August 20, 2014

Our Neighbor's Worth & Our Call to Love


I've been thinking about what it really means to love others--to love my neighbor as it were--lately. 

My natural default position is to love those who I deem are worthy or deserving by an internal checklist my mind has conjured up. I'd be willing to bet you do the same thing. If someone doesn't cut it via the list, then I don't really go to a whole lot of trouble to affirm their value and purpose here on earth. Sounds horrible, right? It is. (Fess up--you do this as well too.) It's really horrible. It calls for repentance on my part. A repentance that leads to pro-action in the reverse of this apathetic, surface-y, polite, but not-really-caring type of courteousness. 

Loving people how Christ desires me to often doesn't look a thing like the scenes I've scripted and played in my head.

I've been finding it increasingly more and more disturbing to not be building relationships with non-believers--who are my neighbors... or at least they're supposed to be. There's a part of me that's really uncomfortable with being constantly surrounded by people who think and act and believe the same things I do. And then there's a part of me that's terrified to actually share my faith. 

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I remember back to those preschool days when my teacher taught us songs. Songs about Noah's ark, and Jesus love a-bubblin'-over (or something like that), and another on how others would know we are Christians by our love.

By our love. 

I don't think that's really what Christians at large are known for by those looking in on us. You know those outsiders.

These days it just seems that people know a person is a Christians by their politics, by their stances from the big to the infinitesimal, by their show-y success and celebrity status. But that's not how that simple, profoundly true children's song goes.

We've given up loving people to win arguments, to win points of debate, to win fame. We lost people in that though.

I'm tired of having to come up with reasons to justify loving a person though. Seriously, it's exhausting. I don't want to have to think too hard to extend a hand of graciousness, kindness, or sisterhood.

Here's a dose of truth: Every. Single. Person. Has. Worth. They just do. We cannot take away or give out worth, because that's God's business alone, and he's imprinted each and every human being with his image. People we find difficult or don't particularly like... maybe even hate--still have worth in their Maker's eye. God doesn't see you and I or any other human being as we do. He sees them as his children. It's not a perspective I stand in often when looking at others.

No. Worth is not something we give or take. But what you and I can--and as Christian should--do is affirm one another's immense value to the heavenly Father. That's loving our neighbor.

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Sometimes we have moments where we get that inner sense of God speaking to us so crystal clear: "Natalie, would you still love this person if you never got the opportunity to see them change... to know me? What if you're just a seed planter in their life, not the cultivator, nor the harvester? Would you still love them?"

Somewhere in me grace swells, and I find myself responding, "Yes. As you have loved me I will love them, regardless of the outcome." 

This is what it means to obligate ourselves to love. This is what loving our neighbor looks like. 

We get caught in our Christian bubbles though. We get comfortable. But we have to start somewhere. And I had to start with the question I now pose to you...

Do you actually know non-Christians?
If you don't then, why?

If we believe in a rich relationship with the Savior, shouldn't we be heeding his words to go out and make disciples? Go means action. Go means meeting, seeking, and relating to those who haven't yet heard the same sweetness you and I have in the Savior's voice. Go is not living in perpetual comfort in the church pew.
Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age. ~Matthew 28:16-20 MSG

August 18, 2014

Kill This Idea of Love


"Tell me what happens the first time you see a woman naked."

       "The first time you see a woman naked will not be like you imagined. There will be no love, no trust, no intimacy. You won’t even be in the same room as her.
         You won’t get to smile as she undresses you and you undress her. You won’t get to calm her nerves with nerves of your own. You won’t get to kiss her, feeling her lips and the edge of her tongue. You won’t get to brush your fingers over the lace of her bra or count her ribs or feel her heartbeat.
       The first time you see a woman naked you will be sitting in front of a computer screen watching someone play at intimacy and perform at sex. She will contort her body to please everyone in the room but her. You will watch this woman who is not a woman, pixelated and filtered and customized. She will come ready-made, like an order at a restaurant. The man on the screen will be bigger than you, rougher than you. He will teach you how to talk to her. He will teach you where to put your hands and he will teach you what you’re supposed to like. He will teach you to take what is yours.
          You must unlearn this. You must unlearn this twisted sense of love. You must unlearn the definition of pleasure and intimacy you are being taught. Kill this idea of love, this idea of entitlement, this way of scarring one another."

~Unknown
Every once in a while I'll log into my account at Tumblr. It's usually a goldmine of quotes and poems. I scrolled through my feed and saw this small piece, I questioned sharing it here, because it is blunt, is it not? A bit uncomfortable for the conservative I imagine, but I admire and respect whoever wrote this.

Because they are dead on right. This pixelated "love" doesn't come even close to what real love is. It's wicked, twisted, and warped--A con man's advertising scheme of "love." There are a great deal of people who will say that sex is just physical. If there were ever a lie from the pit of h-e-double-l this would be one of them. 

It's evil because it wires humans to see and use one another as objects--play things that exist for self-gratification alone. God created man and woman as living, breathing poems formed in His likeness and image. He gave us hearts with the capacity to dream, desire, and truly love one another. He gave us minds to know one another--know each others fears, likes, dislikes, plans, passions, what makes us laugh, what makes us cry, what speaks to the deep crevices of our hearts. He gave us hands and feet not to take, manipulate, coerce, or abuse, but to give: "For God so LOVEd the world that He GAVE." Pornography degrades every aspect of that. It hurts literally EVERYONE on one level or another. 

This grieves God deeply; it's so wicked, twisted, and warped Jesus Christ died for it. You will never know the fullness of that woman on the screen--her thoughts, her heart, her dreams and passions, what she fears, what she prays, her family or friends, how she actually looks without all that makeup caked on, the tears she cries, or the things that make her deep belly laugh. You won't EVER know those things because those things come from a place of genuine love and intimacy. 

And you know what--she doesn't know anything about you other than what you take. She doesn't know you from Adam; she will never know the fullness of who you are either. She will never fill your hollowness or longing. Man was created to hold the glory of God, but there's nothing glorious about the man who steals and clutches what is not his. What a lousy legacy; those men are never honored in history. Do you seriously want to live your life leaving a wake of scarred women?

It's time to heed the whisper, "You were made for more."

Love is patient. It waits for the appointed time gladly. It practices self-control and never demands it's desires be met. Love is kind--not cruel, indifferent, or harsh. Love does not envy--it does not take what is not theirs--or boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, nor easily angered... this is the true definition of love, and this is the call: That love keep no record of wrongs. True love seeks and accepts forgiveness. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. True love repents--meaning to turn away from evil--then allows themselves to be transformed by truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

The twisted love on the computer screen is not love at all. Sex is not merely physical. God designed it to encompass every aspect of our image bearing of Him. Sex was designed to reflect "whole-life entrustment" (to steal a quote from my pastor), but you cannot and will not have that with the women on the screen. And you cannot see her as a valuable treasure, a daughter of God, to be protected and cherished.

For God so loved the world that He GAVE. 
Give. Don't take. If you want to know what love really is you must give of yourself. 
Lust is a sin against God because God cares deeply about women and wants them to be revered, cherished, and respected--not treated as objects of gratification. When men reduce women to sex objects even in our minds, we not only dehumanize women but we offend the God who made them in His image. He loves women and cherishes them much more than we realize.
~Darrin Patrick

August 15, 2014

8 Suggestions to Make Sabbath a Reality


#1. Avoid Taking on the Hurried Mantra. We have this crazy addiction to busyness and hustling in our culture; everything must be quantified, fit on to a to-do list or spreadsheet. I once saw a quote while perusing my Pinterest feed that simply read: "Stop the Glorification of Busy." I so wish we applied that to our lives. I'm so tired of hearing that people are busy when I ask them how they're doing. We're all kept busy in a huge variety of different ways. 

I really think we suffer from trying to fit too much in a given day. Our body feels it, and others notice it too. We get impatient with the slow driver or irritated with the long line at the grocery store because they’re slowing us down. Hurry, rush, haste, urgency, success and productivity (to the insane level society has placed them) were not meant to be reflectors of our attitude and approach towards life. Yet even in the midst of it we still say that we're procrastinators. We feel like procrastinators because we're trying to do too much (usually). It's not so much about working more, but working smarter. Working smarter means being intentional with how we use our time.

I find that when I'm intentional with my schedule and time, I'm actually less stressed, rest more, and I actually enjoy my work. This is organization 101. You know what, if you can knock out 3-4 primary tasks each day, then you're doing great. You can stop sweating the 12 not-so-important items then, and have the needed time to rest.

#2. Savor the Gifts (aka Cultivate a Spirit of Thankfulness). At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark greeting card, many of us are so rushed that we fail to notice the hints of beauty all around us. We don’t stop to enjoy the flowers in front of us or the crimson-purple sky at sunset. We’re often too busy to stop and talk with a neighbor or take time to just breathe deeply. When we take time to marvel at all the wonders and gifts God brings into our lives we're practicing thankfulness. The hyper focus on accomplishing more instead of enjoying that which we're doing and who we're "doing life" with, leads us to miss out on the daily beauty reminders--but it's those very reminders that bring a richness to our lives. Thankful people are the most likely to be plagued with an attitude of hurry.

#3. Carve out Regular Time for Stillness and Play Alike. Our lives are just brimming with noise, thus we have to be intentional about creating pockets of just pure quietness. I'm part of a generation that's sorely lacks with the contemplative practices or disciplines of our faith. God tells us that our strength comes from quietness and rest, not from constant activity (Isaiah 30:15). Try it; you’ll be surprised how much more refreshed you feel. Along with that though, there's an element of play to Sabbathing well, and we need to pursue healthy outlets for that to occur. Just go out and do something fun. Sabbath is just as much about celebrating as it is about restful moments.

#4. Plan Personal Retreats. I know what some of you are thinking: "I can't afford to take myself on vacation for a retreat." Neither can I. (Being a college student sort of prevents such things from happening.) If you can afford to hop on a plane to the beach or drive out to a cabin in the woods, be my guest. Seriously, go for it! But if you can't go far, you can have what I call a stay-at-home retreat. Introverts tend to naturally pros at this. I would know, I'm an introvert.

#5. Turn Off the Electronics. Put them out of sight and away if they're going to be tempting or distracting. People will still assume you're alive if you're not check Facebook every hour.

#6. Spend Some Uninterrupted Time with God. Buy a big bag of coffee beans, and pull out your Bible and Journal for the weekend. Dig into God's word and pray.

#7. Make Sleep a Priority. It's actually really, really, really vital to your health. Next to proclaiming we're busy, we mutter we're tired just as frequently. Go. to. bed.

#8. Take Part in Community, and by that I mean plug yourself into a church where you can building relationships, pour into others, and let them pour into you. Fellowship with one another. Sabbath is a community effort, and I desire for there to be enough margin in my life that when brothers and sisters in Christ interrupt my tasks at hand, I can be there for them. 

If you have any other ideas and suggestions I'd love to hear them in the comments, and if you're interested in digging deeper into the art of Sabbathing check out here.

August 13, 2014

Sabbath: Priority Not a Privilege

C.S. Lewis is credited as the author of the shadowlands analogy: We live in the reality of things yet to be; pilgrims wondering through the shadows, our hearts and souls aching to find the greater resting place (heaven). The shadowlands were never meant for permanent residency. We were not created for this place, and deep in our hearts a restlessness is what we wrestle. A searching and longing to bury our roots in... but it does not exist here. These shadows--they lead and point to something greater, for that is their purpose. God uses shadows to merely mirror or echo something greater of Himself. 

We live in a culture that glorifies planners, overly-packed schedules, constant on-the-go mentalities, and hundreds and hundreds of tips on how become more productive. For many productivity is their little god. It's honestly made a mess of things if you asked me. We rarely have time of our own, let alone time to be part of one another's lives, or indulge in a hobby... or nap. People experiencing burn-out continues to increase with each year and in the U.S. many of the health issues are a result of just extended stress. But this constant state of busyness was not the rhythm God established for His created world and order.

In the opening chapters of Genesis we read about how God created for six days, and then on the seventh, He rested (Gen. 1-2). Later, after the Exodus, God sets up this thing called The Year of the Jubilee (Lev. 25), which basically meant that after working for six years, the Israelites had to take the seventh year off and celebrate. You heard me right: The whole year. God pretty much told them to party for a year, or He would kill them. (I mean seriously, if we want to re-instate that any time soon, I'm game.) 

Recall that one time where Jesus was eating at His friend Martha's house? Martha was busy cleaning and cooking, while her sister, Mary, was soaking in and enjoying Christ's presence. Now if you happen to have a sister, you know that this whole lack of pulling the load of the work, does not go over smoothly. Naturally, Martha was not too happy with Mary in that moment. To make a Long story short though, Jesus told Martha that there is no work greater than spending time in His presence Him (Luke 10:38-42); she should not neglect to do so.

Here's the thing: God cares a great deal about you and I taking time to rest, so much so that it's even included in the 10 commandments--although it's seemingly the one we like to pretend doesn't exist in there. This isn't a bad thing at all, in fact it's an incredibly good thing... freeing... and a gift to be enjoyed. By God asking us to take that seventh day off, He's reminding us that He's THE Creator... the world isn't going to fall apart if we don't check off every single little box on that to-do list. He's got it covered. He's in control. Trust Him to take care and provide for you, be free to worship, spend time with Him and others, rest, and do something fun! (Maybe you need to throw a party for the heck of it...)

Sabbath is a gift to you and I from God to enjoy and delight in. Sabbath it a time of remembering, reflecting... exercising our memories of all that God has been to us and all that He has given us. Sabbath is for worship. Sabbath it for putting down the paperwork, for taking the day off of whatever labor you may keep busy with. Sabbath is for family and friends while remaining fully present. Sabbath is for picking up a novel you've been wanting to read for months, shooting some hoops, pulling out the game boards, sneaking off on weekend getaway trips, relaxing on your couch with take-out and a movie, or one of my favorites, napping. Sabbath is for feasting, fun, and yes, partying! 

Sabbath is a grace extended towards us to be attentive to our family, friends, food, our bodies, our minds, and our worship. Don't miss out on all that it has to offer! God made and still intends for sabbath to be a norm in our lives, not an indulgence. So indulge friends!

August 11, 2014

Oikonomia


"What is our salvation for?"

Talk about a massive question. Sometimes I'll hear it put another way: Most of us know what we're saved from--sin, evil, hell in order to get Christ, his imputed purity and righteousness, and entry to heaven--and that's all wonderful, but there's more to it than just that. We need to ask, "What are we saved to?"

We like to throw around the fact that as Christians we're "in the world, but not of the world." OK, cool. I have no problem with that... but for many of us we don't know what that means really, and we spend a lot of time arguing with one another over it. We see it primarily played out in one of three ways often:
  1. The Bunker Mentality (a.k.a. Fortification). I build myself a nice little haven to duck and cover into while shutting out the rest of the world with all it's worldliness. 
  2. Domination Mentality. I'm here to dominate and condemn the world with all it's worldliness. You're so going down.
  3. Just Going with it Mentality (a.k.a Accommodation). I'm just going to give into the world and go with all it's worldliness. No rocking the boat here.   
But none of these three mentalities or ways of seeing the world are actually how God tells us to view or act in this world--a world He created in the first place.

It does not take a genius to look out into the current state of culture and see that Christians have lost their voice in a great many ways. Not all, but a good portion of that is actually on us: We've lost people's trust in general. And instead of addressing and changing that we've just boiled more in our us versus them mentality. Which just ends up being a downward spiral if it's left there. It's in this we see those three mentalities arise--all of which though have this great sense of urgency behind them all.  

Urgency is a real killer though.

Generational change in the Bible is never what I would define as 'urgent.' Generational change--thus changing culture and the world--usual takes roughly 70 years in scripture. 70 YEARS. That's not urgent. So some of you can actually cool down and stop freaking out as much as you do. Big change is reached through many, many, many baby steps. You and I may only move the ball forward a couple of steps in our lifetimes before our children take over the movement. That does not mean our role in it wasn't important--it was--it's just not for our eyes to see it while alive. Think about all the men and women who were had amazing vision of a better future, and yet they never lived to see it's fruition, but their children's children did.

The fourth mentality--a more biblical view of the world looks a lot like exile. Meaning we're all strangers roaming in search of home; all of us Christians were at some point estranged before we encountered the Savior and the promise of heaven (home)--of one day will be joined with earth once more, and all made right.

Exile is something strewn all over the scriptures. But we never see God's people in exile going into bunker, domination, or accommodation mode--or at least they weren't supposed to. They were in the world, but as God's children--not of the world... and yet still sent into the world. We have to have that third bit in order to understand what us Christians are here for. What we were saved to. The weeping prophet wrote about it:
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)
The fourth mentality, exile, means we Christians are sent into the world to seek it's betterment, which is then for our betterment. We're sent to heal and redeem; to take care and better everyone's welfare. We're here to point to someone better, to point to our home: Jesus Christ. We're here to point the way just as John the Baptist did. We're here to plant and cultivate seeds; we don't always live to see the fruit. And that's ok! Someone has to do the work before the harvest. 
Prepare the way of the LORD.
The way. That's where 'oikonomia' comes in. It's the Greek word for house management or stewardship. God's oikonomia is all of creation; it's the house he built and created--his economy. Then you and I we were created to manage and steward it, so we likewise in imaging a Creator who made an economy, turn and made smaller modes of economies: families, institutions, schools, our jobs, etc. We're meant to steward and manage these. 

Prior to the fall all of these economies were in perfect unity and harmony with one another. That didn't last long and it still remains fractured, but now as Christians, we're here to work towards redeeming and restoring oikonomia as it once was. We're here to be gift givers. Because God so loved the world He GAVE...

We don't hide away, fight, or blend into the crowd, but rather we shine like lights--we're here to give of heat, light, warmth. It's in this gift giving we seek the welfare of the city--of the world. When we give, serve, steward our venues and others--all of us benefit. That's what we were saved to in all of its many facets and dimensions.

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TGC with Flannel has been hosting a free viewing of the film series For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles. Together with a couple others we've been watching along, discussing, and reflecting on the ideas. Highly recommend this series for small groups, or even for individuals.