The Abba Experience

Today I am reading in the book of Micah, in The Message translation of the Bible.

But for right now, they’re ganged up against you,
many godless peoples, saying,
“Kick her when she’s down! Violate her!
We want to see Zion gravel in the dirt.”
These blasphemers have no idea
what God is thinking and doing in this.
They don’t know that this is the making of God’s people,
that they are wheat being threshed, gold being refined.
(Micah 4:11-12, MSG)

Eugene Peterson writes in a commentary about this passage that judgment is painful, yet purposeful. There’s something to show for it when it’s over. “After the pain,” he writes, “you’re able to cradle new life in your arms.”

This passage also reminds me of Jesus’ experience at the cross. The people who were ganged up against Jesus had no idea what God was thinking and doing either. They didn’t know his suffering was the making of a people, opening the way to their refinement.

The author of Hebrews, in chapter 10, is ruminating on the cross. One thing he writes is,

But instead of removing awareness of sin, when those animal sacrifices were repeated over and over they actually heightened awareness of sin and guilt.
(Hebrews 10:2-3, MSG)

They certainly didn’t know when they were scorning Jesus that God was about all that business.

In the March 18 entry of Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning, he writes: “The greatest gift I have ever received from Jesus Christ has been the Abba experience.” (Abba is a Hebrew word for Dad. Father is a bit too formal, Daddy a bit too immature, for the well-rounded, mature connotation of the “dad” we have in God.) Jesus gave us that gift at the cross. We don’t have to reject the possibility of an open, loving relationship with God because of our baggage. He’s claimed them already. He’s carrying them. It’s not a license to sin further, which is discussed by other Biblical authors, but it is a way to allow ourselves to live loved by God and love him and others as a result of that living loved.

Not only is our guilt removed, but our awareness of it can be removed, too, if we let it, opening the way for intimate relationship.

So, friends, we can now–without hesitation–walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body.
(Hebrews 10:19-21, MSG)

That ties right into what I read in Micah today, about judgment refining us. Not only does judgment in our lives refine us, such as when the Israelites were unfaithful so long and hard and ended up in long-term exile, but the judgment that Jesus endured in our place has the power to refine us if we choose to enter into the relationship with God that has been opened up to us through that sacrifice.

Noah Stepro said recently in a sermon called “Giving Up: Expectations,”

We can’t know the father, you can’t follow Jesus, you can’t experience the Spirit through logic, hard work, or moral behavior. You can only know God through a renewal, or a rebirth, of your spirit. And we’re called to be a community of renewal. That’s our vision. That we’re joining God in the renewal of all things. And that’s really hard to do if we’re old and decrepit and dying inside, and we’re living off the faith of last week, or a year ago, or our childhood…. We’re called to be present with the Lord today.

I’m certain I’ll gain no popularity for saying it, but there is great renewal to be had through judgments as discussed above. It’s through trials I’ve been refined. When I was radically steeped in my own pride a few years ago, God humbled me. I honestly believe there was some judgment taking place in my life at that time. The judgment of some of God’s people at that time, I admit, only hurt me and propelled me further into my rebellion and pride. Yet, the perfect, gracious judgment of God brought with it a radical reformation of my character. And none of that would be possible were it not for the judgment Christ received on our behalf at the cross, opening the way for open, loving communion with our creator.

I’m certain my ramblings are a bit cyclic today. But that’s okay. The Bible is cyclic, too. I’m just glad I have my Abba to hold my hand and twirl me in this dance called life.

Disciple

I think the concept of discipleship is really foundational to living the life Jesus calls us to live. For years I’ve found myself rather disgruntled at the way Christian culture tends to trivialize really important things like belief, community and following Jesus.

It’s not enough to think the right things. Even Satan believes that Jesus died and rose again so humans can re-connect to the Father, but he won’t have a place in eternity with God at the resurrection for that belief any more than we will for merely thinking the right thing. That’s not Christianity, it’s Gnosticism. We can think the right things all we want, but Jesus asks us to believe in him, and that is much more simple, and much more costly, than an education or a choice alone. Belief in Jesus isn’t only mental. It’s life-changing. Belief in Jesus involves learning to trust him with life and soul and heart and being, in this life as much as the next. It’s certainly not instantaneous the moment we accept him as our God, but true belief brings us into the embrace of the one who will gradually turn us into disciples. If we trust the bus driver to get us to our destination, we’ll at least get on the bus and let him take us there, even if it will take time to get there.

It’s also not enough to gather once or twice a week in a crowded and controlled environment where only a few end up finding the communal family bond with one another that God offers us through Jesus. Where many are able to enter in to the worship and prayer sessions, but many others aren’t, because they haven’t had a chance to become intimate with the people gathered there enough to step into that zone with them. We have the potential for a rare form of connection as the adopted sons and daughters of God to bond deeply and become a family. I’ve seen it in AA meetings, in therapy groups, in mommies-of-young-ones meetings, and in smaller, tighter settings of faith communities gathering to do life together in celebration and love. Where there is intimacy and safety, there is a rich opportunity for discipleship.

I believe it’s not enough to eat a teeny cracker and drink a teeny tenth of a shot of grape juice in a brief, solemn, although heartfelt, symbolic act, when Jesus said to dine together in celebration of his life and resurrection whenever we get together. We’ve lost a powerful, uniting demonstration of joy by losing the tradition of the love feasts. For me, it’s like the difference between a family gathering for dinner and a family gathering for a tiny snack. There’s a richness that’s missing from the snack table, that can only be found in the more sustaining dinner table–regarding the potential for relationship as much as nutrition.

Noah Stepro pointed out in his recent sermon series on Discipleship that “disciple” isn’t a common word in our culture. It’s not one of those words that everyone just understands upon hearing. It’s something that has largely fallen by the wayside in understanding and use. For example, our educational systems are largely filled with book learning and lectures, as opposed to hands-on learning at a master’s feet. Our religious systems are also largely filled with the same. I’m not berating sermons. I just cited one by Noah above. But they’re supplemental to a life lived in the dust of the one we’re following. We don’t get very dirty in a classroom, but when we walk in the footsteps of a great leader, we end up with dust all over us (especially where I live, where more dust grows than trees).

Brennan Manning writes in the March 25 entry of Reflections for Ragamuffins, “Until I lay my head on Jesus’ breast, listen to his heartbeat, and personally appropriate the Christ-experience of John’s eyewitness, I have only a derivative spirituality. My cunning imposter [the fake self we project] will borrow John’s moment of intimacy and attempt to convey it as if it were my own.”

I would like to see a return to Jesus’ words at the end of Matthew’s gospel, wherein Jesus asks us to make disciples, to teach people how to actually live the life he had just modeled for us. He doesn’t ask us to make sure everyone has right thinking, regardless of right living. He didn’t go through all he went through from his early experiences with his chosen people, to his incarnation, humiliation, torture, and even the worst kind of human death of the day, so we will believe academically that he did it all for us and then live without him anyway.

The Kingdom Through the People

Here’s a great kick-off to my series about the life Jesus lived….

My husband, David Seeber, is doing a series of Bible Studies on the book of Mark, including the life of Peter, and the Christ as seen through Peter’s eyes. So, in connection with 1 Peter 1, he had our Bible Study group research First Testament (aka Old Testament) arrows pointing to the coming Christ. I happen to be reading through Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, which is the perfect book for that exact research, so I read the chapter called, “Jesus’ Mission Statement.” It took me through some First Testament texts, and demonstrated what it means for us today, using Second Testament (aka the New Testament) texts.

Here’s what I found (briefly, because these guys wrote a whole book on the subject, and I’m just skimming the surface):

Jesus sat down with the people of God and read Isaiah 61 to them, saying

God’s Spirit is on me;
he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to
the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
Luke 4:18-19 (MSG)

Jesus said all the time that he was what the entire story of God had been pointing to all along. First Testament texts (many of the ones I found were in Isaiah, but some were also in Ezekiel, Malachi, Daniel and more; I’ll post them at the bottom in case anyone’s interested in reading them) point to the coming savior as one who would comfort, heal, save, protect, redeem, justify, reconstruct, deliver, dwell with and bless those who would choose to embrace and walk with him. He would care for the poor, free the oppressed and otherwise chained, bring sight to the blind, and be our shepherd.

Through him would come righteousness and justice as well as mercy and compassion. Also, the forgiveness of the wrongs we commit, as he leads us gently to see the error of our ways and turn from them (aka repent).

He would usher in a new kingdom, a lasting one, in the line of the faithful King David of old. It’s this kingdom, as it embraces all I’ve just written above, that is my focus, and was the focus of Christ on earth, as it is the focus of the Holy Spirit, and was the original design of the Father, who will see it to completion at the renewal of all things.

But in the meantime….

God, the ruler and creator of the world and all that’s in it and outside of it, chooses to rule through his people. John writes,

Then you made them a Kingdom,
Priests for our God,
Priest-kings to rule over the earth.
Revelation 5:10 (MSG)

This is confirmed by Peter who writes,

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you–from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.
1 Peter 2:9-10 (MSG)

The fullness of the First Testament becomes even fuller in our choosing to let God first reign in us, then reign through us as we allow him to lead. What he does through us as he leads is displayed in all that’s written above–it’s to live much like the life Jesus led. It’s not to dominate, rule over, criticize, ostracize, or elevate ourselves over anyone else. Jesus was and is a servant-king. Our model for living in this kingdom is a compassionate and humble one, who releases people from pain and shame, rather than pushing them into it.

This tension between a kingdom that is, through his people, and the kingdom that will fully be, remains in place until the restoration of all things; the completion of the unions of heaven and earth, and of Jesus and his bride (and that’s us!).

(Here are the passages I read and wrote down for my Bible Study research, for anyone who wants to look into them. I used the MSG and the NIV.)
Isaiah 61
Luke 4:18-19
Isaiah 40, 52-56, 59:20
Ezekiel 34:22-24
Malachi 3:1-5, 17-18
Daniel 7:13-14, 26-27
Zechariah 9
Revelation 5:10
1 Peter 2:9-10
Genesis 1:26-28

My Journey as of Today

The following is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to my husband recently about my journey as of today. At a glance, it seems so basic, and unlike what a woman who has been walking with God for decades would write. Then again, coming to accept and intend to live the teachings of Jesus takes a lifetime.

Three years ago, I did more than deconstruct my beliefs. My entire self shut down, and I began a major reconstruction process. It has been a very, very slow process, and I have only recently begun to see progress toward any hope of future vibrancy in Christ and his kingdom.

Our Father has been showing me a foundational portion of what it means to live with him. It means dying to self, which does not involve self-destruction (the means by which I have generally died to myself over the past two decades), but rather a denial of myself as being on the throne of my own life—a denial of my perceived need to be right, in control, or even accepted or accommodated by others. Giving up the perceived primal needs of my self, I naturally endure some level of suffering, which God then enters and dwells in with me. This is one way in which I take up the cross of Christ and follow him. I’m coming to understand that God doesn’t so much have a path for me to walk, as a design and mission for who I am to be, and how that being will manifest in my life.

In the past two weeks, God has been saturating me with this message of self-denial versus self-destruction.

I’ve realized that I am not nearly the woman I would like to be known as. I saw at Bob Lexin’s funeral the same legacy I wish to leave when I go to sleep to await the renewal of all things. I want to be known as a woman after God’s own heart, who sits at the feet of Jesus, delves deeply into the things of him, listens well to others, and graces the people around me with compassion, mercy and understanding. I want to be known as bold enough to follow Jesus even when nobody else is willing to do it, without reacting in the flesh to the suffering that naturally follows living the life Jesus calls us to live. I want to be known as generous and kind, not this angry, pent up, unresolved person I am in major portions of my life today. The only way to do that is to bury myself deeper in the One who loves me best, and let him continue to heal me in his own ways and timing….

All in all, I am a broken woman, not only from the wounds I’ve suffered, but from the evil that has reigned in me at different levels through different times in my life. I am learning to suffer with my Lord, and to let him be my God, my king, my lead. I have a long way to go before reclaiming the vibrancy that he has placed in me. But I have a certain peace, finally, in the journey, while at the same time having a certain discontent with the place I’m at (the discontent being a good thing, a driving force to continue in the path of Jesus toward our Abba).

The Illusion of Following Christ

Before I begin my upcoming series, I want to share a related conversation by Dallas Willard in Renovation of the Heart. In a chapter called Spiritual Change, he asserts that knowing the right things about God isn’t the same as believing them. Believing something involves acting as though it is true. If we act as though the teachings of Jesus are true, we will intend to follow them, for among them is the call to do so. We don’t truly trust our mechanic unless we order the parts he insists we need and let him install them, nor our doctor if we fail to follow his or her advice.

Willard writes, “The idea that you can trust Christ and not intend to obey him is an illusion generated by the prevalence of an unbelieving ‘Christian culture’” which undermines efforts to actually live a real Christian life.

The upcoming series involves an exploration of what it actually means to follow Jesus. I find it fascinating that I would read this page in this book on this day, as I prepare to explore in writing what it is Jesus actually wants us to do in this life “Much Like the Life Jesus Led.”

Much Like the Life Jesus Led

I’m reading through Brennan Manning’s book, Reflections for Ragamuffins. It has an entry for every day of the year. Today’s entry says that Jesus is not like the great thinkers of his day, “speaking with detachment about the Supreme Being.”

He’s the God with spit on his face.

And he tells us not to weep for him, but to join him. He tells us that the life he led is the Christian life he has planned for us to live.

Manning goes on to say that the scandalous cross of Christ comes into our lives through “mental anguish, physical suffering, and wounds of the spirit that will not close,” within which we pray that God will help us stand against the realms of the flesh, the devil and the world.

That got me to thinking about the life Jesus lived, and about the word “world.”

I’m thinking of doing a series of posts about the life that Jesus lived, because I’m certain I’ve not fully embraced that life for myself nearly enough. And as Manning says in this entry, “It is hard to be a Christian, but it is too dull to be anything else.”

If I do create this series of posts, I also want to talk about Jesus being hated by the world, and telling us his followers would be, too. Who was Jesus hated by? The “world” is something I’ve often been told is the embodiment of the values and means of secular systems–greed, lust, pride, selfish ambition and more. To be hated by the world would be to be hated by people who are all about those things, right? I’ve always heard that the world’s people are those who aren’t followers of God. But the people who hated and scorned Jesus, ultimately had him sentenced to death, and harassed his followers just as he said they would, were the religious leaders of the day. Paul himself admitted that when he was part of the faction that was trying to squelch Jesus and his Way, he thought he was on Team God.

I’m not certain I’m bold enough to start writing again. This blog has been quiet for years now. I’ve written many posts in the past three years, only to delete them rather than publish them. Maybe this is enough for now. Maybe it’s not, and I’ll do the series. For today, it’s enough.

If there’s anybody out there, thanks for reading. What do you think about these things? (Not whether or not not I write more, but about the things I’ve written here today.)

Eyes Of Hope

The name Eyes of Hope is a funny thing in my life.

My husband David and I chose the name several years ago, when we were taking steps toward pastoring a church together. He told me he remembered Brent Rue giving a sermon about living life with eyes of hope, and that he still felt inspired by the message to that day.

But I could never understand why hope was so important. What was the big deal? How could seeing life through a lens of hope make anything better? Didn’t hope deferred make the heart sick anyway? So why set myself up for that? It simply eluded my grasp, and frankly I didn’t spend much time trying to understand it. David had been inspired and I loved that, so we made it our own.

We haven’t started a church, and aren’t completely sure what God is doing with all that we did in that direction, but since choosing that name for ourselves He has certainly done an awful lot to show me why living with hope is important.

So, I find myself thinking about hope this week, in response to a question posed by Mark Thomas during Bible Study. He was teaching from the book of Habakkuk, and asked us if we thought the state of the world was getting better or worse. Most of the room agreed everything is getting worse. I didn’t. I said I felt some things are actually getting better. That didn’t go over very well with some, and with the sudden presence of strong emotion in the group I didn’t take the time to explain myself.

But there are so many things in this world that are getting better.

Although it is not on a global scale, my marriage is getting better – it took a true miracle to heal and repair this home, and it’s better than it ever was, and better than I had ever hoped it would be. God has not ceased his involvement in our personal lives, and He continues to work good things out for people every day. Making us better. Growing us, when we are willing, into better people with better lives than we would have without Him. I look around and see so much brokenness, so much pain. But I thank God it isn’t all I see.

On a larger scale, I have been thinking this week of the ways disabled people in my nation are treated better than they were before, and the benefit of an education upon the next generation, and how very far we have come in the treatment of people who are different from us in race, color or creed.

I have been thinking of people who are calling the Church to wake up from a sort of academic slumber and reclaim the rich cultural and historic, knowledge-filled heritage that our faith was built on. And the ministries of groups like Compassion International and Bread and Water for Africa who make living conditions in impoverished nations better for the people who live there.

I have also been thinking about the advances in the medical field that are, overall, getting better with time. Not only do we have a wider range than ever of pharmaceutical and natural options for the things that ail us, but we are far more educated about the human body than ever before. Things that would have killed us in times past are mere stumbling blocks to those of us with access to these improvements.

The world is getting better in so many ways. If we lose hope for this, what are we left with? When I lived without an understanding of hope, and when I lost it for my marriage, it became much easier to just let it go. But I was a fool, and I’m thankful God worked in us both to save what He has given us. Because it’s getting better, so much better.

In the beginning, God made this world and made our ancestors in it … and called it good. He put it in our care. It takes effort, and it takes conviction, understanding, compassion and even hope, but we can care for His beloved creation. We can and must see through eyes of hope in order to continue bettering this world and all that is in it, following God in His own redemptive, restorative, loving way, for as long as He chooses to have us here.