Boundaries Revisited

ShipOfFools_web_07292016“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was,
and when he saw him, he had compassion.” (Luke 10:33)

Boundaries Revisited

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the summer of 2002, Pastor Rob Bromhead at Centreville Presbyterian Church preached a sermon which referred to a book by Henry Cloud and John Townsend called Boundaries. What is a boundary? Cloud and Townsend write: Just as homeowners set out physical property lines around their land, we need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t (25). The sermon intrigued me. That afternoon I went on-line and ordered a copy of the book.

Reading through Cloud and Townsend, two points made a big impression on me.

The first impression came from Cloud and Townsend’s reading of the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-35. They ask: why do we call the Samaritan good rather than great? They observe that the Samaritan saved the life of the man assaulted by robbers and cared for him (this made him “good”), but the Samaritan did not depart from his business trip to take care of him; instead, he delegated the man’s care and continued his trip. In other words, the Good Samaritan did what he could, but maintained healthy boundaries on his care giving.

This insight into healthy boundaries in care giving impressed me greatly because for years anxiety about not being able to “save the world” had left me feeling powerless to initiate simple steps of charity that were well within my reach. The healthy boundaries displayed by the Good Samaritan therefore empowered me to take steps to become more charitable myself. While I still could not save the world, I could offer charity to the needy person in front of me.

The second impression came from Cloud and Townsend’s observation about abuse. Abusers are people who disrespect other people’s boundaries. It is our responsibility to communicate our boundaries; it is their responsibility to respect them. Both parts are important in reducing the relational uncertainty that often causes pain, anxiety, and stress.

Thinking about stress, I remember working years earlier for a manager who was a screamer—if you offended his sensibilities, he threw a loud tantrum. After experiencing a couple of these tantrums, I went to a friend who knew him better to ask why she continued to work with him. She responded that she really enjoyed working with him because once you knew what his hot buttons were, life was easy—he was very consistent. In other words, my screaming manager had well-formed boundaries and, contrary to my initial assessment, his staff did not see him as abusive.

Cloud and Townsend’s teaching about abuse alerted me to problems in my own life. In the office and at home, I lacked safe time and space, and experienced a feeling of being out of control because I had let other people hijack my boundaries. In the office, when I began to assert personal boundaries, my supervisory took offense and over the next year engineered my early retirement along with six months severance pay to walk out the door. At home, I asserted personal boundaries by volunteering to serve as an elder at church in the fall of 2002.

My three-year term as elder began in January 2003 and in our first meeting I volunteered to serve as clerk of session. While many people view the clerk’s role as primarily being the chief note-taker, I viewed the clerk as the chief lay leadership role in the church. Thus, when Pastor Rob appealed to the elders to help out on Sunday mornings by offering personal testimonies (we lost our associate pastor), I told him: “I do not feel comfortable offering a personal testimony, but I will help you preach.” Over the next year I preached about once a quarter and began teaching adult Sunday school on a regular basis.

The engineering of my retirement took the form of a series of short term research projects under tight supervision. Projects that others might work on over several months, I had to complete in about six weeks. Topics were carefully scrutinized by supervisor and the final reports had to meet specifications acceptable to a bank examiner. When another colleague of mine was placed in this situation, he filed a discrimination lawsuit; in my case, I simply cranked out half a dozen studies that were published internally. But that was not the intent—the basic strategy was to put me on a treadmill and crank up the speed until something broke, which it did.

In early 2004, I found myself approaching an administrative deadline for early retirement with no word as to whether my request to retire would be granted. The stress was enormous because a campaign was underway to organize an employee union at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and management released no information to me or anyone else about who would be allowed to retire. Although I had applied to retire and my office planned a sendoff party on Friday, as of Thursday morning I had no decision from management.

Thursday afternoon, I was whisked into the office of the Senior Deputy Comptroller for Economics. Without the benefit of counsel or another job offer, I was confronted with the necessity of negotiating my departure package alone without much preparation. Would I get early retirement, the six month severance package promised, or find myself pushed out with neither? In order to retire without a position, I argued for early retirement and the six months severance because without both I could not make ends meet—both were granted.

Although I was not able to find another federal position, I interviewed for a software consulting position the following Monday and, in the coming days, I used my severance package to pay off my mortgage. In February, for example, on a whim, I attended the inquirer’s weekend at Princeton Theological Seminary and applied for admission, much to the dismay of my immediate family; for kicks and giggles, I was also studying Greek when time allowed. Early in the summer, I succeeded in finding a consulting placement and applied for a permanent position as a financial engineer with the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO). When the OFHEO position eventually came through in August, my high hourly wage as a consultant allowed me to argue successfully for about a 30 percent increase in salary over my prior federal salary, a completely unexpected windfall.

Particularly in view of my windfall, the sequence of events—sermon heard, boundaries established, windfall received, preaching felt—began to weigh on my mind and I remembered my pledge to God in 1992 over my son’s hospital bed: “Lord, do not take him, take me.” As time passed over the next couple of years, I felt God’s call, but did not know exactly what to do about it.

Reference

Henry Cloud and John Townsend. 1992. Boundaries: When to Say YES; When to Say NO; To Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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Peace on God’s Terms

Life_in_Tension_web“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal 5:22-23 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In order to extend shalom, one must find shalom. Shalom starts with God; works in our hearts; and then is extended to others.

The apple does not fall far from the tree: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt 5:9 ESV) In other words, peacemaking is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Out of our identity in Christ, we act.

Moving from theory in to practice is especially hard when it comes to peacemaking. Everyone one loves peace—on their own terms. Pax Romana was peace on Rome’s terms; Pax America is peace on Washington’s terms. In order to find shalom, we must seek peace on God’s terms. Shalom is a fruit of the Spirit, but the whole fruit basket is a package deal!

The Apostle Paul writes:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5:19-24 ESV)

To find inner peace, two movements are necessary: throwing off sin (become holy) and taking on godliness (immitate God). Through the atonement of Christ, we are able not to sin. Through the example of the life of Christ, we are able to put on the righteousness of Christ (the fruit of the Spirit) which then spills over into our relationships with other people. This spilling over affects our relationships in the family, community, church, work, and the world (Graham 1955, 92-95).

The seventh beautitude influenced my life at a sensitive age. At age 19 on August 4, 1972, I wrote the following to my draft board:

“I can not fight in a war because as a Christian my highest duty is to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. I believe that life is the sacred gift of God which is to be honored and respected by all men. I believe that every man has a constructive contribution to make to humanity and that each man has the right to fulfill this destiny. I believe there is a beauty in all life and that we should use love, concern, and non-violent methods to solve our conflicts. I believe all men are of one indivisible whole and that each man’s life is important to the life of the whole. I must live in peace to uphold my faith.”

The Vietnam war ended on New Year’s Eve of that year so my draft number (13) was never called. However, my stand against the war spilled over into my family life and strongly influenced later career choices [1]. I predicated my pacifist stand on the belief that Vietnam was an unjust war and therefore Christian participation was not justified.

Choices such as mine divided the generations in the 1960s and 1970s, but did not lead to lasting peace in the world—success is seldom within our control. As Christians, our call is to be faithful and to model faithfulness [2]. We may not institute world peace, but like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) we can help the needy person who crosses our path [3].

 

[1] Neyrey (1998, 184) notes that it is this family context where Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34 ESV)

[2] Mouw (2010, 65) sees moral simplicity accompanied by openness to God’s grace as a path towards sanctification and cites the examples of Corrie ten Boom and Mother Teresa.

[3] Why is the Good Samaritan not called the Great Samaritan? He did what was necessary, not everything possible, to save a man’s life (Cloud and Townsend 1992, 38-39).

REFERENCES

Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. 1992. Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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

Mouw, Richard J. 2010. Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

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1 Corinthians 8: Jedi Mind-Tricks

Art By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art By Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge. This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1 ESV).

In Luke 10, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in response to a lawyer’s question:  who is my neighbor? (v 29)  The punchline in the story comes when Jesus asks the lawyer:  who was neighbor to the man who fell among robbers? (v 36) Jesus flips the word, neighbor—so-to-speak—from being object to being subject.  Not—who is my neighbor?—but: how do I become a good neighbor?

In 1 Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul takes Jesus’ Jedi mind-trick (flipping subject and object) and uses it to reframe the perspective on eating food dedicated to idols.

The early church was dogged with questions about food sacrificed to idols.  For example, in the Council of Jerusalem decision, the Council required four things of gentile believers:  abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality (Acts 15:29 ESV).  Likewise, in his prophecy pertaining to the city of Pergamum, the Apostle John writes:  But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols (Revelation 2:20 ESV).  We are accordingly a bit surprised to hear Paul state:  Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do (v 8)[1].

The importance of this conversation about food can be easily dismissed as unimportant, but Paul returns to it over and over in his letters.  In his commentary, Richard Hays makes this point by listing 4 topics touched on by the food issue which even today remain hot-button issues:

  1. Boundaries between church and culture;
  2. Class divisions in the church;
  3. Love trumps knowledge; and
  4. The danger of destruction through idolatry[2].

What is Paul’s argument?  Paul basically says 4 things:

  1. Idols do not exist (vv 4-6);
  2. The dedication of food to non-existing idols is meaningless (v 8);
  3. Knowledge about this subject is helpful (vv 4-7); but
  4. Knowledge is less important than demonstrating love for fellow believers (vv 7-13).

Later, Paul combines his principles of Christian freedom and Jesus’ Jedi mind-trick:  “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor (1 Corinthians 10:23-24 ESV).

Paul’s reiteration of Jesus’ reframing of focus in dealing with neighbors speaks to the heart of the food controversy.  If we abandon our rights as Christians in favor of our fellow believers or potential believers, then our priority is to be a good example—even when it hurts.  Perhaps, especially when it hurts.

Footnotes

[1] We might hear another echo of Jesus here:   The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27 ESV).  This is another Jedi mind-trick by Jesus because he again radically reframes the entire discussion by flipping subject and object.

[2] Richard B. Hays.  2011.  Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching:  First Corinthians.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.  Pages 143-45.

Questions

  1. How was your week? Did anything special happen?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about 1 Corinthians 7?
  3. What contrast does Paul offer in verse 1? According to Paul, what is an idol? What is knowledge?  What is love?  Why the contrast?
  4. What knowledge does Paul view as important? (vv 2-3)
  5. What is important to know about idols? (vv 4-6) How does the contemporary problem of idolatry differ from the idols that Paul is describing?
  6. Two groups are impacted by the discussion of idolatry in verses 7 and 8? Who are they?  How do their views differ?
  7. What right is Paul referring to in verse 9?
  8. What is Paul’s admonition about knowledge about idolatry and the issue of food dedicated to idols? (vv 9-13)  How are we to use to the knowledge that we possess?
  9. What does the New Testament teach about food and idols outside of this chapter? (for examples, see Acts 15:29 and Revelation 2:20).
  10. Why does Paul spend so much time on this issue? (see reflection)

1 Corinthians 8: Jedi Mind-Tricks

First Corinthians 7

First Corinthians 9

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Cloud and Townsend Set Limits; Heal Relationships; Gain Control

Cloud and Townsend's book: Boundaries

Henry Cloud and John Townsend. 1992. Boundaries: When to Say YES; When to Say NO; To Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Shortly after 9-11, my pastor preached about an intriguing book which I later bought and read.  The book suggested lifestyle changes which over time led me to find a better job and discover a call to ministry. The book?  Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Introduction

What is a boundary?  Cloud and Townsend write:  Just as homeowners set out physical property lines around their land, we need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t (25).

Cloud and Townsend start their book by outlining a day in the life of a mother named Sherrie.  In the first chapter, she is anxious, overworked, motivated by fear, and micro-managing those around her (24-25).  She trouble seeing where her world begins and where it ends.  In the final chapter, they return to Sherrie who is now self-confident, works hard, knows her limits, and helps people assume responsibility for themselves.  Sherrie learned to manage her boundaries.

Key Concepts

The increasingly common use of the term, boundaries,  today makes defining boundaries especially important.  Cloud and Townsend talk about boundaries by outlining ten key concepts (laws).  The first three of these are:

First, the law of sowing and reaping:  you reap whatever you sow (Galatians 6:7-8).  Codependent people make a lifestyle of rescuing others from their bad decisions.  Establishing boundaries breaks the codependency cycle and helps weak individuals accept responsibility for their own actions (84-85).

Second, the law of responsibility:  I am responsible for myself; you are responsible for yourself (86-87).

Third, the law of power:  boundaries define what you have control over and what not.  The serenity prayer provides a great summary of this law:  God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference (87-88).  Elsewhere, Cloud and Townsend comment:  the ultimate expression of power is love; it is the ability not to express power, but to restrain it (96).

The list continues.  It is interesting that the original Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 likewise establish concrete boundaries with God and with our neighbors.

Why Good Samaritan is not Great

Cloud and Townsend’s interpretation of the Good Samaritan provides an excellent life application of their concept of boundaries.  Jesus tells this story in Luke’s Gospel:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back (Luke 10:30-35 ESV).

Why is this story about the Good Samaritan rather than about the Great Samaritan?  The Samaritan did not walk on the other side of the road like the priest or the Levite, but he also did not drop everything and nurse the man back to health.  Instead, the Samaritan focused on what he was able to do.  Then, he delegated further assistance to the innkeeper and continued his trip (38-39).  In other words, the Good Samaritan saved the man’s life and, still, displayed healthy boundaries.

Life Changing Book

Cloud and Townsend’s interpretation of the Good Samaritan story affected me deeply.  Anxiety about not being able to “save the world” had left me feeling powerless to initiate simple steps of charity that were well within my reach.  Understanding the healthy boundaries displayed by the Good Samaritan empowered me to take steps to become more charitable myself.

Cloud and Townsend explanation of abuse was also life-changing.  Abusers are people who disrespect unspoken boundaries.  It is our responsibility to communicate our boundaries; it is their responsibility to respect them.  Both parts are important.   One I learned to articulate my boundaries, much of the pain and anxiety involved in my relationships simply vanished–most people do not want to be abusers and hate the inference that they are.  Establishing boundaries takes time and effort, but the rewards are enormous.

Do yourself a favor–read this book.  You will be glad you did.

Cloud and Townsend Set Limits; Heal Relationships; Gain Control

Also see:

Cloud: Reclaim Life, Achieve Success 

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

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