Thursday, April 28, 2011

A beautiful readiness

Each day is an opportunity to live in agreement with God's choice to make you self-evident in the world, to change the world by dropping you, His living being, into the middle of the action.  There is a beautiful readiness in peace and contentment.

Oh what a great friend, follower, and citizen you are if you are at peace just being you.  From there, you can go anywhere.  

-Charlie Peacock, The Art of Being

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Risen with him?

Christ is risen!

I love these words that the choir sang on Sunday:

But the mightiest part of the conquering power of Jesus
Is how He lifted us
Up from the grave out into the morning light
Rising like eagles with wings to the wind
Down through the dark over death up to new life -
Alleluia! We have risen with him!

In our Thursday Bible study of Acts, we've seen that this is true:  not only was Jesus raised  through the conquering power of the resurrection, but so were the disciples – as Paul put it in Romans 6:4, "raised to walk in a new way of life."  Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus some of my favorite verses in the Bible, Ephesian 1:18-20, in which he said, "I pray that you may know...the surpassing power available to those of us who believe—the same power that God exerted when He raised Jesus from the dead."

In Acts, we see this power at work in all sorts of ways – healings, prophecies, miraculous escapes from prison, incredible generosity, constant prayer, and most of all, boldness to proclaim the gospel, resulting in thousands coming to faith.  But here's the most exciting truth:

That same power is at work in you and me because the Holy Spirit dwells in you and me.  We have been raised out of our old clueless, overwhelmed, timid, small-minded, do-it-yourself way of life—raised to be new beings with new hearts and a new spirit, with new minds that can see God at work, that can accomplish things we never dared to believe ourselves capable of.  We have been raised out of our me-stories and into the God-story.

Are you living that way?  Or are you still slugging life out at "I" level?

I ask you this because I'm asking myself this.  Here it is Tuesday, and I'm already sinking back into a me-story made up of laundry, bills, graduation details, dirty dishes and mostly the me-movie that runs in my head at all times.  Luke leaves those details out of Acts, so I don't know how the disciples dealt with them.  I wish he had told us.  All he tells us is that they did go on with daily life, only they did it in a whole new way that was marked by mystery and adventure, danger and prayer,  fellowship and joy.

The most dramatic "new way of life" I see displayed in Acts is the new behavior of Peter, James and the other disciples.  They are no longer navel-gazing.  They aren't always asking, "How?" like they were before.  Maybe because the Holy Spirit has made the question "how" irrelevant now.   They are quick to see God at work all around them and quick to step into what they see.  There is that weird joyfulness which is a sign of being raised with Jesus.

Eugene Peterson, in his book Living the Resurrection, writes:

"Jesus' followers live resurrection-formed lives, not by watching him or imitating him or being influenced by him, but by being raised with him."

I had to go back to Acts today and reread it.  Because Acts is not just a story.  It is a picture of the way of life that has been opened to all, including us.  It is a picture of the way we could be living.  So if we are not, why not?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Weirdly joyful

From Donald Miller's blog 4-19-11:

I was having lunch with an accomplished surgeon recently who told me the two words that will kill the heart fastest are the words “ought to.”

The reason I was having lunch with the surgeon was because I was interviewing him for a potential book. He’s a head surgeon at a nationally renowned hospital and does an enormous amount of charity work, even advising the American military on how their hospital ships can be more efficient while being used in disaster relief. If the average doctor saves hundreds of lives in the span of their career, this guy has likely saved hundreds of thousands.

When I asked why he desires to help so many people, his answer surprised me. He said “because it’s fun.” And then he went on to say “I like helping people because I enjoy it, I’m the opposite of an evangelical.” I don’t know if he knew I was a Christian, but the comment came like a curveball and I had nothing to say. I was so accustomed to the passive guilt complex so many of us hear week after week and in book after book that I knew he’d have no shortage of evidence that Evangelicals are constantly being made to do good things they don’t really feel like doing.

In contrast, as I read through the book of Acts, a defining characteristic of the early church is they felt joy in their work. I don’t see a lot of shame and guilt manipulation in Acts, just a bunch of people who act like they are weirdly in love with each other and with God. And I want to emphasize the word weirdly.

Continuing with the question, "Why do I live the way I live?" I have to ask myself in light of Donald Miller's blog:  How much of what I do is fun?

Parenting Worley boys is fun.
Doing life in partnership with Dennis Worley is fun.
Feeding people is fun.
Making a home a place where people are loved and welcomed is fun.
Working in the garden - making things grow - is fun.
Studying the Bible is fun.
Teaching the Bible is fun.
Helping people know and make sense of God is fun.
Leading people to worship God is fun.
Figuring out life together with friends is fun.

And by "fun" I mean these things make me weirdly joyful.

Doesn't mean these things aren't hard, sometimes complicated and frustrating.  But they are things to which my heart says a resounding, "Yes!"  Things I would get up and do all day and come back swinging the next day.  And hearkening back to the question of the week, Meg Ryan's question, "Do I do it because I want to, or because I'm not brave?" I would say these are things I do because I want to, things about which I would not hesitate to be brave, even fierce.

Wouldn't this be the best thing to be known for?  "She was wierdly joyful."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Question of the week

Meg Ryan changed my life.  Well, more accurately, it was Meg Ryan speaking the words of the character Kathleen Kelly in Nora Ephron's screenplay, "You've Got Mail". 

Sitting at her computer, Kathleen Kelly types:

"I lead a small life - well, valuable, but small.  And sometimes I wonder:  Do I do it because I want to, or because I'm not brave?" 

I have seen "You've Got Mail" at least 36 times, and this scene never fails to nail me. And not just because the inner voice that talks to me about my life is the voice of Meg Ryan.  (When God speaks to me, he usually sounds like Gregory Peck.  Jesus, depending on what he is saying, sometimes sounds like Peter Jennings or Kevin Spacey.  I imagine this would come as a suprise to all of them.)  Anyway, whenever I am talking to myself - or even now, as I am talking to you, I hear Meg Ryan's voice.  I've heard Nora Ephron say that whenever she writes a screen play, it's Meg's voice she imagines speaking the heroine's dialog.  And it's Nora's dialog that stopped me in my tracks the first time I saw "You've Got Mail" and all 35 times I have heard these lines since then.  Not because Meg was asking the question, but because I realized it is the question I ask myself; it is what I wonder about my life, what I will wonder when I am 85 and probably when I am almost to my grave:  Why do I live the way I live?

It is, I think, a good question to ask.  It is the question Jesus asked.  Matthew's gospel tells us that Jesus emerged from his 40 days in the wilderness and burst upon the scene delivering the message, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  Dallas Willard, writer and theologian, translates Jesus' message in this way:  "Rethink your life in the light of the fact that the kingdom of the heavens is now open to all"  (Matt 4:17).

To repent is to change any or all of the elements composing one's life - attitudes, thoughts and behaviors.  Jesus, of course, was particularly addressing the demands of God for right living, for joining the action of God in the world.

Re-think your life, Jesus challenges us,  in view of the fact that God is here at work among you and in view of what he intends to accomplish.  Ask yourself:

    what is valued in heaven?
    what is the end goal in heaven?
    what is the main work in heaven?
    who is in charge in heaven?

And then, ask yourself, how do I live in light of that understanding? 

Why do I live the way I live?  It's a question Jesus repeatedly turned to ask often.  Why do you worry about your life?  Why do you run after the things the rest of the world does?  Why do you judge your brother?  Why do you spend your life on things that cannot satisfy?  Why are you afraid?  Why do you have so little faith?

His second public message was an invitation:  Follow me.  Implying that if you want to know the answer to the question I have posed, I know it.  This way to the answer.  In fact, Jesus said, I am the answer.  Everybody who is wants to re-think comes to me.

I come to him often wondering, "Is my life valuable?" Not as in, "Are you proud of me?  Do you put my artwork on your refrigerator?" But as in, "Am I doing what you want me to do?"

I have a friend who's spent the greater part of his life working as a musician who jokes that one day he'll get to heaven and God will say, "Hey Rob: I said, 'magician.'"

There are some areas of my life in which I have not yet decided: Do I do this because I want to, or because I'm not brave?  But I have decided that it's important to ask the question.  It's important for me, at this moment in my life, to re-think.  And I think it's important for you to do it also.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Speaking in tongues

Here is how Ray Fairchild blew my mind yesterday. 

In the Thursday Bible study that I teach, we are currently studying Acts.  Sometimes called "The Acts of the Apostles," it should more aptly be named, "The Acts of the Holy Spirit."  Or since it is really Luke's Gospel Part 2, it might be called, "The Further Acts of Jesus Christ."   Anyway, it is clear that the main character in Luke's story is the Holy Spirit, who is Jesus Christ/God.  In Acts, the Holy Spirit is all over the place, taking the good news of the kingdom in all directions, using this apostle, then that apostle, bringing all kinds of formerly unlikely people to salvation.  And he is doing it without a set "template".  Meanwhile the apostles are scrambling to keep up and to figure out some criteria by which they can know for sure this is God at work, because it doesn't look like the ways they expected God to work.  Sound familiar?  Sounds like most of the Bible.  Sounds like my life.

Currently in our Thursday Bible study we have reached Acts 10-11, the conversion of Cornelius and his household.  In which Peter is taken so far outside his comfort zone and asked to rethink so many of his assumptions about God.  In which we see the Holy Spirit fall upon Cornelius and his household before they even confess and are baptized. In chapter 11, Peter gets hauled to Jerusalem by James and the other Jewish believers who are appalled by what they hear.  You can imagine them gasping at almost every sentence out of Peter's mouth as the story unfolds.  (He whaaat?  They whaaat?)  The big "whaaat?" comes when Peter tells them the Holy Spirit fell and it looked exactly like it did when it happened to them in the Upper Room at Pentecost. 

After Bible study, Kim and I were talking with Ray Fairchild, our evangelism minister, about the whole Pentecost experience, especially the speaking in many tongues.  Why don't Baptists do that?  Where do charismatics get their theology for the way they practice this?  I'm not getting into that here, so calm down.

Here is an interesting thing about speaking in tongues, though, that we've learned as we've studied Acts on Thursdays.  Note this:

Acts 2:1-11
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

When the Holy Spirit fell upon the believers, they weren't just babbling nonsense.  They were speaking in the languages and dialects of all the people who were in Jerusalem for Pentecost, the culminating day of the Jewish Feast of Weeks.  The gospel of Jesus Christ was being proclaimed in a language that each person could understand—something the disciples' weren't naturally capable of. 

This is exactly what Jesus said would happen:  "You will receive power [which you don't have] when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and [then] you will be my witnesses..." 

The whole book of Acts is about getting God's message—God's story—out to all people.  In a way they can understand it.  Using whatever means the Spirit needs to use in order to do it.  Overcoming any barrier.

And this is the part about how Ray Fairchild blew my mind.  He followed me into my office after our little discussion on speaking in tongues and asked me, "When is the first time in the Bible that someone speaks in tongues?" 

I'm thinking I'm supposed to know this, but I also know Ray, so this is a trick question. The answer is not what I think it is. 

Ray smiles.  He has a twinkle in his eye.  But I am still not prepared for what he says.

"It's when the snake speaks to Eve in the garden."


I am still contemplating this idea a day later.  Unless Eve spoke "snake" (Parseltongue, for all you Harry Potter fans), then the snake spoke Eve's language.  And that is very un-natural.

Could it be that Satan uses the same strategy to get his message out?  He speaks in the language you understand best to convey his gospel, which is a no-gospel.  It is not good news.

In our Thursday Bible study, we've been learning that the Bible can be read as a series of individual stories.  This is how we learned the Bible stories as kids in Sunday School.  Noah built an ark.  David killed a giant.  Mary had a baby.  I call these "me-stories."  These are great stories, and we can learn a lot about God and people by reading them.

But the Bible is really one really big story—the God-story.  It is the story of what God has been doing across history.  It reveals to us what God wants, what he is like, how he works and what he is working toward. We call this the "metanarrative."  All the me-stories fit into the God-story.  Every me-story has more value, more purpose, makes more sense when read through the lens of the God-story.

In any story, there are characters.  There is the protagonist, the hero of our story.  Who is the protagonist of the God-story?  God.  God is the hero;  he wants something, and he is willing to overcome obstacles to get it.  What does God want?  People.  Or more specifically, a relationship with people.  He wants our hearts.  We know this because in the beginning of the story, God creates people, and they have a relationship, a harmonious relationship.  And we know it's what God wants because at the end of the story, when he wins, there is relationship restored.  When God bursts into a song of happiness at the end of the story, this is what he sings:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God." (Revelation 21:2-3)

Every story also has an antagonist, the enemy of our hero.  He also wants something and is willing to overcome obstacles to get it.  Who is the enemy in the God-story?  Satan.  And what does Satan want?  He wants to be God.  He is working to have our hearts because he doesn't want God to have them.

But in every story there is also another category of characters:  the agonists.  The agonists are caught up in the struggle between the hero and the enemy.  They feel the tug-of-war;  they take the fall-out.  You recognize that feeling, don't you?  Because who are the agonists in the God-story?  We are.  We are caught up in the conflict between God and Satan. 

It's very important that we understand that the story we are living in is the story of God vs. Satan.  Because when we live at the me-story level, we are tempted to think the plot is God vs. me.  Or perhaps me vs. my circumstances. 

Circumstances are very powerful, and I think they are a "tongue" through which Satan speaks to us his no-gospel, getting us to believe that the true story is God vs. me—that God isn't trustworthy enough to have my heart.

It's so easy to read the Pentecost story and get distracted by all the fire and wind.  We miss the point that the disciples were suddenly able to speak in tongues so that they could say in a way that every person could best hear it the news that God wanted their hearts and had gone to great lengths to get them back.

So I do not doubt that Satan will go to great lengths to speak in any tongue that might cause me to doubt this.

If I find anything in the further study of Acts that changes my mind on this, I will let you know.

P.S.  Donald Miller goes into greater detail about protagonists, antagonists and agonists in his wonderful book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  You should read it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Quote of the week

Through pride the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every vice, it's the complete anti-God state of mind.
- C.S. Lewis

(More to come this weekend on this topic.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Question of the week

Yesterday in church, the sermon text was Genesis 22:1-19, in which God tests Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his son Isaac. 

When we were studying for the sermon this week, Jay Strother sent me this note, which a member had found in his father-in-law's old Sunday School lesson notes:

“This was more that the sacrifice of his son.  This was the sacrifice of himself and his hope for the future — but until he was able to lay everything he had on the altar, God could not use him — so it is with us.”

I've been pondering this statement.  Do you think it is true?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Watching for fire

When I was just about 6 years old, I became a Christian.  I don't remember much about it.  I do remember going school the next day and being so excited to tell my best friend.  I remember looking in the mirror and wondering if people could tell by looking at me that I was different.  Nobody seemed to notice the difference, so by third period I'd had enough of radiating my newness, and I turned around and whispered to the girl behind me:

"I'm a Christian."

"No, you're not," she said, coloring her map.

"Yes, I am," I insisted. 

"Not," she replied.


That's what I remember about becoming a Christian.

Also this:  I remember being told that when I gave my heart to Jesus, he came to live in me.  This was great.  I had the Almighty God on my side now. And I had plans, baby.

I think I was born with plans.  Plus I had parents who told me I was special, not just average, that I could be anything I wanted—in fact, should be.  I believed them. 

So most of my life with God has been me marching up to him with my agenda, slapping it on his desk and in effect saying, "Here's what we're going to be doing today.  Here's my part, and here's your part; I've highlighted it for you."

When I get frustrated with God, it's because he's not doing the part I assigned him. 

Then I stumbled upon Psalm 5:3.  You might just read right past it in other translations, but in The Message, Eugene Peterson translates it like this:

       Every morning, I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend.

This was the Hebrew morning prayer, words which started their day.  Every day.  This would have meant much more to them than it does to us, because their camp was literally built around an altar, saturated in the smells of sacrifice.  They were familiar with the wood and the smoke, the smell of fresh blood and burning flesh.  They made their way through the camp leading their sacrifice on its rope.  They stood at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting before the great bronze altar.  You didn't just fling your sacrifice up before God.  The priest carefully cut it into pieces according to specific instructions, placing them on the altar with intent and care.  You watched as the flames leapt, the fat sizzled and burned. 

When I stumbled upon this verse several years ago, I was searching for a way to re-think my life—my exhausting overextended unfocused life.  And God said:

"This is how I want you to approach me."

"This is what we're going to be doing today," God said.  "Here's my part, and here's your part;  I've highlighted it for you."

"Your part:  Lay out the pieces of your life before me.  Stand back.  And pay attention.
My part:  Fire."

Sometimes, as I watch, God burns away what doesn't belong in my day, in my heart, in my life plan.

"Let's don't worry about that thing you have scheduled at 11:30.  You're not ready for it.  I'm not done getting you ready for it." 

"That right there—see the flames?  That has to go.  It's going.  Yes.  Gone."

Other times, God lights up an area of my life with the fire of his Spirit.  I  know that's where he's at work doing something.  I need to pay attention.

Paying attention requires time and intent.  But it is so much less exhausting than pushing my agenda. 

You might be thinking, "This is a crazy way to live.  She has no plan."

Why, yes, I do have a plan:  I plan to watch what God is doing and join him.

If you're interested, you can watch with me here.