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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Is Christ Coming? Is Christ Already Here?



So, article 15 is a brief statement on what we believe, in the Church of the Nazarene, about the second coming of Christ.  Here it is:

XV. Second Coming of Christ

15. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will come again; that we who are alive at His coming shall not precede them that are asleep in Christ Jesus; but that, if we are abiding in Him, we shall be caught up with the risen saints to meet the Lord in the air, so that we shall ever be with the Lord.

(Matthew 25:31-46; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 9:26-28; 2 Peter 3:3-15; Revelation 1:7-8; 22:7-20)

Something that I like, a lot, about this article is that it leaves room for various interpretations.  There are at least two reasons why this is important.  First and foremost, Scripture doesn't really give us a detailed outline regarding Christ's return.  I think there are a lot of people who would like to believe that it does, but when we start trying to piece things together, taking visions and prophecy out of their original contexts, we often end up with a very irresponsible interpretation of Scripture that does more harm than good.  If you're anything like me, you watched some sort of precursor to the Left Behind series when you were a kid.  Personally, I will never get the image of that unmanned lawnmower out of my head.  But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, because next Thursday we'll take a look at what happens next...

For now, let it suffice to say that Christ will return.  And with that, the second reason that I think it is important for us to remain intentionally vague about the details is that we are supposed to be a "big tent" denomination.  Everybody doesn't have to believe exactly the same things to fit into the orthodoxy of the Church of the Nazarene.  I love that.  It leaves breathing space.

I wonder if we might be able to be even slightly less detailed in our article here.  From my personal perspective, I would like to see us rely most on the passage from John 14, because I think it is here that we read the words that are essential.  These are Jesus' words declaring that he is coming back.  All of the other passages above might give some support or clarification, but I also think they are often misinterpreted in such a way that we miss the importance of the regular coming of the Holy Spirit, transforming this world, these people (us), this life.  The eschaton matters, but I'm not sure how relevant that is if we are constantly waiting for it at the expense of becoming who we were created to be in these moments.

I guess that means that I would like the article to read, "We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ will come again and take us with him, since that's what he said."  I suppose no one wants me to re-write the articles, though...

Something that I think is worthwhile to explore is the idea that every generation, from biblical times right up until now, seems to think that they are living in the last days.  I would propose that every generation has been right.  We all only have so many days.  From the moment we are born, these are our last days.  Perhaps we should make them count.

L.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Kwaherini



We've been home for nine days, and I'm still thinking (and writing) about vacation.  I think that means it's justified... or something.  I needed some new adventures to bring fresh perspective to my writing, right?

So, I learned a new word at Animal Kingdom.  Since I really like words, this was a plus.  It's not as if I haven't ridden the Kiliminjaro Safari every time we've traveled to Florida since 2006, and I know the guides say pretty much the same thing every time, but Kwaherini struck me this time around.  Instead of the Swahili, "good-bye", it is more accurately translated as, "go well".

I think there are at least a couple of implications.

There are a lot of good-byes in ministry... at least, there have been for me.  I'm not that good with good-byes.  I'm not that good at letting go.  Difficult good-byes can play over and over in my mind for weeks or months.  The worst ones have taken up space in my brain, intermittently of course, for years.  I think it's hardest to deal with the good-byes that happen when I don't want them to. 
The other day, my friend Sharon linked to an article, found here, which, although not exactly what I've been dealing with, was very helpful.  But there's also something else.

Why is it that good-byes are almost crippling sometimes?  I think it's because we don't know how to say, "good-bye," without also saying, "don't speak to me again," or, "I hope the rest of your life sucks," or, "I hate you". 

It would be so much more healing to say, "go well".  It would be so much more healing to mean it.  Sometimes things don't work out the way we've planned them.  I might know this better than anyone as a constant, obsessive planner.  This, however, does not mean that we (and by we, I guess I mean I) have to be angry with the world for the rest of our lives.  When I look back on all of the good-byes that have happened over the years, there are actually very few people who I dislike enough that I pray I will never run into them, even briefly, at denominational events.  And even then, I legitimately hope they're "going well".  I don't wish them misery.

But I have to go well, too.  And sometimes the only way to do that is to say good-bye.

L.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Unexpected



So, the whole guest post thing didn't work out too well while I was on vacation,
primarily because many of the people who were scheduled to guest post
are living super stressful, busy lives of their own.
However, my dear friend Wendy, who I have known for... well...
it seems like forever at this point...
did send me a post somewhere in the midst of sickness and magic,
and I have saved it for today,
because I think she has some very important things to say,
and I didn't want to post them randomly
in the middle of three weeks of silence.
When I asked Wendy to write for FGT, I didn't really know what to expect.
She and her family have dealt with a lot of criticism and discrimination
over the years and,
honestly, I thought she might detail that here a little bit.
Instead, she surprised me (she often does)
by sharing a different angle on her story.
If you know me, you'll probably be able to discern what my personal opinions
are on this post, start to finish.
Instead of outlining those here,
I would like to let the post stand for itself... mostly.
However, I want to say this.  I love the last three paragraphs best. 
I think what Wendy has said here is this,
"We are just normal, everyday people, living lives of love."
We could all learn something from that.

I never planned on marrying a Muslim. But life never turns out the way you expect. People always ask me if my husband wants me to convert. Well, the answer is obviously yes. Wouldn't you? We both want to see the other in heaven. According to our own traditions that is impossible. But there is no pressure on either side. Just a lot of patience and talking until God changes a heart, if it is his will.

People may find it hard to believe it isn't so hard being married to a Muslim. In our house sometimes we use God and Allah interchangeably. We both know what the other is saying. And the creator is the creator no matter what "name" a person chooses to give. I think I would have a more difficult time being married to an atheist. What works out great, for us, is even though we are both God fearing people and we believe in signs and wonders, we also rely on science and medicine. If my child gets sick, although I will pray, I will also take him to a doctor. That doesn't mean I have lack of faith. Didn't even Jesus use mud to heal a blind man? God may heal though mud or through a doctor. Maybe the test of faith was to have faith in the people that have prepared and studied to help.

So since I was given this forum to talk I wanted to clear some stuff up. No, when you marry a Muslim you do not have to convert or be killed. I have been married 10+ years, neither did I convert and as far as I know, I'm still alive. Also females do not have to walk behind males, if you do happen to see me do that, that is just something I would naturally do, let someone before me, whether they be male or female, my husband or the deli clerk.

Some people get "Muslim" traditions mixed up with cultural traditions. Muslims can be from any race and ethnic background. A Muslim from Turkey will have a difference experience growing up than a Muslim from Saudi Arabia.

Muslims actually have a high respect for Jesus, but they see him more as a prophet along with Moses, Noah, Abraham, David, Jacob, and Joseph. Only they would say Isa, Mousa, Nuh, Ibrahim, Dawoud, Yaqub, and Yosef.

In all due respect to Catholics that may be reading this, my personal opinion is that how I see the pope is how my husband sees Jesus being God. I don't see a need for the pope. God has the authority and my husband would say, "Isn't God above becoming man, could he not just save us without dying since he is all knowing, all powerful and created everything?"

So at this point we basically have agreed to disagree but I have had some of the deepest conversations about God with my husband. Being married to a Muslim has strengthened my faith. In order to tell someone what you believe in when they really don't "get it" I had to understand why I believe on a personal level.

I don't think being married to a Muslim is all that different than if I was married to a Christian, although I was never married before so I really can't compare. But other than having twice the holidays, we all care for our children, take care of our home, cry when loved ones die, celebrate the joyous occasions, go to work and try to be productive members of society.

We have a son. And of course I would like him to be Christian, but we have decided to let him choose. And no, I don't think it will be confusing for him. For we all have to decide at some point whether to follow God even if both our parents are missionaries. Having Christian parents does not make you a Christian.  God knows our hearts.

We celebrate both Christmas and Ramadan. Christmas is pretty easy because they believe Jesus was human and therefore was born. We compromise on some stuff. Instead of an angel on top of the tree (that is considered an idol to him, any statue in form of a person, is an idol) we have a star. I won't make him ham. I hardly think I'm giving up my faith there. For Ramadan there is fasting. No food, drink or physical contact from sunrise to sunset. I'm a very affectionate person, so I always forget and put my hand on his shoulders or something. He understands that I mean it in an innocent way though.

I found love when I wasn't looking, and through my husband I am always meeting new Muslims. Each Muslim I meet is a chance for me to share Christ, not by telling them they are wrong but by engaging with them. I go to mosque, I listen to them, eat with them. They share what they believe. I share what I believe.

Now, I'm not saying my marriage has a higher purpose, but if I had not married him, I doubt I would have gotten to share Christ with so many people. Rarely have I seen someone convert, but maybe God is using me to plant little seeds.

No, I never planned on marrying a Muslim, but I'm glad I did. Of all the people in the world, even though we grew up on opposite sides of the world, speaking different languages, practicing different cultural customs, he gets me. Life never turns out the way you expect. Sometimes it turns out better.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Do we define "Divine Healing" too narrowly?



Well, after quite a break, let's return to the Nazarene Articles of Faith.  I have to admit that I'm pretty happy that this one is short and I have so much other material to draw from.  Article 14 outlines what we believe, as a church, regarding divine healing.  I think this works well with the previous guest post discussions regarding anointing from an historical perspective, found here and a practical perspective, found here.  Simply put, here's the article, itself.

XIV. Divine Healing

14. We believe in the Bible doctrine of divine healing and urge our people to offer the prayer of faith for the healing of the sick. We also believe God heals through the means of medical science.

(2 Kings 5:1-19; Psalm 103:1-5; Matthew 4:23-24; 9:18-35; John 4:46-54; Acts 5:12-16; 9:32-42; 14:8-15; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; James 5:13-16)

I am a little confused about why we use the phrase "Bible doctrine" here.  We don't use this phrase anywhere else in the articles.  What does it even mean?  Could we say, "We believe that divine healing is consistent with examples given in Scripture"?  Surely this must be what this phrase means, right?

I think the rest of this is relatively straightforward.  God has the ability to heal, and God most often works with humanity, both through prayer and through medical science, to do this.  I would say this is consistent with a view of a loving God who chooses to interact with people. 

The most difficult question to answer, and one that is really not dealt with here, is what do we do about those times when God does not heal?  It can be pretty hotly debated whether God chooses not to heal in certain cases or whether God has limits which prevent God from healing.  These same questions can be raised about God's character and attributes in a variety of situations, but divine healing may be one of the touchiest. 

Why would a capable God ever choose not to heal?  There are "answers" that range from the cliché to the profane.  I have heard everything from, "God must have a greater purpose in this" (somehow I can't figure out how that is ever the appropriate thing to say to a parent who has lost a child to cancer or a tragic accident), to, "There must be some hidden sin in your life that is keeping you from healing" (again, when is this appropriate). 

Perhaps the best perspective is to look at this from an eschatological viewpoint, recognizing that this world, this life, although very important, are not the end.  Divine healing must encompass the redemption, restoration, and transformation of creation.  There is comfort and hope in these words, and yet when faith and death collide, sometimes the best answer is silence.  Sometimes there are no words.  And that's OK.

L.