Tuesday, September 22, 2009
On the first day of fall each year, I go to the city cemetery in my hometown. Nothing to do with the changing weather – it doesn’t change until at least October. But on the first day of fall in 1920, my grandmother was born. And in fall of 2003, she died. And so this is one of several landmarks during the year when I visit her grave, which she shares with my grandpa.
I’m not a person who believes in the mystical power of gravesites, or even in the dead looking down on me, or me having a chance to communicate with them while I’m there. But there is something about a cemetery. This one especially. It’s not well-groomed really- not a manicured lawn dotted with perfectly sculpted monuments. It’s old, and it has weeds sometimes, and it’s right in the middle of a not-so-nice part of town. But I love it. Somehow, ironically, there is life there. People come there and they sit by the graves of their loved ones. Some bring chairs, some bring books, some plan for a whole day. And unless there’s a funeral happening at the time, there isn’t that innate sense that you need to be quiet. And some people put balloons at the graves, not just flowers. And Happy Halloween signs, and birthday cards…
But I digress. When I go to the cemetery, it’s not for a long day of sitting. On this particular fall day, it’s much too hot to stay long anyway. I park my car and wander, nodding my respects to funeral-goers nearby and starting my search for the grave. I always remember that it’s just east of the entrance, and just north of a tree…but there are many trees and I always end up wandering. And then I find it, and I pause. Ingebrigtsen, Marjorie and Leonard. I’m here for both of them, really, it’s just that the birthday is my grandma’s. I make sure the ants won’t be too bothersome, then I tidy up a bit. Other times, I’ve brought flowers, but today I didn’t. I fluff out the fake flowers that someone else has brought before and turn my attention to the gravestone itself. It’s dusty – the lawn has apparently been mowed recently and little grass clippings have settled all around. I brush off the big ones with my hand, but that doesn’t take care of all the little bits that have landed in the engraving. My grandparents loved the Superstition Mountains – even moved here to Arizona because of them. They once had a cabin there that still fills the memories of everyone in the 2 generations above me. And so that was chosen as the design of their stone. A simple sketch of the outline of that dramatic desert mountain range, now filled with the tiniest bits of dead grass. I blow gently on each line to clear it, and then trace the names the same way. Now satisfied, I simply sit and think and pray. Not for a long time – these are thoughts and prayers that aren’t as gut-wrenching now as they once were. Now when I go it is more to remind myself of those times before – of everything that happened in the fall of 2003, of the largely unscarred life I left behind, of the doubts I overcame, of the daily mercy of God sustaining and refreshing my soul, even while I was trying my hardest to walk away from Him. They are things that need to be remembered and cannot be forgotten, things that have shaped me into who I am. And I dare not ever forget that it was hard but that God was there. And that the story’s not over yet and that God still has much to teach me.
I breathe my thanks to the God who was there, to the God who IS there. I breathe also a prayer for the family members who are still here, who still need the mercy of God to capture their hearts. And I pray that I would not grow weary. And I walk back to my car, as I watch the funeral-goers, and the lawn-chair-sitters, and I remember.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Three favorite quotes from the authors' concluding statements. I really did like what all 4 men had to say, but these quotes in particular stood out to me:
"When God pours out his Spirit in power, believers respond in a variety of
ways. We need to be tolerant of one another rather than judgmental, and we
certainly should not limit God in ways that he has not limited himself. We
all know that the Bible lays down boundaries that we must not cross in the name
of spiritual unity; there can be no compromise, either explicitly by confession
or implicitly through association, on doctrines necessary for salvation.
But in the one true church, there should be a fundamental unity of the Spirit
that transcends all differences." - Douglas Oss
"Unity in the church has many dimensions and coming together around the
Scriptures in search of truth for the sake of God's work cannot help but
increase a sense of oneness, even when final agreement is not reached." - Robert
"We did not agree on all points, but our dialogue helped us to
see that we shared a common heart. This recognition conditioned not only
the content of our dialogue but especially the attitude in which it was
pursued. Getting to know the heart of those with whom we differ and seeing
God's presence at work in them as well as oneself is a boon toward fruitful
dialogue...With all believers, I long for the day when all of God's people are
united. The presence of sin, however, will no doubt delay that reality
until the time of glorification. In the meantime we should all recognize
that divergent views are frequently the result of emphasizing certain aspects of
God's total truth. This emphasis may proceed beyond scriptural bounds to
exaggerated error at times, but it is helpful to recognize that the emphasis was
often initiated in search of a reality that the church needed to hear. In
the case of miraculous spiritual gifts, continuationists continually remind us
of the supernatural power and experiential aspects of our Christian faith.
Cessationists, on the other hand, stress that true Christianity rests on, and is
always to be evaluated by, the once-for-all delivered revelation of the
completed canonical Scripture. The church does not yet perceive the
correct relationship of these elements, but surely both emphases are to be
included in it." - Robert Saucy
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
On top of this, for more than a year, I've been attending a Romanian church twice a month or so that, at least on paper, holds beliefs on almost the opposite side of the spectrum as my own church on these issues. Without looking into it much, I had decided that I could enjoy the fellowship and worship at that church without agreeing with every element of their doctrine. I've been thoroughly blessed and encouraged by the style of worship at that church and had never experienced anything there that brought me any significant discomfort, but I was pretty sure I wasn't going to let it change my doctrinal stance. But my 1st Corinthians study experience made my already wondering mind realize that I needed to look into this more, and do more than just ask someone to tell me what to think. A friend at church (thx Russ!) recommended a book, endorsed by our church elders, that laid out some of the basic positions on this topic. 4 different Biblical scholars wrote essays explaining/defending their position, and then each responded to each other.
So, several months ago, I began the endeavor of reading this book. Not exactly an easy read -full of incredibly complex lines of thought and words I'd never known before, but what an encouragement! Some of my own reactions:
-At the end of the day, my beliefs are just more moderate than they'd been a few months back. No drastic change, but a significant growth in understanding and well-thought conclusions. And still a certain amount of openness - every one of these men made a very good case.
-I realized how quick I am to judge other Christian beliefs and practices - how quick I am to assume that they are not Biblical simply because they are not what my church believes or does and my church is Biblical. I hadn't left room in my mind for the possibility that other people who love the word of God and cling to it as an absolute standard for church practice and personal holiness have simply come to different conclusions about certain things, and that those conclusions are not based on ignorance or blatant error.
And most of all, I was so very blessed to see the unity demonstrated by these 4 men (plus the editor, Wayne Grudem). At the beginning of the book and at the end, all areas of agreement were laid out. There are many! None believe that any miraculous gift is more important than the miracle of regeneration, when God changes the heart of a sinner and gives new life. None believe that a person must speak in tongues in order to prove that they possess the Holy Spirit. None believe that God has ceased to work miraculously. The list goes on... And ultimately, each man desires to see God worshipped in a way that honors Him and obeys His word.
I have to go back to work, but if time permits, I hope soon to post some sweet quotes from the book that point to this God-honoring unity around the Gospel.