Review: Here and Now

Gentle Reader,

Faith, in a Hellenistic, Western culture, is normally thought of as agreeing to creeds and catechisms. I do not mean to imply that orthodoxy is not important. It is. But let’s not favor orthodoxy, what we believe, to the extent that we neglect orthopraxy, how we act. When the religious leaders inquired about who their neighbor was, Jesus didn’t distribute a how-to manual for categorizing good and bad neighbors. He shared a story about what a neighbor “does.” He stops for an injured man, tends to his wounds, and he cares for his needs.

– p. 34

Here and Now: Thriving in the Kingdom of Heaven Today, by Robby Gallaty, is not an easy or quick read. It’s not that the book is difficult or overly academic; anyone can pick up this book at understand what Gallaty is saying. Here and Now is simply one of those books that you have to set aside for awhile, after reading a chapter or two, in order to process what you’re learning.

Consider:

[Jesus] referred to the kingdom as a present power that is ruling over one’s life, not in terms of a future place to wait for until after we die. A citizen of the kingdom follows the instructions of the king, a response that garners blessings, favor, and abundant life today.

– p. 93

There is a lot to unpack in those sentences, which Gallaty does well throughout the book. We who follow Christ are to be completely given over to the way of the kingdom. Our allegiance belongs to a country we cannot see, a country whose Rulers goes out of His way to break and transcends all ethnic, national, and socioeconomic boundaries. This allegiance does not guarantee health or wealth in this lifetime; Gallaty is careful to point out that those blessings, favor, and abundant life have nothing to do with a fat bank account, material possessions, or physical well-being, and everything to do with a life overflowing with the joy and purpose found in an intimate relationship with the King.

Gallaty begins by grounding the teaching on the Kingdom, so central to earthly ministry of Jesus, in the soil of first-century Judea. He discusses the importance of the Temple as the resting place of God’s presence, and why it was (and remains) so radical that the death and resurrection of Jesus made “the Temple…mobile as the people of God became the church. They were not restricted to a particular location any longer” (p. 44). The Kingdom of God was never meant to settle in a certain place, confined to a certain people. It is designed to spread and grow, encompassing the whole earth, and all peoples therein.

A “subject” has multiple roles as a kingdom citizen, not the least of which is representing the crown everywhere they go. Each person is an image bearer or witness to the monarchy, and with great privilege comes great responsibility.

Similarly, Jesus envisioned this citizenry when He pronounced the kingdom as come. The kingdom messaged seasoned His sermons. The Gospel writers went to great lengths to ensure their readers understood this truth.

– p. 79

Whether highly visible or hidden in our daily lives, we represent the Kingdom of God. We do not have the luxury of sliding through the hours, content in complacency and laziness. We do not get to turn off our minds and accept whatever our preferred news sources tell us about the world. We do not get to decide who is worthy of grace and love. We do not have permission to cast anyone as “other” when we know that they are made in God’s image, just as we are.

In short, our faith must mean something, right now, today.

Christians, at the moment of salvation, become citizens of Heaven while still holding passports on earth. That is precisely why Peter urges Christians “as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11). Our identity influences our activity. A passport is required to travel out of the country you have citizenship in. The stamp on your passport upon entering a foreign country is a reminder that you don’t live there. As a visitor, you’re just passing through.

– p. 125

Here and Now will step on your toes. Stomp on them, in fact. But we could all do with a good, holy bruising from time to time. Go out and get this book. Take your time reading it. Allow the message to soak into your soul. You won’t regret growing in your understanding of and relationship with God, despite the pains.

I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK IN EXCHANGE FOR MY FAIR AND HONEST REVIEW.
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Rejoice When the Children Come In

Gentle Reader,

We’re halfway through 2019, and so I remind myself that the Holy Spirit directed me to focus on truth this year. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and feel my heart slow within my chest. God is good and pure and wonderful.

As I think on what is true, what God has revealed about Himself and about the world, I make a resolution to stop asking people about children. As in, “Do you have children?” or “Are you going to have another child?” And why not ask? First, it’s intrusive and unneeded; the answer will be revealed organically, one way or the other. Second, the asking can at least cause irritation for the one being asked, and can definitely cause pain if there are issues of infertility or if there has been death in the family. There are times when I want to go through life as the proverbial bull in the china shop, but I’m learning the importance of sensitivity. I don’t want to knowingly cause unnecessary discomfort in others just because I’m feeling nosy.

Desiring to be sensitive means I begin to notice when I am not sensitive myself, and when others choose not to be. Thus my jaw nearly hit the floor after overhearing a conversation, during which someone commented that they don’t approve of anyone pursuing a child from another country, because there are so many American children waiting to be adopted. Why spend thousands of dollars when you can “get a kid for free?”

Up front: Yes, there are a lot of children in the foster care system. I get that. I wish there wasn’t such familial dysfunction in our country that results in so many without stable homes. Almost nothing makes me angrier than children having to suffer because of the selfish, stupid decisions of adults.

I also get that the foster care system is primarily set up for reunification with biological family, not automatic adoption. Sometimes that’s a great thing, and sometimes that’s an awful thing, but either way, it’s nowhere near as simple as, “Find a kid born in the USA! They’ll be yours in no time!”

Further, domestic adoption is not free. Sure, maybe there’s not the initial, up-front fees, but there’s going to be a good chunk of change spent on counseling and other services, because it’s rare for a child in foster care to not have experienced trauma or to not be behind in development, whether academically, physically, or socially. And any parent worth his or her salt is going to be willing to spend that money, to do what’s best for the child. Besides, adoption, done with the right motives, is never focused on saving (or gaining) a buck or two.

The naivety of this comment is not what got me, however. All of us are naive, even outright ignorant, from time to time. That’s fine. We learn, we grow.

What’s not fine: The judgment behind the comment.

Why is it odd or wrong that a couple would sacrifice, would scrimp and save, to bring a child into their home? That they would go to the ends of the earth to find the little one whose picture they cannot erase from their minds, who is meant to be theirs?

Such disdain for those who dare to do something differently than another would do it.

Again, I understand that there are children who are shuffled around and want a family to call their own. I also understand that there are foster parents who have sought to adopt these children, and have been denied by the courts, because one or more biological family members refuse to sign their rights away. Yes, that’s right. It’s not as easy as, “Oh, this child is in foster care, so their bio family is done.”

This comment diminishes the heartache, the suffering, and the waiting, for both adopters and adoptees. This comment assumes that those who adopt internationally never considered the domestic option because they want an “exotic” child. This comment doesn’t take the direction of the Holy Spirit into account.

I know families who have done domestic adoption. I know families who have done international adoption. I know families who have done both. I know families who waited for years for a mother to choose them, only to have the adoption fall through at the last moment. In each case, a whole lot of agonized prayer went into the decision.

Adoption is just as individualized and personal as having a biological child. There are thousands of thoughts and reasons that go into the choice, thoughts and reasons that only the parents and God fully understand. Those on the outside have no business wondering “why” this or “why” that, for they have no way of truly knowing. And, bluntly, they should not offer their opinions on the matter, unless asked, and even then should tread carefully. Additionally, if the outsider has difficulty rejoicing that a child, from anywhere and of any age, has found a loving home, then that outsider should take some time and examine themselves, for why would any adoption be bad?

God never says that one family has to take the same shape as another, and so on and so forth. In fact, this side of the Cross, the emphasis is less on the nuclear family (though by no means is it unimportant) and more on the Church family. We are sisters and brothers and aunties and uncles and cousins and grandparents and extra moms and bonus dads. And God went very far, the farthest anyone could ever go, to adopt each of us.

If you have a passion to be a foster parent, do that. If you feel a burning desire to save up money and bring home a kid from Ethiopia, do that. If you don’t want kids of your own at all, but instead want to pour out your energy and love into the kids around you, do that. There is no law in Scripture to burden or condemn you on this matter (and the commands of God are designed to bring us freedom, anyway), so don’t let the opinions of mere mortals bring you down.

Listen to the Holy Spirit. Heed His voice. Others might think you’re going wrong when you do, but you aren’t. His way is the best way. He has called each of us to love children, and to see them as blessings, but there are so many different ways to do that. Your role is your role. You don’t have to do what everyone else does.

Five Minute Friday: Question

Gentle Reader,

June in North Idaho is a strange month. Monday the temperature reached into the upper 80s. Today it’s been clouds and rain.

Kate says: question.

Go.

“You want to be a pastor?”

Want might be too strong a word. I identify strongly with the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, neither of whom were initially thrilled to receive the call. In fact, I just finished reading Ezekiel recently, and this verse had me laughing aloud:

The Spirit lifted me up and took me away. I left in bitterness and in an angry spirit, and the LORD’s hand was on me powerfully.

– 3:14 (CSB)

Commentators are split as to whether his anger and bitterness was in response to the sins of his people or in response to being commissioned to do a thankless job. I suspect it was probably a bit of both. When God, in His kindness, confronts us with our sin, we rightly feel a rush of emotion. When God, in His wisdom (and honestly, sometimes with His sense of humor), guides us toward the path He wants us to travel, we wrongly get mad and stubborn.

At least I have.

I don’t like getting up in front of people and talking. A lip sync battle, sure, because that’s funny. A part in a play, fine, because that’s not me; it’s a character. Just myself, Marie, behind a music stand, daring to declare that God has given me something to say…wow. That’s a lot.

But like I said, God has a sense of humor. I think He gets a kick out of using unexpected people in unexpected ways, because it brings Him glory and creates goodness in our lives.

Do I want to be a pastor? Truthfully, I’m not quite there in the wanting department. Still a lot of fear to overcome. The better question is this: Do I have to be a pastor? Yes, I really do. Absolutely no idea what that’s going to wind up looking like. All I know for right now is that I’m meant to keep showing up for our youth and I’m supposed to go to seminary. (Yeah, I just signed away at least four years of my life).

The real question, the one that circles ’round and ’round my mind, the one spoken in the quiet yet authoritative voice of the Holy Spirit: “Will you obey Me?”

Even though I don’t know where this path is going.

Even though it scares me to the point of tears.

Yes. I’ll obey. Not because I’m awesome, but because my God is. Because when I stand up there, longing for nothing more than to run away or to disappear, a greater longing overtakes me. I want these precious and wild young people to know just how deeply they are loved. I want them to understand the glorious Gospel that sets them free. I want them to meet Jesus. I want them to grow in relationship with Him. I want to see them grab hold of transcendent truth, to be enraptured with their Creator – and then to go out and set the world ablaze as they live in grace.

Stop.

Side note: Super weird to have people start referring to me as “Pastor Marie.” Pretty sure I’m not ever going to get used to that.

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Sisters: This Pain in My Side

Along the Way Graphic Template

Gentle Reader,

While He was going, the crowds were nearly crushing Him. A woman suffering from bleeding for twelve years, who had spent all she had on doctors and yet could not be healed by any, approached from behind and touched the end of His robe. Instantly her bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are hemming You in and pressing against You.”

“Someone did touch Me,” said Jesus. “I know that power has gone out from Me.” When the woman saw that she was discovered, she came trembling and fell down before Him. In the presence of all the people, she declared the reason she had touched Him and how she was instantly healed. “Daughter,” He said to her, “your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

– Luke 8:42b-48 (CSB)

I wasn’t expecting this to take 13 entries.

But here we are.

I sit in my writing spot – just a corner of the couch, nothing fancy – and occasionally press a hand to my side. My liver’s been acting up. Extra nausea, sharp stabs of pain. I can feel one of the hepatic hemangiomas, a tangled up ball of blood vessels. It’s hanging out just to the left of my ribs. I wince as I push too hard on a bit of scar tissue that was stretched earlier by some abdominal exercises. Strange how that stuff still hurts after so many years of surgery.

My body is ridiculous. I have to laugh about it. I have to shake my head at it.

Who gets liver disease without being an alcoholic or a drug addict? Seriously. Who does that?

Whose cholesterol numbers go up despite eating a non-fatty, plant-based diet?

What woman my age complains of aching joints?

Yes, I look forward to Eternity and a new body. I’d take it right now, in fact. But Jesus, He doesn’t seem to operate on my timetable. He has His own plans. And right now, His plan seems to be that I learn, each day, how to love and trust Him through this pain in my side. That I learn to hold tightly to His hand, despite no guarantee of relief this side of Heaven. That I learn to grit my teeth and to continue on, then, paradoxically, learn to cry and to rest.

Those who suffer have not been rejected by God. He is not angry with us. We are not great sinners in need of punishment. We are just people, like you. People who happen to have bodies that malfunction and break down at a faster rate than yours. Because yes, my friend, the day will come when you can’t do all that you want to do. Hardly do I wish that day on you. I pray that it is a long time in the coming. But it is there, marked on an unseen calendar, part of being the children of Adam and Eve.

Never forget that we who have been saved by Jesus are also His children. So when that day comes, you can walk through it, because He will give you the internal fortitude required. He will empower you. He will teach you how to be resilient.

We who arrived at that place before you did, we’ll be there for you. We’ll hold your hand. We’ll teach you how to navigate the confusing maze of doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and insurance regulations. We’ll share with you the slightly dark and somewhat twisted sense of humor required to cope. We’ll listen as you rage and hold you when you cry.

All we ask is that you do the same for us in return – right now.

Because that’s what family does.

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For all posts in the Sisters series, go here.