seeing the swan

thanks my dear friends for understanding, for the love, the emails, the phone calls, the comments. i of course have felt encouraged in more ways than you know.  in case you didn’t notice, i am a verbal processor. something happens inside me when i say things out loud & God moves in in all kinds of random and creative ways to remind me of what i need to be reminded of.

i think i was clear, but i want to reiterate so there’s no mistake:  the in-the-trenches-of-real-life part of my day to day is not too overwhelming. is it hard? sure. is it painful? sure.  but God’s beauty & hope in the midst of the ugliness sustains me.   the draining, overwhelming, sucky part is the lack of resources & support.  does God provide? of course. i see miracles every day. i see generosity in the most unlikely of places. i see random acts of kindness & love & help & hope that bring tears to my eyes on a regular basis.  do i need to keep my eyes focused on that and not the scarcity that i sometimes see? no doubt.  but part of this leg of my journey is to also be unafraid to speak truthfully about what i observe about some odd inconsistencies within the body of Christ.  i don’t expect everyone to agree. i know there are some that are like “get over it, that’s life as a Christ-follower, quit your whining, keep your eyes on your own ball, and start praying!” and i will respectfully say to them that we can kindly disagree on what is helpful in this moment.   on the spectrum of life-in-the-margins i know there are countless others who doing far more intense work with far less resources in dangerous scary places that pale in comparison to denver, colorado.  i pray that nothing i am saying diminishes the magnitude of their sacrifice.  but i do not for a minute think like ministries like home-pdx should be having these kinds of struggles financially (please oh please read pam hodgeweide’s recent post on the mystery of home-pdx, it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time,)  they don’t need that much and i don’t think they should have to beg for it each month.  more stable churches could be saying “ken loyd, dear lover of people without houses, we will support you to do this ministry because it is important.  the least of these deserve it.  we are not equipped to do it, we don’t have the stomach for it, but we have people with jobs and houses and we will use their money to make it happen. you are our brother and we will share generously with you.” as you can see, i just can’t get off my soapbox!   every time i think of ken battling for the simple needs to sustain such a small and important entity, i can’t help but get tears in my eyes & a burning sense of ‘something has clearly gone awry, people!’ deep in my heart.

but back to what some might call an ugly duckling, the refuge, the beautiful faith community i am part of.  i have called it that since the beginning & i am now officially going to recant!  it’s a swan. now.  not “when we get this or that or become this or that”.  i’m talking about now. yes, it’s a lovely swan. at first glance you’d never see it.  there’s not that many people in the room.  there’s chaos.  there’s a mix of people who don’t look like they go together.  there’s someone talking when they’re supposed to be listening.  there are kids running around wreaking havoc.  there’s a beautiful piece of art in the middle of the room that has crumbs all over the floor. there are people crying when they’re supposed to be laughing.   there are people laughing when they’re supposed to be crying.   it definitely doesn’t look hip or cool or, honestly, all that inviting.  but underneath, its heart is filled with love and grace and acceptance and hope and help.  and, at the same time, its heart is full of doubt and anger and fear and pride and pain.   you see, to me, the refuge is just a reflection of all of us.   we’re good, we’re bad.  we’re beautiful, we’re ugly.  we are thankful, we are disappointed.  sometimes we notice God, other times we are sure he’s left the building.  we hope, we doubt.  we do some things right, we do some things wrong.  we are brave, we are afraid. we give, we’re selfish. we’re confident, we’re insecure.

but like people, if we let the world define us, we will only see the negative, the things we aren’t.  the ugly duckling just couldn’t see it.  and the others couldn’t see it, either.  but i am fairly sure that God could see it all along.  Jesus always saw it.  in the leper, the prostitute, the adulterous, the tax collector, the disciple.  we see the ugly duckling, he sees the swan. and i believe he wants us to see what he sees.  i want to see what he sees. in God’s economy, his reflection in us reminds us of what we are, who we are.  our identity in Christ regardless of worldly measures is not something to ignore, dismiss.  i do it often & sometimes i just need a little rattling of the tree to shake me back into sense, a reminder that the upside-down ways of the kingdom are totally counter to everything i have been taught not just by the world, but even more so by the church.  answers, stability, security, put-togetherness, moving-on-ness, growth that’s visible and measurable. all these things are subtly & overtly valued & perpetuated in more ways that i am guessing we’d like to admit. and even though i know they totally contradict so much of what i believe, these weird “here’s what’s good & valuable” messages are somehow still etched in my memory.  we have associated these things with beauty.   the new imprint i want tattooed upon my heart, my mind, my  hands, my feet, are the beatitudes.  poverty of spirit, feeling, advocating, seeking justice, giving our lives away, humility, gentleness, backwards-to-the-worldness, crazy hope & peace & deep relationships in the midst of a real & honest life.  and those, my friends, will look utterly stupid, ugly, to the world and probably to a lot of christians, too.

there’s so much i don’t understand.  i am working out all kinds of things out loud, for the whole world to see (sometimes not the best idea!), and i think the biggest truth i am learning is what looks to one person like a tuft of misshappen feathers & bulging eyes is to another a vision of beauty & power & grace.  and that underneath all of the crumbling rocks & sinking sand & hazards to our health & faith is something far more sure and solid and true than we ever would have imagined.

yeah, i see the swan.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

35 Comments

  • “but like people, if we let the world define us, we will only see the negative, the things we aren’t”

    I agree with this. I agree that each of us for some reason always focuses on the negative in others – other groups, other’s way of doing things, what we don’t like about others.

    I do believe that the body of Christ is a swan as you describe…each of us individually being an individual swan as well. Because of Christ – God focuses on the good in us – big groups of the body, small groups, black, white, urban, country, traditional, liberal, rich & pour… those are all descriptions of the world — not how God defines us at all. He can focus on the good in every group & every person. My prayer is to work on becoming more like Him in this way every day. That’s what mercy is all about I guess.

    what beautiful writing. thanks for the words & challenging thoughts. great stuff!!! 🙂

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  • Your words make me smile & my heart race…I want to say “AMEN” but that would be too churchy and God forbid something like that come from my my mouth…or keypad…!!!
    Love you and your heart my friend.

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  • Kathy,

    I appreciate the passion you have to meet the needs of the hurting. Everyone has baggage – clearly some more than others that keep us from experiencing the peace of God. It is wonderful that your desire is to reach out and meet people where they are – no matter where that is – and let them know there is hope. I would assume the refuge stresses, but I’m not sure after reading all of your posts, that that hope is found in Jesus Christ and Him alone. Perhaps those you work with would be best served by the refuge partnering with a larger ‘fully funded plant church’. I have to believe that some are really interested in diversity both racially and economically and want to help those you serve.

    I am an incredible broken person. I know that the truth of Christ – His death and resurrection that insures my place with God now and for eternity is what gives me peace.

    I am not a pastor and I do not know the Bible as well as I should but I do know there are certain absolutes the main one being that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. Once a person chooses to be born again their life changes and their pain will begin to heal.
    Blessings,
    Diane

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  • Reading this post was like standing under a waterfall on a hot summer day. The timing of reading this was so incredible for me. It made me realize that just like in the middle of surgery, it can look really messy. Blood and guts are everywhere! It’s a mess. But something good and healing is happening right in the middle of that mess and pain.

    Thanks for the refreshing words. I see the swan as well.

    P.S. The DVD is going out in today’s mail to you!

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  • stacy – ditto.

    randi – yeah, i am pretty sure that mercy is where it’s at. we need it. God gives it. we give it.

    donna – oh you always make me happy. i know the ways you sacrifice and love up there at the bridge and home pdx. it is so beautiful and i am just so blessed to be part of your community from afar…

    sage 🙂

    dianne – thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. what you are sure of–that there is a fully funding church who wants to help–is not super consistent with our experience. that doesn’t mean it’s not possible but what seems simple is sometimes quite more complicated in real life. of course Jesus is our hope & central to everything that we do. i do think that the spiritual journey is a process, though, and that continued healing will be taking place throughout our lifetime and that God will continue to transform us as we seek him and grow and change, which we all know is awfully painful sometimes…

    tracy – oh, i am so glad that was your experience, love the imagery. can’t wait to get the movie 🙂

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  • Kathy — this post and your last one are great examples of why God allows scarcity and weakness in our lives. Just like Paul recognized when God wouldn’t take away the thorn in his flesh, you’re recognizing the power of God that’s present now and made perfect IN your weakness.

    Though I wish this weren’t the case, I have to admit that my faith has grown the most in times where I was literally at the end of my rope. It’s those moments when it would be reasonable to give up hope, curse God and move on — but these times also give you a chance to prove to yourself that your faith is real. Do we love him because of his blessings? Are we bandwagon jumpers only? Or do we trust him DESPITE what our circumstances tell us is reasonable to do?

    Times of trial and testing really suck, but they really can be considered pure joy, because God uses them to test and strengthen us, helping us to get our priorities straight and see things from his perspective.

    That’s why this last post is so great — because you’re defining yourself in light of God’s vision, and not via external measures or relative comparisons with others. It takes faith to believe and live like you’re blessed and rich when the waves and weeds or lack of visible resources say otherwise…but the truth is that you really are rich now — you’re perfect in Christ, and yet still being perfected.

    A few questions to spur your thinking: If you were to have more resources, what would you do with them? Are there certain areas that are more of a priority than others? More specifically, if someone gave you $100, how would that money be spent? If someone gave you 100 hours, how would their time be spent?

    What would your “Promised Land” look like? Would you do some things you’re not currrently doing? Are there some things you would stop doing? What impact would an infusion of resources have on your current culture and relationships? Are you concerned about growing too large, too thin, too busy, too structured, too chaotic? Is there a consensus among your leaders and community on questions like these?

    Am I asking too many questions? 🙂

    Blessings

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  • hey Kathy- do you mind if I turn this blog conversational, by dialoging here (regarding this topic) with Steve Bradley? (hi Steve).

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  • sage – of course! always, this is an open invitation to all…i trust everyone’s kindness & respect that people who read this blog are all over the place when it comes to faith & ministry & life. today has been a big advocacy day; the system is a jungle & people (but especially women) out there alone will get eaten up without some protectors. so trust me, i will be on fire tomorrow in response to steve’s questions! but for tonight, i am hitting the hay…

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  • Keep doing what you’re doing, because you are healing hearts and souls and lives with your words. The last few posts have been amazing, and I’m sorry I haven’t been here to comment.

    I’m proud to call you ‘friend’. Love you.

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  • Kathy, read last post and am there with you. Keep threatening to get a bike and head west until I am in the mountains. Needing a wilderness time like Jesus always took.
    Spend much time with same people as you only different place.
    Still wonder what response I would get if I hung up a sign (under the church sign of course) that said only really messed up people allowed????
    The swan, well these folks I preach to support me and the ministry I do in town. they support a Parish Nurse, adn they will give and do for just about anyone. Frustrated with them but gotta give them credit for what they do.
    Keep on keepin on. WaynO

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  • Hi Sage, and others. I think Kathy knows this, but just to be clear, my goal here in raising these questions is not to be critical or condemning, but challenging in a positive way. I’m also curious to hear and learn from her responses as well as from others, because I certainly don’t have all the answers…

    I have a great deal of respect for Kathy, and echo the sentiments of so many others who are inspired by her passion and enthusiasm, and wish they could drop everything to head out to Colorado to help.

    Looking forward to continuing the conversation…

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  • It was Jacob who said, God is in this place (The Refuge, The Bridge – wherever) and I was not aware of it.

    Hey, sounds a lot like us!!! Me and a mate of mine sit at the back and people reckon we are like those two old guys from the Muppets, sitting up there in the box, you know the ones I mean? We were told if we don’t quieten down – that we would be seperated!!!

    We sit there because it’s the best place to spot visitors comming in, make sure they can get a seat, a cuppa, a handskake – whatever….

    Since I’ve taken the Emerging route, I now see very few ugly ducklings, I cetainly see no trophies. I see people in darkness when God’s glory is blazing all around them, to be sensitive to need is often to take on board a little more bagage than we should and at times that extra load takes us down into a few valleys but that’s Okay – I don’t mind that caring that cross anymore, because climbing back onto the mountain once again reminds me how beautiful the view is.

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  • Steve- I do see your questions as positive and in a constructive spirit.
    It is true that I too have seen God at work clearly when I am in tough places- there is so much truth to both of the expressions of the first beattitude- blessed are the poor in spirit- blessed are the poor for they shall see God.
    That is a promise that Jesus walks with us in all circumstances.
    I do not see that as Jesus’ revelation of his plan for the kingdom of heaven, though. Jesus’ life was not Job’s. Jesus lived out generosity and abundance, and celebration. He taught us how to live that out to bring God’s kingdom to each other. He taught us the greatest commandment.
    I believe that Jesus brought us a miracle which is altogether too often not seen as a miracle- a way for us to get along in love. Considering our human nature and the historic record of that, it is no small thing.
    So for me, stepping up and following Jesus in works which respond to that miraculous commandment is a participation in that miracle, which has nothing to do with suffering in order to build character.

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  • I wish this had an edit function 🙂
    it should have read
    “while the beattitudes were revealing the ways of the kingdom of God, Jesus’ life was not Job’s.

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  • Thanks Sage for saying what I couldn’t!!! 🙂

    And Kathy…I hear references to the “flogging machine” ALL the time still….everyone here loves you!!

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  • Sage — great thoughts — I agree with you on many levels, but I think I see more of a connection between Job and Jesus, however, with regard to suffering. Job’s story is one of the most disturbing to me in the Bible — we know what he doesn’t know — that Job’s a pawn in some sort of high stakes contest between God and Satan.

    While God doesn’t cause or “will” the suffering, he does allow it and use it for his purposes. It makes you ask, Why? Especially since Job seemed to do nothing to deserve it, other than being a faithful servant of God. Towards the end, you at least expect God to swoop in, save the day, and offer Job words of comfort. Instead he essentially says, Who are you to question me, Job, then argues him into silence. Not the “heroic” response I was longing for (granted he does bring restoration to Job, but does this make up for what Job suffered?). Which causes me to question God as well. Which then causes me to ask, “Who am I to question God?” Which I think is the real point of the book…

    Suffering is tough stuff. It’s hard to unravel or get your mind around, and ultimately doesn’t serve as an reliable external measure of God’s favor of lack of favor. Jesus’s disciples thought of Jesus as a conquering king — which he was and is — but the suffering servant thing threw them all for a loop. In a way, Jesus was a pawn like Jobas well, called to a life of sacrifice, suffering, and death to serve God’s greater purpose.

    This paints a harsh view of God, if that’s all we knew of him. Fortunately, Jesus gives us another perspective on the Father — helping us see his love for us, and his heart, and what it’s like to know him as Abba. And yet we’re reminded of how different God’s ways are from our own, as Jesus himself suffered rejection and abandonment to the point where he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

    But that’s not the end of the story. The resurrection showed how God can redeem and use suffering and death to bring about restoration, redemption, and the growth of his kingdom on earth (like a seed that dies and is planted in the ground). As Jesus’s disciples, we’re called to follow in his footsteps — not to invite or embrace suffering for suffering’s sake, but to offer ourselves up daily as living sacrifices, trusting God in his redemptive power with the results.

    So suffering to me is a part of kingdom growth. Dying to ourselves to become more like Christ. Decreasing that Christ may increase. Losing our lives to find them…and realizing in our “ugly duck poverty” and death that we are swans who are truly given a life of abundance and freedom that we never could have imagined.

    I think we need to see suffering, weakness, powerlessness, and scarcity the way the Apostle Paul did then; not as a measure of God’s relative pleasure or displeasure (there is now no condemnation in Christ), but rather as an opportunity to grow closer to Christ and bring greater glory to God.

    Sometimes we suffer for identifying with Christ and obeying God faithfully. Sometimes we bring suffering on ourselves, through sin, inexperience, a lack of discipline or maturity, etc. Sometimes God uses suffering to test and stretch our faith. Sometimes our own desires to meet every need or prove our worth cause us to overextend, to become stressed or burned out, or to place a yoke on ourselves that exceeds our true missional calling. Sometimes all of these things get mixed together to the extent that the causes are no longer so clear cut. In every case, however, we have an opportunity to learn and to become more like Christ. And we always have a chance to grow — it’s just not always in the way we expect or might like…

    For just like Paul says,

    I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength…. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. [Phil. 4:12-13, 19]

    Was Paul full of it? Or was he on to something? Maybe growth isn’t about what we can see, or what we can show others? Maybe God is already meeting our needs in ways we’re not naturally trained to recognize? Maybe he uses scarcity and lack to make us less reliant on other things and more reliant on him? Maybe he wants to transform our notions of success, and renew our minds so our expectations match up with his unique calling for our lives? Maybe he uses such times to sever our connection to external stuff, so that when it does come around we’re not inclined to become possessed with what we hope to possess?

    Think I’ll stop now. Didn’t really intend to write such a long response, but you really got my juices flowing… 🙂

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  • thanks Steve – that was awesome 🙂

    ‘Transforming our notions of success’ (or failure for that matter)… awesome stuff. I agree. He is on a totally different ‘level’ / mindset / perspective than we are. Yes He cares about our suffering on earth — but He’s way more concerned about our purpose in Him and things that are unseen

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  • minnow – 🙂 i sent your latest post onto a few friends. such great thoughts stirring!

    steve – so many questions that are good and sometimes it’s just too hard to process them all here, but i will say that when i say “resource” i do not just mean money. resource to me is time & people & money & stuff that will help people in different ways. we used to have someone who would slip me $100 every single week to give to someone who might really need it extra that particular week. it was such a beautiful gift to pass on and i can’t tell you how many ways that small token significantly changed something for someone. they have since moved on to a different ministry job but that $400 did far more in that month than they would have ever imagined because it was so unexpected, so generous, so specific. when it comes to bigger picture, i would love to have an advocacy fund so that people that we are journeying with have access to some of the things that they need to get a leg up–fees to file for court things, pay housing deposits, take a specific class they need, certifications/licenses, oh the list can go on. we try to meet those needs as they arise & somehow, some way, so many needs get met–it is wild what a small community can actually come up with practically when we don’t spend a ton of money on overhead, etc., but we keep going to the same well and i think it makes us not as proactive as we’d like. i’d love more and more dreaming & empowering going on… this takes long haul relationship & a tenacity to help find what needs to be found. money isn’t as big of an issue (although it helps :)) as dedicated consistent love care support ‘we’ll-figure-this-out-together-and-we-won’t-ditch-you’ kind of people. right now we have at least 3 people who really need cars. i think cars are out there to be found, we’d love to have some people who could help find them. i know some would go “well, there are ministries who give cars away” and i’d say “yep, and so why don’t you figure that out and build the relationship with that ministry and then follow through all the way in making sure that person actually ends up with a car in the end” because knowing about a resource and actually getting into someone’s hands are two different things! i’d love to fund our parties for single mommies and be able to bring some of our fun to other dark places where parties and generosity are rare. we pull off all these things & will continue to but we would love to have other people get a chance to taste the beauty and support these projects to provide us with some relief and help spread the love even further. i think the promised land is now. i don’t have a “when we get there” mentality like i used to. i’d just love to have more partners over time, dear friends who go “we are with you” and participate in living this out together. i can’t speak for everyone, but i think our team would be unanimous is saying we’d love more and more initiators, more and more advocates, more and more lovers of people who aren’t interested in one-upping and serving for the sake of serving but interesting in practicing the ways of Jesus together.

    erin – i am so glad we’re sort of all “out here” together. thanks for all your encouragement & love, my friend

    wayne – i love what your support community provides for you to do and how even though some of it might drive you crazy you continue loving and journeying with people. and the sign, it might help. it’s so interesting because think of how many churches say “no perfect people allowed” but tend to perpetuate perfection as a core value. hmmmm. tonight at our house of refuge there was this beautiful sharing of an amazing story and i was like “whoa, i am so glad i am in a place where this much honesty & hope so easily flows” you know, in the messiness is always so much hope. thanks for reading & for the love across the plains.

    mark – can i just say you always always make me smile. i can see you guys, like those muppets dudes, i used to love that show btw. but isn’t it beautiful and wild to be part of seeing so much LIFE?

    sage/steve – i am always cautious about the suffering builds character thing getting thrown in as a comfort even though of course that’s scriptural and have observed it as a truth in our spiritual journey. i think God can provide when we’re at the beginning of our rope, the middle of our rope, and the end of our rope. i don’t try to pretend i know or understand why injustices are not made right and how God allows such imbalance and unfairness and inequality in life. i get concerned with a “once i finally surrender then everything falls into place” kind of theology because that can be very dangerous (that’s not at all what you were originally saying, i’m just tossing it out because i hear it a lot–‘once we surrender, then God will….” i believe in constant surrender, turning over to God, but also that so much of what is going on is beyond my comprehension and there really are no sure if/then’s except “if i keep noticing God in the midst, no matter how small it might seem, then i will experience greater hope & peace no matter the circumstance.” thanks steve for taking the time to really flesh out what you meant by suffering and i do believe that in all we do we are being transformed into Christ’s likeness and that beautiful things are always at work in our hearts as we wrestle with what’s going on underneath. i think the true is same for communities with hearts knit together trying to learn what it means to learn and grow and risk and wrestle together.

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  • I believe that God will allow just about anything to happen to us to get our attention to open the door to Him…. allow anything to get us close to Him. I think so many of us find Him in our suffering & at the end of our rope & when we have ‘bottomed out’ in worldly terms — because that’s what it took to get our attention. Now not EVERY suffering & bottoming out is because He needed our attention — sometimes it’s just the result of a fallen world and He will use it for our good because He knows what we can handle with Him…. but I know in my own life — my hard times have been to get my attention back to Him.

    “if i keep noticing God in the midst, no matter how small it might seem, then i will experience greater hope & peace no matter the circumstance”

    that is my goal — I don’t want to have to have a big crash again to turn toward Him.

    I think that is what happens – because we are so human – we do hold on too tightly to worldly things and we do get caught up in the noise. so so many times, He has to get our attention in drastic ways. So it’s not about taking things away to build character to me. or allowing suffering to make us ‘better’ — the Spirit can cleanse us through anything not only suffering…. but it is about taking things away because we are ridiciulously selfish and self-focused and world-focused and He wants us to be different…

    🙂 have a great day

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  • Thank you for your thoughts on this, Steve.
    I don’t have time to approach the whole concept of suffering as God’s instructive will for us, so I will address your comment about Paul.
    I don’t think that Paul was talking about that at all in the scripture that you cited. It was part of a ‘thank you’ to the church for supporting his ministry- his itinerant teaching life by sending money to support him. I think he was saying something like- ‘I’m ok, Christ has seen me through, and provided for me in every circumstance’. This is in the context of that church sending money to him. This section was not about hardship for the sake of some abstract, uncertain learning. In the previous paragraph Paul writes “The lessons I taught you, the tradition I have passed on, all that you heard me say or saw me do, put into practice; and the God of peace will be with you.”
    I’ll write more responses to your post later- thanks again

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  • Ok, some thoughts on suffering. Steve, you wrote-
    “Suffering is tough stuff. It’s hard to unravel or get your mind around, and ultimately doesn’t serve as an reliable external measure of God’s favor of lack of favor. Jesus’s disciples thought of Jesus as a conquering king — which he was and is — but the suffering servant thing threw them all for a loop.”
    I agree.
    and, “In a way, Jesus was a pawn like Job as well, called to a life of sacrifice, suffering, and death to serve God’s greater purpose.”
    In a way, yes, but in the wrong way, no. Things can easily go terribly awry if we think of God as a detatched, cruel entity who was into killing his family. (I am not suggesting that you are framing it this way, I am simply making a ‘reduction to absurdity’ to make a point).
    It makes for a much more beautiful and seamless understanding of God as father to remember the Holy Trinity- as the Father, Son, And Holy Spirit (all-together), God came and gave his own life (as Jesus), sacrificing himself out of love for us. That is the kind of thing that a good and loving father (or mother, for that matter)would do.
    so you continue with-
    “The resurrection showed how God can redeem and use suffering and death to bring about restoration, redemption, and the growth of his kingdom on earth (like a seed that dies and is planted in the ground). As Jesus’s disciples, we’re called to follow in his footsteps — not to invite or embrace suffering for suffering’s sake, but to offer ourselves up daily as living sacrifices, trusting God in his redemptive power with the results.”
    I agree.
    So my two questions for you are
    1)so what does the growth of God’s Kingdom on earth look like, and how is that done?
    2)In what way do we offer ourselves up daily as living sacrifices, trusting God in his redemptive power with the results? What things are really offered up?

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  • I will wait for steve to answer 🙂 but if he doesn’t then I would like to give it a go! 🙂

    thanks so much for your thoughts. have a great day “yall” 🙂

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  • @kathy — thanks for your responses, and your gracious spirit to put up with questions and process this stuff out loud. A consistent theme I hear from you is the one of advocacy — which is a beautiful way of representing and presenting the hope of the gospel, and the vision/mission you have for the refuge: God sees us in our brokenness and neediness and depravity, and sent Jesus to be our advocate. He pays for our sins, redeems us, and sits at the right hand of the Father today, mediating on our behalf. More than that, God plants his Spirit in us to transform us, and give us an opportunity to participate in his mission of advocacy, helping others to know that God truly is on our side… That’s powerful stuff — it invites me to recognize my own brokenness and continuing need for an advocate, while challenging me to accept a missional call to serve as an advocate for others — leading them to our Savior, and chief advocate.

    A key challenge every church has is to look beyond merely trying to meet visible needs — when we lead with needs, we can unwittingly create a false divide between the “haves” and “have nots” when the truth is we’re all needy, and we’re all called to minister to others in need (something you’ve articulated well). A focus on needs can also be overwhelming, because folks envision their limited resources being sucked dry and having no tangible effect.

    But when we lead with mission — then we give folks an opportunity to participate in something greater than themselves, as both a receiver and a conduit of grace. We help them to see and imagine how God can restore them, and take their humble offerings as seeds and use them like an investment, multiplying them in ways they could never imagine!

    Re: suffering, I think I understand your concerns about embracing the “suffering builds character” argument — especially if someone uses it to justify their own apathy or inaction (is this what you’re getting at?). I also agree that’s there’s no formula or “surrender point” where if you press all the right buttons you’re guaranteed to get a visible return on your investment from God. That’s why material scarcity or abundance is such a poor measure of “success” or God’s favor — sometimes we experience scarcity when doing God’s will and sometimes we’re blessed with material abundance — the same can be said for when we’re out of God’s will as well…

    The point I’m making is more of a practical one — what do we do when we experience suffering or material lack? Do we blame God? Do we judge him as unfair if he treats others differently? Do we blame others? Do we judge others based on their level of scarcity or abundance? Do we blame ourselves? Do judge ourselves as failures for not having or producing more?

    Or do we embrace grace…and realize that in Christ condemnation has been taken off the table? So regardless of the causes or reasons behind the scarcity, we have an opportunity to grow in the midst of it — to trust our Father’s heart, to become more like Christ, and to follow the Spirit’s lead — to learn that “blessings” aren’t simply about what we can see — to see things from a spiritual perspective — to know that our humble sacrifices and service will be recognized and rewarded by our Heavenly Father…

    @sage — re: Phillippians 4, I don’t see it as an abstract teaching either — to me it’s extremely practical. Remember where Paul was when he wrote this — in jail! Being in prison is bad — makes you feel condemned. Especially when other “Christians” use the occassion to talk bad about you and kick you while you’re down to serve their own selfish ambitions (see 1:15-17). Would be easy to feel sorry for yourself in this situation, but in 1:12-14 Paul recognizes God’s greater purpose — he literally had a captive audience, and sees how God was using his suffering to reach people he otherwise would have never been able to reach! And he can even rejoice that the gospel is being advanced by the very folks who sought to smear his name and reputation (1:18). So when Paul says “my God will meet all your needs,” we really need to question ourselves when we feel he’s not meeting ours. We need to look deeper — beyond what we can see. And that’s why Kathy’s “Throw in the Towel” post, followed by the “Swan” post gets me excited — because I see a sister in Christ who is choosing to see her circumstances from God’s perspective…

    Re: suffering, I’m right there with you that Christ was not simply a pawn — and that we shouldn’t see the Father as detached, cruel, or relationally separate from Christ or the Spirit. My point is that there are no easy explanations for evil and suffering — and that all too often we’re tempted to find a reason or a purpose that God himself may not be revealing to us. So rather than making a judgement, our response should be one of trust, affirming what we know of his heart despite what we’re seeing and experiencing.

    Re: your questions:

    1)so what does the growth of God’s Kingdom on earth look like, and how is that done?

    >Don’t want to do a full-blown ecclesiology here since this comment is already too long, but I see the local church as the vehicle God uses to advance his kingdom. At the most basic level, a local church is a group of Christ followers who are called out to glorify God and make disciples. Exactly how they do this is another matter (I see Scripture as being more descriptive than prescriptive here — certainly giving us much in way of guidance and principles to follow, but less in the way of a fixed structure). My passion and calling is to help churches discover their “Great Permission” within the Great Commission — i.e., helping them be free to live as God has uniquely created, gifted, and called them to live within their own unique local community. The “growth” part is up to God — we’re called to plant, water, and do our best to create conditions that are conducive to growth — but only God can make real growth occur, and only he gets the credit.

    2)In what way do we offer ourselves up daily as living sacrifices, trusting God in his redemptive power with the results? What things are really offered up?

    >By disciplining ourselves to hear and follow the Spirit’s leading, which has much more to do with abiding and trusting than striving. This is a subtle distinction, but an important one — because I think it’s too easy for us to operate out of the mindset of proving ourselves to God, or earning his favor or that of others, rather than working out the reality of redemption that he has and continues to work into us.

    Redemption is the foundation for our service, not the product of it. We discipline ourselves to follow the Spirit because we have been made holy, not to become holy. So we offer up our time and our treasure to God as co-laborers with Christ, as a sacrifice of praise, not of penance, participating in his mission to bring the good news of redemption to others.

    This gets back to the notion of focusing on visible needs vs. mission. We can never meet every need that we see — and Jesus never attempted to. Instead, Jesus did only what his Father wanted him to do, and we’re called to do the same — following the Spirit’s lead in faith and trusting him with thanksgiving to lovingly guide, correct, transform, renew, stretch, teach, grow, and conform us to the image of Christ us along the way.

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  • Steve-
    What a beautiful and thoughtful response! I found myself nodding and appreciating your words as I went through. I might form up a question or two in hopes of putting finer points on this conversation, but for now I thank you.
    for Randi, Kathy, and anyone else who is still tracking this lingering thread, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

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  • thank you! 🙂 my parents are here for a week – will come back soon! 🙂 best wishes to all – thanks SO much for the conversation. be back

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  • I remember that in pre-Christian Rome, Julian the apostate wrote a biting letter which not only described his frustration but gave us a window on what the early Christian church was like. After Constantine, things were different. I offer that section of letter within an astute study (credit given below) to serve as another entry into our conversation.
    .
    [Julian was not shy to underscore the competition between the followers of polytheism and monotheism.
    .
    “For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the
    impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all
    men see that our people lack aid from us…let us not, by allowing others to
    outdo us in good works, disgrace by such remissness, or rather, utterly
    abandon, the reverence due to the gods.”
    (Julian, Letter to Arsacius)
    .
    [The contrast between “us” and “others” reveals that at the heart of the competition was not what philanthropia entailed, or how to manifest it, but WHO performed it.
    Paradoxically, in the process of boundary drawing and “othering,” pagan and Christian conceptions of philanthropia became similar. Church fathers of the fourth century such as the Cappadocian Fathers and Dio Chrysostom may have painted an emotional and graphic picture of the lurid sufferings of the poor to make them “more socially visible”, but the poor or the needy were never a clearly defined group. Neither Basil nor Julian was concerned with relieving the poor by making fundamental changes of the society.]

    Exploring the Graeco-Roman Roots of Western Philanthropy
    Jinyu Liu, DePauw University

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  • It is indeed good to understand that redemption is the foundation and not the product of our service, and to trust the Spirit’s lead in faith, conforming us to the image of Christ along the way.
    So we are in complete agreement as to how to think about service.
    My ongoing curiosity is how that gets translated into action. What does that look like- not from a theoretical, or even a heart/spirit personal understanding, but what it LOOKS LIKE if someone else who doesn’t know us at all (let’s say one of ‘the missing’) was physically standing there, seeing you or I do something, or heard a story about something that we DID.
    God is conforming me to Christ’s image by giving lots of practical opportunities to give and to receive, to heal and help. I don’t think that it is historical detritus that Jesus did those things (giving, receiving, healing) amongst friends, kept a common purse, threw parties and lovingly kept company with a questionable crowd. Our Lord showed us over and over again what it means to live the Kingdom of God. I am grateful beyond measure that He came, died and rose again so I can as well.
    I am co-leading the message/conversation this sunday at the refuge, on “blessed are the poor…”. In studying for that, I came across the most incredible teaching- one I had never “seen” before.
    I have read Matt. 25 before, and Matt. 26 before, but I had never read them TOGETHER, as part of the same story. So much of His teaching is in parables, to help you see the most important thing without getting hung up on the details. Matt. 25 & 26 go together as a matched set to accomplish the same thing!
    Jesus just gets finished with the most scathing and direct teaching ever about how we should behave toward one another (especially people in need), and what the spiritual consequences of his promised judgement is. Then He walks a couple of miles to see his friends in Bethany where Martha and Mary have prepared a very special dinner. Unlike the wedding party, this one was surrounded by grief, Jesus’ time left was very short, and some of them understood. So when Mary brought out a thousand dollar bottle of the most precious, fragrant oil there was and poured it out upon Jesus, Judas said something like- ‘hey, what’s up with this extravagant wastefullness, shouldn’t we be pinching our pennies and giving the money away to the poor (like you just preached about)?
    and Jesus said “Why must you make trouble for the woman? It is a fine thing she has done for me. You have the poor among you always; but you will not always have me. When she poured this oil on my body it was her way of preparing me for burial. I tell you this: wherever in all the world this gospel is proclaimed, what she has done will be told as her memorial” (NET)
    The point Jesus was making (as it always is) is about Love. What love looks like, feels like, smells like. Over the top, extravagant, down in the trenches love.
    It is a tragedy that “the poor will be with you always” has been conveniently edited and selected for misuse by so many. Gee, I wonder why they didn’t pick the next line following “but I will not be with you always”. I think we (generally speaking) need to do more than carry bibles, we need to keep learning how to read them.
    Anyway, thanks for reading thru my remaining rant, long after the thread is gone…

    Reply
  • very interesting thoughts. I really don’t have anything to say at this point.

    I agree that I need to keep learning how to read them – look at the original texts and really dig deep. It’s a journey I’m really just starting.

    I just think it’s amazing how Jesus is so relatable to each and every one of us. He is what connects us.

    Have an awesome week 🙂

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  • Thanks for the open mind, Randi. It is good to take what I have to say with some salt, I am just a knuckleheaded guy.
    The best way I can sum up how Matthew 25 & 26 go together is to first read them together, and then remember the greatest commandment that Jesus taught us, To love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, and then work back from 26 to 25. The fact that the woman loved Jesus extravagently shows how she met the first part of the greatest commandment, and Jesus’ teachings in 25 reveal the second part of the commandment. Thanks for hanging in to the end on this one! I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

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  • 🙂

    I enjoyed reading all of it – thanks for sharing – really is a lot of powerful insights here from each of you. This afternoon I’ll have to soak up Matthew again…

    Reply

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