Saturday, June 26, 2010

With Power Comes Responsibility

I remember the few weekends of college life I had as a free woman---with no worries and no cares. On one Friday night in particular, I remember a friend of mine, Megan, who asked me to accompany her to “Movie Night” on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We barely got much time together, so movie nights were the thing to do for two friends who desired any little time together possible.

The first movie I saw at movie night while in college was Spiderman One. And to this day, although it’s been about six or seven years since that movie night, I still remember the words that, in my mind, defined the entire movie: “With great power, comes responsibility.”

And these words are words that we’ve heard before, right? Yep. Chances are, when you were growing up, mom and dad once made this same exact statement to you. My mom said this to me. And I think this is why Scripture tells us, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in THE POWER OF YOUR HAND to do so” (Proverbs 3:27, NKJV).

My sister heard these same words time and time again. She is the oldest of five grandchildren (me included), and she was always put in charge of the other four. Whenever my grandparents had to leave the house and go to the store (five to ten minutes up the street), they always left my sister in charge. No matter what went on in the house, Danielle was always responsible for what happened. If something was broken, or someone misbehaved, Danielle was held responsible for it. Because she held the power of overseer, she also had the responsibility for so doing and suffered the consequences, whether good or bad. Now she liked being in charge of all the grandchildren; she liked being the oldest and being labeled the authority in the house when the grandparents were gone. But she didn’t like accepting responsibility for the other four grandchildren’s actions in the house.

And my sister’s reaction parallels the feeling of every human that has been born, is being born at the moment, or ever will be born on the face of this earth. We like the idea of power, be it a job promotion from assistant to manager, from wife to mother (or from husband to father), from elder to pastor, or from teacher assistant to lead professor. How great the feeling is when we come into more power! We feel almost invincible, as if nothing could stop us. When we receive more power, we rejoice because we feel a sense of accomplishment; and we think to ourselves, “I’ve got all this power to work with. I’ve got privileges I’ve never had before. This is great”!

But what do we do when things get rocky in the “power drive”? What happens when suddenly, the elder-now-turned-pastor finds himself having to battle wayward members in the church who seek to get him ousted from church leadership? What happens when the assistant-turned-manager finds himself giving an account for financial corruption in one of his store chains? What happens when the professor finds himself in conflict with a fellow faculty member at the same school where he teaches? What happens when parents must go to school because their child has misbehaved and gotten suspended? The moment that “the going gets tough,” most of us “get going”!!!

Why do we do this, though? Why do we run when times get tough? Why do we flee when hardships come? This question is as much for you, the readership, as it is for me. At the moment, I find myself thinking on the same question. A few months ago, I took some time off from my church to deal with my grief over my mother. Most people back home assume that I only took time off from church just to deal with my grief (not to mention my workload with classes and such). All of this was true at the time, so there was nothing underhanded about those reasons. All those reasons are legitimate. However, at the same time, I didn’t just take time off for the sake of grieving (though I did grieve and needed the time). I also took time off to deal with my hurt behind being stripped of my teaching ministry in my church. My mother taught a Sunday school class; when she turned ill and was no longer able to instruct, I assisted her in teaching the class two Sundays a month, sharing my teaching duties with a deacon in the church. This deacon turned selfish and secretly undermined my work in my church by going to my pastor and asking to teach every Sunday in the month. Initially, I was co-teaching two Sundays a month, he two or three Sundays (depending on the number in the month). Over time, he grew more and more hungry for more Sundays...and teaching two or three times a month was no longer enough. My Pastor agreed to give all four to five Sundays a month to this deacon, for unknown reasons. This was the following January, after the loss of my mother in February 2009 to brain cancer. You would think that, after this tragic experience, not to mention the death of a great-aunt to stomach cancer the day after my birthday in the same year as well as the death of a friend to suicide, that the worst had already happened. Apparently, more would follow...

And how did I respond? I’m afraid that I responded in a way that was good for certain reasons, but bad for certain reasons. I needed to deal with my grief over everything and I didn’t want to respond in a cruel manner to my Pastor, but I also took time away from my church and somewhat neglected my duties as a woman of God.

A few days ago, my sister called me and reminded me of my mother’s inner strength and determination to press on in her journey with God, no matter what came. Danielle reminded me of my mother’s disappointments with her church, job, bosses, marriage, and life---yet, NOTHING kept mom from doing the right thing! She was always determined to keep going, even in the face of breast cancer, lung cancer, and then brain cancer. When she was declared free of breast cancer, the doctors told mom that she had lung cancer. Even then, my mother didn’t give up. I still remember the night when the doctors told us that she had brain cancer. She was quiet, but she was silently determining within herself to keep going. She was so stubborn in her fight with brain cancer (and the other cancers) that she had to stay six months out of work...but six months later, she returned to work, drove herself to work on her 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, and laughed to herself as she watched her coworkers stand in awe of what God was doing in her life! Yep. It’s safe to say that my mother was one heck of a woman, one heck of a Christian.

So if my mother could stare cancer in the face as stubbornly as she did, then why can I not stare my problems head-on in the face and be godly in spite of them? When my heart got heavy, I fled from my troubles; I ran away because it was either run or stay and be a living terror to everyone around me. Part of me wanted to make my pastor feel the pain of what it would be like to lose a very valuable part of his staff. The other part of me wanted to show my church that I could make a life for myself somewhere else. Although I had been serving God there, I wanted to show them that if they could not accept me and my gifts, I could go to some place where I would be accepted. I could go off and be happy, while they would just be miserable. I had options.

But let’s look at that last statement again: I HAD OPTIONS! That’s right; this statement sounds easy enough to say, but I didn’t realize that I had options. I didn’t HAVE to leave my church; I could’ve stayed and tried to work through the problems. I could’ve stayed and “been Christ” and suffered for His name sake despite the wrong my pastor and this deacon dealt me. I didn’t have to leave...but everything in me believed that I only had “one” option. And unfortunately, for me, that option was to deny myself the responsibility (to suffer wrongdoing) that came with the power of being in church leadership. Simply put, I wanted all the power---and no responsibility.

Why is it that when it comes to biblical human power and responsibility, believers do the same? Why is it that we celebrate the power given to us to believe in Christ, but yet, dislike the responsibility of all that entails (which is endurance until the end, Hebrews 10:36)? I’ll tell you why: because, as my former Apologetics professor Dr. Spencer said this past semester, “Responsibility is a huge privilege; but it’s also a huge burden.” Being a leader in church ministry is a great privilege...but it comes with its share of hurt. And believing in Christ is a huge privilege (since we are granted salvation in Christ despite our sin in Adam); but it is also a huge burden. And we want to be saved. When we hear the word preached of this great Savior who loved us despite our sin and came to save us from everlasting torment and eternity without His presence, many willingly accept. We like the idea that we are not “predestined” to live lives without Christ, that there is hope beyond our sinful state and current condition. And we believe the gospel is called “good news” [from the Greek word “euangelion,” meaning “good”(eu) “news” (angelion)] for a reason.

But we don’t wanna accept the responsibility that comes with this privilege. We want God to save us, but we don’t wanna owe anything in return. We are always looking for a “lifetime guarantee,” so much so that Christianity becomes nothing more than something we can “check off of the list of things to do” before we die. But the problem is, life only comes with one guarantee: that is, the promise of Christ which says “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5, NKJV).

All I can think about now is how I once taught a lesson in Sunday school on dealing with confrontation and told the class, “We are not to just ‘back’ our problems (turn our back to them), but to ‘face’ them.” But look at what I did: I did the exact opposite of what I taught. And through my actions, I failed to live up to that God-given responsibility I stress so much here at The Center for Theological Studies. Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that, while we can make mistakes (and we will), we are not doomed (or determined) to repeat them. The most wonderful thing about life in Christ is that, though we fall, we can always “get back up again.”

Like the prodigal son (Luke 15), I’m headed back home to face my problems. I choose to turn things around in my life. My question for you is, “Will you live up to the great power we’ve been given in Christ by also acknowledging your responsibility?” That is my prayer for you, my dear readership: that you would acknowledge that God-given power and responsibility that you currently possess. “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).

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