No One Jostles for the Position of Servant

 

girl jumping autumn lake redhead DSC_0379

“No one jostles for the position of servant.”

I heard Gayle Erwin say that (or something to that effect) and it stuck with me.

I read a number of blogs on the role of women, some of them arguing for the rights of women to receive titles and be recognized as church leaders, some of them worrying about the eternal repercussions of not defining gender roles properly. The push-back comments to these blogs, amusingly, are usually written by men. Some of them write about the roles of women in the home and in the church as if Adam received the specific command to pick the fruit and Eve’s job was to peel it, slice it, stir constantly over a low heat, and turn it into a nice compote, then clean up the dishes while her partner (did they ever sign a marriage license?) stared at the clouds and thought of names for animals.

There’s a whole bunch of history tied up in which scriptures either side of the debate choose to emphasize or downplay, but I won’t talk about that here, at least not now, because, frankly, I think they are distractions. It’s like the time the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus with questions about marriage in the next life (which they didn’t actually believe in. How serious can a question like that be?) His response was basically, “You really don’t get it do you?”

Sometimes I wonder, when we debate these kinds of things endlessly without getting an answer, if it’s because Jesus is still saying, “You really don’t get it, do you?”

Perhaps he is saying, “If you want accolades and public approval and recognition as a leader (male or female) you are missing the point. Don’t squabble over who gets to sit at the head of the table. It’s embarrassing when you get bumped off the seat of honour because I’m giving it to someone you never even noticed enter the room.”

 

This video shocked me. Many of you may know about Carol Kaye and who she is and what she accomplished. I didn’t. Since her name was often not even included in the credits, most people never knew that so many of the most famous bass guitar solos on hundreds of best-selling pop songs and TV and movie themes were played by an ordinary-looking woman who carried her guitar in and out of the studios right past the crowds waiting to worship “the big names.” She didn’t need the recognition to do what she did. She just loved music. And she created iconic music year after year. Check it out. If you’re older than iTunes I’m sure you’ve heard many of these.

 

Many of the women who followed Christ with their whole hearts (in his lifetime or shortly after his resurrection) didn’t wait for a board to give them a title at an ordination ceremony. They just did what they could. Jesus revealed his true identity for the first time to a Samaritan woman, and she, who had been rejected by five husbands but accepted by the Lord, became the first missionary.

Joanna and Susanna and Mary of Magdala used their means to finance Jesus and his disciples. Some, like Phoebe, carried valuable messages. Some, like Priscilla, taught men like Apollos who would go on to have a higher profile. Some, like Lydia, had the resources to allow a church to be based in their homes.

Some women stayed with Jesus through the worst of his suffering. Some prayed in the Upper Room believing for something they could not possibly imagine. Other women, like Dorcas, took care of the poor. One Mary was given the privilege of witnessing the greatest event in history and bringing her eye-witness report to the men, even though women then were not permitted to be legal witnesses.

Never forget that it was another very famous Mary (the one who burst out in a prophetic utterance that is still set to music by great composers), who physically carried the message of salvation, the Word of God incarnate, and not the man Joseph. Joseph’s job was to protect her. There are many others mentioned who served God, some in roles with titles, but most just quietly going about being who they were called to be and doing the works they were created to do, like Carol Kaye just did what she did, because she was good at it.*

Carol says this in the video: A note doesn’t have sex to it. You either play it good or don’t play it good. Some people can’t handle that.

Jesus had this to say to people who were discussing who was the most deserving amongst them:  “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (Luke 22 – the story of his last night with them -and last conversations are always important.)

If you need a title and official recognition of a position with built-in authority and a ready-made group of followers before you can be who God intended you to be, no matter what your gender, you are not ready to lead.

Maybe that’s why Jesus liked women so much and entrusted them with some of the most important tasks in bringing the good news of the Kingdom. Women in those times didn’t have titles to fall in love with. They just loved Him. And He honoured them.

 

*The photo? A beautiful girl doing what she does well. Running and leaping.

Go Back

IMG_7387 washout

I was driving down a familiar road yesterday when I saw this warning sign. I had a choice to keep going and see if I could find a way through, or change my plans, turn around and go back to the start of this road. I stopped to consider my options. A couple a big trucks with high clearance passed me and plowed through on the left shoulder of the road.

I turned back.

I’ve been praying about a personal problem that keeps recurring in my life (weight gain and  loss and gain and loss and gain…  if you really must know).  I’m tired of it, (way beyond frustrated, as a matter of fact) but I haven’t seen any solution but to buckle down and try harder and go down the same dieting [self-imposed starvation] road yet again. As I drove back these thoughts came to mind.

“And how’s that working for ya? Working harder, I mean. Re-doubling your efforts?”

Well, it hasn’t worked in the long run yet. In fact every time I put in maximum effort, within a year or two it’s worse and I get more discouraged.

“And how long has this pattern been going on?”

Decades.

“Maybe it’s time to re-think. Maybe the problem is not the problem. Maybe the problem is only here to reveal the real problem. Maybe it’s time to quit plowing through and go back to the beginning.”

 

 

We can choose, determine, will, discipline ourselves, make an effort, decide, toil… and as soon as another crisis requires focused willpower, we realize that character quality is a limited quantity in us. We can’t try any harder.

For many years I was taught, “Love is something that you do,” and “Love is a choice.” I suppose that applies to doing right by myself as much as doing right by others and doing right by God. But is that really love? Or is that a burden?

In the story of the Prodigal Son, when the younger brother spent his inheritance and returned, humbled, to his father to ask for a job as servant, the elder brother was thrown into a crisis. When his father accepted his brother back without punishment (or a five-year disciplinary waiting period in which he proved he was willing to submit and work harder at earning trust and paying back what he owed) the elder brother was forced to question the basis of his relationship with his Father. He was crushed and angry. He realized his years of faithful service, his choice to put duty ahead of pleasure, his sense of entitlement based on job performance and “doin’ it right the first time” brought him no more love and reward than his wayward brother received. The crisis revealed his own loveless heart and fragile relationship with both his father and brother.

There are times when the feelings aren’t there, when maintaining a relationship (even with oneself) is a matter of choosing to do things consistent with the way a loving person would act. A relationship based on willpower is a rocky one though. When a crisis demands a re-direction of energy the truth comes out. Marriage counselors often ask the question, “What was it that attracted you to your mate in the first place?” Sometimes we forget, and we need to go back and remember the nights when we talked on the phone for hours because we didn’t want to be the first to hang up. Sometimes we need to remember those feelings when no one else mattered, when we thought of nothing else but what would please our loved one and the giddy joy it gave us when they smiled, or when their knock on our door thrilled our hearts.

The people in the church at Ephesus looked like they had a marvelous relationship with God. They did everything required of them, and more. They worked hard, they maintained high moral standards, they weeded out false influences, they patiently endured, they were loyal and unwavering in their application of will-power.  But it wasn’t good enough. Their heart just wasn’t in it anymore.  They had somehow lost their passionate emotion-engaging love for Christ.

Through the prophet Isaiah God warned a people who He said praised Him with their lips, but whose hearts were far from Him, that the days of doing the right things for the wrong reasons would soon be over. He was blocking that path. He sent the same message through the angel who spoke to John about the church at Ephesus:

Write down My words, and send them to the messenger of the church in Ephesus. “These are the words of the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks and moves among the golden lampstands: “I know your deeds, your tireless labor, and your patient endurance. I know you do not tolerate those who do evil. Furthermore, you have diligently tested those who claim to be emissaries, and you have found that they are not true witnesses. You have correctly found them to be false.  I know you are patiently enduring and holding firm on behalf of My name. You have not become faint.

“However, I have this against you: you have abandoned your first love. Do you remember what it was like before you fell? It’s time to rethink and change your ways; go back to how you first acted. However, if you do not return, I will come quickly and personally remove your lampstand from its place… ” (Revelation 2 The Voice)

For a group that would pass many people’s criteria on what a healthy church looks like this is a pretty harsh word. I think removing the lampstand meant removing the light that they didn’t want hidden under a basket. It was the light that attracted people. Loss of the lampstand meant loss of influence.

It’s hard for those who have worked hard to spread the gospel, guard against heresy, and maintain standards to see those who have lived carelessly welcomed, accepted, honoured and given gifts beyond anything they have ever known. (I suppose it’s like the way nothing makes me madder or more resentful than the way people who have never struggled with weight issues, or spent years dieting, offer weight-loss advice as they freely enjoy a sandwich with bread on both sides.) I do believe we will soon see an influx of “fringe people” returning to experience the gracious forgiveness and generosity of the Father. It will be a time of crisis that reveals many church-type people’s hearts though. Older brothers (and sisters) need to hear the message now: Everything in the Father’s house is already yours. It is not reserved for some day in the distant future after you go to heaven and receive your inheritance. God sees and appreciates your hard work. The right words and actions are there, but the heart has long been cold. The heart is what really matters. He cares enough to post a brightly coloured message that continuing to go down this road is not going to work.

Rethink.

Go back.

Find your first love.

Awake, Sleeper

weathered church window

When is a revival needed? When carelessness and unconcern keep the people asleep.

Author: Billy Sunday

Revival is the visitation of God which brings to life Christians who have been sleeping and restores a deep sense of God’s near presence and holiness. Thence springs a vivid sense of sin and a profound exercise of heart in repentance, praise, and love, with an evangelistic outflow.

Author: J.I. Packer

When the light shines, it exposes even the dark and shadowy things and turns them into pure reflections of light. This is why they sing, Awake, you sleeper! Rise from your grave, And the Anointed One will shine on you. (Ephesians 5:13, 14 The Voice)

Paradigms, Paradox, Puzzles and Peace

Photo: An Upside Down Kingdom

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;

    call upon him while he is near;

 let the wicked forsake his way,

    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;

let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,

    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

  For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

    so are my ways higher than your ways

    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

(Isaiah 55:6-9)

I’m upset by division and quarreling I see amongst Christians around me. The interwebby thing is full of it. One week it’s about aggressive sex and submission of women, the next it’s about the right to speak out about how people who don’t trust God’s kindness yet should be forced (by those who supposedly do) to obey his standards anyway. As one editor wrote, “Controversy sells.”

In a previous blog I talked about the problem of living with paradox (two opposing ideas that are both true) and how we tend to want to slide toward one end or the other depending on which part of our soul is dominant  –the mind, the will or the emotions.

https://charispsallo.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/why-i-am-a-label-eschewer/

I have shifted from more than one paradigm to another on many issues, but even in myself there is tension and a desire to find a single logical solution. I’m ashamed to say that sometimes I enjoy debate and the power of witty words to put people down. Then I had a dream in which I was told to stop thinking in two dimensions.

So what dimension am I missing?  What is the viewpoint I have not taken into consideration?

Isaiah says God does not think the way we do; he is not limited to a view that is tied to time, or a physical spot on this planet, or even the laws of physics. The spiritual dimension is so much higher than our earth-bound reasoning abilities we have trouble imagining it.

I think the dimension that we tend to forget is the Kingdom of God.

Jesus spoke constantly of the Kingdom of God. He said that when the sick were healed and the demonized freed that the Kingdom of God was near.

He said that it was like a mustard seed, like leaven, like a net, like a hidden treasure or a priceless pearl that was worthy of the pursuer divesting himself of everything he had to get it.

He said his kingdom was not of this world and we could not observe this place with physical eyes. He told the people listening to him that it was in the midst of them.

He told the one who admitted that love was greater than sacrifice that he was not far from it.

He said expecting to use money to get there was less than useless; it was a hindrance.

He said that prostitutes and thieves would experience it before the powerful and self-righteous who rejected him.

He said that unless we were willing to enter as little children (I assume that means dropping  wealth, power, position, authority, good deeds, hard work, physical strength, education, talent, family or political connections, accomplishment or recognition –all the usual means to success in this world) that we couldn’t get in either.

When the disciples asked how to know the way he was going he said, “I am the way.”

He said he was the door (but it’s a narrow door that requires us to drop our backpacks, curriculum vitaes, and other accumulated assets.)

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:7-9)

He said we had to be born again.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:3-6)

When the Kingdom of God intersected space and time on earth in the form of Christ Jesus, it opened up a doorway into eternity where things are different, where we realize our thinking is upside down.

“The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand for they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

But the one who has been made spiritually alive has access to another dimension when, by faith, she or he lives in Christ and Christ lives in her or him.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2: 4-7)

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28,29)

For those who trust and obey Jesus Christ, God has already seated them in heavenly places, since that is where Jesus sits and they are in him and he in them.

… to make the word of God fully known,  the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.  To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:25-27)

In the Kingdom of God there is no division in the church. There are no labels. The church is one.

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.   There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:25-28)

Why then, do we still compete with each other? Why do we think that if we are “righter than thou,” and work hard to impress him, God will let us enter through that door when we die?

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?  But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:1-6)

Passions may be the big motivating factor in the world, but God doesn’t think like us.

Could it be that we don’t really trust him enough to obey him and to seek him for understanding of all these paradoxes or for wisdom on how to live in love and the bond of peace?

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

What if we are meant to start to enter into the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ now and it’s not all about pie in the sky in the sweet by and by? What if we quit trying so hard to be the greatest and just rest in Jesus’ finished work? What if we trust him enough to believe what he says about us being new creatures and start acting like it? What if we could hear his voice and obey his commandments now?

For whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:10)

People who seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness will not think the same way as those who are bound to earthly logic and reasoning ability. They do not fit in. They are annoying because they refuse to play by the same rules. They don’t wear the same trendy labels; they are frequently misunderstood. They are often persecuted –sometimes by those holding religious power– but that’s not unexpected. They did that to Jesus Christ too.

For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (1 Corinthians 4:20)

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Why I am a Label-eschewer

Photo: Fashionista

Fashionista
Fashionista

 

Why do I avoid labels?

Because I have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear.

Because I have been through so many paradigm shifts sometimes I feel like I’m wearing a peacenik swimsuit, a woolen toque and a tutu on a John Deere lawn mower tractor –whilst waddling in pink Crocs that ought to be on the other foots.

Because like the blind man, every time I think I have figured out what an elephant feels like God drags me around to the other side –or the other end– and tells me to try again.

Because the phrase that seems to pop out of my mouth most often lately is “On the one hand…” followed by, “But on the other hand…”

Am I indecisive? Well, maybe. I don’t know. I’ll get back to you on that one.

Mugwump
Mugwump

Photo: Mugwump. My Dad used to say a mugwump was a person who sat with his mug on one side of the fence and his wump on the other.

Maybe I’m just tired of making apologies.

This position may look humble, but dropping to the ground is sometimes the only safe posture when caught in the cross-fire between warring factions. I am so very aware of the quarrels among us.

Pacifists….vs….Patriots

Calvinists….vs….Arminians

Hymn and organ lovers ….vs….Chorus and drums lovers

Egalitarians….vs….Complementarians

Practically experienced….vs….Theoretically indoctrinated

Sinners saved by grace….vs…. Saints who reckon themselves dead to sin

Those who are working out their faith….vs…. Those who are saved by grace and not by works

Those who offer grace….vs…..Those who maintain standards

Those who are sure that God is grieved ….vs….Those who insist that God is in a good mood

Quoters:

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” ….vs….”Jesus said, ‘But I call you friends.’”

“May you prosper as your soul prospers”….vs…. “Rich men, camels & eyes of needles and all that.”

“He who will not work shall not eat”….vs….”He who shuts his ears to the cry of the poor shall cry himself and not be heard.”

“By His stripes we are healed”….vs….”Knowing Him and the fellowship of his sufferings.”

Then there’s

Reverential folk….vs…. “I got to move it, move it, move it!” folk

Sprinklers….vs….Dunkers

Church building builders.…vs….church building leavers

Pro-etc….vs….anti-etc.

Seeing something from one particular viewpoint is called a paradigm. Oliver Sachs wrote about a middle-aged man who regained the sight he lost in childhood, but who then faced so many challenges he chose to ignore his new faculty after a while. A dog from the front looks completely different from a dog from the side, yet they are both dogs. Who knew?

A paradigm is our most comfortable default position. Things fit nicely and work well. We only have to deal with one construct at a time that way. For example, we assume a beloved nephew has been unfairly fired, and advocate for him — then we find out from the boss he embezzled a gazillion pencils. It was easier before we knew both sides of the story. We still love him and support him;  we are proud of his brilliance, but now we are also ashamed of his stupidity.

Paradox greatly complicates things, but God’s ways seem to be more about paradox than paradigm. Jesus often spoke of two seemingly opposite concepts which are both true. The Bible is full of paradox like, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first,” “You need to lay down your life in order to live,” “You receive through giving,” “Rest under his yoke,” “You are strongest when you are weak,” “We see the unseen,” and many more.

Paradox is awkward. It feels unstable. We tend to want to gravitate to one end or the other. We polarize easily.

It struck me this week that the pole we choose to slide toward is often strongly influenced by which aspect of our soul dominates –mind, will or emotion.

Look at worship styles, for example. For some, worship means thinking, studying, discussing ideas about God, and listening to sermons which exegete the Bible with skill. For them, authentic worship is getting doctrine right.

For some, worship is an act of the will. These people love words like decide, purpose, endeavour, determine. Worship for them is a deed, whether it is signing up to commit to journaling for forty days, or volunteering for a new program , or inviting someone home for soup, or buying a plane ticket to The Gambia. For them, authentic worship means not only hearing but doing.

For some, worship must engage the emotions, whether it’s quiet contentment or raucous rejoicing; they desire an encounter with God that touches them deeply. For them authentic worship doesn’t ignore emotions forever; it connects and moves the heart.

At one point or another I have cycled and re-cycled through all three camps.

Here’s the thing. The mind, the will and the emotions are all fine, God-given, God-created parts of our souls –but they are all limited and, without the Holy Spirit sanctifying, refining and empowering them to operate from the perspective of the Kingdom of God, they remain, well, self-centered. Proof of self-centeredness is that we continue to engage in silly disputes over who is right and who Papa God likes best.

I was asking Papa God about this, after listening to yet another discussion of sovereignty  vs. free will (which, as usual, produced more heat than light). Both sides could quote scriptures to back their positions. That night I dreamed I was playing on the floor like a child. A kind, gentle, patient person was helping me fit metal puzzle pieces together. (These puzzles drive me nuts. I hardly ever figure them out.) In the dream I actually got a couple of them to work. After quite a bit of effort we finished a complicated mat-like square of interconnecting puzzle pieces about a meter long and a meter wide. I was as happy as a toddler and clapped for myself with glee, although the man helping me had done nearly all of the work.

Puzzling
Puzzling

 

“Yay me! Me so smart!”

Then he started building upwards. He was making connections and building a solid cube about a meter long and wide AND a meter high.

I said, “You’ve got to be kidding!”

He smiled and said, “Quit thinking in two dimensions.”

I recognized him as Jesus.

I awoke.

I have been thinking about this for quite a while. Unity is about more than living with the tension of paradox.  Paradox is not “this or this;” it’s ”this and this.”  But paradox is also incomplete.

Building a solid structure also requires another dimension– another way of thinking –another viewpoint.

More later….

Beached

A day at the beach

There’s nothing quite like a day at the beach to remind us that although we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, very very few of us have perfect bodies.

A lot of people avoid the beach, postponing enjoyment (often indefinitely) until they have bodies that match the images in their minds. Others just have fun in whatever shape they may be in (although a little more modest covering on some could help avoid awkward moments and the problem of averting one’s eyes.)

We can be pretty good at trying to dress up our hearts to look spiffier than they actually are too, layering them with politeness, accessorizing with colourful splashes of generosity and public service to detract from our less  attractive “problem” areas. (To be sure a little discretion can sometimes help avoid awkward moments there as well. Not every foible needs to be exposed in public.)

I wonder if there is room in the big C Church for a beach for the heart -a fun place where we can dare to let go of tailored suits or winter boots or freshly-pressed vestments (or even flak jackets) and exchange them for modest, but less disguising garments and just enjoy life together, soaking in the warmth of the sun.

I guess it’s called friendship.

It might even be called love.

Family business

Photo: a tired building

I think the current church at large is like a business with an assignment from head office.

I see us divided into four main departments:

Those who talk about how their great-great-great-great-grandparents did it. Big on costume dramas and protocol.

Those who keep studying new translations of the instruction manual (from the Japanese) and rarely get off the cautions page. Only pop out of the book long enough to tell the other departments what they are doing wrong. Big on memos.

Those who see the need and urgency of the task. They put a lot of effort into recruiting new staff because there is a high turn-over of burnt-out employees exhausted from trying to do something/anything with the proceeds of lemonade stands and car-washes. Big on heart-wrenching commercials.

Those who are busy zapping each other with the power tools they found in the box that came with the manual. Often found lying on the floor, frizzy-haired and vibrating with that finger-in-the-socket look. Big on topping each others stories of finding cool new tools and wads of cash.

Then there are a large number who are still listed as employees who don’t fit anywhere, those who are disillusioned or frustrated or have been wounded in the cross fire, those who work from home,  (or a mountainside, or fishing boat – or bed) and just check their emails once in a while.

Each department holds regular pep rallies or potlucks to tell each other why they are the best and why the other departments are off the rails. If abundant food (and especially dessert) is involved more people show up for these meetings.

A few try to bridge the gap and communicate with all departments. They tend to be familiar with the smell of tar and feathers.

When are we going to quit competing with each other, seek the CEO and listen to His point of view, ask Him to bring an intervention, allow Him to show us where we have gone off the rails, admit it, and change  — and then get his show in the road?

End rant.