New Year’s Eve Post

It doesn’t feel like New Year’s Eve.  Maybe that’s because the tree outside my window has all it’s leaves, and I live in a perpetual early spring climate.  Early spring was a lot more fun when it followed winter.  I comfort myself with the ocean, it’s ebb and flow to remind me that there is indeed a rhythm to all life and change.

Holidays mark the passing of our lives, give shape to the seasons, and remind us to take an inventory.  I like to take this time between Christmas and New Years (and the first few weeks of the year) to make sense of where I’ve been and where I’m going.   It is a perfect time for this, following my birthday and last year my advent into full time ministry.

Words to describe 2010, my 29th year: preparation, cocooning, foundations, Charismania and the Spirit filled church.  Forgiveness, peace, and rest.  Sense-making, denial-untangling, truth-speaking love.  Community.  Relationship.  Art, music, violin, voice.  Season’s changing.  Chewl.

What words describe your year?

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Incarnation

Something about the light in Kansas City makes me want to write, and I am finding after two weeks that I have more to say than time to say it in.  The 2,000 mile treck home to California has only confounded the matter.  So rather than revisiting all the stirring thoughts of the last three weeks, I want to start here, now, with Christmas and the wonder of the Incarnation.

Incarnation…from the Latin word carnis meaning flesh, from which we get words like “carnitas” (mmmm…chili con carne) and “carnal”.  In + caro means God puts on skin and becomes a man.  The Gospel of John puts it this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”

Wait a minute…this is GOD.  The tabernacle and the sacrificial system of the Old Testament were created so that He could travel with the Israelites in the wilderness and not KILL them with His holiness.  God, for whom we have a glaring lack of ability to comprehend, even in poetic images: the bush that burns and is not consumed, the fire by day, cloud by night, deep darkness, everlasting light.  Angels…gargantuan creatures of epic ferocity, fly around Him, covering their eyes and feet and crying out “Holy!  Holy!  Holy!”  This is GOD.

And He became flesh.

He put on skin.  He became frail.  He submitted Himself to imperfect parents, siblings, teachers, friends.  He dwelt among us.

He put on skin so that He could know us in our frailty.

He put on skin so that He could change what it means to wear skin.

East Wind

Jesus did not come into the world to make bad men good. He came into the world to make dead men live!” ~Leonard Ravenhill

I’ve been battling discouragement the past few weeks.  It has been a good experience.  I think doubts and questions are healthy, and I have been aware of God working even in my discouragement.  One question that has been on my heart is why I am called to full time ministry.  One way Jesus answered this question is through a sermon I listened to on Sunday afternoon: “Turning Back to the Mouth of Freedom.”  Unfortunately Church of the Open Door only lists it’s five most recent sermons, and this one was delivered on June 6, so I can’t link to it for you.  Allow me to explain some of what the pastor discussed and how it has impacted me.

The story Steve Weins was speaking on comes from Exodus 14.  We join the Israelites in the wilderness, having just fled slavery in Egypt.  Their Southern journey has taken a Northward turn, due to the Red Sea in their path, but God tells them “Go back and camp at Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the Red Sea.”  Now I know you are saying, “Pi-hihawhat?” but if you look at a map you will see that He said, “Go back to that peninsula and camp between the mountains and the water on every side.”  aka “Trapped.” 
I know my mom, who has a cat-like affection for water, is really identifying with the Israelites who turned to Moses and said, “Are you CRAZY???  We gonna die out here.” 
Directions have symbolic meaning in Hebrew culture, and the North symbolizes Deception.  Fear and slavery have driven them into the land of deception, and it is here that God tells them to turn back, to go to the mouth of the water and wait for Him.
Steve calls this the Mouth of Freedom. 
He says it is a sign of being on the edge of freedom that you think you are about to die.  The Egyptians didn’t want to kill them.  They wanted to take them captive, take them back to Egypt as free labor to build more pyramids.  The Israelites felt like they were going to die.  They wanted to go back to Egypt.  They wished they had never left.
I identify with the Israelites wanting to go back, feeling trapped between the known and the unknown, and fearing the unknown enough to wish I had never left.  A friend said to me recently that she thinks when we get to Heaven, we will be amazed by the amount of fear we each experienced here on Earth…each and every one of us driven by fear right into the arms of deception.  But God calls us to turn back, like the people of Israel, surrounded on every side, and wait for Him.   
What comes next for the Israelites is one of the most famous scenes of the Old Testament.  Moses raises his staff and a wind from the East, symbolizing New Beginnings, blows across the water all night until two walls of water line a path of dry land to the other side of the sea.  At God’s command, Moses lowers his staff and the water returns to it’s normal course, burying their captors in watery graves. 

http://www.youtube.com/v/R1hvnMm91PU&hl=en_US&fs=1?rel=0
Over a thousand years later a man stands in a river shouting, “Turn back!  The Kingdom of God is at hand.”  John baptises people in the River Jordan as they repent, which literally means to turn back, from slavery to sin, fear, and deception.  But John’s baptism is only half the story.  John is preparing the way for Jesus, who brings with Him the east wind of New Beginnings.  Jesus is baptised by John, then spends three years proclaiming a new way to live.  Through His death and resurrection, He makes that new way available to us who are joined in his death and therefore joined in His resurrection.  The Holy Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives in us.  This is the transformation which is called salvation. 

Baptism is an outward sign of this salvation, a way of saying, “I die to my sins, I live by the resurrection power of Jesus.”  Or as Steve put it, “Baptism is a place to stand and say that I am a part of a community of people that is called to…stand at the mouth of freedom for the terrified ones who don’t know what to do. To stand at that mouth of freedom and say there is a way through.” 

Oh.

Yeah.

That is why I do what I do. 

I stand at the mouth of freedom for the terrified ones and say there is a way through. 

Because evil doesn’t get the last word, and the resurrection power of Jesus is at work, right now, making a way for so many people who are trapped by slavery, fear, and deception.    Because there are all kinds of slaves in the world today…slaves to human trafficking, slaves to terror, slaves to selfishness, addiction, and sin, slaves to memories and a history they cannot escape.  Because we are, so many of us, driven by fear. Because there is something in this world that is stronger than fear:

Love.

I think it is fair, also, to say that I am camped at my own Pi-hahiroth (Mouth of Freedom).  I am battling discouragement, but I haven’t given in.  I feel an East Wind coming over the water.  Here’s to New Beginnings…

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.