The Courage To Be Strong

“Be strong and courageous” is a theme that echoes through the first chapter of Joshua and resounds throughout his life as recorded in the Pentateuch. As the new leader of Israel, Joshua needed to understand God’s promise to be with Him and to deliver on what He had promised to the nation about entering the land of Canaan.

What Courage Looks Like

“Be strong and courageous, for you will cause this people to inherit the land that I swore  (promised) to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:6).

The phrase “be strong” in the Septuagint means to be forceful and refers to the force of God in a person.[1] The first time Joshua hears this phrase, it is followed by a reason why: God has a plan that He is going to implement. The phrase is then repeated a second time before an outline of what being strong and courageous will look like: Joshua must conform his mind to the truth of God revealed in the law. He had to become aligned with the purposes of the kingdom of heaven in order to achieve the impossible objective. God had a goal and Joshua was commanded to forcefully pursue becoming (“BE strong and courageous”) the kind of person through whom it could come.

This pursuit of becoming could not take place apart from a deep relationship with what God had already spoken. The promise of God does not find its fulfilment apart of the law of God. If Joshua wanted to be strong and courageous in the way that is meant here, it required an alignment with what was already revealed in the word of God. The extra emphasis on courage in verse seven seems to indicate the great difficulty of this challenge.

“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7).

This is not something that Joshua has to try to figure out on his own, though. In addition to the admonition toward courage, God gives instructions in verse 8 on how Joshua is going to become the kind of person that is needed to lead the people into their promise.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8).

It is through repeated exposure to the word of God that Joshua will renew his mind and become the kind of person who follows what it says. This is reminiscent of Psalm 1, which describes the blessed man as the one whose “delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, whose leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers (Psalm 1:2-3).

By the time God gives the command to Joshua, it is apparent that he is a man prepared to succeed in whatever he does. As the servant of Moses, he ascended the mountain of God, which everyone else was warned not to even approach (Exodus 19:12; 32:17). He was the one who stayed behind at the tent of meeting to speak with God even after Moses had gone home for the night (Exodus 33:11). Every time we see him before the book of Joshua, this man gives evidence that he has applied his heart to the law and aligned his life to what it says. By the time we hear the command to strength and courage in the book of Joshua, it is simply a reminder of what has already been done.

Why Courage is Hard

In Deuteronomy 31:3 Joshua is given charge of the people of Israel when Moses is about to depart. The final instructions of Moses are that Joshua is to pass over at the head of the nation to lead them into the promised land. Moses further instructed, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8).

In the public commission that follows Joshua receives a repeat of these instructions from the voice of God saying “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you” (Deuteronomy 31:23).

Courage and strength from God is not a recent promise, but rather a reflection of an earlier promise made to the whole nation of Israel in Exodus 23 when God promised to send his angel before the people of Israel: “If you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries” (v. 22).

Joshua remembered this promise when he first came back from spying out the land of Canaan. In those younger days he had said “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us…Only do not rebel agains the LORD. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them” (Numbers 14:7-9).

Unfortunately, the people responded to this admonition of Joshua by picking up stones to kill him and his brave friend, Caleb (Numbers 14:10). The two only escaped from this unfortunate end by the appearance of the glory of the LORD in the camp of Israel. Thus, it is easy to understand why Joshua might hesitate to suggest the same thing twice.

Perhaps this is why the book of Joshua opens with God encouraging this man to step up and begin to be the man who he already is – only now with the strength of God flowing through him (remember the definition from earlier…). The courage he needs is the courage to do what God has commanded him. We may consider the opening chapter of the book to be a gentle reminder to Joshua of all the things that have already been spoken over his life.

In Joshua 1:9 God asks a rhetorical question: “Have I not commanded you?” and then repeats the entire promise from Deuteronomy when Joshua was commissioned as leader of the people: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” 

I think Joshua had gotten comfortable being in charge as long as he was on the side of the river that had already been conquered. This, however, was not to be his destiny. He was called to lead the people Israel across the Jordan River to inherit the promises of God…the same people whose parents had tried to stone him the last time he suggested such a thing.

The Importance of Humility

For this reason, I think Joshua chooses his words carefully in verse 10 when he tells the people “get ready, because in three days we are crossing the Jordan River ‘to go in and take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.’” This is a subtle contrast to his previous language when he suggests that God is giving the promised land to “us” to possess. In some sense, it appears that he has learned to distance himself from the people and place himself as simply a mouthpiece of God. He might have learned some of this from Moses who had often faced a similar struggle in his leadership. Maybe the courage to which he was called required him to let go of faith in his ability as a leader and simply trust the plan of God.

Joshua recognizes that He is not the one who will make the promise come true for everyone. It is not his noble courage and strength as a leader that will result in their victory, but rather his dependence upon the strength of the LORD at work through him to deliver the crazy promise. He is just working alongside as a means through which the voice of God can speak to the people (a mediator of sorts) to direct them to where they are meant to go.

How can he successfully do this? Only by thinking back to what God said in verses seven and eight. He must immerse himself in the truth of what God has commanded and promised. It is in this way that the power of God will flow through his life. It is not in his pursuit of leadership or his bold stand for the truth, but his conformity to what God is doing that will make him a successful leader. 

The Outcome of Courage

In the present day, God still has a plan He is implementing for His kingdom on earth (Matthew 6:10). He calls His people to be a part of this plan, not because we are needed to move it forward, but because He wants His strength to flow through us. This requires that we have the courage to pursue the renewal of our minds through consistent exposure to the truth of what has been written in the Bible. More than this, however, it is the courage to follow it that leads to our success wherever we go.

Those who wish to be great in the kingdom of heaven are those who do and teach the law, not those who let go of the commands of God in order to pursue His promises (Matthew 5:19). We have already seen what happened when the nation of Israel decided to go into the promised land on their own without the power of God. They were destroyed by their enemies (Numbers 14:40-45). The opportunity to follow God into the promise had been lost and when they tried to achieve it on their own, their efforts failed.

I think that the memory of this sad event was part of the reason it would take courage for Joshua to regain faith in the promises of God and to follow his leading to bring the people across the river into a place of danger. If Joshua was not ready to trust himself to the strength of the LORD, his leadership would put the entire nation at risk of a similar catastrophe. What if he had been unable to convince the priests to step into a flooded river in Chapter 3 or tried another method besides marching in circles around the walls of Jericho in Chapter 5…?

That is not how the story goes, however.

When the voice of the LORD came to Joshua with the instructions to be strong and courageous, he turned a second time to the people and asked them to follow God’s promises across the river and into the land. Unlike the previous occasion when they tried to kill him, the people were now ready to follow and believe the word of the LORD. Even when Joshua asked those who had already received their inheritance to leave behind their homes and families to enter a war on behalf of the others, they responded by saying: “All that you have commanded us, we will do…only be strong and courageous!” (Joshua 1:16-18).

I think, in his own story, Joshua had finally figured out what it looked like to be strong and courageous. In my own life, it is still a struggle to remember that the way I prepare to enter the promises of God is not by pursuing them on my own, but by embracing the courage needed to immerse myself in the truth of His word until I am aligned with the vision of what He is going to do. The courage to be strong is the courage to pursue living out the commands and promises of God by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in my life. That is, after all, in the life of Joshua, how great things began to happen!

[1] Thanks to Elsa at Ellerslie for sharing her insights on the meaning of this term.

Proverbs 20:3 – Good Advice for Facebook

“It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling” (Proverbs 20:3).

It must be recognized that conflict has its place in the development of healthy opinions and relationships. The Proverb here does not suggest that a man never engage in conflict, but that when he does, there is honor to be found in holding oneself aloof. Those who take arguments personally and identify themselves by the position that they hold prepare themselves for an ongoing quarrel that can have no resolution. It is a foolish thing to do and a fool can be identified by this approach to conflict. On the other hand, to hold an idea at arm’s length and discuss it modestly with the intention of clarity, understanding, and stronger relationships is to engage in an honorable pursuit. The wise person must seek to develop this ability and until that point may prudently refrain from engaging in a conflict through the foolish art of quarreling.

An application of this Proverb to the facebook comment section might be appropriately welcome. Far better to hold oneself aloof from strife and maintain a posture of honor toward self and others than to obliterate a reputation by the pursuit of strife in a quarrelsome manner. As the writer of Proverbs proposes, only a fool does this.

Serenity

Serenity,
That quiet calm, that healing hush,
falls over the earth like a blanket,
covering the remnants of the past with a moment
of right now.
More than a promise of renewal, it appears
like the morning, at the beginning of a new time
– the dawning of change.

Going somewhere,
or nowhere,
its shadow fails to disguise the light that will
inevitably
shatter its power. It knows
the moment will give way to opportunity.
The still of singing
brings the blazing sun of mid-day.
Blue will turn to yellow
and yellow to red,
as time passes,
another cycle of the day.

The dew of morning gathers on a leaf.
From high up in a tree, it casts itself over the edge.
A free fall becomes a shower
of silver sparkles.

The silver line on the blue horizon grows.
The mists begin to scatter at will.
Some here, some there.
Hiding in a secret place
to emerge in the cover of darkness.

But their movement is slow.
In the thick,
but fading moment, the movement
evaporates
into the backdrop of a canvass whose picture still works magic on the air.

Its power, too, will fade.
Its time will pass.
But til it does, every sound, every shadow,
the color, the motion…all
experience the gravitas of its bendable restriction.
They wait without impatience
for the time to pass.
Never anxious to be free,
they willingly acquiesce
to the tranquil power, of
serenity.

A reflection from 2014. Thanks to John Anderson for the use of his cabin on Lake Superior where this scene was observed.

Power Through Purity

What is the key to a revival of the dead hearts that wander through so many of our churches and Christian education communities?

Bill Johnson at Onething spoke about the commission that Jesus gave to His disciples. It was through this commission that they were given authority to do what He had commanded them. This commission still applies and those in the church have authority to do all that Jesus asks of us. However, even after giving them authority, Jesus did not immediately have the disciples go forth. He had them wait to receive power in order to make this happen (Luke 24:49). Johnson says that, similarly, we do not have an excuse to be powerless people in our generation, but rather it is our responsibility to acquire it.

How?

Through encounter that flows from a life of purity (or a single-minded pursuit of one thing).

Power Comes From Encounter

Do we want to wake up the people around us? Johnson spoke from Luke 10:13-15 and Luke 11:30-32 to show that Jesus expected the people in Israel to be awakened or persuaded by the powerful signs and wonders that were done there. He called them perverse because they could not be persuaded and said that the kingdoms of old like Sodom and Tyre would be their judgement because if the healing and miracles had been done there, the people would have repented. Furthermore, Ninevah repented at the preaching of Jonah, and the queen of Sheba at the wisdom of Solomon. We can walk in the same kind of authority in our fields of influence so that others are drawn to the solutions released by our lives. The first time the Holy Spirit is mentioned in the Old Testament was connected to the wisdom given to Bezaleel for the construction of the tabernacle (Exodus 35:30-31). “The level to which we accept the mission that Jesus gave us is the level to which we walk in authority,” said Bill Johnson.

Let us begin to embrace this authority by reason of the commission Jesus has given to us. However, we cannot stop there. We must also demonstrate the gospel with power, and this only comes through encounter. On the day of Pentacost, the disciples were gathered to pray when the power came upon them to fulfil the commission and begin to act on their authority. They had already received the Holy Spirit (John 20:22), but there was some element in which they needed to be filled up by the Holy Spirit “coming upon” them in power as described in Acts 2:1 and again in Acts 4:31. Jesus told them to “wait in the city” until they had received “power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

I think that the observation of how much prayer and intimate encounter with God takes place can reveal how much power we can expect to see demonstrated in our lives. We have nothing when we try to do this kingdom thing on our own as it was meant to take place in the context of intimacy with Jesus (John 15:4-5). Even He did nothing of his own, but only what he saw his father doing (John 5:19-20).

Johnson described power as the ability to see what God is doing and participate in it: to ride the wave. Power comes through encounter as we have already seen. However, for many of us, this is going to look like a severe challenge.

The Key to Encounter

In the parable of the sower, Jesus tells the story of seeds of the word that grew up in the soil (human hearts) they were planted in, but other seeds grew up also that choked out the work that God was doing. “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). It is not easy to fight with these things, especially when the entire world around us is dedicated to their pursuit. However, we are called to be in the world, but not of it, to dedicate our lives to the pursuit of one thing at the cost of all others. If we are divided within ourselves we cannot stand (Mark 3:25). It is not possible to serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24).

Jeremiah 29:11-13 is a promise to Israel that the LORD will restore what had been lost while they were in captivity: “For I know the plans I have for you declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future an a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

Jesus said, “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). David also gives a warning that those who wish to encounter God must “have clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4). The reason that we do not see the power of God in spite of our asking is that we do not first let our hearts conform to holiness (James 3:4-8). What kind of evil father would give a child power before they were ready to use it well? Until there is a purity of focus and a single-minded pursuit of God (one that is not distracted by the mindset of the world), encounter will be limited and power will not flow through the Spirit that is in us as it could.

When we think we can have both God and the world, we miss out on what God has for us, but are we willing to give up everything to go and find it? The kingdom is like a treasure in a field which when a man found, he went and sold everything he had to buy it (Matthew 13:44).

By: Michael R. P. RagazzonCC BY 2.0

In Pursuit of One Thing

If we want to see our college campuses and church communities awaken to life, we must be prepared to engage in the process of leaving behind our old way of thinking and replacing it with something new. Jesus said to “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7). This indicates a requirement of action by those who want to demonstrate the power of the gospel to a broken world, and “we do not have the luxury of living a powerless gospel” (Bill Johnson).

We do not have the luxury of living a powerless gospel. – Bill Johnson

It is certainly possible for God to work through broken people, but why would we want to stay that way? What would keep us from pursuing restoration and holiness so that the Spirit can shine through our lives with a greater brilliance? Joshua 1:6-9 showcases the promise God made to do some amazing things through Joshua alongside a warning that this man would have to “be careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” This is repeated twice and indicates the idea that the power of God at work through a person requires them to be consistently exposed to the word of God. It is through the renewal of the mind that a person is transformed to reflect the image of God instead of the image of the world (Romans 12:1-2). We cannot act or become pure on our own in order to see God, but we can embrace the process of humility by which the broken areas of life are exposed to the light of truth and transformed into something beautiful! Intimate encounter with God is necessary for those who want to demonstrate power. This was true even for Jesus, who is renown for how much time He spent in prayer.

The message that Bill Johnson wanted to communicate to the young people at Onething was this: to see the restoration of our lives and communities (to wake up the people around us), we must pursue purity of heart and a single-minded focus that enables us to encounter God in a way that produces powerful demonstrations of the gospel through us. As seen in the mystery of Christ and the church revealed through marriage, encounter and intimacy are only possible in the context of purity. If we want the power of the gospel to be evident in our lives, we must choose to pursue this holiness or dedication to one thing. As Elijah said to the people of Israel, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). We all know which God answered with fire, but I think sometimes we forget that the same choice belongs to our day. If we want to see the power of God in our lives, we must give ourselves completely to Him.

The pursuit of power (which is essential to the Christian life) is at its core, a pursuit of purity!

We cannot have the one without the other.

“…choose this day whom you will serve…”

-Joshua 24:15

Proverbs 2:1 – Treasure Up

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, (Proverbs 2:1 NKJV)

“Treasure up” is the first phrase that grabs attention in this verse. It is a command to action rather than simply a request to value the commandments that are give. Treasuring up is the art of collecting, storing, safeguarding, and revisiting the things that are valued. Although it may require a great amount of space and effort, there is never too much cost attached to the practice of treasuring up. There is always more room, always more desire.

Furthermore, that which is treasured up and stored can more easily be given away and shared. I think of a king in a palace who not only uses the treasure to make the dwelling place beautiful, but to showcase his splendour to others. Treasuring up does not always mean hoarding. However, those who give the appearance of treasure on the walls without the reality of wealth stored in the vaults will not long maintain their facade. There must be more within than is shown without.

Once the treasure has begun to grow, it continues to diversify and build upon itself for it can be used to forge relationships, invest in opportunities, etc. Treasuring up is an active process that makes the commandments useful, secure within the life of the individual, and valuable for long-term use. They are not simply tossed in a vault and forgotten but actively used to produce value for the one who treasures them. Additionally, the son is to treasure up these things “with you.” It is not simply enough to appreciate the commandments and pass them along to others. They must be personalized, internalized, and kept close. Truth must be lived before it can be taught. The act of treasuring up is wasted if it is only applied to the lives of others.

A contrast is made in this verse between the words and the commandments. It is not the words that are treasured up but the commandments. The commandments are not received but are treasured up. It seems that to the author, a son might come to difficulty with receiving words and treasuring up commandments. Perhaps this is because commandments are easier to receive than to do. The challenge of receiving words may stem from difficulty in relationship between the father and son, or maybe from the fact that words are simply a vessel for ideas.

To receive words requires more than just hearing. Rather, what is heard must be collected, stored, mused over, and mined for the value that they hid within their shell. This value is not always easy to perceive and so the son might tend toward discarding that which he does not understand. Unfortunately wisdom is hidden deep and requires effort to access. Those things that are most difficult to understand might also be the most valuable. Therefore the son is encouraged to receive the words, perhaps even in spite of their appearance. This idea receives further support on the subsequent verses that call the son to action in pursuit of understanding and insight.

Opening the chapter and verse, the words “my son” indicate a relationship of affection, care, and responsibility from the one who gives the words and commandments. The reader of proverbs is not supposed to be an open-minded fool receiving words from every source. Rather, the advice listed here applies when the conditions of a father are present. Otherwise, it would be dangerous to apply the principles above. If the son will hearken to the words of one who has stewardship over his life by receiving the mystery locked in words, and treasuring up those rules that should govern his life, then he will receive the reward promised later on in the chapter. We will explore this reward further in the coming verses.

To All My Single Friends: Why Wait?

A long reflection from Valentine’s Day and introduction to some bigger concepts that inform my upcoming book on Christianity and sexuality: “The Choice”

Inevitably, I have once again spent too much time thinking about the ideas in my head and not enough time writing them down to match the expectations of the public audience for a blog post on love that emerges 7-12 days before February 14. Today the Valentine’s Day holiday season is  over and non-single people no longer feel the obligation of casting sympathetic glances at anyone who does not appear laden with gifts of pink hearts and chocolate – (This year my good friends set me up with a literal date…I think it was probably organic)! Yet, the struggle exacerbated by this holiday will last the rest of the year for some Christian young adults who find themselves outside the context of a relationship with someone special. In light of the occasion, I wanted to share something I have been learning, which strikes at the heart of the identity crisis experienced by so many unmarried individuals at least one day out of the year.

In order for a relationship to succeed, the individuals involved must learn the art of submission. Submission is a touchy concept within relationships and marriage, but I believe this is the result of misunderstanding its nature. When approached from the perspective of honour and identity, submission becomes a tool of empowerment by which singleness and marriage both acquire tremendous value.

In the world of Christendom, marriage is looked upon as a holy sacrament, a demonstration of Christ and the church, the subject of political debate, or worst of all the inevitable conclusion of a heart connection between two people. The issue is not that marriage is bad for relationships, but that for many people it has become a destination to reach, not necessarily a journey to be started. The difference is similar to a mistake that is made when people view ‘salvation’ as a single event rather than a life-long process of transformation.

In my opinion, marriage is a relational process that is recognised and supported by a public proclamation of commitment to its ongoing development. To mistake the public declaration for the thing itself is to rob marriage of its full potential. It is like assuming that a person has been saved because they said some magical phrase or prayer. The ceremony and the prayer were never meant to be the destination, they are simply the celebration or recognition that a journey is in progress and has reached a certain (rather undefined) point. Unless a person has taken the time to pursue the relationship that these recognise, the formalities become laughable. After all, a contract is only as good as the people who commit to it.

Within the marriage ‘contract’, two people commit to letting another person define the context in which they will live their lives. In the relationship between Christ and the church a similar mystery takes place in which each becomes the context through which the other is fully expressed. As the unity grows, the range of expression also grows. On the other hand, without Christ, church becomes meaningless; without husband, wife is a pointless term.

Certainly the way in which each partner of the relationship expresses and responds to the other will vary, but the choice remains the same: to make someone else the context in which one will ever more fully disclose and express his or her identity. Unfortunately, for many people the disclosure of identity or the proactive limitation of individuality are terrifying thoughts. Marriage is supposed to add something, not take something away – and certainly it does. The depth of relationship that can be achieved within this context can be incredibly empowering. It is beautiful and unique, but not the epitome of goodness. In fact, unless the partners are willing to learn the art of submission, they will not discover the power that exists within this relationship.

Those who are not voluntarily limited in their expression of identity by the context of marriage can find a similar level of satisfaction and empowerment when they learn to make others the context of their self-expression. What is lacking in depth is made up for in variety. Marriage and singleness each have their own sweet reward for learning the art of actively submitting one’s life to the benefit of others.

In my understanding, this submission is not a passive affair in which one individual is dominated by another, but rather an active choice to invest oneself fully into another without expecting a particular outcome. Such an investment inevitably results in a heightened level of relationship in which one shares in the joy, success, sorrow, and failure of the other. Therefore it is very important to wisely choose where this investment is made. At the same time, though, we must remember that the very existence of such a relationship is rewarding in itself regardless of the outcome.

Sadly, there are some who believe that unless this investment results in a marriage, it has been wasted. If they see no potential for a long-term commitment, they will not make any kind of investment. They will only choose to submit their life to the context of another person if they can expect to receive something back. One reason that so many people find themselves in this scenario is that they have been hurt when their past expenditures of time and energy into another person have not paid out in the way they expected. Or perhaps they chose to submit themselves to the context of a person that was harmful for them.

The issues is not that the person chose to invest in a relationship, but that they expected the relationship to supply them with some sense of identity. Even within a marriage, the husband or wife can not provide the other with a complete sense of identity. Relationships are a context for the expression of identity, not the source of it. Both individuals must let themselves be defined by something greater which can supply purpose and meaning to their lives, which they can invest in the pursuit of a more dynamic relationship. Without this external input, it is possible to see relationships in which individuals begin to make demands of each other rather than giving of themselves to each other. These reflect the sad case of the planet earth which is under the dominion of a people who do not understand who they are and ask of the earth to give them of itself to provide them with a sense of identity. The earth has no choice but to submit and this has often caused it harm. So it is with people who enter relationships without knowing who they are and needing their partner to provide them with a sense of identity.

It is therefore impossible for a single or a married person to experience the deep satisfaction of submission without first learning what it means to submit one’s life to the context of perfect love. For example, this past week I met a wise old woman who has spent the past several years of her life caring for a husband who died, a mother who also died, and now caring for the elderly in nursing homes who have nothing to give back. Where does she get the energy to continue pouring herself into the lives of these people? If she required some kind of validating response from those she invested her life in (submitted to by making them the context of her self-expression), her situation would be tragic. However because her first submission is to a being that also makes her the context of His expression, she is constantly filled with more love to give.

Within the created order, the man receives his identity from God, but requires woman to the be context of its expression. As a part of the man, woman also receives her identity from God, but requires man to provide the context of her expression. No human being is complete without someone else to provide the context for the expression of our humanity. We were not made to be alone. Marriage is a mysterious context in which the level of trust engenders a more full expression of oneself. But why wait until this season of life to begin experiencing the joy of submitting your life into the context of another?

Who can become the context in which you express the person that God has made you to be? Where can you invest the gifts that he has given you? If you do not have a wife or a significant other, the answer may prove to be less obvious. However, it is no less important. As we learn to submit ourselves to God by making Him the context of our lives, He will  give us the opportunity to give what we have to others without expecting anything in return. Though the decision of where we invest our lives is crucial, the reward of this investment is not in the result but in the giving itself.

Thus, the conclusion that I have come to is that neither marriage nor singleness is a perfected state, but simply a setting in which to experience the joy of making others the context by which I express the nature of God that is within me. Relationships are not about receiving, but about sharing what I have to give with others. I cannot do this in any other way besides through the unique characteristics, interests, and skills that God has given me. Furthermore, I cannot share these things freely unless I am certain that I will be rewarded, which is why I must first learn to submit to God (or make Him the context of my life).

As I test the waters, I am beginning to discover that is truly more blessed to give than to receive. On the other hand, it is foolish to begin taking my identity from what I can give to someone else. I will never be everything that they need. The beauty of relationship is in the limitation of my self-expression to the context of other people. Because it is a limitation, the choice of where I choose to do this is incredibly important. It is possible to submit my life to investing in other people just because I need somewhere to do it…and this is not always a good thing! To all the amazing women that I know, please take this is a plea to not compromise your potential by making a man without character and wisdom the sole context in which you express your identity. Let yourselves be defined by love (i.e. submit to God) and choose to share the amazing person He has made you with others in ways that add value and empower you to be great!

And finally, men, it’s time to stop pretending we don’t want to grow up and embrace the privilege and responsibility of maturity. This appeal is not to let go of the qualities that are uniquely us, but to develop these and to maximise their potential in our lives by learning how to submit them to the context of the people that are around us. It means choosing to take control of the direction our lives are going and wrestle, fight, pray, and shape them into something we can be proud of. This means learning to overcome our selfish tendencies by making others into the context of our self-expression.

Why wait until a marriage ceremony says that this is what is supposed to happen? Enjoy the benefits, the blessing, the joy, the pain, and the amazing experience of learning to submit your life to love (God) and then to express this in the context of deepening relationships with those around you. It is within this context (not marriage, not singleness, but submission) that the individual transcends the limitations of fear and selfishness to become the transforming power of love in the world. You don’t need a marriage relationship to begin. The best time to start is now!

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More related articles and posts will be coming out as I complete the first draft of a book exploring identity and relationships in the context of sexuality and the church. Some of these will provide more detailed biblical and logical support for the broad topical overview supplied here. Learn more about my upcoming book, “The Choice” here. http://charlesheyworth.com/publications/love-lust-power/ Please let me know what you think. Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? Need clarification? Let me know and you can be a part of bringing hope and restoration to at least one small part of our world. Courage, friends!

Love Who You Are

A short reflection from last fall that explores how to make the most of any circumstance!
One of the downsides of living life in a way that is different from most people is that I have the tendency to view my current state as more of a holding pattern while I wait for real life to begin. Several conversations and thoughts over the past month have challenged the foolishness of this notion as I recognise how incredibly fortunate I am to enjoy my particular experience of life.
I am living now, not setting myself up to apply for an opportunity to live at some point in the future. Certainly, the life of a full-time student and broke writer and failed entrepreneur has its challenges and sometimes I would rather pretend like this difficult course is not my first choice. My choice to live life in this way may have resulted in part from my unwillingness to choose another way, but I cannot continue to view it as such. If I had to choose again, I would go the same way that I have already and be prepared to enjoy it. Now that my season of focus on learning and developing myself is drawing to a close, I finally begin to recognise the benefits that it has given to me.
I have indulged in the luxury of exploring ideas that was only available to the wealthy in previous generations. I have had the time for self-reflection and discovery very few can still afford. I have wandered around the globe experiencing nature and culture in a way that very few people in the modern century ever will. I have tried so many different things that my interests and skill sets are both diverse and clear.
Yet, for some reason, an ideal grown-up me – or just another version of life continues to rear its head as the more responsible experience of life. From a cultural perspective, there are certain ways of living that contribute to stability and success of a people. However, from an individual perspective, there is no prescribed method of success that can either be met or missed. If this is the life that I enjoy, perhaps I should not feel uncomfortable about making the most of it.
Within the context of these musings, I have become comfortable with the idea of spending a little bit more of my life in Australia than I had previously planned. Alternatively, I could travel to other parts of the world that draw my attention and take their invitation of adventure. Technology enables me to maintain some sense of community even far away from home and the personality that I am shaping is more helped than hurt by this diversity of experience.
On the other hand, my value for community and forming deeper friendships with people for experiencing life together has grown and wherever I am I will seek to find this. It is what I appreciated most about Minnesota and what I miss about it. However, as I move beyond homesickness, I am beginning to find enjoyment in a similar community here. I will see what I can do to make Sydney an amazing place. How will this part of the world be different because I have been here? I am not on a detour waiting to suddenly engage my life. I am here right now, ready to act, enjoy, and live in the way that most suits my interest. I cannot predict the future and can prepare for it only by becoming a man of character. This change in my attitude is part of the process.
In addition to this, I am becoming aware of the importance of timing. While I live my life, there are certain things that fit in at certain places and some that don’t where I wish they would. Learning to recognise and accept which blessings can be part of my life at this moment and which must be saved for a later time is difficult. I have succeeded in some parts of my life, but others remain a challenge. However, I feel like I am coming to understand the importance of letting go of one thing so that I can pursue another. Life does not always happen in the right order. But what is meant to be will come to be and my happiness does not depend on which is which.
Rather, it is a choice to appreciate my limitations and opportunities. Even as tonight I am letting go of an opportunity to apply for funding for my business and recognise my lack of academic skills in the Australian context, I am happy with my opportunity to study, explore, and live in this country. I cannot always be and perform as I would wish, but if I do my best with the opportunities I have and still come up short, there is nothing to regret.

Proverbs 30:1-2 The Average Guy

:1, 2 The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an inspired utterance. This man’s utterance to Ithiel:
“I am weary, God,
    but I can prevail.
Surely I am only a brute, not a man;
    I do not have human understanding…”
 
Who was this man whose speech Solomon considered to be inspired? The inspiration of God was on his lips in an utterance made to another unknown man. This speech was given a whole chapter in the book of Proverbs – written by the wisest man who ever lived in order to train his sons to be princes and leaders of a nation.
What did Solomon see in this man, Agur, that he believed was worth including in his book? I think Solomon realised that Agur had figured out something he hadn’t. Despite all his wisdom, excess of luxury and experience of every good thing a person may desire, Solomon still ended up in the deep depression spoken of in Ecclesiastes. Apart from the Song of Songs, Solomon did not seem to be the kind of man who was overflowing with meaning and with purpose. As a king, he knew what to do. As a man, I think he did not know who he was.
Agur, on the other hand, seemed to have a clear sense of awareness and contentment about his identity. He opens his speech with a statement of how he feels and what he believes despite this feeling. Then he proceeds to establish the reasons for this. He is in many ways Solomon’s alter ego and in contrast to the sage spends much of his time explaining what he does not understand. He sums up his ignorance in verse 2, by saying, “surely, I am too stupid to be a man” (KJV). Yet, Agur still seemed to know who he was. Perhaps he was not able to measure up to others’ expectations of intellect, but he was content. Despite his challenges, his opening words demonstrate confidence and a spirit that are enviable.
Despite the weariness of his life, he believes he can prevail at whatever challenge comes his way. This is a normal, average guy who has figured out the stupidity of the rat race and is content to wonder at what he does not understand. At the same time, he is blessed with a friend who will listen to his utterance and a strong faith in God that permeates this speech/prayer. This is a man who knows and appreciates the opportunity of life. He is not driven by the mad quest to discover what he doesn’t know or be someone other than who he is. Rather, he seeks only to be the best man that he can be in the context of a life unmarked by poverty or riches. He recognises that his power of choice enables him to overcome even the most difficult circumstances and he knows that despite his weariness, he can prevail.
What do you think? Leave a comment
Here’s a link to a reddit post I found interesting…it provides a unique perspective on the benefits of being average – or at least not super smart.

A Prediction for Higher Education

Less than 300 years ago, an institution existed throughout western Europe known as the guild. The guild was the center of commerce in the same way that the universities were the center of thought. In contrast to the guild where individuals learned to master trades through a complex system of apprenticeship, universities more closely resembled the monastic communities of the church where individuals dedicated their lives to the cultivation of their hearts and minds. These were the centers of literacy, art, and the less-practical subjects of the humanities (the domain of the elite).
When technology like the printing press made information widely available, literacy became a valuable commodity and teachers came from the intellectual centers to provide general schooling for the public. The wider accessibility of information did not replace the professor but changed his role into one of a guide for those wishing to encounter the information for themselves. They began to teach the public to read, write, and interact in a more complex world than had ever existed. The only requirement for a respectable commercial job at this point was probably the ability to read, spell, and add.
Meanwhile, craftsmen received their training through apprenticeship and their credentials through the guild. The title of “master” was conferred upon the one who was recognized within the guild as an expert in the trade. Sound familiar? Churchmen received their training through the church. Farmers learned the trade from their family. Those who attended university did so because they had the luxury of time and money to develop their network, their understanding of abstract concepts that were not useful on the farm, and perhaps even indulge their curiosity in the sciences. In some cases higher education was a necessity as they needed to understand principles of law and government that they would use in leadership positions within the community.
As time passed, this exclusive education in the liberal arts became more widely available and in countries like the United States, basic literacy itself was no longer a competitive advantage. One needed a high school degree in order to demonstrate greater potential for participating in more complex jobs. The businesses were too small to train the one accountant they needed and so economies of scale led to mass training for accountants. Those who did not participate in this training could no longer get a job as a book-keeper. And so a trend began in which the well-paying jobs required years of study to prepare for participation. Those who learned the information on their own lacked the credentials of the college and were not always recognized as capable. The university degree thus became the key to both the information and the certification needed for a respectable job. 
It had effectively replaced the guild, the church, and the community as the primary source of introducing information and credentialing individuals. But then the industrial age came to an end with the advent of the information age. As industry became automated, the value of the homogenous individual disappeared and the specialist (craftsman) began to reappear. The guild came back with a vengeance under the guise of internships and technical college where students received training and certification for their pursuit of a trade. But more importantly, the internet was born as a new way of producing and sharing information through digital technology.
Like the printing press, it opened up a whole new world of information and complexity to individuals. And just like the role of the professor changed then, it will have to change again. The internet has replaced the university as the repository and dispensary of information. The professor is no longer the expert in the subject when compared with the collected knowledge of the world. The value of the campus as a place of learning and innovation has fallen relative to the amazing laboratories and experimental centers run by private companies. An internship with a well-respected company is more valuable for job prospecting than a degree at this point. And those who do get a job participate in ongoing corporate training to master their company’s particular knowledge base. As the guild (read corporations) has begun to resume its credentialing and training power, it is leaving the university in a rather uncomfortable position of irrelevance.
I believe this is a good thing as the next 20 years will see the university begin to re-assume its position as the thought center of society.
Imagine children are trained in literacy by artificial intelligence designed by education specialists and technology gurus who learned their trades from dedicated schools on the subject and interact with a worldwide network of related individuals developing a greater depth of information about the field. The learning experience for the children is designed particularly for them from a dizzying database of information and can produce a high school or college level of subject mastery by the time the child has barely reached 13 years of age. Then they will begin to specialize in some particular field and join the worldwide conversation mediated by technology around a particular subject or career field. Some have speculated that at this point the institutions of the church of government, and of education will all be subsumed by the corporation, but I believe that if they adapt, these institutions will find their roles enhanced and expanded by the developments in technology that come from these corporations.
For most people, the university will no longer be a necessary part of a life that is filled with learning through exploration and interaction through digital and real world spaces. History will be experienced live through virtual worlds and ancient places can be explored with accompanying meta-information and guidance that is currently locked away in vaults and virtual databases waiting to expose its secrets to the world. Math will be visual and interactive. Virtual skyscrapers will rise and fall on the mastery of physical properties demonstrated by students in a safe and collaborative environment for exploration. In the rush of available information, much of humanity will be at a loss for how to transform it into something useful.
This is where the university will find its identity by returning to its quiet and noble roots of philosophy, literature, government, poetry, and art which will give meaning and value to the mad process of learning undertaken by the rest of the world. Perhaps for some, university will be a lifelong dedication, for others it will be a detour on the way to more information, and some might find a week at the university to be a relaxing vacation in a quiet and artistic setting removed from the rush of learning. But in order to return to its foundations and maintain its relevance in the next decades, the university must ask an important question: what is education? 

For if education is simply the mastery of one’s subject, the university will be replaced by a digital crowd-sourced environment for discovering and interacting with information. If, on the other hand, learning is the mastery of oneself and subjects cannot be separated from the individuals who engage with them, the university will play a prominent role in the success of individuals using the available technology in a way that is profitable. In this second scenario, the university will become the center for the development of the individual as a holistic being who not only thinks and feels, but breathes and moves and loves and creates and will never be confined to a mere cog in the digital machinery of the information age!

Read more at www.humancenteredlearning.com

Universal Instructional Design

In my opinion, the challenge of universal instructional design is a much broader and deeper question than one of overcoming disability. It is a question of the philosophy of education: what is the purpose of formal education? Structural design for universal access is certainly important for residential buildings, but not so much for roller coasters. The purpose of the structure determines the value of making it accessible. Is anyone going to pay for an elevator to the top of Mount Everest just so everyone can have equal access? Certainly the views are spectacular, but nearly everyone is plagued by their disability to climb such a high mountain.

Is education a matter of reaching the top of the mountain, of learning how to climb, or of choosing whether to practice climbing or to practice swimming? If education is a process of learning how to climb, it is thwarted by building an elevator to the top of the mountain so that individuals in wheelchairs can reach the top. If the point of education is reaching the top of the mountain, why would anyone bother learning to climb when the elevator works much more quickly? If education is about helping the individual recognize and develop their preference for swimming over climbing, its purpose is defeated by forcing everyone to practice mountain climbing.

The point is that every individual has a different skill set and ability that can be developed by education. Unfortunately, there is often an assumption that every student needs to climb Mount Everest. A few will succeed at this challenge, but many will not. Some are even scared of heights. Does this mean that they need additional psychological support so they can reach the same goal as everyone else? Perhaps they simply need to recognize that their natural condition makes them much better swimmers than climbers.

The suggestion that I hope to make by this example is that the future of education may not be about helping everyone reach the same summit no matter what obstacles or disabilities they may face. Rather, it shifts the challenge of teaching from one of how to make everyone a great climber to one of helping individuals decide if they want to climb at all – and if so, which mountain…and how. In fact, it even allows for individuals to recognize they are not physically built to be climbers and to take up swimming instead. After all, not all mountain climbers can also be good at swimming. This is the idea of restructuring education around the individual (Human Centered Learning). By creating an educational environment in which a multiplicity of abilities are developed and valued, universal instructional design can create a level playing field for students of varying abilities.