whether or not Your lips move

You speak to me

life fermatas August 20, 2013

fer·ma·ta noun \fer-ˈmä-tə\: a prolongation at the discretion of the performer of a musical note, chord, or rest beyond its given time value; also: the sign denoting such a prolongation —called also hold

In the musical world, fermatas designate to hold the note or rest longer than usual. The definition above says that it is at the performer’s discretion, which is often true. But in a chorus the length the fermata is held is up to the director. The chorus singers watch the director for that moment when he or she releases them from holding the note or rest and signals that it is time to move on.

Life is full of fermatas, isn’t it?

There are times when we are watching God… just holding on… waiting for Him to signal that it is time to move on. What do we do during those prolongations?

We keep singing the last thing we knew to sing. It can be tempting to move on to the next part of the music when it feels right or when we just get too tired of holding the same note. But if we do that, we will miss out on the beauty of experiencing the music the way it was meant to be sung. If we take things into our own hands instead of being faithful in the most recent thing to which we were called, we could miss out on experiencing the fullness of what God had planned.

We keep our eyes on the Director. Contrary to popular opinion, sometimes God does give us more than we can handle. There are many reasons for this but I believe the primary reason is to reveal to us that He is an endless supply of strength from which we can draw. So when you think you’re out of breath from holding that note, know that He is there offering for you to breathe in deep from His Spirit. (Cool fact: in the New Testament, the Greek word for spirit and breath is the same.)

We trust that whatever comes next will be worth the wait. Sometimes in choruses we sight-read, meaning we perform without having previously rehearsed or sometimes without having even seen the music beforehand. We watch the director even more closely in those times. The same is true during life fermatas–even though we don’t always know what the next part looks or sounds like, we can trust God that it will be magnificent and what is best for us.

So… hang on. Keep breathing. Keep leaning on Him. And know that whatever is coming, one way or another it is going to end up beautiful.

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I shouldn’t be alive. September 25, 2010

I’ve been fairly open about my childhood experiences and past traumas among friends, family, and church family, but not so much online. I don’t think it is wise to put too much about yourself out there for the whole world to have access to. But the more I learn about child development for my master’s degree and the deeper I dig into different types of research, the more apparent it becomes that my past experiences will play a part in my destiny.

Without airing the gory details, I will let you know that I was neglected and abused as a child. Some of that abuse was sexual, and it happened more than once and came from more than one adult. I have always had vivid memories of parts of that abuse; God has mercifully allowed my subconscious to block the rest of it. I went through most of my life overcompensating for the feelings of powerlessness, fear, abandonment, and helplessness that stemmed from those experiences. I “learned” that being alive meant being in constant danger on some level and that I was on my own. Later I would learn that, too, was a lie. Praise God that He had His hand on me from an early age and had instilled in me a love for Jesus and His Word practically from the time I learned to talk– otherwise you’d likely be reading the blog of a staunch atheist.

People with a past like mine are several times more likely to commit suicide, have 30 or more sexual partners, be drug addicts or alcoholics, and be abusers themselves. If I’m doing my reading right, the “post traumatic stress” sexual abuse victims experience can parallel what war veterans experience. As I look at these statistics of what is “normal” for someone with my experiences, I become more convinced that there is only one reason I am alive. One reason I have an ounce of compassion in me. One reason I am able to rise above all the (insert choice word here) I have gone through in my almost 30 years. And that reason is JESUS. God’s love and grace.

I think that it would be easy, and even expected, for me to use all the trauma of my past as a REASON not to believe in a loving, protecting God. I bet some people would expect it and maybe even think I had a right to it. But you know what? God didn’t MAKE those people do those things to me. Did He allow it? Yes. For only reasons He knows and perhaps has yet to reveal. But, as I live, I trust Him. I can’t always explain it. But I do.

I have had personal, close encounters with the living God that are undeniable. Beyond and through what I consider to be the total truth of the Scriptures, I have personally experienced peace that is totally and completely illogical in the face of my past. I choose to forgive the people who molested and hurt me, even though there are days I would rather not. I am not living in denial of the things that have happened to me. I am forced to deal with that reality nearly every day. The only explanation for my being alive and my being effective in any sort of way is because the power of God is in me through the Holy Spirit.

I still have problems. I still struggle with this stuff. There have been times that all I can do is scream bloody murder because I can’t handle “it,” whatever “it” is. I may always wrestle that demon of depression, but after each match it stays down for the count a little longer. Studies show that I may always have overactive fear responses and not handle stress as well as a “normal” person, which can lead to chronic health problems (anyone who knows me can see that is true). But I know that ultimately, I win. Because God wins. And I’m not talking “end times” here, although that’s obviously true. But I mean in the here and now– in whatever length of years God chooses to give me on this hunk of dirt we call earth. I have to cling to this– that He has a purpose beyond what I can understand for all the awful things I have experienced in my life. That He will use me in someone’s life– yours– to point the way to Him.

How the traumas I experienced will play out in my destiny… I don’t know what it’s going to look like. I know I have a choice in the matter though, at least as far as my attitude and response. What Satan intended for evil, God can use for good. I can allow the memories and facts to weigh me down and render me useless. Or I can use them to help myself and others.

I’m gonna have to go with the latter.

 

Culture Chameleon? June 2, 2010

Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!
(1 Cor. 9:19-23, The Message)

I’ve been thinking a lot about how Paul sought to be “all things to all people” so that he could build relationships with them and hope that they might trust Jesus. I particularly like the way Peterson paraphrased it in The Message (see above). Even though Paul had the freedom to do whatever he felt was necessary, Paul modified his behavior so as not to offend the people he was with. When he was with the Jews, he wouldn’t go eating a big slice of ham, even though he had the freedom to do so. When he was with the Gentiles, he wouldn’t berate them for not being circumcised and expect them to be like him.

So was Paul a “culture chameleon,” changing his stripes depending on who he was with? Weren’t we told in youth group that this was a bad thing? Haven’t we always been told that we should stand out and be different and not look like the world? Aren’t we supposed to be pointing out the errors of the world and making a difference?

I think this is really a “both/and” kind of thing. Balance is a beautiful thing, is it not?

We have to live our lives in obedience to what God has asked of us. Each follower of Christ has a special calling on his or her life, certain groups of people that he or she will be most effective among, and personality traits and talents that will support him or her in those particular endeavors. None of us is just like another. Generally speaking, we will have the same message but a myriad of ways of conveying it. My unique voice and point of view will resonate with people that perhaps yours won’t.

At the same time, however, that doesn’t mean that I can be a total jerk to certain groups of people (followers of Christ or not) that I don’t particularly like or agree with. It doesn’t mean I can come down on you for hanging out with them. It doesn’t mean that I pass judgment on you and question your every word and move if you have felt called to love that group of people. I have to trust God enough to let Him be the Holy Spirit to you and not try to take that role myself.

“But what will people think of me if I hang out with (insert group of people here)? Won’t they think I’m one of them?” Well, maybe. Jesus got called all sorts of things and people thought all kinds of incorrect things about Him simply based on who He spent time with. So yeah, people (even other Christ-followers) may label you something you aren’t. They might assume you’re “sinning” right along with the group of people you’re trying to love. But their opinions really can’t stop you. Not if you are following God’s call on your life to reach them.

Besides, you’re not going to be taking on their way of life; you’re going to “keep your bearings in Christ.” The point is, you will be entering their world to “experience things from their point of view.” You’re going to attempt to see things the way they do. You’re going to try to empathize with their feelings. You’re going to try to figure out what motivates them, what hurts them, what offends them, what makes them joyful. You’re going to spend a lot of time with them in order to reach this goal. And in the process, you will have earned the right to be heard. They just might actually believe you when you tell them you love them, and that Jesus does, too.

At the same time, you’ll need to remember that not everybody is going to understand what the heck you’re doing. You’ll need to find your self-esteem in God and not people’s approval. You’ll also need to deal gently with the people who misunderstand you, and be aware that there may be certain things like particular actions or phrases that are offensive to them. Know your audience as best you can, and do everything you can to live peaceably with all people (Romans 12:18).

Wow. This is a tough balance. Be true to who you are and your mission in Christ AND at the same time be mindful of who you’re with? Stay true to your calling, not walking on eggshells around those who judge you WHILE still being sensitive to them? Definitely an ongoing, developing balance that only the Holy Spirit can bring to a person’s life.

So. Maybe being a “culture chameleon” isn’t such a bad thing. Some people call the art of knowing how to communicate truth without being offensive tact. Most of us could probably stand to have a little more of it. Maybe we could get so good at it we could even be accused of “speaking the truth in love.”

 

three things to talk about January 31, 2010

Filed under: discipleship,faith,grace,relationship with God,salvation — Ash @ 1:34 am

I wrote this blog more than a year ago and just ran across it among my “draft” posts. What do you think? Please be kind… these were/are honest struggles… not a “church-trashing, Christian-bashing” session.

Bear with me on this… I’m really processing through some questions and thoughts right now. Things I’ve been thinking about and mulling over for a long time, and things that have recently been stirred again.

1. No one in the New Testament ever prayed a “sinner’s prayer”.

Is the “sinner’s prayer” a tradition of man?

“Disregarding the command of God, you keep the tradition of men. … You revoke God’s word by your tradition” (Mark 7:8,13a, HCSB).

So… is the “sinner’s prayer” a religious tool to try to show God our sincerity? Did we come up with it some time in the past so we could “systematize” repentance and keep track of who is on which side? Was the “sinner’s prayer” a 20th-century human device meant to help institutions keep track of converts at huge gatherings? Do we (Christians) have people (sinners) pray it so we can feel like we have a “for sure” mark next to their names on our “Project Convert” list and not have to worry about them anymore? I don’t mean to sound so cynical… I don’t like sounding cynical…

Can we safely say that repentance (changing one’s direction in life) is an ongoing process that takes place as one grows as a disciple of Jesus? Or does it have to be a one-time, cut-and-dry, clearly-marked-on-the-calendar event?

Is it just easier to have a prayer to pray rather than encourage a longer contemplation of the costs of being a disciple of Christ?

27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
28 “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?
29 “Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him,
30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
(Luke 14:27-30, NASB)

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
25 “For whoever wishes to save his life [Or soul ] will lose it; but whoever loses his life [Or soul ] for My sake will find it.
26 “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
(Matthew 16:24-26, NASB)

2. Instead, baptism seems to be the way New Testament believers identified themselves as Christ-followers.

I don’t believe that Jesus taught baptism secures salvation for a person. It seems to me that He was more concerned with discipleship and that we believe Him (really trust Him and take Him at His word, not just “believe in” Him) and follow Him in fruitful relationship:

11 “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.
12 “Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.
13 “Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they [Lit who believe ] believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.
14 “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.
15 “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance [Or steadfastness].
(Luke 8:11-15, NASB)

From what I can tell, once Jesus had returned to heaven, people conversed with Jesus’ disciples and lived around them day-to-day, and decided to follow Christ because of the disciples’ words and actions (they were known by their love for one another). Those who believed were then baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as Jesus commanded. Again, can we safely say that repentance (changing one’s direction in life) is an ongoing process that takes place as one grows as a disciple of Jesus? Or does it have to be a one-time, cut-and-dry, clearly-marked-on-the-calendar event?

Jesus never taught easy believism. Whether he was telling the rich young ruler to sell all and follow him or telling a miracle-hungry crowd near Capernaum that to do the work of God was, yes, to believe on him (John 6:28-29), he called people to abandon their own agenda and trust him radically. Radical trust calls for both belief and action.

I suggest that we tend to confuse the beginning of the faith journey with its entirety. Yes, believe in Jesus—that’s the first step. Yes, invite Jesus into your heart as your personal Savior. Then, empowered by God’s grace, embark on the journey of discipleship, in which you seek to love God with every fiber of your being, to love your neighbor as yourself, to live out God’s moral will, and to follow Jesus where he leads you, whatever the cost.

If Jesus is to be believed, inheriting eternal life involves a comprehensive divine assessment at every step along our journey, not just at its inception. [emphasis added]

Mediocrity and hypocrisy characterize the lives of many avowed Christians, at least in part because of our default answer to the salvation question. Anyone can, and most Americans do, “believe” in Jesus rather than some alternative savior. Anyone can, and many Americans sometimes do, say a prayer asking Jesus to save them. But not many embark on a life fully devoted to the love of God, the love of neighbor, the moral practice of God’s will, and radical, costly discipleship.

(David P. Gushee, “Jesus and the Sinner’s Prayer,” Christianity Today online, March 2007)

If we believe “inheriting eternal life involves a comprehensive divine assessment at every step along our journey,” does this mean we believe we can “lose” our salvation? Or, more importantly: within the context of relationship, is “eternal security of salvation” even an issue? (As in, would a father tell his beloved daughter she was disowned if she came home after being in another state for a long time?) I’d venture to say no.

3. God didn’t make up religion. People did.

Doing something for or giving something to a deity in order to get something/avoid something is religious. If you want rain, you do this for that god. If you are grateful to the god, you give this much. If you want the god to not be angry, you give this much. You never know how much is enough, however.

God (the One True God, YHWH) made the move to us first and doesn’t work that way. He asks us to completely trust Him within relationship. This is not religious. The implications of the relationship—forgiveness, love, peace, eternal life, the filling of the Spirit, the way we live as a result—are not religious. If the implications of the relationship become a means to an end, it is religion, not relationship. If doing or not doing/having/being something (or the ANXIETY of doing or not doing/having/being something) becomes a focal point, that is religion, not relationship.

Do you think that is accurate?

Am I just thinking too hard?

 

Memory markers October 29, 2009

This week I was reminded of the importance of remembering.

One of my favorite hymns is “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” My favorite line is “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; Hither by Thy help I’m come; And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home: Jesus sought me when a stranger, Wandering from the fold of God; He, to rescue me from danger, Interposed His precious blood.”

I’ve heard that some churches have rewritten this line because the word “Ebenezer” just makes everyone think of Scrooge. Well, this week in community group, I led us in investigating this word, its meaning, and the implications for us.

Ebenezer means “stone of help.” In 1 Samuel 7, after the Israelites had defeated the Philistines, Samuel set up a rock and named it Ebenezer.

Now, to us this would probably be a bit of a strange sight. But not for them; setting up a bunch of rocks was extremely meaningful. Later when their children or others would ask, “Hey…why is there this big pile of rocks here?” or “Why does this rock have a name?” it would be a perfect opportunity to tell them a story of God’s intervention and deliverance. Over and over in Scripture, God tells His people to REMEMBER. Throughout the Bible there are certain stories that are repeated (particularly the exodus) so that future generations would REMEMBER.

Last night we talked about this story and shared our own stories of God’s intervention. Every person has at least one. And the more you view the world as full of miracles, the more you tend to notice them.

One of my favorite things to do in the world is to listen to others tell stories of how God has “interrupted their day” as our pastor, Gary, would say. I remember my grandfather telling us the story of how he felt an angel holding his arm back from whacking off all his fingers with a butcher knife while he was trying to cut off a piece of chocolate from a huge brick of it. Last night we shared stories of how details worked out to bring us all to living in Nashville. I can recall countless miracles that have happened to those I know, from “big” stuff like being freed from addiction or walking away from a deadly wreck, down to “small” stuff like a narrow miss or being at the right place at the right time.

I think it’s important to make “memory markers” of some sort that can help us remember these events. Because there are going to be times when even though we are being obedient and loving God with all we’ve got, we will be so low and discouraged that we wonder if God forgot us or if we heard Him right in the first place. There are going to be times when we just don’t understand why a certain situation is going the way it is, or why a certain loved one is being the way they are. We’re going to feel lost and alone and like maybe God is mad at us.

These are the times we’ve got to remember. These are the times we need to recall the TRUE nature of God—that He loves us deeply and will never let us go through anything that can’t be worked out for our own good in the end. That He has rescued us before and He will do it again. I don’t know about you, but I desperately need that hope!

What do you use as these “reminders?” A ring or bracelet? A tattoo? A poster on the wall? A big rock in your front yard? Whatever would serve as a good reminder to you of how God has intervened in your life in the past, I recommend having one on hand at all times. He’s brought you this far and won’t ever leave you. Don’t give yourself a chance to forget His love and power that is at work within you.