Category Archives: Searching at Church

Hope

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It is good to wait silently for the salvation of the Lord. Lam.3:26.

Tonight we welcome advent as a family.  Advent is defined by purposeful waiting for a sure Salvation, certain but not yet grasped.  Advent is hope promised but still deferred. In Advent tradition, the Christ-child, the Savior, is nearly come, but He is not here yet.

Jack lights the Candle of Hope, his posture strong yet shy as he navigates the flame.  He catches Daddy’s eye in awe as the blaze licks the wick, catches, flares, then settles – Hope newly aflame.  

This week God ignites a fresh flame of hope.  My past four years were a crucible, characterized by crushing failure, aching loss, relentless opposition, piercing judgment, intervening rescue and infinite grace upon grace.  My life became a long season of Advent, of hope-certain-but-not-yet.  My fragile humanity crumbles to fragments, but I am safe, upheld by divine mercy.  I lived in dust, waiting, hoping, for my God to someday lift me out.

It is good for a man to bear the yoke 
   while he is young.

 Let him sit alone in silence, 
   for the Lord has laid it on him. 
Let him bury his face in the dust— 
   there may yet be hope. 

Lam.3:27-29.

Today is a step into Hope.  It is my first day officially back on the women’s ministry leadership team at church, the same church that released me four years ago.  The enemy of our souls snarls and snaps, but Living Grace is my everlasting Hope and I am undone by His neverending cascades of loving favor.  My role on leadership is quiet writing for a season as the Lord builds a new vision in the women of our church.  God is birthing a dream within in our team for a deeper teaching ministry to women, so I will create a Bible study curriculum scheduled at this point to launch in Fall 2012 at Vanguard Church.

My heart brims over as I watch the Candle of Hope flicker on the faces of my favorite Three.  I rest in the glow of Advent, the long arriving redemption.  I remember the long trail of brokenness behind us.  I remember the bloody, battered talons we inserted into the Hope of God-promises through that long season of bitter gall.  I remember the joy of steadily dawning freedom shining over our recovery path.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul, worship His Holy Name.  Sing like never before, O my soul, and worship His holy name.  Matt Redman. 10,000 Reasons.

I exult that the Lord keeps His promises, that our Hope is eternally sure.  I revel in the grace of family in the glow of candlelight. I rejoice that God gives me a new voice to proclaim His brilliant glory to His beloved.

What do you hope for from the Lord right now? we ask each other in the Light of hope.

Lucy says, Blue and Pink.

Daddy & Mommy say, we hope that the Lord will alleviate personal and professional pressure & attack at work.

Jack, the little theologian, says this, I hope for faith, hope and love.

YES. And Amen.

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Tongue-tied

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Let these words of my mouth and this meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Ps.19:14.

Yesterday in my quiet time I read the callings of the major prophets:  Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel.  Yes, it was amazing.  I stumbled upon this little jewel:

Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet.  He spoke to me and said: Go, shut yourself inside your house.  And you, son of man, they will tie with ropes; you will be bound so that you cannot go out among the people.  I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, though they are a rebellious house.  But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says.”  Ez.3:24-27.

I am head over heels for these verses. I have adapted them and and made them my Prayer.  (In my adaptations, it is important to note that I have left out the being-tied-up-with-ropes part, except perhaps metaphorically.)

The Lord shut Ezekiel’s mouth to any words but His.  He bound Ezekiel from restraining anybody’s sin without a direct command from Him.  I love that.  I need that.

Ezekiel’s ministry was the gateway to Judah’s judgment.  His calling was a weighty boulder.  He lived a life of extremes: heartbreaking destruction woven simultaneously with shining threads of breathtaking vision.  With his fierce tether to God’s plans for His people, perhaps Ezekiel’s loose lips should be overlooked.  Instead, God offered his prophet (and you and I) a sword of truth forged in fiery self-denial. Ezekiel was God’s mouthpiece to a people spiraling into a season of dark judgment. God required a higher standard from His chosen wordsmith. Even those with a powerful calling require Holy Spirit hindrance from becoming an obstacle to God’s mysterious ways.  I wonder what damage Ezekiel could have done with unhindered tongue? To quote my son’s favorite superhero, with great power comes great responsibility. The Lord did not only call Ezekiel to speak; He also called him to silence. God restrained Ezekiel, the prophet who ate the honeyed scroll, to tongue-tied purity.

O, it was worth it.  Ezekiel’s intimate access to his mighty warrior God, his heavenly reward for a life lived in pursuit of vision, his glowing rainbow glimpses into eternity – we reap glory when we sow our callings in obedience.  Well done, good and faithful servant.

What if the only words I spoke were approved by God Almighty for fruitful blessing, encouragement and challenge?  O my stars, I could just explode from the possibility! Impossible?  Yes. But O so worth fighting for. I pray that the Lord, in His wild and winsome Love for me and every other soul on earth, will suppress my words, my actions, from interfering with His work in His people. Lord, make me tongue-tied to any words but Yours.  Bind me from any actions but Yours. Ruin me for anything or anyone but You.

Incarnation

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And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. John 1:16.

*  The Bible says that Jesus wrapped Himself in flesh when just the right time for birthing grace had come.  When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of a woman. Gal.4:4.  A single mother, a simple village, an animal trough.  Then angels serenaded a hillside of blue collar shepherds bathed in a glimpse of heaven’s brilliance. No renaissance painters, no enlightenment thinkers, no trained videographers to diffuse the newborn gospel. YouTube has no record of that mysterious song at the dawn of grace. Why was that time, over any other, the fullness of time?

*  I read somewhere that a woman’s skin is astronomically more sensitive than a man’s skin, that if a woman put on a man’s body, she would feel as if she were encased in styrofoam.  I wonder what if felt like to Jesus to settle Himself into such a body?  He made Himself nothing … being made in human likeness. Phil.2:7.  

*  Yesterday I took my children on a special trip to Grandma’s office.  They treated the privilege flippantly.  They were wild and careless and demanding.  I overreacted with a flash of anger, resentful that they chose not to receive my offering of love with gratitude and maturity.  He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Is.53:3.   Cosmic glory, laid aside for the Love of a rebellious world.  A life of dust, a death of agony.

The Incarnation takes me under.  The intimate majesty, the sacrificial wonder.  I weep that I do not walk under its weight of glory every second I spin on this planet.  The mystery of God With Us is beyond the scope of finity.  I cannot bear it.  But I can raise my eyes, my arms, my yearning being, to Immanuel.

The proper response to the mysteries of God is worship, not controversy.  JP Jones.

Remnant

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At the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. Romans 11:4.

This week I have heard sermon podcasts and radio broadcasts by leaders of this generation of God’s people.  A growing number of these sermons are themed around how to do church. Its a popular topic today, which is holy and right.  The household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth (2 Tim.3:15), is a subject of mighty value. These sermons, however, have all been the same song, different verse.  All about how the Other Guys are doing it wrong.

The traditional church is too judgmental, too mean-spirited, too narrow-minded, too stuck up & separate from the dominant culture.  This church has too much doctrine, too much emphasis on theology, too much teaching, too little heart.

The emergent church (called “postmodern” in a disgusted voice) is too fluffy, too trivial, too flippant with sacred things, too steeped in & engulfed by dominant culture, too anxious to please those from whom God has called us to be set apart.  This church has too much singing, too much drama, too many pop-culture trends, too little thought.

Not only are there sermons, but actual books.  I have seen (and even read a chapter or two before the bile rises) a few tomes that go on for sixty thousand words proving that one of these churches is totally rad, while the other is on a slippery slope to apostasy.  Each Other Guy is taking the church to a never-before-seen level of disintegration and chaos (as if God’s people have ever been more than a remnant within a vanishing world).

I am moved by the utter sincerity and strong virtue of these leaders.  They are truly afraid of the impact that the Other Guys will have on the church.

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned aside, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.  Romans 3:10-12.

Everybody hates God.  That is not the Other Guy’s fault. No one seeks for God; God shows Himself.  The church is in the hands of the Living God, not the Other Guy.

Yet I reserved 7,000 for myself in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose lips have not kissed him.  1 Kings 19:18.

God is the God of the remnant.  He has always been.  The church is a ragtag gang of world-rebels who have abdicated the authority of darkness to step into marvelous light.  We are each an immortal soul on a road to glory, a sacred vessel of divine grace.  We are all transformed by love, raised to new life, a consecrated vignette in an eternal story that outshouts and outshines us all.

There are no Other Guys amongst God’s redeemed.

Remember that at one time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenant of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For He himself is our peace, who has made the two one and  has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. Eph.2:12-14.

We are among those who have refused to bow our knees to Baal.  Our mission is not to convert each other, but to shine into the darkness.  There is so much darkness. What if we let the Other Guys run their church according to God’s Word and their consciences and spent our gifts and energies expanding and equipping the church beyond preferences, into transcendent orthodoxy?

And, what if you are right about blind spots in your own church?  God has always raised up prophets among a group to tilt it back to center.  If you see an imbalance in your own church (where you are committed and respected), by all means be a solution.  But be a flame of holy redemption, not a smolder of division.  And don’t preach a protected sermon from a high pulpit into a part of God’s country where you have no authority.  Yuck.

We are in a battle for something that matters, the souls of the lost.  Let us remember who we are, God’s remnant, chosen by grace, and let us be strong and kind.

Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hell will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:17-18.

What do y’all think?


Torn

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I am writing these things to you so that you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. 1 Timothy 3:14-15.

So, I’m reading this book called Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich.  Its about, well, I guess the tagline is extremely self-explanatory. (On a side note, that’s just cool.  Recently I’ve read a lot of books with trendy titles like:  Vague but Punchy Word:  A Moving Rendition of the Divine Meaning of Life’s Song.  I’m always, like, what?)

Not since The World of the Bible have I devoured a book with such focused absorption.  I have known next to nothing about the papacy in my time on this earth.  I mean, when people say, “Is the pope catholic?” I’m like, YES!, and then I trail off…….

I’m about a third of the way through this book, which means I’m in the middle of the Renaissance popes.  These popes are getting more enlightened.  It is so far a kinder and gentler papacy, which is a welcomed respite.  The Renaissance papacy ushered in some airy reforms.  These popes are not like those bad ass mofo Medieval popes.  Those dudes were HARD CORE.  Here are a few quaint little gems from the papacy in the middle ages:

Pope Gregory XI appointed Cardinal Robert, who immediately blockaded Bologna in an attempt to starve its citizens into surrender, laying waste to all the surrounding countryside and allowing his mercenaries to rape and murder to their hearts content.  His final atrocity was to turn them loose on the neighboring town of Cesena; the result was a massacre of over four thousand men, women and children.  Pg. 248.

Pope John VIII had the dubious distinction of being the first pope to be assassinated – and worse still, by priests from his own entourage.  According to the Annals of the Abbey of Fulda, they first gave him poison; then, when this failed to act quickly enough, they hammered in his skull. Pg. 92.

The architect of the only papal abdication was Cardinal Benedetto Caetini, who is said to have introduced a secret speaking tube into Celestine’s cell through which, in the small hours of the night, he would simulate the voice of God, warning him of the flames of Hell were he to continue in his office…It was somehow inevitable that the successor of the luckless Pope Celestine… should be that same Cardinal Benedetto Caetini. Pg. 219.

Mmmm-kaaay……

Pope & Excommunicant

Popes were “Vicars of Christ on earth, standing halfway between God and man.”  They were the patriarchs of the church, the spiritual fathers, the divine leaders, the men on whose strong shoulders the simple, hardworking people who were mired in the grime of medieval Europe freely trusted for the illumination of earthly & heavenly truth.  They were supposed to love and lead the people.

However, the popes from the middle ages were generally not spiritual men; they were politicians.  They sat on a throne, they consorted with kings and emperors, they collected taxes, they declared wars, they created and upheld civic law. They lived in lavish luxury, while the people around them huddled in medieval muck.  They loved and led poorly.

They were the epitome of absolute power corrupting absolutely.  They used excommunication as a weapon of control, they ordered murders and massacres, they schemed to dethrone kings and each other, they sent both idealistic young soldiers and hardened sociopaths on Crusades to butcher Muslims, preferably with a maximum amount of carnage.  One pope even chastised an emperor for negotiating Jerusalem’s peaceful surrender during the Sixth Crusade.  It was considered a failure because there were not more heretics wallowing in bloody loss.  Intrigue, deceit, gore, oppression, bickering, suspicion, paranoia, ambition, murder, torture, bribery, sensuality; the pit of corruption and power-mongering was bottomless.

Bloodbath

They did these things in the name of God.

As I sink deeper into the unfolding of this remarkable story, I have to read a little bit at a time to absorb the reality of the disturbing underbelly of the church. I feel disoriented.  I am mourning.  I regularly think, “What kind of horrifying religion is this?”

O yeah, its mine.

I am not Catholic, but I believe that Catholicism is on the table of orthodoxy, or saving truth.  I understand that the weight of leadership in any capacity is a heavy one, requiring a constant balance of idealism with reality.  Most leaders, spiritual or secular, compromise at some point, and are still effective, sometimes even great.  I already knew that the papacy has at times been corrupt, as all niches of leadership are.  I am not idealistic about the reality of church.  I know that God’s people have often been the most oppressive and ugly harbingers of death and destruction that the world has ever known.

I do not live under a rock.

But I do believe in the church of the living God, which is the pillar and support of the truth.  1 Timothy 3:15.  That is a dizzying mantle of responsibility, a privilege of astonishing proportion.  For those who believe God is who He says He is, being a part of what the Church is called to do should bring us to our knees in dazed wonder.  The church is supposed to lead like Christ, love like Christ, who dripped blood onto the parched Jerusalem hillside for love of His people. Loving, leading like that is not to be taken lightly.  When those carrying that banner of church leadership are debased reprobates (which is the dubious distinction of untold numbers of spiritual leaders who are not popes), it is an epic travesty.

Torn apart

I admit I am weary of how trendy it is to mock and belittle the church.  The church is composed of flawed and broken people, so it is a flawed and broken institution.  That just makes sense to me.  We are all grace-bearers, mercy-receivers.  Why not offer the love and mercy our hearts crave to those in the family of faith, even leaders who have failed us? Isn’t restoration after failure in the job description of love?  I can choose to walk in that, even if those around me do not. I am not an advocate of churchicide. I admit that when Christians start talking about the evils of “the Western church,” I tune out, because I believe its a cop out.  Its too easy.  Giving up on church is for people who will not deal with the tension of flawed leadership versus transcendant truth.

So I’ve made my (admittedly opinionated) points: One, I believe in the church.  Two, there have a been a series of super sucky leaders in the church (not just popes), and those sucky leaders have deeply wounded people and ideals that matter.  Many have dropped that banner of love.  Reading this book about the papacy has made me feel torn between those two equally valid truths.

Isn’t the word “torn” an apt description of what the Christian life is all about?  Because the people of God are necessarily a people of dual citizenship, citizens simultaneously of Heaven and of earth, we are therefore obliged to function honorably in both realms, conducting ourselves in a responsible manner both towards God and towards humanity.  Yet since God and humanity are at odds, what else can a godly person be but torn between the two?  As Christ was racked on the cross, so His followers are people whose essential vocation is to be torn apart by tensions of cosmic proportions.  Mike Mason.  The Gospel According to Job. Pg. 201.

Torn

What would the church be like if leaders and followers “functioned honorably in both realms”?  What if we allowed ourselves to feel the seams of heaven and earth ripping, tearing, pulling apart with the strain of good versus evil?  God has designed the Church to dwell smack on the joint between heaven and hell, fighting with all of our life and strength to beat back the armies of hell who are trying to claw down every last soul they can eternally corrupt (especially leaders who have the power to inflict pain they cannot take back).  The front lines of that battle are where every Christian should jostle forward to be – to make this contorted world a more redemptive, merciful, restoring place.  What if we led well, loved well, by allowing ourselves to be torn, as Jesus did, for those we are called to love?

I am sorry that many of those popes abdicated the tension and lived un-torn.  I am still more sorry for those leaders who have done or will do so in my lifetime, creating a generation of Christians who are turning their backs on the greatest institution the world has ever known: the Church. There is a reckoning.  We will all answer for our bubble of time here.

As for me and my house, we will live and love torn.