Gospel Season

The Christmas story is perhaps the most widely known text of Scripture in the Western world. Somehow amid the artificial lights and hustle a sleeping babe rests, tranquil and unassuming. His mission may be lost upon the proud manipulators of public opinion, but found by the addicted, the broken, the poor. We can find ourselves in its juxtaposition of wealthy religious leaders, robed in scarlet linen, tassled and belled, with the dirty shepherds from the hills and their bleating flocks. These flocks were destined to become lambs for sacrifice. So, too, the Babe.

We can see our pride in those who reject the lonely unwed mother, and feel our hearts strangely joyful at the message of Good News to the poor. “Peace on earth, goodwill to all mankind!” We can, with the Wise Men, find our wealth and learning worthless, pour out our richest treasure at the feet of Him who loves us so, or we can, like Herod, cling to a false sense of our own importance, and thus seek to destroy the evidence that condemns our self-exaltation as Lord of life as we know it. He gained the world, and lost his soul.

Any way we look at this manger, it collides with man-made ladders reaching toward the heavens. God comes down. God becomes man. Jacobs ladder reaches heaven through this Messiah, and my heart leaps as it is torn.

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Simple Church 2.0

On the first snowy day of the winter a cold has laid me low, and I have a quiet moment to compose this overdue letter. Since the summer months we have been pondering whether our house church network, Simple Church Yakima, should remain part of the Foursquare denomination or not. Many of us have deep roots within Foursquare, yet our practices and understanding of Scripture do diverge from the Foursquare norm. Those of us with oversight of our fellowship have wondered for quite some time how long we could keep an administrative link to a larger organization that seems to fit us like Saul’s armor.

We have worked hard to maintain good relationships with our life-long friends in Yakima’s regional division. We love and pray for each of them and count them very dear to us, as they do us. Yet, each time we’ve met together, we keep finding less and less common ground in Christ. We wanted to share our hearts, get encouragement for our walk with Jesus, listen to His voice together, and break the Bread of Life with our brothers and sisters. We were part of Foursquare to continue accountability, but found the conversation focused around programs, plans for holiday celebrations, and pastoral commiserations we do not share.

Finally, we were faced with a very practical situation where the mission of our church collided with our financial obligations as part of the denomination. Mission wins, so we have officially withdrawn from Foursquare. To be honest, it has been a relief to us, and, I imagine, to Foursquare, too.

A few practical concerns remain. How will we support those to whom we have made a commitment as a church? How will we care for the needy in our city, in our circles of relationship, in our fellowship? Will we support a teacher or pastor? Let me review our decisions so far.

We find it impractical to maintain a bank account under the name Simple Church Yakima for which there is no tax-exempt status. We don’t want to create a new tax-exempt organization recognized by the IRS; we’d end up right back where we were. Each of us is praying about which missionary to support, and directly sending that ministry the gift they have decided in their hearts to give. Each of us is praying and letting the Holy Spirit empower us to give generously to one another, as the need arises. We are trusting the Holy Spirit to use each of us in new ways to serve others and make disciples in this simple way.

As for a teacher or pastor who receives financial support from the Body they serve, there is biblical precedent. While this is intended to alleviate everyday concerns and afford more time for service, within the modern religious framework this often serves to segregate the paid professionals from the rest of the disciples of Jesus and undermine the priesthood and ministry of all believers.

In our simple fellowship, those who are led by the Holy Spirit to give to support the teachers of the Word do so as He leads them.

I hope this helps you see more clearly how Simple Church is changing, and the reasons behind the changes. If there are any questions regarding the way Jesus Christ is leading our family, any of the Fellow Servants would be glad to speak with you personally.

Simple Church Yakima Fellow Servants

Joshua Hicks

Linda Hull

Camille Jones

Keith Jones

Anne Stoothoff

Eric Stoothoff

Seth Stoothoff

No Other Savior: Galatians 5:2

I’m reading through Galatians this summer, at a very leisurely pace, I might add, when along came this verse in 5:2. “If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you.” Christ…will be…of…NO BENEFIT….to you. Those words rolled over me like a snowplow. When has my relationship with Jesus Christ been ineffective, distant, useless, impotent as far as I am concerned? When has He, Lord of all, King of the Universe, God of my heart’s cry, Father of my fatherless soul, when has HE been rendered useless, of no benefit, to me?

I think this happens subtly, before I really know it. I wake one day and realize that my fire is a pile of spent fuel, my passion is a faded picture of desire, the cup of sweet intimacy with Jesus Christ Himself is diluted. I am lukewarm. Christ has become of no benefit to me. I belong to Him forever, and yet I experience none of the delight He rescued me to know.

I am resentful of those whose innocent joy spills over into everyday life. I try to quench their childlike desire with “mature” and “sober” thoughts. Underneath this is a sense that I have lost something they have so easily found, something precious I can’t  recover on my own. I become envious and covet their happiness.

Often these lapses come during my most productive times in ministry. When I retrace my steps to the hours and moments before I lost the cup of joy that is life with Jesus, there is a consistent pattern. In place of “circumcision” in the verse, I’ll put a blank space. “If you are counting on ___________ to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you.” You can add anything you like that makes you feel right with God, anything that makes you think God’s favor rests on you, anything other than the purely irrational love of Jesus for you, and at that moment God’s grace in Christ has no effect.

The Galatians placed “circumcision” in the blank space of their life thinking this addition would put them in the “favored of God” position. Along with circumcision came a whole way of life: ceremonies, celebrations, laws, regulations. Every aspect of interaction with God and humanity was prepackaged, ready to adopt, right living with God. This kind of Savior substitute was even instituted by YWH Himself, to show us just how far we can run on our own righteousness. Diluted fuel indeed.

If our knowledge of being good in God’s eyes, pleasing to Him, is only discernible through the things we do, or give, or are working to become, we have lost connection with our Savior, Jesus, the Head of the Body of Christ; a lamp without oil, a glove with no hand, a car with no engine. We find ourselves resentful of those who seem to experience freedom with little restriction, and secretly wish them some difficulty that would clip their wings. Then they’d see its not all freedom and no responsibility in Christ. Still as their joy flows on and His favor still refreshes them, we may feel resentful and struggle not to wish them some ill, “for their own good.”

In the story of two brothers Jesus told, we are the older brother and work for Father’s favor, never missing a day and never knowing His blessing that only comes by faith from grace.

The cure? Retrace your steps. Return to the very spot where you replaced His all-consuming smile and presence with Any. Other. Thing. For the Galatians it was circumcision, inclusion in the family of Judaism with all its rituals and laws, feasts, and family obligations. For you it may be church membership, a ministry you love, work that makes you seem better than you really are, or the love of family and friends. You were born into the Church of which Jesus is Lord and Leader the moment you trusted Him, yet have added doctrine and practice, work or a lifestyle instead of Jesus Christ’s love and rescue alone to give you a sense that you are safe, whole, effective, important in Him. This is idol worship. This is the deception of false gods.

Come home. Grace keeps a candle lit in the window of Zion’s House, the heavenly Jerusalem, your heart’s true home.

 

Saturday Blues

Between the work-week and the day of worship there is a quiet day when stress fades and rest looms like the mast of a loaded supply ship on the horizon gazed upon by shipwrecked mariners. That’s what Saturday is in my dreams. In reality, Saturday is when all the dirty clothes, and all the dirty […]

via Saturday Blues — Simple Church Yakima

Saturday Blues

Between the work-week and the day of worship there is a quiet day when stress fades and rest looms like the mast of a loaded supply ship on the horizon gazed upon by shipwrecked mariners. That’s what Saturday is in my dreams. In reality, Saturday is when all the dirty clothes, and all the dirty dishes, all the dirty bathrooms, and all the empty cupboards must be washed, folded, scrubbed, loaded, filled and restocked for the next week’s labor. Saturday is childhood’s halcyon mirage, the space between work and wonder, only occasionally reclaimed by force and the distance of a long black ribbon of roadway and the siren allure of fast food.

Synthesize the dissonance and place it between desperation, disaster, and the triumph of the Trinity, and you have the Holy Week’s sandwich. Saturday on this weekend like no other is when all the work of being a disciple is really done.

Think about it. If you’ve placed your hopes in a man of this world, one who promises big and ends lifeless, you’ve lost nothing on Friday. He is another imposer in a long train of false messiah’s and you’ve just got to wait until the next spin-master shows up. If you’ve believed He is God, and hope to continue on believing, you have some heavy lifting to do. The dirty clothes of doubt, the mess of disappointment, the false security of cynicism have to be taken care of. How? How does one reconcile the fact that at the darkest moment in history, God was silent.

Into every life a little Friday night must come. Like Father, we are asked to lay down our beloved Son, our precious hope, our life’s work, our daily joy, the soft cheek of our favorite human, the emptiness swallowing up every ray of light. And in that silent pain our false gods are tested.

The gods of human hope, human expectation, human success must fall so that the God of Sunday morning may reign over us in truth. Until Friday, Jesus’ disciples were on an easy path. They followed a Man they could see. After Good Friday, Jesus’ disciples were in the crucible of a faith under fire. Peter’s denial was the dirty laundry that had to be aired, repented, chastened and cleansed if his faith was to endure.

Then there follows Saturday. Why is it more sermons aren’t preached about waiting? About the silence before hope that produces the profoundly moving faith that holds on, and having done all, to stand. It certainly lacks glamour.

And into every life a little Saturday must slough along, the day of reckoning that tests our endurance, that fits us for the race that ends with victor’s crowns. The life of faith is just that, patience when in pain, holding on when we wish we could just let go, Saturday between the death and resurrection. He is silent. He is patient. He is yet to come that we might grow up and be strong while we wait the ultimate Sunday morning, the one that lasts forever.

So hold on. Read the gospels through. Cheer a lonely traveler. Welcome an outcast and wait with all your doubt and fear and wonder for what must yet come, though does not appear over today’s horizon. In that day we will all share something in common with Jesus, our older brother: an empty tomb.

Judas or Jesus? Matthew 27:1-10

broken-bread1.jpg“Very early in the morning the leading priests and the elders of the people met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor. When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.” “What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.”

This grips my heart. I read how a follower of Jesus, someone who purported to love and announce the Kingdom of Heaven along with the other 11 radical disciples, became so offended by Jesus that he felt He must be stopped. I know it fulfills prophecy. I know this was all part of God’s plan. I know He works all of this into the marvelous tapestry of His resurrection story. I also know I’ve been a Judas..

Judas had his own ideas of how Jesus should usher in the Kingdom of God. He loved the business side of the equation. He counted and stewarded the coins. He kept close tabs on the success of Jesus’ ministry. The numbers didn’t add up to his liking. Jesus was too generous, too unconcerned with the bottom line, too holy for Judas, and this mystical, merciful man gave Judas a headache. Bitter resentment crept in. A little silver, a little gold re payed the resentment debt. After all, Jesus owed it to Judas to prove He was Messiah. Like Jonah, Judas was angry with God at His mercy.

How have I been Judas? I’ve kept score, adding up the side of all I’ve given up for the Kingdom, weighed it against all He has done for me, and found it wanting. I’ve kept track of the wrong things, built a case against Jesus in my heart of how He should have used me, how He should usher in His Kingdom, how blessed I should be.

Judas rubbed up against Jesus and all his flaws popped up like chicken pox on the surface of his soul, painful, open sores of self-interest, oozing expectations. To save Judas Jesus lived before him in light that made Judas see himself as he really was and wince. Did Judas come to realize his rebellion, his inner anti-Christ too late? I appeal to the mercy of God, and to the wisdom of Heaven’s Lord on this one. I only know myself, that I have often come to see the truth and repent late in the day, far too late to make amends, and I have been forgiven. For some answers we will have to wait.

I’ve also been like Jesus. By the mercy and grace of God, I have walked before others in Kingdom light and produced gratitude, freedom, and peace in some, resentment, bitterness, and conflict in others. You have too. For some, the light is a painful reminder of inner rebellion. Jesus said, “The servant is not greater than His Lord.” He reminded us to rejoice when we are persecuted for being righteous. This is what He means.

Let’s not focus on whether Judas was forgiven in the end. Let’s not be distracted by questions we will ask Father when we are able to know as He knows us. Let’s ask questions of ourselves today that produce in us a harvest of grateful praise to God: How am I like Judas, expecting something from God, disappointed with the Answer He has sent. How am I like Jesus to others? Am I forgiving toward those who resent the light? Is the light in me exposing darkness around me in others?

Some will draw close to God, fall at His feet and worship. Some will hate and abandon both Him and us. Glory to God in the Highest! May His peace come on earth.