The Latest 02-05-2018

It’s been a while since I’ve updated family and friends on the latest happenings with Wendy, me and the crew. Here’s the latest…

The best Christmas gift 2018: Milo James Vander Well!
  • Our grandson, Milo, is doing really well. Arriving five weeks early and weighing in an ounce over five pounds, he’s now over eight pounds and growing. Taylor and Clayton are still adjusting to life on a three-hour sleep cycle and all of the regular challenges of a newborn. We, of course, don’t get nearly enough of him but an extended visit to grandpa and grandma’s house is coming up and we’re excited.
Sharing the message in the Auditorium services at Third Church.
  • January 1, 2018 meant two transitions for me. First, I was named CEO of C Wenger Group (CWG) the company I’ve worked for since 1994. My transition into leadership has been long planned, but the exact timing has not. A few months ago my business partner and I agreed that the timing was right, so I’ve not had long to prepare. Functionally, things won’t change much in the near term other than taking on entirely new layer of administrative work and responsibilities while I set the course for our company’s future. Second, I have accepted a slightly larger role in the auditorium services at Third Church. This means preaching a little more often [FYI: you can find messages on the TRC channel on YouTube or through the TRC website] and consistently taking the leadership role in Sunday services.

  • Wendy and I officially stepped down from leadership in Union Street Players, our local community theatre, after 12/13 years of service on the Board of Directors. We didn’t exactly know the other transitions were coming, but felt that it was time and now we feel the synchronicity of it. We will still volunteer and support USP and be in shows when the timing is right.

  • Wendy continues to work for CWG and her administrative gifts have already become invaluable in helping me with my new realities. She’s been volunteering some of her time at the Pella Opera House in recent weeks.

  • We’re headed on a Caribbean cruise in a few weeks, and can’t wait for 7 days away from the Iowa winter.
Madison with Grandma Jeanne.
  • Madison continues to work for Laura Geller New York from her home in South Carolina. She’s doing great and has settled into community there.
  • My folks are doing well in their retirement community and continue to reside in independent living. Dad continues oral chemo for his Multiple Myeloma and cares for mom with love and fidelity. Mom is her doctor’s oldest surviving Auto-Immune Hepatitis patient and continues to battle Alzheimer’s as best she can.

  • Taylor and Clayton are in Des Moines focused on little Milo. Clayton is doing a short research project for the UN in February which is a great feather in his cap. Taylor is on maternity leave for a few more weeks and then will return to her job at ThinkDigital.
Celebrating Suzanna’s birthday this past fall.
  • Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, has started a successful career with a bonding company in Des Moines and is living in the Des Moines area.
So thankful for the family and friends who fill our lives with so much love!

Freedom to Do What I Ought

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.
1 Corinthians 6:12 (NIV)

When you’re a child growing up in the United States you learn the phrase “the land of the free.” Without a doubt, I am free to do whatever I want (within the law), to go where I want to go, and to be or become what I desire. A a child I was taught the positive aspects of this freedom: I can succeed at whatever I focus my heart and mind towards. I can become a doctor, a fire fighter, an astronaut, or President of the United States.

As I continued in my life journey I became aware that freedom has a corollary truth. I am also free to be a jerk, an addict, an idiot, a bully, a cheat, or a cad. I am just as free to be a drain on society as I am to be a productive member of it.

In today’s chapter, Paul addresses how the believers in ancient Corinth should conduct themselves with regard to sexuality. He quotes a phrase that some within the Corinthian congregation were repeating: “I have the right to do anything.” Presumably, some believers were making regular trips to the local Temple of Aphrodite to have sex with one of the priestess prostitutes and then showing up for worship to claim that there was nothing wrong with their behavior and claiming their “right” to behave as they wanted because Jesus’ unlimited grace and forgiveness was essentially a spiritual “get out of jail free” card.

Paul goes on to explain that as followers of Jesus there is a greater spiritual truth at work here. Sex isn’t just a recreational physical act. When people have sex there are layers of spiritual, emotional, and relational connection that shouldn’t be ignored. Many, if not most, of the “priestess” prostitutes were slaves who had been “given” to the temple cult and forced into the service of prostitution. This was not just a simple case of “freedom” to do what one wanted. There were issues of spiritual health and social justice involved, and a person who claims to follow Jesus can’t ignore them.

I have a right to do anything,” one might say, but so did Jesus. Jesus had the right not to come to live among us, yet He yielded this right in order to become one of us that He might be One with us. Jesus claimed He had the right to call down an army of angels to rescue Him from dying on the cross. Once again, He yielded that right for my benefit. His example was to yield His rights for the spiritual and relational good of all. He sacrificed His rights to bring about Life and goodness. As a follower of Jesus, I’m called to follow this example. Jesus said any who would follow after Him must, “deny themselves and take up their own cross.” This means yielding my freedom to “do whatever I want” for the spiritual, emotional, and relational health of myself, others, and the good of all.

Along this life journey I’ve learned (the hard way in many cases, I might add) that as a follower of Jesus I am called to embrace freedom to do what I ought, not do what I want.

Immorality and Inquisition

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.
1 Corinthians 5:9-10 (NIV)

This spring our local Christian high school is producing Arthur Miller’s classic play, The Crucible. I would daresay that any individual who loves theatre has a personal list of shows and roles that they dream of doing one day. The Crucible is one of those shows for me.

The Crucible is not a light-weight play. It’s a retelling of the infamous witch trials which began in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. A group of teenage girls go into hysterics claiming that they have seen individuals within the community “with the devil.” The community is thrown into religiously-motivated chaos as community members are investigated, tried and eventually hanged.

Along my life journey I have met a number of people who have shared with me painful stories of how they were personally and publicly shamed by a church. These individuals who come to mind are beautiful, sincere persons who, despite their past mistakes, are following Jesus and living increasingly transformed lives marked by love, grace, mercy, honor and transformation. They were rebellious teenagers, individuals wrestling with addiction to various appetites, and hurting individuals who willfully acted out their pain. Instead of coming alongside the hurting individuals with love-motivated accountability, their local churches launched “witch hunts,” broadcast their sins, called them in front of the church to shame them. In some cases the church threw them out.

Let’s be real. When it comes to handling issues of morality and human foibles, the church has a long and sordid history of epic failures. We all know the stories from the Salem witch trials to the Spanish Inquisition. We can point to horrors of religiously motivated prejudice, persecution, violence, and genocide. Of course, I believe that there are also countless examples throughout history of religiously motivated grace, love and forgiveness which don’t get nearly enough press, but that’s a blog post for a different day.

In today’s chapter, we find Paul grappling with a sticky wicket within the community of Corinthian believers. There was a particular instance of a man who was involved in an incestuous relationship with his own mother, which is certainly not a great thing. There was, however, also a larger issue going on. One of the struggles the early believers had was the argument that many were making: “If Jesus offers me grace and forgives all my sins, then I’m free to do whatever I want and I’ll be forgiven. In fact, the more I sin the more grace is afforded me. So let’s go sin and produce more grace!”

Twice in Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth he quotes “everything is permissible” which was obviously what some within the company of Jesus followers were arguing. “I have a right to do anything I want and act in any way I choose because Jesus’ forgiveness provides me moral carte blanche.” The implication is that the man who was having sex with his mother was among the “everything is permissible” faction, and it was having destructive spiritual effect within the community. Paul argues that those propagating this destructive teaching needed to leave the fellowship.

Paul goes on to make a clear distinction that Jesus’ followers have no right to be judgmental towards those who aren’t Jesus’ followers. Those who follow Jesus, however, must adhere to Jesus’ teaching which never condones the “everything is permissible” doctrine. The community of believers had a responsibility to deal with those within the church who were advancing this spiritually destructive teaching.

Of course, over time many religious movements and churches have taken Paul’s word to the believers in Corinth and twisted it. We have wrongfully believed we have carte blanche to investigate, weed out, and shame any persons who fail our moral benchmarks. We judge anyone who doesn’t meet our moral litmus tests (both inside and outside the walls of our churches, I might add). We have taken Paul’s directive about a destructive school of thought (which led to increasing, unchecked, immoral behavior) and used it to justify moral inquisitions of all kinds. The Salem witch trials stand as an example.

I’m reminded in the quiet this morning that I’m a follower of Jesus. I seek to follow Jesus’ example in my life, intentions, thoughts, words, and actions. Jesus was incredibly gracious to those who were struggling morally and simply trying to find their way to the Kingdom of God. He wanted people to leave the destructive behaviors that were harming themselves and others. Those persons Jesus judged most harshly were the religious people who looked down their noses on others and used religion as tool to empower themselves at others expense.

I’ve come to believe that destructive teaching needs to be called out for what it is and rejected. This includes the notion that “everything is permissible” whether that notion condones immorality or inquisition.

featured photo courtesy of bossdoss1 via Flickr