Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Sweet Ride

"Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. 
Let my soul come not into their council; 
O my glory, be not joined to their company. 
For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness, they hamstrung oxen. 
Cursed be their anger, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel." 
Genesis 49:5-7

In response to the rape of their young sister, Dinah, Simeon and Levi plot and exact revenge on the men of Shechem. There is a part of me, to be quite honest, that cheers their fierceness in defending their sister. But Jacob was dismayed at their violence.  It would have been one thing to demand justice from the perpetrator. It was another thing to exceed the eye-for-eye bounds of justice in pouring out their fury on an entire city. Jacob, from his deathbed, has not forgotten their behavior. And he offers his blessing. But his blessing sounds more like a curse.

But Simeon and Levi are sheep of God's flock. And He is the Good Shepherd. Turns out theirs is a story of hope amid the consequences.

Consider Simeon. He is destined to be scattered because of his violent anger. Yet we find Simeon nestled right inside the territory of Judah. Simeon's storyline will find him alternately defending the tribe of the Messiah and being protected deep within its bounds.

Our stories find us there, too. Our lives are laid before before Him with Whom we have to do. He will bring judgment; He will remove middle ground. We are, in essence, cornered by God. But we are carried by God, too. When we stray out of bounds, the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to come get us. He lifts us to His shoulders and brings us back. And sometimes, sometimes, He buries us deep within the Messiah's boundary.

Can't get out...
Can't breathe...
But when I calm down enough to think,..
Surrounded by strong arms.
Not pinning me down...
Wrapping themselves around me...

Maybe being hemmed in by this Messiah isn't such a bad deal...

Consider Levi. Scattered indeed. Of all the tribes, Levi is the only one who doesn't get any territory. Their inheritance is the Lord.
Yeah, yeah, God's my passion.
Not really. Though they did have an occasional good day, like the time they rallied to Moses against the golden calf, Levi's commitment is, shall we say, rather spotty.
Levi, who made such a show of strength in Genesis 34, will be beholden to the rest of the tribes for sustenance and shelter.
Levi will be the ransom for the firstborn.

Levi, who intentionally spilled the blood of Shechem, will administer the cities of refuge.
Cities of refuge, which offer shelter to the unintentional spiller of blood, but turn over the cold-blooded killer for justice...
Daily reminders of what should have been for Levi,
Of the mercy of God...
Of not getting what was so justly deserved...
Oh, and Shechem, the very site of Levi's vicious carnage?
That would be one of the refuges.

More importantly, Levi will deal in bloodshed in a whole new way.
Every day.
Rams, bulls, goats, sheep, pigeons, turtledoves...
Blood running down the altar, down their garments...
Everywhere the sights, sounds, smell of death...
I will show you what you must suffer for My name...
And every day they would be the ones to make intercession for the people.
How ironic.

God did not give Levi the boot after Shechem. But he did have a plan for them.
He carried that sheep back into the flock.
And up there, on His shoulders, from that perspective, Levi saw the cost of sin.
Levi did the work of atonement...
Levi did the work of inspection...
It was Levi who went into the Holy of Holies...
To face a holy, holy, holy God once a year.

Life up on His shoulders. Sometimes we do time up there.
Some of us more than others.
So next time you blow it, and He hoists you up, yeah, you might lose some independence.
Yeah, you might be getting a ride that the other sheep all see.
But He's not casting you out.
He's holding you close.

And maybe you'll get a glimpse, just a small glimpse, of life from God's perspective.
That's a sweet ride.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, 
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 
He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger forever. 
He does not deal with us according to our sins, 
nor repay us according to our iniquities. Psalm 103:8-10

(Many thanks to my elders, Brett and Craig, for helping me connect some of these dots.)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Let's Walk Together

It started as the Summer of Theology. A couple guys, united by their disillusionment with church and wanting to do something a little better, decided to meet and see if they could be like-minded enough to proceed with a new church.

What they did not want was some kind of 'wherever believers are gathered, there is a church'  twaddle. True, the Church is the people. But church is not you and your friends sharing dinner and a nice bottle of Merlot and talking about kingdom things. No. It's not. Church is only functioning as the Bible tells us it should function where there is preaching of the Word, the sacraments of baptism and communion, corporate worship, and discipline. The dinner and the Merlot can happen as a part of that. But simply calling our gathering church does not make it so.

We also didn't want to segregate ourselves into age sectors.
That's the stuff of government education, not the fellowship of the saints. There's one very, very large church in our town with multiple spin-offs where the ushers literally meet you at the door and tell you where to take your kids.

As in, no, your children are not welcome to worship with you in the Big Sanctuary.
Just like Heaven.
Oh wait.

So much for suffer the little children...

Back to that summer...No one really had time to do this thing. After all, each of these men was employed somewhere else. No one was looking to take on more responsibility.
But...no one wanted to shirk their responsibility to their families, either.

That was ten years ago. My husband was one of those men.
And, oh boy, has my appreciation of church grown over this past decade.

Careful preaching.
The preaching is expository. Starting with scripture and finding God's truth, rather than starting with a topic and attempting to prove it with scripture, has been a meaty experience for me. Jesus and His gospel are everywhere! I am thankful for expository preaching.

Careful positions.
Just because the Bible condemns lust does not mean Christians should not keep women in our homes. But churches take 'official church positions' like this all the time. The problem is that we often turn the crank farther than God does. We put burdens on people because our own consciences are weak--I caught myself doing this very thing last spring--and we call it the High Road. Before you know it, anyone who holds any position in the church has to sign something, vow something, abstain from something, yadda yadda yadda.  It's good to put some distance between us and the Pharisees, nu? I'm thankful for a church that is careful to distinguish probable implications of scripture from merely possible implications.

Careful worship.
What we sing to God should be as theologically robust as what we hear from the pulpit. I am thankful for elders and a worship team who carefully select our songs. (We've tossed songs by famous people because the theology was not sound.) And they regularly review our sets to make sure that the words we sing to God in the congregation of God's people are Truth. I am thankful for worshipping in Truth.

Careful relationships.
We have covenanted together. We are family. We feast. We fellowship. We do retreats. And before communion is offered, we have time to get things straight with each other because we sin against each other, too. Brett tells me that it is powerful to stand up front on Communion Sundays and watch people quietly working things out with each other before we come to the Lord's Table. I am thankful for a church that encourages relating rightly to one another.

Romans 14.
We are a varied bunch. We have different backgrounds, different testamonies, different convictions. Calvinist. Arminian. Undecided. Covenantal. Dispensational. Paedobaptist. Credopbaptist. Undecided. Television. Alcohol. Halloween. Christmas. Undecided. Firm convictions; no convictions. Weak consciences; strong consciences. We are a local Body learning what hard work it is to not trample each other's consciences and likewise to not trample each other's freedom. I'm thankful for a church willing to be gracious.

In essentails, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.
In all things, charity. (Rupertus Meldenius)
To which Henri Blocher adds:
In matters secondary or subtle, a gracious attention combined with exactness.

I'd say that describes us pretty well.

We celebrated our first ten years with a feast last Friday. One of my sweet friends told me, "Wow. Ten years ago, I wasn't even saved." This is the same woman who just finished reading Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology!

This is the local Body God has been quietly building since that Summer of Theology ten years ago.
They are robust. They are hungry. They are godly.
And this is the Body I am so privileged to be a part of.
They are longsuffering with my flaws.
They laugh with me on my good days and cry with me on my bad days.
They pray for me, confide in me, model goodness for me.

That's my church.
Let's walk together.