Holidays are Hard

I bawled in church today like a little girl who just got her pigtails pulled.  Jesus is risen.  Happy Easter.  Holidays are hard.  It’s hard to set out Easter eggs, watch the kid’s excitement in the morning, and not feel overwhelmed that Matt isn’t here to experience it with us.  It doesn’t help that I’m wading through my own messy depression, but reflecting on the mourning of Christ’s death just seems so much more understandable after grieving my own loved one.

Since posting last night, four things have happened that have made me decide to change directions in my writing.  These occurrences have given me a glimpse of the clarity I have been praying for.  The first thing that happened was I listened to a Rob Bell sermon from the 2011 Lent season.  I had started on the sermon series about a week ago.  When I came to this particular sermon I decided to wait before listening; somehow knowing it was going to have an impact on me.  The sermon contents, which did impact me greatly, brought me to the next thing.  I realized I wasn’t putting my trust in God as I have before, and I wasn’t doing this because I was being discouraged by lies from something ugly.  As far as I know, these are new lies, with a new message, that are being whispered to me … which I suppose is why I had so much trouble identifying them as such.  They twisted the truth so that it appeared … well, true.  The third thing?  Illumination Church this morning.  The worship, the resurrection, the sermon, my church family … the whole experience gave me the opportunity to open the flood gates I had been holding back for far too long.  And finally, a conversation with my ever gentle and loving Brad that helped me to more clearly state the feelings I was having, and some ideas on where to go from here.

I think where I am headed is to define who I am in Christ.  I want descriptive, colorful, and hopeful words on which to look to when the lies are whispered.  I’m going to the Bible, and I’m going to find and dig deep into these words.  There is solid ground on which to defeat these lies, and by the grace of God, I’m off to find it.  I want to lean on my risen Savior this Easter and remember His reply to Satan, when he quoted Deuteronomy out in the desert.  Jesus said to him “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  I am trying to live on bread alone.  I love God, I worship God, I look to God for answers, and pray to Him everyday.  But when the sunsets on another day I – far too often – think the results will need to come from me.  Nothing comes forth from me that isn’t of Christ, and I am making myself available to the Holy Spirit to write this truth on my heart.

I wish you all grace and peace on this beautiful Easter!

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Earth … It’s Still Good!

This entire series of blog posts is indebted to Rob Bell, although I didn’t realize to  what extent until today.  I was thinking about a post on our calling to create (which will be coming in the next week) and remembered a quote, from a sermon a few years back, that has been etched in my heart ever since.  After searching, for quite some time, I thought I had found it.  I listened to the sermon series, a teaching about the Earth’s renewal, and found out my quote was nowhere to be found.  It wasn’t wasted time though.  I found something else.  I found the enthusiastic and hopeful look at the coming Earth 2.0 that I have been writing about.  I found my inspiration for this series.

Rob’s views, on what the new Earth may have in store and what our roles will be there, are breathtaking.  But believe me, you can’t pin this excitement down to just one sermon, because his vision is scattered throughout them all.  I wanted to attribute my desire to write about this topic to Rob, since after listening today I realized just how deeply embedded his hope in the new creation is set in my heart.  So, it was a different quote, one I heard today, that stirred me to write this post.  The quote was this …

“The new Earth is God’s way of saying, it’s still good!”

This place we live in was good when God created it in Genesis, it is still good today, and it will be good when God comes to renew it.  What God has created for us here is priceless, timeless, and everywhere we turn.  I think we lose site of this fact, because taking it for granted is just too easy.  I imagine that God’s creation will be an eternal place of enjoyment for us in the renewed Earth, and so as the theme of the series goes … that means it is worthy of our attention now.

What does God say about His ability to create?  What reaction does it arouse in Him?  There is no better place to look for this answer than in Job 38 …  “And the LORD speaks … “

It is in this chapter we get to glimpse, in amazement, into God’s description of His own creation.  Well, His description, along with a reminder of our finite ability to grasp it.  There is no way to summarize this chapter without losing it’s surprising and sometimes sarcastic tone … but some of my favorite parts are those reminders, posed as questions, of just how endless creation is and just how unaware of it we are.

The dumb ostrich who can run like the best of them, the mountain goats giving birth, the moving of the constellations, the depths of the ocean, the ends of the universe, the placement of the lightening and the winds, the power of the horse, and the protection over the lions.  It goes on for pages.

When I read these words I think I can take away from them three ideas: 1) God’s creation was good then and it is now, 2) If the Creator takes pleasure in creation, so should we and 3) Creation deserves our respect, our attention, and our care.

God uses colorful words to describe His creation, to remind us of details we so often miss, and to instill confidence that He takes joy in this creation … that it is still good!  The renewed Earth will be brighter, will be more colorful, and will be erased of the death that taints it now – but it will still be God’s good creation.  If we want to start living today, in order to prepare for renewal, we must take time to appreciate His creation.  We must take care of the Earth, because He has entrusted it to us.  We will not go live somewhere else … we will be here, forever.  It is our job to treat the world, the people in it, and all of creation as though we are seeing it through God’s eyes … as if it is still good!

Discipline … Driscoll Style

There isn’t much left to say that hasn’t been said about the recent Mars Hill church discipline story that surfaced this last week.  I do feel the need to address it for a couple of reasons; 1) I know that some of my readers are not blog readers and so this could be the only place they hear of the story – and the story must be heard, 2) I feel for Andrew.  I want him to know that he is loved not only by Christ, but by the church.  I want him to know he is surrounded in grace and peace, and is being prayed for daily.

If you are unaware of the story please take time to read it, it is worth it to know the happenings at one of the largest churches in the country.  Matthew Paul Turner wrote about the story in two parts on his blog; you can read those here – Part One and Part Two.

I was grateful for the blog posts that followed in regards to Turner’s posts.  The two that I thought were the most thoughtful were Kurt Willems post from The Pangea Blog entitled Treat Them Like a Tax Collector; Reflections on Matthew 18, Church Discipline, and Andrew and Roger Wolsey’s post from Sojourners Why Mark Driscoll Needs An Elephant.

I can only imagine the internal struggle Andrew must have went through in order to decide to speak out.  I commend him for his courage.  As Christ’s church, we have chosen to divide among ourselves for menial doctrinal issues, and this divide has broken the body of Christ into a scattered people in small groups among the world.  We define ourselves not as Christians, but as Evangelicals, Baptist, Lutherans, or Catholics.  Although I believe these divisions do more harm then good – I can understand them, I can respect them.  However, a time must come where we recognize that the only label we are under is ‘Christ follower’.  I believe this is one of those times.

Spiritual abuse is unacceptable.  This ‘church discipline’ reeks of control, shame, and misuse of power.  More stories are coming out about this same type of abuse from Mars Hill Seattle, and I imagine there is still more to come.  I must admit my view of Mars Hill Seattle has changed tremendously over the last three years.  I paid good money to see Mark’s conference on Song of Solomon.  I have listened to the majority of his podcasts, read his books, and recommended his teachings to others.  I can observe two things about Mark since following his teaching over the last few years … 1) He knows the Spirit of God, and  2) He has lost touch with that Spirit.

We must pray.  We must pray for the elders and leaders of this church to repent (and when they do – as difficult as it might be – we won’t ask that they succumb to our demands until we decide enough is enough, and repentance has been achieved.)   We must pray for others in this church, and churches like it, who are experiencing spiritual abuse of this nature or another.  We have far too much evil in this world to worry about those who claim to know Christ as followers.  We must pray for Andrew, as he has been removed from his community, and suffering for speaking out against what he knows is wrong.

If you are suffering spiritual abuse please know that you have been given the gift of the Spirit by Christ himself, and you do have the ability to discern right from wrong (1 John 2:20).  The overwhelming desires to please the leaders of church, or to assume that what they say/demand is right is understandable – but you have Christ, and He should ultimately be the person leading you.  Stand up and speak out if you are enduring this.

Living in a community of Christ should not bring you shame, but freedom.  Being part of a church body should not hold you back from repentance, but instead gently guide you to where it is needed.  Elders are to be respected; if their hearts are pure, your soul is their main concern (Hebrews 13:17).  But do not be subjected to a life that is unworthy of Christ’s teachings.

As I said when I started, I am praying for Andrew.  I am praying for the members of Mars Hill.  I am praying for their leaders; including Mark.  This is such a sad story.  This church has the size, numbers, and resources to make a huge difference for Christ; they have the ability to bring peace and teach grace.  Instead they are being blinded of their true calling by the need to control and desire to be in power … not to mention their inaccuracy of woman’s roles in the church, male aggression, and sexual obsession … but those are for another time.

Grace and Peace to Andrew – I believe God has wonderful things planned in your journey apart from Mars Hill.

                                

I Smell Good To God

I love the feeling of coming across a Bible verse that you never knew was there, but sure enough it was there all along. This happened to me in church today. We are in the midst of a sermon series titled A New Creation. This week we discussed the idea of the new covenant, and referenced 2 Corinthians 2. Here is the verse that caught my attention:

2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

Often we underscore the sense of smell. If we had to give up one of our senses, with the alternatives of being blind or deaf, most of us would probably choose scent. But here is Paul, describing the body of Christ, as a sweet scent to God. How amazing.

And although we often undermine our gift of scent there is nothing else like it. Imagine you are at home and your children are away at the grandparents. Although the quiet is a beautiful thing, and it’s the first time you’ve gotten anything done in weeks, you still ache a little in your separation. You are doing laundry and as you go to throw your little one’s blankie in the washer it grabs you. That scent. You know the one … baby soft skin, sour milk, and Johnson and Johnson’s tear free baby wash. At that moment it takes all one has to contain themselves.

It has happened with my late husband, Matt, too. I remember clearly in the weeks after his death when I was acutely aware that his scent was leaving every last item I had of his. It was painful, but what was more emotional than that was coming across a box months later of his things. Opening the box, that I had packed, assuming it was nothing more than clothes now. Opening that box of t-shirts and for just a moment he was there. He was making me laugh; making Evelyn laugh. I grabbed at the shirts fruitlessly trying to identify the exact place the smell was coming from. Before I knew it the smell was gone. As if opening the box had just allowed the aroma to drift out and away.

We can be those emotionally charged scents to God. When we live our lives according to the Holy Spirit’s leading we send that drifting sweet smell straight up to God. And it says, we smell to God like Christ. We smell like his child.

This idea has me blown away today. I wish to smell good to God. I wish to smell of Christ (Which makes me wonder just how did Jesus smell?). The idea further discussed in the sermon was how, in the new covenant, we find freedom. Freedom, in this case, to smell the way you want. By listening to the Holy Spirit and being reminded to repent when told, to go when told, and to wait when told we have an opportunity to bring an unending sort of joy to God that only the ability of sweet scents, filled with memories and love, have the capability to do.

Yes, I want to smell good to God indeed.

Insurrection Reflection (Chapter 3)

Chapter 3 is titled, “I’m Not Religious” and Other Religious Sayings. I have some issues with the theological line of thinking in this chapter, and so I can imagine that feeling might be tenfold for other, more conservative, Christians. I tread lightly over the words, reading the chapter a few times before making any final reflections, and then I apply it to how it pragmatically looks in my own life.

Here are my thoughts on the first half of the chapter. One of Pete’s major challenges within the church structure is how we do worship. How, as he puts it in the book, “The worship songs affirm certainty so we are free to celebrate uncertainty.” (pg. 48). I believe deeply that worship can be anything that is done to the glory of God, up to and including doubt. A person needs go no further than the book of Lamentations to find a dark night of the soul. We can not forget, though, why it is we worship. We worship to a God who longs to be worshiped by his creation.

I do, however, affirm Pete on many thoughts in regards to worship, such as; where do we find the ‘leader’ in ‘worship-leader’ if the only songs we are ever led to sing are about knowing, peace, and love. As a creation of God there are times I do not know, I do not feel peace, and love is not the first thing on my heart. It is in those moments of unknowing that I cry out to God, and I can see how this crying out in community could be a healing movement. I also believe, however, that God needs to see our faithfulness. I do not worship for my sake, I worship for His sake.

I need to worship my Creator. I will doubt my Creator. I need to do both of these things.

The second half of the chapter involves the differences between the recognition of levels of non/belief in today’s society, and the psychologically seeded security within each of those differences. The idea being that within our culture, even those who consider themselves atheists, still rely on God ultimately as a means to bring them comfort. In most cases, people would deny this idea. People desire to believe they serve a God for the purpose of glorifying Him, but the only true way to unpack our reasoning behind our beliefs is to look towards how we practically live our day to day life … which is where this Insurrection is going.