Thursday, December 27, 2007

James 1: 22-25


And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. If you don’t obey, you are only fooling yourself. For if you just listen and don’t obey, it is like looking at your face in a mirror but doing nothing to improve your appearance. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law—the law that sets you free—and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. (James 1 22-25, NLT)
Have you ever read a Bible verse that is perfectly clear and then looked for some other interpretation? I do that all of the time. I decide I must not understand because the truth is too hard to swallow. The truth would mean that I would have to change. That is inconvenient. It is beyond inconvenient. It can mean that I need to make huge changes in my life.

The metaphor of looking in a mirror and ignoring it is a powerful one. What is the sense in looking in the mirror if I am not willing to do something about the fact my hair is standing on end? When I read this I realize how silly it is to only look for God’s will and God’s word where it suits me. Yet I do that so often.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

James 1: 9-11


(James 1: 9-11) Christians who are poor should be glad, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should be glad, for God has humbled them. They will fade away like a flower in the field. The hot sun rises and dries up the grass; the flower withers, and its beauty fades away. So also, wealthy people will fade away with all of their achievements.

I am grateful for the people in my life that allow me to be who I am. They are there for me when I am suffering. I think without those people I would not be able to continue on this journey I am on. I pray that I can be as loving as they are to me.

Yet I also know that when people ask me how I am I find myself afraid to tell the truth. Not to those close to me necessarily but to those I don’t know as well or those I know will judge me. It seems like if I say I am experiencing pain some people attribute that to some lack in my faith.

I don’t know if that is what people intend to convey. Perhaps they are just trying to be helpful. I do know that there are people out there that think if you do not live what they consider to be an abundant life (pain free) there is something wrong with you. Maybe you don’t pray correctly or read your Bible enough.

Verses like this remind me that suffering does not mean there is something wrong with me. God is the great equalizer. Although James is talking about physical wealth I believe the same thing applies spiritually. Those who are poor should be glad because God has honored them.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not So Happy Anniversaries


My mother passed away on November 20th, 1995. I remember November 20th, 1996 quite clearly. I was still in school. The loss of my mother was still quite acute in my mind. In some ways my mother’s death defined me at school. It is unusual for a young woman of 22 to lose their mother. My peers were ill equipped to walk with me through my pain. I don’t think I knew anyone else who had experienced the death of someone so close.

I did have some very good friends who knew the day was coming. One friend in particular wanted to make sure I wasn’t alone. We went to Applebee’s for dinner. It was kind of surreal. It turned out that thinking about the date was much worse than the actual day. Still I was glad that my friend and I had planned dinner. The anticipation of spending that evening alone would have been too much to bear.

After I left school things changed. Many of the people who were in my life at the time were no longer part of my inner circle. For those who are still in my life November 20th is not part of their history. It is mine. No one remembers unless I bring it up.

I had thought it would never happen but there have been a few years where the date has passed without my noticing. I was horrified by that. It was like I had somehow betrayed my mother. I had forgotten her and moved on with my life. The past few years I have remembered.

The thing is that it is really hard to find a context in which to bring up “Hey Tuesday is the anniversary of my mother’s death.” It seems so long ago. I should have gone through all of the steps of grieving by now (and I have several times.) To say the day is painful seems like I am not letting go of a 12 year old wound. To let go of the day would feel like I am throwing away something very important.

I miss you Mom. Sometimes the world is a shitty place without you. That will never change.

James 1: 5-8


James 1:5-8 (NLT)
If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking. [6] But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to answer, for a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. [7] People like that should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. [8] They can't make up their minds. They waver back and forth in everything they do.

James has just put trials into perspective. They help build us and shape our character. If we are going to get through trials and live well we need to know what to do. We need wisdom. The American Heritage Dictionary defines wisdom as “The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight.” Wisdom gives us the ability to figure out what to do.

Wisdom is not the same as the answer. When I look up the Scripture references that use the same Greek word they all indicate a more general type of wisdom. So when we are looking for wisdom we are not necessarily expecting God to come and say, ‘pick the blue one.’ God teaches us how to figure that out. He shows us the path to figuring out what to do. He will use his own methods to tell us what to do.

At first glance James seems to be condemning doubt in general. The thing to keep in mind here is that James is talking about praying for wisdom. He is not talking about praying for healing, provision, rescue or anything else. He is talking about wisdom in this passage.

If I am a Christian does it not make sense that I would expect God to guide me? There is something larger here than an answer to prayer. Remember that the other gods available were idols. They did not answer prayer. People who worshipped idols would not expect answers would they? And if people do not expect the Living God to guide them they will not wait on the Lord.

I believe that the people that should not expect anything from the Lord as James says are people that do not expect God to intervene in their lives. Does this mean we should expect specific things? Of course not. But if we do not believe that God will guide us there is pretty much no point in being a Christian is there?

I seem to be pointing the finger at others. In some respects I am. It really bugs me when people will only be ‘Christian’ to the point where they might have to change something about their life. However I know that I do not always expect that God will guide me. Worse I forget to ask for guidance. Lately I have struggled with that most at work.

For some reason I got it in my head that God didn’t care about my work. I don’t work in any kind of caring profession (doctor, nurse, social worker, pastor.) I would not have realized I thought that until I figured out that I was acting as if God didn’t care about the work I did. I mean would God really care about the project I was working on getting done (or not getting done?) Would God give me the wisdom to make good decisions about my work?

In addition I often find myself doubting whether I have been given guidance from God or not. Yes it can be difficult to know whether something is coming from God. But if I have asked for wisdom I need to believe that God is giving it to me. I waste too much energy trying to figure out if something I have asked for wisdom on is from God. I need to believe that God is telling me what to do (and that if I mess up after earnestly seeking Him he will protect me.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

James 1: 2-4


James 1:2-4 (NLT)
Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. [3] For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. [4] So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.


When I first became a Christian I held onto this verse. In fact it is probably the reason I read the rest of the book. It made my life make sense in some way. I put a premium on being strong and tough. It made a lot of sense for someone who described herself as coming from the ‘school of hard knocks.’ (Actually I don’t think I ever used that term out-loud. It was more of an internalized attitude.)

As I began to live out my life as a Christian and come across more ‘trouble’ I would encounter Christians who would throw out this passage rather than attempt to empathize. I could go into a long rant about why I think people shouldn't just quote Scripture in an answer to pain but that would detract from what I am trying to say. The point is that I stayed away from this verse for a long time. I have spoken on the topic of pain, I have walked with people going through pain, I gone through lots of pain, and I never pointed anyone including myself to these verses.

When I step back and look at the context it changes the way I look at this passage. The this letter was written very early after Jesus’ resurrection (in comparison to other letters in the Bible.) There was no formal established Church. Christians were scattered and probably marginalized. For those of Jewish background they would have lost a lot of friends and even family. Most interactions would be difficult. Not only would they fear for their safety but daily life would be very difficult. And if this book was actually only written 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection most of them knew a life before becoming Christians.

I can imagine if that was me I would wonder what the point of the daily drudgery of living this way was. Rather than the word ‘trouble’ another translation uses the word ‘trials.’ I started to wonder if James was talking more about the difficultly of living out life than specific dangers and crisis'. After the greeting this is the first thing he says. He is trying to reach Christians who are scattered and don’t have access to the resources we have today. The next thing James writes is this:

James 1:5 (NLT)
If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking.


If I am in the middle of some trauma (say a car accident) I don’t ask for wisdom I ask for help. If someone important to me dies I ask for God to be near me, to bring me strength, to help me get through, not for wisdom. If I have just hurt myself or someone else is hurting me I would ask for God to rescue me. We don't need wisdom when something bad has already happened. Wisdom is a very practical day-to-day thing. We might ask for wisdom to know what to do when we are struggling with a physical problem but that is more of an issue of how to move forward.

The more I look into this and the more research I do I am convinced that James was not referring to specific ‘trouble’ but life in general when he talked about endurance. God is near to us in our pain. But we also learn a lot as we live out a life that is difficult. James did not say ‘if trouble comes’ he said when. We all have difficulty in our lives. It teaches us to endure. It makes us ready for anything.

These verses have much application for me today. I think about the stress at work. I think about living with chronic pain. I think about financial stress. All of these things teach me to endure.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Book of James

In the past few months I have woken up a lot in the middle of the night and been unable to get back to sleep. It seems like my mind races and won’t settle back down for me to relax. I have figured out recently to read the Bible. It calms my mind. Oddly it also seems like whatever I have read sticks with me. I don’t know if God is waking me up to read the Bible. I don’t think so. It is just a natural part of having the pain from an injury.

A couple nights ago during such an episode I read the Book of James in the Bible. James is a book that is often pointed to as a ‘how-to-manual’ for Christians. Although I would never describe the Bible in it’s entirety as a how-to-manual for life as some Christians do we have reasons to think that much of the book of James is prescriptive. The book of James is one of the earliest letters. It was written only 20 years or so after Jesus’ resurrection. The Christians were scattered. Without an organized church they really didn’t know what to do.

I have read the Book of James before. I didn’t like it. There were too many rules. This time when I read it I found a lot of wisdom. I have been looking for such wisdom on my journey lately. As much as I found wisdom I also found a lot of passages I didn’t understand. So I thought I would reflect on the Book of James in this blog. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Room Temperature


I have a programmable digital thermostat. It works well except when I happen to be home on a weekday. Then I have to manually override the temperature. Usually my target temperature is 20º. There is something weird about my thermostat. No matter what I do the thermostat seems to go from 19º to 21º. It is the strangest thing!

I have been home more lately. I have discovered that if I go up to 21º, I can easily come back down to 20º. It seems like my thermostat needs to go past the perfect room temperature and correct.

I am like that. Except I go from the equivalent of -10º to 30º before realize I need to be at 20º. There are so many areas of my life where the pendulum seems to swing back and forth. No matter what I do, I always seem to go too far.

I wonder if part of that is natural. If we need to go past the point of perfection so we can have perspective. We need to see the perfect point of balance from the other side. I am pretty sure that the perfect balance is something only God can achieve.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What to Say or Transition (I can't even pick a title today)


Wow I can’t believe it has been more than a month since I last posted! I have thought about posting quite often but my thoughts seemed too abstract. I find myself in a season of growth but also of confusion. I have so many questions and not so many answers. Nothing seems like it used to right now. Everything is different.

I find myself in a very lonely place because even if I answer the ‘How are you?’ question honestly I don’t know what to say. So I just say I am okay or I recount the status on my injuries (yes I am now limping in addition to the tear in my wrist.) But I am NOT OKAY! I am tormented. I am also great. Both of those things seem to be going on for me in the same week. Sometimes I experience both extremes in the same moment.

I have been thinking about so many things. One of which is how much attention one should pay to spiritual warfare. I learned a long time ago that paying too much attention to what the devil is doing is merely a distraction to looking for God. Yet the spiritual battle in my life has been tangible, brutal at times. I find myself to be a warrior in a battle I am only just learning to fight. In the past I have been a ‘civilian’ of sorts in the war. I have been affected and even wounded in the battle but I have not really fought back. Now I am fighting back and I am battle weary. Part of me wonders if I am just getting too caught up in it.

I have also been wondering if Jesus understands unbelief. The Christian faith teaches me that Jesus came to earth and lived with us so He understands everything. Yet Jesus is the son of God. Jesus is God. So how can Jesus have experienced unbelief? The experience of doubt is central to the struggle of humanity. I find myself experiencing a new doubt all the time. Does Jesus understand that?

Then there is the confusion about God’s strength. I have focused on my weakness and brokenness a lot. I have been honest about the places I am broken. Yet on some levels I have not allowed myself to be vulnerable in the moment. Now I have been able to do that. The thing is that I know I need to allow God to see my weakness but I also need to draw on His strength. It is God’s strength I need to bring change in to my life. Yet it seems that allowing myself to be weak is a prerequisite to that. I am just not entirely sure how to take the next step.

I am seeking God’s will in the area of discipline. This is an area I have struggled with. I have only wanted God to help me. I have seen myself as unable to be disciplined until some switch flicked in me (note to self see God’s strength above.) Now I have been a lot more disciplined but I feel like I am going over the top. I am afraid to do anything that may cause me to stumble. I haven’t wanted to spend any money or do anything all that fun for fear it will cause me to sink into the pit. This is legalistic and not God’s will for my life. Yet I don’t know if I can live in the grey.

I also feel God calling me to bring some healing to my relationships. I don’t know where to start. This new 'softness' in me has brought me into a vulnerable place where I have been hurt. In some cases I need to be honest with some people in areas of hurt. In other cases I need to step out and love some people. In still others I have some apologies to make.

I think that in the next few weeks I will perhaps allow myself to explore my questions (this post is really long and I haven’t even listed them all.) I hope you will be patient with me and follow my wanderings. I also hope that you will feel free to contribute comments.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving and this weekend we focus on the things we are grateful for. Many families will or already have had a dinner with turkey and all of the fixings. At a lot of those tables there will be a tradition of going around and asking people what they are thankful for. I always have a struggle with that tradition. I have trouble boiling down what I am grateful to just one or two sentences. Often I have to tell stories to explain why I am thankful. Who really wants to sit and listen to me talk for 5 minutes about why I am thankful when there is turkey on the table?

Yesterday I started out feeling weary and tired. I was blessed by a gathering at church that was fun but also a teaching that met me exactly where I was at. I entered the gathering feeling alone and left feeling abundantly blessed. To say that I am grateful for friends would not begin to express the things in my life that I am grateful for.

Seven years ago I walked through the world feeling disconnected. I wasn’t without friends – I had some very close ones. Yet there is a difference between having friends and feeling connected. When you are connected those around you share your burdens and joy and you share theirs.

At our gathering this year I was reminded that when God speaks of family he is speaking of something much broader. I may not sit around the dining room table with them but there is still a sense of connectedness. There was the woman who put her arm around me as she walked by and embraced me without saying a word. There was another friend who invited me for dinner tonight. Still another friend shared with me a beautiful story about God meeting her in a difficult life transition. There was the pastor who made sure that I and others like me knew that the message was not just for those in traditional family units. There was the friend that phoned to share the news of the birth of their baby. Then there was the family who I shared turkey dinner with last night.

So today I am not just thankful for friends. I am thankful for community. I am thankful for connectedness. I am awestruck by a God who provides all of this and still has the patience to gently remind me what I have when I forget.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Lost and Found

Lost and found
And lost

Again
In the desert
This time

I See the Son

Someone at work described the situation we are in as “The Perfect Storm.” If you have seen the movie you know that phrase refers to several big storms coming together at the same time. I have heard that analogy used several times over the past few months at work. It has become a mantra of sorts.

I had the thought that only God can create the perfect storm. The circumstances at work have only been one of the storms in my own life. I know that only God could bring me here.

The past few days I have been tested over and over. I have claimed the Truth and then been tested again. But God has also sent me help in the form of people surrounding me with love.

This morning I woke up and felt a nudge to pray for God’s hand on my day. I didn’t know what was going to happen today. It turns out that today was not a good day to be me at work. It was a difficult day and I struggled to get through it. Yet, on some core level I felt a sense of groundedness. I also managed to get through it with a level of grace that only God’s hand on my life could manage.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Happy Anniversary


Seven years ago today I asked Jesus to come into my life. I was reading a booklet called “Why Jesus?” and within it there was a prayer where you could invite Jesus into your life. Being familiar with the Christian faith I knew the prayer was coming so I stopped a few pages before it in the book. I knew I was going to pray the prayer. Being ever pragmatic I decided that since I didn’t know what would happen once I said the prayer I would run a few errands first. After I came home I said the prayer. I remember stopping for a moment and waiting. Nothing happened… or so I thought.

I remember about a year later I felt like part of me had woken up and found out that the other part of me had become a Christian. I was confused and somewhat angry. I had heard that God was present in all the things I had experienced but what difference did that make? How could God allow me to go through everything I had as a child and still blame me for my sin? It didn’t seem fair and I acted out my anger in destructive ways.

I was blessed to have people around me who supported me through that process. What brought me out of that was to write an article for our church’s newsletter about my involvement in the ministry that had lead me to say that prayer. Remembering what God has done for me has been a powerful catalyst in my life over and over again.

When I left the church I was going to three years ago I didn’t think my faith would ever recover. I lived cynical and bitter for the first couple of years. As I look back, even in the cynical and bitter years, I know I was being asked to make my faith my own. I have grown a lot. I am starting to see why God allowed things to happen as they did.

So as I look back at this past summer I have to wonder how God is using it. I have been burdened and made weary by life’s challenges. A trip on a mat has left me struggling at home for almost two months now. I will be wearing a splint for at least five weeks more. At first I thought it was just a sprain. I thought it was just God’s way of slowing me down for a few days. Now it turns out to be more serious I have trouble understanding.

This morning in our pastor’s teaching he said something like, “Some of you are carrying loads you can’t carry yourselves.” I looked at my arm and thought about all of the things I can’t carry right now. Basically anything you need more than one arm to lift or push I can’t do. I don’t know if God’s lesson to me is that I need to ask for help (I’m still working on that.) I do get a sense that God was sending me a message. I do know that God works all things for good. I have learned to trust in that in the darkest times.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Perfection


I have a flower bed that is mostly infested with weeds. All of a sudden this flower popped up. I have tried to pull this plant a few times and it just wouldn't come up. It is kind of a miracle really. I took this picture the day I wrote this:
Fall clothing enchants me with the long sleeves, silky blouses, and comfortably hanging pants. The arrival of fall attire reminds me of back-to-school days past with its promise of newness and a fresh start. I realize that is almost half way through August and I sit in my back yard reading for the first time this season. I have already given up on summer like a broken promise.

Summer began with the excitement of planning a trip, and some new clothes that reflected a new attitude and excitement about life that held the promise of permanence. And summer itself brings the promise of freedom from routine, being stuck inside, and trapped in outfits that include socks. And now the vacation brought illness, the break from routine has given me the opportunity to work more hours than ever before and my arm is covered in a splint that supports my sprained wrist. The new clothes don’t seem to go with a splint. The new attitude has been replaced by old habits and new anxieties.

So it is no wonder that I have given up on summer. I yearn for fall’s promise of protection – the safety and security of routine that is symbolized by the gentle covering of fall clothing. I find hope in the possibility of a re-do. I forget, for now, the anxiety of a full evening schedule and the assault of cold rainy weather that seeps into the bones like only a fall chill can.

Yet as I sit outside enjoying what feels like the perfect temperature and listen to crickets far enough away to be charming I feel a sense of peace. I contemplate creation and remember – it is good.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Rubble

Everything feels like it has come crumbling down around me. In an odd sort of way I am okay with that. There is a sense of release. I don’t have to hold it together anymore because it is clearly not together. There is a sense of freedom in that.

Okay


A lot of time I find myself yearning for peace. Being happy is good, yes. That is not what I strive for. I strive for peace – the feeling that things are right with my world. I wonder sometimes if everyone else has this. I know that many in our world are yearning for the same thing. We turn to drugs or whatever else comforts us to make us feel like we are okay if only for a moment.

Isn’t it interesting how when someone asks how we are we mot often say okay or fine? I have often thought how it seems like the question ‘how are you?’ has become a salutation. If you don’t give the correct response you throw people off. Or would they even hear it?

My faith teaches me that I am okay even if I am not necessarily feeling and experiencing that in the short term. This past couple of weeks I have been made more and more aware of my limitations, my weaknesses. I am learning that sometimes in order to become okay you have to admit that you are not.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Compassion

The other day a man got onto the bus. He was dressed in jeans that were tattered and stained from whatever work he did. He was probably in his early forties but life had taken its toll on him. His face was marked from severe acne but also from years of neglect. His fingers were stained from years of smoking cigarettes. He didn’t meet anyone’s eye. He trudged to the back – carrying himself as if he had a really bad flu. There was a sideways facing seat in front of me but he elected to sit in the very back. In the heat that seat is one to avoid if you can.

I have lived around people who struggle with alcohol abuse all of my life. I recognized that this man was hung over. He smelled like alcohol. It wasn’t necessarily his breath; in fact I doubt that he had been drinking in the last few hours. He smelled like stale alcohol. The alcohol inhabited his body now. He was trapped by it. I could tell he was one of those people who were barely functioning alcoholics. He went to work most of the time. He was good at his work and didn’t cause a lot of trouble. The problem would come when he crossed the line and didn’t come to work for a while. Depending on how much grace his employers had he might have skipped around from job to job a lot.

I was overwhelmed with compassion for this man. I thought about what it must be like to live that way – going to work hung over every day, keeping your head down hoping no one will notice you, hoping you can keep it together long enough to get through the day, go home, and have some beer. I thought about his family and how much he had probably hurt them despite his best intentions. Had they given up on him?

I prayed for a miracle for this man. I prayed that he would find help and hope. I also prayed for his family, for God to comfort them. I was chocked up with tears.

The man got off the bus before me and I didn’t notice. He would have had to pass me as he walked over to the door. I just glanced behind me and he was gone. I wonder how many people slip by me. I was glad that I had at least had the compassion to pray for this man.
Because of some of the experiences I have had active alcoholics usually make me angry. I found myself surprised at the level of compassion I had for this man. God helped me see him through his eyes. We all deserve love. We all deserve someone to pray for us

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Understanding

Eph 3:17-19, NIV

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

I recently returned from a vacation with my friend and her 3 ½ year old son. We stayed with my friend’s parents so it was a little bit hard to remove ourselves from the space the toddler was in to discuss our plans. Like any 3 ½ year old, if we allowed him to hear us discussing going to the park, or a movie, or the zoo, he would latch on to that and not allow us to easily change our plans. So we did what many adults do to pre-school aged children. We spelled out the words we didn’t want him to hear.

I guess he caught on because the last day we were there he suggested that we should go to the ‘p-r-c’ and buy him a Slurpee. Now ‘p-r-c’ doesn’t actually mean anything having to do with where you buy slushy drinks. But he figured out that when we spell it meant something good. One of the more common things we were spelling is p-a-r-k. Perhaps that’s where he got it.

This morning our teaching was about Paul the apostle’s prayer for the church in Ephesians 3. I wondered if our attempts to understand God are something like knowing that good things happen some place with a ‘p’ and an ‘r’. I also thought about the grace our God who honours our attempts to know him better even though He surpasses that knowledge.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I Will Not Listen


I will not listen
To the unending lies
Even the words unspoken
Form untruths in my mind

Words you speak
And those you don’t
Burned in my mind
Part of my identity

I will not listen
To voices in my head
That say it is my fault
That say I am insipid

Words you speak
No longer define me
Not really forgotten
But no longer part of me

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cheerleaders


I have been really fortunate to have some people in my life that are willing to walk into dark places with me. Lately life hasn’t been so dark. In fact my life is filled with light. I have been truly happy more often than not. I know that life isn’t about being happy but I am sure grateful for this time. I am excited about my life.

The past several weeks have been a period of intense change for me. It is really hard to describe other than to say that I not only feel better but I am better. Some things I knew only in my head have been grounded in my heart. When people see me they ask me what I have been doing. They can see the change in my face and posture. That is really cool.

What is also a really huge blessing is that the same people who were there for me in the darkness are there for me in the light. I feel like I have a bunch of cheerleaders. They are excited for me too. They believe in me and the changes they are seeing. It is amazing to be able to share my joy with others and see it reflected back to me. My prayer for you is that you will have people who are there for you in all of your hills and valleys.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Cross


On Good Friday at church we had an opportunity to write our ‘stuff’ on a piece of paper and nail it to one of the wooden crosses we had at the front. I have been involved in services where they did something like that before but I have never actually done it. Somehow actually taking a nail and hammering it into the cross (even a modern representation of one) seemed like it was a little over the top. Plus I have never been very good about engaging some symbolic act of faith.

This time I did it. I don’t know why this time was different specifically. Maybe I was just sick of my life the way it was. Or maybe the gathering was just structured in such a way where I really felt like I didn’t have a choice. Whatever the reason was I actually took it seriously. I wrote from my heart about the things I share with very few people. I walked up to the cross, took a nail, and hammered the nail until it was flush with the cross. I had about a mustard seed of faith that something would ever come of it.

I didn’t think about that again for a while. I didn’t immediately feel better or like I had been cleansed of sin. Looking back I wonder if that was the start of something for me. I can’t be sure but what I do know is that I have found myself dealing with the very same issues I nailed to the cross. I have moved forward in ways I never thought I would. I have allowed myself to be vulnerable in front of others and have found refuge.

In the last two weeks I have found joy and peace. I am starting to live in the reality of God’s love. Even when I stumble I still feel like I have some level of victory. I have experienced God’s grace and love over and over. Come to think of it, how could it not be related to Good Friday?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I Belong


Ephes. 2:12-13 (NLT)
In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from God's people, Israel, and you did not know the promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you belong to Christ Jesus. Though you once were far away from God, now you have been brought near to him because of the blood of Christ.

The book of Ephesians was written by Paul. Paul had a mission to bring the message to the Gentiles (which is quite ironic.) The Gentiles were considered outsiders by the Jews. They were not considered God’s people. They were on the outside looking in. I realize when I read this passage that I identify with the Gentiles. Especially where it says “You lived in this world without God and without hope.”

The translation of the Bible I read most often is The New Living Translation. In this translation Ephesians 13 starts off “But now you belong to Christ Jesus.” The fact that I belong to Jesus is not new to me. Yet somehow this passage grabbed my heart. I lived in the world with no hope but now I belong to Jesus. I had a sense of joy and peace and freedom. What is really interesting to me is that other translations do not say this exactly that way. I think that the fact I read this translation first is God’s gift to me.

For the past two days I have had a sense of joy and security I don’t remember having before. Every time I think about it I feel giddy. I belong to Jesus. No one or nothing can change that. I feel like I have been changed somehow.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Blessings

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 3-6, NIV)

Anyone who has known me for a while knows I have a pretty huge aversion to name-it-and-claim-it philosophies. I am very sensitive to anything that looks at all like it. Lately I have learned that I might be just a little bit wrong about that.

I still do not believe God is going to give us anything we want if we just find an example of it in the Bible and ask. Yet I have noticed that I need to find some balance. God has shown me that by never expecting blessing or never asking I have been settling for a life that is not abundant. Not to mention I am putting God in a box.

The Scripture above is just one example of the Bible’s assurance that God has chosen us. I was reading it a few nights ago and something jumped out at me:

…in accordance with his pleasure and will

I looked up the word translated ‘pleasure.’ It is eudokia which has a description which includes words such as “satisfaction, delight, kindness, wish, purpose.” God didn’t just choose us, He delighted in choosing us.

If that is the case, it stands to reason that God would want good things for us. I am starting to believe more and more in that promise. So where is the line between the two? I don’t know for sure. This morning I had a thought. Maybe it has something to do with wanting to pick our own blessings rather than believing that God will bring us to abundant life regardless of our circumstances.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Little Miracles

Today my pastor spoke on the topic of hell. The last time he talked about that I found myself really upset. In fact I sent an email to him expressing my struggle with the topic of heaven (and hell.) I was upset because I needed to reconcile with the existence of heaven.

My mom loved me a lot. She was strong and courageous. She raised me on her own on a waitress’ salary. I didn’t have everything I wanted but I always had food to eat and clothes on my back. We were very close. We argued a lot because we were very different. My mom had been through a lot of things I just didn’t understand as a teenager and young adult. I can hardly blame her for being bitter. She didn’t know how else to survive.

My mom got cancer when I was 17. She had surgery and although it was scary at the time that seemed to be the end of it. We moved on and then around the time I turned 22 she told me that she had found a lump in her other breast. She died 11 months later. Those were the bleakest most horrible times of my life. We weren’t connected to the community around us. Most of my family avoided us because they couldn’t handle her illness. Three weeks before she passed away I spent 2 or 3 nights in a row awake listening to my mother moan in pain. She didn’t want to go to the emergency room because the doctors were on strike then and she would sit in the hall for days.

As my Mom was dying I was losing parts of myself too. When she stopped going out for dinner, so did I. School was difficult. I didn’t share what I was going through with very many people. I never asked for an extension until the two weeks my Mom was dying in the hospital. It was like I was trapped in this state of emotional torture and the only way out was for my Mom to die. Beyond that in some ways I don't think I would have become a Christian without this experience. We were so tied together and her opinion of Christians was not a good one.

I say all of this to explain why I struggle with the concept of hell so much. My Mom’s shitty life did not make her an ‘enemy of God.’ Many have tried to comfort me saying we don’t really know what happens between here and the afterlife. I hold on to that hope but it doesn’t make the twinge in my chest go away.

A couple of weeks ago I was crying out to God. For some reason I missed my Mom very much that day. When I expressed the survivors’ guilt I feel because He chose me I could hear God speak to me very clearly on this issue. He said, “That decision is Mine not yours. Give it to me.”

Since then I have felt a lot better. This morning’s service could have been very difficult for me but I kept reminding myself I have given this to God. To me this is a miracle because it was something I didn’t think I would be able to work through. So in a way I am thankful for the sermon about hell because it allowed me to see what God has done in my life.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Unanswered Prayer


Last week our pastor taught about unanswered prayer at church. He asked how many people struggled with unanswered prayer. I put my hand up. There wasn’t a whole bunch of other people who put their hands up. He thanked those people who put their hands up for being honest. I was surprised not to see more hands.

Shouldn’t all Christians struggle with unanswered prayer? The bible has many references that could be considered promises of affirmative answers to our prayers. And even without those I believe in a God who loves me. Wouldn’t any good father give a child what they asked for? Would a good father allow his children to suffer?

I may sound angry. I am not angry at all right now. In fact I can’t really point to an unanswered prayer of mine that is particularly bothering me at the moment. I have been thinking a lot about faith and belief lately. I have struggled with prayer because I am afraid of unanswered prayer. I don’t want to ask for fear of not receiving. What kind of belief is that?

So perhaps the key is to struggle with unanswered prayer. The alternative, for me anyway, is to not see any answer to prayer at all.

Friday, March 23, 2007

6 Working Days in Every Weekend


Here is a quote from Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places.

“The understanding and honoring of time is fundamental to the realization of who we are and how we live. Violations of sacred time become desecrations of our most intimate relations with God and one another. Hours and days, weeks and months and years, are the very stuff of holiness.

Among the many desecrations visited upon creation, the profanation of time ranks near the top, at least among North Americans. Time is the medium in which we do all our living. When time is desecrated, life is desecrated. The most conspicuous evidences of this desecration are hurry and procrastination: Hurry turns away from the gift of time in a compulsive grasping for abstractions that it can possess and control. Procrastination is distracted from the gift of time in a lazy inattentiveness to the life of obedience and adoration by which we enter the ‘fullness of time.’ Whether by a hurried grasping or by a procrastinating inattention, time is violated.”

Whether or not you are a Christian the concept of the value of time is something you probably know too well. In fact it is probably not an abstract concept for most people. It is a day-to-day struggle. I have been thinking about this comment ever since I read it. Right now I am struggling to get my life back into balance. I have been working more than I would like to.

I love the paradox of hurry and procrastination. Peterson writes about. When I think about it I know that I am often in a hurry and often procrastinating. If I considered time to be sacred I would neither waste it by procrastinating or miss it by hurrying through my life. So what is one to do?

Today I wondered if it is possible to have a job that is fulfilling but does not take over your life. I also have wondered how much of my busyness is choice and how much I have no control over. All I know is that I am keenly aware right now that time is sacred and I am guilty of desecrating it.

Many have written about our fast-paced society and how we should slow down. I haven’t seen any really good answers. Right now I feel like a gerbil on its wheel. I just keep going and going. The faster I go, the faster I need to go to keep up because the next rung is upon me. Oh how I wish I could get off.

Twenty years from now are people going to look at the way we live now and wonder how we managed to live at such a slow pace?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Unchanging


“I am the Lord, and I do not change.”

Malachi 3:6, NLT



On 9/11 I was at work. A friend of mine and I decided to walk to the church we went to at lunch to pray. It was the only thing I could think of to do. I remember coming out of that experience and realizing that what had changed was me. I didn’t pray for myself or my anxiety. I prayed for those affected. I prayed for God to stop the attacks. Still I left the church with a renewed faith that God was in control. He had not changed.

When I think of the phrase Unchanging One I think on a macro level. God has the world under control. His power has not diminished. His plan has not changed. He knows what he is doing. Those beliefs are correct but incomplete. God is unchanging on a micro level as well.

I think that unintentionally I have believed that although God doesn’t change the way he sees me could. He would always love me but his opinion of me could change. I had never really thought about it so much as lived that lie out. This morning I had that belief challenged. We can’t change God one bit! Our sin does not change Him - not even His thoughts. He never looks at us any differently. We are always as welcome to run into His arms as we were the first time.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

About Denial

A few days ago I had an amazing night. I have been doing this Bible study and it took me to Romans 4. That was exactly what I needed that night. The author of the Bible study had suggested I read it out loud. By the time I got through it tears were streaming down my face. That night I wanted to share my new realization with so many people. I was excited. I had peace.

The next morning I got up and went about my day. At the end of the day on the way home from work I thought about the night before. I couldn’t believe that the experience I had didn’t define my entire day. How could I forget about that? How could I become distracted so quickly?

I thought about the story of Peter who denied Christ. In case you don’t know the story I will give you my version of it. Jesus is talking about how all of the disciples will desert him that night. Peter proclaims that he would never do that. Jesus says that before the rooster crows Peter will have denied Him three times. Here’s the rest of the story from the Bible:

Meanwhile, as Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, a servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.” But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said. Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. “I don’t even know the man,” he said. A little later some other bystanders came over to him and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.” Peter said, “I swear by God, I don’t know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went away, crying bitterly. (Matthew 26: 69-75, NLT)

No I didn’t actually deny Christ but somehow my heart seems to be in a similar place. I think that I can never forget who God is and what he has done for me and then I just go about my day. But the story of Peter brings me hope. So I decided to study it and reflect on it some more. My reflections are my own as they apply to this situation. I am sure there is much more to say.

1. The story of Peter’s denial of Christ appears in each of the Gospels (accounts of Jesus’ life.) There are not very many stories that are in all four Gospels. Most of the stories that are common to each of the gospels are directly about what happened to Jesus during his trial, crucifixion, and rising from the dead. All four of the Gospels are quite different. This is really a side bar to what was happening to Jesus. It comforts me to know that it was important to God that I know about this story.

2. Peter was by no means lukewarm for Jesus. In John 21 Peter jumps out of a boat and swims to Jesus rather than waiting to row in. The interesting thing is this is after Peter had denied Jesus. He had no hesitation to run to his Lord.

3. Peter was not the only apostle to leave Jesus during the night of his trial and day of his death. With the exception of John there is no indication that any of the others remained either. Peter’s example is important he outright denied Christ. It is important not to forget that the others were missing entirely.

4. Peter seemed to be the first one to ‘get’ things. In Matthew 16 Peter says that Jesus is the Messiah. He understood what was going on. Later in the book of Acts Peter preaches to a crowd with incredible passion. Again Peter seemed to be the first to be able to explain this to others.

So what am I taking away from this? I can have my days where I forget Who I belong to. I can come back without hesitation. I can keep fighting for understanding. I just need to remember to come back.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Secret?

I don’t usually post rants but this is something I feel really strongly about.

I saw a commercial for Oprah the other day that proclaimed on Thursday I could hear ‘the secret.’ I wasn’t sure what that meant but it at least struck my curiosity. So I tuned in to see what was up on Thursday night (I can watch Oprah at 6pm because I get some Spokane channels.) I have to admit that the only things I know about The Secret I gleaned from the 20 minutes I could stand to watch on Oprah and through doing a little bit of research on the web to confirm my suspicions were right and I wasn’t just grumpy. I have not read the book or watched the DVD. I try not to say I will never to something because then I seem to feel stupid when I end up doing it. But suffice it to say I have no intention of watching the DVD never mind reading the book.

First of all the only thing new about this concept is that someone decided to package it as The Secret. Most people will have heard one variation of it or another. Basically the premise of The Secret is that we attract the things we want into our lives by what we think and feel. If you don’t believe me check Oprah’s website. Hmmm, I don’t know about you but this reminds me of just about every motivational speaker out there. It’s not new and certainly not a secret.

On some level there is some truth to the idea that we attract good or bad stuff into our lives. I know I am often the author of my own misery. I also know that sometimes my circumstances have nothing to do with choice and I can’t just ‘pull up my boots straps’ and change things. There is a balance to that. Life is not about attracting good stuff into our lives.

I guess one of the reasons this bugs me so much is that there is a Christian equivalent. Some people profess that becoming a Christian means that our lives will be filled with riches and nothing bad will ever happen. That is simply not true. The Bible doesn’t promise an easy life. In fact there are many places it says the opposite. My favorite illustration of this is in Hebrews 11 (which is often referred to as the faith chapter.)

But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life. 36 Some were mocked, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in dungeons. 37 Some died by stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world. They wandered over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
39 All of these people we have mentioned received God’s approval because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had far better things in mind for us that would also benefit them, for they can’t receive the prize at the end of the race until we finish the race.

The first thing I heard from one of the guests was that in order to know you truly forgive someone you have to be able to thank them for that experience. That’s just dumb. Yes forgiveness is important. Thankfulness is important too. I am thankful to God that he had carried me through some storms. I forgive people for some of the stuff that has been done to me. But I believe that there is evil in the world. If there is an evil one than sorry but I am not going to be thankful for the things he has caused. I am also not necessarily going to reconcile with someone who has hurt me. I mean really, “thank you ex-husband for beating the crap out of me. It made me a better person.” “Thank you for abusing me as a kid. It made me a better person.” SERIOUSLY!

I could go on but I guess I should tell you why I care so much. I have three (maybe four) reasons. The first is that people who try to subscribe to this type of philosophy tend to gloss over the pain in their lives. They don’t deal with stuff. They don’t allow God to care for them. They think they can live life on their own. So they push stuff down and never deal with it.

Second, people who engage a culture where the assumption is that they attract good things in their lives often don’t get real when shit happens. They live in bondage and hide things. They try to figure stuff out themselves. They go through things alone because they don’t believe the others around them will understand.

The third reason is related to the first. We need to have compassion for each other. If our assumption is that we need to attract good things into our lives we may have trouble with compassion. We will hesitate to walk with someone who is going through a hard time. Actually people who are going through a hard time won’t talk to us.

Singing cheerful songs to a person whose heart is heavy is as bad as stealing someone’s jacket in cold weather or rubbing salt in a wound. Proverbs 25:20, NLT

The forth (and maybe) reason is that I tried to live this way many different times. It didn’t work for more than a month or so. It distracted me from being the type of woman God wanted me to be.

That’s my rant.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Adoption


So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family—calling him “Father, dear Father.” For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children. (Romans 8: 15-16, NLT)

The book of Romans in the Bible is a letter to believers in Rome. I am finding it more and more helpful to understand the context in which the letters in the Bible were written. A while ago I came across the text above. The concept of being God’s child would probably not be new to most believers. I have always had trouble connecting with that. I am an adult. I became a believer as an adult. How can I be adopted?

I have recently found out that in Roman culture it was actually not all that common to adopt children. That kind of adoption did happen but it was more common to adopt an adult. A man with no heirs would adopt someone to become their heir. This person would have all the rights and privileges of a blood family member. So when the author of the letter (Paul) talks about adoption the readers likely understood this in the context of being adopted as an adult and gaining all of the rights and privileges of a family member.

I know I am not off the hook for needing to be more child-like. Jesus speaks of the need to be more like a child to get into heaven. That is definitely something I want to explore more in my study of Scripture. For now though, I am intrigued at how the beginning of Romans chapter 8 changes for me when I understand this in the cultural context in which it is written.

What changes for me is that Paul is not saying that I can be free from sin because I am like a child. Paul is saying that I am free to allow the Holy Spirit to guide me because I have been adopted into God’s family and I have all of the rights and privileges that are associated with that. I am led by the Spirit and I am a child of God.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Reboot


“For I know the plans I have for you” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Jeremiah 29: 11-13 (NIV)


The unexpected has happened. I am taking a break from ministry. Soul Searching will not run this season. I have sensed for a while that it is time for a break. I have ignored that sense. It was only when some serious logistical issues came about that we decided not to move forward. I was so relieved. I am so grateful for this time to reboot.

Soul Searching is not just Wednesday night. It is hours of preparation and follow up. I have really felt the burden of being a ministry leader on top of being a facilitator and speaker. I will miss Soul Searching these next few months though. And I am wondering what life will be like for me now. Soul Searching has become a huge part of my identity.

I don’t want the next few months to just pass by. I want to be intentional about how I spend this time. It feels sort of like a sabbatical even though I still have a full time job.

One thing I want to do is to improve my spiritual life. It is hard to know how I have accomplished that. I think that I will have to continue to explore to know what that looks like. I guess the goal would be that I would be able to tell you what I have learned in the end.

I also want to spend more time writing. I want to be consistent about posting to my blog and also writing fiction. I learn so much about myself and God when I write. I have especially missed fiction because it is such a creative expression. I have a few projects that I have started. One in particular I would like to pick up.

Finally and almost most importantly, I want to have fun. I want to see the joy in life. I want to spend time with my friends. I want to… I don’t know. Do fun stuff.

As I enter this season I do so with a little bit of trembling. God is calling me into His presence. I am not sure what will happen at the end of this rest. But I am hanging onto God’s promise that His plans are to prosper me. I also notice that part of my prosperous future includes praying and seeking God. He has given me a hope and a future. Now it is my turn to pray and seek Him with all my heart.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Calm After the Storm







The storm comes
It is unexpected
How did I miss the warning?

Darkness surrounds
No hope in sight
Waiting for morning

Dawn has broken
And with it brings light
The waiting has been rewarded

World is a different place
Sun is shining
Everything starts to make sense

There is a peace that reigns
Happiness is possible
Grace has brought great things

I soak up the sun
Bask in the happy day
It is the calm after the storm