Tuesday, September 9, 2014

This is What I Said at Church on Sunday: About Community

I had the opportunity this past Sunday to share a little summin' summin' with my church about what God has been speaking to me as our church family has been led through the book of Ephesians by our pastors, teachers and leaders over the last few months. Because I'm more comfortable with writing my words than saying them out loud, I put it together as though it were a blog post - and then said it out loud - but now, here it goes, on the blog. It's really meant for my church but you can read it anyway :)

Ephesians 3: 14 – 19 has always been my favourite section of the Bible, so it was fun for me when we got into the study of Ephesians as a church. The whole chunk of it is so rich, filled with so much meat. I can read it three hundred times and emphasize something totally unique every time, and always pull something new or relevant from it (which is the beauty of a living an active word) – but having gone through a more intensive study as a church, I can better appreciate the context of these verses and how important they really are to the whole structure of the book of Ephesians. This is the English Standard version:

“For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3: 14 – 19 ESV)

And just because I think it’s poetic and beautiful, I want to read verse 19 in the New Living Translation once again.

Paul says, verse 19:

“And may you have the power to understand,
as all God’s people should,
how wide,
how long,
how high,
and how deep
His love is.
May you experience the love of Christ,
though it is too great to understand fully” (Ephesians 3:19)

So, just to give some context of who we are and where we’re at, in the last year and a half, John and I have taken strides to pursue community the way we personally feel led, and that striving actually brought us to this town, and then to this church, and to this family of believers, and inside new friend’s living rooms and in their backyards and in these movie theatre seats and watching our kids draw chalk on the street and breaking hot dog buns as communion bread and camping. And as we’ve come to this church, we learn and grow and learn and grow, but when we came to the study of Ephesians, it was like – boom – the rubber hit the road.

It is interesting to me that since having begun the study of Ephesians, our church has had some really intense periods of needing to fully lean on and trust in the love of Christ, sometimes in an effort to get through a day, but often to just see ourselves through an hour, or a half hour, or the next minute. Our family has had these moments recently ourselves – it’s this kind of leaning-in experience where I have to dig my heels in, or I’ll slip away – and the beauty is that when I dig in, Jesus just holds me there, and meets me there. In some ways, a few of us have had to run through a rough gravel patch these last few months, where we are falling and skimming our knees and it hurts.

And this study has spoken to that: not just to the pain of life, but how we can wade through it together.

So what I actually want to do here is take you through the journey that I went on in coming to fully appreciate the chunk of scripture that is Ephesians 3:14 – 19.  If you can imagine that 14 – 19 is our end point, we’ll have a few quick check points to stop at in order to get there. So come with me! (Kids show reference.)

Our first checkpoint is going to be Ephesians 1:11-12, which is kind of the foundation for everything I’m about to say: Paul says that,

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

Our purpose, is God’s glory. (That’s an important point, you should remember that, so I’m going to reiterate it: Our purpose, is God’s glory.)

Moving onward, Paul gives thanks for this, and discusses the point of grace which saves us, and says that it is grace that makes us all one in Christ. Bringing us to our second checkpoint!

In Ephesians 2: 19 – 22, Paul says, because of grace:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the spirit.”

So our purpose is God’s glory. We are unified, and very importantly, we are in God’s house – we are God’s house. We are the holy temple, we are the dwelling place. Christ is the cornerstone. A few months back, a member of our church talked about a few physical building structures where the analogy of Jesus as the cornerstone of the church mirrored the building itself perfectly – but the point he made that stuck to me the most was when our friend said that we as members of the church are the bricks of the building. Christ makes up the cornerstone of this house, and we as people are the bricks. And as a church, we notice when a brick is missing. Our goal is to pursue one another in Christ’s love, like a family, and like a house that cannot stand if its bricks are missing. We are the dwelling place for God, by the spirit. And Paul says that it is for this reason – because we are the dwelling place for God – that He reveals the mystery of the gospel: Third checkpoint.

Ephesians 3:6, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

To give a very very brief history lesson, Jews at this time did not see Gentiles as worthy of having access to God – but Paul is saying that now, because of Jesus, everyone has access. The mystery of the gospel, the mystery of the whole thing, of being intended for God’s glory, is that we are all fellow heirs. As in, we are brothers in sisters and we all share this promise. Paul says that because of this the church is charged with the task of proving that this is wisdom. Our purpose, is God’s glory. God’s glory is in grace. Grace is in Jesus’ redemption. Jesus redeems us so we can be co-heirs, and in Ephesians 3:10 – 11 (which is the fourth checkpoint), Paul says,

“so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord…”  (Ephesians 3:10 – 11)

We come full circle. We start with the understanding that our purpose is God’s glory, and we come back to the understanding that our purpose as a church is to make known the manifold wisdom of God – again, His glory.

We must prove that this is wisdom: To make us equal heirs, to make us receivers of the gift of Jesus, was a wise, was a good decision. We are literally walking evidence of God’s goodness, grace and wisdom. This was the purpose of Jesus, and this is the purpose of us: to point to God, and say, see – is He not good? Is He not wise? Has He not redeemed me? Was this – making us one family, through Jesus – was this not the best plan? It means that we must live like a family that was a good idea to create.

And with that, we carry a heavy responsibility – there is a beautiful weight to bear as Christians in what and who we represent, and the stunning glory of it all is that although the weight is so heavy in importance, the weight itself – the thing we carry - is so light. The yolk is easy to bear. But, there is a gravity to it – and Paul says that with this in mind, he falls to the knees before the father, he prays for our strength.

And that is when we come to my favourite section of the Bible, this time in New Living translation:

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love, and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Ephesians 3: 14 – 19)

It is with this mystery revealed, our familyhood, our beautiful responsibility, that Paul calls for our unity. He tells us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. To live up to our family name. To be humble, and gentle, to bear with one another in love, to strive for peace.

We are one dwelling. One body. One church. We all receive grace. Paul says this is why we are given leaders, teachers, shepherds in our church – because we are all one family and our goal is to mature together as we walk together. We are called to grow up into Christ, who is the head of the body, so this body can be held together at every joint, and when every part of the body – all of us – is working properly, we can grow. (That’s paraphrasing 4:15 – 16)

Paul gives us a blueprint of why we do what we do. This is what it’s all about: Community. And this community has one purpose: God’s glory. We function only by the grace we are given, and we are propelled forward by love. In the next 3 chapters, Paul moves forward to discuss the practicalities of living this out, so that we can live like Christ – and this brings to mind the tough sermons about living life fully that our five recent teachers brought us through. It’s in living like Christ – by “putting off our old selves” that this community, this church – this  living demonstration of God’s wisdom - can actually function. But all the instructions he gives us next – how to conduct our lives – are just bound up in love. Love is the bondage, and in love, the life that looks like Christ sits comfortably.

As you might know, our family got displaced on July 22 as a result of an electrical fire in the house we were renting. We lost a home we had lived in, and stuff we had collected, and in a time when we should have felt totally lost, we actually just felt loved. Any need we had was met almost immediately. We were cooked meals and given beds and hugs and prayer and we were able to see with our own eyes this church living out these words: grace. There was so much grace for us. Family. We felt like true co-heirs, like real brothers and sisters. Loved. Unified. We felt like we could experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully, because we are a part of this community. We felt like this church had a really great demonstration of God’s “manifold wisdom”: yes, Lord, it was wise to make us co-heirs. It was wise to build a family out of people who probably shouldn’t and wouldn’t know each other, otherwise. We felt like the responsibility that we as a church carry to demonstrate that God is wise – this dwelling that God has made – are to the praise of His glory. If our purpose is God’s glory, then as a church, ACF is living out this purpose. Our extended family can only look at us and ask why – why are we so supported? Why do we have a home to live in (instead of a hotel)? Why have our moments of stress and anxiety been short-lived and quickly relieved with prayer? People looking into our lives have no choice but to see God’s glory because of the community around us, because of the church we are in.

I guess that what I’ve learned through this study of Ephesians, is that this is the church, and this is the family that we want to be a part of. It’s the kind that can face anything from real crisis to bad days with grace, and the kind where I feel complete when I’m getting my hands dirty in vulnerable prayer. It’s the kind that holds our hands when we watch things spinning out of our control and when we question the things you think God has told you and makes me feel like my husband and I aren’t the only ones raising our kids.

I feel like even though the love of Christ is too great to understand fully, that I can truly experience it when I’m with this community.

Our purpose, is God’s glory. God’s glory is in grace. Grace is in Jesus’ redemption. Jesus redeems us so we can be co-heirs. In being community, our job is to demonstrate God’s wisdom. Easily, by far, one of the most important things that our church is called to do – if not the sole reason of the church – is to support one another as a family and point to God’s wisdom and say, see – is He not good? Is He not wise? Has He not redeemed me? Was this – making us one family, through Jesus – was this not the best plan? It means that we must live like a family that was a good idea to create.

And it causes me to echo the prayer of Paul in Ephesians 3:14 – 19.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What Happened When We Had the House Fire / Lots of Really Long Sentences

There's this bunch of bananas on my counter that would change whatever it is you think about genetically modified food. They're gross, man. We got them at Zehrs and they're organic apparently but they kind of turned this Technicolour Dreamcoat version of black and green with this hint of yellow, and for some reason tonight I was looking at those bananas for a long time, and I got the urge to blog.

We had a house fire about a month ago. One month tomorrow, actually. It sounds worse than it is, because our house didn't burn down, and we don't own it, but I can't just tell people we had a smoke-damage situation in the apartment we rented because of an electrical fire upstairs that somehow involved our kitchen and living room, and that most of our stuff is unusable and some restoration company gave a whole bunch of our belongings these red circular stickers that mean that some stuff-disposal-organization can come and take our things away and throw them out and they would write us a cheque for whatever they were valued at, minus their depreciation, because things like toasters depreciate in value once you've gotten them super crumby.

[That was an AA Milne-inspired sentence there for you, hope you liked it.]
[If you haven't read the Winnie the Pooh novels, you should.]

We didn't know the fire happened until about three hours after it actually did. We were at our friend's house and left our phones in the car, and while we were there we got six free tickets to Disney they kind of had floating around (don't worry about that detail too much, it's true), and came out to the car to call my mom to tell her, guess what, you won't believe this but we're going to Disney next week, and our phones were filled with text messages telling us our house was on fire.

Actually, John had 2 texts from our landlord that went like this:

Text 1: "Man"
Text 2: "The house is on fire"

Of course, it was accompanied by a whole bunch of other people texting / calling / voice mailing / sending pigeons to ask us if we were alright and where the heck are you?

I don't think we've ever been less surprised our lives. Earlier that night our friend was poking fun at us about how much we downsize. First we moved to this city and lived in a 2600 square foot house. Then we moved to a 1000 square foot apartment. Then we opened up discussions about buying a plot of land and living in an RV because earlier that night it seemed like a good idea. Now, apparently, we were homeless.

We just laughed and laughed, as we drove home through an area with no cell phone reception and nothing we could do and two kids under three in the backseat. We have plans to go overseas (except not really overseas... more downwards over land) to Nicaragua this November until next March (4 months) and this was just kind of one of those immediate reactions where you shrug your shoulders and assume God knows what he's doing.

So we came home and sat our kids outside with people we didn't know (our landlord's parents) and wandered through what was our house in some kind of a shock-state and laughed in the backyard with our pastor and his father in law and then slept over at a friend's house and kicked our feet in their pool at twelve in the middle of the night and just sort of tried to wrap our head around what was next.

Tell you what was next: Disney was next. Six days after the fire we were on the road, leaving behind all the things we couldn't control, throwing a little caution to the wind and using that vacation budget we had thankfully saved up and eating takeout and watching our toddler have temper tantrums in the backseat while we could kind of do nothing except videotape and listened to a lot of music and talked.

And we saw princesses and met Mickey and swam in a Little Mermaid themed pool in our Little Mermaid themed resort and went back to our Little Mermaid themed room and ate so many peanut butter and jam sandwiches I thought I'd swear them off (I won't). We let The Caterpillar put her feet on the table at dinner and watch Disney Junior TV shows on waking up and rode the bus to the Magic Kingdom back and forth and skipped nap time and went to bed late and literally didn't bathe our children once because we decided that the pool was probably good enough.

Chlorine is like soap, right?

But then we came back, and coming back hit us hard. Our apartment still wasn't ready, and won't be until early October they estimate, but considering that we leave early November there is really no point in uprooting once again just to uproot... once again. We considered skipping the trip we feel God is calling us on. We considered it hard. We looked for apartments or houses in town and discussed upsizing and panicked. But then we prayed, refocused and re-rooted in scripture and remembered that we need to follow through with the things we say we're going to do, and Nicaragua is just that.

Right now our experience with our insurance company is, I'm assuming, as bad as it gets, aside from not having insurance at all. Our adjustor is mean and we haven't been given $1 of reimbursement after thousands on expenses (not including Disney obviously), and it's looking like we're going to be nickel-and-dimed for necessities like clothes that our company simply doesn't want to cover the cost of. (Don't worry about the details. It stresses me out).

But despite that hard hit of reality and despite the experience with our insurance company that I wouldn't wish on the world (I am pretty close to sharing the company's name with you, but let's see how it all pans out first), we are living in a pool of provision.

Accomodation-wise, we're in a bachelor studio apartment our church owns that is decked to the nines in coolness. Exposed brick walls with an Ikea trundle bed as our couch and a clean kitchen and hardwood floors and a little table to eat our meals at. We are sharing a bedroom (which most of the year is really a board room) with both of our littles and sleeping in a murphy bed that we're loving so much we are considering getting a Murphy ourselves, one day. Caterpillar is on the bottom half of the Trundle, separated from the top of course. Little Bear is with us (see my co-sleeping post) but is transitioning into a pack 'n' play.

Our community has rallied. My friend started a fundraising campaign which we needed more than we'd realized (Costco doesn't take credit, and re-stocking a kitchen - a cost that won't be covered by insurance because we've "permanently relocated" to this apartment until we leave for our trip - is expensive) and we are grateful for everyone's help. (We're not asking for money here, don't worry.) Any need that we've had has been met, including the watching of my children so we can just get our heads back on straight. People who share the living space with us (without giving away our address, I'm talking about offices and a community meeting place) pretend they don't hear my toddler's temper tantrums. Our clients have been gracious in the hiccups of our timelines (which surprisingly have been decent given the circumstances). We've received prayer at just the right moment, and dinner from just the right cooks.  I have more on this community one-ness to come but first I have to share it with a few people I know before I share it with you, who statistically speaking, I do not.

It's been hard, having a house fire, which was really more of a smoking-out. But it's where we're at, and this strange bunch of bananas inspired me to write about it. Probably more to come later.