Monday, August 29, 2011

Beautifully flawed

I was reading Donald Miller's blog the other day, and I read his post Learning to Love Your Flaws, and I felt my soul take a deep, cleansing breath. It felt like an inaudible sigh of relief, actually.

Don posted a picture of himself--150 lbs. heavier--and talked about the value of flaws. I especially liked this sentence:

"It's true we impress people with our supposed perfections, but we connect with each other in our flaws." -Donald Miller

I am a person of contradictions, you see. Those who meet me dressed up on Sunday mornings often view me as solid, put-together, and eloquent. (At least that's what they tell me.) Then I change my clothes in the evening and proceed to a Bible study for women in recovery where brutal honesty is the rule of the day and brokenness is a gateway to freedom.

I don't look very perfect there, as I share battle-wounds from my bouts of depression and anxiety, what it's like to trust God with a daily physical challenge in my right leg that limits my activities, how heartbreaking loss pushes me into the arms of my Savior, and the tug-of-war I experienced as I strove to live sexually pure as an unmarried Christian.

In both settings, Jesus is the answer. My struggle, then, is how to be more honest--and yes, more flawed--in a church setting, how to let people see that I don't have it all together while sharing with them the life-changing truth of the gospel of Christ. I look at the example of our Savior, and I see that he was the same as he overturned tables in the temple, as he talked with the Samaritan woman, as he healed the masses, fed the 5,000, and delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

He was the same, yet he talked directly to those he ministered to, meeting them at their point of need. I can't say that Jesus was flawed, but I do know that he was human. My challenge, then, is rejecting perfectionism to embrace brokenness, letting the weight of my personality breathe in whatever situation I am in, and letting the love of Christ flow through me--and through my imperfections. As grace seeps in and changes me, I want to find joy in living beautifully flawed.

How do you believe God views your flaws? Do you hide them--or celebrate them?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Gift of Presence: ministry with fewer words

I've been the "chaplain" at times, and now I'm the "pastoral intern," and what I am gathering in all of this is that I do not have the power to change a situation for someone. Only God has the power to change their perspective in it.

The gospel, the true hope of the world through the cross of Christ, has been packaged and taught in easy steps; it's been downsized and minimized into commitment-light; it's presentation is sometimes given with no thought for the physical and emotional welfare of the image-bearer who's receiving it. Some have even delivered it with a literal bullhorn.

In the past, I've been guilty of trying to make the gospel palatable--of trying to sell half-hearted Christianity to a soul who can't see how he could buy the whole package. Once when a friend sat across from me and told me he just couldn't believe in Christianity because he wasn't raised in a Christian home, I took his rejection of the gospel as a personal failure. As if my evangelistic fervor could have won him into the Kingdom. As if I, and not the Holy Spirit, woo people to faith in the Carpenter who turned the world upside down.

The truth is: I've made more than my share of blunders.  Author Jerry Bridges was right: "Grace stands in direct opposition to any supposed worthiness on our part." 

Jesus, the most eloquent truth-teller of all, delivered it first and foremost through the ministry of presence...followed by words of extraordinary significance. He was hanging out with the shady Samaritan woman, his feet were being anointed with oil by a female known for her sin, he ate with fraudulent tax collectors and broken prostitutes. The sick and diseased hung on him; the demons he cast off shrieked at his presence; those who touched the very edge of his garment went away rejoicing.

And when he did speak, when he did open his mouth, he tended toward stories and questions, parables and paradoxes. This was the upside-down Kingdom he ushered in. The last shall be first, the least of these are worthy of extraordinary kindness and generosity, the meek shall inherit the earth.

The way Jesus communicated goes against my natural bent, on so many levels. If I am talking to a young woman battling addiction about Jesus, and her eyes glaze over, I am tempted to talk faster and louder to see if she gets it. If I am counseling someone on entering a vibrant relationship with Christ, I am tempted to rush to the sinner's prayer, instead of helping this person understand the enormity of Jesus' love for them and the cost of following him. This goes against the very teachings of Jesus and his way of loving and engaging people with truth.

But I do not have to give in to my temptations. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says so. 

The other day something out-of-the-ordinary happened that awakened me to how well I love. My neighbor of three years stopped by and offered words of comfort for us, as my mother-in-law is now in hospice care and will be gone soon. She was so understanding and kind and supportive, and before she left, she hugged me and said, "We love you guys." And I was caught off guard. Although this woman believes in God, she doesn't attend a church. I know her through "over-the-fence" conversations and a few backyard get-togethers.

But she has shared bulbs from her garden with me.
She has comforted me in my infertility.
She celebrates with me in my joys.

Her gift of presence has spoken volumes. Now her words mean something as well. This disciple of Jesus was moved by her kindness, her simple generosity.

What does the phrase "the gift of presence" mean to you? Do you tend to love others with many words or few words? 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Do women have full access to God?

Tertullian, 160-220 AD
The other night I was facilitating a Bible study for women in addiction recovery and something shocking happened in the room. For a few moments, it was as if all the air was sucked out of it.

In this study, I talk a lot about Adam and Eve, and how their sin and rebellion led to our sin and rebellion. How things are broken, and how ever since that time, God has been reaching out to set our relationships right again. Our relationship with him, and our relationship with others.

I explained how in the Old Testament times, God set up a sacrificial system--people would bring animal sacrifices to atone for their sinfulness before a holy God, with the help of priests. But that all changed, I said, when Jesus came and became the sacrifice. Now the Bible says we can all be priests, we can all approach God directly (see 1 Peter 2:9)

At that moment, a young woman looked up and blurted out: "Women, too?"

Yes! I said, more loudly than was necessary, as my heart plummeted to the ground. 

An author I respect, Sarah Sumner, wrote: "Church tradition says that women are by nature lower than men. Indeed, most of the church fathers promoted this traditional belief." And then she proceeds to back it up.

Tertullian, the man who coined the word "Trinity" in the history of Christianity and defended the doctrine of original sin, said this to women:
And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die.
Unfortunately, many other church fathers perpetuated the same nonsense. Augustine did not believe women were made in the image of God, but they could reflect his image...if they married. Thomas Aquinas said that women are dominated by sexual appetite and men are ruled by reason. And so it goes.

So, is it any wonder, centuries later, that a young woman sits down and says "Women, too?" when taught that we can approach God directly? Is it any wonder that she does not, at face value, accept what God has said in Genesis 1:27, that both men AND women are made in the very image of God? Is it any wonder that she, too, believes Eve singlehandedly ushered sin into the world? (Where, exactly, was Adam in all of this?)

Is it any wonder that she sees the female image-bearer of God as subpar, as dangerous, as someone who holds an inferior brain and a much inferior heart? It's no mystery why she believes these things, as they have insidiously trickled down through our churches, through the very people who confess to following and obeying Christ.

It's no mystery. But it is a shame. And it's high time to set the record straight. God's intention, when creating male and female as equals who would be his representatives on earth, was that all humans might share full access to him, a full relationship with him. We screwed that up, through sin, but Jesus offers a way to make it right again. He loves us, pursues us, and empowers us to service in his Kingdom--whether we are an Adam or an Eve. Blessedly, there is no double standard with God. Ladies, we have a full access pass.

(Quotes from Sumner, Sarah (2003). Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership (pp. 40-41). Intervarsity Press. Kindle Edition.)

Self-test: do you somehow feel that women are inferior to men in the Christian faith--even if you know the Bible says differently? In your opinion, what should the church do to help women see themselves as God sees them?