February 27, 2014
C.S. Lewis has always been a close ally to Christians struggling with the reality of pain and suffering. Fifty years after his death, one would be hard-pressed to find another outside of Scripture who is more often quoted in times of suffering. His statements are well-regarded for their clarity, poignancy, depth, and care. Consider just a couple of his famous quotes:
What is it about his writings that makes Lewis’ perspective so helpful? In this post, I want to suggest that it was Lewis’ own experience wrestling with the reality of suffering. He was not immune to the pain and suffering of life. He did not hide away in the ivory tower of academia observing the facts of suffering while absent from their touch. Many are unaware that it was suffering that initially drove Lewis to abandon his Christian heritage and embrace atheism. Here is a short list of his varied experience with suffering:
Lewis wrote two books addressing the issue of pain, both of which he purposed to write anonymously. This in itself could be instructive. The Problem of Pain, written in 1940, addresses the complex issue of the existence of suffering alongside a belief in a good and all-powerful God. He wrote A Grief Observed in 1961 following the death of his wife in which he focuses on the sense of suffering. These works belong together because of how Lewis addresses the suffering differently in each book. He wrote The Problem of Pain to address theoretical and cerebral questions on suffering; he wrote A Grief Observed to address experiential and personal nature of suffering.
The role of experience is incredibly important if we are to understand why Lewis continues to be helpful to those who suffer. In a day and age where there are books and blog posts on every subject imaginable, Lewis serves as a reminder of the importance of sympathy, empathy, and understanding. This comes through experience and understanding. We would do well to learn what experience could teach us prior to trying to coming alongside those who experience suffering. I would like to believe Lewis was simply trying to model our Savior. As Hebrews 4:14-16 points out,
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Josh and his wife, Tara, are from Washington State. Josh is pursuing an MAR and MATH while Tara works as a hairdresser in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Together, they are most captivated by the story in which God has placed them in this fascinatingly bizarre world that spins across this universe. In the midst of it all, they are stabilized by what Sally Lloyd-Jones describes as “God’s 'Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love' in Jesus" (Jesus Storybook Bible).
February 25, 2014
We have grown languid with time and misuse,
and far too accustomed to the language of
“us” and “them."
Yes, even among those who You insist upon calling “us.”
God, look at us
and at the mess we have made.
We have divides ourselves into crafted clubs,
broken up into polite little affiliations
of visceral self-righteousness.
And we are in need of saving.
Yes, even saving from ourselves
and, perhaps, even especially from ourselves.
in Your startling way of holiness
lift our eyes from our own limitations,
from our self-imposed boundaries that are
so preoccupied with labels.
in Your potent way of long-suffering
reorient us to the creeds of our faith.
May the words of confession undyingly occupy our tongues.
Let us orate with gratitude and long-vision,
keeping close at hand the faith of our fathers…
…and their fathers, and their fathers, and their fathers before.
in Your grand way of reconciliation
Recall to our feeble minds the reality of a Church Universal.
Fixate in our minds the communities of the confession
that come in all shapes, sizes, colors and languages.
And bemoan us to remember well
that this creed and catholicity is the reality
of that long-awaited horizon
we have long labeled “Home.”
Beckon us toward that reality, good God of our confession,
and until then bind us together in Your unity,
as we recite with all flesh
the ancient words of faith
confessing the Word that You made flesh.
Hi, friend. I'm Amy. Mostly, I’m just another twenty-something trying to figure out the stuff of life. I am a nerdy seminary student who loves the smell of old books and early mornings in the library. I am an artist wanabee, a liberal to the conservative and conservative to the liberal, guilty social justice groupie, and a recovering Bible know-it-all with the unreal ability to put my foot in my mouth an astonishing number of times each day. I am a sister to eight of the most hysterical creatures ever created. Good theology, used book stores, and autumn make me giddy. I preach passionately, think deeply, and ask too many questions. I write prayers, poetry and prose. I write about preaching bad and good, gender roles in the Church, the sacraments, stupid things we do on Sunday, politics, and almost everything else that you are not supposed to discuss in polite company. I also blog at oneyellowbird.blogspot.com. Welcome to the journey.
February 21, 2014
God—I prayed—you have called me to ministry. And everyone knows that I cannot be in ministry without a husband. And God, you know this already, but it’s the end of the first year of this three-year master’s program. If it is best to date for one whole year before engagement, and I am going to need a year to plan (and save for) my graduation-time wedding…then, in faith, I know I can trust you to bring me a boyfriend…well, right now. Amen.
I seriously prayed this. Last summer. And when I was finished, I smiled. And then I thought: God is faithful. His plans for my future marriage/ministry cannot be thwarted. I can have confidence that He will provide me a husband!
And no boyfriend came.
A few months later, after a this-is-so-out-of-the-blue-this-can-only-be-God set of circumstances, I was signing an offer letter for a dream job as the Student Ministries Director of my church’s newest campus. The job would entail not only shaping a new student ministry but helping shepherd a congregation—just as God has given me the passion to do.
I was so excited about the job [read: blindsided by all the work I needed to do to help launch the campus] that it took me a couple weeks to look down and realize that…eh…there was still no ring on my finger and no man on the horizon.
And it was God’s turn to smile. He had been faithful. His plans for my ministry had not been thwarted. But a husband was not a part of the deal.
And I began my ministry as young, single woman.
I am a child of the I-kissed-dating-goodbye-true-love-waits-boundaries-in-dating era, and a proud and adamant complementarian. I believe, strongly, in the power of male and female partnership in ministry. But I am ministering, by “no fault of my own” (I guess, besides signing the offer letter) as a young, single woman.
So my first I-kissed-dating-goodbye-true-love-waits-boundaries-in-dating question is: Is that even allowed (even though I followed the rules and I am still single)?
My second is: If the Pew Research is correct, and people in America are waiting longer to get married and there are likely to be more single people sitting in our pews (no pun intended) and outside our church doors than ever before, what does this mean for how we steward our churches?
I am not proposing that we should change everything or anything really—but I am proposing that we have a conversation, amongst church leaders, about singleness, dating, homosexuality, marriage and healthy church dynamics.
More crudely put, are the chaste (and not so chaste), in our pews a waste?
I think not, and I hope that you would agree. But, if this is the case, then what does that mean for our churches?
I invite you to add your voice to the conversation this Thursday, February 27 at Gordon-Conwell in South Hamilton. Learn more.
Joelinda is a second year M.Div. candidate. She currently serves as the Student Ministries Director at Grace Chapel’s Watertown campus. She is a lover of all things beautiful including theater, fall days in New England, chick flicks and the mountains. She counts bargain-hunting her sport and enjoys singing loudly while driving. Above all, Joelinda’s passion is to build relationships that help others understand the transformative power of the gospel.
February 18, 2014
This is Part 11 in a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here; Part 4 here; Part 5 here; Part 6 here; Part 7 here; Part 8 here; Part 9 here; Part 10 here; Part 11 here; Part 12 here.
There is a famous passage in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory in which the (unnamed) communist police lieutenant expresses incredulity at the possibility that he might have a soul. The main character, the (also unnamed) “whiskey priest” corrects him, saying, “No, you are a soul; you have a body, temporarily.” With these words, the priest encapsulates what has been a common belief throughout Christian history—the soul is permanent and ultimately all that is important; the body is temporary and inconsequential. Perhaps no mistaken attitude has had more staying power, or been more dangerous to the faith, than this relegation of matter and the body to second-class status. From the second-century Gnostics who denigrated the entire physical world to modern scholars who re-interpret “resurrection” to mean merely the soul’s survival after death, these ideas have had a long history and currency.
It should not surprise us, then, that the task of affirming the importance and redeemability of the body was job one for the early church, and among the church fathers who most insistently argued this point was the North African Tertullian at the end of the second century. He may have overdone it when he famously asserted that even the human soul is corporeal, but be that as it may, his arguments for the importance of the body in the Christian scheme of redemption are worth our attention. Among them are the following:
These arguments and others like them remind us just how unique a message the Christian faith offers to the world. History has been full of philosophies that exalted the soul at the expense of the body, and even more full of religions (and non-religions!) that glorified the body to the detriment of the soul. Christianity, the church fathers correctly recognized, is almost alone in affirming that we are meant to be both material and immaterial, that God is concerned about us as whole persons, and indeed that we will spend eternity with him not as disembodied spirits, but as persons on this (reconstituted) earth. These most fundamental of Christian truths have wide-ranging implications for all aspects of life on this planet, yet for much of Christian history, we have obscured them with a popular theology that has exalted the spiritual to the detriment of the physical. We would do well to take a page from Tertullian’s writings and to recognize anew the importance of being in the flesh.
Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.
February 13, 2014
I don’t know that I will forget the first time she crossed the length of my doorway as she passed through the hall. Aside from being an exquisitely beautiful woman, her presence radiated into my office for those few seconds as she went by. At the Jacksonville campus, we share our space with multiple ministries. She runs her own counseling practice, and she’s trying to get her dream non-profit off the ground. That non-profit wants to build a living space to rehabilitate victims of sex-trafficking. Florida is ranked third in the nation for the level of sex-trafficking that goes on, so it’s a real need, but a brave one. Especially because hardly anyone around here knows about it, even with the high ranking of prevalence.
I got all that information second-hand, naturally. I know that when most people are in this position, they’d probably introduce themselves. Me? I’m shyer than I look. Instead, I passed by her office for the next few months when her door was open. The cow-skin rug didn’t surprise me. I figured she was bold, knowing what she did and wanted to do. This was in addition to the fact that she was one of those rare tall people who walked with perfect posture, showing no signs of being the rest of us tall weirdoes who simply want to blend in with the rest of humanity.
One day, I had this feeling that I was getting a little ridiculous about putting off meeting her. Clearly, there was something about her that I needed to know. Long-story short, that Divine Elbow in my ribs was starting to wear out the skin underneath it. I finally knocked on her door. But because I had built it up to the point of crazy, I probably couldn’t recount what was said in our conversation if you asked. Somehow, we began meeting for Bible study. Due to some messy church experiences, I had grown cynical and weary about women in church leadership, so words will not adequately describe the gravity of me continuing to walk into her office for the next few weeks without blinking. How we had honest, real conversations about my calling and what seminary was doing to my insides. How when she said things about God and my spiritual life, I actually believed her.
The weeks to come brought healing on multiple levels through our relationship. Healing in places for me that I assumed would just stay broken as part of my past. She was an easy ask to fulfill the two-year Mentored Ministry mentor requirement for my M.Div. To my surprise, she was actually excited and honored that I would ask her. She read the entire Mentored Ministry manual, cover to cover, all 80 pages. And it was only the beginning. She has now become an example, an inspiration, and the most exquisite and perfectly tailored Spiritual Mom I could have ever asked for.
I couldn’t ever have told you that God would bless me with all of that just for taking a step and tapping my hand to a door that day. I never understood what people meant when they talked about how God sometimes really does “bless” us through our obedience. I took one step, knocked three times and it utterly changed the trajectory of my life.
We really do worship such a tremendous God. The immensity of healing being in his very “wings” has never been more alive to me than now. I never would have guessed that this was what I needed to get back on track, or even come alive...
…but he knows me so much better.
Kate Hightower is writing to you from the middle of her Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Christian Thought pursuit at Gordon-Conwell—Jacksonville, where she is also a Byington Scholar. She’s an avid Bob Dylan fan, and can always be counted upon for decadent French cooking. And she’s madly in love with her giant, brilliant golden retriever, Stella.
February 11, 2014
Hot tears streamed down her face as Amy sat with her friend Megan. “I just don’t understand how anyone could be so mean!” Amy said. Megan’s face melted from concern to rage as she listened to the story. Her friend did not deserve such treatment. Life had handed her enough obstacles; she didn’t need another. Amy was partially blind but fiercely independent—a combination that resulted in more than a few “accidents” around the school. Her bruised arms, peaking from beneath her tattered second-hand clothes, betrayed her latest miscalculation. Amy was late to class—she wasn’t used to her mom’s new schedule with a third job—and decided, against her better judgment, to run. She barely noticed the water fountain before tumbling over it.
These accidents were normal for Amy. She tried to embrace them without succumbing to the suffocating shame that seemed to accompany her disability. However, Aaron, the school bully, did not allow her that opportunity. He cackled with laughter as he and his minions catcalled Amy after this latest incident. Aaron wasn’t a good student, but he made up for it with his ability to break the spirits his peers. Amy was his go-to punch line.
Megan had heard enough. She watched Aaron humiliate too many people, caught too many of Amy’s tears on her shoulder. She fantasized about ways to get even as she walked home from Amy’s house. Her dreams were shuddered as she entered her kitchen and saw Aaron, the Aaron, sitting at her kitchen table. Her eyes, filled with fury, darted to her mother for an explanation.
“Honey,” Mom said, “I have terrific news. Aaron has asked for help in his studies and I’ve decided you are to tutor him. It is no small accomplishment to admit one’s need for help. And you get to be a little gift of joy in his life!”
Put yourself in Megan’s shoes. Would you tutor this boy? I wouldn’t. I would storm across the kitchen and give him a taste of the shame and ridicule he so richly deserved. The audacity and hypocrisy of the request would overwhelm me.
I imagine this is what Jonah felt like when God told him to preach to the Ninevites (Jonah 1-3). They were violent, pagan, and cruel—nailing political enemies to the ground and flaying their skin for display. Such cruelty deserved judgment, but God offered grace to this city (Jonah 3). Jonah, much like our friend Megan, was furious at this miscarriage of justice (Jonah 4). How could God give this city a free pass? How could he tolerate their wickedness? How could he treat them with such grace?
As I read Jonah 4, I am struck by God’s patient grace not only to the Ninevites but also to Jonah. He is a man who understands and accepts God’s free, unearned grace for himself (hence the living sermon illustration of the plant) but is unwilling to accept this same unearned grace going to the Ninevites (hence his suicidal rage). Jonah’s situation is understandable. There is something in human nature that hates for good things to happen to bad people. We hate to see the murderer get away with it. We hate to see cheaters rewarded. We hate to see the school bully receive help.
As I sat with this text, I’ve noticed that Jonah and I are very similar. Deep down I feel like I deserve God’s grace more than other people. I wouldn’t speak that out loud, but that is my underlying assumption. I imagine Jonah thinking, “I’ve been a loyal prophet. I’ve lived a life of commitment to Yahweh. I’ve repented, served, and sacrificed. God can’t give me shade for more than a day? (Jonah 4:6-9) Surely I deserve to get better treatment than the Ninevites! They are getting away with murder!”
God comes to Jonah (Jonah 4:10-11) to remind him that grace is never earned. It is never deserved. He appeals to Jonah’s compassion, showing how his misunderstanding of grace has killed his godly compassion for this city. The same is true for me. The same is true for Megan. Aaron doesn’t deserve to be tutored. He doesn’t deserve grace. But, neither does Megan. Maybe, just maybe, her tutoring a school bully might just be an opportunity to earn an opportunity to invite him to change. None of that is possible without a godly compassion fueled by grace.
God’s grace fuels our compassion. He then uses compassionate people to show his grace to others. It was compassionate Christians who nursed victims of the plague and encouraged potential martyrs during the first century—acts which profoundly impacted the influence of the gospel. More than that, it was a compassionate Jesus Christ who looked at helplessly sinful humanity and brought social justice, godly teaching, and an atoning, reconciling death on the cross. Humanity deserved none of that.
Do you have Aarons in your life, people you have trouble showing anything but rage/frustration for? I know I do. Perhaps you can join me in praying that God’s grace would transform your heart for those people—that it would fuel your compassion. After all, compassion is the forerunner to gracious ministry and that is exactly what we are at Gordon-Conwell to learn.
Tim Norton is a born-and-raised, small-town Southerner with the sweet tea addiction to prove it. He comes to Gordon-Conwell as a Kern Pastor-Scholar and plans to pursue pastoral ministry in the U.S. after graduation. Tim is a big personality with a strange affinity for the color orange. Currently, he attends GENESIS Church, an Acts 29 church plant in Woburn, MA.
February 06, 2014
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” –Revelation 21:4
Every once in a while, I wonder why I’m still broken. I wonder why it is that I’m always about 5 minutes late for meetings and I’m not quite nailing the height of fashion trends and I’m not bringing people to Jesus with every grocery store encounter or visit to the bank. I start to get critical of myself, and the lack of put-togetherness I often feel. If I am honest, I wonder why it is that I haven’t “arrived” completely, entirely, and wholly at that glamorous, leadership-savvy, all-knowing state that all seminary grads feel like they need to arrive at.
Right about this point in my seminary career, I’m starting to feel the weight. I’m a year away from walking across the stage and being handed a piece of paper that represents all of the education that I’m currently receiving. I know that it’s not really time to panic, and that I still have 11 months or so to “get my act together,” but lately I’ve been noticing that I’m keeping myself from something vital to my spiritual well-being: grace.
Our salvation is a process. Romans 8:21 reminds us that one day we will find ourselves in a place of glorification and we will be complete. But we also have to remember that we are in the phase before that: the phase of sanctification, by which we are being made holy.
I am in desperate need of grace. I need to remind myself that it’s okay that I don’t have it all figured out. It’s okay that I’m not going into the “real world” of ministry totally prepared to lead the masses. It’s okay that I’m in the process of, well, sanctification.
Let me say it again: sanctification is a process.
I was reading through Genesis in January and I started to get a little antsy because I was biting off tiny little chunks, diving into them and loving it, but I soon found myself in that struggle of genealogies, trying to squeeze deep meanings out of them, one generation at a time. Finally, in a self-centered act of let-me-get-to-the-good-part Bible reading, I turned to Revelation 21. It’s the part where all of the mistakes and sins that I’d been reading about for those January days finally were redeemed.
No more tears, no more pain, no more sinners.
That’s right: there are no sinners in heaven. This was immediately alarming to me, as I often find myself whispering prayers of “have mercy on me—a sinner.” And we all love the fact that Jesus ate with tax collectors and…sinners. And now, after all of this, they aren’t allowed in heaven?
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I will no longer be a sinner.
What we feel now and what we fight through now and what we are overwhelmed by and blinded by now are the realities of our fallen world. We are drenched in sin. We have never known a world without death or tears or pain. And yet, it seems to me that one of the greatest, most profound parts of our salvation is one that I do not think about that often.
One day, our sanctification will be complete and glorification will take its place. So why is it, then, that I am living without grace for the process? Why is it that I am trying so hard to be glorified? Why is it that I am overlooking the reality of the process?
And so, right about this point in my seminary career, I’m starting to feel the weight. The weight of my sin and the weight of his mercy. The weight of my studies and the weight of a powerful understanding of who He is. The weight of sanctification. The weight of grace.
May you find yourself remembering that this season is one for sanctifying. It’s one for being made holy. May you deeply understand the fact that He is changing you and that it is okay to not really have everything figured out. And may you rejoice in the process—as painful as it can be—for when we lose our sense of self-righteous striving, we can finally surrender to the grace that will one day lead to glorification.
Thank You, Jesus.
Melissa Zaldivar is an MATH student from California. She loves golf, theology, Jewish holidays, people falling in love, Jonathan Edwards, chocolate chip cookies, her adorable niece and telling stories. When she's not filming and photographing weddings, you can find her reading news articles, watching Parks and Recreation or playing Super Smash Bros.
February 04, 2014
Introducing Josh Kluth, our newest student blogger! Josh previously contributed two guest posts (view his first here and second here), and we're excited to officially welcome him to the Gordon-Conwell Voices team!
Name: Josh Kluth
Hometown: Bremerton, WA
Where were you before seminary? Working in communications at a non-profit in Poulsbo, WA.
Favorite hobbies? Being outdoors, enjoying culinary delights and beverages, being engrossed in a book.
Favorite food? Oh man, I like food. If it is related to fine cheese, meats and carbohydrates, I’m probably sold.
Favorite hero of the Christian faith? After those in Scripture, I am drawn to C.S. Lewis.
Favorite book? Uffda. That’s a toughie. I’m uncertain. Some of the most formative have been: Fantastic Mr. Fox (Roald Dahl); The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis); The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexander Dumas), The Mission of God (Christopher JH Wright), Simply Jesus (N.T. Wright) and Creation Regained (Albert Wolters). That’s just what came to mind in this moment.
Interesting fact about yourself? I was certain I would never go to seminary.
Issues you are passionate about? Fighting for joy.