The Invitation is Imitation {Margaret Feinberg Quotable}

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I think giving is a lot like prayer. It doesn’t change God. It changes us.

When was the last time you gave a gift that made a difference in the life of someone else? Odds are that you walked away with a sense of satisfaction that money can’t buy…God didn’t just give to us, but he also hardwired us to give.

The invitation to give extends beyond name-brand purchases and well-wrapped gifts…We are invited to be generous in our relationships.

The invitation is imitation.

God demonstrated how he wants us to live through Jesus, not as people living merely for ourselves, but as those living for something greater. We are generous in our relationships when we choose inclusion over exclusion, forgiveness over a grudge, and righteousness over merely being right. In our relationships, we get down and dirty in the practice of giving. In our relationships, we are given another opportunity to reflect and further resemble God. ~Margaret Feinberg, Organic God.

As you begin a new week, consider who needs your relational generosity.

My observation is that we’ve become overly protective in our relationships: Waiting for others to make the first move. Hiding behind Facebook platitudes. Acting disinterested to cover the fear of rejection. I struggle with all these things too.

Image-bearing calls us to big giving.

Yesterday as I was exiting church, I received the biggest hug from someone I wouldn’t say I know well. There was nothing stand-offish or insincere about it. Everything about that very big hug said, “I’m going out on a line to make sure you know I’m genuinely glad you are a small part of my day. You matter.” I received it as a gift from the Lord. The invitation is indeed imitation!

Who is relationally generous with you? How do they demonstrate it?

How and with whom can you be generous today?

[This quote is from Margaret Feinberg’s Organic GodI’m on my second read of it and being just as challenged as the first time. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you get to it. Pronto.]

Holiness: The Family Way

I love it when an idea I’ve been dancing around finally “clicks.”

This happened for me last night while I was sitting in church.  The pastor was preaching on the holiness of God; teaching how God’s holiness has implications for His people.

In short: God is holy and His holiness cannot be contaminated with anything unholy. God’s holiness requires that He be separate from anything unholy.  That’s a problem for us–because we are a most unholy bunch.  Not one among those of whom the world calls righteous lives up to God’s standards of perfection. Only Jesus.    Jesus brings a reconciliation plan for unrighteous man to be restored to the holy presence of God.  Thus, the sacrifice of Calvary–the blood shed for the institution of the new covenant…of which you and me can be a part of.

I’ve understood this on a personal level for some time, but last night my mind made an association it had not before.

Strangely, from the moment the Power Point title page of “Set Apart” flashed on the screen I started thinking about one of my favorite verses:

“God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” (Psalm 68:6)

Family is one of the most beautiful of God’s creations. I have spent much of my adult life studying the family–what the Scriptures say about it, what makes one work well, and what makes one struggle.  My own family is dear and precious to me beyond words.  My heart grieves the loss of dear people in my life whose families are painful places for a number of different reasons.    I love that one of the names for the church is the “family of God.”  I rejoice that God’s commitment to the generations is expressed in families–be they birth families, step families, adoptive families or church families.  Recently, I’ve become involved with dog showing and I’ve noticed the familiar fondness the members of the club demonstrate for one another.   The power of family is so strong that you will find them everywhere.  Somehow as part of God’s design, families complete us.

As it was for Adam in the garden, it is not good for man (or woman) to be alone, and so God sets us in families.

And those families and their love change us.  Families have a “way” about them; a style that is all their own. My own family is quirky.  We laugh a lot–and loudly–usually at inappropriate places and times.  People stare at us, and none of us care.  We fight to the death over things we believe true, but hold on with sweet grace to one another.  My contagious case of stubbornness has been caught by my children, as has too their father’s tenderness.   To be a member of our family is to act in such a way as to represent the family name.

Being a member of the family of God works the same way.  We have been “set” into God’s holy family.  Participation in it means we are going to adopt the ways of God.  Not through effort and striving, but through the bonds of love that imitation can’t resist.  I’ve never met a woman who was “trying” to be like her mother.  No, quite the contrary!  But we can’t resist the draw to imitate those traits with which we have been most accustomed.

Holiness is the family way.  In point of fact, we were all lonely being separated from God.  “God sets the lonely in families.” Because of Jesus, we can be reconciled with the Holy One.  He sets the sinner in holiness. Not our own, but Christ’s–He gives us Christ’s righteousness and calls it ours!  And so, we can pray “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name.”    As my own children can’t help but demonstrate their belonging to our family name, so too, we children of God demonstrate His. Holiness is the family way.

How will your express the family way today?

Advent: Of True Greatness

“Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”

Infant holy, Infant lowly,

For His bed–a cattle stall;

Oxen lowing, little knowing

Christ the Babe, is Lord of all.

Swift are winging angels singing,

Noels ringing, tidings bringing:

Christ, the Babe, is Lord of all!

Christ, the Babe, is Lord of all!

Flocks were sleeping; shepherds keeping

Vigil till the morning new

Saw the glory, heard the story–

Tidings of a gospel true.

Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,

Praises voicing greet the morrow:

Christ, the Babe, was born for you!

Christ, the Babe, was born for you!

Polish Carol, paraphrase by Edith E.M. Reed

Do you ever find yourself frustrated that you are not receiving what you believe you deserve?  Or relieved that you have not received what you know you deserve?  The human condition is bent toward self-exaltation.

The Babe in the manger confronts our self-idolatry.  We tell stories about ourselves to make us look better than we know we are.  We dress up vice to make it appear as virtue.   We jockey and canjole for esteem–in our own eyes and the eyes of others.

“Christ, the Babe, is Lord of all.”   He entered poor.  Lowly.  Humbled.  

As you meditate on the manger today, let the paradox of the most Holy One wrapped in swaddling recalibrate your idea of of true greatness.  Bend your knee to peer closely at the strength, majesty, and glory tucked amongst the hay of His makeshift bed.  Let the sounds of the first breaths and sighs of the Incarnate One woo your heart to humility. 

Is there some task or responsibility you feel is beneath you?  Is there a relationship in which you feel you are undervalued or disrespected?  Remember Jesus.

The Selfless Disciple

I have been taken up now for a few weeks with Ellen Charry’s By the Renewing of Your Minds.  It’s been a slow read for me, primarily because so much of her writing draws me to deeper places I avoid.

YetI consider myself a disciple of Jesus. I’m not always such a good one:  I think about myself too much and I let others distract my thoughts away from God.  I suppose I’m not all that different from the first disciples of Jesus, confused and conflicted about the radical life to which Christ keeps luring me.

In reading Charry expound on the Sermon on the Mount, I realize how incredibly easy I am on myself.  When Jesus first preached this sermon, He did so to a crowd of people wondering who exactly this new Rabbi was and what made Him special. What exactly would it look like if one were to learn of Him and follow Him?

The fifth chapter of Matthew (vv. 5-11) records what Jesus tells them:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the gentle for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kind of evil against you because of Me.”

I don’t know why–it’s plain as day to me now–but this is a call to discipleship.   Those who learn of Christ and follow Him, will be “the blessed or privileged of God”  (Charry, 66).  However, in the day-to-day happenings of life, disciples are grounded in personal discomfort for the sake of others.  How can they do it?  By knowing that all their true needs are met in Christ.  In turn they can take a selfless position to begin to meet the needs of others.  They can be meek in the face of attack, for they know their Defender.  They can be poor, for theirs are eternal riches.   They can be insulted, for they have the assurance of the Spirit that they are favored by God.

As Charry so eloquently argues, in The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is redefining righteousness.  “In Jesus there is a new revelation of God that indicates that purity does not require separating oneself from others, as Phariasaic doctrine taught, but involves how we live together, even under trying circumstances (Charry, 67).  Jesus specifies his opposition to traditionally authorized teachers by countering their fence around the Torah, built of jurisprudence, with His own fence, built of strength of character, a standard more demanding than that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Charry, 73).  While the Pharisees’ fence was intended to keep the unclean out, Jesus is concerned with “building a fence around the disciple’s character so that she becomes selfless” (Charry, 75).

The remainder of The Sermon goes on to describe this fence of character.  It is one of compassion for the defenseless and participating in exhibiting God’s highest standards of justice.   “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  Charry explains,

Jesus is offering an alternative interior purity consisting of a dense concentration of demanding character traits: aggressive self-scrutiny, self-control, compassion, integrity, selflessness and finally, love of enemies, traits that are essentially limitless in application.  Except for the teaching on lust, the antitheses all deal with situations in which the individual is possibly imposed upon, experiences hurt, inconvenience, or some sort of discomfort and would naturally respond in a self-protective manner or to reestablish a prior satisfactory state that has been disturbed by some intrusion.  Jesus’ teaching in each case elaborates a basic theme.  Disciples are called to rise above self-gratification even when wronged; and in the teaching on lust, they are to rise above self-gratification when it is not to rectify an injustice or dissatisfaction but to gratify a desire” (p. 76).  Self-absorption is a waste of precious time in God’s beautiful world (p. 78).

Ouch.  I find it terribly challenging to “cultivate a weak sense of self-importance,” as Charry puts it.   Just tonight, I found myself charged up by some petty offense of which the perpetrator is probably completely unaware.  How far I have to go to learn of Christ and follow Him in His example of selflessness.

I’m putting myself under investigation.  It’s time for self-examination.  If I am a disciple, does my outer witness bear testimony to inner purity?  Whose standard of righteousness does my life reflect?

Mad Men

My husband and I have been living in a Mad Men obsessed haze the last three days.  Set in the early 60s, the AMC series is about the advertising men of Madison Avenue.  It has all the essentials for a good watch–drama, suspense, romance and comedy.

It’s also a fascinating study on women’s struggle to be recognized as fully human in our American culture.  From the stepford wives who ante up their worth through home cooked meals and thin waistlines, to the office secretaries daily beckoned with whistles reserved for an average family pet–Mad Men has become a place for me to see gender bias outside of myself.

*Men ignore women, assuming they have nothing of true value to offer (unless, of course, it’s sex), and are threatened by any woman who has broken the social norms to find for herself a place of power, privilege, or persuasion.

*Men steal women’s bodies, ideas, work, and dignities as tally marks for their own egos.

*Men are shocked if women say something intelligent.  “Leave the thinking to us!”

*Men patronize women with half-hearted “there, there” apologies and considerations.

*In “noble” moments of protection, men shield women from the truth…even though most often it is covering themselves from accountability.

*Men consider other men “right,” even when they are clearly wrong.  How much easier to let a lowly woman wear the blame than to have a man and his promising future compromised.

*Men harshly judge women who desire to work outside of their homes…but I wonder, who did they think would get them their coffee and/or afternoon martini?

…and at last, in this early-1960s, twenty-third office floor on Madison Avenue in New York City I have a discovered a place where gender bias is worse for women than what they are today experiencing in the church.

[I am not saying ALL men in the church treat women with such low regard.  Rather, my point is to emphasize that within evangelicalism today there is a prevalent pattern of belief that the church is a man’s world and the image of Christ in women is less than necessary for the Spirit’s expression in building up the church.]

I’m concerned by the similarities because the church should not bear even a slight resemblance to Madison Avenue.  The fact that I can, as a woman in church ministry, so identify with the women in this show–to understand their silent looks, their shamed glances, and their frustrated longings to be seen as a person and not as a commodity–speaks strongly to the fact that there are lives still in need of surrender to the Spirit’s transformation.

Therefore, from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even as we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.  Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” 2 Corinthians 5:16.

I see the application of this for both men and women:

Men, (if any of you read this blog), see women as image bearers!  See Christ in them!  Welcome their expression of the Spirit’s work.  Stop seeing them through the lens of the flesh–the flesh is concerned about such things as roles, and power, and appetites, and who gets credit.  The Spirit in you does not.   He cares about each person–man or woman–being all they were intended to be in Christ for God’s glory.  If a woman will bring more glory to God through the exercise of gifts and ministry, will you allow it?

Women, Do not regard yourself through the impulses of the flesh. Stop waiting for some voice of affirmation.  Start obeying the Spirit’s prodding in you!  This includes, not using your flesh to garner influence or sympathies.   Be careful how you dress!  Be careful how you speak.  Be careful not to long for control.  The ministry of the Spirit is expressed in servanthood.  Be who you were made to be–a passionate lover of Jesus, serving others because the love of Christ controls you–and let the Spirit be responsible for your fruitfulness.   You can choose to play it safe, quietly pining away in the roles that men allow you to have or you can choose to focus your eyes on Christ and surrender to being the new creation He intends for you to be.

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned to a man that I was preparing a “talk” on Romans 5.  His response, “Can you handle Romans 5?”  My response, “Well, the same Spirit that lives in you, lives in me and since it’s His text, I figure He can handle it.”    The Spirit doesn’t give regard to my gender.  He will use me however He sees fit to build the Kingdom of God–be that teaching the Word or  cleaning toilets.  But whatever He asks me to do, I will do it with no regard for the flesh…for the flesh is of no value.

No doubt the gender issue will continue to struggle for clarity in the church.   As for me, I will not sit and wait at home with curlers in my hair.  I have been invited by the King of Kings and the Lord of all Lords to express His worth and tell of His greatness.   He doesn’t consider my feminity a challenge to using me for His glory.

The Short List

I haven’t written in a while.  It’s not because I haven’t had anything to say.  In actuality, I’ve had too much to say about the events of this last week.  However, to have spoken of them out loud, would have been of no benefit to the speaker or the listener.

One thing common to all the things I’ve wanted to comment about in the last week is that they make me weary–tired, discouraged, impatient, dissatisfied, crumbling, diminished.  The world I’m living in–you are living in–has a diminishing affect on the people I am fully convinced we were created to be.  Glorifying God and enjoying Him is no simple purpose in a world marked by the insidiousness of sin.

So what I am weary about?   Here’s my short list:

1. Anne Rice left Christianity…and we’re all making a very big deal about it because her reasons resonate deeply with so many of the things with which any honest Christian struggles.

2. There are far too few visible evidences given for others to join Christianity.  I fear Christ has become so diminished in many churches that those who are wanting to know about Him will have to look beyond His Church to find Him.

3. Iran will stone a woman.  Stone a woman!  What year is this?  How can we let this happen?   Who among us will be Jesus to this woman and write a message of freedom in the dirt to release her life from this kind of oppressive religion?  Are we all really that calloused to the grace by which we have been set free?

4. I am a woman.  Yes, being a woman makes me weary.  Not that it has be this way, but I find the things I’m told I can do and the things I cannot do by men “speaking on behalf of God” leaves me trying to fit God’s image in me into a box not suited to its size and shape.

5. The reports of what “trusted friends” have said about me, but not to me, has reached my ears.  The only reason trusting others is so hard is because we’ve all made faithfulness too casual a virtue.

6. Many of my friends and those with whom I counsel have been betrayed by someone they should have been able to trust and their healing is slow and their pain is profound and every time I think about them or pray for them, my heart takes a labored breath.

7. My nephew is in Afghanistan.  His letter this week describes how he and his troop will most likely not have a real meal for a year, but only MREs.  They have no running water, no toothpaste, and limited electricity.  He’s 19 years old and I can’t help but think that he is the poster child of our nation’s abandoned youth.  (…and I hope my sister doesn’t read this, because I know it will make her cry.)

8. The fiction I read sounds more and more like the biographies of people in my life.  I read the first two fiction books of the year while on vacation this week.  Fiction used to be my escape to places and people I didn’t know…but I knew all the places and persons in these stories, just by different names.

9. Fathers abandoning their daughters is a commonplace reality.  Both my sons are dating girls whose fathers have failed them and now at 16 and 18–when they should be living care-free– these two young men are trying to be a bright spot in two saddened hearts.

10. Prop 8 has been repealed.  The Californian courts have declared Prop 8 to be unconstitutional and so men and women of the same sex will be free to marry.  Yes, this grieves me…but not as much as the Christians who decry it based on the sanctity of marriage, all the while marriages within the Christian community crack and crumble.  Before *we* throw rocks at other’s ideas of marriage I wish *we* would paint a better picture of a Christ-centered marriage…then *we* will have a legitimate battle cry.

I know I’m not the first to be weary.  Maybe today as you read this, you too, are weary.  May we all take comfort and courage from the apostle Paul,

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” Galatians 6:9.

A greater reward awaits us.

The cross of Christ beckons us to come and hope again.  To long for the redemption and restoration of all people–women, children, men.  For those who find themselves on the other side of small and big stones, Christ’s resurrection speaks with hope, “There can be life again!”

What are you weary about today?  Speak it aloud and dethrone its power by adding to the end of your sentence, “…but, do not lose heart, for in due time…”

What God Sees–Part 4

God sees what is good.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  Psalm 139:14-15

We humans are good at breaking things down and tearing them to pieces.  Most of us practice this on ourselves regularly.  Awareness of our faults and inadequacies distort the image God intends for us to see.

However, what God sees is that we are His masterpiece­­­­­–His prized work of art.  “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared in advance for us to do” Ephesians 2:10.  You—me—were created to display the artistic genius of God. 

In every masterpiece, the artist leaves traces of Himself—favorite colors, treasured objects, valued virtues.  He displays them as hints to who he is.  You are no different. 

You were created to display the very image of God.  He placed His image in you and He said, “it is good.”  By God’s authority, you have been declared good.  Not on account of anything you’ve done…a picture hanging on a wall can take no credit for the ribbons of excellence which adorn it.   All the credit—the glory—goes to the artist.

What would it look like for you to know this “full well?”  What self-talk would change?  What would you do that you currently believe you couldn’t do?  How would you display yourself differently if you really knew “full well” that God is your artist? 

Failings, weakness and insecurities graffiti our paintings.  Praise Jesus for His restoration!  He alone can restore and redeem the beauty of the original painting.  The apostle Paul says that God has qualified us to share in His kingdom of light (Col. 1:12).  Some of us, in the deep places, believe we’ll never be qualified..but based on the authority of God, in Christ Jesus, you already are! 

In Christ, God sees beyond the graffiti—He sees the strokes of His brushes that evoke love for other humans as His image resonates in you.  He sees the speckles of his plaster smoothed around the contours of your smile as you delight in the rising of the sun.  He sees the stitches of your heart stretching to rejoice and suffer with those who do likewise…and He says, “It is good.” 

Your Artist delights in you.   However, so many are like a three-year-old at the Getty—surrounded by the artistic genius but distracted by the rudimentary flipping of the nearby trash can lid.  Step back today and look at your portrait; allow yourself to delight in His masterpiece as you do good works prepared in advance for you.