Archive | March, 2012

set in stone? really?

22 Mar

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted the following question as a status update on Facebook:

“As someone who has done mission work, would you say that it is important to figure out ahead of time those doctrinal matters that are not open for multiple interpretations? I’ve been struggling with this idea that there are certain things that are universal, gospel truth, and other things that are simply products of our culture, and how do we tell the difference as we take the message of Christ to other cultures?”

For those who don’t know, my husband Ed and I worked full-time with a small church in Chemnitz, Germany, from 2001-2007. Our primary function was to “surface contacts” for the church and then have one-on-one Bible studies with those who were interested in delving beneath the surface. I could write an entire book on this work and on all the other things we did during our time in Chemnitz, but for now, let’s make do with the short version, what say? ; )

With that to give a little bit of background, here is the response I gave to my friend’s question:

I’ve been pondering such things since “leaving” the mission field four years ago. (I don’t really like using the terms “leaving” and “mission field,” but they keep things simple.)

The only thing I know for sure is that if I were entering the same work today, I would (1) see my own role much differently, (2) approach relationships differently, (3) teach some things that I didn’t understand 10 years ago…

…and (4), in regard to this question, *not* teach several things that I once believed were “universal, gospel truth.”

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I do believe that there are universal truths in/of the gospel (defining gospel as the Good News of Jesus). But an interesting thing I’ve found about living life by an indwelling Christ: The more deeply rooted I’ve become in Christ, the more I’ve realized that I misunderstood a great many things and held fast to certain “doctrines” that, as it turns out, aren’t nearly as set-in-stone as they once seemed.

The result, unfortunately, is that I can look back over the course of my full-time ministry and see quite a few places where I totally screwed up.

(For the record, I don’t beat myself up about this; I believe that God can and does [and did] work powerfully through a flawed tool and will continue to do so [seeing as how the tool is still flawed!].)

I might go so far as to say that it’s dangerous to “figure out ahead of time those doctrinal matters that are not open for multiple interpretations”; I say this because of my own experience in realizing that the indwelling life of Christ allows us a whole lot more freedom than I ever suspected.

On the other hand, nor do I advocate entering the “mission field” with any kind of there-is-no-absolute-truth attitude. Maybe it’s about “everything in moderation”: finding a balance between the two. Maybe it’s not about balance but about accepting the season of Christian life one finds oneself in and going forward in faith that God will guide as he sees fit — and humbly accepting his correction along the way.

All I know for certain is that Christ is in the business of “making all things new” — and that includes our understanding of doctrine, if we let him.

behold! (when i say look, i mean *look*)

13 Mar

Have you ever tried simply to behold Christ?

I’m not talking about a prayer of thankfulness. I’m not talking about a prayer on someone else’s behalf. I’m not even talking about a prayer in which you praise Christ for all his many amazing qualities.

Nor am I talking about reading scripture and meditating on it. Nor do I even mean reading inspirational/devotional literature and pondering how to apply it.

What I’m talking about is taking a few moments simply to be with Jesus and behold the magnificent Christ that he is.

Over the last few weeks, Milt has challenged our group to spend the first five waking minutes of our day in the simple beholding of our Lord. Before we get up or switch on the light, we’re to take five minutes — not for prayer! but for beholding Christ, the Lamb of God. Nothing more, nothing less.

When a New Testament writer uses the word “behold,” it means more than just “pay attention” or “hey, look over here.” A few years back, my Greek teacher told our class that “behold” is the equivalent of shining a bright spotlight on something and blacking out everything else. He left me with the image of someone grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, propelling me toward The Something in question, and shoving my face up to it until The Something is the only thing I can focus on.

The Something, ladies and gents, is supposed to be Christ.

So. Beholding. First five waking minutes of every day.

Slightly easier typed than done.

I feel particularly challenged in this because of pregnancy. Yay for constricted bladder and frequent (but no longer constant, halle-LEW-jer) nausea. The first thing I have to do upon waking is run for the bathroom. It can’t wait five minutes, otherwise the hydraulic pressure in the abdominal region will trigger nausea. (Not to mention that there’s no way I can do any beholding of Christ when all I can think of is my full bladder.)

Secondly, when I first wake up, I have to eat. If I don’t eat, the gagging starts. Huzzah.

As you might imagine, chowing down on string cheese in the dark is not conducive to beholding Christ with any sort of focus.

Once I get these physical necessities out of the way, I can finally settle into focusing on The Something. My body’s (and baby’s) needs are temporarily sated; beholding should now be no problem, right?

Ha.

To show you how not-easy this is, I’m going to give you a run-down of the thoughts that trickled through my mind the first three days I tried to do this. Feel free to laugh. I’ve been rolling my eyes at myself for a week now.

Beholding: Day One

Behold…
Behold Christ, the Lamb of God…
…Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
…John the Immerser said that about Jesus…
…At Jesus’s immersion, God called him “beloved Son…”
…hot, gooey chocolate brownies straight from the oven–

*

Beholding: Day Two

Behold…
Behold Christ, the Lamb of God…
…takes away the sins of the world…
…Lamb of God…
…sleepy…
…Lamb of G…
…zzzzz….

Beholding: Day Three

Behold…
Behold Christ, the Lamb of God…
“Lamb” really does embody so much of what he is…
…innocence, newness, vulnerability, gentleness…
…but with so much unimaginable power in his blood…
Crap, I’m still hungry.

To be honest, Day Three is the most “success” I’ve had in this so far. I’d say that “everything in the universe aligns against me!” the moment I start trying to behold him — except that it’s not everything in the universe! All it takes to distract me from Christ is a single demand of my body or a single stray thought floating at the edge of my consciousness. And, like a distractable kitten, I’m off chasing whatever it is and forgetting everything I was about not ten seconds before.

I’m a writer. I’m quite used to focusing on one thing for a significant period of time.

Dang it, my attention span is supposed to be better than this!

That was a little tongue-in-cheek. I’m not truly that frustrated. ; )

This beholding thing? It’s new. And the good news is that my Lord deals in newness. He’ll fill me up in this, the same way he fills me up in anything and everything else I need. Behold, he is making everything new.

Even me.

it is a good day to die

6 Mar

Greetings, y’all! Hey, this blog still exists. It’s been on an almost 4-month hiatus because end-of-year holidays happened, and then I got pregnant. I’m now 11 weeks along and finally starting to come out of the brain-fog and nausea that have plagued me for the last 8 weeks. The brain is starting to get jampacked again. Therefore, onward!

During the brain-fog and nausea, I read many books. (In fact, I’ve read 25 books so far this year.) One of those was Jesus Manifesto by Leonard K. Sweet and Frank Viola. The authors themselves quote 1 John 4:16 as the “shorthand creed” of their tome: “‘We believe in the love God has for us.’ It is a love that came not in the form of abstract principle but of an actual person, the Son of God” (p. xxiii). And that’s what this book is about.

I could write an entire series of blog posts on all the passages that struck me, but I want to focus on this one in particular:

“The cross sits at the very center of a body of believers that authentically gathers as a church. They will experience death–dry spells; sufferings with one another; death to their agendas, aspirations, opinions, and preferences; and crisis. But this is how God builds His house. Out of the dying, the Lord’s life is expressed, and we are built together into a home for Jesus Christ. From the mulch of decay, disease, and death, God births His resurrection life.

“Note that Jesus waited four days after Lazarus’ death before He raised him up. Death is hopeless. But four days after death is beyond hopeless.

“But never forget: every crisis you face is a God-given opportunity to rediscover Christ in a bold new way. For that reason, every painful encounter we meet bears the fingerprints of God.

“…But remember this…He is resurrection and He is life. And if you endure, outwaiting your impatience for His timing, Christ will roll the stone away and raise you from the dead.”

–Sweet & Viola,
Jesus Manifesto, p. 151.

I’ve been meeting with a small group of believers for almost two years. Most of us had met each other only one time when we started meeting together. At rough count, we came from 6 different religious backgrounds. Not having a clue what we were doing, we embarked together on a quest to discover each other, to discover Christ, and to discover what it really means to live by the life of an indwelling Christ.

It’s been scary, frustrating, hair-pulling, teeth-clenching, irritating, maddening, shocking, tear-filled, hopes-killing, opinions-blasting, disillusioning, infuriating. I’m not just speaking for myself when I say there’s been a fog of doubt, a haze of confusion, and, yea verily, a cloud of seeming doom.

And you know what?

It’s been glorious.

In this group of weird, frustrating, infuriating, shocking people, I have seen Christ. In this group of maddening, odd-opinioned believers, I see Christ. And in peculiar, broken, irritating me, they have told me they see Christ, too.

How is this possible? It’s because we’re dying. And, in an odd paradox, we’re also already dead.

In Galatians 2:19-20, Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me. And the life which I live in the flesh is in trusting the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Freed-Hardeman Version). We are already dead, because we were nailed to the cross along with Christ. (A lot of stuff died that day.) We died with him.

Now, on this new journey with Christ, we’re dying all over again. We’re suffering the deaths of our expectations, our opinions, and our traditions. We’re experiencing the death of what we want. To make it more personal: Over the past two years, I’ve seen the death of pretty much every preconceived idea I had about this “new venture.” I had expectations, and God hasn’t chosen to meet a danged one of them. The expectations I’ve got left, the ones that haven’t died yet? Well, they’re lookin’ a mite sickly, lemme tell ya.

So…why do I call this “glorious”?

This past Sunday, we discussed the Mosaic tabernacle as a picture of Christ. This, too, would require a whole novel of blog posts to investigate fully. But the one specific thing we talked about was the bronze altar just inside the entrance to the tabernacle. It was the first thing the Israelites encountered when they set foot in the place.

A lot of blood was spilled on that altar. Sacrifice took place on that altar. Sacrifice was the first thing the believers encountered.

Our fledgling group is standing at that altar. The New Testament version of it is the cross, but the message is the same: Enter in, and make your sacrifice. Sacrifice what’s valuable to you. Sacrifice those traditions you’ve clung to all your life. Sacrifice those sacred opinions. Sacrifice those sacrosanct expectations. Forget about what you want: Leave it here to be slaughtered.

Only after death will you be ready to come nearer to God.

As one of my favorite Klingons has often said: It is a good day to die.

Back in November, I talked about my frustration that we weren’t “on fire for Christ” — and my discovery that we smoldering coals are a storehouse of an awful lot of energy. We’re still not, I think, what anyone would call “on fire.” But coals are the powerful remnant after cleansing fire has burned away all the excess.

The last two years have burned me. The months and years to come are going to burn me some more. Together with my sisters and brothers, I hope to see the death of everything that blinds me to Christ. I don’t want to live by my perceptions, my opinions, my hopes, and my expectations anymore. I want Christ to live out his life in me.

And so, to my sisters and brothers, I say this: We’ve been crucified with Christ, and we are dead. Let’s allow Christ to live in us instead.