Members of One Another

“Is this one better, or this one?” the eye doctor asks as she flips between lenses.

“I don’t know,” I finally admit.  One lense has clear, crisp lines, but a shadow to each line.  Another lense has no shadows, but fuzzy lines.  The lenses can assist my imperfect eyes to see, but ultimately they cannot fix my eyes.  Aging eyes need different lenses for different situations, reading glasses are good for close work, but miserable for driving.  Glasses help us to see some things, but blur others.

The same is true of culture: we see God through our cultural lenses, and while some things are clearer, some aspects are blurred. If we are not aware of our own culture, we may find ourselves trying to “drive with reading glasses”, so to speak.  Because of our individual culture, some values stand out more.  We give more weight to one ideal, while forgetting or neglecting another ideal.  In other instances, our cultural ideals dress themselves up as Godly and go masquerading into our thoughts as impostors of the truth.  What needs to change is our eyes.

Christians in my culture, the self-made American culture, cherish the idea that “God is all you need.”  I have been wrestling with this “only God” concept, presenting it to my friends on Facebook, and finally resolving to read through the entire scriptures in search of God’s heart.  It has been only a week, and I have made it through the first five books.  My theory, in the beginning, was that the “God only” concept is favored because our culture is so independent by nature.  What I found is that this thinking is borne of something far more universal than the spirit that won the west:

betrayal.

Experience speaks, “God is the only one who will never fail you.”  Of course this is true.  My limited study of Genesis through Deuteronomy agrees.  However, I am greatly alarmed by the foregone conclusion that if God is the only one who will never fail you, then He is the only one you need.  

After fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah, losing his wife to her own regrets and backward longing, Lot concludes he cannot live among people.  He takes his daughters and goes to a cave.  Betrayal drives him to isolation, and he concludes not only to trust in God alone, but to need no one but God.  His daughters determine they need someone else to help them carry on the family line, and seeing their father as the only man left, “lie” with him.  Ew.  Just ew.  (Genesis 19:30-38)

Do you see why I’m alarmed?

In defense of my friends who shared the sentiment “to only trust God is to need only God”, I know from their lives that they have followed God back into life-giving community in the midst of recovering from deep betrayal.  They may speak with their words to need only God, but with their lives, they speak the truth of the Kingdom.

God, in his own perfection and self sufficiency, chooses to bind Himself by covenant to a man and a people, knowing full well they will fail him.

What?

Knowing full well they will fail Him, God binds himself to a man and a people by covenant.  Binds Himself.  By covenant.  To a man who lies, laughs at the promise, and then connives with his wife to fulfill the promise on their terms.  God is still faithful.  God.  Binds Himself.  By covenant.  To a people who will break His heart, as he tells Moses in Deuteronomy, “will rise and whore after the foreign gods” (Deuteronomy 31:16)  Knowing all this He still chose them and bound Himself to them, and through them blessed all the nations of the earth.  Through this people, God shows His power, His love, His glory.  Through this people, God brings the family line of Jesus.

While WE were still far off and hostile to God, he chose US, Jesus died for us.  Betrayal tempts us to forsake community, but the way of the Kingdom is forgiveness and reconciliation.  To trust God is to embrace our need for others, for community, despite their obvious lack, because He is strong in our weaknesses.  God is not only strong in my weakness, but in my neighbor’s weakness.  Like our Lord, we are bound to His people.  We are members of one another.   For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4-5, ESV) In 1 Cornthians 1, when Paul talks about the Corinthians having no lack, he is talking about the community.  We as a community have everything we need.  To receive the fullness of the gifts God has for us, we must overcome the fear and pain of betrayal, and receive the gift of relationship.

 

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Questions and Answers

I love gmail.  They should pay me to say that, but they do not.  I love them all the same.  And one reason is that I do not delete my email.  It is all there, in the analogues of time, waiting for me to search.  And so it was today, when I was looking for something completely different, that I found a quote from 2007,

“I think there is an important distinction between wanting questions answered, wanting answers, and wanting someone to answer.”

Wanting questions answered…

To me, this deals with the details of an event.  What happened, when, who was involved.  It can also deal with some of what people were thinking, what specifically motivated their actions, what their hope was in the choices they made.

Wanting answers…

I think that when you want answers, you are predominantly dealing with the question of why.  People may not be able to answer to your satisfaction…in fact probably will not be able to answer to your satisfaction.  I try to address this mostly to God, because He will know what I’m really asking…and He will be able to satisfy my heart like no one else can…even if it is like He answered Job.

In the book of Job, after Job has lost everything and finally turned to God wanting answers, God answers from a whirlwind, with questions of His own, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?”  It is one of my favorite sections of the Bible, in which God basically puts the smack down.  Still, I believe it is a merciful and loving reply, because in that place of wanting answers, often the things we think we want are not the things we need.

Wanting someone to answer…

This may be the most difficult position, because no person can fully meet this desire.  None of us can redeem ourselves.  It is what set’s Christianity apart from every other religion…in every other religion, people try to make up for their faults.  But in Christianity, we can only fall into the arms of grace.  The same grace that flows down from the cross to forgive us from the things we’ve done and heal us from the things done to us is the same grace that forgives those who have hurt us.  So when we want someone to answer, we will always come up empty handed until we take that desire to the Cross, where Jesus answered for us all, for all we have done, for all that has been done contrary to His love.  Somehow, someway, Jesus makes up the difference.  He has to.  Because those others, the ones we want to answer for what they’ve done…they can’t afford to pay.

Beauty and Ashes

Wednesday morning I woke up with a deep need for a revelation of grace.

I think that we walk around with fear and pain and anger and all sorts of things bound up and hidden in our hearts, even from ourselves.  When the time is right, the waters start churning and those things come to the surface.

So it is with me.  In the past few weeks I have become painfully aware, once again, of my need for a savior.  I do not need to know that I am human and every body makes mistakes.  I need to know, desperately, that I am forgiven…that I am being made new.

I did not remember until later that day that Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  Lent is the liturgical season where we set aside 40 days to remember Jesus sacrifice for our sins and to repent in the context of His resurrection and grace.  The season is actually 46 days long, because Sundays are not counted.  They are still a celebration of the resurrection.

I believe God is wanting to spend time with me in stillness…so I am setting aside the first hour of every day, and I would like to invite you to join me.  I will be going through the Litany of Penitence, one line a day, reading from scripture, and ending with a symbolic act of forgiveness to remind myself I am forgiven.

This morning I walked to the park and read from John 13:31-15:11, and then I thought about and journaled about the first line from the Litany: “Most holy and merciful Father.”  I asked forgiveness for the times I have been unmerciful (already at the forefront of my mind), forgave others for not being merciful, and then asked Jesus to make me merciful.  As I walked home, I washed my hands in the dew soaked grass as a sign that I am washed clean by Jesus.

Spring Cleaning

This week the speaker on the DTS, Donna MacGowan, spoke on Fear of the Lord.  Due to me being sick, I didn’t get to spend as much time with her as I would have liked, so maybe some of our amazing students can fill me in on how God moved in their lives this week.

Fear of the Lord is a topic we like to have on every DTS.  It is about honoring God in every area of your life, submitting all things to His loving discipline, and ridding yourself of the impurities, however great or small, that God brings up.  I say the words, but so many of my friends have been so hurt by churches that meant “Fear of Leadership and Our Opinion” rather than “Fear of the Lord”, that I know some of these words land in tender spots.  Many of you know that I have struggled long and hard with some of these battles, and the only freedom from other’s opinions can be found in a healthy reverence for God.  If it helps, I have been thinking of it as spring cleaning.  And God has been doing some spring cleaning in me.

Tom Gaddis, the pastor at Father’s House Church, mentioned last week that “When words are many, there is much sin…”  He himself was feeling convicted of some things, and something in my spirit stood up and took notice of this Proverb.  “Hey…I talk a lot…I ought to keep that in mind.”  I have been finding myself, for the past several weeks, with my proverbial foot in my mouth…and some times are more serious than others.  I have been confronted internally for things I have said to others, and have had others confront me regarding thoughts about myself I have verbalized.

I keep thinking of this kneeadable eraser I have.  It is a grey, sticky, elasticy putty.  It turns black when I use it to erase charcoal or graphite, but as I pull it and fold it and squish it back together, the black marks magically disappear.  Due to it’s stickiness, it also collects carpet fuzz.  And hair.  And sand.  And wood shavings.  And pretty much any other small debris it touches.  So in college, when I was doing more charcoal drawing, I would sit and pick all the little fuzz bits out.  You have to stretch it like bubble gum, then fold it in on itself over and over again to even find them.  That’s how I feel now…like God is stretching and then folding me and picking out all the dirt.

I wish I could say it was wonderful and refreshing, but it’s actually a little awful.  Sometimes I wonder why God and others even trust me, and I could sure use an angel to come burn my mouth with a coal*.  I am painfully aware, after many tries, that I cannot pull myself out of this one.  Repentance (rising above) is going to take an act of God.

Fortunately He has already acted.

Here I am, back at the cross, to be made new.  Forgiveness for sins isn’t just wiping the slate clean…it is changing my very nature, one foolish, careless thought and word at a time.

The people in my life have been so gracious and God has been so faithful to push me back on the path each time I stray.  I am not thrilled about this season, but I am grateful for it.  A thoughtless word and a sharp tongue can do so much damage, and my life is primarily about loving people.  Among other things, I am staffing the DTS this summer.  I know I won’t be “all better” by then, but I know this season is a very timely preparation for leadership.

Pray for me.

 

*From Isaiah 6,  “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. … And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Still the Beginning (Bible Week…Day 2)

I think the biggest revelation from the five books we have covered so far is that we don’t have to be perfect.  Not just we as individuals, but we as a community aren’t always going to get it right.  It’s fun to criticize the Israelites and how whiney they are in the wilderness; it’s pithy to recognize that we aren’t much different from them.  What is beautiful to me is that though an entire generation did not enter the promised land, though the following generation was cursed to wander around with them and bear the burden of their sin, God still brought the Messiah through these people to bless all nations of the earth.

The other thing that stands out so clearly is how many people are affected by one person’s sin.  Abram lies about Sarah and brings disease on Pharoh’s house.  Sarah gets impatient waiting for the son God promised to her and has Abram impregnate her servant Hagar, from whom Ishmael is born.  Ishmael becomes a nation because of God’s love, but Hagar and Ishmael bear the burden of Sarah’s impatience.  The list goes on…and on and on and on…it doesn’t seem fair to me. 

But then Jesus, the sinless God-man, dies on a cross.  He becomes sin for us.  He died for the sins I have committed, and the sins committed against me.  He died so that we could love one another truly.  And somehow His love and His sacrifice works…not only for us to one day enter eternety with Him, but to change how we live today, to release us from this mess we’ve all made from the things we do to one another. 

Tonight the students are reading Joshua, Judges, and Ruth.  I’ve been in and out this weekend due to other commitments and errands, but I’m okay with that.  I have been blessed recently to be able to study the Bible in large chunks like we did this weekend.  I am looking forward to (and a little nervous about) delving in tomorrow for a full day.  So it is still, really, the beginning.

The Prodigal God

Many weeks ago I was considering the story of the prodigal son.  I identified more with the older brother, and I didn’t really want to be the older brother.  That is because I thought “prodigal” meant “rude, rebellious, selfish, wasteful, and mean”.  Turns out that’s not what it means.  It means… 

prod·i·gal

[prod-i-guhl] 

–adjective

1.     wastefully or recklessly extravagant: prodigal expenditure.
2.     giving or yielding profusely; lavish (usually fol. by of  orwith ): 
              prodigal of smiles; prodigal with money.
3.     lavishly abundant; profuse: nature’s prodigal resources.

This changes everything.

Now, there is a noun definition that probably came from the story of the son in  Luke 15…and Jesus never uses the word prodigal.  He didn’t open by saying, “Let me tell you the story of the Prodigal Son.” The story is not about the son at all.  It is about the Father.  I am not saying anything new.  I stole my post title from Greg Boyd’s sermon of the same name, and he stole it from someone else.  (Now before you start thinking I’m an open theist, it’s a good message.  Just take the message for what it’s worth.)  It is the story of a man who has two sons.  The younger asks for his inheritance early and squanders it on the high life, then ends up feeding pigs for a living.  The older remains.  One day as the younger son is quite literally starving, he decides to come home.  The father sees him, hikes up his garment and comes running to his son.  It’s a good story.  Greg Boyd tells it better (follow the link above).  Jesus tells it better still.

The thing that stood out to me today was Mr. Boyd’s description of the Father’s household.  In verse 17, the son remembers his father’s hired servants…not the household servants, but day hires–homeless fellows who waited around until someone hired them for the day.  The household servants would go into town, find these folks waiting, then hire a few to do the menial tasks in exchange for wages.  Culturally they would provide their own food, be paid in cash at the end of the day, and then be sent on to make the best of what they could.  So the idea that they had food enough seems to imply that the Father provided food for them.  To provide food was to provide a form of acceptance, to say, “You belong here.  You are welcome.”  This would have been scandalous, according to Mr. Boyd.

I got to thinking about the younger son and why he left the farm for the city.  I thought about how embarrassing his father’s generosity might have been to him.  I thought about the kindness that ignores status and how boring that is for someone who longs for a shiny, fast-paced life-style, for recognition and esteem.  I don’t want the same things as the younger son in this story.  That’s why I don’t identify with him.  People always talk about the cultural implications of working with pigs, and how that would have been detestable to him.  I don’t understand that, and I don’t detest the same things my culture detests, so I have a really hard time wrapping my brain around the significance of the pigs.  But what I see is a man who became the thing he hated most.  I am imagining that he hated farming, hated the hired hands–the day workers, and hated that his father treated them with regard.  So I wonder what he must have been thinking as he stood there, smelling like a sewer, with the Father lavishing kisses on him…

“No…you’re not…supposed…to love…me…you’re…supposed…to despise…me…”  I wonder if he was embarrassed for his father’s public display of affection and yet broken by his need for the father’s love.  I wonder if he was embarrassed by his own need, and then in turn embarrassed by his arrogant judgement of all the hired hands, all those years.

His speech…his famous interrupted speech.  He was all ready to say, “I have sinned against you and against God.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Treat me as one of your hired servants,” when the Father interrupts him and throws the most lavish party ever, dresses him in his own robes, puts the signant ring on his finger.  This is where I identify with the younger son.  The God of the Universe seems to be hopelessly, extravagantly in love with me.  I stand here, wanting to studder, “But I don’t…derserve…” as He interrupts with joy and love.  The paradox of God’s love is that, no matter how “underserving” we are of His love, the love itself makes us worthy. 

Blessings and peace,
Beth

Forgiveness

This week during our silence and solitude time, which we have once a month, I spent a couple hours contemplating the work of the cross.  I remembered a teaching on the difference between mercy and grace. 


GRACE = God DOES give us what we DON’T deserve.

MERCY = God DOESN’T give us what we DO deserve.

Mercy and grace are the work of the cross within an individual’s life, but I have been thinking more and more about the corporate work of the cross.  I know what it means that Jesus paid the price for my sin, but what does it mean to me that He paid for my neighbor’s sin?  If He was able to fulfill God’s justice through His sacrifice, to pay the debt I owed to God, can’t He also pay to me the debt of injury from my neighbor’s sin against me?  To forgive is to acknowledge my neighbor owes me and to release him from that debt, but then I bear the cost of his debt.  But the work of Jesus on the cross means that *I* do not have to bear that cost…Jesus can.  


Maybe a simple example with money will help.  Let’s say that Joe owes me $50.  If I forgive him that $50, I’m still short $50.  So then I bear the cost.  But if someone, say, Jesus, gives me $50, then he bears the cost.  Jesus died so that we can love one another truly, free from sin, selfishness, and self-protection.  


So many in this world have endured abuses that can never be repaid to them, the cost of which they cannot bear.  When we go continually to people to collect a debt they can never repay, we come up empty and wounded.  When we step with holy confidence out of the debt they cannot pay and turn to Jesus, we find the life they could not give.