A Word that Calls us…

“Paul’s letter to the Ephesians joins together what has been torn apart in our sin-wrecked world. He begins with an exuberant exploration of what Christians believe about God, and then, like a surgeon skillfully setting a compound fracture, `sets’ this belief in God into our behavior before God so that the bones – belief and behavior – knit together and heal.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 370-372). Kindle Edition.

The last few weeks have felt hectic. I have not had the chance to read and process and post some thoughts on this second chapter in Peterson’s book. I have not been able to cook regular meals; fast food has dominated, and that is not like us. The schedule has not changed dramatically, but the busy-ness of healthy, active kids has seemed, well, more busy.

We have practices for two kids Tuesday nights and Thursday nights and Friday nights. We have games, usually two, every Saturday.

We have Biblestudy on Wednesday nights.

Church on Sundays.

Busy.  Oh, and we had a birthday in there, with another party this weekend. The oldest boy turns 12 in just a couple weeks, and he had braces put on this past week.

I have had that feeling of running from place to place. This is the time for registering for tutorials and picking out curriculum for next year, so that has added to the hectic feel. The push of the urgency.

There are times for the urgent, but the urgent has to stop dominating. I feel tired and harried. Then I read the above paragraph from Peterson and my whole soul leaned in and there was that whisper of, “Yes…this is what I need to think on today.”  Chapter two for Peterson is focused on how God is calling us…not directing or informing, but calling us, and the response is a walk. Not a pursuit of the urgent…a walk.

The items balanced in the Ephesians scales are God’s calling and human living: “I beg you,” writes Paul, “to walk (peripateo) worthy of the calling to which you have been called (kaleo).” When our walking and God’s calling are in balance, we are whole; we are living maturely, living responsively to God’s calling, living congruent with the way God calls us into being. Axios, worthy – mature, healthy, robust.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 387-390). Kindle Edition.

We can understand neither God nor ourselves in any living, adequate, and mature way that is an impersonal, non-relational way. When God’s calling and our walking fit, we are growing up in Christ. God calls; we walk.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 392-393). Kindle Edition.

We cannot ‘do’ this Christianity in a static or analytical way…we are called into a relationship and a journey. I needed to hear that this morning. In the midst of the busy-ness of life, I…and you…are called by the Living God to walk with Him.  We are called through His Word…through the conversation with Him in the Bible and through the Holy Spirit. This is not some dead creed or some dead language…God speaks to us.

God speaks the decisive word that puts us on the way, the road, the path of life. The Hebrew word for Bible is Miqra, a noun formed from the verb “to call,” qara. The Bible is not a book to carry around and read for information on God, but a voice to listen to. I like that. This word of God that we name Bible, book, is not at root a word to be read and looked at and discussed. It is a word to be listened to and obeyed, a word that gets us going. Fundamentally, it is a call: God calls us.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 407-410). Kindle Edition.

God’s word stirs us. There are other books which do that as well…I have been stirred reading Madeleine L’Engle, reading Frederick Buechner, reading…countless authors.  Many times I am stirred by their writings because they are echoing the words of the Word. The Truth is the same and my Spirit attests to that. There is something different about the Bible, though. That Spirit-infested Word that conveys to us God’s call. Not only does it call us, but it identifies us…it gives us the understanding of our true identity. God’s children. God’s people. God’s called ones…

A call is not an impersonal cause that makes something happen in a mechanical way in obedience to the laws of physics, like a baseball that is launched by a swung bat knocking it out of the ballpark. Call comes into our ears, beckoning us into the future, bringing us into a way of life that has never been experienced in just this way before: a promise, a new thing, a blessing, our place in the new creation, a resurrection life.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 413-416). Kindle Edition.

The call comes in the middle of the mediocrity, or the mundane, or the muck, or the mire….the middle of wherever we are.  The call comes and changes everything…brings hope. Brings Resurrection life.

Life that is no longer dominated by the urgency of the mundane. Life instead that is infested by the Spirit of the Living God. Life that is informed by eternity and by the reality of the truly important and informed…not just an existence of jumping from one activity to another.

I needed to hear that this morning. As my little one is standing and waiting for me to come out and jump on the trampoline and my others are doing school work. Life is happening, but it is not just the marking off of our to-do list. Life is listening for that Call for today…to understand what that Resurrection life means in the midst of the busy-ness. How that call changes the mundane into something different. Something hopeful and life-filled.

There is more to this chapter, but for now that is enough for me to chew on for awhile. I need to let the reality of that call sink deeply into this frazzled soul.

Practicing Resurrection…Chapter One

Resurrection Life.  Living with an understanding and transformation caused by the reality that our God not only came as a human, died…but rose from the dead. All of that is staggering. I know that I do not know this deeply enough in my soul. I’m not sure if any of us ever will completely…but we catch glimpses, don’t we.

We have those moments when the reality of eternity sneaks up on us, or grabs our attention…those moments when the reality of following Jesus overwhelms our inadequate minds and souls and we become enlivened in ways we can never manufacture ourselves.

Continuing in Chapter One from Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection.  I need to make sure to highlight the subtitle:

Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ.

This is not just some formula to set ourselves up to encounter the Resurrection. This is about a life that encounters God and is transformed…into maturity. And for Peterson, this happens only in one way…in the midst of Church.

Ugh.

Seriously, I know there are so many who are immediately thinking either that this is going to be boring, or that there is no way this will translate to our actual congregational situation. Some have been bored by the church, some have been annoyed, some have been frustrate, some have been abused.

But this, argues, Peterson, is right where we encounter Resurrection Life. Not because of accident…this is God’s design.

Maybe the church as we have it provides the very conditions and proper company congenial for growing up in Christ, for becoming mature, for arriving at the measure of the stature of Christ. Maybe God knows what he is doing, giving us church, this church.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 180-182). Kindle Edition.

This Church. Named people in a specific place, in specific congregations. This Church.

Peterson challenges us to look at the similarity between the coming of our Savior (Luke 1-2) and the coming of our salvation community (Acts 1-2). There are great similarities.

In the same way that God could have chosen to come in glory, to come doing miracles that drew enormous crowds and swayed the nations to follow him…he could also have chosen to establish a Church where there was success and where there was power and where the world would want to come.

He didn’t.

We talk a lot about Christ killed on a cross as a scandal, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23). I want to talk about church, this actual congregation that I attend, as stumbling block, as scandal, as absurd. The Holy Spirit could have formed congregations out of an elite group of talented men and women who hungered for the “beauty of holiness,” congregations as stunning as the curvaceous Tirzah and as terrifying to the forces of evil as the army with banners. Why didn’t he? Because that is not the way the Holy Spirit works. We know that is not the way the Savior was brought into our lives. Why would the Spirit change strategies in bringing the salvation community, the church, the congregation, into our lives?

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 327-331). Kindle Edition.

So, this church with all its inadequacies and all of, well, us. This is the place we are to grow into maturity and to know what it is to walk in Resurrection life.

That is, possibly, a little disappointing. I have been involved in fellowships where there just seemed to be a lot of people there because they felt obligated. Or a lot of people who were pretty messed up. Like me. This is the place? Really?

Yes, really. Because it is not all about us.  Our salvation was not about what we could do or work or accomplish. Our growing up in Christ, being the Church…is not about our abilities. The power of the Church comes from God.

but the essence that is behind the appearances: God’s will, Christ’s presence, the Holy Spirit’s work. This, not what we do or do not do in belief and doubt, in faithfulness or betrayal, in obedience or disobedience, is what we simply must get through our heads if we are going to understand and participate rightly in any church that we are part of.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 191-193). Kindle Edition.

Resurrection life is to be found in the local congregation. With all our insufficiencies and all our problems…even there….and Peterson uses the letter to the Ephesian church to help us “get” this. He explains that this was the congregation Paul was with for 3 years, and this is the only letter to a church that is not addressing a problem. Not that there weren’t problems there…but this letter is more about the true identity of the church, and in it we find a vocabulary we need:

But the dominant concern in this Ephesian letter is not to deal with the human problems that inevitably develop in church – no church is exempt – but to explore God’s glory that gives the church its unique identity. The letter also gives us an adequate vocabulary and large enough imagination for living in the fullness of God’s glory, living to “the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:14).

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 206-208). Kindle Edition.

We are a little handicapped, though…we have actual faces looking at us, and voices talking to us…and people who annoy us or who delight us. People who form our understanding of Church, and it is sometimes hard to separate our marred congregation from the intention of God to use this place to establish His kingdom.

When we who follow Jesus enter a church and participate in its life, our understanding of the place and company we are in is strongly conditioned by what we observe and experience in this congregation and its local history, these people with their personal and collective virtues and faults. That means that none of us ever sees the church whole and complete. We have access only to something partial, sometimes distorted, always incomplete.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 213-216). Kindle Edition.

Some, as I have come to know through my friend Michael’s blog, have been deeply wounded by their church. Wounding, abuse, disillusionment…these stack up against our seeing the church as something where God is establishing His glory. Sometimes it is hard to think with imagination and wonder when we pull into the parking lot.

We have the Ephesian letter before us so that even though we are surrounded with immature and deficient and incomplete churches, we can acquire a feel for what maturity is, what growing up in Christ consists of. By means of Ephesians we get an accurate account of what God is doing and the way the Spirit is working at the heart of every congregation.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 217-219). Kindle Edition.

Resurrection life. In the Body. In the Church…in my congregation. Growing up to maturity in Christ…right there, with my rear in a seat and the person next to me bumping into me and the other person hugging me and the other person singing behind me. Those actual people.

We are in this together. We are the Body….and we cannot fathom Resurrection life or maturity in Christ apart from these other travelers.

I have to admit…I was hoping for something more. I was hoping Peterson was going to wow me with some truth that would suddenly bring me to a new understanding of the Resurrection…something that would fix this longing I have.

He doesn’t. He points us to what God is doing in our midst…and just like the surprise and mystery of the Crucifixion and Resurrection redeeming us….there is mystery in how the Church will be the place we will encounter God and be transformed.

It doesn’t usually happen in a flash and in some spectacular way. God works in subtle ways and with patience.

Still…the Spirit is stirring something within me. I love my fellowship…I love worshipping together and I love interacting. Still, I do not know that I have fully grasped the reality that this is the place…this is the structure…for my maturity to establish. How about you? Does this spark your imagination for Church, or does it just irritate you because the expectation is too high? Does it ring true that God would work in a Church in the same way He came in the Incarnation…surprisingly humble and not in great power and show?

What does this mean for us when we gather together next? How do we internalize these truths in a way that impacts our approach to being part of the Church?

 

 

Resurrection Life starts…with the Church?!!

I have to admit I was a little frustrated that the first chapter in Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection was on….the church.

I have been involved in conversations around the Church for years. I have friends from all spectrums when it comes to dealing with the Body of Christ…some who have had a lifetime of good experiences, some who have been disillusioned, some who have been frustrated, some who have left it, some who have been (legitimately) abused within the Body of Christ.  Sometimes I feel like I have exhausted the conversation.

Myself, I have had overall good experiences, with some that give me a reality check on the sinful humanity that we are who make up the Body of Christ. Still…I love the fellowship we are part of right now. I love the community and conversations and the worship, I love the missions we support and are involved with, I love the influence on my kids. I look forward to being with this group of people, and I am challenged by the teaching and the call to follow Jesus.  So, as I was reading Peterson’s book, with the hope of understanding better what it means to walk in the reality of the Resurrection…I thought, “ho, hum…we’ll get the church discussion out of the way.”

Nothing new.

Then I read this:

Church is an appointed gathering of named people in particular places who practice a life of resurrection in a world in which death gets the biggest headlines: death of nations, death of civilization, death of marriage, death of careers, obituaries without end. Death by war, death by murder, death by accident, death by starvation. Death by electric chair, lethal injection, and hanging. The practice of resurrection is an intentional, deliberate decision to believe and participate in resurrection life, life out of death, life that trumps death, life that is the last word, Jesus life. This practice is not a vague wish upwards but comprises a number of discrete but interlocking acts that maintain a credible and faithful way of life, Real Life, in a world preoccupied with death and the devil.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 154-158). Kindle Edition.

Man that rang truth to me…in a world where death gets the biggest headlines. In the midst of this is a named people….Sarah, Steve, Noelle, Michael, Anita, Kim, Stephanie, Jill, Bryan, Kevin, Jim, Ryan, Andrew, Alyson, Bill….practicing a life of resurrection. It is not hap-hazard. It does not happen to us in a vague way; something that happens without our notice. Our coming together in worship and in the participation of resurrection life is an intentional, deliberate decision.  Life.

Ahhh….the product of ‘a number of discrete but interlocking acts that maintain a credible and faithful way of life, Real Life, in a world preoccupied with death and the devil.’

Discrete but interlocking.

Going to worship with the community of believers. Intentionally joining with others and declaring that God IS. That He hears our worship and is worthy. Intentionally turning our attention toward Him and recognizing Who He is and giving testimony to what He has done.

Intentional. Life over death.

The Lord’s Table…taking in the bread and the wine as recognition and embrace of the sacrifice and the redemption and the saving and the eternity altering act of God.

The Word. Intentionally turning our attention to the Word of God…believing that it is the Word of God and that it has bearing on our lives. Intentionally turning our attention to the testimony of the Spirit that this is Truth.

All these seemingly simple acts….added to the conversations and the involving in others’ lives…are part of Resurrection Life.

More, though….the resurrection plays out in our lives in ‘improvisation’….

The practice of resurrection encourages improvisation on the basic resurrection story as given in our Scriptures and revealed in Jesus. Thousands of derivative unanticipated resurrection details proliferate across the landscape. The company of people who practice resurrection replicates the way of Jesus on the highways and byways named and numbered on all the maps of the world.

This is the church.

The practice of resurrection is not an attack on the world of death; it is a nonviolent embrace of life in the country of death. It is an open invitation to live eternity in time.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 162-165). Kindle Edition.

I love this. This is what I needed to hear….especially the last line:  it is not an attack on the world of death, but an embrace of life in the country of death.

Worship, church, reading the Word, prayer…living life in relationship with other believers and hearing the testimony of God’s acts of resurrection in their lives…this is an invitation to live eternity in time.

We are not consumed with death. We are consumed with life.

Real life.

Life that is founded in the Resurrection of God. Life that is informed by the Spirit and is altered from the death we once knew.

There is more to this chapter, but I wanted to post just this for today. There is much here to think on, to pray on and to talk about. I so hope even just these brief quotations breath life to you as it has done to me this morning!!  But beyond that swell of hope…what does it mean. How does it affect how we view church.

Have you ever thought of Church as being part of the Resurrection life….a key element, however ordinary, in establishing the power and the reality of the Resurrection in your life?

Those who have been damaged by the church…how do we overcome that fear or hostility or anger or disappointment and come to a place where the Church again breathes life into our souls?

This weekend as we prepare to “go to” Church…how can we go with a different mindset? A mindset that intentionally approaches the community worship as an act of embracing life in a country of death?