Similes made in the image

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NOTE: I am taking a course on the Trinity at Northern Seminary right now, & our assignments are Instagram posts with a picture and reflections/questions on our readings. I’m putting some of them here on the blog. If you would like to read posts from other members of this class, just search the hashtag #trinityclassNS on Instagram.

POST 1

“Made in the image of God but marred through sin, man is renewed in Jesus Christ who is the image of God in which man was first formed!” from Our Triune God by Peter Toon, p. 168

Christ IS the image of God. We are made IN the image of God. Using the language of literature, I am tempted to say Christ is the metaphor of God, but I cannot, for a metaphor is a comparison of two unlike things, and Christ is not comparison but IS God, one with the Father and Spirit in indescribable ways, yet also a person distinct from the Father and the Spirit. Yet Christ, like the very best metaphors, illuminates and makes clear an image that is hidden or unknown. Christ IS the image of God—revealed to us.

Can I say, though, that we humans are similes? I think so. Similes, like metaphors, compare two unlike things, but they are one step further removed, using the words “like” or “as” to make the comparison. A simile, like a metaphor, can illuminate an idea, but a bad simile can actually interfere with understanding an idea. As similes of God, we are capable of great good because of our being made in the image of our Creator. But since we are inept similes, the great capabilities for good have been damaged so that we are also capable of and prone to incredibly great harm. It is only in Jesus that the image can be renewed/made new.

How is this renewal worked out in our lives?

The Spirit, “from within the Christians’ own lives makes response to Jesus and the Father” (126, quote from Michael Ramsey). We come to know, through the Spirit’s work within us, the Father as “our Father”/“Abba” and Jesus as Lord and King. We become renewed in our identity as beloved children of God the Father and empowered citizens of the great, good Lord of the universe. And as this renewed identity works deeper into our souls, we are changed/healed/repaired, bit by bit, and we, as similes, become clear and helpful to those who “read” us so that we contribute to rather than hinder our readers’ understanding of God.

*the photo above is of a webpage with 56 bad and good similes found in high school student papers. Here’s the link (https://dysonology.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/56-bestworst-similes-used-in-high-school-exams/) so you can read all 56 of them if you want!

Post 2

The essay “God Crucified” by Richard Bauckham has SO much richness in it! In this post I’ll simply be pasting in some favorite quotes from the book and then closing with a question of my own.

“Jesus, the New Testament (NT) writers are saying, belongs inherently to who God is” (32). The Servant, seen in the Old Testament book of Isaiah “…belongs to the identity of the unique God. This God is not only the high and lofty one who reigns from his throne in the high and holy place; he also abases himself to the condition of the crushed and the lowly (Isa. 57:15)” (36). “(Christ’s) humiliation belongs to the identity of God as truly as his exaltation does. The identity of God—who God is—is revealed as much in self-abasement and service as it is in exaltation and rule. The God who is high can also be low, because God is God not in seeking his own advantage but in self-giving. His self-giving in abasement and service ensures that his sovereignty over all things is also a form of his self-giving. Only the Servant can also be the Lord. Only the Servant who is also the Lord receives the recognition of his lordship—the acknowledgement of his unique deity—from the whole creation” (45). “These (the exaltation and humiliation revealing God—being his identity) are not contradictions because God is self-giving love.. This is the meaning of the Johannine paradox that Jesus is exalted and glorified on the cross.” “In this act of self-giving God is most truly himself and defines himself for the world” (51).

My question: How do the implications of God being a Servant work out in the nitty-gritty of my life? What is one relationship or situation in my life in which I need to choose humility, choose to listen rather than speak, choose to not prove myself, choose to serve? #trinityclassNS

 

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Cross-shaped prayer

iron cross at Westminster

A picture taken in London just before heading to Scotland in January 2016–looking into the inner courtyard of Westminster Abbey

In January of 2016 Dave and I led a group of Wheaton Academy students on a trip to Scotland. It was a double-duty trip for us. We were praying for guidance; about which of two very different directions we should pursue. One of those directions was Scotland. We met with the UK field director of GEM (Greater European Missions) during that trip, and it was in many ways an exploratory time for us.

But we were also praying about moving into the city of Chicago, to live in a depressed neighborhood, for Dave to teach/work with underprivileged kids. It was strange how God used the wonderful, spiritually rich trip to Scotland to confirm that it was not the decision for this time, and Chicago is. One of the confirming moments came when we put on the program for an assembly at a Scottish public high school. We began with a video one of our students had made to introduce the team members and their home. After shots of Wheaton Academy and its grounds, the video moved to the downtown area of Chicago. One shot showed hundreds of people milling around the Bean. Watching it for the first time in that assembly, I suddenly got choked up. There were all those people, of all ethnicities and races and religions, gathered together to look at a reflective structure, but going home to segregated neighborhoods, going home to places sorely in need of gospel hope. Behind me in that auditorium sat rows and rows of students who needed to hear about Christ, and I was fervently praying for them, but my heart was pounding for the people of Chicago. When Dave told me—without my saying anything about my own experience—that he’d had much the same reaction when he saw the video, we knew God was stirring in our hearts.

Another affirming moment on that trip came in a coffee shop, where Dave and I had retreated while the students shopped in the area. Here’s what I wrote in my journal about that time:

We were talking about a topic we’ve often discussed: why are some prayers—especially those for “small” things—answered, while others, particularly those for very necessary, very important things, seem to be ignored. This topic had re-surfaced because I told Dave how glad I was that a member of our mission team who’d felt sick the day before was fully recovered. I remarked, “Several of us were praying for her.”

He got a funny look on his face and pulled out the book he’s currently reading: There Are No Children Here, published in 1991, written by Alex Kotlowitz, a Chicago journalist. It follows the lives of brothers Lafayette and Pharaoh, two young boys who lived in the Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex just blocks from Chicago’s Loop that was a veritable war zone. Dave turned to a passage and gave me a preface before reading it aloud. Nine-year-old Pharaoh, seeking respite from the violence and drama of Henry Horner, has found a condominium complex nearby with green lawns and trees. He goes there to sit under the trees and simply be.

Pharaoh had long sought such a refuge. For a few months last spring, he’d attended Bible classes at the First Congregational Baptist Church. Washington Boulevard was lined with churches, but most of them now served people who had since moved from the neighborhood. Churches had lost their authority in areas like Horner. Pharaoh grew bored with the classes and began to question whether there was indeed a God. He often prayed to him, asking that he let them move from the projects. But, Pharaoh would say, “I be praying but he don’t do nothing. Maybe there ain’t no God.” It was as much a question as it was a statement. (page 143)

Dave read the last line and then looked up at me. “I’m struggling with this right now. How can we pray for such relatively small things as someone’s upset stomach when people all over the world are living lives like this?” He tapped the page in the book. “And how does God see these vastly different prayers? Why are our prayers for someone’s stomach answered when a young kid praying not to be molested or sold for sex doesn’t get the answer they so desperately need? When a mom who has prayed for food to feed her family watches her baby starve to death? I don’t understand!”

I don’t understand either. Part of his question does have to do with God, to be sure, but Scripture tells me God is not indifferent to suffering, and Christ proved to me God is not indifferent to suffering. But we, the people of God, the Church, are the body of Christ here, so why is it that Pharaoh was left so abandoned? Where was the church? Why weren’t the churches of Chicagoland agonized by Henry Horner and the other housing projects? And the violence and hopelessness of areas like Englewood and Lawndale and Garfield Park? Why aren’t we agonized now?

I asked Dave to hand me the book. I wanted to look at one line in particular. I read it aloud to him. “Churches had lost their authority in areas like Horner.”

“What if the churches were supposed to be the answer to Pharaoh’s prayer?” I asked. “What if they were supposed to pray about Henry Horner—along with all the personal requests they had—praying BOTH, until God so changed their hearts they were ready to act and intervene and enter in, even if in small ways at first? Until they served the people who lived right nearby rather than those who’d had the resources to move out?

“I know it’s not really an answer to your question, but I don’t think the answer is an either-or proposition. I think we should pray about all hurts, even the ones we see as small.”

I looked back at this journal entry a few times during the months that followed, as we prayed for both “big” and “small” and received guidance for all and then detours and then more guidance. For us the conversation was about the inner city and inequality in education and racial reconciliation in the church. But even more so, it was a conversation about prayer and change–heart change. And that’s a conversation for everyone. Not everyone is being led to the inner city, but all of us are being led somewhere, even if it’s right out our front door, even if it’s simply onto our knees.

Prayer opens our blinded eyes and guarded hearts to the needs we are meant to see, meant to enter into.

So I’d like to end this post with some words I read recently in The Challenge of Jesus by N. T. Wright.

The Christian vocation is to be in prayer, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, and as we embrace that vocation, we discover it to be the way of following Christ, shaped according to his messianic vocation to the cross, with arms outstretched, holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and to the love of God. … Learn new ways of praying with and from the pain, the brokenness, of that crucial part of the world where God has placed you. And out of that prayer discover the ways of being peacemakers, of taking the risk of hearing both sides, of running the risk of being shot at from both sides. Are you or are you not a follower of the crucified Messiah? (The Challenge of Jesus, chapter 8, “The Light of the World”) 

Doing and Being

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pic by Emily Underwood

As I pray for Chicago and my neighborhood, I often find myself saying to God, “I don’t know what to do.” “How do I get involved?” I ask, “How do I feel as if I am helping in some way?”

He’s not answering the way I’d like—with a beam of light or voice from heaven, or even an email or phone call. Instead I hear, “Patience. Steadfastness. Stillness,” the words I believe I was given months before we moved—that I thought were just for during the move.

Maybe not.

I’m reading A Light to the Nations right now, a book about the mission of God revealed in the Old Testament, about the nation Israel as a participant in that mission to bless and bring light to the entire world. The big idea is that Israel’s very reason for being—for being chosen, for being a nation—is missional, is for the purpose of revealing God to the entire world. “All the nations of the earth will be blessed through you,” God told Abraham. God’s people are chosen and privileged not for their own sake or for the purpose of hoarding or mere enjoyment, but to be a display and contrast people to those around them.

But Goheen makes the point that this mission was not primarily about going but about being, about “living an attractive lifestyle to God’s glory before the surrounding nations,” about living “publicly to God’s praise” (Barth, quoted in Goheen 634/7002, Kindle edition).

So when I asked God again this morning, “What do I do?” these ideas from Light to the Nations came to my mind. I have, honestly, plenty of “doing” to do. Much of it seems mundane or even focused primarily on my family rather than my neighborhood, but this everyday doing, when “done” in the sight of my neighborhood or the other places I go in the course of my week, is a display, a way of being.

My next question, then, is if my way of doing/being is also a contrast. The Torah given to the Israelites reached into every area of life so they would understand that even the normal, everyday things all humans do belong to God. He is God of every area of life, and all can be done in the knowledge that we are his and not our own; and this is to His glory. When everyday life is done with this truth in mind, then it will certainly be a contrast from those outside the faith. It will also be a way of being, a distinct and different way of being.

I pray that through this being, we are a light to the neighborhood…

and I pray for patience, steadfastness, and stillness to wait for and recognize God’s calls to “doing” as well.

P.S. This piece came out of a class assignment that I wrote for my Former Prophets class at Northern. When I read the original assignment to Dave (husband), he suggested I should add it to this post, so it follows below. The post above stands alone, but if you’re interested in the topic of God’s mission as it is revealed in both the Old and New Testaments, then feel free to read on. The class is studying the books of Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Samuel.  

Gile (professor teaching the class) expresses the concern that many Christians have jumped for far too long from Genesis 3 to Jesus, from God’s promise that the serpent would be “crushed” to the coming of the One who defeated sin and death. The intervening story, including all the history of Israel, has been reduced, sometimes to mere examples or morality lessons. And when we look at it this way, we lose sight of God and his big story, his mission that did not take a hiatus from chapter 3 to the New Testament but has always been in motion. God breaks onto the darkening scene in Genesis 12 with the promises given to Abraham, chosen by God to participate in God’s mission to restore his fallen creation and move them forward into the consummation of a full restoration on a new earth. In this action of choosing one man and through him, one nation, it is as if God has focused his intense beam of light on one side of a prism, not for the purpose of hiding it or simply making that one side glow, but for the light to move through that and emerge on the other side as a full spectrum, revealing the holiness and goodness of a God who longs for all his creation to be in right relationship with Himself and each other.

Looked at in this way, the Old Testament becomes God’s story, with Israel commissioned as its major participant. Goheen (author of Light to the Nations, referred to in the above post) quotes Wolff and calls Genesis 12:2-3 a “‘stupendous utterance’ for ecclesiology—indeed for the whole story of the Bible” (740/7002). Election has a “so that” purpose: “God’s people are a so that people: they are chosen so that they might know God’s salvation and then invite all nations into it.” This makes the story of Israel a revelation of God’s mission, of God himself. As God redeems his people, binds them to Himself in covenant, and dwells with them, the people of God are empowered to a particular kind of being, a holy people on “display” who live in right relationship with God and then reveal and mediate him to others as a kingdom of priests. Their display is one of great distinction from the nations around them; their entire society was to be righteous, walking in the way of Yahweh, and characterized by justice for all, the least as well as the great. This distinct display, this “light to the nations,” was to be winsome, drawing people in to learn more of the God who so transformed his people and then inspiring them to worship and praise this great God.

 

Missional churches

Early in June–before we got completely crazy with moving, I took a five-day intensive class at Northern Seminary. It was taught by Dr. Michael Frost. It was excellent, and I wrote a blog post about it (“Exiles in a post-Christian era“) for Northern Seminary’s blog. If you’re interested in missional living and the missional church, Dr. Frost is a leading thinker in this area, and the post has links in it to several of his books. If you’re at all wrestling with feeling separated from your neighbors or community–or church, I highly recommend Frost’s book Incarnate.

Click on the title above to read the post. While you’re on Northern Seminary’s site, I also recommend checking out some of the other posts. Northern Seminary leaders have written some really good pieces this summer on the violence plaguing and tearing apart our country.

 

 

Moving grief–and greed

I wrote this piece a week or so before we closed on our house, but Dave (husband) told me I couldn’t post it till after we were completely out of the house! 🙂 Seriously, though, despite my awful thoughts during the selling process (which you’ll read about later in this post), we do hope and pray the very best for the new owners of our old home. 

I wouldn’t normally consider greed as one of my besetting sins.

But when we decide to move, and we begin the process of selling our home…

the green-eyed nasty comes out.

I get insulted by offers that are lower than the asking price; I want to quibble (I don’t actually do it, but the impulse is there) over the inspection results; I begin to think of the homebuyers as “those people.”

Case in point: Two weeks ago, when we got an offer on the house—and it was a good one and such an answer to prayer—my first response was greedy.

Dave, very excited, got off the phone with our realtor and turned to me. “We’ve got an offer!”

He was ready to rejoice, but I wanted to know the amount. He told me.

My first words?

“That low?”

Dave wasn’t even mildly surprised. He laughed and called me out. “You get so greedy when we sell a house.”

Yes, I do.

And even though I try to fight it, it’s a constant all through the process. When the home inspection report from the city comes back, I say things like, “Shouldn’t the inspection report from when we bought the house have revealed this?” (What I’m leaving unsaid are these words: “…so the previous homeowners could have paid for the repair?”) When, during this current home-selling process, we got the request from the owners to provide two working garage door remotes, I said, only partly joking (I’m embarrassed to even admit this), “Someone told me that if an automatic garage door opener isn’t on the house listing, you can just unplug it and say it’s a manual.” Dave just stared at me after that one.

Every time this greed rises up like bile in my mind or actually vomits out my mouth, I’m appalled, and I try to figure out where it’s coming from (as if it simply can’t be a part of ME!); I pray about it; I try to talk myself out of it; I remind myself how really awful it is. After all, in this current sale, our home was on the market only two weeks—incredible!; the offer was good to begin with; when our realtor countered, the homebuyers accepted it; and their “fix-it” requests have been minimal. Knowing all this, I ask myself, “Jen, what is wrong with you?”

About a week after we sold our house, I was reading the novel Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (fantastic book, by the way) and I came to a line that was so good, so applicable, it made me stop and put the book down. The narrator of the book, John Ames, a pastor, is reflecting on the long, lonely years following the death of his young wife and their only child. In particular, he is remembering when, during that time of singleness, he christened his best friend’s child. He said the correct words, he blessed the child, but his inward thoughts were quite different.

“…my heart froze in me,” he wrote, “and I thought, This is not my child…”

The line that follows that statement is the one that made me set the book down.

“I don’t know exactly what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else’s virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it.”

Oh.

Yes.

There is a grief in moving. I am leaving behind friends whom I love, neighbors whose stories I’ve learned, a house which has been a home, memories of Dave and I and our four children and our two international girls becoming a family…

…and there is a part of me that is flat-out jealous of the new homeowners. This right here is so good, I think, and what is ahead for us is so unknown that I’m simmer-level jealous of these people who are moving into what we are sorrowfully—though willingly—leaving behind.

I am, in John Ames’ words, taking offense at someone else moving into the happiness I’ve experienced here.

To be honest, I think there’s a good dose of penny-pinching, old-fashioned, straight-up greed involved as well.

So confession is in order; repentance is in order; but also in order is acceptance of the forgiveness of God.

Because it is in times like this–when I see some of the twisted nature of sin, its stem reaching deep into self-focus, its branches weaving through hurt and fear–that I remember I need absolution from Another, that there is no way I can ever pluck something like this from out of my heart.

A few days after I read the passage in Gilead, I read a section of Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz Weber, a Lutheran pastor, in which she was writing about this very thing. Forgiveness, she said, is not like a dry erase board that we are frantically trying to keep clean so God will be happy with us. Rather, it is freedom from the bondage of self, wrought for us by Christ, who is fully aware of our deep sinfulness, more aware than we ourselves are.

We need to know this truth about forgiveness, she says, and then she writes about the Maundy Thursday practice of individual absolution. In it she lays her hands on each congregant’s head and pronounces, “In obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I proclaim to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, Amen.”

Jesus—not my efforts or repentance—sets me free from my sins, so that I may, as the prayer of confession says, “delight in (his) will, and walk in (his) ways, to the glory of His name.“

Amen!

Delighting in the Trinity

839834Books about theology are not known for their humor, but Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves is an exception! I found myself smiling and even laughing aloud as I read it. The back cover content calls it “witty, lively, conversational, accessible,” but it also says it is a “rich and enjoyable portrayal of the basic beliefs of Christianity that opens up the profound and life-changing truths of our faith.”

I couldn’t agree more. To give you just a feel for the book (and to tempt you to get and read it for yourselves), I’m going to share the first two paragraphs of Reeves’ introduction—and then I might have to share just a few more quotes (I underlined a LOT in this book!).

“’God is love’: those three words could hardly be more bouncy. They seem lively, lovely and as warming as a crackling fire. But ‘God is Trinity’? no, hardly the same effect: that just sounds cold and stodgy. All quite understandable, but the aim of this book is to stop the madness. Yes, the Trinity can be presented as a fusty and irrelevant dogma, but the truth is that God is love because God is a Trinity.

“This book, then, will simply be about growing in our enjoyment of God and seeing how God’s triune being makes all his ways beautiful. It is a chance to taste and see that the Lord is good, to have your heart won and yourself refreshed. For it is only when you grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that you really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God. If the Trinity were something we could shave off God, we would not be relieving him of some irksome weight; we would be shearing him of precisely what is so delightful about him. For God is triune, and it as triune that he is so good and desirable.” (page 9)

Can’t resist! Four more quotes:

“Here is a God who is not essentially lonely, but who has been loving for all eternity as the Father has loved the Son in the Spirit. Loving others is not a strange or novel thing for this God at all: it is at the root of who he is.” (page 41)

“…the Father sent his Son to make himself known—meaning not that he wanted simply to download some information about himself, but that the love the Father eternally had for the Son might be in those who believe in him, and that we might enjoy the Son as the Father always has. Here, then, is a salvation no single-person God could offer even if they wanted to: the Father so delights in his eternal love for the Son that he desires to share it with all who will believe. Ultimately, the Father sent the Son because the Father so loved the Son—and wanted to share that love and fellowship.” (pages 69-70)

“The Spirit of the Father and the Son would never be interested in merely empowering us to ‘do good.’ His desire (which is the desire of the Father and the Son) is to bring us to such a hearty enjoyment of God through Christ that we delight to know him, that we delight in all his ways, and that therefore we want to do as he wants and we hate the thought of ever grieving him.” (pages 101-102)

“For Christ is the Word of God. Without him we would be ‘blinder than moles,’ never dreaming of how fatherly God is. But the Spirit-breathed Scriptures proclaim him as the radiance of his Father, the only one who can share with us the true life of knowing, loving and being loved by his Father.” (page 84)

Interested? Did I mention it’s fairly short? 130 pages. Did I mention it has pictures? It does! And sidebars of fun, “extra” information? Yep! It’s available as a paperback of ebook at Christianbook.com.

The foot of the cross

green leafTears pool at the lower eyelids of this child who rarely cries. The teen years are hard and confusing. But as she talks with me this day, I sense something deeper, something beneath the frustration with herself, beneath the fears of all the mental/emotional/physical changes she is dealing with. And what I sense is very, very familiar to me.

I sense shame.

“I want you to imagine something,” I tell her.

She nods and closes her eyes.

“You are standing at the foot of the cross.”

I wait a moment and then ask, “Are you facing it or turned away from it?”

“Turned away,” she whispers.

“In your hands is your guilt, your fear, your shame. You’re not running from it any more. You’re holding it, admitting it. You don’t know what part of it is real or is your responsibility—it doesn’t matter anymore. You can stop fighting.”

Her eyes are closed, but I see her swallow.

“You need to turn around. You need to face the cross.”

An expression, almost of pain, ripples across her face.

“You can do it. It’s okay.”

I give her a minute.

“Are you facing the cross?”

She nods.

“What are you looking at?” I ask.

She doesn’t open her eyes. “At what I’m holding.”

“Look up, honey. Trust me. Trust Jesus. Just look up.”

I see her chin lift. Her face relaxes.

“Jesus is looking at you, isn’t he?”

She smiles.

“It’s not what you expected, is it?
She shakes her head.

“Sweetheart, he knows all your shame, all your fear, and he’s not shocked. He took care of all of it. Are you still holding it?”

Another nod.

“Drop it. Let go.”

Her hands, still cupped together on her lap, now pull apart.

“Jesus is not fixed to the cross anymore. We bring our burdens to it, but his work on it is finished. His arms are free.”

I don’t have to speak anymore. I watch as her hands lift.

And I know she is in his arms.

~~~~~~~~~

I tell this story with my daughter’s blessing. She wanted me to share it because we have talked about how she is not alone in her struggle with shame. We experience shame over so many different issues, but the reality of the cross sets us free. It allows us to stop our frantic and pessimistic striving, to accept our failings and know that God would/will use them for his good. We can listen to the Holy Spirit and allow ourselves and others to be on a journey rather than in a series of tests. Together, my daughter and I share this in the hope that it will help someone else today.

My friend, Aubrey Sampson, has written Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul. Aubrey writes and speaks with authenticity about this battle. If you or someone in your life wrestles with shame, please consider buying her book. The link connected to Aubrey’s name above takes you to her personal website. The link connected to the book title takes you to its purchase page on Christianbook.com’s website.

The freedom of being a small character

flower close upI just finished Still by Lauren Winner, an author who rises higher on my favorite list every time I read another of her books. (Follow the link above to her Amazon page to see all of them.) Still is about what she calls a mid-faith crisis–the doubting, dull doldrums–and what still keeps her in the faith and allows her, ultimately, to remain still in it.

One of my freelance assignments right now is a week of devotions on the “walk humbly” portion of Micah 6:8, and I’ve been simmering in that phrase before I begin the actual writing. Perhaps that is why the quote below from Still caught my eye. Whatever the reason for my first attraction, I have returned to it several times since, and I want to share it with you. If you are wondering this day about the specific purpose of your life; if you have thought “What am I doing?”; if you’re struggling with your significance/success–or seeming lack of it; if you’re shamed by failure, this one’s for you.

“It turns out the Christian story is a good story in which to learn to fail. As the ethicist *Samuel Wells has written, some stories feature heroes and some stories feature saints and the difference between them matters: ‘Stories…told with…heroes at the centre of them…are told to laud the virtues of the heroes–for if the hero failed, all would be lost. By contrast, a saint can fail in a way that the hero can’t, because the failure of the saint reveals the forgiveness and the new possibilities made in God, and the saint is just a small character in a story that’s always fundamentally about God.'”**

That last line (emphasis mine) keeps grabbing me. A load rolls off when I sit with it. I sigh with relief and gratitude. Yes! I breathe, yes!

white flowersFather, you are the Playwright of the greatest story ever, and you’ve given me a role in it, a small but somehow still important role. This story is about You; it’s for you; it’s by You. I come to you now and ask that You would simply show me what You have for me today in this story. Help me to release the big story to You, to let Your capable pen write it. Help me to live into the part you have for me, one small scene at a time. Give me great joy in doing my best for You. Remind me that You empower me to live out my role. May my bit part–and all our parts collectively–glorify You.

Just on a whim, I did a search on the word “story” on Bible Gateway. I specifically chose The Message to search from because I thought it might use the word “story” in a symbolic sense as well as in a literal one. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but I found some beautiful, arresting passages. I’ve included some of them below.

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons? ***Matthew 23:23-24

[ Trusting God ] So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.” ***Romans 4:1-3

I’ve preached you to the whole congregation,
    I’ve kept back nothing, God—you know that.
I didn’t keep the news of your ways
    a secret, didn’t keep it to myself.
I told it all, how dependable you are, how thorough.
    I didn’t hold back pieces of love and truth
For myself alone. I told it all,
    let the congregation know the whole story. ***Psalm 40:9-10

*The Samuel Wells link leads to a piece he wrote for The Christian Century about Bonhoeffer. It doesn’t link specifically to this topic, but it’s a really good read and what he wrote near the end of the article about Bonhoeffer’s assumptions about his own life’s “success” really do flesh out the quote above (which is not from that article).

**The quote is linked to the specific page it can be found on in the book God’s Advocates: Christian Thinkers in Conversation. It’s a Google book, so the entire thing is available for reading on that page.

***The Scripture links lead to a parallel versions (Message, NIV, Amplified) of that passage, allowing you to see other translations alongside Peterson’s work.

Catechesis

I took this picture when I was at Westminster Abbey in January--this is etched on the outside of the entrance.

I took this picture when I was at Westminster Abbey in January–this is etched on the outside of the entrance.

Q: What is the chief end of man?

A: To glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

When one of my Bible teachers at the small Christian school I attended as a child introduced me and my classmates to the Westminster shorter catechism, I knew none of its history. I remember, even then, being a little surprised. I thought of catechism as a “Catholic thing,” something from my father’s Italian, Bogota, New Jersey childhood, and it was unexpected at my fundamental, non-denominational school in the deep South in the late 70s.

But there it was.

I don’t remember how long we studied it, but that first question-and-answer set stuck with me. “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” I don’t know that I thought much about its meaning in childhood, but when I was an adult, and the phrases jumped into my head one day, I was shocked by the second part of the answer. My upbringing completely supported the idea that my supreme goal in life should be to glorify God…

But to enjoy Him?!

I didn’t have the first idea how to go about that, but still–memorized in youth–the phrase stayed and popped up again in surprising moments.

That’s what catechism and liturgy are supposed to do (well, one of the things); they’re supposed to stick. Even when they have become rote, they do not lose their power; they are just hidden, waiting for the time when you are ready to receive the meaning and the Lord’s work.

Several years ago, while working for the marketing department at a small college, I wrote a news release about one of the Bible professor’s recent publications, an article on the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter’s use of catechism to ground young people in the faith. I thought it was fascinating, and I remembered that article when I recently ran across an archived piece at Christianity Today by J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett titled “The Lost Art of Catechesis,” It gives a great history of catechesis and some wonderful arguments for using it more intentionally now.

So, if you are interested in exploring some catechisms for yourself, I’ve included some options below.

To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism

A Baptist Catechism

Westminster Shorter Catechism

New City Catechism (adapted by Tim Keller and Sam Shammas from the Reformation Catechisms

An excerpt from The Healing Presence

soli deo gloriaI’ve mentioned in an earlier post that I am crawling my way through The Healing Presence by Leanne Payne. I read it with my Bible open on one side and my journal on the other, and a pen ready for underlining or commenting (mostly underlining!). Today I simply want to share a great quote from this book and what I prayed after reading it. The unitalicized words in parentheses are my notes.

As we practice the Presence of Christ (clearly the entire book is about this topic; in a pithy nutshell, Payne means we step into the new life Christ has made ready for us AND we invite Him into ourselves), we make every thought ‘our prisoner, captured to be brought into obedience to Christ.’ Our entire being is thus consecrated to God, wholly committed, given over to Him. We become channels of His life; we carry the cross. (Payne’s definition of ‘carrying the cross’ is included in this sentence; it is ‘being a channel of Christ’s life to others.’)

This life manifests itself as both fruit and gift of the Spirit. As fruit of the Spirit, the character and the nature of Jesus is shown–kindness, faith, humility, love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, discipline. As the gifts of the Holy Spirit, this life manifests itself as the power to say, to do, and to know. Such are the tools with which we work the works of Christ. The fruits are the way of love, that most excellent way in which all the gifts are to operate.

Father, this is the life I want to live, filled with the Spirit’s fruit–the very character of Jesus–and carried out in the Spirit’s power. I cannot do it on my own–I confess I too often try. Christ promised the Spirit would abide with us forever and said we would know and recognize this Spirit, for the Spirit will live with us and in us. I want to know and recognize the Spirit more and more–beginning right this very moment. Thank You.