Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘pastor’

Hebrews says, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled…” In the United States, our legal system calls things “marriage” that the Bible most certainly would not. But if we only looked at that one verse from Hebrews, we could believe that the thing called marriage that isn’t, is “honorable”. We could pull in other teachings about marriage and how great it is and what it means spiritually, and encourage people to accomplish those great things and represent those great truths by practicing the thing falsely called marriage. If this stood for a few generations, most people would forget that it is a perversion of what the Bible calls marriage.

What if there are other Christian practices that this has happened to, in the forgotten past? How do we trust that what we understand to be the biblical and Christian practices of Church gatherings, pastoring, church leadership and decision-making, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, speaking in tongues, laying on of hands, ordination, etc. are the things the Bible is discussing?

Like we can with marriage, we can compare other Scriptures to our practices, right? We can ask, “Did God say anything else about these practices? Did God address what we are doing, regardless of what it is called, in positive or negative ways?”

I believe it is possible for God to reveal corrections to us* if we are humbly seeking Him, and if He wants to at the moment. It seems like sometimes He doesn’t want to, and I’m not quite clear why.

I want to have respect for generations of believers who have been inviting God’s discernment, and to value their conclusions. I don’t see any honest way to do this without acknowledging that there have been stretches of time where Christianity (the public institution, anyway) has promoted false understandings of things, and it has taken a long time to straighten some of them out. I have to acknowledge that different parts of the Church, distanced by geography (at least) have for long periods of time held different beliefs from one another.

How much weight should we put on our own experiences? If our experiences seem to line up with a teaching, and be fruitful for the Kingdom of God, does that indicate that these understandings and practices are the things God intends?

*Who ought “us” to be, though? Is it my job, without holding a position of authority in the Church, to discern these things? For myself? For the Church? For society? Is it my job to say anything to others if I believe I have discerned that our conventional practice is wrong?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Where do you go to church?

It’s a normal question, and I’m not offended by it.  But in the year since I stopped going to conventional church, I have yet to figure out an easy answer to this question.  I see the horror in friends’ eyes when I tell them I don’t go.  We’ve all known people who walked away from fellowship with believers, or who become apostate to the faith.  There is pity and skepticism if I tell friends I’m still looking.  And when I explain what I’m doing as a matter of practice without going into the reasons, it sounds apologetic.  I’m not sorry for my choices.  I believe in them.

So why do I not go to a church?

Five years ago I led a Bible study on the spiritual gifts.  We looked at what the gifts are, examples of people using them, how they build up the church, and how other believers should respond to them.  In that study I, at least, became convinced that not only was my church broken – but the whole model for “church” that I was familiar with neglected the body-participation and Spirit-ual power and guidance described in the New Testament.

For four years I studied ecclesiology – what the Bible says about the gatherings of believers.  After I’d worked out an idea, mostly based on 1 Corinthians 11-14, of what a church meeting should be like, I discovered some websites about house churches.  My favorite website was New Testament Reformation Fellowship.  On their site are articles about the exact points and questions raised by my study.  The men who contribute to NTRF are from several countries and about ten congregations.  There are people really practicing church like you read about in Acts and the epistles.

But though I was gaining conviction on these things, God was not releasing me from the church I had attended since I was 15.  Church is about God and people, God’s purposes in people.  I am not (even now) released from loving those people or even from fellowshipping with them as I have occasion.  My church was broken, more than its model and more than a church has to be broken (consisting of redeemed sinners).  Many people attending that church were trying to stay to help, to heal, to influence towards the holy and faith-ful.

Finally in 2009 conflict came to a head at my church.  I prayed hard.  God taught me a lot about love.  The result for the church was essentially a split.  For me, I was released from my commitment to that body and that authority.  My family also left that church.  We were then faced with the question of what to do next.  As a family and independently we visited several area churches, without finding any to belong to.

A group that had met for fellowship and Bible study before they left the church continued to meet and my parents joined, contemplating a church plant.  They met in a house and held Sunday meetings.  Members of that group began to explore models for church that appealed to them.  Family-integrated ideas and house church ideas were blended with more traditional ministry models.

Some wanted to expand out of the house.  Others wanted to stay small.  Some wanted to support a full time pastor and others sought bi-vocational leadership.  There were different ideas about the purpose of church: discipleship, evangelism, worship, fellowship?  Which one is the primary goal?  Instead of seeking as a group what the Bible teaches about church, the families mostly went separate ways according to their preferences.

My family had heard about house churches from me for years.  They decided that they believed in house churches, and also in some associated concepts like co-leadership and family integration.  For my part, I am unwilling to join an institution I don’t believe in; I think it would cause problems for them and for me.  I would still like to find a church that follows the 1 Corinthians pattern for church meetings.  Though my parents still meet with some families from our old church, in a house church format, I am concerned that there is still division about the meaning of church and that their practices are somewhat arbitrary and not Bible-based.  I attend a few meetings a month with my family.

Close friends from Awana – and friends of those friends – had developed in 2008 and 2009 a prayer meeting and Bible study.  It was informal, meeting every week or two to share what God had been doing in our lives, the things we were burdened for or convicted about, and Scriptures God had laid on our hearts to share or that had spoken to us during the week.  We spent about an hour each meeting in Spirit-directed prayer, each praying as led.  Our fellowship before and after was sweet, and we often gathered at other times to do ministry or to have parties or to encourage each other.  This was my support during the difficult church split.  And it continues to be God’s provision for a “church”, the closest meeting in my experience to what I’m looking for in a church.

On the side, I also visit a few friends’ churches on Sunday mornings, about 2 out of 4 Sundays.  I visit Sovereign Grace, Cornerstone Chapel, Agape Bible, and Summitview Community in Fort Collins.  Each of these churches has good, God-loving and Jesus-following people who believe in community and whose theology is orthodox and God-exalting.  When I visit them, I think of it as a sort of worship and Bible conference.  I’m also open to visiting other churches occasionally, especially to see people I don’t often get to see – but also to meet new people and see what God is doing in the lives of Christians all over Colorado.

I have a concern about this church practice I’ve adopted, and it is that I have no pastor.  There is no good example of walking in the Spirit whose gift is to shepherd other Christians, guiding and feeding them – none who knows me and my spiritual state whose authority I could submit to and whose leadership I could follow.  But I have been in many conventional churches whose men titled “pastor” do not fit that description, and so I know that there is no easy way to find one.  A pastor, like so many other things, is a gift from God.  And I’m asking God for one still.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »

I’m in between churches right now – between congregations. All summer and fall I’ve been casually attending the meetings of various friends. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to not be obligated to make an appearance at any one building on a Sunday morning. I might tell a friend I’m coming, or I might decide Saturday night. Some Sundays I sleep in. Sunday morning heathenism is rather refreshing.

Except it isn’t heathenism. A lot of what happens in those buildings on Sunday mornings is of heathen origin. But heathenism is a lot more than skipping a sermon and praise concert. It is a lifestyle of rejecting God, and that I certainly have not done.

I believe the Bible teaches Christians to gather regularly with each other. That isn’t something I have abandoned either. My recent experience is filled with times of fellowship and encouragement with other believers. We do ministry together, hold each other accountable for our walks with God, philosophically tackle the dilemmas we’re facing, study the Bible, and pray. During these times we also tend to eat, to play games, to laugh and tease, sometimes to work. Kids running around get swept up by disciples of Jesus, who – like Him – love children.

About a month ago some friends invited me to their church. I went that weekend. This week they asked me what I thought, and didn’t I like it (since I hadn’t been back). And I froze, because, well, I did like it. The people were friendly and the teachings were biblical and stimulating. But I don’t think I’ll join. This Sunday I did go back there, though. And my friends’ thirteen-year-old son confronted me, “I thought you said our church was just ‘ok’.”

Hard to explain. This particular church is on the good end of mainstream churches. They have good doctrine. A lot of their money goes to missions. Kids are with parents in church for most of the time, and youth aren’t separated from their families. The music isn’t too loud or too self-centered. With a congregation of about 50, the pastor and teachers can know everyone.

After pondering for a day or so, here is my answer to the thirteen-year-old friend: (it’s alliterative so I can remember!)
1) Plurality. There is only one pastor at the church. He’s the head man. I believe Jesus is the head of the Church, and that leadership beneath Him must be shared among more than one equal. Whenever real life cases are discussed in the New Testament, the word is used in the plural. (Elders) In this way they can model cooperation and problem solving. Congregations and pastors are kept mindful that Christ is the true head, and that the Church is His project. Also, when one is weak, there is another to be strong, the proverbial man to pick you up when you fall. Two are better than one and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Pastoring is a lonely job, being at the top instead of a part of your congregation as friends and brothers. My Bible describes a different sort of dynamic, where pastors are respected for being respectable and where everyone is exercising his gifts for the good of all: pastors, prophets, discerners, helpers, administrators, on and on.
2) Property. This was quite confusing to my friend, who expects people to scorn his church for meeting in the club house of a condominium complex. Whether you own a building, rent it, or have borrowed money from a bank to claim that you own it, all represent instances where the Church of God has used resources God entrusted to them not to do what He has instructed: caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and missionaries – but to have a separate place to meet. I believe churches are meant to be gathered in homes. Limited in size, surrounded by hospitality and everyday life, the atmosphere of house church encourages the participation of everyone, the familial fellowship of believers, and the synthesis of sacred and secular.
3) Preaching. The New Testament describes and even commends preaching. Except almost always the lecture style sermon was delivered to an unsaved audience. It is a tool of evangelism. And evangelism is not the purpose of the regular gathering of believers. In fact, the church meetings described in 1 Corinthians are much more open and unstructured than what we usually think of as church. No one was scheduled to speak. Anyone (any man?) was allowed to bring a word, be it a prophecy, a teaching, a tongue – as long as he spoke it for the edification of the group. He may share a testimony of God’s work or an instruction or challenge the Spirit laid on his heart to give to his friends. A teaching might be towards an identified deficiency of understanding or may flow out of the studies individuals are making during the week on their own. Prophecy may correct the direction the congregation is going, may identify weaknesses and strengths among them, may warn them, or may give them hope and vision for the future. Some verses indicate that individuals may also bring songs of their choosing to the meetings of believers, with which to encourage each other.

Now that I’ve said those things, I do believe that there is a place for the lecture-style teaching we call sermons. I really enjoy Bible conferences, and am not opposed to worship concerts where the band has practiced and is intending to honor God. When I visit my friends’ churches, I usually view those services as conferences, and I look for the Spirit-driven gatherings elsewhere. At this stage of my life I’m not content with the small groups and Bible studies that have been getting me by. So I’m still looking, reading books and searching websites from people who are practicing what the Bible teaches about Church. I’m excited to see where that leads.

Some questions remain, stronger tensions between the familiar and the ideal: how is authority supposed to work in the church? Is it important? Is it a matter of exercising authority or of submitting to authority? How much should we submit? What shall Christians do for evangelism? Wouldn’t it be better to team up? But is it wrong to invite people in to hear the gospel, or should we go out to them? Are women to speak in the church meetings? If not, why on earth did Paul say so? – Just to prove I don’t think I know everything!

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »

Autumn’s Eve Pigfest

 

Sunday night, the day before Autumn, I hosted my second ever pigfest.  We held a potluck autumnal feast that looked fantastic laid out on the table.  And by the end of the night we had discovered that it tasted fantastic as well. 

 

Our discussion went like this (remember devil’s advocacy may be adopted at any time): 

 

Proposition 1: Slavery is biblically acceptable. 

What is slavery?  What is the slavery in the Bible?  Does the Bible accept slavery, or merely regulate it; is there a difference?  Is there slavery today?  How does debt come in?  Are there advantages to slavery (especially indentured servitude) to an economy, a society, or an individual slave?  What makes slavery unacceptable?  What role should the church play in a society that utilizes slavery?  In history, has the church been successful in enforcing the Bible’s limits to slavery? 

 

Proposition 2: Unmarried adults should be allowed to adopt children. 

How is this worse than unmarried people working in orphanages?  Isn’t it better for a child to have one loving parent than none at all?  What are the legal implications when this is allowed?  Is this a selfish decision?  Does a one-parent household enable the parent to spend time with children, or are they raised essentially in an orphanage anyway, by being left to daycare?  If true religion is caring for widows and orphans, should single people be excluded?  How does having children as a single person affect other responsibilities or callings?  Is an unmarried woman less likely to get married if she has a child through adoption?  What about an unmarried father? 

 

Proposition 3: Cohabitation before marriage is the prudent thing to do. 

If everybody does it, how can it be bad?  Shouldn’t you test out a marriage before you make a lifetime commitment?  Are those advocating cohabitation in successful relationships or marriages?  Are they good people?  What is a Christian’s witness if he/she lives with their partner before marriage?  Many people applaud those who wait until engagement for cohabitation; is there any validity to that?  How long a cohabitation is advocated?  Does cohabitation actually sabotage the relationship, whereas starting with commitment (marriage) would enable the relationship to thrive and function?  Is marriage too big a hassle to interrupt a romance?  How should a pastor react to a couple who has been cohabiting?  Should he marry them ASAP or encourage them to repent?  Ought he to refuse to marry a couple living in sin?  Are they still living in sin after a wedding if they have not repented?  What role does a pastor have in a marriage?  Is it endorsement, witness, mere formality?  What about the law?  What makes a marriage? 

 

Proposition 4: We (the US government) should kick out illegal immigrants. 

Where would we kick them?  What would prevent them from coming right back?  Who will pay for deportation?  (It was suggested that the immigrants themselves should be forced to pay, if they can.)  Would this be good for the US economy?  Would it be tolerable for the US economy?  Has the population of illegal immigrants already hurt our economy (for example in the housing crisis)?  How does the lack of border enforcement reflect on our laws?  Are illegal immigrants typically otherwise law-abiding citizens?  What about language issues?  Isn’t America a melting pot?  Shouldn’t new immigrants be expected to assimilate just like immigrants from decades and centuries past?  Could we allow illegal immigrants to remain in the US if they followed a procedure for attaining legal status and citizenship?  Is there a risk to national security?  Since the waiting list for legally entering the US is so long, couldn’t we change that to make it easier to legally immigrate?  Why do we have limits on immigration?  Do other countries limit immigration?  Do they deport illegals?  Is it illegal to be in our country or illegal to get into our country?  Wouldn’t annexing Mexico solve our problem?  Would Mexico welcome that? 

 

Proposition 5: There are some situations in which extreme violence is justified. 

Who decides?  Is self defense the only situation?  What about defending others?  Defending innocents?  What about violent interference with the murder of unborn children?  Does defense only cover defense from murder, or can it be defense from torture or rape?  What about capital punishment?  Is it ever right to take a life?  Is it right to do nothing when lives are at risk – do I have the right to refuse to take a life or use violence if myself or other “innocent” bystanders are at risk of death?  Can I take an innocent life in order to save other lives?  Suppose a two year old is intentionally aiming a gun and pulling a trigger; should extreme violence be used against him?  Why is the Mosaic law so confusing: day or night, inside the threshold or outside, defending life, defending property…?  Does extreme violence refer only to violence leading to death, or to torture, etc.? 

 

Proposition 6: Reading books written in other languages and other eras should be done to encourage independent thought. 

Is independent thought desired?  Can translated works count?  How is that different from traveling to other parts of the world?  Does reading sufficiently immerse you in the culture to widen your perspective?  (It was pointed out that language is often imbedded in culture.  Language is formed to express a certain way of looking at the world, like the difference in description when emphasis is on texture rather than color.)  In what ways does your thought become independent?  Is this practicable?  What about those who don’t read?  Do movies count?  Foreign films with English subtitles? 

 

Proposition 7 (which was interrupted before actually beginning by the coming of 9 PM and the need to go home): Idealism ought to be valued over pragmatism. 

What on earth is idealism and pragmatism?  Do they always contradict?  Is it ultimately possible for them to contradict?  Which ideal? 

 

Some of my favorite things:  People were willing to play devil’s advocate.  The time before the debate enabled a lot of people to meet each other (and one family’s tire to be changed).  There was a lot of participation.  Pigfest format keeps a debate from wearing out the disinterested.  Everyone fit in my house.  One of my friends brought her two infant daughters.  It rained just as the party started, with the sun still shining.  Cleaning up wasn’t too hard.  People had a good time.  I’m able to remember the discussion half a week later. 

 

Things I’ll do differently next time (Nov. 1):  Have more chairs.  Don’t aim for a main meal, but do lots of snacks instead.  Pray by myself ahead of time about my attitude and perspective.  Think more about proposition ideas I might offer and how to present them in the most discuss-able way possible.  Review the rules before we start. 

 

Considerations:  Maybe prescreen propositions.  Increase time from 15 to 20 minutes.  Enlist a new (louder, more aggressive) moderator. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »

Last Friday I had some of my dear friends over to spend the night.  As the girls fell asleep to a movie in my living room, I prayed for them because I had to.  There was no urgent need, but urgent feeling.  The next day as we spoke I felt convicted to get back to praying specifically on a regular basis.  I have been praying, but it has been need-based, and not diligent. 
 
Sunday morning my pastor preached on prayer.  I know this fact, even though I wasn’t there, and that’s enough.  Sunday afternoon there was a youth leaders meeting where the veterans reiterated the essential role prayer plays in making a meeting or ministry successful.  Filled with a sense of the needs, and the knowledge that God wanted me to refocus, I had a marvelous Sunday and Monday filled with intentional prayer.  And then I stayed up late, and slept in and stayed up and slept in.  I’ve been praying, but it hasn’t been the intentional, set aside time I resolved to do. 
 
Wednesday my mom taught the Awana Sparks about the Lord’s Prayer, and in our weekly debriefing of funny things kids said, she shared part of her lesson.  Afterward I read a new article on one of my favorite websites – it was on the Lord’s Prayer, too. 
 
This week I also received in the mail the newest Michael Card album, Hymns.  The first or second song (most listened to if you push play right before you fall asleep each night) is Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  There is a part of that song I remember a pastor talking about a long time ago.  The author of the hymn wrote “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it… Here’s my heart, o, take and seal it…”  He did wander.  That’s the testimony of his life.  He knew himself.  His heart needed sealed. 
 
So does my heart, because it wanders.  In some ways this week has been beautiful, but it’s only because I’ve spotted God’s grace and messages, not because I’ve had victory in yielding to them.  I know everything about the need to be content, but I just am not content.  My heart isn’t focused.  I’m not diligent with my time or energy, or responsible with my money.  I’m tired. 
 
On Sunday something said at the leader’s meeting reminded me of Galatians 6:9: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”  Like a breath of keenest fresh air to one suffocating, I needed every ounce of the hope in that verse.  There is conviction in Paul’s words also.  That is what I want to focus on today.  
 
Proverbs 4:20-27, “My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.
Let them not depart from thine eyes;
keep them in the midst of thine heart.
For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.
Keep thy heart with all diligence;
for out of it are the issues of life.
Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.
Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.
Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.
Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.
 
The word “keep” in verse 21 is shamar, “keep, give heed” like a shepherd or watchman. The word “keep” in verse 23 is natsar, “guard, watch over.”  So Solomon’s words, inspired of the Holy Spirit, are to be kept.  And my heart is to be kept.  How is this done? 
 
The first thing Solomon mentions after this command is speech.  There is a lot about speech in Ephesians, but this reminds me also of James, whose vivid description of the tongue as the spark that sets a forest on fire opens with “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” 
 
We’ve probably all heard the question, “Who’s being walked?  The dog or the human?”  A man holds a leash with the cord wrapped around his hand several times in the manner of a bull-rider.  The dog strains ahead, eager, easily distracted.  Sometimes the man seems to be pulled along against his will.  Other times the firm hold on the leash restrains and directs the pet.  The image of a bridle in James is that of me being both dog and master, horse and driver.  The bridle doesn’t just restrain; it guides.  It controls and regulates.  This is self-control, one of the fruit of the Spirit, also known as temperance.  Many of the fruit of the Spirit involve a self-command or restraint. 
 
Solomon goes on to talk about our eyes.  Ok, I can’t resist.  One of the best songs kids ever learn is “Oh be careful little eyes,” and actually I think we should make teenagers and adults sing it, too.  Do you remember it?  Oh be careful little tongue what you say, oh be careful little tongue what you say.  For the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little tongue what you say.  Oh be careful little eyes what you see.  Oh be careful little feet where you go.  Tongue, Eyes, Feet.  Ponder your path.  Don’t get distracted.  Keep control of your tongue.  Guard your heart.  Commit to focusing on wisdom and truth and goodness.  “Set your mind on things above.”  
 
Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit.  All the virtues are connected.  Love is a choice.  Joy is something we are commanded to have.  Peace, Philippians tells us, is a result of giving our anxieties to God in prayer.  Patience, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.  Meekness has been described as power under control.  This may be what Mr. Darcy had in mind when he defended his character and his quiet nature by saying, “Where there is real superiority of mind, pride will always be under good regulation.”  While at first impression this seems like another evidence of Mr. Darcy’s arrogance, it has been suggested by those sympathetic to his character that what he was saying was a strong enough mind knew how to keep his pride – his selfish impulses – under control.  His reluctance to speak when he might be tempted to go too far is a sign of his meekness rather than of his pride. 
 
Dennis Prager is a strangely blended Jewish moralist who speaks, writes, and hosts a radio show.  Though his is by no means an absolute authority, he makes a good point by saying that happiness comes from the mind making choices over the instinct for fun or pleasure.  The mind knows better than feelings.  It can make choices based on the long-term.  Essentially he is saying that self-control brings happiness. 
 
Self-control, or temperance, is from the Greek egkrates, “strong, robust; having power over, possessed of (a thing); mastering, controlling, curbing, restraining; controlling one’s self, temperate, continent.”  Strength is active, working both on itself and on progress.  Tolkien describes a curb not only as a limit to where one can go, but as a tool for navigation: a ditch, bank, or curb would enable one to stay on a road in the dark or in a fog.  So limits restrain us, but they also get us to our destination.  Solomon warns against off-roading. 
 
Peter says to add temperance to knowledge, and patience to temperance (2 Peter 1:6).  A pastor is told to be temperate in Titus 1:8.  He is also required to be sober: “curbing one’s desires and impulses, self-controlled, temperate”  Titus 2:5 uses the same word to describe that which a young woman ought to be taught.  It is translated “discreet” in KJV.  Modesty is a consequence of discretion.  Sobriety is the opposite of drunkenness or dissipation, in which control of yourself is loosed.  Dissolution is a word meaning exactly that “cut loose”, and it leads to all sorts of sinful indulgence and decadence.  I need to be moderate. 
 
Paul depicted this virtue in 1 Corinthians 9, in the metaphor of an athlete. 
 
1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all,
but one receiveth the prize?
So run, that ye may obtain. 
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.
Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 
But I keep under my body,
and bring it into subjection:
lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
 
Every man who strives for the mastery (enters the contest, contends for the prize) is temperate in all things.  Verse 27 says “I keep under my own body,” the word used here is a practice of athletes, to use their bodies roughly to make themselves tough or conditioned.  It comes from a word for the part of the face that turns into a black eye if punched.  Some Christians known as ascetics took this too far; they were so focused on abusing themselves that they forgot to do anything fruitful.  Rather, this is the same word Jesus employs in Luke 18, where He is teaching me to be diligent in prayer. 
 
Luke 18:1-8, “And he spake a parable unto them to this end,
that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; 
Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying,
Avenge me of mine adversary. 
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself,
Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her,
lest by her continual coming she weary me. 
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. 
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him,
though he bear long with them? 
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.
Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh,
shall he find faith on the earth?”
 
The judge was made weary (kept under, conditioned) by the widow’s persistent appeal. 
 
Back in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul also says that he brings his body under subjection, he makes a slave of it using stern discipline.  One stern discipline, an exercise in self-control and dependence on God, is fasting.  Fasting should never be about indulging my own cravings, whether sensual, for food, for the praise of men, or to soothe my conscience.  Isaiah 58, beginning in verse 3, contains God’s design for fasting. 
 
Isaiah 58:3-11, “Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not?
wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?
Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure,
and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness:
ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul?
is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I have chosen?
to loose the bands of wickedness,
                            to undo the heavy burdens,
                                                   and to let the oppressed go free,
                                                               and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry,
and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?
when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him;
and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning,
and thine health shall spring forth speedily:
and thy righteousness shall go before thee;
the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. T
hen shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer;
thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.
If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger,
and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul;
then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought,
and make fat thy bones:
and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not.”
 
In a paradoxical way, while fasting is about denying one’s self, it is for the purpose of releasing bonds and weights.  Fasting is reliance on God, not only for what I don’t have, but also with what I do.  Fasting is always accompanied with prayer.  1 Peter 5:7 says to cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.  In the Sermon on the Mount, right after Jesus speaks on prayer, He goes into teaching on fasting.  Though food is good, or other things from which you might fast, the exercise of self-denial and sacrifice and dependence and focus on God is good.  All things are lawful, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, but not everything is beneficial.  When I practice what is beneficial, I am stronger for the unexpected temptations when I must deny myself. 
 
I must be ready, then, by exercising self-control, to do good works.  Pray with perseverance and persistence.  Be steadfast.  Stand therefore.  Gird up the loins of your mind, and be sober, that you may be ready in and out of season to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.  Hope is even described in the Bible as an anchor – the image of stability and strength.  Do not be slothful, but fervent in whatever you do.  Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »

God’s ways are not my ways. 

After snowstorms, it is good to be spontaneous at least twice. 

I wish I played violin. 

Wherever you are, be all there.  – Jim Elliot

What if the pastor, instead of preaching from the pulpit tomorrow, came down, sat on the edge of the stage, kicked his heels against it, and actually talked to you like you were people he knew?  (This won’t happen at my church because we’re having a visiting preacher tomorrow). 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »

Do you know how much more I blog when I know I have an audience?  Before I blogged, my friends received long, winding emails quite frequently.  I’d threaten them that if they didn’t respond, I’d keep writing, desperate to have some contact with them.  Then I’d warn them that if they did reply, it would inspire me to write back.  Evidence imposes reality on my realization: I write more when I know you’re reading.  I talk when I know you’re listening.  The substance is better in conversation than in desperate attempts at starting a friendship, or drawing attention: advertising. 

I’ve been looking at my life, and praying about what I see.  Some days I can’t do that; my prayers are focused on survival.  God gives us phases, I think.  Like the moon.  I love the moon: always there, always the same, almost always visible, almost always seen in a new light.  And the light is beautiful. 

Why do I have better conversations, ones that “hit the spot” via blogging, or with an eclectic group of admittedly eccentric protesters outside abortion clinics?  I don’t agree with all the theology, but we can pray together.  When they ask how I am, I can answer that God is teaching me about grace, and share a little.  They share.  I want to know.  Not just their stories, but the stories of my friends, and the people at church and Bible study.  But in the hallways all I hear is “How are you?” and all I can answer is “fine,” unless we were going to cancel nursery service, worship, and lunch.  Then I could talk.  That’s the beauty of blogging and abortion protests.  There’s no schedule, no interruptions that matter.  So I can’t be online at work…  The conversation picks right back up, no awkwardness, more forethought. 

In my prayers I keep telling God I don’t want to play.  I don’t want to play at life.  Gas prices shouldn’t drive me crazy; I don’t want to play.  Hard decisions aren’t on my shoulders; I don’t want to play.  It’s pretending to say I have the wisdom or strength to decide.  And at church, I am so tired of playing.  What I do there is superficial.  I believe in being there, and in making the most of what is there for the sake of bringing the body towards perfection (Ephesians 4).  There is something so wrong about the way we do church.  Why do we bother singing and praying and listening to lessons when we don’t even know each other? 

People move away or change churches, and we never talk to them again.  Why?  When they were at church activities, we admired them.  We enjoyed doing ministry together.  Their comments in Sunday school were challenging, and their smile uplifting.  They’re gone, and we miss them.  But there was never anything more.  We never met for lunch.  I didn’t know what they were thinking, the little things that they might say as commentary on life, but would never think worthy of a special phone call. 

I have a friend at my church, and we’re going to start praying together.  I’m really excited.  She selected an anonymous envelope to “adopt” a teen from our youth group, and I wanted to ask her who she got.  I wanted to enter into even this little facet of her life, and so many more things like that. 

Tonight I babysat for a church plant.  I sat with three little boys while they ate dinner, and the parents and friends talked around the kitchen island.  I care about the adults, but the kids know me, and I love them because I watch them eat.  When one does some weird thing with his spoon, I get to know him.  The middle kid imitates the oldest, and you see how relationships are developing.  I intentionally sit with them when they eat, to build the relationship.  But do I do that with adults?  When is the last time I sat by someone not to start a conversation, but just to be there in case there was commentary? 

Speaking of the church plant, I could hear from my position in the basement of the pastor’s house uproarious laughter, evidence that the group is bonding.  They feel free to be loud, to be humiliated, to laugh, and thus are invested in the details of each others’ lives.  Eventually I think the plan is to have a “normal” church where there is preaching and singing, but I believe they want to keep groups like this one as core to their church.  Once they are loving, unified friends, they can march in sync in their ministry.  In fact, the pastor told me a couple weeks ago that he believes the church’s primary purpose is evangelism, and I’ve been thinking about my disagreement, looking for what the Bible says instead of just what I’ve been taught.  I see the great commission.  And I see Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for what He planned his followers to be.  I read Ephesians, and see that the church is about unity, edification, maturing into the image of Christ.  But that unity of the Spirit is what produces the striving together for the faith of the gospel, the reaching out to the world with the gospel. 

So another thought.  I get challenged like that from this friend, who is a pastor.  His church asks him questions like that more than some, but I think they’re in awe of him, and respectful of him as their leader.  (His wife was originally on my side, properly heeding his perspective and coming early to the conclusion that we’re basically saying the same thing different ways/different emphasis.)  My pastor doesn’t talk to me like that.  I get answers from people who run blogs.  They dare to address my real questions.  But a lot of times their own friends and churches aren’t asking.  What a mess.  Why can’t we be real with the people in our churches? 

I want everyone to read my blog.  But I’m fair about it.  I would want to read everyone else’s blogs or journals, too.  I don’t want to play at friendship, to pretend to be the Body of Christ, anymore.  I, me, personally, want to be real.  And I want to be a real friend.  May God take me, sold out, take my every hour, to be invested in Him and in building people. 

As a crowning point to how this whole topic is being driven home to me today, in one day-long thought, I was telling all these things to my brother after watching some of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  I have no idea how much we missed, but I wouldn’t dare go back to find out; there’s a reason you can skip tracks on DVDs.  (I’m definitely NOT endorsing the movie, but I’m not all that sorry I watched what I did.  Just read a review, and make an educated, prayerful decision if you ever think about watching it.)  Anyway, the premise is that this guy is getting his memories of his girlfriend erased, so he’s going backwards through the memories.  And timelines are just a bit confusing, but if you watch it twice I suspect everything would make sense.  Watch the hair colors.  It’s a key.  We discussed how our brains have to extend to the furthest reaches to follow the movie, and the implications of the story.  It’s too far out, to complex to put our arms around, to hold.  But you can follow it, if you try.  That’s relevant, but this is commentary, windows into my world that produces these thoughts. 

After I said most of the things above, and actually some are his additions, I was talking about being tired of friendships being fake; I want to hear what is going on with people.  I want to read blogs, and my blog to be read.  In an amazing double-irony, he asked, “Did you read my blog?” 

“No.”  We both laughed and I was crying, too, from the irony.  I knew of course that I was contradicting myself because I hadn’t read it in the past couple days, and that he must have written about basically the same thing, or he wouldn’t have brought it up.  And maybe we’re both thinking about the same thing because we read the same things, and talk, and (sometimes) read each other’s blogs.  So here is his perspective on real listening and real friendship.  You have to promise, if you are reading this post, to read his too, and to read it like he meant… every… word. 

Oh, and less crowning but still continuing, we’ve had an ongoing conversation with some friends of ours about “heads bowed, eyes closed” altar calls, whether it be for salvation or other things God’s doing in your life.  We’re tired of playing, and want to be the Church to those around us, at least.  If we can’t see each other, and we’re silent, not praying together at all, how are we going to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep?  What are we saying about the shameless gospel of our God’s great grace? 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

PS: My brother reminds me, and I thought it important enough to make clear: being serious does not exclude joy or smiling or fun.  When I say “I don’t want to play,” I don’t mean I’m opposed to silliness and recreation.  Actually, we should even take our fun seriously; be intense, and sincere when you play. 

Read Full Post »