A Little Context For Me

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Where Does It Say That? - I Answer A Reader's Question About Sex

This is an excerpt from a recent message I received. I am answering it publicly, but I am NOT naming who asked the question. I have chosen to do so because I think that it is a question that more than one person has, and I would like to share why I hold the belief I do about abstinence. The opening quote was taken from a comment I made in response to a question presented to me in my comments.

"'The Bible says sex is reserved for marriage' -- Where, precisely, does it say that? The Christian community has said that for many, many years. I have yet to find any verse in the Bible, read IN CONTEXT of the society in which the writers lived, which says anything of the sort."

I struggled with this question for several years as divorced woman. I was even told by certain people in positions of authority that I had every right to indulge my sexual appetites since I was “no longer a virgin”. However, I did what I think every Christian should do, and I did not accept any man’s word without confirming or disproving it within the pages of Scripture.

For me the answer is most clearly spelled out in 1 Corinthians 7:1-8. In verses one and two Paul says, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” Paul makes it clear that way to combat the temptation to sexual immorality is through marriage, but that begs the question what is sexual immorality?

The question is answered in two different passages. The first is Acts 15:28-29 which is the summation of the Jerusalem Council that delineates the obligations of the Gentile Christian from the Jewish born Christian. Keep in mind that this was a group of Jewish men, at least one of which was trained in Jewish law by a leading Rabbi, whose references would have reflected their Jewish training and understanding of these terms. The second passage is 2 Timothy 3:16,17, where Paul says that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that every man of God may be competent and equipped for every good work.”

Please note that the New Testament as we know it was not yet considered to be Scripture – so Paul could not be referring to any of the books authored after the life of Jesus. He was referring to the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), the books of reference for the Jerusalem Council. Since everyone was referring back to the Hebrew for their definitions that is where we must go to find out what sexual immorality means. Now I do not wish to bore you, so I am not going to type out all the sexual laws contained within the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy). Instead, I am just going to give you a few references that you can look up if you are interested: Deuteronomy 22:13-30 which demonstrates the importance of a woman’s virginity before marriage and fidelity after, Genesis 38 which demonstrates that even a widow was expected to abstain until remarried, and Leviticus 18 which clearly states that the attitudes of believers towards sex should not be in keeping with the cultural norms of other cultures or prevalent societal views.

Finally allow me to add, while I do believe that these passages provide us with the standards that we should strive to maintain the Bible was not written by a God who was unaware or unfeeling towards our struggles. He knows that we all fall short, we screw it up (sometimes literally), but He extends the gifts of mercy and grace. He never called us to perfection apart from Him, and He never denies a second chance for those seeking to move deeper in relationship with Him. The quest to tame my sex drive was a driving force in teaching me how to rely on Him and in deepening my relationship with Him. In the end, I value the fight for what it taught me, and I do not regret anything momentary pleasure I may have missed in seeking His ways before my own.

When I Am Just Not Feeling It

There are few things harder than acting like a Christian when you don’t feel very Christian. Now, I am not for sure exactly what a real Christian is supposed to feel like, but I always imagined it was somewhere between cotton candy and bunny fur. And truthfully, I feel more like a porcupine and electric fence sometimes.

I think many people would be surprised at how seldom I feel Christian. Usually I am so busy trying to act Christian that feeling anything other than frustration would be miraculous. I know there must be someone out there who manages to feel Christian. I mean I have always assumed that those people at church who always greet you with a big smile and a “God bless you” must feel Christian, at least on Sunday mornings.

I just don’t know how this feeling of being occurs. I have tried, but so far nothing has really worked. I don’t know if just didn’t get the secret decoder ring, I missed that particular sermon, or no one hit me with the right amount of fairy dust. I have been prayed over, anointed, and once pastor tried to shove me to the floor – but I was between him and the doughnuts. I mean if someone were to ask me how I felt right now, I would have to say I am vaguely grumpy and rather gloomy. Definitely not feeling Christian.

We all know that true Christians, or at least mature Christians, don’t have bad days. They smile all the time. They know the answer to the world’s problems and they would rather be caught without their underwear than without the right Bible verse for the occasion. They have sparkling smiles, well mannered children, perfectly groomed spouses, and they breathe in peace and exhale joy. They look forward to their turn in the church nursery, and they can whip out a casserole for the church potluck faster than I can sneeze. And I know that they act this way because they can feel just how Christian they are. They charming, gracious, and we all try not to hate them. Or maybe that’s just me, because the more I am around these people the less Christian I feel.

You see, I have bad days and a messy house. My car is never clean and my kids fight. I have a hard time remembering my phone number, let alone chapter and verse for anything. I can’t cook and when my car breaks down I don’t respond with a “thank you, Jesus.” I can be mean, jealous, and petty. I love a good fight and will sometimes start an argument just to have one. Sometimes I enjoy scowling at the world and I am a bit of a snob. I have kicked my dog and yelled at God when things haven’t gone my way. I don’t always feel Christian, so I don’t always act Christian.

The good news is that being a Christian isn’t based on my feelings. It is even based on my performance. It is something that goes beyond what I get right and what I do wrong. Being a Christian is not found in someone else’s perception of who and what I should be, or what they think I should be doing. Being a Christian is the result of a relationship, one that affects how I behave and changes who I am, but I don’t always feel it like I think I should feel it.

Sure I want to do better, but not because it makes me any more or less Christian. I want to be better because I want to the world to see the how knowing God has changed me. I want to please him in my deeds and words, even my emotions, but I have to wonder if we have gotten confused about the process of being conformed to the image of Christ. If somewhere along the way we began to think that being holy meant that we denied our emotions and suppressed our quirks so that we could become conformed to our ideas about what a Christian should feel like.

You see, being a Christian doesn’t mean that my miraculous transformation short circuited my mind or desires. My transformation began when I understood that my mind and desires don’t always agree with where God would have me, and confronting me where I am, as who I am. It is me being honest enough to say I have a bad days and I don’t feel like loving my enemies or even my friends all the time. It is me being willing to go to him when I am grumpy and asking for help, wrestling through the gloom with him, and not hiding from him until I feel right. Because the truth is on my own I will never get it right, I will never be good enough to feel as Christian as I think a good Christian should feel all the time.

I might be able to fake it on Sunday mornings. I might even hold it together for a Sunday night service, but by Wednesday afternoon, forget it. I am right back into the mess of me. Beaten up, cast down, and overwhelmed by all the things I do that don’t measure up to whom I think a Christian should be, and all my feelings say I will never make it, that I should just give up.

So if you are like me. If you ever have a bad day and wonder why you even try when you know all you are going to do is fail, take heart. You are not alone. We all have those days, and we all feel like we are failing sometimes. The question is what you do with those feelings? Do you let them dictate who you are? Or can you let your heart find hope and strength in who God says you are? Because he loves us, even on grumpy days, sad days, and even on days we totally mess up.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Am I My Brother's Keeper? Or Who Are You To Judge?

In a world full of bubble eyed figurines, pastel paintings of idyllic fields of sheep, and soft smiling faces of Jesus, we have determined that our faith is as gentle as dewdrops and as sweet as cotton candy. Harshness should be rejected, judgement spurned, and truth speakers cast aside as blasphemers and heretics for neglecting that all important element of love that must never be manifest in words the world deems as judgmental or sanctimonious.

Critics of such actions are quick to pull out those verses that back their position, giving them the full weight of authority. “Judge not lest you be judged,” Matthew 7:1. “God is love,” 1 John 4:8 “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” John 8:7. And my all-time favorite, John 5:22, “The Father judges no one.” Now, if we stopped to actually read those passages in their full context we would quickly realize that the message has been sharply edited until only the pretty bits remain, and we do this because that is the way we like it. By abdicating any position of authority in another’s life, we can wash our hands of any responsibility we might bear in their actions. It’s a pretty sweet deal, and we aren’t the first ones to who tried to pass this ideology off with God.

The tradition began long ago, just outside the gates of Eden, when God asked Cain about his brother Able.  Cain never misses a beat, he flings back, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

We carry on the legacy of Cain in the phrases, “What they do with their own life does not affect me”, “It is not my business what anyone else does behind closed doors”, “It’s between them and God, none of my affair”, “I don’t have the right to judge anyone and neither do you”, and “What concern of it of yours how they live their lives?” Ok, sure we probably never killed someone and tried to cover it up – or have we? Oh, I don’t mean physically, but I think we can make a strong case for attempted spiritual homicide if we are brave enough to look at all those passages that rarely get quoted as we try to make God a little more palatable for those of us who can’t stand the bitter with the sweet.

We start with Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15 through 20. (I will not be quoting the full passages here for the sake of brevity, but as always, grab your Bible and double check me!). In this passage, Jesus says, “And if he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile or tax collector.” You know, those folks that good God-fearing people of his day shunned? Why in the world would Jesus advocate such a thing? I mean, that’s a little harsh, Jesus, don’t you think?

The truth is – it is harsh, but it harsh with a purpose. Paul gives us an example of why such brutality is necessary in our communities of faith in 1 Timothy 1:18-20 wherein he describes two people who he says he has “handed over to Satan so that they would learn not to blaspheme.” Or in 1 Corinthians where he says to “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit might be saved on the day of the Lord.” It would be easy to close our eyes and hearts to such terrifying words, but if we are to honor the entirety of Scripture as God inspired, we must submit ourselves to these verses in unity with those of love. It is the tension that of love and discipline, mercy and accountability that makes our faith ring true.

It is not a question of either/or. It is a statement of both/and. It is learning to how to balance the demands of each teaching against the needs of individual situations. For instance, Paul writes:

I wrote you a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy or the swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of this world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
1 Corinthians 5:9-12

Both love and judgement is the right answer, depending on who you are dealing with those inside the church or those outside. Either one can also be wrong, again depending on who you are dealing with, but too often we get the prescription backwards – judging the world while failing to hold those who share our faith accountable.

Neither should we forget that judgement of our brothers and sisters is not eternal banishment. It is not something that we dole out and then celebrate because we took a stand against evil. Instead, it is something that should grieve our hearts and with the hope and anticipation of them being restored for to the body, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11. Forgiveness and grace should be extended to all who repent and desire to return to fellowship.

In other words, we are our brothers’ keepers. We have an obligation to give and receive rebuke for those acts that the Bible teaches are not in keeping with our faith. Discipline was designed not to hurt but to heal, to break off pride, false entitlement, and faulty justifications for our actions. It was designed to help Christians to keep acting like Christians and not like those who have not experienced the life changing love of our Lord. It was empower us to stand against the temptations we might feel to slip into our old ways, and keep our witness pure.

We cannot uphold merely the easy passages as valid and authoritative while neglecting the passages we do not like. And if the command to love is valid, then we have to accept the command to correct as valid also, or leave our Bible open to the abuses of those who would use it for personal gain.

When we claim that another believer’s action are none of our concern are justifying our own laziness and cowardice. It is to allow the world’s ideas of tolerance to supersede and reign supreme over the dictates of our faith. It is to model our actions by Cain’s example, not that of our Lord and Saviour. It is to sacrifice purity for reputation and holiness for worldly prestige. Holding others accountable for their faithfulness to the dictates of the Scripture will not win anyone any popularity contests, but perhaps you shouldn’t claim to be a Christian if that is the true desire of your heart.

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Regurgitating Facts But Failing The Test

You can only teach yourself. You can only learn the technique of learning. –Clint Eastwood

The memorization and regurgitation of facts has become our working definition of learning. As children we are placed in class rooms where our teacher writes a series of words or numbers upon a board, we copy them, and then we recite them when called upon. Seldom do the words connect with our real lives or have any bearing upon our reality. As children we know this. We question when will we ever need to know the value of pi, the dates of the French Revolution, or even the chemical composition of chewing gum (bubble gum is a whole other matter). The good adults in our lives assure us that we will need this information one day and we should be good students and learn what the teacher says.

As adults we then become the ones who perpetuate the myth when our children are the ones asking the question. We tell them that they will one day need to know this information, and we secretly wonder when exactly did we ever need to know what we were taught in school. Of course if we are good parents we never voice this thought out loud, because we don’t want our children to grow up to be idiots.

The thing is even in the midst of what may now seem to have been pointless exercises in obscure facts, we did learn something. We learned our idea of education, of what it means to be taught. We know that if someone is teaching us something they are to communicate certain facts on the topic which we in turn should be able to recite if called upon. We learned that education often has little to do with our real lives, that educators do not teach life lessons as much as they teach us abstractions and principles that we have a hard time integrating in our day to day activities.

Unfortunately, somewhere we adopted this model into our Biblical teaching as well. We turned Bible study into Bible trivia, and Church stopped being a place where went to experience God with other believers and became a place where we learned about God. We studied God, Jesus, and the Bible like we are going to have a test next Friday, so bring your notes. We got points for attendance, memorizing the right verses, and being able to give the proper answer when called upon.

The problem is we forgot that life is the test. You can’t cram for this one, and like it or not being able to quote the proper verse doesn’t get you a one hundred. Somewhere along the way Christianity stopped being relational and became something that happens after opening prayer but before the fried chicken. Being a good Christian became more about how many Sunday mornings you actually made it to a building and less about loving your neighbor. We turned it into an exercise and not a walk.

Maybe this is why we have a hard time with the transition from the class room of the church to real life. We don’t know how to make our faith a part of our life. Maybe when we started referring to the church as a place with class rooms and teachers, instead of as a body of believers and a family that we lost sight of the fact it is about more than knowing the right answer. Maybe when God became a school teacher and not a father, we forgot that he loves us and doesn’t just give us a grade.

Maybe this why so many people have become disillusioned with Christianity. We have presented it like a list of facts to memorize, and life is a problem to be solved. Maybe when we started teaching Christianity as an abstraction and principles instead of as a way of life, we forgot how to make the shift from information to understanding. Maybe when we stopped teaching people the technique of learning and told them the answers we bypassed an important step in our faith. We skipped the beauty and joy discovery through experience and learning.

We don’t grade relationships by the number of facts we know about another person. We don’t rank friendships by another’s ability to rattle off random thing we may have said. We don’t keep score with people we really love by totaling up their right answers to our questions. We gauge the depth by how well they understand us, by how much they affect our lives and vice versa. Everything else is a byproduct of the time we spend experiencing their presence. And we should all know that knowing about a person is not the same as knowing them.

It is in the experience that we learn to know someone, that we learn how to learn how to relate to them. We discover how to ask a question, how to read their expression, or hear what they are saying beyond the words.

So study, read your Bible, gather with other believers, but do it so that you can experience the one who made you. Do it so that you can learn about this God who loves you more than you can imagine, but remember he isn’t an algebra problem. We don’t get to solve him, figure him out, or define him. That is not our job, our privilege is to know and experience him in this life, in this reality. The disciplines teach us how to draw near to God, being there teaches us how to learn from him.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Bruce Jenner - How Do We Respond?

Very few things make me sad. Like most of us, I don’t like how uncomfortable that feeling makes me. I have found that it is much easier to entertain anger and righteous outrage rather than feel brokenness for another’s plight. Feeling anger helps me keep my distance from the uglier realities of this world, and if I am honest, allows me to think that I am somehow above the choices and actions of others. Being smug is so much more satisfying to my ego than empathy, and too often I let it be my reflex rather than offering the grace of a response.

This morning I read several of the articles concerning Bruce Jenner’s transition from male to female, and I read the reports that praised him for his courage and honesty. I read accounts of celebrations over new found freedoms and a society that has evolved to place where he did not have to hide or stay trapped in a body he could not love, and I felt something I did not like. I felt sad.
I wanted to feel the anger and outrage that many of my Christian brothers and sisters are sure to spew over the internet in the following weeks. Those emotions are so much easier, but I have to ask myself, is that truly an appropriate response?

The answer was in an unlikely source – in those celebratory articles.

They all said pretty much the same thing. They talked about how brave Bruce is for making this change, how impossible it is to fight who you really are and how we liberating it is to live your personal truth. There is a part of me that wants all of these statements of be utterly false, but when I stop to consider them in the light of Scripture, I have to affirm that they are true.

Now, before you completely tune me out, follow me on this, and grab your Bible to double check what I am saying.

WE CANNOT FIGHT WHO WE REALLY ARE - at least, not alone.

This is the heart of the gospel. I will never be good enough, strong enough, or wise enough to do this by myself. Bruce isn’t. You aren’t. No one is or ever was apart from Jesus and through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote these words to the Galatians:

     But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the      flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed      to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (5:16,17 ESV)

When we forget that we must walk by the Spirit to have control over our fleshly desires, we begin to demand that people do the impossible. We start placing unrealistic expectations on them and all they can hear is our condemnation over their failure to meet a standard that can only be met through a relationship with our Lord and Savior. Even then, it is still a process that one must walk through, practicing self-control and waiting for the appearance of glory.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealots for good works. (Titus 2:11-14 ESV)

Many commended Bruce for his bravery to face who he truly is, and once again, I have to agree. There is bravery in looking at who really are, in finding those areas of our lives where the outside doesn’t match the inside, and finding ways to bring those two parts of us into alignment. Too many of us who profess to be Christians are neglecting this practice are living lives blissfully unaware (or simply in denial) of who truly are on the inside. Typically, we cover this up by shouting a little louder at the person whose actions we do not approve.

However, recognizing our own sin is the first step towards a relationship with our Lord and required for maintaining that relationship that empowers us to live according to the dictates of our faith.  The process is summed up in that scary little word, repentance, which demands humility and sorrow for our sins. King David’s Psalm 51, composed after his affair with Bathsheba, is a beautiful example of confronting one’s own sin so that relationship with God might be restored.

Which leads us to the final statement about Bruce, and we must ask, is it liberating to live one’s personal truth? The answer is yes, even the Bible acknowledges this: Job 20:5, 21:11-13; Isaiah 47:8-11; Luke 12:19-20, and there are many more. However, if you read those passages you find that the pleasure is fleeting and there is judgement if we give into the temptation, but there is glory if we resist, Hebrews 11:23-28.

That is what makes all these statements so easy to believe, to buy into. There is an element of truth in them all. Changing who we are requires help, even Bruce proves this point as his transition could not be attained merely through wishful thinking. He required the assistance of a physician, but as believers we are commanded to seek the Great Physician, who changes our hearts not merely our bodies.

Staring at your own internal mess is brave. Recognizing where we are broken takes humility and strength, often a strength born of desperateness, but to whom are we taking our brokenness? One who desires to heal or a world who celebrates our brokenness and uses it to affirm their own? God has never been content to leave us in the condition he found us. All of Scripture proclaims that his greatest desire to take those broken pieces and create something new from them, if we are brave enough to take that next step.

Sin is easier and far more fun than process of purification, but only if we do not look into the future and see the effects of it upon our lives and the lives of the ones we claim to love. Ask the addict, the adultery, the thief, and the murderer all will tell you the same thing. It was fun, felt right in the moment, there was a rush and a high unlike any other, and it was not until I had to face the consequences that I realized the cost.

So what do we do when confronted with a story like Bruce Jenner’s?

We love. We love with a God inspired commitment to seeing the best in people. We love with a love that is brave enough to be broken over another’s pain and misery. We love with a love strong enough to speak truth with compassion. We love with a love that has courage enough not to hide behind anger or outrage. We love with a love that inspires others to seek its source, as we seek our Lord to find the balance between truth and judgement, never betraying his grace and mercy by trying to withhold it from another.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

When God Does The Dishes

Waiting makes me sick, not in some abstract way, but in a very real gut wrenching, stomach twisting way. I am not talking about waiting in line or waiting on traffic. I am talking about waiting to see how things are going to turn out, how things are going to be accomplished. I want all the facts in my hand, and I want to arrive at a brilliant conclusion.

It’s the limbo that drives me crazy. It is what keeps me awake at nights and causes me to say and do stupid things. I have this thing in my brain that says if you talk about a problem long enough it will all work out. The thing is sometimes I just need to shut up and see how things are going to turn out. But like I said, I hate waiting. Talking seems to offer me at least the illusion of being proactive in the situation, (that should be read as “in control of the situation”, the other way just sounds better), when all I am really doing is muddying the waters.

Now God is faithful, and He has a way of taking our flaws and working them over. Usually this means He is going to provide us with lots of opportunities to get it right, which really means He is also going to give us lots of opportunities to fail. And I tend to make the most of these chances, which means I usually fail in creative and new ways.

I am having to learn that God’s time is not my time. I keep telling Him if He would speed things up a bit I could get so much more done, but He has yet to take my advice, go figure. I know that is Sunday School lesson 101, but there is a huge difference in remembering and knowing. I know that He has it all under control and He will take care of me, but I hate the fact that His perfect way of doing things means I am left twisting in the wind a little too often to suit my tastes.

Honestly, it is probably a good thing that I was not one of the people walking around the walls of Jericho. I don’t think I could have kept my mouth shut for seven days. About the third time around, I would have been looking for a pick axe because I would have been sure that Joshua misheard the directions and we needed to be busy doing something more productive than waiting on God. By the fourth time around, I would have probably trying to get Joshua to stop and explain all that nonsense to me one more time. And the fifth time, I would at least be sure that I was scuffing away little more sand from the base of wall with each step, if I hadn’t decided to wash my hands of the whole thing.

Fortunately for me, God hasn’t called me to undergo such a grueling ordeal. Right now we are working on the small stuff. I let Him dry my dishes. He takes forever, but eventually He gets the job done. And let me tell you it is torture. No matter how much I nag Him, He never picks up the pace, but I am getting better.

Learning to wait isn’t about trying to slip into some comatose state of being. It is about finding out how deep your trust really goes. It is about learning how to separate the things you are responsible for from the things that you aren’t. It is about finding that balance between sheer laziness and knowing peace in the midst of the unknown. It is about acknowledging He is God and you aren’t.

For me it is the ultimate position of surrender. It is not restful or serene. It is an act of sheer will most of the time. Not because I don’t think God can handle it, but rather I think I can handle it better. I don’t like turning loose of control, real or perceived. I like to think that my actions are what affect change, that somehow God can’t get it done without me. It is a time where I have to put down my pride and my own sense of accomplishment. At these times I have to lay aside all the attributes that my friends usually praise me for so that He can receive the glory.

I have to step out of the spot light for a moment and stand in awe of Him. I need to experience the wonder of what He can do apart from me, and if the Grand Canyon is any indication He’s got it covered in ways that I can only begin to imagine, even if He did do it one excruciating drop of water at a time. And if I need to talk about it that’s okay too, as long as I take my conversation to Him. He understands I am impatient, and sometimes I think He even finds the quality a little endearing, but He knows that I need to learn how to simply be with Him. Because that is right where He wants me, there at His side witnessing what He wants to accomplish in my life.

Christian Phrases I Hate or I'm Not A Tool

Now I know that none of you have ever heard another Christian say something that just sets your teeth on edge, but I have. Maybe I am being a bit too persnickety, but there are a couple of phrases that are floating around in our Christian vernacular that drive me up one wall and down the other. And every time I hear them I have to weigh whether or not to address the situation. I am sure that you have heard them, may have even said them. I know I have.

But sometimes it is a good idea to sit back and really think about the words that come out of our mouths, even those words used by “good church folk.” Honestly, I don’t believe that most of us mean them the way I hear them, but I have heard them one too many times today, so I have to speak up.

One saying that is troubling me is, “and God used me.” There are lots of variations to this one, “I was used of God,” “God will use you,” and my all time favorite is the plea that God will use one in His service. Why, you ask, does this bother me so? Allow me to explain.

It irritates and offends me on two levels. The first one is, since when is it alright or commendable to use a friend or loved one? And if any one of our friends ever intentionally used us, would we really be okay with it? Would we brag to our other friends that we were used? Would we declare it among large groups of people? Wouldn't all sense of trust fly right out the window?

I don’t know about you, but the last friend who “used” me isn’t a friend anymore. There is the implication that we are only as important to God as we are useful to Him. So when you cease to be useful, you cease to be valuable. People are not tools that are used to accomplish a task and then put aside. In healthy relationships, we rely on each other, help each other, and even sacrifice for each other, but when we start using each other the relationship ceases to be healthy. As a matter of fact we have a term for relationships where one party allows another to use them, it’s called being co-dependent. And I have a really hard time seeing God feeding our unhealthy practices.

On the second level is the feint fragrance of arrogance. It is the man standing at the street corner declaring his humility. There is the taint of self importance in the idea that God somehow needed us to do whatever He needed to be done. I hate to break to you, but God is capable of doing whatever He pleases, whenever He pleases, to and with whomever He chooses. Any part we may play in the things He is doing is negligible at best and completely superfluous most of the time.

To me that  is the beautiful part of being allowed to participate in His activities. The fact that He doesn’t need us makes the fact that we got the invitation that much more wonderful. If we could wrap our heads around the idea that He desires to spend time with Him, not because we are so gosh-darn indispensable, but rather that He loves us we might have a little better perspective of our place in this world.

Maybe I am taking things a bit too far here, but I believe that our thoughts determine our language and our language helps shape our thoughts. And maybe, just maybe, the fact that we have run around all these years somehow thinking that God needs to use us has made us forget how powerful He really is.

One thing that makes me think this is another overused Christian phrase, “I am defending God, my faith, etc.” Really? How might we be accomplishing such a feat? By picking fights with others, by getting caught up in useless arguments and debates? If I remember correctly, Paul had something to say about that, and I believe it was something along the lines of  DON'T! And I also seem to remember Jesus saying something about presenting the message and walking away if it was not received.

You see, my God rained fire and brimstone down on a place that wasn’t living up to His standards. He did not outfit an army with flame throwers, He did not send in a squad with napalm. He didn’t even send someone to shout warnings on the street corners. He handled it, alone. And when Abraham tried to interfere, God listened but carried out His plans anyway.

I believe that God doesn’t need to use us to defend Himself. I think He can handle just about anything us humans can throw at Him, and maybe if we stopped trying to take credit for stuff that really is none of our concern we could focus on what is important, things like loving our neighbor, showing compassion to the hurting, and walking in deeper relationship with Him. I have to believe that the world could be changed if we stopped worrying about being used and simply lived a life that was joyfully transformed by being in His presence. I have to hope that if we loved our enemies, instead of trying to protect God from them, they could witness His grace and mercy, and find a desire to know this God who loves us so.

Emily's Rules For Witnessing (Well, more like guidelines. Suggestions, really)

A big part of our faith is witnessing, sharing the good news with those around us. For many Christians this is the most daunting task we have to face, and the reason is most of us don’t know how to witness without ending up in an argument.

It is no secret that most of my working life has been spent in what most would consider rather worldly situations. I have spent a lot of time listening to the stories of those who have never heard about God’s love, heard distorted versions of it, or even accounts of those who been burned by the Church. During that season I learned a lot about talking to those who live outside our Christian bubbles, but more than that I learned the importance of listening to them. I learned many of the things that turn them off and keep them from hearing what we have to say. I also learned how engage them in conversations that help them move a little closer to God.

I wanted to write this post not as a way to brag on my abilities, but rather to share some of what I have learned. Hopefully, I can save you a few steps, and maybe you can avoid some of my mistakes.

Rule #1 - You have to keep the conversation going. You can’t share our message with someone who won’t listen to you.

Rule#2 – Conversations stop when you start being confrontational. We can’t force someone to believe what we believe, even if we know we are right. The shields go up, doors close, and all chances of having an important conversation are lost, sometimes for good.

Rule #3 – Correction is reserved for those who proclaim to share our faith. Anyone outside the Church or does not profess a relationship with Jesus is off limits. Jesus’ words of correction were reserved for those who proclaimed to know the law, not the Roman Centurion.

Rule #4 – Listen. Listen. Listen. Chances are they already know the plan of salvation. You would be surprised at the number of people sitting around a bar who can quote chapter and verse better than most regular church goers. You are not there to fix them, you are there to show mercy and compassion to a world in need. You start by learning their story.

Rule #5 – Acknowledge their wounds, even those caused by sinful behavior. The pain is real, and dismissing it, or worse, to proclaim it as deserved, says we do not value them as a person. Remember Jesus never kicked a leper, nor did He beat the woman caught in adultery. We should follow His example.

Rule #6 – Answer questions about your faith as they arise. People will tell you what they are ready to hear, and if you don’t know an answer, don’t try to bluff them. Say you don’t know and offer to find out, and then do it. Most people appreciate knowing you cared enough to address their questions in a sincere and thoughtful manner.

Rule #7 – Never compromise your faith by engaging in behavior that negates your words, and if you do, acknowledge it. After we stumble is a great time to talk about God’s gift of forgiveness to you, and the experience of conviction over your sin. Remember this conversation is all about you, and not the unbeliever.

Rule #8- Don’t say things like, “Thank you, Jesus” when you have a flat tire. It comes across as insincere. Although you may mean it, no one will believe you, including me. Acknowledge that you are upset, and it really did nothing to brighten your day. Acting sanctimonious says either you aren’t human or you are hiding something.

Rule #9 – Make friends with nonbelievers, and don’t have an agenda. Trust me they can tell when you are plotting something. Get to know them because they have admirable traits, everyone has one, with some people you just have to look a little harder.

Rule #10 – If they are passionate about something and it violates no Biblical principle join them. You can learn some really amazing things this way, about their interests and about them as a person. You don’t need to teach them the Roman Road to salvation every time you see them, just hanging out is okay.

Rule #11- Know your limits. Going out into the world to share our faith is dangerous, know when to retreat, and have a plan in place for those times when things get outside your comfort zone. Usually a simple “time for me to go” is sufficient. Don’t try to explain why you need to leave, just firmly but gracefully make your exit.

Rule #12 – THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FOR YOU! Establish a network of mature Christian friends to hold you accountable. Make sure they are the type of people who will ask you the hard questions and make you answer. If they say get out, get out.

The most difficult thing in this approach is learning how to have the conversations without compromising your position. It helps to use “I” statements, and avoid accusations. Pick your battles wisely, in this era of open mindedness and tolerance we can state what we believe as long as we aren’t forcing down someone’s throat. Most people love to talk about spiritual matters if they know they won’t be attacked. There may be times when you have to take a stand, but I have found all but the most belligerent of people don’t want to fight. More can be accomplished by giving them room to wrestle it out than trying to force a situation to a head.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Grumbling Along The Way

Sometimes there are moments when you know that you are capable of so much more than you dare to attempt. For me these moments come with a headache and a gut wrenching nausea that can leave me paralyzed. It usually happens when God is calling me to move away from a place that is comfortable, a place that seems good enough, and one that others would never fault me for staying in. In fact, many times people question why I would consider making the move at all.

I would like to say that I take these leaps of faith because I see a great and wonderful opportunity. I see a chance to do something greater for the Lord, and I rejoice over the fact that he would allow me the chance to serve in such an audacious manner. The truth is it is usually because I know I will be miserable if I don’t. God has this way of picking at me until I give in, and scream “Enough already.” And then I pick up my knapsack and begin trudging in the general direction he has indicated, all the while grumbling that he would require such a thing of me.

Fortunately, he is used to surly traveling companions and laughs off my grumbling with a certain amount of divine humor. I guess I really don’t have anything on 2 ½ million former Egyptian slaves.

I have heard a lot from people about the irresistible will of the Father, but I really don’t believe that. To me God is so much more than a cosmic bully, pushing me around to suit his whims. I do, however, believe that he extends the chance to walk with him in some pretty scary and amazing places. Places where we have the chance to know him better, to experience the part of him that can only be seen in the wilds of faith. Places where we become even more of who were designed to be, places where we can be more than we thought we could be.

And maybe mostly importantly, places that keep part of us alive. A deep secret part of who we are that can only exist when we are clutching the hand of the Father. I think this is why I go when he calls me, I don’t want that part of me to be extinguished in the drone of the expected. I want that chance to see him do something incredible, and I want the chance to be a part of it. And there a big part of me that is scared to death of missing out on anything he does that is so much bigger than my affinity for comfort and security.

I woke up yesterday with these words in my head. Sometimes you find a safe place and playing it safe will keep you there. The question for me is, is playing it safe what we were called to do?

I have ransacked my Bible looking for just one verse to justify playing it safe. And all I find are stories of audacious daring, people who were willing to deny the demands of their society and culture in order to catch a glimpse of him. Women who elbowed their way through crowds, argued with Jesus himself, all in attempts to hear his words, see his face, feel his touch. Men who weren’t content with the status quo who dared great things, even their lives, to be where he was and do what he was doing.

And in the end the words proclaimed over them were, “Your faith has made you whole.” Whole, what an interesting concept, the idea of shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, but so much more than we usually understand it to be. The reality of “nothing broken, nothing missing.” Shalom, knowing that a piece of us that only lives in his presence, alive and vital.

I sit here this morning lost in the paradox of faith. Wholeness comes through sacrifice, peace in struggle. And I know that I will be at rest only when I begin to move in the direction he is leading. Playing it safe isn’t an option any more, and risk is the pathway to true safety.

It is time to be whole, wholly his, wholly in his presence, and wholly committed to being who he has called me to be. I don’t know where this new path will lead, but I know that he is already there and that is enough.

I Don't Know

I guess when you set yourself up as someone who knows something about the Bible people think that you should have the answers for a lot of their questions about God. Usually, you get off with the easy ones, like “How was Jesus both God and man?”, “How did God part the Red Sea?”, or “How does the Trinity exist?”. I say these are easy because the last few days I keep bumping into the hard ones, “Why?” and “Where was God when my life fell apart?”

I am not writing this to say that I know the answers to any of these questions. And the last two, the really important ones, the where the rubber meets the road questions are the hardest. The truth is I don’t know why, and while I believe God is in the midst of our tragedies I don’t know how to point him out to you. I wish I could, maybe then broken faith could be mended and we could begin to make some kind of sense out of the chaos of our world.

Sure I could give some pat Christian answer, “Just have faith and God will get you through this.” But when has that ever been enough for a heart that has been shattered by disappointment and loss? I could remind you that the Bible is true, and that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose, but seeing the good, or even the purpose, of suffering isn’t always possible in the dark.

It is in our darkest moments that we begin to search out some way to make sense of the cruelty of life. We ask ourselves the hard questions, is this because I have sinned? Maybe, I don’t know. Is it because God doesn’t care enough to move on my behalf? Or is He powerful enough to move on my behalf? Maybe I don’t have enough faith or strength or my breath isn’t fresh enough. All of these thoughts we entertain trying to find a reason. In the end we all pretty much end up at the same place, “I don’t know.”

Is it an issue a faith? Absolutely, but the thing about faith it is a tricky substance. Sometimes it is like a hundred dollar bill that has been run through the washing machine a few too many times. The ink is faded almost past the point of recognition, and if you hadn’t known what it was in the first place you might be tempted to toss it out like any other scrap of paper. Other times, faith is so crisp and clear you almost want to frame it.

Lately it seems like everyone I talk to is hanging onto a tattered piece of faith, hoping they haven’t mistaken an old Wal-Mart receipt for what was once a thing of value. People who are wondering if they were fools to believe in the first place.

I could give them a list of facts about how I know that Bible is true, but honestly that isn’t what they need. I could try to console them with trite clichés or even pray for them, which I do, but there is a need that goes beyond all the pretty church answers. There is an ache that no one person is going to satisfy. A place so deep in their heart only they and God can touch.The other thing about faith is once you have had it, once you have experienced what it is know that gift you can never be content without it.I wish there was an easy answer, a magic wand, a secret word, but if there is I haven’t found it yet.

“Where is God?” “Where is God when I am crying out in pain for him?” “Where is God as people suffer and he seems not to care?” “Why did he allow this happen?” “I don’t think I can believe in a God who does this to his creation.”

These are the questions that have ripped at my heart the past two days. Over and over again I have heard them coming at me from all directions, friends, loved ones, and strangers who speak the questions through tears of brokenness or in defiant rage. And I set there repeating the few words I know to be true, “I don’t know.” I don’t know. At times I wish I did so I could offer an answer to help them through these times of pain and doubt. At times, I am thankful that the mysteries of the universe are not mine to bear.

I have sat with those probing their hearts trying to unearth some hidden sin that prevents them from hearing God’s voice or keeps them from his blessing. I have looked into the scornful eyes who demand why I can so blindly believe the unbelievable. Each time I have found myself at a loss for words, knowing that arguing will win nothing, and empty words will bring no comfort.

All I can say is I have seen his hand at work. I have experienced his presence, and though I may not see him now – I know he is here and he loves you. Experience is all I have to offer, experience that is lost to the day to day struggle, but reclaimed in those moments when life threatens to overwhelm me.

I don’t know why God does what he does. I don’t know why he allows those who have sacrificed to serve him suffer. I don’t know why children die, and I don’t know why dreams must be killed. I don’t know.

All I know is he loves you. He has orchestrated history so that you could know him. For you sake others have suffered and died. For your sake many have been persecuted so that you could hold his word in your hands, speak his name with no fear, and assemble with others who love him. All of history is one big bloody effort for you to be here, for you to have this chance. Perhaps it is your suffering that will pave the way for the next person to hear his voice, maybe this is greater than you.

Because when you strip away all of my conjecture, all my theories, all my hopes, all I truly have to offer is I don’t know, but I will stand beside you until we do.

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"I Want A New Testament Church" - The Battle Cry Of The Lazy Or The Disillusioned?

Lately, I have been rather obsessed. Obsessed with trying to figure out exactly what this thing we call Church is suppose to look like. So many of us grew up in a Church in transition, steeples that now shadow flashy new signs, pews that gave way to padded chairs, hymnals that gave way to over heads which gave way to power point, music that went from the staid hymns of old to easy pop choruses, and preaching that sometimes sounds more like a philosophy lesson than the Word.

Some of the changes I really don’t like, and some I fully support. I have found that many of us who went through these changes in our teens and early twenties like to experience something new when we go to Church, and I have found a lot of us are disappointed when we don’t get it. And I have found that it has left many of us open to the discussion about what we think Church should be.

So often I hear, “I want a New Testament Church.” And to plagiarize a line from one of my former teachers, I ask, “Which one?” Most of the New Testament was written by Paul addressing problems within these infant churches as they struggled to define themselves inside an adverse culture.

When I talk to people about what Church should look like, more often than not I hear about what it shouldn’t be. After all, we have all experienced churches that fail to meet either our or God’s standards. We have all attended churches devoid of life, bound up in religion and programmed so tightly that if God himself suggested a change it would be rejected by the appropriate committee. We have been in churches who only derive their identity by what they are against, and while there is passion it is usually marked with disdain for anyone who fails to adopt their philosophies.

We have been in churches that are social clubs, filled with good people who like to get together, but forget that sipping coffee with your clique is not the reason we gather. We have been in churches where the Spirit seems to be on the move continuously, but teaching is neglected in favor of an emotional high. We have been to churches where the Bible is taught, but all the lessons are learned by rote and become sterile in the absence of compassion. We have been in churches who confuse compassion with blind acceptance, and churches where no matter how long we attend we are still the outsiders.

Maybe the smorgasbord of options have left us overwhelmed, leaving us to think that somewhere in this myriad of possibilities there has to be one that is right. One where we can find seats that don’t put our butts to sleep, or one with a preacher who doesn’t leave us wishing he would just shut up so we can get to lunch. Maybe we have become too picky and we find ourselves quick to point out the flaws without embracing the good. Or just maybe the Church is broken and has reached a time when we need to completely redefine who we are and why we are here.

A friend of my mine said she sees Jesus and his bride as that really great guy with the horrible girlfriend. The guy you want to slap because he doesn’t seem to realize that she treats him like trash, and the girlfriend you want to kill for treating him so badly. Sometimes, more often than I like, I have to agree.

I don’t think it is a bad thing that we see where we can do better. I don’t think it is horrible to admit that we get it wrong sometimes. I think that it is the only thing that saves us from hypocrisy, but when do we stop complaining and start doing something about it? And how?

Even after having gone through so much transition with the Church, many of us still think there is something more waiting to happen. I wonder if we are waiting for God to move, or if He is waiting for us.

Many of us are willing to sit back and complain about the Church, but I have seen far too many of us fail to take an initiative and pursue a solution. A lot of us armchair quarterbacks and back seat drivers will chime in about what others should do, but then blame our hectic lives, finances, kids, and global warming for our lack of involvement. It might just be me, but if you are one of these I think your griping privileges have been revoked.

And I hope that griping is not all I am doing as I work through this latest obsession. I hope that I am seeking answers and actively pursuing what God would want in this situation. I want to know what he desires for and of his Bride. I want to be a part of something larger than myself, and I want to see her operate as a fitting bride for the King.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Story Of Foolishness

I was speeding down I40, heading home from a weekend with my brother when I spotted man huddled in the grass off the edge of the interstate. My first instinct was to wish him well and keep going, but you know that little aggravating voice that asks questions like, “What if he is hurt?” Which was immediately followed by the more sensible voice asking, “And what if he’s a mass murder?” Only to have the third voice chime in, “Chicken! What? You don’t think God is big enough to take care of you?”

I pulled onto the shoulder and backed my little Nissan Sentra grumbling ultimatums at God the entire time, something along the lines that he had better have my back on this one because no one was going to let me live it down if I got myself hurt picking up hitchhikers on the interstate. After all, how dumb is that? Everyone knows that hitchhikers are murders, rapists, and thieves. If I was found dead in a ditch tomorrow it would serve me right, I told myself as I rolled down the window.

“You, alright?” I yelled out and his head sprang up.

I swear his grin was deranged and it was all I could do not to stomp on the gas. Instead, I kept the smile firmly plastered in place.

He jumped up and as he did so, he grabbed a long dark item out of the grass.

“Oh, great, he has a rifle,” I thought with a certain amount of amused resignation. “That’s just great and now my mother can feel vindicated for worrying about my questionable life decisions.” I don’t know which part of that thought irritated me more, him having a rifle or justifying my mother’s worry. You would think that this would be the part in the story where I spun out trying to get away, but if you do, you don’t know me very well. Instead, I just sat there with a death grip on my steering wheel and grinning like an idiot.

As the item in his hand came into full view, I did not even try to stop my relieved laughter. Now this is the point in the story where the man I thought I was helping looked a little scared of me, because there in his sweaty hands was a giant cross – and when I say giant, I mean ginormous construction of wood that was taller than my car was long. I know this for a fact because together he and I strapped it across the roof of that little Sentra and headed down the road while he guzzled water from the case I just so *happened* to have in the back seat. Turns out that even the most dedicated to carrying the message of the cross to the world in such a symbolic manner can under estimate the severity of Oklahoma summers, and that is how he found himself overheated, without water, and alone on the side of the interstate.

You know, walking with God is a lot like that day. You see something that makes you wonder what you should do, what it will possibly cost, or even if it is safe. Those voices in your head start arguing telling you to be sensible, don’t take the foolish risk, God will understand, you are just being wise to keep on trucking, but sometimes there is something in your spirit that just won’t let you go, it draws you back with a hope, a promise, or even a dare, and you wind up yelling out the window to a stranger hoping that God is in this, knowing that if he isn’t life as you know it might be over.

Those opportunities of faith rarely seem safe. In fact, they can look a lot like a stranger pulling a rifle from the grass as you fight off the urge to run for safety, but I have to wonder how many times have we burned rubber trying to make an escape, when if we would have held on for just a heartbeat more God would have revealed himself?

So today, take a risk. Make a choice to step into the unknown, the scary, and the foolish. And just when the fear seems too much, wait a heartbeat more, see if God does not show himself there.

By the way,  the brother I was visiting is the author of The Confession of St. Nocho and a link to his blog can be found in the blog list.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

New Age Fallacies and Christianity - A Comparison

I recently read an article, “5 Common New Age Misconceptions You Need To Understand” by Erin Janus. Now, I had personally been under the impression that the term New Age had fallen out of vogue, so seeing it after years of not, I was curious. As I read through the article I was struck, not by what it had to say about being New Age, but rather that the same misconceptions they listed are all alive and well in the Church as well.

     1. Ignore the negative.

In Christianity we do this by “not speaking that over myself”. Literally, I have seen people who have been so sick they could not keep their eyes open and had tissue stuffed up their nose, but by God, they were not going to accept that they were ill. Because if they named it they claimed it, so they walked around infecting everyone else because they would not acknowledge this “great evil” had any power over them.

The article said that many believed that you give power to something that is harmful simply by “putting your attention on and becoming aware of it.” Sound familiar?

     2. Never get angry.

Oh, we’ve heard this one haven’t we? Anger and offense is the bait of Satan and should be avoided at all costs. It is a favorite of leadership who want to keep their congregations in line, because you are supposed to believe that good Christians are never angry. We are all long-suffering and patient, just like Jesus. (I guess they forgot about that whole Temple scene with the whips.)

Look, most anger is about our hurt feelings or pride, even at being inconvenienced, but sometimes anger is the appropriate response. (As evidenced in that whole Temple scene.) What we need to be taught is not how to stuff our emotions, but rather, to steward them in godly, healthy, productive ways.

The article rightly points out that to shut out anger can lead to “apathy and passivity to the injustices happening in our world today.” How many Christians does that describe?

     3. There is no right and wrong.

We don’t say it this way. After all, there are still some lines we won’t cross, but we are some of the most talented people in the world at saying things we don’t really say. So we use these words instead: “God loves everyone and he just wants us to be happy”, “I felt like God was leading me to __(insert sinful action)___ because __(insert extenuating circumstance/special privilege)___”, “Times and culture has changed and we must change with it”, or “I know it was wrong, but God will forgive me.”

When we start making excuses and conjuring up caveats for why God’s word is wrong we are essentially saying that there is no right or wrong. Or worse, we are saying that God was wrong when he crafted that sacred book.

The article points out that when a person reaches this place they will try to convince themselves and others that everything is okay. However, take this a step further since we as Christians seem especially talented in turning this into a special kind of hypocrisy wherein we will still chastise and look down upon those who break the same rules we do.

     4. There is no Truth: Perception = Reality

This is the progression of “there is no right or wrong” or, perhaps, it is the genesis of the thought. (This could really be one of those chicken or the egg debates, but moving on…) By presenting himself as the Truth, Jesus clearly demonstrates that the truth is both objective and knowable through him. However, if we deny the revelation of truth contained in his word, we are effectively denying the purpose and power of his presence here on this earth and in our lives.

The article points out that reality and perception are not one and the same. Our perceptions of reality might change but the actuality of what is truly happening does not. As Christians, we need to be aware of how our perceptions affect our understanding of the truth and be working to bring ourselves into alignment with it.

     5. What you resist persists…So don’t resist.

“I am just going to let go and let God”, “We will be in prayer about that”, “Just love them to Jesus”, or “Keep praying God will give you peace about it” are a few of the ways we have embraced this principle. The idea is that if we just pray hard enough and have enough faith, we will eventually learn to accept the circumstances that cause us pain. It seems so spiritual to walk past evil as if it had no ability to harm you. In many Christian circles this serene acceptance of pain and injustice has become the litmus test for the spiritual mature.

However, there are things in this world that we, as Christians, should be resisting. We should be resisting homelessness, starvation, abuse, addiction, and disease. We should be resisting apathy and the temptation to make laziness sound like a spiritual endeavor.

The article says, “If we do not resist the evil that is destroying freedom, health, and happiness in the world, then nothing will change or improve.” Boys and girls, that is a fact and one we would like to by-pass in an attempt to justify our own unwillingness to become involved in those issues that would demand more of us than we are willing to give.

Why did I bother to go through a New Age article on a Christian blog? I did it for two reasons: 1.) It bothers me that we as the Church have incorporated so many popular New Age fallacies into our faith without ever questioning the origin. 2.) It saddens me that so often we have failed to address them with the same bold manner as Erin Janus has demonstrated for us in her writing.

Link to the original article here:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bloody Issues - When Proper Is Not Proper

"Emily, why don't you share with the class some of the things her condition would entail."

"Oh, yeah, pick me," I smarted off before I could stop myself, but the prof just grinned. I fumbled for a second as I struggled to gather my thoughts. I had never really considered what this woman was going through. After all, we all know that proper Christians blow right by the uncomfortable section of the Bible and focus on the greater theological questions of the text. And this was long before my "scandalous" days, before I had learn to field all those embarrassing biological questions with a certain amount of finesse. 

The text in question was Mark 5:24-34, most commonly referred to as "The Woman With An Issue Of Blood. What a pretty and proper way to phrase it! Imagine if we called it what it is - "The Woman Who Had The Tsunami Of All Periods". Now that grabs your attention. 

Christians have a bad habit of never quite saying what they mean when it comes to issues of sex. We have this entire vocabulary that allows us to reference these unsettling bits of the Bible without actually saying the words. We say things like: "he knew his wife", "the way of women", "uncovered nakedness", "issues", "discharge", "violate", "immorality", "impure", or if you are daring, "sexual sin".

The problem is when we use all our proper little code words we do to things to the text:

1. We prevent those who did not get the secret Christian decoder ring from understanding what we are saying.

2. We are missing the full impact of what God has to say about our bodies and sex - both good and bad.

Look, I know that we use these terms out of respect. No one wants to be crude and vulgar when dealing with God and the Bible, but we need to ask ourselves some questions:

1. Did God ever sacrifice clarity for propriety?

2. Are we showing more concern for societal demands than what God has said in his Word?

If we consider that when the Bible was written, and recognize it was written in terms that the receiving culture would understand the answers to these questions become clear. God never flinched at our sexuality - even the *ugly* parts. Every time he speaks of sexuality, he is bold, blunt, and honest. So much so that even in the soften English translations it is hard not feel a bit squeamish about passages like Ezekiel 23 or Leviticus 15. And Song of Songs? Read that without imposing metaphor or allegory onto the text and you will find that it is flat out HOT!

But let's return to our original story, the woman who surfed the red tide for twelve years. 

Consider for a moment how changing the language we use to reference it changes our perspective. No longer is God removed from our condition as women. He is not snarling down at out bodies in disgust. Instead God, present with us in the person of Jesus, cares about our bodies. He cares about our periods and physical discomforts. He is not repulsed by our femininity or the evidence of our sex. Instead, he sees even this as reason to respond in compassion and with healing. 

How many women need to know this about our Lord? How many of our sisters need to experience healing in the area of their sexuality in physical, emotional, and spiritual levels? But how many feel that this part of who they are is too repugnant or shameful to bring to our Savior?

In many ways, we have been condemned to live our lives as this unnamed woman. According to law and convention, we are consigned to the role of social outcast, destined to suffer in silent acceptance if we wish to be deemed proper. 

However, I think she shares another truth. In verse 32, Mark says that she told him "the whole truth." How I wish we had a transcript of that conversation! Imagine what it must have been like for her to stand there, looking into Jesus' eyes, telling him about something that most of us have been taught keep hidden. Could today's Christian woman be so bold? So shameless? Or have we lost our ability to come to God with the whole truth in matters of sex?  I hope not, because I believe she is teaching us that if we dare to step in faith, fight our way through the crowds, risk being rebuked for our boldness, we can find that hem to grab hold of and in that moment gain the chance to hear him say, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace."

Don't Flinch

“I believe we were created by aliens,” he announced from nowhere.

I grinned and poured his drink, careful to let amber brew slide down the side of the chilled glass. The challenge in his voice was unmistakable. What he up to was obvious, I had watched him in action far too many times before this to be surprised.

I set the beer before him and leaned on to the bar, doing my best Sam Elliot impression, wishing for once I had bushy eyebrows to look through.

“Aliens?” I asked pushing him a napkin.

“Yup,” his eyes glittered, anxious for the coming fight.

I shrugged and grinned a little bigger. “As in extra-terrestrials?”

“Yup,” he was getting ready to pounce.

“As in not of this earth?” I queried as coolly as possible. “As in something bigger, greater, more powerful, and smarter than you and I can begin to imagine…”

“That’s right.” he was perched on the edge of his chair now. His broad smile revealing just how many teeth he was missing.

“Well, Bud, I guess I’ve got to agree with you - God’s an alien.” He deflated like a child’s balloon. I could almost hear the air hissing out of him as he shrank back on the stool.

He took a long draw off his cigarette and downed half his beer in one swig. He gave me an irritated glare that gave way to an indulgent smile. “Hmmph, God’s an alien.” He raised his glass in a mock salute and threw back the rest of his drink.

I learned something that night - Don’t flinch. He came in there like a bantam rooster raring for fight, and he was sure I would give it to him. He knew what  I believed, and he was counting on me to act like so many other intolerant and insecure believers. What he didn’t count on was the fact, I was tired and just ready to go home. Fighting just wasn’t on my agenda.

We talked for a long time that night, about God, faith, and the Bible but mostly we talked about why I didn’t feel the need to lock horns with him. You see, I live by a code - one that does not require that I have to validate what I believe by gaining the approval of others. I can share what I believe and they are free to take or it or leave it. That night Bud learned something too. He learned that there are Christians out there that can discuss their faith without arguing about it, that we can acknowledge a valid point even if it comes from an opposing view.

Arguing about faith is waste of time leading to hurt feeling and often make both parties look foolish in the process. And trying to convince someone your right when you just injured them is sure fire way to get yourself hurt.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Disturbing Bible Stories - Asking The Hard Questions

If you study your Bible very long one of the things that you will find is there are certain stories that can be rather disturbing. Stories that can make you wonder how well you understand this person we call God, and even some that can make you wonder if we really know Him at all.

For me one of those stories is the story of Uzzah. Many of us don’t remember the name, but most of us know his tale. He was one of the men who was trying to return the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. He was following the orders of his king, when the wagon transporting the Ark hit a bump in the road and the Ark began to topple, Uzzah did what I think anyone of us would do. He put his hand out to save the Ark, and God struck him dead.

As a child, this story really bothered me, and when I would ask people, “Why?” The answers were never satisfying. It just did not make sense to me that he would be punished for trying to do the right thing. Okay, sure, David was going about it all wrong. He messed up royally, no pun intended, but Uzzah was just following orders, doing what the man in charge had instructed him to do. It wasn’t his fault that David got it wrong, and I kept seeing myself in Uzzah’s place. As the one who had to do what they were told, who saw a disaster in the making and tried to stop it, and still got in trouble.

Even as I got older, it still bugged me. How does this happen? How can a person be punished for trying to do the right thing? It didn’t seem just or loving. It didn’t line up with my understanding of who God is. So I tried to ignore the story. It is easier that way, just act like the hard parts of the Bible don’t exist, and presto, your theology can remain simple, easy, and comfortable.

The thing is you don’t learn when you do that. Failing to ask the hard questions means you never get the great answers. Sure the process may hurt, and you may find that some of the things you once believed about God need to be reevaluated, tweaked, or even scrapped. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean God is any less God. It means you are growing up. Just like when we stop to consider our parents as adults and not simply as a child. They are still our parents, but we can begin to appreciate more of who they are.

Even later in life when I returned to the story, I began to see some things I had missed before. One of those things was Uzzah wasn’t a nobody. He wasn’t some ignorant worker who did not know better. The Ark had been kept at his father’s house, so he probably already knew a thing or two about how it should be treated. He had been chosen to be close to the Ark, a position of honor, probably for this very reason. So this leaves us with the question, if he knew so much, why did he allow the king to make such a horrendous mistake?

Why didn’t he speak up? Remind David of the proper protocol, refuse to be involved when he saw things were not being done according to God’s will? Was he seduced by the honor offered by the king? Was he worried about offending David? Or did he hope that good intentions would be sufficient?

Now when I read the story, I wonder when in my life have I been Uzzah? Willing to cut corners, go with the flow, or hide behind the excuse “I was only doing what I was told”? Have I ever been bought off by recognition and honor, because I let myself believe that good intentions made up for disobedience? Or am I just being lazy or fearful?

We will all be confronted with times when someone will ask us to do something we know isn’t right. In that moment we will have to decide whether the prestige of such request outweighs our reverence for the things of God. In my life, I pray that I am willing to speak up, or decline to be involved, when I face these times. I pray that I have the grace to do it with compassion and mercy but with a firmness of conviction that will not allow me to be swayed from my intent to honor the King.

It isn’t always easy. People don’t always respond well to being corrected, and sometimes in our fervor people can be irritated by those they believe stand in their way. We can lose out on the perks, be seen as trouble makers, and even shunned by people who fail to understand our hearts. And make no mistake, it can hurt, but Uzzah lost his life because he kept quiet. He died because he failed to take a stand. I don’t want to be that person.

And as someone who is in leadership, I would hope that my people would speak up. Correct me if they see that I am wrong. David grieved over Uzzah’s death, as a good leader should. His purpose of returning the symbol of God’s glory to people was delayed, and he had to stand before his people aware that he had failed them as a leader. Everyone knew that he shared in the responsibility to for Uzzah’s death. That is just one place I never want to be.

So let Uzzah’s story be reminder, there are times to find our backbone, use our voice, and share our knowledge. And there are times when we need to hear from those in our lives that may know something we don’t. It really could be a matter of life or death.

Steps, Leaping, and Surrender - The Ways of Love

Originally posted April 2010

Still Together

In my adult life I have had three significant love relationships. The first one was to the man I married, a man I dated, and the man to whom I will be married in forty days. I haven’t always been wise when it comes to matters of the heart. It would be easy to blame society, television, Walt Disney, or a million other factors. The truth is I was pretty mixed up when it came to the who to the whole love thing, but I didn’t know it and as I talk to other girls who hope to one day find love I see that it isn’t just me that had a problem sorting all this out.

We get a lot of mixed signals when it comes to romance. Most of us come from broken homes, so we believe that love is something that goes away and can’t be trusted. Many of us see the dysfunctional relationships portrayed in popular media and we think that love can be had in rapid succession with a number of partners. We are told that love is a commitment by so many people in the church. Walt Disney says love is forever and once we find it we are guaranteed a happily ever after.

We don’t know if love is something we pursue or finds us. We can’t figure out if it is something that we feel or decide. We just don’t know if we are destined to be the lucky ones or if love is a matter of intense effort. It is not easy to sift through all the information out there about this phenomenon.

As the date draws closer to my wedding, I am finding myself reflecting on the past. The events that shaped my perceptions, recognizing some of my mistakes, and things that I have endured in order to understand what makes this relationship so different from the last ones. Yes, definitely the man is different, but I am different too.

I was twenty years old when I was married the first time. I knew I wanted a husband and a family so I got married to the first man who seemed to fit my check list. I took all the proper steps in choosing this man. He looked good on paper, and I believed that as long as I kept following the formulas, did things by the book, we would be able to build a marriage that would be okay. There was no passion for him, and as it turned out, he had none for me. We were both looking of partners who fit certain criteria and we thought we had found them. It was not long before it was obvious that our marriage was based on misinformation and more than a few lies, but I still believed that if I took all the proper steps I could make it better. I told myself that I loved him, and if I just kept trying everything would work out.

I had every relationship book in print, worked the formula, and went through counseling all in hopes that I would find the right set of steps to our save us from destruction. The thing is love is a bit of a dance, but if it is really love, your partner doesn’t hate you if you step on their toes from time to time. In the end, I was unable to keep up, do the right things, or be the right person to keep him happy and all I was doing was killing myself trying to make it work. It wasn’t easy to admit that the marriage failed, but looking back, I realize that my biggest mistake happened when I believed that love could be a formula to be mastered.

The next relationship was comedy or tragedy of mistakes, depending on your point of view. I leapt into love, blindly, stupidly. For the first time I knew what it was to want someone in my life, not just try to have someone because it is expected. There was fire and passion, but it was fanned by the flames of uncertainty and doubt. The constant strain of whether he was going to be there for me or not, rearranging my life so that I would be acceptable and appealing to him, all in the hopes that he would one day wake up and realize he loved me as much as I did him. I held on through so much chaos and confusion thinking my leap of faith would be enough to sustain us. In the end, it takes two to believe for great things and both have to leap together. The last time I leapt, he stood firmly on the edge of that abyss and watched me fall, and I realized that I could never do that again.

I was a little lost for awhile after that. I didn’t know what to do. Love wasn’t working for me or I couldn’t make it work for me. I had tried taking the steps. I had made the leaps, what else could I do? It seemed so out of my hands, so far beyond anything I could possibly do that I felt hopeless. I didn’t like being out of control. I didn’t like feeling like I could do nothing to bring about the one thing that I have wanted since the first time I saw Cinderella, but I was helpless.

Dirty feet in the garden while we were dating

Then I met Ty, and I was too weary to take the steps. I was too scared to make another leap, but he never asked me to. Instead, he sat there one night and told me about the things in his heart, his hopes, his fears, and why I belonged in his life. He told me about how who I was, not what I did, fascinated and captivated him. There was no formula to master or ability to prove, and I found myself confronted by something so completely new, it scared me to death. He loved me, and all I had to do was surrender to it. I had to be okay with just being. I had to trust him, and it is hard not do with those beseeching blue eyes promising so much if you do. I had to turn loose of all my attempts to control the situation, and surrender to this man.

For the first time, I understood why so many people can’t figure Christianity out, why a God who offers grace is so difficult to understand and accept. When you spend your whole life thinking that love is something you have to perform to receive, being confronted by a love that demands only your presence is overwhelming. I almost walked away from Ty. He seemed too good to be true, but I decided I could be okay with this new type of love, the kind where I am beautiful even when my hairs a mess and my feet are covered in dirt from the garden.

I have to believe that God is like that. That he sees our dirty feet and smiles every time we turn our faces towards him, because its not about the steps we take or the leaps we attempt. It is about realizing he loves us and trusting his love enough to surrender to him.

An Eternity With Morons

Recently, I was asked if I was sure I was even saved. And not in the “I am deeply concerned for your spiritual well being and eternal residence” kind of way. It was more in the “You disrupted my theology, I don’t like the way that feels, so I will attack you personally in a manner that makes me feel superior to you” kind of way.

At the time I laughed it off. I was rather amused, because the only thing in this life that I am certain of is that I have a real relationship with my God. It is everything else that can be kind of shaky.

But later, the question began to bug me. And not the “Oh my God, could she possibly be right?” convicted kind of way. It was more of the “How dare she even insinuate such a thing” kind of way. Conviction followed shortly after some rather uncharitable thoughts about the person, me questioning her salvation, planning on how I was going to be a great tool - first, in her enlightenment and secondly, her repentance for doubting my dazzling theological intellect.

It is amazing how un-Christians can be when we talk about our Christianity. We get all self righteous, and convinced that we are the only ones who truly know who God is and how He does things. We begin to believe that only those who agree with us can possible be saved and everyone else is going to hell. And I am not so sure that that feeling isn’t accompanied by some sense of relief – as in the “Oh good, I didn’t want to spend eternity with that moron anyway” kind of way.

The essence of the conversation that led to this anger provoking question was God had to conform to certain ideology that provided this person with absolute confidence that God would never do something they did not approve of. I countered with God is absolutely capable of doing whatever He pleases and should He choose to upset your paradigm than He will – and it would not be out of his character or not in keeping with His nature. It is one of the perks of being God, you get to have it your way all the time, except when you chose not to – and then it’s called grace.

Somewhere in the midst of the conversation, I got the “shut up” message from God. He sends them more than I receive them, but sometimes, when He shouts, I get a clue. So I tried to extricate myself from the situation with a little grace, end on a note we could all agree on. It went like this (if you know me then you have heard me say it, so no it probably isn’t you I am writing about.)

“Maybe we should leave it at agreeing to disagree. After all there is so much that we do agree on, right?” I say nodding my head until she began to parrot me.

“God loves us and created us to have relationship.” Agreement was given.

“Jesus fully God, fully man, lived, died and rose again for our sins.” Again we had agreement.

“And we can only experience salvation through him.” Once again, agreement.

We parted warily, liked two armed gun men both aware that the other could turn and shoot us in the back while we retreated. There was no sense of community that arose from the conversation, nor do I think that we fostered any type of relationship, but that could just be me and my wounded feelings.

Theological debate and arguments can be good things. They help us clarify what we believe, and make us articulate ideas and concepts that float around in our heads like fog. They help us weed out heresy, and force us keep some sort of coherence in our thoughts about God, but too often our thoughts about God become our image of God.

There was a reason that the second commandment says we should not create a graven image of God, and most of us don’t break this one – at least not literally. But maybe it is time that we extracted the principle for use in our day, because everyone I know, including me, has an image of God. It is my favorite idea of who and what he is. He is the God I like, and his parameters are well defined.

I have come to believe that our walk of faith is less about knowing God, and more about realizing what we don’t know about him. It is about tearing down the image of him I carry around in my mind and can defend so well.

Maybe this is why we get so crazed when we talk about the God we believe in, and someone disagrees. We know they aren’t tearing down God, we know they have walked up to our idol and smacked it with a baseball bat. It tends to set us off, but I have discovered something – only an idol needs our defense, only an image we have made needs us to use dirty tactics to preserve their dignity. God, the real God, is pretty good at taking care of himself. Defense is not our job, loving each other is. And when we get too busy protecting our image of him, it’s the one thing we just can’t do.

And by the way, we should all prepare for an eternity with morons, I am pretty sure I will make it, and I hope you do too.