Monday, 22 July 2013

Desperate for Grace

Quite frankly, without a sense of desperation to intimately know the transforming power of God's grace, we will never be able to grasp the absolute impossibility of trying to live our lives without it.

Over the years, and through the ups and downs of numerous emotional and spiritual battles, my "soldier" heart has needed to regularly take a deep breath, be still in the presence of a mighty and holy God, and acknowledge to myself and to my Lord:  this "warrior" is just a child.  The children's song, Jesus Loves Me, says it best as it acknowledges my state of utter dependance: "I am weak but He is strong."

2 Corinthians 12: 7-10 has been an anchor for me during so many seasons of my life.   It reminds me that I am a sinner saved by grace, that I have conceited tendencies that easily beset me, and that I have a tormenting enemy who God is somehow using to press me closer into His grace:

"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surprising great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

If we isolate just the words that God spoke to Paul, within the quotation marks, we realize that God doesn't give details about Satan and He doesn't talk about Paul's problems.  Rather, He directs Paul's gaze back to His all-sufficient GRACE which alone can sustain a wounded warrior's soul.

Peter Scazzero's devotional, "The Daily Office", brings an important reminder to the subject of grace:

"The Bible does not spin the flaws and weaknesses of its heroes.  Abraham lied.  Hosea's wife was a prostitute.  Peter rebuked God.  Jonah was a racist.  John Mark deserted Paul.  Elijah burned out.  Jeremiah was depressed and suicidal.  Thomas doubted.  Moses had a temper.  Timothy had ulcers.  Even David, one of God's most beloved friends, committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband.  Yet all these people send the same message: that every human being on earth, regardless of their gifts and strengths, is weak, vulnerable, and dependant on God and others."

He goes on to say, "The pressure to present an image of ourselves as strong and spiritually "together" hovers over most of us.  We feel guilty for not measuring up; for not making the grade.  We forget that all of us are human and frail."

God's grace comes to us in 3 primary ways:
1) Above all, it is communicated to us through God's Word, demonstrated perfectly by Jesus Christ, and quickened within our hearts by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

2) Secondly, we extend grace to one another.  Fellow believers are not required to "earn" our grace.... nor are they required to prove themselves worthy to receive it.  We are to give it freely, as freely as we have received it.  We are to be known as a people of grace and truth.

3) Perhaps the most difficult application of grace is the grace we need to extend to our own souls.  The grace from God and the grace from others will be meaningless if we do not accept the gift and encourage our own hearts to drink deeply from it.  Feelings of unworthiness, guilt, self sufficiency, and pride often seek to undermine the FREE and UNDESERVED GIFT of God's grace.  Yet we must fight the fight of faith and cast the anchor of our souls deep into the ocean of God's unmerited favour.  We are to be rooted and grounded in the grace AND love of Christ.

Let's not live in denial by running from our weaknesses and failures.
Let's run right into them and find the Grace that awaits us!
















Thursday, 18 July 2013

C.S. Lewis: Thoughts on Prayer

Having read numerous books from C.S. Lewis, it was a pleasure for me to actually hear him speak, accompanied by his delightful British accent.  This recording was heard on BBC radio during the War years and, along with numerous others, was formative in the making of his book "Mere Christianity".  Sadly, this is the only recording that survived.

In this particular talk, Lewis addresses a perplexing question that most of us have likely wrestled with:  How is God able to hear MY prayer when millions of people around the world are praying to Him at the same time?

Lewis says this:
"Almost certainly God is not in time.  His life doesn't consist of moments following one another.  If a million people are praying to Him at 10:30 tonight, He doesn't have to listen to them all in that one little snippit of time we call "10:30".  "10:30", and every other moment from the beginning to the end of the world, is always the present for Him.  If you like to put it this way, He has infinity to listen to the split second of prayer."

He goes on to say this, "The point I want to drive home is that God has infinite attention, and infinite measure to spare, for each one of us.  He doesn't have to take us in a line.  You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only thing He created."

Now that's the encouragement I need to keep on praying!!!

Part 1:



Part 2:




Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Wade Burleson: Only Servants and No Masters

Wade Burleson communicates the heart of true leadership in this excellent message entitled: Only Servants and No Masters. I trust you will be blessed as Wade "rocks your world" with his answer to the question, "How does a Christian lead?"
 
Only Servants and No Masters (Hebrews 13:7) from Emmanuel Enid on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Radical Obedience of Bonhoeffer and Rebekah

(For an updated version of this post, check out this link posted on March 30, 2014)

I have recently finished reading the biography of "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy" , masterfully written by Eric Metaxas.  It is a lengthy book that warrants a more extensive review than the references I will be making today yet I wanted to briefly draw attention to a few motivations and actions of Dietrich Bonehoeffer as they relate to one of my newest hero's in the Bible, Rebekah.

Bonhoeffer was one of history's greatest and most surprising of social reformers.  He had the prophetic ability to understand the days he was living in, the insight to recognize how the Word of the Lord applied to his battle to save the Jews from Hitler's hands, and he possessed amazing faith and courage to willingly pursue justice and righteousness, even at the cost of his own life and reputation.  

Bonhoeffer was not drawn as much to the "letter" of the law as he was to the "Spirit" of the law.  Metaxas writes, "It was the God beyond the texts, the God who was their author and who spoke to mankind through them, that fired his interest."  Bonhoeffer was willing to learn from other teachers in the established church but he always maintained a level of "intellectual independence" which allowed him the spiritual freedom to follow the voice of his Shepherd, wherever it would lead. 

Early on in his ministry,  Bonhoeffer would meet with a group of young men in his home to discuss various topics related to the Christian life.  One of the key ethical questions that Bonhoeffer's group discussed, a question that links his heart directly to the heart of Rebekah, is this question:   "Is there such a thing as a necessary lie?"

For those who know the story well, you will know that Bonhoeffer's actions ultimately answer this question more effectively than words ever could.  The decisions Bonhoeffer would make (in direct opposition to Hitler's regime and in order to save the Jews) would draw much criticism from within the broader church context.  The murmurings of disapproval and condemnation were difficult to endure but the social isolation and pain he felt would serve to represent another "death to self" for him,  a surrendering of his reputation and "good name" within the church, all for the sake of following Jesus.

By the end of his life, Bonhoeffer "had theologically redefined the Christian life as something active, not reactive.  It had nothing to do with avoiding sin or with merely talking or teaching or believing theological notions or principles or rules.  It had everything to do with living one's whole life in obedience to God's call through action."

At the point in the story where Bonhoeffer had officially joined the conspiracy to murder Hitler,  Metaxas points out that Bonhoeffer "was not just telling little white lies...he was 'sinning boldly'.  He was involved in a high-stakes game of deception upon deception, and yet Bonhoeffer himself knew that in all of it, he was being utterly obedient to God." 

Now let me introduce you to Rebekah.  

Like Bonhoeffer, Rebekah's story contains a troubling account of lies and deception.  When the church has traditionally read the story of Rebekah, they have often been quick to jump to conclusions, criticizing Rebekah, and calling her actions "manipulative".  Many sermons have condemned her for her lack of trust in God and her lack of submission to her husband.  

I totally disagree with the historical portrayal given to this amazing woman.  
I believe that, like Bonhoeffer,  Rebekah has clearly and sacrificially demonstrated, with her words and with her actions, that doing the will of God always supercedes doing the will of man.  

We know from our introduction to Rebekah that she was a woman who was willing to submit to God's leading in her life.  Her family did not force her to follow Abraham's servant in order to marry Isaac, a man she had never seen before.  They left the decision totally up to her and her simple response was, “I will go”.  

It was Rebekah who later inquired of the Lord as to why the twins were jostling in her womb.  “The Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.’ ”  The firstborn was Esau, the second born was Jacob. 

It’s important that we understand, as Rebekah did, that the traditional primogeniture (the law of the firstborn) would NOT apply to her boys.  This fact of God choosing to turn TRADITION upside down occurs over and over in scripture.   

As we read on, we see that Rebekah accepted what God had said to her about Jacob while it was Isaac who would continue to rebel against God’s spoken decree by favoring Esau.   Interestingly, this puts Rebekah in full agreement with God according to Romans 9:13; “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated.”

So, why did Isaac deliberately overlook the son that God had chosen to bless?  Why did he continue to give preference to the son who willfully violated God’s covenant by taking Hittite women as his wives?  Hebrews 12:16 calls Esau a sexually immoral and profane man “who sold his inheritance for a single meal”. 
In wrestling through these questions, we begin to see a different dynamic in the events of this story.  From a spiritual perspective, it was actually Isaac, not Rebekah, who was trying to manipulate the hand of God in trying to ensure that Esau got the blessing that rightfully belonged to Jacob.   

In Gen. 27:5, the narrative makes special mention of the fact that “Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to Esau” about going out to kill some game so that he could give his blessing to Esau before he died.  

This was “providential” information for Rebekah and it would seem that God actually wanted her to know what Isaac was scheming.  Hearing Isaac’s words would confirm to her that, even in his old age, Isaac was still stubbornly intent on disregarding God's revealed will.  Knowing Isaac’s intent mobilized Rebekah into action and her response to this information was actually facilitating God’s purposes for the future nation of Israel.

A key factor in this story is that the oracle was given to Rebekah, not  to Isaac.  It was entrusted to her by God and where God imparts such knowledge, He also imparts great responsibility.  Yes, including a woman!! 

Rebekah then tells Jacob to disguise himself and Jacob raises a legitimate question in 27: 12: “ What if my father touches me?  I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself.” 

Rebekah's response “appears” as though she is incriminating herself: “My son, let the curse fall on me.  Just do what I say and get them for me.”  Was her strong language an admission of guilt OR was it related to something else?? 

Amazingly, there is a biblical connection that shines beautiful light on what Rebekah is saying and doing here.  Like Bonhoeffer, Rebekah's course of action will not appear to follow the human standard for "moral obedience".  Even though Rebekah lived prior to the laws of Moses, her actions reveal that God's law for obedience was already written on her heart.   It was her love for God's prophetic word that will ultimately determine the moral compass that motivates her subsequent actions.  This is very important so follow this connection closely!!!

The very same language that Rebekah uses in vs. 13 is echoed again by the apostle Paul in Romans 9: 3: 
[Note: Every mention of "theirs" is speaking directly of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel]

Paul said: “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.  Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises.  Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!! Amen!!” 

Do you catch the excitement in Paul’s words as he marvels at God’s purposes in choosing Jacob [Israel]??  Can you begin to understand why Rebekah was SO intentional in making sure the blessing indeed went to Israel and not to Esau??  

Paul’s willingness to take on a curse, in the same way that Rebekah did, reveals how this unusual phrase is being motivated by genuine love for God’s purposes.  Bonhoeffer's willingness to sacrifice his life for the Jews was motivated by this same love.  Jesus himself became a curse for us so that we might become the righteousness of God.  

Like the apostle Paul, and like Bonhoeffer, Rebekah longed to see the purposes of God fulfilled even if it meant that she herself would be cursed.  That’s not manipulation or deception.  Rather, we are witnessing her sheer obedience and love for the word which God had spoken to her heart!!!   If only Isaac had submitted himself to God’s purposes as Rebekah had done. 

Just 7 verses later, the link to Rebekah is completed when Paul refers to Jacob and Esau as “Rebekah’s children”.   If Paul had wanted to rebuke her actions or reprimand her for her insubordination, this would have been the place to do it.  But he doesn’t.  Instead he affirms her by using the same language she herself used.

After Isaac’s shocking revelation that the blessing had not gone to his beloved Esau, Isaac responds to Esau’s plea with this lame excuse:  "Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing."  Excuse me???  Isaac still didn’t get it!!  He was blind in more ways than one.  This blessing was never intended for Esau!

Returning to Genesis 27, there is one more significant detail in the narrative that clearly demonstrates Rebekah’s strong desire to see Jacob [Israel] walk in God’s blessing.  As providence would have it, once again Rebekah hears, from an unmentioned source, that Esau plans to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac dies.  Rebekah’s love for God, and her love for “Israel”, shifts quickly into protective mode as she notifies Jacob that he is in danger and must prepare to leave.

Not only is Rebekah aware of Jacob’s physical danger but she is also aware of his spiritual danger if he remains among the godless women that lived in their community.  Rebekah addresses her concerns to Isaac and complains about the state of ungodliness all around her:

“I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women.  If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”  

This was not an offhand comment made by a depressed and grumbling wife.  Rather, these words reflect a holy hatred for the same behaviors that God hated.  Her words reflect a zealous heart that yearned for Jacob to marry “in the Lord”, that he might choose a wife from within the family of God and that the blessings and promises of God would NOT be hindered by disobedience and ungodliness.  

As I continue to reflect on the amazing courage and spiritual leadership displayed by Rebekah throughout this story, I believe this is one story that it would greatly benefit the church to read more carefully.  Our voices need to join with the apostle Paul’s in affirming Rebekah’s love, not condemning her.  It’s a reminder to me that the patriarchal voices in various contexts of the church and home are not always to be trusted.  As women who follow Jesus, we must therefore find healthy ways of showing respect to those around us while making sure our obedience to God always comes first.  We cannot serve two masters.  

Like Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, and Bonhoeffer, Rebekah has brought surprising clarity to what it means to live courageously  before an audience of One.  She
 inspires me to fear God, not man.  

[To read a similar story about another courageous woman who was sensitive to God’s leading in her life, read the story of Abigail and David recorded in 1 Samuel 25.]





Monday, 15 July 2013

Zimmerman Trial, Racism, and Gender Roles

In the wake of the recent trial of George Zimmerman, it appears the "not guilty" verdict is being perceived as yet another reminder of how racism still exists in America today.   Today's post on Thabiti Anyabwile's Gospel Coalition blog is a clear reflection of how a well respected and influential black pastor has interpreted the outcome of this trial.

I have not followed the trial closely enough to comment on wether or not justice has been served.  However, what did catch my attention is the passion and conviction that this trial has evoked in Thabiti's own heart.  This trial appears to have stirred a painful reminder to Thabiti that the reality and sting of racism is still alive and well.  The racial attitudes of the 1950's are not as far removed as he had hoped.

The paragraph that caught my attention is Thabiti's response to what he perceives as injustice and where he bares his soul, declaring fresh resolve to the following courageous quest:

"But what does my Bible tell me? And how does our fixation on “race” square with its pages? “From one man God made every nation (ethnicity) of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth…” (Acts 17:26). African-American fathers and mothers valiantly used that same passage to fight for the full humanity of both African Americans and every White people in this country. Now it seems we need a fresh appropriation of it to fight for a human self-understanding free of the lie of “race,” a lie that poisons everything. I’m tired of drinking that poison. So I’m committing myself to an open campaign of resistance–resistance to the tired old social script that never gets rewritten and always gets replayed, like reruns on the classic TV channel. I’m committing myself to being rigorous and tenacious in appropriating an ethnic and cultural identity free of race-based theory, intolerant of it, and hungry for a greater immersion into my identity in Jesus Christ. I’m committing to disentangling “race” from ethnicity and culture, to rejecting the former as a fiction and bringing the latter under the lordship of Christ. I’m committing to disentangling class, privilege, and cowardice. And I’m committing to being misunderstood by others so in love with the current categories they can’t imagine life differently. But what will I have lost if I’m misunderstood? Because men currently view skin the way we do, most of us are already misunderstood. I’m seizing a chance at a new understanding".

This resonated so intensely with me because everything Thabiti reveals about his frustration with racism is exactly what I, as a woman, feel about the injustices and inequalities of the great gender divide within our churches.   I could not help but adapt Thabiti's words and make them my own even though my words are directed at a rather different but equally real and legitimate injustice.  It's an injustice that I don't think Thabiti himself recognizes just yet but I am hopeful that someday he will make the connection.  Perhaps using his own words and phraseology will help me clarify my point:

"But what does my Bible tell me? And how does the Church's fixation on "gender roles" square with its pages? From one man God made every nation of people (male and female), that they as men and women should inhabit and rule the whole earth… (Genesis 1 :26-28).  Egalitarians have  valiantly used this same passage (along with Galatians 3:28) to fight for the full humanity of both male and female. Now it seems we need a fresh appropriation of it to fight for a human self-understanding free of the lie of “gender restrictions” , a lie that poisons everything. I’m tired of drinking that poison. So I’m committing myself to an open campaign of resistance–resistance to the tired old traditional social script that never gets rewritten and always gets replayed, like reruns of "Leave it to Beaver" on the classic TV channel. I’m committing myself to being rigorous and tenacious in appropriating an ethnic and cultural identity free of patriarchal theology, intolerant of it, and hungry for a greater immersion into my identity as a free and liberated woman in Jesus Christ. I’m committing to disentangling “patriarchal ideology" from the church and culture, to rejecting the former as a fiction and bringing the latter under the lordship of Christ. I’m committing to disentangling hierarchy based on gender, privilege, and control. And I’m committing to being misunderstood by others so in love with the current complementarian "gender role model" that they can’t imagine relationships that function on the premise of equality. But what will I have lost if I’m misunderstood? Because men currently view the female gender the way they do, most of us bold, courageous, and egalitarian men and women are already misunderstood. I have nothing to lose so I’m seizing a chance at a new understanding."

Thabiti's final resolve is that he is thankful he possesses "the 2 most powerful weapons": prayer and preaching.  As a black pastor who is grieved by the effects of racism, at least he still has the privilege and "rights" to those 2 weapons.  As a white woman within my particular denomination, the weapon of "preaching"  is not an option for me.  It's not the color of my skin that disqualifies me.  I am disqualified because of my gender, something I cannot change any more than a man can change the color of his skin.   But I am allowed to pray and therefore I have one powerful weapon, not two.

Yet I am hopeful.  The pulpit may be "off limits" for women but in a twist of technological opportunity, many of us have found a "Platform" in the world of blogging.  God has made a unique and powerful way for us to get His message out there while our consciences find release to voice what the Lord has laid upon our hearts.  

For many women, a blogging audience is considerably larger than most pastors have in their pews on any given Sunday morning.  (For example, my first month of blogging reached almost 1,000 page views).   I know Thabiti follows blogs of women (as seen in this post about Wendy Alsup's New Wave Complementarianism) so he can vouch for the effectiveness of a woman's voice within this context. 

Thabiti's prayer (below) is also my prayer and I am empowered in my speech with the same Holy Spirit who empowers him to preach:

"But I can pray. And I have the privilege of preaching. And I believe those are the two most powerful weapons in the world. I believe God hears my prayers in Christ. I believe he makes my words powerful when I preach Christ. I believe mountains get moved, hearts get changed, hands are put to work, and heaven comes down again when I pray and when I preach. I’m so weak. I’m so foolish. I’m so limited. But God is not. The Lord is so strong. The Lord is all-wise. The Lord is unlimited, unstoppable, unshakable, unchanging, and un-anything else that might be a human handicap. So I’m going to God. Not as a means of escape or simply to lament and mourn. Lamentation and mourning have their place. I’m going to God because He is God. He can fix it. He does all things well. He is great. He reigns. And He will do all what I can’t. He’ll even do what I can do far better than if I did it in my own wisdom or strength. Actually, apart from Him I can do nothing. Apart from Him I don’t want to do anything. In fact, I don’t want to be apart from Him. So with faith and desire I’m going to God in prayer and gospel preaching.
No doubt there are better plans. Certainly there are folks with stronger feelings and louder voices. But this is what I can do living on a Caribbean island and looking for the coming consummation of the Kingdom of God when Jesus returns. Because He is coming, I’m hopeful."

I hope Thabiti and other Church leaders will be able to sense in their hearts the similar connection between racism and the gender divide.  Wherever we find ourselves on the receiving end of inequality, wether due to race OR gender, it's important to establish that the FEELINGS of inferiority in both instances are the same!! Any attempt to biblically legitimize "roles within the church and family" based on race or gender is an appeal to live according to the flesh, not the Spirit.

Church, it's time that we let go of the lies and make the necessary changes to walk in Truth!