Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Dirty Plate Club

Recent events have inspired my wife to write the book I've been saying needs to be written. When I wrote The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another, one of my primary goals was to help couples take their eyes off each other and their piece of the American dream, and work together as a team to advance the Gospel in their circles of influence. This is the subject of the last chapter of the book, "Missional Marriages: Joyful Hope Overflowing." There is simply no other reason that marriage and households and families exist but to advance the Gospel. That's it. It's why we exist.

So my wife has finally decided that women everywhere need to join the Dirty Plate Club. Perhaps you remember as a child being a member of the clean plate club. That's for all those good kids that ate everything on their plate and licked it clean to show their obedient spirit. The Dirty Plate Club is a little different. It's for all those who are awakening to the notion that living to share the Gospel is more important and satisfying than living the American dream. The goal of the Dirty Plate Club is not to leave dirty plates all over the kitchen. However, if in the process of being a friend to someone in need, if in the process of serving a neighbor by watching their kids, or if in the process of showing hospitality, your house gets wrecked, or dishes are left dirty, so be it... "here I stand, I can do no other, God help me." What if you don't have clean dishes to serve on? That's why God invented paper plates and plastic cups.

This new book may coincide with a new ministry, Luke 10:42 Ministries. Obviously the basis for this title is the standard-setting, Christ-spoken New Testament verse that reads: "but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." It's not an accident that the King of Heaven praised Mary for living out the words of King David "One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple" (Psalm 27:4). The Lord came to earth, the temple came down in all his beauty and glory. Mary saw it, was drawn to it, and couldn't help it. And she was considered lazy by her well-meaning sister.

Martha was simply too busy to notice the one thing that was necessary. And in spite of the good-intentioned, modern-day sermons praising "Martha's hands" as well as "Mary's heart," Jesus had no words of praise for Martha that evening. She was "anxious and troubled about many things." How many women are in the same situation today? How many women have trained their minds to strive for a standard that isn't exactly the goal of life? How many women have clean plates and messy hearts? Dirty plate anyone?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

It's Good to Get Lost

My wife and another couple from church went to an incredible concert last night. We had great seats front and center to the Music Builds tour. Switchfoot (my second favorite band), Third Day, Robert Randolph, and Jars of Clay (my favorite band) all shared one stage. Wow. I highly recommend that everyone go to a high-energy concert with guitars and drums blaring and thousands of people fired up with one voice. It's a little taste of what Heaven will be.

I don't mean that last sentence as a statement of personal preference, like saying football is like Heaven on earth. I mean it as a true statement about what Heaven will be like. How is it like Heaven? First, the Bible tells us Heaven will be filled with thousands of thousands of loudly shouting saints praising the Lamb. The word "loud" appears 21 times in the book of Revelation. Hardly monastic reflection. Not quite the tranquility of a placid mountain lake. Second, God is glorified by the wide range of musical instruments being played with skill. It's amazing to me that some try to find sin in certain instruments, or any instrument when the Bible specifically commands praise from a variety of sources in the Psalms.

Most importantly, it's good to get lost in a moment where God's glory comes to the forefront of our minds and we forget about ourselves. The dynamic achieved at a concert imposes itself on the listener. You can't ignore it. It demands to be heard, to steal your attention and affection. While people have different tastes, and God is glorified by all kinds of music, there's just a dynamic achieved at a concert that is hard to replicate anywhere else.

This concert was no exception. Jars of Clay and Switchfoot are so artsy and eloquent, lyrically and musically. That's what I like about them. Third Day, while having just as much talent is right out in your face. They closed the night, and let me tell you when the stage lit up and you saw them there, you didn't think, "Wow, I'm a groupie of Third Day." They came out singing, "I believe in God the Father, Almighty Maker of Heaven, Maker of earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only Begotten Son, our Lord." You stood up, surrounded by thousands, all thinking one thing: "God is awesome and I'm not the only one who thinks so!"

Husbands forgot that their wives were there. Wives paid no attention to the men at their sides. Children didn't look around to see if they'd fit in. Everyone just danced and shouted to the God who made them; the God who saved them. At one particular point when Mac Powell told everyone to sit down and enjoy a rest, a young lady in front of us, probably about 16 or so, just kept on standing with her arms in the air. She seemed oblivious to all around her. Why? Because she was caught up in the song: "Don't you know I've always loved you, even before there was time. Though you turn away, I'll tell you still. Don't you know I've always loved you, and I always will." A teenage daughter of God, sitting between her parents on a Friday night, lost in the love of her Redeemer. Sometimes it's good to get lost.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Leave the Dishes in the Sink

I am a collector of fine books on the Christian religion. I have quite a few in my section on biblical spouse roles. My wife has read about all of them, and I've read through them as well. While teaching on spouse roles has its place, and I recommend books like them at times, I think there is a hidden danger in them. Often, the role of a Christian wife is portrayed as nothing less than Super-mom who can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, raise perfect kids and always satisfy her man. The books for men aren't so bad about the performance treadmill, but the women are placed on a hopeless quest to keep a perfect house, and keep their kids clean and polite, and be ready with a smile and tender embrace when hubbie comes home from work. I just want to say, I've never seen anyone live up to this. But I've seen a lot of women in guilty chains trying to. I fear that in the battle against feminist tendencies, we've just switched the focus from work to home. Women want to prove they can do it all, and men encourage them. The desire to perform is a cruel taskmaster. The funny thing is that most books on women's roles are written by other well-intentioned women.

Where is the Great Commission in the average housewife's day? I doubt anyone will come to Christ because her end tables are dust free. I can't imagine the pagan next door asking a Christian housewife, "How do you keep your dishes done so well? I just can't find the time. What's the reason for the hope you have?"

Here's a suggestion: why not leave the dishes in the sink, call a non-Christian friend, and talk to her about the gospel of Jesus Christ - the gospel that frees us from the need to measure up to June Cleaver. If you don't have a non-Christian friend to call, then leave the dishes in the sink, the laundry in a pile, the clutter in the living room and for God's sake, go out and find one.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

We are the Lord's

"Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.... For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.... So then each of us will give an account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:4, 7-8, 12).

The apostle Paul wrote these verses to the church at Rome, instructing them on how to treat brothers and sisters in Christ who disagreed over what foods to eat or what days to observe as holy. Some Christians thought some days were more sacred than others. Other Christians thought Christ made all days equal. Some Christians thought some foods were wrong to eat, and some thought all foods were fine. Such matters still split churches and denominations today.

What was Paul's answer to Christians on both sides of the argument? "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5). This is the kind of answer that makes people pull their hair out. What do you mean, each should be convinced in his own mind? That leaves so much room for... uhm... for... uhh... liberty! Someone has to be right. Someone has to be wrong. We just don't like having to live and let live. Yet this is Paul's answer. If you eat everything, don't be angry at the ones who don't. And if you don't eat meat, don't judge the one who does. Live and let live.

Why do we find it so difficult just letting people be who they are? Why do we feel the constant need to assess others, to control what they're thinking or doing? We find it very difficult to follow Paul's simple counsel. Paul says live and let live, and we don't listen. Instead, we scour the Bible looking for ammunition, looking for the reason our situation is an exception to Paul's counsel. "Oh sure, meat-eating is one thing. We're free in that. But we're talking about going roller skating! Have you heard the music they play at the roller rink? Is it good and pure and true? Surely you realize Paul said we're supposed to be ignorant of things done in the dark. Have you ever been to a bright roller rink? And don't you know our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? Have you seen some of the nasty spills people take on a rink floor? How does that glorify God? By destroying his temple? Hmm?" Similar lines of thinking have taken place regarding dancing, drinking a beer, eating red meat, smoking a pipe, reading non-Christian fiction, playing rummie, wearing make-up and the list seems endless. We can't be satisfied with each other as we are.

What does this have to do with marriage? Glad you've stuck around to find out. The reason Paul says that each person can be convinced in his own mind, and doesn't owe anyone else an explanation is because each person ultimately belongs to God. God alone. The person who eats meat is not the servant of the one who doesn't. He is God's servant. So he doesn't owe obedience to anyone but God. He won't give any account of his actions to anyone but God. He lives or dies to God alone.

Liberty applies in marriage the same way. Your spouse is not yours. They don't really belong to you. They belong to God. Isn't God just awesome for letting you get benefits from his servant? He lets his servant serve you. And he lets you serve your spouse. I think of this sometimes, especially when I ponder how giving my wife is. She's not my servant. I don't deserve her. And you don't deserve your spouse. You deserve hell right along with me. But instead, because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we will spend eternity with God, and be served by his servants. What a loving, giving God. Think about this the next time you want to yell at your spouse for not "doing right by you." He or she isn't your servant. God will make your spouse stand, even when you want to condemn or criticize.

I can't tell you how many times I've caused my wife guilt for not doing just what I want when I want. She desires to be a servant to her family. And sometimes her family puts expectations on her that she can't possibly live up to. Everyone takes a pull, but hates the bloody mess that results from ripping her in pieces in selfishness. Thankfully, God will make her stand. Don't fall into the same trap I fall into. Just enjoy your spouse, and thank God that you're not profoundly alone right now. After all, you don't really have any servants of your own do you? Just one loaned out by God.