Friday, October 28, 2005

Mrs. Right, Schmisses Right

by Beth Parent

I guess it was mid-college some time when I first encountered the concept of becoming Mrs. Right rather than spending all my single years looking for Mr. Right. It was revolutionary for me. Until then, I’d spent years upon years wondering or blatantly pointing out what was wrong with all the men I knew. I had never even considered the fact that maybe I needed some improvements. I set to work immediately.

My faith journey went on a roller coaster of a ride as I sought God for my own selfish reasons, trying to “get something out of Him” that I had predetermined was necessary. I finally came to a point where I realized that seeking God for a husband or a career or a pony is not only equally ridiculous, but none of it is seeking God at all.

For all my underlining and highlighting in Paul’s exhortations to the Ephesians about the roles of husbands and wives, I wasn’t any closer to God or a wedding. I wasn’t getting to know God at all and was therefore failing egregiously in my attempts to better myself because everything I’d learned was still only serving to make me more and more selfish. I gave it all up.

I started to really ask questions about God, leaving off any tempting addendums about husbands or boyfriends. I started looking for answers to questions about who He is. I talked about Him with my friends. We studied the Bible together. We learned about His character, His love, His pursuit of us and His Son. We challenged each other and held each other accountable for our actions (and our inaction). We reached out to others. We fell. We picked each other up. We sinned. We loved and prayed for each other. We grew.

College ended, a year passed, graduate school began, a year passed, I went on a spirited jaunt across Europe, months passed, graduate school ended, months have passed, and here I am. It has been years since I first started trying to become Mrs. Right, and I am still single. It recently occurred to me that there must be something terribly wrong with me that I remain alone whilst my strong and steady single friends are slowly becoming extinct. Did they achieve Mrs. Right status, leaving me drowning in their wake? How did they know what to do? And why didn’t they clue me in?

There is a horrendous problem with the suggestion that we should spend our time as singles becoming the right person for someone else; it makes us believe that until we find that someone, there is something wrong with us. If we spend our time, energy and emotions preparing for some unknowable, unforeseeable future mate who will be the indication that we’ve finally bettered ourselves enough to deserve the love that goes hand in hand with marriage, and that mate doesn’t come, we receive a message that we are unworthy of marriage, unworthy of love, unlovable. We are less of a man or less of a woman because of our singleness. And that message is a complete and utter lie.

Our femininity/masculinity is simply part of our humanity, and we are absolutely not less of a human being because we aren’t sharing our lives with another human being in matrimony. It is not our spouse’s job to make us fully ourselves. Nor is it for them that we become so. To make our time as singles all about our spouse is idolatry and lies. To make our marriage all about our spouse is no different. Nothing is about us, and nothing is about them; it’s all about Him.

A good friend of mine always says that marriage is not for our happiness but for our holiness. I say the same goes for singleness. God is constantly shaping us into the likeness of Christ. He is preparing us for an eternity with Him, not a lifetime with another person.

I operated for years under the false assumption that I wasn’t married because I wasn’t “ready.” What I thought that meant, I have no idea. I just figured that when I was “ready,” God would usher in Mr. Wonderful and we would live happily ever after. As existential as it may sound, I think now that the only real reason I’m not married is because I’m single.

As long as I’m following the will of God, then each phase of life is a purposeful part of that will. My life could have taken an infinite number of different routes, but the decisions I’ve made up to this point have led me here. There are a couple of men I probably could have married if I’d set my mind to it, but obviously I didn’t want to, so I shouldn’t complain about being single. It’s right where I’m supposed to be - not because I’m not “ready” yet, not because I haven’t fixed all of the annoying things I do, and certainly not because God is in some way holding out on me.

In an article I’ve kept for years, Paige Benton spells it out: “If he fluctuated one quark in his goodness, he would cease to be God....I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, because that is his best for me. It is a cosmic impossibility that anything could be better for me right now than being single.”

But just to be clear, I would like to be married some day. I haven’t given up on that yet. And I haven’t kissed dating goodbye. Shoot, I haven’t kissed anything since the late 90's. So bring it on.

I've been thinking lately about this idea of how, in longing for the future, we miss out on living fully in the present.

I want to experience life in the light of His presence to the fullest measure today...not when I get married, not when I finally figure what my gifts are, not when I get this or get that. You don't become happier because you've made it. No, now, in the present, in this moment...there is joy, there is fullness in His presence.

Yergh. So thankful for the right now.
Christian salt has no business to remain snugly in elegant ecclesiastical salt cellars; our place is to be rubbed into the secular community, as salt is rubbed into meat, to stop it going bad. And when society does go bad, we Christians tend to throw up our hands in pious horror and reproach to the non Christian world; but should we not rather reproach ourselves? One can hardly blame unsalted meat for going bad. It cannot do anything else. The real question to ask is: Where is the salt?

"Obedience by itself (without relationship) is the most insidious of all temptations. It is the ontological source and motive behind obedience that gives it its character. Thus obedience is not the central motive in the life of Jesus as sheer ethical demand. Rather, it is the inner life of sonship that comes to expression through his obedience that characterizes Jesus. And it is in this sonship that we find the motif of self-emptying carried out through his identity with both the sinner as the object of divine love as well as with the Father as the source of love. Indeed, it may be said that in this sonship there is displayed not only the love of the Father for the world but the love of the Son for the Father who loves the world"

(Ray Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology, 2001, 114)

Monday, October 10, 2005

A faith revolution is redefining 'church'

For decades the primary way that Americans have experienced and expressed their faith has been through a local church. That reality is rapidly changing, according to researcher George Barna, whose new book on the transitioning nature of America's spirituality, entitled 'Revolution', describes what he believes will be the most massive reshaping of the nation's faith community in more than a century.

Relying upon national research conducted over the past several years, Barna profiles a group of more than 20 million adults throughout the nation labeled 'revolutionaries'. He noted that although measures of traditional church participation in activities such as worship attendance, Sunday school, prayer, and Bible reading have remained relatively unchanged during the past twenty years, the Revolutionary faith movement is growing rapidly.

"These are people who are less interested in attending church than in being the church," he explained. "We found that there is a significant distinction in the minds of many people between the local church - with a small 'c' - and the universal Church - with a capital 'C'. Revolutionaries tend to be more focused on being the Church, capital C, whether they participate in a congregational church or not."

"A common misconception about revolutionaries," he continued, "is that they are disengaging from God when they leave a local church. We found that while some people leave the local church and fall away from God altogether, there is a much larger segment of Americans who are currently leaving churches precisely because they want more of God in their life but cannot get what they need from a local church. They have decided to get serious about their faith by piecing together a more robust faith experience. Instead of going to church, they have chosen to be the Church, in a way that harkens back to the Church detailed in the Book of Acts."

BIG CHANGES IN THE MAKING

One of the most eye-opening portions of the research contained in the book describes what the faith community may look like twenty years from now. Using survey data and other cultural indicators he has been measuring for more than two decades, Barna estimates that the local church is presently the primary form of faith experience and expression for about two-thirds of the nation's adults. He projects that by 2025 the local church will lose roughly half of its current 'market share' and that alternative forms of faith experience and expression will pick up the slack. Importantly, Barna's studies do not suggest that most people will drop out of a local church to simply ignore spirituality or be freed up from the demands of church life. Although there will be millions of people who abandon the entire faith community for the usual reasons - hurtful experiences in churches, lack of interest in spiritual matters, prioritizing other dimensions of their life - a growing percentage of church dropouts will be those who leave a local church in order to intentionally increase their focus on faith and to relate to God through different means.

That growth is fueling alternative forms of organized spirituality, as well as individualized faith experience and expression. Examples of these new approaches include involvement in a house church, participation in marketplace ministries, use of the Internet to satisfy various faith-related needs or interests, and the development of unique and intense connections with other people who are deeply committed to their pursuit of God.

SEVEN PASSIONS OF THE REVOLUTIONARY

In the effort to increase their obedience and faithfulness to God, Barna discovered that Revolutionaries are characterized by what he identified as a set of spiritual passions - seven specific emphases that drive their quest for God and a biblical lifestyle. Although these are areas of spiritual development that most local churches address, millions of adults who are the most serious about their faith in God were the ones least likely to be satisfied by what their local church was delivering in terms of resources, opportunities, evaluation and developmental possibilities. The consequence is that millions of committed born again Christians are choosing to advance their relationship with God by finding avenues of growth and service apart from a local church.

Asked if this meant that the Revolution he describes is simply a negative reaction to the local church, he suggested that most Revolutionaries go through predictable phases in their spiritual journey in which they initially become dissatisfied with their local church experience, then attempt to change things so their faith walk can be more fruitful. The result is that they undergo heightened frustration over the inability to introduce positive change, which leads them to drop out of the local church altogether, often in anger. But because this entire adventure was instigated by their love for God and their desire to honor Him more fully, they finally transcend their frustration and anger by creating a series of connections that allow them to stay close to God and other believers without involvement in a local church.

One of the hallmarks of the Revolution of faith is how different it is for each person. "It would be wrong to assume that all Revolutionaries have completely turned their back on the local church," the researcher stated. "Millions of Revolutionaries are active in a local church, although most of them supplement that relationship with participation in a variety offaith-related efforts that have nothing to do with their local church. The defining attribute of a Revolutionary is not whether they attend church, but whether they place God first in their lives and are willing to do whatever it takes to facilitate a deeper and growing relationship with Him and other believers. Our studies persuasively indicate that the vast majority of American churches are populated by people who are lukewarm spiritually. Emerging from those churches are people dedicated to becoming Christ-like through the guidance of a congregational form of the church, but who will leave that faith center if it does not further such a commitment to God. They then find or create alternatives that allow that commitment to flourish."

How do most Revolutionaries justify calling themselves devoted disciples of Christ while distancing themselves from a local church? "Many of them realize that someday they will stand before a holy God who will examine their devotion to Him. They could take the safe and easy route of staying in a local church and doing the expected programs and practices, but they also recognize that they will not be able to use a lackluster church experience as an excuse for a mediocre or unfulfilled spiritual life. Their spiritual depth is not the responsibility of a local church; it is their own responsibility. As a result, they decide to either get into a local church that enhances their zeal for God or else they create alternatives that ignite such a life of obedience and service. In essence, these are people who have stopped going to church so they can be the Church."

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

While the Revolution brings with it some very promising qualities - an intense pursuit of godliness, new networks of believers supporting each other, heightened financial giving to ministry endeavors, greater sensitivity to the presence of God in the world, a greater sense of freedom to be a genuine disciple in the midst of a secular society - Barna also pointed out that the Revolution brings great challenges to those who choose that pathway.

"There is the danger of exposure to unbiblical or heretical teaching. Thereis the possibility of experiencing isolation from a true community of believers and the accountability and support that can provide. It could become easier to hoard one's treasures rather than giving generously. Some might find it more difficult to sustain a life of worship without a place or means of expressing that praise to God."

Barna contends that these are very serious challenges faced by Revolutionaries - but that they are no more serious than the threats to the spiritual health of regular church-goers. "Objectively speaking, these are the very same problems that we identify among people who rely upon the efforts of a local church to facilitate their growth. We find plentiful evidence of unbiblical teaching in small groups, Sunday school classes and other local church venues. We know that few churched Christians give 4% of their income back to God, much less 10%. We recognize that most people attending worship services in a church sanctuary leave feeling that God was not present and that they did not personally connect with the living God through that experience. We have identified the relative absence of accountability within most congregations. So even though Revolutionaries face serious challenges in blossoming into the fervent God-follower they hope to become, perhaps the main difference is simply that they have a wider range of options for achieving their faith goals than do people who are solely focused on faith delivered through a local church. In either case, it is ultimately up to the individual to make sure that they have their spiritual priorities right, that they are investing themselves in activities that draw them closer to God, and that they stay focused on pleasing God more than themselves or other people."

The explosion of Revolutionaries in the U.S., however, raises new challenges for people involved in ministry. "This new movement of God demands that there be new forms of leadership to appropriately guide people in their faith journey," Barna said. "It requires new ways of measuring how well the Church at-large is doing, getting beyond attendance figures as the indicator of health. And it demands that new tools and resources be accessible to a growing contingent of people who are seeking to introduce their faith into every dimension of their life."

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE REVOLUTION

Having written three-dozen previous books about faith and culture, Barna feels that this book may ultimately wind up being the most significant volume he has written. In the course of doing his customary national research studies, he stumbled onto the Revolution. "Having been personally frustrated by the local church, I initiated several research projects to better understand what other frustrated followers of Christ were doing to maintain their spiritual edge. What emerged was a realization that there is a large and rapidly-growing population of Christ-followers who are truly want to be like the church we read about in the book of Acts. We began tracking their spiritual activity and found that it is much more robust and significant than we ever imagined - and, frankly, more defensible than what emerges from the average Christian church. But, because the Revolution is neither organized nor designed to create an institutional presence, it typically goes undetected."

Revolution, published by Tyndale House, is what the author calls "a brief introduction to the most important spiritual movement of our age." He believes that fifty years from now historians will look back at this period and label it one of the most significant periods in American Church history. "I would not be surprised," the California-based researcher noted, "if at some point this becomes known as the Third Great Awakening in our nation's history. This spiritual renaissance is very different from the prior two religious awakenings in America, but it may well become the most profound."

LINK: http://www.barna.org


This is pretty nuts...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Legion by waiterrant.net

Beth and I are sitting outside waiting for our shift to start. Claude, our local homeless guy, shuffles past us.

“Hi Claude,” Beth says cheerily.

Claude makes no indication that he hears her.

“How ya doing Claude?” I ask. He usually responds to me.

Claude ignores me and strikes up a conversation with a lamppost. Mumbling something about the government taking away his house he kicks the lamppost and walks away.

“I’ve never seen him do that before,” Beth whispers.

“Must be off his meds,” I reply.

“He hears voices, right?” Beth asks.

“Yep.”

“How sad.”

Watching Claude as he disappears around the corner I remember a line from the Gospel of Mark.

“My name is Legion, for we are many,” I sigh.

Beth looks at me quizzically.

“It’s a line from the Bible,” I explain, “Seemed appropriate for Claude.”

“I’m not familiar with it,” Beth says.

“Jesus was going to this town to preach,” I begin to explain, “Along the way he encounters a guy kinda like Claude. The guy’s a real mess; possessed by demons, living in a cemetery, screaming and yelling all day, and cutting himself up with sharp stones.”

“Sounds like a nut,” Beth says, “What happens?”

“Jesus asks the man his name. The man replies, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.”

“Sounds like he was hearing voices,” Beth says, “Just like Claude.”

“Maybe,” I reply, “In any case, Jesus takes pity on the man and casts the demons into a herd of swine. The pigs, about two thousand of them, run off the edge of a cliff and drown themselves in a lake.”

“Wow,” Beth says, “What happened to the crazy guy?”

“He was completely healed.”

“I wish that would happen with Claude.”

“That’d be nice – but that’s not the meaning of the story,” I say.

“What is?” Beth asks.

“When the people in the town hear about the pigs going into the drink they’re terrified. They go tell Jesus to take a hike. They don’t want him anywhere near their city.”

“Why?” Beth asks.

I sigh and look at my watch, “Are you up for a mini theology lesson?”

Beth smiles. “I’ve got nothing better to do,” she says.

“What were Jews doing raising pigs?” I ask.

“Huh?” Beth says.

“Pigs are unclean animals. Jews are not supposed to eat them. Why is there a herd of pigs outside of a Jewish town?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, there were non kosher people living in Israel at that time too; Roman soldiers, Greeks, Phoenicians. Someone in that town was selling those pigs to make money.”

“I don’t follow,” Beth says.

“Bottom line,” I say, “That herd of pigs was somebody’s business.”

“Ok.”

“And Jesus destroyed that business without a second thought. Destroyed it for someone he didn’t even know.”

“Wow.”

“What do you think would happen if a Holy Man came along and cured Claude of his demons – but destroyed the Bistro in the process?”

“I’d be out of a job.”

“Would you like that?”

“No.”

“Does that jibe with how you think of God?” I ask, “Him throwing you out of work?”

“Not at all.”

“But that’s precisely what happened with the pigs. You better believe the guy tending those pigs lost his job. Maybe he caught a beating too.”

“That’s not a very nice thing for God to do,” Beth says.

“Beth,” I reply, “God isn’t always nice.”

“Guess not.”

“The world places no value in people like Claude and the possessed man,” I say, “What do you think they’re worth?”

“I don’t know,”

“To us they’re nothing. But to God they’re everything.”

Beth is silent.

“I think God’s sense of economy is very different from our own - so different it’s scary. To him the plight of one vagrant is more important than all the money in the world. And He’ll plunder our treasure to save him.”

“That would piss people off,” Beth says.

“You bet it would,” I reply, “But maybe we get pissed because we realize we’ve been investing in the wrong kind of treasure. If we all acted like human beings, if our treasure was compassion, people like Claude might have it a little easier.”

“True.”

“The townspeople, instead of being happy that their brother was saved, send Jesus away. They’re only interested in maintaining the status quo and their own comfort. They’re unwilling to open their hearts. So, in the end, the townspeople were possessed by demons far worse than anything inside Legion. That’s the true meaning of the story.”

Beth looks at me.

“You should’ve been a priest,” she says.

“Me?” I say with a laugh, “I like sex too much.”

“You think about this kind of stuff a lot though.”

“It’s a curse sometimes,” I say, “Trust me.”

“Well, thanks for telling me that story.”

We go back inside and get to work. A vague unsettled feeling falls over me. At first I think I feel weird after waxing all philosophical outside. Truth be told? Sometimes I just like to hear myself talk.

No. That isn’t it. The funk says with me all night.

When I get home I turn on the computer and start to write. I can’t think of anything so I write about my conversation with Beth. Writing this blog can be tedious at times. I can’t seem to wrestle my words into coherent form. Then again I can’t seem to write anything lately. I’ve been a bit depressed. It’s been almost a year since my ex and I broke up.

I grab a beer and go out on the porch. I listen to the wind stir the leaves in the trees.

Then I hear the demons.

They whisper about promises not kept and promise unfulfilled. They mock my choices, dangling before me lives and possibilities that could have been. The demons chatter incessantly, their voices growing. They are many. They are Legion.

The lights of passing cars cast a flickering pattern of light and shadow across the floor.

One of the shadows lingers.

“You’re a failure,” it whispers.

I look towards the corner. The shadow congeals, grows darker, and rises from the floor. Standing erect the yawning blackness moves to within an inch of my face.

This is my demon.

“And you will be alone until the day you die,” it hisses malevolently.

Suddenly I understand why I’ve felt unsettled since talking to Beth.


Something I thought I'd share.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Breaking free from domesticated Christianity....
"Being 'nice' was never one of my goals in life and being past fifty years old, I am not about to adopt that as a new goal. 'Nice' is not a fruit of the Spirit."

"
I am not more protected the more people that are praying for me. Where is that in the bible? The issue is whether or not I am in Christ and boldly obedient to Him no matter what my circumstances."

"Graham Cook says, 'I have seen many eunuchs in the house of the Lord and very few fruitful sons” (A Divine Confrontation, page 99). Yes, amen! Men who are faithful to the meetings and to the programs! Men who are submitted. But men who have no faith to do anything for God! Some of the most faithful people have the least faith! I have seen men who are totally loyal to a certain 'spiritual house' to the point of disloyalty to the house which Jesus is building."

The last one hit me pretty hard. This one is crazy in its implications. Like...its possible to be faithful but to the WRONG THING. Gosh. Its like building a house and being completely diligent and focused in doing it, but do it on the wrong foundation.

o_0. I don't want to be a eunuch anymore. Its time to rise up as a son.

Need to start looking for the places God is at. Where His Presence is evidently moving in imperfect people...how many times have I continued laboring where the cloud of His presence has lifted! C'mon man...the grace has lifted...

SOURCE.

Monday, October 03, 2005

9) and feeling that pang that let me know that I fully believe, in my heart that even if Christianity wasn't 't real and Jesus wasn't real and Heaven wasn't real:
" Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side ven if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live like a Narnian even if there isn't any Narnia."
- The Silver Chair (Chapter12, "The Queen of Underland")

Yes. True.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Wise

Wise words from the sister:
quiet, submissive GIRLS STAY IN KITCHEN and make sandwiches IFFFF the GUYS can TAKE CARE OF THE REST OF THE HOUSE
Haha :)