Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Birthday Walk

Yesterday was my 44th birthday.

As I headed toward the track for my scheduled run, I found myself moved to take a detour. I turned toward Les Prairies du Roy, a nice big field with  a walking path through it. I didn't have a plan or an agenda, yet; I felt inclined to slow down, breath deeply, and listen.

The sun was shining, a rare sight in Loches in February. A gift.

Lifting my eyes up to the deep blue sky, I asked the Lord to join me on my walk. I knew, of course, that he was already there. What I really sought was a greater awareness of his presence--remembering how he used to take walks through Eden with Adam and Eve.

There was no glowing aura, no thundering voice, no rustling leaves. But somehow I knew he was near. And we walked.

I went automatically towards a known path, but quickly discovered that it was flooded. The impasse meant either the end of my walk, or a need to find another way. My eyes moved to different path. One I had often noticed but never taken.

A new year, a new path.

The road less taken was uneven and rocky. It meandered seemingly meaninglessly, turning when straight seemed possible. I was forced to slow my pace again to avoid tripping or twisting an ankle. I felt like a pioneer, urged on by the thrill of discovery. But safe because I knew my travel companion had not abandoned me.

Just when I began to think that the path I was on was no path at all, I saw a carefully placed bench. A place for rest and reflexion there on the rocky road. I didn't sit, I was on a quest. Yet I was somehow reassured by the bench. As if its presence validated my route.

While God didn't speak words to me on our walk, he spoke gently through the walk. As David and I seek his plan for our future, we somtimes come up against impasses. The way is blocked. The door is closed. But the journey is not over.

As way opens in another direction, it may not be smooth sailing. The path may be uneven and rocky, but that doesn't mean it isn't the right path. And so I'm learning to rest in the meandering rhythms of grace. Delighting in the journey rather than obsessing about the destination.

Trusting the silent guide who never leaves my side.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Apostolic Church

At the beginning of each year we do a sermon series on the characteristics of the church. This year we based our series on the four marks of the church that are found in the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed was written and adapted in the 4th century, and stands still today as a statement of faith that is affirmed by most Christian denominations. Towards the end of the creed are the words that describe what have become known as the marks of the church. It reads, "We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church."

Having just written a paper on the four marks of the church for my class on Ecclesiology, I was excited to turn my newly gained intellectual knowledge into a sermon that would be accessible for the members of our church, aged 5 to 75. I was given the task of preaching on the apostolic church.

Do most people know that the church is called to be apostolic? Do you know what it means?  And perhaps most importantly, would you say that your church IS apostolic?

Of course there is a great deal of discussion around what it means for a church to be apostolic. For Roman Catholics, the idea of apostolicity pertains to the direct passing of authority over the church from Jesus to Peter right down to the current Pope François. The apostolic succession is of upmost important.

Not surprisingly, we Protestants have a different take. Rather than linking the idea of apostolic directly to the apostles, we link the idea to the function of the apostles. Apostle literally means "one who was sent." Jesus was the first apostle, sent by the Father. Then, after his resurrection, Jesus said to his apostles, "As the Father sent me, so I am sending you." So with this understanding, if the church is to be apostolic, then the church is to be sent.

But it doesn't seem to play out that way. Even the vocabulary that we use around a church renders it rather stationary. We PLANT a church, or BUILD a church. We identify a church by its address. We think of church in terms of a location, rather than in terms of a movement. But we, the people of Jesus Christ, are not called to simply invite others into our midst, we are called to go out into the world with the Good News. This is not just the work of a few missionaries. This is the work to which the whole body of Christ is called. We are the sent ones. We--the whole church!

How is your church doing at being "sent?" Do you spend your time trying to figure out how to get people to come through your doors? Or are you more interested in figuring out how to move your members out of your doors? Is your Sunday morning worship service the hub around which the life of the church turns, or is it just one small slice of pie? Do you expect your members to spend their free time inside the walls of the church attending programs for the benefit of those who already know the Good News? Or do you expect your members to spend their free time out in the world, sharing the Good News in word and deed? Do you know people in your community who still need to hear the Good News? Are you investing in your neighborhood in ways that speak of that Good News? Are you content to just go to church on Sunday, or are you intentional about being the church Monday through Saturday?

People! Jesus was sent to earth with the best news that the world has ever heard! There is hope for the broken hearted, freedom for those who are captive to their sin, and release for those who live under the oppression of the king of this world. SIGHT! Though born into the blindness of a fallen world, we can now see things as they really are, without the clouds of confusion and despair. Jesus came to set things right. He has entrusted the church with these profound truths, we must, we MUST take them to the world.

Church, are you stationary or are you sent?

As the Father sent me, I also send you (plural). John 20:21

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ten Totally Trivial Tidbits

  1. We watched the Super Bowl live on Sunday. Well, actually it was Monday here in France. It started at 12:30 am and ended at 4:30 am. And while we were sad by the outcome, truly, it was a game well played. Yes, I'll admit it. American Football is one thing that I still miss from the States. Katie Perry I could do without..., but those dancing beach balls were pretty cute.
  2. Chandler had his first major exam for his French Bac today. The subject? It was his oral comprehension exam for English. Before you roll your eyes and say, "Well THAT couldn't have been too difficult!" let me tell you how the test goes down. The students have to listen to something like a news broadcast in English, and then they have to write a summary about it IN FRENCH. So while it was testing the English comprehension skills of most of Chandler's classmates, it was actually a written FRENCH test as far as Chandler was concerned. Still, I'm betting he did just fine!
  3.  Our plans for next year are still up the air. We are looking at a couple of different options, but nothing has been decided for sure. Will you please pray for us as we try to discern where the Lord is leading us to go? We will be in France for sure, we just don't know which city!
  4. We are still having weekly adventures in cheese. This week we tried a creamy little delight that was covered in bright orange mold. It was DE-Lish! 
  5. Speaking of cheese, the cheese lady at market has an unabashed crush on my dear husband. She calls him by name and always engages him in conversation, while batting her eyelashes. When I go to market she barely acknowledges my existence. This week, we went to market together. After overtly flirting with David, she said to me, "Hi to you, David's wife. I don't know your name." And then she turned away, making it clear that she didn't need to know me by any name other than "David's wife." To which I would reply, "Yeah! And don't you forget it!"
  6. David has an unabashed crush on me.
  7.  I am struck anew by the unabashed love of a savior who was crushed for my iniquities. I have recently become aware of a core sin in my life, one that has skewed many of my motivations and authored many of my desires. When I see how such a sin can permeate so many aspects of my life, wounding me and causing wounds on those around me, I am overwhelmed by my need for redemption. In the wake of this realization I had the pleasure of singing the age old hymn, It Is Well. The third verse brought grateful tears of joy to my eyes. I weep even as I type the words here:  My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
  8. Self-awareness is hard. 
  9. After carrying the same purse every day of the past 5 years, I have asked David for a new purse for my birthday. I'm going from basic black to hot pink. As if my life weren't exciting enough already!
  10. I am reading some amazing books in my seminary classes! My favorites so far are The Social World of Ancient Israel, A General Theory of Love, and A Guidebook to Prayer.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Living the Low Life

God has a thing for the lowly.
  • The lowly he sets on high (Job 5:11)
  • He looks kindly on the lowly (Ps 138:6)
  • The lowly in spirit gain honor (Pr 29:23)
  • The lowly will be exalted (Ez 29:14)
  • Whoever takes the lowly the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:4)
Actually throughout the Bible we read stories of God choosing and using the lowliest people. David was the youngest of his brothers, Ruth was a beggar and a foreigner, Mary was a teenage peasant, most of the disciples were poor fishermen, the people on whom Jesus poured out compassion were the outcasts, the broken, and the harassed. And he counted himself among them. He, himself, was lowly. 

So I've been asking myself, "Jenn, do you count yourself among the lowly?" 

I went to Amazon to see if there were any books on the subject. After all, Jesus talked about and modeled lowliness so frequently, you'd think that "lowliness" would be all the rage among his followers. There were a few books about Jesus' lowliness on the the third and fourth search pages. The first pages were filled with "Lowly the Worm," a Richard Scarry children's book character. Maybe Lowly the Worm has something to teach me, but I didn't see any titles like 40 Days of the Lowly Life, or Becoming the Lowlife God Made You to Be, or Your LOWLIEST Life Now!

As I reflect on what it means to be lowly, I am tempted to sanitize the idea. To turn it into a state of mind rather than a state of being. After all, the word is clearly related to humility, meekness, poverty of spirit. Those words are so much prettier and easier to dress up. And they allow me to keep my dignity intact.

The world trains us to disguise our lowliness, to despise our lowliness, and to do everything we can to deny our lowliness. And it feels like much of the Christian evangelical world feeds us the same lines, only they translate them to Christian-ese. “Work hard and God will bless your efforts.” “God wants you to succeed.” “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” I wonder what the martyrs would say to that one!

I’m not against success. I don’t think God is either. I’m against success being a way to avoid the reality of our own desperate depravity and lowliness. I'm against the idea that changing the circumstances of my health or my wealth can (or should) enable me to overcome my lowliness. And I’m really against the idea that God would want such a thing for me.

Because whether I count myself among the lowly or not, lowly is what I am. Christ, who is one with the Father, became lowly through the incarnation. I was born into it. And I’m beginning to realize that the Christian life isn’t about overcoming my lowliness, but embracing it. This is the economy of the upside-down kingdom, where first is last and gold is pavement. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Qu'est-ce que tu veux ?

Or à Jérusalem, près de la porte des brebis, il y a une piscine qui s'appelle en hébreu Béthesda et qui a cinq portiques. Sous ces portiques un grand nombre de malades étaient couchés: des aveugles, des boiteux, des paralysés; [ils attendaient le mouvement de l'eau,] [car un ange descendait de temps en temps dans la piscine et agitait l'eau; et le premier qui descendait dans l'eau après qu'elle avait été agitée était guéri, quelle que soit sa maladie.]
 Là se trouvait un homme infirme depuis 38 ans. Jésus le vit couché et, sachant qu'il était malade depuis longtemps, il lui dit: «Veux-tu être guéri ?» Jean 5, 2 à 6
Jésus me pose la même question: "Veux-tu être guérie ?"
Oui! Je le veux. Je ne veux pas vivre sans une transformation profonde dans ma vie. Mais pour y arriver, le soi est obligé de mourir. Le soi qui cherche sa propre gloire..le soi qui fait sa propre volonté...le soi qui a la prétention de se mettre en avant...le soi qui construit son propre royaume au lieu du royaume de Dieu. 
J'imagine que l'homme malade depuis 38 ans a commencé à trouver son identité au travers de sa maladie. Il est, en effet, devenu sa maladie. Suis-je devenue mes maladies aussi ? Perdre sa maladie veut dire perdre le soi. Et si on perd le soi, qui demeure ? 
Seule l'âme, rachetée, constitue notre réelle identité.

En perdant le soi, nous ne devenons pas la moitié de notre personne, nous devenons le meilleur de notre personne. Celles et ceux  que nous étions censés être à l’origine. Jésus veux nous rendre complets. Jésus veux nous délivrer de toutes nos maladies. Et il peut le faire. La question est "Veux-tu être guéri ?"

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

All Sufficient Grace

In the movie City Slickers, Billy Crystal plays a man in the midst of a midlife crisis. He wakes up on his 40th Birthday, depressed and despondent. When his wife asks him the cause of his despair he says, "Do you ever look in the mirror and realize, this is as good as I'm ever gonna look, as good as I'm ever gonna feel, as good as I'm ever gonna do, and it ain't that great?"

This week in my devotional time with the Lord, I was faced with a similar question. First I was led to read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, a familiar passage where Paul says something about a thorn in his flesh that torments him and God's all-sufficient grace. I'm sure you've read it. I've read it a thousand times. I've quoted it in sermons. I claimed to understand it. I thought I did.

After reading that well known passage, I found myself confronted with this question: "What if God appeared to you today and told you, 'This is as good as it is going to get.'?"

There are two sides to that question. One side deals with my external circumstances, and includes the sub-questions, "What if I never write a book?" and "What if I never do lose those last 10 pounds?" and "What if I never plant a church?" and "What if I never own a house?" and "What if I never see a revival in France?" and "What if I never run a marathon?" In essence, "What if I never realize my dreams?"

The other side of that question deals with my internal desires for those things. Because if I truly understand the premise of the question, then it means that I am considering the possibility that I never achieve more in life AND yet I continue to live with the constant longing to achieve more. What if I must wrestle for the rest of my life with never succeeding at realizing certain dreams AND never losing my desire for those dreams to come true?

THAT is what it would look like if THIS (my life and circumstances today) is as good as it is going to get.

I guess I always imagined that God either fulfilled desires or freed us from them. But that wasn't Paul's experience. We know that he desired for the thorn in his flesh to be removed, and God did not satisfy that desire. And in response, Paul did NOT write, "So eventually, that thorn in my flesh stopped bothering me.  I learned to like it. I totally lost my desire for it to be removed." He just tells us what God told him. "My grace is sufficient."

In the past, I took these words to mean, "God will help me endure for a while" or "God will make this better one way or another." Now I realize the shallowness of such an understanding. "What if this is as good as it is going to get?" means "What if you must live the rest of your life longing for something, never getting it, and never losing your desire for it?"

"What if you write 754 manuscripts and not one gets published?"

"What if you see hundreds of ways and places to plant churches and you never get to plant one?"

"What if the ideas, the visions, and the potential haunt you every single day of your life, but you will never see the fruit of these dreams?"

Is God's grace sufficient?

Is God's grace truly sufficient to fill in the wide, gaping gulch between the deepest desires of my heart and the possibility that those desires will never, ever be granted? And would I welcome such a grace? A grace that quiets the screaming, thrashing child not by giving in to her desires, but by offering itself in their place?

I 've often heard it said that if a desire goes unfulfilled then it wasn't God's will. While it may be true that it was not God's will for that thing to happen, it does not necessarily mean that it was not God's will for me to desire it. God desires for all to come to faith, but we know that not everyone comes to faith. Even God has unfulfilled desires.

This idea, the idea that God would will for us to live (suffer!) with unfulfilled desire, flies in the face of the Gospel that is so prevalant today. We want to believe that we can have God AND all our wishes will come true. Or at the very least, that God's mercy would compel him to relieve us of those desires that he does not intend to satisfy. Couldn't God just help us not to want the stuff that he doesn't plan to give us?

Today I finally understand that it doesn't work that way. When God told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness," God was telling Paul, "This is as good as it is going to get. I'm more concerned with perfecting my power in you, and you need this weakness to know my power." But here's the thing I never saw before. That grace...that all-sufficient the source of the perfect power. And the wider and more desperate the gap between my deepest desires and their possible fulfillment, the more space that grace has to fill. That's why Paul can respond, "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

Suddenly I'm feeling tender towards my unfulfilled desires. I'm no longer seeing them as problems to be solved or regrets to be nursed. I'm seeing them as repositories for grace. It doesn't mean I stop striving in faith. It means that whether my desires are fulfilled or unfulfilled I'll recognize God's grace in the outcome.

If this is as good as I'm ever gonna look, as good as I'm ever gonna feel, as good as I'm ever gonna do, I trust that God will fill the cavern of my longings with the abundance of his grace.

His grace is sufficient.

This reflection came out of my journaling in response to the writings of Brian Rice, author of Conversations

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Some Thoughts on the Paris Attacks

Dear Friends,

I want to share with you some thoughts about the recent attacks in Paris. First, let me assure you that we are safe. Nevertheless, we grieve with all of France over the violence and the loss of life. We are perplexed, but not in despair. Our hope and our anchor is in the One who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

We know that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the prinicipalities of darkness. As one of our teammates keenly observed, "What happened [in Paris] was just a quick peek behind the spiritual veil. There's a war going on. And it's not East vs. West, or Religion vs. Secularism, or Islam vs. Christianity. It's Light vs. Darkness." The current tragedy may be over, but the battle has been going on for years, and it continues today. Many of the French, like all those who do not know Jesus, are helpless and harrassed, like sheep without a shepherd, and the enemy wants to pick them off by fear, doubt, isolation, violence, hatred, division, and anger. Let the events of the past week drive us to our knees in prayer for this beautiful country.

Just last month, in Lyon, I heard Jeff Fountain talk about how to read the times and how to understand and respond to current events in light of the Gospel. He explained that often we (the Body of Christ) allow secular interpretations to define our understanding of world crises, and we miss the opportunity to speak truth into situations such as these. One of my collegues shared a story about a church in Athens that had been vandalized by Islamic terrorists. A giant rock had been thrown through the window and landed on their altar. As church leaders gathered to decide how they would respond, they realized that the could see the rock as a threat...or they could accept it as an invitation to engage their muslim neighbors with the love and grace of Jesus. They decided to view the rock as an invitation, and rather than responding with fear or anger, the church intentionally sought ways to bless their attackers and sow seeds of peace. And love won the day.

So as we the Church universal consider our response to these attacks, I hope that we, too, can welcome the invitation to spread the Good News of Jesus. Apart from him, there is no peace.