Systematic Theology on a Cross?

May 19, 2010 at 4:43 pm (Food for Thought) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

food-for-thought

Chew on this…

I once tried to explain “systematic theology” to a Russian pastor of the Underground Church, who had never seen a whole New Testament.  Systematically, I began to explain to him the teaching about the Godhead, about its unity in three Persons, the teaching about original sin, about the Fall, about salvation, about the Church, about the sacraments, about the Bible as infallible revelation.

He listened attentively.  When I had finished, he asked me a most surprising question:  “Have those who thought out these theological systems and wrote them down in such perfect order ever carried a cross?”  He went on.  “A man cannot think systematically even when he has a bad toothache.  How can a man who is carrying a cross think systematically?  But a Christian has to be more than the bearer of a heavy cross: he shares Christ’s crucifixion.  The pains of Christ are his, and the pains of all creation.  There is no grief and no suffering in the whole world which should not grieve him also.  If a man is crucified with Christ, how can he think systematically?  Can there be that kind of thought on a cross?

“Jesus Himself thought unsystematically on the cross.  He began with forgiveness; He spoke of a paradise in which even a robber had a place; then He despaired that perhaps there might be no place in paradise even for Him, the Son of God.  He felt Himself forsaken.  His thirst was so unbearable that He asked for water.  Then He surrendered His spirit into His Father’s hand.  But there followed no serenity, only a loud cry.  Thank you for what you have been trying to teach me.  I have the impression that you were only repeating, without much conviction, what others have taught you.”

~Richard Wurmbrand, 1909-2001, founder of VOM, “With God in Solitary Confinement

…and tell us what you think.

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Behind the Scenes on My Vanishing Act

March 26, 2009 at 7:14 pm (Announcements, God's Will, Godly Living) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Hello Sisters! I realize I’ve been missing in action for several weeks now…at least in the online world.  Many small factors have played into my absence, and you deserve an explanation.  My Mom and Papa were in a minor motorcycle accident about three weeks ago and Papa broke his collar bone.  It seems to be healing well (though still swollen, green and painful), but he’s been on temporary disability which leaves him home—for at least a month.  Always, anything unexpected brings both unexpected blessings and stretching.  You see, I’m a person of projects.  My projects always seem, to me, to be of great importance—whether blogging or taking pictures or journaling or designing literature.  But sometimes something “interferes” with my projects and I must learn the secret of priorities—the priorities the Lord has created for me.  Blogging is something that has blessed me and been an enjoyable outlet, as have writing, music and many of the other “projects” in which I’ve engaged—but it is not a God-ordained priority.  The Lord has set up priorities that start with my relationship with Him and continue to serving my family, then to outreach to those in my immediate life.  With my father off work, I’ve been super busy.  At first, my heart stubbornly resented the intrusion into my “projects” and “goals” at first, but the Lord is patiently reminding me what’s most important.  Honestly, I’ve come to enjoy the break from my project-driven mentality.  I know that I’m doing God’s will, serving the Lord, when I simply obey and serve my father.  It’s pretty freeing.

The blessings have been surprising as well!  I’m an idealistic realist, which means that I don’t believe ideal exists but I’m holding out for it anyway.  J Over the past several months, frustration had built up in my heart:  frustration with status quo, with the mundane—with things I struggle with perceiving as unnecessary wastes of time.  Why do people have to eat, anyway?  A couple of weeks ago, I came to Papa in tears with a pile of questions taller than I am.  Having him home gave us some time to work through some of my confusion and frustration and bring me back into focus—reminding me that God is the One who works miracles and that many mundane things are for my own good—to prove my character.  And my hopeless tendency to forever reevaluate what I’m doing has been God’s very tool for honing and strengthening me.  He forever reminds me that He still works through things that aren’t ideal and that I simply must depend on Him to work in His perfect way.  I wasn’t redeemed to serve God—as an end in itself.  He has angels who constantly do His will.  I was redeemed to be restored to an intimate relationship with Him—as Adam and Eve once walked with Him in the garden.  All the working and learning in the world are empty eating from the Tree of Knowledge without a relationship with God—the author of wisdom.  And no matter where I am or what I am doing, I can walk with God.

This time of year my life always turns upside down with crazy busyness (you know, weddings, graduations, “projects”, people) and I struggle to balance everything.  The Lord has given me a simple reminder to prioritize and rest in Him, knowing that only one thing is truly important:  being with Jesus.

So, ladies, whether or not I make it back online any time soon, my cry remains the same:  Love Jesus!  Be with Jesus.  Serve Jesus.

Blessings in Christ,

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From Germany, With Love

January 20, 2009 at 1:30 pm (Attitudes, Vignettes) (, , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

from-germanyHer name is Heidi.

She was born near the Rhine, in crumbling Germany. As a young woman, she met and married an American soldier during the occupation after World War II and left her land and her people to follow her husband to the States. That was in 1968. Over forty years ago.

She was bundled in an earth-tone sweater, sporting a knit stocking cap and well-worn sweat-pants when I first laid eyes on her. Dust and muck surrounded her, but she glowed like a new bride. There in the tight quarters of an Arkansas trailer home, early in the morning, with dirty dishes on the table and little boys’ toys on the floor, she glowed with a joy that warmed me deep inside my too-big coveralls.

My younger brother, Josiah and I, have been handling the morning milking for a neighbor. His foreign-exchange wife has been back in Russia for several months trying to iron out the paperwork to become an American citizen, leaving him to manage his school-teaching job with college classes and caring for two little boys and a farm. Amid the chaos and stress of his life stepped his mother, Heidi. To help keep the family afloat while his wife is gone.

The first day I walked into the house and met Heidi, I read Jesus in her eyes. In fact, I could hardly see past Jesus, to actually evaluate her features—simple and honest, well-worn with smiling creases around her eyes and mouth. Her smile flashed like the morning sunshine. Her eyes sparkled with warmth behind her glasses as she filled a bucket with warm soapy water and sent me on my way up the hill to the milking shed. Maxine and Moo-Moo grumbled along behind me, nearly stepping on my mudboots.

Back in the house as we filtered the milk and Josiah tampered with an out-of-order lawn mower, Heidi began to ask about my family and tell about hers. She spoke of the Lord with the same familiarity as she spoke of her husband (whom she missed terribly while away from him every week). She shared how she’d worked with mentally handicapped folks. “They are so precious,” she added, her ready smile lighting her face.

For several weeks now I’ve seen Heidi every weekday, first thing in the morning. I grumble my way into my faded, blue coveralls and rubber mud boots and snag the keys to the pick-up. Milking cuts into my morning—half an hour first thing, gone, just like that. But as soon as I walk through that trailer-home doorway my grumbling melts away as Heidi appears, smiling, welcoming and thanking me in her slightly choppy English. As if I were doing some great thing, when it is she who is sacrificing her entire week to help her son and family. And every day she bids me good-bye and Got bless and tells me she loves me.

And she means it. She’s the most straight-forward, honest person I’ve ever met. She can tell us bluntly what she does and doesn’t like, while softening it with her kind smile and a few words. “I don’t mean to be pushy, but here’s why…”

I think, were I to really step back and cast a critical eye over this aging German woman, I’d describe a plain, grey-haired woman, worn by life and love and work. When I think of Heidi, I smile and think “beautiful!”

Decked out in my floppy felt hat, dirty coveralls and smelly mudboots, I’m hardly the picture of fashion. Dressed in her worn sweater and faded pants, peering at me from behind her glasses, she’s little better. Neither of us cares. And again the Lord has reinforced to me His perception of beauty. I don’t want to be eternally youthful—stunning and flawless. Someday I hope I too will be an aging woman, worn by life and love and work, with smile creases around my mouth and eyes, with roughened hands and graying hair from giving myself for others. And I hope that when that day comes, I will be the kind of woman who radiates the love and joy of Jesus. Someday, I want to be like Heidi.

For now, I’ll take joy in milking that smelly cow.

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Women of Wisdom: Behold, the Lord’s Handmaid

December 23, 2008 at 9:45 am (W.O.W.) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

the-lords-handmaid

Adapted from the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John

Once upon a time a modest little Jewish girl was born into a loving home in the  city of Nazareth in sunny Galilee. As she grew she learned to care for a home and a family and she dreamed of the day when she would marry a godly man and raise godly children. Then one day her dream seemed almost realized when she was sought in marriage by Joseph, the son of Jacob, a local builder, a man with a reputation as clear as his namesake, the son of the first Jacob who had become Israel. Though not wealthy, Joseph also traced his family line directly to King David! How her heart must have swelled with pride and pleasure as the couple exchanged their betrothal vows and prepared for happily ever after.

In the midst of the daily routine of baking flatbread and washing clothes and weaving linens and dreaming of marriage, Mary received a remarkable visit. “Good morning, God’s favored one. Yahweh is with you!” The brightness, the splendor, the purity and holiness radiating from the face and clothes of the strange man sent tiny shivers down her spine, but it was his greeting which Mary found most troubling. Brow knit, head bowed, she turned the strange words over and over in her mind. “Favored one. Yahweh is with you.” Her mind darted toward the temple in Jerusalem where Yahweh was said to dwell—unapproachably. How could He be with her? “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with Almighty God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son and you will name Him Jesus. He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High; and God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and His kingdom will have no end.” The angel’s voice was like a waterfall, pouring over Mary’s mind and soul and heart. She desperately tried to take it all in. Was he promising that she would be mother of the Messiah? The long-awaited Savior of Israel? But what did he mean “the Son of the Most High?” Would Joseph be the father? Was this a promise for later…or now?

“How is this possible?” Mary whispered, her hands trembling. “I am a virgin.”

The angel’s next words would remain in her heart forever, treasured and turned over and pondered upon. “The Holy Spirit will come on you and God’s power will cover you. This is why the holy offspring will be called God’s Son.”

Did the full impact of the message sink into Mary’s heart?  The Messiah would be divine. Born of a virgin. No human father. God’s own Son. She would hold God in her arms. Nurse God at her breast. Teach God to speak? Kiss God on the forehead? A shiver passed through her body as the angel continued. “In fact, your relative Elizabeth has also become pregnant in her old age—she who was barren is in her sixth month! Nothing is impossible for Yahweh!”

Overwhelmed by inexplicable emotions, Mary knew one thing with certainty—whatever God did was good. Whatever He planned would be accomplished. Whatever He wanted, she wanted. With her whole heart. She was at his disposal. “Behold, I am the Lord’s maidservant. Do to me whatever you have said.”

Then he was gone.

Then came the uncertainty, the doubt and the fear. What would this mean? Virgins didn’t conceive. To become pregnant during betrothal was adultery—and punishable by death. Her life had looked so simple and beautiful—an ideal marriage to a godly man. God had called her to something more. Might the call of God destroy her dreams? The angel had told her something else—Elizabeth was also expecting miraculously. The first opportunity found Mary accompanying a caravan to Judah.

God’s confirmation greeted her in the form of her aging cousin, renewed like Sarah of old, her face wreathed in smiles. “Blessed among women are you! And blessed is the fruit of your womb! How has it happened that the mother of my master has come to me? When I heard your voice the baby within me leaped for joy! Blessed are you for believing the word of the Lord!”

Tears sprang to Mary’s eyes as she felt the Holy Spirit burning hotly inside her heart. She couldn’t hold back the joy that poured over her spirit. “My soul exalts the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. He has regarded the humble state of His bond slave…the Mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is His name!” The words rushed from her lips like the flow of a pure fountain, washing her trembling spirit in life and light.

The next three months were times of continual wonder, being with Elizabeth, sheltered from the uncertain future, watching the miracle inside her body develop. When Elizabeth finally delivered a son and his father regained his voice to deliver a stirring prophecy, Mary’s heart clung to every word. Full of God’s unfolding plan, she turned her steps homeward, knowing she must soon share her news. How would it be received?

In the moment between Mary’s explanation and Joseph’s response, the scenes of the last three months flashed before her eyes: all the wonder, the excitement, the joy. But in the face of her betrothed she read only pain and heartbreak. Virgins don’t conceive. Only adulteresses do. For Joseph to marry a pregnant woman would mar his reputation forever—as if he accepted the bastard child as his own.  Worse yet, his own repugnance to impurity could not allow him near a fornicator.  As he turned and walked away from her, Mary’s girlhood dreams came crashing down like the walls of Jericho. Who would ever marry a woman who had given birth to a child while claiming to be a “virgin”?

In the middle of the night, Joseph heard from the Lord. His immediate response was immediate obedience—he rose from his bed and took Mary as his wife. Like a thief in the night. But he kept her pure, so that the holy child would truly be born of a virgin. Now perhaps Mary could have her happily ever after?

But the Lord was on the move again, fulfilling prophesies through the ungodly Caesar. A decree required Joseph to travel to his heritage town of Bethlehem. Willingly, Mary packed up and went with him, about to give birth. And while they waited, unable to find housing, the labor pains came on and she gave birth and wrapped her baby and laid Him in the only thing available—a manger. What must her thoughts have been as she held the newborn Son of God to her and whispered the name the angel had given her “Jesus?” Or the name Isaiah had prophesied for the virgin’s Son: “Immanuel”—God with us. Soon her tranquility was invaded by a group of noisy, smelly shepherds, eagerly seeking the Messiah. Opening her heart and arms, Mary shared with them the gift God had given her, pondering all that had been told her and storing it in her heart.

Life hardly ended with a serene crèche scene. A week later Mary, likely still cramping and bleeding, traveled with Joseph to Jerusalem to present Jesus at the temple, offering the best they could—two turtle doves or two young pigeons to redeem Him back. There they were greeted by prophetic confirmation: the elderly Anna who praised God for the redemption of Israel and the aged Simeon, who took the infant from her arms and promised her more pain, “A sword will pierce even your own soul.” Any thoughts of happily ever after must have fled Mary’s mind at these words.

Joseph found work in Bethlehem and built a house. As a devoted mother, Mary poured herself into her baby, meeting His needs, nursing Him, holding Him, wiping his little bottom, bathing His little body. Never had she realized how truly raising a baby was serving God. She was just beginning to feel at home when a large caravan arrived outside the door. Camels grumbled and snorted, horses pawed the ground and a group of elegantly dressed men with long grey beards and turbans invaded her little paradise. Again she opened her heart and watched, bewildered as they poured out gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense. Then, almost as quickly as they had come, they were gone. Mary was shaken awake in the middle of a sound sleep by her husband. “Get up, quickly!” he urged. “We have to leave and get Jesus away from here.” Just like that, her serene life was shattered and she found herself a fugitive in Egypt, living off the gifts of the wise men. Before she could make herself at home there, the Lord had called them back home to Nazareth.

Once upon a time a quiet little Jewish girl had dreamed of a quiet life with beautiful, dark-eyed children and a gentle, godly husband. Then the Lord had called her to the most blessed role and her life turned upside down. She nearly lost her betrothed. Rumors and insults still straggled across the lips of neighbors for years afterwards. She had to give up her home and give birth in a far away place, cold and alone at night. She’d fled her homeland to save her child. Now she was home again. Finally, perhaps she would find her happily ever after.

As the child grew in grace and more brothers and sisters were added to the family, Mary began to learn more of this Son of God, born to her. The Passover feast found Him missing and her heart raced as she and Joseph searched for three days before finding Him in the temple. Struggling between pride at the report she heard of His wisdom and relief at finding Him she scolded, “Why did you do this to us? We’ve been searching everywhere for you!” His answer must have sent her mind spinning. “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I must be doing my Father’s business?” For the rest of His life, His Father’s business would be His priority. He would stay out all night, sleeping under the stars, trekking across the countryside healing, teaching and gathering disciples. Mary knew His divine mission was from God, but she didn’t understand that the sword that pierced her heart would come so soon. She didn’t know that she would watch her Son slowly proving His independence of her and her advice only to prove her dependence on Him. Yet she had to trust Him, to trust that her Son knew the best. Each time He reminded her that He knew best, it must have sent a sword through her heart. Hadn’t she nursed Him? Hadn’t she wiped away His tears? Hadn’t she poured her heart and life into Him? She admired His compassion, His wisdom and His love. But how could she let go of the tiny baby she had held in her arms so many years before and worship the Man He had grown to be—God’s Son, in Whom He was well-pleased.

One terrible night, at the height of His popularity, He was betrayed by a friend and led as a sheep to the slaughter to the hill called Golgotha. His mother stood at the foot of His cross, weeping because she could not hold Him and comfort Him and wipe the blood and sweat from His face. She stood, ready to do for Him whatever she could, helpless to do anything for Him. Once God had promised she would bear a Son who would save His people from their sins. The Messiah. There He hung, naked and shredded, gasping for breath. His eyes met hers. “Woman,” he whispered, “Behold your Son.” And his eyes fixed on her nephew. “Behold, your mother.”

In that moment, Mary knew that He was no longer hers. That He never had belonged to her. In that moment the sword pierced her heart with a searing agony. Where was the happy ending of which she had dreamed? Then darkness overwhelmed everything and He passed.

After years of devotedly seeking to serve God, Mary lost her holy Son.

Such a moment couldn’t bear repeating had God not known best, had Jesus not been in control, had not the Spirit been moving. Mary had sacrificed her dreams and hopes for her Son unaware that He would sacrifice His life for her. Just as Jesus had laid down His life, He had power to take it up again. Three days later He rose, no longer Mary’s Son, but now fully her Master. Her God. In His death and resurrection, He saved her from the power of sin and death. Through Him, she obtained the new birth that made her a child of God. Through her Son’s perfect plan, Mary obtained her happily ever after—for eternity.

wow

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