Hungry For God

Thursday, December 30, 2004


Has anyone read the poem in RELEVANT mag, "Vision"?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Christmas Story Contemplation

A teenage girl becomes pregnant right before she is to be married, but her fiancé is not the biological father. She is actually still a virgin!!! Imagine trying to explain this to your fiancé and your family. What a hard place to be in, what a lonely circumstance. Who would understand?

The Christmas “Story” of the birth of Jesus takes on somewhat familiar terms if you put Mary in today’s world. Although having children out of wedlock is common, it is still somewhat socially unacceptable and especially an uncomfortable situation for someone who may have grown up in an environment that does not condone “such behavior.” Would your parents today believe you if you told them that an angel came to you in the night and told you that you were going to have God’s child, but you were not going to have sex, you were going to become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit? Probably not.

It is amazing how God sent His Son to us in such a way that we may be able to relate to Mary and Joseph and the reality of their circumstances. God did not choose a mature woman, or a miraculous appearance in the sky, but a teenage virgin of poverty to give birth to a baby that was one day to suffer an atrocious death in order to allow people a way to God Himself.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place under these circumstances: When His mother Mary had been promised in marriage to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be pregnant (through the power) of the Holy Spirit. And her (promised) husband Joseph, being a just and upright man and not willing to expose her publicly and to shame and disgrace her, decided to repudiate and dismiss (divorce) her quietly and secretly. But as he was thinking this over, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary (as) your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of (from, out of) the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son and you shall call His name Jesus (the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua, which means Savior), for He will save His people from their sins (that is, prevent them from failing and missing the scope of life, which is God). Matthew 1: 18-21

Matthew describes the sequence of events such that Joseph received word from the angel AFTER he had known about her condition for a while. There must have been a period of time when he was pretty upset about Mary and her apparent unfaithfulness, but he moves forward, steps out in faith abandoning society’s opinion, to stand by her and to take on the responsibility of raising God’s Son.

And Mary…The man she is to marry is not the biological father of her child. He is ready to call the whole marriage off. He is hurt and angry that she would betray him. Imagine Mary, knowing she has never been with a man, all of a sudden – she’s going to have a baby! Imagine being woken up in the middle of the night by somethign you've never seen before telling you this crazy stuff! Luke 1:29 says she was greatly disturbed and troubled and confused. Here is this glowing being invading her home and sleep, she must have been terrified! Then, he tells her that she is going to have a baby, though she is a virgin, and that this baby is the Son of the Almighty God. Put yourself in her shoes for a moment and think about how unrealistic this would be. What would your best friend say if you told him/her?

Not only is this woman put in a situation that will ruin her reputation and marriage, but add to that – the stress of carrying in her own body, for 9 months, the Son of God. The stress is already unimaginable, and she can’t tell many people – they probably wouldn’t believe her anyway. Can you imagine what went through her mind as she thought of how to tell Joseph? Personally, I would have been a little bit miffed at God for potentially ruining my marriage and having the town talk of my alleged promiscuity. I would also have been absolutely terrified at the thought of carrying Jesus around in my womb. What if something went wrong? Premature labor? Disease or miscarriage?

But Mary put her whole self into God’s hands…In Luke 1:38, Mary says, “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be done to me according to what you have said.” She trusted Him completely for every possible circumstance, and did not worry about her reputation or marriage, but had faith that this was a very good thing. In Luke 1: 46 she praises and rejoices in God for her situation: “My soul magnifies and extols the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior for He has looked upon the low station and humiliation of His handmaiden. For behold, from now on all generations shall call me blessed and declare me happy and to be envied! Fro He who is Almighty has done great things for me – and holy is His name to be venerated in His purity, majesty and glory! And His mercy, His compassion and kindness toward the miserable and afflicted is on those who fear Him with Godly reverence from generation to generation and age to age.” Wow! She is leaning on Him, and rejoicing in her circumstance because she knows that she has been given a great privilege. This kind of faith is almost unbelievable…think about how many, years later, did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. And, Mary trusted and believed even before He was performing miracles!

As I was studying this story, trying to get a feel for the reality of Mary and Joseph’s circumstances and their journey, it also hit me that not only were they having God’s child, trying to hide from Herod and others who wanted Him dead, but I began to wonder how much they knew about the fate of Jesus, about the way He would die, what it would mean for Him to become human and be the provided sacrifice of His Father. The angel who visited Joseph told him that the baby would be a savior to his people. Angels visited the shepherds and magii to tell them of the savior, but did they know he would save the world from “failing and missing the true end and scope of life, which is God” by being tortured and dying the death of crucifixion?

Luke 2 describes the visit from the angel to the shepherds. The angel told them about the birth of the savior, and the shepherds went immediately to Bethlehem to see for themselves the baby who would one day reunite their people to God. They told Mary and Joseph what the angel said, so Mary must also have known by this revelation (if not before) that her baby was going to be a savior, she knew what He came for, but did she know the depth of it? There is a verse that implies her struggle after the shepherd visited in Luke 2:19: “But Mary was keeping within herself all of these things, weighing and pondering them in her heart.” What was she weighing and pondering? How her son would grow up? How he would save her people? Or did she know the difficult time she would have when she saw Him on the cross?

Reading further on in Luke, there is the time that Jesus was to be circumcised…Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to Jerusalem for His purification and dedication. There was a man named Simeon, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ. He came into the temple during the dedication service and took the child in his arms. What he said must have given Mary knowledge of how Jesus would die? That is sort of how I am interpreting this: “For with my own eyes (he is praying to God here) I have seen Your salvation which You have ordained and prepared before (in the presence of) all peoples. A light for revelation to the Gentiles (to disclose what was before unknown) and (to bring) praise and honor and glory to Your people Israel.” And his legal father and His mother were marveling at what was said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed and destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against – and a sword will pierce through your own soul also – that the secret thoughts and purposes of many hearts may be brought out and disclosed. Is this sword symbolic of the sword that would pierce Jesus’s side to ensure His death?

There is such depth here in Mary and Joseph’s journey with Jesus. What is revealed is their complete abandonment to God, complete lack of fear when so much lay before them, complete trust, resting in the Father’s arms, letting Him guide their steps. What strength they must have had, as they too set their faces as flint to see to it that their baby would grow up to die, but the depth of it…that their baby would grow up to love and teach and share goodness and then be the ultimate sacrifice of God Himself to be the new covenant, to be the bridge, to allow those who had completely denied God to be able to be with God.

I love the amplified’s interpretation of this story mostly because of the line in Matthew: for He will save His people from their sins (that is, prevent them from failing and missing the true end and scope of life, which is God). I love this because it puts the focus on the journey instead of the end destination. Although the destination is described as being perfect and amazing, we are given this life as well. The salvation that Jesus brings was in His death, but also in His life, His teachings and example…and by failing, maybe this word refers to failing in our lives as not realizing the teaching of Jesus and the example of His love, missing out on the goodness of life, missing the journey of knowing God, not just in order to get to heaven, but to know who He is and who we are to Him. The end scope of life is God, not the rules we follow, or even the death of Christ, but God Himself (through Whom we cannot have access without the death of Christ, Who IS Christ...this is pretty complicated!), Who we either see or miss every day of the life that has been given us – in others, in creation and nature, in love, in opportunity, in happiness and joy, and in the quest for truth.

What could be “living life to the fullest” more than abandoning yourselves to God, living recklessly (by society’s definition) for the Creator such as Mary and Joseph did so long ago?

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Postmodern vs modern Christianity, maybe...

Warning: You will need a lot of time (it's really too long) and an open mind to read this!

It is so windy!!! I awoke at 2:50am, and laid in bed, stomach growling and having to pee until 3:45 am. So, I am up! I've had coffee and a bagel, washed dishes, and read 20 pages of a book. For the past half hour the wind has been rattling the windows of our house, causing the wood frame to creak and groan and the outside motion sensor lights to keep coming on...there is something unsettling about this. My mind is reeling and creating all kinds of possible causes for the lights going on and off, while trying to focus on this book...on postmodern Christianity. I think it's great so far, but it has stirred some emotion that has been at rest for quite some time. Even realizing that the emotion has been at rest or subdued, or suppressed make me wonder...
All of this postmodern stuff is really new to me, so forgive me if I don't fully understand it yet...

The idea of an era moving from modern to postmodern has been obvious for a few years in every aspect of my life except in my faith. This is probably because of my conservative upbringing and the way I was taught not to rock the boat and to perform like a good litle level headed strong modern Christian who is known for her restraint, control, and grace - none of which I have except for the grace given to me by God.

And so...even my political views, being somewhat to the left of "conservativism" were seen as merely amusing and something for entertainment almost, until this past presidential election (I promise this isn't what this is about!!! Just hang in there...), which seemingly divided the 2 parties on the basis of religion or lack thereof: Republicans = Christians, Democrats = liberal heathens OR unfortunately lost and misguided innocents. Somehow, I seemed to have been grouped in the latter category. This is the issue that the book brings to mind. Previously, I blogged about the frustration of having to choose a candidate - and I wrote about several issues I find important, even an integral part to, the goodness of Christ, the church, being Christ-like. But most of these issues have not been the agenda for the modern church (Don't try to find it by the way - I've taken it off).

I wish I could put this in better words. I'm beginning to see that within the split in the parties also lies the divide between modern Christians and Postmodern Christians....and that maybe in our modernity, we have forgotten our own ability to err, or more gently put, to NOT be right 100% of the time. Here is a quote from the book (A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren):

"Very often", he explained, "debates in the church occur on this level. There are all kinds of positions on an issue along this line, with the most extreme positions being here and here." I offered a couple of examples: "OK. So Catholics are over here, and Protestants over there. Calvinists are over here, and Arminians are over there. And charismatics are here and anticharismatics over there. And we could do the same on the issus of pacifism, inerrancy of the Bible, women in leadership, how the church should treat homosexuals, and -"
"Exactly," he interrupted. "Now, almost all debate in the church takes place on this line. The issue is where the RIGHT point on the line is. So people pick and defend their points. Each person's point becomes THE point in his or her mind. Here's what I'm suggesting: What if the point-defending approach is, pardon the pun, pointless? In other words, what if the position God wants ut to take isn't on that line at all but somewhere up here?" He was moving his hand in a small circle, palm down, about a foot above the line he had drawn in the dust.
"So you're saying," I replied, "that we have to transcend the normal level of discourse. That makes sense to me. I mean, Jesus did that sort of thing all of the time. Like with the woman at the well in John 4. The big debate is over where people should worship, on this mountain or that mountain. Jesus doesn't choose one point or the other; he says that the answer is on this higher level, that what God wants is for us to worship him in spirit and in truth, wherever we are. Both mountains are good places to worship, so in that way both sides are right. But where you worship isn't the point at all, so in that way both sides are wrong."

Sorry! That was kind of long...This view sees Christianity as having become the issue of many debates. Let's say I may agree with this, I also agree with a point the author makes about modern Christianity(for the most part, but not all) being more about BEING RIGHT than about SEEKING GOD. Instead of truly seeking God and waiting on His answer we tend to use His name and say, "Well, the Lord says..." often times interpreting the Bible based only upon our point of view, which according to McLaren is mostly formed due to the modern era? I think...which also makes this Christian viewpoint behind the times of most of the secular world in terms of thought.

We are still trying to prove we are right, but most people are looking for answers to deeper questions! McLaren suggests for the postmodernist, the question is more about "if we're good than if we're right." This was the point I was trying to make in the blog so long ago...another quote by McLaren:

"If we Christians would take all the energy we put into proving we are right and others are wrong, and invest that energy in pursuing and doing good, somehow I think that more people would believe we are right...truth means more than factual accuracy. It means being in sync with God." Right on.

And so, when people I did not know (presumably Christians) responded to me by telling me more or less that, "It's okay, God's in control, you are just a little lost right now... I can see you are struggling with a lot, but maybe you don't have a grasp of what it is to live by faith...the choice is will later see that you were not quite right about these issues"etc..., it seems those comments were a response to someone bucking the system or going against the status quo. At first I tried to take those comments as gifts of wisdom from people who may know more than me...but NO! That's not right at all - it WAS just another example of how the modern Christian has become so stuck in a paradigm of old, and is still fighting to control perspectives on Christ and the Bible. That sounds really really anti-Christian, right? But, open your mind a bit, and understand that I am a Christian and am taking a risk here.

The Bible tells me that the Holy Spirit is my guide, and that Christ is my leader, and if I'm to take the words of wisdom from those whom I may have offended that day (so sorry) to heart - considering that God is in control, then He is guiding my thoughts and directing me to conclusions if I am genuinely seeking Him alone. Again, most importantly, we seek His face alone. Not the church, not our parents, not our spouses, but we look to Him for answers first. He then may guide us to someone or someone to us for the answer...sometimes. His ways may offend some, but Jesus offended many who were stuck in their own legalistic church regimes when He walked the earth. His ways are not our ways. His loves is not all about a bunch of rules that we need to follow to be "right" or acepted. It's free. It's totally free.

And that, strangely enough, will offend many in the church today who have built their whole theology upon sin and hell and fear and punishment, those who have control over others by using these tactics. Scary, huh? But, I think it's very scary to some to think that we can begin to focus on the love of God - who He is and what we look like to Him. When that love is formed, and that intimacy cultivated, He is wooing us to Him, and we will no longer be satisfied by sin. We won't want to prostitute ourselves or torment our bodies or hurt others because there is something more satisfying in God's love, and when we begin to let Him in, He will root out anger and hurt by revealing His heart to us and His love for us (of course this is a lot more complicated than words may imply, it really is a process, and sometimes a painful one).

It's backwards from what the typical modern church tells us today - we must forget our old ways and stop sinning and then we will become closer to God. In actuality, when we become closer to God, those things will fade, our past will be made new and our desire for sin will be replaced with a desire for Him. It has happened in my own life! I never thought it would...and I'm not perfect - I still have issues and may get angry with people, but the things that used to make me feel better temporarily are no longer a part of my life, only because I am just not interested anymore in getting high or drunk because I would rather experience what God is doing in reality.

And so, maybe there is a way around all of the "hell-fire and damnation" yelling that tends to scare people off!

And, maybe we can be a little bit more open minded about the ways that God guides and speaks to us and others.