Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Us Versus Them

by Steve Levering
Liberal. Conservative. Feminist. Elitist. Pro-Life. Pro-Choice. Democrat. Evangelical. Redneck. Muslim. Gay. Republican. We’re in the middle of an election cycle, and if you’ve watched TV or read any magazines or newspapers over the past few weeks, you’ve seen or heard these words used in speeches, editorials, and news coverage.

Politicians and pundits throw these terms around constantly during elections, because they know that it gets people riled up and passionate. We’ve seen it happen many times before, especially at the big national conventions. The speaker casually mentions someone’s name, says one of these terms, and that pretty much seals it for the fans of the speaker. If it’s a term the audience finds favorable, then that person is okay. But if it’s an unfavorable term, that person automatically becomes the enemy.

It’s terribly easy to get into an “us versus them” mentality. It only takes a little goading from people we respect or the friends and family around us. And after we take on this feeling of “us versus them,” it’s easy to think of “them” as unfeeling non-humans. We’ve categorized them as “not us” so they are bad.

But the reality is that there is no “us versus them.” We are all just people, human beings created by God. Liberals, Conservatives, Believers, Non-Believers, it doesn’t matter! God created all of us. And here’s the kicker: We’re all God’s Children, and he loves us all the same. Romans 5:8 tells us that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Even though we may disagree with others, we are still commanded to love them. Romans 13:8 reads, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” (NIV). Several times through the New Testament, we are told to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 19:19, Matt 22:39, Mark 12:31-33, among others…)

Growing up in the Southern Baptist church, I used to hear a saying, and I’ve forgotten exactly how it goes, but it’s something along the lines of: Whatever the preacher shouts loudest about, that’s what the preacher is struggling with in his life. So why am I writing about this? This is one of my big struggles.

It’s easy to label someone. You feel like you know what that person is about, and whether or not you’ll be disappointed or enthused by whatever they have to say. And while it is occasionally a good way of avoiding conflict, you end up missing out on the real person – the complex human being created by God. Once you’ve labeled someone, you’re just seeing a caricature – a flat 2-d version, instead of a vibrant human being.

Not long after I started to write this, I went to TCBC, and there was a brief video of quotations during the service. And as usual, someone has written about this far more eloquently than I. Here’s the quote:

“If I can enjoy a joke at the expense of another,
if I can in any way slight another in conversation or even in thought,
then I know nothing of Calvary Love.

“If I can write an unkind letter,
speak an unkind word,
think an unkind thought without grief and shame,
then I know nothing of Calvary Love.”
-Amy Carmichael

Lord Jesus, please help me not to get caught up in the viciousness of this election cycle, and help me to remember the human beings involved, rather than focusing on labels. Please help me show your love to everyone around me, and not just to the people I agree with politically and ideologically. Help me love.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Living on Mission

We often think of being on "mission" as something missionaries do when they go to a foreign country. However, we are all on mission - wherever we happen to be at a given point in time. There are always people around us who need Christ, and in the natural flow of walking with God and seeing Him work in us is to want that for others. As we experience the healing touch of Christ, we begin to long for others to experience it as well. Not from a prideful place of thinking that we have it figured out, but from a humble holding on to Christ and desiring that for others.

This is really where our hearts go if they are free. And, yet - thinking of sharing the glorious truth of the gospel with others is often fearful, duty-laden kind of stuff. It doesn't sound like fun - it sounds like something other people do ... and we don't want to be thought of as "one of those people" - one of those religious fanatics standing on the street corner yelling at people.

So, is there a way to live on mission and share the gospel with others freely? naturally? passionately?

This fall - we want to explore these issues and encourage one another on this "My Take" blog. So, what is your take? What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Take: Pursuing God by Alaine Garza

Cat and Mouse... Hide and Seek... not that God pursuing us is in any way a game but this could be a very real image.

I was excited to write about this topic of God pursuing us and vice versa as this is truly my life as it is now. I'm not a scholar with a lot of Scripture to throw out although there is NO doubt in my mind that each word written in our Holy Bible is TRUTH and yes there are times I may not like the Truth. His Bible puts out there for us our map to living our lives on this earth as believers and followers of our Lord.

A very wise person told me recently as I struggled with "feeling" a true one-on-one relationship with HIM that it is OK to put the Bible aside and talk to Him. That relieved so much pressure for me at this point in my life because as I heard Him call to me in different ways I right away would pick up the Word to seek the answers but yet not feel a connection. She encouraged me to talk to Him as the best friend, adviser, encourager, and at times one I was angry with just like a person sitting across the table from me.

You see, God was not introduced as such to me in my life. I was raised attending Catholic School, church every Sunday and gosh darn it making sure confession was done (in the booth) every six weeks. As a teenager, Young Life was the "place" but it did allow me to enjoy worship in a very different way than I had ever been introduced to and to see Jesus Christ as not just the "person" on the cross but one who desired my heart. On a great skiing trip I did accept Jesus as my savior and for whatever reason Satan took me on a path that had me going as far away from Him (I thought) as possible.

I converted to Judaism and as He knocked on my door I just thought, instead of listening, I will be the best "Jew" I could be. Pack up those bags of flour food on Passover...have my kids celebrate Hanukkah, Purim and all the other holidays I could have them do because as the tears would for some reason still come on Christmas Eve....or Easter...I would find joy in the other holidays. Yes there was joy but still an emptiness and I was doing all the right Jewish traditions. Please don't take this as any offense to anyone of Jewish faith but see I had asked God as my Savior and then was denying Him the access.

Yet he pursued and I answered His call again to seek Him. I started back to church but that didn't make life stop having difficulties. But this is where I realized that God doesn't want us to just "do." He wants us to live in a relationship with Him.

10 years and many struggles and tears later, I see that God doesn't want us to "be"... He wants us to live.... He wants us to pursue Him as though He is our life source of EVERYTHING!! He is our first cup of water each day, our first source of light, and yet even if we think Starbucks may sound better that morning instead of THE WATER, He will let you know in His ways that He's OK with Starbucks, just have Him first!!

There are days that struggles ensue but I know that as we pursue each other my God and I will have joy even in the dark times and that is something I will never stop seeking.

My Take: Pursuing God by Alyssa Jurek

If asked to describe myself, “list maker” and “rule follower” would appear in my answer. Both of these traits, which have often come in handy, have caused me trouble when it comes to pursuing rest in God.

My list maker tendencies urge me to be in full-time productive mode and to gauge my weekend as “good” only if all tasks on my list are completed. And when my list maker tendency combines with my rule follower nature, they whisper that I should make a list of the spiritual disciplines and do one each day so that I can “be right with God.” If left to my own devices, most weekends would rate a dismal “okay” on my rating scale.

Several weeks before Ted preached on “Pursing Rest in God,” I finished reading a book entitled The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan. The introduction grabbed my attention:

In a culture where busyness is a fetish and stillness is laziness, rest is sloth. But without rest, we miss the rest of God: the rest he invites us to enter more fully so that we might know him more deeply. “Be still, and know that I am God.” Some knowing is never pursued, only received. And for that, you need to be still. (p.3)

I knew I had been using the wrong measuring stick. But I didn’t realize what I had been missing. That in the midst of my self-described productivity, I was missing out on God.

On seeing the things that He wanted to show me. On hearing the words and the wisdom that He wanted to impart to me. On feeling the love that He wanted to wrap around me. On connecting with Him through His creation. On knowing Him more intimately.

The realization of all that I’d lost was devastating. Devastating enough to cause me to set aside one day a week for Sabbath rest so that I could attempt to recover what I’d lost and had been missing for a long time.

Just like Buchanan, I also “learned to keep Sabbath in the crucible of breaking it.” I have discovered what a gift it is to let go of my lists and rules for one day each week and to rest in God. And because I’ve let go of the rules, what this looks like for me varies from Sabbath to Sabbath. I try to let God lead. Sometimes Sabbath rest involves connecting with friends over lunch. Sometimes Sabbath rest includes journaling or writing. Sometimes Sabbath rest means physical rest in the form of a nap. And when it’s not 107 degrees outside, Sabbath rest may include taking a walk to enjoy His creation.

I haven’t been practicing this discipline very long, but I’ve already noticed that I haven’t needed to check off everything on my list in order to have a great weekend. So maybe someday I’ll be able to do away with “list maker” and “rule follower” and be able to describe myself as “Sabbath keeper.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pursuing the Greatness of God

by Ted Wueste
In her book, Invitation to Silence and Solitude , Ruth Haley Barton writes: "Your desire for God and your capacity to connect with God as a human soul is the essence of who you are."

We all have the desire to see, experience, and live under the greatness of who God is. When we see an amazing sunset or stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon or spend time listening/singing to song which speaks of God's greatness or spend time with someone we love, we are taken in and captured by the greatness of God. And, it is something that we long to experience all the time - not just at moments but moment by moment.

This moment by moment worship of God is at the very heart of why we embrace spiritual disciplines. It is to create space where we can experience Him, not as a random occurrence but the very heartbeat of our lives. For all of us, we have that desire to connect with God - to see Him for who He is and to respond to Him for who He is - that is the essence of worship. If you haven't already - what are the specific disciplines that you need to pursue? Look back over the previous weeks - what disciplines most draw you into seeing God's greatness? Then, when will you do it? None of these things will be dynamic in your life until they become specific!

What is the fruit of pursuing God's greatness? Kathy Smith sent the following to me from a devotional she reads each day: "Experiencing normal Christianity through the week yields such a sweet, intimate, obedient relationship with God that we don't attend the worship service to get recharged; we attend the services to discharge our worship and praise to the Lord because we're over flowing with love and gratitude (Psalm 23:5)." Bill Gillham (http://www.lifetime.org/devotional.php)

What is that normal Christianity? Gillham goes on to say ...
"By letting Christ express His life through us on a moment-by-moment basis, we experience the overcoming, abundant life that Jesus spoke of (John 10:10). Many Christians have taken the independent, do-it-yourself exit off God's "freeway." Cordless Christianity explains why many Christians experience unexciting or perhaps defeated lives. It explains everything from the so-called male mid-life crisis to depression, sheer boredom to anxiety attacks, passivity to dominance, abrasiveness to "wimping out," the workaholic to the sofa spud, legalism to hedonism, perfectionism to slovenliness, etc. These are all manifestations of living in the power of human flesh. Jesus Christ is the only One who ever lived the Christian life, and I have found that by letting Him express His life through us, by faith, we experience the Christian life as God intends."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pursuing the Love of God Pt 2

by Ted Wueste

One of our folks sent this little parable to me today. It fits really well with what we've been discussing about opening ourselves up to God and each other. Read - enjoy - apply - discuss amongst yourselves ...

The Land of Boxes
There once was a land where everyone lived in boxes. The boxes were strong cubicles with holes in the bottoms where the people could stick their feet out so they could walk around. The boxes were quite dark inside, but each one came with their own light. If the people bumped into each other… That was ok- because the boxes protected them. The people became known as boxers. As soon as a new little boxer or boxette was born they were fitted with their own little box. The boxes kept the people safe, but they also kept out the sun and the beauty of the land around them- and Boxville was a very beautiful town. But the people seemed content- after all they had never experienced anything else, and some people lived in some pretty elaborate boxes.

Then it happened… One day one of the boxers accidentally fell off a cliff and his box was shattered. For the first time in his life he saw all the beauty around him. He felt a freedom he had never experienced before. He quickly went to his wife and told her about the beauty outside the box. Cautiously she removed her box. The sun was so warm and inviting, and she felt relatively safe as her husband was the only other one outside the box.

“Let’s keep this quiet,” she said. “It’s safer that way.”

But alas, a neighbor had heard her squeals of delight as she had exited her box… and he too shed his box. Pretty soon the word spread to all the boxers in Boxville and boxes were coming off right and left. Oh, there were a few who did not care to exit their boxes- after all they had lived there all their lives and they were quite comfortable in their boxes.

And then the inevitable happened. Polly box bumped into Molly box. Without her protective box she felt a new yet somehow familiar pain. But before she could say “ouch” the King of Boxville showed up with some Neosporin and a hug.

Pretty soon everyone was bumping into everyone else. They felt very vulnerable. And so most of them crawled back into their boxes and lived unhappily ever after.

The few that remained outside of their boxes enjoyed the sun and the beauty all around them. Oh, sure they bumped into each other every now and then, but it seemed the king was always there with His Neosporin and His hugs. After a little while they didn’t seem to bump into each other nearly as often. In fact, they almost seemed to enjoy bumping into a friend every now and then. They found they did not need the Neosporin nearly as much, but the hugs were always welcome.

And they lived happily ever after.

Moral of the story: Don’t crawl back into your box!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pursuing the Love of God

by Ted Wueste
In many ways, pursuing God's love is a part 2 of Pursuing Brokenness. It is when we begin to allow God to peel back the layers - to remove the exoskeleton - that we begin to experience and appreciate God's love. Why? Because it is then that we are able to begin to love and be loved by others. Here is the piece of art that we shared on Sunday morning (from Angela Culpepper)

“When you are revealed it is raw and painful and naked. Being revealed and exposed hurts! And, you have no idea how you will be received and maybe you will be damaged further. To walk around skinless is very, very hard.” Angela Culpepper

This connects with what A. W. Tozer wrote

“To tear it away is to injure us, to hurt us and make us bleed. To say otherwise is to make the cross no cross and death no death at all. It is never fun to die. To rip through the dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free."

Finally, Alan Jones (Soul Making)shares that "The task of love is to help us rid ourselves of the exoskeleton, to lay us bare, to set us free. But we love the prison house. The place of bondage is, at least, familiar. Love, then, comes as an unwelcome shock."