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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Reformation Day isn’t Happy

ReformationDayPumpkin

So, is the Christian alternative to wishing someone “Happy Halloween!” wishing them “Happy Reformation Day!”?

Okay, I haven’t read all the “why-Halloween-isn’t-anti-Christian” articles that people have been posting. I just really hate Halloween because I think spiders are creepy and large displays of arachnids are hard to avoid at this time of year. And for some reason, seeing pre-teen girls dress up as prostitutes has never been my fancy, either. I think someone could make the case that Halloween is anti-woman, but this really isn’t a Halloween-bashing post.

It’s about Reformation Day and why it is anything but happy.

I definitely am not the only one thinking about this; see (Catholic) Francis Beckwith’s post here and  (Protestant) Stanley Hauerwas’s sermon here on the subject.

But, wait. I get ahead of myself.

A little background: What is Reformation Day?

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther purportedly nailed his (in)famous 95 theses to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg, Germany. It is considered by many as the spark of the Protestant Reformation. You can read the Wikipedia article about it here. I know, really academic.

Let’s get personal. I won’t bring up politics or money now, but let’s talk about family. Let’s talk about religion.

Have you ever experienced a major division in your family? Maybe someone decided to get a divorce or someone else withdrew from family events based on ideological grounds or relationship status or something.

If you have experienced this, you know that it is a really painful time.

And when I say really painful, I mean it’s the kind of event that has pushed me into prayer and tears in a way that I haven’t been pushed before. Our family. Not unified. Broken down. Can’t say certain things to certain people. Misunderstanding and refusal to communicate.

There is no glory here.

Sometimes divisions are necessary, and that doesn’t make them less painful. But I would hope that in our family, the division is temporary and that we pray fervently and daily for restoration. That we would seek fruitful communication and hope to celebrate our own Restoration Day.

Maybe you celebrate Reformation Day because you see good come from the splintering of the Catholic Church, the birthing of Protestantism. I dunno, maybe it’s freedom in Christ, salvation preached for what it really is, a stand against corruption and bad theology.

I’ll give you that. For now.

But here’s something to think about: should we celebrate an event only or the One through whom freedom comes?

We definitely celebrate the Cross–an event of incomparable importance and mourning and weight. We celebrate the Resurrection–an event of incomparable importance and glory and significance. We celebrate the person of Jesus Christ, the heart of His Father and ours who sent Him, and the Holy Spirit sent to bring us into right relationship with the Godhead, teaching us all that we need for life and godliness.

But schism? Divorce? Family brokenness? These are not to be celebrated. A victory for true theology? It is only a victory if we believe that a doctrine is more important than love.

Don’t get me wrong: correct doctrine is so important. But it is not doctrine alone that saves us but relationship. Salvation is relationship with the Father through the crucified Jesus as we are sealed by the Holy Spirit.

Maybe you haven’t experienced the bittersweet taste of an ideological victory that severs a relationship. It leaves both parties wounded and searching for healing, even if one or the other doesn’t realize it.

The Church of Jesus Christ is a family, Christ as the head. It is a beautiful collection of people who are called to unity and to love in the name of Jesus Christ, because He came to make us one and to set us free. We are united to Him in His death through baptism, raised to walk in newness of life!

We celebrate Him. We mourn the Cross and we rejoice in it. We celebrate the victory of the Cross and the Resurrection. We eagerly await His coming, when He will judge the living and the dead.

And we mourn at our family division and earnestly pray for His Church to be one, united in love and truth in a way that only the God of all existence can bring about—in the fullness of time, at the request of Jesus and the intercession of His Church.

Make us one! Like You and the Father are One!

So let us not see this Reformation Day as happy. Let us mourn with Jesus at the brokenness within His people and pray with Him as He intercedes for us—that we would be one just like He and the Father are One.

To our knees, saints! After all, it is All Hallow’s Eve.

Potential versus Capacity: A Lesson in Humility

First off, a picture for Throwback Thursday:

TBT washingtonThat’s me in the sweater vest, there in the middle. 11 years old. 6th grade. Exploring the nation’s capital with my family. Don’t knock the sweater vest; they’re totally making a comeback. Especially the teacher-themed ones. “Maybe it was prophetic”, I think as I remember that I am actually a teacher now…Yay for prophetic sweater vests!

What does it mean to live up to your potential?

And the second question should be, Is that really even a pertinent question?

Choosing the path of the academe, this question has haunted me for a long time. I remember when I told my advisor during my Master’s program that I had gotten engaged. He congratulated me, but was I imagining a lurking disappointment behind his eyes? I had several more chapters of my thesis to write still…

And then there was that time that I got pregnant. So no Ph.D. program for me in the immediate future. Telling my mentors at work was not the moment that I relished. (I should have known there was a heart issue begging to be explored when I looked forward to telling my non-academic friends more than my academic ones.)

What did I fear, actually? Disappointing people who thought I was smart, who thought I could really do this professor thing. Not living up to the spark of genius that I thought they saw in me. And it was probably all (or mostly) in my head, this plaguing fear: I AM NOT LIVING UP TO MY POTENTIAL.

If you’re an academic, maybe you’ve felt this before.

Maybe you’re guilty of this?

I can’t do x, y, and z, though very normal things for my life stage, because it would limit my potential, and I don’t want that.

Or this?

Because I’ve already done x, y, and z because they were natural and delightful in my life stage, I have limited myself and will never reach my full potential. That sucks.

I’m not entirely sure that these feelings are relegated to the academic life, but this is just my experience.

Potential for what?

What exactly is ‘my potential’? To be a brilliant scholar, illuminating the minds of my students and readers with my insights into the nature of this piece of literature or this grammar point for years to come!

I have to recognize that what I do have is a limited capacity. I can only do so much in one day, and I just happen to have a husband, two children, a dog, a house, and a family life to run, to organize, to make it through.

So, as I am at full capacity right now (8 hours of sleep—when I really need 9— and meals that are popped into the oven straight from the freezer and a house that is begging to be cleaned when I get a chance), I can’t put a lot of energy into achieving my full potential.

My capacity has limited my potential. But I think it should be that way.

Why?

Because if we view achieving our potential as the measure of success, that’s like my 19-month-old daughter condemning herself for not being able to write a 5-page paper yet. True, she has the potential to do so, but she does not have the capacity. She will one day, most likely. But it has to be a journey or WE WILL DIE EARLY.

Number 1: I need a lesson in humility.

I am not God’s gift to the world of Spanish pedagogy. I am a regular human being with normal impulses and needs, like sleeping, eating, and reading books in my native language. But in my mind, to live up to that thing called ‘potential’, all these really take a backseat to my ambition. And since I cannot do all the things that my ambition commands, I am a failure.

Number 2: I do not have the capacity to propel myself into the fullness of ‘my potential.’

Let’s say that I really do have something to say that people might want or need to hear. Without the right word at the right time, the perfect storm of publisher-meets-aspiring-writer-and-is-impressed, I will probably never reach the audience that I need to in order to really ‘make a difference’ (a concept that really completely revolves around me, at this stage, at least).

Number 3: My husband, children, dog, and household actually INCREASE my potential.

I may not be able to see it today or tomorrow or in a month at 3 a.m. when I am feeding my newborn son. But in 20 years, there will be no doubt that I have been shaped, changed, and molded for the better—by the grace of God—into someone with a much greater potential. Because I have loved. Because I have been loved. Because I have not let a timeline or agenda for my career make decisions that go against what is best for my heart and my soul, my body and my mind.

Life is really measured by the relationships you have. Friends, partners, mates, children, neighbors, students, teachers, mentors, bums on the side of the road. Don’t let potential drive you into loneliness and despair twenty years from now—let go of your potential and embrace what you can do in your present capacity! It is an act of humility that will bear fruit in time.

L’chaim! To life!

God is holy and can’t be around sin…right?

There are no good images for 'holiness,' so hear is a picture of a unicorn. by Domenico Zamperi

There are no good images for ‘holiness.’ Here is a picture of a unicorn by Domenico Zamperi.

To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn)…

After a 2-week writing hiatus, I am supposed to be writing about the pitfalls of a pre-Tribulation theology or about God’s heart for Israel (of course, none of you care about my self-imposed schedule, but I like to make schedules…). But today there is something more pressing to write about.

A word in season, perhaps.

Have you ever heard someone, when explaining the story of Jesus Christ and His salvation plan for humans, say, “And since God is holy and can’t be around sin, we can’t go to heaven unless we are covered by Jesus’s blood…”?

It usually comes after the part about God being so distinctly unlike us that we have no hope for being in His presence ever.

Now, I’m not saying anything about the well-meaning and often loving people who share the Gospel this way, but I am saying that we need to reevaluate this statement. Why should we reevaluate it? Because I think it causes a misunderstanding of the nature of God, which is a HUGE deal. If we learn something even slightly wrong about the nature of God when we pray to make Jesus the Lord of our life, it can have serious implications as we grow in our walk of faith with Him.

For starters, God IS HOLY. Three times holy. Holy, holy, holy! We get the idea… or do we? What does it mean to be holy?

We learn in Sunday school that the word ‘holy’ means to be set apart. We hear as an example that God calls His people to be set apart from the rest of the people of earth, to live a different lifestyle that points to God and how holy He is.

Here’s the problem. This idea that ‘holy’ means to be set apart has resulted in isolationism and separation of followers of God from the world.

Which is the opposite of what Jesus did when He lived on earth 2 millennia ago.

Let’s look at this verse from the epistle to the Hebrews:

“[Jesus is] the brightness of [the Father’s] glory and the express image of His person…”
Hebrews 1:3 NKJV

And this verse in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

“…Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”
2 Corinthians 4:4

Jesus is the exact image (some versions say ‘exact representation’) of the Father. He is the image of God, like the Father put up a crazy mirror that would make His reflection into flesh and blood. Jesus shows us who the Father is——exactly.

Now, there are a lot of places I could go from here, and most of the time I think about this idea in relation to healing. For example: does God heal? Well, Jesus is the express image of God, and the 4 Gospels tell us that He walked around healing pretty much everyone who came to Him wanting healing, so YES. God heals. He wants to heal. He isn’t bothered by us asking for healing. He is willing to heal us! This is a big deal.

But that’s not what we’re talking about today.

God is perfect and can’t be around sin…right?

Wrong.

What does Jesus’ life on earth tell us about the character of the Father?

Jesus never avoided people full of sin. He embraced them, He ate with them, He partied with them, He went to their weddings, He healed them, He kissed their children, He touched their diseased hands, He met them at wells when He wasn’t supposed to talk to them. He let Himself be around sin because that’s where He found the people that He loves.

See, the reality that God is holy is that when He encounters sin, it does not change Him. He is not tempted to be like us. He is different than us! He is full and complete in Himself, confident of Who He is and how much He loves us that He can come close to the person steeped in sin.

This is a huge deal.

“Well, I know, but I’m talking about heaven. Sin can’t go into heaven,” you might reply.

Now, I’m not saying that we’re gonna carry sin into heaven with us, but let’s look at this—Job 1:6.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them.

Dudes. This is a big deal. Satan is before the Father in heaven. The evil one. Full of darkness. In heaven. Full of sin. And God is okay with that for now.

So, say what we might about salvation and heaven, we simply can’t use the line “God is holy and can’t be around sin, so we can’t get into heaven if we are sinful because there is no sin in heaven…”

I’m no five-star theologian, but that’s simply not good theology.

True, we can’t make it into the presence of the Father in heaven on our own. We are in desperate need of a Savior Who will take our place in judgment and Who will wash us clean with His blood. Sin is a cancer that eats us from the inside out and Jesus wants life—and life abundant—for us!

But please don’t misrepresent the character of God for the sake of convenience in sharing the beautiful story of salvation. Yes, it might be more expedient—you might not have time to go into all the nuances of atonement and propitiation and the theological riches that the history of the people of God has given to us.

We have to be consistent in the salvation narrative:

God is good and He loves us. Sin separates us from relationship with Him, so He has made a way to be done with sin through the death of Jesus Christ His Son on the cross and through His victorious resurrection and ascension. He delights in us; He is not far from us; He wants to be with us. Say ‘yes’ to His invitation to relationship and make Jesus your Lord. Don’t be afraid; He is good! He is coming again to establish His flesh-and-blood kingdom on this earth! He will shake all that can be shaken, but through that, He will set all things right.

When you are weak, then you are strong.

Feedback appreciated!

The Humility of Jesus in His Second Coming

Willing to wait for the full blossom of love’s bloom
in the darkest dark the world has ever known.
Trusting the Father that the beauty of God
will draw His Bride to Himself,
that His love will feed her and grow her love—
a free-will offering—
into a faith uncompromising.
And when the time to war
against the antichrist comes,
He and she together will go forth
in the justice and the righteousness of the Father,
the Sermon on the Mount their weapon
will utterly destroy the enemy.

The cry for Jesus to come back is not a scramble for self-preservation or protection; indeed, it is the laying down of my life to see the Bridegroom come back and as King claim the throne of earth that is by birthright His.

As we go along with the knowledge and hope that Jesus has promised to return, we walk in humility and love, praying that all will come to repentance before He comes back to judge the earth.

In the eyes of the world, it is a march of weakness—seeking, praying for, orienting our lives toward the arrival of this King, making ourselves ready—not with extra guns, ammunition, or canned goods and bottled water—but with acts of love, mercy, and obedience.

The march to the cross was also weakness to the world. And still, Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth [on the cross], will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32 NKJV).

The cry for Jesus to come back in our generation is certainly a cry for judgment, that the justice of God will crush the injustice that reigns in this world. But it is a cry for justice intermingled and inseparable from a cry of love—love foremost for Jesus the God-Man, anointed by God to rule the world of men as a Man; and a love pouring over from His heart into ours, a burning love for this created world and every single human who lives here.

In weakness and humility, He has won our hearts, drawing us with His unfailing love and forgiveness, capturing us with His beauty. We are willing prisoners to the most beautiful Man alive! Oh, the workings of His heart! the affection He has for us! the genius of His creation and His plan to win us back and take victory over the devil!

He makes all things new, from the inside out. Heaven is not Our (His and our) final home—Earth is! We can know this precisely because He is in the work of RESTORATION and RENEWAL, with all that He is!

At the Second Coming, His victory over Satan will be very real—with real blood shed, real people dying, and real kingdoms conquered.

But it will be in the perfect love and right-ness and humility that only Jesus the Anointed One can bring.

As we wait for His return, we watch, we pray, we love, we rescue, and we choose life. We do justly and love mercy as we walk humbly with Him, the Holy Spirit our Teacher and Guide and Power within (and without!).

As the darkness gets darker, the light will get brighter.

The tribulation, the 7 years foretold by the prophets of the darkest darkness before Jesus returns, will be the Church’s most glorious hour. She will stand by her Bridegroom no matter what comes, choosing His name in the utter darkness. This Bride, purified in the hardest time in history, choosing Jesus with her whole will and laying down her life for Him, will only then be ready for marriage with the Lamb, an equally-yoked partner.

This is all done by leaning on her Beloved in the time of trial—it is His strength and endurance and humility working in her by the power of the Holy Spirit, and it is the ‘yes’ in her heart that opens the door and keeps it open for constant communion with Jesus through the darkest hours.

And so, when the King does come as the Judge to tread the grapes of wrath, we will know Him because we have walked with Him. Many will be offended by His hunger for justice because they have not looked into His eyes of blazing fire, zealous for life and love, zealous to renew and restore the earth for His creation.

He’s not a tame Lion.

Please come back later this week for a post on why I am leery of a theology that proclaims a pre-Tribulation rapture.