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In Plain View

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

wolf-in-sheeps-clothingBut the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” [Matthew 9:32-34 NIV]

Jesus healed in plain view of many people. Eyewitnesses were aplenty. And yet, despite that, there were many who could not see. They could not believe that the healings were rooted in good. They decided it was fake news.

I have never personally witnessed a healing miracle. I have heard stories from missionaries and conference speakers, people who have seen many miracles reminiscent of the work of Jesus in his day. And aren’t there promises in scripture that believers would also be able to channel God’s power?

“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” [James 5:14-15, NIV]

Prayer, offered in faith, is the key. Believing that it can happen, that God is able, that the miraculous is possible. And to name it truth.

In our current political culture, truth has become elusive. We are bombarded with claims on every side. How is it possible that such diverse claims of truth could have such passionate believers? And where is truth in the midst of them? I’m thinking it’s in plain view but we only see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe. In that regard, nothing has changed in two thousand years.

Pray for revelation. Believe God.

From the Original Trinity Hymnal, #468

O God of truth, whose living Word
Upholds whate’er hath breath,
Look down on thy creation, Lord,
Enslaved by sin and death,

Set up thy standard, Lord, that we
Who claim a heav’nly birth,
May march with thee to smite the lies
That vex thy groaning earth.

Ah! would we join that blest array,
And follow in the might
Of him, the Faithful and the True,
In raiment clean and white!

Then, God of truth for whom we long,
Thou who wilt hear our pray’r,
Do thine own battle in our hearts,
And slay the falsehood there.

–mirfield

prayer-1Come close and listen,
    all you who honor God;
    I will tell you what God has done for me:
My mouth cried out to him
    with praise on my tongue.
If I had cherished evil in my heart,
    my Lord would not have listened.
But God definitely listened.   
    He heard the sound of my prayer.
Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer;
    he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. [Psalm 66: 16-20]

In the Restore Church Lent Devotional for 2017, this passage from the Psalms is highlighted. And the phrase about the sound of prayer jumped out at me. What is that really?

Is it the sound of my voice? Of course, there are times of praying out loud. I think it helps keep me centered in the moment when I pray out loud. But God does not necessarily need to hear my voice to know my prayer. There is the prayer that comes with music and singing. I don’t sing as much in my prayer time as I used to do, but much is said about God hearing music as a form of worship, adoration, and of course, prayer.

Instead, it’s a deeper sound. In verse 18, it is written that evil in my heart (or sin) would have gotten in the way of the sound of my prayer. God would not listen, by choice.

For this reason, I find myself in confession from the beginning; I ask God to empty my heart of the resentments I have carried through the day or day before, to empty my heart of judgments and jealousy and envy, to empty my heart of disappointment. I want God to hear my heart in prayer, my mind in prayer, my soul.

I understand why some Eastern traditions use a bell whose vibrations linger, I can imagine the clearing of my inner self would be like one of these bells, the sound of my prayer on its tail.

Hear my prayer O Lord. 

 

Will You Fast?

prayer-and-fastingDuring lent, one of the practices we are asked to consider is fasting. Historically, fasting implies the cessation of eating. But over time, particularly in our culture, this has morphed into “giving up” something. And so we find people say they will give up soda or sweets or caffeine. Some people now give up other soft pleasures like Facebook or gaming or television. It’s an interesting development. I have done the same thing over the years. It’s not a bad thing per se, but we may have missed the point.

If I think about the many habits I have given up for Lent, most of them I should probably give up anyway. I mean, they’re not really good for me. I remember the first year I gave up diet soda. Well, for heaven’t sake, that should be a permanent thing, for who doesn’t know that diet drinks are terrible for the body? So, what have I done there? I’ve used a spiritual “practice” to motivate me to give up something I don’t need.

Instead, I think a better fast might be something else–a beloved or necessary thing. And for this reason, I have chosen to begin a full fast of food for a period of time and then clear liquids. I love to eat. I need to eat. But I want to be truly conscious and intentional in this season. I want to be uncomfortable and out of step with my normal routine. I want to experience a change within.

There are habits of mind that I would like to break: judgments and gossip and resentment. These require a mindfulness that only comes with breaking out of the norm.

A full fast is not for everyone. I get that. But I have fasted at length before and I know its benefits. But I also know its traps like hoping to lose a few pounds or to be perceived as “holier” than others. Beware or just be aware. That’s the plan.

Another aspect I am adding this time is daily communion. Last night during the Ash Wednesday service, after fasting all day, the taste of a small piece of bread and juice was a tangible reminder of Christ’s presence in my life, as Jesus answered his tempter in Matthew 4:4, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” For me, communion became the Word made flesh as I took it.

Amen.

 

Why Lent?

lent-2017People are often surprised that I engage in the practice of Lent. Traditionally Lent is part of more mainline denominations and particularly “high church” or liturgical worship. How did this charismatic, “praise the Lord” believer come to Lent?

Part of the reason can be traced back to a few years I spent in a Reformed Episcopal Church. The priest of that congregation was a neighbor and engaging and after a broken experience in our previous church, we needed to rest. At first, the weekly liturgy seemed dry and unyielding. But over time, the words themselves began to unfold and they became a musical meditation to my heart and soul. It was during this time that I began to study and investigate the role of contemplative prayer and other practices like fasting, etc. At this church, we marked and walked the church calendar with an understanding that we were joining millions of others doing the same. The meaning of “our” Father became more real to me.

After I left this church, I continued my interest in the wider Church and its rhythms. I discovered another form of prayer called “keeping the hours” which was daily prayer and liturgical readings at fixed times during the day. So now I had a combined sense of the yearly pattern as well as a daily structure. Many would find this confining but I discovered a river that flowed beneath the practice and discipline.

I would be lying if I said I held to these faithfully year after year, I did not and have not, but there are seasons that I long for that rhythm again, that pulsing of the Spirit’s heartbeat within. I cannot experience this in contemporary worship services. Those have a different flavor, a joyfulness and a passion. I am that too.

And so, I balance my personal worship by choosing the 40 days of Lent, to slow down my body and my mind, to listen, to breathe, to flow in that river. It takes a while to find my way again. And so I fast or re-engage with fixed hours of prayer, or sit quietly.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and the next 40 weekdays (including Saturdays) are the days assigned to re-connecting with our inner life in Christ.

I invite my readers to come along with me and let us see what God will reveal.

The Church Considered

the-churchThere are so many definitions of the church–from a local body of believers to the Church universal (implying all believers). In Greek, the work is ekklesia which was used by the first testament church as the society of the Lord Jesus Christ but eventually was accepted as the Lord’s House, a derivation of kyriakon, this then separate from the term synagoga. 

In Ephesians 1:22-23, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” the implication is that the church has even deeper relevance in that the “ekklesia” is no longer just a body of believers who meet together but is part of the ultimate mission of Jesus, to bridge a gap between humanity and God through the ultimate sacrifice. What Jesus did in microcosm, the church is to do in macrocosm. There are a number of scriptures that speak of this sending out of the “church” into the world (http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Mission,-Of-The-Church has a strong list), most notably is Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

At Restore Church, where I attend and serve, this message is embedded in the church’s mission statement: “We exist so that people far from God will be raised to life in Christ.  Our mission will be unleashed by: Meeting people where they are. Connecting people to life changing relationships. Serving people with no strings attached. Fulfilling the mission of God will not only result in new ministries or programs, but a movement of disciple makers, impacting the world.”

What does this then look like? Mostly, it’s in the church structure (multiple campuses), the culture-relevant messages, the contemporary music, multi-media included in the services, and a conscious effort to welcome all people into the space without judgment. It takes about 120 volunteers each weekend to successfully support four campus workshop experiences.

Outside the walls of the church, there are a number of annual community events that are intended to broaden the appeal of Christ’s message through familiar and non-threatening events such as a massive Easter Egg Hunt, movies in the Park, Single Mom’s Spa Days, Mom Swaps, free clothing give-aways, concerts, and more.

Personally, I have been at Restore Church since it’s inception about five and a half years ago. My roles have evolved from hosting campus services to behind the scenes production work and special services. It would be my hope that my daily life would reflect my faith and commitment to a loving God, and my part of a living and breathing church.

But of course, that doesn’t always work out in some perfect way. I can remember going through so many different programs in churches throughout the years, programs of evangelism and outreach with the intent of “saving” people. It was well intentioned but with little heart for the individual. It’s one of the more realistic and powerful messages of the more contemporary churches: relationships as core to sharing Christ, sharing Holy Spirit, sharing life. The early church, gathered in homes and small spaces, seemed to get this piece of it but over the years, we have become too unwilling to engage in the lives of others.

Am I a good example of relationship discipleship? Not really. I participate in church activities when my work schedule allows, but the very essence of the new way, I have embraced in theory and not in practice. This is a kind of disappointment in myself. I know my mission field is not far afield, but here in my small town. And my mission is to love out of the box. I could build a case for my lack of relationships, but honestly, that’s not the point. My faith and love for God is known. But I am not a very good friend to many.

There is only one cure (for lack of a better term), and that is to step out–one person at a time. The “assignment” for the ministry school is identify one thing to do. But for me, it’s not a “thing” but a person. It is upon me to reach out to one person. This I will seek to do, with no real goal in mind, merely to “do life” a little with someone new to me.

For the story of the world is reflected in what we call the “end times” and when those days will come, it is not for us to know, but there will be trials and tribulations. For this reason, we are called into unity with others. This will not be a time to be alone. Family, extended family, church family, all of these will be a buttress to lies, and fake Messiahs, and hardships. (Matthew 24: 1-28)

Scripture does give us some information about these times, most importantly that we cannot know the time of Christ’s coming (Matthew 24:32-41). As in the time of Noah, people did not expect the flood, and yet it come. The story is a warning for us all. Not that we’ll have a flood, but that we must understand that our human time is finite.

There are some indicators of Christ’s return (although many have misinterpreted the signs again and again). Some thought Hitler was a sign of these times for the great damage that he did in the world. And yet, the end was pushed back. Some thought the Great Depression was a sign, but it too was not the end. Even today, there are fears that the great weather changes and storms are indicators of the end. But we will not know, not really.

So, what do we do? Remain faithful. Build relationships. Honor God. Love others.

 

Theology of the Holy Spirit is vast. Bigger than anything I could know or understand fully, but I can speak to my own experience and thereby, hopefully fulfill the essence of the Hillsong homework assignment.

The basics about the Holy Spirit are found in Acts 1:4-8 and Acts 2:1-13. The first passage carries the promise of Holy Spirit from Jesus Himself and the second passage describes the Holy Spirit’s appearance and “baptism” of the believers gathered there. We are told that the Holy Spirit is a gift and a source of power, and ultimately the resource for activities of believers from that day forth and forever. The first expression of that baptism was speaking in other tongues (not glossolalia at this point, but truly other languages). And why? To reach as many people as possible with the news: the Holy Spirit is here.

This anointing impassioned the believers with confidence to tell their story, to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, and the Presence of God’s Kingdom. The message was (and still is) that Jesus is who He says He was and that the sacrifice of the Messiah’s blood (our deliverer) was a restitution for the sins and separation of humankind from God – then and forever.

I Corinthians 12 (written by Paul) outlines a variety manifestations beginning with vs 4:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

And goes on to articulate gifts of wisdom, knowledge, healings, speaking in tongues, and so forth. At the end of the chapter, Paul lists some of the roles that can manifest by the Presence of the Holy Spirit operating freely in a believer. But then, in I Corinthians 13, the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit are recounted: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.

But this teaching was not available to the early church, not until the Apostle Paul, a learned man, had his own Holy Spirit experience and filled the ultimate command of Christ to reach out beyond the borders of Judea and Israel. He was the one who trusted Jesus at his Word to reach to the ends of the earth, the ends of their civilization. Before that, they lived communally and lovingly, they surrendered to the way of nonviolence, they shared the teachings and stories they heard from Jesus (for it was wholly an oral tradition), and they opened their doors to seekers. They were also persecuted. But they persisted nonetheless.

My own encounter with the Holy Spirit began a month or two after my confession and surrender to Jesus. My “mentor,” a rather unlikely evangelist in my acting class, encouraged me to ask for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Back in the 70’s, that was the trend, with an expectation of miracles, particularly the gift of tongues (now called glossolalia). As a previous “new ager,” I was pretty much game for anything that smacked of “woo-woo.”

When I prayed, nothing happened for several days. No tongues, no nothin.’

One day, I came home to my apartment from school, and as I entered the door, I literally experienced a whoosh of air, as though someone had opened a skylight. I dropped my bags and my hands reached up (a gesture which I was not aware at the time was common among the charismatics and their worship). I cried with a kind of joy. And I wanted to sing and praise too. But I had no history of songs to God. The only song that came to mind was the one I learned one summer at a friend’s Vacation Bible School, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. . . ” I sang that song as I walked around my apartment for 45 minutes. Ecstatic. Drenched in the Holy Spirit.

Later, when I shared my experience with my friend, he immediately asked about Tongues, for that was his church tradition. No tongues, no baptism. I was a bit crushed but decided to press along without his opinion. I knew what I knew and I knew what I felt. I was on fire for my God and my faith in Christ and the Presence of the Holy Spirit.

Within a few days, I did have a language experience but not what anyone expected. My background is Latvian. I grew up in a Latvian home and it was spoken predominately by my parents until my father’s death when I was 9. After that, our family slowly drifted away from the Latvian community and I began losing my Latvian language. By the end of my twenties, I could barely hold a conversation. But one day, in the throes of my ecstatic prayer time, I began to pray fluidly and completely in Latvian. I engaged with God in the language of my human father (who never learned much English), and I experienced a healing and transfer of love from my lost father to my heavenly Father.

Like the early believers in Acts, I too was un-churched. I did not know what was normal or not. I simply told everyone I met my story. I was a most improbable convert and several of my classmates recognized my transformation as God’s alone and they too reached out to Christ anew.

That was more than 38 years ago. Who is the Holy Spirit for me now?

Over the years, I have experienced many physical manifestations from being “slain in the spirit,” to “prophecy” and “words of knowledge.” I have (and still do on occasion) speak in Tongues and I have prayed over/with people whose lives were changed. No healings as far as I know.

Today, the Holy Spirit is speaking to me more mystically than ever. I believe that Christianity is filled with paradox from turning the other cheek to going the extra mile. In the same way, I believe the Holy Spirit is within and without, here and not here. We cannot describe the Holy Spirit for that world is simply not us, not 3-D, not constrained by time or flesh. And for this reason, Holy Spirit is an intimate partner with our own personal spirit, able to direct, console, comfort, and teach. Holy Spirit can manifest physically — or not.

Holy Spirit is breath and no breath. Just as God is the great I AM, so IS the Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharing my Faith

faith2Here’s a good question. In the face of someone who knows does not know much about Christianity, how would you share the gospel of Jesus Christ?

My answer has been the same for some time. I simply tell my own story, my “testimony” as they say. Because I was just like the person to whom I am speaking, in one way or another, at one time or another. I did not come out of my childhood and into my teens as a saint. I was narcissistic and self-absorbed. The world revolved around me, so much so that I married at 18 and divorced five years later to pursue a career in the theater. My world, my dream, my everything. The story goes on, too long for a post/homework but needless to say, it’s interesting how God breaks through the fog, even we don’t recognize it as fog. I came to faith through the Word of God, through reading the Bible and asking a lot of questions. I tested for truth and certainty in my soul. I have followed the Christ ever since. I am alive today because of that surrender.

But, I did not have opportunity to tell my story this week.

Nor do I consider this a strategy or a plan or a way of delivering the message. Effectiveness for the listener is not based on my delivery.

The message of the Christ, promised to the Jews for centuries as the Messiah, is all about redemption, about relationship to God and how that relationship works. Back then, it was about substitution and blood sacrifice. In the time of Christ, it was also blood sacrifice, but once for all eternity, in a space that has no time.

The conversations in the Hillsong class have given me a desire to dig again into the Bible and to seek understanding of the patterns and context in a way that I never have before. I am grateful, however, that my first introduction to the things of God was from the Bible and as a result, I have read through it many times. I am familiar with the stories, the essence of Scripture, but not enough about the pieces that bring vibrancy and connections.

I am feeling solid in my faith which is really important in today’s political climate in which believers, wrapped in Christ, yet still at odds with one another and often in a very unloving and ugly way.

” . . . I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” II Tim 1:12b

In a way, it is a pattern in my own life that I cannot seem to shake, or perhaps I am not intended to do so. I am the daughter of immigrants and I did everything I could to “fit in” and be All-American. Yet I never really succeeded. I was never quite American enough, but on the flip side, never quite Latvian enough either. I wasn’t protecting and preserving my heritage enough. In college, I was in a sorority, accepted but only to a degree, I simply could not balance the game of wealth and privilege no matter how hard I tried. And in college, by marrying young, I ostracized myself from my single friends. Eventually, I ended up in New York for acting school, thinking I would finally really belong, but even there, one foot in and one foot out. When I had my conversion experience, I felt the divide even further. How could I be a believer and creative artist? Back then, there were no avenues for that.

The longer I was a Christian, the more I tried to walk and talk the way I thought I should, the well-spoken yet conservative believer who “loved the person but not the sin,” and who carried her faith as a badge on her sleeve. I was on the inside now, I thought. I knew all the phrases, I knew all the leaders, I knew all the praise songs, I even knew how to speak in tongues. I had arrived.

But that secure space began to crumble over the years. I grew tired of editing my words (for all along, I was) and not mentioning that I enjoyed reading books that others in that world found objectionable (even demonic) or listen to music that had a beat, or go to movies not on the accepted list.

Then I went into faith-based counseling and discovered the depth and power of forgiveness & breaking strongholds of all kinds. I found beauty in other church traditions. I experienced liturgy. I found I had been in a microcosm of Christianity and not the Church universal.

I began hearing other voices like Rob Bell, Phyllis Tickle, and Brian McLaren. I read about the Emergent Church, and Progressive Christianity and Post-Modernism. It was all so freeing and interesting and I reveled in the hashtag, #LoveWins.

But of course, I didn’t quite fit there, not 100%. Lo and behold, I was back in the middle. I loved and respected many of my more conservative Christian friends but I also loved my progressive ones. In any case, I was pulled slowly but surely out of the Christian Right.

I realize now that this series of classes is nudging me to fill in my theology. To not worry about fitting in or being in or anything like that.

I am an amalgam.

I am politically left leaning (especially now in this Donald Trump era); I am thoroughly grounded in my love of God and Christ and the atonement; I am surrendered to a sovereign God who can break through and “save” whomever and whenever God so pleases; I am learning to love and be content with my now, given by God to me (both the sorrow and the joy); and I am not going to assume that I know God’s intentions for others who are “not like me.” I will lose validity with some people of faith and I will lose some validity with activists. But I will stand.

 

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