The Great Enabler

We all know that the Internet has changed the world. It has put vast amounts of information at our disposal, facilitated communication and given every voice a level playing field.

We also know it has a dark side.

With the gain of information has come the loss of wisdom; with greater ease of communication has come the loss of intimacy; and with each and every reasoned blog there seem to be an equal number of trolls.

But what isn't often talked about is how it has become what I'll call the "Great Enabler." Through a search engine like Google, you can find not only a community in support of whatever choice you would like to make, but a clear apologetic for making it. And, if needed, the people and steps needed to pursue it.

You want to pursue a gay lifestyle in, say, a country like Pakistan where it is illegal? As one Pakistani told a reporter, "One of the first things I did online, maybe 12 years ago was type in G-A-Y and hit search. Back then I found a group and made contact with 12 people in this city."

The same article, focused on Google and sex, found a similar phenomenon in Britain with the growth of the fetish scene. Veteran "kinksters" in the UK tell how the Internet has completely transformed the number of people involved. Translation: it has vastly increased those involved in the fetish scene.

As the article opines,

"Before the dawn of the Internet, people who experienced this urge would probably bury their desires deep down, maybe try to slake their needs with hard-to-obtain and dubious mail-order catalogues, or with sex phone lines.

"Now, they are only one click from a webpage that will explain – and crucially, normalize – those desires. There's usually an FAQ page, with 'Am I crazy?' near the top. The answer, by the way, is always 'No', and it's always society that's in the wrong…

"The Internet also allows browsers to delve deeper, find online communities and forums, and reinforce their beliefs among a group of people who, for the first time, won't challenge them or call them mad.

"Sooner or later, whatever your bent, you can insulate yourself among like-minded people, until you think you're the normal one, and the rest of us are the intolerant."

Granted, this same dynamic can take place for things beyond abhorrent behavior. Take the exploration of the Christian faith, for example.

Which brings us full circle.

We all know the Internet has changed the world for much that is good.

We also know it has a dark side.

One uniquely poised to help us become much darker if we so choose.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Willard Foxton, "Strict Mistress? The world's secret sexual preferences revealed by Google," The Telegraph, October 31, 2014, read online.

Choosing to Play God

A 29-year-old woman named Brittany Maynard, suffering from an aggressive brain tumor, died this past Saturday.

But not from the tumor.

She took her own life in the name of "death with dignity."

It became national news because she had taken to social media to announce her decision to take her life. She even landed on the cover of People Magazine. Collectively, it brought the issue of "right to die" to the forefront of public conversation.

The Bible is very clear about the taking of a human life. In Exodus 20:13, in the sixth of the Ten Commandments, God says, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13, NIV).

The key word there is "murder."

Murder is the deliberate, willful, pre-meditated taking of a human life out of hatred, anger, greed, or self-centered convenience. The sixth commandment is not talking about the killing that takes place in war, in self-defense, or even in capital punishment. Those are important discussions, but they're not the focus of the sixth commandment.

And the sixth commandment doesn't speak to the killing of other creatures - such as animals,

…but of human beings.

The reason is simple - it's because life is sacred. Not just some lives, but every life. The fact that each and every one of us was created in the image of God gives each and every one of us infinite worth and value. Taking it upon ourselves to end a life is the ultimate act of defiance against God, for life is His and His alone to give and take.

It doesn't matter what the quality of life is for that person. It doesn't matter what the cost of their life will be to society. It doesn't matter how productive they are, smart they are, beautiful they are. It doesn't matter whether we like them or not.

All human beings have infinite worth because they are made in the image of God. And the taking of a life - any life - is showing contempt for God and His image. Life is sacred. It is not ours to do with as we please.

Only God can end it or direct its ending.

Euthanasia is the practice of assisting or enabling death, usually because the person is old, in pain, or terminally ill. The word "euthanasia" is from two Greek words, "eu", which means good, and "thanatos," which means death.

So the word literally means "good death."

And those who support euthanasia use terms carrying that sentiment, such as "mercy killing" and "death with dignity." The rationale is that individuals or family members have the right to end their own or someone else's life if they feel it seems unbearable.

There are two kinds of euthanasia – passive, and active.

Passive euthanasia is when the individual or family members decide not to use extraordinary means to extend the process of dying when there is no hope for extending life.

Very few Christian ethicists would challenge that choice. They would add, however, that food and water are not extraordinary efforts. That is basic to anyone living.

The real issue is active euthanasia, which is the direct killing of a patient because a disease may be terminal, or the choice to withhold basic assistance that would prolong life in a substantive way,

...simply to avoid pain or difficulty.

The more direct term is assisted suicide.

And it is every bit as much the taking of a human life as any other form, because it's not our life to take, or our decision to make.

Compassion can be poured out on people who are suffering, and we can and should stand with them, pray for them, and encourage them to take advantage of everything that is available in terms of pain management and hospice care,...

...but the taking of a life, for the sake of the quality of life, is against the sanctity of life.

So while ending our life on "our" terms sounds like a statement of personal rights that should be embraced, it's not.

It's playing God with our own lives.

And we're not God.

James Emery White

 

Sources

"Brittany Maynard, face of right-to-die movement, died as she planned," Cathy Lynn Grossman and Jessica Durando, Religion News Service, November 2, 2014, read online.

"Joni Eareckson Tada to Brittany Maynard: God alone chooses the day you die, not you," Joni Eareckson Tada, Religion News Service, October 15, 2014, read online.

When Your Church Isn't Growing...and it isn't a bad thing

The typical church is either plateaued or declining. That brings to mind the line from the latest round of Geico commercials about 15 minutes saving up to 15% in car insurance: "Everybody knows that."

But then comes the next line:

"Well, did you know that..."

Here's a new fill-in line:

"Well, did you know that it isn't always a bad thing when a church is plateaued or declining?"

It's true.

To begin with, the typical church will have around a ten percent attrition rate annually, regardless of its health. People move out of town because they are being relocated by their employer, or find a new job out of town. They get married and move away. They go off to college. They die.

So you have to grow by ten percent over any given twelve month period just to stay even. And just in case you didn't know, growing by ten percent is a lot of growth! So simply maintaining where you are is actually a reflection of growth.

Sure, you'd like to gain ground – but not losing it is a sign of at least some level of church health.

Another reason you may have experienced flat growth, or even decline, is because you made a strategic decision to enable future growth that didn't go over very well with growth-resisters. This usually results in a quick hit on attendance due to disgruntled departees.

But again, this isn't always bad. It's called "holy subtraction," meaning that sometimes the best thing that can happen is for certain people who have been resisting change to just find a church more suited to their tastes. The church may temporarily lose some ground, but they have also been freed-up to pursue strategies and styles more suited to future growth.

That can be worth a short-term hit in attendance.

Then there are some churches that are extremely limited in sheer growth potential. If you have a church that averages 50 people in attendance in a town that has 5,000 in population, you are achieving the exact same penetration ratio as a megachurch of 5,000 in a city of 500,000. Bump up to the biggest cities of the world (5,000,000 in population), and you would be akin to a megachurch of 50,000.

And all the pastors of churches in small cities said, "Take that, Andy Stanley!"

Finally, though there are many other reasons for a lack of growth, you may just be in a season of natural consolidation. Having been in ministry leadership for nearly thirty years, I can tell you there is a natural ebb and flow to growth. The pattern is to have a season of growth followed by a season of consolidation.

This is actually very healthy for a church. It allows you to assimilate your recent growth faithfully and to rethink structures and processes. It lets you catch your breath and map out what you will need to do to ascend to the next level.

Don't worry about the next season of growth. Just continue to be faithful to those things that led to the growth during the previous season.

Because it will undoubtedly come again.

So take heart. If you are in a church that is plateaued or declining for one or more of these reasons,

…it's not necessarily a bad thing.

James Emery White

The Cultural Conundrum

The pastor of a large and influential church was recently asked about his stance on gay marriage. He gave what I thought was a very astute response. He said that on such matters, there are three things that must be considered: "There's the world we live in, there's the weight we live with, and there's the Word we live by."

That's actually quite right.

Consider the world we live in. Its position on gay marriage has changed seismically over the last few years. Churches have never failed to have the moral high ground on this matter…until now.

Consider the weight we live with. Who isn't heartbroken that people of any orientation or lifestyle, color or creed, is bullied, discriminated against, hated or terrorized? Speaking to the issue of gay marriage in a manner that would consciously add in any way to such repugnant behavior would be unconscionable.

But then we must consider the Word we live by. By this, he meant "what the Bible says." Where the Bible stands, we must stand.

And then came the awkward moment.

"It would be much easier if you could feel like all of those three just easily lined up. But they don't necessarily….The real issues in people's lives are too important for us to just reduce it down to a 'yes' or 'no' answer in a media outlet."

Now before you rush to a cry of "Compromise!," once again, he's actually right.

First, they don't line up. At all.

Second, anyone who works with people – I mean, really works with people – knows that there is a serious pastoral side to such issues. Simple declarations of your stance at conferences filled with the already convinced is not the real world. Nor are they particularly helpful to those we are trying to reach.

To give an answer that truly serves the historic Christian position on such an issue takes more than a tweet. Further, when you are being asked such a question in a secular context, it becomes even more careful to finesse.

Why? Because there is a thin line between maintaining an earned voice through which to speak to culture, and compromising the very message you long to share. There are certain things you know you can say that will shut the other side down.

And you don't want them to shut down.

But you don't want to compromise, either.

So when dealing with the secular world you pick your way through such conundrums with care. Never lying, never compromising, but picking your battles – answering in ways that let you maintain a voice so that you can continue to have a listening ear when it's time to shout the voice of challenge.

I'll give you a somewhat less controversial example. If you were to ask me, point blank, if I had a denominational heritage, I would answer "Baptist." But I don't lead with "Baptist." I lead with "Christ follower." And when asked about Meck, I lead with "inter-denominational," and stress that we have people coming from all backgrounds including no background at all.

Many of you would know why. While I hold to such classic theological tenets as congregational participation, believer's baptism by immersion and biblical inerrancy, the tag "Baptist" is one of the more pejorative, jarring, discomfiting labels around. For reasons, I might add, that have more to do with social and cultural missteps from various leaders than its actual theological and ecclesiastical sinew.

This is one of the things that Jesus did masterfully. He refused to get pulled into Roman politics, even when baited. He didn't rise to many of the theological squabbles within the Jews. But when He did, it was always for something significant. Like the debate between Pharisees and Sadducees concerning the resurrection.

To Jesus, that one mattered.

And when those times come – the time for a truly prophetic voice – cultural relevance be damned. If it's time to be prophet, simply expect a prophet's reward. And any study of the Old Testament will tell you what such rewards tended to be.

Let's just say don't expect to be heralded.

So returning to our pastor, should he be affirmed for his response to the question on gay marriage?

Sadly, no.

Because the nature of marriage and family lies at the heart of the created order.

Because the nature of sexual expression lies at the heart of physical morality.

Because the nature of the prophetic voice is to speak to that aspect of culture that is most at odds with God's intent at the moment in history.

And most of all because the third leg of the cultural conundrum, following the world in which we live and the weight with, is the Word we live by.

And when you consider the Word, you find that it does offer a concrete position. It is, no matter how much we might need to explain it, a simple "no." And to his credit, the pastor in question later added a clarifying word:"My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject."

But as Jonathan Merritt rightly pointed out in covering the matter, "In a moment when so much is at stake a non-statement statement is, well, quite a statement."

Yes, it was.

And that is the challenge of the cultural conundrum to us all.

James Emery White

 

Sources

"Hillsong's Brian Houston says church won't take public position on LGBT issues," Jonathan Merritt, Religion News Service, October 16, 2014, read online.

"Hillsong's Brian Houston on Gay Marriage: 'I Believe the Writings of Paul Are Clear on This Subject'," Nicola Menzie, Christian Post, October 18, 2014, read online.

The Continuing, Staggering Rise of the Nones

In my latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, I charted the meteoric rise of this religious classification in the United States.

And it has been meteoric.

If you're new to the conversation, here's a précis:

A "none" is someone who says that they are religiously unaffiliated. When asked about their religion, they did not answer "Baptist" or "Catholic" or any other defined faith. They picked a different category: "none."

The number of "nones" in the 1930's and 1940's hovered around 5 percent. By 1990, that number had only risen to 8 percent, a mere 3% rise in over half-a-century. Between 1990 and 2008 – just 18 years – the number of "nones" leaped from 8.1 percent to 15 percent. Then, in just four short years, it climbed to 20 percent, representing one of every five Americans.

Even more telling was the discovery in the National Study of Youth and Religion that a third of U.S. adults under the age of 30 don't identify with a religion.

All to say, the "nones" are currently the second-largest and fastest growing religious group in the United States and the only true national religious trend in our nation.

Caught up?

Get ready to buckle your seat belt.

According to the latest data from the first stage of the 2015 British Election Study, a survey of more than 20,000 people by a team of academics from Manchester, Oxford and Nottingham universities, the "nones" in the U.K. have risen from just 3% in 1963 to 44.7% today.

Read that again:

Religious "nones" in the U.K. have gone from 3% to 44.7% in just five decades.

Among adults age 25 and under, it climbed to nearly two-thirds.

This. Is. A. Crisis.

Please, if you haven't already, wake up. Understand the "nones," and what it takes to reach them. If you haven't already, get the book and read it. If you are a pastor of a church and genuinely can't afford it, we'll send you a copy for free.

Because this isn't about royalties.

It's about the future of the church.

And keep on the lookout for information on the Church and Culture Conferences debuting in the spring of 2015 in the U.S. and the U.K., designed to help the church answer the call to the evangelization and transformation of culture through the primacy of the church.

It's time.

James Emery White

 

Sources

James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Baker).

"Exclusive: New figures reveal massive decline in religious affiliation," Ruth Gledhill, Christian Today, Friday, October 17, 2014, read online.

"Religion Among American Hits Low Point, As More People Say They Have No Religious Affiliation: Report", Katherine Bindley, The Huffington Post, March 13, 2012, read online; see also "Americans and religion increasingly parting ways, new survey shows," Yasmin Anwar, March 12, 2013, UC Berkeley News Center, read online.

The WT*IUWT Questions

Recently, I was interviewed for a National Public Radio program related to my new book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated.

It was a robust and spirited conversation, but it was the off-air dialogue that may have been the most revealing. The host and I continued talking after the program. He was among the "nones" himself, and was curious about the kind of church I led – particularly one that reached so many like him.

"So you must be on the liberal side, right? I mean, if you're reaching people who are turned off to church."

"Actually," I said, "we would be considered more conservative in our theology. But there isn't a legalistic or judgmental spirit running around. People feel very free to ask questions and explore things."

The conservative thing threw him.

"So you take the Bible literally and all that?"

I knew where this was going. He had a pop-culture view of what it meant to believe the Bible, and an even worse understanding of what it meant to interpret it. Taking the Bible "literally," to him, meant checking your brains at the door and being forced to believe the most wooden and clumsy of interpretations. Ones that even most Christians would reject.

But it was what he said next that was key:

"So tell me, what the &#*% is up with this idea that the earth is only six or seven thousand years-old?"

Yep, he dropped the F-bomb on me.

Let's not get into young-earth vs. old-earth. I'm not a young-earther, but if you are, fine. Let's not get into his use of language. You know you've heard the word before, so don't give into false offense.

Here's what everyone should get into: The "What the **** is up with that" questions.

Why?

Because they are the heart of what is churning around in the minds of those on the outside-looking-in at the Christian faith. They have so many "WT*IUWT" questions, and the essence of any conversation that might move them down the spiritual road will involve talking about them.

And without defensiveness.

It's simply a cultural reality that they are genuinely incredulous that anyone would think like…well, a Christian. Or at least, what it means in their mind to think like a Christian.

So of course they are going to ask,

"WT*IUW not wanting two people who love each other to get married?

"WT*IUW thinking sex is so bad?

"WT*IUW a loving God sending someone like Ghandi to hell?

"WT*IUW…" I'm sure you can keep filling in the blank.

Answering the "WT*IUWT" questions is what lies at the heart of modern-day apologetics, the pre-evangelism so missing in churches. And it is missing. We're so used to talking to the already-convinced that we have no intuitive sense of what it means to talk to someone who isn't.

Maybe we're just afraid of the questions.

All I know is that until you answer them, you can't get to the greatest question of them all, the one they need engaged more than any other:

"W*IUW the cross?"

James Emery White

A Very Special Offering

On a Thursday afternoon, a young woman came by the office to give me something. She was going to put it in the offering plate, but decided to just hand it to me.

I was in a meeting, so she left it at the front desk.

On the outside it said, "Jim White," and underneath, "Be careful…sharp objects inside."

On the back it read, "I thought I was going to put this in an offering plate but I think it would be best to give you directly."

I opened the envelope, and inside a plastic bag were razor blades.

And a letter.

I asked her if I could share it, and she said I could:

"I have been coming to your church on and off now since I was in 5th grade. I am now 23…When I was 12 years old I started cutting myself. Now my arms are covered in an overwhelming amount of scars, but I am proud to say there are no open cuts. I have not cut for probably a year now, but I still have razor blades that are hidden around my room…

"I quit when I was about to cut one day but heard Jesus in my ear saying, 'I bled enough.'

"He took my pain on the cross and I no longer needed to take it out on myself.

"But I realized by holding on to razor blades I am not fully letting go of the pain and addiction to cutting. I want to fully let it go now...

"It says in the Bible, 'Cast all your anxiety on him for He cares for you.' So I'm doing that today. This is an offering plate and I am offering to Jesus today more than any amount of money I could ever offer Him. These are all my razor blades that I have keep hidden around in different places of my reach just in case.

"I am handing it over to God and I trust you also with this as well. Thank you for all you and this church have done in my life...."

And then she signed her name.

I have those blades in my desk drawer.

I will keep them there for as long as I pastor.

James Emery White

Community 101 (Part Two): Shalom

Shalom is commonly understood to mean "peace" or "health" or "prosperity." It carries within it the idea of "completeness." Neil Plantinga writes that the word "shalom" is "the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight." Shalom is the vision of community; it is what community strives to be.

It reminds me of something I once read about Mother Teresa. When asked how she could give so much of herself to the poor, she would always say that when she looked at them, she saw Jesus in a distressing disguise. That is the heart of authentic community; being Jesus to others, and seeing Jesus in others. If we're married, we are interacting with our spouse as if unto Him. If we're a child, we're obeying as if unto Him. If an employee, we're working as if we're working for Him. And the reverse is true: we're parenting as if we're parenting for Him; we're leading others as if we're leading for Him.

It's a radical idea.

Even more radical is what such shalom is built on. Namely, grace. Grace, at its heart, is getting what you don't deserve, and not getting what you do. Grace is the essence of any successful relationship. Grace toward other people's differences. Grace applied toward other people's weaknesses. Grace applied toward other people's sins.

And that is quite the challenge. Not that we don't like grace – we do. Not that we don't want to experience grace – we do. It's just that we are better at receiving it than giving it. But it is precisely the giving of grace that allows us to work through the relational stages that afford community.

You know the stages. You've lived with them your whole life.

The first stage is usually some kind of general attraction. Not many people instantly hit you wrong. Usually there is something there that's likable, or at least you're openly neutral. So stage one is extending a general welcome to the relationship.

But you know what that stage is almost always followed by?

Disappointment.

You start off by viewing someone from a relational distance. All you have are short, quick, interactions that haven't been subjected to the test of time. But once you get to know someone beyond that level, you start to see their dark side. And they will have a dark side. They will have weaknesses. Differences. Sins. Now here's our tendency – to let the second stage of disappointment be the defining stage in your relationship with someone. Sometimes it's called for. When you find out that someone's dark side is too strong to deal with, or you realize you've got an unsafe person on your hands; or that what you thought was chemistry turns out to be an allergy, then it's okay to let this stage be a wake-up call.

But a lot of the time, the differences that we often let end the relationship are trivial and we just don't extend the grace or maturity to let the relationship go through the necessary – yes, inevitable – disappointment stage. But if you don't work through it, you will never move on to the third stage, which is where real community begins to take place.

And that third stage is acceptance.

This is when you work through the disappointments, you do the labor of extending grace and understanding, and from that allow yourself to come to a healthy understanding of someone's strengths and weaknesses. Then you accept them on those terms. The Bible specifically challenges us on this. In the book of Romans, it says: "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you" (Romans 15:7, NIV). If you're not able to do this, you will never have meaningful relationships in your life.

Ever.

If you are unable or unwilling to move into the stage of acceptance, then you will be a very lonely and isolated person. No human on earth is free of things that might disappoint you. If you don't believe this, you'll just go from person to person, relationship to relationship, and never have any of them move into real community. But if you'll journey through the second stage and into the third, then you can move into the fourth stage – which is appreciation. This is getting back to what you found attractive about the person to begin with, and enjoying all that is good and wonderful about them. It's almost like a return to the first stage, but with wisdom and insight. If the first stage is like a first date, the fourth stage is like seeing a couple having their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and you see the look in their eyes toward each other – the deep, mature sense of love they share.

And it's a beautiful thing.

Is there anything more? Yes. Intimacy; a fifth stage where you can love and be loved, serve and be served, celebrate and be celebrated, and know and be known.

So do you see how the work of commitment is key?

Too many of us have a brightly illuminated "EXIT" sign over every relationship in our life – where we work, where we live, where we go to church, even in our marriages. As long as we hang that sign over the door of our community life, we won't do the work of commitment that is needed to experience the community we long for. The secret of the best friendships, the best marriages, the best job situations and churches and neighborhoods, is that they've taken down the exit signs. And when there is no exit sign, you have one and only one choice: do whatever it takes for the relationship to flourish.

I recently read of a family who brought home a 12-year-old boy named Roger whose parents had died of a drug overdose. There was no one to care for him, so the parents of this family decided they would raise him as if he were one of their own sons. At first, it was difficult for Roger. This was the first environment he had ever lived in that was free of heroin-addicted adults. As a result of the culture-shock, every day – and several times during the day – either Roger's new mom or dad would say, "No, Roger, that's not how we behave in this family." Or "No, Roger, you don't have to scream or fight or hurt other people to get what you want." Or "Roger, we expect you to show respect in this family."

In time, Roger began to change.

For so many of us, community – particularly the new community that the Bible calls us to – demands new behavior. The death of old practices, and the birth of new ones. We're like the boy, adopted into a new family, needing to re-learn how to interact with people.

But here's the good news: when we hear the Holy Spirit say to us, "No, that's not how we act in this family," we can say, "You're right. It's not."

And change. And begin to have the relationships with others we want as part of the new community God desires for us to experience.

James Emery White

 

Sources

James Emery White, A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom (InterVarsity).

Neil Plantinga, Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.

"How God's Children Change," PreachingToday.com, cited from Craig Barnes from sermon, "The Blessed Trinity," May 30, 1999.

Community 101: Finding vs. Building

One of the great myths of relational life is that community is something found. In this fairy tale, community is simply out there – somewhere – waiting to be discovered like Prince Charming finding Cinderella. All you have to do is find the right person, join the right group, get the right job, or become involved with the right church. It's kind of an “Over the Rainbow" thing; it's not here, so it must be “over" there.

Which is why so many people – and you've seen them, and probably flirted with it yourself – go from relationship to relationship, city to city, job to job, church to church, looking for the community that they think is just around the corner if they could only find the right people and the right place. The idea is that real community exists, somewhere, and we simply must tap into it. It's not something you have to work at; in fact, if you have to work at it, then you know it's not real community.

This mindset runs rampant in our day. If you have to work at community in a marriage, you must not be right for each other. If you have to work on community where you are employed, you've got a bad boss, or bad co-workers, or a bad structure. If you have to work at community in a neighborhood, you just picked the wrong subdivision. If you have to work on things with people in a church, well, there are obviously just problems with the church, or its leadership, or...yep, its “community."

I cannot stress enough how soundly unrealistic, much less unbiblical, this is. Community is not something you find, it is something you build. What you long for isn't about finding the right mate, the right job, the right neighborhood, the right church – it's about making your marriage, making your workplace, making your neighborhood and making your church the community God intended. Community is not something discovered, it is something forged. I don't mean to suggest any and all relationships are designed for, say, marriage. Or that there aren't dysfunctional communities you should flee from. My point is that all relationships of worth are products of labor.

This is why the Bible talks about people needing to form and make communities, not just come together as a community, or to “experience" community.

It's why principles are given – at length – for how to work through conflict.

It's why communication skills are detailed, and issues such as anger are meant to be dealt with.

It's why the dynamics of successfully living with someone in the context of a marriage, or family, is explored in depth. As the author of Hebrews put it so plainly, "So don't sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet...run for it! Work at getting along with each other...." (Hebrews 12:12-14, Msg)

But that raises a problem. You probably don't know how to work in such a way as to create community.

Don't worry; you're not alone.

Benedictine oblate Kathleen Norris once wrote how several monks told her that one of the biggest problems monasteries face is people who come to them “having no sense of what it means to live communally." They have been “schooled in individualism," and often had families that were so disjointed that even sitting down and having a meal together was a rarity. As a result, “they find it extremely difficult to adjust" to life in community.

Monks called into monastic life feeling unprepared for relational life?

Welcome to our world. We spend years in school to prepare for a career without having to take a single class on getting along with a co-worker.

We spend months planning a wedding, meeting with caterers and photographers and wedding directors, and never once have to check off exploring what's involved in communicating with our spouse.

We go through pre-natal classes, decorate the nursery, and set up the college fund, and never even think about how we're going to interact with them as a teenager.

Add in our flaming depravity, and things really get sketchy. Running alongside our longing for community is a deep current of anti-community behavior. We are filled with anger and envy, pride and competition. We do not naturally extend grace or forgiveness. We seldom take the high road, and we usually assume the worst of others.

What is missing from most of our visions is a picture of community. It's like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box. One of our family traditions is putting together a jigsaw puzzle on New Year's Eve. We lay out the pieces on our kitchen table and invite anyone and everyone to put it together. Of course, the picture on the box is always front and center. Why? Without a sense of what we're trying to produce, we're just putting pieces together in random, haphazard ways, hoping something good comes out in the end.

So what is the picture on the community box? Between 1994 and 1996, South Africa's new democracy drew up a constitution marked by seven values that are commemorated by seven pillars standing in the courtyard entrance of the museum: democracy, equality, reconciliation, diversity, responsibility, respect and freedom.

The Bible calls it “shalom."

More on that in the next post.

James Emery White

 

Sources

James Emery White, A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom (InterVarsity).

Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk.

Man Up

*The following is an excerpt from the first installment of Dr. White's latest series at Mecklenburg Community Church, “Man Up." It will “read" like the oral event it was, but we felt it deserved to be lifted out and sent out as today's blog. – The Church & Culture Team


It's only week five of the NFL, but the season is already filled with headlines. And as you know, the biggest ones haven't been about the games.

They've been about the players.

And not about what they've done on the field, but off.

From Ray Rice beating his wife in an elevator – one of the sickest videos I've ever seen – to Adrian Peterson reportedly beating his son with a stick so long and hard that he damaged his scrotum, it's been violence off the field – not on it – that has dominated the news.

Closer to home we've seen even more domestic violence stories, from Greg Hardy of the Panthers to Jeff Taylor of the Hornets.

The latest stats are just stunning.

Around the world, 30% of all women age 15 and older have suffered intimate partner violence.

That's almost one out of every three.

You're probably thinking, “But yeah, there's some pretty primitive, backward parts of the world out there."

Here in the United States, it's slightly more than one out of every five.

And get this: Nearly 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States alone.

That is not protecting.

And the Bible would condemn it in every possible way.

In Colossians 3:19, it says:

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:19, NIV)

And in I Peter 3:7, it says,

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner. (I Peter 3:7, NIV)

That's how power and strength are to be used.

To protect, not to prey.

A husband may take a blow for his wife, but never, ever, is he to give a blow to his wife.

And just to be fair, women should not be violent toward their husbands. Forty percent of all spouse abuse is female on male! And we turn a blind eye to it.

To prove the point, an undercover team went on to the streets of London to see how people reacted to the two kinds of domestic violence. Men on women, and then women on men.

The difference was stark.

Take a look. (*Warning: clip contains explicit language that was censored when shown during the service)

The point is that violence is violence, and it has no place in a marriage.

And the same is true for children.

Every year more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States, involving more than 6 million children. On average, more than 4 children die every day to child abuse and neglect.

70% of those who die are under the age of 4.

Four!

And sexual assault of children?

More than 90% know their offender. In fact, according to the 2012 Child Maltreat Report from the Department of Health and Human Services, four-fifths – 80% - of all types of abuse on children was done by a parent.

And usually, the father.

No man – no real man – does this.

No man – no real man – hurts his wife.

No man – no real man – hurts his child.

Period.

We are called to love as Christ loved the church, and how did Christ love the church?

He died for her. He died protecting her, rescuing her, saving her.

Now, before we go any further, let me say a word to you who are victims of this. I can't leave this without talking to you about it as your pastor. Which means a word to you women.

You are not to submit in any way, you are not to tolerate in any way, physical abuse.

If you feel that you somehow deserved it, or provoked it, no. There is nothing you could ever do that would justify being physically abused.

If you are being abused, flee.

Leave.

Get out of that home.

We'll go to work on that marriage, and go to work on your husband, but you are not to submit to it.

And if he won't change, you have complete biblical grounds for divorce.

I'm not rooting for that, I'm not hoping for that, but I need to tell you that you are not called to a marriage where that is happening.

That isn't marriage.

The Bible says that one of the grounds for divorce is physical abandonment. Which means your spouse leaves you, or acts in a way that you are forced to leave.

Physical abuse is forcing you to separate.

And if you're dating someone who hits you, or is violent in any way, you end that relationship. I can tell you right now that he is not God's man for you.

The same goes for the abuse of your child. You take that child and flee.

And let me say this to everyone here.

If you know of any child being abused, physically, sexually, you are to report it immediately. This is unconscionable behavior, and criminal.

And there should be zero tolerance.

And if you don't feel you can leave because it's not safe – that he'll try and physically stop you, or hurt you, I will personally see that you are escorted out.

And men, if it has a place in your life, I have one word for you.

Repent.

Man up and repent.

Please, don't you see that you're better than this? That it's not what it means to be a man?

It has no place in God's world.

No place in God's family.

No place in God's marriage.

No place in God's man.

Which means no place in you.

James Emery White

 

Sources

James Emery White, “Man Up, Part One: A Man and His Wife," message delivered at Mecklenburg Community Church, Charlotte, NC, the weekend of October 4/5, 2014. Full message available at churchandculture.org.

“A third of women worldwide abused by partners, study finds," Bill Briggs, NBC News, June 20, 2013, read online.

National Child Abuse Statistics from Child Help.

Child Maltreat Report (2012), Dept. of Health and Human Services, read online.