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.

Go

The Friday night DVD over, Tween got ready for bed while Guy channel surfed. He landed on a food show just as they began a profile on a restaurant in the town where we attended college.

The owner couple looked round-about our age, like ordinary, friendly people with whom we – and you – would like to spend time. They smiled. They have four tween-teen aged sons. They are passionate about their shared enterprise. And not so long ago, their restaurant went belly-up and their family home along with it; this restaurant is their second chance.

Astounded, the show host asked, “What happened?”

Their church helped them out. The church had recently come into “…a big ranch with six bedrooms that was offered to us along with a job as the janitor at the church.”

The family thought their dream was over, but they had shelter and employment. And then someone offered to carry the note on a new restaurant.

Guy and I exchanged a look. We knew that church.

The church we attended throughout most of our college years and beyond didn’t own a building. They rented, and kept enough money in the bank to cover three months’ expenses. They gave away any above-and-beyond money to mission partners and trusted God to provide. It certainly wasn’t a perfect community, but it strived to be a community faithful to God and its witness to the world.

I googled the family and church names and found the (abridged) story in the local paper. Our premonition was correct: we recognized our former church by their actions alone.

I’m so grateful that God gave Guy and me the gift of that church during formational years in our lives. I’m grateful we learned the value of community, that we saw a church attempting to be different in the world, even different within church culture, in order to authentically be the church – the people – God called them to be. I am grateful for their continued health and witness to God’s gracious love.

I’m not saying that every person or family who lost a job or home while attending that church would be automatically granted new digs. I am saying that some did, that as God provided for the church the church was able to provide for others. God provided for the church, which provided for this family, who told their story to those who would listen.

Blessed to be a blessing.

I used to think the task of “Go” was given to others, not to me. I’m not an easy evangelist, or I didn’t think I was. I can’t sidle up next to someone I’ve never met and pray with them by the end of our encounter. No way, Jose! And I was beyond-a-doubt convinced that the missionary aspect of “Go” was for others, not me. I can pray, I can give, but I don’t have gifts of service to share. I’ve tried, and felt like a failure, so no thanks.

I was wrong.

God calls each one of us to be His witnesses, to tell the story He’s writing in our lives. We all have a story, lots of them actually, and in the right light so many of them will reveal His fingerprints.

If I can talk about my favorite brand of hummus (Trader Joe’s Mediterranean Hummus, FYI) or a restaurant I’d recommend or that funny comment Tween made just last night, I can also talk about that cool way Jesus showed up in my day. I get it’s not quite the same, except it’s also not all that different.

Oh, and God corralled me into what would become a life-changing mission trip to the Dominican Republic a few years ago. I dreaded the experience, had the best week ever, and came home asking God, “What’s next?” If He can do it for me, He can do it for anyone.

For some, “Go” may seem scary. But if you’re truly convinced you’ve got the best of something, you want to share it. When you count your blessings, when you grab hold of the adventure of life with Jesus, you want to share the goodness with others.

Let’s be convinced of God’s “unfathomable riches” (Eph. 3:8) and let’s go share them with those who will listen.

Connect
How do you introduce yourself when you meet someone new (i.e., what do you most want people to know)?

Study
Read Ephesians 3:1-12.
In this passage, how does Paul talk about himself and his task, and what might that tell us about our call as Christ’s followers?
What is “the mystery” (vv. 3-6; see also Eph. 1:9-10 and 2:12-13)?
How do each of the three terms for Gentiles – “heirs,” “members” and “sharers” – further paint the picture of the mystery of the gospel (v. 6)?
What is God’s intent for the church (v. 10)?

Live
What might it mean in your life that God is both the One who reveals and the One who is revealed?
For the Ephesians, the inclusion of Gentiles along with the Jews in God’s family was an impossible “mystery” they needed God to reveal to them. Discuss contemporary issues that render the gospel mysterious to those who haven’t yet come to Christ.
How can the unity and diversity of the Church witness to the world the good news of Jesus Christ?
How has the gospel of Christ changed your life? How might God want to work through you to share the gospel with others?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use you to share “the manifold wisdom of God” with the world.