Archive for October, 2011

Kingdom Voices: Soren Kierkegaard

Full disclosure: I don’t know much about Soren Kierkegaard besides his “leap of faith” stuff and this quote. But this quote always comes to mind when I am tempted to “explain away” the most difficult and challenging parts of the New Testament, particularly the words of Jesus:

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. ‘My God,’ you will say, ‘if I do that my whole life will be ruined.’ Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.” –Soren Kierkegaard

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Learning The Most Excellent Way

Yesterday was moving day.

Last night, after a long day of hauling furniture, every muscle in my body was sore, aching from 27 too many trips up and down the stairs and from stubbornly carrying things twice as heavy as my back would have liked. It was an exhausting end to an exhausting week of packing.

While my body silently cheered contact with a soft bed, my mind, in contrast, was spinning with all the beautiful lessons it had learned in one short week. And as my body quickly shut down, my mind struggled to process the thoughts that swirled around in it, until it, too, finally fell silent under the weight of slumber. Before it surrendered to sleep, though, my brain spit out one last attempt at making sense of my recent days:

“I have seen the most excellent way.”

As a Christian, I tend to value the gifts of teaching and preaching. I just love the way that people can use words to convey deep truths of God, the way a well-delivered lesson or a well-written book can illuminate your mind and elevate your thoughts to greater heights. There have been a few times lately that as I read a great book about God’s Kingdom, my heart was literally racing, and I can almost felt my mind actually expand as I read. It is so exciting to have people use words to convey such wonderful and life-changing truths as the ones I have read and heard in these last few years.

And the Bible talks about how teaching and preaching are great gifts, ones to be desired. Paul lists wisdom and knowledge, the keys to great teaching, among other wonderful abilities, in 1 Corinthians 12, when he talks about how the church is one body with many parts. However, he concludes his discussion with the interesting line, “But eagerly desire the greater gifts.” That line, of course, begs the question, “Which ones are the greater gifts?” Thankfully, Paul provides the answer quickly, declaring,

“And now, I will show you the most excellent way.”

What follows is a systematic devaluing of every other gift—tongues, knowledge, faith, generosity, courage—in comparison to the greatest gift, which is love. Without love, all those other gifts are absolutely worthless. We are nothing with them, and we gain nothing from them. This week, I saw that greatest gift over and over in my brothers and sisters.

I saw it in the meals that were voluntarily made for my family.

I saw it in the childcare that was graciously provided several times by others.

I saw it in the hospitality that was offered to my family to come share a meal or even to stay at another’s house while mine stood empty.

I saw it in the immense physical effort that was expended to move each and every piece of heavy furniture out of my house and into a van.

One way I especially saw it was through two families who, due to economic hardship and unfortunate circumstances, have had to move several times. Their repeated displacement has bred in them certain skills, such as expertly packing boxes and loading trucks. Even more, their hardship has bred in them compassion for others who are going through the same situation. I personally hate to move, and after I move, I never want to see another box again. These people feel the same way, but instead of running from the inconvenience of moving, they use their experiences to help others. At different times, both of these families have run the moving ministry at my church. Last week, the wife of one of those families, herself having recently moved, repeatedly dropped by to drop off boxes, called to offer her services at packing, and came by on Saturday, not only to help load, but also to help clean the house afterward. The second family was also there on Saturday, spending hours of the husband’s day off carefully and meticulously loading our oversized moving van.

As I watched those two families work so hard and with such dedication, I was amazed at how they had taken pain and hardship and channeled it into love and service. Unfortunate things had happened in their lives, and through the love of God, they had transformed their obstacles into blessings for others.

That is the most excellent way!

And more than any book I have read recently, the simple selfless actions of my brothers and sisters this week illuminated my mind and elevated my thoughts to greater heights. They conveyed wonderful and life-changing truths to me, in a deep, tangible way, truths like

God loves you.

And,

You don’t have to do this on your own.

This week, God’s love was tangible. It tasted like warm broccoli and cheese soup and homemade bread. It sounded like peaceful quiet while boxes were being packed, like silence unbroken by bored and neglected children. It looked like the sweat running down the faces of men who gave up their Saturday to move load after load of furniture. It smelled like clean bathrooms and baseboards. And it felt like a soft bed to fall into after a long, hard day.

Sometimes I read the words of Jesus, and my mind bends and struggles to figure out exactly what they mean. In fact, I was going to address those feelings in the post I was supposed to write today. I will probably still talk about them soon, but yesterday, I was reminded that following the radical way of Jesus doesn’t have to be that complicated. It can be as simple as bringing two carafes of coffee and a couple boxes of donuts to a tired moving crew, as an elderly gentleman (and founding member) from my church did yesterday.

Also, as much as I love great books and speeches, I realized yet again that you don’t have to be a theologian or a scholar to communicate great depths of truth to people. Simple, selfless love trumps all the trappings of intellect and reason.

This week, I was blessed abundantly by people who showed love to my family. Their sacrifices brought me joy and peace, and overwhelmed me with gratitude. Even more, they taught me wonderful lessons about God, lessons that transcend mere words.

They showed me the most excellent way, the way that I long to pursue myself.

“I’ve Been Quiet”

Sometimes I get embarrassed by how loud my kids are in church, especially with my husband being in ministry. There are a couple of larger families who go to my church who have kids who behave perfectly. They sit upright in the pews so quietly, and actually appear to be paying attention. In contrast, my kids aren’t horrible, but there is a lot of rustling and coloring of papers, jostling for position, and forgetting how to whisper that goes on in our pew.

A couple of Sundays ago, Anna decided to be different. Instead of the usual squirm fest, she perched quietly and attentively in my lap during the first part of service. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. When the Lord’s Supper came around, however, Anna reached expectantly for a wafer while telling us by way of explanation,

“I’ve been quiet.”

Our concentration on the communion experience was temporarily shot as Greg and I pulled her arm back, while trying not to crack up. We quickly and softly tried to explain to her why being quiet did not give her a pass to take the Lord’s Supper with us. I had to chuckle inside as I thought about my three-year-old’s analysis of communion. Apparently, we have not sufficiently conveyed to her the idea that the Lord’s Supper is for Christians, and so based on her observations, she determined that the ones who took communion were the ones who could be still during the worship, who could stay quiet.

There was something profound about that conclusion to me.

We may not be as naive as my toddler, but I do think that somewhere along the line, many of us got the message that the true Christians are the ones who follow the rules, who stay in line, who know how to be quiet and obey.

Which made sense, it really did. Until I really started reading the Bible.

And I saw that Jesus didn’t follow the rules. In fact, Jesus often seemed to despise the rules, all the do’s and don’ts of religion. He seemed to think they kept people from God, not brought them to Him. And while upholding the value of the Law, He also cut to the heart of it when He summed it up as love God and love others. In the Sermon on the Mount, He even outlined what that love looked like, and the picture He paints is mind-blowing. In it’s deeply radical nature, it basically demonstrates the utter futility of thinking that the mere following of external rules will lead you to God.

And Jesus didn’t stay in line. Instead, He was so subversive, so counter-cultural, that He threatened every power structure of His day. The inherent goal of any power structure is to keep people in line and to maintain the status quo. In His treatment of prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors, and lepers–not to mention that little incident in the Temple–Jesus shattered the status quo, and He stepped decidedly out of line.

And Jesus didn’t keep quiet. When He saw injustice, He was moved enough to speak up and do something about it. He wasn’t afraid to tell people about a better way to God, a true Way.

You know, I have been a Christian for twenty years now, and an earnest one most of that time. God has used each step of my journey, I firmly believe, to bring me closer to Him. In these last few years, though, I’ve become radicalized. I think it really started when I first read the Bible through, back in 2006. Sometimes, as much as I love the church, I think that our mainstream, powerful status as an established institution has inoculated us to the radicalism of Jesus. At least, I know that I was inoculated. Maybe that’s not the church’s fault, but my own. Regardless, in the last three years especially, some of my “lenses” came off, the lenses through which I had been reading Scripture. The lenses that told me that you could still be a good Christian and follow the American dream. The lenses that told me that you could follow Jesus and still look normal to society. Whether I would have admitted it or not, whether I could even have understood it if I was told, my lenses basically equated the Christian life with a more spiritual version of being a good citizen.

Now, those lenses are gone. I’m sure there are more lenses that need to be shed, like the scales that fell from Paul’s eyes so he could see, but some pretty major ones have fallen off these last three years.

And so, among other things…

No longer am I content to follow the rules.

No longer am I content to stay in line.

No longer am I content to be quiet.

Instead, I want to be like Jesus.

More on that in the next post...

Here Comes the Freight Train

By all accounts, I should not be blogging right now.

It’s irresponsible.

It’s not thought out.

I have way too many things that I should be doing.

I sit here typing in a half empty bedroom. The furniture is all in place, including a messy, unkempt bed, but all the knick-knacks, all the books, all the pictures, all the mementos…are gone.

The closets are empty.

The bathroom drawers and cabinets are bare.

Boxes are strewn through the hall.

Tonight is my last night in this house before I pack up all my earthly belongings into a moving truck and watch my husband drive off with them to Tennessee.

Clearly, I should be packing right now, packing to start a new life. This new life is right around the corner and is about to hit me like a ton of bricks. A new job for my husband starting on Tuesday. A new job for me starting in January. A new preschool for my daughter, and a new elementary school for my son.

My future is a freight train bearing down on me with frightening speed and intensity.

And…I’m actually excited about it. I truly believe the reason I am sitting in the half-empty house that I once thought would be my home forever is because of Jesus. I believe it is due to God’s will that my family finds itself in this crazy transition, one that was most certainly not of our choosing, but one that we have come to embrace. This change, I firmly believe, is the culmination of years of growing, searching, praying, studying and otherwise trying to figure out what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

And so, I think it is fitting that I start a blog that pursues that very subject at this seemingly inconvenient time. The Kingdom has made many demands on my life lately, and I know that the demands will continue, as we choose what school our son should attend, as we choose the level of my family’s involvement in my husband’s new ministry, as we choose how to best glorify God through our Christmas celebrations, as we choose how to restructure our various budgets, and the list goes on. In the midst of all that restructuring–and hopefully far beyond this initial transition phase–I believe I need a space to specifically explore what it means to live fully in God’s Kingdom. I hope to share more about our journey as time goes on, and also to gain insight and advice from fellow Kingdom-seekers as we all try to live as aliens and strangers in this world.

I am excited for what the future holds, both for my family, and for this blog.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some boxes to pack…

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