August 11, 2014
God has recently given me several opportunities to share my faith in Christ. Many of you may have noticed that I’ve gotten flamboyant in my old age—with my shaved head and white hat. But I’ve also gotten bolder in talking about Jesus.
Some months ago, our children’s pastor, Amy Patton, gave me a Jerusalem cross to thank me for being the host in the 9:00 am nursery. Recently, I decided—during a retreat day—to wear that cross visibly to my workplace at McDonald’s. The Jerusalem cross is an ancient Christian symbol, and the black tiles surrounding our font in the sanctuary are in the form of a Jerusalem cross. But because it has an intricate design, it isn’t immediately recognizable as a cross. actually invites questions. I’ve had several people ask me, “Dan, what is that medallion you are wearing?” This has given me the opportunity for conversations about Jesus. I start by saying, “This is a Jerusalem cross. I wear it to remember that Jesus took away my bad stuff when he died on the cross, and gives me a new kind of life through his resurrection.” One day as I was stepping off the elevator at work, a person remaining on the elevator asked about it. I only had five seconds, but during that time I was able to say, “This is a Jerusalem cross. I wear it to remember what Jesus does for me.”
I’m praying and planning about how to expand those conversation openers into deeper conversations. This fall coworkers and I started a “spiritual discussion group” during our lunch hour. Once a week we discuss one person’s question based on this opening question: “If you could ask God anything you wanted, and you knew God would give you a personal answer, what would you ask?” In the past, when I’ve led discussion groups like this, I’ve had atheists, agnostics, Hindus, Jews, secular people, and even some Christians engage in interesting discussions about “How can a good God permit evil?” “What is heaven like?” or “Is there more than one way to heaven?” Most of the people who come to this discussion group might not come to a Bible study, even though they might have a Christian background. Some of my Christian friends say their faith has been deepened by the discussion group. I’ve also had friends from a non-religious background, or a background other than Christianity, grow in their openness to Jesus. I recently discovered that one person turned from atheism to faith in Christ, partly through the influence of this group, and her life has been radically transformed. I’m praying that I can see many other people come to a full faith in Christ, and thankful that my church equips me to see these conversations through.
August 04, 2014
Healing isn’t something that I naturally associate with church, or even God. I grew up in a church that seemed concerned about evangelism to the exclusion of transformation and was not very aware of the supernatural or the work of the Holy Spirit. So, when my husband and I registered for the Healing Conference at Rez, I was nervous. I knew that I need healing, but I did not dream that God could heal in the ways that I am actually broken. “Healing” only conjured up wild images of beating demons out of people and whatever “slaying in the Spirit” means, snake handling, and a celebrity TV preacher full of false hope and false promises.
Who met me there, instead, was God. It was at the Healing Conference this year that I finally connected healing with the sweet presence of God. Rather than theatrics, the conference was filled with prayer. We were led in connecting with God through the open posture of our bodies and through our senses and imaginations.
I had learned to stifle my emotions and imagination pretty early in life because they made me feel vulnerable, and I’m not well connected with my own body for the same reason. Asking me to hold out my hands in a posture of receiving, and appealing to my emotional and imaginative self was poking at all my vulnerable places. It was the first time I had actively tried to accept those parts of myself in order to allow them the possibility of connecting me with God. Slowly, my invulnerable heart melted wide open toward God. I was learning to receive him in a new way.
In the past, when I’ve become aware of an area of deep pain or brokenness inside, I might yelp a little prayer of desperation at God, picturing him far off and mostly doubting that he’d want to do anything to help. But at the Healing Conference, I was shown a better approach. Instead of waiting to see if God would after all enter my tiny heart and mend it, I learned to lift my pain and brokenness out of myself and place it squarely in God’s hands, expecting and believing that God would take it and do his good work of restoration. I learned to trust that God truly desires to make me whole.
I have an image, a snapshot memory, that surfaces from time to time, of my parents and me sitting at the dining room table after a Sunday lunch. My mom is crying and her face is buried in her hands against the table. My dad and I are silent, and our stares are silent, even vacant. That image is a paradigm of pain for me. I hurt for my mom; I hurt that my dad was emotionally unavailable, and, even more, that I had learned to be the same way. I have few memories that fill me with more grief. There was a moment during the conference when Val asked the Lord to bring such an image to mind. Val encouraged us to imaginatively place that image in Jesus’ hands and watch to see what he would do with it. That memory came to mind, and to my utter surprise, I saw Jesus wrap his arms around my mom and dad in his loving embrace. I finally understood that Jesus takes care of my mom like I wish I would have, and that he has compassion for my dad in a way that I can learn. The burden of guilt and grief tied to that paradigmatic image was released.
Who knew that God could use my own imagination to speak to me in such a powerful way? There is hope for me yet! Like Father Stewart said in his closing homily, I know that complete healing will only come when Jesus returns and we are face to face. I yearn for that day. But what good news it is that God is in the business of healing even now. My first Healing Conference was not the detached, cynicism filled experience I had anticipated; it beckoned my participation and drew me into the presence of God, my Savior, my only hope for transformation.