Reflections: The Power of Abiding

Flickr photo “Solitude” by MindsEye_PJ

“That they might be with him” – Mark 3:14

In the beginning, the story goes, God spoke a cosmos into being, calling it out of chaos, drawing it with His words. Lifting a finger was needless with such omnipotence. Ironically, rest undergirded the most energetic endeavour in the universe.

Jesus’ incarnation unlocked the possibility of the divine experiencing physical weariness, but He knew how to abide in rest (a loyal, constant, and perseverant residence or frequent resort) as He had been abiding with His Father since the beginning. Out of this consistent residence with Father God, Jesus drew everything He needed in every circumstance.

With empathy at the core of God’s immanence, Jesus draws others into close relationship with him and teaches them all they are willing to hear. One of His most central teachings is abiding. Over and over again, Jesus tells the importance of abiding and models it with His lifestyle.

Rest undergirded the most energetic endeavour in the universe.

Mark 3:13-19 narrates the calling of Jesus’ twelve apostles, stating that Jesus wanted them, called them, and appointed them. To do what? First, to be with Him. The original commission of the twelve disciples, like the original commission of Israel, and the original commission of humankind, is to be with God, to do life with Him involved.

Second, Jesus gives His disciples authority – supernatural power. Power to preach, to heal sicknesses, and to cast out evil spirits. They receive the power to restore. They are likely eager to get out and start putting things right. After all, the church has been involved in justice from its inception. Yet rather than turning them loose, Jesus immediately pulls them into a house, bringing them back to their first appointment – to be with him.

With God dwelling in you, you are powerful. Make no mistake about it: unseen power is at work. The real question is what kind of power you are exercising. That depends whether you are becoming like God. If you abide in God, you will become like him. Without staying close to God, you cannot become like him and will inflict damage as His representative. Your first mission is to abide. The success of the second mission, and every subsequent challenge, depends on it.

Published in Converge Magazine, Vancouver, Canada.

We Need More Faith in the “F-word” [Part 2]

Some social conservatives (Christian ones, at that) argue that feminism is to blame for the breakdown of marriage and society. One well-known evangelical sadly suggests that feminism turns women into “lesbians who hate their husbands and kill their children”. But I’m sure he means that with love.

Some Christians, reading into admonitions for women not to teach or speak in church from New Testament epistles, have used scripture to legitimize their culture’s own existing sexism, settling for the status quo instead of envisioning a kingdom of Heaven culture where “there is no male nor female, slave nor freeman, Greek nor Jew” (Galatians 3:28).

These narrow-minded and ill-informed views are simply wrong. Feminism neither destroyed marriage nor created abortion. Feminism is mistakenly blamed for abortions, yet in China, third-trimester abortions and even infanticide take place regardless of the rights of women (or lack thereof). Women’s rights is not a culprit. As if it’s a bad idea to empower half of our society – or that somehow women cannot be trusted to handle power. It reeks of fear and manipulation.

Feminism isn’t responsible for breaking marriage, either. Marriages have been deeply broken for a long, long time, and children die where patriarchy reigns unchecked. In some regions of Somalia, the men take the first portion of food and whatever scraps are left over – if there are any – are given to the women and children. The family friend who witnessed this tragedy said it reminded him of child-sacrifice cultures associated with the god Moloch.

We’ve mentioned Christian faith, so let’s move on to the Bible. One cannot quote the letters to the Corinthians or letters to any other 1st century church with disdain for context. The people of Corinth wrestled with a pagan culture whose association of women’s involvement in religion was as temple prostitutes. Further, women were largely uneducated and untrained in literature, speaking and teaching — things necessary for a woman to teach effectively in church. Paul’s admonitions, offensive when read void of context in modern times, actually safeguarded the reputation of Christian Corinthian women and prevented poor teaching from being spread through the church in its fragile early years. What’s more, Paul celebrates and recognizes several female early church leaders: Julia, Junia, Mary, and Priscilla amongst them.

Nowadays, the story of women’s education is quite different. Recent studies concur that higher education is tipping heavily to the side of women, with females comprising more than 60% of enrolment in higher education. Modern women are articulate, empowered, and educated. St. Paul’s reasons for cautioning the women of ancient Corinth are absent in today’s Western context. Is it possible that God is asking us to think this one over?

Some churches address the issue by allowing women certain positions of authority but not senior teaching positions. It seems that to entrust our children’s education to female teachers at school but not at church is to hold a pretty laughable double standard.

So, what’s Christianity’s problem with feminism? The biggest kickback seems to be the link between feminism and humanism. Fine. Humanism is an ideology underpinned in naturalism, often with a bone to pick with Theology. But for the moment, let’s look at the common ground between Christianity and feminism, since it’s pretty clear that some Christians have found a way to harmonize their beliefs with feminist thinking. After all, Jesus’ followers are called to be peacemakers.

Dr. Allyson Jule at Trinity Western University‘s Gender Studies Institute helps her students and readers of her book Being Feminist, Being Christian to see how both Christianity and feminism desire for fullest human flourishing, freedom from all forms of oppression and compassion for the powerless. Both involve aims of justice and self-reflection. Both involve seeing others as equals. That’s significant common ground. From this, I would gladly argue that Christianity and feminism can inform and empower each other.

Let’s just consider one important distinction. While there are lots of intelligent, well-spoken, wonderful, prayerful Christian feminists, there is a temptation to claim Christ was a feminist. People who do this usually point to the book of Luke, seeing how Luke the physician made careful note of how Jesus interacted with women and with the disempowered. The problem is that we apply a 20th century school of thought to a 1st century man (who happens also to be the omniscient Creator of the Universe whose ways are above our ways). According to Christian belief, God is infinite, eternal, and transcends all of our notions. To apply the label “feminist” to Jesus is actually to limit his scope. It’s a bit like saying “God is a builder”, “God is an artist” or “God is a parent”. While these things are true about God, he is not limited to any one of them. There is a great children’s book about this called Old Turtle, which I recommend highly. He is, in the words of Pura, “all balances struck”. While Feminism has been helpful in critiquing injustice, promoting women’s rights, and pursuing equality, Jesus is God, and his plan to restore humanity is larger than that of Feminism. Instead of forcing Jesus into boxes, no matter how nice they look in the catalogue, let’s allow Him to deconstruct ours. He promises “behold, I make all things new”.

Reflections: Belief

“As you have believed, so let it be done for you” – Matthew 8

Jesus’ disciples barely weathered a potentially life threatening storm as Jesus slept soundly. In panic, they woke Jesus and he pacified the storm around them with a word. As the storm within them calmed, Jesus perplexedly asked where their faith (confident expectation) was. The disciples had great faith in their impending doom, but Jesus needed them to have faith in the giver of life.

Jesus healed again and again throughout this chapter. He demonstrated his power over real and threatening circumstances. Sovereign over nature, he stilled a storm; sovereign over the spirit realm, he cast out demons; and sovereign over life itself, he raised the dead. All of this he did with a word

We are tempted to put our faith in many things and at times may question our ability to stay afloat. Instead, we are to place our faith in God’s ability. Incredibly, God is more real than anything we can experience, for He is not limited by our dimensions. This revelation will revolutionize one’s mind-set. With God, all things are possible.

A pivotal story in Matthew 8 is that of the Roman centurion. Approaching Jesus, he declared his faith in Jesus’ authority to heal his sick servant. Jesus proclaimed that the centurion revered God more than many of the “sons and daughters of the kingdom.” The centurion knew his own authority, including its limits, and realized the authority of God.

Jesus’ response to this man was, “Go your way, and as you have believed, let it be done for you.” To the centurion it was an affirmation that his request is granted.

Whatever we believe can come to pass. Cease speaking negative prophecies over your life – chances are they may come to fulfilment. Instead, seek to align your mindset with God. You will see life if you confidently expect to receive it from its giver. Focus your faith not on the potency of your problems but on the greatness of your God.