Shooting Stars in Christendom

 

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You think it’d be a good thing to be a shooting star. After all, they’re the Maseratis of the sky. The phenomenon that draws your eye as it streaks across an otherwise black canvas. Nobody cares about the boring satellite orbiting overhead, but catch a glimpse of that moving light and you’re treacherously waving your s’more stick with flaming marshmallow in the air and interrupting your friends mid-story.

Shooting stars are special.

My pastor was spot-on this weekend, however, in his definition of shooting stars in Christendom, and exactly why that is the opposite of what we want to be. Why? Because as great as their capacity is to draw attention, as beautiful as they are, there’s still another trait they hold.

Fleeting.

I remember how jarring it was the time my dear friend told me she was rethinking this whole Christianity thing. Sure, there was no lack of people in my life who’d gone in and out of the church doors like a revolving door. I knew plenty who took Christianity about as seriously as a New Year’s Resolution. But this friend? This girl? She was so on fire! How was it possible?

She came to work with a bang the year prior, and her enthusiasm for God made waves across town. It wasn’t long before people were gathering at her apartment, driven to explore this thing called faith. I felt like she’d started a little revival—even in my own weather-worn heart. Sure, she was a bit more emotionally-driven (or was it Spirit led?) than I was used to. Yes, I’d heard of a time she used a “word from God” in a way that was self-serving and out of context from Scripture. But she was only human, and given she’d only become a Christian the year prior—and in the type of way that rivaled the drama of Paul on his missionary journeys—it was nothing less than extraordinary how hearts were revived in her presence.

Eventually she quit, relocating to another state for a healing ministry. And a few months later, she called and dropped the bomb.

While I’ve often prayed for her over the years, I also learned something that day, something I was reminded of when my pastor spoke last Sunday. We all know everybody has different gifts, as 1 Corinthians 12 states. It’s a wonderful thing to be the gal with the smile as wide as Arkansas shaking your hand on Sunday. Likewise, it’s all well and good to be the man with his hands glued to his pockets as Mrs. Big-Grin dances down the aisle beside him. God loves the silent types just as much as the vibrant. But the common thread, what’s oh-so-important about it all, is consistency.

I won’t try to guess what only God knows about my friend (and others), and neither will I pretend there aren’t real hardships that sometimes leave people doubting their faith. But I did learn it is so important to step into the circles of those who sometimes aren’t the most exciting Christians around. To build relationships and glean wisdom from those Christians who’ve been around a few terrifying blocks I haven’t turned yet and still came out with faith like a child. Who are they?

Not necessarily my peers chasing around toddlers, but the ones who’ve lived to see their toddlers grow toddlers.

Not necessarily the books with the mirthful young woman on the cover, but the old man who’s been through wars, and cancer, and still has enough hope in his bones to fold his hands in prayer.

As much fun as it is to see the shooting stars of Christendom fly across the sky—whether on a campus or the front page or on stage—the true test is watching to see if their tail lasts, or if their light fades.

 

To all you seasoned Christians who

share your lives with the younger generation,

many thanks and blessings.

 

Melissa Ferguson

 

P.S. If you’re from the tri-cities and seeking an amazing church home,

you’re going to want to click here!

 

Forsaking Your First Love

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It’s the phrase I’ve returned to over and over the past three months, and—of all places—it comes from the book of Revelation. I don’t hear a lot about Revelation (unless someone’s telling me the world is ending in a few days). But I was stopped as I read a passage in Chapter 2 a few months ago, specifically the admonition Jesus, through John, gave to the church in Ephesus:

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.”

Super, right? If I’m part of the church at Ephesus, I’d be feeling pretty good about myself.

“Yeah, I am working hard,” I’d say. “Thanks for noticing, Jesus. We here have had some intense temptations to quit and give up on you, crawling back to Artemis and the old Jewish temple, especially when people have dragged off our friends. Especially when we have seen our loved ones killed. It’s terrifying, but we have held firm to our faith. Thanks, Jesus, for acknowledging how awesome we are.”

But then Jesus’ words rip the former praises away as if they were of little significance compared to what really mattered:

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.

God Himself. The first love.

“But…Jesus,” my first-century self would reply, aghast. “We are losing work, losing friends, losing our reputations as we look like crazy people following after a poor man who ‘died’ sixty years ago… losing our very lives for you. Isn’t that enough?”

No. Frankly, no.

These Christian Ephesians did so much more than I do, but above all, God wanted loyalty to their first love: Himself.

I’m not one of those people who uses phrases that sound creepily romantic regarding the God-human relationship. I find myself dropping my voice and staring at my shoes when the song plays in church, “And I’m madly in love with you, Jesus…” It’s just…God is God. He’s not a human, and while He loves us, He’s not on par with me.

Like N.T. Wright says when John fell down in Chapter 1, terrified at the sight of Jesus who had eyes like flames of fire, feet like exquisite brass, and looked like the sun in full power:

“For some, Jesus is just a faraway figure of first-century fantasy. For others, including some of today’s enthusiastic Christians, Jesus is the one with whom we can establish a personal relationship of loving intimacy. John would agree with the second of these, but he would warn against imagining that Jesus is therefore a cozy figure, one who merely makes us feel happy inside. To see Jesus as he is would drive us not to snuggle up to him, but to fall at his feet as though we were dead (Revelations for Everyone, p7).”

But sometimes in Scripture, we get glimpses of a God who isn’t just insanely powerful, insanely knowledgeable, insanely bigger than anything we are. Sometimes, like in the Bride-Christ references, we see how God uses intimate wording to emphasize that He really, truly wants an authentic relationship with each of us. A relationship so deep and real—not between a being and a thing, or a being and institution, but a being with another Being—that a marriage metaphor would suit.

“It’s easy to settle down into a vaguely comfortable existence which puts its own

needs first and, sometimes, last as well. The Ephesian church needs to wake up,

to remember how things used to be, to repent and get back on track

(Wright, Revelations, p13).”

And sometimes we do, too.

So yes, stay loyal to the faith. Yes, consider the widow and the orphan and the poor and help them in their needs. Go out and evangelize to your heart’s content.

But above all, don’t forget to do the things that show your love to your first love: God.

 

Pray. Sing. Remember. Listen.

Love.

Blessings,

Melissa Ferguson

 

The Topic Google Missed

google-485611_1920Why is it that I can google the anatomy of a seagull and find 1700 diagrams in .00002 seconds but cannot get a single quality article about some biblical passage I’d like to study deeper? I mean, when a few taps on the computer can pull up twelve videos on how to break into my neighbor’s house, why on earth is decent commentary of the Bible lacking?

The other day I came to a particularly mischievous verse in Revelation and tried to look up background information for more insight. To my amazement all that came up were fluffy, cotton candy articles about how God is good (which, while true, doesn’t justify skirting around the topic) or doomsday posts in red ink and dozens of exclamation points to emphasize how the world, if not by this evening, would most certainly be ending by the election.

Where are the theologians? Where are the scholars who know a thing or two about author, date of writing, background into the culture of the Ancient Near East, language, interpretations throughout church history? Why aren’t they so benevolently sharing these insights that enrich our study of Scripture via the world wide web?

Alas, I suppose until that time comes, I’ll just have to rely on the printed page: the commentary.

And, just in case you either haven’t found a good commentary or are wondering about the real value of one, here are a few suggestions.

First, you might want one of these little treasures if you ever find yourself reading the Bible—like 1 Timothy 2:15—and your thoughts fall down this similar trail:

“Um, it just said women are saved through childbearing… Are women just mules? Does God think that of women? Or maybe Paul was a little bit off here? A bit persuaded by the culture of the day? …  If he was though, does that mean the whole Bible is susceptible to error?  And there is no God? And this was all made up?! Okay, calm down, just turn the page and pretend you didn’t see it.”

The three commentaries below are neither written by scholars who believe Jesus was a myth, existing only in our minds to encourage naughty little humanity to behave, nor by those who want to spend thirty pages talking about the meaning of the word “the” in verse one. They are quality commentaries written by educated Christians dedicating their lives to sharing the profound.

*These are examples for Romans, though each commentary has other books of the Bible available*

 

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1. The New International Commentary on the New Testament

Is this book big? Yes. Could you use it to hold up the wheel of a car? Possibly. But it is one of my personal favorites, particularly given the insights of Dr. Moo. If you are looking for something more academic, more ambitious (after all, why is the word “the” there in verse one?), but also with heart, this is a great choice.

 

 

 

 

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2. The New Testament for Everyone

NT Wright people… former Bishop of Durham and one of the world’s leading Bible scholars. A man with a pastoral tongue and incredibly intelligent mind. This is a great series in everyday language. Note that this series does not include the Old Testament.

 

 

 

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3. The NIV Application Commentary

This commentary focuses less on technical language and more on application to our Christian life. It’s good for Bible studies and wading in to deeper studies without diving all the way and fearing you’ll get drowned in all the academic talk.

 

 

 

 

So, here’s to learning and living out the walk each day!

Melissa Ferguson

That Time Jesus Got Angry

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While there are some folks out there who really do have the misplaced notion that Jesus’ hobbies were limited to holding stuffed lambs and chatting about peace under dim light in honeyed tones, most do recognize that there were gruesome aspects involved. Things like declaring sin was rather a big deal after all, and He had come to conquer it in a way hard to fathom: the way of nails and cross.

But even with so many of us grasping the fact that Jesus was crucified—after all, just about everyone in the United States at least knows what Easter represents—there is still yet another facet about his life and ministry that gets underplayed: his anger.

Oddly enough, the question popped into my head this week as the sun was setting beyond my steering wheel and I drove to our local ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) meeting:

What did Jesus get angry over?

He didn’t flip out when he talked with adulterous women. He didn’t grab the men by the tunic and shake them for inflating tax prices in order to steal from those poorest for their own gain. No, Jesus was revolutionary for the anti-cultural way he managed to love on those most despised and broken while at the same time boldly stating the truth about the Way.

So, what really got His blood boiling? Because, after all, shouldn’t that be the kind of thing I care about too?

                And it struck me in a new way, in that lovely way that the Bible continues to teach despite the thousands of times you’ve read through that story. The biggest time in Scripture Jesus was positively enraged was after entering the temple and seeing money changers and those selling sacrificial animals. Their jobs weren’t the problem, in fact they were perfectly necessary and legitimate occupations. After all, many Jews didn’t have the luxury of a minivan to toss the goat and doves into when they took the long trek to Jerusalem. So, instead, they’d take their coins and buy the sacrificial animals when they got there. But what was the thorn there that caused to Jesus make a whip out of cords, run around flipping over tables, and scare people out of their minds? And why was this story so important that it’s included not just in Matthew, not just in Mark, but in all four gospels?

One clue is when Jesus exclaimed, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Simply put, Jesus went to the temple and found people exploiting the traveling Jews who needed to exchange money and buy animals. They hiked up the prices to profit from things devoted to God. They turned the holiest and most sacred place on Earth into nothing more than an overpriced coffee shop. They used God for their own profit.

As I turned into my group meeting I wondered, what would that be equivalent to today? And the words practically whispered in my ear: using writing (about God) to magnify myself.

It was a startling and scary thought. For while we as Christians should do whatever we do as for the Lord (Colossians 3:23), it is even more essential to make sure all tasks under the umbrella of teaching are focused wholly on God.

Even James states this, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Taking on the task of teaching about God, whether through such tasks as preaching, leading a Bible study, mentoring a friend, or in my case, writing inspirational fiction, is not something to take lightly. Because while it is unfortunately tempting to focus your Olympic-level beach volleyball skills or business career on yourself, using something that is supposed to be all about glorifying God for yourself is another level. Ten lower levels. Something that could make Jesus chase you around the living room with a whip of cords.

So, all that’s to say, this is something I’ll have to constantly remind myself of as I continue the pursuit of writing for God’s glory. As editors send feedback telling me to post more blogs about myself, as I wait for a contract that will bear my name on the bottom, as one day (Lord willing) I publish that book or two and find myself under the huge temptation to take pride in my work (and alternatively, plunge into depths of despair should my work receive bad reviews, get fourth in that contest, etc.), I must be mindful to stop and ask myself, “Wait. Now who is this all for again?”

Blessings,

Melissa Ferguson

 

 

 

A Brave Example

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“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

I don’t need to compare to my own puny, cushy lifestyle in order to elevate the history of Eleazar the scribe. His story is powerful enough, and one that—despite my own Dory-like memory—I have found myself recalling time and time again as I consider what it looks like to be brave.

To be brave for God and others.

People knew who this 90-year-old scribe and teacher was. And when a new Syrian ruler came around and demanded that everyone symbolically curse their Jewish faith by eating pig meat, Eleazar bravely walked up to the rack and spit the meat on the ground in front of everyone. Shaking their heads, those men who were commanded to uphold this new law kindly took the old man aside and, because they knew and cared for him, told him that they would give him fake meat and he could simply pretend.

What a temptation. I can just imagine the rationalizations going through my mind: I am important to the people. I won’t really be breaking the law. I must continue my vital work of serving this lost and needy group. Who knows how long this new king will last anyways? With the way things go, he’ll be killed in the next year and we’ll have a whole new set of laws. And if not, perhaps I’ll start a revolt. But they need me alive to do it.

And yet…

Eleazar says, “Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life, for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. Even if for the present I would avoid the punishments of mortals, yet whether I live or die I shall not escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.” (See 2 Maccabees 6:18-31)

And he did die. And it was a painful, terrible flogging.

But the aftermath? Well, his sacrifice did in fact leave a noble example to others who suffered, and not too long after, a revolt was led against Antiochus Epiphanes where thousands were released from the hold of this cruel king.

What a powerful sacrifice for the honor of God and love of others… akin, it seems, to one innocent man who let himself be tortured and nailed to a wooden beam for us.

“There is no greater love than this: to lay down your life for your friends.”

Said Jesus. Before he laid down his life. John 15:13