “He lives in you.” God does live in me by his Spirit. I have died and been resurrected with Christ in baptism, and sealed with the Holy Spirit; I am a new man called to take my place in the Kingdom and to join God in his mission in the world. My past does not define me, nor does the world, but rather God.

He is my Rock, my Refuge, my Shepherd, my Strength, my Shield, my Hope, my Help, my Salvation, my Peace, my Lord, my King, my Father. And he has made me his heir and a co-heir with Christ. He has made me a co-worker with him in creating each day and in sharing his love. I am a peacemaker. I am a minister of reconciliation. I am the aroma of Christ, spreading every the fragrance of knowing him.

Just as Simba needed Mufasa to speak to him, so I need to hear God say:

"Peace, be still…be still, Mitch, and know that I am God. And know that you, Mitch, are my child, made in my image. Look to me for your identity and value and praise. You don’t have to please everyone and it doesn’t matter what they think, because I love you, I created you in my image, I died for you, and you are my coworker in sharing my love and peace with the world.”

May you hear this as well, and may you find your identity in him. I think it is sad that so many Christians (including myself) struggle with anxiety, anger, depression, addiction, etc. And I think that part of the reason is that we forget our identity—we let other things define us.

And so, I’ve been meditating on my identity in Christ lately, and this scene from The Lion King was encouraging for me. I hope it has encouraged you as well.

Remember who God is.
Remember who you are.
And confidently take your place in the Kingdom of Life.

Remember who you are.

[You can download a video clip of Mufasa's visit on lionking.org. But be warned, it takes an insanely long time...because they seem to have the slowest server in the world!]

Friday, February 24, 2006

Unity Through Simplicity

I stumbled upon the New Wineskins website the other day, and what should I find but an article (actually a sermon) on unity by Chuck Monan, the preacher at my home church, Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Little Rock, Arkansas. Go Chuck! The name of the sermon is 'Unity Through Simplicity: A Future of Peace,' and in fact the current issue in Wineskins is all about unity. The only other article I've had a chance to read is Gary Holloway's on Barton Stone's spiritual model of unity. You might want to check these and others out.

Chuck in his article mentions the life work of Brother Roger Schutz, who with a passion for unity began the Taize community in France. I found a link to the Taize community's website at the bottom of Chuck's article and looked it over last night. The Taize style of worship is very contemplative, including scripture readings, prayer, and extended periods of silence. You can read about the aspects of their worship, including the importance of silence, in the 'Prayer and Song' section of the site and you can find daily Bible readings and meditations in the 'To the Sources of Faith' section.

It is interesting that all of these sources emphasize the importance of the Holy Spirit and of cultivating a Christ-like attitude of love as the only means to unity. I'll wrap this up with an excerpt from the end of Chuck's sermon...

For 65 years, Brother Roger tried to love God; tried to love his fellow man; tried to sing; tried to pray. He didn’t waste a lot of time finding fault with people. He spent a lot of time trying to point people to Christ, and to God’s love. There’s just got to be a lesson in that for us.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Plug for Bloglines

As I said in my last post, we're trying to do a better job of keeping our mission team's blog updated, and I'm trying to update my personal blog more often as well. But, invariable, dry spells will come. So, let me put in a plug for bloglines.com. It's a nifty website where you can create a list of your favorite blogs. When one of those blogs is updated, bloglines will inform you. That way, you don't have to visit 10 blogs a day just to find that only one has been updated. All you have to do is check out bloglines to see if any of your favorites have new posts. Cool, eh? You can also download a little program to your computer that gives you updates without requiring you to first surf to the bloglines page. Anyway, there's my plug for bloglines.

Team News

Our mission team has been busy lately, and there’s more to do just around the corner!!! This past weekend we met in Fort Worth for the first half of Mission Resource Network’s Team Missions Workshop. It was truly a blessing, and I’m looking forward to completing the second half of the TMW here in Abilene on the weekend of March 3-5.

We are currently working on applications to the Bell Trust Fund, an organization that assists missionaries with one-time expenses involved in getting their work off of the ground. We are hoping that Bell Trust will help us out with a big chunk of our moving expenses and also with language school. Please pray for this application and for all of the fund raising we are currently doing. And praise God for the support, spiritual and monetary, we have received so far. God has truly been faithful!

If you haven’t been to our team’s website in a while, you should check it out. We’re trying to do a better job of keeping our team blog and also our team photo gallery updated. Earlier today, Christie posted some very encouraging thoughts on God’s faithfulness to our team, and I recommend that you give them a read. Yesterday, Sarah Keen uploaded pix from the workshop; also, I added more pictures to several existing albums. Enjoy!

True Dialogue

So, I was having coffee with a friend of mine tonight, and he brought up some interesting thoughts on what is required for true dialogue to occur. When discussing differences, we usually seek to find similarities, because it’s more comfortable to hang out on that common ground. But, for two people with different views (in his example, Christian compared with Buddhist) to truly engage in meaningful dialogue, they must face their differences. The Christian must truly listen to what the Buddhist has to say, and must be open to the possibility that his/her Christian views are wrong and the Buddhist’s are right. And vice versa. Only in openness, humility, and vulnerability does a meaningful exchange actually occur. Otherwise, the conversation merely involves two people throwing ideas at each other; neither one is listening; neither one is willing to budge.

And this applies in more than just religious discussion. It applies to all of life and to everyday relationships.

And it just seems like the Christian posture to take: look to the interests of others, regard others as better than yourself, be willing to die to find life and to give life. Perhaps it can be summed up in one word...


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Everywhere You Go You Shout It

On February 2, U2's Bono addressed President Bush and others at the annual National Prayer Breakfast. In his speech he called America and the world to aid Africa, to fight poverty. You can read his speech here. U2's music has always been spiritual, and these days more than ever they, Bono specifically, are using their clout to call the world to action. I think it's very cool.

I have always wondered just how Christian U2 is. It is evident that they are very much followers of Christ, with hearts reflecting his love for the poor.

In 1999, Bono wrote an introduction to a pocket version of the Psalms. You can read his introduction, which I highly recommend, here. If you'd like to take a look at the many scriptural references in U2s catalog, go here. And lastly, if you would like to read more about U2's spirituality, check out this blog.

"Everywhere you go you shout it. You don't have to be shy about it."

That's from the song Original of the Species off of U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb album. For too long we've kept our love under control, but now we need to show our soul. Everywhere we go, we shout it, we shout Christ's love for the world, glorifying him by sharing the stamp of originality he has placed in each of our hearts.

Love, man, that's how you dismantle an atomic bomb.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

One in Christ

This morning I had the privilege of participating in a joint worship service between Minter Lane (predominantly white) and N 10th and Treadaway (predominantly black). Together we celebrated that we have been made one in Christ. And we hope that this first gathering will be the beginning of many more which might eventually result in full visible unity—because it is by our unity in love that we show the world that Jesus is God’s Son and the Creator of one new humanity. Our time together included a Bible class focused on the new covenant, which includes all peoples, a worship service, focused on the unity of the Spirit, and finally a fellowship meal. One theme passage for the morning was Ephesians 4:1-6:

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

Christ in his death and resurrection destroyed the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles (that is to say, all races), creating one new humanity. We ARE one. The church IS one united body. We have the same calling, the same Savior, the same Spirit, the same hope, the same faith, the same identity. Yet we are human and so our communities face struggles and divisions; we fail to live up to our calling. And so in 4:1-6, Paul calls us to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. This is not a passive calling, but an active one, asking us not only to prevent divisions but to seek reconciliation with other believers, to demonstrate the perfect unity Christ created on the cross. We have a lot of work to do, and it is only by the spirit (humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and love) and power of the Spirit that we can be one. God help us.

Another key verse this morning was Galatians 3:26-29:

"You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, [AND WE CAN ADD: BLACK NOR WHITE] for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

The Stone-Campbell Movement began not merely as a restoration movement seeking to restore the early church, but as a unity movement hoping to gather all Christians in all denominations into one body. The founders of our movement wanted to restore the early church not for the sake of restoration only, but because they saw restoration as the foundation to unity, and unity as the key to demonstrating to the world the divinity of Christ. We strive to be unified—in our diversity—to see to it that God is glorified and others are saved, that they are drawn to Christ by his love manifested in the church.

Despite this unity-focused beginning, we have divided over and over—racially, doctrinally, etc. And, beyond the Stone-Campbell Movment, the church has divided throughout its history, from New Testament times until now. Perhaps we could all benefit by recalling Barton Stone’s emphasis on not only right doctrine but also the right spirit—that of love and mutual forbearance. Consider these words from the “Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery,” a document by which Stone and others marked the beginning of the Stone-Campbell Movement:

"Imprimis. We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in hope of our calling.
Item. We will that preachers and people cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance; pray more and dispute less; and while they behold the signs of the times, look up, and confidently expect that redemption draweth nigh."

Elsewhere, Stone wrote:

"I blush for my fellows, who hold up the Bible as the bond of union yet make their opinions of it tests of fellowship; who plead for union of all Christians; yet refuse fellowship with such as dissent from their notions. Vain men! Their zeal is not according to knowledge, nor is their spirit that of Christ…Such anti-sectarian sectarians are doing more mischief to the cause, and advancement of truth, the unity of Christians, and the salvation of the world than all the skeptics in the world. In fact they make skeptics."

And second-generation leader David Lipscomb advised that we should be “slow to withdraw from one that sincerely desires to do the will of God.”

Before concluding this post, allow me to share some powerful words from John Stott’s commentary on Ephesians, a letter infused with the theme of unity:

"How dare we build walls of partition in the one and only human community in which [God] has destroyed them?…To perpetuate these barriers in the church, and even to tolerate them without taking any active steps to overcome them in order to demonstrate the trans-cultural unity of God’s new society, is to set ourselves against the reconciling work of Christ and even to try to undo it.” This “hinders the world from believing in Jesus. God intends his people to be a visual model of the gospel, to demonstrate before people’s eyes the good news of reconciliation. But what is the good of gospel campaigns if they do no produce gospel churches? It is simply impossible, with any shred of Christian integrity, to go on proclaiming that Jesus by his cross has abolished the old divisions and created a single new humanity of love, while at the same time we are contradicting our message by tolerating racial or social or other barriers within our church fellowship. I am not saying that a church must be perfect before it can preach the gospel, but I am saying that it cannot preach the gospel while acquiescing in its imperfections.
We need to get the failures of the church on our conscience, to feel the offence to Christ and the world which these failures are, to weep over the credibility gap between the church’s talk and the church’s walk, to repent of our readiness to excuse and even condone our failures, and to determine to do something about it. I wonder if anything is more urgent today, for the honor of Christ and for the spread of the gospel, than that the church should be, and should be seen to be what by God’s purpose and Christ’s achievement it already is—a single new humanity, a model of human community, a family of reconciled brothers and sisters who love their Father and love each other, the evident dwelling place of God by his Spirit. Only then will the world believe in Christ as peacemaker. Only then will God receive the glory due to his name (Stott 111-12)."

We must face this issue. We cannot settle for the way things are now. Christ did not settle for our separation, how can we? This is a mystery, this unity between God and us and each other, but this mystery is reality. Surely we should forget ourselves and strive to make this unity visible.

Perhaps this issue doesn’t speak to you right now, where you are in life, but it is big. It is all over the New Testament (and even the Old). You may also feel like you are in no position to help, but you are. Unity starts with each of us and our relationships with the people in our community. It should be shown on all different levels—from the universal church, to each local congregation, to every Christian home.

The Stone-Campbell Movement began with a very noble cause—a cause for which Christ himself fervently prayed (see John 17:20-23). So, as Stone called us, may unity be our polar star, to which our eyes are continually turned and our efforts directed, so that the world may believe and be saved. And as Paul prayed in Romans 15:5-6, so I pray:

"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give [us] a spirit of unity among [ourselves] as [we] follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth [we] may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."


[The embedded image is one I created for this morning’s joint celebration.]