Relational Commitment

Relational Commitment

We live in an age that does not have a very good concept or grasp of Christian commitment when it comes to loving our neighbor as our self. We interpret these words to mean that we should treat each other well not that we should commit to each other whether the relationship is going well or not. We tolerate each other, we seldom repeatedly seek each others good or take the time to heal misunderstandings or divisions. Ours is a polite culture that values not inconveniencing others unnecessarily.

Jesus says that those that follow his teachings are his sister, brother, and mother. Those who are deeply committed to Christian life are family. The new testament writers often use language reserved for family to describe their heartache, prayers, and hopes for the communities the Lord has focused them on.

Even the word family can be problematic to describe commitment in our present cultural moment. Many people come from families where love and warmth were not readily or consistently available. When as people we are robbed of the experience of joy, love, and commitment we are left with ourselves. Thereby we let our own wants and interests rule why we stay in certain friendships or get to know certain people but not others. We are robbed of the understanding of Christian love and commitment without being left with any way to navigate or feel comfortable with those types of relationships.

In this way the sins of the parents or grandparents can easily be passed down for multiple generations. Cruelty and unkindness can disproportionately alter our understandings of the sort of life Jesus prays for us to have.

In the Gospel of John we hear the words that Jesus prays that we would be one as He and the Father are one. That same level of unity and commitment. It is a powerful prayer that ought to have some earthly connotations, especially when we think of loving specific neighbors and friends.

Obviously this type of commitment has to be mutual. While one person may consistently love and care for another and while Christians are called to be extraordinarily patient and persistent, in some ways without reciprocity a stable relationship cannot be built. There has to be a level of discretion when you are encouraging loving kindness and commitment while knowing that many may have very little interest on what you are saying or doing. Above all forgiveness and care has to be consistently practiced if any sense of Christian depth of community is to be realized.

Transformation has to occur persistently in oneself to more fully live into the command ‘to love your neighbor as yourself.’

Is such a thing even possible in the present time? Yes, but it is rare. Trans-formative but rare. In an age where the bonds of fidelity, trust, and care are so easily broken and transgressed it is deeply counter-cultural and difficult to push things in a reverse direction. But with God, all things are possible, and it does not take huge numbers for God’s people to triumph and transform the moment at hand.

 

On Marriage 

On Marriage 

This is not a post on the worth of persons. This is a post on marriage and celibacy as two main commitments one can make as a Christian.

Marriage is meant for holiness and wholeness. Holiness as we die to self to make room for our spouse and wholeness as we let the Trinity make up the difference in our human weakness. In essence to be the tie that binds what we in our own nature would easily break. For the Christian, Christ sustains and anchors marriage.

For the Christian all of life is transformation to Christ. The two main means of that come in the form of marriage or celibacy and both require a level of sobriety and commitment.

The very nature of marriage forces one to mature and grow as you take on serious and challenging responsibilities especially through the joy of children, the care of parents in old age, and siblings as the case may arise.

Marriage is much more than sex, but it is also the holy discipline and culmination of sex for men and women especially.

Christians have a distinct vision for marriage and a distinct and holy vision for vows of celibacy.

These are the two main choices presented to us. We go from childhood into marriage or celibacy and both have very distinctive holy and life giving implications.

If you can’t envision celibacy as having its own standing and virtue than probably marriage is the more natural path to take. But I would warn the reader that as we mature in Christ celibacy is actually a freedom for holiness and service to a wider and bigger mission field, not always, but as a general rule yes, especially for the well disciplined in faith.

As far as serving and being married the level of maturity and Christlikeness in the household comes as a first order priority, before any other kingdom minded service. The first duty is always those permanent commitments.

For the celibate person the duty is always first to Christ. This being the case there is generally more freedom, bandwidth, and creativity to serve, but encouragement is often needed more fully to sustain this kind of a holy life in this present age.

Encouragement is obviously needed for all Christians, but especially in the contemporary western world our selfish tendencies make sustaining Christian mission a strain especially as it relates to having a community that is able to support this life.

A Present Challenge to Celibacy 

The present day church has largely lost its notions of celibacy except for specific kinds of monastic and priestly orders. Lay celibacy is not deeply supported except if the lay person becomes a full time professional. A reinvigoration of celibacy in the life of the present day church would be significant and transformative and would likely lead to substantial lay missions and kingdom minded priorities.

Some Challenges to Marriage

Specific Christian notions of marriage are also challenged. Christians entering into marriage should not do so lightly and should be taught the seriousness and rigor of the family prayer life, the support of children, and the unique challenges that come with God binding two different people together with the intent of lifelong fidelity, perminance, service, and holiness.

Whether married or celibate, the Christian has a unique responsibility to practice generosity, a modesty of career advancement, and to live out the teachings of Christ in a more challenging age. It’s an amazing and wonderous adventure and regardless of theology or practice we are called to strive with Christ as we live out faith.

 

Grounded Faith Formation

Christian spiritual formation can take on an other-worldly emphasis from time to time. The evangelical American subculture (true for Catholics as well) is filled with retreat centers and other places where participants are invited to come away from their day to day life and spend time with God. In and of itself these centers of rest and respite are really important aspects to a life of faith, unless they become the only way we can envision drawing closer to God.

The Christian life is filled with subtle but deadly if onlys. I would be generous if only I made more. I would be prayerful if only I had the time. I would be kinder if I wasn’t so frazzled.

We have stopped looking at what has become of us as more a revelation of our true nature. When we are busy, when we are moody, when we are hungry, when we are impatient. That’s a truer image of our life without God. That’s a better reflection of our sinful nature. That’s us. It’s not the exception, it’s what we are when the comforts of life are pealed back.

The good news, is that how we actually are is a great starting point for spiritual transformation for those of us who persevere. A vibrant life of faith can and should be built in to life as it is for us. Whether it’s subtle practices of prayer, or giving out of our substance instead of our abundance, faith gets cultivated in our day to day lives.

Are you in a season that is especially busy? Are you in midst of trials and temptations, than if you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, God will use it to build in a full, vibrant, living faith, as you integrate your life as it is with the God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Retreats and respites are important, but a faith that is built in around the hectic patterns and trials of life is more central. In other words what you do today in regards to faith is of more value than what you do when you are moved from your life as it is.

Making Time for God

How do you make time for God? Many Christians have a great desire to spend time with God, but it never seems to translate to action. Sometimes, we convince ourselves that we lack the time; other times we are simply unsure of where to start or even how to cultivate the desire for a devotional/prayer life.  We catch ourselves saying, “I wish I could start the day with an hour of prayer, but given my commitments that’s not very realistic,” or “I know I want to spend time with God but where do I start?”

Without guidance the whole issue of how to develop a prayer life can become bewildering.

So how does one go from barely reading scripture or praying; to spending a robust amount of time in prayer, reading, or reflection of some sort?

The simple, one word answer: repentance. A devotional life begins with needing to cultivate some desire for it. The surest way to cultivate an honest desire for God is repentance. You might ask, “Repent? For what?”

For everything, more specifically repent for our lack of desire for a devotional life. You may want to choose some phrases to help. Many Christians use the Jesus Prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But other phrases from scripture or like in spirit can be easily used. A few examples:

  • The wages of sin is death.
  • Give an account for your management of the household.
  • Remember from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first.

Cultivating a prayer and devotional life is a bit more akin to being serious about going to the gym or getting into physical shape. At first it’s going to be slow and hard work. You aren’t going to want to develop a prayer life. Instead you’ll find it comforting to go back to old patterns rather quickly. That’s why repentance is crucial. Repentance brings us back to our unwillingness to really cultivate our faith. The process of developing a prayer life will humble you and that sort of humbling is a key ingredient for living a life of faith.

After repentance you need to choose some set course of study or rule (set form for study). This is probably the hardest thing to do, especially in an age that values spontaneity and experience, at some point all of that feeling has to give way to a decision. The good news is that there are a lot of things one could do. There’s the Book of Common Prayer (here‘s an easy to use online version)  which has very set prayers for morning and evening. There’s also a whole host of audio prayer devotions, and scripture readings. Here is an audio devotional from the Jesuit tradition and here is a long listing of options from http://www.biblegateway.com.

Some elements that are worth looking for as you decide where to start. Look for something that has some scripture to work through or think about. Look for something that you will do in repetition. This is a key point. In the beginning your prayer/devotional life can’t really survive off of spontaneity. If you have to start with five minutes a day, twice a day, than that’s what you do. Like weight lifting start at something you can repeat and explore from there. A prayer life is something you cultivate and develop; it doesn’t just happen because you want it to.

You aren’t going to go from nothing to a robust devotional life in a short period of time. Realize that patience will be a key ingredient to cultivating a life of faith. So you are looking for something to build on.

Practice. Not just doing the devotion, but implementing the ideas and truths in scripture in your daily life.  Faith without works is dead. Devotion without practice won’t build up a life of faith. The scriptures have to be infused in your day to day life to strengthen your faith. It’s not enough to think about theology and about prayer and about scripture, integrate them with specific people and specific circumstances and you will find that your understanding of scripture and desire for a devotional life grows.

Faith comes by hearing and doing. A devotional life comes with cultivating a desire for it by living out what we learn.

On Friendships

On Friendships

There is too much being written about how hard it is for men to relate to other men. Given that we live in a more socially mobile age, you get the impression that it must be almost impossible to have good, stable male friendships.

That’s really not the case.

Jesus tells us that we are his  friends if we do what he says. In the words of the book of James we are to become doers of the word, not simply listeners.  So what is a doer when it comes to friendship?

One that loves his neighbor as himself, one that forgives his neighbor, one that helps his neighbor in need whether physical or otherwise, one that exemplifies peace, patience, and self-control. One that does not avoid conflict or avoid their neighbor when they are hurt or disappointed, but one who is steadfast with his neighbor to the end.

Now just by putting the words of scripture into practice doesn’t mean that we’ll advance far along the way of robust, healthy, and long lasting friendships, but it does mean that we can be consistent in our character as far as it depends on us. We could consider holding in our slights and hurts and be more consistent in bearing with each other. We will find plenty of people who will come in and out of our lives, who won’t be there for us, who won’t match our ideas of friendships, who won’t be honest. All of this is really beyond our control.

What we can control is our approach to others, having an ever better understanding of our inner life, being transparent with how God made us, seeking counsel and help as needed, acknowledging our many weaknesses, and growing in our willingness and ability to forgive and be engaged with others. This is no easy thing. We are all called brothers and sisters in the Lord. We have a familial relationship in our standing with each other whether we recognize it or not. In other words we are a dysfunctional family in the church that needs to work on our ability to be reconciled to each other.

One way that happens it through friendships. A friendship may or may not met your expectations and you might not be able to share yourself fully or even be yourself fully, but by being consistent and by operating within your abilities and personality, you can over time have a solid and consistent friendship with other people.

The ultimate goal of Christian friendship isn’t simply vulnerability (though that may happen) or overcoming obstacles and challenges together (that may happen too), it’s growing into the fullness of Christ’s character. That means consistency, compassion, firmness of inner character, and a radical commitment to forgive and be reconciled. In other words to live at peace and grow in our ability to be graceful to each other as we are and as we will be in the age to come. Amen.

Self Deception, The Book of Common Prayer, and Coming to Terms

Self Deception, The Book of Common Prayer, and Coming to Terms

The Book of Common Prayer during their morning and evening prayers has a prayer of confession. It reads:

“Holy Scripture calls us, in various places, to acknowledge and confess our many sins and wickedness”

Two words: acknowledge and confess. How many times do we live in denial of the various sins that so easily entangle us. Let alone confess those sins honestly and openly to God, let alone to one another. As another prayer puts it there is no spiritual soundness in us. Yet how readily do we lean on our own ways and our own understandings. Is it not the pride that lurks within that functionaly says to the Lord, no thank you I have this covered. I know how to get out. Yes I may be down and out with my emotions, but I’ll manage. I’ll just keep on, keeping on.

Understanding our interior life is a major challenge. We are often deceived on the true state of our inner life. The Orthodox say that a man is a universe inside himself. Yet rare is the man or woman who knows even a portion of that inner universe. After all the heart is desperately wicked. Yet rare is the one who says, “My heart is wicked.”

And so we trudge along, but it’s not hard for people to tell that we are trudging. We can even see that kind of trudging if we want to. Are our emotions going up and done? Do we lack consistency in commitment? Are we blaming others? Spending hours on social media or some other form of distraction?

This is not the spiritual feast we are called to.

We are called, in the words of St. Paul, to the spiritual race, to diligence and consistency in the life of faith.

When we trudge along, one of the harder things is to be reconciled to the true Life of the world. In the prayers for the sick in the Book of Common Prayer we find prayers for health, body, soul, and mind. We need a full refreshing when we are ill and the spiritual state of trudging is a similar state to a physical ailment. The spiritual and physical life interlock, so we can at least say that such prayers may be as appropriate when we are not doing well internally.

So we have to turn and confess or acknowledge and confess. Acknowledgement is very difficult, just ask anyone who has every argued. Acknowledging your role in anything is hard, how much harder when asked to do so before God. Some people feel that if one acknowledges sin one must immediately punish themselves and will themselves to wholeness of life. If you are trudging no amount of forcing yourself to pray and read the bible is really going to turn the life of the heart without acknowledgement and confession of what is really going on.

Only with some direct internal honesty and turning can a process begin which will bring healing and life to the inner man or woman.

Letting the Lord have access to those details is an act of surrender and very uncomfortable. Like Adam and Eve we hide ourselves from the Lord and one another. We often carry wounds and scars from the past even the recent past. Life teaches us to hide and contemporary culture teaches us to try harder. Yet scripture teaches us to turn and acknowledge that we are not the lord and masters of our lives, but that we know someone, someone who is the Life of the world, someone who is able to bathe us in mercy and love if we would acknowledge how wretched we are and how in need we are for the life of the Trinity to enter in.

Repentance, humility, prayer, and fasting. These are key elements of the Life of faith. In some way we need God’s help to come to terms with ourselves. This is especially true when we are set in our ways and set along a way that does not produce life.

Lord in your mercy, hear the prayers of your people and make straight our paths.

Why Pro-Life Christians Are Addressing Climate Change

Why Pro-Life Christians Are Addressing Climate Change

by Rev. Mitch Hescox and Alexei Laushkin

From the formation of a child’s first tiny cell to life’s final breath, all life has dignity and value because each and every one of us is made in the image of God. And that is why when we talk about being “pro-life,” it’s not just about a political issue. It’s a world view…it’s a life-view. It’s a way of looking at each human life that transcends culture, class, race, age and opinion.

— The Dignity of Life by Focus on The Family

We believe that creation-care is a matter of life because we see a clear scriptural ethic to protect human life at all stages; from conception to natural death. This view is anchored in historic Christian teaching on the subject and it is the same ethic that motivated early Christians to take up adoption and what motivates Christians in this age to protect the unborn from abortion.  As the recent video, The Dignity of Life, by Focus on the Family puts it: “From the formation of a child’s first tiny cell to life’s final breath, all life has dignity and value because each and every one of us is made in the image of God.”

For us, being pro-life includes not only defending our unborn children, but also the biblical mandate to care for all life. While the threats may be different, the injunction to protect life is the same. We are called to protect this seamless garment of life.

Toxins and other pollutants foul our water, air, and soil, impacting the purity of life God intends. Children are especially vulnerable to many of these pollutants because their small bodies are still developing. A few years ago pro-life evangelicals spoke out on the impact of mercury on the unborn. 1 in 6 children in the U.S. were born with too high levels of mercury in their blood; here’s an audio briefing on why mercury is so dangerous for the unborn.  Because of the efforts of pro-life evangelicals the United States is taking a leadership role in reducing the impact of mercury on the unborn.  Another important issue is water.  As a recent USA Today op-ed put it if you care about life pay attention to what’s happening with water.

We believe climate change to be a profound pro-life issue, and Florida is ground zero when it comes to climate change. Cities across the state are already spending millions in taxpayer dollars to install new sea level pumps, bolster sea walls, and protect from salt water intrusion. While it is good to respond to current challenges, it is even more cost effective to spend funds ahead of time to prepare for present changes in the climate, including extreme weather events. Let’s upgrade Florida’s water pumps and building codes today before we have to clean up a bigger mess tomorrow. Given the dollars already being spent and scale of the cost, if you care about taxpayer money and limited government you should care about climate change. We are also concerned about worsening air pollution under climate change. Duval County alone has almost 18,000 cases of pediatric asthma. That number would be dramatically lower if we were better stewards of God’s world.

When we see the present impacts our pro-life ethic kicks in. Let’s empower individuals to take the lead when it comes to entrepreneurial business solutions that create a cleaner environment. We need to see climate not as an issue about politics or partisanship, but as a moral concern. God has given us all the tools to be good stewards of God’s creation. It’s time for Florida to come together to come up with a plan to address climate change. The church in Florida is already starting to take the lead through the Joseph Pledge. As the church starts to take on climate change more directly, it’s also time for clean businesses to take the lead. The cost of solar has plummeted, yet Florida is still well behind where it could be when it comes to clean energy. We need to do what we can to transition away from expensive fossil fuels and toward cheaper and healthier technologies. These actions should include putting together a plan for Florida to play a part in achieving the Clean Power Plan and finding conservative solutions to addressing carbon pollution.

Every concern mentioned in the video by Focus on the Family is impacted by our poor stewardship of God’s creation, whose consequences are borne by our children in their bodies and the future we bequeath to them. If creation isn’t stewarded well how do we expect the poor to have access to fresh food and to live free of toxins in their neighborhood? Our poor stewardship of God’s world is a reflection of how seriously we take God’s teaching. That’s why creation-care remains integral to being pro-life. As the Focus video states, being pro-life is “not just about a political issue. It’s a world view – it’s a life view.”

Rev. Mitch Hescox is the President & CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network and Alexei Laushkin is the Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network.