Saturday, 21 April 2012

My Interesting Morning Grappling with Ancient History...

I've been reading up on the historical evidence for the truth of Jesus and Christianity to be able to have informed conversations with my many Atheist friends here in Europe. I don't know if I've ever looked at it so succinctly before-- all the facts compiled in one place (Thank you, Mr. Lee Strobel).

I find it fascinating how no other historical book has so many early copies discovered (we're talking 5,000, as opposed to the under 500 of it's contemporary historical books of the time which no one questions the validity of), and yet comes under such fire as the New Testament. And how the four Gospels were each written between 30 and 60 years after Jesus' crucifixion and still people say the testimonies had been elaborated by legend and mysticism by then with the passage of time, as opposed to other historical figures surviving histories-- like Alexander the Great-- being written, at the earliest, 500 years after, and no one questioning its historical validity.

And, you know, I had NEVER thought about searching for other historical (extra-biblical) accounts of the sky going dark at the time of Jesus' death (Luke 23:44-45) and the earth shaking (Matthew 27:54). A Greek author named Phlegon wrote around 137A.D. about a spectacular event in 33A.D. He wrote, "it became night in the sixth hour of day [i.e. noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea [these places he mentioned were located in modern-day Turkey]." Tertullian (c.160-c.225) says it was a cosmic event, visible in Rome, Athens, and other Mediterranean cities. Goodness... that in itself would make me very curious to seek and find out the truth in these rumours about this great teacher Jesus who so angered the powers that be with his teachings of a coming kingdom of love and grace and his acts of healing and miracles (they attributed it to sorcery, but didn't deny that it was happening) that they gave him the worst punishment of the time-- crucifixion. And instead of hushing these rumours, the passage of centuries since then have only strengthened the number of people choosing to believe. Isn't that a little fishy unless the claims of Christ are true and so have withstood the tests of time?

Strobel went into his investigation of the claims of Christianity as an Atheist wanting to validate and certify his beliefs that it was all nonsense. And I am finding his investigation so incredibly encouraging (and delightful to watch play out!) because at every turn, seeking out academic experts and asking very thorough and intelligent questions due to his legal research and journalism background, he is confronted with mounting evidence to prove TRUE exactly what he meant to prove false... But at the same time as it is incredibly satisfying to read, it is incredibly frustrating because I look around and think, "how can you NOT believe?"

Even in this rather scientific, research-driven style of book I've been reading today, God really challenged my heart. I read of how if we never cracked open a bible and only looked at the extra-biblical historical writings about Jesus-- many of them written by people who weren't Christians, and regarded the new religious movement sweeping their ancient world with some suspicion-- we would come out with a very clear and irrefutable idea of the life this Jesus character lived in historical fact.
"We would know that first, Jesus was a Jewish teacher; second, many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms; third, some people believed he was the Messiah; fourth, he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; fifth, he was crucifed under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; sixth, despite this shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by A.D. 64; and seventh, all kinds of people from the cities and countryside-- men and women, slave and free-- worshiped him as God" (from The Case for Christ, pg.91, Strobel's interview with Edwin M. Yamauchi, Ph.D, a leading expect in Ancient History)

What struck me from this summary of what is historically known about Christ outside of the Bible, is that the part of His life that is life-changing, that everything hinges on, and which is indeed why Christianity even exists because we believe He was the Son of God-- his resurrection from the dead-- is signified in extra-biblical history only by the witness of the people who believed that He rose from the dead. Without looking at the biblical testimony of all the people who actually saw Him alive after his public crucifixion (over 500 people all at once in one occasion! --1 Cor. 15:6), extra-biblical historical texts also tell of the experience of these people by recording what they did, how they lived in light of this belief-- and despite horrific persecution which is documented extensively, like Nero's reign and the many many many martyrdoms.

It's this belief in Christ's resurrection which still sets Christians apart today. And it's the testimony of HOW WE LIVE in light of it which still bears witness... Tell me, what will the history books have to say about us as Christians bearing witness today? Oh, how I hope yours and my lives just add further evidence to the truth of Christ! It's that truth which sets people free, even today, and there are so so so very many still needing to be set free. Here in Sweden, yes; here in Europe, yes; but also everywhere...

"Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." -- John 8:32
The evidence on paper goes so far, and then it's a matter of faith. May our lives be testimonies of faith which stand out in history, so that the people around us can't help but look to Him and choose to believe in His grace...

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck


One dress with a story spanning a century. Four brides with four unique lives in four different generations. 

Those two lines probably have you thinking you know exactly what this book is about. Aw, it’s been done before, you say. Maybe so, but never like this. 

Charlotte is a modern woman running a successful wedding dress boutique in the American south and suffering from twinges of panic without understanding why at the thought of marrying her wonderful, family-man, architect, studmuffin  of a fiancĂ©. Orphaned as a young child, she can hardly remember a time she wasn’t lonely, until Tim showed up and won her heart in a whirlwind romance. They were each everything the other had always wanted. So why, then, the feeling that it was all just going too fast?

Emily was desperately in love with Daniel when he left to play ball semi-professionally in 1912. By the time he came back to claim her heart only 5 months later, her father had given his blessing to an offer of marriage from the son of one of the weathiest families in Birmingham…

 Mary Grace fell in love with her childhood chum and in the midst of the Great Depression, he asked her to be his wife and to go away with him to serve the Lord by hosting tent meetings all across the country...

Hillary married her Marine fiancé on a whim just before he shipped out to Vietnam, and only a few months later she received back his dog tags, threw them in a trunk with the dress she wore the day she married him, and welded the trunk shut...
 
One day Charlotte found herself wandering through a random auction when something made her bid on a worn out old trunk, welded shut. The auctioneer wore vibrant purple and when he looked at her, it felt as if his eyes bore into her soul.

Little did she know that the contents of that trunk would connect her life forever to these other three women, and to one of them in ways she could never have imagined…

My cousin calls me a book snob. I don’t read many novels these days unless they are old enough to be considered “classic.” But if I do, they generally have to be Christian ones, because I often find contemporary secular novels a bit too graphic and crude (There are always exceptions, though :)). But, being a supposed “book snob”, I am very sensitive to contrived spirituality or overly-done religiosity in these books, leaving a story flat or shallow (Walking with Christ is REAL LIFE, people, and Christians are human too). Thus, I generally reach for my classics when needing a novel break. That said, it’ll mean something when I tell you that I have literally been purposely dragging out my reading of Rachel Hauck’s The Wedding Dress, luxuriating in its lines, in its love stories, in its twists and turns; savouring the feeling of being lost in the plot of a contemporary Christian novel without a hint of that tell-tale cringe

I still wish I hadn’t quite reached the end…

*I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Hope: What it Means to be Kingdom People

"There is Always Hope"-- an image by an anonymous British street artist known as Banksy

I am so uninspired today.

Crazy, that, after my last post was just telling of such jubilant things.

Today I have short thoughts followed by heavy full-stops. 

Like this. 

And mostly I just feel really lonely
(...a little perusing the registry to find a gift for another friend's wedding will do that to you... The biggest emotional struggle, which gives rise to every other practical struggle in my life right now-- you might as well just know-- is trying to understand why my amazing, handsome, scrumptious, man-of-God boyfriend who loves me and is planning on a future with me has yet to give me a bit of security and put a ring on it... Eep-- the months apart grow hardhardhardhard!)

But soon I'll be meeting up with some people from my church plant so we can walk around the part of the city where we are planting the church and pray over the steps we take-- pray for the tall buildings of flats housing people from all over the world and every kind of walk of life; pray for His kingdom to come, and that He would use us to bring it right into this neighbourhood in the meantime. After all, we are kingdom people.

How easy it is to forget.

So setting my fingers to these keys right this moment is a cry for His help to remind me what that means (let's see what He does!)...

I woke up thinking of Psalm 143 today. The line where it says, "Let me hear of Your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting You" (v.8a). But trusting Him does not come naturally, and sometimes choosing to is harder than it is at other times. I got a text from a friend last night out of the blue recommending I read Colossians 3:1-17. I put it off til just this minute, because... well, I don't know why (you know the feeling)... but from the first few lines under my eyes right now sitting here in this coffee shop on this rainy afternoon, I see His purpose in pointing it out to me today (Seriously... I can't get over how awesome He is to speak in a pitch that I can hear!). 

"Since you have been raised to new life with Christ" (v. 1)-- Not "since you will be", but "since you have been"! New life with Christ is my present reality-- every day! Every morning it is the deepest truth I can wake up knowing. I belong to Christ's kingdom. This earth is not my home. Is it any wonder I feel so constantly homesick for another world? "...set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God's right hand in the place of honour and power" (v.1) -- This is what it means to be kingdom people, isn't it? Balancing on the edge of the concept of His Kingdom being now and the not yet? Within us by the Holy Spirit when we accept that we are sinners in need of Christ's gift of grace, and yet still to come when He returns to wipe out the enemy completely, and make all things new, make all things as they should be-- on earth as it is in heaven. We must actively "set" our sights on the reality of that Kingdom coming, and the reality of the bit of it we carry within us already. "Let heaven fill your thoughts" (v.2)-- This makes the discipline of setting our sights on the reality of what it means to be His sound so easy. I find I have to fight hard to choose to hope this way. But I want to, I want to, I want to.

I want to choose to hope. I want to choose to let heaven fill my thoughts, to paint with rosy colour all the thoughts of grey which threaten to take up all the space in my head. And the beautiful thing is... I can. I have been raised to new life with Christ. It's already done. Complete. My ransom paid in full. I am already a citizen of this Kingdom which is coming. I carry a bit of it with me to sprinkle rosy-coloured hope wherever the dreary grey seems to fill the space.

That's what the church plant is about in Brunnsbo. And that's what He's about in me.

Let me hear of Your unfailing love each morning indeed, Lord, for I am choosing to trust in You. And to hold out Your hope everywhere it's needed... so, everywhere.

Wanna join? Pray for the work of our church plant Brunnen in Brunnsbo. Pray for His Kingdom work in Sweden. Pray for His Kingdom work in Europe. Pray for His Kingdom work across the world. And pray that the worldwide church can be strengthened to remember what it means to be Kingdom people, so our lives can't help but reflect it...

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Overcoming...

"And they overcame him by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony..."
-- Revelation 12:11
So... I have a little testimony that won't stay unshared. The thing is, I hardly know where to begin. The story has been rolling out for years now. So I'll begin on a sunny day last week when I found myself hiking up one of the neighbourhood mountains on a lunch break, fleeing the studio so I wouldn't just be sat at my desk crying away for the other girls to see.


A perch similar to mine on the rocky mountain top
The Lord has been teaching me a great deal about His love lately. He has been reminding me of His heart for me at every turn-- especially since He gave me a lovely new accountability partner through my church plant who shares a similar passion to mine for Him. We have been holding one another accountable to stay in His Word on a daily basis and also chisel out time in our days to just bask in His presence. These feel like very simple things in the Christian life, and it's not as if I haven't been doing them for years. But lately it's been different. Lately He's just felt so much... nearer than He's seemed for a good long while. I've been excited about things I haven't felt so moved by in awhile. I think I've been learning to trust Him again after what's effectively been kinda a long hard break in trust while dealing with the spiritual abuse issues of ministry-work past.

The tears this particular day had less to do with those issues and more to do with present day ones. But regardless, He drew me up to that mountain top to sit by myself on a rock and overlook the neighbourhood, away from everything but Him. And I begged Him to speak into this present-day issue. I begged Him to speak up so I could recognize His words apart from all the tumultuous thoughts in my mind. I needed direction for something and I needed it now or I was going to go crazy with heartache. I listened to the wind screaming around the trees up there at the top of the mountain. I remembered the story of Elijah and the still small voice. And I waited expectantly. I must admit, I was kinda disappointed when I felt Him speaking through my logic (I wanted something a little more sensational!) to say, "I've already said it all in that book (the Bible) you've got in your bag."


But, as I said, I was feeling pretty desperate, so I didn't hesitate long. I cracked open my bible and, even while knowing the pitfalls of such a practice, I let it fall open where it might and read the words on the page. It was Psalm 143, and as I sat all alone on the sunny mountain top, I read the words aloud to God, letting every emotion I felt pour into their rhythm from my tear-stained lips. King David had written this Psalm with dramatic abandon. "My enemy has chased me. He has knocked me to the ground and forces me to live in darkness like those in the grave" (v. 3). [I don't know if you're the same, but most of the time when I read of "my enemies" in the bible, I don't think of a human enemy, but of the spiritual one-- satan. Even when there are certain people standing against me in one way or another, I know that he is ultimately the one trying to stir up trouble, and they are just people, like me, needing compassion, mercy, and grace. A powerful line from my bible study that morning kept coming to mind as I cried that day on the mountain, "Your feelings of hopelessness and helplessness come straight from the enemy. They are lies!" and as I read of the enemy in this Psalm, I thought of these lies I was believing...]  "I am losing all hope; I am paralyzed with fear" (v. 4). "I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain" (v. 6). "Come quickly, Lord, and answer me, for my depression deepens. Don't turn away from me, or I will die" (v. 7). " It felt a bit bold to read out loud in a public place. But as I did, all the pent-up frustrations fell out of my mouth. All the painful feelings I was trying to tell myself not to feel, poured out into the words of the Psalm, and into the ears of God.

And the truths of His faithful character leapt from my mouth to my ears and dropped into my heart. "Hear my prayer, O Lord. Listen to my plea, because You are faithful and righteous" (v. 1). "May Your gracious Spirit lead me forward..." (v. 10). "Because of Your faithfulness, bring me out of this distress" (v. 11). "In Your unfailing love, silence all my enemies [like my own doubts and unbelief in your love and goodness!]" (v. 12). And the reminder of His unchanging character of love wrapped me up and stilled my anxious and unbelieving heart.


And it was cleansing. And it was humbling. And it was freeing. And He was there. And it was enough.

I walked down from the mountain feeling satiated. Like I'd received my daily bread. And also feeling changed. As if I had surrendered something to Him which I had been carrying around, and trustingly took His hand instead.


And it's all felt a bit differently since then. But that conversation on the mountaintop wasn't over yet...

Come Sunday I visited an old church I used to be a part of because it had been awhile since I had seen friends there. There was a visiting preacher giving the sermon. I had met him a few times but I don't know him and he doesn't know me. He doesn't even know that I am not at that church every Sunday, and in fact go months without visiting for the Sunday service. And in the middle of speaking to the entire church that day, he stopped, approached a man in the front row, and began praying for him a sort of prayer of prophecy. I remembered a time years ago when this particular pastor had given the sermon at this church and at the end, he had come around to every single person in the church that day and prayed over them in this way. And, in my shyness, I thought, "Oh please don't do it again!" simply because having all that attention brought on me as he went around one-by-one is uncomfortable. Ooh, the spotlight is not my favourite thing. But after praying for that one man, he went back to the pulpit and continued preaching! So the rest of us were off the hook. Hehe :) 

But then, as he was preaching, he again stopped, and came into the rows of chairs and, of course, out of everyone there, he laid a hand on MY shoulder. He called me by name, when I wouldn't have guessed he even knew my name. And He began to pray over me things He said God wanted to say to me. Things like, "I see you and I love you. I hear you when you call on me (and I thought of my asking Him to speak to me on the mountain top!). I see your heart desiring to bring an awareness of my presence and my beauty wherever you go (this guy does not know me. He has not heard my prayers for that very thing, especially as I function most often in an Atheist environment...) I know you have had some experiences which have coloured the way you see me (the experiences precipitating in spiritual abuse counseling have been more traumatic and the effects more long-lasting than I could have imagined), but I want you to know that I am the same God that I was before that. I do not change, though your experiences change. I am the same God. I want you to be released from these experiences so I can do new things." The pastor laid his hand on my head then and said, "I release you in Jesus' name from whatever experiences are holding you back" (again, this guy doesn't know me, and knows nothing about how broken I have felt these past few years. Nor could he have known how it has felt like even with so much growth, and the counseling, and the working though the issues, how it has just remained so heavy. Or how many times I have asked God in frustration to just take it all away now! It's been long enough! Why should it still be there bothering me, hindering the way I trust Him, hindering the way I hope, and so hindering the way I share the hope of Jesus with the hopeless world around me?).  And I am about to do a new thing in your life. Watch as I do new things. Because I love you. And you can trust me to be the same yesterday, today, and forever." 

And then he went back to the front of the church and continued with his sermon. Just like that. And I couldn't rationalize away the truth that the Holy God of the universe was speaking directly to little old me in those moments. He set it up just so. The "coincidence" of attending the same church as this near stranger on that "random" Sunday. The way he only had such prayers for 2 of us out of the whole congregation, as if God just pointed right to me and said to this servant of His visiting to preach that day, "That one. I want to encourage that one today. She asked on the mountain to hear from Me a way which is a little bit out of the ordinary. There are some things I want her to be reassured about."

And I don't know why He would do that that Sunday and not the few days before on the mountain. Or any number of other times throughout my walk with Him, for that matter! I am someone who needs so so much constant reassurance, and He knows it! I ask for a lot... and so often feel like I receive little... But
He is always always always working on teaching me to trust Him more fully. And I can trust Him to move toward me in the best best way and in the best best timing. Because He IS faithful. Because He IS good. Because His love is REAL. His grace is impartial to anyone who will believe, and deeper and more powerful than we can imagine.

And I had to just share the testimony of this because maybe someone reading this needs reassurance, like I do, that He is listening; that He is Who He says He is; that His love is what He says it is; that He really does want to INTERACT with us on a personal basis; that it's about walking WITH Him, not for Him. I think He did something in me on the mountaintop last week to revitalize my faith, to reawaken my hope in Him, and to restore pieces of me that have been broken for awhile. And then on Sunday, He just threw a little extra encouragement on it because He's sweet like that :) (...and because He likes to floor me with delight and awe!!)

I cannot not share of this gracious God and all the hope He offers us in this place of hopelessness. Maybe you also need to be told point-blank: "Your feelings of hopelessness and helplessness come straight from the enemy. They are lies." Don't believe them! If you're needing a reminder of this hope He's given us, let's pray that He'll give it to you, and that your eyes and ears will be open to how He might do that in your life. Seek Him out! He still speaks. I believe He is crazy about you and wants to tell you so. Give Him every opportunity to do so by being tuned in to His Spirit, drinking deeply of His Word daily, humbly confessing and repenting of sins as He convicts, and watch Him do new things in you. Watch Him fill you up in ways you never saw coming. 


Oh, how do we ever do life without as much of Him as we can possibly hold?!


"Let me hear of Your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting You.
Show me where to walk, for I give myself to You...
Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God.
May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing."
-- Psalm 143:8 & 10
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