I believe…

We are currently in a series at church called “I Believe…” in which we are using the Apostles’ Creed to teach through the foundational beliefs of Christianity.

Part of our reasoning for teaching through the Creed is because we believe that in a season where it seems there are divisions on every side…nationally, politically, racially, and yes, even in the Church…we felt it would be a healthy and powerful thing to focus on teaching the things that we share in common with other Christians worldwide.

We started the series simply focusing on the words “I believe”, which is, of course where the journey of Christian faith must begin. Christianity teaches, at it’s very foundation, that salvation is not earned by good behavior; it is by desiring a relationship with and putting our faith in God…the Father, Son and Holy Spirit…by which we are not only “saved”, but in which we find meaning, purpose, fulfillment…and the privilege of partnering with God in the reconciliation and restoration of all things back to Himself and His original plan for the world.

But claiming “belief” in something does beg the question…”What does it really mean to believe”? According to the Bible, belief is not simply intellectual agreement with something, and is not expressed by repeating certain words, like some sort of magic spell, but rather, choosing to come into wholehearted agreement, where your very life is altered and lived according to this “belief.”

For example, I may say that I “believe” that the actual risks of skydiving (assuming it is done with proper training/supervision and equipment) are rather low. This does NOT, however, mean I will be heading up to the sky to take a jump. My claimed belief does not in any way lead to action.

parachute-skydiving-parachuting-jumping-128880-medium

On the other hand, despite the fact that I know many car accidents happen annually, I believe that driving is still a safe enough, necessary mode of transportation and therefore, I act upon that belief, and car riding and driving are a very normal part of my day to day life.

In other words, the old saying “Put your money where your mouth is” is a good summary of what actual belief looks like. In the New Testament letter written by James, he puts it this way…

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

 

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Belief has very little to do with what we say, and very much to do with what we do; not because we think we are “earning our way” to heaven, but because if we actually believe the things we claim, then we ourselves are changed to our very core. The things that motivate us internally are transformed, in an ongoing process to look more and more like Jesus and the ways of His Kingdom.

The reality of being a follower of Jesus is that it takes more than a mental or verbal agreement. In fact, James goes on to say in the same letter I quoted earlier to say…

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.

Claiming to “believe in” Jesus has implications for our lives. In the next post, I’ll touch on what some of these implications are, as we continue to make our way through this series.
*In case you are not familiar with the statement of faith known as the Apostles’ Creed, you can read it below:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.


I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic (meaning universal) Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

changing perspective

I’m spending a weekend away with my hubby for some rest and reconnection. Today, while the thing he needed most was a good nap, I couldn’t seem to shut my brain off. We’re staying in a city, which is particularly unusual for us…usually we are the “quiet getaway” in the country somewhere kind of people…but for multiple reasons, including a friend’s art gallery show and the recommendations of my sister and brother-in-law, we opted for stint where the action is.

It was “First Friday” last night, so the city was bustling with artistry, street performers and good food. It’s a vibe that is different for me, but I loved it. It was fun to take the city trail a couple of blocks to find an adorable cafe for breakfast, and the hotel we are staying in is particularly unique. It’s called Lancaster Arts Hotel, and as the name would suggestion, it is very much focused on art and inspiration. There is provided in the room a sketch pad, and a note encouraging guests to doodle and sketch, and then leave your sketch behind to be displayed in the elevator as well as to continue filling the scrapbooks of guest-drawings that available for browsing in the lobby.

At first I smiled and thought “that’s a nice idea….for an artist” but counted myself out. Then, as I mentioned earlier, as I lay next to my snoring husband, while the wheels turned and churned in my brain, I decided to pick up that pencil and pad and see what came out.

While there was certainly no great artistry, what began as brainstorming ideas for church led to me thinking more introspectively. So I moved on from my own “idea sketching” to attempt to draw the gorgeous exposed brick wall in our room.

sketch

As I drew, I initially was feeling positive that I might have *somewhat* of a shot of capturing the unique beauty of the wall. The optimism quickly turned, and I felt slightly agitated that the creation was taking SO long. It certainly gave me a good perspective of how long and painstaking it is to create good art. (Serious props and kudos to all you artsy people!!!) Secondly, I also came to some other realizations, both general and personal, of which I found to be good reminders that I am in need of. Here are some of them…

  • Creating takes time. Slow down!
  • Look at the “thing”. Don’t just go on what I THINK it is, what I THINK I know, or what I THINK I remember…look at that “thing” (whatever the thing may be…an object, a situation, or a person) and take in it’s REALITY.
  • Reality (or Truth) does not change – but perspective does. Sometimes perspective makes reality easier to see and accept…but sometimes it makes it more confusing and disorienting. Perspective is huge.
  • I notice and greatly APPRECIATE detail. I love it. I love to look at it, take it in, and reflect on detail. I also greatly DISLIKE having to deal with or attend to details. It feels maddening for me to have to be IN the details, even though I see the enormous value of detail and the absolute necessity for it. I am too often willing to skip over details in order to pursue the big picture…but without the details, the big picture is very lacking.
  • Lastly…being indoors on a day that the weather is absolute perfection feels difficult to me. It makes me feel hasty and to use my husbands favorite Pennsylvania Dutch term for me… “schusslich” (meaning “clumsy with things usually because of hurrying”). However, love is about putting the needs of others ahead of one’s own, and my love was in SERIOUS need of a nap. Turns out, it was certainly no waste of time for me either.

Taking time to pursue artistic endeavors, even for those of us lacking in talent, can be both stretching and revealing, if we allow ourselves to go beyond the surface. It’s not often that I do, I guess, but I think I need to more. Not because I think I have hidden, locked up art in me that the world needs to see…but because to really explore, learn and understand things, we need to be willing to do things that take us below the surface on which we most naturally and normally operate.

So what stretches you out of your comfort zone? Creating art (like me)? Maybe attempting to write a song? What about reading a different genre of literature that makes you think in a new way? How about dinner with someone who works a job you know nothing about…but you think might be interesting to hear about?

Whatever it is…just try it. It might be nice to think about something new for a change! It’s refreshing to be purposeful about finding a new perspective from time to time.

spiritual flab

I’m just going to come right out and say it… I’m a bit of a diva. A primadonna, a miss-priss. However you want to phrase it, go ahead…I won’t be offended. It’s true.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m strong – in some ways. I’m not an airhead, and I’m not all about fluff. Some parts of me are sharp and quick – just not the physical ones.

Most of all, I do NOT like discomfort.

I like the heat cranked in the winter, and the A/C on in the summer (though, admittedly, not quite as frigid as my family prefers). I don’t camp; my idea of vacation involves lounging oceanside or poolside, with a nice cold drink in hand. I like good mattresses, soft sheets and my special pillow. I am accustomed to comfort.

It’s for this reason that I dislike exercise; it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like to sweat, or feel the burn of underworked muscles being engaged more than they typically are. I don’t like the discipline that exercise requires. I don’t like being stretched or strained or pushed. Sure, this kind of discomfort isn’t harmful. In fact, quite the opposite. Discomfort in this case, and in many (dare I say MOST) cases is actually good for us in some way. While not pleasant, by any means, even the presence of pain is useful in alerting us to a problem, and driving us to find the cause and a remedy.

squat

I’ve been thinking a lot about this correlation between my dislike of discomfort and the current angst that I can so easily find myself in, and certainly see many others in, when I look at the state of affairs in the culture in which we live. Here in America, it seems our political system is spiraling out of control and is barely more than a bad reality show. We see battle lines being drawn not only on a national level, but among local communities, friends and even family members. The social media wars rage on, with everyone (and I do mean everyone, myself included) feeling quite self-righteous in our stances as we quip back and forth and stare aghast at what we perceive to be the “other side’s” ignorance or idiocy.

But increasingly, like an itch I’ve been trying to ignore, the words of scripture…the very ones that I claim to love and want to live by…keep pressing in on my heart and mind, challenging and convicting me of my own attitudes and words.

Surely the beloved Bible phrases I grew up memorizing and singing about can’t POSSIBLY apply now, to these situations, in these crazy times in which we live!!

Can they?

Things like “love your enemy”, “pray for those who persecute you” and “turn the other cheek” were not meant for moments like these! Moments when surely God, His Word and the very essence of all things “Christian” needs to be “stood up for”….right??

Surely something like “our battle is not against flesh and blood” doesn’t apply when the local school board is removing prayer right out from under us, right?? Surely not. Because Jesus encouraged public prayer, right? (Might want to check out this verse on that topic…)

(Edit for clarity: Please note, the above was said tongue-in-cheek; I very much think Jesus meant we are supposed to love our enemies, even in the most difficult of circumstances. I think the Gospel is meant to be lived…not defended. I am not advocating “standing up for our rights”…but rather questioning if we are actually called to do so.)

Increasingly all these types of words and phrases (and there are a LOT of them) bounce in my head in a very uncomfortable way. They begin to feel akin to discipline and exercise. They make me squirm with discomfort.

They were awesome, beautiful, inspiring words….when I never had to actually act on them in any way that pushed or challenged me; when I could gaze at them or sing about them.

It all reminds me quite a bit of my “Fitness” board on Pinterest. I scroll leisurely along looking at all those workouts, strength training moves and think “Oh yes! That’s awesome! I could do that!!” Until that one ambitious day when I try it for about 30 seconds…and it HURTS. It’s not easy or comfortable. And I say “Oh, heck no!” And I move on. Because while I adore the IDEA of fitness…the reality of it, and the discomfort it brings are something entirely different.

I can only speak for myself, but within my lifetime, I wouldn’t say that my faith has been particularly put to the test. In my teen years, the popular thing was to encourage people to be “bold” about their faith by talking about their beliefs to others, praying around a flag pole one day a year, and wearing Christian t-shirts. Our version of “sold out” for Jesus was listening to only Christian music (I was really bad at that one) and taking purity pledges (another topic altogether). My point is…these things were considered cutting edge Christianity…when in reality, this was probably a bit more like “diva discipleship”. It’s not exactly hard to stand up for your faith when it is largely unchallenged. (Again, this is my own experience. I know others have had a harder time living their faith in more difficult situations than my own.) When you live in a culture that pretty much says “OK, whatever…” to anyone’s beliefs, the worst form of “persecution” is often simply someone expressing disagreement with you. (By the way, this isn’t actually persecution.)

I hear lots of people expressing more and more frustration about losing their “rights”…and yet I have to wonder… Are we maybe actually just beginning to experience some real life opportunities to apply in real-time the claims we have made for so long? At what point are we supposed to give more than lip service the VERY difficult realities that are implied when we talk about being committed followers of Jesus…ones who are TOLD that we are to take up a cross of our own (not referring to the pretty gold one I wear around my neck); the ones who are told that in order to find life we need to be willing to lay down our own; the ones claim to want to be transformed into the likeness of our Lord, but seem to forget he was the One who gave up every last right of His own.

I think, because we have not NEEDED to remember, that we have forgotten what is most amazing about God and his ways is that they are not the ways that would come most natural, and make the most sense to us. They are ways that seem like foolishness. They are ways that say the first will be last and the last will be first; that the weak are the strong; that the poor are the rich. We have forgotten…or maybe simply never known…that the realities of living “Thy Kingdom Come” means living in upside-down ways at every turn. We’ve grown comfortable in our “diva discipleship”, but God is calling us toward spiritual fitness. He’s giving us opportunity to use some muscles we haven’t had to previously…and admittedly, it’s a bit awkward and unsure, and leaves us a little tired and sore.

I will say again, at least speaking for myself… I’m a bit out of Kingdom shape. I’ve gotten a bit flabby from living a life a ease, and I’m still somewhat kicking against the goads of the new exercise opportunities being offered to me (as is always my M.O. when it comes to fitness…just ask my husband). But I can at least see that it’s time, and there are a lot of people looking at self-proclaimed Christians, wondering if we are willing to actually walk the talk when the road gets a little bumpier than the paved paths we’ve enjoyed in the past.

They say when it comes to exercise, it’s always better to have a workout buddy – a partner who will kick you in the butt and not only TELL you to do the right thing, but will get out there and do it with you, when all you want to do is sit on the couch and eat chocolate and drink Moscato. (I’m sure that’s not just me, right??) So…I’m game. Anybody else wanna start working some of that spiritual flab with me??

healing the body

Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, lupus, MS, and Type 1 diabetes are horrible illnesses that wreak havoc on their sufferers.

The definition of an autoimmune disease is basically a disease where the body turns on and starts attacking it’s own tissue, leading to it’s own deterioration or even destruction. It usually involves a great deal of inflammation and pain, and is a frustrating, even agonizing, state of being. It is when the body gets confused over who the real enemy is, and what it’s supposed to be fighting against (real diseases or toxins, etc.) and instead, starts fighting with its own self. The conventional methods to dealing with this phenomena usually involve treating only the symptoms…trying to best deal with the resulting pain rather than digging deeper to try to get at what might be more root causes. Sometimes these “fixes” also end up causing more damage to the body. What is often needed is a time consuming process of learning to be sensitive, in tune, exploratory and open to new ideas to see if the disease can be dealt with at a more foundational level. This approach requires a lot of commitment to the process, trial and error, patience and a firm belief that the body is worth it. That healing can ultimately come if the real root issues are able to be addressed.

However, this post is not actually one about physical illness. I have no medical background whatsoever. But as I have spent some time reading about these ailments, I was struck by something of a more spiritual nature that seems to parallel the physical.

Sadly, I think the Church may have an autoimmune disease.

It seems to me that the Church may be losing sight of who it really is, what it’s purpose is, and rather than working together to fight an Enemy that the Bible tells us is, in fact, real…we instead have turned on each other and are fighting ourselves, causing deterioration and destruction within our own Body. Just like an autoimmune disease.

First let me present the picture of health that the Church is meant to be. The Bible says that the Church is people…people that have committed themselves to living out the life and representation of Jesus and his ministry on the earth, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The Bible also gives us a beautiful picture of diversity, working together in unity, by giving us the analogy of the Church as a body. It says in 1 Corinthians 12 that the body is one unit, made up of many differing parts that all are in desperate need of one another; none is able to say of itself that it is greater than any other.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. ~ 1 Cor. 12:11

Somehow, we have moved from an understanding of this, to a mindset that thinks we are allowed to look at one another and scoff, demean and criticize. We think that as a leg, which is a big part of the body, a strong part of the body, a very visible part of the body…we can turn and start mocking the foot which can be a bit gnarled looking, is usually hidden away and can stink from time to time. But as a leg…go ahead and try standing without that foot. Even the less-than-glamorous parts play a vital role.

In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. ~1 Cor. 12:22-24

We take aim and fire shots…small churches “call out” the perceived “showiness” of mega-churches, and the community-sized churches write off the house churches as not legit. Some churches focus heavily on study, while others seem to emphasize service…and each finds the other in error. All, of course, claim their own rootedness in being The Way the church should “Biblically” be. But who is right?

I think it is imperative to recognize our disease, and begin to address it at the root in order to bring healing to the whole body. We must stop attacking ourselves, causing pain and destruction. We must remember that there is an outside force of evil that wants to come against us, and when we are healthy and functional, we are equipped and able to defeat it…but not when we are in a weakened state of turning our energies on ourselves.

Churches will be as varied and diverse as the peoples that comprise them. There will be churches full of intellectual thinkers and churches full of passionate artists. There will be churches who find reassurance of Truth in the words of liturgy, and others who find freedom of Truth in the mysterious ways of the Holy Spirit.

Which church is right for all these people? There isn't just one...

Which church is right for all these people? There isn’t just one…

There will be small churches, whose people learn to be disciples in discussion around a coffee table. Congregations made up families who are intimately in each others lives; whose ‘outreach’ looks like neighborhood backyard barbecues and bringing meals for the new mom; whose mission is serving at a local soup kitchen. They might reach people who feel like they just don’t “fit” in a traditional church setting, or who feel lost in a crowd of people.

There will be large churches whose members learn in big group settings, with recognized speakers who have powerful testimonies of their own faith journeys. They will be able to equip people with a variety of resources and forms of media. They can hold outreach events which can be a blessing on a large scale to an entire community or send missions to foreign lands where physical needs are great. They will have the ability to welcome someone who wants to be able to “test the waters” of church without having to feel like they stand out as “the new guy” in an already tight-knit community, or who is still too hurt or guarded from past experiences to be ready to vulnerable in new relationships just yet.

People are as varied as the sands of the shore. We have innumerable differences, needs, preferences, strengths, weaknesses and circumstances. Wouldn’t it only stand to reason that a God who so passionately wants to connect and have relationship with us would provide as many types and styles of churches as it takes for everyone to be able to find a place within His Body? There isn’t a right one or a wrong one. But there is one. There is a place available for every person within the Body of Christ. It might take some trial and error. It will take working together. It will take acknowledging that each part holds some value, some function….even if it is an entirely different one than our own. It will even take being able to so value another part of the Body that we defer to them, prefer them, maybe even promote them above ourselves. It could mean helping someone find their best fit in a church other than our own.

It means ruthless intolerance of turning on and fighting against our own Body, and instead joining together against an outside force that would wish to see humanity’s destruction. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us the devil is like a lion, seeking to destroy. He is the outside sickness, the toxin that wants to come against the Body, and we need to be in full health to stand against that.

My hope is that we are able to once again remember what Jesus’ prayer was as His time on earth came to an end, and he looked toward handing things over to those who would remain…us, the Church. He asked his Father for something thing that would stand as such a powerful witness that a watching world would know the Truth. He asked that his followers would walk in unity; a unity as strong as what they shared as Father and Son.

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.  I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” ~John 17:22-23

We can divide up into our little camps and come up with all the outreach and ministry strategies we want. But plain and simple, here’s the one that Jesus himself came up with and prayed for his Church.

Unity. Let a watching world see unity.

Let’s pray and work and make the necessary changes to see a Body that is no longer fighting against itself, but rather standing as a picture of health, demonstrating love and oneness within a vast array of beautiful diversity.

out of focus

Sometimes God speaks to my heart in the most random, “unspiritual” moments.

Like last week, when we had our family pictures done. Despite what any of these pictures may turn out looking like, let me assure you, the hour plus of photo shooting was anything but “ethereal” in any way. There was bickering, huffing and general barking orders like…

“Smile right now and LOOK HAPPY!! Teeth! Show me teeth!!”

My daughter is a photographer, and according to her we, on the whole, were one of the worst subject groups to have to work with.

Whatever. We are what we are… which, in the words of Jen Hatmaker would be a “spicy family”. So be it.

Anyway, amidst the bickering and shoving and throwing the youngest brother in the air and dropping him (yes, that really happened) there was this moment when God infused an “aha” moment into my heart. It was during this shot…

Clemmer Family (45 of 100)

I was searching around Pinterest a little while ago and saw a similar family setup and loved the concept of each kid with their “thing”…a prop that was representative of them in some way. I loved the idea and told my daughter right away I wanted to do this, and made sure each kid grabbed their item on the way to the shoot.

I loved the idea that Todd and I were in the background of the shot, as we very much feel that our heart as parents is to really help our kids find their passion and then help launch them forward into those things. I felt the picture would capture that sentiment well.

But there was a point during the shoot where the photographer who was taking the photo (the photographer my daughter works for took the shots that she was actually in) asked us if I wanted Todd and myself to be out of focus…a bit blurry…in the background.

That was my “aha” moment.

Do I want to be ‘out of focus’? 

I felt like there was this download of both understanding and complete peace as my brain quickly processed the question.

Yes, absolutely we should be out of focus. Because that’s the heart of parenting…teaching…leadership of any kind!

The idea that you are given this gift…this child, this student, this person or group that you are given stewardship of…in order to bring them from roughness, rawness, obscurity into front and center focus. To make a positional transfer, as they develop, grow and mature, from being the one that they “follow” to being the one who comes behind to support them as they move up and out.

Even as I gave my answer to the photographer, I felt like I was answering some sort of oath or vow that was being asked of me…

Do you, as a mom…as a mentor…as a leader…want to become increasingly out of focus in the big picture?

And in my heart, in that moment, I spoke my “I Do”.

I do want to see my kids, and anyone else that I have been given the privilege to influence, go further, do more, be better than I ever have. I do want to be a steady runner, who is able to effectively and smoothly hand off that baton of influence. I do want to see them rise to the occasion and walk into their destiny… but also approach their calling and purpose in life with the same understanding that it’s not JUST about them; that even as they flourish and thrive, it will now be up to them to bring along others, who THEY will one day push forward, knowing the blessing of joy and contentment doesn’t just come from fulling THEIR purpose, but from helping others to walk out the same.

To be honest, maybe this seems like a no-brainer or “duh” moment for you. Certainly, it’s something I’ve known in my head for years, but as my kids grow and move toward independence it’s something I need to increasingly take root in my heart. One of the things I can tend to struggle with is the fear of being “overlooked” or left out. I don’t like the thought of “empty nest” season; I love being involved with my kids and their lives. However, deep down I know that the real goal of parenting, teaching or leadership is ultimately….release. I’m thankful for this good dose of God’s grace to be giving me these kind of downloads and reminders now and letting me process them a bit before these seasons are fully upon me.

I know, I know….that’s a whole lot of “deep thoughts” to come out of one moment, in one chaotic family photo session in the middle of the woods, on a random Monday afternoon.

But that’s really how God is, isn’t He?. He’s not waiting for us to be sitting quietly in a church pew to speak to us. He’s in all of our everyday, normal, mundane, crazy moments, and I’m really glad He’s willing to use whatever random thing He knows will connect with us in order to reveal and remind us of truth and teach us wisdom.

Good thing, too…because, frankly, in my ‘spicy’ family, let’s be real….there’s just not a whole lot of quiet anything….ever!