Control Issues— re-basing the basics. This may sound funny, but I’ve often wondered if this propensity to want things nailed down theologically (beliefs), and the commiserate fear of emotion wasmore a reflection of many men’sdesires to preserve control over life’s myriad situations. Not control, in an exclusively bad sense, but control for its own sake, for some men’s personal sense of safety and identity. Often, as I enter into conversation with a pastor or someone I have just met, I find myself in a kind of out-of-body experience where I look down on the conversation from above and try to find the answer to a question— “Where does this person feel safe?” If you really want to get to know a person, try to discern where they feel safe. If you examine the last 400 or so years of Western Christendom you will find that there was an intense desire to nail down as much as possible theologically. Some nailing was definitely needed as the Church had become almost indistinguishable from the world around it. But after 400 years, the nailing seems to have become an obsession. The Roman Catholic Church is the one true church; the Church of Christ is the one true church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are the one true church, the Mormons are the one true church. Why is it we have this drive to claim that we alone are right? Calvinism is the only complete theological construct: Dispensational theology has the corner on the End-times and the expanse of human history. Why is it that we have come to believe that our theological construct, our theological position on baptism, the Second Coming, or church government must be the most right one!? Could it be that these are issues of control? It may well be more than that; maybe it’s control for the sake of a personal, positional sense of safety. Most of us do have a keen sense of self-preservation built into us. When it comes to the church, maybe it is some men’s need for personal/positional safety that underlies the need to be in command. Controlling belief, which is quantifiable, and thus measurable, is easier to manage than human emotion. But fear of emotion because it is an unreliable reflector of an inner reality is as crazy as believing that making a statement about one’s beliefs is more reliable. In reality, it is the combination of our heart and mind that explicate this Christian condition within an individual. But there is one ingredient more— action.
When I was in the midst of my teens I remember my mother saying to me “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.” I know she was probably quoting her mother, but her point was obvious. In the office where I work we have all kinds of little witticisms that remind us of what we are trying to accomplish. One of these quips is— Talk’s cheap: action’s everything. In many churches I find that is exactly what we do … we talk a lot. Remember THE DECADE OF EVANGELISM? 1990-2000. Of course you don’t. Why? What happened in 1990? We discussed whether the last decade of the century really began in 1990 or 1991. And what happened in 1991? 1992? 1993? Very little. The Decade of Evangelism just faded away. All talk, not much action.
To this writer there seems to be a tremendous emphasis in the church on understanding what you need to believe and very little emphasis on DOING anything with it. This is an imbalance; but it is not the kind of non-balanced faith I am talking about. If anything, Christians are a long way down the road in clarifying, refining, honing, and re-clarifying what it is we believe. It just has not seemed to translate into very much action. Especially any that has any positive influence on the lives of those around us— those who are unaware that we are followers of Christ, those who have never seen a Bible (let alone opened one), and never darkened the door of a church. It’s time we revisited Jesus and read the stories about how He lived, where He spent His time, and how He related to those with whom He came into contact. Consider Jesus in two situations— one where He is teaching, and another as He faces one of life’s typical conundrums— the conflict between completing a task…, and being side-tracked along the way. First, an example of Jesus’ teaching.
1 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
~ Matthew 5: 1-16
Look at the setting in this passage of Scripture. It is outside, on top of a mountain, or at least on its slopes. It was probably warm, scenic, serene. Now look at Jesus’ style. It was not a “lecture hall.” Jesus was not debating or setting forth an argument. He was with those who trusted Him and would listen to what He had to say. And what did He do? He spoke to them where they were in life— poor in spirit, sorrowful, timid about life, hungry for God, in need of mercy, and so on. He was addressing the weak and painting a picture for them of what it would be like to make a difference in the lives of their friends and in their society. He gave them hope, He gave them a challenge to be the light of the world. To be bold— to shine!
The next scene is quite different. Jesus had just crossed a lake when He was approached by Jairus, a trusted leader of the people. It went like this—
21 Now when Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea. 22And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet 23and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” 24So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him.
25Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, 26and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. 27When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. 28For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”
29Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. 30And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?”
31But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, “Who touched Me?”‘
32And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. 33But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. 34And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”
35While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”
36As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.” 37And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. 38Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly. 39When He came in, He said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.”
40And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying. 41Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. 43But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.
~ Mark 5:21-43.
Jesus had set his course toward the house of Jairus. Yet this ostensible interruption by an insignificant woman gives us more to consider than the simple completion of a task. [I’ve often wondered…, was this planned? Hummm.]
I’ll not attempt extensive analysis of these passages, but taken together, they bring to light two seeming extremes in Jesus’ way of communicating. The Matthew passage contains the opening lines of Jesus’ SERMON ON THE MOUNT. In this passage Jesus is teaching. He is reviewing some of the life-principles that God has designed to give people hope when things no longer make sense. Remember, Judea was suffering under Roman occupation during the time of Jesus’ life. There were many Jews who were imprisoned and executed, so the cultural mood was somber, frustrating, fraught with anger and despair. Jesus’ message offered hope of the most compassionate kind. At the end of the Matthew section, Jesus uses three images to remind His followers what they should be like— the salt of the earth, a light on a lamp-stand, and a city built on a hill. If you would allow me a digression …, those who are genuine followers of Jesus Christ are to be salt to preserve life and add flavor to it; we are to be light, to clarify the way to God; and we are to be like a city built on a hill that cannot be hidden, so as to provide a haven for hope and a goal to be reached. How did Jesus envision that others would see these things in us? Through the sense of safety and stability that grows in us when we accept what God offers us—
- Are you poor in spirit, discouraged—you will come alive in heaven.
- Do you mourn at the loss of loved ones—you will know God’s comfort.
- Are you timid, afraid—the earth is yours.
- Do you hunger for righteousness within—it is yours!
- If you’ve shown mercy—it will be granted to you as well.
- Are you pure in heart—seeing God is your great gift.
- Do you bring peace between warring peoples—you will be seen as my sons, says the Lord.
- Are you being persecuted for Christ’s sake—great is your reward.
Do these words bring you hope, today, as you read them? Then you can understand some of what Jesus’ first followers felt as they heard them. There was hope. His teaching made sense, even though it meant being merciful to those who had raped your daughter or executed your father. How else are people going to see that followers of Christ are different other than through our lives and in the ways we wrestle with life’s common hardships?