Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Check out the first chapter of Pursuit of the Holy


Thank you to everyone who participated in today's tour!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

David C. Cook (September 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Karen Davis, Assistant Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Simon Ponsonby is Pastor of Theology at St. Aldates Church in Oxford. He received his BA in Theology and M Litt from Trinity College Bristol and was ordained in the Church of England. He previously served as Evangelical Pastorate Chaplain at Oxford University and has recently become the Dean of Studies for a new initiative, “European Church Planting Centre,” being established in Oxford. The author of four books and an active evangelist and preacher, Ponsonby is married to Tiffany and they have two sons.


Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook (September 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0781403669
ISBN-13: 978-0781403665

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The Longing to Be Holy



May the God of peace make you holy all the wayf through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 5:23)1

We are about to take a journey. This will be no abstract theological study, nor a simple push for personal pietism, for that would be to set our sights too low. No, my longing is to see the church transformed, so that we might transform society. I have written this book to offer pointers to the way and the what of that transformation.



In the late nineteenth century, there was a groundswell of longing for a deeper and more effective Christian life in the churches. In 1874, the Oxford Conference was organized by Canon Christopher, the famous rector of St Aldates, around the theme of “The Promotion of Scriptural Holiness,” with an emphasis on the Spirit-filled life. One thousand five hundred Christian leaders and theologians attended. The following year, another conference, the Keswick Convention, was held to teach further on the themes of the Spirit-filled life and sanctification. This became the great boiler house for evangelicalism in the twentieth century—influencing the Welsh Revival and Pentecostal beginnings in America as well as revivals in East Africa. Sparks that were fanned into a blaze began with a commitment to holiness. J. C. Ryle was caught up in this movement and produced his famous book Holiness in 1877.



Now, as we look to the future, we will also need to look into the past. Just as Isaac re-dug the wells of Abraham, which the Philistines had blocked up (Gen. 26:18), so we must explore wells of holiness that have been dug and then filled throughout the church’s history. Here in the twenty-first century, it is time to open up those deep, old wells of holiness.



THE DARKNESS IS DEEPENING

“The darkness is deepening.” So said Gandalf in Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings. And so it is for us. Faced with an unconvincing church, society is looking to alternatives.

Secularism has sold us a society without God, where material things are worshipped. We are also seeing the advance of fundamentalist atheism bent on the exorcism of theism. How can this be? Because the church has often lived as if God were dead. Yet concurrent with this, we are witnessing the rapid rise of a radical Islam that appeals to many who long for religious certainties and conviction, especially after finding in the church little more than a divided house or pious platitudes.



After years of greed on greed, the money markets have destabilized and banks themselves are bankrupt, while fat-cat bankers have retired early and buried their heads in their fat pay pensions. We have experienced an acute loss of confidence in the democratic political office, where spin has replaced conviction and pragmatism has eviscerated idealism. And we are seeing a moral meltdown, with prisons at breaking point, crime uncontrollable, families fatherless, morality a myth, and many of our streets filled with terror at feral gangs ready to knife to death innocents who do no more than look at them the wrong way.



And yet, while sinners are certainly responsible for their own sin, I don’t entirely blame the world. They merely do what is in line with their natures: They sin. You cannot be surprised when sinners act sinfully—they have no power to purify themselves. Can a godless society be expected to be godly without seeing what godliness is? While the church may speak prophetically to the world about justice and righteousness, I don’t think we can entirely blame the world for its unrighteousness. The church has all too often blended in with the world rather than revealed Christ and his ways to the world. We have failed to be that shining light, that salting influence. And so, as we fail to conform to Christ and the gospel we profess, the church has at times hindered, rather than helped, the world come to Christ. In fact, in some areas, the world appears to be ahead of the church, provoking her to action, especially in issues relating to social justice and the poor.



A HOLY PEOPLE CAN BE EXPECTED TO BE HOLY

So if the world is in a mess, the church must shoulder some blame. Darkness cannot dispel itself. The demonic won’t exorcise itself—Jesus said Satan cannot cast out Satan (Matt. 12:26). The darkness flees when a light is lit. But the church has often hidden the light by failing to preach the gospel, or through pietistically pursuing holiness by withdrawing from society. Sometimes it has even failed to have a light to lift, by not truly believing the gospel. Somewhere along the line we have forgotten our vocation—to be a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus said it is part of the church’s role, through conforming to him and conveying him to the world, to be a sanctifying, salting influence in society (Matt. 5:13–16).



No one will listen to our gospel if we aren’t living it. We cannot influence or infect society with something that has not yet infected us. A saltless salt cannot savor and flavor. The church cannot light a fire if she is not on fire. And so, faced with a society in crisis, in wickedness, it is time for judgment, repentance, holiness to begin in the family of God (1 Peter 4:17). We need a reformation, a revival—and holiness will be at the heart of it. The church must again find and follow Jesus—not as a doctrine to be believed but as a Lord to be served and a life to be lived. Only then can we speak with integrity and expect to be heard.



A holy church can influence an unholy world. Where Christ is seen, he is attractive, wooing and winning people to himself. I am not saying that everyone would turn to Christ if the church attained a great level of holiness, for the demonic and self-willed will always resist God. In fact, a holy church is more likely to be a persecuted church. But as the church lives for God, she will undoubtedly attract others to him. That is why C. S. Lewis can say,



How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing … it is irresistible.2

And as Paul says, “Through us [God] spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him” (2 Cor. 2:14).



HATING THE PSEUDO

Many years ago, when I arrived in the city of Oxford as a chaplain, I asked a graduate how I should best conduct myself. He replied, “Oxford hates the pseudo,” implying that the university can spot a fake quickly. Well, my experience has since challenged that graduate’s belief … but one thing is for sure: The church cannot afford to be pseudo. There must be no pretense at piety, because people can quite quickly distinguish the authentic from the imitation. They know a holy Christian when they see one, and they know a hollow one too. Old Testament theologian John Oswalt offers this stinging observation:



The world looks on hateful, self-serving, undisciplined, greedy, impure people who nevertheless claim to be the people of God and says, “You lie.”3

It is not as if we are addressing a marginal issue here—it is central. In the latest celebrated “revival” in the West, a feted evangelist suddenly walked off the stage and walked out on his wife. Claims of numerous extraordinary miracles could not be substantiated—not even one. I attended churches and watched ministers manipulate money out of church members for the promise of miracles. Pretense, fabrication, and nonsense were rife. Nothing new here, of course, but I groaned along with many others in the church: Where was the bride of Christ, making herself ready for Christ (Rev. 21:2)?



IS THAT SOMETHING IN YOUR EYE?

Recently I had my porch rebuilt and repainted. It was about a decade overdue, so I apologized to the painters and carpenters for the state it was in—including the mature cobwebs large enough to function as a windbreak. One of the builders replied, “No worries—I clean other people’s gutters, but you should see the mess in my own house.”



He is not the only one to neglect his own house, of course. The prophet Isaiah found himself in a similar position, metaphorically. Isaiah spoke more about holiness than any other prophet. It was part of his ministry to call the nations to holiness. Assuming the chapters of his book are in chronological order, it would appear that, although he was already established in his ministry of exposing wickedness and preaching warning and rebuke to God’s people (chapters 1—5), he subsequently had a vision of God in the temple (chapter 6) that left him completely undone. In his vision, he saw angels crying, “Holy, holy, holy.” As he stood before God, he knew it was not the nation of Judah that he must first target—but himself, Isaiah the prophet: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5 ESV). The prophet had preached the nations’ guilt only to see his own.



When we see God, we see the superlative of holy. When we see the Holy One, we see ourselves as we are—sinful. We ought not preach against the sinfulness of society if we aren’t also preaching against the sinfulness of the church. And lest we be hypocrites, we ought not to do that before we have applied the message to the sinfulness of our own hearts (Matt. 7:1–5).



And so in this book, I want to broadcast an encouragement to gain a vision of God in his holiness and to see ourselves truly as we are. But of course we won’t stop there. We must go on to know, as Isaiah knew, a deep cleansing from God’s fire and a commissioning for his service. I do not believe that Isaiah had been a hypocrite— he had said what he saw in the world and what he heard from God; but lest he fall, thinking he stood tall, God also showed him himself. Now his message could be tempered by self-awareness, a much-needed humility in the face of burning-coal grace for the sinner.



I have often found that the most difficult aspect of being a minister is feeling a hypocrite. Many of us are ordained and given the title Reverend—we are to be “revered” as those set apart by God to minister on his behalf, to teach and lead people to him, and in prayer to represent him to the people and the people before him. What a privilege! What a burden! The fact is that we fail consistently to live up to the standard that we preach, teach, and exhort in others. Like Paul, sometimes “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15 ESV). This made Paul feel wretched, and I know that feeling—although sometimes, I confess, I resign myself to the presence of sin and weakness rather than feeling wretched or wrestling against it.



COMING TO TERMS WITH HOLINESS

It is instructive to think for a moment about the various terms in the English language surrounding holiness. Our word holy derives from

the Old English halig, which itself came from the German heilig, referring to “health, happiness, wholeness.”4 The English language also employs words from the Latin sanctus (holy) in words like saint, saintly, and sanctification.



In the Old Testament, words based on qds, the Hebrew word for holy, appear over 850 times.5 Holiness, then, is one of the most central concepts in biblical theology. The semantic origins of holiness relate to the word cut and have to do with distinction—standing out or being apart. It is preeminently the nature of God’s own being and is then a derived characteristic of people and things as they exist in right relation to God. In the Old Testament, the word is applied to priests and their clothing, Israelites, Nazirites, Levites, firstborn human beings, prophets, offerings, the sanctuary and its furniture, inherited land and property, dedicated money and precious objects, the avoidance of certain mixtures (there were to be no garments made of both linen and wool, no crossbreeding of animals, no plowing with both an ox and an ass), the law, oil for anointing, incense in the sanctuary, water flowing from the temple or in a laver, places where God revealed himself, the land of Israel, Jerusalem, heaven, the Sabbath and feasts, Jubilee, covenant, and even, on occasion, war.



In the New Testament, hagios, which is Greek for “holy” or “saint,” occurs over 150 times together with its associated words. Hagios means to be separate, dedicated, or consecrated to God. Originally, it was a religious concept of “the quality possessed by things and persons that could approach a divinity,” that which was reserved for God and his service. It contained the sense of “perfect, pure and worthy of God.”6 The New Testament follows the Old in applying the word first to God and secondly to things and people. The first sense is located in terms of God, his Spirit and his Son, Jesus, the Holy One of God; the second describes the people of God, the “saints” who are “holy ones.”



God is holy. Holiness is his nature and character. It is not an attribute; it is who he is. He is the one who exists in holiness—perfection, beauty, purity, otherness. People and things are said to be holy by their relation to God, as they are offered by him or to him or before him. Days of rest, days of feasting, prophets and priests, gifts to God or from him, covenants and scriptures, angels and servants, temples and land, covenants and commandments, hands lifted in worship, lips offered in kisses to the brethren, the marriage bed, and mountains of revelation—all these can be holy by association with him. Holiness is infused into things or people that come close to God or exist for him.



One useful way to approach the meaning of holiness is to see how other words are placed in relation to it, often interpreting or applying it. In Scripture, the idea of holiness is found alongside cleanliness (Isa. 35:8); purity (1 Thess. 4:7); blamelessness (1 Thess. 3:13); glory (Ezek. 28:22); righteousness (Eph. 4:24); godliness (2 Peter 3:11); honor (1 Thess. 4:4); goodness (Ps. 65:4); truthfulness (Ps. 89:35); trustworthiness (Ps. 93:5); and awe (Ps. 111:9).7 All of these help us understand what holy is and looks like. Holiness is a way of behaving that is determined by the being of God. David Peterson calls it a life “possessed by God”—a life that becomes like the God who possesses holiness.8

WHAT DO OTHERS MAKE OF THE HOLY?

The famous anthropologist Émile Durkheim made the startling claim that you didn’t need to have a notion of “god” to have a notion of holiness. He suggested holiness was more about social cohesion than religious devotion. From his observations of pagan tribes, he maintained that religion was not about a deity but the distinction between the “profane” and the “sacred”—a distinction expressed in a system of beliefs and practices that make certain objects and acts sacred, while others become mundane or profane. In a similar vein, Nobel Prize-winning Swedish archbishop Nathan Söderblom asserted that “holiness is the great word in religion—it is even more essential than the notion of God,” and like Durkheim, he believed religion was all about this distinction between the sacred and the profane.9

What might this non-divine notion of holiness look like? Think about a game of soccer. There is no mention of a God, but it clearly exhibits all the signs of liturgy and sacrament for those who attend a holy event. The people gather together at their cathedral (the stadium) and, wearing their Sunday best (team colors, scarves and shirts), already feel involved in something bigger than the sum of its parts. They sit together and sing their worship (soccer chants). Then comes the moment of awe as the religious drama begins: The priests (players) gather on the Holy of Holies (field), and the liturgy of sacrifice begins at the referee’s whistle. The offering (ball) is maneuvered to the altar (net) with the anticipation of a sacrifice (goal), at which the religious ecstasy of the crowd explodes in cheers. And the opposing team and their fans would presumably be the “profane.” Clearly, for many who attend, the match follows a very religious structure between sacred and profane, and for those involved, it has the sense of being “a holy time” without any sense of the divine!



What are believers to make of this? Rather than agree that a soccer game is a sense of the holy without a need for the divine, I would suggest we are looking here at a search for the divine and the holy that has gone astray and been misplaced in the secular. While a view of a soccer game as a spiritual event may be a helpful insight into how societies structure themselves in what may be seen as religious acts, this view really doesn’t get to the heart of biblical holiness. Holiness is more likely to generate unease or even fear in people, as Rudolf Otto famously explored in his 1923 book, The Idea of the Holy.



HOLIER THAN THOU

It isn’t only the notion of the holy that makes people uneasy. Holy people do too. Holy living is countercultural. When we go beyond private piety, we adopt an alternative lifestyle that becomes a public, political, and prophetic challenge. Nevertheless, some will always rise to the challenge and be attracted to authentic holiness.



So why do we not see more people attracted to the holy? Surely many reject the notion of holiness because they can’t see any evidence of it in those who talk most about it—the church! In his major study on holiness, Stephen Barton says that



the language and practices of holiness have atrophied under the impact of modernity and secularisation.10

Certainly we live in an age when many have rejected God and have no interest in imitating his holy character or obeying his commands to be holy. Barton also suggests that some who might be interested in holiness are put off by fear of receiving the snub “holier than thou.”



As if hypocrisy or a holier-than-thou attitude in the church aren’t bad enough, I think we do even more harm when we lay down the law but fail to offer any clues about how to actually be holy—when we point the finger but don’t lift a finger to help people to be holy. Gene Edwards writes about the burdens placed on people in the name of holiness:



Dear reader, virtually all of this counsel, all of those books, and every one of those sermons, is setting you up for failure, for guilt, and for a lifetime of frustration.11

He believes church has failed to show and offer the world the way to be conformed to holiness. That way is made possible only by Christ living in me and I in him (John 15:4), as I follow him not in a bubble of personal piety but as a member of the church, where we support and encourage each other towards that goal.



HOLINESS IS HAPPINESS AND WHOLENESS

We have already noted that the word holiness is related to the idea of wholeness. Holiness is not a negative word, but supremely positive. It is a concept that points to perfection. To be holy is to be like God, with whom there is no imperfection, no blemish, not the slightest attribute or action that is anything less than the best.



If holiness is a primary reflection of the being of God, then our call and invitation to be holy is a call to be with God and like God. Sinfulness, though universal, is not natural to humankind—it

entered with the fall of our first parents Adam and Eve. Ever since then, we have acted just like them: We have sinned and rejected God’s way and been expelled from God’s presence. But God’s longing for us to be holy, his longing to make us holy, is driven by his longing to restore us into his likeness, to bring us into his presence. Stephen Barton rightly says,



to attend to holiness … is to attend to a matter that lies at the very heart of what it means to be and become fully human.12

So holiness is about becoming more human, as we are restored into the image of God. Holiness is becoming like God—Peter speaks of being “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV).



God the Holy One is the source of life; sinfulness separates us from holiness and so separates us from life. Holiness is a return to Eden’s ideal and a taste of paradise. The holy life is a foretaste of heaven on earth. It is not God’s burden for us, but God’s best for us.



H. L. Mencken scorned the pious attitude of the Puritan who feared that “someone somewhere may be enjoying themselves.”13 But those who fit that so-called Puritan depiction know nothing of true holiness. Here’s an indicator to shatter one’s theological categories: The Bible tells us that the marriage bed needs to be kept holy (Heb. 13:4). Though not his main point, the writer of Hebrews shows that the marriage bed (sexual union between husband and wife) is itself holy and pure. Sex between husband and wife is holy! Somehow sex points beyond itself to the eternal, self-giving, reciprocal relations within the Godhead, where the desire of the other is served rather than the self gratified. So all that joy, pleasure, excitement, fun, release, wholeness, and fulfillment in sex between marriage partners is a holy thing. Once we acknowledge that even something so joyful and releasing as sex, within God’s ordained parameters, is holy, then we rightly challenge those assumptions that holiness is a stern and sour concept. Medieval spirituality spoke of the “three ways” in the spiritual journey: purgation, illumination, and union. Purifying and pursuing holiness through the Christian disciplines bring illumination, a revelation of God and ourselves that leads to more disciplines and a further response. But always the goal of the path to holiness is deeper union—intimate, personal, passionate languishing in love with God. The psalmist said that in God’s presence there is fullness of joy, or as Anne Lamott puts it, “Laughter is carbonated holiness.”14

Any form of holiness that leads to someone looking like they just drank a liter of vinegar is not biblical holiness; it is more likely Pharisaism. The church has lost something of this notion of holiness as happiness. We need to look at the Jews celebrating Sabbath, their holiest of times. Men gather in the streets, linking arms and dancing. Home is turned into a place of wonder, mystery, and glory as families welcome the Sabbath. How much more should the church now celebrate holiness joyfully, knowing that the Messiah Jesus has come and, in one day, by his death for us at Golgotha, taken away all our sin?



Sadly, delighting in holiness is not often the hallmark of modern Christianity. Jesus himself said that he wanted our joy to be complete and that this completion would come through “abiding in love.” Abiding in love would come through obedience to his commandments (John 15:9–11 ESV). Clearly, then, we are presented with a divine set of equations that connects holiness with joy:



obedience = abiding in love = joy



disobedience = dislocation = dissatisfaction



All this we shall explore in the pages that follow.



LONGING TO BE CLEAN

There is hope. Despite all the church’s failure to model holiness … despite her all too often pointing judgmental fingers or laying heavy guilt trips on the world … despite her own tendency to a holier-than-thou attitude—there is in society a wide awareness of sinfulness and a desire for holiness. Many long to be other than they are. The religious impulse can itself be a longing that is responding to the promptings of a holy God.



We all know what it is to feel dirty on the inside, and anyone can be made to feel dirty. The most unholy of places, the most God-forsaken, defiled, and profane, was that hell on earth at Auschwitz. There the demonized Nazis made every attempt to “desanitize” and dehumanize the Jews. The women had one tap for fourteen thousand worker inmates, and they were forbidden to wash. Their faces, caked in mud, baked by the sun, became covered in sores and scabs, crawling with lice and fleas. This treatment made it easier to regard the Jews as vermin and kill them as such. The Nazis worked hard to completely obliterate every trace of dignity and purity—turning the religious men’s prayer shawls into women’s underpants so that what once symbolized purity and devotion to God would be defiled by bodily discharges.



The traditional places for the Jewish woman to articulate holiness were in her home and in her diet, making a distinction between the sacred and the profane, offering her life and work as worship to God. But how could she be holy? How could she resist the literal and moral filth of Auschwitz? How could she still offer something to God? The women held on to the Jewish notion that the face is a powerful illustration of God turning to his people and the people turning to God. The face was a symbol of that sacramental communion. And so, though it was strictly forbidden, they would find precious water, even soap, and wash one another’s faces. They would wash the faces of those going to the gas chambers, or even of those who had already been murdered.15

This was an act of protest against immorality and evil, it was a no to the profane and impure. It was a small but massive act of saying to God in this apparent hellhole that we are for you, we want you, we want to be holy, the darkness will not cover us. Even here, we are for you, and we make space for you. Even in this filth, we choose to be holy, we need to be holy, we will be holy. Here, in this insane, inhuman, dehumanizing cesspit, we bear the image of God. Let our faces shine for you; and yours, O God, on us.



YOU CLOTHE ME

I was struck recently by a little incident told to me by a retired prison chaplain. She explained that when entering the prison, everyone had to take off their coats and bags, be searched, and pass through airport style scanners so that they could be checked for any drugs and other illicit things that might be smuggled to the prisoners. One day, after passing through, she got to her room and realized she had left her coat back at the check-in. She walked back only to find the guards all trying on her coat. When they saw her, they took it off and handed it back to her, looking very embarrassed. One of them apologized, explaining, “We were just seeing what it would be like to be holy.”



He wasn’t joking. They had recognized and accepted that this dear priest was a holy person. They knew she was very different—not just from the prisoners, but from themselves. And somehow, her clothing connected in their minds to the holiness they saw in her. They really did wanted to see what that holiness might feel like, and so they put on the holy chaplain’s holy jacket just in case something holy might be transmitted to them!



When a British bishop is invited to stay with the Queen, he receives a formal letter stating what clothes he must bring and wear on what occasion. First, a sports jacket and corduroys for an informal country stroll; second, a clerical outfit for more formal meetings; and third, a dinner jacket for evening supper. You have to dress right for the Queen of England!



Holiness is about having the right clothing to be with the King of Kings (Matt. 22:11–12).



Of course, whatever our best efforts, we probably won’t get it right! But we need not fear: The prophet Zechariah tells us about the time God invited Joshua the high priest, the most revered religious person in the nation of Israel, to stay (Zech. 3). The high priest was recognized by the fact that he wore the holiest of garments, designed just for his solo holy office (Ex. 28). He was regarded as the holiest of men in Israel, the one who offered sacrifices for the sins of the whole nation to God—the only one in Israel who could enter the Holy of Holies and

look upon God’s glory, on just one day of the year. The high priest was the icon of holiness to this holy people, yet Zechariah tells us that the Devil stood at his side accusing him of his sin and guilt.



Well, whatever the Devil’s accusations were, they were immediately silenced by God’s rebuke. Even so, the angel, seeing the stained clothes of the high priest, commanded them to be removed. Now, no Israelite could possibly conceive that this holy man, who wore the finest vestments symbolizing his holy office, could dress unworthily. But God sees right through us. The good news, however, is in what happened next. At God’s command, the angel removed the filthy clothes from the high priest and declared, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you” (Zech. 3:4). And they placed new, clean clothes on him and a new turban on his head.



If the holy high priest’s garments were filthy in God’s sight, what hope is there for us? Every hope! The Devil can find some sin and stain to accuse the best of us—but the good news is that God does not wish to accuse, condemn, or embarrass us. He wants to rebuke the accuser, he wants to remove our uncleanness, he wants to dress us in divine clothes so that we are fit to stand in his presence.



In the chapters that follow, we shall explore holiness in its many facets—its foundation, its absence, its beckoning, its counterfeit, its provision, its perfection, its practicalities, and its potential for the future of our world. Let the journey begin.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Issues

I have many issues. I'm repressing my jealousy right now. I don't want to talk about it. The Elphaba moment of the day I really should have posted would say, "I don't have enough brain left today to blog!"

Monday, September 27, 2010

Follow along with the first chapter from Floyd McClung


Thanks to everyone who took part in today's tour!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

David C. Cook; 2 edition (September 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Karen Davis, Assistant Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Floyd McClung is the founder and director of All Nations, an international leadership training and church-planting network that partners with local churches to send short term and long-term church planting teams to more than 30 different countries. Floyd has spoken on more than 100 university campuses and has traveled to 187 countries. He is the author of fourteen books, including the best-selling books, The Father Heart of God and Living on the Devil’s Doorstep, that have had a profound influence around the world and have inspired new generations to take risks in both outreach and service. Follow will serve as a catalyst for church growth at the local level—growth in both depth and size. The McClungs live in Cape Town, South Africa where they lead a training and outreach community that equips church planters to work among the poor and unreached in Africa and Asia.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; 2 edition (September 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434701921
ISBN-13: 978-1434701923

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Repenting of Religion

I want you to imagine what my reaction would have been, when I wrote to Sally (now my wife), asking her to marry me, if her response had been as follows:


Dear Floyd,

I would love to marry you. It’s a dream come true! The answer is YES! There are a few minor details, though. I have a couple of other boyfriends—well, seven to be exact. Most of them don’t mean much to me, but can I keep Murray and Wayne? I must be in love, because I’ve never before been willing to give up so many of my boyfriends! My mother says you’re a lucky man! There’s one other thing. I will accept your proposal on the condition that I can stay in Texas and live with my parents. I love them. They have done so much for me that I couldn’t dream of leaving them. You wouldn’t want me to hurt their feelings, would you? However, you can visit whenever you want to. I’m sure you understand. Oh, and one last thing … I don’t want to upset you, but I would prefer not to take your name. McClung is just not that pretty a name. I look forward to setting the wedding date!

Yours in undying love and devotion,

Sally


Had I received that kind of reply from Sally to my marriage proposal, I would have run the other way. In truth, I pursued Sally late-night phone calls, visits to Texas to see her, and long letters sharing my desires for our future together, hoping that she would share those dreams. I pursued Sally because I loved her. I was convinced she was the woman for me. When I finally did ask Sally to marry me, I expected that if she loved me and she was “the one,” she would lay aside all others for me. And so she did—“McClung” name and all!

She was smitten with me, and I with her! That’s what true love is—committing to love another person. We would feel cheated if by any other kind of relationship. In the same way, God pursues

us because He loves us, to remind us that He loves us, all to draw us back to Himself. Sending Jesus was the most visible expression of this. Jesus is God’s way of romancing us. Just as I courted and pursued Sally, so, in a much more profound way, God pursues each of us.


My story is not about how I found religion, but how I was set free from religion.


My Story

I realized a long time ago that we all have a God Story to tell, a story of how God radically transformed us through faith in Jesus. Our story finds its full meaning in God’s Story. My story is not about how I found religion, but how I was set free from religion. I didn’t have to repent of sin as much as I had to repent of the sin of religion. For me, religion was about powerful people controlling my life and others’ lives. Maybe some of those powerful people were sincere, but they had strayed far from loving people Jesus’ way. And the sad thing about it was that I became like those powerful people. But let me tell the story from the beginning.


Before Jesus

I grew up with Christian religion. Someone could make a Hollywood movie of my life, it was so weird. We were wild-eyed fundamentalists. We attended church meetings up to five times a week: prayer meetings, revival meetings, mid-week meetings, youth meetings, and, of course, two Sunday meetings. There was a lot of sincere zeal, but people lived inside a religious bubble of meetings and so-called

Christian culture. As a teenager, people’s hypocrisy made me cynical about my religion. Many people in church professed one thing but lived another. There were lots of rules but not much love. I tried to fit in, but the journey, filled with my insecurity and zeal to perform, was hard. My parents were good people. In fact, my father was a pastor, a saintly man, deeply religious in the best sense of that word. He prayed by the hour, loved impossible people, and gave his life to being a “good shepherd.” But I struggled with others in our church.


One of the most difficult parts of my church experience was how judgmental people were. They passed judgment on the clothes people wore, the things they did or didn’t do for God, and whether they kept the church’s rules for “holy living.”

Holy was not defined by how loving you were but by how extreme you were. But in my later teen years, that same religious attitude crept into my own heart. What I despised, I became. Growing up with religion made me feel like a failure. I lived with feelings of false guilt—though at the time I didn’t the guilt was false! I continually felt a sense of shame and tried to prove myself worthy of the church’s blessing. I hid my sins and weaknesses from others in the church, while I sought their approval and acceptance.


How God’s Love Became Real to Me

One of the best things that happened to me was going to university. I loved sports, which became an important part of my life. I achieved success, as well as a fair bit of notoriety, and my self-confidence grew. I became the captain of our basketball team, and we traveled the country, defeating teams from universities ten and twenty times our size. Newspapers across the United States wrote about us. Professional scouts from the NBA came to watch us play. It was exhilarating. But I was still in turmoil regarding my faith. During this time, one of my professors had a huge influence on my life. I liked him as a person; he was honest, spent time with the students in the resident halls, attended our student activities and sports events I was involved in. He became a role model to me. This professor was a very devout man but devoid of “religion.” This fascinated and intrigued me. At the end of each of his lectures, he would push back his notes, stand up behind his desk, and speak to us from his heart. He pleaded with us to be people who would change the world. He spoke passionately about being free from the chains of religion. He invited us to be fully human and fully alive. One day, he spoke about the difference between religion and God’s love. He told us the difference between performing and living our lives from the heart–and I realized that up to that point I had lived to please people; but that was not what God wanted from me, nor did it somehow persuade God to love me. As my professor pleaded with us to be free from religion and alive with the grace and love of God, a light went on in my heart. In my inner person I agreed, and I walked out of the class a free man. I realized that I had been taught most of my life that devotion was

duty to God, not delight in God. I quietly determined to live for delight, not duty.


The Change Jesus Made in My Life

As a result of that inner transaction, the weight of religion with rules rolled off me like a heavy backpack falling to the ground. Who took it and how it was lifted off me, I wasn’t sure, but it was gone. I felt free. I knew from that moment, I didn’t need to do anything— indeed could not do anything—to make God love me. I didn’t have to do things to earn God’s love. I was free to love God simply because He loved me first. I felt light, free, and full of hope. Since that day, I have lived like a man unshackled from prison chains. I live like an orphan who has been adopted into a loving family. I feel fully human, alive, set free to enjoy God. I don’t feel alone or that I have to do things to gain the approval of people or of God. I now wake up every day with a deep sense of God’s love and acceptance. I know I belong to God.

Being loved by God is incredible! Accepting His love and forgiveness is my response to that incredible love. Loving God begins with the discovery that He has created us for intimacy and friendship with Him. It is accompanied by a longing to live life to the fullest; to see and taste and hear all life has for us. God has adventure waiting for us, beauty to share with us, dreams and purpose and security and significance to give to us.


What Does It Mean to Love Jesus?

Our theme in the first part of this book is loving Jesus. I know, and I hope you know as well, that loving Jesus is a heart response to His love for us, involving a commitment to obey Jesus each day of our lives. But we must allow God to love us to the point where He captures our complete devotion. To be captured by Jesus is to be captivated by Him, fascinated and intrigued with who He is and what He has in store for us.

Loving Jesus means opening our hearts to Him, holding back nothing, confessing everything—our weaknesses and fears, dreams and longings. Loving Jesus has to be lived out in the face of constant temptation to conform and compromise. This pressure can come from myriad sources: from the influence of our culture and its more depraved and dehumanizing demands, to the more naive, but sometimes painful, interactions with friends and family. It can come from people we work with or go to school with, and from movies, TV, and certain types of music. Jesus wants to give us the strength to withstand the pressures contrary to His way so that we can live our lives for Him and His purposes.


We’re all slaves to something or someone—either willing love slaves or unwilling slaves to private prisons we make. We were created to be fully devoted to God, and if we’re not fully devoted to God, we’ll give that devotion to someone or something else. Paul the apostle speaks to the Roman believers of this capacity for devotion: “You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it’s your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits” (Rom. 6:16 MSG). We cannot serve two masters. We serve the one we love, and we love the one we serve. When we allow Him to love us, we unshackle our hearts to love Him back. This is good news to religious people who want to be free of religion! Paul goes on to say these incredible words about the love of God:


For all who put their trust in God are children of God. As a result you are set free from acting like fearful, beaten slaves. You should believe and behave instead like God’s very own adopted children, loved and accepted into His family. You can freely call out to Him, “Dear Father.” And know this with certainty: The Father has sent the Holy Spirit to speak to you deep in your heart—and He keeps on speaking to you until you finally believe it—that you are God’s loved children. (Rom. 8:14–16, author’s paraphrase)


We don’t behave differently in order to be loved by God, but because we are loved by God.


Though we were once slaves to our passions, desires, fears, and hurts, we are set free to love God with our whole hearts. No longer do we have to be prisoners. This is the good news of the gospel! God’s love invades our minds, changing our core values and transforming our behavior. We don’t behave differently in order to be loved by God, but because we are loved by God. We realize that God is not trying to punish us for our past sins but deliver us from them. He is not out to heap shame on us for past failures but to take our shame away and give us the great gift of finally, fully belonging.


What Hinders Us from Loving Jesus?

Nothing hinders us from receiving the love of God as much as the lies that build up in our minds about who God is or who we are. Paul describes these lies as “strongholds” in our minds, like fortresses where debilitating accusations wage war against us.

A friend of mine describes these lies as the script we try to live by, but a script that is not the “real us.” We learn this script from our upbringing, our culture, and painful experiences in life. Our scripts get lodged in our hearts despite what we believe in our minds, becoming a deafening cry of the false self—what matters most is what I have, what I do, and what others think of me—instead of the stunning truth that God likes me, He loves me and unconditionally accepts me.

The Bible tells us that we must fight to hold on to the truth; we mustn’t be passive about these lies: “We are human, but we don’t wage war with human plans and methods. We use God’s mighty weapons, not

mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil’s strongholds. With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God. With these weapons we conquer their rebellious

ideas, and we teach them to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3–5 NLT).

You can tell when you believe lies about yourself or God, because they produce hopelessness and mistrust. God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins and free us from these lies. That great act of redemption provides the power we need to be free from the false self, to be the person God created us to be.

We must resist the lies, receive God’s love in Jesus, stand for what is true—and forgive those who have communicated those lies to us and about us. There is great power in forgiving and taking responsibility for our feelings and choices. In fighting for truth, we become strong. We overcome passivity and fear and anger and hate. It is not easy, but fighting to take hold of the love of God is well worth the battle.

To love Jesus and allow Him to love us is to fight for what we know in our minds to be true. In doing this, we allow the doctrinal beliefs we know to be intellectually true to become deeply real to us, to go deep into our hearts. It is then that the love of God in Jesus transforms us. Believing in Jesus is not just a nice religious thing to do. Integrating that belief into the deepest part of our being transforms every aspect of our lives.


The Price of Being Free

You can be free to love God with your whole being, as a whole, passionate, free person. And in doing so, you are freed to become intensely aware of being loved by God. Loving God unlocks your heart and frees you to live above your fears. But there is a price to pay.

God invites us to turn away from lesser pleasures as our source of meaning and purpose to the ultimate pleasure of knowing and loving Him. Jesus told a parable of a man who went to build a tower but did not have enough money to complete it. He said the man, to save embarrassment and wasted effort, should have sat down and calculated the cost before starting. “So therefore,” Jesus says, “whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33 RSV). Those who are considering becoming, or are already committed to being, fully devoted followers of Jesus must count the cost of putting Him first in their lives. That doesn’t mean renouncing who He created you to be, but renouncing the false beliefs and behaviors that have kept you from being all He created you to be.


What Loving Jesus Does Not Mean

In order to grasp what it means to love Jesus, we need to consider what it does not mean.


Becoming a “religious” freak

Loving God does not mean that God expects you to become religious or speak “Christianeze.” My friend David, full of newfound faith and enthusiasm for Jesus, joined a church and was immediately handed a set of regulations covering everything from where he could go and when, how long his hair could be, and even with whom he could associate.

Tragically, the rule book dealt with everything except what mattered most—a heart of devotion to Jesus, which can’t be reduced to a set of rules. The implication of the rule-book approach to spirituality is that it can produce conformity without pleasure, zeal without genuine maturity.

Sometimes, zeal lacks depth and produces so-called “model Christians” that are plastic imitations of the real thing. Some religious leaders fear or resent this perspective, but maybe that’s because they can’t control people without it. Jesus spoke scathingly of the religious leaders of His day because they had reduced a relationship with God to a set of detailed and often ridiculous regulations. Yet there are some Christian leaders today who, unfortunately, think in the same way. Their way of making

people “holy” is to load them down with a long list of dos and don’ts or a strict conformity to their definition of spirituality. This approach, however, only produces fear, dependence, and condemnation. The more control and rules there are, the greater our sense of failure when we are unable to please our earthly leaders. Looking back at my time as a brash young leader who demanded that type of loyalty, I now realize how detrimental my actions were to people’s delight in God. I tried too hard, and as a result, I got in the way. The older I am the more I realize that my role is to stay in the background. The kind of devotion that God delights in comes about when a person finds security in the pure, unselfish love of God. We don’t find our security or our value from the rules we obey or the way we live. But in the love of God, we know that there is nothing we can do to make Him love us more or less—He just loves us!


Performing to earn approval

There is safety in knowing we are “okay” with everyone. Many followers of Jesus try to find security in living up to the expectations of others—the silent code of conduct a group has for itself. There is security in conforming. It means we think we are loved, or okay with God, because we are okay with people. However, God doesn’t grade us according to how good our performance is or by whether we have performed certain religious duties or not. He has offered up His Son Jesus as a substitute sacrifice for our sins, as the means by which we are acceptable to Him. No amount of trying to gain His approval by doing our duty or conforming to some man-made code will ever change that great truth.


Temptations will go away

Even once we accept Jesus’ acceptance, we will be tempted to go back to the old way of trying to earn His love or indulging ourselves in the short-lived pleasures of sin. Whether the sorts of temptations you face are to lust, lie, steal, or fall back on “good behavior,” Jesus made it clear that we will face temptations of both a religious and non-religious type. Jesus Himself was tempted and did not sin, which means we can be tempted—without sinning. Temptation to sin is not sin, although we often think it is. It can sometimes be confusing to know the difference as we wrestle with inner thoughts and feelings. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the Devil, yet He was without sin. He was tempted, just as we are, when Satan presented Him with thoughts of power, wealth, recognition—shortcuts to becoming all the Father wanted Him to be. But He did not give in to temptation. He did not leave the wilderness with feelings of defeat and unworthiness. If you struggle to discern the difference between temptation and sin, then be direct with God and ask Him, “Have I sinned? What specifically did I do wrong, and how can I correct it?” God is committed to helping us lead lives of truthfulness. He will show us the difference between sin and the temptation to sin. If, after talking to God about this, nothing comes to mind, then quite possibly you are dealing with vague accusations of sin or suffering from false guilt that religious people want to pile on you. If you are feeling powerless and joyless, go to a mature Christian and pray together. Shake off false guilt and refuse to accept it! When we are convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit, it will be absolutely clear to us what we have done wrong. Condemnation is vague and related to a general sense of failure rather than to a specific sin; shame is a negative emotion that combines feelings of embarrassment

and worthlessness; false-guilt feelings are based on demands from people, not from God, in order to try to control us. But when the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we understand God’s grace and the hope that belongs to those who are loved unconditionally by God. Real guilt shows us that we have done wrong and brings us to Jesus. God convicts us of sin because He loves us and wants to help us be free from sin! The Bible teaches us to resist the Devil so that he will flee from us. If we are tempted and actively resist it, then we are not sinning. But when we welcome it, entertain it, and give in to it, we have entered into sin.


What Loving Jesus Does Mean


We have a purpose to live for! The world waits for us to bring hope to the poor and freedom to the oppressed. Get involved! God has given you abilities and passions and talents to make a difference in the world. Enjoy your passions and interests—but don’t live for them. God has more for you!


We are forgiven!

Jesus’ death on the cross is God’s way of providing for our forgiveness. When we acknowledge our need of forgiveness, He forgive us—and He does that because of His great love for us.


We are freed from fear!

Loving Jesus means that we allow God to work deeply in our hearts, right down to the level of our secret fears. Fear can be a temptation, or it can be sin. For example, it is natural not to want to be a victim of violent crime, but that doesn’t mean we have to live in constant fear. Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness and His example of facing and overcoming the cross assure us that we, too, can live in freedom from fear.


We have hope!

God has not abandoned fallen humanity but has come near to us in Jesus. God has provided a wonderful means of redemption, reconciliation, and forgiveness through His Son. Because of the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ, we need no longer be enslaved to sin or dominated by the fears and worries of daily life. This audacious hope impacts all three tenses of our lives: hope for our past—we are forgiven; hope for our present—Jesus is always with us no matter what; hope for our future—the promise of new life through the resurrection.


We get to serve the poor!

There are people around you without hope. There are many in the grip of financial poverty and others enslaved to poverty of spirit. You have an answer for them. Get involved. Listen to their stories. Share your God Story with them. Serve them practically.


We have faith to face difficult circumstances!

There is nothing we face that Jesus has not already faced. He was both a Jew and a Palestinian. He knew racial prejudice. He was the victim of crime. He lived under a ruthless foreign power. He grew up with a single mother. He worked to support His family. Jesus faced temptation. He understands our struggles; He lived through them and conquered them. We will not always be free from fears or feelings of personal rejection or other consequences of living with economic challenges or personal struggles, but Jesus will help us win the battle. You write God’s Story through your life. You add to God’s Story. Your choices, your responses to the love of God, are important to Him. You show the love of God every day to others. As you accept His love and forgiveness for you, you bring hope to others by your example. You are making the God Story real to others, “acted” out on the stage of your life. God is the director, He is in the drama, and we already know the final scene. We have read the last chapter, so we know who wins in the end!


Reflecting and Responding

1. Read and reflect on Romans 8:14–16.


2. Write out your personal story in three parts:


• What your life was like before you experienced the forgiving love of God in Jesus

• How God’s love through Jesus became real to you

• What difference the love of God in Jesus has made in your life.

If you are “still on the journey,” write about where you are now in your search for God’s love. Use less than three hundred words.

Then share it with a few friends and other followers of Jesus.


3. How can pressure from family, friends, coworkers, and movies/television/music tempt us away from loving Jesus? List those pressures.


4. What “lies” are you tempted to tell yourself that can be barriers between you and the love of God?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Thoughts from Elphaba

Here's a new little feature I'm going to start. It's called "Thoughts from Elphaba." That's what the Wicked Witch of the West's name is in the musical Wicked. Sometimes they may just be funny, sometimes they may express my inner Elphaba.

Today's inspiration is the City of Corsicana's boil order on water. Our water tested postive for traces of e coli. You should have seen the gallons of water flooding out of Brookshire's when they got their new shipment last night about 9:45 when we stopped by.

Friday, September 24, 2010

It's No Secret - take a peek!

Thanks to everyone who participated in today's tour!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Karen Davis, Assistant Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Rachel Olsen is a writer, editor, and speaker on staff with Proverbs 31 Ministries. She serves as Editor-in-Chief of their online devotions, “Encouragement for Today,” with a readership of more than 375,000. She also writes for and serves on the editorial board of the P31 Woman magazine. Olsen is a national women’s speaker who enjoys interacting with audiences at women’s retreats and conferences from coast to coast.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434765377
ISBN-13: 978-1434765376

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Always RSVP

Revealing the Secret to Responding to God

Everyone has a story. Everyone chooses to ignore God, (re)define God, or search for God and respond to Him as He truly is. I’ve done all three.

When I was growing up, my family attended church in a brown brick building with stained-glass windows and bright red carpet. The sanctuary smelled faintly of wood. I’m surprised I remember the smell; we weren’t there often—a few times a year.

I don’t remember much about going to church other than feel­ing embarrassed by my mother’s singing. We rarely went, but each time we did Mom sat us front and center, and then she sang as loudly as she could. She sang with passion, but she couldn’t carry a tune with a U-Haul. Being from the South I’m required to follow that criticism with “bless her heart.” (So let it be noted here that I blessed my momma’s can’t-sing-a-lick heart.)26 It’s No Secret

I listened to the pastor’s sermons, but I didn’t understand much about the subject matter. From what I could gather, God was good and He didn’t do bad things. So I concluded that if I wanted God to like me I, too, needed to be good and not do anything bad. Being a proper Southern girl, I very much wanted God to like me.

I thought believing in God and trying to do the right thing was what church was all about. I didn’t realize that—because Jesus lived, died, and rose—I could have a dynamic relationship with the God of the universe and He would delight in empowering me to live well. Instead, I assumed it took willpower. Like a diet or a marathon.

Glimpses of Revelation

When I was twelve, my mother called me into her room and patted the edge of the bed. I sat down beside her. With an unsettled look on her face, she revealed she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. The room started to spin, splintering my carefree world within its centrifugal force.

She explained something about cells and masts. Then she braced me for the likelihood that the treatments would cause her hair to fall out. That did it. I ran from the room crying inconsolably. My momma, sick, without her pretty auburn hair? It was too much for a tweenager to take in. I might have been only twelve at the time, but I understood the importance of big hair to Southern women.

During the months of cancer treatments that followed we went to church more often. About this time our church employed a new minister, and I really liked him. I understood more of his sermons, perhaps because I was desperate, or maybe because I was growing Always RSVP 27

up. All I know is I sensed something stirring in a dormant chamber of my heart.

I asked Mom to buy me a Bible; she did. I sat on the floor one Saturday, sunlight streaming through my window, and read through Genesis. (OK, I might have skimmed a little bit.) Then I skipped to the middle—because I’d never read a book this long—and read through Matthew, Mark, and part of Luke. Then I skipped to Revelation to find out how the book ended.

I don’t know if you’ve spent much time in Revelation, but it isn’t exactly light reading material. Challenging concepts make it difficult to grasp, especially for a clueless tween with no decoder ring. I closed the book, remembering the stories about Jesus. He lived doing good, which reconfirmed my notion that I had to be good and do good to make heaven’s invitation list. I’d finally made a Jesus-sighting, but I was still missing His point. I didn’t hear His message of mercy.

I set out to be and do good. I unloaded the dishwasher without being asked. I invited less-popular kids to sit at my lunch table. I even said “yes ma’am,” and “no sir” to my teachers. But inevitably something would happen to throw me off my good game. Someone would insult me, something would depress me, or some boy would pass a note my way.

After a year or so of mastectomy recovery and radiation treat­ments, my mother’s cancer went into remission. Things returned to normal around our home. Sadly, the preacher I liked so well left to pastor another church, and my interest in the things of God faded as my interest in the things of my peers grew. I didn’t give God much thought during my high school years, preferring to focus on fashion, sports, boys, and music.28 It’s No Secret

Halfway through my freshman year of college, my brother called to tell me Mom had again been diagnosed with cancer. This time, it was a brain tumor. His words sank into my own brain, creating a mass of stress and fret.

One night, I lay alone in my dorm room trying to sleep when I thought I saw Jesus standing in the corner. He didn’t say anything; He just looked at me, His arms extended toward me. He looked just as He did in the statues you see in old churches—long brown hair and white flowing robe. I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or hallucinat­ing, but I decided it meant that my mom was going to be OK.

Turned out, the tumor was inoperable. The doctors resorted to chemotherapy and radiation, but I could tell they didn’t think it’d work. I spent my spring semester driving the two hours back and forth between college and home. By exam week I was sick with a sinus infec­tion, probably stress-induced. I’d take an exam, drag myself back to my room and sleep, then stagger—coughing and sniffling—to the next test. At the end of the week, I lugged myself home.

Hope Deferred

That Sunday, Mother’s Day, I visited Mom at the cancer center, determined to keep a smile on my face and do my best to cheer her up. I didn’t want her worrying about me. I purchased a sweet card and wrote, “Thank you for being my mom.” When I arrived, the nurse told me I couldn’t enter her room because I was sick.

I still remember the sterile feeling of the cold, hard floor in the hall outside her room, where I sat and cried. But it’s Mother’s Day, my mind protested between sobs, but she’s dying anyway…. Even today, the memory stings my eyes with tears.Always RSVP 29

A few days later I was better, but Mom had worsened. She came home from the cancer center with hospice care. A couple days after that, she couldn’t respond to me beyond raising her eyebrows at the sound of my voice. Panic set in as I realized I was losing contact. She was sliding away, and I was powerless to stop the inevitable.

Later that evening, my dad and I went out to grab dinner, leav­ing Mom under my grandmother’s watch. As we returned, I spotted a police car parked out front—and I knew. I ran to the bedroom to find my beautiful, vibrant mom lying lifeless.

She was gone. I was seventeen.

That night my life passed before me. Not my history with my mom, but my future without her. Where my prospects once looked promisingly bright, I now saw a haze of uncertainty.

I cried on the shoulder of a family friend. Gasping for breath and wiping away tears, I questioned, “What will I do when it comes time to graduate and my mom isn’t there to pin on my cap and clap? Or when I set out on my own and I don’t have my mom to advise me? What happens when I get married, and have babies, and I don’t have a mom to help me?”

Placing her hands on my trembling shoulders, she stared into my moist eyes. “When those times come, Rachel, God will make sure you are taken care of.” She spoke the words with enough cer­tainty that I resolved to believe her.

Filing that promise away in my heart, I held on to the hope that God would somehow become a mother to me. I had nothing else to cling to. My dad and brothers argued over Mom’s will, then went their separate ways. I didn’t just lose my mom; I lost my whole family that May.30 It’s No Secret

Coming Undone

In the fall I headed back to college, where I majored in journalism. I spent weekends trying to drown my sorrows at fraternity parties. I recall stumbling home one evening and walking into my closet, where I caught sight of one of my mom’s sweaters. My knees buckled beneath me as heavy sobs ensued. I realized the party life wasn’t fixing anything; it was an insufficient distraction. But I didn’t know how else to find relief.

My junior year I met a corduroy-clad young professor with uncommon wisdom and peace. He taught two of my classes, sched­uled back-to-back. As the weather turned cool and leaves crunched underfoot, we’d walk across campus together from one class to the other. I learned he was a Christian. He felt like a safe place. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt that way around anybody.

I found myself telling him about my mom, my fractured family, and my uneasiness about the future. I asked him questions about his faith. He answered convincingly, and when the semester ended, he invited me to his church.

Inside that prefab metal building I witnessed vibrancy. Those people possessed hope, joy, and peace, all of which I coveted. I learned about Jesus and how His shed blood washes away my sin and unites me with God—even though I don’t deserve such kindness.


I discovered God doesn’t just want me to be good, He wants me to be in Him—hand in hand, heart to heart. I realized it isn’t just a matter of willpower and proper performance He’s after, but a grow­ing relationship through which He’ll shoulder most of the burden to make me vibrant. Yahweh so desires that I bear His image, I learned, He will transform me into His likeness through His Spirit. He can Always RSVP 31

make the most tarnished Southern belle glorious. In fact, in Him my purpose is found and fulfilled. In coming to Him I’d become a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a bride. All in Him, and all to Him.

After attending church two Sundays, I responded to this divine truth. I walked to the front, acknowledged my need for Jesus, and handed Him the jumbled mess of my broken heart. I asked Him to forgive me, clear the haze, and untangle my knotted-up hopes and dreams.

Inside a priceless decoder ring, God inscribed my initials with an eternal beam of light. In the instant I responded to Christ’s call, I became a beloved daughter of the Most High God and a member of His Yahweh Sisterhood.

The Favor of a Reply Is Requested

You and I need a jeweler’s loupe of sorts to see the secrets Yahweh wants to reveal to us—indeed to see Yahweh Himself. Our basic eye­sight needs some spiritual amplification. We need a divine ointment to anoint our eyes for the task.

Remember that Greek word musterion, meaning a sacred secret revealed by God? Its root word is muo, which means locked up or shut, as in eyes that are closed. In Revelation 3:17–18 Jesus told the people of the church at Laodicea that, although they didn’t realize it, they were spiritually blind. Their eyes were locked shut and could not see God. They were neither seeing nor responding. Jesus counseled them, “Buy from me … salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (v. 18 ESV). Jesus affords us the ability to see, hear, understand, and respond to God. Only Jesus can provide that divine salve we need.32 It’s No Secret

In Matthew 5, we find Jesus perched on the side of a moun­tain near the ancient city of Capernaum to preach. Massive crowds gathered to watch and hear what He had to say. Some in the crowd followed Jesus; they had already opened themselves to His teach­ing. Others desperately sought a miracle or healing. A few counted themselves Jesus’ enemies. Others showed up out of curiosity. They’d heard the rumors and came to decide for themselves if Jesus was a fake, a prophet, or a Savior.

Jesus gazed across the mountainside at the congregation of people. Many eyed Him skeptically, wondering if they would see something that proved a connection to God. He told them, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8 NIV). A pure heart; an authentic heart; a humble, believing heart open to Jesus’ teaching—that’s the currency that buys the salve to allow our eyes to see God. That’s what enables us to respond to God. Lacking it, many heard Jesus’ words without understanding Him or watched His moves without realizing they were staring into the face of Yahweh.

God’s gals understand that only Jesus can open the eyes of a woman’s heart, cleansing them pure enough to see and respond to Yahweh. Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” Did you catch the secret Jesus reveals here? He said He’s the only way to God, the full embodiment of truth, and the only source of vibrant, lasting life. Jesus is the way we want to go, the truth we need to know, and the eternal life that we crave. You just can’t get to God without going through Jesus. Jesus is our way to God, and God’s way to us.

Jesus is who God wants us to respond to.Always RSVP 33

All religions do not lead to heaven, despite popular opin­ion (John 3:3). God is wise beyond wise and has a purpose for everything He does, and He designed salvation in such a way that believing in God is not sufficient. We must also believe in His Son, who ushers us to Yahweh and shows us how to live His way.

So our membership in the Yahweh Sisterhood—our becoming a daughter of God—happens at Christ’s invitation to follow Him. You cannot buy, earn, or bluff your way in. You must be invited—and you have been. God’s own hand addressed your invitation some two thousand years ago, at the desk of the cross, on the parchment of Christ’s body, in the ink of His blood.

Have you RSVP’d?

A year of high school French enables me to inform you RSVP stands for “répondez s’il vous plaît.” It means “please respond” … don’t put it off … don’t wait and see … say you’ll join me!

If you’ve never responded to Jesus’ invitation to come to God through Him, now is the time. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Don’t put it off until you get your act together—RSVP right now through prayer. Receive the gift of forgiveness offered through Jesus, and ask God to take charge of your life and future. Receive your divine decoder ring. Tomorrow may be too late. Be Jesus’ guest today.

Guest List

In Jesus’ day, a person throwing a soiree sent out servants to issue invitations to the guests and gather their responses. Invitations noted the day of the gathering but not the hour. The hour depended on when everything was ready. 34 It’s No Secret

Once everything was ready on party day, servants again went out to call in the guests. Those who’d said they’d come were expected to be dressed, ready, and waiting that day. When the ser­vant knocked on their door, they were to head immediately for the banquet room.

This scenario mirrors what happens in the spiritual realm. God sent His Son and Servant Jesus to issue our invitation on the cross. Those who accept are born anew spiritually—then expected and empowered to live in such a way that they are ready for the day Jesus will return, calling us to God’s heavenly banqueting table.

Though we don’t know the day or the hour, we will be ushered to a great wedding feast, the marriage banquet for Jesus and His bride. Jesus’ bride is the church, meaning you and me—all who have RSVP’d to His invitation.

I read about this feast in the book of Revelation that day in my room. What I couldn’t grasp fully back then now sets my heart aflutter in a way that nothing else can. I am loved, chosen, adopted, prepared, and betrothed—to the King of Glory. You are too! The wildest thing about this Yahweh Sisterhood? We’re all engaged to the same Man—Jesus—yet no one seems to mind.

You and I must RSVP and ready ourselves for our heavenly wed­ding day. The rest of the divine secrets in this book will purify and prepare us to take our Groom’s hand as He replaces our decoder ring with a wedding band. I don’t want to miss it. Nor do I want to get there and find myself underdressed and unprepared.

Understanding and responding to the twelve divine secrets that follow—internalizing and enacting them—will keep us dressed Always RSVP 35

and ready for the future party. While simply responding to the cross secures our seat at the grand banqueting table, keeping these secrets assures us that our heavenly Groom will look on us with utter delight.

My fellow belles, have you saved the date? Because a wedding feast looms on the celestial calendar. It’s part of your story. And savvy Yahweh Sisters are always dressed and ready for a party!

A Garden Wedding

Twenty days after I graduated college, I had my own wedding feast. I married that young professor, Southern style, in a garden surrounded by azalea bushes in full bloom, three-hundred-year-old oaks drip­ping with Spanish moss, and swans swimming on the lake behind. It was gorgeous.

God not only adopted this lonely girl into His heavenly family, He placed me into Rick’s earthly family. He presented me with three sisters-in-law and countless Sisters-in-Christ. I learned the truthful relevance of Psalm 68; it became the story of my life:

Sing praises to God and to his name!Sing loud praises to him who rides the clouds.His name is the LORD—rejoice in his presence!

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy.

God places the lonely in families;he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. (Ps. 68:4–6) 36 It’s No Secret

He’s a Father to the fatherless, and I can testify He’s a mother to the motherless as well. God has guided me, protected me, com­forted me, taught me, and provided for me. He also untangled my hopes and fears and brought me the joyful desires of my heart.

So now you’ll find me in church each week, singing praises to Yahweh and His great name. Oh, and I sing rather quietly when I praise Him in public. It’s not that I’m not extremely thankful—I am. It’s not that I don’t like to sing—I do. And it has nothing to do with embarrassing memories from my church past in that brown brick building with the red carpet.

Truth is, I sing every stinkin’ bit as off-key as my momma did.

Shhh, don’t tell anyone. Sisters stick together, right?

But you can go ahead and bless my heart over that vocal deficit. I need all the help I can get.

BIBLE STUDY

1. Check out this parable Jesus told about a man throwing a feast:

A man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!”

Jesus replied with this illustration: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When all was ready, Always RSVP 37

he sent his servant around to notify the guests that it was time for them to come. But they all began making excuses. One said he had just bought a field and wanted to inspect it, so he asked to be excused. Another said he had just bought five pair of oxen and wanted to try them out. Another had just been married, so he said he couldn’t come.

“The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was angry and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the city and invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I invited first will get even the smallest taste of what I had prepared for them.’” (Luke 14:15–24)

What struck you when the people in Jesus’ story made excuses for not being prepared to attend? List the things that preoccupied them.38 It’s No Secret

What excuses do you make for not responding to Christ, or not living “dressed and ready”?

2. Read about the coming wedding feast in Revelation 19:6–10. What does it say about the bride (you) and her wedding dress?

3. Next time you throw a bash at your plantation, Jesus offers this advice for planning the guest list:

Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” (Luke 14:12–14)

That’s precisely what God did when He created the Yahweh Sisterhood. He sent out invitations welcoming every one of us to His supper club. The glass slipper fits each gal here. Everyone gets the rose. The King of Glory doesn’t require Always RSVP 39

designer gowns or shiny black limos for us to dine with Him. What a relief!

In the space below, write a thank-you note to your King.

Dear Jesus,

_____________________________________________



Thursday, September 23, 2010

Take a leap of faith! Check out the first chapter of Jump

Thanks to everyone who participated in today's tour!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Efrem Smith uses motivational speaking, comedy, and preaching to equip people for a life of transformation. He is the Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference for the Evangelical Covenant Church, and an Itinerant Speaker with Kingdom Building Ministries. He is a graduate of Saint John’s University and Luther Theological Seminary, and the author of Raising Up Young Heroes and The Hip-Hop Church. He and his family live in the Bay Area of California.


Visit the author's website.




Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764575
ISBN-13: 978-1434764577

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


THE IMPALA


My pastor friend Darrell once told me a story that has given me a new vision for living the Christian life. Not long ago Darrell took his son to the zoo and became intrigued with an animal known as the African impala. It just so happened that a female staffer from the zoo was standing near the enclosure giving background information on the impala, so he stopped to listen. I must be honest and say that at that point in my life the only thing I knew about an impala was that Chevrolet made them. As I said, Darrell is my friend. He could tell my thoughts of Chevy automobiles were distracting me from really listening to his story. But he’s also a pastor, so he put his hand on my shoulder to regain my attention.


The zookeeper told Darrell and his son some interesting facts about the impala. She said this animal has the ability to jump thirteen feet high in the air from a standing position. this allows the impala to escape predators that try to sneak up on it from behind. The impala has the ability to jump not only up but also out—thirty feet out. An impala’s back is like a shock absorber, which is crucial since the animal’s leaps are like explosions. Impalas can reach maximum running speeds of close to sixty miles per hour. Again, a

natural survival skill. But it was what the woman said next that really caught Darrell’s attention. “Notice that even though the impala has the ability to jump thirteen feet high and thirty feet out, the African

impalas are contained here at the zoo by a three-foot wall!”


This grabbed my attention too. “Stop right there! How is it that an animal with the ability to jump thirteen feet high and thirty feet out can be contained by a three-foot wall?” I asked. Darrell went on to explain that when the impalas are young, they are taught they can’t jump over the three-foot wall. Zoo personnel do this by emphasizing a weakness of the adults. An adult impala is hesitant to use its ability to jump if it is unable to see where it’s going to land. the inability to see the end of the jump somehow hinders the impala from something it is naturally able to do. I’m a pastor too, like Darrell, so let me put it this way: the inability to live by faith keeps the impala from doing what God created it to do, what it was

born to do. It grows up to become an adult with the ability to jump into freedom, to live out its purpose, but it won’t because it doesn’t believe it can. Darrell finished his story there and said, “Anytime you want to use that in a sermon, feel free.” I’ve been connecting that story to every sermon ever since.



~~~~~


The Christian life in so many ways is about a series of jumps that can take us higher and further into a life of intimacy with and identity in Christ. The Christian life is about the love relationship that God desires to have with us, so that we become His beloved, advancing the Kingdom of God on earth. And on many days this involves taking leaps of faith into the unknown.


From my pastoral point of view, I look around today and see believers all across the land behind three-foot walls. Like African impalas, they’ve been taught one thing or another, many times things completely unscriptural, that keeps them from jumping into the life God wants for them.


For example, maybe they’re taught early on that Christianity is a bunch of rules, and if you don’t follow the rules, God doesn’t love you. I know for a fact that this has kept more than one Christian from ever knowing the freedom of jumping into an intimate relationship with God. Or maybe some people were warned not to learn about spiritual gifts. As a result, they have never taken the leap into knowing their spiritual gifts and God-given mission to advance the Kingdom of heaven on earth.


All that explosive God-potential just sitting behind a three-foot wall.


I think about the life of Peter in the gospel of John as a picture of this. In the first chapter, Andrew, Peter’s brother, brings him to meet Jesus:


One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). John 1:40–42


Peter had to make a decision to take the jump of following Jesus without fully knowing where this jump would end. Yet these jumps into the unknown are the key to freedom in Christ and our ability to advance the Kingdom of God on earth. Peter had to deal with some three-foot walls in making the initial decision to follow Jesus. Maybe his three-foot wall was leaving his fishing business behind. Or maybe it was dealing with what his friends and other family members would think of him for following one

who proclaimed to be the Son of God. Whatever the specifics, it’s clear Peter had to deal with a three-foot wall of some kind in making his initial jump. When we make the decision to follow Christ, we have to deal with a three-foot wall of some kind too.


But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12–13


We may not be able to see what’s on the other side of the wall, but we know one thing: God is there. We are, by faith, jumping into God’s love! We can’t see God, but we hear His voice on the other side calling us into love, forgiveness, and freedom.


Though freedom waits for us on the other side, the walls around us can be overwhelming. Three-foot walls often feel more like skyscrapers. This is one reason why we must be loving and patient with people who have not yet come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. We don’t know what they’ve been through.

We don’t know the multiple walls they may be facing as they consider this faith jump. Evangelism today must be loving, gentle, patient, and in some cases very slow. Some people may take the jump into God’s love at events or on a Sunday morning through an experience of corporate worship; but I believe most

will make the jump only after coming to trust a community of believers over time. It took time for the three-foot walls to be built, and it will take time to take the risk of that initial jump. This first jump into the Christian life is not easy. Maybe it was the same for Peter.


But this initial jump was not the only one that Peter had to make. The impala does not have the ability to jump only once in its life. The impala has the ability to jump over and over again, each time experiencing the liberation that it brings. Peter had many other occasions where he had to decide to jump.


The story is told of Peter and the rest of the disciples on a boat waiting for Jesus. Out of nowhere, Jesus approached them, walking on the water. Peter looked, wondering if it was truly Jesus approaching them in this miraculous way. Jesus called to Peter to come out onto the water himself. Right there, Peter had

a decision to make: Jump or don’t jump. He had already made the initial jump to follow Jesus; now he had to decide whether to say yes to an invitation that most would say was impossible. It’s one thing to follow a man; it’s quite another to jump out of a boat and walk on water.


On another occasion, Jesus was presenting a hard teaching about His identity and the cost of following Him. Many people began to turn away. Peter was faced with another jumping opportunity:


As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” John 6:66–69


When given the opportunity to go to a deeper place of understanding with God, will you take the jump? Even if the teaching presents challenges and issues that seem impossible to take on in daily living? Jumping is seldom easy. Sometimes it even feels like the more you jump, the harder the next jump is.


About a year ago, I took a trip to El Salvador through a partnership with Compassion International and Kingdom Building Ministries. We visited many of the Compassion International projects that are run in partnership with local churches. As part of a team of itinerant speakers with Kingdom Building Ministries, I connect my messages on Kingdom laborship and advancement with the Kingdom values

of compassion, justice, and mercy. The ministries of Compassion International that seek to advance God’s Kingdom and deal with poverty through child sponsorship are a great expression of this.


On our last day in El Salvador, we went zip-lining. I had never zip-lined in my life, and I have to say that I was dealing with a lot of fear. One of the other itinerant speakers, Adrian Dupree, seemed really excited about the chance. I told him I wasn’t going to do it, but he insisted: “Efrem, you need to face your fears.” After a lot of prayer and encouragement from both Compassion International and Kingdom Building staff, I decided to take the jump.


Zip-lining is traveling down a cable while in the air from one point to another. It’s like coming down a mountain on a ski-lift chair except there’s no chair—it’s just you, holding on to a cable rigging.


Our zip-lining adventure took us up in the mountains, four hundred feet above the ground. As we traveled up the mountain by truck, I became very nervous. I didn’t know what was on the other

side of this experience. We finally stopped to put on our gear and then hiked farther up the mountain to get to the proper elevation. Remember now, I was doing this for the first time.


The instructors gave us directions for zip-lining—how to go, how to slow down, and how to stop. They also showed us how to initially get ourselves hooked on to the cable that would take us down the mountain. To get attached, you literally jump up and connect to the cable. When I stopped thinking about how high up I was and focused more on jumping up and getting connected, facing my fears

was a little easier. It didn’t take away my fears, but it made it more manageable. Since I am a pastor, the spiritual comparisons were racing through my head. In our relationship with God, it’s not just about making a jump; it’s about trusting the One we’re connected to, even though we can’t always see the destination. The key is to abide in God through Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit:


So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31–32


~~~~~


I want to go back to Peter for a moment. As I look at his life and faith, I see three jumps that were defining for Peter. Even though the Christian life is made up of multiple jumps, these three were vital for

Peter. I believe they are for you and me as well:


1. The jump into the beloved self

2. The jump into the beloved church

3. The jump into the beloved world


The Beloved Self


Everything begins somewhere. For Peter, everything began when Jesus said, “Follow Me.” I don’t believe Peter understood all that invitation meant, but he made the decision to take that initial jump. From there he kept on following, even when many turned away. Peter’s jump took him to a moment of denying Jesus (John 18:16–27), but that moment was later redeemed. The resurrected Christ made sure Peter knew His forgiveness and grace and love (John 21:15–17). Through time and trial, Peter learned what it means to be the beloved of God. What about you? Do you live like you believe God loves you?


The Beloved Church


The beloved self overflows into the beloved church. Peter began to see this when he preached on the day of Pentecost and became a leader in the first Christ-centered community. He had no idea where all this would lead.


What does it look like to live in community with others? I’m not talking about just showing up for church on Sunday but actually living the Christian life with others and being willing to be held accountable. Now that is a major jump!


I served as the senior pastor of a church that is intentionally evangelical, multicultural, and urban. This type of church is rare in the United States of America. Race and class still can be very challenging issues in our society, so for a church like this one to be healthy and missional takes people willing to make the jump to build relationships and trust with people who are different from them; in other words, jumping from “God loves me” to “God loves us.” The three-foot walls in this case could be fear, ignorance, prejudice, and past hurts. Taking the jumps over the long haul to be a reconciling gathering is essential to being the beloved church.


The Beloved World


But it doesn’t stop with the church. In Acts 11, Peter was given a vision that challenged him to jump further and higher into the beloved world. Peter had no idea where taking the gospel message to the Gentiles would land him, but he took the leap.


This jump is about understanding and acting on how God has uniquely designed us to advance His Kingdom; in other words, jumping from “God loves us” to “God so loved the world.” It’s about becoming a vehicle of compassion, mercy, justice, and truth.


My “beloved” language comes from the vision of civil rights leader and pastor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke often of “the beloved community”—a community of peace, love, reconciliation, and justice. But the origin of the civil rights movement came not from the speeches of Dr. King but from the jump of a woman named Rosa Parks.


Ms. Parks refused to go to the back of a bus and give up the seat she was sitting in for a white person. She ignited a movement by taking that jump. She had no idea where it would land. There was something Rosa Parks believed in: that God loved her, regardless of what the segregated South thought at the time. Her jump was based on seeing herself beyond how she was seen by those of the dominant racial group. She took the jump into the new self, a self that could live equally with whites and have equal access to all open seats on a bus. She sat still and jumped into the pursuit of the beloved self.


Rosa Parks’s courage spilled over into the churches. But the people needed a leader, someone to take the jump and organize and strategize for the many. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took that leap. His jump resulted in a movement that hit the streets through bus boycotts, lunch-counter sit-ins, and freedom marches. This was a going public, jumping into the beloved world, the very transforming of society.


Ms. Parks and Dr. King had no idea where their jumps would end. Dr. King’s cost him his life. But our world is so much better for it. Every faith jump you take has a risk factor, including the possibility of losing your life in order to find that faith.


But think about the alternatives: A world full of African impalas behind three-foot walls. Fishermen invited to become something more but don’t because they’re afraid. Pastors who might never experience the thrill of a zip-line. Or men and women forced to the back of the bus or the back of living. Jumping is the difference between a limited life and a liberated life, between just getting by and going further and higher.


What about you—are you ready to jump?


©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Jump by Efrem Smith. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.