This month: 189 - Freedom in Christ
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Jesus retreated once with his disciples north of Nazareth to Caesarea Philippi, where he asked them what they were hearing people say about his identity and purpose. Their responses ranged from reincarnations of John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other prophet. Then Jesus asked them for their own beliefs about his identity: “Who do you all think I am?”

Peter piped up and declared: “You’re the Messiah, the Son of God!” Peter believed Jesus was the long-awaited deliverer of Israel.

Jesus responded positively to Peter’s declaration: “Bless you, Peter! The beloved community I’m founding will rest on the kind of faith you just expressed.” Jesus promised Peter that he’d have spiritual authority in this new community.

Jesus then explains that he’s a different kind of messiah than what most of Israel was expecting — he won’t subjugate Rome with military might; instead he’ll take on the role of suffering servant and be killed and then raised to life. 

Peter, likely high on the spiritual authority just bestowed upon him, takes Jesus aside and scolds him. “That is unbecoming of the messiah, Jesus! May it never happen to you.” 

Jesus turns the rebuke right around: “Back that up, Satan. You’re playing for the wrong team. You aren’t aligned with God but with broken humanity.”

Jesus reveals something to us about discipleship in this story: as we follow Jesus, we need both affirmation and challenge to become more like him. We need to be blessed and encouraged when we’re on the right track, when we’re bearing the fruit of the Spirit. And we need to be challenged when we’re at odds with Jesus’s way — especially when we think we’re actually on the same page! This happens healthily in relationships with people we love and trust, to whom we’ve given permission to speak honestly with us about what they see in our lives.1

This same posture of affirmation and challenge is appropriate for mission, too — the way the church relates to its neighbors. There are elements in our culture to affirm that reflect the heart of God: it might be a hunger for justice and righteousness, or expressions of generosity and hospitality (the list goes on and on, really). It shouldn’t surprise us — if God is the creator of the cosmos, Jesus is Lord over all, and the Spirit is at work in the world beyond the church — to find the image of God reflected in our neighbors and neighborhoods. At the same time, certainly there are elements in our culture that need to be challenged because they are at odds with the heart of God: like injustice, greed, and selfishness.

Missiologist Andrew Walls describes affirmation and challenge with two principles: the “indigenizing” principle and the “pilgrim” principle.2 The indigenizing principle describes the way Christianity historically has indigenized itself, or made itself at home, within cultures, empowering people to live as Christians and at the same time members of their own society. The indigenizing principle, in other words, affirms and inhabits the elements of culture that reflect the heart of God.

The pilgrim principle acknowledges that while God accepts and works through human cultures as they are, God also desires to transform the brokenness of cultures — elements in which the church is not at home in a culture but rather is a pilgrim, elements which are challenged by the reign of God. 

Notice what these principles reveal: Christianity is always “cultured,” or embedded in culture. There is no such thing as a “culture-less” Christian community that somehow stands outside of its surrounding cultures. The church is at once within cultures and its own culture, and so must discern which elements to affirm and which to challenge.

I want to highlight two temptations for predominantly white churches in our U.S. context (the context with which I am most familiar). The first is to focus on affirmation in our own discipleship to the neglect of challenge (e.g., “it’s all about grace”). The second is to focus on challenge in relation to culture/neighbors to the neglect of affirmation (e.g., culture wars; demonizing the non/religious other). And yet, where the church’s witness has been compromised by spiritual abuse and trauma and by complicity with systemic racism and nationalism, we must emphasize the challenge of the gospel in our discipleship. In mission, we must affirm the beauty and goodness we see in our neighbors who have been harmed by the church, or who hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness in the public square. 

Wouldn’t this contextual emphasis — opening ourselves to challenge in discipleship and offering affirmation to our neighbors in mission — reflect the heart of our humble, non-coercive Messiah?

1 Hat tip to Mike Breen, Building a Discipling Culture, for helping me to see this story in this way.

2 Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith. 

Charles Kiser is a minister with Storyline Christian Community in Dallas, Texas. You can follow his other writings, including a forthcoming book project on trauma-sensitive evangelism, through his Facebook page or Twitter.


I’ll never forget the first time I heard a woman pray in a public setting. I stood in a large room at a kid’s event with my young family and, without warning, a woman who had been giving instructions for the day begin to pray for our meal. I barely heard a word she said. I was in shock that a woman had the audacity to pray in front of my husband, my sons, and the rest of the group. I quickly bowed my head and silently prayed over her. I prayed for her soul and the souls of those in the room and that she would learn and respect Scripture. I left that event disgusted and saddened that we had been subjected to such. I wanted to write her and explain the truth more clearly but I was too angry. That was nearly twenty years ago and somehow, without even realizing it, she became my hero.

Young girl reading

I was still reeling from the prayer when I learned of an incident where a little girl in a Bible class setting was told she couldn’t pray because a three year old boy sat across from her. It stirred my soul and kept me awake at night. How could this be? I went to Scripture to find an answer. 

If we were to take Paul literally in I Corinthians 14:34, then Scripture would forbid this child from praying in class. It would also restrict her from ever speaking in class. Not only would it seal her silence, it would seal her teachers and every woman who spoke in class or sang in the assembly. A woman couldn’t greet another or confess she believed Jesus is the Son of God before her baptism. Silence means silence. Something was amiss. I knew the Lord too well to believe he would cast this precious three year old to Hell for talking to him. So why did the prayer weeks earlier bother me so badly? I delved deeper into the Word. 

First Corinthians eleven told me the church in Corinth had women praying and prophesying. Paul even gave instructions on how they should present themselves when they did. Why was it happening in 1 Corinthians 11 but not in 1 Corinthians 14 or the Ephesian church? It didn’t make sense for Paul to so quickly change his mind on something so important. Although, it made no sense to me, Paul’s readers knew exactly what was going on in Corinth and in Ephesus (as they worshipped in the shadow of the temple of Artemis). It was during this time of study when I accepted the fact that the Bible wasn’t written to me but for me. Since Paul’s letters weren’t always written to set rules for eternity but to solve their current problems, there must be more to this story. And it isn’t always for us to know so why do we cling so tightly to a verse that calls for women to be silent but explain away lifting holy hands (I Timothy 2:8), wearing jewelry (I Timothy 2:9), braided hair (I Timothy 2:9), or being saved in childbirth (I Timothy 2:15)? 

I started to comb the Bible looking for something that would help me through this spiritual dilemma. I needed to know how God felt about women. I saw Miriam, along with her brothers leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. I was intrigued as wise Deborah ruled over God’s people as a prophet and military strategist. I became acquainted with Huldah who prophesied at the same time as Jeremiah and Zephaniah.

My relationship with the Father grew as I got to know his Son. I watched Anna weep over the newborn Jesus and take another opportunity to praise God in front of all those around her. I saw the look on the face of the woman at the well when Jesus revealed his identity. I have  always been told she tried to distract Jesus with religion from her broken life when he mentioned her many husbands. But what if her heart had been inclined to God? What if wanting to please him kept her up at night? What if she ached for self worth and knew only God could fulfill her desire? What if this is why Jesus sought her out and gave her the opportunity to serve as a missionary to her entire town? 

Why was Mary Magdalene the first gospel preacher? God knew her news of the resurrection wouldn’t hold up in a Jewish court. Why would he grant this beautiful act of servanthood to a gender that had no rights and little value unless he was taking a divine moment to show them how much they matter? Did Phillip’s daughter pray and prophesy only to women? If so, wouldn’t Scripture make this very clear? What can we learn from Phoebe, Junia, and Priscilla and their fervent desire to serve the God of Heaven and Earth? 

And then other questions came to mind. Why can a woman speak while singing from the pew but not from the pulpit? Why can a women ask questions in Bible class but not teach a Bible class with men present? Why is a woman permitted to speak at a Ladies’ Day to men as long as they’re sitting in the audio booth or listening in the foyer? Why can a man read articles written by women but if she were to read them to him, she would be in error?

How is praying, a supplication to our Father in his name combined with gratitude for his favor, having authority or leading over others in the room? Was the woman who prayed that day usurping my husband’s authority? When I dissected the moment, I had to admit that she was not. Tradition had told me one thing. Scripture another. My view of God was tainted with tradition, fear, and a lack of knowing who he is. I had so many questions and was confused by what seemed to be many inconsistencies. I had to ask myself what kind of god I served? Is it a god who delights in confusing us with his Scripture, saying one thing in one chapter and something else in another, just to keep us out of Heaven? Or is it a God who is for us? A God who deeply loves us? A God who wants his children, men and women, to speak his name and proclaim his praises to all who will listen? A God of the entire Bible, not just a verse?

The woman who prayed didn’t attend the same kind of church I did but I had seen her do good things in his name. I had watched how she cared for others. I had heard her speak of hope and Heaven before. She was a godly woman. I thought of the disciples in Luke and could hear myself whining, “Lord, she prayed to you thanking you and lifting you up but she’s not a part of our group! Do you want me to stop her?”  You can almost hear him sigh, “If she’s not against you…” (Luke 9:50).  

God is not inconsistent. Neither is his Word. But we, as his people are, and accepting our faults is not shameful. It’s realistic. We need him. We can seek comfort in the fact that his grace covers our moral failures as well as our doctrinal ones. 

If we are living in the last days, preached by Peter quoting Joel in Acts 2, as I believe we are, then women and men of God have not only have the opportunity but a responsibility to pray and proclaim the praises of the one who called us out of darkness. 

The lady who prayed in front of my family that day, many years ago, proclaimed Jesus in her prayer and ended it in his name. She spoke gospel but it wasn’t good news to me then. As a wise friend once said, “Anytime someone is proclaiming the gospel and it is not good news to me, I am the one with the problem, not the speaker.”

Looking back on that event, I no longer see what I thought was her sin but I do clearly see mine wrapped in my self-righteous, judgemental, false view of God and his Holy Word. I’m glad I no longer see God through those lenses. 

To the spiritual women who continue to call on the name of the Lord for their families, their communities, and the lost, those who so gracefully lift up their voice and speak light and hope into darkness, I thank God for you. You changed me, you encourage me, and you give me hope for the future. 

Rooting Yourself in Belovedness

 

I struggle with perfectionism; not so much that life needs to be perfect, but moreso that I need to be. I’m not really sure when or where it all began, but somehow someway I developed the mindset that my worth was directly connected to my ability to be “good enough”.

However, ‘enough’ is a dangerous standard to strive for because it’s unattainable. The reality is that there is always room for growth (and that’s not a bad thing). But when you begin to equate your value based on your performance, an unhealthy cycle begins. You are constantly striving, always desiring the approval of others, and when you fall short you feel like a complete failure. I’ve lived in this charade for a lot of my life and it’s exhausting. I’ve learned time and time again that in my effort to portray my life is perfect, I am confronted with my inescapable and undeniable brokenness.

Have you ever seen a cat chase after a laser light? It’s hilarious. No matter how many times you wave the little red light around the ground, the cat can’t seem to understand that it can’t actually catch the light. Yet it still tries, over and over and over again; that’s why it’s so funny. What isn’t so humorous is the reality that many of us play the same game. We spend our lives chasing the illusion of perfection only to realize that it’s something that can’t be caught. So why do we continue to chase it?

If my worth is not contingent on my performance, how then do I find my value? As always, we must look to Jesus.

If you think about it, Jesus never really met society’s standards of being ‘enough.’ (Let’s be honest, He still doesn’t). People were so fixated on who the Messiah was supposed to be that they didn’t even recognize Him when He was in their presence.

  • The crowds were often so hungry for a miracle or a sign that they missed His teachings entirely
    • Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent (Matthew 11:20)
  • The religious leaders often discredited Jesus and His teachings because He didn’t seem worthy of being the anointed one of Israel.
    • Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves,  “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! (Mark 2:6-7)
  • His family considered Him crazy
    • When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)
  • His disciples often struggled to fully live out their faith in Him because they were crippled by their own fear
    • “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

If Jesus Himself didn’t meet the standards of being enough, then why do we try so hard to? And if we don’t find our worth in people, then where we place our value?

It’s simple (but so hard): in the Lord.

I am convinced that it was through Jesus’ close intimacy with the Father that He was able to walk in full faith and full confidence into the person God created Him to be. In Matthew 3, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (v. 16-17). Before Jesus began His public ministry, before He chose His disciples, before He went into the wilderness to face temptation, God spoke His words of Jesus’ ‘enoughness’ over Him. And I believe it was this declaration that Jesus rooted Himself in so that He could fully live out His faith without worrying about being enough for others. He was enough for God, and He knew that is all that matters.

Jesus’ ability to love others fully was embedded and birthed from the truth that He was fully loved by God. If you’re constantly seeking to make people love you, you will never truly love them well; there are selfish motives involved. To love someone well is to love them with the love of Jesus and you can only do that if you claim the love of Jesus over yourself.

The best thing you can do for yourself, the best thing you can do for your family, the best thing you can do for your faith, your ministry, your life, is to deeply root yourself in the unconditional love of Jesus.

Do you know that you are God’s beloved? Do you know that your ‘enoughness’ is based entirely upon who He is? It’s unconditional love. It is strong, it is deep, and it is all consuming if you allow it to be. Despite the broken narrative you’ve believed, you don’t have to earn it. You can soak in it. You can rest in it. You can believe in it. You can walk in it. It is because of His bold, audacious, unwavering love for you that you don’t have to strive for His love or the love of others. You can boldly claim it and proclaim it. And that’s where the adventure begins.   

 

“That’s where ministry starts, because your freedom is anchored in claiming your belovedness. That allows you to go into this world and touch people, heal them, speak with them, and make them aware that they are beloved, chosen, and blessed. When you discover your belovedness by God, you see the belovedness of other people and call that forth. It’s an incredible mystery of God’s love that the more you know how deeply you are loved, the more you will see how deeply your sisters and your brothers in the human family are loved.”

-Henri Nouwen, Moving From Solitude to Community to Ministry

 

Check out Christina’s Spoken Word here:

 

 

Christiana Muir is a follower of Jesus in Nashville, TN. She graduated from Lipscomb University with a degree in Theology in Ministry and is currently church planting among refugees in her city.

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