Encouraging the Weak, Boot Camp Bill Part 2


And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 1 Thessalonians 5:14

My friend Tiffany strongly urged me a couple of weeks ago to join her at Boot Camp Challenge. She claims it’s just because she didn’t want to go by herself, which I’m sure is partly true. But she also knows that I’ve been looking for something to do to kick start my “get back in shape” mission and she knew I was up to the challenge even though I wasn’t sure myself.

That is admonishing the idle.

Boot Camp Bill likes me. He told me this morning. Do you know why? He says he likes me because I have focus. I told him that I have to focus when I do the crazy stuff he asks me to do or I would hurt myself. “My right side is weak,” I told him. “I’ve had more knee surgeries than I have knees. I know to focus on technique and build up weight as I go. I’m just not steady on my right side yet.”

“YET!” he bellowed. “That’s the key word: YET! You’re focused, you have a goal and you’re gonna get there!”

That, my friends, is encouraging the fainthearted.

On Saturday, Boot Camp Bill also helped me do these ridiculous ab exercises that I won’t even begin to explain because, he says, we need to train my muscles to know they can do it before they’ll start doing it on their own. Today, I did them on my own.

That is helping the weak.

My first week I couldn’t do the side-to-side ab workouts on that dreaded Bosu ball because my balance was so bad and my core was so weak. Boot Camp Bill let me keep my heels on the ground instead of up in the air that first week because I had a goal to get my feet in the air this week. Guess where my feet were on Monday? That’s right. They were off the ground. Most of the time at least.

And that is being patient with all.

There’s a reason that Scripture is full of athletic illustrations when discussing out spiritual lives. We are the body of Christ, and our spiritual life requires daily upkeep and nutrition and challenge, just like our physical life.

So if you are one who is spiritually healthy, teaching those who are idle, weak, and fainthearted, continue encouraging them! Praise the small victories. Help them set realistic goals. Teach them technique concerning spiritual devotion and then challenge them to go deeper as the simple things get easier.

And if you’re the beginner (or the beginning again-er), take heart and persevere! Do not let early set backs get you down. Don’t give up if you don’t do something the “right way” the first time. Don’t focus on being a mighty prayer warrior; just focus on talking to God daily. Don’t aim for five hours of Bible study each day in the original languages; just subscribe to a daily devotional and read the entire chapter the devotional verses come from. Start small, work on technique and challenge yourself to go deeper as that the things of Christ begin to feed your soul.

What about you? How you begin again when you’ve taken time away from spiritual health? How do you encourage those around you in their spiritual walks?

 

A New and Living Way, Part 3


I. God has prescribed for us a New Way of Living. (10:22-25)
For those who are a members of God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ, God has given us instructions for how we are to behave as his children, both in relation to Him as our Father and to one another in the church as brothers and sisters.

A. We must approach God sincerely. As I have said before, part of being a child of God is the ability to approach Him as a child would approach her father. But a child who loves her father would never go to her father with a sense of disrespect or with a demanding attitude. That same child, confident in the love of her father, is not going to approach him cautiously or fearfully. A child of God must go to Him with the same confidence, trust, and respect. When people in Scripture were in the presence of God, they had two responses: they recognized the sinfulness of their lives and they fell down and worshiped God. When Moses encountered God in the burning bush in Exodus 3, God demanded that he remove his sandals as a sign of respect for being on holy ground. In Isaiah 6:5, when Isaiah saw the throne room of God in a vision, he declared himself to be a man of unclean lips. In Revelation 1:17, the Apostle John saw Jesus in a vision on the island of Patmos and fell down as a dead man.

When we approach God, we must do so with a clean heart, in an attitude of respect and worship. The word here that we translate as “sincere” literally means “without superficiality, hypocrisy, or ulterior motive.” God told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 4:29, “You will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.” We are to come before God not wearing a mask of perfection or false holiness, but we are to approach Him in prayer and worship, honestly showing ourselves to Him while having a full assurance that He will help us with our sins and weaknesses. One commentator stated, “The people who find God are those who seek Him with their whole heart, with total genuineness.”

The idea of “full assurance” means that when we rely on God, we do so without doubt in our position as His children or His love as our Father. In 4:14-16 of Hebrews, the author has already explained to his readers:
Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Jesus, our high priest, provided a way for us to confidently approach God with a pure, forgiven heart, and we are to approach Him this way each time we come to Him!

B. We must confess our hope unwaveringly. The writer begins this section on instructions concerning behavior with a point on how we are to approach God. This is very important to understand, because if our relationship with the Father is not correct, our relationships with one another will almost certainly be wrong as well. These instructions are given in a progressive order, and we see here that once we are confident in our position in Christ, we can then confess our hope with the same confidence. At the end of this verse, we are given an amazing statement concerning our Father: “He who promised is faithful.” God our Father has never failed in His promises, and unlike fallen, sinful man, He is always faithful to do what He says He will do. This fact is one in which we can place our confidence.

The Christians who received this letter had begun to lose their confidence in this new covenant, and it is believed that some of them were considering a return to the Jewish temple practices. Hard times had come and they had begun to waver in their faith in Christ. Just like those Christians had seen God keep His promises countless times, the Bible is full of examples of God’s faithfulness, and we can trust that God is faithful today just as He was then, because our God never changes.

Part of being a child of God is that, as we learn more and more about God, we are changed from the inside out and become more like Him. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, we are promised this will happen: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

We have hope that God is faithful, but what are we to confess? Our confession of hope is the salvation found in Christ. When we are confident in our salvation, we will share that hope with everyone we know.

C. We must encourage one another consistently. Part of becoming a child of God is learning to interact with other members of His family. Just as parents expect their children to treat one another lovingly, so God also expects us as His children to treat one another lovingly. In verse 24, we are told to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. The word “consider” means that we are to do more than think about it occasionally. It’s easy to think about other believers on Sunday morning when we are together at church. But here, we are told that we are to take care of each other’s spiritual welfare; we should show continuous concern for how our brothers and sisters are growing in their walks with the Lord.

This is the standard God has set for how we are to treat one another, but too often we fall short of this standard. In Matthew 7, Jesus gives us one example of how we fail at this instruction to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Here he says, “”Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” The word translated here as “look” is the same Greek word that is translated as “consider” in Hebrews 10. With these two passages, we are given instructions in how we should and how we should not think of our spiritual siblings.

The word “stimulate” or “stir up” means we are to sharpen one another. With the combination of these two words, the writer of Hebrews is encouraging us to focus our attention consistently on finding ways to bring the love of Christ out of our fellow believers in real and practical ways.

In verse 25, we are told the reason for the urgency in the instructions of verse 24; many had begun to get frustrated and had grown disillusioned with the church and had even abandoned the fellowship of believers. It is nearly impossible to have any type of relationship with someone you never see. These practical instructions are meant to remind the readers that they will not be able to build up one another with encouragement if they are not gathering together. There is strength in numbers, and the discouraged sister is quickly encouraged when she comes together with other believers for a time of worship, prayer, and encouragement.

An early Christian writer named Ignatius once wisely observed, “When you frequently, and in numbers meet together, the powers of Satan are overthrown, and his mischief is neutralized by your likemindedness in the faith.” By gathering together, more mature believers are able to teach and encourage younger believers, and those younger believers in turn remind the older believers to keep their excitement for the Lord fresh and new as they walk with Him. Abandonment and isolation lead only to defeat, so the writer encourages his readers to remain together because the longer they stay together in a mutual state of love and encouragement, the closer they all come to the day when they will see Christ face to face.

My sister Brittany learned quickly her being a part of our family came with certain responsibilities. My parents raised us to believe that carrying the Mason name required certain things of us. We were told that Masons worked hard whether our boss was looking or not. We were told that Masons worked hard in school and that they went to college. We were told that Masons kept their promises and were true to their word. We were told to remember that when we went out into the world and began making choices on our own that we needed to remember that we not only represented ourselves as individuals, but we represented our family. My parents did a good job of teaching us those things because they spent time with us and taught us those things and then quickly corrected us when we were not living in a way that was consistent with who we were as members of the Mason family.

Just like being a Mason comes with certain responsibilities, being a child of God comes with certain responsibilities to God and to each other. This week, find ways that you can live out your confidence in your position as a child of God. Do you confess your hope in Christ without wavering? If not, find an opportunity this week to share your faith with someone. Take a moment and take inventory of how you consider your friends and family. Do you spend your time judging them and their sin, or do you spend more time considering how you can encourage them in their walks with Christ? If you realize you spend more time thinking about their sin than about how you can help them out of your sin, then make a point of changing that this week.

A New Sexual Ethic? Part 4


This is part 4 in a 5 part series of a response to Carter Heyward’s essay “Notes on Historical Grounding: Beyond Sexual Essentialism,” which can be found in Sexuality and the Sacred:Sources for Theological Reflection, edited by James B. Nelson and Sandra P. Longfellow.

Third, Heyward claims that Christianity is isolating and denies community. By setting rigid boundaries concerning sexual behavior and then consequently excluding those who refuse to live by those standards, Heyward states that Christianity is proving itself dated, close-minded, and supportive of “compulsive heterosexuality” (Heyward, 12). Historically, Heyward claims that women were isolated from the Christian community by being declared “as evil, ‘the devil’s gateway’” and then systematically used as scapegoats for the sexual sins of the men around them (Heyward, 14).

What is so interesting about Heyward’s quick dismissal of all things “christian” is that God’s moral law, especially his guidelines concerning sexual relations in general, create and then reinforce exactly the sort of relationality that Heyward claims she is attempting to achieve. Relationship, community, unity in diversity, profound oneness and even wholeness are recurring themes throughout Scripture. Heyward is attempting to achieve the end of spiritual wholeness through the means of sex. Scripture teaches that even the most holy sexual relationship is but a picture of the unity and wholeness experienced in being a member of the bride of Christ (Eph 6.22-33). The foundation of Christianity is found in the words of Christ Himself when He stated, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).

Throughout the epistles of the New Testament, believers in churches across Europe and Asia Minor are exhorted to live as a unified, healthy body (1 Cor 12), as a well jointed building (Eph 2); they are told to lay aside petty differences (Phil 4) and to pray for one another and for their common goal (1 Thes 5). These instructions for community are plentiful, and they center on the common love of God and the common call of spreading His glory among the nations. There is one part of living in community that Heyward seems to miss—justice and love are not relative terms that can be interpreted to mean that believers should turn a blind eye to those things which Scripture condemns as going against the nature of God. Justice and love are characteristics of the nature of God, and God declares to His people, “For I the Lord do not change” (Mal 3.6). If God does not change, the characteristics of His nature are fixed and unchanging as well. Therefore, the principles of spurring one another on to love and good deeds (Heb 10) and of confronting one another when fellow believers are entrenched in sin (Mt 18; Gal 6; 1 Cor 5) apply to all things described in Scripture as moral laws which reflect the character of God. So long as desires are allowed to reign unchecked and people continue to seek fulfillment in things other than a relationship with God through Jesus, true spiritual wholeness will not be realized.

C.S. Lewis described this spiritual wholeness of Christ as Joy, and upon contemplating this matter of desire and pleasure made the following observation: “Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for Joy. I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy.” Heyward and her intellectual companions have attempted to substitute pleasure for Joy by completely freeing human sexuality from all encumbrances of law and discipline, but they have yet to achieve the wholeness and fulfillment for which they so desperately search. The struggle to find wholeness through the creation instead of the Creator (Rom 1. 25) is a confirmation of Lewis’ belief that physical pleasure is an unsatisfactory attempt to fill the “God-shaped void” in the lives of people.

This God-shaped void brings Heyward to the natural end of seeking God in God’s created order—Heyward describes sex in divine terms, completing the move from a supposedly “christian” sexual ethic to a glorification and worship of sex that is essentially pagan sex worship. In her discussion of this new christian ethic of sex, Heyward draws upon the work of Freud, who described the eroticism of sex as the “life force.” Heyward also quotes Audre Lorde’s description of the erotic as “the source of our creativity, the wellspring of our joy, the energy of our poems, music, lovemaking, dancing, meditation, friendships, and meaningful work.” For the Christian believer, this description could very well be used to describe God. In the Psalms, it is the glory and worship of Yahweh that inspires David and the other psalmists to write and dance and meditate. The entire book of the Song of Songs describes the fruition of a sexual relationship between a husband and wife when that relationship is rightly focused upon God and upon one another. Paul tells the church in Corinth, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10.31).

The focus of the life of the believer is not self pleasure or self glorification. Rather, the believer is to focus on the glory and worship of God. To give creative or inspirational credit or worship to anything other than God Himself is to commit an act of idolatry. Heyward attempts to explain this usurpation of God by declaring, “Theologically, we are speaking of our power in right relation; from a christian perspective, the power of God” (Heyward, 15). She claims that the power of God is reached and realized through the act of sex, but God himself prohibits worshiping him through sex acts (Lev 18, 20).

These major themes—the role reversals of men and women, the search for false community, the replacement of God with an idol—work together to show that while Heyward claims that her work, heritage, and ideas are Christian, she is actually committing the very sin that she exposes in the Church; she is further removing herself from the authority of the Bible and establishing her own ethic based upon tradition and personal experience. Heyward has taken Wesley’s quadrilateral of interpretation and reversed it; instead of beginning with Scripture and clarifying it through tradition, philosophy, and personal experience, Heyward begins with personal experience and reinterprets or discounts philosophy, tradition, and Scripture. Those ideals and absolutes which go against personal experience and desire are laid aside and explained away as being culturally irrelevant. This is precisely the place that Heyward envisions: “A historical perspective on sexuality is important… because such a view enables us to envision and perhaps experience our own possibilities…. We are involved in shaping our own dreams.” By using sex as a means to channel the power of God, Heyward argues that personal, sexual realization enables humanity to make its own destiny—humanity becomes god.