Re:Create • Sanctified Imagination

Pictures of cute kittens and babies aside, one of the more useful benefits of social media is connecting with people you haven’t seen in a while. That’s exactly what happened when, a few years ago, I got a message from a friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. He had stumbled across our church website, then found my picture, and reached out. Since then I have been grateful to be back in touch, especially through his posts on Facebook and his blog. Quite a thoughtful writer, I am thrilled to have him share on the blog today. We would all do well to consider how the people in our lives shape the stories we read, tell, and live.

re:create recess #2: Randy Ehle

Re:Create
One of the greatest truths of our humanity is that we are created in God’s image. And being created in the image of the Creator God—the creative God—means we, too, are creative. Creation came into being when God spoke. He has revealed himself for all history through his Word, written. His redeeming Son, Jesus, is called The Word. And so my image-of-God creativity is expressed in words.

Re:New
I grew up in the church, so I knew all the stories, all the books, all the characters. I knew about daring to be a Daniel and being patient like Job (though frankly, Job never seemed all that patient to me once I really read him). I knew the twelve disciples and most of the twelve sons of Jacob. I knew Moses and Joseph, David and Jonathan, Samson and Delilah. I’m sure I had the full set of Little Golden Books, including Jonah’s whale and Jericho’s tumbling walls.

But by the time I’d become a pastor, the stories had become merely that: stories. Even with more translations at my fingertips than Legion’s demons, I could scarcely read my Bible without already knowing what comes next. Familiarity had bred, if not contempt, at least complacency. Then I met Carolyn.

Carolyn volunteered in our church office. Warm, chatty, deeply caring, and ever wanting to learn more about Jesus, Carolyn and I had long conversations about life, the Bible, and whether the God of the Old Testament changed in the New. I learned as much from Carolyn’s questions as she did from any of my seminary-trained insights. I also learned something about disabilities. You see, Carolyn had been in a wheelchair for a quarter century, the result of a freak accident in which her mail jeep overturned, pinning her under a mound of first-class letters, junk mail, and packages.

Carolyn's baptism in the American River

Carolyn’s baptism in the American River

As I got to know Carolyn, I also met anew some men and women I’d been reading about since childhood: the blind men, lepers, and paralytics whose lives intersected with, and were changed by, Jesus. As I heard more of Carolyn’s story—not just the accident, but everyday life with a lower spine injury—I began to wonder about the lives of those biblical men and women.

Re:Write
Though I’ve enjoyed writing since my school days, for most of my life I wrote only for myself. Even when I began writing a blog, I did little to solicit readers. Writing was an outlet for the thoughts and ideas circulating in my head, but I never felt I had much to add to the world’s conversations. Any conversation. Meeting Carolyn began to change that, and led me to think about another paralytic:

His friends created the world’s first skylight, lowered his bed through the hole, and hoped beyond hope they wouldn’t have to lift him out the same way. Waving the swirling dust away from his face, the itinerant healer in the room below spoke … not words of healing, but of conviction!

“Your sins are forgiven.”

We who are familiar readers of the text barely skip a beat here. We rush right on by, scarcely noticing the crowd’s incredulity. We want to get to the good stuff, the miracles, the healing. We know what comes next and love to watch Jesus stick it to the self-righteous religious folks … who, of course, are not we. Because of Carolyn, I read the words with new eyes; like a blind man given new sight, I began to see beyond the words on the page.

The over-crowded room had only packed tighter with the invasion of the horizontal alien from above. The dust and dirt of the impromptu renovation choked throats while the brief cooling from the escaping air was replaced with the heat of the noonday sun now streaming onto their heads.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

What?!? What in the world does that mean?

Neither the hushed crowd nor the prone man could believe what they’d heard. They were equally incredulous, but for vastly different reasons: the crowd, because of the healer’s audacity to think he had the right to forgive sins; the paralytic, because of the audacity to think he—crippled as he was—had even the slightest capacity to sin.

If we were filming in 21st century style, we might pause the action here and focus the camera on the man’s reclined face. He would speak an aside, directly to the audience, revealing his inner thoughts and feelings. Having no such cinematic tools at our disposal, however, we are left to our imaginations – our sanctified imaginations. It’s a term my mom uses often to encourage deep, extra-biblical thinking about feelings, thoughts, and actions the Bible doesn’t tell us. And so I write—or rather, rewrite—from that sanctified imagination.

In recounting the story of the paralytic, the gospel writers are concerned with Jesus’ divine authority. Saying “your sins are forgiven” is easy and shows no visible effect; but causing a known cripple to walk is no cheap trick. In fact, the evangelists tell us, this is more about confirming Jesus’ authority to forgive than about demonstrating mercy.

There’s more to the story; more to the story that’s written, and more to the story that’s not written. Maybe my re:creation—my sanctified imagination—will open others’ eyes to the Creator. Maybe my words will open others’ ears to the Word whose Word is Life. Maybe I have something to add to the conversation, after all.

rehle-bio

 

Randy Ehle is a husband and father, coach and teacher, writer and speaker. He was—and longs again to be—a pastor. He’s lived in Canada, Germany, England, and throughout the United States; and has traveled on four of the seven continents. A self-described “rushed contemplative,” Randy has known life and death, gain and loss, wisdom and foolishness. He uses writing as a creative outlet, spiritual inspiration, and personal challenge for his readers. Find more of Randy’s thoughts at www.randehle.com.

Create Challenge Top 10

never-stop-creatingDuring 2016 I invited people I admire for a host of reasons to guest post on Miracles in the Mundane. The topic: creativity. Wednesday became one of my favorite days of the week for having the opportunity to share their stories of creativity, expressed in as many ways as individuals: writing, painting, poetry, business, and relationships. Through their posts they inspired me to live more creatively and more authentically.

Here are the Top 10 posts based on numbers of readers–which really means, not only are these great posts, but also that these folks encouraged the people in their lives to hop on over to read their contribution. You may have missed some, so here they are again!

Creating forgiveness: “Just one time.” by Karyn Bergen.

Creating a safe place for the creatives: Unicorns & Rainbows by A.J. Brown.

Creating colorful waves of art: Daydream Painter by Matt “Cheeks” Hoag

Creating space to hear God through the creative process: To Unite Creativity to Communion with God by Danielle Humphreys

Creating courage in others: Create Hope by Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch

Creating peace for his inner child artist: The (Wounded) Artist by Paul Quinlivan

Creating hope in Haiti: Empowered for Creative Investment by Scott Sabin

Creating a welcoming table: The Table by Cari Jenkins

Creating an openness to God’s plan in painful circumstances: Creating Trust by Sarah Johnson

Creating a fulfilling and thriving new business: Leap of Faith by Shirley DeFrancisci

How about you? How do you create? What do you create? And why?

 

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“Just one time.”

At its center, every creative act requires vulnerability. And I am flat-out-on-the-floor humbled that today’s guest post writer allowed this simple blog and the invitation to express her creativity to become the vehicle to share a story so vulnerable, so powerful, so raw and real. She says, “God has been prompting me to write my story in some capacity for years, and I’ve never had the courage to do it before. If someone can be reached, changed, moved to obey and, God willing, to forgive, then my sharing will be worth it.” Friends, I pray you will read this story with sensitivity, and that you will be en-Couraged to forgive, to say YES to God in the hardest parts of life’s darkness, allowing Him to turn them to light.

Create Challenge #13: Karyn Bergenpage-banner-help-topic-forgiveness

The story I am about to share with you is a story of how I forgave someone when they weren’t asking for forgiveness. Sit with that for a second. Ponder what it would be like to truly forgive someone who doesn’t think what they did was wrong. How does a person get to the point of forgiving another when the forgiveness isn’t being sought after? The answer to that question in one word is obedience.

My purpose in sharing my story is so I can reveal to you what was created through my obedience To God’s prompting.

As a child I was sexually abused. The “by whom” doesn’t matter other than for you to understand that this isn’t a person I could rid from my life with ease. He was and still is intertwined whether I liked it or not. The abuse went on from the time I was about 5 or 6 years old to 12 years old. It was ongoing and consistent. It was normal until the day I figured out that it wasn’t everyone’s normal. That was the day it stopped. That was the day I never spoke of or thought of it again until I was a freshman in college.

To this day, as a 43-year-old woman, when I allow myself to look back it is often those memories that come to the forefront of my mind first. The abuse is ingrained in me. I live with the memories of it. Over the top of the memories, like an umbrella shielding me from a heavy rainstorm, is the knowledge that Christ is with me and if I remain obedient to Him He will lead me through my days.

When I was 34 years old I confronted my abuser. It was the first time we had ever spoken of what happened. I had convinced myself that a similar type of abuse must have happened to him otherwise why would he have done it to me? I was desperate for justification, I suppose. I needed to find a reason so it would make some sense.

It turned out that he hadn’t suffered as I had. It also turned out that he “didn’t think it was that big of a deal.” I marched on with the knowledge that he simply chose to abuse me and felt no remorse. To me, that was the worst case scenario of a truly horrible situation.

Fast forward. I was now nearly 40 years old. I received a text message from my abuser. He said he was suffering from residual effects of too many years of alcohol and drug abuse.

“Could you take me to the doctor because I don’t think I can drive myself?”

Here I was being asked to help the person who did nothing but hurt me. Why am I being put in this situation? As the text progressed into a phone conversation, I heard God whisper to me, “Just one time. Help him just one time.” The whisper was so gentle, yet so clear. It was a whisper I had heard a handful of other times in my life and had never regretted being obedient to the direction. I heard myself say to my abuser, “Yes, I will help. One time.”

I arrived to a gravely ill person who had been consuming nothing but handle-sized bottles of vodka for three weeks straight. His whites of his eyes and his skin were yellow. His apartment was unmentionable. I felt badly for him. His choices had led him to such darkness. My choice at this point, in this situation, was to remain obedient “just one time.”

My choice to remain obedient to God’s prompting led me to a place where I saw a broken person rather than my abuser. He could no longer hurt me. In fact, this time, I was in charge. This time, I was calling the shots. In all honesty, my abuser is darn lucky God was with me. I am human after all and I commit sins and act upon my free will. If it had been up to me I wouldn’t have helped him….not once, not ever. I point this out so you fully understand that what was created was not from me.

I chose to remain obedient “just one time” and as a result of that choice, I saw a person who wasn’t scary anymore. My heart broke open for him. My heart wished for good things to happen in his life. My heart felt towards him as I would anyone else who I held close and, dare I say, love. I was in awe of the healing that God brought to me as a result of the obedience. I forgave an atrocity when forgiveness wasn’t being sought after. I was freed from the confines of my own thoughts and memories.

To this very day, the forgiveness remains. He is no longer my abuser. He is a person whom I can say I care very much about. He is someone we see from time to time….not too often and never will my children be alone with him. However, the decision to protect my children isn’t fueled by resentment and fear. It’s simply smart parenting. Through obedience, forgiveness was created. God breathed. God’s will. My healing.

2 Corinthians 10:5
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Matthew 6:14
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Karyn also recommends this song:

 

KBergen

Karyn is a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, and believer in Jesus Christ. She resides in Alamo, California, with her husband and three kids. After many years spent as a stay-at-home-mom, Karyn now works as a teacher’s aid and substitute teacher at her children’s school, Alamo Elementary. She’s an avid runner who feels closest to God when her feet are hitting the pavement.

Thankful (Maundy) Thursday

Maundy Thursday. Also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries (loving this last one – because isn’t God’s love SUCH a mystery?).

Maundy Thursday is the day on which we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with His disciples before He was betrayed (later that night), crucified (Good Friday), and resurrected (Easter).Da_Vinci__the_Last_Supper

The word maundy comes from the Latin, mandatum, which means command. As in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Oy, love can be hard!

Sometimes, it feels like too much. Too much to ask.

I’m wrestling with God this Maundy Thursday. Someone has hurt one of my cubs and this Mama Bear wants to take them down. (In my honor, please read that with a deep, booming, fantastic God-like voice: your favorite Batman, or Morgan Freeman, even Arnold in Terminator…)

How to respond graciously when I don’t want to? Sure, decorum works most effectively, but I want to kill with kindness. Really, I want the kill. Sigh…

I know what today is: a solemn day, an important day for Christ-followers. My One Year Bible doesn’t know that this particular calendar year has landed MT for March 24th. So I sit down with my Bible, knowing I need a heavy dose of God right now, and read this:forgive

Am I willing to listen? The command isn’t just to love, but to love my enemies! Loving my guys is easy. But to love, do good, bless, and pray for my hateful, hurtful, cursing enemies…YIKES!

Therein lies the rub. The true command of John 13:34 is to love like Jesus loved. How did Jesus love? He didn’t say a word in His own defense. He sacrificed His life. He loved with such a costly love that He gave everything He had. And because He loved us SO much, He died to save every single one of His undeserving, unloving, hateful, hurting, cursing enemies who would recognize their own sin and say YES! to His overflowing love.

Jesus said yes to me before I could even attempt to deserve His love (not that I ever could, try as I might). And now it’s my job, as His follower, to say a loving yes to others who don’t deserve it.

I don’t want to. And I still do need to seek justice for my hurting cub. Love doesn’t negate consequences. But God’s love calls me to a standard I can’t, won’t, achieve on my own.

So I ask for God’s love to fill me. To forgive my sins as I forgive those who sin against me (and my cub). I ask God for the willingness to listen, to love, to forgive, to do good, to bless, and to pray – even when that’s the last thing I want to do.

Because, I’m pretty sure, Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross, and yet He prayed: “…not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

One of my favorite poets, George Herbert, writes of this mystery:

I threaten’d to observe the strict decree
    Of my dear God with all my power and might;
    But I was told by one it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
“Then will I trust,” said I, “in Him alone.”
    “Nay, e’en to trust in Him was also His:
    We must confess that nothing is our own.”
“Then I confess that He my succour is.”
“But to have nought is ours, not to confess
    That we have nought.” I stood amaz’d at this,
    Much troubled, till I heard a friend express
That all things were more ours by being His;
    What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
    Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

 

It’s not up to us. Every inclination we have to do good, to trust God, it all comes from Him. We are His, and thank God for Him who leads us to trust our Christ, who cannot fail or fall, who keeps it all, our Hold-Fast.

 

Let it Be

Last week God gave me a miracle of closure.

Almost a year ago, a long-time friendly acquaintance, a would-be friend had we shared greater proximity in the time we’ve known one another, well, she threw me under the bus.

She observed and entirely misunderstood an encounter I had with someone else. Instead of talking to me, she spoke poorly of me to others. Word got back to me, and I got back to her.

Because I’m better in writing, I wrote her a note and took the high road for the sake of the relationship. I didn’t attempt to explain, simply stated that I thought there had been a misunderstanding. I apologized, even asked for forgiveness, for having unintentionally offended her. I expressed gratitude for our relationship. I never heard back from her.

Which meant that every time I saw her I felt injured and sad. Stung. Rejected.

But I also felt like I’d done what I’d needed to, and the rest was on her. Best I could, I had to let it be.

Last weekend Guy and I attended a local art and wine festival. As we sipped cold beer in the shade, hiding from the blistering sun while we listened to an exceptionally good Beatles cover band, quite suddenly SHE was standing directly in front of me. She was laughing and hugging us both. She introduced us to her husband. She gave us the whole run-down on how she’s doing, how her kids are doing, kids I’ve prayed for, kids who have moved from early adolescence through college graduation in the time I’ve known her.

As if nothing had ever happened. She was exactly the same friendly, happy acquaintance I’ve always known.

We parted ways and eventually found a quiet table. Stunned, I reminded Guy of the situation a year ago; he never knew who the other player had been. She has a job now and can no longer attend our regular gathering. Barring any more spontaneous God-encounters, that may possibly have been the last time I’ll see her.

The band’s song broke through my reflections: “Let it Be.”

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Of course Mary’s situation couldn’t be more different, but her words of wisdom ring true just the same: Let it be. Whatever God intends, let it be. God noticed this one small ache in my heart and orchestrated closure. He asked me to forgive, and when I still couldn’t forget, He brought joy. Let it be.

Those words have stuck with me this week as Tween has caught us up in another cyclone of abdominal migraines. They warned us it could get worse and the variation in this cycle, the night-time vomiting, the not-enough-warning make-a-mess vomiting, yup, they’re worse.

sick QNot to mention the middle school homework piling up. And the silence from his teachers, despite our request for class notes and extra directions necessary to understand the assignments.

The specialist has ordered more tests, and referred us to another doctor who will likely order more tests. Meanwhile, the anti-nausea meds continue to be ineffective.

Panic threatens to drown me, and so I whisper words of wisdom: Let it be.

We didn’t ask for this. We don’t know what causes it or how to stop it. We simply take each hour, each episode, as it comes. Really, what choice do we have?

God cares about the little things, and so I trust that He cares even more about the big things. Keeping life in perspective, there are Much Bigger Things than a week of vomiting. But for now this is our Big Thing, and I will trust that God cares.

Let it be. And as I was reminded again yesterday, let me be still and know that He is God. He will be exalted among the nations. He will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10).

He’s got the nations. He created and sustains the whole earth. He’s certainly got us. Amen.

Releasing Our Guilt: Confession

Imagine the scene: a little girl, about four years old, wispy white-blond curls hanging to her shoulders, plays in her mother’s room while Mom takes a shower. She wanders over to the nightstand and gently slides open the drawer. Inside she spies her mother’s jewelry. Entranced, she picks up an earring, gold inset with a pearl. But in her clumsy fingers, and to her dismay, the stone falls out of its setting. What can she do with this now-broken treasure? She quickly shuts the drawer and tucks the earring and pearl under the edge of the long white curtains hanging just behind the nightstand. With the evidence out of site, Mom will never know that the child had anything to do with the earring.

Except… The guilty child returns to check on the broken bit of beauty. She tucks back the curtain, and a large black spider lurks in the earring’s place. Horrified, the girl drops the curtain, certain that the spider is a magical omen of judgment for her wrongdoing…

house-spiders-13

Interesting which childhood memories linger into adulthood, isn’t it? I can still feel the gasp in my throat, the thudding of my heart, the terror shaking my limbs. And yet I don’t remember what came next. I think I must have confessed to my mom, as I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to bear that guilt interminably.

Not long ago, Tween asked if we could talk about something, his tone making it clear that he had something serious on his mind. His friend had entrusted him with a secret, yet while he was working on a school project with another friend, he accidentally blurted out the secret. Tween felt terrible, sure that his friend would feel betrayed and unable to trust him ever again. He asked what he should do.

What should we do when we’ve hurt someone, even if they don’t know about it (yet)? Confess.

What do we want to do about it? Hide the evidence until we’re caught, and then blame someone else. At least make excuses.

Confession is hard. It’s so much nicer to avoid those deep, dark explorations of our hearts and minds, to pretend we’ve got it all together, to deny any and all wrongdoing.

Tween took the high road. He confessed that he had not kept the secret. And fortunately, his friend forgave him. In the end, both boys came out winners: Tween released his guilt and will be more careful in the future not to betray confidence; but their friendship itself is stronger as they trusted each other with truth and grace. They now understand their friendship as a safe place, where neither has to be perfect and both can be forgiven.

Confessing our sins before God is hard enough, but confessing to another human being is a different story altogether. We risk rejection and condemnation. Why even bother when the Bible is crystal clear that God forgives us when we confess (1 John 1:9)?

A dear friend taught me the value of confession. She had participated in an intensive discipleship training program where they took seriously traditions of the church that many in Protestant circles have ignored. One evening as she had dinner with Guy and I she suddenly blurted out: “Can I confess something to you both?”

I don’t think I had ever heard those words spoken aloud before. And certainly not about something that had nothing whatsoever to do with us. She hadn’t done anything to offend us, no lie or broken trust. Rather, she had already confessed to God but still needed to hear the words of absolution spoken aloud: “God has heard your confession and you are forgiven.” Just like sometimes we need to feel human arms embracing us in order to experienced God’s love, she needed trustworthy people to play a priestly role.

You know what? While I remember that she confessed, I don’t remember the details of her confession. It reminds me of this beautiful passage from Psalm 103:

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
10 He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
12 He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.

With confession comes freedom. And a bonus: her confession changed the quality of our friendship as I never have to fear that she will withhold forgiveness. In fact, I trust her like few other people in my life. Those who recognize their own need for grace are far more likely to extend grace to others.

No one is perfect. We all blow it and need forgiveness. We are sinners in desperate need of a Savior. Through the cross of Christ, God stands ready to forgive our confessed sins. May we also be a people who freely give the grace to which He has called us.

Connect
Reflect on a childhood experience when you did something wrong. How did you feel before and after you either got caught or told someone what you did?

Study
Read aloud James 5:14-20.
How do you understand the connection in this passage between sickness and sin?Explain the roles of the sinner, God, other believers, and prayer in the discipline of confession.
Read James 4:7-10, a picture of repentance.
How is repentance related to confession?
Sometimes we want to excuse sin rather than confess it. What steps of confession do you see in this passage?

Live
Reflect on this quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy… He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone.”
How can confession help you see differently yourself and God’s work of salvation through Christ?
What stands in the way of more Christians practicing confession?
How might a discipline of confession affect your future behavior?
When have you practiced confession? Describe the experience.
What can you do to foster a grace-filled community in which people feel safe to confess their sins to one another?
Which Faith Training Exercises have you tried recently? Share joys and struggles.
Which exercises might God call you to this week, and why?

Pray
Pray that the Holy Spirit will help you freely live the reality of Christ’s forgiveness for your sins.