Possible

I’m reading Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning. There’s a section in here that says so clearly what I used to try to convey so unsuccessfully. I used to frequent what others considered to be the dark corridors of human society; I was part of a community that other Christians I knew wouldn’t go anywhere near. I was really part of that community. I wasn’t there to just share the gospel and then leave. I wasn’t an outsider in their midst. They were my friends, and I was part of their lives as they were part of mine. In the end, I didn’t leave because I fulfilled my mission among them–I never intended to leave at all. I left because my presence there was creating such a severe rift between myself and those who insisted I was wrong to be there that I found myself having to choose between them and my own family.

I find this passage from Brennan Manning to communicate so clearly what I failed to convey to other Christians at that time, that I can’t help but share it here, in this place where I occasionally step out of my shell and reveal a bit of what lies beneath the surface of me.

Brennan writes,

Because the shining sun and the falling rain are given both to those who love God and to those who reject God, the compassion of the Son embraces those who are still living in sin. The Pharisee lurking within all of us shuns sinners. Jesus turns toward them with gracious kindness. He sustains His attention throughout their lives for the sake of their conversion “which is possible to the very last moment.”

God never leaves us, never forsakes us, never gives up hope that we will turn to him and place our trust in his heavenly care. Even when we’re sinning, even when we’re rejecting him, even when we want nothing to do with him, he eagerly awaits our attention like a mother whose baby is just beginning to walk away from her for the first time. Why shouldn’t we, as the baby’s brothers and sisters, dwell with our mother and our sibling in this place? Who knows, maybe if the baby falls, we will be there to pick him or her up and redirect them to the care that awaits them, because of the trust we have earned as people of love and safety. Wouldn’t a parent’s heart rejoice at such love between siblings? Aren’t we all created in God’s image, all descended from the same breath of God as one another, part of the same creation he so lovingly cares for, and doesn’t he ask us to care for it with him?

Dangerous

I was told today that left unchecked I would be dangerous. At first I was angry, but then I realized it’s true.

Eugene Peterson said

Expect hostility when God is at work. And expect it to come from where you least expect it–among the leadership of the religious status quo.

I recently became disheartened and prematurely ended my planned “Much Like the Life Jesus Led” series. Ironically, the thoughts on my heart today are precisely what I had in mind when I set out to write the series.

What would it be like to live much the way Jesus did? It would be dangerous.

Jesus put others before himself, even loving people who were dead-set against him.

He shared freely with those in need.

He even shared freely with Romans who had legal authority to humiliate the nations in submission to them by demanding they carry their packs for a mile, even if the Roman had a donkey to do it for them (in other words, people who weren’t really in need). “Turn the other cheek” and “Walk the extra mile,” according to Erwin McManus, were radical statements made by Jesus to his followers, encouraging them to go beyond what was asked because in this way they remained truly free even in a country oppressed by a foreign ruler.

Jesus relied on God to provide for his needs. He was a skilled worker, yet even with careers we need God. Jesus was in tune with that need and relied on God whole-heartedly, making conversation with God foundational to the direction his life went.

He didn’t store up for himself many material possessions. He lived simply, close to the earth, and close to God and people.

He was loyal to God even before his own family.

He was humble and generous, and served freely. From washing his disciples’ feet after they had entered a house with dusty feet to providing wine for a wedding which had prematurely run out, he blessed people by serving them.

He taught us how to forgive, and to care deeply for others. He said we would be known as his followers if we loved one another.

He lived and taught the laws of love and grace; lived and taught the ways of the God of love and grace.

He reveled a good story, and told many. He enjoyed good food and taught us how to throw a feast in his honor, in order to remember the joy set before us. And he taught us that what we do matters, in this life and the next. That he will return to renew all things, not fry them and make everything in the here and now suddenly meaningless.

He was known as the friend of sinners because he actually lived and moved and had his being in community with hookers and thieves and others the religious community would have nothing to do with. He didn’t just go to a meeting hall once a month and ladle soup out for them, although I imagine that would not be beneath him to do. He actually lived with them. Ate in their homes, assumedly invited them into his own. They were his people, and by that fact they became the best people they were capable of being. In his presence, they could become who God had created them to be, even if outside of his presence they had a lot of baggage that would make them seem unworthy of his company.

He lived and died sacrificially.

He was bold and daring.

And he was dangerous.

None of this is safe. None of this is prestigious or without risk. He loved Judas Iscariot, trusted him as part of his inner circle. Look where that got him. He was ostracized by the religious leaders of his day because of his radical grace. His family thought he was bonkers. He was hated, scorned, and eventually beaten and hung, denied and abandoned by most of his closest companions. And he has the audacity to ask us to take up our crosses and follow him.

Left unchecked, I would be dangerous. It wasn’t said as a compliment. And I’m not sure I deserve to take it as one, because it was said about my potential, not my reality. Left unchecked I do gravitate toward this kind of life, and when I do I find myself blocked in some way or another because of the great danger of it all.

It begs the question: what’s more dangerous? Living Much Like the Life Jesus Led, or choosing not to so as to keep the peace with those who find security in the safety of the system?

The Risk-Takers

This will probably be my last post in the Much Like the Life Jesus Led series. I didn’t take it where I had intended, because my own life is frustrated right now in this very sense (and has been for a few years now). Brennan Manning writes in “A Glimpse of Jesus,”

The risk-taking disciple, who dares to listen to his feelings rather than to the pontifications of authority or the clamor of the majority, may quickly find that his inner convictions do not resonate with the vox populi. He finds the situation unnerving to himself and disturbing to the palace guard. Though Abraham Maslow might describe him as “unique and idiosyncratic, alive and creative rather than phony,” the nervous disciple finds little solace in the eulogy. He is pretty damned frightened about swimming upstream–his security blanket of respectability has been snatched away….

The risk-takers who listen to the Spirit speaking through “the intelligence of their emotions” are ready to chance something, fully aware that the history of Christian spirituality is not consistently one of obedient conformity, however much some savants choose to view it that way…. Their dream, insofar as it comes from the passionate uncertainty of the Spirit, is contagious for some and delusional for the vociferous, lockstepping majority. The Scriptures testify that the innovator invites trouble…. Heads shake, hallowed traditions are invoked, nonhistorical orthodoxy is extolled, and the guilt-tripping begins….

Soon the risk-takers find that they are traveling in bad company. The historical Jesus was no outlaw, and nothing in the gospel lends support to the notion that he was a maverick harboring a grudge against the world, the law, or the authorities. Still… Jesus listened to another voice, sought his spiritual direction elsewhere, and seemed unafraid of what people might say about him or what people might do to him.

For the last few years I’ve enjoyed relative safety in the tight cocoon of risk-less Christianity. The company I’ve kept has been nearly 100% Christian. The parties and other social events I’ve gone to have been nearly 100% Christian-sponsored and Christian-filled.

And it’s been bothering me.

I miss getting the same criticism as Jesus did for the company I keep. I miss sitting in my old friend Sanie’s living room and talking to a room full of gay teens and young adults about my experiences with the Spirit of God. I can still see their engaged faces, listening to me as I spoke from my heart about a God who does not hate them after all. The criticism I received from others in the church hurt, but Jesus didn’t tell us to take up our miniature golden crosses on fine chains around our necks and follow him. That’s not the cross, but merely a symbolic reminder of it. Yet, it’s far easier to heft only the imitation, which is so weightless and pain-free we put it on and largely forget we’re even wearing it.

In today’s reading of “Reflections for Ragamuffins,” Brennan Manning says, “Compassion, the ability to suffer with the hurt of another, is an essential Christian quality.” I miss taking time to sit with hurting people and listen to them, offering little to no advice other than specific ways I’ve found helpful for drawing near to Jesus.

I miss the words of a dear friend who was once something of a father figure to me, when he said,

You are a pioneer and a radical.

I’m not a pioneer or a radical anymore.

For years I struggled with conflicting desires to be a mother and to be something greater, more world-impacting. I couldn’t reconcile the two images of life I had in my head, the two dreams that competed for priority. Now that I’ve stepped out of danger for so long, and had time to evaluate my life past and present, and re-imagine my future, I’ve come to realize they aren’t conflicting dreams. I’m not just a parent who raises good people, to hopefully raise other good people, and so on. I’m a woman of God who is raising a new generation of Jesus-followers, and as such I’m not just here for them, but we’re here for us and others. They’re integrated ideas. Integrated dreams.

And it’s kinda perfect that I recently began listening to the Mosaic Podcast series by Erwin McManus and his co-pilot Hank Fortener. McManus just wrote a book called “The Artisan Soul,” which is all about being purposeful in what kind of life we’re living, because as created beings by a creative God, we’re not only artwork, but also artists ourselves.

I’ve had on my nightstand a quote I picked up in a book several months ago. I didn’t quote the author of the book, I simply typed this:

Be poets. Make something of these words I’ve spoken to you. Make a life, epic and poetic. And make it beautiful. Make it a work of art.
–Jesus

That’s what I want. I want to be the artisan of my life, together with the Artisan of my life. It’s a little oxymoronic, and I think I like it better because it is.

It’s funny, I had in mind a fairly organized, regularly-updated blog series about the life of Jesus and how to live much like he did. It surely didn’t turn out that way. Then again, I never have been able to successfully keep my resurrected savior all wrapped up neat and tidy within my limited capacity. For that I’m truly thankful.

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).

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.)