The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Jesus (page 1 of 7)

Asleep In The Storm

There are a couple of different instances recorded in the gospels where Jesus and His disciples are caught up in a storm while on the Sea of Galilee. Both of these are fascinating stories, and they have a way of captivating the imagination.

Matthew 14 recounts the story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s stumbling efforts to walk towards Him. He succeeds for a moment, but then, overwhelmed by the waves and the wind around him, takes his eyes off of Jesus and begins to sink. Jesus rescues him, rebukes his faith, gets into the boat, and the storm ceases. It is a fascinating event from the life of Jesus, and one from which we can undoubtedly learn much, but it is actually the other “storm” story I want to focus on.

This one drawn from Luke 8/Matthew 8/Mark 4 is likely familiar to you as well. Jesus and His disciples are out on the sea when a storm arises. The disciples are alarmed, and seemingly with good reason—the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was filling (Mark 4.37), swamped (Matthew 8.24), and they were in danger (Luke 8.23).

But Jesus was unconcerned, even unaware (or so it seemed) of their plight—He was asleep on a cushion in the boat. Asleep in the storm.

In such circumstances, the apostles do what seems sensible to them in the moment. They awaken Jesus, and in the face of His seeming lack of concern, ask, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

In light of the life, teachings, service, and, ultimately, the sacrifice of Jesus, it seems like a ludicrous question, but imprisoned in the circumstances of the moment, it seemed like a fair question to the disciples. Jesus was asleep; He didn’t seem to care. He seemed absent from their sufferingOf course, we know the truth: He was there all along.

•  •  •

If I am honest, I can identify with the apostles here more than I might like to admit. As I have written recently, this has been a tough year for my daughter. She has experienced seizures for most of her life, but this year they have gotten worse, and we have struggled to control them. What’s worse, the frequency of the seizures and/or the many medications she is on to try to control them has led to a lessening of her energy, a muting of her (delightful) personality, and even some regressions in the abilities she has worked so hard to develop over the last few years.

Some days are better, with fewer seizures, more energy, and more personality, but other days are really hard. The emotional roller coaster is exhausting. This has been our situation for several months, despite the constant prayers of Caroline and myself and the faithful intercession on her behalf from countless friends and family (both physical and spiritual). You could say that we are experiencing our own “storm” right now, and have been for a while.

At times, it feels like we are drowning with grief, about to capsize, and the question the apostles asked Jesus seems like an appropriate one: “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” It can seem that God is absent.

The other day, I read through Luke’s version of the story recorded above, and it struck me in a way I had never thought of before (which, by the way, is one of the remarkable things about Scripture—as you read it and reread it, new insights constantly avail themselves to us; it is a transformative book!). So often in life, when we are living through a storm, we ask God to take it away from us, and when He doesn’t, we are left to wonder whether He cares about us at all.

But I think Luke 8 offers us a different perspective—in the midst of the storm, Jesus is neither distant, nor uncaring. He is right there with us, in the boat, riding out the storm. His seeming absence obscures His glorious presence. And while He certainly has the power to take the storm away (and we earnestly pray that He does so!), He asks us for faith, faith that His presence will protect us from being overwhelmed by the storms of life.

(Not) Praying in the Garden

On the night Jesus was arrested, the Gospels tell a familiar story (Matthew 26.36-46; Mark 14.32-42; Luke 22.39-46). Jesus, in great distress about what He knows will soon happen to him, takes Peter, James, and John with Him into the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asks them to be in prayer and then withdraws to pray by Himself.

Jesus’ prayer is famously filled with agony and desperation: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He comes back to check on his friends, and finds them all asleep. He rebukes them, and withdraws again, praying the same prayer. Then He returns to find them asleep again, and the pattern repeats again a third time.

After the third time, a mob arrives and arrests Jesus, and as He predicted, His disciples flee in fear.

Conjecture: might it be that Jesus was strengthened by His night in prayer with the Father, and was thus now steeled to face the ordeal of mockery, torture, and death that loomed before Him? And as the same time, could it be that in their slumber, the disciples deprived themselves of the means to remain faithful to Jesus during the hour of trial?

As Christians, we pray to change circumstances and events around us, but we also pray (or maybe even, we primarily pray) to change us. Prayer helps to bring our wills in line with God’s will, to strengthen our resolve, and to quiet our fears. I have a hunch that if Peter, James, and John had heeded Jesus’s request to pray with Him on that fateful night, their behavior during the trying times that followed might have been very different.

James A. Harding once said, “[Prayer] is an enormous power, the mightiest that can be used by a mortal, that few of us use as we could and should.”[1] When we sleep (literally or metaphorically) instead of pray, what transformation do we miss out on? In what moments of trial do we desert our Lord because our resolve has not been strengthened in prayer as it could be?


[1] James A. Harding, “Does God Answer Prayer?” Christian Leader and the Way 19 (September 19, 1905), 8.

Glorifying God in Conflict

Introduction

Last summer and fall, I spent six months teaching through the Sermon on the Mount in a couple of different classes at church; at the same time, I also took a graduate school class called “Managing Conflict in Ministry.” Together, these two sources caused me to re-think the way I look at conflict.

By nature, I’m not someone who enjoys conflict. I basically hate it, and my natural inclination is to go out of my way to avoid it. But really, I don’t think it’s possible to always avoid conflict, nor is it healthy to do so. In reality, conflict is inevitable, and this is true in the world, and it’s true in the church as well:

(1) God created us as unique individuals who are meant to live in community. We each have our own thoughts, desires, and preferences. We each think that certain things should happen in certain ways. We have differences of opinions. Combine that with the fact that God does not expect us to live our lives as hermits; we are to live in community. God calls us to live as the church with our different personalities and perspectives, and it’s inevitable that those  things are going to bring us into disagreement and conflict with one another at some point.

(2) We live in very anxious times. There was a famous psychiatrist named Dr. Murray Bowen, who suggested that societies go through periods of regression where the amount of anxiety in the culture spikes upward. When these spikes of anxiety occur, the symptoms in society include a rise in crime, violence, terrorism, high divorce rate, willingness to take people to court, racial division, less principled decision-making by leaders, and a focus on rights over responsibilities.[1]

Now, Dr. Bowen proposed his theory in the 1960s, but it’s almost prophetic in describing our own time: if you look around at our world, I don’t think you need me to convince you that we live in anxious times! And when you have a lot of anxious people who are worried and uptight about things, it naturally follows that you’re going to have a lot of conflict to deal with.

So I really do believe that conflict is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean that it’s inherently a bad thing. In fact, I think we could benefit greatly from changing the way we look at conflict, and viewing it as an opportunity to glorify God. A lot of time conflict happens not because anyone has done anything wrong, but simply because, as we mentioned above, we have differences of opinion about things, and when that occurs, we have an opportunity to glorify God by dealing with the conflict in a way that shows love for one another and honors the things that Jesus has commanded us to do. Now, sometimes we are brought into conflict with one another because one party has sinned, and I’ll refer to that below, but even in those instances, we have the opportunity to address the sin in a way that glorifies God.

When it comes to addressing conflict, there are four different steps or ideas that I would like to suggest. Sometimes only one of these ideas will be necessary, while other times, more of a combination will be needed.[2]

Get Over It

We should begin by noting that not everything is a big deal, and sometimes we just need to get over things.

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

(Proverbs 19.11)

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

(Matthew 5.5)

The proverb is probably straightforward enough, but this beatitude has an Old Testament background in Psalm 37.11, and refers to those who don’t worry about what others do to them because they put their trust in God instead. Meekness describes those who are able to remain patient and composed in the face of insult and injury. It is not the surrender of our rights, but it is the ability to overlook slights, knowing that God is sovereign and will ultimately vindicate us.

I hinted at this in the introduction, but we live in a society that is highly anxious, where everyone seems to be constantly offended by everything, and that naturally leads to a lot of conflict. In such a climate, it may seem a brave thing to constantly shout about how everyone is annoying you, but really, it is a very weak position: you are admitting that other people have constant control over your emotions and responses. Those who are meek, on the other hand, boldly refuse to give others control over their responses.

Now, there are times that we shouldn’t overlook things: if someone does something that seriously dishonors God, or hurts another person, or harms themselves…not everything should be overlooked. But I submit to you that a lot of conflict happens or, at least, is escalated, because we get involved in situations when we really should just get over it instead.

I want to emphasize that this is not what the world suggests. The way of the world is about retaliation, about getting what we are owed, getting satisfaction. Nevertheless, the way of Jesus calls us to sometimes just get over it. And in conflict situations, we glorify God when we follow the way of Jesus.

Get The Log Out Of Your Own Eye

This second principle comes from Matthew 7.1-5:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

In context, Jesus is limiting the way we are to judge one another. In 21st century America, Matthew 7.1 might be the most well-known verse in all of Scripture. Since our society values tolerance so highly, it is no wonder that a verse which at first glance seems to indicate that Christians have no place telling other people how to live would be very popular.

However, it is clear that in context, Jesus doesn’t mean for this to be an absolute statement: later on He will talk about how we are to judge people by the fruits they bear, and even here He says that we will be judged in the same way we judge others, and that argument assumes that we will, in fact, judge other people in certain ways. The point of what Jesus is saying here is that we should be gentle and grace-filled in our judgments of others (because that’s how we want God to judge us!) and that we should always begin by looking at ourselves first. And Jesus illustrates that with a humorous picture of a guy who has a massive log sticking out of his eye but who has the audacity to try to remove a splinter from a friend’s eye.

I think this is a really important idea for conflict situations as well.

When we have an issue with someone, maybe they hurt our feelings or we just have a disagreement about something, it’s so easy to focus only on what the other person is doing, and to ignore our own contribution to the problem. But a key first step in conflict is to give ourselves a hard look in the mirror to make sure we don’t have any logs sticking out of our own eyes: how much of the conflict comes from our own stubbornness, poor attitude, or unwillingness to work toward reconciliation?

It’s always easy and tempting to blame any conflict on the other person, but the reality is that we ourselves are almost never as innocent as we’d like to think. It’s essential that you get the log out of your own eye first.

I want to emphasize that this is not what the world suggests. The way of the world doesn’t really call for a lot of careful self evaluation, and it assumes the problem is with someone else rather than ourselves. Nevertheless, the way of Jesus calls us to get the log out of our own eye. And in conflict situations, we glorify God when we follow the way of Jesus.

Go And Be Reconciled

The next principle for glorifying God in conflict comes from Matthew 5.23-24:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

This comes in a section of the Sermon on the Mount that deals with our relationships with other people and it is very important that we notice how strongly Jesus emphasizes that when we become aware of a problem we have with another brother or sister, another believer, we stop what we are doing and go to seek reconciliation with that person. Consider this—Jesus places the urgency of reconciliation before even worship! He says to leave your offering at the altar and first go and seek reconciliation.

That’s how important Jesus sees the resolution of conflict to be, and yet, I wonder if we view things the same way. When you have a problem with a brother or sister in Christ—some disagreement or hard feelings over something—do you stop what you’re doing immediately to go and work things out with that person, or do you hold a grudge and develop a long-lasting feud?

Jesus instills an urgency in a need to be reconciled with others. He also instructs a directness. Later in Matthew 18.15-17, He says:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Here, Jesus outlines the process for how we should deal with sin within the community of faith. We could probably spend quite a bit of time dealing with this, but I really want to focus on the first part. What is the first thing Jesus tells us to do when a fellow Christian sins against us? “Go to your brother, just you and he alone.” We are supposed to go directly to the offending party.

Just like we struggle to appreciate the urgency of reconciliation, we also struggle with the directness. Be honest: when you are upset with someone or feel like they are in the wrong about something, what is your natural reaction? Do you go directly to the person? Or do you go talk to about the situation to someone else?

I’ve had people at church come to me before to complain about the wrong they feel someone else has done to them. When that happens, I try to encourage them to go directly to the person, as Matthew 18 teaches, and to be honest with you, that advice is rarely appreciated!

Again, I want to emphasize that this is not what the world suggests. The way of the world is to hold grudges against people and to talk about people who have wronged us and make them look bad. Nevertheless, the way of Jesus calls us to go directly to the person, immediately, and seek reconciliation. And in conflict situations, we glorify God when we follow the way of Jesus.

Grant Forgiveness

In Matthew 6.14-15, at the end of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus says:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, either will your Father forgive your trespasses.

The implication here is clear: if we want God to be forgiving toward us, we need to have an attitude of forgiveness toward others. In fact, our willingness to forgive others should be only natural in light of the forgiveness that God offers us.

Jesus teaches a parable on that specific idea in Matthew 18.21-35. It starts with Peter trying to figure out the limit of forgiveness: Lord, how many times do I have to forgive my brother? Up to seven times? And Jesus sets about to describe the limitless nature of forgiveness. He tells the story of a king who had a servant who owed him 10,000 talents, which is an amount of money that he would never be able to repay. The servant asks the king to take pity on him, and the king forgives the debt. But then that same servant goes out to a fellow servant who owes him a relatively insignificant amount, and mercilessly throws him into prison because he can’t pay. And the king finds out and is furious and throws the first servant into prison, because how dare he not offer forgiveness when such amazing forgiveness had been offered to him?

The expectation of Jesus for those who would be His followers is clear: since God has forgiven us for so much, how dare we not extend forgiveness to others? Here are, perhaps, the hardest words of this post: it doesn’t matter what the conflict is, it doesn’t matter what the source of disagreement is, it doesn’t matter what sin a brother or sister has committed against you. Jesus makes no exceptions; forgiveness is the only answer.

And when I say forgiveness, I mean real forgiveness. Sometimes you’ll hear people say things like, “I’ve forgiven, but I haven’t forgotten.” Guess what? That’s not forgiveness. Or you might hear someone say, “I forgave her, but I don’t speak to her anymore.” That’s not forgiveness either!

Forgiveness means that you don’t dwell on the incident. It means that you don’t bring it up again to use against the other person. It means that you don’t talk about the conflict with other people. And it means that you won’t let the incident stand between you and the other person moving forward.

Something I heard the other day that I thought was really good: a good indication of whether or not you have forgiven someone is whether or not you would be willing to accept that same level of forgiveness from God. If you’re not comfortable with that level of forgiveness from God, then you still have work to do.

Forgiveness is not what the world suggests; it’s not something the world even understands. Nevertheless, the way of Jesus calls us to forgive, no matter what. And in conflict situations, we glorify God when we follow the way of Jesus.

Conclusion

Whether or not you or I like it, conflict is inevitable. We don’t really have a choice about whether or not we will ever have to face it. We do have a choice, however, about how we will face it. Conflict can be an environment for sin; it can lead to destroyed relationships, and hard feelings.

But it can also be an opportunity for glorifying God:

  • We glorify God when we just get over things that don’t really matter.
  • We glorify God when we look at ourselves in conflict situations and see how we are contributing to them, and get the log out of our own eye before we try to correct other people.
  • We glorify God when we go to the other party to seek reconciliation and when we do this with urgency and directness.
  • We glorify God when we grant forgiveness to the other person, no matter what.

These are not easy things to do, but they are what Jesus commands. And if we’re going to be followers of Jesus, He’s the one who gets to tells us what that looks like.


[1] I was introduced to Bowen’s theory of Societal Regression by Dr. Carlus Gupton in Managing Conflict in Ministry. 

[2] These points were partially informed by Ken Sande and Ted Kober, Guiding People Through Conflict (Peacemaker Ministries, 2005), 9-13.

Hurting With God: Faith and Lament, Part 2

Theological Suffering

The Disappearance of Lament

In addition to the examples we looked at in the last post, there are many, many more that we could look at just in the Book of Psalms. In fact, there are more lament psalms in the Book of Psalms than any other type!

  • Psalms of Lament: 60 out of 150 (40%)
  • Psalms of Praise: 41 out of 150 (27.3%)
  • Psalms of Thanksgiving and Trust: 27 out of 150 (18%)
  • Miscellaneous Psalms (teaching, wisdom, worship, etc.): 22 out of 150 (14.7%)*

We know that the Book of Psalms functioned much like a songbook for worship in both the lives of the Israelites and also the early church; with 40% of their songs containing lament, clearly lament was an acceptable part of their worship and their lives!

What about us? Are we as comfortable with the language of lament as our spiritual ancestors?

A research assistant at Abilene Christian University did a project where he examined some modern hymnals (song books), divided the songs into different categories, and compared them to the Book of Psalms. One of the books he examined was Songs of Faith and Praise, which is the hymnal we use at the congregation where I work, and is a popular hymnal in Churches of Christ.

Of the 885 songs in Songs of Faith and Praise: 

  • Songs of Thanksgiving and Trust: 392 out of 885 (44%)
  • Songs Praise: 264 out of 885 (30%)
  • Miscellaneous Songs (songs on worship, invitation songs, patriotic, about Christ): 197 out of 885 (22%)
  • Songs of Lament: 32 out of 885 (<4%)

Compared to the Book of Psalms, 40% of which is comprised of lament psalms, Songs of Faith and Praise includes lament songs 1/10 as often! I know this is not the most scientific study, but I still think it shows a general truth, which is that we have largely lost the biblical language of lament. Something which is a huge part of the Book of Psalms, and thus a major part of the worship of God’s people in the Old Testament and the early church has largely been removed from the way we speak to each other and to God.

If you think about it, really the only time where we lament together is in the aftermath of a death, but even then in our modern funerals we’ve gotten to where we hardly leave room for lament. Instead, we try to have upbeat “memorial services” where we tell funny stories about the departed, and we expect that after a few weeks people ought to “get over” their grief and get on with their lives. We live in a culture that does everything it can to avoid death, suffering, or discomfort, and a lot of times, that’s how it is in the church as well.

There is no room for lament in our lives.

Now some people might think that this is a good thing: “Well, sure there are a lot of these laments in Psalms and Jeremiah, Habakkuk, etc., but those are in the Old Testament! We live under the new covenant; as Christians, we shouldn’t say things like this because we have victory through Jesus! We should be able to face any trial with a smile on our face!”

Historically though, we know that the early church valued the Book of Psalms as much as the Jews did. New Testament writers refer to the book of Psalms over 400 times, and as already mentioned, the Book of Psalms served as the hymnbook of the early church. The Psalms were very important to the early Christians.

Furthermore, Jesus, our example in all things, shows the characteristics of lament in his life. When His friend Lazarus dies, Jesus weeps, despite the fact that he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead! If it was okay for Jesus to show emotion and be upset when He was troubled, it’s certainly okay for us as well.

When Jesus approaches Jerusalem before the Triumphal Entry, He laments over it because He knows it will be destroyed. Soon after that, in the Garden of Gethsemane, contemplating His coming arrest and crucifixion, Jesus cries out to God and says, in effect, “Father, if there is any way You can save Me from the horror of what’s coming, please do so!” That is lament.

On the cross, in the midst of his torment, Jesus famously cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” This is a direct quote from Psalm 22, which is one of the lament Psalms.

In addition to the value of the psalms in the early church, we can see clearly that lament was a part of the life of Jesus. Lament is not just an Old Testament phenomenon, it is a biblical phenomenon. It’s a part of faith.

Bringing Lament Back Into Our Lives

And we can see that it’s a part of faith by looking at the laments themselves. In the laments we read together, there is a pattern which arises and this is generally true in the laments:

  1. They are addressed to God recognizing that He is the One who is in control.
  2. They involve a complaint; something is wrong in the life of the one who is lamenting.
  3. They contain a request: the lamenter wants God to do something about the complaint.
  4. Usually, the laments close with confidence and praise: having turned their request over to God, the lamenter is confident that God is in control, and praises Him for His watchful care.

Seeing these different parts of lament shows that laments are different from just whining and complaining: lament is not about pouting because we don’t get our way. Instead, lament is what occurs when deep faith confronts deep suffering: we suffer, and in our faith, we turn to the Only One who can do anything about our suffering, the God who is in charge and who cares for us.

This faith language which we have lost is something that we need to reclaim.

Think about it this way: you can tell how close your relationship with another person is based on how honest you can be with that person. With that in mind, how honest can you be with God? I think that we’ve gotten the impression that somehow it is wrong or irreverent when bad things happen to ask God questions or to express our frustration or even anger with Him. And because of that, when times get tough, people either walk away from their faith, or they just bury their emotions and pretend that everything is okay.

But God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows when we questions. He knows when we are frustrated. He knows when we are angry with Him. And He can handle that. And rather than us trying to swallow these feelings and pretend they don’t exist, God wants us to bring that to Him. 1 Peter 5.7 tells us to cast all of our anxieties on God, because He cares for us.

And Scripture shows us how to do that. Through the language of lament, we can see how we can cry out to God in our suffering in ways that are honest, but in ways that are still faithful.

Conclusion

Is the church meant to be a place of support and healing where we can be honest with one another about what is going on in our lives and honest with God? Or is it a place of white-washing and mask-wearing, where we put on a brave face and pretend everything is okay even when it most definitely is not?

In these last two posts, we have looked at lament:

We’ve seen how it is a biblical practice, a language of faith that we see throughout Scripture, and especially in the Psalms. We’ve noted the disturbing way in which lament has largely disappeared from the songs we sing, from our culture at large, and even from funerals sometimes. And hopefully, we’ve seen that lament is something we need to reclaim and bring back as a part of our lives of faith. Lament emphasizes that God is in control, that He is the One who can do something about our suffering, and that as a result, it only makes sense that we bring it to Him.

I want to close with three suggestions for how lament can aid us when we go through difficult times in life. When the tough times come, I urge you:

  1. Be open with your brothers and sisters in Christ about what is going on and how you feel. If we are serious about being the family of God, then that means we are here for one another, and we need to support one another.
  2. Read through the Psalms. We just looked at a few examples, but 40% of the book is lament. There is a wide array of language which is used to cover a wide array of problems; see how people of faith voiced their suffering to God.
  3. And most importantly, be honest with God about your suffering. Maybe using some of that same lament language from Psalms, take your suffering and lay it at His feet. He is the one who can handle it and do something about it.

*As I mentioned in the last post, these thoughts (and also the statistics) are greatly informed by Glenn Pemberton’s Hurting With God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms.

Jesus, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees

0802822215In Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Everett Ferguson has a really good summary of the Pharisees and Sadducees, especially in the sense that he moves past a lot of unhelpful oversimplifications of the Pharisees (i.e., the idea that all Pharisees were hypocrites).

I really liked this summary statement of what separated Jesus’ views of the Hebrew Scriptures from that of the Pharisees and Sadducees:

[The] interpretation of the law in terms of fundamental principles distinguishes Jesus from the rival groups in Judaism of his day. According to him the Sadducees were right in exegesis—the Scriptures did not mean what the Pharisees made them mean—but they were wrong in relegating Scripture to the place of an archaic relic with less and less relevance to the present. The Pharisees were right in trying to keep Scripture applicable, but were wrong in their method by making tradition superior or equal to the written word.

Jesus offered a corrective to both viewpoints. The written word is authoritative, but the great fundamental principles therein take precedence and provide the standard by which it is to be interpreted and applied.

(p.518)

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