Character, Monday Monologues, November 5, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I pray over formation and talk about Character.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Character, Monday Monologues, November 5, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Character

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Salvation and Eternal Life

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

A lot of people scoff at the idea that salvation and eternal life are real because of skepticism about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, for example, writes about the importance of the resurrection for our faith in these terms:  “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor 15:14) The resurrection of Christ implies that Jesus lives and will return in the future to bring us home to our true residence in heaven.

The Mechanics of Resurrection

Knowing that the future is in Christ, through faith we know that the future is secure and is good, because we serve a God who loves us and is himself holy and good. Jesus is our rock, as he reminds us:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt 7:24-25)

But not everyone is convinced. How do we know the sequence of events in our salvation and the path to our eternal life?

The Apostle Paul, who met the Risen Christ on the Road to Damascus, answered this question this way:

“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10-11)

In other words, I know that I will be raised from the dead because I have shared in Christ’s suffering and death.

Faith and the Soul

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes again this subject:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body– Jews or Greeks, slaves or free– and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” (1 Cor 12:12-14)

Here Paul is talking specifically about the nature of the church, but a second interpretation is possible.

In Christian thinking, we often talk about the soul, which today we might refer to as our identity. In Hebrew thinking the word soul implies body, mind, spirit, and the people who will are in relationship with. When we come to Christ, we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, which means that we are also from that point forward in relationship with God. Our soul has forever changed. Much like we are one body in Christ (the church), we are also one with God, who is eternal.

Being one with God implies that our identity is now held in common with the people of the church and with God. Because God is eternal, being in union with God implies that our identity is now eternal.

Example from Alzheimer’s Disease

For those of you unaccustomed to this notion of shared identity and the soul,

what happens to your identity when your mind is taken over with a disease, like Alzheimer’s? Do you stop being a person? Do you loose your identity because you no longer remember who you are? Not at all. When you meet a person with Alzheimer’s disease, their identity is retained, at a minimum, by the people around them who order their favorite foods and tell their stories. 

It is no different when we die. When we die, our identity is retained not only by all of the people that knew us, but also for the Christian by the Holy Spirit, who is eternal. God who created us from dust can easily recreate us, complete with our identity, our souls, because we are in relationship.

Salvation and Eternal Life

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

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Appearance: Looking the Part

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the LORD
without wavering. (Ps 26:1)

Appearance: Looking the Part

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Seminary students must grow academically and relationally which requires transitions in both the student and the community. Pastors work for their congregations as well as lead them in a covenant relationship, where one cares for the other. This relationship can, however, get complicated.

When I entered seminary, I worked as clerk of session at CPC and worked closely with the pastor on church business. Because the pastor often serves as a mentor to inquirers and candidates of ministry and session oversees both, my roles conflicted. This conflict proved stressful and within a few months I resigned from the clerk’s role and from session.

The role conflict between clerk of session and pastor in training symbolized a larger conflict in identity. As clerk, my background as economist underscored my technical competence in managing the business affairs of the church. As pastor in training, technical competence can get in the way of relational competence when people become intimidated by one’s technical competence and step back relationally. This dilemma posed a question—how do I get people to reboot their image of me, from economist to pastor?

Call Sermon

In the summer of 2009, CPC invited five former members who had been called into ordained pastoral ministry back to the church to preach a sermon series on God’s call; as a seminary student, the pastor also invited me to preach on August 23. In view of my struggle with pastoral identity, I enlisted the assistance of a couple of friends to introduce the sermon with a little skit designed to kill off the “Dr. Hiemstra” persona at CPC:

Heckler 1: Is this going to be one of those boring sermons that you just read?
SWH: This? [Holding up script]
Heckler 1: Put it right in here [Holding up a trash can].
SWH: [Ripping up script and depositing in can].
Heckler 1: [Walking off a few steps…]
SWH: [Smiling and pulling out a backup script]
Heckler 1: Oh no you don’t….[Returning with the trash can]
SWH: [Ripping up second script]
[Standing there holding jacket lapels and staring…]
Heckler 2: Do you think you can be a pastor by dressing the part?
SWH: [Pointing to self]
Heckler 2: You don’t need a suit coat—what you need is a call from God.
Here take this. [Tossing a CPC tee shirt]
SWH: [Taking off jacket and putting on the tee shirt]

Someone warned me that ministry is a team sport at CPC!

After a prayer, I preached on the story of Stephen in Acts chapter seven, which was my first sermon without notes.

After the sermon, my mother asked for my CPC t-shirt and I gave it to her. The sermon itself softened my pastoral image and after eight years friends and family still remind me of it.

 

Also see:  Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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A Place for Authoritative Prayer

Cover for Simple Faith“In that hour he [Jesus] healed many people
of diseases and plagues and evil spirits,
and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.”
(Luke 7:21 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Richard Foster (1992, 229) describes authoritative prayer with these words:

“In Authoritative Prayer we are calling forth the will of the Father upon the earth. Here we are not so much speaking to God as speaking for God. We are not asking God to do something; rather, we are using the authority of God to command something done.”

As practiced in the church today, authoritative prayer is also referred to as deliverance ministry and, more popularly, as exorcism. Foster’s term, authoritative prayer, is more descriptive of the actual practice and less likely to evoke the baggage that accompanies other terms.

A reluctance to practice authoritative prayer exists among many Christian leaders. I would like to argue here that this reluctance needs to be reassessed because the need for authoritative prayer has grown dramatically in our generation, because authoritative prayer has been unfairly stigmatized and misunderstood, and because authoritative prayer has a legitimate therapeutic place even when other forms of counseling are available.

Background

Jesus practiced authoritative prayer, as most authors recognize. E.P. Sanders (1993, 149), for example writes:

Exorcisms, which are a significant subcategory of healings, deserve fuller discussions. They were very important in Jesus’ culture and also in his own career.

Sanders then proceeds to list twelve scriptural citations where Jesus performs exorcisms[1] and also lists exorcisms performed by others in the New Testament (Sanders 1993, 15). Significantly, Jesus also commissioned the disciples to preach and cast out demons (e.g. Mark 3:14-15).

The early church took the need to cast out demons seriously because virtually all adult converts had previously worshiped pagan idols, which were believed to be demons. The church accordingly commissioned exorcists much the same as deacons and elders. The church has always recognized the need for authoritative prayer, even if some traditions have seldom openly practiced it.

Types of Healing Prayer

Interest in authoritative prayer in the modern period, outside the Pentecostal (charismatic) tradition, started with a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Francis MacNutt in the 1960s, who taught that authoritative prayer could be described as one of four types of healing needing prayer:

  1. Repentance of sin (spiritual healing).
  2. Emotional (or relational) healing.
  3. Physical healing. and
  4. Deliverance (healing from spiritual oppression) (MacNutt 2009, 130).

Distinguishing the different types of healing needs is important because many practitioners lump all healing needs into authoritative prayer and fail to distinguish spiritual oppression (common) from outright possession (rare).[2]

The Postmodern Need for Authoritative Prayer

In the modern period, the influence of rationalism in Christian thought led many to question the reliability of scriptural references to exorcism and other recorded miracles. This over-emphasis on rationalism and personal autonomy seems increasingly out of place in the postmodern period that we live in.

Limits to Autonomy

In my own hospital experience, for example, I noted that about half the patients that I visited with as a chaplain intern working in the emergency department were admitted for reasons that could be classified as preventable, problems arising out of poor lifestyle choices, and other self-destructive behavior. In visiting later with the senior surgeon, I was corrected. He reported that the actual proportion of patients so classified was closer to three-quarters. Consequently, if in the concrete reality of medicine, we are incapable of maintaining our physical health in view of rational information to inform us as to how to accomplish this objective, then how much more incapable are we of maintaining our own spiritual health?

Growth of Suicide Problem

Outside of personal observation, we know from recent reports that the United States is currently experiencing a thirty-year peak in suicides, with the largest increase among men aged 45-64 (Tavernise, 2016). I personally know of two men within that demographic who killed themselves within the past year. If people are killing themselves in record numbers, it is safe to say that spiritual oppression is part of the picture, especially when drug abuse and deviant sexual activity are not indicated, because poverty, depression, and despair do not have to lead to suicide.

New Challenges

Outside of the medical and psychiatric fields, three factors suggest a need for authoritative prayer that could be classified as something new. First, the growth of interest in pagan religions and immigration from countries where animistic religions are commonly practiced show spiritual influences previously absent in the West. Second, the mainstreaming of alternative sexual practices and drug use (and the abuse that often goes with them) has the potential to increase the number of individuals susceptible to spiritual oppression. Third, the discrimination of secular institutions practiced against Christians reduces the number of individuals who are nominally influenced by the church and thereby able to resist other spiritual influences.

The Practice of Authoritative Prayer

A number of approaches have been taken in authoritative prayer. Here I will speak only of my personal experience in assisting a seasoned practitioner who is an ordained Presbyterian pastor in Charlotte, NC.

Setup

A typical session involves someone who has come to the pastor with a request for authoritative prayer. No attempt is made to compel anyone to participate or to accept anyone referred against their will. The session takes place in a private setting, usually a church or living room, and normally the pastor has an assistant, such as myself, who takes notes so that he can focus on the prayer.[3] Parents and other loved ones are invited to join in only if the person feels comfortable with them being there. The person receiving prayer does not need to disclose anything. After introductory conversation, the pastor starts by explaining the purposes of prayer and the scriptural authority being evoked in authoritative prayer.

Object of Prayer

The prayer itself starts with praise of God and the person being prayed over. As Christians, we believe that God is sovereign over all of creation, he is good, and he cares for us. This praise is important because God already knows what is on our minds and has promised to answer the prayers of his people. Our tiniest request from an infinite God provides more power than any spiritual being can resist. Most of the remainder of the prayer is for the benefit of the person being prayed over.

Triage

The prayer then proceeds to triage the spiritual issues that the person being prayed over may be suffering. Perhaps, the spiritual problem has been passed down through family or started with harsh words from someone important to the person. Perhaps, the person has experienced great shame or guilt due to sinful behavior, especially sexual or drug experimentation. Perhaps, the person has been overwhelmed with grief or pain. Perhaps, the person has refused to grow up in some important way or fallen in with bad company or hurt someone close to them or suffered some terrible tragedy.

Response

As this prayer unfolds, the pastor prays with eyes open to observe the person’s reaction and the reactions determine how long particular issues are addressed. This triage process is important because many of the deepest spiritual problems that we face may have been repressed over years and the person may not even be aware of their emotional impact.[4] Because the person need not disclose anything going into prayer or coming out of it, their own awareness and willingness to confess their issues is not in view.[5] As such, authoritative prayer is not a substitute for counseling. In fact, it may be a prelude to counseling because the person may realize their issues need more attention.

Concepts Supporting Authoritative Prayer

A couple of theological concepts inform this method, but are not necessarily required.

Identity in Christ

First, our souls are composed of our will, our mind, our memory, and our social environment. A modern word for soul might be our identity. The idea that our identity is socially held[6] means that when we make Christ the cornerstone of our identity, we are not easily shaken the way that we might be if some other cornerstone were chosen. Treating Christ as a secondary part of our identity does not provide nearly the stability required to resist temptation and evil. As temptation and evil become more prevalent in the postmodern period, the need for this stability is greater than ever.

Parasitic Spirits

Second, the image of an evil spirit being confronted in authoritative prayer is that of a parasite. An evil spirit is parasitic in the sense that it cannot exist independent of its host for very long, much like tick would starve in the absence of blood host. Driving it out therefore risks that the parasite will seek another local host and the prayer must account for this behavior.

Permission Denied

Third, evil spirits are driven out, not by shouting or employing incantations or any special form for prayer, but by denying that they have permission to inhabit the person being prayed over and appealing to the power and authority of God. Evil spirits act like bad lawyers arguing for their rights to oppress a person. Thus, it is important to have the person’s permission to pray because it implies that the demons do not have permission to continue their oppression.

Return to Biblical Authority

The primary reason that many people question the existence of evil spirits is that the spiritual world is itself thought not to exist, a result of an animistic tradition debunked by rational thinking. But if rational thinking is only part of our own thinking, why would it preclude the existence of a spiritual being who is divorcing itself from God? Furthermore, why, if you believe in God, would you then question the existence of other unseen spiritual beings? The Bible treats angels and demons as heralds of Christ himself (e.g. Mark 5:7). Denying their existence is tantamount to denying Christ’s divinity, because Christ treated exorcism as important in his ministry.

References

Foster, Richard J. 1992. Prayer: Find the Heart’s True Home. New York: HaperOne.

Francis MacNutt. 2009. Healing (Orig Pub 1974). Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press.

Jung, C.G. 1955. Modern Man in Search of a Soul (Orig Pub 1933). New York: A Harvest Book.

Sanders, E.P. 1993. The Historical Figure of Jesus. New York: Penguin Books.

Tavernise, Sabrina. 2016. “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High” New York Times. April 22. Online: https://nyti.ms/2k9vzFZ, Accessed: 13 March 2017.

[1] Mark 1:23-8/Luke 4:31-37, Mark 1:32-34/Matt 8:16/Luke 4:41, Mark 1:19, Mark 3:11/Luke 6:18,
Mark 3:20-30/Matt 12:22-37/ Luke 11:14-23, Mark 5:1-20/Matt 8:28-34/Luke 8:26-39, Mark 7:24-30/Matt 15:21-28, Mark 9:25/Matt 17:18/Luke 9:42, Matt 4:24, Matt 9:32-34, Luke 8:2, and Luke 8:2. (Sanders 1993, 149-150).

[2] MacNutt (2009, 167) distinguishes deliverance ministry (relief from spiritual oppression) from exorcism (relief from possession).

[3] These notes are taken to allow the pastor to return to issues undercovered at the end of the session and are given to the one being prayed for at the end of the session. No record is retained by the pastor or the assistant.

[4] Jung (1955, 1, 33) saw the unconscious as playing a leading role in neuroses and viewed the unconscious secret as more harmful than one that is conscious.

[5] Jung (1955, 30-31) viewed psychoanalysis as a modern form of confession.

[6] The Alzheimer’s patient is an example of someone whose identity is only held by their loved ones and care givers. When we die, our identity will likewise be held primarily by God.

A Place for Authoritative Prayer

Also see:

Prayer for Healing, Comfort, and Deliverance

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

 

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Looking the Part

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.” (Ps 26:1)

Seminary studies involve a number of transitions beyond the obvious academic challenges that can be especially difficult because they require changes from not only the student but also the community of faith that they represent. When I registered for seminary, for example, I worked as clerk of session at Centreville Presbyterian Church (CPC) and, as clerk, needed to work closely with the pastor on church business. Because the pastor often serves as a mentor to inquirers and candidates of ministry and they are both normally also under care of session, my different roles were suddenly in conflict. This conflict proved stressful and within a few months I resigned from the clerk’s role and from session.

The transition from clerk of session to seminary student provides insight into the larger transition in my identity as an economist to a pastoral identity. While economist are highly independent professionals who mostly work in isolation to perform their job functions, pastors primarily rely on collaboration with other staff and volunteers to perform to succeed in their professional role. While economists have often highly specialized and technically skilled professionals, the typical pastor is a jack of many trades, but not necessarily of master of them. Progress in adopting a pastoral identity therefore required that I not only make this transition in my own skin but also that I bring those around me along for the ride.

In the summer of 2009, Centreville Presbyterian Church (CPC) invited five former members who had been called into ordained pastoral ministry back to the church to preach a sermon series on God’s call; being a seminary student, I was also asked to preach. In view of my struggle with pastoral identity, I decided that it was time to kill off my “Dr. Hiemstra persona” at CPC during my sermon. Consequently, I enlisted the assistance of a couple of friends in performing a little skit during the introduction to the sermon. It went something like this:

Heckler 1: Is this going to be one of those boring sermons that you just read?
SWH: This? [Holding up script]
Heckler 1: Put it right in here [Holding up a trash can].
SWH: [Ripping up script and depositing in can].
Heckler 1: [Walking off a few steps…]
SWH: [Smiling and pulling out a back up script]
Heckler 1: Oh no you don’t….[Returning with the trash can]
SWH: [Ripping up second script]
[Standing there holding jacket lapels and staring…]
Heckler 2: Do you think you can be a pastor by just dressing the part?
SWH: [Pointing to self]
Heckler 2: You don’t need a suit coat—what you need is a call from God.
Here take this. [Tossing a CPC tee shirt]
SWH: [Taking off jacket and putting on the tee shirt]
Someone warned me that ministry is a team sport at CPC!

After a prayer, I then led off the sermon with a story from my youth:

As I was thinking about this mornings’ message, I kept coming back to an experience in high school as an aquatics instructor at Goshen Scout camps where I taught swimming, rowing, and canoeing. One of the enduring memories of this experience occurred when I was asked to teach a troop of special needs scouts how to swim. Talk about scary moments. The picture of a lake full of drowning scouts still comes to mind.

By the end of the week, however, two of these scouts were swimming. Both had the swim routine down before I met them, but both also faced certain obstacles to finishing the course. The first had perfect form in swimming the American crawl, but only in shallow water where his fingers touched the bottom. He became violently upset when I prodded him to venture into deeper water. The second swam just fine, but thought it was more fun to be rescued by the lifeguard. He would swim a lap or two in his swim test. Then, a great big smile would come on his face and he would pretend to drown. I can still see the horror on the faces of those watching me get mad at a drowning scout—that is, until they saw him stop drowning and finish his swim test.

Isn’t that so like us when hear God’s call? Swim in deeper spiritual waters? Who me, Lord? Stop focusing on myself and step out for Christ? Who me, Lord? I think the hounds of heaven have been after me all my life. Yet, like the disciples in Mark’s Gospel, I just didn’t get it.

The sermon text for the day, which I delivered without notes, was the story of Stephen in Acts 7[1]. After I was done, my mother insisted on being given the tee-shirt. The sermon itself succeeded in softening my pastoral image and made such an impression that people remind me of it to this day.

Have you ever had to tweak your identity significantly? How?

 

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Read my April newsletter at: http://mailchi.mp/t2pneuma/monthly-postings-on-t2pneumanet.

[1] The sermon was given at CPC on August 23, 2009.

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21. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webAlmighty Father,

You are the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end, the one outside of time that created all things. We praise you for providing the bread of life and well-spring of everlasting life which is your son, Jesus Christ—our redeemer, the author of our faith, and our only true friend. We thank you for simple things, like family, bread to eat, clean water to drink, work to do, and friends in Christ. Through the power of your Holy Spirit who makes all things clear, help us to share our physical and spiritual gifts with those around us—first our family, then our friends, and even those we do not know well so that your name would be praised among the nations. Forgive us when we play the fool out of pride, not for you, but out of our own ignorance. Humble us that we might become worthy servants of your church and not ourselves. Help us to find our identity in you—not in our accomplishments, nor our friends, nor our wealth, but in you—
so that if we play the fool, it is for you and you alone. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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15. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webHumble Lord,
Help us to rest in you—to bear the burdens that you bore, to exhibit the grace that you exhibited, And to extend the peace that you extended. Clear our cluttered minds, still our restless hearts that we might—refuse to be victims, refuse to point the finger, and resolve to roll up our sleeves.  Heal us of our anxieties, restore us to the person you would have us be that our identity would reside in you alone—through the power of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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Fools for Christ

Life_in_Tension_web“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure” (1 Cor. 4:10-12 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Where is your identity?

The Apostle Paul talked about being a fool for Christ. Why? Paul lived the life of an itinerant evangelist, much like Jesus himself. He traveled from place to place preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As far as we know it, he was never married or had any children. Being highly educated, Paul gave up a priestly or academic life to pursue his calling as an evangelist to the Gentiles.

Can you image attending your 30th anniversary of receiving your doctorate [1] and telling your fellow graduates:

“I am talking like a madman– with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Cor. 11:23-28)

Doubtlessly, Paul’s classmates were synagogue leaders, high priests, government officials, and college professors. Do you suppose that he hungered and thirsted for righteousness sake? Paul treated his hunger and thirst like his resume as an evangelist—he even refused a salary from the Corinthian church to maintain his integrity as an evangelist [2].

Yet, Paul’s life of service no doubt also put him in tension with God. Paul talked about his thorn in the flesh and struggling with God in prayer (2 Cor. 12:7-8). And he must have anguished over God’s answer to his prayer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Who brags about weaknesses? Paul did (2 Cor. 12:9). Still, you can bet that Paul struggled and anguished over God’s object lesson!

If our identity is in Christ, then we are reminded of our identity through the sacraments which both focus on objects of hunger (bread) and thirst (water/wine). Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine (John 2:1-10). Another important miracle involved multiplying bread and fish (John 6:11). Yet, after Jesus’ longest recorded discourse with the Samaritan women about living water, Jesus refers to the word of God as food (John 4:32) [3].  Clearly, our identity is in Christ and not in the sacraments or in the physical objects of hunger and thirst. When tempted by Satan to turn a stone into bread, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” (Luke 4:4)

Out of our identity, we act.

The New Testament provides numerous examples of ministering out of our identity in Christ with food and water, including:

  • “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” (Matt. 25:37)
  • “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Rom. 12:20)
  • “And he said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Rev. 21:6)

If the first sin of the bible was to lust after an apple (Gen 6), then it is only fitting that the mark of the disciple would be the sharing of food and drink (Matt 25:37)—modeling after the behavior of Christ himself (Rev 21:6).

 

[1] My 30th anniversary is December 13, 2015.

[2] “Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge?” (2 Cor. 11:7)  Also: “Do we not have the right to eat and drink?” (1 Cor. 9:4)

[3] “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isa. 40:28-31)

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Jesus: Grief Builds Character, Defines Identity

Life_in_Tension_web“Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me. And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:38-39 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The emotional tension that we feel within ourselves when we mourn forces us to make a decision. Do we turn inward leaning into our pain or do we honor the commitment that brought us to this point? Because of this decision, mourning is an emotion that defines who we are. Standing under the shadow of the cross at Gethsemane, Jesus had to decide whether to be obedient to the will of God and proceed to the cross or to seek another future. The same decision faces us as Christians. Our character is defined by the choices we make and the pains we bear because of them [1]. It is interesting that grief is the only emotion that appears on the list of Beatitudes—why not joy or love?

Our grief arises out of the loss of the things that are important to us. In writing about the second Beatitude, Billy Graham (1955, 20-26) identified five objects of mourning:

  1. Inadequacy—before you can grow strong, you must recognize your own weakness;
  2. Repentance—before you can ask for repentance, you must recognize your sin;
  3. Love—our compassion for the suffering of our brothers and sisters takes the form of mourning and measures our love of God;
  4. Soul travail—groaning for the salvation of the lost around us; and
  5. Bereavement—mourning over those that have passed away.

Mitchell and Anderson (1983, 36-45) widen this list to identify six major types of loss, including:

1. Material loss;
2. Relationship loss;
3. Intra-psychic loss—loss of a dream;
4. Functional loss—including loss of autonomy;
5. Role loss—like retirement; and
6. Systemic loss—like departure from your family of origin [2].

What is surprising about this list is that each loss must be separately grieved. Elderly people find themselves experiencing many of these losses and grieving them surrounded by loved ones who may be completely unaware. But we all face losses in our daily lives that challenge the assumptions that we live by. With each of these events, we find ourselves in a “Gethsemane moment”. Do we surrender ourselves leaning into our pain or do we surrender our griefs at the foot of the cross and stay the course as disciples of Christ?

My grandfather provided an important lesson to me on the nature of love and grief. My grandmother was afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease for about ten years before she died. Alzheimer’s disease had taken her mother before her and many of her siblings. My grandfather cared for her until the end in spite of the fact that he was himself towards the end over one hundred years old. In his grieving over her slow departure, he expressed his love. When I think of him now, I always remember what he did.

Saint Francis of Assisi said it most appropriately:

Lord, grant that I may seek rather
To comfort than to be comforted,
To understand than to be understood,
To love than to be loved;
For it is by giving that one receives,
It is by self-forgetting that one finds,
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life (Graham 1955, 24).

Our character is defined by the choices we make and the pains we bear.

 

[1] “Through the CALL of Jesus men become individuals. Whilly-nilly, they are compelled to decide, and that decision can only be made by themselves.” (Bonhoeffer 1995, 94)

[2] Mitchell and Anderson (1983, 46-50, 51) then go on to identify 5 attributes of those losses: 1. Avoidable or unavoidable, 2. Temporary or permanent, 3. Actual or imagined, 4. Anticipated or unanticipated, and 5. Leaving or being left. Surprisingly, they observe that: Growing up and leaving home involves…every form of loss but functional. It is surprising because we often take the process of growing up for granted—consequently when problems arise as in the case of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) we are caught unaware and unprepared.

REFERENCES

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1995. The Cost of Discipleship (Orig. pub. 1937). New York: Simon and Schuster.

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Mitchell, Kenneth R. and Herbert Anderson. 1983. All Our Losses; All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. 2010. Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (Orig pub 1972). New York: Image Doubleday.

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1 Corinthians 11: Identity and Unity in Christ

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (v 1).

One of the greatest challenges of our times is to find our identity in Christ, solely in Christ.  Many other voices cry to be heard; sometimes demanding total allegiance without warrant.  Whenever these voices win, we find ourselves denying Christ in some aspect of our lives and end up practicing idolatry.  The Apostle Paul cautions us to imitate him as he imitates Christ (v 1).

In chapter 11, Paul focuses on two areas of contentious debate in the church in Corinth (and our own churches):  gender (vv 3-16) and class (vv 20-34) relationships within the church.  In beginning to discuss these verses, it is helpful to remember that Paul has repeatedly emphasized our unity in Christ:  There is neither Jew nor Greek [cultural equality], there is neither slave nor free [class equality], there is no male and female [gender equality], for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 ESV).  The questions at hand explore how to maintain order and respect within a context of our equality before God.

The social context of Paul’s comments on gender is frankly not well understood and confusion about how to translate Paul’s instructions has led to conflicting advice followed by different churches and denominations.  The common lectionary simply skips over these verses.  Notwithstanding, Hays[1] (183) notes 4 points about gender relationship which are well-understood:

  1. Paul endorses the freedom of women to pray and prophesy in the assembly; the only question is what sort of headdress is appropriate…
  2. The patriarchal order of verses 3 and 7-9 is set in counterpoint with a vision of mutual interdependence of men and women…
  3. The passage does not require subordination of women…but a symbolic distinction between the sexes.
  4. The immediate concern of the passage is for the Corinthians to avoid bringing shame on the community.

Paul’s more lengthy discourse on the relationship between husbands and wives in Ephesians 4:22-33 basically prescribes men to love their wives and women to respect their husbands in a context of equality before God.  What this means in the context of communal worship is basically that neither party should flaunt their independence or sexuality in dress or conduct in a manner that would embarrass the other or the community.  Obviously, a lot more could be said about this subject.

Paul’s comments about classism in the church’s celebration of communion probably come as a surprise to those accustomed to reading this passage causally.  This is because the communion practice in serving communion is to skip over the context of Paul’s comments which have 4 parts:

  1. Paul observes divisions and factions in the church (vv 13-19);
  2. Paul accuses the Corinthians of not celebrating communion properly because some eat and some go hungry;  some get drunk and some have nothing (vv 20-22);
  3. The words of institution (vv 23-26); and
  4. Warning about improper celebration of communion (vv 27-34).

The key verse here is: For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself (v 29).  What does it mean to discern the body?  At a minimum it means that communion is taken together; more importantly, it means that the celebrant needs to consider the needs of the community (unity and equality) before taking part in communion—communion is a communal event.

If our identity is in anything other than Christ (culture, class, gender, race, and so on), then taking part in communion invites God’s judgment.  When we remember Christ, we should not have other things in our minds or on our hearts.

 

[1] Richard B. Hays. 2011.  Interpretation:  First Corinthians.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

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