Message that I gave yesterday on the “Reformation”

11111Some people asked…I did record it but I wasn't feeling well yesterday so I don't take responsibility for what I said when I was on a NyQuil "haze."  So, here are some of the notes and text I wrote.  Use it as your discretion:

Reformation
Sunday 2013

Reformation
Past – 1500’s were a time of:

  • Intense political and religious
    corruption
  • Religious leaders were political
    leaders
  • Religious leaders were gaining huge
    wealth
  • Sold indulgences – absolution by
    payment to release people from judgment, purgatory

Common
people who YEARNED for connection with God – they wanted emotional, personal
and spiritual connection with God – but they were dependent upon an elevated
clergy, mass that was not said in their language, and a bible that they
couldn’t read (if they read at all)

Always
lived under the fear of NOT receiving absolution and thus not going to
heaven…dependent completely upon the institutional church for God’s gifts

Luther
– translated bible and distributed printed copies but Luther had a King
protector (Prince Frederick of Saxony) otherwise Reformation (at least in
Germany) could possibly have been squelched

That
encouraged other German leaders to break from Roman rule, which ticked off Rome 

  • Millions of people feared military
    conquest
  • Millions of people lived under heavy
    taxes of authoritative rulers
  • Hard life – nothing like what we
    experience – worked hard just to feed themselves
  • People shared beds often with
    brothers, sisters, and servants just to keep warm
  • No central heating – your bed buddy
    was your heater
  • Thatched roof – bugs and rats lived
    in it – poster bed kept in heat but vermin off of you
  • Dirt floors
  • Eating – big pot over fire – added
    stuff daily – kept eating out of it
  • Houses – single room in most cases
  • No chimney – smoke went through
    cracks in the wall or just filtered through thatched roof
  • No days off except for religious
    feasts – holy days – saints lives were revered not just for prayer but
    also for days off (50 holy days)
  • If you lived in the city – usually
    built around a castle and castle church
  • Huge fear of fire because everything
    was built with wood
  • Human/animal waste everywhere
  • Water polluted and bath only in
    public baths – there’s even a “myth” that people only had the chance to
    really bath once a year or so…people stunk so badly that the reason why
    brides started to carry flowers at weddings was to mask the stench

Feudal
society – landowning nobles military and social elite – they owned everything and couple that with the clergy, and you get the picture of what life for the average person was like

Land
was worked by peasants who provided economic support to the lord of the manor in exchange
for protection

Peasants
bound to the land by law – you could only keep what lord said you could and you
could not leave the land without the Lord’s permission

In
social classes – lords at the top and priests at the top

Now
friends, that’s the backdrop of Reformation – when it kicked off it threw the
whole system UPSIDE DOWN

  • People didn’t need priests for
    salvation if by faith alone
  • People didn’t need the institution
    if salvation not controlled by priests
  • Peasants emboldened to the point
    that it touched off a huge and bloody war

But
also please understand = that as many reforms happened theologically in the Reformation,
much of the Political and institutional paradigms DID NOT CHANGE…on fact, the
structures and power of the institutions that had been around for centuries
were embraced 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I
wanted to walk you through a bit of the 16th century for one reason
– to demonstrate how different the world was then and why it is so important to
see that God contextualizes His actions in our lives in consistent but also new
and fresh ways (our lives, culture, etc. are different)

Reformation
occurred in the 16th century as a collision of the work of the Holy
Spirit, and political and religious realities

To
say that it changed the world as it was known at the time would be an
understatement.

One thing though – only happened in the West
(because we are Western people, we ignore the fact that there was much of Christianity
in the world – orthodox, other areas of world) untouched by the Reformation

Reformation’s
key idea was salvation by faith alone

In
fact, 5 “Solas”

  • Sola fide – faith alone
  • Sola gratia – grace alone
  • Sola scriptura – scripture alone
  • Sola Christus – Christ alone
  • Soli deo Gloria – Glory to God alone

These were radical ideas – combatted the idea that salvation came by way of faith
PLUS something else (works, institutional piety, anything that was regarded as
having salvific value by the clergy, religious leadership) 

  • Reformation was HUGE – but
    understand that there were other significant religious renewals before and
    after the Reformation – Reformation is important because it is part of our
    tribe's story 
  • Just like Ellis Island is part of
    many people’s stories – Slave trade is part of some people’s story – other
    issues are part of other peoples/religious groups stories
  • I will say it here – Reformation was
    important but it was NEVER meant to be placed in stone, institutionalized
    or made something that unfortunately something it has become – a frame of
    reference for contemporary living and ministry for the Body of Christ in
    the 21st century
  • Reformation happened in history and
    is extremely important but to say that the world of the 1500’s sets the
    agenda for what God is doing in OUR time is preposterous
  • Holy Spirit is active NOW – not just
    back then (rear view image – our past needs to be put in perpective but cannot dominate the present or where we are headed in the future – past helps with your frame of reference in contemporary Kingdom living)

We
can go back and try to replicate the 1st or 16th or any
century OR we can look for what God is doing NOW – we can stare into our "rear view mirror" or look out for what happening now – which do you think God is calling us to do?

  • In other words, here's what I propose – we should NEVER idolize a
    period in history…Jews did and they blew it (temple, law, etc.)…Pharisees
    did it and it became something Jesus had to take on head on…you think we
    would learn our lesson but just like the transfiguration story shows us we
    ALWAYS want to repeat good times as Jesus urges us to move off the mountain

 Contextualization
basics:
 

When
I was in Japan few years, I had an opportunity and honor to imbed myself into
the culture.  While I was there I lived
with a Japanese family…I didn’t spend much time at all visiting the sites of
Japan…I simply lived with the family, ate with them, worship with them…lived a
normal, Japanese life (albeit as best I could for only 2 weeks). 

  • I would have done some things
    differently if I had been a tourist…I would have been in the country to
    see what I could see.
  • As a tourist, if I met a local
    person or family, that would have been a benefit…but not the goal. 
  • Being imbedded is different from
    being a tourist.  A tourist is
    someone who skims for the sake of personal entertainment.  Now, don’t get me wrong…there’s nothing
    wrong with being a tourist. But everyone has to admit, when you are a
    tourist you are interested in getting a feel of a specific place or
    site…you want to see what you want to see and move on.  You might take a picture but you won’t
    walk away with any in-depth knowledge or affinity or identification with
    where you visit. 

Contextualization
is more about being imbedded than being a tourist

  • For many of us, we don’t understand
    life outside of our personal experience or context. 
  • We see life pretty much through the
    lens of who we are and what we have experienced in the sum total of our
    lives.
  • To “contextualize” means that you
    enter the world of another…you start to care about their lives…you come to
    understand what makes them “tick”…you stop the tourist life and become a
    resident. 
  • That’s why this is an important
    topic in terms of life living for Jesus.
  • If we are just “passing through”
    this world, then why care?  Why
    build relationships?  Why do any of
    the things we do as a faith community with a passion and/or vision for God
    presence/power to impact people’s lives? 
  • Those who don’t “contextualize”
    build bunkers and fortresses to keep the rest of the world out and wait
    until the battle is over. 
  • Unfortunately, that’s not been the
    way God has acted in history. 
  • God is not a detached God…He has
    infiltrated human life at every intersection.  In fact, one of if not the most powerful
    and history-shaking aspects of God’s work in the world is undoubtedly the
    incarnation – and please understand, the incarnation is all about
    contextualization – for the ultimate expression of contextualization is
    “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

Now
because we are still living in the vestiges and in the shadow of the
reformation – important to hold on to certain things and again, also realize
that in many respects the reformation didn’t go far enough

The
culture has changed and we are still doing what was done back in the 16th
century in many respects

Christ
followers USED TO belong in church – “go to church to be a Christian” – but that
ain’t cutting it in this culture where actions speak louder than words and
authenticity is more impactful than a good slogan or affiliation

People
are not as interested in what you say anymore – rather in what you DO and who
you ARE – that’s where Jesus needs to show up!

So,
that begs the question – Where do we belong? 
Where does a follower of Jesus belong? 
Church or Culture?

  • If our belonging is in the Church,
    culture can be seen as the “enemy or adversary” and that which we need a
    subculture formed to protect us! 
  • If our belonging is in the Culture,
    then the Church has a redemptive presence in the midst of real life and
    then gathers one aspect of its identity in becoming a necessary support
    for followers of Jesus in discipling and equipping for life and ministry…a
    subculture might come into existence but only as a provider of life
    resources.
  • Let me put it this way – is there
    such a thing as a Gospel or Good News without a sense of it being
    connected to reality and the real world? 
  • If you think about it – you will
    answer as I have – NO!  The good
    news of God is that God came to this world…that He not only interacted
    with the world but that He “imbedded” Himself in the world through Jesus
    and the incarnation. 
  • The Good News of God must always
    “wear the clothes” of culture because it is experienced by people who are
    enculturated, it is lived out by people who are enculturated, and
    witnessed by others who are enculturated, through the medium of
    culture. 
  • Confused?  Don’t be! 
  • God’s story is a story of His work
    IN human history…He doesn’t send detached missives from eternity…He
    doesn’t sit on some celestial cloud and hope we discover Him…He is not
    separated from the human experience…God is intricately imbedded into this
    life…besides the incarnation, God still fills our lives, relationally
    engages us in numerous ways and desires to live this life in and through
    us.  It would not be a stretch to
    say, “no incarnation, no imbedded God = no good news/Gospel.”

“You are our
letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that
you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the
Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human
hearts.”  2 Corinthians 3:2-3

Followers
of Jesus are called by Jesus to “Go…into the world” (Matthew 28:18). 

  • We are not supposed to watch the
    game because you ARE the game. 
  • The fact is, there is no game, no
    life without you…another word for this action in the follower of Jesus’
    life is to be indigenous or an infiltrator. 
  • Contextualizing the love and passion
    of Jesus isn’t something that is optional for all of us…the Spirit of God
    lives in and through us. 
  • Christ is alive as He is alive in
    and through you. 
  • Contextualization is a purposeful
    and deliberate action of a person who loves Jesus.  We are a light IN the world…the salt
    rubbed into the fabric of real life.

Here’s
an image that is helpful…

  • Where do you expect to see a
    lion?  A zoo, right?  If you saw a lion in the fresh vegetable
    section of the grocery store that would be surprising wouldn’t it?  In fact, a lion in a grocery store would
    be dangerous. 
  • That is why for followers of Jesus
    we are called to be imbedded into the world…when people who don’t follow
    Jesus know that all Christians are in “church”, they can marginalize the
    faith community and feel justifiably safe. 
    But when Christians are “out of the box”, contextualized, imbedded
    in real life that is inherently dangerous. 

Question – what does all
that mean?  What does all this mean to
you?

Considerations:

“the church doesn't
exist in order to provide a place where people can pursue their private
spiritual agendas and develop their own spiritual potential. Nor does it exist
in order to provide a safe haven in which people can hide from the wicked world
and ensure that they themselves arrive safely at an otherworldly destination.
Private spiritual growth and ultimate salvation come rather as the byproducts
of the main, central, overarching purpose for which God has called and is
calling us.”NT Wright

So what is that
purpose?  What “Church” can look like (a
new imagination and mission):


Incarnational:

What does “incarnational” mean?  

  • The incarnation is the theological
    way of saying that God became flesh. Jesus took on our lives in order to
    demonstrate once and for all the love of God.  
  • God wasn’t satisfied in talking a
    good line or showing His power through miracles or direct, divine action
    in lives…God came into our lives…lived our lives…took on our skin and
    walked in the culture in which we live.
  • That’s what Incarnational means…we
    do what Jesus did.  You see, God didn’t build a place and expect
    people to come in to “see” or experience Him.  
  • God didn’t come into the world by
    constructing a shopping mall and then throwing the doors open saying,
    “come and see”.  Rather, Jesus took on our lives…our pain…our
    struggles.  
  • As The Message says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and
    moved into the neighborhood” – John 1:14
  • Our focus should not be on our
    facility, but is focused on our living, demonstrating, and offering
    biblical community (redeeming relationships NOT programs) to the world.

Indigenous:

  • In the past, I’ve been a
    critic of the “role-playing” games that are the passion of many people that we
    know and love.  Truthfully, years ago, I thought that they were not
    helpful in a person’s spiritual journey…a “tool of the devil”.  That
    aside, I have been “saved” from my legalistic past.
  • I have recently grown to
    appreciate the fact that role-playing games are popular because they are
    indigenous. In other words, if you play a role-playing game, you are not
    playing a game, you ARE the game.  Your imagination pulls you into the
    game not as an outsider or observer but as an intentional participant.  There
    is NO game without you.  
    Now, the “Church” should be like that – they are indigenous.
  • Faith Communities that
    are indigenous are “in the game” of a local community…they are reflecting the
    values, the culture, the have taken root “in the soil” of what is happening
    around them.  
  • They are not trying to
    reach the community from a “fort” or “fortress”, lobbing Jesus into the
    surrounding community like the French lobbing cows toward Arthur and his men in
    “Monty Python’s Holy Grail”.  A faithful Church is involved in the lives
    and life of the community.  

Intentional.

  • The “Church” is called
    to be intentional about their methods of doing life and ministry as
    Christ-followers.
  • There are places in the
    bible that do tell us what “church” could look like. Remember, the bible
    shares with us a “mission context” of ministry…in other words, there were no
    staffs, or buildings or budgets or programs of doing ministry in biblical
    times…people who loved Jesus were involved in community.  
  • They were brothers and
    sisters living very risky lives in the “thick” of what was going on in their
    world.  
  • People were not drawn to
    Jesus because of the kinds of sermons that were preached or the quality of the
    band that played music or the convenience of the worship times.
  • People were drawn to the
    community because they were in awe of the “love that people had for each
    other”.
  • Don’t misunderstand;
    there was preaching, teaching, discipline, fellowship, baptism and many other
    practices. In missional communities, biblical practices are central, but things
    like worship style, evangelism methods, attire, service times, locations, and
    many others expected “local church methods and customs” are not chosen simply
    based on the preference of the members. Instead, the forms are best determined
    by their effectiveness in a specific cultural context and what is God-honoring.

A
faith community is on mission when it remains faithful to the Gospel message
while simultaneously contextualizing
their lives so that the Gospel can engage the worldview of those that live in
that city, town, or neighborhood. The key is being faithful to the Word of God,
the story of the Kingdom of God, and engaging people out of the heart of God.
 

“A number
of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large
and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I
have a new song, look after it. I have a family, please look after them. I have
this crazy idea…And this wise man said: stop.  He said, stop asking God
to bless what you're doing.  Get involved in what God is doing – because
it's already blessed.”  Bono

Look for what God is
doing in and around your life this week.  When you see it, jump in and ask
God to lead you into doing more with what He has already started doing.

If we are
not the church before we come to church the church won’t matter much”  Willard 

 

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Exiting Post-Religious Institutionalism for the Sake of the Mission of God


1crumbling_heart_design_It wasn't too long ago that I gave a talk here in Monroe about "selling the church." What began as a conversation about "cell churches" got misunderstood in a meeting and quickly became a discussion about "selling church." I found that provocative for a number of reasons. I wonder as we live in an era that is looking more and more like a "post religious institutional" world what you and me are going to do as time passes? 
When I say "post religious institutionalism", here are some of the background considerations: Think about how easy it is to understand the "Church" purely and simply in institutional forms. The reason is because that specific understanding is our default position of mind. In other words, think of the "defaults" in many issues, experiences, entities in life…for example: 
  • Microsoft's PowerPoint presentation program defaults to text and bullet points not images (which is interesting in that most people learn and retain more information visually through pictures not by remembering words) 
  • Most musicians like myself who play electric guitar have an amplifier that defaults at 11 (that is supposed to be a thinly veiled reference to a rock and roll movie classic, "Spinal Tap"). 
  • An automobile's engine default is what we call idling. 
  • A default in most relationships is selfishness and narcissism…in other words, we learn to love, share, given and enter into intimacy. 
Think about it for a moment, there are defaults in all sorts of things in life. What others can you think of? You see, an understanding of "Default" is helpful because, for most of us who are involved in the "Church", our default understanding of Church is that of the institution. For most of us, we were all brought up with that image and experience and it is natural for us to think "church" and think institutionally. Many people assume the "Church" is a building…something firmly planted on a corner or in a neighborhood or even in a strip mall…something that embodies a professional religious staff, promotes and facilitates programs for its constituents, and has a specified budget to fund its religious services. That default of the definition of "Church" has been set for centuries.  When the Greek word, "ekklesia" was translated into English, it was translated "Church"…which, in most people's minds at that time and even now, was primarily an institution. Unfortunately, that was not the meaning of the word in its specific context. 

"Ekklesia" is best translated, "called to gather" or "gathering/community", which if you consider it, dramatically reshapes our understanding of what the bible discusses as "Church" as well as underscores the powerful words of Jesus when he said in Matthew 18:20, 

"where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them"

In this manner, the "Church" can meet anytime and anyplace. That wouldn't preempt any meaning from what many of us regard as traditional Church…but it does expand our understanding of what Church can be as well as underscore how important we are in the "economy" of God. Let's state it simply – the "Church" is where Jesus dwells…it is a gathering of disciples where the presence of God fills those participating with possibility and power. 

So what shapes the "Church" in this instance? Jesus does! That's why we have to take the time to not only clarify what "Church" is and can be but also investigate and define what it is to be a Church on mission. Another thought to consider is this – the "Church" is better defined by our Identity as followers of Jesus than it is defined by church-based activities or membership in an institution. Many people define the "Church" primarily by what the Church does, not who the Church is. Unfortunately, this leads to an understanding of the "Church" that defines it not by God's work, but by OUR work, leading to a view that WE build the "Church" instead of Jesus (through the power of his Holy Spirit). With this understanding, "Church" can become formulaic – anybody who simply implements the forms or activities of "Church" can call what they do the Church of Jesus Christ. This is "church" based upon OUR works and not Church based upon the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus said he would build his Church, not us. This sometimes stems from a human-centered understanding of the Gospel (It is my decision – my work – that saves me) but it can also lead to a human-centered Church (It is all about what we do that defines us, not what Jesus has done). 
Biblically, a follower of Jesus is defined by their "sentness" and obedience to the call of Jesus (revealed in and through life) not by attendance. A Christ-follower believes that God is on a mission and that we are to join him in it (Ephesians 1:3-14). Jesus never did say to "go to church and learn"…He did say to "follow Me and I will make you fishers of men". There is a subtle but profound difference in seeing oneself as a follower and not a member (membership denotes an "us vs. them", who is "in and out" mentality). We must remember: We Are Who We Are Because of What Jesus Has Done and Is Doing…Our Being comes out of His Being and Doing…and Our Being and Doing Proceeds from Our Being in Christ! The Church is REALLY God's People (who we are) saved by God's Power (what He has done and is doing) for God's Purposes (the good works that as we live our lives in and through Jesus Christ we do.) 

SO, let me FINALLY get back to that initial paragraph about "post religious institutionalism." You see, a biblical understanding of Church really has little to do with institutionalism. In so many respects, institutions are losing their significance in our world. Think about what were once viable institutions (church, marriage, various service clubs and organizations, universities, banks, etc.) have been redefined or even "taken over" by power structures or power ideologies (vestiges of Empire) that transcend what we would normally define as institutions. Yes, there are many local churches that look institutional because of their size – but a religious group only "institutionalizes" over generations. What is big today might not morph into "big" or significant in the future. What makes the "church" what it is is not its institutional status but the sum total of its people empowered by God to do God's work in the world. God doesn't need more institutions…He needs you and me. So, give that some thought. How is God going to use YOU to change the world He loves?

 

Thanks to Rachel – here’s some good stuff on Marriage


1marriage-2Rachel Held Evans' blog is one of my favorites.  In addition, her book on biblical womanhood was insightful and hilarious.  You really should check out her work.  Anyway, here's her post from yesterday on marriage.  I absolutely thought she "nailed" prevailing myths (especially in "churchworld") as well as provides reality "checks" that communicate what REALLY happens in a growing and thriving marriage!  If you are married, it is worth your time.  IF you are NOT married, this wisdom will serve you well.   

Myth #1: The best way to prepare for marriage, and to thrive in it, is to learn the differences between men and women so you will know what men/women want. 

Reality Check: The best way to prepare for marriage, and to thrive in it, is to learn about your partner so you know what your partner wants. 

You don’t marry a gender; you marry a person. And yet the majority of Christian marriage books dole out advice based on gender stereotypes: “men need adventure,” “women need security,” “men like quiet time,” “women process verbally,” “men crave respect and control,” “women crave love and emotional intimacy,” “men are like microwaves,” “women are like ovens.”  But even before we got married, Dan and I realized that just as often as we fit these generalities, we don’t.  Dan knows I’d prefer tickets to a football game over a nice piece of jewelry and that too much security and not enough adventure leaves me feeling bored. I know that Dan is better at nurturing friendships than I am and thrives creatively when he has the chance to collaborate with other people.

So for all of this talk of men being “wired” one way and women being “wired” another, we have found, as Micah Murray puts it, that “wires are for robots.” We are human beings, and we relate to one another better when we stop expecting the other person to behave in a prescribed, programmed way but instead talk openly with one another about our actual desires, preferences, hopes, and expectations.  

This is why I would sooner recommend The 5 Love Languages to prospective couples than one of the myriad of Christian books that attempt to prepare people for marriage by basing advice on gender stereotypes.  Or better yet, compare your results from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis, or the Enneagram.  Or best of all, simply pay attention to one another to observe what makes the other person laugh, rest, rejuvenate, connect, grow, and thrive and try to communicate with one another about what makes each of you laugh, rest, rejuvenate, connect, grow and thrive. You don’t marry a gender; you marry a person. And you get to spend the rest of your marriage figuring out what makes your partner tick.

Myth#2: Never go to bed angry. 

Reality Check: 3 a.m. is not the best time to sort out your feelings. 

I suspect this oft-repeated piece of advice is meant to encourage couples not to repress or hang on to their anger, but to sort out their differences in a timely manner before the years of inattention turn them into deeper wounds than they need to be…in which case I totally agree.  

But, in my experience, sometimes the best way to keep communication healthy and open is to go to bed angry and then talk about it the next morning when you’ve had enough sleep to know that leaving the milk out in the car probably wasn’t a veiled act of aggression meant to symbolize every problem in the relationship, but rather just the sort of mistake anyone would make while distracted by a fascinating story on NPR. 

Sometimes lack of sleep is actually the cause of friction, so taking that out of the equation and waiting to talk when everyone’s a bit more rested might actually be a better strategy for nipping the conflict in the bud.  

Myth #3: If you wait until marriage to have sex, your first time will be FLAWLESS and AWESOME and there will be FIREWORKS and ANGELS SINGING OVER YOUR FAITHFULNESS! 

Reality Check: The bad news is this is total bull; the good new is it gets much, much better. 

Myth #4: Women must learn to be indirect about their opinions and desires so as not to upset a man’s sense of “leadership” in the home. 

Reality Check: It is healthier to communicate honestly and openly with one another to avoid manipulation and repression. 

I can’t tell you how many wedding showers I’ve attended in which women joke with the bride about how to get her way by making her husband think something was his idea when it was really hers. Ironically, I hear this most often from folks who promote hierarchal gender roles in the home. Since women are seen as their husband’s subordinates, they have to think of creative ways to share their ideas and desires rather than just stating them directly, for fear of taking too much initiative in the relationship. 

But let me tell you, Dan would much rather I take the initiative and communicate to him directly about my thoughts, ideas, and opinions because 1) he’s from Jersey and that’s how people from Jersey talk to each other, 2) it’s way more efficient, saving time and emotional energy, and 3) I’ve got some damn good ideas and Dan’s not threatened by that. Dan and I are a team and we function so much better when we make decisions together, without a pecking order and without subtle, manipulative games.  

Myth #5: All you need are shared values and shared faith to get along. 

Reality Check: This may be true…but I’m pretty convinced that a shared sense of humor is just as important. 

Myth #6: Women need men to be their spiritual leaders.

Reality Check:  You’re going to need one another on the journey of faith. 

The teaching that men are to be the “spiritual leaders” of their homes is found nowhere in Scripture, and yet I—along with far too many young evangelical women—spent hours upon hours fretting over this in college, worrying I’d never find a guy who was more knowledgeable about the Bible than I, who was always more emotionally connected to God than I,  who was better at leading in the church than I, and who consistently exhibited more faithfulness and wisdom than I. (In fact, under this paradigm, I came to see many of my gifts as liabilities, impediments to settling down with a good “spiritual leader”!) 

Well guess what. I never found such a person. I never found a spiritual “leader.” Instead, I found a spiritual companion to travel with me on the journey of faith, for better or worse, in good times and bad, in times of spiritual wealth and in times of spiritual poverty.  Dan isn’t expected to always be the strong one while I am always the weak one. Instead, we cheer each other on, help each other up, and challenge each other to do better. Sometimes we walk side by side, moving along at a quick pace. Sometimes we help each other over boulders and fallen trees. Sometimes I’m leading the way; sometimes Dan is. Sometimes I carry him and sometimes he carries me. The journey of faith is far too treacherous and exciting and beautiful to spend it looking at the back of another person’s head. Jesus leads us down the path, and we tackle it together, one step at a time. 

The Bible never teaches that one partner must be more spiritually mature than the other. But it does teach that “two are better than one, because they have a good return on their labor: if either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). When Dan doesn’t feel pressure to always be the leader, he can relax and lean on me when he needs to. And when I don’t feel the pressure to always be the follower, I can relax and be myself and let my gifts flourish. We’re in this together, side by side. 

(I'm being told some people think Ephesians 5 teaches that men are to be spiritual leaders. I deal with that a bit here.

Myth #7: “We don’t need a marriage counselor/financial planner/psychological evaluation/sex therapist/ recovery group/doctor, we have a pastor!” 

Reality Check: You may very well need a marriage counselor/financial planner/psychological evaluation/sex therapist/recovery group/doctor. 

Unfortunately, too many churches these days think of their pastors as either gurus or czars, and some even discourage church members from seeking guidance or help for their marriages outside the church. This is profoundly unhealthy, as many pastors are not qualified to be financial planners or to diagnose mental illness or to counsel couples through their conflicts in an unbiased and educated way. Furthermore, such models place far too much pressure on pastors and create unrealistic expectations around them. If you are part of a church that discourages outside counseling, get out; it’s not healthy. A good pastor will be eager and able to recommend you to an expert when he or she senses an issue may be out of his/her depth. 

Myth #8: One spouse is called to make the money and the other spouse is called to make dinner. One spouse is called to make the decisions and the other spouse is called to make the home. 

Reality Check: You are called to make a life together. 

I can see where sticking to agreed-upon roles can be helpful in some cases, but I think it’s unwise to base these roles on gender or ideology (as opposed to practicality), and I think it’s destructive to impose them legalistically, without regard to changing life circumstances.  One of the first lessons you learn in a marriage is that you can plan and dream all you want, but you have to live in reality. So if your notion of “roles” can’t survive a layoff or a pregnancy or an illness or one partner’s success or another partner’s disappointment, you’re asking for trouble.  

The point is to make a life together, based on your unique circumstances and gifts, not to force yourselves into prescribed roles regardless of how they fit. Dan and I tried the gender-based roles thing at first, and while some of those roles stuck, others didn’t. These days, we don’t assign the task of breadwinning to one partner and the task of homemaking to the other; we work as a team, shifting responsibilities and tasks to accomplish a common shared goal: to be self-employed while making enough money to the pay for internet. (Okay, so we've got other goals too, but that’s the main one right now!)  

Our life isn’t divided into two spheres. Our goals, joys, disappointments, successes, failings, financial earnings, investments, ideas, dreams, and plans are shared. Always. 

(Note: I do think that when roles are more fluid, there may be more occasions for conflict as it’s not always clear who is responsible for what in the home. This has been the source of some disagreement within the Evans household, and I suspect many others. A big turning point in my own attitude and posture in this regard happened when I heard a report…on NPR, of course!…about a study that revealed that in a workplace setting, when two people have been assigned a task, both consistently report believing they did more work than the other person to accomplish it. The conclusion from the study was that even when responsibilities are evenly shared, we humans have a habit of believing we have done more and our partners have done less. So when I find myself resenting Dan for presumably not doing as much as I’m doing, I remind myself of all the things he HAS been doing—like keeping track of our crazy TAXES for example!—while I wasn’t paying attention. It’s a little thing, but it’s really helped.)

Myth #9: If you go into marriage assuming divorce isn’t an option, then it will never happen. 

Reality Check: Divorce happens and you don’t avoid it by pretending it doesn’t. 

This is something that Dan really impressed upon me as we began our marriage. Having come from a (wonderful & loving) home where his parents got divorced, Dan knows from experience that simply being “against” divorce doesn’t prevent it from happening. So from the beginning, Dan has been a big advocate for not taking our marriage for granted, but rather working on it every day. 

(This is not to say that all marriage fail because of lack of hard work. They fail for a myriad of reasons and I’m not interested in judging or condemning anyone who has experienced that painful process.) 

Myth #10: A Christian home should be centered around a certain household model. 

Reality Check: A Christian home should be centered around the person of Jesus Christ. 

Growing up in the church, I always heard that a Christian home would only flourish if there was a clear patriarchal pecking order in which the husband leads the wife and the wife submits to her husband. This was supposedly based on the teachings of Scripture, and yet I saw plenty of marriages based on that model fall apart! 

Obviously, I’m a big advocate for mutual submission in marriage, as that is what I believe those biblical passages ultimately teach and this is what works best in our marriage, but more important than adopting a single household model—either patriarchal or egalitarian—is adopting the posture of Jesus Christ, who emptied himself of power and took the role of servant.  If I’m honest, I’ve seen this sort of humility and service reflected in egalitarian marriages, and I’ve seen this sort of humility and service reflected in more complementarian/patriarchal marriages. So I don’t think it’s as much about finding the perfect model in terms of a structure as it is about finding the perfect model in terms of the person of Jesus.  If I’ve learned anything in the past 10 years of marriage it’s that you can’t go wrong imitating Jesus’ humility, forgiveness, patience, compassion, and love. 

Myth #10.5: You should follow all of my marriage advice to the letter because I’ve totally got this marriage thing figured out. 

Reality Check: I don’t. Take all of this with a grain of salt and sense of humor, keeping in mind that I wrote most of it this afternoon while still wearing my pajamas. 

“AdvanceNet” Video links! Check ’em out!

On Saturday, November 9th, the denominational district that I am a part of is hosting an online forum entitled, "AdvanceNet."  The original Advance concept was initiated by my friend Dustin Kunkle as a means of encouraging people NOT to "retreat" in life but to grow and "advance" in Kingdom expereince and ministry.  In preparation for this year's Advance (that is being held completely ONLINE – you can check it out at this link), I produced a number of videos as a means of teaching and informing people on the basics of the "missional conversation."  Our Advance is being led by another friend, Greg Finke…I featured some of his material because he is our prime facilitator this year.  SO, if you are interested, check them out here!

//player.vimeo.com/video/76723379 

//player.vimeo.com/video/76724436 

//player.vimeo.com/video/76724830