I am my beloved's and He is mine

 

I am ecstatic to be linking up with the lovely and talented Addie Zierman’s synchroblog today. It is taking place in celebration of her book, When We Were on Fire, which releases today.

 

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy. And since I finished it, I have not stopped recommending this book to everyone I meet.

 

The book is her story of growing up in the evangelical youth subculture, but it is so much more than that. It has the gripping "I can't put it down" power of a novel, mixed with the thought-provoking "I can't get that idea out of my head" power of nonfiction. Through inviting you into her story, she opens you to processing your own. And she does so with honesty, sincerity, critique, and hope. Her words may help all of us unravel and make sense of what it looks like to walk in a life of faith.

 

Seriously. Read this book. You won't regret it. You can get it on Amazon here. (This isn't an affiliate link. I'm not making any money by promoting this to you. I just want you to be able to share in the goodness of this book.)

 

Today I am linking up with a story about one of my own experiences in a cliché Christian environment. And, I hope you aren’t feeling too cynical today, because, in this case, my experience was a positive one.

 


 

Retreats are a staple in Christian-subculture.

 

I went on my first retreat {gasp} fifteen years ago, when I was in college. I had gone to one of the campus Christian groups several times, and everyone said I MUST go on the fall retreat. Time away from campus seemed like a good idea to me, so I signed up. I even volunteered to be one of the drivers.

 

Autumn was the perfect time of year to go to a retreat center in central Wisconsin. Changing leaves. Crisp air. Piercing blue skies.

 

There was horseback riding and cafeteria-style meals and bonfires and games and laughter.

 

And there was also talks. And worship. And space to go be with God.

 

These kinds of activities were not completely foreign to me. I had been dabbling in them for the previous year. But still, they were relatively novel.

 

On this retreat, we were encouraged to have a “quiet time.” (That was the lingo for bring your Bible and a journal to a quiet place and pray.) For many others on the retreat, who had been following God for longer, the act may have felt cliché and dry.

 

For me, the idea of a quiet time was fresh. I had never really thought God would or could interact with me personally. I believed in Him. I went to church. But my thoughts were more based in tradition than faith, and my experiences were more corporate than personal.

 

I don’t know if it was the speaker, the weather, or the peer pressure, but I grabbed my Bible and headed for the woods. I sat under a tree and wondered if God would meet me there. Didn’t it seem ridiculous to expect such a thing?

 

Not knowing any better, I went for the “drop and flop” method. I asked God to lead me to a passage that would show me He cared about me in that moment. Then, I cracked my Bible and let it fall open to a random page.

 

Now that I am older and “more experienced” in my faith, I have better methodology to my study. I know better. But God’s grace met me under that tree as the Bible flipped to Song of Songs 2.

 

I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. Let him lead me to the banquet hall, and let his banner over me be love. –Song of Songs 3:4

 My beloved is mine and I am his; -Song of Songs 2:16

 

I had never before considered that I might be God’s beloved.

 

I realize now how much I didn’t understand about the context I was reading, but in that moment, all I knew was that God spoke to me, and I was his beloved.

 

I ran into the hall, skipping and laughing like a girl newly in love. Because I was.

 

And later on, when we sang the classic “His Banner Over Me,” I was swept up in the emotions of it all. And I was filled with gratefulness.

 

That retreat was crammed with Christian clichés, bad methodology, and thin theology, but God’s grace was circled around all of it. He found me under that tree and told me I was his beloved.

 

(If somehow, you've never heard the 90's Vineyard song, "His Banner Over Me," I found it on YouTube here.)

 

my beloved

A Call for Unity: Father, Make Us One

The divisiveness has gotten palpable. And its taste is bitter. I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about the Church.

There are so many things that have so many people so very angry. We argue about issues of theology and praxis, demonizing those who interpret the Bible differently. We are furious about church leaders who are not doing things the way we think they should. We shout to the world that we are the ones who are right and those other Christians have gotten it all wrong.

The most universal political opinion I have heard recently is the sense that November 6 could not come soon enough. Everyone has been longing for the day the shouting and the bickering and blaming would come to an end. Or at least get a little quieter for awhile.

I wonder if we are building to a day when people will wish there was a November 6 for the Church. Some sort of event that would make us shut up for awhile.

I fear the message of Jesus’ love is getting lost in the uproar of Christian arguments.

When Jesus was in the final moments before His arrest, He prayed. This was the moment for Him to emphasize what was most important. To tell us what those who consider themselves Christ-followers should remember and pray for and live out as best they can with their lives.

Jesus prayed for His disciples, and for those who would come after them. Namely, us.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” – John 17:20-23

Jesus prays for unity among His followers. Because it is through unity that Christ’s love is best revealed to the world.

Forgive us, Lord, for all the ways we have failed to be unified.

It’s easy to point fingers about why Christians do not do a better job of this. We can look at how that leader is confrontational or this church is power hungry or that writer misrepresents the Bible.  But blaming only increases the problem.

The way the Church will become more unified is when each of us examines our own hearts for ways we are divisive.

It’s like the old adage says, whenever we point a finger at someone else, there are four more fingers pointing back at us.

Unity begins with each of us.

What if each of us began to assume the best about those with whom we disagreed, instead of the worst? Or better yet, what if we didn’t assume at all? What if we invited those people into conversations, to hear their perspective and show them our love?

What if each of us began to recognize that the Bible is complicated? That it is possible for genuine Christ-followers, who authentically believe in the authority of the Scriptures, to come to different conclusions on interpretation? What if we focused less on convincing and more on listening? What if we realized that agreement and unity are not the same thing?

What if each of us began to spend more time seeking to love with our own lives than looking for ways others are failing to love with theirs?

Imagine what a force a unified Church could be in a world that can no longer seem to have civil disagreements. Imagine how people would be drawn to the love of Christ, a love that crosses political barriers and theological differences to join individuals into One Body. A love unmatched by anything this world has to offer.

That is what the Church is meant to be.

Father, make us One.