I was raised in a predominantly Charismatic & Pentecostal tradition. The first church that my husband pastored was a Congregational church, and we are currently at a nondenominational church with Lutheran roots. But in the midst of that, I have at least attended a service or two at a Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Orthodox, and Episcopalian church, just to name a few. I hope that list continues to grow.
The history of denominations can be a spotty one. Someone or group prefers this emphasis in the Bible so they create a church around that belief. Another assumes certain practices should have a greater role in the church so a group is created to foster that desire. Some feel ignored so they create a space where they can feel heard and build doctrines around it and so on and so forth. Often, because of this negative view, we within that world look at the other group with suspicion as if the other does not have the marks of a true Christian.
Humanity itself is quite diverse in its offerings. We range in color, language, cuisine, music and every other thing that you can imagine. Even within the small microcosm of our cities, we have different neighborhoods that have their own distinct characteristics. With that in mind, how hard would it be to wipe the slate clean and create a homogeneous society across the whole spectrum of humanity? Who’s culture would we pick? Can one culture translate well enough across the board? Dressing modestly might look a little different in Siberia than it would in the Sahara desert region. How does God work with all of this?
God among us
I think it is important to acknowledge that God came among us. He came to where we were and took on a nature that we could relate to in order to reach us. He appropriated the language and culture of the day as well as turned it on its head. He fulfilled expectations as well as added new ones. His message to us was enhanced by the backdrop of what already was and did away with them as well. He came in the midst of our understanding and spoke to us. Christ adapts to our ways but also transforms them. Our cultures, habits, and ways are but means by which God communicates to and through us. It is part of the beauty by which we were created.
There are no two people alike in this world. God comes in the midst of that and shows us Himself. No wonder why we find so many different denominations. Granted, there are certain theological beliefs that do transcend our cultural preference. So please do not think I am saying that all belief is relative to culture. As Christ’s body we can all hold to the basic premises confessed in the Apostles Creed (written below). Every Christian denomination I listed above holds to these essential truths of our common faith. Where I believe we differ many times are our cultural expression of that faith, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. My husband and I are COMPLETELY opposite in our upbringings, yet our common bond of Christ holds us together.
Yes, the Orthodox may like their long services, the Episcopalians their incense and the Pentecostals their joyful noise, but at the end of the day, our common bond is Christ. We are all doing our best with our limited understanding to serve the God that has brought us salvation. So let us extend an olive branch and embrace one another as we allow others the freedom to serve Jesus in the culture of Christianity that best suits them just as He has done for us.
I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
He descended into hell;
on the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
This last weekend I was invited to be the guest speaker for a retreat for young adults. This retreat led and organized by City Church was in northern Wisconsin in a town called Three Lakes. As beautiful as it was spacious, the outdoor environment along with some great cabins offered a setting of reflection on my vocation as “Pastor.”
I had three sessions to share with these “young adults.” The theme was equipping, so I spent my time charting ‘waters’ for their minds to consider and molds to grow into. Not only did I go to minister to these young adults, I also was ministered to in a variety of ways.
It was touching being together with numerous people around my age who were trying to serve Jesus with their whole beings. In the morning, I woke up to study. Upon arrival I was reading solo in the large study quarters. Then slowly, one by one, a plenitude of people arrived with no other agenda than to connect with God through His word. As I watched these young people, I sensed a bright future for God’s Church.
I also met a young man named Joel. He lived up to the meaning of his name as “fire of God.” Joel is currently pursuing his PHD in Philosophy at UW Madison. He knew Larry Shapiro whom I debated this last October. Needless to say, we had much to talk about. Joel began his deep studies in philosophy to think through some of the doubts he was having about God and Faith. Philosophy has served him well. He has a vibrant faith in our Lord Jesus and he is a committed child of God. I hope some of you would add Joel to your prayer lists. He needs God’s favor as he seeks Him through his many more years of study.
Thinking through some questions with Joel served as a reminder to me of the great treasure of the mind that God has given to all of us. Every one of us allows some cobwebs to grow in our minds. In fact, we are the ones who put them there as we passively receive much from our digital worlds. Our “Talent” is often not invested or saved.
Connecting with Joel was like Jethro refreshing Moses with new insights and wisdom. Could you please pray that our further conversation would turn into abundant fruit that we know not what to do with. For years I prayed that God would bring me to Madison, so I could make an impact for Him at the University. That prayer was prayed miles away from here. Since then, God transitioned us here and together, we hosted a debate with a UW Professor in philosophy. All that being said, I do not think meeting Joel was by chance.
Regardless of what steps are next, God has great people at the University. People like Joel are on the front line in unique ways. Few Christians get such a chance to ponder the big questions and use their gifts for God in this realm. I myself have thought and prayed much about PHD work in Philosophy. I have tried to faithfully live the dictum, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I have always thought that if I represented Christ with my intellect, perhaps others would follow. I will leave that in God’s hands. But, this weekend has strengthened my resolve that the Church must think through its faith in intellectually challenging ways as to be a good witness to the world around us.
For the Life of the Church, Pastor Isaac
What do you think of when you think of the word blessing? Goodness, abundance, grace, protection…These are the words that come to mind when I think of it. I was raised to always seek God and the good things He has in store for me. I’ve lived a pretty decent life and with that, I made the assumption that the blessings of God would cover me from the hard things in life. I wouldn’t have verbalized that, but in my heart, that is what I believed. Now to be sure, I’ve avoided disasters by making good life choices, but as we all know, there are some things beyond our control.
Several years ago a series of deaths took place in my life that totally rocked my world. Within 6 months there were 4 deaths that took place among friends and family. Every time I would start to feel like I could get up in the morning without the dark clouds, I would get another phone call…my safe blessed world had been shattered. Everyone who passed away were all dedicated Christ followers. I felt vulnerable, and unsafe in this world I had just opened my eyes to. This isn’t supposed to happen to me. I shouldn’t have to go through that kind of trauma. Where was God, my protector, the one who knew I loved him and did what was right. Was I not blessed, aka protected from the bad things in life.
I had equated blessings with material gain, comfort and all things warm and fuzzy. That is apart of God’s grace towards us, but it is not the total picture. Many times blessings are made available or amplified in times of need. God lead and prospered a whole group of slaves and made them into a mighty nation that still exist today! The ethical structures that governed them as a distinct people has influenced many nations including our own. Most importantly, it was through this people that God sent the world their savior. All this is against the back drop that for 400 years they were slaves in the great nation of Egypt. For 400 years they were considered subservient and less than human, yet they were blessed…
What Does It Mean To Be Blessed?
Where is the blessing in 400 years of slavery? Where is the blessing in being crucified for others crimes? Where is the blessing in losing those you know and love in quick succession?
God showers His mercies on those who follow Him and those who do not, because He loves freely, so there is a difference between one who has received a blessing and one who is blessed. The title or adjective of blessed has more to do with the one it is in association with and that is God Himself. To be blessed is to be bestowed holiness &, prosperity, etc. Not just prosperous in material possessions but in goodness, love, patience, joy, etc. To truly be blessed is to be in relationship with the God of it all.
Jesus tells us, blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who morn, are meek, who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied…We live in a fallen world, but God is sovereign. He can take ashes and create something beautiful. He can take a people in slavery and show them how to treat others in ways that only 400 years could of done. He can take the corrupt foolishness of the world upon Himself and make it the back drop for the greatest show of love this world has ever known. He can see His daughter in a lot of pain and say if you will just trust and abide in me, I promise you will make it through and on the other side you will have a greater empathy for others and a greater trust in me.
Many times we want our blessings to come easy and on our terms and call ourselves blessed. Oftentimes, the greatest blessings from God comes through the rough and tumble refinement of life. But those who are truly blessed find their satisfaction, their joy, their peace in Him even in the midst of life’s greatest struggles. For we trust that there will be a day when we see Him face to face and we will see the one whom our heart has longed for and truly be blessed.
Growing up, there was one thing I always knew, I wanted to serve God with every fiber of my being. The greatest way I knew to fulfill that desire was to be a missionary in a foreign country. I thought there was no better or higher calling. I barely graduated high school, but I didn’t care, because the only thing that mattered was believing in Jesus and going to heaven.
I went to Bible college after high school, because I knew no other way to accomplish my goal of becoming a missionary. During those years I breezed through school, and graduated among those at the top of my class. This was an eye opener for me because I did not think this was possible. The joy and sense of accomplishment I gained through it was other worldly. I was surrounded by professors who loved God and served him well in this capacity. That may seem like a small deal to most, but it was a game changer for me. I began to understand service to God as something that went beyond the roles found inside of a church. It began a journey of not only understanding my role in God’s Kingdom, but better grasping the vastness of our God and the reality we live in.
One of my favorite movies is, Interstellar, and not for obvious reasons. When I watched it for the first time in my living room, I felt the presence of God expressed through immense joy. My mind was blown to know this movie was based on real science. Based on the possibilities of other worlds, wormholes and different dimensions, that theoretically could be out there, but yet to be discovered. I thought, how can man deny the reality of a being that transcends our physical dimension? As explored in this movie there are mathematical and scientific pointers to possibilities that we have yet to encounter! I experienced the wonder of God through a “secular” medium and it was legitimate.
In the past, I would have been closed off even to the possibility of such an encounter. My understanding of God was so limited that I had condemned everything as vanity and of no concern if it did not expressly read Jesus and Heaven. I had relegated the Creator of the universe to the pages on my night stand and an experience to be had once or twice a week. I neglected the grander narrative by which God was sovereign over the whole thing. Was the point of my faith in Christ just an insurance policy for the life to come? Does life now, matter to life after?
One of my favorite books in the Bible is Genesis. It is the introduction to humanity of the source and purpose of life. It casts a shadow over the rest of the Bible, as the last book is a continuation of the first. We meet God here, and see that He is the creator of all reality and intended it for good. He then entrust us with the care of His good creation, but we know where that story goes, and it is because of this twist we tend to limit the larger than life being of God to our short list of what is or is not of God.
My view of God was more focused on fire insurance than the life that was given through Him and meant to be experienced now. Remember, God did create this reality in all its vastness, complexities and even simplicity and calls it good. He created the brains that the scientist use to make discoveries of the universe and takes pleasure in it. The joy we find in the most basic human interactions are all ingrained in the fabric of the reality that finds its source in God. It all matters to God, and he blesses and ordains it for good.
My eyes were opened to the God that was bigger than the world I created for Him. I realized there was much of life to experience in Him that I had denied myself at the expense of His pleasure and shared joy. I wanted to please Him with every fiber of my being but had told Him with my actions all of this was not worth the investment. I wanted to tell the world about Jesus, but had left the other part of the story unsung. God wants to show us how to live now and how to do it well so we can continue the narrative together in Him. We serve a BIG God! Amen.
A little over a year ago, I felt like I was supposed to put together a retreat specifically for the young women in my family. The theme of the weekend would be, fellowship in community. The goal was to bring us together in a way that went beyond the normal formalities. It ended up being a time I will never forget and a source of beauty I will reference in my memory until the day I leave this earth.
At one point during the retreat, I had everyone hold hands and sing along to a song titled, “I Need You To Survive.” If you know me, I am not a very physically affectionate person, so even though I initiated the gesture, it was a challenge. I then took it up a notch and sang the song face to face to everyone in the circle. Talk about feeling raw and open, but it was in that kumbaya moment that it sank into my soul that I needed everyone in that community to survive.
We are not an island unto ourselves. Although we like to live and think that way, it is inherently contradictory to the way we were destined to operate. We are beings made in the image of our Maker and I’m not talking hands and feet. God Himself, as expressed through scripture is a being in relationship. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are constantly giving of themselves to one another in holy union. As a result of this nature, He created beings whom He could lavish His love upon and who in return would do so towards others.
We Were Made To Exist In Community
It was told from the very beginning that God in his plurality, saw man in his singularity, and said it was not good to be alone. Community is a part of the image/character of God. In this, a reality exists in which we are outward focused and not centered on the subjective self isolating wants of the individual.
In Christianity, we refer to our community as the Body of Christ. This presents the image of a unit with interconnected parts all working together to properly function. This is the ideal but how often do we actually achieve this type of interconnectedness that God in His very nature models for us? Unfortunately, not often enough.
I heard this example used once. We often treat community like a bag of marbles. We congregate together based on our common spiritual experiences, etc., but when one marble slips through the mesh bag it doesn’t really affect the bunch. In reality, Christ’s community is meant to be experienced like grapes on a vine. Although, each grape has a personal connection to the vine, the whole cluster shares a common source and therefore a common fate. When one is plucked there is a noticeable gap. When one is rotting, usually the ones closest to it are next to go. What is happening to you affects me and vice versa. Our connection to God may be personal but it is not private.
I need you to grow and you need me. We are to be challenged by one another, loved on and encouraged towards good deeds among many other things. I need you in my ‘business’ asking me how have I stewarded God’s blessings in my life. You need me calling your attitude into question when you didn’t get your own way. If our fellow man is slipping away, I hope we care enough to not let him go without a fight. And when times are hard, we need the comfort of one another and the shared empathy of our Savior to get us through. We cannot run this race on our own and that is exactly how our God designed it to be. Life together, centered on one another in Him, ensuring the survival of the of the whole and not just one self. I need you to survive.
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Last week our church hosted a formal debate where friends, family and the wider community were invited to participate. The topic was on the rationality of the belief in God. My husband took the stance that it was rational to believe in God and the visiting professor took the opposite position. Overall, it was a great night, and such a beautiful opportunity to be under one roof with people who fundamentally disagree on key subjects, but yet be civil and welcoming to one another. I would say, it was a holy moment…
With that said, it does not mean I was not nervously sitting in my seat as the debate played out. I had my head bent for a lot of it, because I wanted to hear the words and judge the ideas on their own merit. I did not want to read into the facial expressions or body language. So with my phone open, I tried to take as unbiased notes as I could.
It did take some brain power to follow and process the arguments. I then found something to be lacking for me in clarity through the arguments being made, and that was the definition and subjective use of “evidence.” Professor Shapiro almost exclusively relied on physical evidence while Isaac relied more on the nonphysical. I found this to be troubling, because Shapiro was ultimately saying, because there is no physical evidence for God, all other evidence does not amount to anything. All that is real, is physical and nothing can exist beyond its boundaries. To his credit, he said that not knowing the cause of something is okay, and that it is presumptuous to think that we live in a universe where all things should be knowable. Yet, he objectively argued for the exclusivity of physical evidence as the ultimate and only decider of what is rational. It eventually became evident to me that God CANNOT exist in Shapiro’’s world…
Mongoose Vs. Cobra
Mongoose are known to be able to get the upper hand on Cobra’s. This is because they are immune to its poisonous bit and also, because they can jump around quickly to get out of the striking path. One day a bet is placed on who would win a fight between the two. People largely placed their bets on the mongoose because they know it’s abilities. Both animals are placed in a box and covered. When the cover is removed, the mongoose is found dead.
We could postulate that the cobra just out witted and out maneuvered the mongoose. Although, technically true, if we took a step back and look at the bigger picture, we could see the mongoose from the start was at a disadvantage. It needs the room to jump around as its defense, but when a box is put over it, it’s hands has just been tied so to speak. Evidence for God’s existence cannot exist in Shapiro’s world, because he has limited the scope for what is possible. Anything leading beyond the physical realm will always be a mystery not to be solved or, declared unresolved until further conclusion. He concludes, if God is non physical, and the non physical does not exist, therefore God does not exist and belief in God is not rational.
Shapiro comes in with the assumption that the physical is all there is. To limit the human experience to only its physical nature, I believe is to diminish the complexity of humanity and the universe as a whole. The mind alone is a wonder in itself. Our consciousness alone testifies of the otherness of our experience. We make the mistake of taking one discipline (scientific method) or sense of examining the world and broad brush our whole experience to fit through that lens. When there are a whole host of others ways to interpret ourselves and the world around us.
I believe Shapiro makes this mistake of limiting the importance of other evidences for God’s existence. Until one is willing to remove the box that limits your scope, you will not be able to fully take advantage of the evidences around you, and see what is in plain sight….
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At the age of 20, after graduating Bible college, I received my Minister’s License. At the time I thought it was a cool bonus prize, but I don’t remember caring much especially when the bill came to renew the following year. I took a pass, and had not looked back much since. Although, it might not have seemed obvious to those around me, at the time I did not have much ambition towards formal ministry.
After Bible College, traditional modes of Christian service were not on my agenda. I continued to serve in my local church, but I no longer sought for my vocation to be associated within an exclusively Christian context. I had ‘outgrown’ that desire. Those thoughts would take a back seat as our family grew and an opportunity came to us that I felt totally unprepared for. A town not too far away was looking for a Pastor. We had heard about this position months before, but neither of us wanted to go down that particular path. One day, the conversation about it became serious and I knew in my heart, that God was going to change our lives.
I was told exclusively by my husband on more than one occasion that he did not want to be a Pastor, so how did we end up serving in this exact position? Overall, I was a good sport, but embraced the role as his thing. I was still trying to find my way. Shortly after, we had our 2nd child and I finished my Associates in History. I started to long to do more and I applied for the Bachelors program in History while starting my own nonprofit to help others pursuing their education. I remember one day registering for classes and feeling so depressed. I had no clue what I was going to do with this degree because I had no desire to fulfill the roles that it pointed to. Through a series of events and a semester break, I ended up applying to an online program that would accept my credits from Bible College along with my Associate to finish my degree in one year. In doing so, it felt like the death of a dream. I cried before going through with it, my degree would be in Religion and Social Science. I would be starting right where I ended. It was in that moment I started to say yes to God.
As much as I tried to deny it, I could not run away from the call of God on my life to serve His body. I am now beginning to acknowledge and embrace this mission as an adult. I knew from my earliest memories that God was real and He was always very present to me. I never really latched on to any one profession I wanted to do when I ‘grew up’ but , I knew whatever it was I wanted to serve Him. In high school I told my parents I wanted to be a missionary and at the time my mom in particular wasn’t too happy about it, but I didn’t mind. But along the way of trying to accomplish that goal I got sidetracked. During my time at Bible College I came to the realization that one didn’t have to be formally recognized as a minister in order to best serve God. He blessed us all with many gifts and talents and they were all to be used to serve Him. With this realization in mind I decided to serve Him outside of my safe context, the church. But it was there he was calling me too all along. I felt like it was a cop out to vocationally serve in the church, but the real cop out was not fully submitting myself to the God who knew me and what He purposed me for from before I was in my mother’s womb.
After side lining myself for so many years I had finally stepped out of the way. Accepting my purpose I felt like I could begin to run with better clarity. I felt free to become the person I was called to be. I began setting goals to accomplish and being ordained was one of them. For me, ordination, like baptism was a public declaration of the call of God and my acceptance and submission to His leading. At 29 years, I am now realizing the true value and gift this ‘bonus prize’ is and trying to redeem the time that my 20 year old self let slip away. I am now at home in the center of God’s will and I cannot imagine being anywhere else.
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I grew up in a household and culture where your parents were always right. There was no such thing as a wrong motive, action or advice because they always knew best.
I vowed that I would never be prideful with my kids, and then I actually had them.
My oldest is only six and painfully insightful. I do not remember the situation, but I remember being angry about something and feeling justified in my actions until my daughter proved I was wrong. My instinct was to save face, but then I was reminded of the kind of example I wanted to set for my daughter when she is confronted with her wrong actions. Is this going to be a do as I say not as I do kind of household? There is nothing like being humbled in front of a six year old, but it was good medicine (although not very tasty) for my soul.
Sometimes as parents, we feel like we have to be this stallworth example to our children, but often the way we go about trying to paint this appearance can be detrimental. We often want to be like God to our children in the image of perfection, and when they call our bluff or we find ourselves in situations that expose our humanity we gird ourselves with pride. We might not say that we are always right, but we act like it.
The thing is, everyone else knows we are flawed (including our children) so who are we left fooling…ourselves. There is only one perfect being and that is God and the only other roles that are left are sinners and recovering sinners. By our example, let our children know that they will mess up, but instead of trying to cover it up, follow Christ in his humility and own up to your failures and move forward to make better decisions. Sometimes that is the hardest part, because we then are put into a position of being accountable to those we lead and that is a little uncomfortable. Good news is, if we teach our kids this way of life from an early stage, the level of shame and vulnerability we fear in exposing our weaknesses won’t be as daunting because we have already modeled and taught them the way of grace and humility. Jesus tells us those who are grace filled towards others will recipients of it as well.
If your parenting is seasoned with the fruit that comes from one that abides in God, then you have nothing to fear as far as your children using it as a tool against you. But if it is not, then there is no better time to start than now. Do not convince yourself otherwise. Believe it or not, your kids are watching and taking their cues from how you model it to them. So the next time you want to sweep your dirt under the rug, remember your children are watching and they are taking note. But most importantly your Heavenly Father is watching to see if you will follow Him in His example of humility or continue to build your own self-righteous kingdom. Choose the better way.
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