"However, not only creation groans, but we who have the first fruits of the Spirit also groan inwardly as we eagerly wait for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For we were saved with this hope in mind. Now hope that is seen is not really hope, for who hopes for what can be seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience." (Rom 8:23-25 ISV)
So much of what God is speaking to me lately is to do with my identity, that image of a rejected son and 'ruinor' of life, to borrow John Eldridge's word….not exactly the image that God created me, or you for that matter, as an image bearer….a beloved child of the Most High God. John Eldridge, Kimberly Cash Tate, S. Michael Craven, T.M. Moore, Shannon Nielsen and Oswald Chambers have all 'ganged up' to speak of this sinful disregard of what an image bearer of God is supposed and purposed to be. I hope that I can bring clarity to the diversity of their individual devotionals, messages and thoughts as God brings it to me.
The more I attend Mosaic A2 in Ann Arbor at Washtenaw Community College, now in its fourth week of existence as a church planted in the fertile and alien territory of a college town….the more I am enticed by its repeated missional desire embodied in its pastor and the young congregation and the more I am frightened by the desire to risk myself in the pursuit of that mission: to be a mosaic of God's wonderful picture of the Church…..
As I walk into this new experience, I am once again speaking of the vision that God has given me, refined through the course of the last six years as His beloved son purposed to go into ministry for His kingdom from a preacher in an American church to an apostle in the Australian country……as a teacher of true masculinity as designed by God. And it frightens me, because I have been taught what a target such desires spoken makes the one doing the speaking.
But God has been speaking to me about how that image I've bore has limited my ability to speak of God's word to the faithful and the lost because I don't see myself as God sees what He has made me to be. Some of the limitation comes in other's perceptions of me, only when they are reinforced by my own failed self-image. A lot of my struggles and trials come from the identity bestowed by a father who parented out of his own childhood wounds. Either way, I perpetuate that failed image through my unbelief in what God's telling me is my true image. I grieve the Spirit, who tells me my true identity…so far from the one I have been given….
"Identity is not something that falls on us out of the sky. For better or for worse, identity is bestowed. We are who we are in relation to others." John Eldridge writes in Sacred Romance (www.ransomedheart.com), "But far more important, we draw our identity from our impact on those others ---if and how we affect them. We long to know that we make a difference in the lives of others, or even another person. The awful burden of the false self is that it must be constantly maintained." (pp84-85)
I find myself commiserating with the Irish Saint Coemgen, which translates into the English name Kevin. He lived in solitude for seven years at Diser-Coemgen (Desert of Kevin) until a farmer whose cow kept wandering found him and convinced him to teach him about the Gospel. This led to a following of other families and eventually the founding of the monastery of Glendalough (the Valley of Two Lakes), the famous monastery that was the parent to other monastic foundations. He would serve as abbot there and empower a generation of disciples to reach the people of Ireland and the world.
Coemgen was known for his distain of human company, especially that of women up until the 19th century. He is celebrated as St. Kevin in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. From the monastery of Glendalough, seven churches were founded and it is one of the chief destinations of pilgrimages in Ireland….
T.M. Moore, Principal of Crosfigell; the Fellowship of Ailbe retells the story of Coemgen's call out of solitude:
"One time when Coemgen was reciting his hours, he dropped his psalter [God's word] into the lake, and great grief and vexation seized him. And the angel said to him, "Do not grieve," said he. Afterwards an otter came to Coemgen bringing the psalter with him from the bottom of the lake, and not a line or letter was blotted. The angel told Coemgen to go to teach and preach the word of God to the peoples, and not to hide himself any longer."
Whether the poetic and symbolic nature of the telling of this calling out of Coemgen is only that, rather than a historically accurate tale of God's movement in his life; Coemgen was secure in his identity as a child of God. An image-bearer that was called out to bear the teaching and preaching of God's word to the Irish people. His impact, if not his life, is evident in the monastery that still stands in testimony today and the faith of the Irish people that bears fruit to this day throughout the world.
Just as the work I am enticed to undertake isn't mine; insofar as the words spoken, the lessons taught and the benefits garnered from its hearing…the testimony is but source material for His impact….so the image that I bear shouldn't be based on myself; for it only leads to self-protection and self-isolation. I long to live on that mountaintop where God called to me and restored me to His vision of me, impacted me to do the purpose to which He has enticed me…….instead of in the valley where the human heredity of sin (I am my own) bears a different outlook on who I am.
"Thank God for being able to see all that you have not yet been. You have had the vision, but you are not yet to the reality of it by any means. It is when we are in the valley, where we prove whether we will be the choice ones that most of us turn back." Oswald Chambers writes in My Utmost for His Highest devotional entitled 'The Vision and the Reality', "We are not quite prepared for the bumps and bruises that must come if we are going to be turned into the shape of the vision. We have seen what we are not, and what God wants us to be, but are we willing to be battered into the shape of the vision to be used by God? The beatings will always come in the most common, everyday ways and through common, everyday people."
In February of 2004, God knew my attention was focused in His direction and He called me to come back home…into the family, into the sheepfold…..and in October of the same year, He called me to a purpose greater than the failed image of my identity could sustain. Simple vision, simple call….to be a preacher of His word…..to speak His love, triumph, wrath and anger to the community of the Church…..an bride who has become dressed in filthy and torn garments, unfitting the return of the Bride-groom. It has not been a wonderfully simple journey though and He has added clarity to His call as we progress down this road towards the fulfillment of His vision for me. It is disappointing to me, as I look back over this road travelled, how much I have given away from that passion of being God-led to the authority of being instructed by men…..how I, as the clarity of the call has developed as I was able to bear it, have surrendered to the 'self-doubts' I've allowed my failed image to be confirmed by the opinions of equally failed heredities of others instead of bearing the renewed and regenerated heredity of the One who died for me.
The beatings that Chambers talks about; the un-education of my theology, the impossibility of the Call and the struggles I resolutely stride through…..the fact I am a single, divorced father of two children, one a special needs child, makes me 'unsuitable' for the mission field…the fact I am an American, which makes me 'unattractive' to mission groups in the area because I am not 'ingenious' to the culture….and the fact I am of poor finances, which do not bode well for the Sydney Bible College route of becoming a Australian trained and ordained pastor after 3 years and 30,000 dollars (tuition) for the BA in Christian theology and probably equal amount for my family and I's care during that time. The call of apostleship in the mission field, to bear the message of God's ordained design for men…what true masculinity means in the light of the Creator's design….doesn't seem any more possible than my pastorship in an Westernized Church……I'm just not 'clean' enough in many facets of my life.
To be in relationship with me is messy……
S. Michael Craven, one of the most theologically relevant 'cultural apologetic' teachers in the community of Christ today speaks to the heart of why the Westernized Church is so corrupt today, why its mission remains less theologically and spiritually sound as it once was.
"Practically speaking, under the privatized or reductionist gospel paradigm, Christianity tends to become what researcher Christian Smith terms, moralistic, therapeutic, deism (MTD)." Craven writes in his commentary, Where is the Church in the midst of our marital crisis? "(www.battlefortruth.org). Under this notion, the focus of the Christian life remains fixed largely upon the self. Christianity tends to be seen primarily as means to becoming moral, an activity one seeks mostly on one's own effort through what could be described as "sin management" and for which the reward is heaven, i.e., do more good than bad and you'll be okay."
As Chambers notes, "Are we willing to be battered into the shape of the vision to be used by God?" Sadly, many of us aren't. We are stuck in the heredity view of Christ being nothing more than a "go-to" guy when we have needs and wants rather than the Potter who shapes the clay to His liking, His desires and His use. Becoming holy, effected by the Holy Spirit, has little to do with 'self' and more with an intimate, communal relationship with Jesus and God….intimately involved and aware of our lives to develop our character in the proper, original design of His image-bearers. As Chambers and Craven note, it is only through suffering and trials in the valley of our life that the maturation of the Christian and the testimony of the mountaintop experiences bear fruit for the Kingdom.
Unfortunately, once we return to the valley, we are beset by the consequences of our bad choices; in our marriages, in our careers, in our finances and in our live that come to bear upon our joy discovered on that mountain and dissipate it as the sun does the mist of the morning. And we want to live in that mountaintop experience simply because we don't trust in Christ to be able to 'heal' those situations that are caused by our heredity of sin. As Craven remarks concerning the marriage crisis, and I'd add the missional crisis, within the body of Christ, "What is becoming apparent is that so many of our marital [or personal and spiritual] sufferings are due to our own bad choices, made worse by our lack of trust in Christ to heal the situation." And the Church's failing to teach, represent and disciple that trust.
We revert to our 'self' heredity of sin; we suffer in the silence of our own pain or make our sin the focus of our discussions to the point of alienation and we are taught to be ashamed of our struggles in the teaching of the 'modern' church that is consumed by a God of love, love, love and tolerance despite the intolerance. When the church is universally prone to a nose-in-the-air attitude, we become a people that are more destructive to the body of Christ than intended, missional and created for.
As Pastor Shannon of Mosaic A2 (www.mosaica2.com) spoke last Sunday in his 'encounters' series, this time looking at the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4, too often the church looks at those who are different in style, personal appearance and physical stature as undesirable….the tendency is towards those who are the same as us….in style of worship, education, financial and life style. We remain stuck in the self heredity of the Fall, seeking to replicate ourselves in those surrounding us in the body rather than seeking to replicate Christ in the discipleship of the body. We don't love as Christ loved, or warn as He did….we live in search of the comfort of the known and reject the unknown nature that God has yet to reveal to us. We play church and neglect the community it is designed to be. No wonder one of the prayer request I got today was for a 17-year old who has decided she is no longer a believer in Christ. She has never been shown who He truly is.
The call to salvation is personally developed by God to bring us each to the place where we recognize one of two truths; we either surrender to the Creator seeking salvation in the blood of Jesus Christ or we stand separate and forever condemned by the sinfulness of our heredity of self. Once that threshold is crossed, there is no turning back, for we, as Chambers notes, bring the realization of condemnation upon our knowledge of the Truth and can never deny it henceforth.
But the path taken by which our faith is grown, discipled and mentored is very 'un-personal' in its structure; being universally relevant to each believer, replicatable in each one of us by a set design and formula….at an individual pace, for sure, but with a commonality of aligned purpose…… because the church was designed to be involved, engaged and purposed in the teaching of God's design, His purpose for each of us and the results of being in relationship with Him or opposed to His will. We are called to live in replication, not in keeping ourselves isolated in self-protective theology, where God is absent or distant and we are free within ourselves to be what we are comfortable to be.
Rather, we are called to be uncomfortable, accountable and replicating the essence of Christ in us, that we've known full well on top of that mountain, in the lives of those we are in fellowship with in the valley of life; not those like us…for the commonality of the 'selfish sinful nature' is hidden within such a community as that and takes hold, before it is noticed. No, we are called to live in community that favors the uncomfortable diversity of dissimilar individuals within the body bound by the chain of Christ's redemptive salvation, and the accountability of its universal belief, the sufferings of one become the warning to the other and one's overcoming becomes a source of understanding to another….sin cannot hide in the light of the Son…neither should it find solace in the dark corners of the Church.
As Craven says, "You have been joined to the body of Christ and this body is called to 'bear one another's burdens,' working together to resist the effects of the fall and to restore sinners."
It is a gracious Father that knows of our tendency to be hard set to keep patient and burdened in the valleys of our lives, where we battle against the fleshly desire to reside in the mountaintop experience of comfortable grace rather than struggle in the valley of the uncomfortable, hereditary sinful natures to be proven worthy of the cause and call of Christ as a people who fight against the tendency of commonality of the 'herd' congregation and the hidden nature of our sinfulness.
God doesn't leave us alone and clueless when we leave the mountaintop but provisions for life in the valley in His word……He knows of our tendencies to either long for the return to the mountaintop or to retreat into the memory of its existence rather than living in Truth in the valley….to wait for the promised eternal reward…..
"Funny how God knew our flesh would find it hard. Thus, He reminds us over and over in His Word that it's part of our walk with Him." Kimberly Cash Tate, author of Colored in Christ (www.coloredinchrist.org) , writes in her devotional, citing some of those provisional Truths….
"Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD" (Psalm 27:14 NASB).
"Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him" (Psalm 37:7).
"My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken (Psalm 62:5-6).
But He does more than charge us to wait. He gives us promises to hang onto. Here are only a few:
The LORD favors those who fear Him, those who wait for His lovingkindness" (Psalm 147:11).
"The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him" (Lamentations 3:25).
And I love that God "acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him" (Isaiah 64:4).
As much as my flesh cries out when it's forced to wait, my spirit rejoices. When I'm waiting, I'm praying more. I wake up seeking God and lie in bed at night pondering His ways. I search the Scriptures for answers. When I'm waiting, I'm keenly aware of my need for Him, that apart from Him I can do nothing. Are you waiting on the Lord? I'm not here to tell you that it's easy. But I've learned—yes, painfully at times—that one word goes hand in hand with waiting: TRUST."
Am I willing, in the shaping of the Master Potter, to be forcibly shaped, bent to a form and shape that is an image that mirrors the originality of my intended purpose or will I seek protection in the hollow community of like-protecting people, denying the promises of God's word? Will I resolve, even in the midst of my struggles, to come alongside another to wage the battle with them against their own sinful nature and trusting them to do the same for me? Will I live in the valley in the transparent community of Christ's church, willing to hold those to account as I am held to account according to the common creed held by uncommon people?
Am I willing to trust and believe in the image that God speaks to me in His word and in those He has sent into my life to speak its reality or will I continue to withdrawal…pinning away for another mountaintop experience where I can stay….or at least fantasize about in the darkness of this world? Will I live enticed by the words of Oswald Chambers speaking God's truth into my life….to be purposefully living in the valley as if I live permanently on the mountaintop?
Am I willing to trust God to know what He is doing, conforming this person who has surrendered to His will for his life to that image He holds of what that person must be to be effective as a harvester for the Kingdom's fields? An apostle, trained in a foreign land, for the shaping and equipping of coming back to his homeland for the purpose of the final revival of a once-great nation….or will I hide in the doubts and worries of a Church that has lost the vision and the power that lies within its projection? Will I live enticed by the words of S. Michael Craven who speaks of God's mission for the church and the truth of its continuing and destructive behavior to be anything but missional in its discipleship and mentoring of the Truth……as an advocate for its restored missional living?
Either I will struggle individually and corporately in this battle of seemingly assured failure, bolstered by the faithful and equipped by the leaders in the body to fight, fight, fight…..or I will most assuredly fall in individually isolated defeat through the unconquered sin of mankind's heredity…Self….and be vanquished by a defeated foe. Either I believe in the God that the Psalmist's sings of and walk in accordance to that knowledge….
"Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch our Your hand against the anger of my foes, and Your right hand will save me. The Lord will perfect His work in me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; You will not abandon the works of Your hands." Psalm 138:7-8 NIV
Or I die a sinner's death, brought on by the rightful and holy wrath of the Creator against a creation that has sought to minimize, culturalize and alienate His authority, holiness and righteous demands of a people He has purposed, equipped and called to be His people on this earth.
There is no halfway; either we, both individually and corporately are a people sold out for Christ….missionally living for others and denying our own self, seeking to replicate the image of Christ in others and not our own heredity of self. Where diversity is only in the worldliness of our physical, economic, social or ethnic humanity, but the rejoiced and desired commonality is in the spiritual nature and truth of God's Word and knowledge…..or will we, as a people born from the seed of Adam, fall victim to our own humanity heredity of sin and its selfish nature of the 'herd' mentality.
Maybe Coemgen had it right, with his disdain for human company who was willing to come out of his mountaintop experience and live with a purpose of replicating Christ in the humans who came to learn under his teaching. Or Kimberly Cash Tate, who wrote a book called Colored in Christ…calling all ethnicities or cultures to be culturally blended into the culture of Christ, knowing no other 'color' but the crimson stain of Christ's sacrifice. There is no graying of the lines; we are either of Christ or of the world. We either live in a community diverse in its makeup but bound by its Christ-likeness.
Craven notes in the end of his article, "There can be no equivocation in this battle; either we will take up arms in service to our King or we will find ourselves vanquished—not by the culture but by our own sin!"
Again, one might wonder how T.M Moore's commentary on Coemgen, S. Michael Craven's discussion on the state of marriage and the church's failure to address it, Kimberly Cash Tate's devotional on trusting in God while we wait on Him, John Eldridge's discussion about identity in The Sacred Romance, Oswald Chambers' discussion about The Vision and The Reality or Shannon Nielsen's sermon about Jesus and the Samaritan woman have to do with each other……
As the clarification of the Call God issued while I sat in the chairs of the Worship Center at Willow Creek Community Church while Gene Appel stood on the stage has developed from a preacher to an American congregation into an apostle to a foreign nation to be trained and further developed into a voice crying into the wilderness of the dying church that is reinvented daily upon the shores of my homeland for the revival of the remnant, the harvesting of the lost and the glory of the Kingdom…..
I have found that the shaping is painful, in the way that my flesh wars against the truth of God because of the desire to reside upon the mountaintop but that God, once offered a life to be shaped for His use, is un-respectful of the selfish rejection of His enticements due to the suffering and uncomfortableness of the path the valley experience requires me to take. He continually calls me to trust in His provisions, His power and His truth….not to speak what will bring comfort and peace, at least by the human standards of self, but to speak those words that will bring life into those who chose to hear and follow at the cost of personal affirmation by the words of those who reject its truth. He has enticed me to answer His call of purpose and I have submitted to His Will to do so…and He has taken my heart at its word, placing the clay of my being upon His potter's wheel and shaping it according to the vision of what I was meant to be…..a beloved warrior in His kingdom.
Coemgen was uncomfortable in the company of humanity but placed to the side his discomfort to answer the undeniable call of God to preach to His people in Ireland. Relationships are my weakest and most uncomfortable thing I know…..partly because of my wounds, partly because of my experience and so God has called me into a service for Him that is festooned with the need to be relational.
Kimberly Cash Tate, an African-American woman, speaks of the need to be colored by the blood of Christ and trusting in His provisioning as spoken in His word…..diversity in our humanity but joined by our spirituality in Christ. As I head on this journey towards the man God has called me to be, I find myself less and less concerned with being politically correct about culture, ethnicity and economic status and more desirous of being in the company of those, no matter how racially, culturally or economically different in the flesh, who are colored by the scarlet coloring of Christ's sacrifice and glorifying in the diversity of the members of the Body who have been purposed to be a complete representation of the whole Body of Christ.
S. Michael Craven speaks of the missionality of the church that needs to be reborn, and kept alive by those hungry for the truth….I am one of the few who speak of the brokenness of the Church, often to the odds of congregations that I have attended…not for the purposes of my own self-gain, but because the darkness is creeping into the pulpit and there are many falling away from the absolute truth of the Gospel…
Shannon Nielsen spoke of a man who's heart ached for Christ, like the Samaritan woman, even though his life is messy and his body is festooned with piercing and tattoos because of the journey God has taken him on to the point of his redemption…who is an advocate against 'playing church,' desiring that the congregation 'live church' in a fashion that speaks of a Christ-replication in others, not of ourselves. I want to be a man of God, not gaining glory for myself, but replicating Christ in the lives of those I touch.
John Eldridge challenges me to recognize the false identity that I spend so much time supporting and dispose of it in favor of the truer image of God that I was designed to bear; a beloved son empowered to God's purpose for the Kingdom. I know the danger of being hung up on the supporting of the negative and false image of who I am. In Christ, I am a beloved son of the Most High God, who has been purposed and empowered to walk that identity in the valley of this world.
And Chambers' call to live with the memory of the mountaintop in the valley of our humanity…..in the reality of the world, living the vision of God's eyes, who sees me as I will be and not as I am. I can accept the doubt of my own woundedness and the falsehoods of the enemy, who knows me well……or I can live in the promise of God's purpose and equipping to do the will of my Heavenly Father no matter where, when or how He opportune me to do so…..as a beloved son, once sinful….always broken and thirsty….but redeemed by the blood and empowered by the grace of Christ.
I can begin to live in the visionary truth of God's purpose for me, to be a standard bearer of His vision and truth for His bride in the undeniable truth that I am a beloved son who has been washed in the blood of Christ and purposed for the Kingdom revival to come. To use those standards to guide my steps into the realization of the eyes that fall upon me from the Heavens, seeing me purposed for Him and my eyes on the eternal prize of that which He has set aside for His children.
Or continue to live the life of my old heredity, the sinful nature of self and believe in the broken image unredeemable by the grace of God that is the mantra of the world……
What say you?
Live as comfortable in your sin to your death?
Or to be living uncomfortable in the shaping of the Potter in pursuit of the Truth of His vision of us?