A Prolonged Celebration

April 8, 2017

Now don’t fall over in a dead faint as I write my first blog post in about a year and a half. No precipitating event has compelled me to write. Sitting down today with the purpose of writing something was completely spur of the moment. It’s just time to start engaging again, bringing the Word to life. I’ll be honest: I have no idea who my readers are now, but I hope you will give me some feedback (by means of “Comments”) so that I get a sense of you and what you find of value here.

The quick updates in previously used categories:

Health continues to be stellar, enhanced to a large degree by losing 38 pounds in the last year (yes, I started on Ash Wednesday 2016!). I’ve maintained above average skeletal-muscle mass, and now see normal health numbers across the board, though high blood pressure remains my inherited and therefore stubborn vulnerability. The one long-term effect of annihilating The Beast is with me: asthma (particularly bad this winter in the damp cold). A visit to a cardiologist informed me that long-term effects of radiation applied to the upper left chest can lead to stiffening of the blood vessels in that area. He therefore has recommended an aggressive treatment of my borderline-high cholesterol. So add Lipitor to my daily meds ::sigh::

My voice is back to 100%, after discontinuing the cortico-steroid inhaler I was taking daily for asthma control. The inhaler mist was depositing a residue directly on my larynx, gradually paralyzing it. After five days off the inhaler (in October 2015), my voice was back to full capacity and control! Praise God for this; and my asthma has not been any worse as a result.

For reasons that will be more obvious in a minute, book writing came to a screeching halt last year, but my work desk is now cleared of all clutter and the manuscript is front and center, getting some attention two or three times a week. My 12 to 15 hours of chaplaincy work each week at the hospital are amazing on so many levels, most especially experiencing the opportunity to be a light to people who register their religious preference as “None.” Many of my ministry stories now come from the encounters with patients and their families, though HIPAA rules (federal privacy laws) require me to mask or obscure details so you could never know about whom I am writing.

I remain in the category “No Evidence of Disease” (NED), that is, cancer-free more than 3-1/2 years after the diagnosis of Stage III Lung Cancer. My surgeon says I became cancer-free on March 3, 2014, the day of the surgery to take out my upper left lung lobe and many lymph nodes. My oncologist says my cancer-free anniversary is April 28, the last day of chemotherapy. So what’s a girl to do? Celebrate life more enthusiastically than usual for almost two months, from March 3 to April 28! I am right in the middle of this prolonged celebration.

On March 14, 2015 (the Pi Day of the Century, 3.14.15), our “little Miss Elly” was born to our older daughter and her husband, both attorneys now residing in Tacoma, WA. Our first grandchild is of course smart and brilliant and healthy, and that is probably all you are going to hear from me about her in this public forum. But we love going up there to the Pacific Northwest to help celebrate her birthday just as the cherry blossoms are popping, celebrating with pie of course!

In 2016, we added another date that happens to fall within this celebratory period. On April 12, 2016, my husband Andy was felled in a motorcycle accident, when a car went through a red light and they collided in the intersection. He was taken to the trauma center at Highland Hospital in Oakland, just two miles from the accident, and over the next eight days was stabilized with internal injuries, operated on for a broken pelvis and shredded knee tendon, and rejoiced over that things weren’t a lot worse than they were. He transferred to “my” hospital (close to home) for two weeks of acute rehab, then came home for another five weeks of non-weight-bearing discipline. All in all, he was off work for four months, and the whole experience was a huge test of our faith, good-humor, and marriage vows (the “for better, for worse, in sickness and in health” part). But I am happy to tell you that one year later (next week), Andy is back to 100%, working at Abbott Diabetes Care, walking without a limp, and doing the things he loves—all except motorcycle riding, since his brand-new BMW motorcycle was totaled. After long and careful thought, Andy replaced it with an Audi plug-in hybrid car, and we are both very happy with that choice!

Andy’s accident was a terribly destabilizing and disorienting experience, but a year later I can say that I have my sea legs back with a renewed sense of call to my hospital work and to writing. There is so much to tell you, but I will continue on Monday. In the meantime, take a moment to celebrate the life God has given you!

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It has been three months since I told you I would not be writing “until the end of June.” Here it is, mid-September, and a couple of you have expressed curiosity, concern, or relief that I have been silent all this time! Though I don’t particularly feel the need to explain myself, the fact that concerns about my health tend to crop up moves me to do so.

Health update: I remain convincingly cancer-free and grateful everyday to God for the gift of life. I still get checked out with a CT scan every three months—though that has gone to six months as of now—and every little thing is double-checked. This time it was two 1-centimeter nodules that showed up on my thyroid. After having the joyful experience of needles stuck into the front of my neck in search of biopsy samples, the report came back benign. Not my favorite procedure, but a good outcome!

Voice update: My vocal troubles, though managed well on the June choir tour, have returned and continue to be a mystery. Despite everything we have tried to solve it, I still have days when I can hardly talk, much less sing. The condition comes and goes, but the unpredictability of it drives me nuts. Now I am thinking it could be allergy related. Prayers needed, as I have two speaking gigs coming up, weekend retreats in October . . .

Breathing update: My lung function under normal everyday conditions is at 100%. The smoke due to our California fires and “Spare the Air” days are more frequently a problem—for the “sensitive population”—so I avoid prolonged exertion outdoors on those days.

Half Dome update. It was on my list once again this year to train for an ascent of Half Dome, in Yosemite National Park. As part of my preparation, I did a short, experimental backpack trip in July, at 8600 feet, six miles into the wilderness and six miles out. This was the first time I had carried a 30-pound pack in about three years! I lugged a 4-lb. oxygen tank and saved it for the big hill. It worked wonders, completely eliminating the misery factor. But for other reasons probably related to—ahem—age, I came to the conclusion that Half Dome is now an unrealistic goal. There’s this one killer section, about a mile “straight up” before you even get to the cables, that was my biggest concern. Confirmed a few weeks later by the report of my husband and daughter who did the trip without me . . . “Mom, you never would have made it.”

Ministry update. I’ve had my few months of play—trips to visit granddaughter Elly, a study tour of Turkey and Greece, and a choir tour to Germany and France. In July, it was time—according to God’s call—to get back to work. I was invited to take a part-time position at John Muir Hospital as associate chaplain, which I started the beginning of July. Three half-days a week is just about right for me and meets a genuine need in our community. It’s been quite awhile since I felt so thoroughly on the front lines of ministry to a very needy population. I’m here to tell you, the hospital gown is an amazing leveler.

Writing update. I have been working steadily on a book about my lung cancer experience called Slaying the Beast: A Spiritual Journal through Lung Cancer. Darling Daughter A is reviewing a too-long manuscript and a writer-friend is suggesting edits to reduce its length by 20%. I also gave it to my radiation oncologist for a medical review. She loved it and said doctors should read it in order to appreciate the patient’s experience. I am hoping the manuscript and a book proposal will be ready by early November. As I bore down on this project, I had only so many precious hours in a day for the kind of creative concentration it required. Blogging insists on the same energy intensity, and I found I couldn’t do both at the same time. Hence, my silence here. Now that the book work is more mechanical, perhaps I can reestablish a blogging discipline. Thing is, I sleep straight through the night now, missing those 3 to 5 a.m. writing periods I enjoyed when I was sick!

Meanwhile, life goes on. We’ve had some pretty amazing news stories in the last few months, many worthy of comment and examination under the light of Scripture. Tragedies abound worldwide, and natural disaster continues to befall people everywhere. The Syrian migration is enlarging, and Greece’s economic precipice is overshadowed by China’s cloud of air pollution and business slowdown. The 2016 presidential campaign has started way too early, and my hope for a centrist, collegial, and creative new leader is perhaps only a pipedream. The Pope is coming to America for a visit; I can’t wait to hear his message, though I am not sure America is ready to heed it.

Trekking on, bringing the Word to life, whether I write about it or not.

So What IS God Like?

May 27, 2015

Somebody made a quirky comment about God and Jesus the other day; it got me thinking. It went something like this: “I’m a Jesus person; the God of the Old Testament needs rehabilitation, and Jesus did that.”

Aside from who/what you think might be “the God of the Old Testament,” can you see what is wrong with this statement? The comment basically states that Jesus is not the same God as YHWH of old! It also suggests that the speaker might not be truly Trinitarian.

But let’s take a look at one statement of the character of God found in the Old Testament, Psalm 145.

1          I will extol you, my God and King,
                        and bless your name forever and ever.
2          Every day I will bless you,
                        and praise your name forever and ever.
3          Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
                        his greatness is unsearchable.

4          One generation shall laud your works to another,
                        and shall declare your mighty acts.
5          On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
                        and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6          The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
                        and I will declare your greatness.
7          They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
                        and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.

8             The LORD is gracious and merciful,
                        slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9          The LORD is good to all
                    and his compassion is over all that he has made.

10           All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
                        and all your faithful shall bless you.
11        They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
                        and tell of your power,
12        to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
                        and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13        Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
                        and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The LORD is faithful in all his words,
                        and gracious in all his deeds.
14        The LORD upholds all who are falling,
                        and raises up all who are bowed down.
15        The eyes of all look to you,
                        and you give them their food in due season.
16        You open your hand,
                        satisfying the desire of every living thing.
17        The LORD is just in all his ways,
                        and kind in all his doings.
18        The LORD is near to all who call on him,
                        to all who call on him in truth.
19        He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;
                        he also hears their cry, and saves them.
20        The LORD watches over all who love him,
                        but all the wicked he will destroy.
21        My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,
                        and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

Just look at all those adjectives and verbs to describe our gracious and loving God! Doesn’t it hit you that Jesus is the same God as YHWH, God come in the flesh entirely. Jesus did not come with a purpose or intent any different from what he, as God, had been pursuing through the millennia. Any description or character we attribute to Jesus must be attributed equally to God, and visa versa: any description or character we attribute to YHWH in accordance with the Scripture must be applied to Jesus. To do anything else theologically is in error.

When Jesus introduced himself to his disciples—comments recorded primarily in the gospel of John—he identified himself as one with the Father, of one will with the Father, the one sent by his Father, not to mention the one who would send the Spirit. These Trinitarian links are extremely important to us, because here is where they point: if we get to know Jesus, we get to know God. Jesus is the face of God made accessible to mere mortals who otherwise would fall blinded before the glory of the Almighty. Jesus is the one through whom we relate to the triune God. By being so, Jesus enables us to participate in the love, power, and purposes of the fellowship of Father, Son, and Spirit.

But, you say, look at verse 20b: “But all the wicked he will destroy.” Didn’t Jesus say, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”? Yes, he did! He came to save . . . he came to redeem us so that we could be made righteous and be able to stand in the presence of God who is righteous and pure. And we are saved from what? Saved from the folly of trying to find Life by another way than its Source, Jesus the Lord.

Jesus went on to say, “Those who believe in [the Son] are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:17-18). There is no getting around it: some day there will be a reckoning, the standard being belief in the name of Jesus Christ as God’s Son come in the flesh. Jesus made his appearance specifically to help us see the mercy and compassion of God, which (Paul reminds us later) “draws us to repentance” (Romans 2:4). God wants us to be saved; God cares about how we are doing spiritually. God has made a great effort to introduce us to the means of salvation. All we have to do is grab hold of it!

But I presume that some will not avail themselves of God’s mercy, as hard as that is to believe (I mean, what an offer!). Some day those who have rejected Christ will be destroyed, the last chance for their salvation exhausted. While the righteous will not rejoice that some are lost because of their refusal to submit to God’s sovereignty, those who have been saved will be glad that wickedness can no longer touch them or threaten them. It is an expression of God’s mercy and compassion that he cares about the well-being of those who find shelter in him.

 

[Sorry for the delay . . . “Life” has been happening, and my days have been zooming! Yesterday it was getting a water leak fixed.]

The topic of God is popping up here and there, not only in my personal life but in our culture. My thoughts are sparked this week by the latest Pew Survey, which took the pulse of American religious practice, denominational affiliation, and basic beliefs. You can read the results of the survey here and here.

The attention-getters in this survey are the changes in the religious landscape since this survey was done previously in 2007. In a seven year period, from 2007 to 2014, the United States has experienced a drop in the number of Protestants and Catholics and an increased percentage of citizens who are the “Nones” (those with no affiliation or identify as agnostic or atheist). The total percentage of self-identified Christians has dropped from 78% to 71%. The percentage of the population who identify as “evangelical” has dropped by only 1%, from 26% to 25%.

While several of these numbers can be open to discussion as terms are defined, I would like to focus on the non-affiliated segment. In 2007, 16% of our population was not associated with a religious body, and of those 25% self-identified as agnostic or atheistic. In 2014, 23% are “nones” and of those, 31% do not believe in God. Doing the math, we discover that the percentage of our population that does not believe in God (I include agnostics and atheists in this category) has gone up by 50%, but the number of people has doubled in just seven years.

So, clearly, God is an issue for many people.

I am thankful that we live in a country where discussing doubts and disbeliefs is acceptable. I am glad that we do not espouse a state religion, which can obscure or color an honest discussion of personal belief. I am not a fan, however, of misinformed or emotional reactions based on factors that don’t have anything to do with God really but more with a person’s expectations in life and even, perhaps, at “church.” I feel that a discussion about God has to seek evidence and knowledge of truth—yes, including revealed truth—with the honest acknowledgment that faith is required along the way. I say this knowing that asserting “There is no God” requires just as much faith as the confession “Jesus Christ is Lord.” That means we have lots to talk about, and we have the freedom and power to do so.

If “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1NIV), then it is expressed in how we anticipate the future and stand on invisible certainties. By addressing “faith” and “God,” we enter a realm worth talking about but one in which we must address our future and those things that are (currently) hidden from view. Even if one is an atheist, there is still an unknown future and aspects of life that are very real but invisible. And that’s why I claim that atheists and believers have faith in common. The question is, faith in what or in whom?

I submit that God—his existence, purpose, and power—is the issue for Americans today. Some, like those wishing to excise “God” from coins, courtrooms, or city property, make it a flashpoint issue so talking about God becomes socially unacceptable. Some, wishing to scrub American life clean of ethical/moral standards that are based on biblical principles, have an issue with authority, most especially the highest Authority, Almighty God. Many who have discarded God from their life (if that is possible) have done so because they cannot, for some reason, align themselves with God’s purposes. In particular, I know a few whose takes on “God’s purposes” are so far afield that I would have to join them in disbelief. Try responding to a person who declares, “I do not believe in God,” with “Tell me about the God you do not believe in; maybe I don’t believe in him either.” You are in for a fascinating conversation!

In my next few posts, I shall share some thoughts about God (reality, purpose, and power) and why I think reclaiming such beliefs is critical to our well-being as a people.

Blogging presents some challenges, some of which are confronting me these days. So I thought it might be helpful to sketch those out a bit as a way of setting the context for what is to come.

Blogging for many writers replaces personal journaling, particularly for those who choose to write every day. Successful blogs can be very targeted, for example, on family food experiences or grief processing. My theme, Bringing the Word to Life, simply calls me to reflect on what is happening (either in my own life or in current events) in light of Scripture. I have gone through various phases, as my long-time readers know: everything from Presbyterian judicial processes to lung cancer treatment. I have reflected before on the purpose of this particular blog. The fact that I am doing so again suggests one challenge:

There are many doldrums to endure, between gusts that catch your sail. Your writing boat is still on the water, and you can’t just quit, so you paddle or wait or reflect on the meaning of life. These are the times when I have much less confidence in the quality of my missives, though, as a person of faith, I realize God can use the most mundane observations to bless someone. You never know. This thought actually keeps me going.

There are temptations along the way. I have mentioned some of these before, but they are still true. It’s tempting to be less than authentic in what I write, if by doing so I attract more readers or inflame more passions on the topic. It is tempting to care more about how many readers I have than to be true to my calling and true to the Word. It is also tempting to resort to clichés and not dig very deeply into a topic. Time often is a factor here, but I have to admit to laziness as well. While I fear being a sloppy opinion-setter, this fear does not always lead me to the next level of research or investigation.

We are responsible for facts, both in their finding and their interpretation. The events in our world today are crying out for comment from a Christian perspective: divorced Sofia Vergara and Nick Loeb’s argument over the future of their two frozen embryos; political polarization and the presidential campaign; issues before the Supreme Court, including same-sex marriage; the increasing gap between rich and poor in the United States; whether God is and has a place in society. Just for starters. But because of the kind of person I am, I do not want to share mere opinions about these topics without being faithful to facts I may or may not know yet.

A blogger is not a journalist and therefore is allowed more opinion and reaction. But even so, a blogger should handle facts transparently if the hope is to be an opinion leader. High on my frustration list are those who form passionate opinions based on inaccurate or false information. I do not want to be one of those people.

Reflection and self-examination are perilously close to self-indulgence, so finding the right balance on the path to wisdom is sometimes confusing. Our generation is infected with narcissism, and I am not immune. Even the idea of sharing one’s life for the benefit of others can cultivate a false belief that I am God’s gift to the world and if everybody thought and acted the way I did, we’d all be better off. Just writing this makes me laugh. But narcissism lurks in the shadows.

Blogging requires audacity without disintegrating into hubris. Particularly on topics that have so far generated complacency, a bold statement provokes new thought and engagement. This is a good thing, and a proper role for bloggers. However, the temptation is to go too far, too offend unnecessarily, to say something really stupid. If the goal is to be helpful, then arrogance stands in the way. My desire is to be creative and provocative enough to get my readers thinking—and possibly acting—without surrendering to something less that my calling requires.

“ . . . [L]ead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-2).

My thoughts are percolating, and Monday is a good day to start a new series, so stay tuned!

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,
Mary

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!

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.

Pow!

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.

 

In the months leading up to our 40th wedding anniversary, my husband and I occasionally look back to our experiences together since we met as Stanford freshmen in 1971. Of course, our nation has observed a huge cultural shift in the practice of marriage; but Andy and I have also experienced phases and seasons in a relationship that has evolved and strengthened through the years.

At Stanford, we were assigned to Rinconada House within the Wilbur Hall complex during the days of the famous “Stanford ratio,” two men for every one woman. The first and third floors of Rinc were men, and the women’s floor was sandwiched between. Quaint, I know. Andy, from southern California, had declared an engineering major; and I, from the Seattle area, entered as a mathematics major. Consequently, we had the same academic advisor who invited a handful of freshmen to his campus home for a barbecue a few days before classes began. This is where Andy and I met.

It wasn’t until the Spring of freshman year that our dating focus turned to each other. By this time, Andy had given his life to Christ, which put him on the eligibility list as far as I was concerned. We had been through the rigors of freshman calculus and introductory physics together. He was brilliant and took to the disciplines like a duck to water. I was in over my head and would never have passed that first physics course if it had not been for Andy’s tutoring. Perhaps you know the feeling: everything you learned in high school on the subject was covered in the first three weeks of class.

By the end of my four years, I had shifted majors first to mathematical sciences (with courses in computer programming and algorithms) and finally, as my blood pressure skyrocketed from the stress, to music (majoring in vocal performance). Andy remained in the school of engineering throughout, earning a BS in Electrical Engineering. Through thick and thin, our relationship was a steadying force, and we became engaged the summer before our senior year.

We started out thinking we were quite a lot alike, but over the years discovered that our gift-mixes were quite different indeed. The beauty of our pairing was that we had complementary ways of processing thought (the engineer had an active right brain and the musician had an active left). We were both intelligent in our own ways, were hard workers, and came from long-married middle-class parents. We were a very good match.

At the time, the Christian fellowship on campus was nothing short of spectacular. Hundreds of students gathered weekly, on Sunday morning through the ministry of “Seminar 70” (a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church) and on weekday evenings (Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship). It was the height of “the Jesus movement,” and though the university itself was challenging to people of faith, being a Christian was cool, and discipleship was taken seriously.

With the possible exception of InterVarsity, in which I did not get involved until senior year, the general mindset on the issue of marriage promoted a hierarchical view of the relationship between husbands and wives. Through Bible teaching and the mentoring of older couples, we were taught about the loving headship of the husband to which the wife submitted in all things. We soaked it all in and adopted the concepts as our own.

We owned the hierarchical model, though it was not reinforced in our premarital counseling (done by a Presbyterian pastor). Two weeks after graduation from Stanford, we were married in Memorial Church; my marriage vows included a promise to obey Andy. There was an audible gasp from one section of the congregation, people who knew me well.

I share this story because it is important to be open about where I have been on the subject.  Having said that, forty years of experience as a married person and twenty-eight as a pastor have taught me a lot:

  1. While general teaching about marriage is indispensable for preparing couples for life-long relationships, the fact remains that every marriage is unique because the two individuals bring their unique personalities and gifts into the union.

  2. Couples have to work things out between themselves. “It takes two to tango.” Help is available, but husband and wife are primarily responsible to engage in the life-long process of “two becoming one flesh.”

  3. The Bible’s teaching on marriage is rich, true, challenging and applicable, even today.

In my next post, we will tackle Paul’s teaching on marriage, beginning with his instruction to wives in Colossians 3:18.