Teaching Ministry of the ICOC

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Filtering by Tag: Practical Theology

The Teaching and Practice of "Sanctifying the Ordinary" in the Life and Ministry of Jesus

With Special Attention to "Befriending Death"

by Renee Rheinbolt Uribe -- Bogota, Colombia

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“Why the World Needs to Get Ready for People Dying” -- today’s BBC news headlines. I believe that,  as believers, we need to take this a step further: “Why the church needs to get ready for people dying.” Not in terms of evangelism, but in the context of the body of Christ. As we well know, we do not “retire” from being a follower of Christ; he calls us to follow him until our last breath. Rolheiser describes this stage in the spiritual path as the season of Radical Discipleship: the struggle to give our deaths away. An important message for the modern followers of Christ. 

Definition of “Sanctifying the Ordinary” 

Harrison Warren (2016) gives a descriptive definition pointing to a sign she saw at a prominent New Monasticism community house, “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes” (p. 35).  Kinnard (2018) writes, “To sanctify,” means ‘to set apart or to make holy.’ When we sanctify the ordinary, we take the commonplace, regular, everyday actions that make up the day and make them holy acts. We dedicate them to God. By doing this, we change our attitude about the small things”(Lecture Notes).  Canlis (2017),  in her book, A Theology of the Ordinary, adds:

"Have you ever been struck by the domesticity of the incarnation? When He comes to earth, God places Himself not in a palace but in a family. Faced with a world going to hell in a hand basket, God’s rescue mission is ... to be born? How ordinary is that? It is here, in the confines of a little family, unnoticed by the whole world, the new creation has begun. … This is how God works. This is His rule, not the exception. God enters into creation and engages with us there on creation’s terms. God works with our regular responses to Him in our ordinary lives. Mary’s visitation by the angel was extraordinary—to be sure—but no more extraordinary than the life of a girl who had already habituated herself to surrender, over and over again, to God in her daily life."

As Willard (1998) states, “There truly is no division between sacred and secular except what we have created," (p. 214). 

Definition of “Befriending Death”

The reality is,  “Many Christians have an inadequate theology of ordinary life,” writes Gene Veith (1999). If we are not practicing the spiritual discipline of “Sanctifying the Ordinary;”  we are not truly ready to be followers of Christ to the end. The topic of death is not a favorite topic in our day and age, as Nouwen (1979) states, “Most people in our society do not want to disturb each other with the idea of death” (p. 68). But we are missing out on an incredible opportunity as followers of Christ by discussing this amazing stage of radical discipleship! I find wisdom in Nouwen’s (2015) teaching of “befriending your death.” He shares, “I have a deep sense that if we could move from a denying to befriending our death before we die, if we could relate to death as a familiar guest instead of a threatening enemy, we would be freer of fear, guilt, and resentment. (p. 104)

Biblical Overview  

Elijah, 17th century Polish icon

Elijah, 17th century Polish icon

What is evident throughout the Bible is that people die. The only ones mentioned that did not go through this last “dark journey of the soul” are Enoch and Elijah. Old age is a common theme throughout the Bible as well. The Biblical Narrative is bursting with older people serving God until “their dying day”. [It must be kept in mind that historical, anthropological, cultural,  and medical reasons might change the concept of what is “old” between ancient biblical times and now. Even modern societies face extreme differences.] The most common stories we are familiar with are Abraham (Gen. 21:1-5, Rom. 4:19 and Heb. 11:11); Moses & Aaron (Ex.7:7); Joshua and Caleb (Joshua 24:29; 14:6-11) and Daniel (Dan. 1:21). These are the most common example of spiritual “productivity” in the older years. The one that I have heard quoted the most is Caleb’s bold statement in Josh. 14:11-12: 

I am still as strong today as I was on the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war, and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day; for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; it may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out, as the Lord said.” (NRSV)

Alternatively, there are many examples of other elderly people, including Isaac, who became blind and weak in his old age (Gen. 27:1) and was manipulated by his wife and their younger son, Jacob. Joseph gave specific instruction in his old age as to what do to with his bones (Gen. 50:25, Heb. 11:22). Moses did not “Sanctify the Ordinary” on several occasions, including getting angry at the Israelites and hitting the rock in anger (Num. 20:9-13). The consequences of this is the denial of his entrance into the Promised Land (Deut. 34:4). 

Samson did not live a sanctified life but he did finish his life in an event that later had him put in the list of the faithful in Hebrews 11. He sanctified that moment by using all the strength God had given him to destroy the pagan temple and kill many enemies of God. 

Naomi “Sanctified the Ordinary” when returning heartbroken to her homeland; guiding her faithful daughter-in-law through the norms of the day of acquiring food and seeking a husband (Boaz). Referring to her grandson, Ruth 4:15 reads, “He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him” (NRSV). Her “Sanctifying the Ordinary” not only gave her profound happiness in her old age but also eventually led to the birth of Christ. 

The book of Job addresses the conditions of pain and weakness better than any other. Yancey (1999) reveals, “the best man on earth suffering the worst, with no sign of encouragement or comfort from God” (p. 68). How did he deal with this powerlessness? As Job. 2:13 narrates, his three friends sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights, with no one saying a word to him. Sitting on the ground, without saying anything is sanctified here. And then, in Job 42:11, after Job comes to a place of peace with his suffering and prays for his friends, what does he do? He invites everyone he knows over to eat. The cooking and serving of a meal is sanctified! 

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Yancey (1999) reminds us that Ecclesiastes is a “profound reminder of the limits of being human” (p. 161). The author of Ecclesiastes repeats time after time the importance of living the “ordinary” aspects of life with God in mind. In Ecc. 2:24-26, we read that with God’s help we can find satisfaction and enjoyment while eating, as well as in Ecc. 3:12-1; 4;18-20; 8:15-17; 9:7-10. Time after time the importance of the main aspect of life--eating --  is pointed out. Eating is an “ordinary” activity we must partake in several times a day, from birth until death! Eating would not be sanctified, if there were not all the other “ordinary” aspects of the process--planning, buying, cooking, killing animals (a must in biblical times), serving, washing dishes, etc. Summarized by these four words, a lot of work! Along these lines Schaeffer (1971) notes, “Food cannot take care of spiritual, psychological and emotional problems, but the feeling of being loved and cared for, the actual comfort of the beauty and flavour of food, the increase of blood sugar and physical well-being, help one to go on during the next hours better equipped to meet the problems.” (p. 124) 

Paul in his letter to the believers in Colossae expresses the same sentiment, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17, NRSV). He writes as well as to the Corinthian believers, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31, NRSV) 

Another New Testament teaching concerning “Sanctifying the Ordinary” is found in 1 Cor. 7:33-34,

"But a married man is concerned about the things of the world, how to please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, to be holy both in body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world, how to please her husband." (NET)

Married believers are instructed to view their commitments, due to their martial situation, as a service to God.   It is often helpful to look at the women in the Bible within the context of their Judeo culture.  Martha Peace (1997) shares illuminating information on this subject.  According to the Mishna, the ancient codification of Jewish law and tradition, the married Jewish woman was in charge of every detail of the running of her household—from grinding the flour to make fresh bread, to raising and teaching the children, making the wool for the family clothes, caring for the extended family, especially her mother-in-law, overseeing the work of the servants, and the list goes on and on (p. 115).  

Also in 1 Peter 3:1-4, it is interesting how silence is sanctified, in this situation of Christian women married to non-believing husbands:

"Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.  Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing;  rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight." (emphasized added, NRSV) 

Arnold adds, “People who love one another can be silent together,” (as cited in Willard, 1988, p. 165). 

The woman in Biblical times would understand well what it meant to “Sanctify the Ordinary,” since their daily activities would not change, but the heart in which they were carried out would. In the study of early Christian history, so many of these women who had no choice but to “Sanctify the Ordinary” (there was not an option of “forget dinner,” let's go through the drive- through at McDonalds) ended up being involved in the amazing transformation as Christianity spread like “wildfire.” This apparently small and obscure sect of Judaism ended up attracting millions of people from the many races and cultures which composed the Mediterranean world (Latourette, 1975, p. 65). From their homes they were able to influence so many of the pagan world’s “barbarous practices: abandonment of the elderly, abortion, child sacrifice, infanticide and exposure, the degradation of women, gladiatorial combat, cannibalism, slavery and many more social ills (Jacoby, 2006, p. 91). 

Barton confirms, ''But, perhaps above all else, Christianity brought a new conception of humanity to a world saturated with capricious cruelty and the vicarious love of death'' (as cited in Stark, 1997, p. 214). The Epistle to Diogenetus expresses the early Christians' sentiment and activity:

"Or, how will you love Him who has first so loved you? And if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness. And do not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing. For it is not by ruling over his neighbours, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are inferior, that happiness is found; nor can any one by these things become an imitator of God. But these things do not at all constitute His majesty. On the contrary he who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God." (as cited in Camp, 2003, p. 179)

This Christian application of loving one another was felt deeply in the deeply pagan culture of the Roman empire. Stark (1997) declared, 'This was revolutionary stuff'' (p. 212). Christianity taught a different concept than the Roman philosophers, that regarded mercy and pity as defects in a person's character. For example, Plato removed beggars from his ideal state. This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that mercy is one of the primary virtues--that a merciful god requires humans to be merciful. And in this climate, a deep compassion was developed for the weak and elderly.

“Sanctifying the Ordinary” in Jesus’ Powerlessness Prior to Death

The Gospels can be loosely placed in the genre of “ancient biography.” It is important to comprehend why there are not that many details of Jesus’ daily routines and why there is insufficient data. Powell (2009) reveals that the objective of ancient biographies was “to relate accounts that portrayed the essential character of the person who was the subject of the work. Indeed, the purpose of the biography was to define that person’s character in a manner that would invite emulation” (p. 84). Tenney states that though the Gospel of John emphasizes the deity of Jesus, no other Gospel delineated his humanity so clearly. He also describes this Gospel as “strongly theological, and it deals particularly with the nature of his person and with the meaning of faith in him." He also states,  “The discourses of Jesus in it are concerned chiefly with his person rather than with the ethical teaching of the kingdom. Personal interviews are multiplied, and Jesus’ relationship to individuals is stressed” (p. 188).  

“Everything He did during His earthly life was holy: he converted them into prayer and his ordinary daily activities had a divine and redeeming value.” (Fr. Rolly A., priest of Opus Dei) 

Jesus had to eat, sleep, perform normal bodily functions and other “ordinary” activities, some examples of which are mentioned in passing within the Gospels. I believe the women who followed him around helped him financially, but also helped with some of these “ordinary” and necessary functions always done by women in that culture: cooking, washing clothes, etc. (Matt. 27:55-56, Mark 15:41 and Luke 8:2-3); in other words, ''performed for them those solicitous domestic functions which are the supreme consolation of male life'' (Durant, 1945, p. 564). Also, Jesus lived in weakness when he came to this earth in human form. He was defenseless in the womb, as a baby, as a child and had to live an “ordinary” life, with others doing things for him. Harrison Warren (2016), “The one who is worthy of worship, glory, and fanfare spent decades in obscurity and ordinariness” (p. 16). Rolheiser (2014) succinctly describes, 

Up to his arrest, the Gospels describe Jesus as active, as doing things, in charge, preaching, teaching, performing miracles, consoling people. Then, after his arrest, all the verbs become passive: he is led away, manhandled by the authorities, whipped, helped in carrying his cross, and ultimately nailed to the cross. After his arrest, like a patient in palliative care, he no longer does anything; others do it for him and to him. He is passive, a patient. And in the manner he endured that passivity, he gave his death for us (p. 287).

I list some “ordinary” tasks which highlight Jesus’ passivity, not the outright violent acts:

John 18:28--was led by others (Matt. 27:2)

John 19:2--was dressed (in a purple robe) by others (Matt. 27:28 says that they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him and Matt. 27:31 they took the robe off and put his own clothes on him again)

John 19:17-- starting with carrying his own cross (then Simon was forced to carry it Matt. 27:32)

John 19:23--soldiers took his clothes John 19:25-27--gave final instructions for his mother and his dearest friend

John 19:28-29--was thirsty and drank wine vinegar from a sponge put on a stick 

Main Text for Exegesis

John 21:17-19:

 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me” (ESV).

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After Jesus’ resurrection, he returns to visit many of his followers. The account in John 21 is a beautiful, “tightly unified narrative” (Wiarda, 1992, p. 1),  recounting his encounter with his closest friends -- especially Peter. First, he joins them in “ordinary” activities, including helping them with advice for the task at hand, fishing. Then, while they finished their fishing, he starts a fire and cooks a breakfast of fish and bread. “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast’” (John 21:12a, NRSV). After all these necessary but “ordinary” tasks, he speaks directly to Peter’s heart.  

“Peter’s encounter with Jesus by the Sea of Tiberius represents the first substantial conversation that is recorded in Scripture between the two of them following Peter’s denial of Jesus. As such, this may reflect the tension that appears to permeate their reunion” (Poon, p. 53)

He asks him three separate times, “Peter do you love me?” I would like to note loving Jesus is not dependent on physical strength.  But Peter is now certain: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (John 21:17b, NRSV). Jesus repeatedly confirms that love for him implies love for others: “feed my sheep” (vs. 15b); “take care of my sheep” (vs. 16b) and “feed my sheep” (vs. 17b). In this context, how did Jesus show this care for his sheep? In many ways, by partaking in “ordinary” activities: being out with them in the early morning, helping them out with their job (with timely and practical advice), making a fire and subsequently, cooking bread and fish for their breakfast and concluding with a “heart to heart” talk. 

The author of Hebrews highlights Jesus’ attitude, which overflows in his interaction with Peter, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet is without sin.  Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16, NRSV). And “He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness” (Heb. 5:2, NRSV). 

As I research this text, it seems used more than anything as example of spiritual leadership. This is summarized in They Smell Like Sheep by Lynn Anderson (1996) “After modeling shepherd leadership, Jesus passed the model on to the apostles. Three times in one brief conversation, Jesus charged Peter (possibly as a representative of the entire apostolate): ‘Feed my lambs,’ Take care of my sheep’ and Feed my sheep.’ By implication he is saying “Adopt my spiritual leadership style” (p. 18). Davids (1990) parallels this text with 1 Peter 5:2-3,“to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock” (NRSV). He brings up some important points:

"After all, none of God’s acts of humanity was done out of necessity, but voluntarily, out of grace (p. 179). . . .  In fact, one could well argue that, following the pattern of the ancient world and especially of Judaism, teaching and leading was for the NT basically a matter of example rather than of lecture or command. Being an example fits well with the image of ‘flock,’ for the ancient shepherd did not drive his sheep, but walked in front of them and called them to follow." (p. 181)

I find there are two camps that use vs. 18 as an example in distinct manners of radical discipleship. “But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (NRSV). There are scholars and Christian writers who emphasis the prophecy of Peter’s death as a martyr, highlighted as the “last act” of radical and extraordinary discipleship. And then others, emphasize the ordinariness and powerlessness of the situation, more along the lines of living the last “journey through the dark night.” Rolheiser (2004) describes, “we are meant to give our deaths away, not just at the moment of our deaths but in a whole process of leaving this planet in such a way that our diminishment and death is our final, and perhaps greatest, gift to the world” (p. 19). Stott (2010) combines both ideas, “John tells us that Jesus’ words had a specific reference to Peter and his death but they embody a principle of wider application to growing old” (p. 109). Calvin in his commentary amplifies the passage as follows: 

"Another will gird thee. Many think this denotes the manner of death which Peter was to die, meaning that he was hanged, with his arms stretched out; but I consider the word gird as simply denoting all the outward actions by which a man regulates himself and his whole life. Thou girdedst thyself; that is, "thou wast accustomed to wear such raiment as thou chosest, but this liberty of choosing thy dress will be taken from thee." 

The Greek word for gird is zonnumi: to dress, clothe oneself, put on a belt or sash. Calvin adds another layer of meaning to this text, “gird as simply denoting all the outward actions by which a man regulates himself and his whole life.” This brings to mind Francis de Sales words,

    

 

 

"The great virtues and the small fidelities are like sugar and salt. Sugar may have a more    exquisite taste, but its use is less frequent. Salt is found everywhere. The great virtues are a rare occurrence; the ministry of small things is a daily service. Large tasks require a great sacrifice for a moment; small things require constant sacrifice. . . In the realm of the spirit we soon discover that the real issues are found in the tiny, insignificant corners of life. Our infatuation with the "big deal" has blinded us to this fact. The service of small things will put us at odds with our sloth and idleness." (cited by in Foster, 1998, p. 135) 

In the context of Calvin’s interpretation, Peter had the option to add “salt” to his life daily. Springing from his profound love for Christ, he would care for the sheep, maybe most of the time in small and insignificant ways. But the context of the “being led” and “being dressed”  message, I find, Stott (2010) describes as follows: 

"Jesus himself taught dependence grows as we grow. . . . We come into this world totally dependent on the love, care and protection of others. We go through a phase of life when other people depend on us. And most of us will go out of this world totally dependent on the love and care of others. And this is not an evil, destructive reality. It is part of the design, part of the physical nature that God has given us." (p. 109-11)

Brother Lawrence, whose impact on believers has been noted for centuries with his teachings on “Sanctifying the Ordinary,” adds, “We begin to need His help with every little thing and at every moment, because without it we can do nothing. The world, the flesh, and the devil wage a fierce and continuous war on our souls. . . . Although this total dependence may sometimes go against our human nature, God takes great pleasure in it” (1980, p. 60).

Old Man in Sorrow

Follow Me (Jesus). . . “Only A Suffering God Can Help”(Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Nouwen (2015), when discussing the theme of old age, uses Van Gogh’s (1890) Old Man in Sorrow to illustrate this stage, “The old man is ‘worn out’, Vincent notes ‘on the threshold of eternity’” (p.  103). Following Christ can lead us to places we do not want to go: excruciating, vulnerable and even haunting places. In the US Evangelical context, following Christ has a message of “doing great things for Christ” and “winning the world in this generation.” I have not perceived a message of preparation for old age and powerlessness.  Martyrdom, yes, but not “getting old for Christ.” Nouwen  (1979) has a few choice words in this regard, “ Thinking about martyrdom can be an escape unless we realize that real martyrdom means a witness that starts with the willingness to cry with those who cry, laugh with those who laugh and to make one’s own painful and joyful experiences available as sources of clarification and understanding” (p. 72). Even though with Billy Graham's recent death at the age of 99, there could be greater interest. That is why I am highlighting Jesus’ words to Peter “but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” and then Jesus continues with a short command “follow me.” Jesus had just given Peter a full-blown personal example of how to let others do “ordinary” tasks for you with an obvious sanctification “stamp.” As Nowen (2015) so beautifully expresses, “Our lives are not problems to be solved but journeys to be taken with Jesus as our friend and finest guide” (p. 6). 

Tagliaferre (2010) provides insight:

"Curiously, one of the last things spoken by Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John to Simon Peter was, “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18) Studies indicate that physical dependence is the great fear among aging steeple. Aging requires that one adapt to physical deterioration and awareness of pending death while relinquishing leadership to future generations. But more than that are the changes in intellectual, relational, and spiritual transitions that also must be accommodated with age.” (p. 257)

In a personal way, I find this teaching extremely helpful as I face the later part of my life (and my husband’s), as well as my parents’ (and in-laws) elderly years. The focus on this paper is not to discuss projects for the elderly but the spiritual call for each follower of Christ as we approach this next stage of discipleship, radical discipleship. To follow Christ’s example when facing the powerlessness that accompanies terminal illness and old age is our ultimate charge. Ecclesiastes illustrates what is coined by St. John of the Cross as the “dark night of the soul:” 

Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets (Ecc. 12:1-5, NRSV).

Those ordinary things in this stage are sanctified, even if someone else must do them for us--if we are doing them out of our spiritual walk and journey. I am someone who needs to hear this lesson. I am renewing a “more productive” time after dedicating almost twenty years of serving God with the ordinary, as a mother and wife. If it were needed to again focus much more on the ordinary, to possibly care for my parents or my in-laws (who all live in the US), if the need were to arise, this would come at a price, leaving our mission work in Latin America. But as I have experienced extreme weakness due to prolonged illness, challenging pregnancies and for other reasons, all these experiences and lessons (past, present and future) are all building blocks to prepare for the last stage of my walk with Christ. 

Villacorta (2017) describes this inner struggle within the context of our Western culture, which flourishes within our congregations, “The external forces of a power production driven society are counter to the idea of a spirituality of waiting” (p. 60). He continues, “Since our human nature resists powerlessness it will do most anything to strike back even to the point where our character, spiritual life and relationships with others are compromised” (p. 67). Brunner (1955), when discussing hope, shares, “There is no optimism in the New Testament; optimism is the mark of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (p. 50);  also, “That is one of the fairy tales of our age, --that men need the idea of progress to make them active. What we really need to make us active is love and if we have love we need no other stimulus” (p. 57).  Nouwen (2002) illustrates the struggle at hand, “the long painful history of the church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led.  Those who resisted this temptation to the end and thereby give us hope are the true saints (or true carriers of  Jesus' legacy) ( last words are mine, pp. 77 & 79).  

Rolheiser (2014) brings up, “Aging: an art form?”(p. 298). Nouwen does make it sound like that! He also mentions “our death is meant to be our last and greatest gift to our loved ones” (p. 285), and brings up the question, “How can I live now so that when I die, my death is an optimal blessing to my family, my friends, the church, and the world?” (p. 285). If we are willing, following Christ leads us down a road of accepting death, not fearing it, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil),  and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15 NET).

Within my spiritual community in Bogota, Colombia, where I have been an active member for two and-a-half decades, there are many applications of this spiritual discipline of “Sanctifying the Ordinary,” especially in the extreme-illness or in the old-age stage. But many people here have been examples to me, they are actually why I am aware of this application of this specific spiritual discipline. I have been close to many brothers and sisters who have passed away during all these years, but two women who passed away last fall have touched me in an especially profound manner.

One was a woman who was baptized almost 25 years ago, Virgelina. She was already almost 50 years old at the time and, at around 60 years of age, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. For her last 15 years she had been such an amazing example of a spiritual woman, even when bedridden: devoted to prayer; always willing to love more one more person; soft of heart, always giving her best. She was poor, but so rich in heart. Her life touched so many people throughout the years. At her funeral it was so obvious that her death was a blessing to her family, friends, the church, and even to people who had not ever met her! 

The other person is my sister-in-law, who died at the young age of 48. She lived two decades in a lesbian lifestyle and one day called me up and said “I am ready to turn my life over to God.”  Soon after this she got baptized. Six months after her baptism, she found out that she an aggressive type of breast cancer. She bravely faced her surgeries and chemotherapies, while touching people’s lives with God’s love at every turn. Every Sunday she would sing out to God in worship with so much enthusiasm!  During this time, she helped so many people she knew come to know God and get baptized (including one of her former partners). A month after her total recovery from the breast cancer, it was discovered she had lung cancer (that later metastasized to the brain). As she realized there was no other road for her life but to “befriend death”, her example of radical discipleship was amazing! [Even though she was rebuked by many a Christian accusing her of insufficient faith.] Her last few weeks, others had to help her with dressing, eating and getting from here to there. It was obvious that these ordinary tasks were sanctified! Even though it was challenging for her to lose the ability to care for herself, she made such an effort to thank each person for every little or big thing they did for her. I had the privilege of observing what Nouwen describes as, to “go through the birthing canal,” while her closest family and friends were encouraging to “push through.” To her last breath, she was encouraging others, even joking. During her lifetime we were not that close, but observing her last journey into the “Dark Night of the Spirit” was a gift to me, personally, as well as for hundreds of others. The funeral home was too small for the hundreds of attendees. It was a sad time but simultaneously, so happy! It was as if we were unwrapping the gift that she had given us, through the way she lived and the way she died. 

In the way these women lived and died they paved the way that shows, “the effective and full enjoyment of active love of God and humankind in all the daily rounds of normal existence where we are placed.” (Willard, 1988, p. 138). The core teaching of Jesus and his last words to Peter come alive in the lives of Virgelina and my sister-in-law. This teaching of the spiritual discipline in “Sanctifying the Ordinary” is vital as we grow older as followers of Christ;  but we must start NOW. Chambers cautions, “If we refuse to practice, it is not God’s grace that fails when a crisis comes, but our own nature. When the crisis comes, we ask God to help us, but He cannot if we have not made our nature our ally. The practicing is ours, not God’s. God regenerates us and puts in contact with all His divine resources, but He cannot make us walk according to His will” (as cited in Willard, 1988, p. 118).  But we must continue or return to the “path” of spiritual discipline and realize the joy ahead of us when we are experiencing powerless in the elderly stage of life or due to extreme illness.  Remembering the example of Jesus,   as Peter did:

"Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up (Heb. 12:2-3, NET). 

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There is joy in depending on others for the ordinary tasks of life, because if our heart and mind are in the right place, we continue in our worship of God. Nouwen (2015) expresses these closing thoughts like no other could: 

"Remember: You belong to God from eternity to eternity. You were loved by God before you were born; you will be loved by God long after you die. Your human lifetime -- long or short -- is only a part of your total life in God. The length of time doesn’t matter. Life is just a little opportunity for you during a few years to say to God: “I love you, too.” (p. 48)

 

References

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/john/21.htm

Anderson, L. (1997). They Smell Like Sheep: Spiritual Leadership For The 21st Century. Howard Pub.

Brunner, E. (1955). Faith, Hope, And Love. Lutterworth Press.

Camp, L. C. (2004). Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity In A Rebellious World. Brazos Press.

Canlis, J. (2017). A Theology Of The Ordinary. Godspeed Press.

C. (n.d.). Posts about Sanctification of ordinary life on Catholics Striving for Holiness. Retrieved from https://catholicsstrivingforholiness.com/category/sanctification-of-ordinary-life/

Davids, P. H. (2009). The First Epistle of Peter. Eerdmans.

Durant, W. (1944). Caesar and Christ: The Story of Civilization III. Simon and Schuster.

Foster, R. J. (1988). Celebration Of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth. HarperSanFrancisco.

Horton, M. (2014). Ordinary: Sustainable Faith In A Radical, Restless World. Zondervan.

Jacoby, D. (2006). The Letters of James, Peter, John, Jude: Life to the Full.  Discipleship Publications International.

Kinnard, G. S. (2006). The Way Of The Heart: Spiritual Living In A Legalistic World. Illumination Publishers International.

Kinnard, G. S. (2018). Sanctifying The Ordinary: 24-7 Discipleship. Lecture notes in LCU course BT 654. 

Latourette, K. S. (1975). A History Of Christianity. Harper and Row.

Lynch, E. K. (1974). The Practice Of The Presence Of God. Carmelite Press.

Nouwen, H. J., Christensen, M. J., & Laird, R. (2015). Spiritual Direction: Wisdom For The Long Walk Of Faith. HarperOne, a division of HarperCollins.

Nouwen, H. J., Christensen, M. J., & Laird, R. (2015). Spiritual Formation: Following The Movements Of The Spirit. HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Nouwen, H. J. (1979). The Wounded Healer. Double day.

Peace, M. (1996). The Excellent Wife. Focus Pub.

Poon, R. (2006). John 21: A Johannine Model Of Leadership. Journal Of Biblical Perspective In Leadership. Leadership 1, no. 1 (Fall 2006), 49-70.

Powell, M. A. (2015). Introducing The New Testament: A Historical, Literary, And Theological Survey. Baker Academic.

Rolheiser, R. (2017). Sacred Fire: A Vision For A Deeper Human And Christian Maturity. Doubleday.

Rolheiser, R. (2014). The Holy Longing: The Search For A Christian Spirituality. Image.

Schaeffer, E. (1971). The Hidden Art Of Homemaking. Tyndale House.

The School of the Parish. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://world.regent-college.edu/profile/the-school-of-the-parish

Sleeman, D.K. (2018, March 02). Why The World Needs To Get Ready For More People Dying. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/health-43159823

Stark, R. (1997). The rise of Christianity: How the obscure, marginal Jesus movement became the dominant religious force in the western world in a few centuries. Harper Collins.

Stott, J. R. (2015). The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling. IVP

Tagliaferre, L. (2010). Lessons From Sedona. iUniverse. 

Tenney, M. C., & Dunnett, W. M. (1987). New Testament Survey. Eerdmans.

Veith, G. E. (2010). The Spirituality Of The Cross: The Way Of The First Evangelicals. Concordia Pub. House.

Villacorta, W. G. (2017). Tug Of War: The Downward Ascent Of Power. Cascade Books.

Warren, T. H. (2016). Liturgy Of The Ordinary - Sacred Practices In Everyday Life. Intervarsity Press.

Wiarda, T. (1992, 04). John 21.1-23: Narrative Unity and Its Implications. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 14(46), 53-71. doi:10.1177/0142064x9201404604

Willard, D. (2002). Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. NavPress.

Willard, D. (1999). The Spirit Of The Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. HarperSanFrancisco.

Yancey, P. (2002). The Bible Jesus Read. Zondervan.

 

Photo Credits

Christ appears to his disciples. https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/5671097233Chr

Elijah, By Janmad (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a9/Elijah_17th_c_Weremien_Sanok.jpg

https://nomadicboys.com/vietnamese-savoury-pancakes-recipe-banh-xeo/

J James Tissot, Baked Fish 2, https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/7022212959

Death of Peter, Luca Giordano [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Martin LaBar, Joy Poster. https://www.flickr.com/photos/martinlabar/4959216347

 

Renee Rheinbolt Uribe was born in Little Rock, Arkansas but raised in Guatemala by medical missionary parents. She has been a follower of Christ since the young age of 13 and a missionary in Latin America for over three decades (serving in Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina and Colombia). Her undergrad degree is in International Relations. Due to her lifelong love of learning,  with her three kids now in college, she has gotten her MA in Intercultural Studies (Missiology) as well as a MA in Bible and Theology. She met the love of her life on the mission field, Flavio Uribe and they have been based in Bogota, Colombia for over 25 years. She is currently taking Masters courses at Lincoln Christian University in ministry and biblical studies. 

What is Prayer and Why Do We Pray?

A mini-study on Prayer

by John Oakes -- San Diego, California, USA 

Let us start with two questions:

1. What is prayer to you?

2. Why do you pray?

Either write down your answers to these questions or at least take the time to voice your answers to yourself.

 

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I. What is prayer?

Think about your prayer life.   Is your prayer talking to God or is it talking with God?

Also, what is the purpose of you praying?

For myself, as I grew up as a Christian, the model for prayer was what I saw in a public prayer.  When people are praying in public, obviously they talk.  If they stop talking, then the prayer is over.  So, to me, prayer is talking to God, or at least that is how I viewed it for many years.

But there are two problems with this. 

1. Communication is a lot more than words, and

2. Communication, by its very definition, is two-way.

Romans 8:26-27 reads,   "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will." (NIV)

Think about that moment when you communicated your deepest desires and feelings to someone whom you deeply love.  If you are a married person, it might be that look you exchanged with your spouse when the two of you first realized you were in love with each other.  That look said it all.  Words simply do not express our most profound feelings.  Prayer is not just talking.  Prayer is feeling.  Prayer is receiving a message.  The Holy Spirit helps us to express those deepest feelings to God.  And this is a two-way street. He also communicates God’s deep desire for us.  Sometimes in our prayer we need to stop talking.  We need to “be still and know that I Am God.” (Psalms 46:10).

There is a spiritual discipline that most of us have not developed, and I will add myself to the list of novices in this area.  It is meditation.  Prayer may be talking, but it is also meditation.  Meditation is not just for our Hindu friends. We need to take it back for use in Christian prayer.  David meditated, not by saying a mantra, but by contemplating God’s glory.  In Psalm 119:27 he tells us that “I will meditate on your wonders.” In Psalm 77:9, Asaph tells us, “I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.”  This cannot be done while talking.  In Psalm 48:9 the Sons of Korah tell us that, “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.”  Prayer that God seeks from us includes meditation.

What is prayer?  It is a lot of things.  To break it down to just one of them is a mistake, but one of those things prayer involves is communicating on the deepest possible level our feelings and desires to God and God doing the same with us.  Let us consider prayer, not just as talking, but as feeling and meditating.  Let us consider the role the Holy Spirit plays in this and let us consider being trained to be still—to stop talking and to meditate on God—on his wonders, on his works and on his unfailing love.

 

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II. Why do we pray?

If we have a more complete understanding of what prayer is, then we will have a greater understanding of why we (hopefully) pray.  Of course, one reason we pray is that we are commanded to pray.  But consider your most valued relationships.  If these relationships are truly valued, then surely you do not communicate with those you love because you “have” to. In fact, if you have to, then that is not love.

Here are three much better reasons for you to consider as to why we pray. Our purposes in prayer include:

1. To give glory to God.

2. To align our heart with God’s will.

3. To influence God and be influenced by him through relationship.

Probably the best go-to place, both for how to pray and why to pray is found in Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13. Here the disciples, who have been praying their whole lives, realize that Jesus is the master prayer. Therefore, in humility, they ask him how to pray.  In his response to them, we can see all three of the points above.

First, Jesus begins his model prayer by giving glory to God.  All honor and praise belong to God and to God alone. My personal favorite example of this in the Scripture comes, not surprisingly, from the mouth of the second greatest prayer of all time—David. It is in 1 Chronicles 29:10-20.  “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor.” By this time, David is consulting his thesaurus, as he is running out of words. But he is not running out of reasons to give Glory to God.  First and foremost, the reason we pray is to give glory to the God who created us—to the God of all comfort, love, power and dominion, who deserves our eternal praise and who sits in glory in heaven, amen!

Second, we pray so that our hearts and desires can become aligned with God’s will for our own lives  and for the world as a whole.  Jesus says in his model prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Does this mean that God’s will is not always done?  I thought that God was totally sovereign.  In fact, God’s will is not always done because there are creatures who have free will, whose wills very often do not align with the will of Him who created them. In prayer, we seek to align our desires with those of our Father in heaven. We offer ourselves in submission.  We pray for things, but we expect God to give us those things only if it is according to his will, right? In 1 John 5:14-15 we are told that anything we ask that is in accord with his will we will receive. For this reason, as we pray, we are trying to align our will with his will.

The third reason we pray goes back to the first part of this lesson. The greatest purpose of prayer is to give glory to God.  In prayer we align our free wills with God’s will. Both true, but in the end, prayer is two-way communication. In prayer, God presents his deepest desire for us—his will for our lives and for the whole world.  But in prayer, we also lay bare our deepest desires to God.  It is surely one of the greatest mysteries that the Creator of the Universe wants to be influenced by puny little us. In prayer, we move the universe.  Well, it is not exactly we, moving the universe, but it is we moving God, who then moves the universe.  In his model prayer, in Matthew 6:11, Jesus prayed that God would “give us our daily bread.”  In prayer, we present our requests before the most powerful person in the universe, knowing that if it is according to his will, that he will make it happen.  “By prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,” we “present our requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)  Our prayer moves the universe, and this is one reason we pray, because when we ask, we receive.  But let us remember a few things about this.

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1. First, let us give glory to God.

2. Second, let us first do our very best to align our desires with God’s will.

3. Third, let us remember that our presentation to God of our desires will be greatly helped by the Holy Spirit, who speaks for us in groans that words cannot express. Let us sometimes stop talking, meditate, communicate and let us “be still and know that I am God.”

 

12/6/17

Published January 9, 2018 on www.disciplestoday.org

Teachers' Subcommittee Report on "Love Your Enemies"

During a church builders’ workshop in Boston in early 2010 one of the presenting elders made some comments about Christians and the military. This led one of the teachers into a discussion with this elder. Following a number of developments, the teachers’ service team reviewed a paper on the subject, had a subsequent discussion with the elder, and then asked a subcommittee to study the matter and make a proposal. As a result of reading numerous emails and articles and conducting nine WebEx meetings totaling about twenty hours, our subcommittee, with unanimity, came to the following conclusion, which we later confirmed by the entire committee: 

1.    The issue of loving our enemies is one of Jesus’ most revolutionary teachings occupying a prominent place in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Kingdom ethos to be shown to the world (Matthew 5:44-48). Thus, the implications of it need to be thought through very carefully. 

2.    A Christian must act as a disciple of Jesus at all times in all circumstances (meaning in this context, that he must show love to his enemies at all times). The classic argument going back to Augustine and Luther that a Christian has a private self and a public self and can do things in his public self that he would not do in his private self is not biblical. The Scriptures know of no such division within the Christian. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17 NIV). 

3.    Every Christian needs to be taught to obey Jesus’ commands to love our enemies, pray for them, do good to them, lend to them, be merciful to them and do to them as we would have done to us (Matthew 5:44-48 and Luke 6:27-35). For this to be obeyed, disciples must be encouraged and helped to think through the implications and applications of this teaching. However, in this matter, we do not believe it is best just to tell our members what to practice, but rather teach them how to make wise judgments, remembering, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14 ESV).

4.    Romans 12:2 (NIV) reads, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.“ However, on this issue, our respective cultures’ emphases on patriotism and nationalism often has influenced how we view the treatment of enemies more than have the Scriptures—particularly, the teachings of Jesus. This must be changed and our minds must be renewed by God’s wisdom. Whatever decisions we make must be made from consciences informed and shaped by the Word of God.

5.    Although the implications of this teaching (love your enemies) may be difficult, all faithful disciples must study and pray about these matters. This is not an option. We must all seek God’s will, for that is the nature of the Kingdom life. 

6.    The examples of soldiers’ interactions with John the Baptist (Luke 3:14), Jesus (Mark 8:5-13), Peter (Acts 10) should be examined, and consideration should be given to what these situations say and do not say. Whatever conclusions we come to should address these situations, as well as the material at the end of Romans 12 and the beginning of Romans 13.  

7.    A deeper consideration of our teaching on this subject of loving our enemies will almost certainly lead to some significant shepherding issues in which we help disciples make decisions based on the Bible rather than on culture.  These will likely include: (1) Counseling a disciple who wants to enlist in the military (or in some countries is being drafted into the military) about the implications of the military oath; objectives of military training and consequences of travel away from the fellowship. (2) Counseling a disciple currently serving in the military regarding the possibility of serving without violating one’s conscience, as well as what options are available if one’s conscience is violated. (3) Supporting and nurturing individual disciples as they wrestle with and make these difficult decisions. 

8.    While we believe this area needs to be taught on and explored, we also believe that discussions and collaboration are needed with elders and evangelists in order to handle this in the best way in our congregations, so the church might be unified, built up and grow into maturity (Ephesians 4:11-16).  

9.    Our belief is that we must be a people who are very willing to examine difficult issues and hear different perspectives represented, even as we encourage each other with the greatest of love and respect to keep seeking and asking and knocking (Matthew 7:7) for the will of God. It is our hope that the process we have followed with this matter may be a model for handling other difficult issues or addressing needed changes in our teaching.  [To that end, we invited and included representatives from both the evangelists’ service team and the elders’ service team to join us on the discussion of this project, and we were grateful for their input.]

Finally, while those of us on the subcommittee do not agree on every implication and practice that should come from Jesus’ teaching on this matter, we are in complete unity that the command to “love your enemies,” in all its counter-cultural quality, must be studied and implemented by every disciple and practiced in all phases of life. This is a crucial mark of the Kingdom, for in this context Jesus said: "If you greet [show love to] only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:47-48 NASB). 

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Two Position Papers

The previous appeal was written for the evangelists’ service team and elders’ service team to summarize what the teachers’ subcommittee discussed concerning "love your enemy."  The following papers represent two different views on this topic.  These papers are given to help disciples think through this topic.  The papers are not written to tell anyone what to think, but to help each person work through the issue.  We want to develop a culture in our churches where diverse perspectives on complex issues can be discussed and respected.  In the case of these particular papers, we acknowledge that the majority of the authors are citizens or residents of the United States of America. Those who live in other countries may have a very different perspective from these authors. 

 

I. Disciples and Enemies: A Kingdom Perspective

Michael Izbicki graduated from the United States Naval Academy near the top of his class in 2008. The next year he took a psychological exam on which he found this question: If given the order, would he launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead? He answered that he would not.1

For the next two years the Navy fought hard against his request to become a conscientious objector. In finally receiving that status, only after taking his case to federal court, Izbicki became one of 300 over a nine-year period who received an honorable discharge as a CO. Another 300 applicants were denied. 

During his junior year he had taken required courses studying the just war theory, mainly as argued by Thomas Aquinas, but he became increasingly uneasy with “the frankness with which people talked about killing.” In his application he wrote:  “We calculated the extent of civilian casualties and whether these numbers were politically acceptable.” 

Eventually, he studied the Gospels, read widely about the early history of the church, took up Hebrew so he could read the Old Testament in the original, and started to measure his faith according to the question: What would Jesus do? He concluded, “I could not be responsible for killing anyone.” This led to his unexpected answer on his psychological test and triggered a long series of interrogations.

Izbicki’s story illustrates a crucial issue often faced by the disciple of Jesus who lives in a post-Constantinian culture where Christian military service has been taken for granted by most Christian groups for 1800 years. Disciples follow Jesus, who said, “Love your enemies.” But killing enemies is widely accepted and sometimes even expected as a part of Christian obligation.

A variety of arguments can be made against Christian involvement in war,  but the point of this paper is that it is inconsistent with Jesus’ main message, namely,  the way of the Kingdom of God—a radical new way of living in this present age: living by the principles of the age to come.. With that premise, I would put forth the following points:

1.    Jesus was the embodiment of the Kingdom. In his person and work the Kingdom of God was breaking in. To the disappointment of many,  including his own followers, Jesus' approach did not involve any embrace of nationalism or support for the violent overthrow of ungodly pagan tyrants. As a naval officer, Izbicki asked, "What would Jesus do?" He certainly would have found nothing in the Gospel accounts that would indicate that Jesus would have supported war or lethal force in any way, unless we are talking about spiritual warfare fought with spiritual weapons.

2.    When Jesus taught his disciples what it meant to live the Kingdom in this present age, that is, to allow God to be in charge of their lives, he spoke to them of a radically different ethic in which you would not resist the evil man; would turn the other cheek, go the second mile, love your enemies, pray for them, and do good to them. Jesus not only taught this, but lived it right down to his final breath.  Certainly,  what officer Izbicki was taught at the Naval Academy regarding enemies could not have been more starkly in contrast to the teachings of Jesus about the Kingdom life. The goal in war is to destroy and obliterate the enemy,  not to show love, compassion, kindness, mercy, and concern. The nuclear warhead that the naval officer might be asked to launch, the grenade the soldier may throw, or the bombs dropped by a pilot would certainly accomplish the first of these objectives, without being mistaken in any way for the second.

3.    This brings us to the behavior that we observe among the disciples as they were taught to live this Kingdom life. We have no examples of Jesus’ disciples killing anyone. The last time we see a follower of his taking up a weapon is one where there is an effort to defend an innocent and unarmed man. And, yet, in this case, Peter is told by Jesus, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52 NIV). This view of a culture of force and Jesus’ rationale is expressed even more clearly in his statement to Pilate, where Jesus said, "My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my Kingdom is from another place"  (John 18:36). Precisely because this is the Kingdom of God, fighting in the normal way against one's enemies is not an option.  Quite in line with the in-breaking Kingdom, Jesus will set the example for his disciples when he utters these words from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34 NIV). Then, later, when one of them, Stephen, was stoned and was dying for his faith, he demonstrated that same heart, saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60 NIV). 

As already noted, Jesus lived this new way, but the disciples understood that his life was also to be a pattern they followed. Peter initially struggled mightily with this concept. But he eventually turned and strengthened his brothers (Luke 22:32) with these words:

"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example,  that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.'  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.(1 Peter 2:21-23 NIV)

This non-violent, non-resistance was not just for the redeemer in a great redemptive moment. It is for all disciples. While such a decision looks foolish to most people, it is a deliberate choice made because one is “conscious of God,” (see the wider context) and far from being a decision to do nothing, it is a decision to “entrust” one’s self “to him who judges justly.” It is a decision to affirm that God is indeed King and his ways will be vindicated. 

4.    In each of these points we are seeing the development of a Kingdom culture. In the Kingdom of God things are done dramatically differently from the way they are done according to the patterns of this world. The Kingdom is characterized by humility, mercy, compassion, peacemaking, forgiveness, honesty, unselfishness, sacrifice, and love for friends, strangers and even those people who wish to do us harm. The Kingdom is at odds with any system where there is a culture of force, self-defense, deception, retaliation, intimidation and disregard for the other especially those who wish you harm. 

In Ephesians 5, Paul speaks of the Kingdom culture and how certain things, like sexual immorality, are “out of place.”  As we try to lay learning war and killing enemies alongside humility, forgiveness, meekness, and mercy, and love for enemies, it glaringly belongs to a different world and way of living life.

As the community of Jesus, we are to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom in word and in deed. We must demonstrate a life of the age to come in this present age; we are to do God's will on Earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). If we do harm to our enemies, we show the world the typical religion they have come to expect and give them cause to doubt the reality of the Kingdom. When the crusaders placed the cross on their breastplates and shields, and then in the first crusade left their Muslim enemies knee-deep in blood within the walls of Jerusalem, they were engaged in the most oxymoronic, contradictory activity possible, and a thousand years later their actions are still doing great harm. 

We must seriously consider a real possibility. It may just be that those who believe the only safe course is to rely on arms, force and violence, need to hear the very same words Jesus spoke to Peter. “Get behind me, Satan, you don’t have in mind the things of God but the things of men.” How can the church show the Kingdom of God to the world if it does not fully embrace the qualities of the Kingdom?

5.    In order to train for war, then, a disciple must decide that there is a time and place to no longer imitate Jesus and to no longer demonstrate the distinctive Kingdom way of life. Even though he has stated that God is King, he must believe that there is a time and a place to put a cause, a commander or a country above his King. This, of course, completely contradicts the idea the absolute reign of God.

In Jesus, we do see the Prince of peace, the one who taught us to love our enemies – that is, to treat them well. In his disciples we see those who followed the way of the cross and learned from him to show love and forgiveness, and trust him who judges justly. Again and again, we hear Jesus announce the gospel of the Kingdom, and we see that the rule of God has broken in, bringing a way of living life that is in sharp contrast with that of the world, and the amazing, loving treatment of enemies is a part of that life.

Does Jesus’ teaching raise questions for us?  Certainly. So do his teachings on lust, divorce and remarriage, lawsuits, justice and possessions. But with an attitude of wanting to do what is most like Jesus, what most fits with the Kingdom and what most fulfills righteousness, our questions can be answered. 

This brings us to a final point. The world's view of things is deeply embedded in our culture and equally embedded in most of us. This means that we are often profoundly emotional about this issue—far more than we even realize. We have grandfathers, fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins who have served in the military. Nationalism and patriotism run deep. Our countries usually celebrate and honor the armed forces. In the United States, conservative evangelicals –-those most known for their belief in the Bible--- compose the most pro-military element in society, even favoring the use of torture in interrogation more than those with liberal views of Scripture. Militarism is in the American culture, especially its self-professed Bible-believing religious culture. Consequently, Kingdom-thinking (on this and other subjects) will not be found among God's people unless it is vigorously taught and then reinforced with some regularity.  We have seen how this must work with other deeply embedded cultural ideas (racism certainly comes to mind). Such thinking is not dislodged easily. 

Because the reality is that disciples have not immediately been of one mind on this issue, vigorous and respectful dialogue should be encouraged. Each Christian should listen, study and pray with a heart to “find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). Michael Izbicki asked a good question—what would Jesus do?  Each of us should another good question—what does Jesus want me to do?


1. Izbicki's story has been published in a number of newspapers, for example, see this story in the New York Times

 

II. Love Your Enemies—The Dilemma

An ethical dilemma arises when one faces an apparent conflict between two moral imperatives. To obey one command would result in transgressing the other. Jesus purposefully orchestrated conflicts (and resolved them) to highlight a new teaching or challenge a worldview. For example, on the Sabbath,  just before he delivers his sermon on the plain, Jesus asked a man with a withered hand to come forward (Luke 6:6-11).  The crowd of biblical experts fixed their eyes on Jesus to see whether he would heal on theSabbath (thereby transgressing their interpretation of the Law). Two moral imperatives were about to clash before their eyes. The tension climaxed as Jesus presented the clarity of the dilemma, 

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do harm, to save life or destroy it?” (NIV)

Jesus chose to do good, to save, to heal the man. But how would he have chosen to do evil, to destroy life? By doing nothing when he had the opportunity to do good -- even on a Sabbath. 

Soon after this incident, Jesus presents some of his most revolutionary teaching (Luke 6:20-49). A most provocative section commands us to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.” (Luke 6:27-29 NIV)

Considering this teaching, our subcommittee has wrestled with the potential ethical dilemmas that arise from our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven with its moral imperatives to both love your brother/family/neighbor (e.g. 1John 3:16) and to love your enemy (Matthew 5:44). 

Which is lawful when confronted with an enemy seeking to harm your family: to love your family/brother or love your enemy? And given the number of disciples who serve in militaries, many of our fellowship must wrestle with the dilemma on a more public level. Which is lawful when confronted with an enemy nation seeking to harm your nation: to love your family/brothers or love your enemies?

Jesus’ sermon on the mount/plain brilliantly stretches us to live beyond the cultural pressures of this present age. He strips away our small-minded self-focused entitlements. No more revenge, no more lex talionis1, no more “that’s not fair,” and no more self defense (Matthew 5:39 -- plus Rom 12:19-21, 2Cor 11:20, 1Thess 5:15). Rather, we are to love, lend to, and pray for our enemies, and so we do on our better days. But does this preclude us from protecting the innocents? Jesus makes self defense indefensible for us, but what about selfless defense? I’ve concluded that selfless defense of the innocent is not only defensible, it’s morally mandated. To do nothing when I have the power to protect (1Cor 13:7) allows an innocent to be harmed or even destroyed. Loving my enemy does not mean that I allow him to harm my innocent wife/child/brother/neighbor. If even my dearest friend were seeking to harm my wife/child/brother/neighbor I would deploy all necessary means to stop him (not for revenge or even for justice but for the selfless protection of an innocent). While my friend would thank me for preventing his malice, my enemy may not. Nonetheless, I choose to do good through selfless action and not by doing nothing. Classic pacifists argue that doing nothing is not really nothing; rather, they assert that they are doing something of immense power — they are praying. Such faith is remarkable. However, even the Pharisees would argue that they were more trusting of God by doing nothing other than praying for the afflicted man on the Sabbath in the introductory dilemma.

When the dilemma to love moves from the private to the public life of a disciple, the question of military service comes into focus (as does police work). Can a disciple square military service with the ethical demands of New Testament? The same principle applies. Selfless defense of the innocents trumps doing nothing in the name of loving one’s enemy. There should be no inconsistency between our private and public ethics. If military service always violates kingdom ethics, then it would be strange for the NT to consistently highlight positive military metaphors and positive military personnel, for example:

“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:3–4 NIV)

“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk?” (1 Cor 9:7 NIV)

“also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier...” (Philemon 2 NIV)

“But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier...” (Philippians 2:25a NIV)

"The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:8–10 NIV)

“And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”” (Mark 15:39 NIV)

“At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” (Acts 10:1–2 NIV)

“When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants.” (Acts 10:7 NIV)

“He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.” (Acts 21:32 NIV)

“But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan.” (Acts 27:43a NIV)

 In addition to these references, we meet soldiers on a path to repentance that runs right into John the Baptist in Matthew 3 and Luke 3. John came preaching of a new kingdom and thus prepared the people for a radically new way of life to prepare for this new kingdom of God.  His charge to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2) is the same message that Jesus preached (Matthew 4:17) as he began his public ministry. Within this context of preparation for the new kingdom, soldiers approach John to gain clarity on what they should do in order to produce fruit that proves their repentance. He charges them to stop their extortion and rather be content with their soldier’s wage.  No “resign your post” or“put away your sword.” An argument from silence? If so, then John was ignoring the elephant in the Jordan — not his style. 

 While the examples of metaphors and soldiers in the New Testament don’t settle any issues, they do keep us from overstating the pacifist’s case. A soldier who repents and is baptized into Christ does not need to resign his post if he is not violating his conscience. If his country is engaged in a selfless defense of innocents, then he may not have occasion for moral conflict. However — and this is important to note — such righteous military action is extremely rare indeed. If his country engages in unrighteous military initiatives, then he is forbidden to kill. A professional soldier is expected to use his discretion even on the field of battle. If he is called to violate his conscience then he should seek reassignment or resign. 

<a style="background-color:black;color:white;text-decoration:none;padding:4px 6px;font-family:-apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, &quot;San Francisco&quot;, &quot;Helvetica Neue&quot;, Helvetica, Ubuntu, Roboto, Noto, &quot;Segoe UI&quot;, Arial, sans-serif;font-size:12px;font-weight:bold;line-height:1.2;display:inline-block;border-radius:3px;" href="http://unsplash.com/@zonde?utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=photographer-credit&amp;utm_content=creditBadge" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" title="Download free do whatever you want high-resolution photos from Zoran Zonde Stojanovski"><span style="display:inline-block;padding:2px 3px;"><svg xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" style="height:12px;width:auto;position:relative;vertical-align:middle;top:-1px;fill:white;" viewBox="0 0 32 32"><title></title><path d="M20.8 18.1c0 2.7-2.2 4.8-4.8 4.8s-4.8-2.1-4.8-4.8c0-2.7 2.2-4.8 4.8-4.8 2.7.1 4.8 2.2 4.8 4.8zm11.2-7.4v14.9c0 2.3-1.9 4.3-4.3 4.3h-23.4c-2.4 0-4.3-1.9-4.3-4.3v-15c0-2.3 1.9-4.3 4.3-4.3h3.7l.8-2.3c.4-1.1 1.7-2 2.9-2h8.6c1.2 0 2.5.9 2.9 2l.8 2.4h3.7c2.4 0 4.3 1.9 4.3 4.3zm-8.6 7.5c0-4.1-3.3-7.5-7.5-7.5-4.1 0-7.5 3.4-7.5 7.5s3.3 7.5 7.5 7.5c4.2-.1 7.5-3.4 7.5-7.5z"></path></svg></span><span style="display:inline-block;padding:2px 3px;">Zoran Zonde Stojanovski</span></a>

 This is not a theoretical issue. I am in daily fellowship with many Christian soldiers. They are currently on career paths that steer them well clear of direct combat. Their contribution to potentially unrighteous combat is not totally different than mine as I pay taxes to fund the same effort. I have not counseled them to resign their posts. Most have been very effective at helping the kingdom break into their bases, forts, ships, and barracks as they have spread the gospel. However, if a disciple contemplates military service after baptism, I strongly counsel against enlistment as they will face compromising oaths, desensitizing conditioning, and there is no guarantee that he or she will not be assigned to a position that violates the demands of life in the kingdom.

 Which is lawful when confronted with an enemy seeking to harm your family: to love your family/brother or love your enemy? Which is lawful when confronted with an enemy nation seeking to harm your nation: to love your family/brothers or love your enemies?  We’ve failed once by allowing the world to inform our consciences on these vital concerns. That was also a failure of doing relatively nothing. The world’s propagandists shouted loudly about patriotism while the kingdom’s preachers spoke sparingly on the implications of loving our enemies. Many of us left our brothers and sisters to discern God’s will without the full counsel of God on this matter.  Let’s not fail again through overreaction. Well-informed spiritual brothers disagree on these questions. These ethical dilemmas sharpen our discernment as we strive to live out His kingdom in a fallen world. Let them also strengthen our unity through cooperation but without compromise on His moral imperatives.


1. the principle or law of retaliation that a punishment inflicted should correspond in degree and kind to the offense of the wrongdoer, as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; retributive justice. www.dictionary.com/browse/lex-talionis

 

Photo Credits: Thanks to Carl Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons for the photo of Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount; Thanks to Alpha2412 for the Swiss Soldier via Wikimedia Commons;  The much-decorated elderly Soviet military man is the father of Natasha Samonina of the St. Petersburg, Russia, church of Christ, who was baptized into Christ in his retirement and died a faithful disciple of Jesus;   thanks to Zoran Zonde Stojanovski for the British soldier at www.unsplash.com;