Welcome to the preacher’s head. Warning: it’s like a carnival in here. I’ve been thinking about the message for this Sunday (November 11 2018) at Renovation Church. I’d love to hear what you think, too. Feel free to comment. Don’t be surprised if it’s totally different on Sunday, as you’re getting a glimpse of a madman with a paintbrush in one hand and a hammer in the other.
Wives submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything…
Which one am I?
Listen, everyone fits into one of these above categories, if not three. As I look at this list, the only thing I’m not is a wife. I’m not a slave and no nothing of slavery, which is quite unlike some people in our world who are suffering as human slaves, but I do have a role as a servant leader and all the accompanying demands and consequences if I should falter. All that being said, I have my fair share of responsibilities and roles in the world. As a husband, I have a commitment to Emily that supersedes all other human relationships. This is shown in my prioritizing of her over any other person on the face of the earth. As a father, I have the responsibility of partnering with my wife to raise our kids in a way that pleases the Lord. Long before I was a father, long before I was a husband, I was a child. I’m a grownup now, but I will always have a parent/child relationship with my parents. Though my Mom is gone, my Dad is still here and still checks up on me, which I appreciate. And I have my employment, which is in now way equitable to the human misery of slavery, though it does keep me from doing whatever I would like. Sure, I could leave it all behind and become a giraffe farmer, but I’m not going to do that with all these relationships tying me in to the world. My responsibilities as a husband and a father tell me that giraffe farming isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, with its whacky hours, low pay, high danger, and minimal economic demand. So no, I can’t just do whatever I want, though I think raising giraffes would be, if nothing else, a great source of conversation. “They’re like horses with long necks,” I’d say, astutely, to my son’s 4th grade class on career day. The teacher would immediately ask for the next parent to come up. I’d hang my head in shame, only to think “I wonder if giraffes can hang their heads in shame without bumping their noggins on the ground?” It is now apparent that giraffe farming is one my worst ideas ever.
As a follower of Jesus, I am connected to the Kingdom of God while simultaneously connected to various defining roles that give me purpose, mission, challenges, aspirations, struggles and joys. Paul writes five sentences and sends me into a whirlwind of realization about myself, my complexities, my connections, my contexts. In a given day I “switch modes” between husband, father, son, employee in countless ways that are both divided and overlapping. When am I not a husband? Never! If I shut off my “husband-ness”, I’m not being true to the vows I made. If I decide I’m not going to be father to our children, I’m essentially shirking my responsibility as a dad. If I look at my phone and see that it’s Dad calling, no doubt I’m going to pick up and say “Hi, Dad” and not “Greetings, Mr. Davidson. I’m currently at work but I can be your son anytime after 5 today.”
An Old Challenge
Christians have spent eons trying to figure out how to balance their religion/spirituality with their daily lives which are non-religious and non-spiritual. Life is always spiritual. We are spiritual beings in a world that is strongly influenced by spiritual forces. More than bodies animated by chance, we are created beings meant to be in spiritual connection with our creator. “But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” (1 Corinthians 6:17). And we can’t doubt the spiritual world happening all around us. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). Fellow human, you and I are spiritual creations in a world inhabited by all kinds of spiritual forces. Our spirits and those forces around us are fully present in our roles as spouses, parents, children, and employees. All of our roles and relationships are spiritual. Our spirituality doesn’t turn off during the week and only fire up on Sunday mornings. To put it plainly and in poor grammar, we are never not spiritual. To view our relationships as unspiritual makes as much sense as dehydrated water. If you dehydrate water, it’s not water (it’s oxygen). If you de-spiritualize relationships, it’s not a relationship. Do you honestly think that our connections are merely physical? Of course not! We connect with others so many levels and so many ways — emotionally, mentally, and especially spiritually. In fact, one could make the argument that our day to day roles and relationships make up some of the most spiritual things about us.
People are funny. We fight for independence while we ache for interdependence, forsaking our need for others. We spend all of our time and energy with friends and never get introspective, forsaking our need for self. Even talking about family gets me strangely anxious, like I should’d be taking the time to think this through and write about it because there’s likely something better I could be doing with my family at home. Yet, as soon as I drop it all and head home, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m dropping the ball at work, or that I should call dad and tell him about my giraffe farming idea. He may think it’s brilliant.
Here’s the problem…
Do you feel torn between roles? Between identities? Who am I? It depends on the time of day and the conversation I’m having, I suppose. Dogs don’t deal with this. Iguanas could care less. Penguins seem to care a little. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be a penguin. But, if I had the opportunity to make three wishes, I’d wish that I could 1) be a penguin and 2) fly. Can you imagine a penguin that could fly? I’d be a superhero among the flightless birds. What? My third wish? Probably that giraffe farm idea… maybe I’d wish for funding.
See what I did there? I felt uncomfortable with being simultaneously pulled in different directions so I got weird. I need something to ground me that isn’t so transient. That’s where Jesus comes in. In our short list of roles and relationships, why doesn’t Paul say “Christians, obey Jesus” or something like that? Because he’s spent the last few chapters doing just that. Our running assumption is that we know, follow, and obey Jesus. In the process, we are becoming more like him. This is why our relationship with Christ is most important: every other relationship is built on that primary connection.
To be honest, I’m not sure how to explain this. Jesus is the hardest person to relate to because he’s not sitting across from me at this table. He’s “up there” or “out there” or “in here” (points to heart). Jesus is mysteriously close and distant, immediate and eventual, remembered and forgotten by me throughout the day. I find that our closest moments happen when I’m by myself but also when I’m with others. Some of the most transcendent times in recent memory took place during a conversation with someone in my family. When work is hard, I occasionally sense his presence suddenly, like wind brought the presence of Christ to the very center of the moment. My open invitation to “be with me throughout the day” was, so it seems, taken seriously by the Lord.
Eyes open to reality in 3…2…
If Jesus has that kind of authority over my life and range of motion in my life, it sure seems like He has the ability to guide me in how I relate to others. Not only does Jesus have the ability to do this, he has the authority. Not only does he have the authority, he has a credible authority in that I know his motives are pure, his wisdom is perfect, and his timing is never off. Brother Lawrence wrote about the presence of God as he washed pots and pans in the kitchen of the monastery. Eric Liddel felt God’s presence when he ran. When I preach, I have a short but sweet ongoing dialogue with the Lord. It’ s a favorite and ongoing prayer that has me asking Him “now what?” He has never left me hanging. I’m learning to recognize His voice in more and more situations where I’m trying to relate to others. It’s beyond words and sometimes sounds overly spiritual or ridiculously simplistic, but Jesus is the most important thing in my life. Wait. That’s a sometimes lie. Perhaps it’s more honest to say that Jesus should be the most important thing in my life and, from time to time, he gets that spot when I’m not too busy being distracted by my own glory or power trip. That’s how it usually goes with me.
What’s the next thing?
From here I go home to my family. I will hug and kiss my wife. I’ll give Mac a quick hug (he’s 13, so parental affection is treated like leprosy). Zac will run up to me and expect me to pick him up, which I’ll do while I’m still able. When Lexi sees me, she’ll look up and say “Hi” and maybe come see me if she thinks I’ll sing a verse of Wheels on the Bus, which I shall do. From the initial homecoming to the evening hours, I’ll be in context with these people whom I love very much. Rather than push Jesus out of those moments, which is usually done passively by forgetting His presence, I’ll try to have the discipline to remember He’s there. I can’t speak for my wife, but I know I’ll try to remember what Paul tells me to do for her — love her and don’t be harsh. What does it mean to be harsh with my wife? She would be the best judge of my harshness. I say that because I’m surprised I came across a certain way when I didn’t mean it, which makes it sound like her fault and not mine. Thankfully she’s gracious enough to fill me in when I’m a knucklehead. She actually did earlier today. While Emily was washing dishes, her computer was streaming one of the Lord of the Rings movies. I made a side quip about a line of dialogue which I thought was hilarious. She said “this is the problem with you watching Mystery Science Theater 3000. Unless you’re in a room with other people who make fun of movies, it’s rude for you to do that when I’m watching.” She’s right, you know? The next ones I kept to myself. Trust me, they were also quite funny.
What does Jesus have to do with this? I can’t claim any right or stand by my arrogance. All I know is that something I did bothered my wife, so I apologized and stopped. This shows my wife I love her. This shows Jesus I’m aware of His presence in her, in me, in the moment. God’s supernatural strength flows into a spiritual moment with my wife. Jesus was there.
How can I be the best husband, father, son, and employee? By keeping Christ at the center of me. I get bent out of shape by what others do or don’t do, all the while ignoring my own dysfunction. I’m learning that I’m the one who keeps Christ at the center of my life by remembering his presence, obeying his word, repenting when I mess up. A lifelong journey, this is. Yet it strikes me as the only feasible solution to my selfishness and pride. Even more, it releases me from image management and worrying about how to portray myself. It’s not that everything suddenly becomes simple, but it does simplify things.
Try this on for size.
The next time you get into a conversation with your spouse, your kids, your parents, or your employer, pray this simple prayer: “Now what?” See where Jesus leads you. If nothing else, you’ll suddenly become aware of his presence in what seemed like a mundane and unspiritual moment. I assure you that, if He’s involved, it’s neither.
I could preach a message about how wives should submit to husbands and husbands should love their wives, topped off with an exhortation for kids to behave and for all of us to be good employees and sons/daughters, topped off with a commentary on how slavery is evil and dishonors God while dehumanizing others. All of this is true and needs to be said. But as of right now, it seems that the core message is far greater. If we can get the presence of Christ right in our relational contexts, most of that stuff will naturally fall into place. Again, not simply, but in a simplified way. Jesus teaches the simplicity of the Kingdom when he tells us to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).