Friday, May 31, 2013

Thoughts on Colossians

I have a conspiracy theory. (Hey! Don’t start rolling your eyes until you hear me out!) Leaders in the church, consciously or subconsciously, turn every guilt-inducing “Do not be harsh towards your wife” lesson (Colossians 3:19) into an ego-boosting “You are Christ and she is the Church” lesson (Ephesians 5:25-32).

Seriously. Think about it. Ever notice how sermons claiming to be based on Colossians 3:18-19 never actually get around to covering v.19? The typical scenario consists of the following steps:

1. Read Colossians 3:18, stressing the importance of a wife obeying her husband.

2. Read Ephesians 5:22-24, using the Christ-Church-marriage allegory as a defense against any women in the pews who might take offense at Step 1.

3. Read Ephesians 5:25-33, stressing the weightiness of the husband’s responsibility that comes with being in the head marriage, thus making the women mentioned in Step 2 feel really guilty about every bad thing they’ve ever done.

4. End sermon, “forgetting” to discuss Colossians 3:19.

Oh, so you’ve heard that sermon too? I have…more than once.

Yes, I believe it’s of the utmost importance to synthesize all the available evidence to discover “what really happened” and what the Bible “really means.” But by no means does that justify focusing on Ephesians 5:25-32 to the exclusion of Colossians 3:19, when the duties of husbands are being discussed. What’s instructed to the men in Ephesus should not be allowed to crowd out what’s said in those in Colossae.

The refusal to teach the whole of the Word has the door to some of the most disgusting perversions of it. Every preacher I’ve heard do this is guilty. Every book, devotional, Study Bible note, or Bible commentary author who’s done this is guilty. Every marriage counselor, Bible class teacher, and small group leader who’s done this is guilty. Every blogger and online forum poster who’s done this is guilty. I’m including an embarrassing number of women.

Lest you believe I’m making a mountain of a molehill, might I point out why the “Don’t be harsh” lesson is such a serious matter? Because Colossians 3:19 has been virtually eliminated from our Bible, we have inadvertently provided a loophole to allow domestic violence. Time and time again, I’ve heard or read men claiming that it’s excusable (or even godly and necessary) for husbands to physically “discipline” (i.e., abuse) their “unsubmissive” wives. And no, these false teachers don’t just come in the form of anti-“feminazi,” homeschooler/homeschooling, “home church,” wannabe patriarchs who wish to remain anonymous online. They’re also run-of-the-mill preachers, church leaders, and teaching laymen (and yes, even laywomen) who believe that women who have been hit and verbally belittled by their husbands somehow deserve it because they weren’t obeying Paul’s command to “Be submissive.”

Even during the times when the husband is acknowledged as being completely in the wrong, the wife is expected to grin and bear it like dutiful Christian wife should. Divorce, legal charges, and physical retaliation are completely non-optional. Men, however, aren’t expected to grin and bear anything, hence the excuses made if they explode in anger at their wives over something they disliked.

It’s appalling to me that such a double standard is upheld – even glorified – even when abuse has even resulted in hospitalization or death (of one or the other spouse). What makes church leaders so willing to brave the opposing fire from women who don’t want a lesson on submission, but too cowardly (or too ignorant or just too self-serving) to demand that the men in their congregations obey Paul’s instructions to them? Women are made to feel heat of the fire and brimstone. Men are not.

Do not be angry or harsh with your wives or bitter against them. It’s a short sentence, and can’t possibly be written any clearer. As I alluded to in my comment on I Peter a while ago, it’s unfair, dishonest, and outright evil to place the most burdensome interpretation of a command on one sex while ignoring or trivializing the command for the other.

Hear the truth: Men aren’t lectured on this command because it doesn’t sit well with them. It puts a whole new perspective on Christ’s sacrificial love for the Church. I can almost hear the familiar excuses coming, but this time from men rather than women: It’s impossible for a man to never get angry with his wife. Paul’s rule is unrealistic. Doesn’t allow wiggle-room for justifiable cases. Doesn’t allow for a godly man dealing with a sinful wife. My response? I assure you it’ll drip with sarcasm.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Peek into ‘One Nightstand’ (Movie Review)

Film Poster (Facebook)
Ever been in a situation when, just as you’re about to do something you know is wrong, the unexpected happens, leading you to change your mind? I’m not talking about miracles of the sort that convinced Balaam to redirect his donkey. I’m talking about eerie coincidences that buy you time enough to rethink the whole endeavor. That’s the scenario played out in the new ministry short One Nightstand (Facebook, IMDB).

Inspired by the 168-Hour Film Project, Christian filmmakers Gary Emrick and Christopher Shawn Shaw created a movie that revolves around the infamous Bibles that Gideon International has stashed away in hotel nightstand drawers for over a century. While One Nightstand was meant to be shown in Bible classes and church small groups, it actually has an air of professionalism not found in most similar films. Recently, it claimed Third Place for Best Short Film by the 2013 International Christian Film Festival (ICFF), and screened publicly for the first time on Friday, May 10, 2013 at the Village Church of Santa Clarita, Emrick’s home congregation.*

Starring pastor-comedian Thor Ramsey as a flustered traveling businessman, tempted to cheat on his wife, One Nightstand opens the door to discussing uncomfortable topics – adultery, singleness and involuntary celibacy, divorce and remarriage, and prostitution – in the church. (Exactly where they need to be discussed more often!) While the acute viewer might claim that a sense of shame might be playing a stronger role that is given credit for, the film does show how the reading of God’s Word and the personal testimonies of believers can be powerful influences on people’s immediate actions. The verdict is still out, of course, on long-term effects.

Although released a bit out of season – the setting is decidedly Christmas-y! - One Nightstand offers a message that people can appreciate all year round. I might be in the minority when I say that the film might be spoiled by a continuing series. Left open-ended, it potentially has greater appeal to churches with a wide variety of beliefs and solutions for these issues. In addition, I realized that my impression of the prostitute differed greatly from the filmmaker’s vision. His part 2 idea focusing on a streetwalker’s angry pimp is far cry from the image of a sophisticated, and quite expensive, “escort service” that entered my mind.

As you might have guessed, One Nightstand is not exactly suitable for children, but it’s definitely more than necessary for a number of adults. Actors Kimberly Durrett, Charles Anteby, and Nathan Ford make for a convincing cast, and the common travel annoyances make the lead character easy to relate to before the temptation is introduced. Go ahead and take the 20 minutes to view the film. You might never look at Gideon Bibles the same way again.

* I sincerely apologize for the delay in getting this review out. The original post was lost when my notebook computer went suspiciously missing (e.g., was probably stolen).

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Check Out ‘LEGO Retaliation’

My little brother recently took a 3D Animation course, and his final project, made with two of his classmates, is now on YouTube. If you have a moment, please take a look at LEGO Retaliation. If you’ve ever been personally attacked by an iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner, you can surely relate to this.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

2013 Pepperdine Bible Lectures – Day 2

Missed the opening night (Tuesday) of the 70th Annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures (April 30 – May 3, 2013), but I was able to make the drive out to Malibu Wednesday afternoon for three enlightening sessions. Coming off of the lunch break was Holly Catterton Allen, co-author of Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship, who I knew from Creekside Christian Fellowship years ago. Her talk, “Entering God’s Story: Reframing How We Teach the Bible to Children,” discussed how the true purpose of Bible stories – to reveal the who God/Jesus Christ is – is often overlooked as teachers focus instead on teaching children how to live. I was reminded of Dan Owen’s talk at the Recharge conference earlier this year as I listened to Dr. Allen give some examples on how the event-precept-application method often results in misinterpretation. For example, Jesus feeding the five thousand has been used to teach children to share, rather than understand Christ’s power and compassion for His people.

To counter this problem, Dr. Allen stressed that morals are better extracted from direct scriptural commands. Bible lessons need to reflect the true intent of God’s story. She discussed the idea of putting together a “Christian metanarrative” that unites different biblical stories into one continuous story and allows children to develop a Christian identity. To help Sunday school/Bible class teachers achieve this, Dr. Allen suggested activities and illustrations that allow children to personalize the events and see themselves as part of the ongoing mission of Christ.

Next I attended Chris Buxton’s “Pushing Back Against the Young Adult Exodus.” A campus ministry director, Buxton discussed how to combat the growing trend of children who grew up in the Churches of Christ abandoning their faith after high school graduation. One-on-one mentoring is the oft-cited solution, and Buxton endorses that, believing that he has seen positive results pairing up kids with older adults who can provide some answers and guidance during a confusing time in their lives. I would have preferred it if more time had been spent on how to directly respond to the criticisms that lead these kids away in the first place, but time was understandably short.

Finally, before heading back home for the day, I listened to Linda Egle of Eternal Threads and Brittany Partridge discuss “The Red Thread Movement: Combating Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery.” Previously, I was somewhat familiar with the sex trade issue, but this introduced me to the specific situation in Nepal and Bombay, India. The speakers discussed the success of Kingdom International Nepal’s “border units” that rescue Nepalese girls being brought into India and the “safe houses” that provide biblical-based counseling and job training (including friendship bracelet making for donations) for victims before they return to their villages. It wasn’t made clear what are the legal statuses of prostitution and slavery in those areas, but there was some discussion about the shame many girls feel from having been tricked by promises of jobs across the border. Since sex trafficking, prostitution, and modern day forced labor are the kind of social justice issues that often get swept under the rug, I was pleased that this talk was programmed. It makes the Bible lectureship, which some see as a remnant of a bygone era, more relevant to today.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Devotional: 2 John

In the Second Epistle of John, the elder writes to encourage his fellow Christians in two virtues, walking in truth and loving one another, and warn them against the influences of those who would have them do otherwise.

While our God is a God of truth and justice, the first villain is the deceiver. He is the one who opposes truth, preferring instead to glorify in a lie. His goal is to lead the spiritually weak astray by any means possible. To defeat him, we must continue to walk along the straight and righteous path, resisting the urge to detour into darkness.

The second villain is the antichrist. He is the one who fights against the Lord’s anointed, both Jesus Christ and His elect followers. While our God is a God of love and mercy, the antichrist would have us hate our neighbors and do ill toward them. To defeat him, we must remain faithful to the second commandment: that we love one another; looking to the sacrificial love of our Lord on the cross as the example for our daily lives.

While we Christians can expect to frequently meet deceivers and antichrists during our time spent in this world, and that these evil people will tempt us to turn away from God’s law, we have this note of encouragement from the apostle and his reminder that, in due time, we shall reap a reward for our trials.

This devotional was written as an assignment for Robert T. Davis’ course on “Johannine Literature,” which I am currently auditing at the Southern California School of Evangelism at Buena Park Church of Christ.