I love New Years resolutions. Any opportunity to change is my favorite, because my whole life is about transformation. Walking the narrow way that Jesus recommends to us requires some healthy self evaluation on a regular basis. I spent some time in my twenties “just trying to do better,” constantly plagued by a dissatisfaction I couldn’t shake. I wanted to live up to my potential. I wanted to serve God in a big way. It wasn’t until I got specific about how I needed to change and what I would do to change that I got out of a cycle of self defeating criticism that crippled my capacity.
We can’t just resolve not to suck anymore. A vague sense of dissatisfaction is deadly for the plans that God has for us. Feeling bad about ourselves for our sin or our shortcomings usually makes us sin more and come up even shorter. Shame cycles us into inaction and in our idleness we are rendered inert and evil prevails in us and in the realms that we might have triumphed (I’m sounding really conquistador-ish here). Exposing our darkness and our weakness to God’s healing light is the best way to escape cycles of self -defeating shame and move forward. This requires identification of specific patterns that we would like to change. How do you think you suck? (Saying you suck at anything probably isn’t very self-loving- just for the record).
And that’s why I love New Year’s resolutions. Just making the resolution exposes whatever the opposite pattern may be to the light. For example, I resolve to not hit the snooze button this year. This reveals my laggardly waking habits and resultant abridgment of prayer time. I want to change that. I’m seizing the opportunity to change my behavior. The Roman calendar is an arbitrary but for some reason very motivating event for me. This year, I will not suck at waking up! I have a couple of other resolutions because I really like to pile them on. Luckily, Lent, a much less arbitrary event, comes on February 18th, and if I’ve failed at any of them by then (which I certainly will) I will be ready for a reset.
We really got ourselves into a mess recently at Circle of Hope. God afflicted us with this surprising idea to shift our church planting staff around. Nate Hulfish is moving into an Adminstrator/Communicator role for the whole church and I am moving into the role of Pastor of Marlton and Crescent. I never would have expected this for myself, but the strange attraction to this region–this new territory where I would go as pilgrim and stranger–is sticking with me as we move forward with the plan. It’s poetic to experience the conception of such a strange and wonderful idea when we remember the strangeness and wonder of Jesus’ conception and the mess into which he was born. I was dreaming a week or so ago about what it might be like. So I went as a stranger and a pilgrim to the land of jug handles and a hundred little towns–South Jersey within 20 minutes of our outpost at Marlton and Crescent, and I found a welcome sign for each of those towns (40!). Welcome, Jesus, to the world and to South Jersey. Welcome, me, too. I’m coming with Him. Check out the slideshow of my adventurous day below.
Photo cred: Fatimah Burke
On Saturday, December 13th at 1pm, I helped organize an event called the Prayer for Justice Rally. Circle of Hope was a big part of the crowd. We must care about justice. My friends Gene and Fatimah from LookUpRadio.com spearheaded the effort to get a diverse group of Christians together to pray about what is becoming known as the #blacklivesmatter movement. I was excited to be part of such a great idea. Let’s get Christians who are black and Christians who are white and Christians who are brown, and Asian and as many other Christians as possible together to pray for the state we find ourselves in: the abjection of no indictment for police who killed black men and boys; the brokenness of a world so entrenched in sin we regularly call evil good and vice versa; the corporate oppression of racism and the systemic ways it damages all of our hearts and destroys lives, especially black lives. We had to cry out with Isaiah for the freedom of the oppressed. We followed Isaiah 58-6-8:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
We wanted to declare our hope in God’s promise and unhinge the heavy gates that separate us from one another. We wanted to be together in solidarity–demonstrating our hope to the world. We wanted to express our pain and ask God to heal us. The injustices are painful to any lover of justice. They are painful to God.
We gathered at the Municipal Services Building’s courtyard. We used an over-sized fallen domino as our stage. Our own Ra Mendoza (also repping Mission Year) Pastor Cean James of Grace Christian Fellowship, rallied us to our common cause. Joezier (truPoet) Antoine stirred us up in expressing his indignation. I led the group in small group and corporate prayer. We joined together saying “We raise our hands.” Marquita Danzy got us singing “Our God” and she didn’t need a mic! Finally Ra sent us on our way to carry the fire to all our corners of the city.
The only down side of the event was the turn out. It was a blustery cold day and I understand there were some things stacked against us, including the fact that Gene told me about this idea only a week before, but I was hoping for 200 and there were 40. I’m not sure how I expected 400 to show up, but I learned a lesson in organizing- you better know who is coming. I wasn’t, however, surprised that a third of the crowd was from Circle of Hope. We are a faithful people. We’re dreaming about doing big things like this next year and I’m eager to see what our collective “show up” capacity is. If we can be the biggest group when I barely put the word out among us, how big will our presence be when we all put our back into it! Let’s do it!
Circle of Hope, I can count on you. Thanks.
Here’s a little window into my thought process as I re-hashed some old biblical interpretation battles from seminary:
I was reading Ephesians the other day and I had to deal with this word “predestination” again. In Ephesians 1:3-6 Paul writes
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
There’s been a debate among Christians about predestination for a long time. How exhaustive is God’s foreknowledge? How capable are we to choose to believe? What is the math? How do we calculate salvation? Some folks read these verses and argue in favor of God’s sovereignty and humanity’s sinfulness, concluding that everything is part of God’s plan. Others read these verses and lean heavily into the “when you believed” in verse 13, concluding that our decision to follow is a result of our free will as influenced by the Holy Spirit. In seminary I was encouraged to join a camp because seminary is a lot about choosing sides in ancient fights. I made my decision based on what I thought would motivate me and those I told the message of truth to continue the mission of telling our Story about the One God loves. What did it matter if I spoke the truth or not if those who heard it were going to believe or not regardless of what I did or said? It seemed to me that my experience in deciding to follow Jesus was indeed, a decision. How did describing it otherwise further the cause that Christ gave us? It seemed debilitating, even if the categories of God’s power and humanity’s power were neatly separated and correctly identified. Their proper taxonomy (def. a scheme of classification) yielded a Church ready for taxidermy (you know what that means).
So does my logic of experience trump their logic of categories? I think so, but I still had to deal with this word again. It needed to be taken seriously if I was going to keep taking the Bible seriously. When I read it, I choked on the word a little because it brought up the old debate and with it some of the unsettled feelings I have about it. I can’t just ignore the word even if those in the other camp use it to perpetuate a theology that is killing the Church.
This is a reason not to engage in such debates because my feelings were more about how small I felt when engaging brilliant people who disagreed with me and the inadequacy that comes with that than about the actual content of our discussion. I was freed from that feeling when I had a new little spark of insight: Of course we are predestined– because God knew that we, an ever growing number of us who have heard the message of truth and believed, would respond to his call to participate in the redemption of the world. God chooses you to participate in the family business. Your adoption brings with it the inheritance which you get to use now for the further growth of this family. God chose this way to do it. He chose us to be the agents to achieve his purposes. He doesn’t want to do it any other way. That’s a much better feeling to have.
I hope you can receive that inheritance and respond to those around you. You are essential.