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Free to Love

April 29, 2010 6 comments

One day my brother-in-law bought my dinner. I reached to take the ticket saying, “You don’t have to do that.”

He smiled and said, “You’re right. I don’t have to do this.” Then he proceeded to pay for my meal.

He didn’t have to act. He was free to act.

Makes me think of an old story.

The late afternoon sun beat down upon Mechab’s arms. Heat rose from the dry and broken soil beneath him. His body ached. His thoughts drifted.

Mechab dreamed of eating honey, bread and some fresh cheese. Traveling back to Samaria from Jericho, he’d soon be resting in the arms of his beloved. Mechab smiled. The draining swelter of this balmy day would not slow his pace toward home.

A groan interrupted his thoughts.

Turning aside, Mechab looked for the source of this human anguish. Lying down the hill in a ditch that sometimes flowed with spring water, Mechab saw him.

As he looked, the grief of suffering pierced his side, and Mechab felt the grieving of this poor fellow deep in his bowels. Called by the agony of a fellow traveler, Mechab ran to the side of this, this Jew.

Without considering the implications of his actions, Mechab wrapped his strong arms around this wounded merchant. His sweat mixed with this man’s blood.

This was not his blood. Or the blood of his people. This man was his enemy. This Jew despised Mechab and his people. This Jew might just consider it God’s justice if Mechab were beaten and left for dead. This Jew could not even look at Mechab.

The force of ethnic tabus should have repealed Mechab, should have driven him away, should have formed an unassailable barrier between Mechab and this man.

But they didn’t.

Answering the call of one groaning voice that penetrated his thoughts, his heart, his stomach, Mechab acted without consideration. He violated his tribal, ethnic expectations to love this one man who cried out for help. In Mechab’s world, he violated the ethics of his culture to love and care for this man.

He didn’t have to help this man. He was free to help this man.

Ivan Illich once described this parable as a story of freedom. As Jesus told this strange story to bewildered Jewish listeners, he described a freedom that no one could understand. He described the freedom of the people of God.

This is a freedom from obligation, a freedom from duty, a freedom from cultural or ethnic expectations. This is a freedom that steps outside of status, race, and all power structures. This is a freedom to simply love another human being.

When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. He didn’t have to serve them. He was free to serve them.

When Jesus reconciled us to Himself. He didn’t have to bear our sin and suffering. He was free to bear our sin and suffering.

Jesus reveals a freedom of love that flows between Him and His Father. Jesus reveals a Love of the Spirit that blows where it will. In the Father, Son and Spirit, we behold and are immersed in a freedom that cannot be constrained, cannot be blocked, cannot be defeated. We behold a Love that creates and sustains us. We behold a Love that redeems.

Outside of this love, we are not, cannot be free. We are bound by our culture, our family, our society, our emotions, our sexual and physical drives, our expectations, our hurts, our struggles, our resentments, our memories.

In Christ alone, we are free.

There is more to say on this, but for now I’ll stop.

May we ask the Spirit of God to teach us the freedom to live by the breath of His love. We are free to bless, to encourage. By His Spirit, we step forward into a boundless love that knows no limit. A love that embraces friend and enemy alike.

We are free to love one another extravagantly, giving everything away–even our lives.

Relationships, Houses and the Tabernacle

April 29, 2008 Leave a comment

doug and kelly house

We can begin to think more about how space and time intersect by considering the Tabernacle.

There are three areas related to the tabernacle: outer court, Holy Place, and Holy of Holies. The Israelites can come to the outer court, but only priests can enter the Holy Place. And only the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies at specific times and according to specific rules. The Holy Place is veiled from the eyes of those who are not priests, and the Holy of Holies is veiled from everyone except the High Priest.

Now consider a house. We build walls around a set a relationships we call family. Family members can freely come and go from the house, but the house may be locked to those outside the family. We put a solid veil or a door between the outside world and the inhabitants of the home.

The door represents more than a physical barrier. The relationships within the home are veiled to the outside world. Within the sacredness of family, there are guarded memories, conversations, and stories. The space of the house represents a sacred placed for shared relationships or shared time. Inviting someone to pass through the outer veil is an honor. By inviting them into our space, we are inviting them at one level into our shared time.

The dinner table might be likened to the Holy Place. At the dinner table, we eat (break bread) and drink (pour wine). The bread and the wine (or whatever the meal) becomes a point of contact for sharing space and time together.

As we eat and drink in the presence of one another, we begin to discard veils. If wine is present, it can help accentuate the removing of veils/inhibitions. As we let down our guard (our veils), we begin to speak.

Around the meal, we tell stories. We share the highlights of our day. We recall memories. We dream together. We think out loud. The dinner table is place of the gathered tribe where people (both in the ancient past and in our current world), learn identity, connect to a family, learn proper social behavior, learn patterns and rituals that will shape their memories and dreams for the rest of their lives.

The dinner table extends beyond the family (tribe) and is a place of forming treaties between tribes. Thus the dinner table has been a place for negotiating great decisions like marriage, peace, business and friendship.

Beyond the dinner table, there is one other room that bears an even weightier sense of the sacred: the bedroom. The bedroom is an exclusive place of protection for only the husband and the wife. Behind the veil of the bedroom door, the couple removes all veils (both physical and emotional).

The physical veil is easy to remove and comes off on the wedding night. But the emotional veils guard such precious secrets that they take years to removed. And unfortunately, some couples never develop the trust of vulnerability required to begin remove these inner emotional veils.

Removing a veil leaves a person naked and completely vulnerable. Isaiah experiences the intensity of such exposure in his vision of the Holy God. A similar (though much less invasive) exposure happens between a husband and a wife.

This removing of veils binds memories and dreams together in a way that makes the couple both physically and emotionally one. The bedroom can be a great gift of healing and transformation when properly guarded, allowing for deep vulnerability, deep trust and deep shared time.

The husband and wife relationship gives a glimpse of the relation between the person and God. By the Spirit (through Jesus), the veils are removed one-by-one as we grow from glory-to-glory. Eventually we will truly behold Him with unveiled face—and we will be changed, glorified in the light of His love.

Without the Spirit’s grace of gently unveiling, exposing and transforming, the glory of the unveiled soul would be painful and terrifying much like Isaiah’s encounter and the encounter of the Israelites on the side of Mt. Sinai. This unveiling exposes our weaknesses, our sins, our absolute need for mercy and grace. Without mercy and grace, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.

Thus the gift of a home begins to help us understand how space becomes a place which serves time: the sharing of memories and dreams and the essential mystery that forms us as unique persons.

Meditation on the Law

March 28, 2008 Leave a comment

I preparing for a retreat on the Law (and the Ten Commandments in particular). I am looking at law through a variety of lenses. While many of these overlap, there are nuances worth exploring that makes it helpful to create distinctions. Here are the lenses I am thinking of right now. If anyone has other lenses that might helpful to consider, I’d love to hear them:

  • Law Expression of Love
  • Law as Creative Power (Creation of Adam/creation song)
  • Law as Restorative Power (redemption song)
  • Law as Covenantal Gift
  • Law as Glory of the Lord (intimate)
  • Law as Charge to Enter into Promised Land (Deuteronomy parallel with Hebrews)
  • Law as the Root of the Fear of God
  • Law as the Seed (Growing up into Psalms, Wisdom, Kingdom Rule)
  • Law written in Stone/Law written in Flesh
  • Law fulfilled in Jesus (entirety of Word enfleshed in Jesus)

What’s Wrong with the Church II (Disorganized Church)

March 19, 2008 3 comments

Contining from the last post, I reiterate that these ideas are my own flawed eyes and insights.

I’ve been involved in some form of home church meetings for the past 17 years, and for nine of those years with the same group of people. At times it has been painful, discouraging and exhausting, and that’s probably because it has been a small family. This is about a choice to love and to continue building relationships, and not about, “If it feels good, do it.” (Which is what a lot of American Christianity looks like to me.)

I’m not blind to the weaknesses of home churches, and I do not believe that they are some kind of panacea for the body of Christ. While there are many challenges, here are some problems that initially come to mind.

1. Sectarian and judgmental – Many home churches movements that I have been around use words like “Basilica” to describe the larger, organized churches. They fundamentally believe that these churches are some expression of paganism or compromise with the greater culture. And I admit, our group has struggled with feelings like that at times. When I first started participating in home churches meetings, a good part of the meeting would be devoted to castigating other large churches.

Our little group has tried to discipline our tongues and spirits not to stand in judgment on the church system. When I’m in a group (home churchers or otherwise), I do my best to refrain from the common tendency to point out all the flaws of paritcular churches, movements or “TV Evangelists.” For the most, these groups are not part of my world, and I simply need to keep my mouth shut.

This pattern of judgment and criticism toward the larger body of Christ seems to be a pattern in various small church/simple church movements over time. Now I don’t deny that this pattern can show up in any size and type of church, but it seems particularly magnified in the home churches with an us vs. them mentality. (There’s a good sign though in that some newer home churches see themselves as missional extensions of a larger body.)

2. Low commitment – Because of the casual nature of home churches, I’ve watched many people come and go. People may disappear for weeks at time and then reappear. While I don’t like the heavy-handedness I sometimes see in churches, this overly casual attitude can limit the possibility for real intimacy over time. It is hard to reveal our weaknesses in front of people who may have no deep commitment to the relationship.

3. Doctrine of the Holy Spirit – While some home churches embrace the sign gifts of the Holy Spirit, I’ve seen a tendency to reject His action in history. What do I mean by this? They tend to read church history through the lens of how a bunch of people messed up the church and turned into a pagan substitute for the body of Christ. And only a few faithful held to the true calling of the church. I see this as a practical denial of the Holy Spirit’s involvement with the church. As though somehow God couldn’t keep sinful man from ruining the church He created, so a few faithful have to keep relighting the true torch of faith and passing it on.

Any groups (home church or otherwise) that are looking for some pure expression of the church, end up putting more confidence in man’s plans and designs than the Holy Spirit’s guiding presence to preserve and present the church as the Bride of Christ. God calls sinful men into His kingdom of love. He transforms them in the midst of a called-out community of other sinful men. Of course, our humanness interferes and ends up wounding and distorting. But the wonder of God’s providence is that He works out His purposes in the midst of our fallen lives and creates a masterpiece (as Paul so wonderfully captures in Ephesians).

4. Continuity through time – One of main problems of I see home church and large Evangelical churches is the breakdown in continuity through time (past-future-present). But I will pause here and write a bit about that in the next little post.

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