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Archive for the ‘Stuff I Love’ Category

Lately I’ve been learning or realizing things so quickly I am having an extremely hard time processing everything.  Sometimes I want to scream “slow down!” but there is a sense of urgency also.  One huge thing I’ve always been drawn to but am now understanding more deeply, is what constitutes genuine community.   My husband and I have always been drawn to this and had a long discussion about it today.  We’ve experienced it on some levels in the past, and greatly desire it in our future.  We visited a good friend today who lives in a community many would think less than desirable.  He lives in a tent but he has an amazing place to live on a beautiful creek in trees.  The other people there have much more connection to each other than the neighbors living on my street, partly because they need one another.  Most people in our culture have been led to believe they don’t need anyone’s help, or it’s shameful to even admit it.

We talked to our friend about our big dreams for people living together, helping each other.  Now people call them communes, or even cults.  In North America they used to just be called tribes, and it was a way of life that even some Europeans found more inviting than their own, so they joined up.  As I learn more about them, it strikes a familiar chord deep in my soul of what I have also always desired, and how I believe God created us to live in relation to one another.

I have recently made another friend who is terribly isolated – raising a small child nearly alone, and battling an autoimmune disorder.  Her husband works out of town a great deal and her own family who lives nearby, less than nurturing.  She doesn’t attend church because her experiences with Christians and their theologies have also been less than nurturing.  She lives in a brand new house on the good side of town – in poverty of a different kind.  She told me of her many failed attempts to find a play group for her daughter.  They all had some element of conformity she didn’t find herself to match into; too Texan, too granola (scowling at her Cheetos), too religious, or even too atheist.  Each one wanting community based on their own particular identity rather than just loving people as they are.  Sound like any place you’ve been?  Thankfully, she decided to start one of her own, of which I am a happy member.  It’s a small but amazing group of women who value simply BEING.. and being with their young children.  I guess that’s our one conformity.

I also know some amazing people who have brought in a beautiful girl off the street who was pregnant.  They already had an elderly parent living with them, and their own two teenage boys.  But now they will have a tribe also, with a baby and and elder to boot.  They are doing all this with an inspirational amount of joy and gratitude.

community-300x201An interesting paradox exists today.  In a recent documentary, Happy, the filmmakers identify elements that contribute to human happiness, drawing from cultures all over the world.   A sense of community ranked in the top five, along with other interesting characteristics not foreign to genuine expressions of Christianity.  While humans crave this, our culture has all but lost it.  Substitutes for real community, such as social networking, do attempt to fill a need – yet don’t require much in the way of the hard work that goes into living in close community.  We can turn it off – shut it out – hide the bits we don’t like.  We want togetherness, but we want it with people just like us.  We have made-to-order radio and video entertainment.  No one has to watch or hear anything they don’t like.  Not like the good old days listening to your top 40 radio station, waiting for your favorite song.  Or flipping through your six TV channels over and over and settling for re-runs of I Love Lucy.  No more.  You can now watch all the episodes on demand now if you want, commercial free.  But even the TV and radio of my day were the beginnings of social isolation.

We also don’t have to be around people we don’t like, even if we are married to them.  We want people on demand too.  Just the ones who don’t get on our nerves.  I am not judging anyone who is divorced.  I have been through that too.  But we have become a society that bails out instead of pushing through.  In a community, you learn to push through.  And some behaviors which tend to cause marriages to fail would probably be addressed in healthy, healing way.  Maybe.  Just a theory.  You can’t hide your junk when you live in close proximity to others.  If you hit your wife, it won’t be your little secret for long.

Even with all my idealistic dreams, I realized I wasn’t enduring too well in my own tribe.  We’ve had people live with us, and we’ve shared homes with others.  We bombed a couple times, had amazing success in others, but in none of those situations did we see it as a way of life.  We looked at it as something cool we get to do for awhile till we go back to normal life.  Normal, isolated, scrapping for survival one day at a time on the hamster wheel kind of life.  But now our family has grown and our living space stayed about the same.  I start to feel crowded, frustrated, wanting things to be my way.  I want the situation to go away, not work through to a solution.  My own selfishness has never been revealed more clearly.  As I told my husband today, there is a big difference in wanting the best for all the people in your life, or wanting them to arrange their lives to make your life easier and less stressful.  And I also realize I’ve left many situations myself because it was easier to walk away than honor a commitment to one another.

Well, after all this today, I ran across the most touching, beautiful video (by “accident”) about an intentional community started by a husband and wife.  They went where no one wanted to go, and are pouring out their lives as a living sacrifice.  It is showing in vivid color exactly the things I have been hearing deep down in my soul.  It’s only 10 minutes and I hope you take time to watch it.  I believe the time is now for these to be birthed everywhere, as living witnesses to the love of Christ.  There is no way to follow Christ alone.  He ordained that we should need and help one another, and learn to love as He loves.  We just need to build on a few rooms. 🙂

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I recently discovered a really beautiful, refreshing blog, Mongoose Mom – purely by “accident”.  Just wanted to share this post with you because it’s so relevant to the entire purpose of this blog too.

The other day I heard a Christian radio talk host, whom I enjoy listening to a lot and who my kids think is very funny and entertaining, talk with a caller. The caller was a young father who called in to talk about his New Year’s resolution/ desire for change. The young father was obviously broken over his own failures as a father, and he talked about how he had an abusive father and could not seem to give love to his children. His children constantly reminded him of his own father – it was like holding up a mirror to his hurt and brokenness. The caller was torn up about his own failures and talked honestly about calling out to God for the grace to change and give his kids the love he never had. He stated it was so much easier and more natural for him to correct them or to tell them what they had done wrong than to give them praise and affirmation. The radio host gave the caller encouragement to some extent, and then he hit him with the law…..   FINISH READING

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Bilbo Baggins: I just need to sit quietly for a moment. 
Gandalf: You’ve been sitting quietly for far too long! 
Gandalf: When did doilies and your mother’s dishes become so important to you?

This post has very little to do with the focus of this blog other than I borrowed the title of Bilbo’s book in giving my own story a name, “There and Back Again”. I have loved The Hobbit since childhood, and remember begging my mom to sit and listen as I read portions of it out loud. This week I saw the movie and am still very much in love with this story.

Tolkien appeals to people with many different worldviews, each drawing from his stories their own conclusions about the underlying message he was trying to convey. He himself however never admitted to writing an allegory of any kind and insisted his books were stories that stood in their own right. He did concede though that an author’s beliefs (he was a Christian) do find their way into what he writes. It’s not possible to separate one from the other. As readers of fiction or poetry, we also read meanings into them derived from our own worldviews. So what I share here is likely much more than Tolkien ever meant by his story, but it’s a beautiful picture to me nonetheless.

If you have not read the book, or seen the new film just released – feel free to move on to a more interesting blog. 🙂

I identify with Bilbo so much, as an average human being. We have this idea in our minds about what we want to be, and then we are faced with what we are; small, weak, selfish, petty, and inclined to seek comfort as our highest ideal. In this introductory story of Middle Earth I see a transformation of a character from this low yet comfortable state to one not unlike the birth and growth of a Christian life.

One day, the Holy Spirit knocks. He is calling you for your true destiny. You argue and resist, and shut the door, thinking that is the end of that. You sit down for a nice cup of tea and try to put the whole thing out of your mind. But you are not allowed to sit comfortable for long. Soon God is setting events in order in your life that dishevel you, and start taking apart all the things you believe are so precious (a Hobbit hole full of dwarves!). He calls on you again to come. You still resist. You shudder at the risks and decide, “Absolutely not!”. You want your life put back in order and to be left in peace.

Then He leaves you alone in the quiet, which causes you to wonder, and hunger, and suddenly you run out the door after Him saying, “Yes I will, I will!”. You think maybe there will be something in it for you.. some great reward in fortune or a place of importance. After all it IS God who wants you right? If HE is asking you to do something, it must be very important and soon everyone will know of your great ministry!

The journey is at first a bit mundane.. and nothing is happening as you hoped. You get tired, and hungry and you miss your warm, comfortable chair by the fire. Then troubles come and you fear for your very life at times. The people around you who are supposed to be on this journey with you begin to criticize and say you don’t really belong with them. You wonder what you have gotten yourself into and start to pack your bag to go home. It’s not worth it. You’ve made a big mistake and there is nothing but pain and failure in your future.

Then it happens. God confronts you with a choice to seek your own safety, to save your own life – or to lay your life down for the sake of others. In that willingness to die, you at last learn to really live in Him. It’s not about you anymore. You have taken up your cross and you follow Him, to the ends of the Earth if He so asks – not for your own glory, but for the deep love He put in your heart for Himself, and those He sends you to.

Shortly after seeing this picture in the movie, I read the parable of the sower and saw all four of those pictures in this story too! The initial denial, the quick acceptance without counting the cost, the turning back because of the desire for the good things in life or too much suffering, and at last the acceptance of God’s call to die and take up a cross, in which we become the “good soil” which produces much fruit.

I have come to view this parable as the journey of a heart from separation to reconciliation with God, and the process of growth He takes us through.  Not everyone who resists the Word will always do so.   I know there have been times when each of these “soils” applied to me! I want my heart to be fertile soil, but I am not always.  I am new in Him forever and always, but each stage in my growing process seems to start this cycle all over again; initial resistance, eagerness which hasn’t counted the cost, shrinking back, then acceptance. If the seed is the Word… as Jesus says, then every word of truth may encounter these obstacles before it produces fruit our lives.

He is the final Word.. and I pray that as Christmas comes, He is planted in many hearts. This time of year, He is the also the Living Water that channels through Christmas into places he would never be allowed otherwise.  I even heard songs of Him at a public high school band concert.  If water spills out of its boundaries, it will fill every crack and cranny and seep through the smallest openings.  The world has a chance to see what they choose to forget the rest of the year.. a Redeemer has been born. There is so much grief and suffering in the world. I pray we hunger for Him and His Peace! Immanuel!  

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Not long ago I stopped at a church yard sale and found a little treasure, “Abide in Christ” by Andrew Murray.  It’s an old copy without a publication date, but my guess it was printed in the early 1900s.  I have to confess that although I’m familiar with this author’s name and some of his titles, I hadn’t known anything about him.  When I decided to share some of what I read today, I thought it might be a good idea to find out who he was exactly.  When I did, it made sense why his words impact me so deeply.

He lived longer ago than I had realized (1828-1917), and he and his brother joined a revival movement while studying theology in the Netherlands.  He was a Revivalist in his ministry as a pastor in South Africa, the country of his birth.  The biography sketch states his written works greatly influenced Watchman Nee, which would explain why I said this morning, “Wow! This sounds so much like Watchman Nee!”  🙂

When it comes to great Christian writers, I am consistently drawn to the same genre of literature.  Revival is the continuing desire of my heart and for my heart.  I am so moved by those believers whose words were generated by this fire.  They inspire and challenge me.

But enough about what I think… here is what excited me this morning, an excerpt from Day Three of a 31 days of meditations on Abiding in Christ.  These words have direct implications for the subject matter of this blog as well.  (added emphases below are mine)

Chapter 3–TRUSTING HIM TO KEEP YOU

“I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which I also am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”–PHIL.3:12

MORE than one admits that it is a sacred duty and a blessed privilege to abide in Christ, but shrinks back continually before the question: Is it possible, a life of unbroken fellowship with the Saviour? Eminent Christians, to whom special opportunities of cultivating this grace have been granted, may attain to it; for the large majority of disciples, whose life, by a divine appointment, is so fully occupied with the affairs of this life, it can scarce be expected. The more they hear of this life, the deeper their sense of its glory and blessedness, and there is nothing they would not sacrifice to be made partakers of it. But they are too weak, too unfaithful–they never can attain to it.

Dear souls! how little they know that the abiding in Christ is just meant for the weak, and so beautifully suited to their feebleness. It is not the doing of some great thing, and does not demand that we first lead a very holy and devoted life. No, it is simply weakness entrusting itself to a Mighty One to be kept–the unfaithful one casting self on One who is altogether trustworthy and true. Abiding in Him is not a work that we have to do as the condition for enjoying His salvation, but a consenting to let Him do all for us, and in us, and through us. It is a work He does for us–the fruit and the power of His redeeming love. Our part is simply to yield, to trust, and to wait for what He has engaged to perform.

It is this quiet expectation and confidence, resting on the word of Christ that in Him there is an abiding place prepared, which is so sadly wanting among Christians. They scarce take the time or the trouble to realize that when He says “Abide IN ME,” He offers Himself, the Keeper of Israel that slumbers not nor sleeps, with all His power and love, as the living home of the soul, where the mighty influences of His grace will be stronger to keep than all their feebleness to lead astray. The idea they have of grace is this–that their conversion and pardon are God’s work, but that now, in gratitude to God, it is their work to live as Christians, and follow Jesus. There is always the thought of a work that has to be done, and even though they pray for help, still the work is theirs. They fail continually, and become hopeless; and the despondency only increases the helplessness. No, wandering one; as it was Jesus who drew you when He spake “Come,” so it is Jesus who keeps you when He says “Abide.” The grace to come and the grace to abide are alike from Him alone. That word Come, heard, meditated on, accepted, was the cord of love that drew you nigh; that word Abide is even so the band with which He holds you fast and binds you to Himself. Let the soul but take time to listen to the voice of Jesus. “In me,” He says, “is thy place–in my almighty arms. It is I who love thee so, who speak Abide in me; surely thou canst trust me.” The voice of Jesus entering and dwelling in the soul cannot but call for the response: “Yes, Saviour, in Thee I can, I will abide.”

Abide in me: These words are no law of Moses, demanding from the sinful what they cannot perform. They are the command of love, which is ever only a promise in a different shape. Think of this until all feeling of burden and fear and despair pass away, and the first thought that comes as you hear of abiding in Jesus be one of bright and joyous hope: it is for me, I know I shall enjoy it. You are not under the law, with its inexorable Do, but under grace, with its blessed Believe what Christ will do for you. And if the question be asked, “But surely there is something for us to do?” the answer is, “Our doing and working are but the fruit of Christ’s work in us.” It is when the soul becomes utterly passive, looking and resting on what Christ is to do, that its energies are stirred to their highest activity, and that we work most effectually because we know that He works in us. It is as we see in that word IN ME the mighty energies of love reaching out after us to have us and to hold us, that all the strength of our will is roused to abide in Him.”

The entire book is available to read online: Abide in Christ

There is such a subtle but life-altering difference between the approach that we must strive to be a good Christian, and the reality that we must simply let Jesus live it out in us.  Those who live in the former state, often have no realization there is another way.  That they are mixing their own efforts with the sufficiency of God’s grace.  They push others to strive as they themselves feel obliged to do.  It’s the logical thing to do.  Be a good Christian soldier.

Lately as my own personal battles have raged at new levels, I have seen the stakes differently.  Success and failure in the living of our Christian life revolve around how we love.  We may fail in many ways, but to fail to love is the only true failure.  Love in the fiercest of spiritual battles cannot be manufactured in our dead human hearts.  Love indicates where my life abides.  In Christ?  Or in my own desires and disappointments.

People are never what we want them to be, or we can blame God for the storms we expected Him to steer us away from.  But people we must love, and our Father we must trust.  And here my language goes back to knee-jerk human compulsion to “work”.  We must, but we can’t.  He does.

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Today I ran across a post on facebook and learned of Knowing Me Ministries in Portland, Oregon.  It caught my eye because they work with the homeless population, an avenue of ministry our family also has been given a heart for. What intrigued me, besides their amazing testimony and witness (check it out!), was the verse that inspired their name:

  He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.  Is not this to know me? declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 22:16

It reminded me of another group who derived their name from a passage in Jeremiah.  We called ourselves “Yada Elohim”  which means “Know God.”

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Jeremiah 9:23,24

The Hebrew word indicated a very intimate relationship.  The same word is used in passages were a when a man “knew” his wife.  We desired this intimate knowledge of God so much, and believed that increasing our level of obedience to Old Covenant commandments would bring us to this closer understanding of God.   We believed if we walked as Jesus walked, in the Jewish sense, we would know God like we had never known him before.   We seemed to have missed the verse in chapter 22.

Our desires were noble, but our method could be compared to trying to make the trek of Lewis and Clark, as they did; by boat, on horseback, and on foot.  Why do that when you can now drive to the Pacific coast?  It might be a great adventure, but if you were to tell people they must go this way to get there, as you sport your leather moccasins,  this would be a silly and even dangerous assertion.  Yet, that is in effect, what we believed.

Later as I read Matthew, I realized what the words of Jesus said about who HE would know, and I became suddenly aware that the fruit in our lives did not resemble the group which were commended.  This began the gift of seeing Jesus as the ultimate Truth.  These words stopped me in my tracks:

On that day many will say to me,
‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

And then will I declare to them,
‘I never knew you; depart from me, 
you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:22,23

And these:

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 
Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
Then he will answer them, saying,
‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  

Matthew 25:40-46

Not every believer is called by God to directly do all of these things.  But the corporate fruit or our movement, across the board, fell in the goat camp.  Yes.. there are individual exceptions, but this was most certainly not the focus of our “mission”.   (Then again, it’s not the mission of most of what calls itself Christian in the Western world.)

Our mission to know God through the Law and not Jesus Himself did not produce compassion, self-sacrifice for the “least of these” or calling out the Good News to those God is calling to Himself.  Our purpose was to show Christians they had turned their backs on Torah, and that we followed the REAL Messiah.

Today I saw parallels in the names of two ministries, and great contrast in the mission.  It brought to my mind again that these two paths do not converge.

The first reaction upon deliverance from this mistaken mindset was to exchange the Old Covenant “to do list” for the New Covenant one.  “Now I need to make sure I’m doing these commandments of Jesus!”  Yes, but no.  I am thankful God did not allow me to jump into trying to obey even more correctly that I had been doing the last six years.  I wanted to, but He needed to transform my whole outlook.

When I saw the the New Covenant, I saw the Spirit brought this life of compassion.  This fruit comes through allowing GOD to work.  I knew I needed to pray.  Pray for my heart to be filled with love and compassion where it had become cold and hard.  Pray for the privilege to serve those God would lay on my heart to serve.  Pray for the ability and provision to do so.  Pray pray pray.

Life in the Spirit is not about checklists… it’s about being blindly abandoned to Jesus and letting Him fill us up and lead us, and empower us.  We don’t reassure ourselves that God is going to save us because we are doing the works the good guys are doing in the parable.  He confirms the Promise in us when we see that He is doing in us what we know we had no ability to do ourselves, nor even the desire, if left to ourselves.  We see that we become the tool in His hands, and lives are impacted, because of what HE is doing, not us.

Some believers are called to works where they don’t get to see the fruit God will bring from it.  Even here, the witness of love in their hearts, confirms this same thing.   The still small voice that spurs them on comforts them as well.  Are there moments of doubt and despair?  Most certainly.  Look at Elijah and John the Baptist.  God alone is strong and He alone is worthy of glory.

Another verse comes to mind.

But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”  
John 3:21  

The KJV uses the word “wrought” for “carried out”.   Christ is the author and the finisher.   He is all in all.  My good intentions, hard work, striving, and planning in human wisdom… futile.  Sabbath rest in Christ becomes a necessity for anyone who wishes to serve in His army.  We have to trust Him daily for everything from start to finish, and hear Him.

What has God called you to do?  Maybe it’s prayer (what is more effective in this world and how few of us devote our time to this?),  sacrificial giving, or the ability to sit and listen to a broken heart without judging.  Do we desire for our hearts to be broken for the things that break His?  Does our cause in this world match what He has declared matters most to Him?

Next week our family is moving back into the city from a small town.  I have been so excited to know I will be near all the things I love, and need.  No more long drives home.  This time of year especially, it’s easy to get excited about the consumer opportunities.  Today I am reminded of one of the chief reasons I believe God is allowing us to go back in.  He loves people more than He loves Sam’s Club.  I will keep praying for the open doors, and the willingness to allow the Spirit to flow through me to people, whether it’s a neighbor, or a homeless friend under a bridge.

What does it mean to know God?  I am continuing to learn.  But most of all, I am thankful that He has patiently, and lovingly known me.

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Yesterday I had the most amazing experience.  My perspective was completely changed on a subject in just a matter of minutes.  Interestingly, it is an issue I have been conflicted over so much lately.  I suppose that meant I was ready to listen.

I have had this long-standing guilt over being argumentative.  I’ve felt it was wrong, un-Christlike, and a bad witness.  But my personality can rarely walk away from a good debate.  Earlier in the day, I had just explained to a friend why I had left various internet discussion groups.   I have grown tired of all the arguing.  Yet I found myself  immediately in two intense conversations.  I was so frustrated that I can’t seem to just turn around and walk away from them.  But during the course of the last debate I realized, to do so, would have been insulting to the other person who genuinely wanted to discuss an issue.  I was left conflicted.  What is the right thing to do?

I have been in arguments where I felt attacked by those who were supposed to be on my side, as believers. My perspective was not even heard, let alone understood.  I appreciate being heard more than being agreed with!  But when someone doesn’t even listen, and gets hostile, then we are wasting words.  Have I been guilty of this myself? Most definitely.

Later in the day after I briefly explained the above struggle with my friend, I picked up reading in a book I’ve been working my way through, and a completely clear answer came.  I saw through this story that it’s not wrong to argue, but we often argue wrongly.  I have to share this excerpt from the book.  It’s hard to get the full impact of the story this pastor is telling about his “church” in a hard core part of Pittsburgh, without having read the book up to this point.  But I hope you can get the idea.

One Sunday after worship, Amanda and Eric approached me. Amanda is a twenty-something with a mix of blond, black, and red hair. Eric has a black and blue tint to his hair that I’ve always wanted and have never had the nerve to get. Both Eric and Amanda are eccentric, artsy, and love old monster movies and rock-n-roll. Eric and Amanda are the kind of people I want to be when I grow up. So, when they came to me on that Sunday morning with an idea, I listened. “Pastor Jim,” Amanda started, “We want to get involved in a Bible study. Is this church going to have any Bible studies?” I quickly got defensive. That’s what we pastors do when it is insinuated that we’re not providing the right products. “We already have Bible studies going on right now,” I replied. “We have a study on Monday night, a study about Ephesians on Wednesday, and a study on Romans on Saturday nights at the coffee shop.” Eric looked at me, politely, but pained, and said to me very gently and kindly, “Yeah, we went to those.” “It’s just not what we’re looking for, Pastor Jim,” Amanda said. “Well, what is it you’re looking for? Maybe we can get something new going.” That’s when Amanda got bold. I braced myself. “To be honest, Pastor Jim, I don’t like those other studies because it’s just a bunch of people sitting around nodding at one other. I mean, everyone is just agreeing with each other. I feel like we’re being brain-washed or something.” “What are you suggesting?” I replied, kind of confused.

“I don’t know. We want to be part of a Bible study where no one agrees.” “No one agrees?” “Sure, why don’t we have a study where everyone comes and we fight?” “Fight?” “Yeah. We fight about the Bible and theology and stuff.” “Uh … All right.”

And Bible Fight Club was born. When we started Bible Fight Club, the purpose wasn’t, and still isn’t, discipleship. The club isn’t meant to be a place where we grow in our faith, per se. The point to the gathering is not to worship, not to study scripture, and not to fellowship. The point to Bible Fight Club is to fight. It is a time for debate, a time for wrestling, and for doubting and questioning the things that we sometimes hold as gospel.

Sometimes this even means the gospel. For our church, it has been a place where atheists, agnostics, believers, non-believers, and believers of other faiths can come and toss in their two cents. To make sure that the argument is valued and that people are valued as well, we made the following rules:

Bible Fight Club Rules:

1. Respect: this means we love and respect each other, but not necessarily each other’s opinions. Also, respect the argument by being a good listener.

2. Say Anything: this means that there is no judging and no holding grudges. The tattoo shop basement is a safe place where anything can be said. This rule has made it possible for people to play devil’s advocate-taking a side of an argument, they might not completely agree with justto see where the line of thinking goes.

3. Fight: this rule means that all those in attendance must participate. No one is allowed to come and observe. Observers and silent on-lookers skew the argument by inadvertently becoming a kind of jury that people try to convince.

4. Get to the Point: there are no speeches allowed. People are to make their point and shut up so that others can speak. Also, a good arguer listens as often as he or she speaks.

5. Honor the Argument: phrases like, “Well, it’s all just a mystery” or “We’ll never know the answer, so why bother arguing” do not honor the argument. Take a side and fight, no matter how mysterious you think the subject is.

6. Admit When You’ve Been Hit: At the end of the evening, we take time to talk about the argument. Everyone must share something that was said that made him or her think. Sometimes this might mean having some humility. But that’s the point.

As the moderator, it has been interesting to see where certain arguments go. We have tackled such topics as hell, the devil, church and culture, politics, healing, money, angels, and on and on. We have people show up armed with books and commentaries. We have people show up who want to defend their territory. All different kinds of folks, with different backgrounds and faiths, have joined the argument. We’ve had Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and people who practice witchcraft. We’ve had Christians who would identify themselves as liberal and Christians who come from a more fundamentalist background.

During one rather heated argument about the Trinity, one guy stood up, red-faced, threw his Bible on the ground in anger and cried out, “What is wrong with you people?! Aren’t we all Christians here?!” At which point, three or four people shouted back at him: “No!” He slowly sat back down in his seat, scratching his hand and looking around the room suspiciously. He had come for a Bible study, not a fight.

… Some might say this kind of study only helps to confuse people and doesn’t send a clear message of what the gospel is. But I would say that Bible Fight Club has been a better forum for sharing the love of Christ than any other Bible study that I have ever attended. Many times, Bible studies can turn into indoctrination sessions, where the goal is to make everyone “be like us.” Doesn’t that kind of stuff turn everyone off? Because the Fight Club is more about valuing the fight than winning the fight, we all walk out invigorated and excited rather than demoralized. We have had many people return a week after a good fight and share how they did more research on the topic. We’ve had others say that the fight caused them actually to pick up the Bible and read it for the first time.

Are we worshipping Buddha? No, Jesus is Lord. Do we compromise our faith by subscribing to some sort of watered-down relativism? No, Jesus is Lord. Are we encouraging people to think for themselves? Yes. Are we practicing the spiritual discipline of listening so that we earn the right to be heard? Yes. Are we creating a doorway through which people can come and experience the kingdom of God? Yes. We have had more people than I can count join us for worship on Sunday morning, where we preach the gospel, because they got to participate in a discussion on faith in the basement of a tattoo shop.

The most important part of the evening comes at the very end. Observing the last rule at the end of the fight, participants must share one thing that someone else said that was not in-line with their opinion and made them think. This has been a powerful time as we go around the room and honor the fight and the fighters. The act of admitting that someone else had a good point or a challenging argument is a gesture of humility. That small gesture can be the vehicle in which the group binds together. Suddenly, everyone is on the same playing field. We become one not because we all agreed, but because we all contributed to the argument.

During this time of humility and encouragement, the Holy Spirit moves among us, and by the time we’re done, we realize that although we’re all coming from different points of view, we have actually shared in koinonia through the fight. Arguing over God and theology and the Bible doesn’t have to be a bitter, hateful thing we try to avoid. Fighting over the Bible, struggling with the real questions of faith, can actually be a time of koinonia, binding ourselves to one another through our differing opinions. This is possible as long as we come to the fight, not ready to win the argument, but ready to value the argument. This is possible as long as we walk into the fight willing to listen, willing to acknowledge that we don’t know everything, and willing to have humility.

Jim Walker:  Dirty Word: The Vulgar, Offensive Language of the Kingdom of God

I have broken the rules of “fair fighting” so many times.  Rules that preserve mutual respect and honor the other person.  But I have seen here the value of arguing… or if you prefer the word, debating.  In the Information Age and post-modern culture, we have to wrestle for truth.  We have to literally fight through so many ideas and beliefs.. because we are told they are all valid.  But I honestly believe in spite of being told there isn’t absolute truth, people are still looking for it.  If Jesus is that Truth, how are we going to share Him if we don’t allow people to wrestle?  Does it mean we have to win?  No.  Winning isn’t up to us.  Listening and testifying are.

Cults and fringe religious movements do not allow anyone to openly question their sacred cows.  Evangelical Christianity doesn’t generally tolerate it well either.  People find it terrifying.   “Truth” must be controlled and protected.  But the Truth is not afraid to be challenged and tested.  If it is true, it will prevail.  Those who come out of closed cult systems do need to wrestle, sometimes for years, with every part of their belief system they once ascribed to.  It’s a messy business.  I have felt drained and frustrated by watching others in this process, and backed away.  I have felt I no longer had anything to contribute.  But I now see that everywhere there is someone seeking truth (ex-cult or otherwise), this messy business will be necessary.  Just as children are messy treasures, so are God’s spiritual kids, as we are born and grow in Him.

So I repent of my “it’s not nice to argue” error and realize it may be the most complimentary thing you can do for someone.  Acknowledge them.  Challenge them to wrestle with the Holy One of Israel.  May we then become “People of the Limp.”  As Jacob was broken and changed, we also can become humble and broken before God and men.   We can even be allowed, to be wrong.

By the way… I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

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…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.  The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Corinthians 2:11-14

Several years ago Magic Eye pictures became popular.  Books and posters came out with these images that appear as nothing more than colorful “static” on the surface, but when you focus your eyes deeply into – and past – the picture, a 3D image emerges.  Here is an example from a free gallery of Magic Eye pictures.  If you spend a few moments trying to look past the 2D picture, the words “Happy New Year” will come into focus.  (Sorry, this is not seasonally appropriate.)  If you cannot figure out how to see it, the website link above has some detailed instructions.  The first time I finally succeeded at seeing the 3D picture, it amazed me that something so vivid could be hidden in a picture of  “nothing”.   And the longer you look at it, the clearer it gets.

These pictures remind me of my experience reading Scripture, and how vital the role of the Holy Spirit is in seeing the images of Christ behind the words.  As Paul said, the “natural mind” thinks spiritual truth is completely foolish, but those with the Spirit of God see something beautiful and magnificent, and believe it!

When reading through the Word, getting the big picture is of utmost importance.  If you only took one tiny corner of the above picture, you would not ever see the 3D image it contains.  The Word also needs to be seen as a whole.  So many people struggle with understanding when they only have very small pieces of the picture.  

If the Bible is too big and intimidating, I have found (through some wonderful friends) one great way that encourages many to succeed at reading it all the way through for the first time.  Free PDF instructions are here: Divide and Conquer…The Bible by Judy Reamer.  She has instructional CDs and DVDs about actually cutting a Bible into four parts, and binding it as four smaller books.  This has helped many people get through the entire book in a short amount of time.  Judy also has an amazing testimony about how reading the WHOLE Word of God really changed her life (also available on CD).  I can attest to this life-changing experience as well!  The truth does set people free!

True reality is only seen with spiritual vision from God… HIS focus.  When we become spiritually born from God, we receive this Spirit.  I have heard many people say that after they came to believe and trust Christ, the Bible then became so much easier to understand, and desirable!  But we still often rely on our own intellect in learning about God, rather than letting Him speak for Himself.  Worse yet, we may trust someone else to just tell us what it all means.  Do you really know someone if you only know about them, or what someone has told you?  Or do you KNOW them if you communicate with them yourself?  This is the fellowship the Word of God opens up for us, when the Holy Spirit is invited to participate.

I am currently reading the Word through again after several years of digging into different books.  But I still get those “Ahaa!”  moments of something popping out that I had never seen before.  Things connect, points emerge, pictures painted – of our awesome Father and Creator God.  Sometimes I feel prompted to read over a passage a few times because I hear the whisper of something there that wants my attention.  I am rarely disappointed.  I know some others who “read” (see & hear) this way and their insights amaze me.  I recognize the same Voice of the Spirit coming through these people too – from many ages past to the present.

Sometimes I am in situations where people are teaching from an immense storehouse of scholarly knowledge about the original languages, the context, the history, etc…  .  These elements do add so much insight into the Word and I really love learning all I can from every angle.  Yet this approach alone still falls short of what the Spirit wants to teach us.  If we will listen and ask for HIS 3D vision into the spiritual truths of Jesus Christ, He is there.  When we dissect something.. it dies, right?  You cannot dissect a living thing while it is still alive, and the Living Word can also have the life extracted right out of it for the sake of theological science.  Do we want Him, or do we just want to be right?

The Scripture was given for Life.. to point us to the Life.  It is a connection point to the Life, but not the Life itself.  If we miss the Life, then we miss the function of the Word, and if we come to think that the book IS that Life, then we have created an idol out of the means, missing the end.  When John said Jesus was the Word he most certainly did not mean to say, “Jesus and the Book are equal.”  The Book is only a limited reflection of the ultimate reality.  Look through the pages of the Book, and see Him.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

Jeremiah 9:23,24

Ideas for better spiritual eyesight

These are just suggestions… not a method! 🙂

  • Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to teach when you go to the Word.
  • Seek to know Him, not prove something.
  • Pray for a child-like faith to believe all that He has said.
  • DO take into account as much background information as possible.  Ask Who, What, When, Where, and Why of each passage… but don’t get bogged down in the facts.  Think of these facts as the props for the bigger story.  If your props are wrong, the story can get misunderstood.  If the props become the point, the story doesn’t get told.
  • Find others who also have a deep love and longing for God and share with each other what He is teaching You about Himself.

What 3D images have you seen in the Word lately?

(For clarification:  I am NOT in any way supporting the HRM idea of the mystical four levels of interpretation derived from the teachings of Kabballah.  This has nothing to do with what Paul spoke of here in Corinthians, or a believer who is seeking Jesus as the truth through the written Word.)

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