Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Easy Life

Frequently when people learn of my hopeful career plans, they ask me why I'd want to go to a "harder job with less pay."  Wouldn't it just be easier to remain where I am?  The short answer is yes, of course, that would be easier.   It wouldn't be nearly as dangerous, the hours are much better, and in general I'd lead an easier life.

So here's a question - when did we start valuing easier?  When did that become the standard by which we live our lives and make our decisions?

Even Adam was made to work in the Garden before the Fall.  He wasn't given an easy life.  Noah had to build an ark and then live in it a very long time with his family and a bunch of smelly animals.  Abraham had to travel all over, fight to rescue his nephew, and oh yeah there's that whole almost-sacrifce of Isaac thing.  Moses got to work in the desert for 40 years, lead the people out of Egypt, and then deal with them another 40 years due to their disobedience.  These Biblical figures did not lead easy lives.

David had it hard too; before being in charge he had to deal with Saul trying to kill him.  His suffering during this and other times is how we got a lot of the Psalms.  One time it looked like he was taking it easy was when he didn't go out to war like he was supposed to, leading him into adultery and murder.  That didn't seem to work out too well for him!

There's no pretending Jesus led or advocated an easy life.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you."  ~ Matthew 5:2-12
Well.  Not a lot of easy there, and this is before he starts really going to town on the leadership of the time.  An easy life is not what generally gets one crucified by the authorities!

Tradition holds all but one of the apostles were killed for their faith.  Even John did not have an easy life though.  His Lord's dying command to the very young man at the time was to take care of Mary.  I can't imagine she was difficult to care for, but that's still quite a sudden responsibility.  And although he wasn't killed for his faith, he was persecuted.  His life wasn't easy.

I can't think of any saints who had easy lives.  Nobody I've read about lived a life of perfectly content quiet contemplating before going to their heroic death before the Lord.  Oh sure, some were more academic than others, but they still worked hard.  And let's not pretend for a moment that dying for Jesus is somehow easy or pleasurable.  Getting ripped to shreds by lions probably still hurts quite a bit, even if you're confident you're going to be seeing Jesus immediately afterward.

People would joke in times past they had children so they could fetch the tv remote or another drink from the fridge, but really, who has kids for easy?  Nobody.  Nobody has kids to make their lives easier.  Every day, the parents around us live far more difficult lives because they have children.  There is no easy button for parenting.

There's a lot of talk in the New Testament about helping to carry others' burdens and carrying crosses and being strong in the faith, but I don't remember anything about pursuing an easy life.

Do you know anyone, anyone at all, who has led a successful and happy life following the easy path? I propose it isn't possible.  I would further suggest that for a Christian, an easy life is a sure sign we're doing something wrong.  Our difficulties may take on many shapes and sizes and versions, but as a group our lives should not be easy.  We should not want them to be easy and we should understand it is not possible for them to be easy anyway.  Let's not continue to buy the lie that easier is better.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Advantages

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. ~1 Cor 7:32-34
Paul is discussing the advantages of being single.  There are advantages to being married of course, and some day I'd like to enjoy those, but it is important to remember the advantages of being single while in that state.  I (should) have far fewer attachments to the world that distract or prevent me from pursuing God's glory.  I have more time and money to help others.  I have more free time to study and pray.  I can be more open to sudden changes or circumstances that need assistance.

Let's compare this to the popular idea of the primary advantages of being a single young woman.  In that outlook, I (should) have far fewer attachments to whatever that distract or prevent me from pursuing my glory.  I have more money to buy stuff.  I have more free time to enjoy myself.  I can be more open to opportunities to develop my own career.

Buying stuff, enjoying myself, and developing my own career are of course good things and I certainly don't ignore them.  But they are not the primary advantages to being single.  They are not my primary function in any circumstance, including in my time as a single woman.  Serving God is always the primary goal, which makes those goals subordinate to what God wants in my life at any moment.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Faithful in All

I am such a horrible blogger, I know.  I post daily for a few weeks and then wander off.  A conversation I had with a man the other day about the following story prompts me to write tonight though.
It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking upon the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. And the woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am with child.” (2 Sam 11:2-5)
David first attempted to conceal his actions by inviting her husband home from the war so he could sleep with his wife.  The soldier doesn't cooperate, so David has him killed on the front lines of battle and takes Bathsheba for his wife.

The man I was speaking with noted that if David, a man after God's own heart, could fall, then he as a man could easily fall as well.  He noted how easy this is to do and how entirely hard it is to avoid.  He also noted the context:
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go forth to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. (2 Sam 11:1)
David wasn't doing what he was supposed to be doing to begin with.  He didn't go from doing everything entirely right to sleeping with a married woman and then having her husband killed.  He first started failing at other duties.

In today's readings, we read David's son has some troubles too.  His kingdom was grand and wealthy after God granted him extraordinary wisdom.
For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.  For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.  So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done.  Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem.  And so he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. 
And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the LORD commanded.  Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant.  Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son.  However I will not tear away all the kingdom; but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.” (1 Ki 11:4-13)
Solomon went after foreign gods and worshiped them.  The man with the most wisdom on the planet failed to properly serve God and instead turned to idolatry.  Why?  Let's go back a few verses and see the context for this one.
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women: the daughter of Pharaoh, and Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods”; Solomon clung to these in love. He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. (1 Ki 11:1-3)
Again, the prelude is a failure to serve God.  Solomon didn't wake up one day and fall into idolatry.  It takes quite a bit of time to wed 700 women and pick up an additional 300 concubines!

What's the take away?  Sometimes I think it can be easy to relegate some of our duties to God as "less important" or "no big deal."  Maybe I think, "Well, I'm not off killing people, so who cares if I skip a few other things?"  "Who cares if I watch this inappropriate movie; it isn't like I'm out there swearing and sleeping with multiple people."  "It isn't a big deal I gossip about so and so.  It isn't like I'm telling everybody."

It apparently is a big deal.  Small disobedience now leads to big disobedience later.  We need to be faithful in all things.