Monday, May 31, 2010

A Mother's Faith

I had never attended a baby shower with a speaker until last month, at mine, and I thought it was a fantastic idea.

I also never thought I’d be raising two kids in [location edited]. And I certainly never thought I’d have two BOYS. I thought, that, like [name edited], I would most certainly have girls.

And so when I thought of what I wanted to say today, I realized that so much of what I experience is boy-oriented. I have so little to say about girls. And so I thought that even though we’re parenting children of different sexes, there’s still a lot of commonality in just being a mother.

After my son was born in March—and I mean almost right after—I had a vague memory of a Bible verse about childbirth. It took me about two months, but I finally looked it up. It’s John 16:21 and it says:

John 16:21 21 When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.

And as much pain as I had with an unexpectedly non-working completely epidural, I really don’t think the short timeframe of it compares with months of bed rest that [name edited] faced during her pregnancy. But our outcomes were the same—babies that we love and want to do our best to raise. And while we have that joy that the verse speaks of, with it comes a lot of other emotions surrounding the raising of children: uncertainty, questions, and fear, to name a few.
But one thing that I have learned about[name edited] since I met her is that she has a very strong, deep faith, and I think that it is that faith that is going to be the most important part of her as a mother.

I’ve heard it said that when we have children, our hearts walk around outside of our bodies. We love them more than we ever thought it was possible, and we can’t always be with them, especially as they grow older. We can’t foresee the life choices that they will make and we cannot make their choices for them—no matter how much we may want to!—and we cannot live their lives for them.

But we can train them, teach them, encourage them, love them, in the right way, and that will guide them throughout their lives. (Proverbs 22:6 Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray).

I recently discussed chapter 11 of Hebrews in a Bible Study—that’s the “faith” chapter, where the author guides us through many Biblical people who had faith in God and His promises despite not receiving those promises.

That faith, the way it is described, as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (11:1), is something we can use to help us parent our children.

I recently read an article in which it said that even if mothers don’t have time to sit down and read the Bible or pray each day, they spend most of the day in faith anyway.
We have faith, that, at the end of the day, our children will have been provided what they need, are safe, are happy, and are loved. Even when they are out of our sight and our protection, we have that faith.

I’m just glad that I don’t have to be like Sarah, who may have thought she was seeing her son Isaac for the last time when Abraham led him away on a “trip” when God told him to sacrifice Isaac.

I’m glad that I don’t have to be like Mary, watching her son die a criminal’s death.
But in those instances, those women had faith that everything would somehow turn out for the best. They were not in control of their children or those situations, but had to hope that yes, God was somehow working behind the scenes and was involved in their lives even if they didn’t understand what was happening.

And so that’s what I’d like to leave us with today. We can mother our children to the best of our abilities—and probably at times we don’t even make it to even that high of a standard—but at the end of the day, we have to trust that whatever happens to our children, good and bad, that God will be there helping us and guiding us as mothers.

Monday, February 08, 2010

I Thought He Was My Friend

Waldorf College Chapel 2/8/10

Luke 22:47-48 47 While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; 48 but Jesus said to him, "Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?"

Luke 23:33-34
33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing.


#323 "God Loved the World" and #802 "Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus".


I've never put a ton of thought into Judas' betrayal of Jesus until recently when it came to my mind. For me, it's just always been one of those Bible stories that I've always known: Judas betrayed Jesus, and then that led to his crucifixion. There isn't much more to it than that…or is there?
As I was thinking about it recently, I realized that this betrayal could only have happened because Judas was close to Jesus. He wasn't simply some random person who had been in one of the many cities and towns in which Jesus had preached, but he was someone in Jesus' inner circle. He was one of Jesus close friends. He spent time with him, learning from him, getting to know him.
Can you imagine the hurt that Jesus must have felt, knowing one of his closest friends had turned on him? What kinds of thoughts must have gone through his head? Did he think "How could he do this to me? He was my friend. I trusted him."
Judas may have thought he was doing the right thing; he may have thought that by selling Jesus out he would force Jesus' hand to step up and be the Messiah that everyone was expected.
But that's not what happened. Judas' plan went wrong; it sent Jesus to the cross instead of to the throne of Israel. And then, when Jesus was dying, he asks God to forgive the people who are doing this to him.
I don't know about you, but when someone hurts me, deliberately or not, my first thought isn't usually forgiveness. Sometimes, it has taken me many years to forgive people.
I also want to think about it from Judas' point of view. He probably didn't think of what he was doing as betrayal. To his way of thinking, it was something that he needed to do for a specific reason. Wanting the Messiah to overthrow Rome was a long-held Jewish desire and belief, and in Judas' mind, he was helping it along; he was looking for a positive outcome. He probably didn't expect Jesus to actually be crucified and die.
I know a lot of people simply have the idea of Judas as betrayer and that's it. But I actually feel a little differently. I feel sorry for him. As I said, he may have had intentions other than that of maliciously betraying Jesus for money, and I think we see that when we see what happened next to him. In Matthew's relating of the story, we see the following:
Matthew 27:3-5
3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

We see that Judas repented; he tried to make things right again by bringing back the money, he admitted that he was wrong. But the chief priests and elders didn't care; they had what they wanted. And Judas was so despondent about what he'd done that he committed suicide. Now, I don't know a lot about suicide, but I can only imagine the deep, deep despair that he must have felt in order to take his own life.
One commentary that I read put it this way:
"It is much more likely that Judas kissed Jesus as a disciple kissed a master and meant it; and that then he stood back with expectant pride waiting on Jesus at last to act. The curious thing is that from the moment of the kiss Judas vanishes from the scene in the garden, not to reappear until he is intent on suicide. He does not even appear as a witness at the trial of Jesus. It is far more likely that in one stunning, blinding, staggering, searing moment Judas saw how he had miscalculated and staggered away into the night, a forever broken and forever haunted man. If this is true, at that moment Judas entered the hell which he had created for himself; for the worst kind of hell is the full realization of the terrible consequences of sin." (Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew. Volume Two. P. 392).
If one of the reasons Jesus died was for the forgiveness of sins, then doesn't it stand to reason that Judas is included in that? Would Jesus have forgiven everyone but Judas? I don't think so. I think that the level of forgiveness we see in that is the same level of forgiveness that we are supposed to strive for to forgive the people that hurt and betray us.
When we are hurt or betrayed by someone, it is only someone who has somehow become close to us. We don't think of a stranger on the street as someone who could possibly betray us, so sometimes there's a disconnect when we read about betrayal and forgiveness and when we actually experience it. It's pretty easy to sit in a Bible Study talking about forgiveness or even to be up hear speaking about forgiving people who have hurt us, but exponentially harder to actually do it.
In the second reading this morning we saw that Jesus forgave the people who were crucifying him even though they didn't ask for it. He just did it.
Forgiveness may look or feel differently to each of us. We won't all react to hurt or betrayal the same way, and likewise, forgiving others may not look or feel the same either. The big question that people often ask when faced with this dilemma is how much contact to have with the person who has betrayed them. And I don't know the answer to that, because we have all been hurt by different people in different ways, and there is no one answer that is a fit for us all. For some, it may mean verbally saying "I forgive you" to the person and finding a way to reconcile. For others, it may be writing a letter that expresses forgiveness but is never mailed and never having contact with that person again.
Because we all react differently, even if the same person hurts multiple people, it makes the topic of forgiveness a tricky subject.
But the important thing is that forgiveness takes place. We can't control what other people do to us. We can only control our reactions and responses to what they do to us. This doesn't mean we let people continue to hurt us; but sometimes, that unforgiveness that sticks with us is going to make that hurt stick around a lot longer than it needs to.
We also have to remember that God loves the person who hurt us, whether we like it or not, and we must still try to find a way to love that person as well. It may be that the best way to love that person is to pray for him or her. Nothing we can do is comparable to the changes that God can make in a person, and so our first course of action should be to consult God in the matter. It can help us in our healing and it can help the person who hurt us. We may never know what goes on inside that person as a result of prayer, but it is something we should probably turn to when we don't know what else to do.

Monday, January 11, 2010

So You Know What the Gospel Is, Do You?

Romans 1:7-16
7 To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. 9 For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, 10 asking that by God's will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you-- 12 or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. 13 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish 15 -- hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.


I've gotten a lot of emails about inspirational stories and prayers and various Christian topics. Sometimes I've gotten the exact same one from different people on the very same day. And, often, there's a warning that comes along with them: that only a very small percentage of people will forward them on to others and those that do forward them are not ashamed of their faith in Jesus. Really? That means that everyone who doesn't forward them on is ashamed? Did anyone who wrote that—and believes it—ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, some people don't forward them because it's just annoying to do so and that they aren't ashamed of their faith in Jesus, but in passing along emails with silly superstitious messages attached to them?
When we hear the word "gospel", what do we think it means? Do we even give it any thought at all, or is it just a churchy keyword? For many people today, even if they know it literally means "good news", to them, "gospel" might mean the promise of going to Heaven after we die, because Jesus died for our sins. But is that what Paul meant by the word gospel? When he says that he is not ashamed of the gospel, does he mean he is not ashamed that he'll get to go to heaven someday? Why would that be something to be ashamed about? Many cultures and people have had ideas about what an afterlife consisted of, so it doesn't seem like even if that is what Paul meant, it would be out of the ordinary.
N.T. Wright, a prominent theologian and bishop in the Church of England, tells us in his book What Saint Paul Really Said that most people think of the word gospel as an order of salvation; that it is "a description of how people get saved" or how "Christ takes our sin and we his righteousness" or Jesus becoming a personal savior (p 41). He goes on to say that if many people heard "a sermon in which the claims of Jesus Christ are related to the political or ecological questions of the day, some people will say that…the subject was interesting, but the gospel wasn't preached." (41).
Another author I love, Brian McLaren, writes in his book A New Kind of Christian, which is written as a fictional story, during a conversation between two characters that though many people equate "the gospel" with accepting Jesus as one's personal savior, it isn't how Jesus meant it either.
I'm not sure how we've come so far from Jesus and Paul, and even if I was, it would probably take a lot longer to explain than the time we have today, but what we can ask ourselves now is what is it about this gospel that Paul has to clarify that he is not ashamed of it?
The term gospel, or in Greek, euangelion, isn't something that was made up out of thin air. Paul didn't say, "hey, I think I'll coin a brand new term when I write to people about Jesus." He used an idea that was already well-known in both Jewish and Greek cultures. A form of this word is found in Isaiah 40:9 and Isaiah 52:7. They read:
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings; lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, 'Here is your God!'
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.' (42).
That is the Jewish background.
The Greek background has to do with euangelion being a term that referred to an announcement of a victory or a birth or accession of an emperor (43).
To look at these two ideas together, that God has arrived and reigns and that God is victorious is, perhaps, the very gospel that Paul says he is not ashamed of. And it makes a little more sense that he could be ashamed to be announcing this. Can you imagine? People thinking Paul's out of his mind, telling him "umm…Paul…you know that guy Jesus died, right? He can't be the Messiah, much less be God reigning and victorious."
Let's take a look at that verse again:
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
So if we look at the gospel as the announcement of God's arrival in Jesus, we see that God's arrival brings God's power, and it's not limited to the Jewish nation who was waiting for their Messiah, but is for the salvation of everyone. God's not leaving anyone out.
I don't know about you, but to me, the announcement of the arrival of God in our world, interacting with us, working through us, and with us, and identifying with us is a lot more exciting, sounds like a lot better news than an announcement of "oh, by the way, now you can for sure go to Heaven when you die." Honestly, if our life here is only so we can somehow figure out how to make the right choice for a future afterlife, then doesn't it kind of feel as if something's missing? But if our life here is the start of something, if our life here and now is under God's reign, if in Jesus God is among us, then how can our lives be different? How can we understand that to not only know what difference it makes to us, but to how we can also share the good news of God's arrival to make a difference in other people's lives?
The new year is a time of making resolutions, and maybe a good one to make this year is to try to really understand what it means to live a life in light of the gospel that Paul has proclaimed to us.