Thursday, March 17, 2016

Avowal of gifts and callings not to be hidden under a bushel

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

Matthew 5:14-16.

God has a strange sense of humor. He says that my light can't--or, possibly, shouldn't--be hidden, and then gives me light to show in ways that either, according to the world around me (including often those around me in the Church), MUST be hidden, or, if shown, are certain to be disbelieved. Still, I cannot hide. I cannot hide from God, like Adam tried to hide, once he came to know evil, sewing fig leaves to cover the way God made him and diving for the nearest shrubs to keep God's eyes from him. If I do try to hide, there are consequences for me, beyond others not seeing the light. As Jesus extended the same metaphor in Luke 8:

16 “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. 17 For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.”

What I am hiding WILL be found out. And I will ultimately lose it, when I am shown for the coward I am. In fact, Jesus takes this same metaphor one step further in Luke 11--if I hide the light he gives me, the light within me will become darkness:

33 “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”

Luke 11:33-36.

Now for God's sense of humor. God has given me gifts and callings which I have kept mostly or wholly hidden because, given the circumstances of my life, doing anything else appeared ridiculous (and also appeared likely to expose me to ridicule or punishment). I have long known that I have a gift of teaching. But, with the exception of a brief and ill-timed stint as a pastor (a gift I definitely lacked at the time), I have confined my exercise of this teaching gift to being a writer of little-read websites, one little-read book circulated in the wrong way, and being an assistant/understudy Sunday school teacher. Given my lack of formal theological teaching credentials (toward which every effort I have heretofore made has been blocked) and the evils of my past (more on this later), any role beyond these has seemed preposterous--my message "would not be accepted"--and quietly resisted by me. I have also, at times, been discouraged by others in authority from seeing myself in any role beyond these.

Next, during a licensing ceremony in 1994, in which a group of independent Pentecostal ministers in Topeka licensed me to the ministry as a (part-time, volunteer) Assistant Pastor at Topeka Faith Center, this assembled body of ordained ministers, while laying their hands on me, prophesied that I had been given a gift of healing, of a very specific kind--I was to have the gift of healing those bound by mental, emotional and spiritual diseases. The entirely ironic thing about this prophecy was that, at the time this gift was prophetically announced, it had been barely a year since the Kansas Supreme Court had agreed with the Kansas Board of Law Examiners that I ought never be admitted to a license as an attorney in Kansas for the precise reason that I had been diagnosed with a mental illness in the past and had been unable to prove that condition "cured." A year after that, at my ordination ceremony, many of those same ministers reaffirmed this gift, which I have never since known how to use! Perhaps my ignorance of how to use the gift resulted from my unwillingness to use it while others in authority thought of me as an uncured, and incurable, nut? Or from pure fear of openly contributing to the healing of others, while I could still be accused of being mentally ill? At any rate, not long after that, I was put in a sink-or-swim situation: my mentor, the Pastor of Topeka Faith Center became terminally ill and resigned, leaving me as Pastor-by-default of a congregation that quickly shrunk away. Instead of swimming, I sank, hampered by my feeling that I could not honestly use my most important gift until I had the approval of others, and could no longer be accused of being ill myself.

But, if I now correctly understand the scriptures I quoted above, my true healing (regardless of what the Bar might say),would have come through using my gift to heal others. The lamp, placed on it stand, gives light to my eyes, too, and, through them, to my whole body.

I went through one later, similarly futile, paroxysm of trying to prove my non-defectiveness to the Bar in 2006. Then I gave up. But while practicing law is not God's ultimate design for me, I should never have given up on my gifts, the ones God gave me. My teaching gift has much more to do than it is now doing. And I've never really used my specialized healing gift, within which lies my own healing. I now publicly repent.

There is also a calling which I have hidden need to make public. I had two majors in undergraduate college: Chemistry and Linguistics. I've made my living by Chemistry. But, ever since an Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship meeting during my sophomore year of college, I've been aware that I had some ministry calling, and that it had something to do with my linguistic ability. In College and Graduate School, I was fluent in Spanish and near-fluent in German, and the Linguistics degree also contained a good deal of language theory. Now, jump forward to my very last year of graduate school, 1984, a year when our lives were falling apart because of that mental illness the State Bar objected to years later. I was a mostly xenophobic American Protestant ultra-conservative at that time. God, with his strange sense of humor, sent alongside us at that time a sister in the Lord, a beautiful Brazilian spiritualist Catholic transfer student, to help us out of our distress. She talked me out of suicide, and stayed in Lawrence for six weeks after she graduated and could have gone home (she actually hated Lawrence!) to help my wife. So, say a quick goodbye to xenophobia, Ian! The last time we saw her, when she came back to visit about a year later, her instructions to me were that I was not to try to repay her for what she had done, but I was "to pass it on." She has since disappeared completely, without a trace.

Three years later, near the end of the Iran-Iraq war, we had an extra room in our house, and the opportunity was presented to us by a friend at church to host a refugee from Iran for nine months. This Iranian lady, who was far too feminist to be safe at home, escaped without her husband--who could not come to this country until about a year and a half later. She also became a good friend. We were later honored to meet her husband, her parents, her sister, and her sister's family. These are all friends. None of them wants to kill us. We would repeat the experience, if we could.

Finally, at an evangelistic meeting in about 2002, the evangelist, who also had outreaches in Peru, asked everyone in the congregation to pray to God, right then, to lay a burden for another country on them. It might have been expected that God would motivate me toward Peru, because that was where the evangelist was going, or Brazil. No, God, with his odd sense of humor, reminded me of a place I am very unlikely to ever go--Iran. Thus started my prayers for Iran, and my study of the Middle East, the Eastern churches, and Islam. It is possible that my calling toward Iran was completely fulfilled when I published the first edition of my book "Our Oneness in Christ," which recognized the history of Christianity in Persia/Iran, when the second edition of that book which covers the same territory more rigorously is completed, or when I led local prayer demonstrations for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini. However, I doubt this is all there is to this calling. Does it somehow involve the refugees who are officially unwelcome in Kansas? Maybe (historically, most of modern Iraq has frequently been governed by Iranian rulers). Does it have something to do with my teaching gift and my atrophied language abilities? Or even the unused healing gift? Maybe.

I have no clear guidance on this yet. But I'm now willing to go, and to do, even if it appears ridiculous. I repent.