Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Church Shopping Saga Continues: Children's Programs

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". 

Of the "qualifications" that my husband and I initially discussed regarding choosing a church, one of them was whether or not the church had good children's programs.  So far, each church we've been to has something for all ages, although the only "program" we've experienced is using the nursery for our 2 year old!  There is no way he would sit still and quiet during the service, so we drop him off to play with his new friends for that day and our almost-5-year-old sits with us during church.  In some churches, there have been "children's worship" programs that meet during the second half of the service, but we only attempted to send him one time; the very first time we visited a church.  He is hesitant to join in new experiences with new people and he came back to us after a few minutes, crying.  We didn't make him go again.  

Some of the nurseries have had some type of sign-in and pager system; some have had nothing (those made me a bit nervous).  They've all had a good number of workers in the room and he has had fun playing with the new and different toys.

As for our older son, I am not sure if he will join in with the "children's worship" even after we choose a church (see above reasons).  Although he has expressed at times that he is bored, he generally does a good job (is not disruptive) during the service.  At times, he has even shown that he is listening to the sermon because he asks questions about it.  One morning, we wanted to make sure he watched the baptism of two babies that was happening, and he did.  We then had this conversation:

Z: He didn't baptize them.
Me: Yes, he did; why do you think he didn't?
Z: They didn't disappear.
Me, wondering, ummmm...huh?: He baptized them when he scooped up water and put it on their heads.
Z: And salt?
Me: No, no salt.
Z, to my husband: Daddy, he did *not* put salt on them.

While I have no idea where the idea of using salt came from, I thought afterwards that he probably thought they would disappear because prior  to this, he had only seen full-immersion baptisms (our most recent church was Baptist).  

I have read articles both about keeping kids in church and having children's worship (both partial service and through the full service) and while I do not have a definitive position on it, I am glad that Z is experiencing "adult" church with us.  While he may not understand everything, there are some things that will stick with him, and possibly more than if he was in a "fun" children's worship.  

So after all this, I still don't know what priority to place on children's programs.  Maybe it's not as important as I thought it was.  Well, except for having a good nursery, that is!

What has been your experience with children's programs/children's worship?  Do you prefer children staying in the service or leaving for their own?  For the entire time or just part of it?  

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Worth Reading Wednesday

Due to my mini-vacation last week and my older son being done with preschool and home all the time now, I've done little reading so this week's installment of "Worth Reading Wednesday" will be fairly short.

Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom
A beautiful story about faith and life and two very different lives of two very different people.  It's an easy and compelling read.

How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership, edited by Alan F. Johnson
I've only read two of the stories in this book so far (and I'm actually skipping around and not reading them in order), but they were both refreshing and honest.  It is good to see people looking beyond gender and strict interpretations of Biblical verses to seeing what God calls people to do regardless of gender.  Some of the contributors to the book include Tony Campolo, Bill and Lynne Hybels, John and Nancy Ortberg, and Ronald J. Sider.

This article, How to Discover Your Passion, was something I just read this morning.  The author writes "You can have an exceptionally honed set of skills, but without passion, your skills will yawn with boredom. You’ll scratch your head and wonder, “Is this all there is?”"  I know that I have felt this way multiple times in the past, and when passions and skills finally come together, it is difficult to imagine going back to doing something that I am not passionate about.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Are You Successful?

I recently had a conversation on Facebook that was much appreciated.  A former student from when I worked in Campus Ministry told me that I had impacted many people while I was at that college; he said that I was approachable and able to reach different types of people because I could reach people where they are.

Since I have often wondered if I made a difference at all (I was only paid to work 10 hours per week and that is not nearly enough time to get done all that needs to be done, especially when it comes to building relationships with students), it meant a lot to me to see those words in my Facebook instant message box.

It is this types of impact that is not measurable by any standards.  In a world--even within the church--dominated by numbers it is the people with the most numbers that are deemed the most successful:
  • who can raise the most campaign money
  • who can get the most votes
  • who can sell the most books
  • who can get the most Twitter followers and Facebook likes
  • who can make the most money 
In the church, it is often:
  • who has the most attendance or membership
  • who has the most giving
  • who has had the most baptisms or professions of faith
  • who has the most programs
There is a novel by Francine Rivers called And the Shofar Blew. In this novel, the protagonist Paul is a pastor who spends many, many years trying to live up to the expectations of his pastor father.  Because of this, he screws up his life and family.  Throughout it all, his own personal ambitions slowly take precedence over listening for God's voice in any decision.  Because his father David built a Christian mega-church empire, Paul felt that he had to do so as well--and do it better.  There is mention of a grandfather, Ezra, who was also a pastor.  David had always told Paul that Ezra was a failure because the family had little money and had to buy clothes at rummage sales.

Towards the end, when Paul comes face-to-face with his own sins and discovers he was not only following in his father's church-building footsteps, but also in the footsteps of his father's sins, Paul's mother says to him:
"You couldn't be more wrong.  All Ezra ever wanted to do was serve teh Lord, to spread the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.  And he did!  If you go back to the places where he preached, you'll find churches, Paul.  Small but living churches, centered on Christ and the Bible.  Your grandfather served the Lord more faithfully than your father ever did."
We must be careful.  The allure of fame, wealth, popularity is strong, even for Christians.  We may feel as if we have something to prove--to others or to ourselves--and so we go after it, entwining our own ambitions and desires with those of God's desires for us, until we have strangled God's desires and put our own desires in their place--all the while thinking what we want is what God wants.

We may convince ourselves that God wants us to be the best, to rise to the top, to make it and prove that we can do it.  This comes at a price though, because the higher we go, the farther the fall if we should topple off of whatever pedestal we or others create for us.  Last week, I questioned whether or not there was room for humility in politics, and then yesterday in church heard a sermon about these very verses.  The pastor said that we are often encouraged to be proud of who we are in and of ourselves, and that we tend to look out for what is best for us, but these verses tell us to do just the opposite.  They tell us to look out for others and to treat others as better than ourselves.  Look at the beginning of verse 5:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus

It goes on to say that this mindset was one that caused him to voluntarily shed the power he had and become humble.  He did not use the power he had for exploitative measures but willingly gave it up.  It is this humility, this putting of others before himself, that caused Jesus to actually be successful, to  show that the power of sin and death could be broken, to show that new life was possible.

Can we all do that?  As Christians, can we be of one mind (verse 2) in humility?

I have never been a part of leading a big ministry; most of what I have done has been in small churches or small situations and I am glad for that.  Though I do struggle at times because of the allure of numbers, I am actually glad that I have nothing to brag about in that regard, because I know the temptation to make it all about me and what I have done is closer than I'd like to think.  

Do you feel a need to "prove yourself", to show that you've "made it"?  Do you see success as something measurable?  Do you struggle with pride?  Do you need help from the Holy Spirit in embracing the humility of Christ that we should all have?  Do you have the same mind as Jesus?

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Word of the Lord Came to...

I need your help!

Sometime in the last few months, I read an article or blog post about an idea that when we read about the Word of the Lord coming to a prophet, it may not have been a big booming voice as we may typically imagine it to be, but rather, a small, insistent whisper.

If you know the article or post I am thinking about, can you please let me know where to find it?

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Wandering Alien

I spent three hours this morning driving to the town from which I moved three months ago.  As I drove, when I was not answering the question "are we there yet?", my thoughts turned to thoughts of how many times I have moved.  I grew up in Connecticut and lived in the same town until I was 18.  After that, I lived in Massachusetts, Utah, New Mexico, Indiana, and Iowa.  Six states.  As I look back, and even as I try to peer into the future, I am still surprised by the number of times I have moved.  It is not something I ever anticipated that I would do; I loved the town where I grew up.

The last few times I have moved, I have always thought of God's call to Abram in Genesis 12:1: "Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you."  That is how I have felt; I have left people and places that have meant a lot to me and faced the unknown.  It is always a challenge to trust God's guidance on the journey.

Today, though, I had some additional thoughts.  I thought of the idea of wandering.  Unfortunately, the Bible verses that first come to mind are those of Cain's punishment and they do not fit the situation at all, but the next thought was of Israel wandering in the wilderness.  They knew what promises God had made, but they hadn't yet experienced the fulfillment of those promises.  They also spent time as aliens in land that was not theirs.

I think that is how I feel.  I am connected to the different places in which I have lived, yet, I also feel disconnected, too.  It is as if I am a wandering alien, still looking for that one place to call home, that one place to be settled.

I don't think I'll get there.

I think that being settled means I will get too comfortable in my ways and my thoughts.  Being settled means my growth will be stunted.

Each time I have moved, I have learned new things and have been forced to think in new ways and have grown.  Each time I have moved, I have had different jobs, some I loved and some I hated.  Each time I have met people who became friends.

If it wasn't for all of these moves and all they entailed, I would likely be a very different person than who I am.  And so, I have come to embrace moving and the new opportunities that come with it.  I have a sense of something building, like water simmering just before it boils, of my next calling.  It is still just out of reach, but the timing doesn't matter to me.  I am at peace with trusting that I am following God's guidance and dream for this time of my life.

How about you?  Are you someone who has lived in one place or are you someone who has moved multiple times?  What do you think and feel about moving?  Is it a negative or positive experience for you?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Is There Room for Humility in Politics?

I've never been very interested in politics.  While I am registered to vote, I'm an Independent because I could not in good conscience pick any political party.  I like hearing what different sides have to say about issues and I don't want to blindly follow one party.  And so now it is an election year, and anger and hatred will be running rampant through our country the closer it gets to November.  A candidate's past will be scrutinized down to the tiniest detail and will be to some more important than the present and future.  

There are many Christians on both sides of an issue who believe that Jesus would be on their side.  Each side wants to use Jesus to champion the cause near and dear to one's heart and mind and wallet.  One side wants the government to take care of the poor, because that is what Jesus would do.  The other wants the churches to take care of that.  One side champions the rights of the unborn because God creates life and we should not take it away.  The other side wants the woman to be able to choose whether or not to have an abortion.  Disagreement about abortion or gay marriage or the economy or the military or entitlements brings out the worst in people, because each side wants to be right; each side wants to be a winner.

Each side, both Christian Republicans and Christian Democrats, believe there is a Christian influence on politics, whether it is the belief that we are a Christian nation that was founded on Christian principles or whether it is the belief that we should be more active regarding social justice issues.  

The biggest thing that I see lacking in American politics is one Christian principle that is a hallmark of Christianity:  humility.  

Humility is something that we think of as nice in theory, and we think of people who are humble as those who do not brag.  But when we look at these beautiful verses in Philippians, we see that it is so much more than that.  It is about thinking of others as better than yourself.  
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,  he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross. --Philippians 2:3-8
Is humility something lacking in your life?  Are you willing to think of others as better than yourself?  Are you willing to be like Jesus and be obedient to the point of death, whether it is physical death, or the death of ideas or a lifestyle that you cherish?  
  • If you are a conservative Republican, do you think of liberal Democrats as better than yourself?  
  • If you are a liberal Democrat, do you think of conservative Republicans as better than yourself?  
  • If you are the president of a company, do you think of the janitor who cleans your office at night as better than yourself?  
  • If you are wealthy, do you think of the beggar you see on the street as better than yourself?  
  • If you are pro-life, do you think of the pro-choice advocate as better than yourself?  
  • If you are pro-choice, do you think of the pro-life advocate as better than yourself?  
  • If you are against gay marriage, do you think of the gay person as better than yourself?
  • If you are for gay marriage, do you think of the person against it as better than yourself?

No?  Why not?  

Is is hard to be humble?  You bet.  It's a lot easier to be selfish and go after the things that we want and put ourselves and our immediate families first.  It's easier for me to head down to Walmart and buy a new toy for my kids or order some books for myself on Amazon than it is for me to donate more money to Haiti.  It's easier for me to be conceited about my viewpoints than it is for me to humbly consider another's viewpoint.  

Often, our Christian lives consist of the easy things:  church attendance, no drinking alcohol, posting inspirational Bible verses on Twitter and Facebook, listening to our Spotify playlists of praise and worship music.  

I think, though, that the deeper a relationship we seek with God, the more these easy activities will feel as if they are not enough.  The more we seek to follow Jesus with all that we are, the more we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives and let the Spirit lead us, the more we will face uncomfortable and life-changing thoughts and events in our lives.  

Christian Republicans, Christian Democrats, and Christians everywhere in between can be united.  Regardless of political affiliation or theological beliefs, at the very minimum, we all seek to know what it means to follow Jesus in all areas of our lives.  We all are learning what it means to lose our lives for his sake.  

Why don't we use this election year to be united in humility and grow in grace and love towards each other?  Why don't we use this election year to show the world that they will know who Jesus' followers are by their love?  

"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; there is no longer Republican or Democrat, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."  Galatians 3:28, Kelly Version.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Exploring the Heidelberg Catechism: Questions 8 & 9

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".

(Due to popular demand my friend Sara's suggestion I'll start using a modern English translation of the HC.  This version also has footnotes about where in the Bible the HC Answers come from.).

Question 7 left us with the idea that our depraved human nature comes from the disobedience of Adam and Eve.  Question 8 follows up on that nature.

Question 8. But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil?
A. Yes, (1) unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.(2)
Scripture references:  (1) Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Job 14:4; Isa. 53:6 (2) John 3:3-5

In general, this makes sense to me.  I believe that God is love and God is good and when we do those things that are good and loving, we are reflecting Him.  I suppose the difficult part of this idea comes from the different understandings there are out there about the idea of being "born again".  I actually like the other/older translation of this a little better.  For the answer it says "Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God."  It's probably a personal preference for language or how I perceive the words but to me, the idea of regeneration sounds better, somehow, than born again.  To me, regeneration sounds more like a small spark of a beginning whereas the idea of born again gives me the impression of a big, once-in-a-lifetime ask-Jesus-into-your-heart conversion moment.

Perhaps the reason regeneration appeals to me is that I do know many people who are able to do good things but they are not Christians.  If we take a hard line approach and say they are not "born again" we are saying what they do is not good.  But if we think of it as regeneration, I think we can see God working within them even if they are unaware of it (the Methodist idea of prevenient grace, I believe).

Question 9. But doesn’t God do us an injustice by requiring in his law what we are unable to do?
A. No, God created human beings with the ability to keep the law. (1) They, however, provoked by the devil, (2) in willful disobedience, (3) robbed themselves and all their descendants of these gifts. (4)
Scripture References: (1) Gen. 1:31; Eph. 4:24 (2) Gen. 3:13; John 8:44 (3) Gen. 3:6 (4) Rom. 5:12, 18, 19

I still have a difficult time when I see the word "law".  When I think of God's "law", I think of the word torah, which is not what the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism had in mind.  I keep having to remind myself that "law" in this context is defined in Question and Answer 4 as loving God and loving one's neighbor.  So, basically Question 9 is saying "isn't it unfair that God requires us to do what we can't do?"  First, the Answer states that we are created with the ability to do.  Doesn't this, though, contradict the idea in Question 8 that we are totally unable to do any good? 

I also want to note that in the context of the laws given in the Hebrew Scriptures, there are laws dealing with repentance.  The laws were not all expected to be followed without error, because repentance is built right into them.

As I have started using this version of the Heidelberg Catechism with scripture references, I will say that the references the authors of the HC use are much better done than any "What We Believe" I've seen posted on church websites.  I've often found many things I can argue with the "What We Believe" statements when it comes to what scripture the churches choose to use to back up their points, but generally I can see why the authors of the HC chose to use what they did.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Worth Reading Wednesday

In light of the vote in North Carolina and President Obama's announcement, I thought this week's "Worth Reading Wednesday" would highlight blog posts on the topic of same-sex marriage.  There are differing opinions presented in the posts below.

Agendas Aside:  a series by on homosexuality and the church.
Obama's Big Gamble and How Christians Should Respond by Morgan Guyton
"Conservative and progressive Christians alike must stop publicly denigrating each other. As one who falls slightly on the progressive side of the spectrum, I know that I have fallen into the trap of not even trying to understand the perspective of Christians who do not share my views. We must live and speak as if all Christians share the same fundamental goal of seeing God’s mercy reign over all the Earth, even if some of our brothers and sisters seem like they don’t. "

How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation by Rachel Held Evans
"Regardless of whether you identify most with Side A or Side B, (or with one of the many variations within those two broad categories), it should be clear that amendments like these needlessly offend gays and lesbians, damage the reputation of Christians, and further alienate young adults—both Christians and non-Christian—from the Church. 

So my question for those evangelicals leading the charge in the culture wars is this: Is it worth it? "

From Waging War to Washing Feet: How Do We Move Forward? by Rachel Held Evans
"The popularity of Wednesday’s post speaks to a growing desire, among both young and old*, for radical change in how we treat one another as Christians and as citizens. Ready or not, a movement is afoot—a movement toward reconciliation, healing, grace, and love.  People are ready to lay down their arms, and I am ready to join them."

My Dad Apologized by The Nephew
"Then he said it.  He said, "Matt, I am sorry that I voted for Amendment One."  He told me a story about how at his men's Bible study last night the men in the room were talking about how it was so great that the amendment passed.  He said they were homophobic and used many gay slurs.  One of them went as far to say that the "queers have a mental problem that is only curable by death".  That statement made him realize this wasn't about religious morals; this was about hate.  That's when he equated racism to the homophobia of this amendment.  He didn't really think of it before, but at that point, he realized that his anti-gay opinions were the same as his dad's racism."

"Now, I do not believe homosexuality is part of God’s intention for human beings...Having said that, I do not understand why this issue has been made the poster child for Christian morality when it affects so few people (1-2%) compared with other sins so common in society and the church."

What Are We Really Asking? by Dianna Anderson
"When we say, “it’s okay if they don’t act on it,” it sounds clever. It sounds like a nice way around the conundrum of identity and sexuality being intertwined and intermeshed. But, really, asking that a gay person – who did not choose to be gay – be celibate and alone simply because they like men instead of women or women instead of men is asking too much. It is placing upon our brother or our sister a burden we would never choose for ourselves."

A Christian Debate About Gay Marriage from Relevant Magazine
Two experts discuss why they do or don’t support gay marriage.  

How Evangelicals Have Shifted in Public Opinion on Same-Sex Marriage by Tobin Grant and Sarah Pulliam Bailey (Christianity Today Magazine)
"Polls show a significant difference in results depending on how they ask about same-sex marriage, especially when it's framed as a "right" compared to when it's framed as supporting marriage between a man and a woman. The difference in wording can create about a 12 percentage point difference."

Homosexuality and Where the Church Has Failed by Nicole Cottrell
"To be clear, I am not desiring to open up a debate on the issue of homosexuality in the church, so much as raise the issue regarding our quickness to join the debate versus our slowness to seek the Lord’s face in prayer."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wearing a Mask to Hide or Express Who You Are

One of the topics that I love reading and writing about is identity.  From the time our parents learn if we are male or female, when we are given a name, when our personalities begin to emerge during toddlerhood, we are on a lifelong discovery of who we are.  For many, this is linked to one's job--whether one likes the job or not.  For Christians, our identity is in Christ (whatever that may mean to each individual Christian).  We are complex individuals, shaped by DNA and upbringing, coming into relationship (friendships, working relationships, familial relationships, marriages, etc.) with other complex individuals, and trying to somehow live and work and love in community.

We spend time trying to figure out who we are:  through Myer's Briggs, through spiritual gift assessments, through birthdays and times.  We often fumble along, trying to figure it out for ourselves so that we can be secure in who we are.   We have many lifelong decisions to make at young ages:  in our late teens, we need to know what we want to do with the rest of our lives so we can declare a major in college.  In our twenties, we need to figure out what we want in a partner so that we can get married and start a family.  In our thirties we are in the middle of raising children and helping them discern who they are.  [I can't go any further than that; I have no experience yet past thirties].

It would seem as if the majority of people either have themselves all figured out or don't think about it once they pass these milestones.  I know I am so busy with my two boys that it is difficult sometimes to give myself a second thought.  But it is precisely for this reason (being home full time with my boys now) that I am spending so much time wondering who and what I am--because I know that I am more than a mom.

It is easy to get comfortable in who we are or who we think we are or who we are expected to be.  When faced with examining ourselves, or changing, even in the smallest of ways, it can be a struggle not only because of whatever inner turmoil it brings us, but because we also fear the reactions of other people, whether they are close to us or not.

I let my 4 1/2 year old bring quiet toys that can fit in my purse to church.  One day, he decided to bring his superhero mask.  As my husband and I stood there singing during the opening song, I glanced down at my son and he had already put it on.  He was sitting there, in the seat, just looking around, oblivious to the fact that wearing a mask in church is out of place.

We can look at this in two ways.

We can look at it in the sense that we wear a mask to hide our true identity.  When we are content with small talk and surface relationships, we are not allowing ourselves to fully express what is in our hearts.  We use our masks to hide from other people, to keep them at a distance, to keep ourselves feeling safe.  We wear our masks to hide who we are.

If this is you, in what ways can you strip off your mask to fully be yourself?  

We can look at it in the sense that we can be different from everyone around us and not let it phase us.  My son had no concerns that he may have looked silly or that nobody else was wearing a mask. He is not old enough to understand conformity and is content in who he wants to be.  From this, we can learn to wear parts of our identity that may be different from the norm and that people may not understand, but we can be true to who we are and not worry about what others think of us.  We wear our masks to express who we are.

If this is you, in what ways can you learn to wear your mask without worrying about being laughed at?  What part of your identity needs to be expressed?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Do You Observe the Sabbath? I Don't.

What?  You don't observe the Sabbath?  You don't go to church on Sunday?  Are you some kind of heathen?

That might be what you were thinking when you read the title of this post.  The sabbath as a day of rest is an idea known to most people, I'd imagine, and we Christians use the word easily as we talk about going to church on Sundays.  I was thinking about the sabbath this past Sunday morning as I sat in church, when the pastor used the word about 3 times to describe this Sunday that is holy to Christians.

There's one problem with that.  Sunday is not the Sabbath.  It's such a little thing, and maybe is being nit-picky, yet, it is one of those things that strikes me when I hear it as one of the ways in which we often do not understand Jesus' Jewish background.

Where does the idea of sabbath come from?  Most people are probably familiar with this, but let's take a look at Genesis 1:1-2:3, in part.
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.  
And there was evening and there was morning, yom rishon. (the first day)
And there was evening and there was morning, yom sheni. (the second day)
And there was evening and there was morning, yom shlishi. (the third day)
And there was evening and there was morning, yom revi'i.  (the fourth day)
And there was evening and there was morning, yom chamishi.  (the fifth day)
And there was evening and there was morning, yom shishi.  (the sixth day)
And on yom hashvi'i, (the seventh day) God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on yom hashvi'i from all the work that he had done.  So God blessed yom hashvi'i and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
 Later, in Exodus 20:8-11, it becomes a command to the Hebrews to remember this day:
Remember the shabbat day and keep it holy.  Six days  you shall  labor and do all your work.  But yom hashvi'i is a shabbat to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work--you, your son, or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested yom hashvi'i; therefore the LORD blessed the shabbat day and consecrated it. 
On the sabbath, it is a day of rest.  It is a day that God set apart and blessed and consecrated.  It is a day to escape, in a way, of the demands of daily life.  It is a day when there is no creation; life is, in a way, at a standstill.  It is--or has the potential to be--a beautiful day.  I have experienced two Jewish shabbatot (One, before I had children, was much more restful than the other!).  It is a gift of time.

But it is a gift that we Christians have adopted only in part.  We have adopted an idea of a day of rest, but we have decided to make that day of rest Sunday, yom rishon.  Is that what the first day is--or should be--about?

We choose yom rishon because Jesus' resurrection occured on yom rishon.  So, in essence, each yom rishon should be a celebration of resurrection, of new life, of new creation.  On that yom rishon when Jesus was raised from the dead, God was at work starting His new creation.  He was not resting; he was creating!

A shabbat is a good thing, meeting together as Christians is a good thing, worship is a good thing.  But perhaps, in mixing the idea of shabbat with the idea of meeting together, we have inadvertently taken away some of what makes yom rishon special.   We rest, and wait, and our minds wander from the idea of God's new creation.  We forget about God making all things new, then, and now, and in the future.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! --2 Corinthians 5:17

And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." --Revelation 21:5

In what ways is God making things new in your life?  How can you honor the idea of shabbat yet use yom rishon to look forward to new creation and new life?  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Church Shopping Saga: All Is Stripped Away

As I've been blogging through this church shopping experience,  the song "The Heart of Worship" by Matt Redman has come to my mind, specifically, the line "all is stripped away, and I simply come"

We have so much extraneous stuff that goes along with church as we know it:
  • the sermon
  • the music
  • how to dress
  • the polite small talk
  • the offering(s)
  • the kids programs
  • the Sunday school classes
  • the small groups
  • the coffee hour
  • ____________________ (fill in the blank with whatever I've forgotten)
And I wonder how much we need.  How much of this is important?  What if it all was stripped away and we came simply to worship?  What would happen?  What would happen if a group of people showed up at a church some Sunday morning and nothing was planned:  no  music, no sermon, no childcare, no Sunday school classes.  What would you do?  What if people were invited to talk with each other, or pray together in groups of 2 or 3, or spend time alone with God?  What if someone could feel free to simply read her Bible for an hour without being expected to make small talk?  What if people could discuss topics or parts of the Bible that they'd been thinking about that week?  What if it felt more like a gathering of friends?

But wait, you say, that's what church potlucks are for; that's when we gather as friends.

And how often do those happen?  Maybe once per month?  Even a weekly meal together doesn't necessarily bring people together on a level that is desperately needed today.  We fill our moments with each other talking about our jobs or politics or television shows or movies or how busy we are (the busier we are, the more of a badge of honor it is) but how often do we get to know each other's hearts?

But wait, you say, that's what small groups are for; that's when we get to know each other.

Ok.  So we meet in a small group weekly or twice per month, and we do the icebreaker questions where we have to say what kind of animal we'd like to be or what we'd want to take with us if we were stranded on a desert island.  And then we get to the Bible Study, and it might be tentative discussion at first until people start becoming more comfortable with each other.  And, little by little, people begin to share thoughts and ideas and their lives.  This is a good thing.  I have been in numerous small groups and have found them to be valuable in making friends and learning about the Bible--often more so than a church service.  At the same time, though, there was also an invisible hesitation hanging around in the room, and maybe it was only mine, but it often seemed as though we would get stuck at a certain level of friendship.  There was some invisible barrier that kept us from having a truly intimate friendship with each other.  And, to be frank, I am not even sure what that should look like; it's just something that I sense:  we could go deeper, but we don't.

This is all very odd to met that I even long for this, because I don't like sharing and letting people get too close to me.  But at the same time, I have a deep sense that our typical surface relationships are not enough.  And in our large Sunday morning gatherings, we just do not have the time to really get to know each other.  Even if a church has a great "small group" program and we are encouraged to get into one, that is "extra" and not the focus.  It is seen as secondary to the Sunday morning gathering.  It's almost as if the way to build real, deep, and lasting relationships is hidden away.

How do you build deep friendships in church?  Do you ever long for more than is typical?  If you don't go to a typical church, what is it like for you?  Does your church emphasize relationships with each other?  What would it look like in your church to have all stripped away and come simply to worship?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Worth Reading Wednesday

I've read so many great blog posts recently that I'd like to compile them here and share them with you.

How To Live Your Dream When You're Scared to Death by Jeff Goins (guest post at
If you have ever felt afraid to be who you are and do what God is calling you to do, this post is for you.

What Power Does to Leadership at Viral Jesus
If you've wondered if there are problems with ordination and church hierarchy, read this.

Supersessionism is Not Biblical by Michael Vlach, via Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed.
If you wonder what the place of Israel is now that the New Testament Church is here, read this.

Ask an Environmentalist...(Response) at
If you've wondered if Christians can also be environmentalists, and why, read this.

How I Cured My Fear of Public Speaking (Or, the Day I Became a Man) by Aubry G. Smith
If you've ever been afraid of public speaking, read this.

Let Us Proclaim the Mystery of Faith by Michelle DeRusha
If you think faith has to have black and white answers, or if you think it doesn't, read this.

Women in Ministry Series:  The Winding Road by Nicole Unice (guest post at
If God's call to you has been a long time in coming, read this.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Creeds, Confessions, & Questions

As I am blogging my way through the Heidelberg Catechism, it came to me that while creeds and confessions are very helpful for defining beliefs for a specific community because they wrap things up nice and neatly, they are also very difficult because they wrap things up nice and neatly.

When the Heidelberg Catechism was written, it was because Lutherans and Calvinists were arguing about the Lord's Supper (this makes sense why the book I have says to compare it to Luther's Small Catechism, to see the similarities and differences).  This orderly set of beliefs had to be written to make sure everyone got it right.

And, in my limited knowledge of church history, weren't the creeds usually written as a response to some kind of heresy?

How many church websites have a page called "What We Believe"?  Many, if not most of them, do this.  People checking out the church want to know before they take one step through the door whether or not they agree with the beliefs of the church, and the church wants to be up front and open about what its beliefs are.

There's only one problem with that.

It doesn't appear to leave room for questions or doubts (especially if the "What We Believe" list is peppered with Bible verses to prove the belief points that are being made).

The thing is, I do really love the Nicene Creed, and the Apostle's Creed is something I learned at the Presbyterian Church I attended; it was a usual part of the service; the "Confession of Faith" part, I think.

I heard a sermon series one time about one of those creeds; I can't remember which, and while somewhat interesting, I think it served more as proving the creed so that people could feel confident about their beliefs.  And that's great for a lot of people.  But not everyone.

But what if we have questions?  What if we have doubts?  What if we don't have everything settled in our own minds and hearts?  Is there room for that?

When we refer to creeds and catechisms and statements of beliefs and say that all the answers to questions are contained in them, it closes the door.  Sometimes, the door is slammed shut and locked.  What if we want to think and discuss these ideas, especially regarding a church's "What We Believe" statement?  What happens if we disagree with anything on the statement, either outright or the way a Bible verse is used to proof text the statement?

What has been your experience with these things?  Have you ever discussed any of them with anyone "official" in a a church?  In your experience, are pastors usually willing to discuss the issue, or do they just say things like "well, the Bible says..." and that's it?

Monday, May 07, 2012

Permission to Be Me

Apparently, I need permission to be myself.

I didn't know this.  I didn't expect that reading writing tips from Jeff Goins, Writer would do more for me than just give me tips about writing.

It began with Jackie Bledsoe Jr. tweeting a post called "How to Live Your Dream When You're Scared to Death"  (Go ahead and go read it now; it's worth it.  I'll still be here when you get back).  I read it and replied to his tweet, thanking him for tweeting it.  The author of the piece, Jeff Goins, had been included in that (even though I hadn't really paid attention to who wrote it at the time; sorry, Jeff!) and he began following  me on Twitter.  I followed back, and then spent a lot of time over the weekend reading his website and bought his e-book.

I have always loved to write.  Whether it was through journals or making up a pretend newspaper one day as a child, writing letters, writing papers in college or most recently writing sermons, I have always enjoyed putting words together on paper in order to communicate.

But I never considered myself to actually be a writer.  I thought writers were those people who had majored in Journalism or Creative Writing (neither of which I did; I was English Lit) and were people who had been published or who were well-known for their writing.  I thought writers were people who got paid to write.  I thought writers were people who were confident in their writing.

I was wrong.

I am a writer.

I am a writer because I write.

Even as I type that, I still feel a hesitation to identify myself that way.  It could be insecurity, fear, uncertainty, or all of those and then some.  And yet, deep down, I know that I am a writer.  It is a part of who I was created to be and, as Jeff said, "until you start living into your calling, you’re robbing the world of a gift."  This is very similar to what my friend Andy said some time ago when he wrote this:
You’re a unique individual, created by God and possessing wonderful gifts to be shared with the world, and share them you must because cheesy as this may sound, the only chance the world has of reaching the full potential of beauty God created it to have is if you share your uniqueness. Please don’t deprive the world of your special blend of beauty. 
As inspiring as I thought that was and even though it encouraged me, I still have been holding back.  I have blogged, wondering, "can I really do this?" or "what do I have to offer?"  And yet, there must be something that God wants me to offer the world through my writing.  I have been on this vocational discovery journey since I moved in February and it just seems to point to writing.  Maybe it is time to get serious about it.  Maybe it is time to write naked, to let go of fear and insecurity and just write:  this blog, the book I want to write, and whatever other writing opportunities that I will find.

As I wrote this, verses 13-14 from Psalm 139 came to my mind:
"For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.   I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made."
Although these verses are often used for the pro-life cause, they are so much more than just a statement about God creating our physical lives in the womb.  In the context of the entire psalm, look at what the psalmist is saying:

  • God knows me 
  • I can't hide from God
  • God will lead me
  • God knows what my life will be like
If this is true, then not only is God my creator, but He has created me to be and do certain things.  He did not only create my heartbeat or my green eyes or my short height or my stick-straight hair but He created my INFJ/P personality and He created my passions and interests and abilities.  

And so, today, I will call myself the writer that I am.  I will follow God's path for me on this writing journey.  Today, the last verse of this psalm is my prayer:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Do you ever feel as if you are waiting for someone to give you permission to be you?  

The Church Shopping Saga Continues: How's the Music?

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 music.  There is probably nothing in a church service that evokes more emotion or opinions than the music.  People who are used to traditional hymns may balk at "contemporary" music.  People who have never heard anything but contemporary music may not even know what an organ is.  For some, the music is too loud.  For others, it plods along.  Some lyrics are difficult to understand.  Some lyrics are too simplistic and boring.  People have favorite songs as well as songs they dislike.  Music is used to appease people or to get new people in the door.  

In the past, I've attended churches that have had both traditional music as well as contemporary praise and worship, and I like both.  If I had to choose a favorite, I'd probably choose contemporary praise and worship, as long as the hymns I love could be included as well.  Actually, if I really had to choose, I enjoy the simplicity of a guitar only; I don't need the drums or anything else.   

Of the six churches we've visited, four have been more traditional musically and two have been more contemporary, although, there were some contemporary songs done on piano in the traditional churches, so it's not exactly taboo.

When I think about the music, and think about my preference, though, I realize that what I am doing is relying on being fed by the music (For more about being fed, see Part I and Part II on the topic).  Music is meant, I think, to be something emotional.  It stirs our hearts and touches our souls.  There is nothing inherently wrong with music.  There are so many beautiful instances of music throughout the Bible:
  • Singing about God's strength and salvation after the exodus (Exodus 15:1-18)
  • Deborah and Barak singing a song (Judges 5:1-31)
  • Responsive singing (Ezra 3:11)
  • The Psalms!
  • Singing hallel at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:30)
  • Paul's instructions to have a hymn when meeting together (1 Cor 14:26)
  • Many others I didn't think of or find in my search
Music is a wonderful tool to be used to help point us to God, to be used to worship God.  But when we get excited about a certain song being sung or feeling bored with another song, aren't we making it about ourselves instead?  I do this ALL the time.  When a song that I love is being played, I am happy; when a song I don't like is being played, I may not sing or if I do sing, my heart really isn't into it.  I've done this since I was a child.  There's one particular hymn, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", that I never liked (I'm ok with it now) and I would flip back and forth through my hymnal deliberately not being able to find the hymn until it was over so that I didn't have to sing it.  Then, there are other songs that I could sing every week ("Here I Am, Lord", "Be Thou My Vision", "All Things Bright and Beautiful", "In Christ Alone", "God of Wonders", "Everlasting God" to name a few).

Here's the thing.  Church lasts about an hour on Sunday, right?  If I don't hear the music that I like, does it really matter?  I can listen to it as often as I want at home!  I can put my favorite songs on repeat.  I can sing along to them and dance around in my kitchen (umm...did I just admit that?).  So if I can get this music that I love elsewhere, is it really an important qualification for choosing a church after all?  Do I need to rely on a church to feed me the music that I like?

What type of music do you prefer?  What role does music play in your life, whether in general or in church?  

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Haiti Saga Continues

In my Haiti series, back on March 26th I wrote about one of the churches I visited in my Church Shopping Saga.  In this post, which I called "Brokenness", I wrote about how I didn't think my random messages about Haiti were over, and they are not.  Although it's been some time since I've written anything about Haiti, my thoughts still turn to it quite often, whether it is due to rain and wondering how people are faring there with fighting cholera, or because I continue to see random references to Haiti and wonder what God is telling me or for what He is preparing me.

This morning, we visited that same church again, and I was amazed at what transpired.

Let me tell you a little bit more about that previous visit, though.  That day we were there, there was an envelope in the bulletin specifically for money being collected for orphans, and there were 4 (I think) options to choose from to which one could allocate the money.  One was Haiti.  I immediately got out my checkbook and wrote a check, and in the notes section provided on the envelope I wrote that I was glad to be able to give something concrete because Haiti had been on my mind and heart for months.

And now, for what happened today.

Today was the end of this drive that they were doing, and as the woman spoke about it, she pulled out all of the forms and envelopes on which people had written their testimonies as to why and how they felt led to give money to this project.  And I heard my words that I wrote weeks ago being read back to me.

I had no idea before coming what would happen this morning; it was just the next church to visit in our round of visiting churches.  I introduced myself afterwards, and told her who I was, and so we talked about Haiti.  She introduced me to two people who had recently taken a trip to Haiti, and told me about a company here in my town, called Vibella Jewelry, that works with women from Haiti (and other places) who make jewelry out of recycled soda bottles!  I hope to visit this company in the next week or so (and I'll blog about it after I do).

I feel this tingling of anticipation that something is building, yet I still don't know exactly what it is that is being built.  I still don't know why.  Why Haiti?  And yet, the why is becoming less and less important for me to understand or to even ask.  Now, it is more "it doesn't matter why, but what does God want me to do?"  Perhaps that is an important step, a step in obedience, a step in trust, a step in faith.  What is God calling me to do?  How will He use my interests and my skills in whatever He has planned?

I am excited to find out (ok, and a bit scared too, if I'm being honest, because it's all unknown), and if you are the praying type, I'd appreciate your prayers in this whatever way you feel led to pray.

Friday, May 04, 2012

What I Learned from the Orthodox Jews

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.

In The Challenge of Jesus to Be a New Kind of Christian, a post where I wrote about two books that helped me in my faith journey during a period of doubt, I wrote:
[My doubts] 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?" 
Why would I ask this?  What could possibly make me think that everything I had ever believed [about Jesus] was wrong?  The reason that I was afraid that everything I had ever believed could be wrong was because of an online discussion board in which I'd been participating.  In this discussion forum, which was about Judaism, I not only met people who were Jewish, but people who had left Christianity in order to pursue becoming Jewish.  Although that wasn't entirely new to me, as I'd had a professor in college who had at some point in her life converted to Judaism, the number of stories I read here were more than I'd ever considered there could be.

I started learning that people were leaving Christianity for Judaism because their pastors, relatives, or friends could not answer their questions about Jesus and Christianity.  They were basically taught not to question anything or that God was a mystery or to just have faith or “the Bible says”.  They learned that there were Jewish answers to their questions about faith, scripture, and God that, to them, made much more sense than what they were learning—or not learning—in church.

I learned that Jews have very different opinions on the interpretation of Scripture that Christians are so sure about, like Isaiah 53, or that they have very specific ideas about what Moshiach is supposed to accomplish (rebuild the temple, bring all the Jews back to Israel, all Jews will follow Torah, among other things) and they pointed out how Jesus did not do those things.  They were especially emphatic that Jesus could not be God, or, rather, that God could not be a man.  I learned that many of them believed that Jesus didn’t even exist, and if he did, not only was he not the Messiah, he was not even a prophet, because, they said, prophecy has ceased.

In fact, they would tell me, if he did exist and accounts of some things he did were true, at best he was simply an ordinary Jew in need of repentance for not following the taryag mitzvos (613 commandments) that Jews are obligated to follow and at worst, he was an apikoros (one who has turned away from Judaism) or even worse for then leading others away from Judaism.  I was told that the Greek Testament is riddled with errors and contradictions, both within its own books and with the books of the Tanach, and that the Tanach is error-free, especially the Torah, as the Torah was written by God.  I realized very quickly that I really didn’t know how to respond to many of these ideas.  It was a very troubling time for me.

I eventually worked through those doubts and I emerged with a great respect and admiration for Judaism.  There is beauty in the dedication to God that I often didn't see in Christianity.  Because there are so many mitzvos governing all aspects of life, God is infused in everything.  From the time a Jew wakes up in the morning until the time he or she rests his or her head on the pillow at night, there are prayers and blessings to be said.  There is deliberate community:  Jewish men are required to pray in a minyan (group of at least 10 men) three times per day.  There is no driving on shabbos so people walk to shul, which means they will attend the closest one in their neighborhood.

Through what I learned, I was able to see Jesus in a new way:  a Jewish way.  I learned the actual words he would have said at the Last Supper.  I learned about how he would have lived a Jewish life.  I learned to put Jesus into his Jewish context.  

Most of all, I learned about friendship with people who were different from me in belief, practice, and culture.

What other cultures or religious groups have you experienced?  Has it helped or harmed your faith?  How do you feel about cross-religious friendships?

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Exploring the Heidelberg Catechism: Questions 6 & 7

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".

(Due to popular demand my friend Sara's suggestion I'll start using a modern English translation of the HC.  This version also has footnotes about where in the Bible the HC Answers come from.).

We ended the last post with Q&A 5 telling us that we are prone to hate God and our neighbor.  Question 6, then, follows up on that by asking:

Q. Did God create people 
so wicked and perverse?

A. No. 
God created them good and in his own image, 

that is, in true righteousness and holiness, 
so that they might 
truly know God their creator, 
love him with all their heart, 
and live with God in eternal happiness, 
to praise and glorify him.

I am pretty sure that nobody that I know of has ever suggested that God created humanity to be bad; I have always always thought of this as pretty standard Christian teaching across all denominations.

Q 7. Then where does this corrupt human nature come from?
A. The fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise. This fall has so poisoned our nature that we are all conceived and born in a sinful condition.

This also seems to me to be fairly standard Christian teaching, and in the HC being born in a sinful condition is taken from It comes from Psalm 51:5 "Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me." (NRSV).  I do wonder though, at the image of sin being in our nature, for few reasons.

One, in Genesis 4:7 (post-fall) we see an image of sin as being something that is outside of Cain.  God says to him "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it."  In this respect, sin appears to be something outside of oneself and can be mastered.

Secondly, when I was learning about Judaism, I learned that in Jewish belief, people have both a good inclination (yetzer hatov) and a bad inclination (yetzer hara).  The idea that people are born sinful is more of a Christian construct than a Jewish one.

The third reason is that when both of my children were born, I just couldn't look at them and think "you sinful human being".  They had no concept of good or bad behavior in thoughts or actions; they were incapable of doing anything that we tend to define as sinful.

Now, I think that we all do sin.  Without a doubt I think that.  But my question is whether or not it is something that is a part of us from the moment of conception or if it is something we learn.  I also am not sure of how important it is, in the big scheme of things, where it comes from, since it is something we all know that we do.

How about you?  What do you think of these two Q&As in the Heidelberg Catechism?  Is this your understanding of sin or do you have a different understanding?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Faith & Fashion: Tattered Clothing

Today I threw away a pair of khaki cargo pants that I'd had since the summer of 2007.  They were my go-to casual pants every summer.  The hems were so frayed, though, and today the heel of my shoe got caught on it and ripped it further, so I knew it was useless to keep them any longer.  I also have a black and white floral cardigan that I have had since the spring of 2009.  Like the pants, it was a go-to item (all year round).  I've noticed that it has gotten kind of shabby though, and the other day I noticed two little holes in it.  And, yesterday, I wore a pair of jeans that I'd attempted to hem (I really need to give up trying to sew anything) but the hem on one leg fell down, so I was walking around the store hoping I wouldn't trip on the fabric from the longer side.

Sometimes, I wear something only to discover after I leave the house that it has a stain on it.  It might be small and insignificant, or it might be a bright orange spaghetti sauce stain on a bright white skirt. I don't intentionally wear clothing that is somehow tattered; I would prefer to wear clothing that fits perfectly and is in pristine condition.  But it doesn't always work out that way.

As I was walking around Wal Mart in my fallen-hem jeans, I started thinking about how tattered clothing is a metaphor for humanity.  We walk around, hoping our human condition is pristine, and yet, it is not.  Something is always amiss--large or small.  Call it fallen, call it brokenness, call it sin; we are not in pristine condition.  We want to be, but we are not, either because someone else has hurt us, or we have hurt ourselves.  We walk around hoping our outsides are presentable to the world, when on the inside, our hearts, minds, and souls are ripped and stained.  We hope that we won't be tripped up by those inner rips and stains, but they are a part of us, difficult to ignore.  Sometimes they are noticeable to others, and sometimes they are not.  But we always know they are there.

Just like I cannot fix my clothing by myself (I sewed myself to the carpet when I was a kid.  Seriously.), I cannot fix my inner rips and stains by myself.  Just like I need to take my clothing to a tailor, I need to take my inner rips and stains to The Tailor, The Great Physician.

How about you?  What rips and stains do you need to bring before Him?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

I Can Only Be Me

A quiet voice sometimes whispers in my ear.  It tells me:  You are not good enough.  You will never be good enough.  It doesn't matter at what; it is everything worthwhile, everything that makes me a part of who I am.  You are not funny enough.  Not entertaining when you preach.  Not outgoing enough. Not good enough at mindless small talk.  It taunts me.  Not a good enough wife.  Not a good enough mother.  Not a good enough writer.  Not educated enough.  Not a good enough body.  Not pretty enough.  Not confident enough.  Not in shape enough.  Not a good enough Christian.  You are not good enough.

The day I began writing this post (4/30/12), I saw three posts on three different blogs that related to what I wanted to say.  The first was "The Peril of Measuring Yourself Against Others" by Frank Viola about social media and how it sends us all back to high school, competing for social status.  He writes about how the things that are important, such as changing someone's life and spiritual influence, cannot be measured by Google Analytics, blog and Twitter followers, and Klout (which thinks I am influential about pizza, by the way, so if you want to try a new pizza recipe, I highly recommend this one for Chicken Alfredo Pizza.  Then you can come back and tell me if you like it.  And you can give me some Klout).  

The second post was one by Adam S. McHugh called "I Know Where the Wild Things Are".  He'd tweeted it yesterday, although it had been written in 2011.  He wrote:
"For me, the beasts usually take the form of accusing questions, and the hairy one that shows up the most is this: "Who are YOU to write this?" Who do you think you are, addressing a topic that is way over your head? Who are you to write at all? What do you have to share with the world?"
And, finally, the third post, from Chelsey Doering in "The Five Things Introverts Hate About Church".  Her number one was "you should be more [fill in the blank]" because obviously, you aren't good enough by being yourself.

These three posts all address, in different ways and without really saying it, that we face struggles of not being good enough.  In the writing and blogging world (to which I am a newcomer), I know that I especially face it.  I am not one who pursued writing as a career, and although I love doing it, I am also very insecure about it.  In this new world that I have entered, there are many excellent and well-respected writers, there are many writers who know how to use social media to every advantage, and there are many writers who much better and much more knowledgeable than I am.  For a perfectionist who tends to lean towards also being a know-it-all, this is hard to take.  I don't want to measure myself by my Twitter followers compared to someone else's.  I don't want get discouraged and feel like I am nobody who has nothing to say compared to others.  I don't want to feel like I need to be more [fill in the blank] compared to others.

But I do.

As I kept coming back to the computer to jot down thoughts for this post, as thoughts continued to swirl around in my head as I put dishes away and figured out what I needed to do for dinner, I received an email.  Big deal, right?  I get email all day long.  I saw who it was from and my eyes widened.  A blogger I admire, a published author...and she was reading my blog, had subscribed to my blog, and said she loved my blog.  How exciting!

I felt validated.  I felt good enough.

But isn't this the very thing I wrote about the other day regarding Alice in Wonderland when I said "we can't go through life basing our identities on who other people are".  In the few seconds it took me to read that email, I compared the worth of my identity based on someone else's identity.

Identity is something I've been thinking about lately, because I am at a new place in life and am wondering who and what God is calling me to be and do.  I threw out a question to my friends on Facebook recently and asked them what Bible verses come to mind when they think of "identity in Christ".  The one that I had thought of was 2 Corinthians 5:17 "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!"

I knew that people would have different answers, but I had no idea the number of different verses (you can find them all at the end of this post) that people would relate to about finding their identity in Jesus.  It was beautiful to see the many different facets of identity that these people have.  It is a reminder that just as we are all different in how we are made and who we become in the world, we are also all different in who we are in Christ.

That's kind of complicated to think about though.   Sometimes, it seems, that once one "becomes a Christian", then one has to become like every other Christian out there.  Right beliefs.  Right behaviors.  Right attitudes.  Right way of being a woman.  Right way of being a man.  Right way of being a husband, wife, mom, dad, brother, sister, friend, whatever.

Today, (5/1/12) I read a follow up post by Frank Viola that I mentioned reading yesterday as I was planning this post.  He makes three excellent points about being envious of others:  accept your own worth, you don't know what the person you are envious of is going through, and reassess what you are coveting.  

I especially like the first one, because it references 1 Corinthians 12:21-27.  We are all different.  We all need to be different parts of the body in order for the body to function.  And even body parts that are similar are not the same.  Some eyes are blue, some are brown, some are green.  Some ears stick out, others lie close to the head.  Some hairs are thick and some are thin.  Some fingers are long and slender and others are stubby.  Some feet are narrow and others are wide.  

It's easy to acknowledge that I am gifted differently or am a different part of the body when I am envious of someone who sings well, since I do not.  It's a lot harder to acknowledge that when it comes to something that I do well, such as writing, and I am envious of another writer's way with words or successes because mine are (seemingly) not good enough.

But I don't have to be that person.  I can't be that person.  I can only be me, the me that has been made into a new creation.  And it is good enough.

Do you ever feel as if you are not good enough?  What is your usual response to that voice whispering in your ear?  Do you know who you are?  Do you know who you are in Christ?  

Curious what the verses were in which people found their identity in Christ?  Here they are:

  • John 1:12:  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God
  • John 15:15  I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 
  • 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 (NRS ) Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we?  You yourselves are our letter, written on our(1 )hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 
  • Galatians 3:25-29   But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian,  for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise. 
  • Isaiah 43:4a "Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you."
  • Joshua 1:9 "I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
  • Romans 9: 38-39 "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord"
  • 1 Timothy 5:12 "Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speecah and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity"
  • Romans 6:5-8 (ESV)  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:16-19 (NIV)  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
  • Ephesians 1