Deeper In

In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis writes of sailing into a place of dreadful darkness, a place where dreams come true. Some sailing with the crew rejoice. Finally, their fantasies will be fulfilled! Then they come to realize how terribly wrong they have been, as they drag aboard the victim of this madness who had been adrift in a sea of his worst nightmares. Dreams sometimes do come true with inexorable import.

Many years ago I had a dream. In the warm sunshine of a summer day I saw a wide road through a lovely pine wood. This forest was immense, lovely, and green. On the roadway through this wood people walked along in clusters of two and three, in comfort and ease, secure and calm. As I watched, my eyes were drawn to the edges of the view where bright flames shot up above the green. The forest was burning. Red tongues of flame leapt up at the edges, threatening to burst onto the road and engulf every traveler.

Crying out to warn the walking travelers, they looked back at me in unbelief and continued along at a calm, steady pace, as you would take a leisurely Sunday afternoon stroll around the neighborhood with conversation and laughter. I called out louder, “Run! Fire!” to which there was no response. Around me were gathered a group of children and I rushed to take their hands. Nearby was a blue river of clear water and we waded in, first up to our ankles, but this wasn’t going to be enough. Then, we went knee-deep, finally, shoulder-deep, and then we let the water cover our heads. I was worried the children wouldn’t be safe, but the water covered us and we found we could still breathe. Peace, protection from the fire-storm around us, holy water bathed us all.

The sky is dark yellow today and out my window the ash falls silently. Fires driven by powerful winds have exploded across the Pacific Northwest, consuming thousands of acres and hundreds of homes; whole communities of people are no more. What the pandemic has done silently, invisibly, the fires have continued openly. Choking, acrid air closed our school today, which has been bravely open, small as it is, to take the hands of children and lead them to the only source of safety, Jesus Christ.

This is not a time to take a leisurely stroll through life. It is time to take the warning that life is more than pleasure, more than comfort and ease, more than social status, pride, possessions, and power. Life is a gift from God, to be lived in Him, for His glory. Purpose, joy, holy calling, these make a life worth living. These are the gifts He gives.

Oh, look carefully for the cool, clear water near to every one of us and be baptized into Him. Trade your old life for a new, clean heart and wade deep into His new way of living, dependent upon His Spirit and not upon your old human ways. It is only under this water that we can safely breathe.

Dear Christian

Thank you for asking me about my beliefs. I really appreciate it, even if you are only hoping to straighten me out of my liberal views. It is so much kinder to ask me than to just dismiss me as a heretic, as I fear some of my friends are tempted to do.

To think Christianly requires more than a glance at the surface of an issue, whether it be emotionally charged, as abortion or immigration issues tend to be, or mundane and easily dismissed, like insurance budgets and $30.00 car tabs. I like to ask myself the difficult questions, and ponder the answers in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here’s what I mean:

On Abortion

Every unborn child except for those “engineered” pregnancies (which might make a good topic for another letter) begins with sex between a man and a woman. We often ask the wrong question about solving the problem of abortion. We ask, “Why would anyone abort a living child?” Abortion is a cruel, terrible thing. Most people agree on that point. But the real question at the root of the problem of unplanned pregnancy is this one, “Why do men and women engage in selfish sex that creates unwanted children?” If we could address the root, we might have a chance to heal the fruit.

Men and women engage in sexual activity resulting in unplanned pregnancy, “protected” or not, because we are in pain, because we are lustful, because we are afraid of being alone, because we feel powerless and empty, because we have been raped or pressured by someone stronger than ourselves, because we are LOST. To do away with the fruit of human sexuality, innocent human beings, is immoral. I fully agree. But to solve the problem at the root of the issue we have to accept that humans are sinful and there is only one cure, death. Christ’s death and resurrection provide the only healing there is for sin, shame, guilt, lust, fear, evil within us. Voting for a supposedly “pro-life” candidate will never cleanse anyone from sin. Loving people and sharing Christ’s great good news is the healing hope we need.

I find that many “pro-life” candidates leave the man completely out of the equation when attempting to clean up our sinful sexual problems. Placing the responsibility solely on the woman, they forget that men are also culpable. Where are the fathers of these children? Who will hold them accountable for their part in this evil? Many of these politicians use the issue only to make themselves look good to those whose votes they need. They often are themselves sexual predators, instead of seeing women as equal image-bearers of God. Blaming and shaming women who are already suffering makes them less likely to alleviate their pain by trusting Jesus fully and following Him.

On Racial Rage

Here is the question I ask myself in light of the Portland and Seattle protests. “Why do men and women act violently against their own society?” President Trump has decided to take action by creating an extra-judiciary police force which has no accountability except to his administration. Both the governors of Oregon and Washington, and the mayors of both cities have asked him not to send these forces into their cities. It seems to have only made the situations worse. Why?

People act violently because of pain, fear, lust for power, selfish pride, greed, frustration, a sense of powerlessness to get the help we need, because we are LOST. We are like men and women stuck at the bottom of a well, sinking under murky water. Black men and women who have been the victims of murder at the hands of the agents of society have a long history of living at the bottom of the well of poverty, institutional racism, and generational pain. Some have chosen to burn the ladder that reaches into the well to lift them out. It’s understandable. Sending down flame-throwers, riot batons, and tear gas is not a good solution. Politicians who use these methods are only trying to garner votes with short-term “solutions”. Many black people have used education, business ownership, community support and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to create systems of lifting themselves and others out of the well. These are good solutions if you have someone’s shoulders to stand on. I think we need to lengthen the ladder, too.

We could work together with community members to address the felt needs that inflame violent protests. We might fill in the well so people can walk out. This might be in the form of reparations for four hundred years of slavery. We might throw down ropes or new ladders that actually reach the majority of people in the well. We might even go down the ladder and let people stand on our shoulders to get out. Teachers, pastors, small business owners, non-profit organizations are all doing this hard work already. It is work that Jesus would do because it traffics in selfless love for one’s neighbor. It doesn’t get much attention, but it works.

On Racial Superiority

Why do men and women clamber to maintain social favoritism for a select group of people they identify with? Again, we are in pain, we feel inferior, we fear we will be left behind, we lust for power, we have selfish pride, we are greedy, we are LOST. There is a solution for this but it is an uncomfortable one. We must die to self, and love others as Jesus has loved us. Instead, certain political leaders would like us make our nation MORE selfish and LESS inclusive. Instead of doing the hard work of making our nation a just one, it gains more votes and keeps them in power for us to simply love ourselves more (if we are white and middle class) and love our brown and black neighbors less. We risk far too much to let this kind of racial sin rule our nation or our hearts.

At the root of our current political situation is our need for redemption. We need people who use the Gospel of Jesus to affect thoughtful change. These people may engage in political solutions for problems and find creative, just ways to address them. Most will find unseen ways to lift others from their pain, fear, shame, lust, greed, hatred and sin through Christ’s offer of His life for theirs. The problem in all these issues is that we do not trust in God to provide a just solution for everyone. We do not believe He will remember and help us. We turn to broken cisterns for water only He provides by trusting in political leaders to “save” us. Jeremiah 2:12-14

Through faith in Him, we can become hopeful healers in our broken, burning cities. Vote your conscience, Christian. I will vote mine. In the end, let us love our neighbor as ourselves and serve the least of these, each in his own way.

A Sojourn With the Word

Why read through the entire Bible on my own? We often look at the sunset, the starry sky, a newborn baby in wonder. But when we approach the Father of all that exists, in His way of showing Himself to us in literature, we stumble. We fear misunderstanding Him. We fear understanding Him and not liking what we discover. We draw back In revulsion at history that disgusts and confuses us. We fail to ask questions because religious ideas crowd in with shaming fingers pointed in our direction. We are proud of what we think we know and do not wish to have it challenged. In all these ways we cheat ourselves of the joy of climbing into His lap with His Book and starting a redemptive conversation. We’re like a teenager who asks, ”Why should I get to know my parents? They feed me, take me where I need to go, and dress me. Isn’t that enough?” The Bible is the unveiling of the character and nature of God, the Creator of all that exists.

But I go to church and listen to the Pastor preach. Isn’t hearing a message every week enough? Thank God for faithful people who spend their lives in prayerful study of the Word. They’re worth their weight in gold. But not everything God wants to talk to you about will fit into a 20 or 30 minute public presentation. When we read the entire testimony of God’s actions among a variety of humans in a multitude of situations we see a much clearer picture of his intentions, his motives, and his purposes among us. Each day we take 20 – 30 minutes to read prayerfully, conversationally, with one ear tuned to the Holy Spirit’s gentle voice we gain heaven’s perspective on all our hours, on all of life. Jesus said, “Abide in Me. Dwell in my Word, and let My Word dwell in you.” It is the setting of a compass toward Christ, our true north.

What if I don’t understand what I read? much of the Bible is written from a human perspective, the events are recorded and we are left with questions on purpose. Why? So the Author himself can provide the commentary. Since the Holy Spirit who is God Himself inspired these words, He himself intends to clarify, expand, personalize them to us. Then, too, there are those times when you need to bounce your thoughts off of the backboard of a group of others on a similar journey. Invite a few friends to read and explore the Word with you. God is a Community, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He made us for community. We understand all things more richly through conversations with other Christ-followers.


Don’t I need a professional to teach me? That’s what many churches have taught believers through the ages, but that’s not what Jesus said. He told us that he was sending the ultimate Teacher, and that One would live inside us and instruct us personally. He said the He Himself would come to us. Yes, He also gives His people the gifted men and women who are to guide the Church. I believe these are vital gifts. Yet, they are never to replace the inner Presence of the Lord abiding in each believer, Who unites, strengthens, and teaches us continually from the sanctuary of the human soul.

Where can I turn if I have questions? Never fear! The rest of the Body of Christ is near! Are you in close enough community with a small group of men and women who are committed to study the Word and seek Him honestly? Do you know where to find these friends? Many churches have small groups designed for this kind of intimate connection with others and His Word. Bible Study Fellowship is another such organization. But also, simple churches that meet together in homes are springing up in many communities. You may not know how to connect, but your Heavenly Father does. Ask Him to lead you to those who wish to seek Him, read through the Bible, and discover who Jesus really is. He will hear and answer in often unexpected ways.

Divided Times

1 Kings 10-11; 2 Chronicles 9; 1 Timothy 6

Live for the world to come with eyes constantly on the treasure – life with our Savior forever.

It’s not easy finding the Lord’s path in divided times. Solomon’s reign began in humility, wisdom, and blessing. He was clearly God’s first pick, His plan A, His anointed leader. His heart for God combined with incredible wisdom to create one earth’s finest dynastic rulers. He made peace with his neighbors and awed the Queen of Sheba with his vast expertise, a leader of leaders, a king above kings. Who wouldn’t want this rule to extend forever? But it wasn’t to last.

Solomon fell prey to the lie that his wealth and power, his wisdom and his great gifts made him invulnerable. Perhaps as his heart grew stubborn, he thought that others must need stricter guidelines from God than he did. Perhaps he felt that the alliances he made with foreign nations through marriage were necessary sacrifices for the sake of the state. Perhaps temptation crept in slowly. By the time the Lord visited Solomon a third time, his desire for sin had hardened into willful resistance to Father’s will. Solomon chose the gods of men over the God who created man. These false gods delude us, too, promising to make us great, when the One true God alone is The Great One. Division was God’s answer to this disobedient pride.

We live in divided times. As the Lord raised up a successor to Solomon over the tribes of the northern nation, so leaders are arising over factions of God’s household of faith. As Jeroboam initiated apostasy by creating a substitute system of worship that looked enough like the truth to pass a surface examination, so false worship that forsakes God’s narrow way looks close enough. God knew this would happen. He planned in advance that this challenge of having to choose loyalty to Himself alone would test His people. He made a way for 7,000 of these northern tribesmen to remain faithful to His Name even during Ahab’s reign.

Yet, the tribe of the south, Judah, was also darkened by sin. Rehoboam took his father’s throne without his father’s wisdom. He was determined to solidify his control of the nation by force, and not by godliness. This, too, is our choice in a divided world. We may through legalism try to control our out-of-control culture by condemning both sin and sinners, creating through pride a rickety shack on the shaky perch of self-righteousness from which to hurl tweets. After all, we are David’s descendants, and possess this perch of correct doctrine, whether we have the character of Christ or not. This is dangerous ground.

If we’re looking for security by belonging to one “true” tribe in this divisive time, we will be disappointed. Security is not found by which side you’re on. False gods are found on both sides of the divide, legalism on one side, pagan worship on the other.

The promise of God cuts a path through division and His grace makes a way to walk. There were faithful ones among the northern tribes in Israel and there were faithful ones in Judah. Those in the north continued to worship and serve the God of Jacob. They did not sacrifice their children to the flames of idolatry to gain wealth, fame, or fertility. Those in the tribe of Judah kept looking toward David’s Hope, the Living One, and sacrificing only to Him. It is a narrow path. The humble find it.

Paul writes to his son in the faith, Timothy, words that steadied him in divided times. They will steady us.

… people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:9-12 New Living Translation

To find God’s path in divided times we must reject false promises the world presents, whether a return to a glorious heritage of the past, or from the promise of success in the world here and now. Live for the world to come with eyes constantly on the treasure – life with our Savior forever.

The Root and the Fruit

At the risk of offending many friends, I am compelled to say that America’s problems run far deeper than Roe V Wade. What began as an attempt to bring justice to a one-sided advantage men have in the sexual freedoms, has become an altar of sacrifice to the gods we really worship: pleasure, convenience, and self-actualization. Yes, abortion rights have produced equality between the sexes in our quest for freedom, and the cost? Generations destroyed in their silent screaming.

But abortion is often the end of another evil, one of sexual violence against women and girls long swept under the cultural carpet by the worship of some other of our gods, physical beauty and strength, and violence inflamed by our culture in contests of sport which take precedence over other concerns: the health of the contestants, the dangerous exaltation of the strong above the weak, the message to young people that you can get away with anything, if you are on a varsity sports team.

I was a sensitive, shy, skinny kid in middle school whose father was exploring his sexual freedom all over town in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The revolution that made him see how repressive his marriage was, how stilted and arcane to be exclusively a husband to one wife and a father to his children, also freed him to groom his 13 year old daughter to experience these freedoms with him. Well, not with him, personally, but to express her sexuality without restraint among her peers. Those antique notions of protecting a daughter from sexual fools and predators lost a lot of traction in those days.

The varsity wrestling team was visiting our little town in 1973 at the same time Three Dog Night came there on tour. Someone who actually cared about me had asked me to go with him to the concert and afterward introduced me to a guy who knew a few things about sex. Since I was so young, so foolish, and so inexperienced, instead of getting a pizza and having more innocent fun late that night after the concert, my friend left me at the hotel and I was date raped. The next morning the police picked me up, the radio news broadcast it, and I was made to bear the blame for the incident that got a wrestler in trouble.

High school students three times my size stalked me in the hallways. Teachers drew me aside to shout their accusations at me for abusing my privilege as a wealthy business owner’s daughter. I became suicidally depressed, attempted to take my own life, and spiraled downward from there. Yes, it can get worse.

I began to believe that I was what everyone said I must be, a “whore.” These are the women men may prey upon at will because they have somehow “asked for it.” Their clothing, their experiences, their demeanor, I don’t really know how this label was attached to me. I began to be shoved into men’s bathrooms, disbelieved by teachers and even my parents, and sought comfort in alcohol and drug abuse. These older teens who provided me with the “relief” also took their piece of pie until I was a pregnant 15 year old in 1974, just at the cusp of the wave the Roe V Wade ushered in.

My mother believed an abortion was the compassionate and sane answer, a simple surgical solution. And that’s where the deception lies. There is no healing in destroying the only positive thing to come from the degradation my personal holocaust had produced, a little child. Sarah died in July 1974 at 17 weeks gestation. She was my first child. At 15 I had not the wits nor the courage to withstand the pressure to abort her. You see, “people like us” do not raise their grandchildren. “People like us” are above reproach and do not allow others to see any vulnerability nor moral failure. “We” do not humbly live out the consequences of our shameful acts, but hide and “resolve” them privately. “We” have since learned better.

So, in 1974 my child bore the consequences of the actions of many others, in order to rescue her mother from her shame. Roe V Wade permitted the legal abortion, but a whole culture had produced the child who was killed. This is my point. Until we face the sins behind our cultural shrine to Molech, the ancient god who required the blood of children to produce prosperity, we will continue to debate and divide at the surface level. We must face and repent of our deeper sins: pride which tells us who we are as “people like us,” the worship of power and athleticism which tells us “boys will be boys,” envy which permits adults to vilify the children to make themselves seem “good enough,” addiction to sexual pleasure which causes fathers and mothers to abandon their families for an elusive “happiness and fulfillment,” racism which so hates children of color, and children of the poor that elimination of them makes sense somehow. [Another essay altogether.]

In recent days we have experienced the cultural collision of two of these evils in the Supreme Court nomination hearings of Judge Kavanaugh. The United States Senate has heard testimony from sexual assault survivors and from the Judge himself. Our nation has divided along lines which have been long developing, and which are actually intertwined branches of the same vile tree. On one hand, Kavanaugh represents those who oppose abortion rights on the high moral ground that human life is sacred. On the other hand, he represents someone who in his youth lived exactly the life which produces unwanted pregnancy in numbers we must face. To repeal Roe V Wade without also repenting of the evil of sexual violence will be to cut off the branches of a deeply rooted tree while watering it at the same time.

Are we willing to turn our back on the unbridled desire for sexual pleasure in all its forms that leads to the need for abortion rights for women? What would a culture that held sexuality in its noble and holy place look like? What would relationships between men and women look like if every person was valued and protected as an image-bearer of God, regardless of social status, gender, or ethnicity? These are the questions we must grapple with until we live in a just relationship with one another.

Music Lessons

Our son hates piano lessons, and I won’t let him quit. This is something God and I have in common. I’m taking the long view. My son wakes up singing, and can hum any tune he hears. He and I make up little songs and sing them to each other.

“No, I won’t brush my teeth every day,” he croons.

“That’s what camping’s for,” I reply sounding like a stale TV commercial.

He’s musical.

So reading about God’s cleansing fire, the scorching winds of judgment, the choking smoke of his wrath, even the wine press of His final squeeze on mankind doesn’t completely freak me out. Here’s why. He’s taking the long view.

Humanity sometimes moves in step with her Heavenly Father, singing the same song he does. I’m listening to the music of the wind in the pine trees as I write these words; I gaze up as the swaying sentinels move. He breathes the wind, they dance in time.

“Love one another!” He sings.

“We welcome you, immigrant neighbor,” is our reply.

“Do justly!” His harmony drifts.

“We stand with the weak, oppressed by the powerful,”

“Love mercy!” the melody sounds and we forgive those who do us wrong.

But there are darker strains corrupting the symphony: violent, self-serving, evil. Should Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be forever silent to their discord, as some believe him to remain?

He could. He could just start fresh, as he intimated to Moses he would, and if Moses weren’t an advocate for Israel, he would have.

“What about the honor of your great Name among the peoples of the world?” Moses plead. Exodus 32:9-14

The Mighty One relented. Covenant keeper with human-kind, this is the identity he demonstrates over and over to us through the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That’s the whole point of his Israel story, from beginning to end. So what’s a holy God to do?

If you want to develop a music-maker, you keep trying to find “the way to Carnegie Hall – practice.” If you want to develop a holy, pure-hearted community of people, you keep sifting through the broken pieces for some who long to be made whole. These you treasure, these shards willing to go through the fire of re-formation, a baptism of fire that brings re-birth, a people to hold in your hands, and who hold the Eternal in their hearts.

“The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
    is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
    are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
    for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” Isaiah 5:7

What do you do with the rest, with those who choose violence, those who deal in destruction, those who spit in the eye of Love, who despise the Beautiful. What do you do with those who defile little children, breaking them body and soul for money? How do you deal with those who profit from wars that disfigure, maim, torment, and starve humanity? What do you do to separate the treasure from the trinkets, jewels from the junk?

There is a pattern in what we’ve been reading in the prophets’ writings lately. Father presses upon us a warning that starts with nature, with the land itself. In Isaiah 5:8-10 we read that He withdraws the fruitfulness of the fields.

 “The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing:

Surely the great houses will become desolate,
    the fine mansions left without occupants.
 A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine;
    a homer of seed will yield only an ephah of grain.”

Micah says this about where the judgments start:

“Therefore, I have begun to destroy you,
    to ruin you because of your sins.

You will eat but not be satisfied;
    your stomach will still be empty.
You will store up but save nothing,
    because what you save I will give to the sword.

You will plant but not harvest;
    you will press olives but not use the oil,
    you will crush grapes but not drink the wine.” Micah 6:13-16

 

Why? It’s because of their sins; they willfully forget His promises. They choose other powers to trust, powers evil and manipulative, and so become like these their chosen gods. The land produces less and less for people who indulge themselves more and more until a powerful nation overruns them. Now the scarce food must be further divided among enemies who oppress.

“He lifts up a banner for the distant nations,
    he whistles for those at the ends of the earth.
Here they come,
    swiftly and speedily!” Isaiah 5:26

Why? So they will remember Love, Justice, and Mercy. He longs that they repent, turn back, and come home to the God who has carried them in His arms; the One who taught them to walk by walking alongside them.

Finally, seeing no softening, no turning however slight, from sin, he gives them this last judgment, one that is still in effect among many in Israel to this day. He hardens their hearts. This can happen to anyone who does what they did.

He said, “Go and tell this people:

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
    be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
 Make the heart of this people calloused;
    make their ears dull
    and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”

And he answered:

“Until the cities lie ruined
    and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
    and the fields ruined and ravaged,
 until the Lord has sent everyone far away
    and the land is utterly forsaken.
And though a tenth remains in the land,
    it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
    leave stumps when they are cut down,
    so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.” Isaiah 6:9-13

Of all the terrible calamities to befall a group of people, this one is the worst. I’m more afraid of this than of any other. A hard heart is deluded into a false sense of well-being. This is why so many of the prophets who warned of disaster met with mocking crowds who laughed them out of town, or worse, hated and beat them, brutalized, and murdered them for their message.

“The king of Israel [Ahab] answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad.”1 Kings 22:8

Ahab’s heart was hard. He had begun to fight against God. This is the height of foolishness and human pride. It is something we can see so clearly in others, and can so easily overlook in ourselves. It is the final way God deals with those who belittle him. He lets them have exactly what they want.

If this is how he sifts his treasured nation, what about our nation? Ruthless as he is in justly punishing them and every other nation, do we imagine we’ll somehow be exempt in our lust and greed? What about us as individuals? How do we know we’re not among the group of people partying their way to destruction, lurching toward the last days with glee, lost in our own willful sin? (Matthew 24) How will we keep a tender heart?

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

A longing for justice, a deep desire for righteousness is at the heart of who He is. This is why the prostitutes, traitors, and tax-collectors loved Jesus – the God Man. In their hearts they recognized and loved what is just. They knew they could never get there – to the place of justice and goodness they could see in Him – on their own merit. And He saw that love and longing, that faith in who He is, and called it good. That’s the deal. That’s the Gospel. Believe in, long for, love the truth, and you will find it in Him.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

To you who long for a just world, though all around you evil rules; to you who know you need mercy, who humble yourselves to believe however feebly in goodness incarnate,  Jesus Christ, this life is practice. Tune your heart to the music of peace, to the self-sacrificing love of God. “Practice purposeful kindness, and willful acts of beauty” as Dallas Willard suggests in his book The Divine Conspiracy. Keep it up! The great symphony lies just around the bend.

 

 

 

 

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.

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