Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Nix the Killjoys in 2010

I'd like to make some improvements in 2010, but they have little to do with tangible "resolutions." They have everything to do with motivations, the stuff of the heart, the invisibles of life. The beneath-the-surface intentions that our heavenly Father knows and looks on--not the outward appearances. 
A few weeks back, the husband and I were in Ohio, taking his 86-year-old father to visit two of his brothers, a sister, and a cousin. The rest of the clan are now in their 70s and 80s. When Jesse James came up in conversation and someone asked about him, I said he rode motorcycles. David's dad wasn't talking about Sandra Bullock's husband, though, he was talking about the original Jesse James. (smile!) And so goes the conversation when we visit the relatives--always reaching back into the past, dusting off memories and reliving them by talking about them, holding them up in the light as you might hold up a beautiful piece of crystal, one by one.

Alice, the sister, with her beautiful curly white hair and sparkly personality, adds vibrancy to the room, and I imagine her as the child Alice, buddying up to her brothers and floating through the days with wonder, exuberance, and joy. Her story further illustrated my impressions, as she reverted back to her childhood, when she might have been six or seven.

There were 11 kids in all, and Alice was outside of the house one day, twirling across the driveway in dramatic fashion, all the while singing with abandon. Heaven knows how long this went on, though it might have been awhile. Alice might not have noticed their next-door neighbor, Tillie, who was tilling in the garden, working the soil, in the house directly next to their driveway.

But in a flash, Alice felt sprinkles, rain even, which turned out to be their 80+ year old neighbor, turning her garden hose on Alice, hoping to stifle the incessant singing and dancing she witnessed. And for the moment, Tillie succeeded: Alice dashed into the house, probably crying by then, sharing her tale of woe.

As it turns out, Alice's brother Mickey experienced the wrath of Tillie on another occasion, when he himself became a victim of the garden hose. Tillie pretended as if nothing happened at all, but the wet spots on the pavement told another story. The neighborhood killjoy had little patience for the joy of childhood, even if they never set foot on her property, which they were extremely careful not to do.

But in the end, the bitter taste the children experienced from their next-door hose-sprayer would vanish: both Mickey and Alice have easy smiles and gracious hearts today. You can't let the killjoys ruin your happiness or steal your gumption. You've got to listen to a different voice. In the case of Alice and Mickey, it's the voice of abundant life found in John 10:10. The voice of Christ himself, which brings us the hope that allows us to stand upright, to carry on, to extend His gracious rule and relationship however we can with whomever we can.

I, myself, am determined to nix the killjoys in 2010.
  • I hope for a more unselfish heart, as I ask my heavenly Father how I might please him in each and every interaction, until love, not selfishness, becomes a more ready default response.
  • I desire a child to hold and to celebrate, and since God has given me this desire, I refuse to deny it, though I am in my 37th year, and it would be easy to move on and redirect my energies into a full-fledged career or something I have more control over.
  • I thrill at the opportunity to discover and learn more about my heavenly Father by attending seminary, and I will continue to take classes, no matter if others think I should be elsewhere, since I answer to my Savior, and not the whims and fancies of others around me.
  • I watch for God working around me, and will continue to ask Him how I might join Him in His work, even if the Holy Spirit leads me to step out of my comfort zone, and I am asked to do something that makes me uncomfortable. I pray for grace to obey, wholeheartedly, and not grudgingly.
  • I pray and I want to pray more--not to satisfy a resolution, but to walk so closely with Jesus that His heart beats inside of mine, and people are drawn to Him just by observing the way He continues to overhaul my heart.
  • I love my husband, and I want to love him better in 2010, to encourage and delight in him, as a picture of how God and his church are meant to relate to one another. This will inevitably mean more of dying to myself in the best possible way.
  • I will teach in the new year, especially the message of freedom for women, single or married, that God lays out for His ezers in Genesis 2. I'm going to do this even though it will be unsettling for some to hear and liberating for others. I will teach the truth because God says it will set us free--and because I am called and responsible for using the gifts He has given.
  • I will embark on new writing adventures in my business because writing is one of the things I do best and in which I feel most alive. If God wants to bless my efforts, I will rejoice in expanding my territory, and if He wants to bless them quietly and without fanfare, I will still do my part. I want to be faithful in the little things--excellent in all, because my work reflects my Creator.
  • I will seek beauty in everyone and in every place I can in 2010, because the beauty of God's Creation is the best reminder of His otherness, His sovereignty, and His glory.
  • I will not allow the killjoys of life to remove the grace, winsomeness, love, wonder, expectation, hope, or vision God is fashioning in me. Not in 2010, and with God's help, not ever.
Please post something you won't allow the killjoys of life to take from you in 2010...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Is "virgin birth theology" optional?

This morning's Sunday School discussion got me thinking.

Some scholars who say they are Christians say "yes," they can be Christians and deny the virgin birth. Obviously, they aren't standing with those of us who embrace the Apostles' Creed and the veracity of the gospel accounts. They're thinking quite pragmatically, and claiming that the "virgin" part of the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke was not central in importance, nor can it be verified by an extrabiblical source.  They're wondering why Mark, the first gospel written, doesn't even mention that Jesus was born of a virgin. (And, although I didn't hear this stated, I have to wonder if they believe Joseph's call to obedience--and chastity--would have held out until Mary had given birth.)

Now to fast forward--we learned awhile back that the Resurrection of Christ is a verifiable fact--that is, it is corroborated by other literature, by a hefty amount of witnesses, and even by the "seemingly contradictory" internal evidence of the gospel accounts. (No one trying to prove something would have had such different impressions; they were simply recording what they observed, from each individual's perspective.)

The virgin birth story, however, is not quite so easy to prove. I can tell you what the angel said--that "nothing is impossible with God," but if you don't have faith in the biblical account, and in the ability of God to do miracles, you're likely to shrug me off, to deny it altogether, or to come up with some outlandish "spontaneous generation" theory. (And BTW, we learned that when select species from the animal kingdom do "spontaneously generate" a new life without coitus, they give birth to a female, never a male. Of course, we don't have the ability to do this as humans, though one episode of the TV show House might have you believe otherwise.)

As our teacher, Doug, outlined today, the virgin birth in the Jewish culture, where people were waiting for the Messiah, was an affront. For if Jesus was the one foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures, then He would demand absolute allegiance. He would be Emmanuel, God with us. And He would literally change everything.

Today, for 21st century humans, it is just as difficult to accept a virgin conception as it would have been for 1st century Jews. "On the other hand," (as Tevye often says in "My Fair Lady") the author of Luke is trustworthy with historical notations that can be checked. If we think about it, we must realize that there was no need for the early church to invent a virgin conception--in fact, their claim created problems from the start. There are few details recorded about the life of Jesus, aside from the gospels, and both Matthew and Luke unabashedly claim a virgin conception. Finally, this story is simply too fantastical for the early church to have invented it. And if one accepts the Incarnation, God becoming man to dwell among us, the virgin birth is no longer unreasonable.

I can't take credit for the above reasoning--it all came from our Sunday School teacher, Doug, today. And I'll post his citations below. I can tell you that I believe in the virgin birth with no apology. And as a protestant who was largely steered away from thinking too much about Mary, the mother of Jesus, I have to admit I've become somewhat more enamored with her in the last several years. (I believe her life serves as a shining example, and that she may have been the first Christian.)

I guess what gets me most is that she said "yes" to God's mission, without hesitation, even though it might cost her everything, including her very life. (And that Joseph did, too, for that matter!) I'm also thrilled to see that unlike Zechariah (who questions God), she does not lose her voice when she asks "how can this be?" It tells me that questions are not an affront to my Creator--disbelief and ridicule are. Mary "pondered all these things and treasured them in her heart."

When I really stop to think about the virgin birth account, I think that much of our skepticism comes from a willful decision not to believe. Jehovah God has revealed himself throughout history, and the predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures have been fulfilled in the coming of a Messiah--his birth, his death, and His resurrection.

Not much more to say, except that because of the virgin birth, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, my Christmas will be a merry one, indeed. I hope you can say the same.

1. Craig L. Blomberg, 1997. Jesus and the Gospels, Broadman & Holman: Nashville
2. Craig L. Blomberg, 1992. Matthew, (The New American Commentary), Broadman Press: Nashville
3. Darrel I. Bock, 1996. Luke, Volume 1, 1:1-9:50, (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Moises Silva, Ed.), Baker Books: Grand Rapids
4. Leon Morris, 1992. The Gospel According to Matthew, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids
5. Tom Wright, 2004. Luke for Everyone, Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Semester in review

On Thursday, I'll take my final for World Religions and be officially done with semester #1. It's hard to believe--it's been more challenging in some respects than I thought, easier in some than I imagined, too.

I've found it difficult to blog about what I've been learning because I'm learning so much. It's as if I want the information to sink in, to germinate and grow, to mature. Through World Religions, I've come to appreciate and understand the complexity of life in other cultures and the meaning that differing religious beliefs have in the lives of others.

As Christians, of course, we believe that allegiance to Jehovah through the person of Christ is the only way to true faith and religion. Yet, we can learn through the holistic, community approaches of other cultures, we can see that meditating on God's truth and His Word are important areas we neglect, we can realize how our materialistic culture crowds our soul, how we need silence and solitude to truly commune with God.

In Spiritual Formation class, we've learned that "the only way up is down," from Miles Stanford. The very things we avoid as we seek to control our lives are the things that help to shape us spiritually. We began to realize that the "perichoresis" of the Trinity, the perfect relationship, beckons our heart to relationship--and that our best relationships here just make us ache for the union that is to come in heaven.

From my Spiritual Formation in community paper:
The real need of each soul is a genuine connectedness to God and others. When a believer freely receives connection, discipline and structure, accountability, grace and forgiveness, support and strengthening, he or she naturally grows from a human-centered, self-protective life to a spirit-inspired life where personal needs are met and the individual is able to freely offer up his or her gifts to strengthen and enhance the work of the Body of Christ. (How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001), 122-132.)

In simpler words, we can't do this on our own. We receive and give God's love to each other only when we participate in community. Something is sadly lacking when we don't. And we certainly never become everything God intends for us to be.

Next semester will bring new opportunities for growth through The Principles and Practice of Prayer and Intercultural Ministry courses. I keep wishing for my theology courses to fit into my class schedule, but today I realized that each of my classes schools me in theology,  teaches me how to know God and to practice His presence in my life. The journey is rich, and I hope you'll share it with me, friends.
"...for most of us...the reason we exist is to serve ourselves. Or to serve our families. Or to serve God. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not exist to work. We do not exist to evangelize. We do not exist to marry & raise children. We do not exist to make the world a better place. The reason we exist is to be in fellowship with God." 
 ~Randy Kilgore

Friday, December 4, 2009

A new digizine for Christian women in leadership

Check it out here. The first issue is devoted to teaching us to rest, with content from Ruth Haley Barton, Mary DeMuth, and more. Looks like a subscription will eventually cost $14.95 a year...so enjoy this first issue for free.

Feel free to add your thoughts on the content below...from what I've read so far, it's been a welcome reminder of the absolute necessity of incorporating rest into our lives.