Tomorrow morning I am heading to Istanbul to begin a two week tour of western Turkey and Greece with Fuller Seminary alumni and professors. I have been focused on preparation of mind, body, and spirit as well as packing. As of today, my body is on Istanbul time so that I can “hit the ground running” upon arrival in that great city first thing in the morning Friday.
Now that the packing is all done, I turn to Colossians 4 and realize I can do a much better job of bringing it to life it after my trip! So I have decided to keep you in suspense awhile longer . . . I am not sure how reliable my internet connection will be, but if I can get a post or two and perhaps a picture out to you while on the Way, you’ll get my impressions of the region on Paul’s mind in the book of Colossians. I do know that the ruins of Colossae are basically buried in a big mound; but who knows what we might pick up that will be helpful to our study?
Your prayers for a safe journey, good health, and joyful relationships with fellow travelers would be appreciated. I signed up for this 14-day tour shortly after my health was restored in 2014. My husband, who is unable to get away for this time period, encouraged me to seize the day. So prayers for him, too!
In joyful anticipation,
Today is Good Friday, the most solemn day of remembrance in the entire church year. On this day we recall the aftermath of Jesus’ betrayal by one of the twelve, his sham of a trial, his suffering, and his crucifixion in public view just outside the walls of Jerusalem.
For secular types in-the-know, Jesus’ appearance for judgment was an uncomfortable intrusion on their “live and let live” policy toward the Jews. For the Jewish elite in Jerusalem, Jesus’ latest offenses—including the raising of Lazarus (John 11) and his claim to deity at the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7-8) for instance—were the straws that broke the camel’s back. Something must be done with this man, or we are going to have an insurrection on our hands.
I wonder how 21st century news media would have covered the story, if press presence at Jesus’ middle-of-the-night trial might have held Romans and Jews accountable for their inept judicial proceedings. We know some of the inner workings of this process through eye-witness accounts gathered by the gospel writers from folks who must have been sympathetic to Jesus’ cause. But no one overtly stood up for Jesus, offered a defense, or otherwise provided a “fair trial.” He was “tried” by a hostile stampede of public opinion.
The news of Jesus death spread locally, but there was no 24/7 news cycle to analyze it from every angle or replay the scene ad nauseam. No, in those first couple of days, people retreated to their homes or walked along the way, dispirited and wondering, remembering his life and teaching and questioning whether they had gotten it wrong and that he wasn’t that special after all. I think they also wondered if this sort of injustice could happen to them, too.
And then Jesus rose from the dead, and within a matter of hours and days, he was appearing to hundreds of people and news spread through the witness of the apostles that Jesus was Lord, the Christ, and believing in him would impart salvation. This news, wholly unexpected and outrageous to the Powers That Be, nevertheless made its way into hearts and communities who demonstrated great faith and courage by believing and proclaiming it despite the hostile religious environment.
The Good News of the Gospel as we have come to know it was not a commodity to be sold but a message to be given to all who could possibly hear it. We are not part of the News Business, but participants in the Gospel Project. Its impact on individuals, villages, and societies in the two thousand years since is immeasurably for the good. As Paul would indicate in another letter, he did not personally gain by sharing this news. He was not charging a fee, selling commercials, or otherwise commoditizing the gospel for his own benefit. He sacrificed a lot, worked hard on the side to earn a living when he could, and ultimately was arrested in situations where the gospel was bad for business.
So when Paul asked for prayer that he could be clear about the gospel (Colossians 4:3-4) and bold in his presentation (Ephesians 6:19) he was demonstrating the priority of clear teaching over personal safety. His role was misunderstood apparently, because there were plenty of snake oil salesman giving itinerate preachers a bad name (2 Corinthians 4:1-2). Paul would not be one of those, and neither should we.
The news we have to share is lifechanging and very important. Its content is the Truth. By sharing it, we are not—are we—trying to pad our coffers, build a reputation, sell a product, or otherwise capitalize on the gospel. We are not in the News business; we are preachers and teachers of the gospel as potentially life-changing, personally transforming, and powerfully motivating.
We are never promised safety, but we are given inner peace. As we put our trust in Christ we are never to expect prosperity or the easy life, but we have his presence through thick and thin. The point of our discipleship (the discipline of apprenticeship to Jesus) is to gain enough strength in the Lord that we can remain standing through the difficulties that come with our allegiance to Jesus over any temporal power or ruling authority. That standing, in itself, becomes part of the testimony to the gospel—our willingness to put Jesus at the very center of our lives even at the expense of comfort, safety, or approval. In this, let us follow Jesus to the cross, die to ourselves, and live unto God.
You might call me a news junkie. In a day’s time, I hear four radio newscasts, read the morning newspaper, catch a few articles from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or something else linked by the daily Church and the World news compendium. I read TIME Magazine cover-to-cover every week, watch the Nightly News on TV, 60 Minutes on Sunday night, and occasionally while I am sewing turn on BBC World News or the PBS News Hour.
I am now sick of it.
I am sick of the repetition of news stories, looking for new angles, new sensations, new fears, and new salacious details until the next new story comes along.
I am sick of the speed with which people come to judgment of events, giving no pause for grief, for review, for prayer, for study, or for compassion.
I am sick of people not doing their homework, commenting on events, texts, or rulings without knowing what they are talking about.
I am sick of the narcissism that drives so much of our media and political processes these days. People are so bent on getting their own particular way, point of view, or priority adopted by all that they have lost sight of the common good.
I am sick of the burdens our society is putting on public servants, CEOs, and even entertainers. Woe be unto you if, in a moment of adolescent stupidity you said something dumb (you define) or twenty years ago supported a cause that is no longer politically correct. Somebody who doesn’t like you, or suffers from PC scrupulosity, or craves power at any cost, is going to “investigate” and smear you until you resign. Pretty soon, the only ones left to lead are going to be the ones who crave power and smear others. Do we really want to be a country like that depicted in House of Cards?
I am sick of the impact news media have on the development of news stories. They have gone beyond reporting what has happened to making things happen simply by repeating ad nauseam some speculation or other.
I am heartsick at the condition of our world, and heartsick that American news outlets are so silent on events and trends in other parts of the globe. [My eyes and ears were opened to this dynamic when I lived in Zimbabwe for a few months in 1994. While the U.S. was fixated on O. J. Simpson’s arrest, Africans were celebrating Mandela’s election and recoiling from the genocide in Rwanda. O. J. Who?]
Yes, I am sick of it.
We live in a world saturated with messages. Many of them are not true. Some seem to glorify death, destruction, and catastrophe. Others are merely inane. For some reason, however, they “sell,” and message delivery is a business.
Against this backdrop, we hear the words of the Apostle Paul who is incarcerated because of his evangelistic activities. He has spent the previous twenty years or so promoting one message: Jesus is Lord over all creation, his salvation is available to all people, the church is empowered by the Holy Spirit to glorify God and make known the mysteries of the gospel. By all measures, Paul was a brilliant apologist, a tireless teacher, and a courageous traveler. Even from a prison cell, he is optimistic and looking forward to new open doors for the gospel:
3And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message,
so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ,
for which I am in chains.
4Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
Some of the dynamics I mentioned above make it difficult sometimes for Christians to be clear about the Message, the gospel. Our audience, particularly in America, has very tight filters and low tolerance for challenge to its narcissism. Paul’s prayer is that he can be clear and bold to proclaim “the mystery of Christ,” which at the very least humbles us under God’s sovereignty. How can we clearly uphold the kindness of God’s purposes, in hopes that it will lead the world to repentance? (Romans 2:4) . . . No, I don’t have a quick answer, either, which is why this prayer request is not only Paul’s but ours!
More in my next post.
2Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
3And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message,
so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ,
for which I am in chains.
4Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
5Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders;
make the most of every opportunity.
6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt
so that you may know how to answer everyone.
I have been a morning person my whole life. In the evenings we have a family rule, “No major decisions after 9 p.m.” But in the morning, I feel almost invincible. This life pattern was enhanced last year while I was undergoing treatment for lung cancer. My best, most productive hours of the day were between 3 and 8 a.m., and then the day’s treatment would knock me flat again and keep me sleepy throughout the afternoon and evening.
This morning, my alarm clock went off at 3 a.m. Not for the same reason—something much more fun. In ten days I will be taking an early morning flight to Istanbul, for a two-week tour of New Testament sites in Turkey and Greece with a Fuller alumni group. There is a ten-hour time difference between California and Turkey, and I have learned over the years that a “cold turkey” time switch does not work for me. So beginning last week, I have been shortening my days by thirty minutes, adjusting the schedules for meds and meals gradually. By the time I leave, I will be on Istanbul time.
It’s getting tougher now, because as of today, my bedtime will be prior to Andy’s arrival home from work. I freely admit the social inconvenience of such a method. Andy is a very good sport even though he thinks I’m a little nutty. But the payoff is so completely worth it, I press on. Today, though, my eyes are a little heavy even here at the laptop.
The Apostle Paul has written a stellar letter to the church in Colossae, and now he can’t really finish the epistle without one more practical admonition to pray, to say awake, and to give thanks. He started the letter with a prayer for them and now circles back to that same theme, encouraging them to pray as he does and now especially for him.
It makes me wonder what was on Paul’s mind when he said to “be watchful” (literally, stay awake). Perhaps the embarrassing story of the three close disciples of Jesus, who fell asleep in prayer on Gethsemane, much to the Lord’s disappointment. Perhaps in his later years, Paul is having a harder time staying awake in periods of solitude and silence. Or maybe his joyful anticipation of Christ’s return is enough to keep him vigilant and on guard so as to be ready when the Lord shows up.
What I do know is that it is hard for me to stay awake through prolonged periods of prayer. So to “devote myself to prayer,” I have to turn in that direction several times a day until I have covered the bases. Paul asks that one of those bases be his needs and God’s advance preparation of people with whom Paul will later share the gospel. He is always on the lookout for opportunity, and when it crosses his path he is ready with speech “full of grace, seasoned with salt,” ready with an answer to any sort of question that might come his way. This is one very good reason to pray for one’s pastor—Paul’s need is universal.
And we really must be ready for whatever comes. The week’s news bombards us with “what if” scenarios: what if I had only eight minutes to live in a plane headed straight toward a mountain range? What if I were captured and my house burned to the ground by Muslims demanding my conversion? What if I were asked to officiate at a same-sex marriage, and ridiculed for holding to a traditional view of marriage? What if I got stuck on a railroad crossing as a train was approaching?
The fact is, if we are asleep at the wheel these days, there are plenty of things that can happen. Paul is clinging to the fact that prayer, alertness, and a spirit of thanksgiving are going to hold us fast in the Lord and help us acquire wisdom for the tough stands and the difficult work ahead. Where I live (San Francisco Bay Area), it is a challenge to maintain the freedom to worship and to demonstrate the Kingdom of God according to the Word of God. It’s a tough crowd, 95% unchurched, and liberalism of all kinds is status quo.
For this scenario, Paul simply asks for clarity in what he says, wisdom to navigate political/social waters, and the patience to engage in meaningful conversation with the goal in mind. We can ask for no less!
It is good to be back with you again after a little break. Midday on Friday, March 13, we got the call that our daughter Katy had started labor. By three o’clock we were on the road in our 24-foot sprinter van RV, packed and equipped for a week-long stay. After an overnight in Oregon, we arrived at Swedish Hospital in Seattle to meet our first grandchild, a girl named Eleanor (Elly), less than eleven hours after her birth.
I do not want to resort to clichés about her beauty, perfection, cuteness, or any other accolade attributed to newborns. She was all of those, of course—this is Nana writing, after all—but there was another observation that took me by surprise. Perhaps it is because grandparents may come into the situation with a clearer head, not having lost a night’s sleep, not having worked hard for ten hours to give birth, not having been shocked into parenthood, nor overwhelmed with its responsibilities.
I know all those feelings, having given birth to two daughters in the early 1980s. I remember my exhaustion, the self-doubts, the early nightmares about Katy suffocating in her bed (a “responsibility dream” if ever there was one). Looking back on my entire life, the most jarring, life-changing thing that ever happened to me was to become a parent. It was exhilarating, serious, laugh- and cry-inducing, frustrating and fulfilling, and the beginning of the most amazing learning experience a human being can undergo.
So now, fast forward to 2015 in a Seattle hospital (where, by the way, thirty babies were born on Pi Day 3.14.15!). Yes, Elly was tiny, but not that small at almost nine pounds. Yes, her skin was incredibly soft to the touch, her little fingernails perfectly formed. She knew her mother’s voice and was comforted by skin-to-skin contact. And yes, she was helpless and totally dependent. But unlike my early observations of my own children, this time I saw something different.
I saw bewilderment.
“Life on the outside,” as some have coined it, is a rather rude introduction to glaring light and unmuffled sound, No longer suspended in fluid, baby is now breathing on her own, nursing from her mother’s breast, experiencing the sensations of a gastro-intestinal track at work, and hiccupping. All of this is new. Every once in awhile, I would catch a glimpse of this bewilderment, after which the only reaction in Elly’s repertoire was to cry. Crying communicates everything at that early stage, and as her tiny little body warmed up to its new environment doing its natural things, Elly hardly knew what to make of it.
A few remedies were always at the ready: a clean diaper, more milk, and swaddling blankets to comfort her. But sometimes, especially during those early diaper changes, life is momentarily cold, uncomfortable, and messy, and crying seems just the right way to show displeasure.
What struck me most, in those post-confusion cuddle times, was that age 61 has its own bewilderments associated with new experiences, uncharted territory, foreign environments (in the neighborhood or on the far side of the world), and bodily changes. As responsible adults, we are expected to deal with these discomforts and take care of ourselves. But really, what do we do when we are plunged into the world of Parkinson’s Disease (a neighbor’s diagnosis), or we lose your home to fire, or the earth slides out from underneath us? The only one who can hold us, nourish us, and keep us emotionally safe is our gracious Heavenly Father. He holds us together until we can gain the necessarily experience, wisdom, and courage to stand up again. It is completely all right to cry in order to get his attention, especially when words fail. But God is attentive, ready, and very strong at our moment of deepest weakness. So to Elly and to you, I give this blessing: “May God’s power rest upon you, for he has promised, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
This week: We will finally finish Colossians with some observations on the fourth chapter.
Just got word that our older daughter has started labor, so the birth of our first grandchild is imminent. I have been rooting for Pi Day all week; could we be so fortunate? If this goes long enough, we will have a “once in a century” baby! While doing Nana duty, I will be working with my other daughter, who is first round editor of my book, Slaying the Beast: A Spiritual Journal Through Lung Cancer, which I “finished” (ha-ha) yesterday. We will be working on it for two weeks, so during that time you will not be hearing from me on this blog.
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Colossians 4:1 is a good place to pause for a bit of a review in our study of Paul’s letter to the Colossians.
After a splendid introduction to Jesus Christ— his primacy, his deity, and his presence—Paul makes the case in chapter 2 that Christians enjoy a particular freedom. This liberty is not license to do whatever one pleases, but practical freedom from human regulations (like the Jewish Law) and secular humanistic philosophies. Life in Christ gives a person the opportunity to enjoy the freedom to do good without the lead weight of counterfeit wisdom or spiritual OCD (2:23).
A good life walks in holiness made possible by the Spirit within every believer. A holy life, as Paul describes it, is not self-conscious, self-righteous, or self-glorifying. In Christ, we have been given a life set apart from earthly things, that is, a sacred opportunity to align ourselves with Jesus and reject the things of earth that lead to death. Ironically, living to Christ means dying to self, but the death of our earthly nature is the means of our liberation to receive all the Spirit has for us.
A technicality: I do not intend to carve out a dualism here between that which is material (bad) and that which is spiritual (good). But Paul uses the language in chapter 3 of “earthly” (perhaps we can interpret this as “worldly”) and “spiritual” (interpreted as “godly”). The worldly wisdom expressed in human regulations is to be distinguished from godly wisdom expressed in holy living, which is described in very practical ways in chapter 3.
So how does this translate into everyday life? We allow Jesus to shape us in his image and likeness. We apprentice ourselves to Jesus (Dallas Willard’s favorite image). To illustrate, it has been said that the longer a husband and wife live together (we’re talking decades), the more likely they will take on their partner’s characteristics. These might be vocal inflections, facial expressions or gestures, or a way of thinking. There have been times in our married life when others who didn’t know Andy and me thought we were brother and sister. When you spend (almost) 40 years in the same household, one personality is bound to rub off on the other! And so it is in our apprenticeship to Jesus. The longer we spend in fellowship with Jesus, the more he is going to rub off on us.
Holiness develops as we walk in close relationship with Jesus Christ, the one who is fully God and yet in whom all things (like us) hold together. When Jesus dwells in us and we in him, his presence has a transforming effect on us. The Spirit that raised Christ Jesus from the dead, that same One, dwells in our mortal bodies by faith (Romans 8:11). Resurrection follows! Unleashed within us, the Spirit of Christ goes to work to bring joy, humility, love for God’s Word, and a host of other gifts and attitudes. You see, only God has the capacity and the all-in desire to change us from the inside out. But when God does that, we have the power and the freedom to act in concert with him.
The transformation begins when we come alive in Jesus Christ and it is complete when finally we see our Savior face to face. Along the way, we are people under construction, and God is not finished with us yet. So let us stay close, stay faithful, keep listening, and continue to surrender our wills, minds, hearts, and bodies to the One who will return to us the freedom to live the life he designed us to live.
A few years ago, in response to the drought conditions then (a chronic problem in California), we re-landscaped our front yard. It involved replacing our driveway and putting in a new walkway directly from the street to our front door. Things were torn up for weeks, but on concrete pouring day everybody’s spirits lifted. A crew of skilled laborers congregated in the middle of the now excavated dirt pathway for the 7 a.m. briefing. With water and tools at the ready, the team turned to welcome the big cement truck of your dreams, and an amazing procedure unfolded.
Given wet cement, the crew had to work quickly and in a coordinated fashion. The job was to direct the heavy flow into waiting forms, level the cement, and smooth it within the allotted time. We watched from the window above, with goofy grins on our faces. One of the reasons we were so enthralled was that each and every one of the crew members looked as though he were back in his boyhood playing in a sandbox. The men were having fun, even as they executed the plan with great skill. They were “all in,” fully committed to the task, and when it was completed, they shared our delight at how well it had turned out.
In contrast, can’t you tell when a person is just going through the motions at the job? What gives them away is the absence of any sense of joy or meaning in what they do. Sometimes you can detect anger, discontent, or mistrust that shows up at the oddest moments. It makes you wonder if the worker is having a problem with his or her employer or co-worker. It has been my observation over the years that a person who is not—in some way, at some phase—enjoying the job is not going to do as good a job as someone who is all in.
We were all designed to work, even in Eden, even before the Fall. Adam and Eve were given responsibilities to carry out as stewards of the marvelous creation God had put around them. Any notion that there is no effort in heaven is mistaken, for John records in the Revelation (the last book of the Bible) that all those in God’s presence shall reign with him over the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 5:10). So work is supposed to be a good thing, a fulfilling activity that bears fruit and offers an opportunity to worship God with one’s labor.
But as we all know, things took a bad turn in the Garden, and hard labor and fruitless toil would become part of the human experience (Genesis 3:17b-19). Not only would the work be difficult, the relationships in the workplace would be twisted by exploitation and injustice. The epitome of this arrangement is slavery, which was present in the Greco-Roman world at the time of Paul’s writing. Slaves were often kept in inhumane circumstances, expected to labor relentlessly, and were abused—all because they were not viewed as human but as property.
In Paul’s worldview, even these people—slaves and their owners—were included in the Colossians 3 instruction to show kindness, compassion, meekness, and humility, as befits the household of the faith. And just like the other power-balancing teaching for husband and wife, and parents and children, it is now applied in the owner and slave scenario:
22Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything;
and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor,
but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.
23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart,
as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that
you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.
It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
25Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong,
and there is no favoritism.
1Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair,
because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
Slaves, do not work just to appease your master, but work heartily for your true Master, the Lord! Though you are not heirs in this life, rejoice that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward for your faithful service now.
Masters, enough of this abuse, favoritism, and injustice! It is time to treat those working for you with righteousness and fairness. If you have trouble with the concept, remember this: you have a Master in heaven who will treat you as you have treated others!
So once again, Paul reminds his readers that nobody can truly flourish unless they understand their position as one in complete submission to and dependence upon Jesus Christ the Lord. We, too, must remember that we—as workers—are not just employed by a human being but are responsible to God for honest labor. Just knowing that what we are doing is appreciated by God goes a long way to imparting meaning to our work, with joy as a result. As employers, we are required to do our work as though Jesus were our boss, too, with the expectation that he is looking for evidence of God’s justice and righteousness in the way we communicate with, direct, and compensate those who work for us.
So, regardless of our station in life, let us all serve the Lord Christ in all that we do. It will demonstrate a world of difference to those who only observe the church from afar. Let us show our culture the difference between the power struggles and dehumanizing relationships it experiences and the life-giving interdependence that is characteristic of the Body of Christ.
20Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
21Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Remembering that these two verses follow Paul’s exhortation to the church as a whole, it is a wonderful thing the apostle recognizes: children are a part of the church family, too. Previously, husband and wife were urged to demonstrate to each other the quality of relationship that is to pervade the church. Here, too, we see that children (and their parents) have a special responsibility even as they are given the privilege of participation in the household of faith.
Children are to accept the discipline of their parents, to submit to the rules of the home, show respect to their elders, and otherwise demonstrate full participation in the household’s order. “Honor your father and your mother” is the first commandment of the ten addressed to human relationships, suggesting its fundamental importance.
There’s a tender place in my heart for children, especially right now, because we are about to welcome a new baby into the family. Any day now, my blog will go silent for a time so that I can settle into the role of Nana. In the meantime, my husband and I have been remembering what it was like to become parents for the first time, with all the hopes and dreams parents have for their children.
Our granddaughter, of course, will be one of God’s wonders in the world. She will be a source of delight and fascination, particularly as she grows physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. As she develops, so will her sense of self and personal power. This is all natural and expected and necessary. What is not desirable is for her to become a tyrant. Try as she might, in some years harder than others, she will learn that she is not the center of the universe.
Depending on their personalities, expectations, and parenting styles, Dad and/or Mom might be tempted to believe that they are the center of the universe. But this too is way off-center. Ultimately, the purpose of teaching children to obey their parents is to prepare them to give that kind of submission to God. The best instructors for this transfer of allegiance are those who themselves have given their hearts and wills to God, that is, parents who are submitted to the Lordship of Christ.
So Paul instructs kids to obey their parents in all areas of life, for this pleases the Lord (who is watching even when parents aren’t). In general, a child flourishes if she lets her family shape her and help her please God. [Paul’s great assumption here is that these families are within the church family, operating in the spirit of compassion, kindness, meekness, humility, and love—Colossians 3:12ff.] But Paul also teaches parents—in that same spirit—to restrain themselves from “embittering” their children—more literally, to avoid provoking their children, which can have the result of discouraging them and demotivating their progress. One can only assume that Paul was speaking to the tendency of parents (fathers?) to come down hard on their children, make their parental love conditioned on good childhood behavior, or be domineering and controlling. In just a few words, Paul grabs hold of the essence of parenting: be firm but loving, and point your children to Jesus.
Parents, you are the grown-ups in the family, and from that position you are representing Christ to your children by being mature, selfless, loving, generous, God-fearing, forgiving, and clear with them. Children, while you are not the center of the universe, your parents love you and are providing for your well-being, sometimes at great personal sacrifice. It’s good to be thankful for them when you can, respectful of them on the tough days, and ready to hear them when they tell you how much Jesus loves you. In this way, both parents and children are accountable to God and—in a real sense—to one another. If humility is part of a family’s demeanor, then parents and children can learn from each other as they adopt faith as a way of life.
As we anticipate our 40th wedding anniversary in June, Andy and I recall one story we would just as soon forget. But because it holds a good lesson, we share it:
About three years into our marriage, Andy and I decided to take our first backpack trip together. It was a trail to Stanford Lakes in the Sierra Nevada. It must have been in the 8,000 to 9,000 ft. elevation range. What I remember is how out-of-breath I was and so tired I could not make it up this one hill. Andy, up ahead, was getting frustrated that my pace wasn’t faster. And when I insisted, in tears, that I was having a really hard time and needed to rest, he thought I was giving up (not an option) and giving in to something less than the mettle required as a backpacker. It was not a good day.
After one or two other experiences like this one, again at high altitude, and again through bouts of frustration on both our parts, I decided that the sport was not fun, not safe (for me), and I did not want to go anymore. Yes, I was “embittered” (to use Paul’s word in Colossians 3:19), enough that my hiatus from backpacking lasted about ten years. During that time, Andy went with buddies on some terrific and challenging trips. But he missed having me along.
My beloved later realized that in those early days he had not acted out of compassion, kindness, meekness, and humility (remember Paul’s list from Colossians 3:12-15). He also realized that it had been unfair to expect high performance in high altitude without enough training, and that it was no fun for me to be left behind.
Out of all this came Andy’s First Rule for hiking with your wife: your wife goes first. And his Second Rule: If you want to go ahead anyway, remember the first rule. Ever since then, even after I became fit and more experienced, he has hiked behind me on the trail instead of in front of me. He has adapted to my pace. Since it was slower than his normal pace, he took up bird watching. [Another Naegeli Law: If you can’t fix it, feature it!] He knows that I will never climb Mt. Whitney, but it is still okay. He is bearing with me and my limitations. All in all, Andy has found ways to love his wife and not make her bitter.
I share this story, with Andy’s permission, because it seems to capture the essence of what Paul was describing about husbands in relation to their wives:
19Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.”
The Hebrew here for “treat them harshly” is pikros, “to make bitter.”
Husbands, love your wives—agape them. Love them unconditionally for their sakes. Love them, bear with them, forgive them (from the previous paragraph in Colossians); in other words, do not exploit them, treat them as objects, apply unattainable standards to them, nor be unfair or unjust.
The parallel from Ephesians 5 puts it this way:
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her, . . .
In order for a husband to love his wife, he is called upon to “give himself up” for her. What would that look like? Meekness, kindness, compassion, humility, taking up the rear rather than forging on ahead. Does this sound familiar?
My take on the marriage issue is that both husband and wife are called to put the other first, to align their lives with the other, to submit together to the Lordship of Christ, to love each other despite faults and failings, to give themselves up for each other. Whether these actions come out of wifely submission or husbandly headship (a rationale not used in Colossians but in the Ephesians parallel) does not really matter. It ends up that two people are instructed to show mutual respect, tenderness, obedience, and cooperation in all aspects of life. In Christ, wife and husband are called to the same standard of behavior and attitude toward one another.
Any woman who has been told (by Paul) that now, in Christ, it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman, you have equal standing before God (Galatians 3:28), is going to expect to be treated like a full-fledged human being. The balance of power between husband and wife is based on common humanity and the imago Dei. When power becomes unbalanced (which happens sometimes even without a couple realizing it), conscious mutual submission to the power of Jesus Christ is sought, and followed. One may not dominate or control the other (and believe me, in today’s world this applies both ways). One may not hide behind the authority/power/wishes of another nor assert authority/power/wishes merely on any assumption of superiority or priority. Two people come together not to blame or shame or demand, but to help each other live into the grace and mercy of God. They do that by appreciating the gifts the other brings, by solving problems together or deferring to the one with more expertise/knowledge or more at stake.
For twenty years, before I came down with lung cancer, Andy and I—with kids and friends usually—had many redeeming, wonderful backpack trips together. But the lessons learned in the late 1970s are needed once again, due to my new post-cancer limitations (missing a lung lobe and dealing with pronounced asthma). And to be honest—remember, this is mutual submission we are talking about—Andy has his own issues that come with creaky knees. So we have the opportunity to practice patience with each other and find new ways to enjoy this good earth and God’s creation. And we are still married!