Saturday, August 30, 2008

First Lessons

Mom had taken my brothers and sisters and me to Mrs. McMurphy's house. It was odd to be spending the night with Mrs. McMurphy, but a bit of an adventure, as well. The whole walk through neighbors' yards felt ominous and I couldn't figure why. The long shadows maybe, as the sun settled for the night through the Magnolia trees. Mrs. McMurphy had bananas though, a treat I rarely received, and the scary walk faded into just part of the adventure.

I was six years old, and remember going to sleep fairly easily only to be awakened in the middle of night. The police escorted us back home. We entered the front door of the house. Smashed furniture was in four of the six rooms. The radio, a 50's lime green and plastic, now had a shattered front dial, and all its guts could be studied through the holes created by splintered away pieces. I remember standing where we usually sat as family listening to radio programming of the period and being fascinated by the red light from the police car traveling across the wall repeatedly ever few seconds, while mom and my oldest brother talked with the police. Dad had been arrested.

I was beginning to learn about authority.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Graceland Christian Fellowship

Today begins a series on authority within a body of believers.

The thoughts I have on this topic are formed from three sources. First, my own church experiences. These are a denominational church from age 13 until my graduation from high school, an organized church for 18 years best labeled charismatic, and the gatherings of believers in homes. Second, my reading of Christian compostion on authority and exegesis from scripture on the topic. Third, thinking it over.

I am going to take a memoirist approach. (Thanks, Chip, for the idea!) I will relate real events and how I reacted within a loosely remembered construct. Details of the real people are not necessary as none of this is a record of others, but a story of my journey.

Graceland Christian Fellowship is a fictitious name representing 18 years in a charismatic church.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Happy Nineteenth, Anna!!

Today our youngest, Anna, turns nineteen. I found the essay I was going to post on Father's Day. Since it was written about Anna in my arms fifteen years ago, I am posting it today.

My four-year old, Anna, lies across my lap. Her legs skew lazily over my left forearm, while her face rests against clasped hands nestled into my chest; her back follows the line of my cradling right arm. Her eyes shift and dart behind pink lids as she feigns sleep. We rock with a motion like the pendulum of an eight-day clock on that needy eighth day. My wife selects some music and around us drifts the lilting, finely sweet-soft crying of a dozen violins. We are together she and I, daughter and papa, the nurtured protected, the protector contented in a moment like I have shared with each of her four siblings.

Beyond this room with the lighting recessed and dimmed, out there in the darkness are other four-year olds. Some are battered. Some are dying of cancer. Many digest pitifully too little food, and too many are simply hungry for papa to rock them. I remember being a four-year old hungry for my daddy.

Feigning drifts away and limp sleep is revealed in the dangling legs and small lips fallen open in millimeters. Gentle, rhythmic breath escapes her in tempo with my rocking. This child, my child, is well. She knows that I love her, for truly I love her with a joyous, exquisite depth that almost aches. The wretchedness of my adult world reels against all sense, and passion within demands I become hard in response. I release my anxieties to God and recognize this moment of peace, of priceless wonder, of paternity as the sum of the meaning I have found in Christ. Meaning which many men surely must have known across the centuries, and meaning lost by so many men that hate and violence and lies have come to rule the earth.

Sleep stretches through Anna's thirty-odd pounds, and she wrestles free from her cradled position to twist herself flat and flung chest to chest against my slouching frame. Her head is now pillowed by my shoulder, and her silken, sandy hair graces my cheek. Her heart thumps near mine, and I feel like a drum. That red muscle in her is the percussionist and I vibrate full, resonate, as my soul answers with deep soundings to her gentle beat. My arms wrap her body and as tightly as I might without waking her, I squeeze her, love her with all I have; understanding floods my heart: my human passion, my purpose as a man, a man's place in the Father's heart.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Authentic Abiding in Jesus, Part Four

The words of Jesus in John 6:53-63 illustrate a dynamic of Christian experience. Actually two dynamics are identifiable, one from the Lord and the one we accept. Christ tells the disciples they must eat and drink Him. I identify this as the core dynamic of the Christian experience. The disciples respond in a predictable manner with some measure of incredulity. These are "hard words." This is the dynamic we often walk in. We hear and want to believe, but we struggle to embrace the fullness of the meaning.

Considering the text again: Is Christ suggesting cannibalism? It is not indicated by the words the disciples thought such, but it can certainly be inferred they worked with little success to give the assertion of Jesus a measure of meaning they could embrace. Jesus challenges that if they cannot grasp the spiritual meaning of His words, what will they do with the physical reality of His departure, which will be fully "spiritual" but occurring in their physical vision.

Of course, this moment in the lives of the disciples is prior to the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, which for us reading after the fact, enables us to ascribe a particular meaning to the text. Herein, is the paradigm shift I believe will benefit understanding the Christian experience more fully. We interpret this moment in Jesus' ministry as a reference to the symbolic meal of communion, now practiced usually with a bit of bread and a sip of juice or wine. By reading this meaning into the text, we move in the same physical understanding of life which was the basis for the misunderstanding of the disciples. We ascribe a physical meaning and fail to grasp the spiritual reality. I believe this event in John 6 tells us more than a symbol of spiritual reality is soon to be instituted. Jesus is instructing on His whole purpose, the redemption of fallen man and the new life of the spiritual man which Adam knew and lost.

Our problem as modern Christians, and perhaps this has been true across the ages, is that we attempt to take the teachings of Jesus as being Truth about our physical lives. What is needed is an understanding that the Truth of Jesus always addresses our whole human experience and this is fully a spiritual reality. We react with little understanding, even incredulity at the supernatural aspects of Christianity. Yet, the scriptural evidence of a supernatural union between a spiritual Being and the simple human existing within the physical realm of the earth is incontrovertible.

Jesus is telling His disciples then and us now that we are to consume Him as the very food of our life. Man does not live by bread alone (physical paradigm), but by the Word, the bread of heaven, which is Himself. This is a supernatural or beyond physical experience, which the Crucifixion/Resurrection restores to fallen man. How often do we eat physical food? Is a symbolic act with a wafer every so often what Jesus means by calling disciples to eat and drink Him? No. In fact, if held up to critical scrutiny, the act of the official Communion service is for too many, little more than a form that denies the power which the symbol represents.

It is not my goal here to question the authenticity of anyone's experience of abiding in Christ. That is beyond me. However, I know I have seen the failure of my heart to embrace the fullness of the in-dwelling Christ. Knowing His Spirit alive in me is the paradigm shift. Specifically, though we live in physical bodies, the spiritual work of Jesus on the Cross and the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit is to establish the spiritual state of being alive to and through spirit. God is not in communion with our corrupted and mortal flesh, the tent that will pass to dust. Communion with God the Father is only supernatural or beyond the material body.

For me "authentic" abiding in Christ is when I actively involve myself in the union with God for which the symbol of a piece of bread and sip of wine stand; and from this union speak and act. Authenticity is when a harmony exists between the character of Christ, my submission to His Presence and the words and actions coming out of me. This is not hard to understand, but man's Christian religion lacks this reality. Will we consume the Bread of Heaven and know the life He establishes or abide in physical forms?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Authentic Abiding in Jesus, Part Three

If in reflection of any given church experience or just at the end of the day, a gnawing sense of desire for a palpable experience with the Creator lurks in one's soul, what is to be made of that?

Fear it: Fear is a part of your make up, and you should fear God. (Proverbs establishes this.)
Ignore it: Americans always want more. Selfish cravings infect one's spiritual aspirations. Don't be misguided by your sensual feelings. (Read the story of Saul in 1st Samuel or Sampson in Judges.)
Grin and bear it: Wanting union with God is written on our soul, but this will only be fulfilled by leaving this life for the next. (Listen to sermons.)
Follow it: God is at work to complete what He has started in you.

In this series, I report on my journey with Christ as a point of comparison. I do not intend these ideas to be instructive "doctrinally" as the term doctrine is generally used these days in formal Christian orthodoxy. My conclusions are nothing more than my own rationalizations. With that qualifier, here are my conclusions:

Charlie's wife of the previous post illustrates Everyman American Christian looking for direction from "correct" theology. I regard much denominational doctrine as a function of someone or some group seeking to establish truth from Scripture as connected to an identified move of God or as a reaction to an identified wrong position of a predecessor. Though the theology may be strongly developed and in tune with a tradition of the larger church across time, an adherent may experientially identify a missing element. Spiritually, the Christian may be quite strong in devotion but hungers for knowing God in a way that teaching does not fill. The image of the sermon read word for word is telling, as well, but I need to move on.

Evidence that something is awry in churches goes beyond the pulpit. A type of individual believer is illustrated by the "evangelist" teaching in Sunday school. Individuals may wrap themselves around some vital scriptural mandate as a personal cause, but the attitude or spirit conveyed by tone is full of unrighteous judgments against and/or open condemnation of others both within and without the local body. That these individuals enjoy esteem or even gain positions of authority is strong evidence of spiritual immaturity in that body or worse (another post maybe?). On the topic of abiding it begs a question: "Why do we not recognize that clearly mean-spirited, condemning attitudes regardless of their references to scripture are in direct violation of the Spirit of Jesus and His teachings?" The dilemma is a set of dramatic masks, one smiling, one frowning. On the one the hand the speaker smiles confident he/she is representing God, and the other is the frown of disapproval for others. Why is the smile received and the frown ignored among us?

Further evidence is the trial lawyer. Quite simply, we are confounded by Jesus' words about love and enemies. Rather than figure this one out, we make a choice to leave it discussed in Sunday school or Bible studies. How often does something hard in Jesus' words weigh on the conscience to some degree, but we settle for less than understanding to avoid accountability? (Believe me, I state this first about myself!) We deceive ourselves. See John 12:48

Sincere, dedicated Christians can miss the fullness of abiding in Christ. I offered my own life of Christian service that robbed my family of much needed time and love as an example. Understanding how to resist sin is part of abiding but only a defensive posture against temptation. What does abiding look like in a proactive stance moving into and influencing the worldly culture around us? What does abiding look like corporately? Do local bodies of Christians (formerly organized or ad hoc in homes is not the issue) substitute forms for spiritual life?

I submit that if in my opening choices of responses to reflection on a desire for God, you chose Follow It, then you are one who knows an experiential existence with the living God that moves beyond religion, and thereby are one who believes in a proactive "abiding in Christ."

So...desire more life in your life?

The paradigm shift I referenced in Part 2 is addressed in these words of Jesus in John 6:

So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 "For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 "This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever." 59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, "This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?" 61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, "Does this cause you to stumble? 62 "What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? 63 "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.

Summary post in this series next up.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Authentic Abiding in Jesus, Part Two

My search for a more authentic abiding in Christ had begun about a year before my wife and I decided to leave the local body in which we had participated for twenty years and eighteen years respectively. I already understood something of this topic. Having left the world at the time of my conversion to Christ in 1979 mired in more than one life-dominating sin, I had learned to abstain from alcohol dependency, drug abuse and promiscuity by abiding in Christ. That is focusing with confidence on Christ alone in my thought life, I learned avoiding and resisting the pulls of behavior to which I had become accustomed in my flesh. The reality of my walk was noted and confirmed by a call from the local body to be an elder after six short years from babe in Christ. I was thirty years old.

Why was this not enough you may ask? I am not sure how to articulate that other than to relate three observations from those years. First, I had started questioning the leadership of our group about 1991. I was not questioning so much authority as the consequences of our decisions and the manner in which we reached many decisions. I was part of the leadership team, a deep part. I was the second-longest sitting elder after the head pastor. I started to identify threads of -- how should I say this?--self interest labeled "God's heart" in what we decided regarding the larger group and clear indications our decisions were not fully loving others when it came to individual situations. I attempted to speak change and suggest alternatives, but it felt as if the status quo was simply too strong. I was not quite sure how to understand what I thought I was observing nor how little reception my viewpoint received. I questioned myself much, while I prayed constantly for the Lord to change me or our group as He deemed necessary.

In the winter of 1996-97 a predictable crisis in our family erupted over a teenage son. We received one of those 3:00 AM calls every parent dreads, "Mr. Davis, this is Sgt. Jones with the police department. We have arrested your son." I knew I had been too busy with the business of the church and took a year's leave of absence from my elder duties to give my family more attention. My second observation after about six weeks at home was like a deep satisfied collective sigh I began to identify among our family members. We were having more dinners around the table. My wife and I were encouraging, feeding, and accepting more talking and laughter together with our kids. One night when I had been home for four consecutive nights, the kids all in bed, I looked at my sweet wife and said, "This is how most Christian families live. It feels good." I had stepped off the treadmill of "good works" for the cause of Christ as defined by our group and discovered something incredibly precious many families know. We have enjoyed much familial love over the years, but much of that only came after the church had been served. When I reduced the number of hours church business required, the love in our family quickly blossomed into something rich beyond words. This got my attention. My questioning of how leadership functioned broadened and the questions became specific and directed at how people in our modern church culture spend their time; how they experience life in Christ; how leadership might function to more fully serve the saints.

Third, after we had separated from our church; and as I fulfilled my mandated church shopping I had many, many stunning moments of insight into the spirit of what we culturally call church. I visited ten or so congregations of different stripes. Some once, some for several months. Let me share with you three moments I recall with absolute clarity.
  • In an open Sunday school discussion about love, a criminal lawyer shared pointedly he did not love and had no ability to love some of the characters he was called upon to defend. He shared this as if it were a problem he had on one hand, and on the other hand as a situation with which he was perfectly at peace. He had no intention of ever showing this class of people any love.
  • Within the same body a layman was teaching in Sunday school about evangelism and finished with a starkly worded statement dripping with belittling condemnation and disgust, "Shame, shame," he nearly bellowed, "...on anyone here who is not winning souls everyday of his or her life."
  • Entering several minutes before one church's 11:00 AM main service, I recognized one family from our shared involvement in community children's soccer programs. The husband of the couple was an usher and lead me to the pew where his wife was already seated beside a few other folks. As she and I sought comfortable levels of chit-chat I asked, "So how do you and Charlie like fellowshipping here?" I knew already this was their church home of many years, and it seemed like a safe enough topic. She continued to look forward briefly, then turned to me with tears in her eyes beginning to spill onto her cheeks and said in effect, "We have always had our family in this church. I don't know what, but we have to do something different." The service included twenty minutes of the most theologically correct sermon I think I may have ever heard, read word for word from multiple long-hand covered pages and from which the pastor never once looked up.
Comments are welcome. My conclusions and new personal paradigm on abiding lay ahead.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Authentic Abiding in Jesus, Part One

I had been given a "law" by the school board of our Christian school to be looking for a church to attend. I had left my association with a local body of eighteen years; and after seven months of waiting on God, had not recommitted to another local church. My struggle to know a more authentic experience of Christ had me deeply examining everything about the experience of Christianity in this culture. The board found my non-attendance in any organized, sign-on-the-post group to be a failing serious enough to warrant my firing. They requested my resignation at the June board meeting in 1998.

Not only did they take my job away, but with only six weeks until the start of school I was asked to help find my replacement. I needed to be spending my time finding my own job, not head hunting for the position of a Christian school administrator.

Consider the qualifications any serious candidate needed:
  • four year degree or better in education;
  • references verifying a caliber of character suitable for leading children in the ways of God;
  • ability to discern and accept qualifying families who will mesh well with the mission of the school;
  • encourage lots of these people who can afford private school tuition that the school is good idea;
  • spearhead fund-raising when many of the interested, qualifying families have very little or no disposable income;
  • ability to discern from a very small pool of candidates--since the pay is less than 2/3 rds what might be earned in the public sector--the best candidates for teachers in said school (these folks likewise need references that justify putting them in charge of children);
  • be willing to mop floors, clean toilets and cut grass when volunteers can't make it to do so, as the school can never afford to pay anyone a reasonable salary to accomplish these needs;
  • effectively coordinate and communicate the spiritual mission of the school such that the divided-doctrinally Body of Christ within the community is satisfied enough to join hands together;
  • teach classes as needed;
  • lead chapel programs weekly for kids ages 5-13;
  • anything else as needed since the buck stops at the administator's desk;
  • receive less than half the pay available in the public sector for a similar but secular position.
The stuffy, spiritual thing to say here, "By God's grace I was able to do this for seventeen years." The truth is by God's grace, I survived a need to please others so strong I had done all of the above (and attended church elder meetings twelve years) for seventeen years.

Complicating the picture was the reality we had been essentially a one-income family for all of those years. My wife and I wanted a mom in the home for our five children; and that income had been small. We had no savings. I could not, not have a job in six weeks.

In response to the resignation request, I negotiated this law of church shopping and reporting weekly to a board-appointed representative. I understood the board members' hearts understood law (some were spirit oriented, but out voted) and would be satisfied by my recommendation. They were, and I kept my job for two more years.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Wow! School Starts Thursday.

Yep, you read that right. We burst from the gate early here because of the potential for bad winter weather. (We've missed 20 days or so almost annually until the last five years or six years.)

A post is bumping around in my head like sneakers in a dryer. Talk to you soon about that.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Calling All Animal Lovers

This is not my usual kind of post, but it is a great story! If you're an animal lover, it will make your day.