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.

Loved Ones Love Well

Throughout the month of Advent, posts here have drawn from pieces submitted to the Glen Elm Church of Christ Advent Blog.  They have covered the four traditional themes of the season: Hope, Peace, Joy, and now Love.

In speaking of love, Scripture’s call to Christ’s followers is clear:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

The One who is love (1 John 4:16) tells the ones who are His, to mimic His ways. Revealed in Scripture as “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in unfailing love”, this call to imitation is no light invitation.

How on earth could any of us live it out?

It is not that love is completely foreign to us. The vast majority of parents love their children without any nudging. Friends care for each other. Spouses cherish one another. The entire human race is said to bear the image of God, so it is hardly shocking that some “love genes” got passed from Father to children.

What is shocking though is how quickly love mutates into something less than divine.  And it is ME that taints the mixture. I don’t even mean that I add something that ruins the recipe. I mean that I am the something that taints the recipe.

And you do the same.

Well-intentioned and seeking the good, we march into St. Paul’s call. We will be “imitators of God”; we will “live a life of love”. With all the power in us, we will pursue this most holy call.

And we fail miserably, injuring others and ourselves in the process.  Our noblest efforts are undercut by insecurities that we mask and independence that we magnify.  Our hearts may long to love well, but our hearts are fragmented at best.  And when did something fractured ever show sufficient strength to live up to its billing?

No, if we are to be imitators of the love-God, it will require more than the powered housed within us.

A re-reading of the fine print in Ephesians 5:1-2 may make all the difference:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

There is one prerequisite to following God’s love-call with any measure of faithfulness; it is non-negotiable. No other credits will transfer in.  It is not that God is a stickler for details; it is simply that we cannot run before we walk.

Ahead of being loving, you must be loved.

Prior to imitating God’s loving ways, you must have felt God’s loving ways.

The topic of embracing, by faith, the love of God, even as it embraces us, could be the subject of a thousand posts.  (Perhaps this will serve as the first.)  But the conversation started here today is simply an affirmation that Paul knew of what he spoke: You cannot give what you do not have.

And if you do not have, it is not because the Being known as Love is holding back.

If even a sliver of suspicion has awakened within you, that a touch of God’s love might change life as you know it, seek Him in as exposed and trusting posture as you can strike and speak with those around you who appear to be living as “dearly loved children”.

I mean, who could dish out higher quality love than those called God’s “dearly loved children”?!

YOUR TURN: What barriers have you experienced in “moving into” the love of God? What advice would you offer someone who was seeking to feel more like a “dearly loved child”?  Your input makes this post better!

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Saturday Six-Pack (24)

Welcome to Wandering & Wondering!

Just in time for Christmas, it’s your latest edition of the “Saturday Six-Pack”.

Typically centered on faith or ministry, you’re sure to find some who-knows-what tossed in!

If having a half-dozen options paralyzes you, begin with my two *Picks of the Week*, and move from there.

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

Today’s edition:

1) A Circle of Honour
One of the most powerful acts you can carry out in your relationships is to initiate experiences in which those around you are appreciated, honoured, and admired… and they know it!  Great piece from Leadership Journal.

2) Seven Questions with Scot McKnight (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
Here, David Kinnaman and Scot McKnight take a look at recent Barna research on Christian women today, particularly women’s levels of satisfaction within the church. Whatever your own take on women’s roles in the Church today, Scot offers compelling perspectives on the research.  Men and women alike, your comments below on this piece could start a fascinating discussion.

3) The Paradox of Advent
This reflective prayer vividly describes the real wonder of the Christmas season.  Thanks for sharing, Scotty Smith.  If you need one more worthwhile tweeter to follow, @ScottyWardSmith will do you well.

4) Six Reasons a Pastor Should Work a Month in Advance
Mark Pierce makes a few compelling (yet brief) arguments for why more pastors might wish to pursue this approach to preaching.  Read it before you wonder, “But how would I ever pull that off?”  Then Google a quote about a will and a way.  Then decide what your next step might be.

5) Best Mac Apps of 2012
For Mac-lovers who enjoy finding new programs and such, this list may provide some enlightenment. If anything, the list made me realize that I use my iPhone for a lot of things that I don’t even address on my computer.  Several of these apps were also focused on more creative folks than myself.

6) How Social Media is Destroying Productivity (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
An article featured in last week’s Six-Pack contained this line: “What information consumes is rather obvious. It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” And a poverty of attention is one of the impacts of social media. This infographic (by ChurchMag) portrays the stats most interestingly.

Merry Christmas to all of you!  May your week be unusually full of an awareness of just how very close God has come.

Blessings on you, my friends.

YOUR TURN: Direct other readers to the best stuff with a comment below, or weigh in on what you read.  Your input makes this post better!

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

The Giver of Joy

The 2013 Advent Blog that my church is hosting continues to run.  Here was my recent post on the topic of JOY:

[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.]

Is this an early Christian mission OR one of pop music’s teen idols battling for survival?

fansIn Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas have to fight off adoring fans. While preaching the Gospel with the city of Lystra, they healed a local cripple, sending the crowd into bedlam. The whispers-turned-to-shouts begin to revolve around a theory that the two missionaries are actually Zeus and Hermes mingling among humanity.

Paul and Barnabas were having none of it:

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

That last sentence recently grabbed my Advent-tuned mind.

Paul_and_Barnabas_at_Lystra_-_1650Paul and Barnabas credited God as the Maker and Manager of all things, who refuses to micromanage. Instead, they observed this Overseer allowing for freedom, while providing low-key, you-will-need-to-listen-carefully testimony of His constant presence.

According to non-Zeus and non-Hermes, one of the things that argues for God is joy.

This intrigues.

One of the classic lines of doubt in God’s existence springs from a simple theory: If evil is in the world, surely God is not.  The question here connects with every heart that has hurt. In times of pain, it springs so quickly that one has no chance to even assess its substance on its way out.

In the struggle to believe in a God who hasn’t already obliterated evil, some turn to a worldview that involves no deity at all.  We were not created; we evolved. There is no Plan; just the ones we make. Life, by its nature, is utilitarian. The strong (ie: useful, functional, advantageous) survive, whether you speak of traits or ideas or people.  To observe Darwin’s theory in moths changing colour is one thing; to extend his thoughts into an overarching interpretation of reality is another.

This is where one consideration demands more attention: What to do with fun? Beauty? Pleasure?

In a world void of any good and gracious Provider, in a world governed by “the strong survive”, how does one interpret joy?

In matters of God, airtight argument is like the Holy Grail. It’s longed-for, but the longer you seek it, the less you believe it exists. Knowledge of spiritual things requires a different processor than mere reasoning, much to my logic-loving chagrin. Gratefully, I have been kindly chided into confession that it is a very good thing that there is more going on than I can grasp.

In a world that I could entirely understand, nonsense like joy would have no place.

Loose ThreadNineteen centuries ago, Paul and Barnabas contended that joy was a loose strand, begging to be tugged on.

Give it a pull.

If you do, it will pull back.

Peace for A Purpose

Slide1As I mentioned in an earlier postour church has created an Advent Blog each December for last few years.  Articles and reflections are submitted by members and friends of our congregation, on a variety of topics tied to the Advent season.  You are most welcome to join us in this annual pilgrimage toward Christmas.

My first submission was on HOPE.  This one is on PEACE.

[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.]

Everyone craves peace.

We pray it for our nations and households. We seek it for our world and for our minds. The whole of humanity could sing together of the desire for a “peaceful, easy feeling”

If it ever arrived, what would we do with it?

The Old Testament prophet Malachi described a beautiful covenant that God had established with Levi, a figure from centuries earlier:

“My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.

“For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty.”

Levi, the namesake for Israel’s priestly tribe (the Levites) enjoyed a covenant with Yahweh, described as one “of life and peace”. Levi lived reverently, and in exchange, his life was empowered to influence others toward a similar way of life and peace.

The priests were to experience Yahweh’s peace. Why?

So that they could bless the tribes around them.

Picked up in the New Testament, priestly imagery gets attached to the followers of Jesus, who are identified as a “royal priesthood”, apparently called to fill the role of representatives between heaven and humanity. (This concept is observed in the common Protestant doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers”.)

We see the establishing of this role in John 20:

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

To disciples locked away in fear that Jesus’ killers would soon hunt them down too, Jesus first spoke, “Peace.” Displaying himself as alive and victorious, he spoke the word again.  Having shared his peace with them, he now sent them into their world in the same manner that God has sent him into ours.  They received peace so that they might go into the world as representatives of the wholeness—the Shalom—that God is working to re-establish in His creation, one life at a time.

Poor Thomas misses this empowering experience.  But a week later, Jesus grants him the wound-examination he craves, after offering one key word of comfort: “Peace.”  We dare to see the same sending trajectory being established, even with the one famously called “doubting Thomas”.

How about Chennai, India?

Strong strands of tradition locate Thomas taking the Gospel of Jesus to the Indian sub-continent, as his response to Christ’s peace-sharing work in his life.

Apparently, tasting of God’s peace is a powerful enough experience to drive even an infamous doubter into offering himself as a Shalom-ambassador, at the exclusive disposal of the Infinite One.

Make no mistake: God wants to give you peace.

Just be sure you know why He wants to grant you such a gift.  You can be sure it is a grander design than a few more Z’s tonight.

Birthed into a Living Hope

Slide1For three years now, our church has created an Advent Blog each December.  Articles and reflections have been submitted through those years by members and friends of our congregation, on a variety of topics tied to the Advent season.  You are most welcome to join us in this annual pilgrimage toward Christmas.

Below is a piece I submitted earlier this week.

[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.]

The season of Advent is built around the experience of waiting.

Pregnant

One frequent connection is to the waiting of pregnancy, often observed graphically in Mary’s most literal waiting for the birth of Jesus. Metaphorically, Scripture feeds into this theme with its declaration that the whole of creation is groaning, as if in the birthing process (Romans 8:22).

Regarding the Advent theme of Christian hope, Peter uses similar imagery to vividly drive home its shocking nature:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3-4)

I have mixed feelings about the day of my birth. Continue reading

Saturday Six-Pack (22)

Last week’s “Saturday Six-Pack” arrived on Tuesday.  This week’s: On Monday.  Does less failure count as success?

One way or the other, here are the latest half-dozen links to feed and fuel you.

As usual, these articles are mostly faith-focused or ministry-geared, with a bit of disorderly-pile-of-who-knows-what tossed in!

If you need help starting, begin with my two *Picks of the Week*, and move from there.

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

Today’s edition:

1) Women Bishops: It’s About the Bible, Not Fake Ideas of Progress
While my fellowship doesn’t have bishops, we do have women.  We also have the Bible, and possibly some fake ideas about progress.  This short piece by NT Wright hits hard on Scripture’s non-negotiable authority in the discussions of women in leadership.  And some will surprised where he goes from there.

2) 20 Top Leadership Tips… In Tweet Length
Prompted for some of the best insights he’s picked up on leadership, Ron Edmondson offers this list… in ready-form to flood your Twitter queue.

3) Does Sliding into Cohabitation Lock You In? (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
There is a common line of reasoning that sees living together as a prudent, even helpful, test-drive ahead of marriage. “Surely this ups the odds of marital success,” is the thought. Yet the research, both religious or secular in nature, consistently argues otherwise. How can something so logical be so incorrect?  For Psychology Today, here is Dr. J.R. Bruns‘ take on what is at work under this surface.

4) On the Other Side of Suffering
Philip Yancey has long been a blessing to my life. This short piece, highlighting a lesson he learned from a WWII chaplain, may be just the word of encouragement you need this morning to press on, despite a lack of the clarity or motivation you desire.

5) Why Should We Care About Advent? (*PICK OF THE WEEK*)
The Advent season is underway again. In case, you haven’t yet figured out why that should matter to you, Rob Bell has a few thoughts to share, in this piece, originally posted in 2010 for Relevant magazine.

6) Six Ways to Find Time for Your Creative Work
To any whose list includes tasks that require free-flowing creative juices, The Time Management Ninja offers these six tips.

May your week be full of awareness and enjoyment of the God who already fills it with Himself and every good thing.  Blessings on you, my friends.

YOUR TURN: Direct other readers to the best stuff with a comment below, or weigh in on what you read.  Your input makes this post better!

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