Light

Wearing Nothing But a Belt

I’m studying the book of Romans this year with a group of women from a wide variety of age groups, races and religious denominations. It does my heart good to see the body of Christ in all its jasper and carnelian glory.  (See The Throne of God.)

However, studying Paul’s letters in any setting with any group, listening to everyone-but-me speak of Paul with glowing affection and adoration, I can’t help but wonder:

Who died and made Paul God?

Jesus?

We evangelicals tend to treat Paul as though he is a deity. We do. I was in a blog comment discussion once with a guy who actually wrote, “Paul was God.” To be fair, what he meant was that Paul’s words are on par with God’s. But are they?

Paul wasn’t a prophet – he didn’t speak forth the very words of God. He was a missionary, a church-planter. A flawed, human church planter. And though he had some really good things to say, he wasn’t any different than the flawed human missionaries and church planters you might know.

Everyday Christians who do not do the good they want to do, but the evil they do not want to do. Continually.

I have often wondered when this evangelical love affair with Paul began and now, thanks to my Bible study notes, I think I know. It began with Martin Luther:

“When I learned how the justification of the sinner proceeds from the free mercy of our Lord through faith… then I felt born again like a new man,” Luther wrote, … “In very truth, this language of St. Paul was to me the true gate of Paradise.” – J.H. Merle D’Aubigue, The Life and Times of Martin Luther (Chicago: Moody Press, 1958), 55-56.

“Later, Luther called Romans ‘the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel.’ He taught that ‘every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, [and] occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul.’”  – Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1976), xiii.

Purest gospel? Purer than the gospels written by those who actually lived with, served with and sat at the feet of Jesus for three years? Of those who recorded His actual words. In red letters?!

If it all began with Martin Luther, I can see how the adoration of Paul would be foundational to being an evangelical, to being born-again. No wonder I feel like the kid yelling, “The emperor is naked!” among crowds who are admiring his new clothes.

Pointing out human flaws in Paul’s logic, pointing out his sometimes defensive posture and his convoluted writing style makes me highly unfashionable. Leprous even.

But then, take a look in my closet and you will see that I’ve never been all that concerned with fashion.

Why does it rile my soul?

Because I think it does harm to the church to look at Paul’s writing through such a (falsely) rosy lens. It insults my intelligence when Bible commentators twist themselves into pretzels trying to make sense of Paul’s baffling words in order to preserve the idea of his perfection rather than just telling it like it is: Paul was human and humans get defensive, try to please everyone, misquote their sources, embellish when trying to win an argument and just plain misspeak.

The church would be healthier if we were allowed to point out the elephant in the room. Isn’t ignoring the elephant the thing that makes a family dysfunctional?

Telling the truth would also make church a lot more appealing to those who say they are too intelligent for church as well as to those who, like me, notice a bit of nakedness but feel pressured to pipe down, dress up in good Christian clothes and pretend.

I have a lot to say about Paul, whom I actually like in many ways. It’s not his fault we put on these unfortunate glasses.

If you want to know more about Paul and me, type “Paul” into the search bar at the top of this blog and scroll away.  If you’re about to throw 2 Timothy 3:16 at me, type “The Inerrancy of God” into search and read, read, read.  🙂

In the meantime, I’ll keep the belt of truth buckled firmly around my waist.

#fashionable

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Jesus, Light

It’s All About the J

I skipped the stations of the cross on Good Friday to see a movie – The Young Messiah.  The most pious among us might disapprove but, as Johnny Cash pointed out, the most pious among us are not Christian then.

I liked the movie a lot. I don’t think it was one hundred percent theologically correct, but it didn’t claim to be. It was fiction, the author’s imaginings about what Christ’s childhood may have been like.

Some Christians won’t see the movie because of the theological errors. Some won’t see it because the author of the book upon which it is based used to write books about vampires – not knowing anything else about her.  But like Johnny said…

The movie depicts Jesus performing miracles as a child.  This is where I believe the author’s imagination strays from reality. I won’t go into all my reasons for this belief – unless someone asks for them – I’ll just say that, being one of us, I don’t believe He was able to perform miracles until the Holy Spirit came upon Him at His baptism.

Because we can’t perform miracles until the Holy Spirit comes upon us.

Check out what Jesus said:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 [italics added]

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12

What happened when Jesus went to the Father? He sent His Spirit.

We can’t do powerful stuff without the Spirit, who dwells within those who confess the powerful name of Jesus.

Now here’s where it gets a little bit tricky and a little bit deep. You guys can handle tricky and deep.

Spirituality is popular these days.

There are loads of spiritual books. Some of them mention Jesus as one among many noteworthy and enlightened teachers. Some don’t mention Him at all. The ones I’ve read that do mention Him don’t mention Him as who He claims to be – the Way, the Truth, the Gate, the Bread, the name above all names, the only name by which we are saved, etc.

Some of the books, which contain beautiful truths based on His teachings, give Him credit, others do not.

Credit or not, there is no real power in Jesus’s teachings without the weight of heaven to carry them out.

We can read beautiful words and feel inspired to be a better person all on your own, sans the Spirit, but mere words fall short where the rubber meets the road.

I thought about that when my sister died.

And I thought about it recently when my pastor posted a parody on Facebook that poked fun at the trend toward spirituality over religion.  The parody was so over the top that he didn’t think anyone would take it seriously. It struck me as funny, in the same way the old SNL “church lady” skits struck me as funny. Even though I am a church lady.

But someone was offended.

He felt awful about offending a parishioner who has been entrusted to his pastoral care. In the power of the Holy Spirit, he confessed his regret.  He apologized from the pulpit, he apologized on Facebook. I was proud of him.

Humility is powered by the Spirit.

It’s the Spirit who cares more about a person’s heart and soul, when it comes down to it, than getting a laugh, a Facebook like, or even claiming the freedom to just be who we are – take it or leave it. It’s the Spirit who has the power to overcome self-defensive pride.

Jesus told us to turn the other cheek.

This is how He said it:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” – from Matthew 5

Any one of us can aim to put that lovely concept into practice – whether we attribute the concept to Jesus or not – but without His Spirit dwelling in us, the concept fails.

Someone offends us and, instead of turning our cheek, we immediately poke the person in the eye for poking us in the eye.  We lash out and offend them, and everyone like them, because we are offended.

To the offender who has the Spirit of God in residence, the Spirit says, “No, loved one, this is the way, walk in it.”  And as we mature in our faith we say back to Him, “You are right, I was wrong.” And with that He nudges us to apologize.

Because there is great power in an apology.

And when the Spirit resides in the offended, indignation gives way to graciousness. And we cut people some slack.

That was the tricky part. Because I’m trying really hard to not offend anyone here. Not offending people seems to be getting trickier and trickier these days.

Now the deep part:

Remember when Jesus asked the guy who had been an invalid for 38 years, who wasn’t able to get into the pool when the healing waters were stirred, whether he wanted to get well?

It always strikes me when I read that passage that Jesus didn’t assume that everyone wants to get well.  Perhaps He knew that some find comfort in the familiar, even when the familiar is crippling.

But if we really want people to love us, and not offend us, then we will help them succeed.

When they betray us, instead of lashing out publicly, we will ask them questions privately.

Questions like, “You said seekers are welcome at our church, but the parody you posted makes me feel like I’m not. Did you really mean to give that message?”

Questions asked in love nip the offense right in the bud. They give people a chance to share their hearts, to clear the air. If their heart and/or clear air is what we want.

But if remaining crippled and alienated by real or perceived offenses is what we want, we will offend right back.

We can’t really know people unless we are willing to ask them questions.

We can’t really love people unless we are committed to believing the best about them.

It takes bravery. And bravery is hard when we’ve been beaten down by the enemy of our souls. When we have his deceptive, slick, smooth-tongued, accusing, counterfeit voice in our ear.

Remember the movie I mentioned way back at start?

In the opening scene the devil is standing off to the side eating an apple watching a child being harassed by bullies. At just the right moment he tosses the bitten apple into the crowd, causing one of the bullies to trip over it and die. The devil immediately enters the crowd and whispers into a receptive ear, “He did it,” pointing to young Jesus.

The devil tosses the apple, trips up mankind, causes our death and Jesus gets the blame. (And then the young Jesus resurrects the ungrateful bully and we have the whole gospel story right there.)

The devil accuses Jesus and we believe him. And so we seek a counterfeit.

We might say we are seeking Jesus, but if we refuse to read His words  – preferring pleasant plagiaries (yes, I did make up a word)  – then we are actually rejecting Him.

When we seek a God of our own imagination, one who is safe, one who doesn’t challenge our prideful notions, one who is manageable,  we remain powerless to change.

We can’t love His concepts without loving Him. We cannot know the power of His teachings separate from the power of His name. They are a package deal.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” –  John 15:5

 

 

 

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faith, Jesus, life

Great Expectations

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C called early in the morning on Saturday, August 22.  She asked whether I was planning to visit Laura that day.  I was just getting ready to head over there.  Friday had been a very rough day, Laura had been very angry and C was concerned that Laura was losing her faith.  C had been staying at Laura’s house overnight all week to help care for her.  She was taking the weekend off and she wanted me to talk to Laura.

Laura and C shared spirituality.  Many of their visits over the course of Laura’s illness included discussions of authors who write spiritual things – borrowing concepts and even direct quotes from the Bible, but usually not giving the Bible credit.  When they spoke, they spoke of the universe giving good things.

Laura and I shared faith in God.  When it was just the two of us, we talked about peace, prayer and healing.  We spoke of God giving good things.

When C and I visited together, which was often the case, the conversation was a hybrid of faith specifically in God and general spirituality.  I didn’t split hairs because it is the Holy Spirit’s job to guide each of us into all Truth, not mine.  I just conversed according to what I believe.

When I got to Laura’s that morning, there was no sign of physical, emotional or spiritual distress.    She raised her head slightly, waved at me and smiled when I entered.

Her husband told me that he had read to her the night before from one of Gary Zukav’s books.  He told her she was going to be a spirit guide for others.  Her husband likes American Indian spirituality.  It seemed to have brought her peace.

A little while later I asked her whether she had been talking to God.  She nodded yes.  I asked whether God had been talking to her.  She nodded yes and then whispered, “Somewhat.”

Then she lifted her head, and with more strength to her voice, asked, “Do you know?”

“Do I know what?,” I asked smiling.

She waived her hand as if to say, “Never mind.”

“No, Laura, I want to understand and I am in no hurry, so take your time and tell me.”

“It can wait,” she smiled.

She was weak and she slept a lot that day, but she appeared at peace.

I stayed home Sunday.  I knew she would have a lot of visitors.  Too many visitors, I guess, and a lot of back and hip pain.

Monday she slept all day.

Tuesday my mom and I rubbed her legs.  I whispered good-bye at the end of the day, whispered, “I love you so much, you are so wonderful.”  She whispered, “I love you, too.”

Those were her last words to me.

Wednesday morning I received a text from C.  She asked me not to come for awhile because the hospice nurse was coming at 11 to put in a port for a morphine drip.  Laura was in distress. Her husband had gotten little sleep.  He had been administering pain meds every four hours.  Hospice came at 3 am to help.

C woke up at 6 that morning to the sound of moaning and tearless crying – a very disturbing sound.  The hospice nurse returned and said she didn’t think Laura was in pain, since the increased morphine didn’t seem to be making a difference.  She gave her Ativan, which calmed her down.

She was unresponsive when I arrived just after noon.  She died just after 2:30.

I thanked the hospice nurse as we both walked to our cars.  She said Laura was a real fighter.

The hub had to leave the visitation early to feed the friends so C gave my daughter and me a ride home.  It was our first chance to really talk since Laura’s passing. I asked her about Wednesday morning.  I shared that sometimes a side effect of morphine is nightmares.  Did she think Laura was having a nightmare?

“No, she just seemed pissed.”

C went on to say that she had been having a hard time with it.  She expected Laura to go peacefully but perhaps her expectations were faulty and that what transpired was just life.

I said I expected her to go peacefully, too.

And as we drove along I silently thought about those expectations.  I thought about the stories I heard over the years from friends as they sat with dying parents.  Stories of hymn singing and final moments of suddenly brightened faces and words of greetings to loved ones who had gone before.

And that’s what I imagined.  I imagined Laura’s face suddenly lighting up and her mouth uttering a joyful, “Hi dad!”

But there were no words.  Only a silent, sleeping face, labored breathing and then no breathing at all.

I sat in the passenger seat wondering whether Laura’s hybrid faith had been enough.  There was plenty of evidence that it was – all the conversations we had had, her firm assurance that she was going to heaven, that everything was going to be okay.  She said she had accepted it, that she was ready.

So why was she so angry on the morning of her death?  C thought it was because she wasn’t really ready when it came right down to it.  I thought maybe she was angry that her very well-meaning husband was giving her pain meds every four hours that she didn’t want, didn’t need.  That would be so Laura.

The obituary said she died peacefully, surrounded by her family.  Is it really dying peacefully if it is a drug-induced peace?  I thought about all the times I’ve read those words in the obituaries of others.  Were they all lying?

But I didn’t say anything.  I just wondered whether a completely peaceful passing is only had by those who are surrounded by hymn singing.  Spirituality doesn’t seem to get the job done.

In those last days I had suggested putting on some soft music.  Laura’s husband gave me a stack of her favorite CDs, none of which contained spiritual songs.  I wish I had been bold enough to bring over some of mine, bold enough to risk offending everyone but her.  In one of our last conversations Laura asked me about my church and she said she missed the singing.  She had a beautiful voice.  Looking back now, I wish I had taken that statement as a request, but I didn’t make a connection.  Now I’m regretting my cluelessness.  If I weren’t so vocally challenged, I would have certainly sung her some hymns.

When Laura was still alive, I felt her.  I felt her spirit when I was sitting with her in her living room and I felt her spirit when I was at home.  I carried her with me every minute.

But after she died it seemed her spirit had been obliterated.

I didn’t feel her at the visitation.

I didn’t feel her at the funeral or at the luncheon at her house after the funeral.

And I wondered whether a hybrid of faith and spirituality is enough.

Her daughter asked if any of us Aunties would be willing to read at the funeral. I said I would.  I assumed she would have me read a portion of Scripture.  But when I was handed my script at visitation, I saw that I was to commend her spirit to the “Spirit of Life”, while having the attendees repeat some meaningless words.  I couldn’t do it so I bowed out.

His name is Jesus.

I don’t know the Spirit of Life to which the script was referring, I only know Jesus.  There is no other Name by which we are saved.

So I left the funeral kinda’ mad at my family.  Mad that Laura’s funeral was performed entirely by people who don’t know God.  Mad that the only mention of Him at all was in the showing of Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill’s video performance of  “How Great Thou Art” – shown only by Laura’s request.  Mad that the eulogy included no mention of her faith.  I felt like her faith had been ripped from her; like she had been ripped off.  And I was mad that she was nowhere to be found.

It wasn’t an ordinary, on-the-surface mad, it was an unusual, vague, deep-within-my-spirit kind of mad.

During my conversations with Laura, I rested in the thought that faith + anything else is still faith.  Driving home from the funeral I wondered if that was a faulty equation.

Disturbed and disheartened I wrote His Name is Jesus and then I asked God to tell me something, show me something about Laura.

Late that night, just after I had gotten into bed, I felt her beside me.  Suddenly, there was a slight shimmer in the room and I could feel her spirit; my heart could see her broad, beautiful smile.  Her smile filled the room.  And I knew without a doubt that she is okay.  I can feel her again.

Jesus died on a Friday and no one saw any sign of Him until Sunday.  Laura died on a Wednesday and I didn’t see any sign of her until Saturday night.  Maybe we’re really busy for a few days when we arrive in heaven.

Perhaps we have to sign our golf card before we can celebrate.

Laura was in my dream the other night.  It was so good to see her.  In the dream, she was looking through a book – perhaps a photo album.  She looked up at me, smiling, and said, “I really like that woman.”   And all was well with the world.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “No Cliffhangers.”

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faith, life

Honest Abe

honorbound, Creative Commons

honorbound, Creative Commons

I was working in a factory.  It was the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college.  It was the kind of job that made me determined to finish school because, although I liked the people and the physical challenge of keeping up with the conveyor, I knew I would not be happy in that fluorescent, unchanging environment longterm.

My supervisor was a pleasant, laid-back mid-thirty-year-old.  I admired his easy-going yet professional way.  One of my co-workers remarked that he had grown his recent beard for his role as Lincoln in his church play.  Oh, he goes to church.

So the next time we chatted I mentioned that I was reading Out on a Limb.  He cheerfully, matter-of-factly, non-judgmentally replied, “It doesn’t say anything about other planets or reincarnation in the Bible.”

The Bible?  That got me thinking…..

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/in-good-faith/

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