Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Thinking on Today's Manna

"Whatsoever things are pure ... think on these things."

That verse in the KJV was a favorite among youth leaders during my upbringing. In the ESV, it reads like this.
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
The application of this verse I heard as a youth was not to fill my mind with questionable movies or music. I should listen to classical music or conservative Christian music with no rock beat, read Shakespeare but avoid most television shows, and so forth. The Reformation hit me in my mid twenties, giving me a hermeneutic through which to interpret Scripture that I had never had before. After leaving the loosely formed fundamentalist movement in which I grew up, I didn’t give that verse much thought. I guess I was caught up in so many other facets of Scripture I had previously missed in my first 25 years as a believer that I didn’t take as much time with ones that were emphasized in my youth.

Of late, that verse has become precious to me in a new way. It's a clear indicator of where God wants us to set our minds. I think it is less about questionable TV shows, books, or music and more about the realities of our daily lives. When we are in the midst of difficult life circumstances, God's sweet instruction is to focus on the good. If 10 things went wrong in a day, it's good and right to think on the one that went right as I fall asleep. Some nugget of good happened today – if not in my immediate vicinity, something good happened somewhere. God's gift to us in the middle of the bad is the freedom to focus on the good. It's not sticking our head in the sand. It's not an excuse to sin by ignoring abuse or injustice. Instead, it's the manna for enduring through all those other things. 

On any given bad day, God did something good somewhere. Probably, He did something good directly in your life. But like the children of Israel, we see the wilderness and our longing for the promised land, and we miss the manna He provides day by day. We focus on our longing for home, but we miss that our God just PARTED THE RED SEA. We don't want to wander in the desert, so we take for granted the FIRE BURNING IN THE SKY to direct us. Most of all, we miss in our modern lives the hundreds of ways hour by hour, day by day, our Father gives us manna, our daily bread, to sustain us.

How many times in my life have I longed for deliverance from long term struggle and trial?! That has seemed the norm in my life rather than the exception. Yet, day in and day out, God gives manna. Today that manna was in the form of a visiting friend who loves Jesus, who road on a ferry with me where we got to see killer whales. We dressed for rain, but the sun came out. We laughed, we cried, and we prayed. Manna.

Sometimes it's gifts of grace from my children (and it's so easy to focus on the worst that they do, not the best). Sometimes it's gifts of grace from my church. Many times it's the gift of sunshine after rainy days in Seattle. It can be a good glass of wine shared with friends. Or prayers said over me from a sister in Christ who called me out of the blue. It's God's daily bread, given us to sustain us in the middle of trial. And God says, “Think on that!”

Tomorrow there will be more manna. I'm working out as the Holy Spirit works in me to recognize His manna as He gives it and think on those things that are lovely manifestations of His daily grace. I thank God that I don't have to think all the time on my struggles. I'm not sticking my head in the sand when I don't think 24/7 on what is wrong in my life. And I am seeing a profound shift in my mental state as I think more and more on the lovely, pure, and praiseworthy things, no matter how small, that God brings into my life each day.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Godly Sorrow and Repentance

This Easter week, two former leaders at Mars Hill Church made something right with me. Both demonstrated to me what the Apostle Paul called godly sorrow or repentance. On this very Good Friday, as we meditate on the death of Christ, I thought it appropriate to extend that meditation to what His death accomplished for us in the way of repairing with those we have sinned against, which is foundational to the redemption and healing His death brings for all mankind.

Adapted from Chapter 5 of The Gospel-Centered Woman:

What is repentance in the Bible? It is more than simple remorse or regret. It goes beyond mere sorrow. The Apostle Paul sheds light on this difference in 2 Corinthians 7.
9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. NIV
Paul draws a distinction between good, godly sorrow that leads us to authentic confession and repentance and worldly sorrow that leads to death. Paul is not shy about the consequences of this worldly sorrow that is not of God. It leads to destruction, and we are wise to understand what distinguishes these different types of sorrow or regret.

Worldly sorrow is characterized by feelings of shame, pain, or embarrassment that you got caught in sin. Along with that shame, you may feel hopelessness over ever being cleansed from your sin or your ability to repair the relationship with the person you sinned against. Such worldly sorrow may be relieved by someone else doing something for you or you doing something for yourself. Maybe you seek out someone to affirm you or distract you. You may try to manipulate how others think of you and look to them to make you feel better about yourself. If one relationship is broken, you may manipulate other relationships to replace the one you harmed.

In contrast, godly sorrow is sorrow that directs you to Christ. You do not need someone else to do something for you. You do not need to do something for yourself. Instead, you fall flat on your face before God alone, for godly sorrow points you directly to Him. Godly sorrow is relieved by repentance and faith in what Christ has already done for you. Then, resting in what God has done for you, you can lay down your attempts to justify yourself to others. You can simply ask their forgiveness and repair with those you have hurt.

Many of us spend years of our lives mistaking worldly sorrow on a wide range of sin issues for authentic repentance and then wonder why we never change or why our relationships never heal. Feeling bad about what you have done is not the same as a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. God calls us to recognize our wrongdoing and need for forgiveness and then turn to God to forgive and correct it. We do not have to live in a perpetual state of regret and shame. Christ bore our shame and condemnation on the cross. His sacrifice for us equips us to face our sin head-on without fear that it will forever define us.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

When I am Weak …

Anyone remember the scene from Men in Black when the alien took the skin of some poor farmer and kept walking around dragging his foot and asking for sugar? That image was in my mind today. It's a creepy image in one sense, yet in another sense, it was a good illustration of how I have felt of late. I may look like some version of myself from the outside, but inside, it's not me. From there, the analogy breaks down. It's not an alien inside me, but Someone else. When I am weak, then He is strong.

I've been going through a hard time. A number of previous posts have probably made that clear. Sometimes, people remark that I seem strong. Of late, the image of that alien taking over the body of the farmer feels familiar. I personally feel like a limp set of human muscle and skin draped imperfectly over someone else's bones. It may look like me from the outside, but I'm just the floppy external dressing. If there is any strength of character, I know good and well it's not my strong bones holding me up. When I am weak, then He is strong.

In the middle of my struggle, usually when I'm tired before bed, I reflect on what was accomplished in a day. Or maybe it's more accurate to say what was endured on a given day. I have a new appreciation for those words from the Apostle Paul, who walked forward in strong faith while enduring personal physical limitations as well as strong external persecution.
I Cor. 12   9 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Know that it is more than OK to be weak. It really, truly is. Lean on Him. Walk through your day envisioning your floppy, imperfect external skin draped over His perfect strong physique. People may see you, but you know that it is He that is inside you. And how much greater is He that is in us … .

Here are a few more verses for your encouragement.
Isaiah 43:2   When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 
Isaiah 40:29-31   He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
And my personal favorite tonight as I write this …
2 Corinthians 13:4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Line at Mars Hill's Communion Table

This week brought to light more disturbing facts concerning Mars Hill's leadership. By paying to put Mark Driscoll's book on the New York Times Bestseller list, Mars Hill Executive Elders may have put the church's 501(c)3 tax exempt status in jeopardy. That would be a multi-million dollar hole from which the church may not recover. There is growing pressure for Mark to step down from leadership as more elders accuse him of what I have personally witnessed firsthand - a bullying, angry leadership style that leaves members and staff bleeding on the sidelines. He laughed about the dead bodies under the bus of Mars Hill in 2007/2008. People have been pointing out the dead bodies for years, but apparently the pile has to be big enough to see from space before enough pressure will be raised to cause change or repentance. But I admit from personal experience that, until you are personally splattered with your own blood or the blood of someone standing beside you in ministry, it is hard to believe the problem is as big as it is.

The larger Body of Christ needs to take seriously the criteria set in Scripture for acting on such accusations – two or three witnesses.

I Tim. 5:19-20 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 

Using an informal count in my head, I can think of at least 6 ELDERS, not counting deacons, former staff, or general members, with serious claims against Mark Driscoll. The executive elders repeatedly refused to obey I Tim. 5, and now the result is this public rebuke from multiple parties. The point of the Biblical standard of two or three witnesses is clear. One person crying foul does not a foul make. But those pointing out Mark's issues have long since passed the Biblical standard for taking this seriously and rebuking him publicly.

If Mark steps down for a season, which he will likely be forced to do, Mars Hill Church will probably wither. Leadership made a choice during the time our family was still there to move toward a Mark-centered vision of ministry. When we started at Mars Hill, several elders preached the same message at various campuses on a given day, which was a sustainable model. However, since Mark was the most popular of the speakers, leadership decided to set up expensive video equipment to live broadcast Mark to the various campuses. Leaders decided to centralize around Mark and limit the public impact of the other pastors who had previously taught with him. I believe the church took out a large life insurance policy on Mark – Mark joked about it in the early days of consolidation around him. But the financial support of a life insurance policy won't kick in in the event of the moral failure brought about by Mark's longstanding anger problem.

Mars Hill began hemorrhaging leaders in 2008, when it lost 1000 members in a single year after two older, long serving elders were fired. Mark's accountability structure at the time didn't deal with the serious problems at that point, and the loss of mature Christian leaders at Mars Hill since then has only gotten worse. During the years since I left the church, I've watched the branches of the Mars Hill tree grow even heavier with new believers as the root system of mature Christians desperately needed to disciple these converts continues to erode. It is only a matter of time before a wind rushes through and causes the entire tree to crash down. I perceive that these current controversies might finally be that wind, and I do not rejoice in that AT ALL.

Despite all of the controversy though, the line at the communion table will continue. I spent many sweet Sundays in the line to the communion table at Mars Hill. Some of those in line with me now walk with me in line at my church. Some still walk the line at Mars Hill. Many have scattered throughout the pacific northwest. The line going forward on Sundays in the Mars Hill buildings may continue indefinitely. But maybe it won't. Maybe the external structure will tumble down over financial woes and the loss of the integrity of its leader. Nevertheless, the line to the communion table will continue.

The ministry of Mars Hill has brought many to Christ. But we are mistaken if we think the line to the communion table will be thwarted by such misuse of ministry resources or power. People were saved at Mars Hill. But they were saved into something much bigger than Mars Hill. Church buildings and systems are temporary tents over an eternal, immovable rock. Tents blow away in a hurricane. But not the rock.

I walked the line to the communion table long before I went to Mars Hill. And I will walk it long after. I trust that those who found their way to the communion table for the first time at Mars Hill will also find it elsewhere if that ministry falls apart. In fact, I have great confidence that they will. Because the communion of saints and the inclusion into the Body of Christ transcends our temporal, earthly structures. Mars Hill is a tent. The Rock is eternal. The line continues to the Rock, and it is unstoppable.

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Line at the Communion Table

There is nothing more symbolic to me of the gospel and the eternal community of faith cemented together by that gospel than the line to the communion table each week at my church. It's symbolic of the gospel to me as an individual. It's also symbolic to me of the gospel as a part of the collective whole of the Church. When I miss church on a Sunday, that line is still there. When others miss church, that line is still there. That line forms in different countries, on different days, in different forms. That line has formed for generations. It has formed for millennia. Some churches partake weekly. Some quarterly. Some go forward. Some pass the bread around while seated. Yet, the symbol remains constant and has for 2000 years.

The line at the communion table helps me focus in the midst of much that is temporal in life. Jobs and houses don't last. Even the best of relationships don't always endure. But that line to that table will always be there. Somewhere, in some form, it will ALWAYS be there. Believers will be going forward to receive the bread and the wine until Christ returns.

That line reflects to me the best parts of liturgy, those traditions of the church aimed at keeping us in touch with the lineage of the children of God. When I do what my grandmother did, which is what her grandmother did, which is what Martin Luther did, which Peter first did with Jesus Himself, I am in touch with something that transcends my life and personal relationships, yet gives meaning to my life and personal relationships.

This week, my children joined me in that line, and I watched their young forms ahead of me simultaneously aware of the gray haired widowed grandmother behind me in line. I was in line without some people who had been in line with me for years and with some new people who had only just joined. Nevertheless, the line continued, with individuals coming forward as a group to receive the bread and wine, as well as the grace that accompanies those symbols, remembering Jesus' body and blood broken on our behalf. Congregations across the world joined that line, one that has been moving for 2000 years and that will continue to move until Jesus' return. The community of saints who stand together as His body, finding nourishment from His head.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. The Apostles' Creed 
Luke 22:19 Do this is remembrance of me.