Welcome!

So much of life is waiting. . .

As a Christian, I am waiting for a lot--for God to do His refining work in me, for Jesus to return, for me to GET how much God loves me and for me to see what He is doing . . .

What to do in the meantime? I have learned much about what the Lord is trying to teach me, tell me and show me through the discipline of daily time spent reading the Bible. So often we make this time harder than it has to be.

This blog was born out of wanting to share what God is showing me and wanting to be an example that daily time with God is not a deep or mysterious thing (well, every once in a while it can be), but simply a time to read scripture and note what jumps out at you that day. We don't have to be scholars or super-holy or ministry leaders to do this. Some days I hit the jackpot and others I come up empty--but only by persevering do I give God the space in which to speak and myself the stillness in which to hear and obey.

As of June of 2017, I've now decided to include parts of our adoption journey, which is, so far, yet another chapter of waiting.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Contentment or Persistence?

Two posts in one month?? Hold on to your hats!

Much of the Christian life is a paradox. We hear how we are supposed to lay down our life in order to keep it (Luke 17:33), how giving leads to plenty (2 Corinthians 9:6), and how the foolish things of this world are chosen to shame the wise(1 Corinthians 1:27). I have also heard a lot about the benefit of contentment, the two main verses cited being 1 Timothy 6:6: "But godliness with contentment is great gain" (In context, it is an admonishment not to love money or seek riches) and Philippians 4:11-13:
 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
My current question/struggle/wondering is this: What is the balance of being content and in seeking purposefully after what we want? The Bible contains example after example of people who came to the Lord seeking desperately for something they wanted: Hannah wanted a baby (1 Samuel 1), cried out to the Lord while weeping bitterly, and got one (actually, in the end she had six children). Could not someone have told Hannah to be content with her husband and stop longing for children?

Time after time in the New Testament, people come to Jesus to heal them or someone they love. The woman who had bled for twelve years and who fought through a crowd simply to touch Jesus' robe (Luke 8:43-48) wasn't content to stay in her house alone and accept her fate, and she was healed. Two blind beggars wait for Jesus at the side of the road and yell out for Him until He comes, even after the crowd tries to make them stop (Matthew 20:29-34). They do not seem very content with their lot, and they received their sight. The Canaanite woman nags Jesus about her demon-possessed daughter and won't accept "No" even when Jesus initially doesn't promise her help(Matthew 15:21-28). She ends up with a healthy daughter.

Luke 18: 1-8 is the account of the persistent widow. The Bible says about this that: ". . . he[Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart." (Luke 18:1) The parable conveys the idea that we need to keep on praying for what we want. The rest of the account does say that what the Lord will give us is justice (Luke 18:7) and not just anything we want, so I have to keep that in mind when I think about that example. 

Matthew 7:7-11 tells us to ask for what we want, for "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:11) In Luke 11:5-13, Jesus expounds on that story, and tells how a man will give a friend bread because of his "impudence" in asking. 

So, which is it? Be content or seek God to change something in your life? Can we do both? Does it depend on what it is?

No surprise to anyone who knows me or who reads this irregular blog regularly, but I am specifically thinking of this question in relationship to singleness (or any desire we have that is not a promise from God). There are many people who give the well-meaning advice of "Just come to a place of contentment. This happened to me (or my friend, or my sister, or my third cousin-once-removed) and THEN God brought me a mate." Yay for you, and there is some truth to that, but Hannah wasn't content in her childlessness and then God just suddenly sent a baby. She was weeping loudly enough that the priest thought she was drunk, and praying HARD for that child.

We are not to have idols, and any unmet desire can easily become an idol, especially when it is a good thing (marriage, a baby, health, security, even someone's salvation). I believe that God's desire is that we would seek Him above what we want. Yet, would the bleeding woman or the blind men or Hannah have come to the Lord without wanting something? They weren't there just to praise God. They were there to fix the problem, to meet the desire, to get what they wanted. 

I wonder how that made Jesus feel? Happy that they did come, sad because it was only to get what they wanted? Or happy because the trial did what it was supposed to and drew them to Him? I was going to say that there are no examples of people coming to Jesus who didn't get healed/rewarded, but there are. The rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23) walked away. Pilate refused to really find out who Truth was (John 18:33-38) and washed his hands of it all.  

Obviously, many pray persistently for healing and do not receive it on this earth. People pray for children and never conceive. Others pray for spouses and the answer is "No." How do those of us in these situations--any of us who are going to Jesus to seek healing or the fulfillment of godly desires--balance contentment with persistence? Jesus was denied relief from crucifixion. Yet He did go to God seeking it.

If I know myself at all, I know that I am probably wanting a formula when I just need to be seeking Jesus. I do think there is not an easy answer, and I promise never to tell anyone that they just need to be "content" and then God will do whatever it is that they want, because I don't see that in Scripture (and if your heart is anywhere as devious as mine, you also know that you are trying to achieve contentment to gain the goal which. . . not what God has in mind, I'm pretty sure).

My comfort, as we begin the season of advent, is this:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
Immanuel means "God with us" and to have God with me, even though my greedy heart fights for more, is all I really need.

I may never figure out this balance. I come to Jesus all the time with my sinful, mixed-up desires and motives. I will never love like He does. In my own strength I can't seek Him wholeheartedly. Yet the miracle of Christmas and Easter is that God did the seeking and finding for me, and made the way for my sinful self to come before His perfect throne.  This fact is the only paradox that really matters.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

It's All Fun and Games til Someone Loses an Ear. . .

One of my favorite things is when I hear a message that God uses to show me something new. Last Sunday, at The Summit, Clayton Pruett spoke about John 18. Jesus is in the garden with his disciples when Judas comes with a band of soldiers, Pharisees, and priest's officers to betray Jesus. Verse 10 tells how Peter took his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest's servant.

Peter is my favorite disciple, because I relate so much to him. He is impulsive and impatient and often doesn't understand what the Lord is doing (to give him credit, though, he is the only person besides Jesus who ever walked on water). What was Peter thinking here? There were probably over 200 men present, the majority of them highly trained Roman soldiers. Injuring one man, or even (had his aim been better) killing one would not have changed the situation. In fact, Jesus had already strongly rebuked Peter for not understanding (or agreeing with) God's plan of redemption: 
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. (Matthew 16:21-23)
Peter was, to use words from Sunday's message, trying to "save Jesus." Maybe Peter thought he could fix the situation. Maybe he was just afraid. The sermon point I have been thinking about since last Sunday is that we all have the tendency to use metaphorical swords to fix the things in our life that we don't like. When we are unhappy or hurting or uncomfortable or scared, we use our swords of control or gratification or manipulation to try to remedy the problem.

Sometimes we do this when we don't feel that God is giving us clear directions. However, Peter was standing right next to Jesus. Why didn't he ask Jesus what to do? "Hey, Lord, should I just use this sword and fight for you?" Peter decided he knew what to do and just did it.

As a believer, Jesus is always right next to me. I have the Bible for clear direction. I can pray any time. Yet I also often don't go to God first and ask what to do. Instead, I let my emotions and impatience control my actions and start waving my swords around trying to change the circumstances. Which leads, as with Peter, to people getting hurt and me receiving conviction: "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?" (John 18:11)

This week I have been challenged to put my sword away and seek the Lord's wisdom rather than start hacking away at what (or whom) ever is in front of me.

If you would like to listen to this message, you can hear it here:
God Who Reconciles, Part 13

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fueling the Fire

Been quiet here for a while. Quiet, but good. I'm starting to plug into a new church, starting to feel more a part of a faith community, starting to feel less like I'm wandering around on the periphery of things. Feeling the nudges of the Holy Spirit, and finally, FINALLY (in the chronological journey of the reading through the Bible in a year) reading in the New Testament (happy dance).

In the past few days I've been thinking about passion. I used to be very frustrated that I didn't have a passion (that I could figure out) for anything. It seemed very important to find something to be passionate about. Where did that idea come from? I'm not sure. It seems romantic to have a passion. It seems purposeful. At the time, it seemed stressful to NOT have a passion. Deficient somehow. It was one of the things that I worried about and used to judge myself. Was I passionate enough about God? Had He given me some passion for His purpose, and what was it, and would I miss it, and could I mess it up?

Then I guess I just got caught up in living my life and sort of forgot about having a passion. Recently, a friend brought up the whole idea of passion again, causing me to think, again, about whether I had anything now that inspires passion in me. In doing that, I had to think about what it means to me to have passion. For me, it means that I am very excited about something and want to share that excitement with others. It means that I think this "thing" I'm passionate about is very important and surely YOU think it's important too, or you will once I explain it all to you.

So, what are my passions? Sharing what God shows me (thus this blog), women's Bible studies (there's a special kind of magic that happens there), the truth (not what we think is true or want to be true, but what IS true), and understanding and combating poverty (my vehicle of choice is Compassion International). Those things excite me, they motivate me, I get energized when I participate in them, and I want other people to see what it is that is so exciting.

As I continued thinking about this, I realized that a huge, maybe key, part of passion is that we have to feed it. I have been involved with Compassion International for so long that I don't even remember when I started. 1994 sticks out in my mind, but. . . I honestly don't know. I have sponsored children for years. About five years ago I became a volunteer advocate, working at concerts and events and speaking at Compassion Sundays to try and get more kids sponsored. I traveled to Ethiopia in 2010 with Compassion. However, through these many years, my feelings of passion wax and wane. I pay my sponsorships each month and I faithfully (sometimes more often than others) write letters. But my excitement comes and goes. Yesterday, as I was reading two different magazines that Compassion sends out, and as I got a letter from the college student I sponsor, I started feeling excited again, and thinking about how I could spread the news about Compassion more, and participate more in the fight against poverty.

I believe that we can think we have no passion because we aren't investing or engaging with anything to stir up the feelings of passion. It parallels my Christian walk so well--when I am feeling passionless about the Lord, I need to first realize that the feeling of "passion" is nowhere in the Bible as a sign of true discipleship. It's great to feel the emotions of being loved by God, and loving Him, but the reality of my salvation remains with or without the euphoria. When I take the time to invest and engage in the Biblical disciplines of reading the Bible and praying, which are just ways to get me to slow down and spend time with God, I will often find my emotion returning.

I think I once was waiting for the passion to come in order to know what to do next, rather than just doing something and seeing if it led to passion. Sometimes we need to feed our passions (the good, productive ones) and pursue them, just as we need to feed our relationship with the Lord and pursue Him, because the engagement and involvement will grow the passion. I do think that each of us has a God-given passion about something, and that when we pursue it, we will be glorifying God in some way. It's not necessarily a "Christian" thing. It could be art, or soccer, or cooking, or. . . anything:
 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)
In The Message paraphrase:
Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?

I'm a teacher who works with small children. I would be rich if I had a nickel for all the times over the past twenty years that I have said, "Pay attention. Are you listening? What did I say? I just said that. Look at me. Turn your listening ears on. I don't want to have to say this again." And on, and on.

I've been a Christian longer than I have been a teacher. I would probably also be rich if I had a nickel for all the times that God has been speaking to me and I have missed it or ignored it or not recognized that it was Him doing the talking.

The past several months have been difficult ones for me. I left a church family of eighteen years in obedience to what I still believe was the direct leading of the Holy Spirit. In my economy, obedience in a hard thing should lead to big reward (again, like my students: "If we do a good job, do we get a Skittle?"). Instead, it has seemed to lead to silence. I have continued in the disciplines of the faith, reading my Bible and praying and attending church. I have felt disconnected and have believed that God was not speaking. The loneliness and silence have made me angry and hurt, which led to an attitude of cynicism and sarcasm concerning what God is doing.

Last Sunday was the first glimpse of God that I have noticed in a while. In the middle of the message, or the song, or. . . I don't even remember, it occurred to me that God has been quietly doing things in my life. I had been praying and praying for guidance in a particular situation, and while there was no thundering voice from heaven, circumstances aligned and I had my answer. My  moment of clarity:  God is moving even when I don't see it.

Wednesday I had another sighting. A dear friend called specifically to see how I was doing Unfortunately, in the way we perversely do when someone we love and trust starts poking around, I reacted with defensiveness and intellectual argument and a refusal to acknowledge the presence of God in anything at all right now, EVER. However, in the perverse way of the love of Jesus, she prayed over me and for me and I started to pay attention that the very act of a friend calling, caring, listening, praying, and loving was the Lord at work to draw me closer to Him.

I determined that I needed (when don't I?) more time to spend with God praying and working through some of this. I sat down on the couch this morning and picked up Charles Swindoll's book about Esther that I have been reading but not opened in weeks. The chapter was about the silence of God.

Okay. I'm starting to get it (today, anyhow). I've read the story about Elijah in 1 Kings 19:9-18, about how the Lord speaks to him not in a wind, an earthquake, or a fire; but in a whisper. I know that in my brain, but my heart still wants something loud--because then I know for sure that I'm doing what I should be. Yet often the Lord is moving through quiet circumstances and speaking in words we already know. I want to be connected to a church family again. I've found a church to try. Yet I have been dragging my heels about joining a small group. Do I need a telegram to know what to do? I want more depth with God. I found out about a women's Bible study that keeps coming back to my mind. Do I need angels singing?

Again and again, because I am as slow to listen and pay attention as my students (with less excuse, since most of them are only seven years old), God reminds me that faith is not based in burning bushes and talking donkeys, but in the ever-present knowledge of the love of Christ shown me on the cross. God's voice was not heard in the book of Esther, yet His purposes prevailed. His silence does not mean that He is idle in my life. I am praying for a heart that sees Him at work in the smallest of ways.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Whispers and Workings

Some seasons, all you can do is go through the motions. During this last dry spell, that's been my drill. Read my Bible because that's what I do while I eat breakfast. Pray because that's what I do after breakfast. Ask God to move. Do my day. Some days, like pretty much every one while I was in Scotland, the Bible-reading gets skipped a lot and the "serious" (as in, focused with my journal) praying gets all but abandoned. I know that my works avail me nothing, because I am saved by grace and grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet I also know that I want to do what I know to do to position myself to hear God the best that I can. I've also learned, though, that God does what He wants in the time He chooses.

 As I have been waiting to hear from Him, I have also been diligently picking a verse to pretend to memorize for Beth Moore's 2013 memory verse challenge. The verses are chosen on the first and fifteenth of the month. When I went to the Living Proof Ministries Blog on July 16 (oops), I read the whole entry, which I don't always do. Here is part of what Beth posted that day (for the full entry, go here):

You may feel powerless right now, Sister, but, if you are in Christ, make no mistake: you are not. Get some backbone back in your prayer life if your spiritual spine has deteriorated. With reverence for His holiness and with the boldness He said we could bring to the Throne of Grace, read to God from His Word where He promised His people victory as they looked to Him alone…
…and where He promised to clothe us in power
…and where He said He’d make Himself conspicuous through our spiritual gifts and through supernatural works in His Name.
If you don’t know where those places are, go hunt them down. (But you could start in Romans 8, Luke 24, Acts 1, Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 12 and Hebrews 4.)
Tell Him you’re going to ask for it and ask for it and ask for it in His great Name and for His glory until He gives it to you and frees you from whatever this present powerlessness is. And then DO IT. Ask and ask and ask and tell Him you will do whatever it takes to cooperate and mean it! Throw your hands out to receive. And, then, when He gives it – and He will – don’t take credit for it. Appreciate it. Thank Him and thank Him for it. Know that it’s grace. Use it audaciously to bring Him attention.

Sister, you cannot fulfill your foreordained purpose without power. Go back after it but, whatever you do, don’t try to get it without Jesus coming with it. Power for power’s sake will blow you up. God-given unction isn’t meant to just come and go with periodic personal revival. We were meant to live powerful lives. Let’s get to them. If you’ve got an area of carnality that is quenching it, I promise you it’s not worth it. Believe me, I’ve been there. Repent, turn from it and get on with it. You’ve got a calling. And it takes divine power. (Beth Moore, LPM blog entry, July 15, 2013)
I actually didn't read it all that carefully then, but did print it out and put it out by my journal. Several days later, I sat down, read it, got out my Bible and read through those passages. I started to hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit revealing some things that called for repentance.

A day later, I suddenly become motivated in my church search. Planning to go to three churches over the weekend, I thought about going to one church on Saturday night but, oops, they were starting a series on marriage. Nix that. Picked a totally different one. Went. Heard a message about a passage of scripture that I have heard talks on before, about Saul, specifically regarding, yes, patience. In 1 Samuel 13: 8-14, we read about how Saul was commanded to wait for Samuel, the prophet, to come and make the sacrifice to the Lord so that the army could fight (and beat) the Philistines. As soon as Saul starts the sacrifice, Samuel shows up. It seems that Samuel has forgotten, is late, or won't be coming. Saul takes matters into his own hands (knowing it's forbidden for him to make the sacrifice) and as a result, God takes away Saul's kingdom.

I've been single a long time. I know the promises of God, just as Saul knew who should make the sacrifice. I know that I need to wait for God to bring me the husband he has for me, or bring me the peace to be single. But sometimes it seems that God has forgotten, is late, or isn't coming. Sometimes I want, like Saul, to take matters into my own hands and hurry up and pursue a relationship too quickly because. . . I'm TIRED OF WAITING.  I was reminded that the consequences for impatience (though now covered by Jesus' forgiveness and redemption) can be steep.

I went to two other churches today. Each one had messages that spoke directly to me. From hearing nothing for months, I am suddenly seeing God and truth everywhere. I've had Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts sitting in my bedroom for probably two years. Saturday I picked it up and read three chapters without stopping. God again, as I cried through the pages.

Did I do something that magically made God move? Nope. Do I deserve for Him to speak to me ever? Nope. Am I encouraged and reminded that, even when we see nothing, God is working in us, "both to will and to work for his good pleasure"(Phil 2:13)? YES.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Silence

Hello?? Are you still there?? Yeah, I know. . . I've been gone for quite a little while. . . When I started this blog, my aim was to write to share what God was showing me. Lately, I haven't been hearing from God. Which then leaves me without thoughts to ponder and words to write.

If you've been a Christian for any length of time, you've probably heard about "dry spells": When you are still doing what you do (reading the Bible, praying, going to church), but you feel disconnected from the Lord. I've been in a dry spell, I guess. I am reading my Bible (trying the chronological approach to reading through the Bible in a year. Not loving it). I am praying. More or less. Sometimes less than more, but praying. Going to church is a bit tricky, because I'm between churches right now for longer than I ever have been, with it being summer and traveling and simply not being in town to visit churches to see where I need to be. I have been going to churches when I can, but as a visitor.

I don't like feeling disconnected. I don't like feeling helpless. I know that God is still there. I know that it's usually me that has stepped away, or has something going on in my head or heart that's blocking the connection. But I haven't known what it was. My recourse: Just keep praying that God will show me what it is and keep doing what I know to do. Keep trusting. Keep walking.

There is an excerpt from C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" that I always think about during those dry times:
Sooner or later, [God] withdraws, if not in fact, at least from [believer's] conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature [that would be us] to stand up on its own legs--to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. . . He wants [believers] to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hands; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles. (The Screwtape Letters, p. 39)
I have learned that there is really nothing I can do to "fix" it, much as I would like to. I got some insight about a week ago, totally out of the blue. The thought came to me that I was angry at God. I was frustrated and mad (again) about being single and childless when I have desired my whole life to be married and a mom. It's not like God and I have not wrestled, argued, and cried about this before. We have. Numerous times. For me, part of peace with the Lord is sharing all my emotions with Him, bad ones included. He already knows what I'm thinking, and only by telling Him exactly what I am thinking and feeling can I clear the path to intimacy with Him. Which sounds great, except that it usually involves pain and tears, which are not my favorite way to spend an evening.

So, knowing what I now need to do: spend some time and go to that place and bring it to God, I finally sit myself down to do it. And I do. And, lo and behold, this time the whole spectre of singleness was NOT really the problem. Turns out I was mad about something else. Turns out I didn't appreciate being obedient in a hard area and feeling sure I was following the Lord's direction only to feel all alone and left out. So, we dealt with that. Which equaled me feeling a little bit better because at least I knew WHY I was feeling like I was.

I still don't feel very connected. At the end of that evening, the one thing I was reminded of was the basic truth about Jesus in my life:  I am not alone. Felt or not, He is with me always, as He promised in scripture: And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

I also had a song running through my head, "There You Are" by Carolyn Arends (whom you've probably never heard of, and I don't know if she has anything recent, but she is one of my favorites): 

 Carolyn Arends - There You Are

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And so I will keep walking. And trusting. And, eventually, the connection will return:
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:6-7).

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Painful Endings, New Beginnings

Today I spent my last Sunday worshiping the Lord as a member of the church that I have been at for over eighteen years. After finishing grad school and working a year in Wisconsin, I returned home to the St. Louis area. My first item of business was finding a church. It can be an exhausting process, and a little bit scary (Is this the part where they get out the snakes? Drink the Kool-Aid? Make me stand up all by myself and LOOK at me?). Once I found the church I have called home for almost two decades, I thanked God and breathed a sigh of relief.

This church has been what God used to challenge me, to protect me, to love me, to pursue me, and to grow me. I have made some of my best, best friends at this church. As a single woman, my church has helped me when things break around my house or when I just needed some company. I have seen newborns grow to adulthood, and, in recent years, said goodbye to friends at funerals. My faults have been found out, felt, and forgiven. I have seen the love of Christ transform lives. I have also seen the destruction of sin and lies. I have laughed, cried, prayed, and worshiped with some of the same people for a long, long time.

In my perfect world, I could just remain in that safe cocoon of friends and love and warmth forever. There are new babies to watch grow. There are new people to get to know. There are new songs to sing.

However, God's world, as He constantly reminds me, is not modeled after my design. As it says in Isaiah 55:8-9:
 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 

 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
I recently began to feel unsettled and restless, and spent months trying to figure out why and pray through it. There wasn't anything wrong with where I was. I wasn't upset or mad at anyone or anything. Were there things I thought could be different? Yes. Have there always been things that I thought could be different? Yes. Will there always, no matter what church I am at, be things that I think could be different? Yes. But such is the way of church, and people, and life in general. No person/place/group of people is ever perfect. Could it be God calling me to something new? Surely not.

Something new would mean leaving something old. Something new would mean saying goodbye to good friends and people who love the Lord and who have loved me in spite of my failings. Something new would mean leaving by myself and seeking a new church. Something new would be scary. Something new would be sad. Something new was not in my plan.

Hebrews 12:1-2 says this:
 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. . .
If I chose to ignore what I believed was God's leading to leave the familiar and safe for the scary and unknown, I would be allowing myself to be entangled in sin, in this case, the sin of fear and lack of trust that God would take care of me no matter where I was.  If I didn't follow His promptings, I would not be able to run the race that was set before me.

I don't know why God is moving me right now, and I don't know where He is moving me. I have been equipped by my years with my church, and strengthened by the love and care and truth I have received there. I have cried many, many tears. However, as one friend told me, "It would be sadder if you were with a church for that long and you didn't want to cry."

I am sad to say goodbye to my home of eighteen years. I will miss it very, very much. I am thankful for the blessing of the people I have known there. I am excited to see what God has in store. I am also grateful to know that the family of God is not limited to specific churches. Someday, in heaven, all of us who believe will be worshiping the Lord together in eternal fellowship, and none of us will be crying.





Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Wonder of It All

I am reading through the Bible this year, and trying a new approach. Usually I have done the plan that has some Old Testament, a psalm or two, a proverb or two, and some New Testament every day. The end is rough (prophets and Revelation for a few weeks), but the rest of the time it's a good mix. This year I am doing it chronologically, so Old Testament only for months and months, and not even many psalms yet. A benefit I am seeing by hanging out in the Old Testament is that God is helping me to see how radical and strange and amazing Jesus was.

A few weeks ago, in Deuteronomy, I read these verses: 
 You shall have a place outside the camp, and you shall go out to it.  And you shall have a trowel with your tools, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it and turn back and cover up your excrement.  Because the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you. (Deut. 23:12-14)
Because God was so holy, the people were commanded to cover up all of their bathroom activity so that the Lord would not "see anything indecent among you and turn away from you." Rule after rule after rule in Leviticus and Deuteronomy about how to do everything, and the consequences if you do it wrong, much of it hinging on the holiness of God. People back then, I would assume, were probably a lot less squeamish than we are about personal hygiene and dirt and blood and all that "ick" of human life that was much more front and center thousands of years ago. Yet, down to the bathroom, there were directions about how to act to honor God.

No wonder the Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy. Imagine your whole life's context/story of God being how you should be oh-so-careful to try and be holy for the Lord, and then comes a man telling you He IS God. The God whose eyes were shielded from a latrine is now walking among and living with everyday people. Jesus fully participated in all human activity. He was a baby. A kid. I work with young children. They, also , are not very squeamish about basic bodily functions. He was a teenager. A man. He spoke with, laughed with, touched unclean people all the time.

Reading the story from the modern vantage point, we don't get it--at least I don't. I have intellectually seen the divide, but am just now getting a teeny glimpse of how revolutionary Jesus was. He was a game-changer. He broke all of those "don't touch, don't look, don't listen" rules. The Pharisees and other religious leaders weren't just mad because Jesus threatened their power. They couldn't even comprehend Who He was, or that God would act in such a way.

I will never be able to fully grasp how radical and amazing the coming of Jesus was. What I desire is to understand more in my heart why God acted in such a crazy, upside-down way. The God whose prophets told people to hide the latrine left His throne to be one of us. Never will any of us comprehend how Jesus, "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:6-7) bound up His deity into flesh.  The God of the universe, who spoke it into existence and sustains the earth and all that is in it voluntarily came to earth as a man. 

Why? The most simple and most profound answer lies in that God loves us. We hear that so much, but understand it so little. He wanted to be with us. He wanted us to be able to be with Him forever. He became Emmanuel, God with us, so that we could be with Him. Even the disciples who knew Him best didn't really get it, not until after the resurrection. My prayer is that I, and you, and, really, everyone everywhere, will get, really, really GET that Jesus walking among us and dying on the cross for us all boils down to God's love for us and desire to be with us.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Dead Men Walkers

One thing I love about God is how He uses all of life to show us more about Him, including both popular shows about zombies and Christian concerts (one perhaps more surprising than the other). I was fortunate enough to get to go to the Chris Tomlin concert at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis Saturday night. The experience was great--8000 people all worshiping the Lord together. Near the end of the concert, Chris Tomlin remarked that sin doesn't make us more bad, it makes us dead.

I have probably heard that before. I know very well Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Yet the way Tomlin worded it struck home. I am not a good person who sins and therefore is now a bad person. I am a person whose sin is killing me, and I can't do anything about it.

As those of you who know me in real life have noticed, and those of you who read the last blog post may remember, I am slightly obsessed with "The Walking Dead" right now. I have watched 15 episodes in the last two weeks. Basic plot, for the uninitiated: For an unknown reason (and if you find out later, don't tell me yet), people have become infected with something that turns them into zombies. If they are bitten or scratched or killed, they come back as "walkers"(also known in the zombie genre as the undead) whose only goal in life is to eat (and they eat people, if you were unclear). 

Across the zombie world, the theme is consistent that once you are a zombie, there is no hope. The goal of the surviving humans is to avoid contamination (and death) from the walkers. As I thought about the truth that sin makes me dead, it brought to mind the walkers. Part of what is terrifying about zombies is that they can contaminate us, and that once they do, our life is over. There is no cure. You are doomed to a shadow life of knowing only one thought: Hunger. The goal of survivors is to avoid contamination, because there is no way to escape once you have been bitten. To avoid contamination requires never-ending vigilance, because the zombies are relentless, and there are scores of them. You can kill them, but there are always more coming.

Think of how the shows/movies/graphic novels about zombies turn out if a cure is found. Think how desperately you would search for one if zombies were real and if you were infected. Imagine the gratitude you would have toward whomever found the cure. It would be miraculous. The whole plot would change. A happy ending would be possible.

I want to see and understand that Jesus loving me and offering me a cure for my sin changes the plot of my life. It gives me a happy ending. It relocates me from the camp of the walkers, destined only for death, to the camp of the survivors who will live forever. I no longer need to fear the infection of evil, and I can focus on something other than hunger. 

Walkers don't injure you. They doom you.  Sin doesn't make us bad. It kills us. Jesus doesn't make us good. He saves us.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jesus vs. the Zombies

I've been reading another book lately,  "Sifted", by Rick Lawrence. I've also been reading Leviticus. And I've been watching (late to the party, as usual), the first two seasons of AMC's "The Walking Dead." In ways only the Lord can do, these three circumstances came together to show me something new about Jesus.

Leviticus is not my favorite book of the Bible. I doubt that Leviticus is anyone's favorite book of the Bible. Rules about food. Rules about worship. Rules about skin diseases and fabrics and dishes. It also lists the consequences of breaking the rules. Consequences like isolation and physical punishment and death. I don't much like thinking of God as the author of seemingly arbitrary rules with the punishment for breaking the rules being death. Like the stories in Numbers where many, many people die for complaining and refusing to believe God, these disconcerting parts of the Bible bother me.

The same week I'm reading Leviticus, I am reading in chapter four of "Sifted". The author, Rick Lawrence, reports that the adjective most commonly used to describe Jesus is "nice". He compares this to Mr. Rogers.  Mr. Rogers is nice--picture the opening scene, shoes in hand, cardigan being buttoned, soothing voice speaking. Nice. Lawrence then asks us to imagine walking through a bad neighborhood at night, alone, down a dark alley. Who do you want with you? Mr. Rogers? Equally, do you want Jesus? Do you imagine that He is strong enough, skilled enough, tough enough to help you?

Thanks to two snow days and a free Netflix trial, I began watching "The Walking Dead" last weekend. The world has been overrun by zombies, called "walkers" on the show. They are the undead, looking only for a meal, and we are it. There are many, many scenes of walkers chasing humans. When you are a human being chased by a walker, you want the strongest, most skilled, toughest zombie-hunter in the group (Daryl, okay, yes, in the woods alone with walkers, I want Daryl and his crossbow).

Crazy Levitical rules. Jesus as "Mr. Nice Guy." Darryl in the woods with walkers.

God is not nice. Jesus is not nice. Rick Lawrence goes so far as to use the word "brutal" about God. Satan and sin and evil are real in this world and real in my life, and more harmful and dangerous than any undead walkers. Jesus has authority and command. After Adam and Eve sin in the garden, the Lord says this to the serpent:
 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3:15, NIV)
In the movie  "The Passion of the Christ" we see Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, prostrate on the ground, praying (Luke 22), appearing to be weak and helpless. However, even as the snake tries to prevail, Jesus rises and, with one decisive move, kills the snake (artistic interpretation of the Genesis passage).

Jesus came to crush the head of the serpent. He came to destroy the devil's work (1 John 3:8, NIV).
He came to free us from sin. He will dig deeper into our lives and hearts and souls than we ever would in order to make us fully His. He is not "nice". Yes, He loves us tenderly and deeply and mercifully, and His lovingkindnesses never cease. He will also stop at nothing to make us His.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Poetry, not Procedure

I have claimed Christianity for quite some time now--over twenty years. As anyone who knows me or has read this blog realizes, it has not been an easy journey for me. The "how" of it all has always frustrated me. Goal-driven by personality, reconciling the grace of God with the rules of behavior has been a continual struggle. In the parable of the prodigal son, I am the elder brother, hurt and angry at the grace shown to the other brother, the one who screwed up and now gets a party.  Even as I have tried to understand grace and love, so much of my own performance-driven nature paired with so much of my religious experience has caused me to miss the miracle.

I'm reading a book right now: "He Loves Me", by Wayne Jacobsen. Skeptical by nature, especially skeptical of anything that sounds too "lovey-dovey" about God, I approached it with some trepidation, despite a glowing recommendation from a dear friend. I'm a few chapters away from the end and. . . I feel like I might finally be getting it. I feel like the mystery and the poetry and the story of the love of God through Jesus have been given back to me.

I love to read. I love a good story. Words are like music to me. Before I became a believer, I had read a lot of books which pointed to God's love for me. Books about lost people being found. Stories about sacrificial love. The tales I love best are those where good wins and evil loses and the lovers unite and the endings are happy. There are people(many of whom I cannot give credit to by name) who believe that every good and worthwhile story is the story of God redeeming His bride, the Shepherd finding His sheep, the sacrifice of perfect love to save sinful people. Think of the stories you treasure. Why are they dear to you? For me, it's the idea that love will win. That someone would search until the lost are found. That there is love strong enough to defeat death.

I, too, believe that all redemptive tales are God whispering and calling to us. There is a mystery in faith, a poetry, something that we long for but can't understand. I owe much to the churches that I have belonged to since I became a Christian. I have learned much of love and acceptance and community that I could have discovered nowhere else. However, most of the teaching and theology that I have heard has, paired with my performance-oriented bias, tried very hard to remove the mystery and the poetry and even the love from the salvation story.

In many cases, salvation is explained like a legal transaction:  Man is sinful (true). Man can never enter heaven or a relationship with God because of sin (also true). God wants us to be in heaven and in relationship with Him (true again), so He sent Jesus to pay our consequence and rescue us from His punishment (kinda true but not the whole story). Jesus died, we believe, we go to heaven and can know God (again. . . kinda yes but falling so short of profound mystery of it all).

That rendering of my salvation leaves me cold. It always has, and I always felt guilty about that. I should be grateful for Jesus paying the price for my sin (and I am, though this analogy doesn't lead me there). But this reduction of my salvation to a legal procedure fails to stir my heart.

In this book, Jacobsen explains the cross in a way that restores to me the poetry, mystery, and love of it all. Jesus' sacrifice for me, for you, for all of us was not a mere legal transaction or fulfillment of the letter of the law. It was an act imagined by a loving and creative Father determined to restore the relationship that was forfeited by Adam and Eve. Jesus didn't just pay for our sin. He became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."). He didn't do it just to balance some cosmic scale, but because He loved us and wanted us to be free from the power of sin so that we could live a life glorifying to God and a life united with God.

There is no performing that I can do to make God love me more. The Lord doesn't want my obedience done to earn His favor. I have His favor, wholly unearned:
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7)
 God doesn't want slaves or soldiers. He wants children and friends (John 15:15). As I learn to "live loved" by trusting and following the Lord's lead even as I don't understand, I will live the life that I am meant to live. Do I understand this completely? Nope. Am I excited to relate to God in the way that He meant for me to, the way, that, indeed, He sacrificed everything to make possible? Yes!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Be a Tree

Happy New Year! I figured a new year deserved a new blog post. In case you hadn't noticed, I HATE TO WAIT. I am not by nature very patient. My goal-driven personality likes to know the system, work the system, and get the reward. This approach works very well in certain areas, like saving money, losing weight (WHEN I work the system), or getting good grades. You put the coins in the vending machine and out pops the goody.

The biggest frustration of my spiritual life is that the Lord doesn't work that way. As I read through the Bible, I see over and over that God doesn't have a system, and seems to enjoy breaking the rules. Look at how many second sons receive the inheritance. At the messed people He chooses to use: David, Samson, Gideon--murderer, playboy, coward.  At the amazing and confounding fact that He chose to save wicked people by the sacrifice of His beloved Son. In my perfect (albeit pharisaical) system, it works like this: I read my Bible, pray, try really hard to love people and follow what the Bible says, and then God speaks to me and grows me and makes me more like Him. Ta-da!

Um, yeah, well. . . doesn't work that way. Lately I have been struggling with feeling far away from the Lord, and like I'm not doing anything effective for Him, and not connecting with Him, and just not living this great Christian life that I envision. But the blessing of liking to follow the rules is that I keep plugging away with reading Scripture (halfheartedly sometimes, quickly sometimes, without expectation usually) and praying. Why? Because I do, deep down, believe that eventually, something will happen. The Spirit will soften my heart and open my eyes and I will catch a glimpse of what the Lord wants me to see.

And today the Holy Spirit did! It's back the the beginning as I try to read through the Bible in a year, so Psalm 1 was on the docket this morning. Verses 1-3 say:
Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The phrase that I keep returning to is "that yields its fruit in its season".  I have heard lots of messages about fruit and seasons, but in the unexplainable and wonderful ways of God, it somehow doesn't really mean anything until His Spirit nudges my heart.

Trees bear fruit when and only when they are mature enough to do so and when the season is right. A baby tree can't have fruit. According to the experts of Google, most trees cannot bear fruit for a least a few years, and some lots and lots of years. Fruit trees do not have fruit in the winter. You can guess where I'm going with this. . .

If I were a tree the past six months, I would be pretty ridiculous, because I would look like an apple tree in the winter who keeps moaning about how there is no fruit, and worrying about why there are no apples, and trying to figure out how to get apples, dangit, because apple trees are supposed to have apples. NOW. Except. . . they really aren't.

There are a thousand theological tangents that I could follow about sin that interferes with fruit, or with what is God's job and what is mine, but what I feel like God was trying to remind me was that I just need to be patient. For whatever reason, it is not my season to feel fruitful or to see fruit. He wants me to see that, just like when we look at a tree in winter, or a sapling, just because I can't see anything happening doesn't mean that nothing is. If there is something that is impeding my growth, God is the one Who WILL show that to me, but not until He deems it the right time.

I need to relax, keep seeking the Lord, and just be a tree!