Agape, Motivation, Truth, and Grace

I re-read yesterday's post, and saw it as coming across as judgmental. It needed to be balanced with the same kind of commitment by the community to affirm and disciple our "disciplers" as I was calling for those ministers to exercise toward the laypeople within their congregations.

We -- the laypeople -- are called to love and nurture those whom we pay to lead us, and to put more time into affirming them than into calling them to account for places we feel they miss living what they preach. We are called to a commitment to them over the long haul, just as they are called to the same commitment to us.

Agape really is our central ethic, and is also the core of our ministry. (I'm defining "our ministry" in that sentence as the ministry of each individual -- lay and ordained -- and of the Church as a whole.) Agape is well-described and defined in Scripture, and so understanding it shouldn't be hard -- except that we so rarely actually see it lived out consistently. But our ministers are not to be our primary source of seeing Agape lived out. We are each called to that equally, and so we ought to be able to see what it looks like in the lives of our fellow laypeople just as often as we see it in the lives of our paid ministers.

Agape is not being nice, is it? It is, first of all, characterized by my loyalty to you and to God's purposes in your life, regardless of how well you are "living up to the standards." So I maintain a relationship unless you walk away and make a relationship impossible. But I don't maintain a relationship at the expense of truth -- I maintain a relationship while speaking the truth when to speak the truth clearly seems to accomplish God's purposes best. And I bear the truth quietly but clearly when God's purposes seem best accomplished in your life by allowing Him to speak to you through other means. I pray for you. I encourage you. I do my best to view you the way God wants me to view you, and to interact with you in ways that foster what I believe Him to be doing in you and through you. So the bottom-line to real Agape is abiding in Jesus -- or I cannot view you as He would have me view you, or have the wisdom or power to interact with you in a way that accomplishes His purposes in both of our lives.

We find all kinds of ways to motivate ourselves and each other. We set goals. We go after things that entice us or that we need. Money, sex, power, respect, and accomplishment are just as big motivators in the community of the Church as in the world. But, in both places, that motivation eventually breaks down. Intuitively we know that those things don't satisfy in the end. What we each really need and want is what will satisfy in the end -- and that is to have authentic intimacy with God and with each other and to use our uniqueness in the ways that best accomplish His purposes. Now, that motivates!

To our pastors we often convey the message "Perform for us! Speak TRUTH clearly in ways we can hear it, and live it out in ways that we find attractive, and set ministry goals that make this church a place of successful ministry. If you can't do that, we'll replace you with someone who can." And our churches do it, too, don't they? "Tried that minister . . . let's try the next!" But the message of the Kingdom -- the message that Jesus and Paul taught, and that is conveyed in scripture and in the confessions -- is that God works through real men and real women to change real men and real women to people who abide with Him and then walk in that power. And that embraces the human side of the equation! So the failures and struggles of our leaders are part of what God uses to accomplish His Kingdom purposes, and are not a reason to write them off and look for the next one. ("The qualifications for leadership" is a whole different topic than I am addressing here. The "failures and struggles" I refer to here are the normal struggle with life and success and wisdom that every Christian is subject to. I am not talking here about a public state of enslavement to some sort of repetitive moral failure that would give lie to the statement that the Gospel that we preach brings freedom and full, abundant life. I am talking about not being as great a leader, preacher, and visionary as we might desire in our leaders, or about the quirks of personality and character that show a need for growth or that just irritate me.)

Discipleship is the same whether you are in church leadership or whether you are not. We are each called to take on mentors who will teach us what they know, and will guide us as we struggle, serve, and grow. We are each called to the private spiritual disciplines of prayer, study of scripture, meditation, and practice of other disciplines that lead to personal contact with the triune God. We are each called to full participation in a worshiping and serving community. We are each called to center our "private lives" around whatever God shows as His agendas for us and our families. We are each called to mentor other Christians in the things that God has taught us. And those in church leadership are no less and no more in need of each of those personal commitments.

There is nothing more motivating than actually experiencing God's love, one-on-one from the triune God and one-on-one in real relationships with other disciples. And that is the core of our salvation as we live it out.


Spectators and Players, Laypeople and Seminarians

I like baseball, especially when I know the players. It is fun to be a fan, and follow the ups and downs of my favorite players and favorite teams -- whether that's MLB, or 13U, or High School ball. There are kids that I've been watching play since T-ball who are now playing competitive "travel" or "club" ball, and it is a wonder to see bodies, minds, and skills grow from that perspective. It was a blast watching one of those kids -- Matt S. -- hit home run after home run in the tournament in Steamboat Springs, Colorado this summer. Baseball is a good picture of life, and a good training ground for it, too!

The spectator or fan can see everything. If you really know the game, you can see a good swing. You can see a good pitch as the pitcher throws it. You know what the skills should look like, and you can praise them when they're great, and offer advice when they're not. You don't even have to have ever played the game to be able to develop an eye for what works and the ability to articulate it. But that certainly doesn't translate to being able to go out there and do what you "know" how to do!

We have a whole lot of spectators in the Church. And, of course, I can give the same exhortation that you'd expect me to give here with that kind of set-up: "It's easy to be an arm-chair Christian, but get out there and play the game yourself instead of just offering advice to the "professional players." God calls every single Christian to use and develop their skills in the game to accomplish His kingdom purposes." And that is TRUTH. But it's not my point here.

My point here is how often the "professional players" in the Church talk about discipleship, and about how each of us is called to use our giftedness and develop it for God's agendas, but how much it's just talk. They want to keep themselves in a special class. They value their schooling, their ordination, their experience, and they like to encourage those who are taking the same path, or those who have traveled it as far or further than they have. They give lip-service to the idea of lay ministry, and discipleship and mentoring within their congregation, and to the idea of the priesthood of all believers -- but they have an unconscious agenda that wants to validate their position and control by not actually empowering lay people to get out of the stands and into the game.

What really does motivate that reality? Is it the normal dynamic of narcissism that seeks to validate and support those most like oneself in order to validate and support one's own choices and situation and perceptions? Is it the normal "grass is always greener on the other side" perspective, that writes off the person I know well for the potential of someone else who has been recommended to me? Is it a desire to perpetuate one's own agendas, unchallenged by a layperson from within the congregation with their own relationships and perspectives, if someone from outside the congregation can come in aligned purposefully with the pastor who chose him or her for the purpose of accomplishing a fixed agenda? Or is it just the normal frustration we all experience as we work with real people with their real issues and failings, and instead of wanting to have to keep investing more agape and forgiveness and prayer into nurturing someone real's spiritual growth, church leaders covet someone "like them" who is already mature and capable of serving without that investment that real people require?

It's probably a mixture of good and bad and neutral motives that motivate clergy and laypeople to recruit additional clergy while ignoring laypeople within their communities who feel called to step up to some task or calling. But if I cut through all the possible motives, I arrive here: God calls disciples to His purposes. The Church, and its ministers, are supposed to be discerning God's agendas and putting feet to them. One of those agendas is discipleship, and discipleship requires both relationship and responsibility for exercising giftedness within the context of the needs and callings of the church community. Good motives are trying to best accomplish that. Bad motives are after anything other than this purpose: to accomplish God's agenda in this community and through this community.

There are certainly those within all the church communities that I have participated in that are excellent at using lay resources and at nurturing people to greater spiritual growth. In my own community now, both the ordained women and several other members on program staff are excellent disciplers and nurturers of spiritual growth and service. It is interesting to look at the longevity of staff that report to the different members of program staff, and also to look at the lay relationships of the different ministers in terms of whom they utilize to accomplish goals. In the big picture of accountability to Jesus, perhaps the greatest accomplishments are sustaining difficult relationships and truly nurturing God's purposes for those people He set down in one's lap -- more than the accomplishments of numbers in budgets or listings of other efforts to serve.

We hear great messages about mission and agape and discipleship. A church that doesn't deliberately nurture the vision and giftedness of all the people who come to them, but instead goes looking for better talent when there are people within the community who could be trained and nurtured to do what they feel called to do -- that church loses the power to proclaim any truth, because they have shown that they don't really believe it. "God wants to do something big here; so we need to find someone with the right skills and training. What God wants to do in your life and with your skills is to make money to support the real team and to put you on an advisory committee that will be able to give us input."

And so they send us back to the stands. So much for discipleship.


Walking in the Light and "Why Not Women"

Walking out my faith each day would be easy if I had no limitations of time or energy, and if all the people around me weren't sinners.

Unfortunately, I have limited time and energy, and -- unlike you, probably (smile) -- I am married to a sinner, have parents who are also sinners, kids who are, and even my friends and those in my community of faith are sinners. It is very annoying!

But the most annoying thing is that I still lack maturity and discipline and knowledge, and there's nothing I can do to get it but to live one day at a time and try to follow Him to the next thing. And today that just isn't right. I wanted "real faith" to provide a formula to maturity today. I wanted it to provide some sort of medicine that turned a growing disciple into a fully mature one that didn't have any symptoms of that disease anymore. I wanted the tests to show a full remission of the disease of my sin. Now.

So today "walking out my faith" has to do with balancing responsibilities (like filing papers and keeping the house picked up) with joys (my little boys were a delight today, for some strange reason, and I was a patient and attentive mother, also for some unknown reason). And it is hard to maintain the appropriate "protestant work ethic" when there is more to do than can be done in the given amount of time. It is tempting to just ignore all unwanted responsibility for the stuff that I'm motivated to do. But genuine faith doesn't show up that way, at least over the long run, does it?

One thing I would have loved to spend the day on was reading a book that Trevecca loaned me. It is Why Not Women by Loren Cunningham, and is not new material to me, but is very well-written, and stirs up a lot of frustration that I've been working through again lately. I will finish it before I do a long post on the subject. But it is juxtaposed against the email groups for the other presbyterian denominations that I am part of, and the amazing anti-woman-leadership position that is so firmly held by those men and women. I used to be there myself; so I do get it. I also, finally, am getting what it means to serve God in my callings with my giftedness, and to empower everyone else in the church to do the same.

I am a newcomer to my congregation -- I've been attending for 10 years and a member for just four -- but such a large congregation of mostly older people also must have its members with the same bias. I like what Cunningham has to say about how the Holy Spirit brings change -- and about "tokenism". We are called to follow the Holy Spirit and His agenda, not to engage all injustice with the passion of a reformer. And so, for now, I will learn and grow and see where He takes me with my zeal in this.

I have a whole lot more to say here. But it isn't the right time, for me or for those that I am in fellowship with. I don't know them well enough to really know what is true of the community -- let alone the truth about each individual -- and so I cannot "speak the truth in love" to them personally on this subject. I will watch and wait and ponder what I think I see for a while.

Meanwhile, life is busy and full of joys -- even if the full remission of the disease of sin (using medical jargon, not theological!) is "just" promised, and today I am still on chemo.


Marriages, IPODs, and "Always On My Mind"

Mom and Dad celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary yesterday. I was writing a tribute to either post here or give them, and realized how much there is private -- either private between the two of them, or private to our nuclear family that consists of them and me and my brother and sister. It is "good privacy" -- not the kind that allows disfunction to flourish unchecked by public intervention or disapproval, but the kind of privacy that allows real intimacy to develop, unchecked by concern as to whether the things I share with you will be shared anywhere else by you.

The one thing I will share in my observations of their marriage is that marriage really is not a set of communication techniques and ways of doing things in the relationship that make the relationship healthy or not. Marriage is the union of two people, and is as healthy as each one of those people. I do not think it is possible to have a "good marriage" with two people who are not growing, healthy persons, and I do not think it is possible to have a "bad marriage" with two people who are both really growing and open to changing in healthy ways. But, just as one good ballplayer doesn't make a team a winning team, one committed, healthy partner can't make a marriage a committed, healthy, happy marriage. It takes two. And my parents are that, and I am so grateful both for their examples and for their love and nurturing of me and my brother and sister -- as children and now as adults.

My own marriage was blessed yesterday by the "rebirth" of my ipod. (For Christmas, Dad and Mom gave me a 60-gig ipod on which I'd put my whole library of music, audio books, sermons, Wednesday-Night-Together Bible Studies from my church, and all my favorite digital pictures. I could use it with earphones when necessary, but also hook it up to my car stereo or to the Bose system in my bedroom or to the Sony sound-system in our family room, and do housework or drive or do anything that is essentially mindless work with the accompaniment of music or an audiobook. But I gave my laptop to my college student and got a new laptop a few weeks ago, and the first time I hooked my ipod up to the new laptop, it flashed and went black, and never worked again. Well, yesterday Apple replaced it with a brand-new one for free, and I am so happy!) My husband is a fan of classic rock -- pretty much just classic rock -- and, although I like it too, I have a lot of other things that I take joy in that annoy him to no end. So an ipod is a blessing for us! He can watch what he wants on TV and not be bothered by hearing whatever it is that I want to listen to while I am working in the kitchen or doing laundry or doing whatever -- and I can not be annoyed by hearing the TV, too.

I have had the song Always on My Mind by Willie Nelson going through my head for days now, which is strange because I always hated that song. I always took it as a cop-out -- "I treated you badly, but at least I always had warm feelings toward you and thought about you." But, as I've been thinking about those lyrics, and thinking about marriage and friendships, I realize how much that is exactly what we get from our intimate friends and family members that meets the deepest needs we have -- "someone genuinely cares about me and thinks of me often." And, as far as the "treating a loved-one badly" part of it, I have realized that those who deliberately treat anyone badly -- "loved-one" or not -- do not possess the ability to genuinely care about anyone other than themselves. And, for the rest of us, our ability to treat well the people in our lives that we care about deeply is limited by so many things . . . but not being able to fully live out the kind of caring I feel for my two older sons does not make the genuine love I possess for them something that they cannot feel and respond to. And the same is true in other friendships.

Real love and affection is valuable and felt, and shows itself in many ways. It can't not.


On being ODD and other bits of joy

I had brunch with Marita Gladson today. She is wonderful. (And she is not odd -- my title for this post is about me, not her!)

She is 72, and is the child of Assemblies of God missionaries to Ghana, and just returned from another 2-week trip to Ghana by herself. She is a remarkable woman whom God brought into my life in direct response to my prayers 6 years ago, and who is still in my life as a friend that I enjoy very much.

She has a website for Saboba's Hope, which is actively supporting the medical center and community in Saboba, Ghana with donations and volunteers. It has been amazing to see what God has already done through Saboba's Hope and through Marita, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds there, too! Take a look at the website and pray for them, please!

One of the things we talked about was how much people try to make us all into cookie-cutter people, with us all moving toward an ideal of perfect health and balance, when God had a purpose in making so many different "characters" with their different strengths and weaknesses. (Marita, the book I referred to was Now, Discover Your Strengths, where the authors talk about how success is based on running with the natural strengths that we and the people around us possess, rather than having everyone focus on "fixing" their weaknesses.)

And I drove on to my next commitment thinking about what I wrote yesterday -- how blessed I am to have the people in my life that are in my life at this point and in the past -- because Marita is one of those amazing people. So is my mom, who coordinated a missions conference and vacation Bible school all last week at her church in lake country in Minnesota, and just keeps being herself and growing in Jesus, even at the old-old age of 67. (Mom, I don't think you're old. But I am impressed with what you take on and manage to pull off!)

I love the doctrine of the image of God in each person, and think we need to let ourselves see it in each of the people in our lives. For me, though, to see the image of God in others, I've had to accept that I bear His image in unique ways too, and that that means I will be odd, but that's okay.

He didn't mean me to be like you, or like any of the other people I admire. He meant me to be me. He's okay with the ways that I "don't measure up", when not measuring up means just that I am not strong in every possible talent and character trait. But He's not okay with me neglecting the ways He has gifted me in order for me to indulge my narcissism and try to appear to "have it all together" or "be normal" or even just to work really really hard on "fitting in."

So I can focus on getting to know Him and then doing the things He gives me to do and being the person He leads me to be, and find that my focus gets to change, and that I get to just enjoy the show. I get to be amazed at who He is, and be filled with joy as I watch and as I let Him love me. I get to be amazed at the things He uses me to do, knowing that He did them, because I've had a life getting to see what I manage to accomplish on my own. I get to be amazed at what He is doing through other people, and at who He is turning them into.

So I guess the real joy is not in being ODD. The real joy is in having so much joy in Jesus and in the people around me that I am okay with being ODD. No, not just okay -- I am grateful to be whoever and whatever Jesus wants me to be, because I have seen the beauty in everything He does and everyone He creates, and so I understand the beauty in myself, not in spite of how ODD I may be, but even because of it.

And then I can also marvel at the beauty in you as He creates you, and not feel like I'd be fixing anything by "fixing" you where you are odd. I would be like a little kid taking the great painter's brush and ruining the masterpiece that He's creating.


Abiding with each other

I had a day of relationships -- nothing spectacular, but just the stuff of on-going friendships.

1) Conversation for 50 minutes in Diane's office, reconnecting with someone I love but don't get enough time with.

2) And conversation for just 30 minutes or so with Barb, face-to-face and spontaneous, which was a treat in our routine of several-times-a-day phone calls. (Isn't it funny how seeing someone's eyes and mannerisms adds so much to what is conveyed in their voice. And I won't even start on how much just hearing someone's voice adds to email or written communication. But there is still a core intuitive sense of a person that stays consistent, even with the added dimension and depth that face-to-face brings.)

3) And time with Emily and Alicia to connect there and walk away glowing with the warmth of just liking someone and having them like you.

4) Time connecting by email with a friend that I hadn't talked to since the last Sunday in July.

5) A surprise call from another friend that I treasure, just confirming time together this weekend -- but the thrill of just hearing this dear woman's voice unexpectedly caught me by surprise.

6) Unexpected communication from my husband in the midst of his work day.

7) An email from Heather, even though it was her last day working before her wedding this Saturday

And many other phone calls and emails and "connects" . . .

And also time missing some people I haven't been able to connect with for a while.

And all of those things . . . all the kinds of connecting with each one and the time missing each one -- and each person being so much them that no one else could bring the same joy or the same sorrow and longing when they're not available . . . how much is that the reality of our lives, and all the tasks and circumstances apart from people are just "stuff"?

I am very blessed to have the people in my life that I have in my life, and the ones that I have to miss are just as much a part of that blessing as the ones I get to see and hear and type to. I have loved going through photos as I've done my "passions" blog, and I will eventually post photos and comments about Diane and Darci and Emily and Barb and others -- but the photos of my grandparents did the most to remind me of how much we do "abide" with each other -- to such an extent that our presence is there even when it is not.

And it seems to me that all that is very tied to how we abide with Him -- Jesus. I still long to see His face, but I know His abiding presence. And the closer I am to Him -- the more I abide there -- the closer I am to the people I love. . . and the warmer the sense of connection to those who can't sit across a table from me and talk to me anymore . . . and the more "missing them" becomes "abiding with them", as I know they are abiding with Him, too.



This is an old post, so you may have seen it before. I hadn’t though, and I loved it. I think it is particularly funny if you were raised with The Westminister Shorter Catechism. (And, if you weren’t – you owe it to yourself to read it – not so this will be funny, but so that you’ll have the opportunity to consider the truths you’ll find there!)

I cannot give proper credit. I tried to track down the original post with information about the author, but, although I found 1070 instances on Google, I couldn’t wade through them all to see who wrote it and where. (If you know that information and can show me, I’d love it!)

But here it is . . .

The Semi-Pelagian Narrower Catechism

1. Q: What is the chief end of each individual Christian?

A: Each individual Christian's chief end is to get saved. This is the first and great commandment.

2. Q: And what is the second great commandment?

A: The second, which is like unto it, is to get as many others saved as he can.

3. Q: What one work is required of thee for thy salvation?

A: It is required of me for my salvation that I make a Decision for Christ, which meaneth to accept Him into my heart to be my personal lord'n'saviour

4. Q: At what time must thou perform this work?

A: I must perform this work at such time as I have reached the Age of Accountability.

5. Q: At what time wilt thou have reached this Age?

A: That is a trick question. In order to determine this time, my mind must needs be sharper than any two-edged sword, able to pierce even to the division of bone and marrow; for, alas, the Age of Accountability is different for each individual, and is thus unknowable.

6. Q: By what means is a Decision for Christ made?

A: A Decision for Christ is made, not according to His own purpose and grace which was given to me in Christ Jesus before the world began, but according to the exercise of my own Free Will in saying the Sinner's Prayer in my own words.

7. Q: If it be true then that man is responsible for this Decision, how then can God be sovereign?

A: He cannot be. God sovereignly chose not to be sovereign, and is therefore dependent upon me to come to Him for salvation. He standeth outside the door of my heart, forlornly knocking, until such time as I Decide to let Him in.

8. Q: How then can we make such a Decision, seeing that the Scripture saith, we are dead in our trespasses and sins?

A: By this the Scripture meaneth, not that we are dead, but only that we are sick or injured in them.

9. Q: What is the assurance of thy salvation?

A: The assurance of thy salvation is, that I know the date on which I prayed the Sinner's Prayer, and have duly written this date on an official Decision card.

10. Q: What is thy story? What is thy song?

A: Praising my Savior all the day long.

11. Q: You ask me how I know he lives?

A: He lives within my heart.

12. Q: And what else hast thou got in thine heart?

A: I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.

13. Q: Where??

A: Down in my heart!

14. Q: Where???

A: Down in my heart!!

15. Q: What witness aid hath been given us as a technique by which we may win souls?

A: The tract known commonly as the Four Spiritual Laws, is the chief aid whereby we may win souls.

16. Q: What doth this tract principally teach?

A: The Four Spiritual Laws principally teach, that God's entire plan for history and the universe centereth on me, and that I am powerful enough to thwart His divine purpose if I refuse to let Him pursue His Wonderful Plan for my life.

17. Q: What supplementary technique is given by which we may win souls?

A: The technique of giving our own Personal Testimony, in the which we must always be ready to give an answer concerning the years we spent in vanity and pride, and the wretched vices in which we wallowed all our lives untilthe day we got saved.

18. Q: I'm so happy, what's the reason why?

A: Jesus took my burden all away!

19. Q: What are the means given whereby we may save large crowds of souls in a spectacular manner?

A: Such a spectacle is accomplished by means of well-publicized Crusades and Revivals which (in order that none may be loath to attend) are best conducted anywhere else but in a Church.

20. Q: Am I a soldier of the Cross?

A: I am a soldier of the Cross if I join Campus Crusade, Boys' Brigade, the Salvation Army, or the Wheaton Crusaders; of if I put on the helmet of Dispensationalism, the breastplate of Pietism, the shield of Tribulationism, and the sword of Zionism, having my feet shod with the gospel of Arminianism.

21. Q: Who is your boss?

A: My boss is a Jewish carpenter.

22. Q: Hath God predestined vessels of wrath to Hell?

A: God hath never performed such an omnipotent act, for any such thing would not reflect His primary attribute, which is Niceness.

23. Q: What is sanctification?

A: Sanctification is the work of my free Will, whereby I am renewed by having my Daily Quiet Time.

24. Q: What rule hath God for our direction in prayer?

A: The rule that we must bow our hands, close our heads, and fold our eyes.

25. Q: What doth the Lord's Prayer teach us?

A: The Lord's Prayer teacheth us that we must never memorize a prayer, or use one that hath been written down.

26. Q: What's the book for thee?

A: The B-I-B-L-E.

27. Q: Which are among the first books which a Christian should read to his soul's health?

A: Among the first books which a Christian should read are the books of Daniel and Revelation, and The Late Great Planet Earth.

28. Q: Who is on the Lord's side?

A: He who doth support whatsoever is done by the nation of Israel, and who doth renounce the world, the flesh, and the Catholic Church.

29. Q: What are the seven deadly sins?

A: The seven deadly sins are smoking, drinking, dancing, card-playing, movie-going, baptizing babies, and having any creed but Christ.

30. Q: What is a sacrament?

A: A sacrament is an insidious invention devised by the Catholic Church whereby men are drawn into idolatry.

31. Q: What is the Lord's Supper?

A: The Lord's Supper is a dispensing of saltines and grape juice, in the which we remember Christ's command to pretend that they are His body and blood.

32. Q: What is baptism?

A: Baptism is the act whereby, by the performance of something that seems quite silly in front of everyone, I prove that I really, really mean it.

33. Q: What is the Church?

A: The Church is the tiny minority of individuals living at this time who have Jesus in their hearts, and who come together once a week for a sermon, fellowship and donuts.

34. Q: What is the office of the keys?

A: The office of the keys is that office held by the custodian.

35. Q: What meaneth "The Priesthood Of All Believers"?

A: The Priesthood Of All Believers meaneth that there exists no authority in the Church, as that falsely thought to be held by elders, presbyters, deacons, and bishops, but that each individual Christian acts as his own authority in all matters pertaining to the faith.

36. Q: Who is the Holy Spirit?

A: The Holy Spirit is a gentleman Who would never barge in.

37. Q: How long hath the Holy Spirit been at work?

A: The Holy Spirit hath been at work for more than a century: expressly, since the nineteenth-century Revitalization brought about by traveling Evangelists carrying tents across America.

38. Q: When will be the "Last Days" of which the Bible speaketh?

A: The "Last Days" are these days in which we are now living, in which the Antichrist, the Beast, and the Thief in the Night shall most certainly appear.

39. Q: What is the name of the event by which Christians will escape these dreadful entities?

A: The event commonly known as the Rapture, in the which it is our Blessed Hope that all cars driven by Christians will suddenly have no drivers.

40. Q: When is Jesus coming again?

A: Maybe morning, maybe noon, maybe evening, and maybe soon.

41. Q: When the roll, roll, roll, is called up yonder, where will you be?

A: There.

42. Q: Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah!

A: Praise ye the Lord!

43. Q: Praise ye the Lord!

A: Hallelujah!

44. Q: Where will we meet again?

A: Here, there, or in the air.

45. Q: Can I hear an Ay-men?

A: Ay-men.


Real suffering? And stewardship . . .

I think I have had some tastes of suffering in my life. But one of the speakers I heard this last weekend talked about how little we know of suffering, and how much we need that perspective. (And the stories I heard from another speaker certainly put my experiences of suffering in perspective!)

One thing it has done to me today is make me very conscious again of stewardship. I have riches in time and money and opportunities that most of the world doesn't (and so do most of the people who would read this blog) and I do believe that God has an agenda for those resources, and that they are His, and that an authentic experience of salvation and transformation will result in those resources being used according to God's agenda rather than mine.

That doesn't mean that I need to give up my quiet time and my time getting groomed and the time playing with my kids and the time cleaning my garage out (yes, again . . . we expect to do dishes and laundry constantly, but couldn't the garage just stay clean?) in order to devote all my time and attention to service to others. It does mean that, in abiding, I need to listen to the whisper of the Holy Spirit about the places that need to be re-ordered, and to listen for the same in community.

The women in my world spend an incredible amount of time trying to be "good Christian wives and mothers" and good volunteers and good disciples. The last thing I'd want to do would be to heap more expectation -- more "shoulds" -- on them. And I won't do that to me, either. Funny thing, that Jesus scolded the Pharisees for all the rules they taught, but his requirement was a bit higher -- leave everything and follow Him!

So perhaps I don't need to figure out how to look just-as-pretty while spending half an hour less on grooming, or how to get by with an hour less sleep, or which friends to spend less time with, or how to put more "quality" time into my kids so that I can minimize the real time. Maybe I don't even need to sit down and re-do my schedule and budget one more time. Maybe I just need to actually DO the stuff I'd already purposed to do but somehow never really pull off because I fail in the heat of the moment to make the right decisions.

I am a planner extraordinaire. My chief 2 failures are that I do not plan good margins, and that an analytic plan doesn't work in the midst of an intuitive situation for someone who is primarilly motivated by relationship.

So I do have my schedules and routines and calendar and task list and project plans and budgets . . . I still see them as filling a certain role that can't be dispensed with, and I'd suggest that any disciple look at they role they should have in good stewardship. But the bottom line, in the moment, is "okay, Jesus, what's next?"

So, suffering will come. And "okay, Jesus, what's next?" will lead me through that as well as any plan. And my responsibility to ease suffering and to bring truth and justice to whatever corner of the world I impact will fill my life, too. And "okay, Jesus, what's next?" will address that part, too.

Tim Ye, one of our ordained ministers, led us in a prayer Saturday night in which he asked for God's affirmation that "this all really works" for those who were questioning it. That, at least, is not an issue for me at this point in life. And perhaps that's the beauty and gift of suffering. Having walked through real agony with Jesus and concluding that any agony can be beared with Him, but no agony can be beared without Him . . . and having had my time where I'd put enought distance between me and Jesus that I walked without Him by my choices . . . I just know.

All this really works. If you doubt it enough to walk your own way at the expense of a walk with Him, then when you hit the point where you regret that decision, know that He hasn't moved. And all this really works.

"Okay, Jesus, what's next?"

Oh yeah -- putting my 6-y-o and 5-y-o boys to bed!!


More on the Presbyterian Global Fellowship

I am sitting on a sofa in a house in Old-Towne Orange hoping for visitors to the open house I am hosting (no, I'm not a Realtor, but Mortgage Specialists need to get their referrals from someone or someplace, so here I am!) and the traffic has been light.

So I have been reading blogs, and wanted to share this one:

The Eagle and Child

He's a PCUSA minister who was at the inaugural convention of the PGF, and his commentary is interesting -- to me, at least!

And I loved the bits of the conference that I was able to watch via webcast, and that material is available to view after-the-fact here:

The Presbyterian Global Fellowship Video Library

More later . . .

Leaving a Marriage . . . or a denomination

We have a culture that tells us that the world is full of options and opportunity, and that we shouldn't waste time struggling through conflict when our energies would be better served by just walking away from conflict-filled relationships and moving on to ones that are easy and natural.

Hmmm . . . the only problem is: it doesn't work!!!

A report on the last day of the presbyterian coalition's meeting in Atlanta last week is found here:


And I am hoping the leaders from my particular congregation who attended were among those who still were enthusiastic about the options for reform and renewal within the PCUSA.

I do think there is a time when God says "leave!" and then you do. But I can't imagine that we are there yet, even with all the really crazy and negative stuff we have to respond to.

One thing I have learned from life is that good decisions come from following very closely to Jesus, not from over-thinking the decision-making process. All the bad decisions I've ever made were done with lots and lots of thought and discussion and agony. The good ones came from a posture that said "I am here, and I don't want to be anymore (or I want to be here desperately, but don't see how I can stay another day), but I need your healing and abundant life, Jesus! What should I do? Please change things in the other people, in the systems, in the circumstances, and in me, and bring about the present and future that most honors You, and that therefore best meets my needs and the needs of the people I love. Don't let me act unless it moves me toward Your purposes, and don't let me fail to act if my action is needed to move me toward Your purposes!"

And we are promised that God the Father will answer any prayer made in Jesus' name -- that is, to accomplish Jesus' agendas. And my experience makes it easy for me to believe that now.

So here we are. God does miracles when we pray for His purposes to be accomplished and ask for Him to make clear to us our role in that. Press on, everyone!


A Ministry of Encouragement

Lydia preached a message titled "Roto"-Rooter Theology" about the ministry of encouragement we are all called to. It was great -- because she was preaching something I see her live out as well as anyone does, and because I needed to think about that topic today.

Today was a day of depression, for some reason. I have learned that the best way to deal with depression -- which I don't deal with much at all anymore, unlike most of my life until about a year ago -- is to focus on Jesus first, praise Him, ask Him to work His purposes in my life, the world around us, and in the lives of the people I care about enough to pray for regularly, and then get busy in my relationships and commitments out of that focus.

I used to try the "focus outside yourself" thing, both in terms of focusing on people and focusing on tasks and goals -- and it didn't solve the depression, because that's not how things work. We really are made to know God and enjoy Him -- and if we neglect that focus, nothing else will ever satisfy, and even if we do a good job going after accomplishments, relationships, and all the other "second things", the satisfaction will never be lasting.

One of the things I have found out of connecting to Jesus like that is that I also really do connect to people. When I was younger (teens -- okay, a lot younger!) I tried to understand and learn how to "make friends and influence people" and learned all those principles. They kinda work. But authentic empathy, authentic admiration, and authentic love cannot be faked, can they? And in getting to know Jesus and let Him teach me and change me and love me, I have been learning how to love other people, and it is amazing how powerful that is.

There are certain people who connect well to me and really bring me joy. It's really easy to temporarily lose focus and look to those people for more of that connection and joy. That doesn't last long these days, though, because -- having had a good taste of the source of real love and joy -- it quickly becomes apparent that I'm twisted in my focus and it's not "working", and I turn back to the real source of joy. And then the joy that comes from the best people in my life is at its most intense and sweet!

I do think that people are the best source of motivation and joy in life, apart from our personal connection with God. I am sure I wouldn't know how to connect with God if there were not people who taught me how, and I am sure I wouldn't keep turning back to that source of real joy and peace and love if there weren't people in my life who kept encouraging me to do that. I am grateful to my mom and dad for their prime role in that, and grateful to a handful of others who have been very key in recent years. You know who you (each one of you) are, and thanks so much for that ministry of encouragement!

I need these things from you: 1) your faithfulness in your own walk to seek those things from God that you can only get from Him, 2) your faithfulness to me to maintain and strengthen the relationship here as God leads you to maintain and strengthen it, 3) your words expressing life as you see it, to teach me and challenge me, and 4) your prayers for me!!!

And I am committed to those same things as I seek to actually be useful in meeting your real needs.

To me, that is the ultimate "Ministry of Encouragement". Posted by Picasa


"Discipleship" defined. (And what is an intergenerational church?)

I wanted to define discipleship the way I mean it in my blogs and profile -- and I wanted to get an idea of how it is used in other blogs, to see if it means the same "out there" as "in here". And I found some very interesting things. The best was another blog published today:


It talks about the ways the different generations view worship and discipleship and the tensions of ministry to younger adults in a larger church -- and about what an intergenerational church really means. I urge you to take a look!

An intergenerational church will have real intergenerational relationships happening, and will also have all generations actively impacting the other generations in the ways we all see ourselves, the world around us, worship, ministry, service . . .

But back to my definition. By "discipleship" I do not mean "I have figured it out, and am living the way Jesus means me to live". I do mean that I am committed to keep figuring it out, in a community of others who are trying to be disciples too.

By "discipleship" I do not mean I am now living a sinless (or essentially sinless) life. I do mean that I am conscious of places where I do not live up to the standard (the stuff we have figured out, referred to in my last paragraph) and also that I know that there are many other places where I don't measure up in God's eyes or in the eyes of others to what would be "a perfect life for me" but that I am oblivious at this point to those truths. I also, obviously, do mean that I have failed in many ways -- big and small, public and private -- in the past, and I have repented of as much of that as I am conscious and have received forgiveness through Christ and am being obedient to Him (and the community around me) as I find new ways that He wants me to work to bring healing where my actions brought injury. I do mean that I am committed to being obedient as best as I am capable of being obedient, and that any areas of sin or failure need to be exposed to the healing light of accountability not only between me and God but also between me and at least one other human being, and that I will use every tool at my disposal to show appropriate repentance and growth, and to break any addictive behaviors that bind me. I do mean that I will not "hold onto" areas of sin and nurture them, either in secret or by asking others to help me feel better about them by not labeling something particular as sin because it must not be sin if I'm not willing or able to let go of it.

By "discipleship" I do not mean that I am in a different class than you or anyone else. By my definition, anyone who chooses to call himself or herself a Christian -- Roman Catholic, protestant, evangelical, whatever! -- is saying that he or she is a disciple of Jesus. But the power to live that is available through Jesus Christ to His disciples is something that needs to be "plugged into". Jesus' word, in John chapters 14 and 15, was "abide." By calling myself "a disciple first", I am saying that I am conscious that I need to make "abiding" more important than anything else in my life.

By "discipleship", I do not mean evangelism -- that is, not just evangelism. I do mean that I will live openly and transparently, and that I will be ready to be used by God in the lives of the people around me in whatever way He can use me. And that I'll be ready to let Him use them in my life to teach me in all the many places where I have so much to learn. (And He doesn't limit Himself to using other Christians, I have learned!)

By "discipleship", I do not mean something that I do by myself. Although I have my side in it -- my choices in my actions and beliefs and relationships -- "discipleship" can only happen in community. I am deliberately surrounding myself with other "disciples" who will teach me, learn with me, learn from me, pray together, serve together, listen together, worship together, and grow together.

I do invite you to watch me on my journey through this blog, and to share your journey with me, too.

The Presbyterian Global Fellowship

The Presbyterian Global Fellowship's inaugural conference is going on these days. It started last night and goes through noon tomorrow. The speakers and topics are wonderful. It reminds me of the richness of the resources available to me as a student at Wheaton. For anyone who has time, the plenary sessions are available to watch in webcast at:

They have been great for anyone who needs encouragement to keep living out a vision of life in community where the church is God's instrument to bring salvation with feet to the world around us. I will be trying to get CDs or written materials from the conference after it is over to share with anyone who is interested. Where else will you hear a gifted speaker share inspiration from the book of order? :-) Also shared were plans of the fellowship to deliver rich resources on-line as part of their (our) global mission.

Well . . . back to being a mom now!


Grace, Truth, and teaching Noah to read

I have been working with my 6-y-o to teach him to read. It is hard, because he has dyslexia, and my older boys both learned to read just by being read to -- so I am learning something new, here!

And it seems to me to be a good illustration of how God is working to teach me how to live. Just as one either knows how to read well or does not know how to read well, one knows how to live well or one does not. (Dallas Willard's explanation of the sermon on the mount is one of the best places I've seen a good explanation of what that means.) But God takes responsibility for His part in teaching me how to live, just as I take responsibility for my part in teaching Noah how to read. And God loves me even when I can't live well (because I can be forgiven because the just penalty for sin was satisfied by Christ -- yes, Mike, I still believe in atonement!)-- but He will persistently move me toward gaining the practice and skill that I need. (It is His purpose in my salvation to give me that abundant life that defines salvation!)

So we can hold out a standard of behavior that God is moving us all toward, because God has revealed so much through His word and through the Holy Spirit in the community of the elect through the centuries and now. Our children's teachers ought to be able to read, right, if they are going to be entrusted to teach our children how to read? And our leaders in the PCUSA ought to know how to live -- because they are going to help us learn how!!! Struggles and failures on the part of a teacher don't disqualify him or her, but may actually equip the individual to be a better teacher. However, failing to read -- or choosing to decide that reading doesn't really matter after all, and doesn't need to be taught or practiced -- would definitely disqualify a teacher from being my child's teacher!

God is leading all of the elect toward the same end -- toward a knowledge of how to live lives that show His salvation and power and to lives that really show that salvation and power. As a community and as individuals we do have our side in that -- which is to stay in relationship to God as He has revealed Himself in scripture, to stay in relationship with each other, and to choose beliefs and practices which foster obedience and growth. And to repent when we do not, and turn back to doing those three things!

As part of that, our denomination should keep holding out the standard of what is healthy and right, and keep holding out the grace that says "come as you are!" to all seekers, but choose leaders (teachers) that show in their current lives the salvation that is promised to the elect in Christ.

And may we each keep holding out to each other a forgiveness for the past, a hopeful expectation for today and tomorrow and into our futures, and encouragement about the truth of the Gospel of Grace and Obedience!

Report of Day One of the Coalition meeting

Well, Presbyterian Layman and presbyweb both published reports about the meeting yesterday. The layman article is here:


And it all sounded encouraging to me. I think the issues are complicated, and I appreciate the approach the coalition was taking. I look forward to hearing how they ended things today.

a view from my world

I am starting this particular blog as a group of PCUSA leaders meets in Atlanta in a conservative coalition meeting regarding issues from our last General Assembly. To most of my world, life doesn't have anything to do with any of that "church political stuff." To me, life as I know it is very bound up in all the issues involved here. Sexuality, interpretation of Scripture, who can properly be allowed in positions of Church leadership, how we make decisions as a congregation and as a denomination -- all these do impact my life and community every day. And they impact the lives of my friends, too, whether or not they think about them.

So this is a place to talk about it all . . . and about the rest of life, and books, and people . . .

More later!