Saturday, September 20, 2014

No Other Name

My small group is reading through the book of Acts, and I was particularly struck by an incident in chapter 4. It is seriously making me rethink my prayer life, especially considering how I have been praying for the persecuted Christians in the world.

The chapter begins with Peter and John being thrown into prison for proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead. The most troublesome part of their message is the part that still incites anger today. Without compromise or apology, Peter says:
 "...there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
No other name.

For me, those words ring true in the very depth of my being, as the Spirit who lives in me testifies to the undeniable truth that only Jesus saves. I bear witness with Peter and John, not because my eyes have seen the risen Christ, but because my life has been changed by him. His redemption continues to work its way through me, bringing humility where pride once reigned, spreading mercy where brokeness once stung, nurturing compassion where hard-heartedness once resisted, shining hope where despair once lurked. No other name. I'm convinced.

But I can see how those same words sound like a battle cry to a world that has not known his peace. Such an exclusive claim is heard as a rejection rather than an invitation. And those who do not believe that apart from Jesus there is no other way, would clearly take offense at the audacity of such words. No other name.

We don't speak these words to taunt the world, we plead them as poor beggars who have found the bread of life. It's him! He's the one! And every other name will leave you hungry and unsatisfied. Please, taste and see! There's just no other name.

So Peter and John hold to their claim, repeating their offense before their very accusers, insisting that they can not help speaking about what Jesus has done. They will not be silenced, and not because they want to incite violence--no! Because they want to share the peace that Jesus brings between God and men. In fact, to be silent about the name of Jesus is to subject others to the worst violence ever. For the wrath of God, his holy, righteous anger, was unleashed on the cross. And Jesus, only Jesus, could endure it. No other name.

Peter and John are released. Because even their worst critics couldn't find them guilty of any crime.

They return to their friends, and begin to pray:
And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.
This is not what I would have prayed.

My first thought, my first-world, post-modern, prayer would have begun with a plea for protection! But they never ask God to protect them! They ask God to take note of the threats--and not to protect them as a result, but to increase their boldness and mulitply the evidence of his power!

And God answered immediately.

I have been praying for God to protect Christians from their persecutors. But I think that's the wrong prayer. Maybe I should be praying for God to enbolden his people--to bring them bravely out of their hiding places and to then manifest his power through them in amazing ways. So that the world will know that there is no other name.

Ah, but if I prayed that for them, would I be brave enough to pray it for myself?

Because even though my life isn't at stake, I have my own ways of hiding. I do, so often, seek my own emotional comfort and relational protection. I believe "no other name!" and I fail to proclaim it faithfully.

Lord, I want to speak your word with all confidence, while you extend your hand to do miracles in the name of Jesus, so that many might come to know your name. The name. Because there is no other name.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Seminary Week 2

Okay, okay. I'm alright! Don't panic. 

I am alive and well, just still trying to find the time and place to write blogs with so much verbal energy going into my coursework. Which, by the way, I love.

I love it, even if, at times, it makes me feel profoundly stupid. Take my discussion questions from my Missional Ecclesiology class. Four questions were asked, and we were required to respond to three of them. Each question (and I am not exaggerating!) took me like 15 minutes to understand. After reading the second question, my first impulse was to put it into Google-Translate. And then I realized the question was in English. Oi.

So David (dear beloved husband of mine) suggested that I post one of the questions and my response, just to give you a taste of the agony/ecstasy that is seminary. So, without further ado, here it goes. The question was based on Part II of An Introduction to Ecclesiology by Kärkäinen (whose name I can finally spell without looking at the book cover--but that alone was a feat!)
Describe Pannenerg’s position on individual vs. corporeal salvation. While some ecclesial traditions have long maintained the necessity of church participation for salvation, Protestants have historically championed individual salvation. Does the decline of Christendom arrangement in North America collapse the binary: individual vs. corporeal?
Did you have to reread that? Honestly, I know what every word in those sentences means, and I still did not understand it without great effort. And I've actually done the reading! So, anyway, here is my attempt at a response:
While most theologians prioritize individual salvation before ecclesiology, Pannenberg believes that individual salvation cannot be attained apart from the church because the church is the “bearer of the Spirit of God and God’s grace.” (p. 114) Furthermore, Pannenberg connects the idea of election to corporeal rather than individual salvation. In my opinion, the decline of Christendom in North America does not so much collapse the binary as ignore it all together. Pannenberg views the individual and the church as integrally connected, which would necessitate a binary understanding of salvation; however the North American church only speaks of one type of salvation (the individual). That is to say, while Pannenberg views the church as the elect, which gathers individuals, North Americans view the church as the place where the elect gather. 
I read the question to David and he laughed out loud. Then he said, "Jenn, you know everyone is basically bluffing their responses, right?" As the seasoned seminarian in  the family, I chose to take his word for it. Then I read him my response and he said, "Well, I don't know if it's right or wrong, but it sure sounds scholarly."

Well, I can bluff with the best of them!

However, such writing really makes me miss the sublime art of blogging, where I don't have to bluff because, as they say, the truth is stranger than fiction.

Speaking of which, why is that when David is away a service light comes on in the car, two sinks get clogged, the refrigerator starts leaking, the water bill is inflated by (no kidding) 2000%, and the scanner (which I need to use for my classes) decides to end its relationship with my computer? Oh, and Chandler thinks he has Strep throat, and now that he mentions it, my throat is feeling a bit scratchy, too.

Fortunately, Chandler's computer is still on speaking terms with the printer, so we scan my course work into his computer, and then he e-mails it to me. That's how this inductive Bible Study got turned in on time:


So given the fact that my life has been overtaken by seminary, I suspect that at least one blog post a week (for the next while) will pertain to my studies. But I'm gonna do my best to write at least one non-school-related post each week; I promise. 



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Back-burner

Well, friends, it seems most of my writing energy is going into my course work! The sad thing is, I really have a lot I want to share with you, but I am simply not finding enough hours in the day. This has been a bit of a busier week for a couple of reasons. One, my main squeeze in the States, which means it's all up to me to keep the home fires burning. Chan is pitching in where he can, but he is swamped himself! Second, I've been teaching hermeneutics every morning this week to a group of budding French preachers, which leaves only the afternoons to get everything else done. Third, I'm trying to get a bit ahead in my studies so that I can steal away to Paris for the weekend. My sister is going to be there for just a couple of days, and I want to get to see her!

All of that to say, blogging is on the back-burner this week!

Oh, but if I had time to blog I'd wax poetically about one of the apostles' prayers in the book of Acts, I whine about a certain ecclesiology textbook (it's not that I can't understand it, it's that I can't understand why the author says things in such complicated ways!), I'd share some photos from David and Graham's trip to Montana, or I'd tell you about some of the things that are getting discussed in my classes.

Alas, I've got to get back to my reading Not that reading is a chore! Oh no. I'm loving every minute of it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Seminary Week 1

Ooooh là là.

I love seminary.

I love it so much I could marry it. Except I'm already married.

But with David and Graham in the States and Chandler back in school, seminary sort of feels like my one constant companion. Well, I mean seminary and Jesus, of course. And not necessarily in that order.

Since this was the first week, the course load was fairly light, but I still used all of the time that I had allotted for my studies. This enabled me to get a little ahead on some of my reading, which will help me to keep my head above water during those weeks when both school and ministry are full time endeavors.

Three out of four of the assigned books that I began reading this week are books that I would have read for pleasure. The fourth book, which is an overview of Ecclesiology, is a bit more technical and uses big ten-dollar words. Nevertheless, I find the content interesting and I am definitely learning from it.

The biggest challenge so far was having to wake up twice this week at 2 a.m. France time for introductory classes by video conference. Fortunately, these video conferences only happen once a semester.

The best thing has been realizing how much fun seminary is. I get to read good books and then write responses to them (which I love). Then I get to read how others have responded to the same books (which greatly enhances my understanding and increases my appreciation of the reading). And finally  I get to consider how what I read impacts my life and ministry (which I need). I feel like a kid in a candy store.

Next week things get a bit more intense. I'll be starting inductive Bible Studies in the book of Genesis, synthesizing my thoughts on some chapters from the book on Ecclesiology, which frankly, I'm not sure I even understand, and meeting with my coach for my Internship class. But I'm totally into it, and loving every minute, even the ones that leave me cross-eyed and scratching my head!


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Unimpressed

Have you ever preached a sermon only to realize that you were preaching to yourself? I don't mean no one came to church that day, I mean that as you spoke your carefully prepared words, your own heart was convicted, challenged, or inspired by them.

Actually this happens to me all the time. I don't preach what I've mastered, I preach what I'm learning. I'm starting to think that the whole reason God allows me to preach is so that I will learn what he wants to teach me.

But I'm in good company. Even the apostle Paul, in the midst of a brilliant admonishment to the Philippian church, paused and wrote, sort of parenthetically, "...not that I have already obtained all this...." In other words, he was preaching a truth that was, as of that moment, still beyond the reality of his experience. Yet. Yet, he was convinced of it.

Well, I recently had a double dose of this experience. I spent back to back Sundays at one of our supporting churches in the States last month, and I was asked to teach in two different Sunday school classes on those Sundays. To keep things simple, I just prepared one lesson, and taught the same lesson to the two different classes. 

But my own words keep coming back to me, as if the Spirit wants to remind me of the words he inspired me to teach. As if to say, "Jenn, the lesson was for you." Then, as I came home and began a new phase of spiritual formation, the same theme was replayed. Like the refrain of a song, it keeps haunting me. 

"You are not appropriately impressed with my greatness." 

God keeps whispering this sentence, a thought from my own Sunday school lesson. It was actually kind of a side note. I was talking about how we can easily get handicapped by either pride or insecurity, but at the root, I asserted, these two are the same. Whether I am arrogant or self-loathing, the core problem is that I am not appropriately impressed with the greatness of God.

You see, a person who has even the slightest inkling of God's majesty, power, and grace would have a hard time thinking too highly of herself. At the same time, anyone who has even glimpsed the wonder, beauty, and love of God would be hard pressed to underestimate her eternal value. If this great God is who he says he is, we should be completely enthralled by him, ready to do anything he asks, desperate for the privilege to be lost in him. 

But I'm not.

I sing worship songs with hands high in the air, then come home from church and send self-righteous e-mails to beloved ministry partners. Clearly, I'm more impressed with my own murky greatness, which is really depravity in Sunday clothes.

Or else I shrink back from the call before me, shaking in my boots with insecurity, whining about my weaknesses. Which goes to show that I am more focused on my lack of ability than his unending able-ness.

So this week (maybe this month or this year!) My prayer is this: "Jesus, let me be amazed anew by you."

Perhaps he will show me miracles. More likely, he will open my eyes to the wonders that surround me every day. Either way, I'm betting he'll take my breath away. And when he does, I will bow in reverence, weep with joy, or sing with gladness. But more importantly, I will be strengthened and encouraged in the innermost places, reassured that my God is, indeed, Lord.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"The 'Stache" is no more...

Chandler spent the summer months cultivating facial hair in the form of a mustache.


Facial hair is a bumper crop in our family, mostly among the men. David and the boys sprout whiskers like chia pets, and I don't even water them.

But alas, Chandler's school frowns upon fertile facial follicles, so with classes starting this week, he harvested his lip hair.

Mustachioed no more, he spent the day organizing himself for his final year of high school.


Though he mourned the reaping of his Fu Manchu, his mama was happy to have his baby face back in the house. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Cutting Corners

School officially starts next week for me and Chandler. It starts in three weeks for Graham. And David doesn't start back up until the middle of October. In France, this time of year is called, "La Rentrée" or literally, "The Re-entry” –which makes me think of spaceships suffering enormous stress, violent shaking, and scorching flames upon re-entry into the earth's atmosphere. Yeah, that's pretty much what La Rentrée feels like to me.

As I begin work on my Master’s degree, I will also continue most of my regular (full-time) ministry responsibilities. She who prefers to fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants has just spent two days meticulously entering reading assignments, writing assignments, and test dates into her agenda, not to mention preaching schedules, conference preparations, and meetings with my language helper. Because I had to figure out where it all fit.

But it doesn’t all fit.

Photo

During orientation at George Fox, the Dean of the Seminary said, “It’s not a question of whether or not you will have to cut corners. It’s a question of where you will cut corners.”

I’m not really a corner-cutter.

I’m more of a get up early, stay up late, do-whatever-it-takes kind of person.

But you see, if I stick with that plan, the corners that get cut will be cut by default rather than by design. By default, my sleep (and ultimately my health) will get cut. By default, my marriage and friendships will get cut. By default, my relationship with God, my peace, and my joy will get cut. All the things that don’t have a time-slot in my handy-dandy digital agenda will get cut.

In his book, Choosing to Cheat, Andy Stanley makes the same observation that the Dean of my seminary made—that is, that life is so full we are all going to cheat someone or something. For those of us in ministry, it’s especially easy to cheat the wrong things. Because our work has eternal significance, we wrongly give it unregulated space and time in our lives. It’s not that the work isn’t important, it’s that we need to keep it in perspective. God doesn’t call us to neglect our own spiritual formation, our physical health, or the care of our families. Stanley points out that each of us are replaceable within our ministries, but irreplaceable to our families. That is to say, GEM can find another missionary to do my job, but I’m the only wife David has.

And so I need to cut corners by design.



For me, that means stepping away from one of my local ministry responsibilities, delegating some other responsibilities, and setting time limits for my coursework—because when I am reading and writing and studying I can lose all track of time. That means I will do the very best work that I can during the hours that I have scheduled for my classes, and when that time is up, I will simply stop. That might mean I get a B instead of an A.

 

But a B with a happy marriage, a health body, and a thriving soul is better than an A with a strained marriage, a flabby body, and a starving soul. No doubt about it.
 
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