Christianity 201

September 18, 2017

Reclaimed and Renamed

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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Today we’re revisiting Michael Thompson at the blog Kindling Word. As last time, this is a longer piece that I’ve joined in progress; click the title below to read in full.

Is That Your Name?

God knew the importance of names…and he had a habit of changing them when the given name was restricting eternal purpose.

Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Jacob became Israel. Gideon became Jerub-Baal.

Jesus picked up where His Father left off. Simon became Peter. Saul became Paul.

In all these cases God was redefining the identity of a person by assigning to them the name that described them as He saw them.

On one occasion near Gadara, Jesus was confronted by a wild man (Mark 5).

This crazed individual made his bed in tombs and was a scary paradox of helplessness and aggression. He was helpless to control the powerful forces within him and was beyond the help, control or management of anyone around him. He terrorized the people of the region and lived his days out among the graves.

He was the walking dead!

Considering the insane approach, appearance and actions of the man, it seems Jesus asks a completely out-of-context question. It is the only recorded time Jesus ever asked anyone, “What is your name?”

But Jesus knew something about this wounded man. The demoniac, as he was labeled by the world around him, had been so completely wreaked by life that he couldn’t even remember his real name.

Some might say Jesus was asking the demonic hoard their name…but Jesus didn’t need that information. What he did want the man to see was how he was completely defined by what he had become.

So he called himself Legion. And to show he’s not merely talking about a group of Roman warriors, he adds for we are many (Mark 5:9). At the core he was saying, “I am a catastrophic mess; a hoard of self-destructive impulses.”

  • Defined by his past
  • Labeled by his disease
  • Wearing the insignia of his insanity
  • Summed up by his sin

He had completely accepted–at the deepest levels of his identity–that he was what he had done.

This man fully believed the most debilitating and constricting lie of them all: That all he would ever be was what he had become so far.

When Jesus confronted the troubled man and forced out of him the junk that was defining him, it was like an eternal parent asking the man, “Is that your name!?”

And then defiantly answering with a resounding “No!”

Jesus refused to let the man be defined by any other name than the one that lived in the heart of the Father.

A few times in the Older Testament God speaks to a person or even a tribe and says, “You will no longer be called…” and then gives a redefining (redemption) name. A name that showed how that person or group was defined within the grace-filled love of God.

I love God’s promise to His recalcitrant people,

“No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah, [my delight is in her]
and your land Beulah [married];
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.” (Isaiah 62:4)

Within the heart of God is our original identity–our true name. God is not willing to allow us to be limited and labeled by anything we have done or experienced in our pasts.

God works faithfully to bring us to that place where we become what we have always been in His heart.

Just as Jesus was the expression of God’s heart and the representation of God’s dream, so is the Holy Spirit’s work in us. We are designed to be God’s dream come true; God’s word in flesh; God’s heart on display.

Our destiny is His narrative written in our story.

Historically, when God’s people came under control of other cultures and slaves to other nations, the rulers would rename them in an attempt to redefine them.

The pagan King Nebuchadnezzar renamed the Jewish boys Daniel, Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria with Babylonian names Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

Godly men given heathen names so their divine gifts could be prostituted for the pagan King’s purpose.

But the old czar found out that there was a force far more powerful than his fiat or his fiery furnace.

When a man knows the name that lives in the heart of the Father, you cannot change his destiny no matter what you call him.

One of the most beautiful pictures of where God is taking this world is found in the final book of His-story. God says, To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it (Revelation 2:17b).

On that day, Jesus will place a white stone in our hands with the name on it that has been in the heart of the Father for each of us since before creation. Then, He will ask: “Is that your name.”

I can’t wait to shout “Yes!!”

March 4, 2017

Maintaining a Distinct Identity

Distinct Spiritual Identity

For a certain period of my formative faith years, I kept running across the phrase, ‘Maintenance of a Separate Identity.’ You don’t hear it much these days, and when I ran it through a search engine it took more than 30 results before I found one in a Biblical context out of the 70-odd results located. (Most of the results were in reference to ethnicity and nation.)

John White, in his book Flirting With the World, relates his experience growing up as a boy in the 1950s. He tells us that his church knew what worldliness was back then: lipstick, make-up, short skirts, bobbed hair, wedding rings and jewelry, movies, and church kitchens. Then he makes this statement: “Church leaders who fought the liberalizing trends of education, affluence, mobility, and urbanization may have pitched the battle in the wrong places, but you can’t fault their instincts. They knew that something vital was at stake: the maintenance of a distinct identity.[source]

I started thinking about this yesterday in the context of God’s revelation to Moses, and in turn his declaration to Pharoah as to what was planned for the final plague that will bring about their release from captivity:

Ex. 11:6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. 7 But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.

On the surface, this is saying that the morning after, it will be clear that while the firstborn of all of Egypt’s families will have perished, the firstborn of all of Israel’s families will have survived. It demonstrates a difference that has always been despite the years of assimilation that have come before Moses’ mission to liberate those people.

In Matthew 13:30 we read how it is possible for there to be a people of God existing in the greater world but how God knows who is who:

Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At harvest time I will tell the workers, “First gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.”‘” (NCV)

But I believe the underlined section in Ex. 11:7 above reverberates throughout Israel’s history. If you’ve ever read Leviticus and wondered, ‘Why, oh why all these obscure rules and regulations?’ the answer may be found in God’s desire to see His people maintain a distinct identity; to be distinct from their surrounding neighbors.

Of course, the mark of being God’s people today is not about dietary or clothing laws, though some people would quite susceptible to falling back into such regulation. Instead, we’re told,

“Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples–if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NET)

and

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: … he emptied himself… he humbled himself… (Phil 2: 5, 7, 8 CEB)

At the blog Steve’s Bible Meditations, Steven C. Mills writes about God’s Distinctive People (click to read in full):

You can’t be a child of God and a child of this world!

When your allegiance is with God and you belong to Him, He makes a distinction between His people and those who are not. His people receive His protection. God rescues His people! God redeems His people!

Exodus 12 describes the Passover process by which God rescued His distinctive people from the firstborn death plague: “The Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you” (vs. 12;23). Because Israel was God’s chosen people, God made a distinction between Israel and Egypt and, consequently, rescued His people from the plague.

So, the designation of Israel as God’s distinctive people was grounded in God’s redemptive act of the exodus of Israel from Egypt. God rescued Israel from the grip of Pharaoh! God redeemed His people!

The Apostle Peter reiterates that even today the distinction of being God’s people is the result of receiving God’s mercy.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10, NASB).

Now, God is still in the rescue business today. He still delivers His people from the grip of this world. And, when God redeems you, you become a distinctive person because He sends His Spirit to dwell in you.

The Spirit helps you maintain your distinctiveness by consecrating you to God and His way and strengthening you to remain separate from the world and its ways. And then the Spirit empowers you to proclaim God’s redemption to others!

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself.. (Psalms 4:3, NASB)


Related posts at C201:

  • Looking at the Amish (August 5, 2010) with song Refiner’s Fire by Brian Doerksen
  • Set Apart (February 14, 2013) with devotional by Charles Price

August 4, 2016

The Bible’s Vice Lists

This article deals with a particular form we see in New Testament writings. This may interest some of you more than others, but I hope you’ll gain some understanding of the type of things academics and Bible historians wrestle with. This was posted at The Christian Century. Click the link below to read at source.

What’s a vice list for?

Colossians 3:1–11

by Daniel Schultz

For more commentary on this week’s readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which includes Schultz’s current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine and online-only content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the Century.

Fun fact: when Paul tells his readers in Colossae to

put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)

it’s an example of a common ancient rhetorical device called a “vice list.” (This is not actually fun, but bear with me.) There’s another one later in the same passage, where Paul talks about “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language.” And there are several other examples in the New Testament, sometimes with corresponding virtue lists. The idea is straightforward: don’t do these things. Do these other things instead.

Further fun fact: a couple hundred years after Paul, vice lists gave rise to the seven deadly sins. In the monastic guide the Praktikos, Evagrius Ponticus writes about what he calls “evil thoughts”: gluttony, impurity or lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride. Through translation and adaptation, eight evil thoughts became seven deadly sins: pride, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, sloth and greed. The emphasis shifted as well–while Evagrius spends as much time on anger as anything, in the medieval world, pride became much more important.

Like Paul’s lists, Evagrius’s evil thoughts somehow managed to get codified into law, or the next thing unto it. Taking part in one of the deadly sins put one’s immortal soul in danger; it was cause for confession before a priest and a mending of ways. This moral pattern came along with no end of discussion over who exactly was guilty of what, and why, and how much they ought to be shamed for it. (In some cases, it became a how-to manual.)

Likewise, Paul’s list of sexual transgressions has always been better remembered than the other failures he mentions. For nearly 2,000 years, it’s been used to shame sexual expression and keep women in their place. I know many who reject Christianity because of Paul, or dump the apostle and keep the rest of the New Testament.

Evagrius seems to name barriers to progress in spiritual discipline, the thoughts and attitudes and attachments that would prevent desert monks from truly emptying themselves so that they could be filled entirely with the Holy Spirit. I wonder if something similar wasn’t also true for Paul. By the time he wrote to the Colossians, he was an experienced church planter and pastor. He knew how little heed congregants pay to moralizing from the pulpit.

Neither Paul nor Evagrius appears to want his readers to think they will roast in hell for offenses named in these lists. Instead, the goal seems to be a fulfilled life. In Evagrius’s case this means a life united with God and freed from petty sorrows and regrets. For Paul, the goal is never the straight and narrow path. It’s to take part in the new creation, clothed in “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” as we were before the fall.

Yes, that’s a virtue list, and it forces upon us a question. Not what are the rules?–that’s too simple. It’s the great question of ethics: who are you? Are you the kind of person who behaves like this, or the kind of person who behaves like that?

Our society might be moving past telling people who they can and can’t sleep with. But this larger question–who are you?–remains to be wrestled with eternally.

 

March 31, 2014

Maintenance of a Separate Identity

Distinct Spiritual Identity

For a certain period of my formative faith years, I kept running across the phrase, ‘Maintenance of a Separate Identity.’ You don’t hear it much these days, and when I ran it through a search engine it took more than 30 results before I found one in a Biblical context out of the 70-odd results located. (Most of the results were in reference to ethnicity and nation.)

John White, in his book Flirting With the World, relates his experience growing up as a boy in the 1950s. He tells us that his church knew what worldliness was back then: lipstick, make-up, short skirts, bobbed hair, wedding rings and jewelry, movies, and church kitchens. Then he makes this statement: “Church leaders who fought the liberalizing trends of education, affluence, mobility, and urbanization may have pitched the battle in the wrong places, but you can’t fault their instincts. They knew that something vital was at stake: the maintenance of a distinct identity.[source]

I started thinking about this yesterday in the context of God’s revelation to Moses, and in turn his declaration to Pharoah as to what was planned for the final plague that will bring about their release from captivity:

Ex. 11:6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.

On the surface, this is saying that the morning after, it will be clear that while the firstborn of all of Egypt’s families will have perished, the firstborn of all of Israel’s families will have survived. It demonstrates a difference that has always been despite the years of assimilation that have come before Moses’ mission to liberate those people.

In Matthew 13:30 we read how it is possible for there to be a people of God existing in the greater world but how God knows who is who:

Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At harvest time I will tell the workers, “First gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.”‘” (NCV)

But I believe the underlined section in Ex. 11:7 above reverberates throughout Israel’s history. If you’ve ever read Leviticus and wondered, ‘Why, oh why all these obscure rules and regulations?’ the answer may be found in God’s desire to see His people maintain a distinct identity; to be distinct from their surrounding neighbors.

Of course, the mark of being God’s people today is not about dietary or clothing laws, though some people would quite susceptible to falling back into such regulation. Instead, we’re told,

“Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples–if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NET)

and

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: …  he emptied himself… he humbled himself…  (Phil 2: 5, 7, 8 CEB)

At the blog Steve’s Bible Meditations, Steven C. Mills writes about God’s Distinctive People (click to read in full):

You can’t be a child of God and a child of this world!

When your allegiance is with God and you belong to Him, He makes a distinction between His people and those who are not. His people receive His protection. God rescues His people! God redeems His people!

Exodus 12 describes the Passover process by which God rescued His distinctive people from the firstborn death plague: “The Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you” (vs. 12;23). Because Israel was God’s chosen people, God made a distinction between Israel and Egypt and, consequently, rescued His people from the plague.

So, the designation of Israel as God’s distinctive people was grounded in God’s redemptive act of the exodus of Israel from Egypt. God rescued Israel from the grip of Pharaoh! God redeemed His people!

The Apostle Peter reiterates that even today the distinction of being God’s people is the result of receiving God’s mercy.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10, NASB).

Now, God is still in the rescue business today. He still delivers His people from the grip of this world. And, when God redeems you, you become a distinctive person because He sends His Spirit to dwell in you.

The Spirit helps you maintain your distinctiveness by consecrating you to God and His way and strengthening you to remain separate from the world and its ways. And then the Spirit empowers you to proclaim God’s redemption to others!

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself.. (Psalms 4:3, NASB)

Related posts at C201:

  • Looking at the Amish (August 5, 2010) with song Refiner’s Fire by Brian Doerksen
  • Set Apart (February 14, 2013) with devotional by Charles Price

October 3, 2012

Do You Have A Soul?

I Cor: 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born…

…12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…

…35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another…

…42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

Today we’re living up to our “digging a little deeper” tagline, with a look at a topic which confuses even veteran Christ-followers.  As we spun the giant internet wheel, today it stopped at WhyTheology,  the blog of Troy Medley. This is a two part article, you might want to start with the first part reading it at source, at the bottom you’ll find the link to part two.

So I recently attended and presented at a conference on the soul and body at Oxford. It seems, however, that the theme actually shifted to talking about identity generally, which was identified as the soul, rather than the soul as a separate thing.

A reason for this shift was a general skepticism surrounding the idea of a platonic soul. If you are unaware of that term, it is the conception of the soul most frequently portrayed in popular media. A sort of “ghosty” type of thing that is identifiable as us, and yet has no material form. While some medieval theologians might have taken exception to the fact that it is sometimes portrayed as visible, the idea still seems to accurately reflect this idea of the soul. According to that view, then, people are essentially embodied souls. In other words, the you that is you (i.e. your soul) is simply occupying and manipulating your body, which is not you.

The problem is, this is not the biblical view of the soul. It is clearly platonic (whether we have Augustine or Rene Descartes or someone/something else to thank for its pervasiveness is another issue). The Hebrew Bible always and only refers to people as entire units. There is nothing separate from the body. When someone loses an arm, their body doesn’t lose an arm the person does. There isn’t a separate soul. Alister McGrath noted that if you take every instance of the word soul in the Old Testament and replace it with life, the verses would read just the same, and sometimes more clearly than by retaining the word soul. I feel comfortable sharing this bit of his talk, of course, because it is a fairly uncontroversial (and not generally disputed claim); I doubt he’d object.

The New Testament doesn’t seem to help very much either with the idea of a Platonic soul. In fact, the New Testament is adamant that the thing which is raised and transformed into an eternal thing is the entire body, not jut a separate soul. That’s why Jesus’ bodily resurrection is important. That’s what Paul is going on and on about in 1 Corinthians 15. There isn’t a separate soul independent of our bodies. Instead our identity (or soul) is a way of talking about ourselves, and in particular our minds, even if it “emerges” in some way. This is a very subtle shift in thinking that I think might be very important.

While I certainly believe that God can and will transform our bodies into something new and eternal when Christ returns, this has the potential to transform our thinking about the physical world. If we are platonists about the soul, then we devalue the physical body. This leads to all sorts of problems. The body then becomes something of a prison to escape, something that is constantly our adversary, not who we are. This can lead to self-loathing, self-abuse, willingness to take abuse and unhealthy attitudes about sex (for instance, the idea that, even when married, sex should not really be a source of pleasure ever). It also leads to a devaluing of other aspects of creation. But if, instead, we believe that our bodies are the source of our identity/soul rather than something our soul inhabits, then we begin to value it. We feel we must take care of it and, within appropriate ways we can celebrate aspects of it: athletic ability, a good steak (in moderation), a slowly sipped cup of coffee. We can appreciate our physical stuff, because that’s the thing that we are, and that’s what Jesus is redeeming and beginning to transform. It also means we value other people’s bodies. They are not tools to be used for personal gain, objects to be oggled, but when you see someone else’s physical form you are looking at another person. That is important and is something we’ve lost. If we begin to recapture it, it means that our bodies, our blood and sweat and tears, our aches and pains and joys, the tickling that my kids love, the feeling of a warm mug in cold hands, all of this matters in a way we can’t even fathom yet.

But what do you think? Should we instead hang on to the platonic notion of the soul? Does it have more biblical grounding than I’m giving it credit? Does this idea have some other pitfalls?

~Troy Medley

Here is the link to part two of this subject which looks at three different options as to the state of those who have died in Christ. If you got this far, you want to keep reading.  To engage the author, your best bet is to leave comments at his blog, WhyTheology.

September 7, 2011

What Do People Know You For?

Dan Navarra guest-posted this at Shawn Stutz’ blog where it appeared under the title…

Get Filled Before You Fall

Not so long ago, I was a college student.  I remember those years vividly; they were marked with extreme amounts of fun, plenty of turmoil in my romantic relationships, lots of pizza, and three years of working with high school students as an intern.  It seems like every college student goes through this phase of discovery at some point once they leave the birds nest of ‘home’ – and I was no different.  Questions about identity, self-confidence, and doubt often filled my mind in between arrogant and prideful thoughts about my own scroll-sized list of accomplishments.  In fact, if I were to take my accomplishments and list them out on a scroll, I’m pretty sure I thought that scroll would never end; but instead it would just flow into the adjacent room and catch the attention of everybody else over there.  After all, I was pretty awesome.  Who didn’t want to be me?

Well, the short answer is: me.  I didn’t want to be me because I wasn’t sure who that was.  Who was I?  What was my actual identity in?  I was searching.

My senior year of high school I read an incredible book entitled Abba’s Child, The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging by Brennan Manning.  One paragraph in particular became a guiding beacon of light in my search for who I was.  As I was asked to guest blog on the website for a college and young adult pastor, I felt like perhaps some of the readers of this post might find themselves in a similar debacle as myself and in need of a guiding principle to be their beacon of light.

“And so, like runaway slaves, we either flee our own reality or manufacture a false self which is mostly admirable, mildly prepossessing, and superficially happy.  We hide what we know or feel ourselves to be (which we assume to be unacceptable and unlovable) behind some kind of appearance which we hope will be more pleasing.  We hide behind pretty faces which we put on for the benefit of our public.  And in time we may even come to forget that we are hiding, and think that our assumed pretty face is what we really look like.” – Manning, 22

I was running.  That was for sure.  I was manufacturing a self that everybody responded to; and not manufacturing a self that revolved around the work that Jesus Christ did on the cross.  And i knew it.  So I slowly did the best job I could to correct myself towards what I thought was the right thing to do.  I prayed, spent tons of time in the word, started volunteering my time more, saw needs and met them for the Kingdom, and slowly was feeling like I had finally begun to hit my stride as a man.  I felt affirmed by my community of friends and co-workers because on the surface I was giving my everything to the Kingdom.  Hey, that’s what Christians are supposed to do, right?

Well, yes.  But…

I actually discovered an important truth during this time of my life: we can make our identity revolve around good things, like serving the church or learning everything one can about the Word.  And even though our identity is wrapped up in “good” things, it can still not be a healthy place to be.  My self-worth became wrapped up in being able to answer accountability questions properly.  If I had a rough week with my small group, I took it personally.  If I wasn’t practicing that great new worship song, I felt out of place.  My identity got wrapped up in doing what the church wants us to do as Christ-followers.  The problem was, my self-worth and identity was not in Christ: it was in the work I was doing for Christ.  I needed an intervention.

Going into my senior year of college was when God started to break me.  My internship ended at my home church.  Instead of promoting me for a third year of interning, the leadership informed me that I was not going to be brought back.  I thought it may have been a money issue, so I offered to work for the same wage for another year.  They declined.  I offered to take less money only to hear the same result.  I offered to merely volunteer in the ministry as a small group leader, but was turned down.  Finally I got the memo: my time there was over.  The following two months were a complete waste of my life.  I wasn’t doing ministry, so I stopped following God.  Once I had nobody holding me accountable for doing all the “good” things, I stopped doing them.

After two months of staying out too late and waking up after lunch, one night God spoke to me.  2:00 AM, I was laying on my bed in the heat of a hot summer night.  I remember this so vividly.  I was laying on my bed, staring at my high ceiling when it clicked for me: my life lacked purpose because I was not doing ministry.  God and I had a back and forth conversation that night.  I felt Him tugging on my heart: to just be in relationship with Him, and then minister out of that fullness.  Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in chapter three came to my mind:

16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:16-19

I rediscovered that I needed to minister out of my own fullness that comes from what God is doing in my life; not from somebody else’ expectations for my faith.  My ‘runaway slave’ mentality was running towards doing validating ministry where people affirmed my gifting: it had nothing to do with my own walk with the Lord.  Now, with my mentality quickly changed, and renewed commitment to walk with God first before I chose to walk with other people, I asked the Lord what he wanted me to do to get back to my purpose of making a difference for the Kingdom in people’s lives.

God: “Do anything. Start a Bible study in your backyard even!”

Dan: “OK, with who?”

God: “Guys”

Dan: “OK, when?”

God: “Tuesdays”

Dan: “Tuesdays?  What time?”

God: “You pick”

Dan: “Got it.  Thanks.”

That was the dialogue that followed.  I asked God what I was supposed to do, and out of that birthed one of the greatest displays of the Church I’ve ever been a part of.  That night, at 2am, I text-messaged ten of my closest students, friends, and former students asking them if they wanted to meet for Bible study.  I heard back from eight of them within minutes affirming my invitation.  We set our meeting time for Tuesday night at 8pm.

From that first gathering a few men, birthed a group of guys who gathered weekly to study the Word, pray for each other in incredibly vulnerable ways, worship together at the top of our lungs, and a warmth of fellowship I don’t think could ever be matched.  The group exploded.  Within six months, I had some twenty-five guys meeting in my backyard every week.  The weather was turning cold, so it wasn’t unusual to see guys in snow gear huddled around the fire pit.  But they kept coming.  Eventually we shifted to the garage with space heaters.  It was an incredible revolution that happened that summer in my heart and life.  I began to minister out of my own fullness: and God harvested fruit because of my obedience.

I tell this story because perhaps you find yourself “doing the Jesus thing” and not actually experiencing the fullness that comes from a relationship with the God of the universe.  If that’s where you are, quit running.  Don’t resist.  Submit your life to a partnership with the ultimate companion, and then go about your business with that fullness as the primary fuel that sustains and enables you.

~ written by Dan Navarra

July 12, 2010

What is a Christian?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:38 pm
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We got together with a group of people last night and someone asked this question:

What does it mean to be a Christian?

What’s your answer?

Click on the comments section for mine, followed by another one that was suggested.