Death // Spirit
Condemnation // Righteousness
Fading // Enduring
These are the contrasts employed by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:7-11. For the sake of context, please take it in
“Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the Israelites were not able to look directly at Moses’ face because of the glory from his face — a fading glory —8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness overflows with even more glory. 10 In fact, what had been glorious is not glorious now by comparison because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was fading away was glorious, what endures will be even more glorious.”
— 2 Corinthians 3:8-11 HCSB
It’s a weird text, really. Paul is saying that the old laws (e.g., 10 commandments) were a ministry of death and condemnation and, ultimately, are fading. Makes you want to jump into Deuteronomy and read it all right now, doesn’t it?
But when you compare the old law, now fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 5:17-18), with the law of the Spirit, now you’re talking about something different. It’s the law of life and peace (Romans 8:6). Life and peace or death and condemnation…tough choice. Yet we choose the latter so often.
This got me thinking about just how easy it is, given our various ministries contexts, we to feel, well, dead. Whether that ministry is on a church staff or in a Christian school or at a dentist’s office, unless it is being lived out though the Spirit at all times, it will feel like death, like condemnation, like a fading fad.
See, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” writes Paul later in 2 Corinthians 3:17. Freedom. Do you feel free–more free!–in your work because of Jesus? Because the Spirit of God dwells in you and leads you?
If not, something’s off. If I work day in and day out and feel dead or condemned or like the work is petty, then I’m not living life in the Spirit. I’m living by my power, for the approval of others, or something lesser than the Almighty God. I’m certainly not living by the Spirit.
If it’s really better for everyone that Jesus left us the Holy Spirit and ascended into heaven, then how about showing the world how it’s better? I think the world is calling our bluff, dear church. It’s our move.
What would a life of freedom lived in and by the Spirit look like? How radically different would it be from the mostly mundane lives of death we’re living now?
I am a Christian.
I am an American.
God saw fit for me to be born into a great country as well as born again into a great covenant–that is, the covenant of grace.
In the midst of this tumultuous election season, replete with a variety show of interviews, articles, and debates, I find myself at a loss. To quote my fellow millennial/Gen Y folks, “I can’t even.”
The question for me comes down to which one of these phrases best describes me. In view of my life, my hope, my spending, my conversations–both in person and on the other side of a screen, which is more accurate? I am an American Christian–or–I am a Christian in America.
Is there really a difference? I think so.
I don’t believe “Christian” should really be modified by any adjective. But that’s another blog.
For me it’s about how I am to be Christian in America. The same would be true for a Christian in Africa, in Iraq, or in Barbados. I believe a drastic blurring between these two notions of Country and Faith is prevalent in Evangelical churches across the US.
The “American Christian” understanding, albeit painting with broad strokes, is predominant among self-identified Republicans, perhaps some Libertarians as well.
I don’t consider myself a Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or Whig. So it’s not about red state, blue state for me.
Where I see the grave disconnect is that point when identifying as a “conservative” equates to bashing leaders, not praying for leaders, and making soul-level judgments based on a veto or policy.
Lest my historiography fail me, the President of the United States does not sign on to be the protector of all things “Christian.” Religious liberty, yes. And I can argue that such liberty is being infringed upon. But for those buying into the rhetoric that a certain president will make life better for Christians, I simply don’t see it. Moreover, what constitutes better? The Church has been thrown to lions and hung on trees since her inception.
I love freedom. And there’s no freer place than America, as far as I know. If Christians in America spent as much time praying for her leaders as bashing, condemning, or judging them, God would be honored in that. Perhaps God would honor those prayers.
As one pastor in Tennessee put it, “We have about as much chance of changing America battling over hot button issues as we do of curing malaria by swatting all the mosquitoes in the world.” Not a lot of amens after that one.
What if–just try to imagine this, please–what if…
- Evangelical Christians in America experienced as much angst over poverty in the US and across the world as over politics?
- Or if they expressed the same degree of indignation over their neighbors and coworkers not knowing the Lamb who was slain to make them sons and daughters of God?
Come Monday morning, would the same damning vitriol spit towards a person created in the image of God come out of the mouth that, just fifteen hours earlier, sang of God’s amazing grace?
It’s not easy to see oneself foremost as a citizen of heaven. In fact, everything about this world is aimed at blinding us from such a vision. But I know of no other way to live faithfully according to the gospel, since it is the gospel that informs all that we do, whether in word or deed.
The writer of Hebrews speaks to this tension of citizenship and identity,
These all (saints of old) died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 14 Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland... 16 But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-14,16, HCSB)
Idealism and life don’t mesh very well. Not because you can’t have a great life, but because that target of greatness, when idealized or idolized, turns you into the greyhound chasing the rabbit around the track.
I’ve heard if a dog ever catches the rabbit they won’t race again because apparently the psychological ramifications of such an experience are insurmountable–dog days, right?
This makes me wonder, though, how many pastors, professionals, parents, and other p-words are on their fourth lap around the track thinking the next season or service or strategy or selfie is FINALLY going to satisfy.
Pretty much every one of our endeavors has a rabbit of its own.
For tennis players the ultimate rabbit is Wimbledon. Kids imagine diving across the All England sod and hitting a winning volley before raising the cup overhead and winking at the queen.
Boris Becker did that. I don’t know about the winking part, but the other stuff. Yet with two Wimbledon championships to his name, he was popping pills, throwing whiskey down into his belly, and contemplating how he would kill himself.
That’s why I said, God forbid you catch the rabbit and find out it’s a stupid stuffed animal that was never meant to fulfill you.
See, the target always changes.
The rabbit is often an ideal in our minds.
And what ends up happening–that is, what happened to me–is your vision of the perfect ministry (or life) becomes the enemy of your present one. What you’ve imagined in your mind can never measure up to reality.
Life has a way about sorting through our bogus visions and plans. If you’re chasing rabbits, hit the brakes and ask, “What if I catch it?”
- What if my kids stay healthy and get into the best college? So what?
- What if my church grows past 200, 400, 4000….so what? What then?
- What if my business hits the $1 million mark? Woohoo! More taxes. Then what?
- What if my boss recognizes my brilliance and gives me the promotion? What’s next?
You get the rabbit. Then what?
It’s a question worth asking. Maybe there’s a better goal, vision, or target. Maybe not. You may be exactly on the path you need to be on. But it’s still healthy to turn a few rocks over every now and then.
Don’t worry, I’m a pastor.
That’s my new line for ensuring anyone and everyone that I’m trustworthy, and also poorer than them.
But enough about me. Let’s talk about your dissatisfaction with life!
- Your job isn’t fulfilling.
- Getting that degree was supposed to make all the difference.
- This relationship should’ve been the one.
- The new car smell wore off, but the payment continues on.
I can speak to this phenomenon of dissatisfaction from any number of angles, both anecdotally and personally. I’m an expert.
I’m especially qualified to speak as a pastor and parent, and a little less so as an educator. But when have qualifications ever stopped anyone? Look at the presidential race. (Too soon?)
Here’s a little nugget from a pastor for pastors by a guy who’s no stranger to the blog, pastor Eugene Peterson:
“Unrealistic expectations about what church is like will kill you…”
I imagine when Eugene typed that one out for his memoir (required reading for pastors) he did so with a curled upper lip…veiled ever so slightly by his bearded awesomeness.
Here is my shot at boiling this whole thing down to a single phrase: Expectations affect the way we evaluate our experiences.
For instance, if I expect parenting to allow the same time and energy to do everything I did prior to having children, then I would be frustrated with my situation constantly, not to mention bitter towards my children upon realizing how misguided my expectations were.
- When they interrupt Downtown Abbey or New Girl for the umpteenth time or
- color in my books or
- dip their fingers in their milk or
- “help” wash the side of the car with tire cleaner that I’m pretty sure is also used to clean oil vats
What right do I have to be frustrated towards toddlers acting like toddlers? Every right if I expect them to act otherwise.
In a similar way, If I expect pastoring to be what I think it’s going to be based on minimal experience and an ill-informed 24 or 25-year-old mind, then my conflicting experiences will inevitably leave me bitter, cynical, critical, and looking for the greener grass. And would you guess what happened? No really, guess………Yep. I became bitter, cynical, critical, and looked for greener grass.
Turns out my unrealistic expectations are akin to Round Up. I can kill whatever grass I find, no matter what kind of grass it is or what season it is.
My expectations have been the problem, regardless of the job. Changing expectations is one of the quickest and most effective means for enjoying experiences.
I’m not great at it yet, but I’m better than I was.
I shall not tell you a lie.
I’ve embarrassed myself as a parent. Mostly it in the privacy of my home.
After all, I’m a B.O.S.S. daddy in public. Ladies see me and be like, “Oooh, isn’t he the best daddy?” I can get backtalked in the grocery store and give the, “Now little honey sugar boo, it sounds like you have an unhappy heart. Would you like to try that again?” spiel. #DaddyGame
But inside the walls of our home, I can do exactly what Wendy Speake describes in chapter 2 of her collaborative book, Triggers:
When we exchange angry words for angry words, nasty face for nasty face, slamming door for slamming door, and tear them down with our words because they tore us down with theirs, they will never feel remorse for their own actions (p.28).
I have a glare that has made my children cry. Yep. Not everyone who wears cardigans is a pushover. I’ve forcibly placed my books on the table (read, slammed). I have yelled from one end of the house to the other.
As Speak points out, though, how are kids to know they should be doing anything different if mom or dad mirror the exact same behavior the kids are generating?
Answer: They don’t.
They have to be discipled. And we are always discipling them, no matter our responses. Those little ladies and gents are being discipled to live a particular way. But you know this. The reason you do those things your parents did that you said you didn’t want to do, is because you were their disciple.
Christian parents show kids an alternative and more attractive way of living, an in this world but not of this world way of life. This includes responding to conflict, asking for things, apologizing, expressing dissatisfaction, and all the other learned responses/actions/attitudes.
So it’s Monday. Could this week look different in your home? Does it require a change in tone? Perhaps a knee bend to get down at eye level with the little one? Maybe a quick prayer before answering?
Let’s show them something different. Something better. Something out of this world.
May we all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
Doctors have their ways of providing a diagnosis given symptoms that one may be experiencing.
For years, Lindsey and I watched House M.D. come up with the diagnosis that nobody else could figure out…usually with the help of a series of home investigations, ruling out sarcoidosis, and a steady supply of Vicodin.
Reading Scripture should be a diagnostic measure for us, which may be why some just don’t read. It also has the prescription (no, not more cowbell) for what ails you.
Galatians 5:14 reminds us that all of the Old Testament, like, all of it, is fulfilled/made complete/rolled up in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. The diagnostic? Well, I could simply ask, are you loving your neighbors? But let me press a bit more.
Brandon points to the signs of a heart that is being transformed by the gospel, and one such sign (symptom, if you will) is: “People stop annoying you because you see their brokenness and identify it with your brokenness” (p.39).
- How often are you annoyed by people?
- What kinds of people annoy you?
- What triggers that ‘please get away from me’ knee jerk in your mind?
- How much of someone can you take before wanting to punt them?
These are the questions that help identify whether our hearts are sick. Sick with superiority. Sick with self-centeredness. Sick with envy.
So how much, how often, why, etc., do people annoy you? Take it to the Lord, dear son or daughter.
Did I hear someone say more cowbell?