Renovating Us Lovingly

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jason Bandura works with the Glen Elm Church of  Christ.  Married to Shannon, he is Dad to three lovely daughters.  He lives on the Canadian prairies and writes occasionally HERE.]

In Luke 1, Mary’s angel-visit is followed with a road trip. She sets out to see her relative Elizabeth, who she has learned has received a miracle of her own, becoming pregnant long after any believed possible.

In my years as an ESL teacher, I heard countless students begin sentences with these three words: “How you say…?” Poor grammar aside, the query was clear enough. What words does one use to express a given thought or name a given object? Mary’s trip likely spanned 100 miles, spread over three or four days. Surely she wondered, “How you say… I am pregnant with the Son of God?!”

My approach would have been to slope down easily into such a conversation. I would have begun talking about Elizabeth. Upon seeing her bulging belly, I could have asked questions for days about her pregnancy and her experiences and her emotions. After a comfortable stretch, I would then gently transition conversation toward my own set of experiences. (I confess that Mary’s particular story has no possible ramp for a smooth transition, but I likely would have tried this anyway!)

But God is not having it.

Upon hearing Mary’s “hello”, a womb wiggles, a junior jumps, and a priest’s wife turns prophetic. Immediately attention centers upon Jesus Christ. Not the game plan we created on the road trip!

It’s easy for me to imagine Mary conversationally meandering for a while before centering the visit upon Jesus. Embarrassingly, this is likely due to my own tendencies to meander in the affections of my heart and the devotions of my life. However, the Holy Spirit uses Elizabeth’s voice to prompt us:

  • Do not relegate Jesus to the fringe.
  • Do not minimize him.
  • Do not buckle him in the backseat.

A dart in the bullseye of a dartboardInstead, be very clear that Jesus is not merely one ingredient in your life recipe. He is front and first and foremost. Paul would argue that he is at the center of the entire cosmos (Colossians 1:16-17).

So set your eyes upon Jesus:

  • Set them squarely.
  • Set them solidly.
  • Let them not wander.
  • Let them not want.

For everything that God has for you – more than you could ask or imagine – resides in Jesus Christ. Like a meditative refrain of his name, we would be wise to sit and soak in the wonder of who he is.

magnificat_1In response to Elizabeth’s declaration, Mary is inspired to make her own. These words have become timeless, taking on the name “Magnificat”. Luke 1:46-56 breaks into noticeable halves. The first (46-50) is relatively personal; Mary is alluding to Yahweh’s unique work in her life. The second (51-56) zooms out to show a plan encompassing whole systems and societies, A mighty reversal for high and low, rich and poor, filled and empty. Many perceive these as “kingdom moves” – the renovations necessary as the Creator calibrates his world to his liking. The picture is wondrous if we imagine ourselves “moving on up” within the upheaval. However, I would argue most of us should sit with the more trouble implication that some of what we love will be tossed about by the Christ.

Few have been as helpful in clarifying the concept of the kingdom as Dallas Willard. He makes it easy to understand:

“Every last one of us has a ‘kingdom’ – or a ‘queedom’, or a ‘government’ – a realm that is uniquely our own, where our choice determines what happens. We are made to ‘have dominion’ within an appropriate realm of reality.”

And God’s kingdom is not that different:

“God’s own ‘kingdom’ or ‘rule’ is the range of his effective will, where what he wants done is done.”

This imagery brings alive the challenge of conversion. What happens when the “ways of the land” in God’s kingdom rub against the borders of my kingdom, governed by very different ways? Now we negotiate. Or debate. Or declare war.

arm wrestlingThis is why my eye lingers on Luke 1:51: “God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.” I imagine a child bragging of his father’s strength. A second child one-ups the first with bolder claims about his daddy’s muscles. The competition grows until some child silences the others with an unmatchable claim. Verse 51 strikes me as Mary preemptively ending all conversation. No one is so mighty as her Father, and his strength is most vividly seen in the very next phrase: “The proud in mind and heart, God has sent away in disarray.”

In a sense, God’s wondrous strength is seen most clearly in how he deals with the proud – those who know so much, those who have so much, those who are so much. Toward any form of pride – be it rebellious or religious – God’s response is completely predictable. He will scatter, he will break, he will undo. This has been true since Babel.

Perhaps surprisingly, this is actually God’s move of grace toward us. When personal kingdoms barricade us from entering is kingdom, he will knock something over. When the priority of self shelters us from the power of salvation, his most loving move may involve a wrecking ball. When we determine that our sense of self-guided direction will deliver us into abundant life, God will lovingly disorient us.

Along with Elizabeth, he will prompt us to center upon Jesus as directly and hastily as we can. And along with Mary, he will nudge us to praise him at how willing he is to exert his power toward battling our pride.

Disruption

20140117-204626.jpg

The silence on here is likely making me crazier than anyone else. My apologies, my friends, for the lack of posting lately. This silent stretch has been due to a few unusual factors:

1) Our nearly-always-healthy home has been anything but for much of the last month. Colds and flu bugs have cycled twice through our family, and I dare to dream we are nearly done with this new experience!

2) What started with sick children quickly turned into extremely fragmented night times, which led to sleep-deprived parents, which fueled the cycle of the sickness from the little ones to the big ones. Bundled into the short nights is the disruption of my early morning routines. This led to a breakdown in reading habits, exercise habits, and… my normal blogging time.

3) With health returning and nights stabilizing, I am hopeful that my morning routine, with all of its ingredients, can be regained. That means, more steady devotional habits, a healthier body, and more blogs posted!

Thanks for all of you who love me and my family. We hope your new year is off to a wonderful start!

Come With Me

goldfish jumping out of the water

Wandering & Wondering has moved.

For quite some time, I have been looking at alternate set-ups for this blog, with an eye on ways to develop and further its value in days ahead. Today marks my first observable move: A relocation to jasonbandura.com.

As readers, you’ll visit a site still very much like this one. In time, themes and appearance will be played with, settings and plug-ins will be tweaked, past content will be organized and archived, and new content will be streamlined for better focus and value.

[Huge thanks to my friend Chad for helping the relocation happen. If anyone is in need of the services of a sharp website guy, well-versed in all things WordPress, I can introduce you!]

For today: Two things:

1) Note the move to jasonbandura.com. Update your bookmarks, as all future posts will be over there.

2) Leave me a comment. What would YOU like to see in the future for Wandering & Wondering? I’ve got a few ideas, but you may have some better ones. Let me hear ‘em!

Worth Another Look: A.W. Tozer on the Holy Spirit

Here are a few beautiful portions from one of Tozer’s best-known works:

“A doctrine has practical value only as far as it is prominent in our thoughts and makes a difference in our lives. By this test the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as held by evangelical Christians today has almost no practical value at all. In most Christian churches the Spirit is quite entirely overlooked. Whether He is present or absent makes no real difference to anyone. Brief reference is made to Him in the Doxology and the Benediction. Further than that He might well as not exist. So completely do we ignore Him that it is only by courtesy that we can be called Trinitarian….

“…The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of life and light and love. In His uncreated nature He is a boundless sea of fire, flowing, moving ever, performing as He moves the eternal purposes of God. Toward nature He performs one sort of work, toward the world another and toward the Church still another. And every act of His accords with the will of the Triune God. Never does He act on impulse nor move after a quick or arbitrary decision. Since He is the Spirit of the Father He feels toward His people exactly as the Father feels, so there need be on our part no sense of strangeness in His presence. He will always act like Jesus, toward sinners in compassion, toward saints in warm affection, toward human suffering in tenderest pity and love.

“It is time for us to repent, for our transgressions against the blessed Third Person have been many and much aggravated. We have bitterly mistreated Him in the house of His friends. We have crucified Him in His own temple as they crucified the Eternal Son on the hill above Jerusalem. And the nails we used were not of iron, but of the finer and more precious stuff of which human life is made. Out of our hearts we took the refined metals of will and feeling and thought, and from them we fashioned the nails of suspicion and rebellion and neglect. By unworthy thoughts about Him and unfriendly attitudes toward Him days without end.”

Quotes are taken from The Divine Conquest (or, God’s Pursuit of Man), pp. 64-75

Six-Pack (50)

Welcome to the big 5-0! Since starting the Six-Pack back in March 2012, over 300 links and articles have been shared in this space.

So thanks for joining us for this silver edition. Here’s the latest collection of “best recent reads” on faith, ministry, and who-knows-what!

If six overwhelms, start with two. The *Picks of the Week* provide an easy starting point.

For a steady stream of such links, follow me on Twitter to the right of this post.  Sharp quotes and solid articles are tweeted 3-4 times daily.

Today’s edition:

1) Slowly Putting it Back Together: How One Couple Rescued a “Love Lost” Marriage (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Can a marriage on its death-bed be rescued from the brink? Megan Raines affirms that it can. Thanks to Gary Thomas, for both posting this story and for his ongoing work and writing toward strengthening and supporting marriages everywhere.

2) Three Things I Learned from Oprah
Steven Pressfield came on to my radar a few years ago, when his book “War of Art” was on a “Recommended Reading” list I received for a conference.  If you’re involved in any sort of creative process, he should be on your list too. Recently featured by Oprah, he observes what he noted from that interaction. Number three is: Oprah did not get to be Oprah by accident.

3) Seven Habits of Ineffective Leaders 
I’ve been entrusted with a number of leadership roles throughout my life. More than I care to admit, I’ve stepped up to those plates poorly. Here is a short and clear list of ways to go wrong. Let’s go do better!

4) The Silence of our Friends: The Extinction of Christianity in the Middle East
The Spectator’s Ed West does a great job highlighting just a few of the recent blows to Middle East Christianity, while asking the obvious question: Why aren’t we hearing or doing more about this?

5) The Audacity to Question God: An Interview with Greg Boyd (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
If you don’t yet know Greg Boyd, Jonathan Merritt wants to remedy that. You’ll be glad he did, as the two chat about doubt and how it pertains to Christians’ faith in the Jesus and the Bible.

6) Jack Handey Is the Envy of Every Comedy Writer in America
As I revealed in my last post (and elsewhere), I love comedy and those who “do it” in special ways. Jack Handey certainly makes that list. Don’t know Jack Handey? Start with these Deep Thoughts.

May the week ahead be filled with life, as the Father fills you with all you need!

Thanks for plowing through 50 Six-Packs with me!

YOUR TURN: Which link above was most worthwhile–why that one? Direct others readers to the best of the bunch. Your input makes this post better!

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

An Evening With Cosby

Several months ago, my wife bought me a birthday gift — a bucket-list-altering ticket to an event “some evening in the fall”.

Tonight is that evening, and it’s all tied back to a 2002 documentary.

Comedian-300x439Sometime after the end of his famous sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld was featured in a documentary called “Comedian”. It chronicled his journey, from sitcom star back to stand-up comedy. It provided anyone who cared a peek behind the curtain of what is involved in the creating and performing of a carefully crafted and painfully put-together stand-up act.  I found it fascinating.

Many of the best scenes feature Seinfeld in the back rooms of various comedy clubs, chatting with other known or lesser-known comics. They’re trying out jokes, analyzing what works and doesn’t, and shooting the breeze. Perhaps the best visit features Seinfeld and Chris Rock. The tone of the dialog suddenly changes; it gets slower, quieter.  They begin to speak of “someone”, someone whose comedy and career and character impresses them in an unusual way. They marvel at his longevity, at the fact that he had just performed what they thought was his greatest stuff yet. There is almost reverence in the scene, as they speak of Bill Cosby.

Bill-cosbyAnd that was when I made up my mind: I needed to see Cosby perform before one of us could no longer keep the appointment.

Tonight is that night, in Minot, ND.

Happy birthday, indeed!

Why Beavers are Better than Computers

Wily water-critters with their smacky tails, beavers can dam things.

Flashy control-centers with the wacky apps, computers can damn things worse.

Chunks of my past days have been spent trouble-shooting both my phone (Who knew IOS stood for “Your phone will become a paperweight”?) and my computer. The computer issue is not yet resolved, and it revolves around my Evernote application. I have nothing bad to say about Evernote, which is generally slick as can be. But my program seems to be locked up by a PDF I tried to upload on the weekend.  Multiple opens and closes have solved nothing. A re-load might be next.

Most of this is relevant to this blog only because I use Evernote to collect all my Six-Pack candidates.

And that’s why I’ve now missed a second edition of the struggling-to-be-weekly feature.

So I will continue to pound away at the Evernote elephant. And if that doesn’t work, I’m hiring out all my tech needs to beavers. If things are going to be this plugged up, there might as well be some buck-teethed furry fellows running the show.