Reading Hebrews: Study Jesus, Grow Up & Run

I read the book of Hebrews through this morning in THE MESSAGE, a translation by the legendary and wise, brilliant pastor and author Eugene Peterson.  All these thoughts come directly from that reading.  When I used Peterson’s words, I tried to give “credit” but this is completely my interpretation of his translation.  Don’t blame him for my ignorance or lack of understanding.  This is written to myself but you can listen in. 

The book of Hebrews likens life to a race.  I’m not that competent at running.  Last summer, I started running trying the Couch Potato to 5k program.  At first I barely stumbled around the block, untrained and unprepared. But it didn’t take long before I was running three miles. Today, after static winter, I’d have to start all over again. I would have to start from the beginning and mature into a runner, again.

Like those listed in the book of Hebrews, our faith Story, should point people toward their true home. We can please God through our Story by believing that God exists and that he cares enough to respond when we cry out to him.

Be confident that you are presentable inside and out.”

Even with wickedness in our back story, in the book of Hebrews we learn that in the final review this is the point—that we are unworthy and that through the actions of Jesus, we become presentable again.

How are we to live now, today?

The Message translates that we are to “make our way as best we can on the cruel edges of the world.”  That’s dramatic, but I can relate.  Life has felt more than a little cruel of late.

Hebrews holds a roster of pioneers of faith, people like my father, imperfect – whose lives were unfinished and incomplete when they died, even if they were exemplary; or whether they tripped up over and over, even if they had to learn how to run many times throughout their lives. They are all at the last finish line, shouting and cheering us on.

Hebrews says their lives combined with ours becomes The Story—a completed whole.

So, even when you feel inadequate, knowing that you’re broken, feeling you’re too lame to run, you are commanded TO RUN!

But how are we to carry out this impossible feat? 

Key your eyes on Jesus. Know Jesus. Study Jesus.

When you feel most down trodden and unable to run, go back to the basics to who he was and is, how he behaved, how he treated people, how he fashioned his time and priorities and days (and nights). Study him.

And, if you begin to feel life is unfair, that yours in particular is full of suffering and pain. Consider these things to be ways for God to love you.  We are disciplined and corrected by love.

This is growing up spiritually.

Know that your pain is God’s training ground!  Life isn’t hard because you’re bad, or undeserving of good things, or even unrepentant.  No, life hurts because God the father LOVES YOU!  It’s the University of Spiritual Development.

And so, stop resisting. Stop complaining. Wipe your tears. Wake up to God’s love!  These hard moments, this unimaginable pain in your life or those you love, is making you not breaking.

Hebrews is a heavenly warning.  “God himself is fire!” He’s burning, aware of…our immaturity, our gracelessness, our negativity, our tearing one another down.

He’s looking at you and me – challenging us to care for one another.

It is simple things.

  • “Be ready with a meal or a bed when needed.  Why some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it.
  • Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them.
  • Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them happened to you.
  • Guard your marriage, your relationships.
  • Don’t be obsessed with getting material things.
  • Watch how your pastors live and let their lives instruct you.
  • Share what you have with others.  Worship God with your generosity and love.
  • And pray that God, who put all this together, who makes all things whole, who gave us Jesus, may he train you, put you together—providing you with everything you need—in Jesus.”

Sometimes, truth is so simple that we ignore it thinking that can’t be all.  That can’t be it.  It’s not spiritual enough.  It’s not complicated enough.

But the book of Hebrews makes it pretty clear.  We are to love one another in the daily race of life, look to Jesus as our example for how to live, trust him, be trained by him … Grow up.

And run.

MHH

I Found Love {The Challenge of “Eat This Book”}

I’ve never read the Bible from end to end. I grew up in the church but biblical literacy was not encouraged, until Blackhawk. Reading the ancient books I wondered—does God love me? Who am I to question God? And yet, I regularly bring questions and doubt to my reading of scripture.

I cringe reading the Old Testament, at times embarrassed that it is a part of my religion because the God of the ancient stories seemed appalling to me. As I open up the text, doubts loudly dominate as I wonder: Is God full of wrath, as ruthless and destructive of cultures as these stories seem to convey? More vital personally, does God look down on and limit women, or simply ignore women’s existence like so many of the Old Testament stories do, or worse, does God consider me less worthy because I am female? This is a topic I’ve dedicated a lot of time and thought to, with questions I bring to the text because of their application today.

As a result, for months I quit reading the selected texts for Eat This Book. Dejected, I felt heavy-hearted, even bogged down with discouragement, that this ancient, patriarchal, violent religion was connected to my faith and church, thoughts I have dodged for most of my adult spiritual life.

A wise friend suggested I read it differently, and listen for themeta-story of Yahwehwhich is told and retold over many generations. Still questioning and wondering, still doubtful, I tried to understand what the God of the Old Testament has to do with me, or you, the 21st-century followers of Jesus. In time, through God’s gracious gift of connections, I saw that we, followers of Christ are part of this innumerable family! The Story matters because of the character of God whose faithfulness and love is clear throughout the generations. We are a part of a community of faith — the whole line traced through the Old Testament. Believers are connected, continuing forward. This is our inheritance. This story, the promises and covenant and love of God is for us all, the Story a continuum, toward Jesus. And now I see grace, even back in the ancient stories with the care for the poor, the alien, the widowed, the barren, even the environment.

All my life I’ve been yearning to be a part of something, and finally I understand fully that I am! I know; I see in the Story that God’s faithfulness is infinite, and as it touches each of us, God’s love transforms us through atonement of our sins, actively reconciles people to God and one another.  That’s the promise for you and me.

I read the ancient stories with different eyes now, knowing that we are each a treasured part of the Story. I have intimacy with God in a new way, for the first time.

Strangely this came from knowing the Story. This is utterly awe-inspiring. Yes, God is formidable, to be revered and feared. But “fear of the Lord” is a reverence that strengthens and fills us through our dependence on God. I am significant to this God, who is and was and will be, for all time and outside of time.

Frequently in the ancient texts I noticed people fell on their knees before God when in His presence. I believe this is to be our posture too, awe. Revel in His presence, His affection. I have been both wrecked and healed.

The religion that caused me pain as I began to read the text over time has healed me, bringing reconciliation and restoration to my life.   I am part of that story. It is also my Story, which is breathtaking and devastating, from beginning to end.  Soaking in the big story of the Bible faithfully, as I was truly listening, truly pursuing understanding and wisdom, the Holy Spirit revealed a gift, God’s love.  It was there all along, but I was so caught up in and caught off guard by cultural differences and my assumptions, out of ignorance and naiveté. How difficult it is for us to hear the Truth. And this limits God’s work in me. Now, humbled and convicted, I open the word of God differently—on my knees. Sure of his acceptance and love, in faith that there is something in it for us all no matter our background, our brokenness, our gifts or abilities, or our gender.  There it is, hope for us all.

MHH

This article was originally published in Illuminate, a magazine of Blackhawk Church.

Something else on Eat This Book: Imagine my surprise, I read the Bible Wrong

{A Miscarriage of a Life – a post Mother’s Day Lament}

Yesterday I told myself over and over — I have had a miscarriage of a life.

The day before, I spent all day celebrating my older sister as she received a doctorate of ministry in preaching from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  Yes, I was happy for her but I could not enjoy the day fully because I was so disappointed with my own life.

After the very long ceremony (those Lutherans know how to “party”) I asked her what was next on her list for world domination? It was a backhanded compliment, which had a risk of offending her, but luckily she was gracious. (I get snarky and sarcastic when I’m feeling bad about myself.)

These sisters of mine are capable of doing anything.

Harrison’s seem to have the brains and talent, ability to work extremely hard, a yearning for justice to prevail and the certainty that injustice is, in part, our life’s call, challenge and responsibility.  We are strong, capable, and powerful women. Some days I actually believe that about myself.

I have come to believe that much of the spiritual journey is one of being stripped of all that we would put our trust in, other than God.

Life is found in losing it for Christ’s sake.  The life that God has for each of us, if received–changes us.  There is not one sacred path for all.

My journey over the last twenty years has been a stripping, for I never knew Jesus, before.

I never knew I was beloved. I didn’t believe there was a purpose for my life outside of what I could accomplish, a life purpose that is all about Jesus.

Until my father died nine years ago, I was in many ways “asleep.”  Because of the severe damage to my psyche from his anger, I did not know myself.  I did not know the Trinity of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in any real way.

I did not know it, but I was bankrupt in spirit.

But even in that absence of belief, God planted questions, passions and strong desires inside me, a prompting that has never left me to know the Word of God and interpret it. I know that I am to receive that– and submit to the unique journey God has laid out, even when I cannot see clearly the road ahead.

Trusting is painful — the stripping away of sin, of selfishness and in many ways of aspects of my humanity, my character, that I thought were who I was.  But there is grace, protection, comfort, provision and shalom in submitting to the Holy One’s purposes.

It is the only safe place. And yet it hurts so much when I feel I do not understand clearly.

In my 20s and 30s I lived for my job, it was my identity and all that I knew.  Strangely, I believed it was all I was good at and I thought that I was choosing to walk away from that work, because the environment was unhealthy, but I see now that God led me away, took everything that made me feel good and strong and powerful.  I thought I knew.

I could have lost my marriage and family because of my addiction to alcohol.  I thought I knew, thought I was strong enough to beat it with will power, but the addiction beat me and I found that I was nothing without the Holy One.  Even if I gave up the drink, without the Holy One filling me, healing, and strengthening me I was nothing. I thought I knew.

I sat Sunday scrutinizing people who had given many years of their lives to learning, thinking, writing, believing, enough to sacrifice time with their own children and partners, to achieve this incredible goal of a masters or doctorate. Some were restrained, some were giddy, and many were just slightly stunned to survive it, it seemed to me as a bystander.

I was so incredibly jealous and sad for myself, even mad at myself.  Though the day wasn’t about me, inside my head everything was about me and my feelings of not exactly failure, but a strange bedfellow to it, a miscarriage of a life.   In that moment, how dearly I regretted leaving my career in my early thirties and staying at home with my kids. Deep down a part of me still believed that I would not have succumbed to alcoholism or depression in the end if I had continue to work fulltime.  I’d still have a great career, I’d be able to leverage it toward other work, and I would be respected by others.   Pretty much bullshit and lies, but I almost believed it again as I sat there fuming internally.

I said all that and more to my mother as we drove back home.  I don’t know if I really believed it.  I do know that who I am, the real me, the person I never knew until I had no job, suffered from major depression and became a drunk – that woman needs Jesus! She believes in the Creator in a way that she never did before she lost it all.

I remembered that my boss, while I was trying to decide about leaving InterVarsity told me to go have babies and come back in five years to continue my part of world domination.  Only, I never went back I was too busy having a breakdown and drinking myself stupid.  That’s what I mean by a miscarriage of a life.

I was debriefing the day with Tom, who is extremely smart and has an almost PhD from the University of Chicago.  As his head hit the pillow he exhaled, he said something like:

Higher degrees have their purpose, and there is a sense of personal achievement if it is important to you, but being a parent is three times harder than getting that PhD.

“Yeah,” I said, “but the world doesn’t esteem parents.  Parenting won’t get you a job.  Parenting won’t bring you any real regard or admiration from others.  Parenting is something everyone does.  (Not to mention you don’t get paid and the hours are terrible.)  It’s not enough.” 

My eyes filled with tears so many times on Sunday, I felt like I was choking most of the day.  I was happy for my sister, genuinely — for I know only in part the many sacrifices she and her loved ones have made for her to accomplish this incredible goal.  I know my father was doing a happy dance, wherever he is.  My mother was beaming.

I spent my mother’s day celebrating my sister in part because I believe in doing things even when they are hard.  I want my children to grow up knowing that doing the right thing isn’t always what’s easy, nor is it usually about you. That there will be many opportunities in life to choose yourself over others, but when given the chance to celebrate someone you love, you should take it.

All day I had moments of deep self-pity and self-loathing for my choices and beating myself up about the last fifteen years.  Hindsight is 20/20 and all, still this is what I have come to know.

I know I would be different and horrible person if I had continued on the path of a workaholic and constant striving for external approval. My character has been changed through these experiences.

Through the mistakes I have made I have found a true understanding of God’s mercy and grace in my life. I know that I am loved by Jesus – I didn’t know or believe it two decades ago.

Through the mistakes I have made I have found a daily dependence on God for my health – my mood, my purpose and meaning.

For even as humbling and hard as each day is and how much it feels like a sacrifice to not have a viable lauded career at this time, I’m on my knees ever more.

Most of what I am learning is yet to be understood or written I suppose.  Clearly, I am still broken, still too easily overcome by the wrong motives. I continue to be frustrated and discontented and I am frustrated with myself because of this.

In studying the book of Proverbs (because that is where we are in Eat This Book reading the entire Bible in a year at church) I am being drawn to Proverbs 31.  I look forward to learning what a 21st century feminist wife and mother, a homemaker, budding writer has to learn about being a Proverbs 31 woman.

I am open, and fearful. I am angry and aching inside, deep where no one understands me except God.

I know I should be grateful but everything about me is wired to work hard, to please other people, to get the acclaim of others, to be esteemed and admired; it is the entire human condition without God.

I pray for spiritual understanding and an ability to lay all that down — to trust and obey.

Deep down I know that as long as I keep longing for all the wrong things, I can’t grasp what is good, whether that is understanding of what I already have or whether it is receiving what God has for me next.  I cannot grasp it because I am still so filled with discontent.

I thought I knew.  There is very little that I do know.  But my story isn’t fully written.


Upward Mobility (a poem)

Earth ‘s crammed with heaven… 

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.  – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

More than once, in fact
dozens of times in the Big Story of the Torah,
responding to God meant
falling face down on the ground.
Blinding light,
being pregnant with plain old
awe.
Take off your shoes kind of wonderment.
Because you’re on holy ground.

I am so unseeing.
Everything in me,
in my dusty, meager day to day corporeal living
roars something else.
At me. In me.  From me.  To me.
Lift yourself
up. Rise higher, get
above the next fellow.
Upward mobility. Show
your stuff. Your smarts. Your
talent and creativity.
The world is shouting in my ear.

Then I close the door, and
find within, in
my paltry worship, my measly human love.
All I have is a quickening heartbeat, throwing off
the chasing anxiety.
All I want is a falling face down on the ground, kind of awe.
When was the last time I felt
astonishment in God?
A breathed in, have to close my eyes
star struck, stomach lurching,
take off my shoes, because I’m on holy ground

kind of amazement of my God?

All I want.

When was the last time?

 

On Motherhood: Searching for Meaningful Metanarrative

I keep crying out that I want a bigger purpose for my life.  

The universe cries back, your purpose is right in front of you.

I cry back– it’s not enough.  It’s not enough.  This is not enough!

I cannot pretend. I’ve been up and down, sometimes miserable lately. And I’m ashamed of myself. Why is it that I just cannot figure out how to be happy? I had an interaction with E yesterday that spun me into these gloomy thoughts.   We were talking about cheerful people – you know the kind.  The people whose voices go up when they talk to you and they always smile and they are mostly cheerful and helpful!!  They seem to have an inner glow.

It’s just not me, I am mellow, solidly so, but she really likes those sorts of people! (Even though, or perhaps because, she isn’t one.)

I don’t like them, necessarily.  I doubt people’s sincerity, strangers, when they behave like that. I find them hard to trust.  People that I know in my real life, who are like that, I take with a grain of salt. But it is hard for me to accept that they are always UP even as I try to believe people like that are sincere, not putting me on.  But I have to admit they can grate on me.

But I realized yesterday that I long to be that sort of Mother. Oh, I encourage, I hug, I kiss, I affirm like crazy – but I don’t slather on love or exude joy.  I’m not all over my kids, thrilled that they simply exist and I’m just lucky to be their mom!  (Though I am, very fortunate to have them.)  And I don’t serve pink Valentine’s Day meals or even give valentines to my kids.

But my daughter wouldn’t let me even try yesterday – pushing me away when I smothered her with kisses and smiles.  “It’s just not real, Mom.”  Saying that I was making fun of her, which I definitely wasn’t.   That got me really in the dumps yesterday.

I woke today with gloomy, anxious thoughts.  My body physically hurts from my heart racing so much.  I even thought I was getting sick, so I laid down yesterday.  Just as I dropped off to sleep – probably ten times – a jolt of adrenaline woke me.  I know this, it is anxiety.  (And I start to wonder if I should return to my shrink.  Damn it, I haven’t seen him in a good long while and somehow returning solidifies my failure.  Failure to stay calm and maintain my mood. )

Even as God did a beautiful thing just last week or was it the week before?  And he brought me out of the depression that clung to me from November to January.  It seems that I cannot maintain any peace in my heart. 

Reading through the Bible with my church.  We’re in the book of Numbers.  And I am struck by the Israelites inability to trust God.  Even as they had miracles – Clouds leading them, and manna provided for them and plagues cursing them … and I think to myself, if God spoke to me like that, I’d have more faith that he’s got a plan for my life.  (Um, maybe.)

Perhaps it really is simply that I don’t trust God with my days – with my future.

I think, I just need to be struck with some horrible punishment like Miriam when she challenged things (Nu 12) and then I’d believe.  Then I’d stop complaining. Or would I?

And every time the people do something stupid, Moses and Aaron’s response was to fall face down on the ground.  Hm…..

Is that what I’m doing?  Am I just complaining when I say I just want to be happy.  I find the days I am living — the sweeping up endless dirt, cooking and washing up, washing and folding, the damn whiny dog, the endless homework, and children who really don’t want to achieve, trying to be helpful and failing,

endless, same, same, same…

Being at home is about giving up my rights, serving. But perhaps I am not principled enough to get meaning out of any of it.  Not much anyway.  

Phooey, I can’t stand myself right now.

A friend keeps telling me to read the Bible for the metanarrative.  I think to myself.  I cannot even live life in the big narrative. 

I’m sweeping up dust bunnies and resenting every minute. 

I’ll regret this grumpy post.  I always do. Definitely not living in the light!   But I need to be truthful, even if it’s not cheerful!  Some days that is all I’m holding on to — being a person that is straight and honest.   Some days.

On Doubt & Growing up in the Church of (women) “Shouldn’t. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t.”

My daughter pushes me.  She demands.  Before coffee and time to wake up in the morning, she throws out at me like spittle in my face a withering challenge. She says, about my faith, my beliefs, something like ….

You follow some concocted foolishness, if only to comfort yourself, to be a part of something, to be less alone, to feel consoled by the idea you won’t spend eternity in hell.

Ouch.  She’s fourteen.  I listen.  And take another sip of coffee.  Silently wishing that I was more awake.  Wishing that I had time to go to seminary and get back to her.  Hoping that I can remain calm.  And mostly, I am hoping that I am lucid.  Does she not know this is not my best time of day?  Of course she does.  I am not freaking ready for this!?!

And what sort of religion would sentence people to hell?” she continues.  I’m thinking “Where in the hell is she learning her ideas about hell?”

Yes, that’s the sort of girl we’re raising. 

Questioning.  Doubting.  Testing and pushing.  And I love it, even as it scares me and I long for more preparation.  No, I don’t fear my own doubt, because I have known the One who gives me peace beyond my comprehension.

But I fear her doubts.

She has a wonderful, active intelligence.  How to answer the questions rattling about in her brain— which she throws out with such vivid scorn.  How to answer, when it closely echoes the shadows of my heart and mind?  One might think this would make it easier, but it isn’t because I don’t fear my own doubt I pursue it. I have even grown comfortable with it, mostly.

But her doubts loom bulky and cumbersome, large in the room.  I feel them physically as she lurches toward her future.  Away from me.  Yes I feel her doubt pulling her away from me. This is what I must trust, that the One I know will make himself known to her and to each of them, my children.  I only possess them for a short season, if at all.  I once thought they were “mine” like a precious possession to be held on to tightly.  Now I know I don’t. I can’t keep them for my own.

The day she came squealing into the world, so strong and perfect I should have known then that she was not mine.  In the early months I was uncomfortable letting someone else take her from me, to hold her tight against their own chest in church.  I fought letting her infant body be pulled away from mine.  She was my first and the toughest, impossible, to let go of—I thought that I couldn’t do it.  I began to trust others just a little.  Our nanny.  A nursery caregiver.  Kindergarten teacher, first grade, second and up, over the years.  And now she is learning from pastors at church and from leaders in youth group that are young and barely out of school themselves.  And she learns from her friends.  How much she is learning from equally fallible, impressionable friends

I am reminded again, I can’t possess her.    

I look at her speaking this morning, so sure of herself, and  I think “I would hold you in my arms forever, if possible, so enormous is my love for you.”

A mother’s love and possession of her children is irrational.  At first I trusted no one.

And she always resisted me.

She struggles, fights me.  Argues about whether I like her outfits even when I say I do, she says I don’t; her hair, the shape of her nose which I think is quite perfect. But no, she is angry even as she tells me how very wrong I am.  “My nose is not perfect” she wants me to know. And I marvel at the thought.  To me, you are.

Perfection.

This is what I want to tell her.  

You have always questioned.  You were impatient, always.  I couldn’t teach you fast enough — the alphabet, or to read.  All of this could not be conquered quickly enough for you, in the midst of other babies coming along.  Just fourteen short months after you a brother, and he was physically large but quiet, careful and followed you everywhere; happily occupied by his admiration and awe of you.  My job and its demands getting me home at night exhausted, and there you were, already reading, even before I had the time to teach you.  You are ahead of me in so many ways.  At forty-five, I am just barely allowing myself to ask the hard questions, the ones that our faith community wouldn’t allow when I was growing up, somehow my doubt might mean that all of it isn’t true. 

I am only just learning to accept my own questions, to seek the answers out myself.  Yes, I learn from you my girl.

Your mother isn’t sure.  I doubt myself all the time  because I was told long ago in bible class in college (a Christian college) not to question.  As the Bible was opened for me in class, and I began to learn as never before, my heart fluttered and sped up with the dawning, comprehension that I could know the actual Greek words for myself.  I wouldn’t have to take anyone’s word for it.  Just. Like. Anyone. I could study and know for myself.  But when I sought this knowledge out, my professor asked “what would you do with it?” as if, I shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t learn for myself.  There would be no purpose.

Indeed, what purpose would it have served?

Yes that’s the lie I bought into, that I fight against (almost) every day as a woman in the Church, that we shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t, learn and teach for ourselves.  It is a lie, but one that is so strong.   I beat it back.  It returns uninvited.  Reading the words in Blue Parakeet, I am once again liberated.  It’s a constant liberation required, when you are raised in the Church of women “shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t.”   Scot McKnight liberated me again when he asked of scripture’s Story “What Did Women Do?”

What did women do I want to know?  We aren’t even to be allowed the stories in Bible of what women have done.  These stories of women have been silenced, ignored, overlooked and (not always with bad motives but still) they are missing!   As I have come into my own understanding of these things I have had to accept that to take a stand on this is threatening and provocative, and I am immediately perceived to be “liberal” and suspect, as if I don’t respect the Bible which I do, oh so very much from that moment in college when I had the profound thought “I can know this for myself. “ Oh what a sweet relief it was to read that even McKnight found it challenging to defend these things himself.

I am an evangelical, today anyway and I am only learning that I have read the Bible wrong.   I am learning to read the Bible as Story, even while “many of the traditionalists read the bible as a law book and a puzzle.  Traditionalists read the Bible about women in church ministries through tradition instead of reading the Bible with tradition.” (McKnight, the Blue Parakeet)

It is no small thing (to me) and I have spoken of this before.  My pastors never mention female theologians or even woman scholar’s writings about theology and the Bible.  I want my daughter to know that Christian women are thinking, can be academic, even scholarly, that we are wise and thoughtful.  Yes women.

And yet she doesn’t see that in the Church of  (women) “Shouldn’t. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t.”

What would it be like to grow up never hearing the old bible stories of what women did and are doing like Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah? To be a grown woman before you learn that these amazing legendary women spoke for God; they led the nation alongside men.  They sanctioned scripture and they guided nations.  What is it like to grow up never hearing from the knowledge and wisdom of women?   As my precious daughter shares her questions and doubt, I wake up and I listen, take it in.  I hope and pray.  She is strong and her soul and mind are powerful already.  Yes, I accept her doubts.  I know Doubt like a close friend, even if mine has different origins, nuanced by my upbringing and by mistreatment in my life by few strong men who abused.  I’m not afraid of my own doubt and I don’t want to be afraid of hers.  The Church needs girls like her who soon will grow into strong, articulate challenging women.  Her influence somewhere someday will be strong.  Perhaps even in the Church, if she stays long enough.  Are they ready her?  Or will they remain the Church of shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t?

Is that what you want to tell her?

We live in a culture that doubts everything as a matter of principle. In such an environment, how can even faith be immune to doubt? Can I really trust in the gospel? Does God really love me? Can I really be of any use to God? We are taught to doubt but commanded to believe. Somehow we think that admitting to doubt is tantamount to insulting God. But doubt is not a sign of spiritual weakness–rather it’s an indication of spiritual growing pains. — Doubting,  Alister E. McGrath

I guess we are both having growing pains –this slowly waking, grown woman, and this young girl .  Is the Church ready for us?  Will they echo that women couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t?  Or will they tell us, yes, you can.

———————

These musings are like a journal and are not perfect.  As always, I hope you will extend me grace as I write to figure out what I think.

Imagine my Surprise. I read the Bible “Wrong.”

I never knew  that there was a right or wrong way of reading the Bible.  

I have always thought, naively I will now acknowledge, that all that mattered was how one responded to what they read in the Bible.  Nope, I’ve been all wrong.  I don’t know where I learned this idea either.  I’ve absorbed a way of looking at the Scriptures that I never questioned.

“It’s how I was raised.”  

What do I mean? Fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals (and I was taught to believe this but no longer) have a view of the Bible that it’s perfect, as in ” inerrant and infallible” by which they mean, it’s a divine product and its authority comes in “that God literally wrote it” by whispering his intents to people who then wrote it down (like God’s holy scribes).  And unless it clearly was metaphor, most every word was literally the truth, word for word from God.  These people also believe that the Bible is basically all God wants us to know in communicating his will to us, which precludes the work of the Holy Spirit and prayer, among other things.  They believe the Bible has everything we need and is totally relevant to the Christian life today.  That it is simple and plain, obvious; meaning if you just read it you’ll “just get it.”  There’s a morsel of goodness in that idea that anyone can read the Bible.  Unfortunately, even though anyone can read it isn’t simple!  What about the fact that it was written in languages we do not read or speak (most of us) and in a culture and time that we know nothing about. And the last, most heinous thing that simplistic reading of the Bible brings is the idea that one can pick and pull verses out of the context, not believing context is that important.  They read the Bible seeking blessings and affirmations for life.

Guilty. Guilty.  Guilty.

I do believe, and it is important to affirm, as Temper Longman says in How to Read Genesisthat the Bible is:

“… grounded in the ultimate divine authorship of the whole.  Thus in spite of a variety of styles, genres, themes and motifs, it is important to ask how the parts fit into the whole.”

And that is what I have known.  I guess one can make the Bible say pretty much whatever you want it to if you work at it.  People do it all the time!  I’m forty-five years old, been reading the Bible for myself since high school, and in many ways this is how I have always understood things.

That is what makes thinking about it in a new way so frightening.

I have to admit that I’m learning.

That fact should not be embarrassing, but it is.  People don’t like to admit very often that they don’t know something.  We all like  to come off as experts, if not experts than knowledgeable, if not knowledgeable then at least well-informed.  (

(Sigh)).  It’s hard to admit when you’re wrong, uninformed, even lacking knowledge.  It is hard to admit but I believe if I’m willing to do that then perhaps others will become open to considering the same.

Do I dare even talk about this topic of reading the Bible?  I am by no means an expert but I’ve read some things recently. I am armed and dangerous but I’ll list my sources so that you can do your own homework.  (And you always should.)

Here’s what I’ve learned.

The Bible is a piece of literature.

It is a book made up of books.  It is a big story of God and the world.  It is made up of stories and poems that tell us about God.  It is also a series of smaller stories.   It is, like any other book you read, written within a genre and knowing the type of genre you are reading helps you know how you are supposed to read it; whether it is poetry, myths, parables, history, legends or a combination.  And like other literature you study you should know a little of the customs and culture of the time it was written.

“The truth of the matter is that the proper interpretation of any piece of literature, and in particular a text as ancient and important as the Bible, deserves our careful reflection.” — T. Longman.

Hermeneutics is just a technical name for interpretation or “how you read.”

There is a way to read the Bible for what it is not just for what we’d like it to say.  And as we learn to interpret the Bible — as literature, within a genre, written in a time and place, a culture, with a certain purpose, we are less likely to be “Biblical Literalists.”  Just because you find verses that supports your view doesn’t mean you’ve probed fully the biblical view.

How we read the Bible has become very divisive among Christians and has been a contributing factor in the “culture wars.”  Biblical literalists fear the “culture slide or culture creep” and tightly hold a grip on the Church and on their ideas; that a few texts yanked out of any context or culture, are prescriptive of how to “do church” for all time. This keeps churches from changing, in ways that may seem obvious to those of us (women and men) being raised with a different way of looking at Scriptures – raised to think, study and apply scripture for ourselves.

I do believe that the Bible guides us and has everything to say to us in the twenty-first century, it can and should guide us, it changes our ideas about our moral and intellectual life, it forms how we think and behave, how we treat others, and transforms us and shapes who we are becoming …

But …

It’s all about how you read and interpret the Bible. 

I think there may be many people in the Church today who were raised to be biblical literalists. I was.  I no longer believe this is correct in fact I know now that it is wrong.  But I don’t exactly know what I do think, yet.  That’s why I’m “developing my biblical hermeneutic.”

I’m learning that there are some that believe there are lots of parts of the bible that you cannot take literally, either as historical fact or direct will of God.

I agree with Tom Wright when he says that the authority of God is embodied in Jesus himself, not in the literal words of the Bible.  (Loosely quoted.)

Of course how you read and interpret is subject to the wisdom and biases of humans.

Everyone comes at the Bible with a “world view.” We are all guilty of cherry picking verses to be factual and literal truth or determining that something is cultural.   Everyone does it.

Take 1 Timothy for instance.

“Women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with hair braided, or with gold, pearl, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.  Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became the transgressor.  Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”

If you read it literally, women are not permitted to teach or have authority over men but also they are not to braid their hair or wear pearls or gold or expensive clothes.   Also women are responsible for the origin of sin in the world.  The “good news” is that we can be saved by bearing children.  If you interpret it literally these are God’s instructions/restrictions for behavior and roles of women.  Some churches choose to prohibit women’s leadership in churches because they use this verse to “prove” that God doesn’t approve.  But they happily ignore the rest of the verses as cultural.

That’s cherry-picking. 

But if you look as the Bible as being written by a person in a particular time and culture, if you know the historical cultural setting they were writing in then you see that this is how one man in the early Christian church saw things.

When you read it with context, looking at the contrast between this and other texts in the New Testament, if we recognize or listen to more than one voice speaking about the role of women we can seek to discern which voice to honor.  In the New Testament there are examples of women apostles and teachers, women financing the ministry, women sitting at Jesus’ feet learning from him with the other disciples, a woman being the first to speak to Jesus after his Resurrection.  These stories all empower of women in the early church.  You can see this if you don’t restrict your reading to Timothy’s set of verses, which are very restrictive.

Listen to more than one voice. 

Look for themes and overarching ideas.  I believe one must recognize more than just one voice in trying to figure out anything in the Bible.  And it takes discernment and wisdom and doing your homework in trying to figure out which voices to honor.  I look at how Jesus treated women when it comes to this topic.  I do not look at the verses about early church as prescriptive of how we should run our churches today.  But that’s just me.   But as you can see, a lot is at stake in how we read and understand the Bible.

Everyone wants to read the bible for today – for guidance and wisdom for today’s problems, for today’s trials, for this moment.  The problem inherent in that is that without doing the hard work of asking the questions of the context and placement in history, we endanger our ability to hear God.   I am greatly encouraged with the knowledge that there are essential ideas from God that are clear and reinforced many places in scripture.  Those broad strokes from God are the things that guide us — point us to God and deepen our relationship with the trinity.

Those are my thoughts offered humbly because like I said, I am no expert and I am likely much too opinionated.

On the topic of unlearning and learning How to Read the Bible Again:

  1. The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scot McKnight.  He’s a professor at North Park Seminary.  He also has a blog Jesus Creed which is for me critical reading.
  2. Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today by NT Wright.

And to add to my list of commentary suggestions (from why I’m Afraid to Read the Bible):

  1. New Testament Commentary for Everyone, by Tom Wright.  They could be in the “For dummies”series.  But not really, for everyone is a nicer way to put it.  These are really good.  They go through books of the bible and explain the background and what it’s saying.  I really like them.  Straightforward, not dumbing it down too much, just enough to make easy.  Not everyone has time to do a lot of study.  These are really informative and interesting.  And short.

Melody

Why I am Afraid to Read the (entire) Bible

Here’s the honest and mortifying truth.

I have never read the entire Bible, whole.  I have studied various books at length, sometimes on my own but more often with a group of others.  But I have never opened the whole of the great book of God’s WORD, Old and New Testaments, and soaked it in as a grand story.  Of course, any “sheep” knows, don’t they, that the Bible wasn’t written to us but for us.  The Bible is not a handbook of do’s and don’ts, but rather a beautiful story which we can carefully apply to our lives.  And if we fear what it says, if we are unwilling to challenge and question it, we deserve to be ignorant fools (like I have been.)

I have never put my full attention, put my full brain, toward the Bible.  I have been afraid of reading the entire thing and these are my reasons.

I am afraid of my own ignorance.  I don’t know what I don’t know.  If I don’t know then I can continue stumbling in the darkness.  At least it is a familiar place, my ignorance.  Sounds dumb when you actually write it down.  But how many of us do this in the Church?  Far too many.

I am afraid of what the Bible actually says.  For too long I have simply listened to others and accepted what the “experts” say about spiritual things without really challenging any of it.

I am a frequently boiling pot, kept simmering by the cool head of Tom, my husband.1 He often keeps me from boiling over.  It seems that he will be doing this a lot as we began reading the entire Bible in one year – a challenge from our church they are calling: Eat This Book.

So I would add another point to my list of reasons that I have never the read the Bible in its entirety.

I am afraid of how I will respond to the Bible as a woman.  We all have a worldviews and as such, we read the Bible differently. I respond as a woman.  How can I not?  And that is different from my pastors (both male) and my husband, and most of the commentary I am reading.  As a woman I have different questions.  I am afraid of what  to do with those.  How do I sort out how much of my response needs to be talked about, questioned, and challenged?

On the other hand there is a lot that excites me about finally reading the entire Bible.

I look forward to diving in.  Already Genesis has perplexed me, made me extremely angry, and left me with more questions than answers when I look at it story by story.  I want to be able to see the big picture — to soar over the parts that jump out to me as problematic and see God and hear God, asking him what he wants me to focus on.   I look forward to how this Grand Story changes my life. 

Just last week, my pastor was preaching on Gen 1-3.  He was explaining a very important idea about how we look at scripture overall, which I mentioned already, that the Bible is not written to us but for us and that much of it is metaphor and poetry.

But then he highlighted the verses about man and woman becoming one.  Now I’ll acknowledge that it is beautiful, the whole picture of marriage.  But I actually thought it would have been more important (coming from my worldview, as a woman) or at least more valuable to women, if he had taught about how we are both, male and female created in God’s image.  To emphasize and thus explain what the Hebrew word ezer  (helper) actually means. These verses being misunderstood have diminished and hurt women.  He thought the other verses were more important.  We disagreed nicely by email.

I have to admit that how we interacted mattered a great deal to me and I’m learning that this is more important to me than me being right.   I shared my thoughts with him and he heard me.  I felt heard.  And this is a form of giving someone respect.

And so I would add another point to my list of reasons why I haven’t read the Bible it it’s entirely.

I am afraid of the disagreements among Christians.  I hate the way that Christians wrangle with one another over the baggage that goes into “being theological.”  Are you on the Left or are you on the Right?  Are you conservative or liberal?  Are you a feminist?  Egalitarian or a Complementaran?  A new Creationist or …. ?  I don’t even know all the camps of disagreement and I don’t want to.

I just want to read the Bible and get a little help along the way.

If you haven’t  yet, I’d encourage you to read The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight, which will help you rethink how you read the Bible.  Other resources I am finding helpful are the NIV Compact Bible Commentary and the Women’s Bible Commentary.  

The important truth is that I cannot allow my fear of my own ignorance, my fear of this faith tradition that I have followed my whole life, or my fear of disagreement keep me from the next step in my faith journey.

Being that I can be hot-headed, I just might say or do something stupid along the way.  And I would hate that but I cannot allow it to keep me silent.

A friend said to me  this week:  “I am praying that Jesus would guide you as you study His word.   May we always be in search for bringing glory to Him!”  Amen!  I suspect that I will be sharing more of this as I go along.

I wonder, have you read the entire Bible and if not, ask yourself what are you afraid of?    If we seek to follow Christ we are to live in the Bible today and every day.   The question is how?  Let us join together in our KNOWLEDGE not our ignorance.  Let us be SEEKERS together.  

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christians were known for their knowledge, agreeableness and love?

“Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant me so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that I may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reign with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen”  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.

Jesus, according to John 16:13

Melody

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1 Tom and I have an egalitarian or mutually submissive marriage. And I was challenged by Rachel Held Evans (she does this a lot) this week .  She asked the question of whether more people need to talk about the ways of egalitarian marriages, to give others an idea of what it’s like.  I never talk about mine.  It’s precious to me and I’d not want to ugly it by my bumbling attempts to describe it.  But I’ll be thinking about that and try to weave things into my blog as appropriate.

2 Blackhawk’s pastors have given us a challenge.  “By reading the Bible every day, our hope is that we’ll become a people who are shaped by the Scriptures – people who are marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  And they are taking it a step further by providing mini videos and teaching tools.  It’s quite good.   I am grateful to attend a church that doesn’t spoon feed, that helps the “sheep” figure some of these things out for ourselves, but also provide solid ways to learn.

The things to look for in reading Genesis are:

  1. The main plotline in the book: God’s desire to bless humanity consistently meets human stubbornness and sin, keeping a record of the words for “bless, blessing” as you read: God wants to pass on a blessing, but humans constantly thwart that blessing.
  2. Genesis 12, 15, 17 and the covenant with Abraham are the key to understanding the entire Bible: God is going to rescue the world from sin and corruption and restore blessing through his promises to Abraham.  The rest of the biblical story will focus on God’s relationship with Israel, because these are the people who bear the promise for the whole world.  Keep track of how the promises to Abraham keep getting repeated and passed on to the next generation and God works out his plan.
  3. Find your story in the characters: All of the characters in Genesis struggle with God, and we are meant to find our story in theirs: the characters wrestle with their own sin and failure, doubt and faith, selfishness and generosity as they try to follow God.  Use each character’s experience (for example, Adam and Eve’s temptation, Abraham’s struggle with doubt, Jacob’s journey from selfishness to trust in God) to find parallels with your own journey with God.
  4. God’s faithfulness: notice how many times God rescues people, or stays committed to blessing humanity. Allow Genesis to reshape your ideas of what it means for God to be faithful to you.

 

3 “Helper”- ezer.  Gen 2:18   According to R. David Freedman, the Hebrew word used to describe woman’s help (ezer) arises from two Hebrew roots that mean “to rescue, to save,” and “to be strong” (Archaeology Review (9 [1983]: 56–58). Ezer is found twenty-one times in the Old Testament. Of these references, fourteen are used for God and four for military rescue. Psalm 121:1–2 is an example of ezer used for God’s rescue of Israel: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”


Can I Prove God Exists? Yes I Can.

I am starting to write for Provoketive, an online magazine, and this article will be published there tomorrow.  I’m really not supposed to post the same thing here therefore, I’ll leave an excerpt but direct you there…for your commenting pleasure. I’ve never really felt a need to prove that God exists.  Before today that is, when my tawny-headed, freckle-faced son looked up at me with his enormous blue eyes and cried If God is real, Mom, why doesn’t he stop all the bad stuff?  Why Mom, why?

Feeling like I’d been slapped hard across my face by the earnestness and veracity of his question, I realized I don’t want to even touch that question.

Honestly I try not to dwell on that now as I sit here with all my advantages – I enjoy my life, drinking my expensive coffee, in my warm house, sitting in my comfortable chair, at my computer that is connected 24/7 to the world.   I try not to think about my fortunate life or those that have so much less.

No I don’t want to touch those questions.  But sometimes that awareness aches inside me and makes my comfortable life not — so – comfortable.  I cannot escape the world when I turn on the radio or television or get online.  It is there that I find out about people being beheaded.  Women who had acid poured on their face.  That going for firewood in some places in the world will get you raped or assaulted.  Or that being born a girl is still something unwanted in many places in the world.   much less and more importantly why God put me here.  Why I am so seemingly blessed?  And others appear less so?

To read the entire post, …

I Sold My Soul to Work: A response to Blackhawk’s sermon “Success”

One of the strongest messages I received from my father was don’t be a slackerFairly regularly he communicated to me that he was fearful that I just might be one.  It was subtle, but I got the message that I needed to work harder. He was always pushing.

He was very driven.  I thought being driven was a positive quality growing up.  And Dad’s motives were good I believe.  Dad and Mom were doing the Lord’s work and how could we not give the Lord 120%?  I suppose that is why I was so afraid to quit my job to stay home with my children.  I was afraid that deep down I was the slacker he saw in me.  What would happen to me if I didn’t have fear of failure, or good-natured competition, or general-freaking-out-all-the-time-to-get-things-done pushing me? For those were the things motivating me at the time.

As I sought God’s direction for my life in the decision to stay or leave InterVarsity, I had no idea how much I needed to learn.  And that began a decade long journey.  Ironically, this simple message was taught on Sunday at church about the idol of Success.  I sat there wishing that I had heard the sermon fifteen years ago, perhaps it would have saved me a lot of grief.  But truthfully I likely would not have “heard” it.  I needed to go through what I did, to learn a difficult lesson.  I hope the younger people listening yesterday can learn this earth shattering lesson without living it out painfully like I did.

I grew up believing that I WAS what I accomplished.  My worth was in what I could DO.   I don’t think my parents knew they were teaching me that, but I got the message that the harder you worked, the better you could and should feel about your contribution.  The more degrees you got, the better you could feel about your brilliance.  The more areas of responsibility you were given, obviously, the more of a Star you were and the more respect and affirmation I received from Dad.  I sat at the master’s feet, my father, who was a doer.  He was an extremely talented, hard-working person that motivated others to do great things.   He was always coming up with new ideas.  He was generally a big shot in the mission world, quite important and well-respected.   I learned my ideas about work from him.

I went to work for my father soon out of college mostly because I wanted him to like me.  When he gave me my first promotion I heard angels singing and the sun came out a little brighter.  I had finally arrived in his good graces.  And then I quickly became scared to death, because even though I knew what was expected of me – DO NOT FAIL – I didn’t believe I was capable, or talented, or smart enough.

That began my decade of perfecting the life of a workaholic.  I would not fail, because I worked longer and harder than everyone around me.  (This is what I thought at the time anyway.  There were many workaholics at my side as well as balanced people who worked smarter than I did.)

I sold my soul to the god of success.  The truth was more painful.  My identity was completely wrapped up in what I did and accomplished.  Tim Mackie said on Sunday, “Our culture worships at the altar of success and achievement.”  And how!  He also said, “A counterfeit god is anything that is so central to your life that should you lose it your life would not be worth living.”

That was my job.   I completely lost my way.  I lost my faith, kneeling at the idols of work, perfectionism, achievement and power.  I was ironically doing many good things for all wrong reasons.  Every day at work I attempted to prove to everyone, but especially my dad, but also the doubters and haters who (quite rightly) worried about Dad hiring two of his children for major roles in the Urbana convention.   Every day I thought I had to prove that I was good enough and deserved to have my job.  Deeply insecure, I didn’t know my value as a child of Yahweh. I finally burned out and then I quit—mostly out of a need to get away from all that, from the person that I had become, who I didn’t like at all—to be at home with my children.  I had three under the age of four and a pre-teen step daughter.

Right about now you are thinking, those poor kids.  Yeah, in some ways it is true that you could feel sorry for them but the lessons God taught me have made me who I am today and I wouldn’t trade them even knowing my children had to live with me through several struggles with major depression and my alcoholism.

This breakdown of Ecclesiastes 4 was so beautiful in its simplicity.

Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from one person’s envy of another. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.  Fools fold their hands and consume their own flesh.  Better is a handful of quietness than two handfuls of toil and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 4:5-6)

The same word hand in English means three different things in Hebrew. (And people wonder why we don’t trust the translators?)  Hand is used three times here to mean three different things.

  • “Folding your hand (yad)” in Hebrew is forearm, visualize folding your arms on your chest.  That is the slacker or lazy person I spoke of. The person taking it easy dishonors themselves and God, and is a fool.  It is good to use your time and talents to honor the Lord.
  •  “A handful (kaph)” is a word that helps you visualizes an open hand, palm up.
  • “Rather than two handfuls (khophen).”  This  is grabbing a fistful of something.

When I worked, I was grabbing for everything—the next project, the next department.  I was constantly dwelling on what I didn’t have and could not appreciate the honor and responsibility of what was before me.  I couldn’t enjoy my own successes.  I trampled on people in my department blindly so that I could grab at more responsibility and power.  I was never satisfied with my own work.  I was never content with my accomplishments.  I look back now, ashamed.  I was too young and more importantly without the spiritual maturity to know what I was doing.  Being raised to believe that I was what I accomplished, well, I was doomed — destined to fail.

The open hands of tranquility!  Even now, there are still areas where I push myself out of insecurity and fear and out of a desire to “be somebody.”  And a big one for me is being a feminist.  Let me explain.  I fret continuously about the lack of power and influence that women have – not only in the Church, but that is a large part of what I think about.  The role of women and being a feminist has been  at times an idol in my life in that I have made it the ultimate thing.  I am afraid of personally giving up whatever bit of power or influence i have as a women and think about this for all women in the Church.  I am afraid of women being perceived as lightweights, that men (who already have power) might think we take up needless space in the universe and really only have one significant purpose.  I know!  I have been totally two-fisted toward God about this, distrusting the leadership of the church as well as individuals I interact with on this subject. 

I come to my role as a feminist woman in the evangelical church often suspicious, fearful and distrusting.  I have not been tranquil or at peace about this for a long time.  And here’s an earth shattering realization for me.  I feel like I am letting “womankind” down by being a stay-at-home mom.  As if somehow I should have a career that shows that women can make money, contribute ideas, and make a significant difference in the world just as well as men, and I should be doing that for womankind.  I know how silly and pathetic that sounds.  I care so much more about my own reputation as a woman and I deeply care what others think of me still.  I worry that I am not doing enough or not proving my worth with my choice to be at home.

This remains unresolved in my and all I can do today is admit it, confess it and pray that I can do this work that God has put before me from a place of trust that my life is a gift from God. I must trust that He gave me my mind and heart; he gave me the things that make my heart ache or my soul sing.  All these are from Yahweh!   Pray for the peace found in doing the things He put before me – in raising my children which is profoundly challenging, daunting, and an incredible honor.   I want to approach motherhood openhandedly while bringing my screwed up, sinful, dysfunctional ideas about my value to the Cross every day.  I want to breathe in the peace of knowing I am beloved and that I am forgiven for those years of fretting and striving for significance and meaning in things that would never satisfy.  I am forgiven for the years of trying to earn my earthly father’s and Yahweh’s love.   My task is to wake up every day remembering that I have nothing to prove — not to my father, not to myself, not to men or women, not to anyone.

Melody

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Here is a poem I wrote in response to last week’s sermon, about the greatest of idols self-identity – allowing our meaning and purpose to come from anything but Yahweh.   The sermon  kicked off a series titled American Idols.  The premise is that anything in your life, even a good thing, that becomes more important than God is an idol.  In an age of psychology and self-healing, through medicines and talk therapy, self-worth can all too quickly become an idol.  For me, the journey of finding my way back to faith and belief was so huge in my development of a healthy identity.  Still, many days, as I search, as I long for, need, wander, hope and fear — the process becomes an idol.  The process becomes this thing that distracts me from who God is, what it means to be his beloved child, and the few things that he calls me to each day.

Here is what I wrote the week before in response to the sermon Stop.

These are a series I am writing called: Be Real.  One of the ways I’m going to do that– be real — is by writing a response to the sermons I hear at my church, Blackhawk. These responses are not from the church, just my reflections.  I am always challenged by teachers at Blackhawk, sometimes profoundly, but I don’t — to be honest — always take the time needed to apply them to my life. But, if life is too busy to apply what you’re learning about your faith and if you don’t change and grow, what’s the point? So here goes.  Many people are busier than I, including my husband, and I just hope that this helps reinforce in some small way what God was already saying to you.

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I searched hard for an image from Urbana 96 or Urbana 2000 because those are the events that I did the promotion for, but the website seems to be stripped of the historic images. The image above was taken after I left.  I suppose I should say for the record that I by no means failed at filling the Urbana conventions that I worked on.  They were both more than full, bursting.  If that is what you are measuring as success.

What do you think about the most?

Photo of the Book of Isaiah page of the Bible
Image via Wikipedia

In reality, the things of God are not on my mind most of the time.  Just when I think I’ve got the material world beaten, I get sidetracked.  Life is full of opportunities to dwell and fixate on things that keep our mind captivated and not thinking about God.

I am not immune to wondering whether my glasses or haircut make a statement—my current fixation is to get thin again.   Possibly your fixations are not material things or wanting the esteem of others, but you have a secret fear or an emotion that overwhelms and makes you do things that you know are wrong.  The Bible clearly tells us that whatever it is that hijacks our time and energy has become an idol to us—whether it is persons, ideas or possessions.

My life is full of idols—everything I obsess about, stupid inanities.  But, God desires that we wholly and fully worship him with everything in our life.  He said that we must choose to resolve in our heart to be different.  We must resolve every day to change our patterns—to choose Yahweh every day.  This is not just an intellectual “making up of our mind” but on some level we must decide every day where we put our affections.

We all have idols.  It is what we do about them that matters most to God.

Isaiah 40 says, lift your eyes and look!  There are moments living in the city that I feel like I cannot see or hear God because I am so distracted by the noise of my life.  So, I drive outside of town and look up at the starry expanse.  It is then that I come face to face with my Creator.  I know with certainty God’s compassion and promise of restoration, that Yahweh forgives me for my idolatry, and I cry, “Oh God, is my heart truly yours? Make it so!”

God is asking for our mind and heart—in our solitude, spending habits, health, body image, need for human approval, self-esteem, reputation, relationships, financial anxiety—in our fixation on anything other than Yahweh.

Let us worship and live for him.

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This is something I was asked to write for Blackhawk Church‘s Fall 2011 teaching series. 

What are the 7 Deadly Sins and Why Should we care?

I am no saint.  Most days I find my struggles are so profane and well, human. I don’t want to yell when I am angry at my child.  I don’t want to start smoking again even when provoked by life.  I don’t want spend frivolously, and compulsively, on books or clothes.  I want to be more generous. To be less envious of the success of others.  To respond in love and hopefulness rather than “expect” someone to live up to the low opinion I have of them.  I’m just being honest here.  Life is a struggle!

My children asked the other day if “to lie” was a sin.  “What about to murder?” they asked.  What are the seven deadly sins, they wanted to know?

The only thing that I could remember in the moment was Sloth, probably because I struggle with laziness and lack of motivation at-home.   I struggle to do things that don’t interest me much, like laundry and other forms of housework; to train the dog even though it would make our lives so much better; to be consistent with my kids — book reading before computer, keep your room picked up, clean up after yourself!  I find it easier to just do it myself, than hassle with teaching the kids.

But somehow I could work in the garden all day long, in the burning sunshine, because it doesn’t feel like work.  I could pull a thousand weeds.  Or draw with my kids. 

I might write all day because it feels so wonderful to place one word in front of the other, in a way that I choose.  But sweep, mop, pick up and put away?  I’m loathe to do those things.

I could not remember what the Seven were, so I looked it up.

The Catholic church believes the Seven Sins are:

  1. Pride (or Vanity) is an excessive belief in our own abilities that gets in the way of our ability to recognize and experience the grace of God. Humility is seeing ourselves as we really are and not comparing ourselves to others.
  2. Envy is the desire for someone’s status, abilities, or life situation.  Generosity is letting others get the credit or praise. It is giving without having expectations of the other person. It is love which actively seeks the good of others for their sake. Envy resents the good others receive or even might receive. Envy is almost indistinguishable from pride at times.
  3. Gluttony is consumption of more than what you need, of anything really.
  4. Lust is a craving for the pleasures of the body above knowing and craving God.
  5. Anger (or Wrath) is the person who spurns love and opts instead for fury.   Its opposite, Kindness, is tender, patient and compassionate.
  6. Greed (Avarice or Covetousness) is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual.
  7. Sloth is avoiding physical or spiritual work.

Of course there is no “list” of seven in the Bible, though each of these are there in one form or another  If we truly understood how these qualities make us who we are, perhaps we would understand ourselves better and more importantly our effect on others.

I know this. Sin in our lives deadens our spiritual senses and we become slower to respond to God.  And then eventually we drift into complacency, apathy and even disbelief.

And the sad thing is that I am guilty.  Guilty of this and more.  Aren’t we all?

The good news is that the Grace of God offers me hope that not in my strength but with the power of the Holy Spirit I can forgive myself and I am forgiven.