Monday, April 30, 2012

Beginnings and Endings and Beginnings Again

At the end of March, I found out about something called the Ultimate Blog Challenge.  The challenge was to blog every day during April.  I was apprehensive because I didn't know if I would be able to do it; I had only recently begun blogging again on a regular basis and I thought writing something for every day would be too difficult.  I wanted to try it though, because I do like challenges, I thought it would help me be consistent with blogging, and I would have more people with whom to share my blog.  There were two days that I didn't post anything, but there were also two days that I posted two posts, so I think I got all 30 posts in.  Challenge complete (well, as soon as I post this one today, that is).

Now that the challenge has ended, I wonder where I begin again from here.  Do I continue to blog every day?  Cut back to a certain number of days?  Blog on specific days about specific topics?  When I first started blogging in February, I thought I'd post something 3 times per week.  During the challenge, I found I really enjoyed posting something every day.   I think I'll probably try to continue doing that, but not necessarily hold myself to it because some days, I just want to relax and not think about having to have something for my blog.

I learned some things during this challenge, too.

  • The more I wrote, the more ideas I came up with about future things to write about.  I have a very, very long list of topics now.
  • It was fun to meet people I'd never have met otherwise.
  • I enjoyed seeing the variety of blogs out there.  I usually just read Christian and Fashion blogs but through this I found many other topics.
  • There are some very good blogs out there and some very bad blogs out there.  
  • It seems that everyone wants to be a writer.
  • Other things I can't think of right at this moment.
If you are a blogger, and you need some help being consistent or coming up with ideas, I encourage you to participate the next time there is an Ultimate Blogging Challenge.  I might do it again then, too.  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Challenge of Jesus to be A New Kind of Christian

This post is about a book that changed my life as part of a book carnival on  I couldn't just pick one book though, so I am writing about two, because they were instrumental in my life at the same time.

I've sometimes wondered why God led me to seminary just to have me quit.  I started taking classes, part-time, online, in the Fall of 2003.  I was excited, but I was apprehensive as well.  You see, I had some doubts, not just about going to seminary and pursuing ordination, but about my faith as well.  They swirled around in my head, they caused me to furrow my brow, they caused me to sit at my kitchen table and cry and say "what if everything I have ever believed is wrong?"  If that wasn't enough, I also felt guilty about doubting.  After all, I had already been leading in various ways in my church and for some reason, I felt as if I was supposed to be strong in my faith and know the answers.  I didn't think I was supposed to have doubts.  And so even as I filled out my seminary application, I pushed those doubts aside, determined to not let them get to me.

Those doubts kept pricking at me here and there, though, and I really had no idea what to do with them.  And then, I took one of my first classes in seminary called "Kingdom, Church, and World".  It was in this class that I was introduced to two authors:  N.T. Wright and Brian McLaren via their books The Challenge of Jesus and  A New Kind of Christian.

I can't remember in which order I read the books, but they were both instrumental in helping to strengthen the faith that I sometimes felt I was hanging onto by only a thread.  There were times that my faith was like a child's loose tooth and I was afraid that all of a sudden, it would be gone and there would be a gaping hole where it used to be.

In Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian, I learned that it was ok to ask questions.  Asking questions did not mean that I was giving up on faith, but rather, I was seeking to explore and understand it further.  It was through this book that I learned that being a Christian was not just about getting my butt into heaven (page 129) and that kingdom of heaven was something here and now and not just some place to go after I was dead.  This sparked excitement in me and although there were still many things that were unclear (and sometimes still are), I started to feel something come alive again and the idea of following Jesus as a journey, not a destination, resonated with me.

There were still some problems, though.  Somewhere along the way, I had made some Orthodox Jewish friends and through them I was introduced to an entirely new way of looking at Scripture, a way of looking at scripture without a belief in Jesus as the Messiah, a way of looking at Scripture while still anticipating the Messiah.  I often felt in over my head in these online message board discussions because pretty much everyone knew the Bible much better than I did, and, not only that, they knew Hebrew. In fact, one of my friends even learned Greek so he could read the New Testament in Greek and to this day I think he knows the New Testament better than many Christians I have known.  I never argued or tried to prove them wrong but just sought to learn and understand where they were coming from, and it was very enlightening (I'll write a post about this for my "What I Learned" series one of these days), despite it also being very troubling.  Many portions of scripture and beliefs I had never questioned were now being cast in a new light.

But The Challenge of Jesus helped me to see Jesus not just as a savior who had somehow died for my sins, but  brought the historical person, rooted in first-century Judaism, to life for me.  It was how I started to learn context for the first time, and it was how I started to better understand the issue of Jesus being fully God and fully man (chapter 5).   It helped me to know that we cannot just pluck Jesus out of his Jewish identity and still have him make sense.  The narrative in the Hebrew Scriptures is not Old or outdated or irrelevant but is essential to understanding anything in the New Testament.

Doubt is a scary place to be.  But through these books, I learned that doubt is not the absence of faith, but instead can be the very thing that can help to strengthen faith.  It can be the impetus for really delving into what one believes and why one believes it.

I want to share with you two of my favorite quotations from these books.  First, from A New Kind of Christian:
"We hear 'kingdom of heaven' and we think 'kingdom of life after death.'  But that's the very opposite of what Jesus is talking about.  Remember--he says repeatedly, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, has arrived!  It's near, here, at hand, among you!  It's not just about after you die; it's about here, now, in this life!"  (page 107)
And from The Challenge of Jesus:
"Let me be clear, also, what I am not saying.  I do not think Jesus 'knew he was God' in the same sense that one knows one is hungry or thirsty, tall or short.  It was not a mathematical knowledge, like knowing that two and two make four; nor was it straightforwardly observational knowledge, like knowing that there is a bird on the fence outside my room because I can see and hear it.  It was more like the knowledge that I have that I am loved by my family and closest friends; like the knowledge that I have that sunrise over the sea is awesome and beautiful; like the knowledge of the musician not only of what the composer intended but of how precisely to perform the piece in exactly that way--a knowledge most securely possessed, of course, when the performer is also the composer.  It was, in short the knowledge that characterizes vocation."  (pages 121-122, emphasis in bold mine).
If you are reading this and you are struggling in your faith, if you have questions that just don't seem to have answers, please know that you are not alone.  Your faith journey is your faith journey and nobody can take it away from you.  Let Jesus challenge you to be a new kind of Christian.  Continue to listen for God's call upon your life and enjoy and embrace the journey on which He is guiding you,  the journey to partner with Him in continuing to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Who Gives a Sermon?

In my Church Shopping Saga, one of the qualifications we came up with was Is the Sermon Good?  I want to explore a bit more about the sermon, and specifically, who should give the sermon.

Traditionally in churches, it is the Senior Pastor that gives a sermon.  Associate pastors might speak once per month, and there may be an occasional guest speaker.  And often, when the Senior Pastor is going to be away, people will skip church that week because it is not the Senior Pastor who is speaking.

Generally, I can understand this.  The Senior Pastor is likely the one with the most experience and education.  Even though this is usually the case, it does come with some downfalls.  I once knew a pastor who got sermons online and often gave them verbatim, never saying that they were not his own, and said "thank you" when he was told "good sermon" as people shook his hand when they left the service.  Despite his having an M.Div. and despite the fact that a sermon is a large part of a pastor's job (I once asked a pastor how long it took him to prepare a sermon, and he said to do a really good job, it was about 20 hours), this particular pastor really put little effort into it.  I don't know what the actual reason for his doing it was (when I confronted him about it, and told him I'd read along with one he gave, he said "why would you do that?" as if I was the one with the problem.  In case you are wondering that too, I looked it up ahead of time and brought it with me to see if what I suspected was true.  Now, I also do know that a sermon is not comprised of all original ideas.  I just believe that credit needs to be given where credit is due).

I think that part of the problem is that we expect pastors, because they are paid, and often, the only full-time employee, to be and do all things. They do have a difficult job.  But if a pastor is not equipped to do one part of the whole job, or feels burnt out by it, or whatever reason there is, why not find someone else who can do that part of the job?  What if there was someone else in the congregation who was perfectly capable of giving a sermon?  Why not let that person do it on a regular basis, even if the pastor is not away?

Megachurches with campuses that broadcast one person speaking make me sad because it essentially says that of those thousands of people, nobody else is qualified to speak.  Really?  Nobody?

One of the things that I appreciated so much about Waldorf College and working there was that many people were invited to bring a message during chapel services.  It could be a local pastor, a faculty member, a staff member, a student.  There was no distinction between people who were "ordained" and "lay" people.  It is the place where I gave my first sermon/homily/message and if it wasn't for the belief held there that anyone can speak, I would never have even considered I could do something like that.

What does it say when we limit who God can use to speak to people?  Can't God can use anyone to get a  message across to people?  I believe He can, and not only can He use anyone, He can even the absurd.  Remember the burning bush?  The talking donkey?  A simple shepherd named Amos?  A sinful Samaritan woman?  A man who denied Jesus three times?

As much as I enjoy preparing for and giving sermons, I think, if I were ever pastor of a church (which I have no plans to be), I would want to actively look for people within the congregation to bring messages as well.  I would want them to be able to tell their stories, to encourage them in studying a passage of the Bible in depth in order to prepare, to introduce them to commentaries that can help in their understanding, and, ultimately, all of these things can help in their faith.

I love this verse about gathering together from 1 Corinthians:  What should be done then, my friends?  When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. --1 Corinthians 14:26

This verse shows that all who gather have something valuable to share, and that each person can bring each of these things.  Maybe one week, someone has a hymn to share, and the next week, a lesson.  When I picture this in my head, I see people sitting around together, talking and sharing and looking at each other rather than at the backs of the heads of people in front of them.  I see them being able to interact and discuss the lesson given rather than just nodding along to what the speaker says and then filing out to make small talk and go get coffee (although, I do think coffee is very important).

What do you think about sermons?  Do you ever wish you had time to ask a question about it or discuss it?  Or do you like the traditional way churches do sermons?  Do you think only the pastor is qualified to speak, or do you think others should have the opportunity as well?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Aren't We All Like Alice?

Do you remember this scene in Alice in Wonderland where the caterpillar asks Alice "WHO are YOU?"  (from the beginning to about 1:20 in this clip).

Caterpillar:  "Who are you?"

Alice:  "I--I hardly know, sir, I've changed so many times since this morning, you see."
Catepillar:  "I do not see. Explain yourself."
Alice:  "I'm afraid I can't explain myself sir, because I am not myself you know."
Catepillar:  "I do not know."
Alice:  "Well I can't put it any more clearly for it isn't clear to me."
Catepillar:  "You.  Who are you?"
Alice:  "Well, don't you think you ought to tell me who you are first?"
Catepillar:  "Why?"

Alice has had quiet the adventure that day, and her adventure has caused her to wonder who exactly she is.  She is uncertain of her identity.  She cannot tell the caterpillar who she truly is because she has changed so many times already.

Aren't we all like Alice?

We go through life, experiencing changes, and whether those changes are small or large, they still shape us into who we are.  Often though, we may not realize how we have changed until we look back and see the person we once were and compare it with who we are now.  Like Alice, it can be difficult for us to describe our identity.

This week, I came across two posts by Kathy Escobar about identity.  In the first one, Well-behaved Women Won't Change the Church, she wrote that she had always been "the good girl" but when she began some personal healing and became more honest, passionate, and began disagreeing with people and standing up for others, people didn't like it.  They liked her being "the good girl" in the church.  But, she explains, "I was too far gone. My soul and passion had started to come alive and I couldn’t turn back."

In the second post I read, Be Yourself.  Everybody Else is Already Taken. she said this (among everything else, but I couldn't very well copy and paste the whole post now, could I?):

I think that is a very holy and sacred experience on our spiritual journey–learning to find safety and security in who we really are.  
Not who someone else is.
Not who we think we should be.
But in who we are.

In another post on the same blog as Kathy's post about well-behaved women, writer Ed Cyzewski says that the one thing that matters about Christian community is life.  He says:
Seek community where there is life. Where God is present and free to move. Where people are encouraged to pursue God’s calling for their lives. Where a community moves as one toward God’s throne of grace.
I think that this is something that I need to add to my "Church Shopping" list of "qualifications".  As we look for a church to attend regularly in our new town, I want it to be a place where the Holy Spirit is present and a place where I am welcome to follow His guidance, even if it goes against what people think is traditional or normal.  This isn't necessarily as easy as you might think.  In churches, as with anyplace in my life, it is so, so easy to be "the good girl":  be polite, smile,  be friendly, don't be controversial, keep the peace, etc.  I'm a lot braver on my blog than I am in person (and I think I felt braver before people were actually reading it, even though in the big scheme of things it isn't even that many people), especially in person with people I don't know well, and in looking for a new church, I won't know anybody well.  It's easy and safe to be like Alice and want to find out who other people are before letting them know who I am.  But we can't go through life basing our identities on who other people are.

When it comes to churches, I have, generally, belonged to ones where I have been able to be involved in leadership in various ways, whether it was as a leadership team for a specific program, teaching a Sunday school class, or as an employee.  I have learned and grown much in these churches.  I was able to explore different areas and was not pigeonholed into one, such as Children's Ministry (definitely not for me!).

I've also been in churches that have said no to women in leadership (and even emailed the Senior Pastor of one after he gave a sermon about the qualifications for being an elder in church, male being the obvious most important one) and sometime, in the early 2000s, I remember reading a book that had a section that outlined exactly why women were not to be in leadership, complete with Bible verses (the usual ones, if you're familiar with the topic).  I remember feeling confused and depressed after reading why I was not supposed to be in leadership because I am a woman.  Confused, because I had never  really heard of this before (the church I went to at the time had a female associate pastor at one point, and even though I grew up in the Catholic church where women cannot be priests, there was still female leadership in the position of Director of Religious Education and girls were allowed to do all the things boys did during the service) and depressed because I didn't understand how God could be leading me into leadership positions if it wasn't something He permitted.  In a church like that, I felt somewhat stifled, as if I had to stay in a box.  [Note:  in one of these churches, I actually did have some leadership opportunities, such as organizing a conference and teaching an adult Sunday School class.  Maybe someday they will actually allow women to be elders or deacons or even ordained].

When it comes to discerning identity, when it comes to finding safety and security in who we are, when we can no longer deny our soul and passion coming alive and finding a place where we are encouraged what God is calling us to do and who God is calling us to be, it can come at a price.  Maybe people won't like us anymore.  Maybe people will think we are going to hell for what we believe.  Maybe people will claim that we aren't "True Christians".  Maybe we'll be gossiped about and people will be told that we have "shady theology".

As you may or may not know, in February of this year I moved to a new town (hence the whole finding a church extravaganza).  I love my new town and have met some really great people.  It was very difficult to leave my previous town, though, because I was settled there.  I had an identity.  And God ripped me out of where I was safe and comfortable to put me into a brand new situation (not like it's the first time, though).  However, since I've moved, I'm slowly coming to find out more about who God wants me to be, and maybe it is only through moving that it is made possible.  It is only through leaving the safe confines of what I knew and entering into the scary unknown that new opportunities that will guide and shape me will come my way.  I don't know what they are yet.  I only see little glimpses, here and there, like fireflies on a summer night, of what it might all mean.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wednesday's Fun Part II: Soul Care Giveaway

A fun giveaway from Lisa Colon DeLay:

Soul Care for Creators and Communicators:

go here:

Something Fun for Today

The other day, I wrote about how my coffeemaker broke and how cranky I was that I didn't get my coffee.  The next morning, I got a text from my mom asking me if I had bought a new one yet (I hadn't) because she was about to hit "place order".  I've had my new coffeemaker for a couple of days now and my mornings have been much better.

I got to thinking, though, if it was that easy to get someone to send a coffeemaker, what other things do I "need" in my life to make me less cranky that anyone can send me?

Here's my list...feel free to send 'em along!

Note:  many of these have been on my wish list for some time.  The reason they have today's date on them is because I consolidated my wish lists (I previously had them separated by categories).

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Review: God Gave Us Love

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. 

As parents, we want to do all the right things for our kids.  We want to teach them all the right things.  When it comes to faith, we especially want to teach them the right things.  So when I saw one of the book options I could choose from Mulnomah Publishing's Blogging for Books program was a children's book called God Gave Us Love by Lisa Tawn Bergren, I chose it.  We have many children's books on our shelves, but sadly, not many Christian books.

Bergren's book, illustrated by Laura J. Bryant, is a board book that is good for little hands to hold.  It is colorful and fun to look at, with very cute characters.

The book begins with Little Cub getting upset with the otters for scaring away all the fish that Little Cub and Grampa are trying to catch.  Grampa uses this as a lesson to teach Little Cub the following things:

  • being together is more important than catching fish
  • God wants us to love everyone
  • sometimes we love people even when we don't like them
  • love brings out the best in us
  • we don't always feel like loving others but we can still choose to do it
  • we can never do anything to make God not love us
  • God showed us his love through his son

Overall, I thought the lessons about love were ones that a child could understand.  I did think, however, that the book tried to cover too much in too short a format; and while it mentions God's son, it doesn't actually use the name Jesus, which I found strange.

There were also a couple of writing inconsistencies.  In one section, Little Cub and Grampa are alone talking and then they are having a group hug with the rest of the family.  If one is not paying attention to the illustrations, there is nothing in the text to make that jump to being back with the family.  Another oddity was that at the end of the book Little Cub is shown to be a girl.  While the gender of the character is unimportant in the big scheme of things, it seems it should have been more clear from the outset if it was going to be a part at the end.

I would give this book 3 stars out of 5.

Oh, and when I asked my 4 1/2 year old if he liked the book, he said yes.  What did he like?  The polar bears.

If you liked this review, you can rank it for me here:

The Church Shopping Saga Continues: Is the Sermon Good?

This post is one in a series about the adventure of finding a new church to attend after moving to a new town.  You can find the others with the label "Church Shopping".

The sermon.  The high point of a church service.  It can inspire, educate, bore, and anger.

There are many different styles of sermons and many different ways in which they are delivered.  The sermon and the person giving the sermon are intricately tied together.  Some pastors tell jokes, some pastors will use video illustrations, some pastors will get emotional and cry.  In some churches, a section for notes is provided in the bulletin, from a blank spot to a fill-in-the-blank outline.  Some pastors will explain a lot of history behind the Biblical text.  Some probably have no idea what the history is.  Some focus on applying the text to our lives and use creative stories to show how it can be done.  Some forget about application altogether.

Not everyone will relate to every sermon given, for various reasons.  It may not be a subject that is pertinent to his or her life that day.  It may be too intellectual and not practical enough.  It may be too application-oriented and give no background to the Biblical text on which it is based.  It may be that the speaker is boring and people are tired and doze off.  It may be that the speaker is very entertaining and people remember the good joke or the crazy thing the pastor did but nothing of the sermon itself.  It could be anything.

Sermons are not an easy thing to craft.  Everyone listening has different levels of education and experience and are in different places in their faith.  It's like a teacher in a one-room classroom trying to give a lesson to a room full of students that range from preschool to those who have a Ph.D., and keep them all interested at the same time.

Generally, I have thought that the churches we've visited so far have had good sermons.  They've had a good mix of education and application, which I think is important.

But why is the sermon so important?  Why is it the focal point of the worship service?  What is the purpose of a sermon?  Is it to educate?  Inspire?  Encourage?  Convict?  All of those, and then some?

I honestly usually get very little out of a sermon itself, and I have a hard time listening--I would much rather read something (and highlight and make notes and then write about it myself) than listen to something.  This is probably somewhat hypocritical of me since I like giving sermons, but what I like about giving them is that I have to do a lot of reading and research and thinking in order to write my words out, and I learn from that.  To me, giving a sermon is "here, let me share with you what I've learned".

I think that the general expectation of a sermon from the standpoint of the one hearing it is that it is supposed to feed a person.  But, as I explained in Are We Fed Part I and Part II, we shouldn't rely on the sermon to fill us.  In Organic Leadership, Neil Cole writes that "A common complaint heard from parishoners who walk out the door of churches never to return is that they weren't fed by the pastor's teaching...It is commonly understood that the pastor is supposed to 'feed the sheep' or deliver such an inspiring message each week that the entire congregation leaves with an increased understanding of and a deep commitment to God and his Word" (page 81).  Cole questions whether or not this teaching is Biblical and decides that it is not; it is an "infantile and self-righteous excuse for lack of spiritual growth" (81) and explains that actual shepherds do not feed actual sheep, so why do we expect the pastor-shepherd to do so?  He claims that any teaching from the pulpit is "milk", not "meat", because it has been predigested before being given to the people to eat.

I think Cole makes a good point with this, and I think it explains why I like giving sermons rather than hearing them, because I need the "meat" of all the reading and studying and thinking that goes into preparing one.

So, after all of this I am still left wondering what place the sermon has in general, and for me specifically as I contemplate all of these different "qualifications" (you can read the 7 we came up with here) for deciding on a church to attend regularly.

What makes you like or dislike a sermon?  Do you think about it later or does it leave your head the minute church is over?  Do you like sermons that teach you new things about the Bible or do you lean towards favoring the sermons that are mostly application-oriented?  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Exploring the Heidelberg Catechism: Questions 3, 4 & 5

This series of posts will explore the Heidelberg Catechism as it is, to my understanding, the basis for Reformed Theology, and since the churches that I have been visiting in my Church Shopping Saga are all Reformed, I thought it would be good to get to know this document and see what it is all about. 

You can read the first post that has more of an introduction here and you can find all posts about this topic under the label "Heidelberg Catechism".

Question 3:  Whence knowest thou thy misery?
Answer:  Out of the law of God.

Question 4:  What does the law of God require of us?
Answer:  Christ teaches that briefly, Matt. 22:37-40, "thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.  This is the first and the great commandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Question 5:  Canst thou keep all these things perfectly?
Answer:  In no wise; for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.

When I read question 3, my first thought was "what does 'whence knowest' mean?"  After reading the answer, I assumed it meant "how do you know" and that this Q&A is basically telling us that it is the law of God that teaches us that we are miserable.  My second thought was wondering what the authors considered or understood the "law of God" to be.  For me, the law of God is the Torah, the first five books of the Bible that contain the laws given to Israel (and are not incumbent on non-Jews to follow, anyway).

Question 4 does somewhat clarify the "law" by giving Jesus' explanation to love God and to love others.  After getting to know some Jewish people and acquiring an understanding of how they view the law, I see how Jesus' explanation fits in.  When we outsiders to Judaism look in, all we see are a bunch of laws that we think make no sense in today's world.  However, when we look at them from another perspective, we see that they all fit within these two categories that Jesus gives.

Question 5 confuses me a bit as well, and I wonder if the idea of keeping the law perfectly comes more from a non-Jewish understanding of the law, because in the Torah, there is no emphasis on each individual keeping the law perfectly, as evidenced by laws regarding repentance and sacrifice.  If we believe that God gave these laws to Israel, we see that He knew from the outset that they wouldn't be kept perfectly.  In addition to that, not all of the laws contained within the umbrella of Torah are for everyone.  And so, if Jesus is summing up all of those laws by telling people to love God and love one's neighbor, does he expect perfection?  

The idea of being prone to hate God and neighbor is disturbing to me.  I could understand better, maybe, if they said we prone to selfishness or disobedience, but to hate?  I don't remember a time when I have ever hated God.  If I compare that to my experience as a parent, when I think about my children being selfish or disobedient, I don't see that they do it out of hate; they don't hate me, they just want to do what they want to do: selfishness.

Perhaps this idea will be expanded on in further questions or by someone in the comments section.

So, to sum up questions 3, 4, & 5:  We know we are miserable humans because of the law, which teaches us to love God and love our neighbors, but we can't do those things perfectly because by nature we hate God and our neighbor.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

On Being Jesus' Witnesses

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,  and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,  and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  --Luke 24:45-48

These verses were part of a larger chunk of verses we were discussing in a Bible study one day, and we started talking and wondering about how we are witnesses for Jesus today.  One lady said her young granddaughter (I get the impression she was around 5 or so; I could be wrong) told the neighbors "we don't mow our lawn on Sunday; we go to church" and the neighbor never did it again.

While I understand the pride in the granddaughter knowing that Jesus and church is important, I also wonder how that is being a witness to Jesus' resurrection.  Really, it is more of a witness to a cultural tradition.  Were there ever any follow-up conversations with the neighbor about why they go to church on Sunday and don't mow lawns?  Was there ever any discussion about Jesus' resurrection?  Were there conversations about what the neighbor believed?  If none of these things occurred, if the only thing that changed was the neighbor stopped mowing the lawn on Sunday, was it an effective witness?  Granted, maybe it didn't necessarily have to be more than that; maybe that child was just "planting a seed" that would be followed up in ways we will never know about.

I do wonder what the Lawnmower Person thought after that.  Did the Lawnmower Person roll his/her eyes and stop mowing on Sundays in order to not deal with the taboo?  Or did the Lawnmower Person think "maybe there is something to this.  I want to know more."  I doubt we will ever know.

I love the idea of a day of rest, of not having events planned and just staying home and doing nothing, and I know that the emphasis on not working on Sunday is a well-meaning one, that they believe they are not working on the Sabbath.  But it isn't the Biblical sabbath, and Christians are not required to keep the Biblical Sabbath, anyway--but more on that another time.

And maybe mowing one's lawn isn't work for some people.  Maybe they enjoy taking care of the yard and it is restful to them.  Maybe they enjoy creating a nice space in which to play, have cookouts, and enjoy the outdoors.  Maybe the yard work is their sanctuary from a week filled with working at a job that is greatly disliked.

So let's assume Lawnmower Person is not a Christian.  What if someone from the Evangelizing Household, instead of saying "we don't mow our lawns on Sunday", said "hey, can I help you with that, and, after we're done, would you like to join us for lunch?"  Wouldn't that make a better impression, be more welcoming, and be more like Jesus than saying "we don't mow our lawns on Sunday"?

What long-held traditions do you cling to?  Do you seek to understand why others do not follow them, or do you assume your traditions are the best or only way to do things?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Devil Woman!

A while back, I saw multiple conversations on a friend's Facebook page in which one male made the following comments:
  • Devil woman who should be keeping the home
  • if you are saved, you should be a keeper at home, that is scriptural.
  • you are a devil woman, go back to the dishes
  • fool devil woman, get your husband to speak to me, you are out of your place 
  • I am done devil woman, you waste my time and you are too wicked and stupid to see your error, do not be deceived, you are LOST with your hatred of the Word of God, which is supposed to correct you, as per 2 Tim 3:16, you have been warned wicked rebel, repent or face hell one day. I am done!
I honestly can't even remember what the actual conversations were about and which of these were directed to my friend and which were directed to other women who dared speak their minds; I just defended my firend a couple of times and copied and pasted these comments at the time assuming I would write about them much sooner. Lesson learned: write about it as it happens or copy and paste the whole thing.

No matter, though, because the issue now is the attitude this man has towards women. It is depressing to see how little value he places on women. Women (especially saved women) should only be homemakers and he didn't even want to talk to them on Facebook; he thought he should have a conversation with the woman's husband. And if a woman disagreed with him, she was wicked, stupid, and deceived.

In addition, by referring to women who have opinions, who speak for themselves, who disagree with his train of thought, as "Devil Woman", he is saying that they are demonic? That these women are opposed to God just because they are opposed to him and his ideas? Really?

The visceral anger and misogyny emanating from this man is appalling. How on earth does someone who professes to follow Jesus think that this is an acceptable way to treat someone? As I think about this, I think about the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. The way that Jesus treats her, she becomes an evangelist who proclaims the good news of the Messiah, and who knows how many people in her town believed because of her. What if Jesus had treated her the way that this man treated the women on my friend's Facebook wall? What if Jesus had treated her the way that people probably expected him to treat her? Would she have brought the news of the arrival of the Messiah to her town? Doubtful.

How do we, through our actions and words, help or hinder the spread of the good news? Sure, we all have our "off" days, our "bad" days, but somehow, with this particular person, I don't think it was an "off" day; I think it was probably an everyday attitude. Are there attitudes that we have towards people--whether specific people or a certain type of theology--with whom we disagree and to whom we act in a disdainful or condescending manner (even if it is only in our thoughts)? Most likely. I probably am acting that way towards this man through my thoughts and my writing. And yet...I have to remember...God loves him every bit as much as he loves me.

And so, I think all of us are probably in some sense "devil women" or "devil men". Not because we disagree with this particular person, but because we can let ourselves get in the way of God's work. It can happen to the most ardent of Christians: look at how Jesus called Simon Peter "Satan" when Simon Peter disagreed with Jesus about undergoing suffering and death.
And, so, I've softened a tiny bit towards that initial person. I still think he was completely rude, out-of-line, and needs to learn a lot about women, but despite all of that, there is some universal grain of truth to what he said, although not for the reasons that he espoused.

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you."  23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."  24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?  
--Matthew 16:21-28

Friday, April 20, 2012

On Being Introverted

I have come across some of the most interesting blogs and websites lately, due to Twitter.  It's almost an overload of information.  No, not almost.  It IS an overload of information and quite frankly, I am ready for a break.  One that has popped up a couple of times recently, though, that I think deserves attention is Introverted Church.  And thanks to the author of that site (who has also written a book called Introverts in the Church, which I hope to read someday) I also found this post that has over 400 comments from mostly introverted people about the ways in which they just do not fit in during Sunday morning church.  I kept nodding along to most of them.

In general, people think that introverts are just shy or anti-social, and that is just not the case.  I even had someone tell me one time that he just didn't know how to talk to me well because I was an introvert--as if it was my problem that he couldn't communicate well with me about anything.  The thing is, even though I am introverted, I can have a conversation with people.  I can do public speaking (and I enjoy it!).  I can be in groups of people.  I just can't do it continuously and all the time.  I need time to be by myself too.  I've also realized that as a mom of two rambunctious little boys, who both like to talk incessantly, that it is really hard to be at home with them all the time.  When I worked even just part-time before I recently moved, I at least had some time alone in my office, and that was something that energized me.

Reading a little bit from that blog, and particularly that second post that I linked to, made me realize why I dislike "greeting time" in churches so much, and why I have never enjoyed being a greeter at the doors of a church, and even why I often dislike "fellowship time" after a service.  It's because I am introverted and those things drain me rather than give me energy.  I would much rather talk to one or two people that I know well and have a good conversation for 10 minutes than greet as many people as I can in those same 10 minutes with a "church smile" pasted on my face.

And you know what?  It's OK that I don't like those things.  Being introverted is part of who I am and I do not need to apologize for it or try to be something that I am not.

When I worked in campus ministry, I enjoyed leading services (and I almost never made people greet each other!), giving sermons, and leading small groups, but I really enjoyed when students would come to my office and we could just talk for a while.  It was during those times that I could connect with them and relate with them and continue to think about our conversations long after they had passed.  It was through those things that I could remember to pray about a certain topic that they had brought up.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?  Are there things about the way church is usually done that goes against this part of how you were created?  What do you usually do about it?  How can we use the strengths of both extroverts and introverts in the life of the church (both local congregations and the Church as a whole)?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I'm Wearning My CrankyPants Today

My coffeemaker is not working.  It keeps telling me to add water when there is already water added.  It did this twice recently, but then started working after I kept hitting "on" a few times.  I am afraid this might be the end of it, since hitting "on" for an hour produced nothing but beep beep beep.   Beep beep beep.  Beep beep beep.  I tried drinking a cup of tea, but it just wasn't the same and I didn't finish it.  So now I am cranky, have 13 draft posts to continue working on writing, other posts that are started in my head but not in my list of drafts, a house to clean, some other writing projects to do that have deadlines fast approaching, it's a rainy morning (which I usually enjoy but this morning not so much, probably due to lack of caffeine), I'm trying not to yell at my kids because it is not their fault the coffeemaker isn't working, and all I want to do is cry and go back to bed.  Which I can't do.

So what can I do instead?  I can take a deep breath, realize that things do not always go according to plan, and just go with it.  That really is all I can do, since I can't change any of these things that have already happened this morning.

Oh, and also, since rainy days make me think of Haiti, and the Haiti Mission Project just posted this as I was writing, I want to encourage you all to follow the Haiti Mission Project on Facebook and contribute to the funding of Aqua Tabs that they are sending there.

Hey Hey...It's a new day! Have you shared with someone about the SafeWater campaign with the Haiti Mission Project? Would consider sharing the project with someone today? 2000 dollars left to raise to meet our initial goal. Thanks for the support!
I feel better, now.  Getting my focus off my cranky self and onto something worthy did the trick.  Hopefully next time I can remember that sooner.  
Now I just need to head out into the rain to WalMart and see what they have for coffeemakers.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

May the LORD bless you today!

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
--Numbers 6:24-26

Exploring the Heidelberg Catechism: Questions 1 & 2

This series of posts will explore the Heidelberg Catechism as it is, to my understanding, the basis for Reformed Theology, and since the churches that I have been visiting in my Church Shopping Saga are all Reformed, I thought it would be good to get to know this document and see what it is all about.  In addition to the Heidelberg Catechism, I've also read Creation Regained by Albert M. Wolters and on my reading list is The Transforming Vision by Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton.  I'm reading the catechism from a book called 50 Foundational documents for Christian teachers & ministers by Robert F. Lay, Ed.D.  As this is my first experience with this document, my thoughts and questions are not colored by any previous education about it.  You will be reading my thoughts pretty much as I have them.  Since the catechism is 129 questions & answers, and I don't know the frequency yet that I will be posting them, I have no idea how long this series will take.  Those disclaimers aside, let's get started!

In the short introduction to the catechism in this book, it states that the catechism was:

  • written in German 
  • composed by the request of Elector Frederick II, ruler of the Palatinate, Germany from 1559-1576 in order to settle theological disputes in his province
  • Comprised of 3 parts describing:
    • Sin (questions 3-11)
    • Salvation (questions 3-11)
    • Service (questions 86-129)
As I read the introduction, my first question was what were the theological disputes that caused Frederick II to have this written?  According to this site, the dispute was between Lutherans and Calvinists and had much to do with the view on the Lord's Supper (at least, that's what I got out of the first couple of paragraphs...the whole thing is not easy to read due to the single spacing so I stopped).  It also said that the controversy "raged with great violence".  So, already, we are beginning this orderly set of beliefs that is prompted to be written out of anger and a desire to be right.  I can understand that.  I love being right, and I have been prompted to write things out of those same emotions.  

On to the questions!

Question 1:  What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer:  That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yeah, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

What this says is that we do not belong to ourselves but to Jesus, that we are not under the power of sin or Satan, that we are assured of eternal life, that the Holy Spirit is what makes us want to live for him.

Question 2:  How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?
Answer:  Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

This question says that we only have to know 3 things in order to enjoy the comfort referred to in Question 1.  They are to know we are sinners, how we can be delivered from sin, and how to give thanks for the deliverance.

I'm assuming that this Question 2 is where the popular idea of a "Sinner's Prayer" may come from because it is very similar to that basic formula.

Because these questions are stated in the first person, they don't seem to address "corporate" sin, but maybe that will come later, or maybe the HC is just only concerned about what each individual believes.

I don't see anything unusual in these first two questions or anything that seems outside the realm of Christian theology in a general sense.  I do realize there probably wouldn't be anything outside of it because so much of Protestant Christianity as a whole is rooted back in this time, but most of us don't really know where our theology or beliefs actually come from.

Wouldn't you love to have heard the discussions of people as they figured out what questions to include and how to word the answers?  I would.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Late Again!

I hate being late.  I have always thought that being "on time" for something means being there at least 5 minutes early.  I even left for church one time without my husband because if I'd waited, we were going to be late.  I don't think he really believed my threat that I was going to leave without him until I actually did it.

Now, though, I have two young children and I am often running late, whether it is because I tried to get a few more minutes of sleep, took a longer shower because they were actually still asleep, we can't find shoes, etc. I often find that I leave the house later than I intended.

I also find, now though, as I have started blogging and reading blogs that I feel as if I am late to everything.  There are so many great blogs to read and comment on, but by the time I finally can settle down and do so, it's days later and/or there are already 50+ comments on the blog.  Or there is a topic that everyone is writing about but I don't because by the time I can gather my thoughts, it's been played out.

And Twitter!  Everything moves so quickly on Twitter that it makes me feel like I am even further behind.  I leave my computer for a couple of hours and come back to 100+ tweets, and I only follow 153 people at the time of this writing!  I can't imagine what it is like for those who follow thousands of other Twitter users.

Is this because I am introverted and need time to think and process what I read about before I can come up with a coherent written thought?  Or am I just on the outskirts of news and cultural relevance?

What about you?  Do you like staying on top of all the fast-paced news?  Do you thrive on it, or does it wear you out?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Communion With Chicken Alfredo Pizza and Grape Juice

In Is Your Child Leaving Church I commented that we can even have conversations with our children that lead to an impromptu celebration of communion with chicken alfredo pizza and grape juice.  This happened with my 4 1/2 year old on Good Friday this year.  I'd made pizza for dinner and we were having grape juice to drink with it.

As we ate and talked about what Good Friday was all about, and read from Z's The Illustrated Children's Bible, somehow he realized that we were having bread and grape juice, and so I took it as an opportunity to teach him something a little bit different from what we usually hear in church.  I was able to elaborate on what Jesus said.  We always hear that "Jesus took the bread, blessed it..." and "Jesus took the wine, and gave thanks" but do we ever actually hear what those blessings were?  Has anyone's pastor ever said the Jewish blessings over these two items that Jesus would have used?  I haven't ever heard it happen.  It's too bad, really.  There is so much richness in learning about those things that Jesus did as a first-century Jewish man.  Too often, we divorce Jesus from this historic and cultural background, and this is a mistake.  It is so illuminating to learn these things and to know who Jesus was and is as a whole person, to learn these things that shaped him, and not just to know Jesus as a vague idea of being our savior.

And so I read the words from my Bible from Matthew 26:26-28, that "Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it", and I added (after running to find my copy of my "Guide to Blessings" to make sure I got it right), by saying baruch atah adonoy eloheinu melech ha olam ha motzi lechem min ha aretz...blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth, "he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."

And I read the words "Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks [by saying "baruch atah adonoy eloheinu melech ha olam boray pri hagofen...blessed are you O lord our god, King of the Universe, creator of the fruit of the vine"] he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

And we had communion, right here in my kitchen, with chicken alfredo pizza and grape juice.  And it was one of the most memorable communion experiences I have ever had.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Is Your Child Leaving Church?

What is a Christian parent's worst nightmare?  Often, it is that their children will leave "the church".  For whatever reason, whether it is that they fear that their children won't be saved, go to heaven, end up in hell, or become a Democrat (please note I am not affiliated with any political party), parents do not want their children to leave the church.  My children are only 4 1/2 and 2, and I know that it would disappoint me too, but, it is not for the above reasons.  I want my children to be followers of Jesus too, and to know the life that he gives.  It is not because I am afraid of something that may or may not happen to them; it is simply that I want them to experience this life that I experience.

But I can't force them to believe; I can't force them to stay, and I can't force them pretend to be someone they aren't if that is what happens.  And, perhaps, leaving, doubting, and questioning will ultimately strengthen their faith.  It did mine.

I had a difficult time deciding on a minor in college, and the deadline for declaring it was looming.  After tossing around the ideas of education or psychology, as I sat in the Frontier Restaurant one day, eating my usual order of guacamole and chips and a carne adovada burrito, and looking through UNM's course catalog, I finally realized that minoring in Religious Studies was what made the most sense.  I was already very active in my church and loved attending Bible study to learn about the Bible.  With UNM's requirement for a Religious Studies minor to only have a certain number of hours without requiring any specific classes, I knew this was the best choice for me.  I could take as many Bible-related classes as I wanted (and I even supplemented them with Bible-related classes from the English Department).

I was warned by a very well-meaning person to just be careful because many religion professors were liberal atheists.  And, in this current political season, we have also heard that colleges are indoctrinating students with liberal ideology and they are leaving their Christian faith behind.  (I highly recommend all college students, or parents of college students, or anyone in their 20s, or anyone of any age, read  If Jesus Were a Sophomore by Bruce Main.  It is a fantastic book on discipleship and addresses how difficult faith in college can be, but he talks about how this is the time to really discover a personal faith, and not just continue with an inherited faith from one's parents).

It is true that I graduated from a state university.  It is true that while in college I started developing doubts and questions about my faith.  But the reason this happened was not due to liberal atheist professors, but due to the fact that I was reading the Bible in context.  Yes, it was the Bible itself that caused me to start doubting and questioning, because I wasn't only hearing verses here and there like I heard them read each Sunday in church or reading a small section at Bible study and wondering how it applied to me.

I will never forget when I first read Hosea 11:1 in the book of Hosea and not in the gospel of Matthew.

"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." --Hosea 11:1

When who was a what now?  Israel?  But I thought this was supposed to be about Jesus!  Was Matthew wrong?  This was just one of many issues that I struggled through over a period of a few years, and eventually, I did come to an understanding of what this meant, and eventually my faith grew strong again.

Teaching our children what we believe is a good thing.  But we also need to be able to honestly tell them "I don't know" when they ask questions, and not just give them pat answers.  We need to be able to tell them that sometimes, yes, there are things that Mommy and Daddy don't know.  When they ask questions, we can ask right back "well, what do you think about that?" (I use this when I am not sure how to answer my 4 1/2 year old's questions).  We can even have conversations that lead to an impromptu celebration of communion with chicken alfredo pizza and grape juice (more on this another time; it isn't written yet).

There is a song I remember hearing a lot on the radio in the early 2000s by by Mark Schultz called "Remember Me".

Remember me when the children leave their Sunday school with smiles 
Remember me when they're old enough to teach, old enough to preach, old enough to leave

We need to remember God...we need to remember that as much as we love our children, He loves them even more.  

I find these words from 2 Peter to be comforting.  God is patient with all of us (much, much more patient than I am with my children!), and the poetic language used here shows that God has all the time in the world...and then some...for us.  So let's give our children that same patience and time and understanding.

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. --2 Peter 3:8-9

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Are Utensils Provided? The Church Shopping Saga Continues: Are We Fed There? Part II

This post is one in a series about the adventure of finding a new church to attend after moving to a new town.  It began with Church is Not a Buffet and continued with Is It a Jesus-led Church? and The Church Shopping Saga Continues:  Are We Fed There? Part I.

In the previous post about being fed, I said at the end that there was another reason that we shouldn't depend on the church to feed us, and that reason is that we are a part of the church--and we don't eat ourselves.  We shouldn't rely on music or sermons to fill us.  When we put our need to be filled on other people, when we expect to be filled with those things--the music, the sermon, the fellowship, the prayers, the offering, the everything that happens in a worship service, we are not being filled with Jesus.  All of the experiences we have in church or Bible study should actually be our forks and spoons.  They are helpful in delivering the food to us, but those things are not the food.

Think about that for a minute.  Or more than a minute.  Take as long as you want, because I think it is something that is going to be difficult to wrap our brains around.  I think that our beliefs and what we often practice are at odds with each other when it comes to "being fed".

If we were attending a Bible study or even hearing a sermon about the following verses, we would probably nod along and agree with them.  Why would we disagree?  There's nothing terribly controversial here.
  • Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. --John 6:35
  • I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  --Ephesians 3:18-19
  • Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,  as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,  giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. --Ephesians 5:18-20
But what do these tell us about how we should be filled?  With the church? No!  We are the church.  We don't fill up on ourselves. We are to be filled with Jesus, we are to be filled with the fullness of God, we are to be filled with the Spirit!  Are our churches equipping us for that?

I am as guilty of substituting church stuff for Jesus as anyone.  I often judge a worship service or a Bible study by how much I get out of it.  I am happy when there is a song that I love or when I hear a sermon that is stimulating and informative.  There are particular styles of worship that I tend to prefer, although, because I have experienced so many I really can go along with any of them.

I guess, then, as I think about this particular qualification on choosing a church, instead of thinking of it as a place where I can be fed, I need to instead ask myself "are utensils provided?"

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Church Shopping Saga Continues: Are We Fed There? Part I.
This post is one in a series about the adventure of finding a new church to attend after moving to a new town.  It began with Church is Not a Buffet and continued with Is It a Jesus-led Church?

I am part Italian, and I grew up with full-Italian relatives.  I am also a fairly picky eater, and when you have Italian relatives who want to feed you all the time, this is somewhat of a problem.  They always wanted to feed me more and more food, even if I wasn't hungry. "Here, have some bread."  "Here, have some jam to go with that bread."  "I'm making polenta; eat some."  "Do you want some bean soup?"  "Have some cheese."

It's no wonder that today I love bread, cheese, any Italian food, and cooking for other people.  I like to see them fed and full.  What I don't do, however, is put the food into their mouths for them, or chew it for them, or swallow it for them.  They are perfectly capable of doing those things themselves.

One of the words used often in that Christian language, Christianese, is the word "fed".  People want to go to a church that feeds them spiritually.  This may mean different things to different people; it could be the music, the sermons, a Sunday school class, a Bible study group.  It could be all of those things combined.  People want to be satisfied with their church experience and leave full.  And so churches comply: they have entertaining pastors and great music and they seek to understand what the churchgoers want to experience.

There's only one problem.  When people are always fed by someone else, they may never learn how to feed themselves.  They are stuck in the baby stage, never learning how to do things for themselves, but expecting that the music will need to be great in order to have a good worship experience, and the sermon will have to speak directly to them in order to get anything out of it.  Willow Creek learned this and published it in their book Reveal, after they discovered that their mega-church model that so many other churches then used was not actually producing as many disciples as it should.

In Reveal, Willow Creek found that there were four segments spiritual growth:
  • Exploring Christianity
  • Growing in Christ
  • Close to Christ
  • Christ-Centered
The authors state that:
"The church is extremely important in the early stages for the Exploring and Growing segments, but its main activities--like weekend services and small groups--decline in importance as people advance along the continuum.  The church becomes less of a place to go for spiritual development and to find spiritual relationships, and more of a platform that provides serving opportunities.  So its initial strong, central role in spiritual growth seems to shift to something more secondary as people advance to the more Christ-focused spiritual segments" (page 42).
They then go on to explain that it is personal spiritual practices such as prayer, journaling, solitude, and studying Scripture on one's own that help individuals grow in their relationship to Jesus.  I think this is why "being fed" is not a big deal for me.  It isn't as important for me, anymore to be fed through worship services and programs, I suppose.  It was important at one time, when I was beginning to be interested in church things and I had little knowledge of the Bible and was just starting to really explore faith.  I needed those sermons and Sunday school classes to be taught what I didn't know, at a fairly basic level (during one of the first Bible studies I went to, I didn't even know that the John the Baptist in the gospel of John was not the same person as mentioned in the title of the gospel).

As I look back, I can see that when attending church and Bible study and Sunday school classes was important to me, it was when I was in the "Exploring" and "Growing" stages.  Now, I feel as if I am in the fourth stage, and I just don't have the same needs as people in the earlier stages.  I don't necessarily need to go to a Bible study or listen to a sermon on Sunday or sing a specific song, because I can also do all of these things any time I want outside of the scheduled times--and I do.  I have been impressed with the level of academic knowledge in most of the sermons I have heard since moving (more on this in a future post) but in only one did I actually learn something new.

There are some other issues about expecting to be "fed" at church, but that is why this post is "Part I":  they will come later.

As I contemplate this particular issue, I will throw these questions out there to you:  How are you fed?  What role does a Sunday service play in your "meal", and why?  If you are not fed, why do you go?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

It's a Rainy Day

Rainy days have always brought this song from Sesame Street (when I was a kid), to my mind.  I love rainy days, often more than I like beautiful, sunny days.

Now, though, as I have become aware that rainy days in Haiti are a cause for worry and fear beyond what I can imagine, days like this will bring my thoughts there, hoping that the spread of cholera can be prevented.

The Haiti Mission Project has a goal of raising $6,000 to send Aqua Tabs to Haiti in order for people to be able to drink and use clean, uninfected water.  As of today they are just past the halfway point in their goal.  Please consider if you can contribute even a small amount.  You can donate directly to the Haiti Mission Project's Safewater Project through their website:  You can also read their updates on Facebook.

Make It Count

By now you are all somewhat familiar with my friend Andy, because he has prompted me to write numerous posts--primarily about Haiti and vocation.  He's now made me want to think and write about this video that he tweeted.  I probably ought to make a label for posts that says "Andy", but that also might be kind of weird.

The premise:  an assignment from Nike to make a film about making life count.  So what does the filmaker do? He heads off with a friend on an around-the-world trip for as long as all the money Nike gave him would last.  It took 10 days.

Ten days of an extraordinary trip that these guys will be able to talk about for the rest of their lives, ten days of experiences that many people will never have, ten days of an all-expenses paid vacation.  Who wouldn't want to do that?  Who wouldn't want to be able to do any of the things they do in the video?

Inspirational quotes are interspersed throughout the video.  Some of them include:
  • Life is either daring adventure or nothing at all.  --Helen Keller
  • You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.  --Mae West
  • Above all, try something.  --Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Do one thing every day that scares you.  --Eleanor Roosevelt
  • In the end, it's not the years in your life that count; it's the life in your years.  --Abraham Lincoln
  • Action expresses priorities.  --Ghandi
As I watched the video, I couldn't decide whether or not I liked it.  It was making me feel as if I was being pulled in different directions and I didn't understand what was bothering me about it.  I did think it was inspirational; I did agree with the message of making life count.  So what was wrong?  Why was it bothering me?

Then it hit me.

It was about two young, presumably unmarried and childless, males.  I do not fit into the demographic of the filmmakers or of their obvious target audience:  young, unattached males who can theoretically go off on adventures on a moment's notice.  I am a married woman in my 30s with two young children.  I am not going to be able to have those same adventures that they had; they were not exactly conducive to bringing along a preschooler and a toddler.  Well, maybe the experience of riding the elephant was; my kids would love that.

Making it count for me will look very different.  Making it count for me consists of laughing at my kids having a blast driving their Jeep around the back yard or stopping what I am doing to dance along to my four year old's "guitar" playing or helping raise funds for people to be able to drink clean water or having a great conversation with a friend or enjoying my morning coffee or making the time to write on this blog.

So I began to wonder:  what would it look like to make it count at other stages of or situations in life?  How does the single mom working two jobs make it count?  Or the recently widowed?  Or the person dying of cancer?  Or the college student who is about to graduate?

What are all the ways to make life count, no matter how small they are?  It is far more likely that most of us will have to look for these small and creative ways to make life count, because I don't think Nike is really going to pay for most of us to take the trips we've always dreamed of (though if the offered, I can't say I'd turn it down).  Making it count is not about only the single, big, exciting, short-term events in life, but about living each day to its fullest, wherever you are:  in gratitude, in awe, in love.

We do need to remind ourselves about this constantly though, because it is far too easy to become complacent, irritable, and unappreciative of life and not live life to the fullest, although, the fullest will be different for each one of us.

How do you make it count?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Believe...or, What I Learned From the Catholics
This post is one in a series of posts about what I have learned from the different denominations and religions that have come into my life.  There may be more than one post per denomination.  To see the others, click on the "What I Learned" label.

It's always kind of puzzled me when I have heard other Christians say that Catholics are only focused on works or that in anyone's life there must be a specific moment in time when a person became a "believer" in Jesus.  Since I never had that "altar call/come to Jesus" experience, for a long time I thought that maybe something was wrong with me.  I absolutely cannot answer the question "when did you first believe?" because the answer is that I don't know.  I cannot remember a time that I didn't believe, and it only occurred to me very recently that this is likely due to my Catholic upbringing.

Each week in mass we would recite The Nicene Creed.  The second text on this page is the one I remember (it took a little time to track it down; the other versions I found just weren't quite right).

Read through it.  No, really, read through it.  What do you notice?  Is it about how people must work for their own salvation?  Is it about anything that we do?  No.  It is all about belief.  It is about belief in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.  It is about believe in what they each did and do.  It is about belief.

This is something that I recited every single week, and before I knew how to say it myself, I heard it recited.  It was something I knew before I even knew that I knew it.  It was the teaching of belief.

There have been many times I have wondered (and continue to wonder) why I believed as I did, and times I have wondered and struggled with whether or not my beliefs were wrong, but somehow, deep down, I always held on to these deeply ingrained beliefs, even if I could not articulate them, and even if I was clinging to them only by a the thinnest fraying thread.

I'm not sure I ever, until writing this, thought about the part this creed may have played in my faith journey, but I am now fairly certain that it had something to do with it.  Even though repeating the same thing every week can become boring and rote, there is still value to it.   We do not have to be completely certain about each and every thing that we believe, and we can waver, and we can question, and we can have doubts, because God doesn't require that we have it all figured out in our brains before we decide to follow Him.  And somehow, those years of repeating those words must have given me something to hang on to, something to connect me to God when it seemed as if nothing at all made sense.

So the next time I hear that Catholics have nothing to do with belief but are all about works, I can definitely explain why that is not the case.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What I Learned From the Baptists

This post is one in a series of posts about what I have learned from the different denominations and religions that have come into my life.  There may be more than one post per denomination.  To see the others, click on the "What I Learned" label.

If I was a betting person, I would bet that the fairly traditional church that I attended on Easter Sunday this year is not the type to have people show many emotions or raise their hands during songs.  So it was all the more surprising that during one song, I felt that I wanted to do so.  Now, I am really not the type to do this.  In fact, I think this was only the third time I have ever done it.  I have known many people who do, and in the times that I attended Baptist churches, it was a common occurrence.

I know that for me, one very big reason I have not made this a part of how I worship is because I worry that I'll look silly or wonder what people will think about it.  I want to be in control of my emotions and be strong.

In doing that, though, I am not completely free.  I am still bound by whatever it is--pride, worry, fear, [insert your own word] that keeps me from making worship about GOD.  By worrying about it, I am putting the focus on me and taking it off of God.  How appropriate, though, that I felt the freedom on Easter to finally do a place where it is uncommon.  So a big thank you to the Baptists for teaching me that one aspect of freedom in worship.

The song was "In Christ Alone", and I knew I'd heard it before, but it wasn't one with which I was very familiar.  Here's it is; have a listen.  And maybe, just maybe, you can raise your arms a little bit, just to see what it is like.  If you need some tips about how to do it, check out comedian Tim Hawkins' instructions.

The first video is the song "In Christ Alone" with lyrics; the second video is comedian Tim Hawkins.