Monday, July 30, 2012

Can God Use Your Weakness and Failure?

Dirty dishes fill the sink.  Thankfully, I've at least managed to empty the dishwasher so it is waiting to be filled.  There is flour and powered sugar all over the counter and floor.  Lemonade is waiting to be made.  My soon-to-be five year old (as in tomorrow) knocked the bowl of softening butter all over himself while trying to jump up onto the chair he'd put by the counter so he could help make his birthday cake.  This was approximately five minutes after forgetting the lid was not on his gatorade bottle when he thought it would be a good idea to make a tornado in the bottle by shaking it around.The various ingredients for the cake are partially mixed, waiting to be fully mixed.  The oven stopped preheating some time ago and is just warming the kitchen now.  I've yelled at them multiple times, have gotten increasingly irritated and angry at all of the interruptions, I have a zillion and one browser windows open of articles I want to read today, I've chased my toddler around and put him in time out numerous times for leaving the house alone, and can't believe that it is 1:00 and I really have nothing of consequence to show for my morning.  Make that 1:35.  That's how long it took me to write this paragraph (see parts about chasing my toddler).  

Mornings (and often, full days) like this make me question my sanity and make me doubt my parenting skills as well as my usual impression of myself as a fairly decent human being.  Because, in times like this, I feel anything but human.  I feel like some crazed monster who has taken over my body and mind and soul.  I feel inadequate, imperfect, and weak.

I don't like feeling those things.  I'd rather feel worthy, whole, and strong.  

The other day, Rachel Held Evans posted a video of Nadia Bolz-Weber speaking to a Lutheran youth gathering. It was a fantastic talk for many different reasons, but there was one thing that especially stood out to me.  At one point, Nadia talks about God using all of us, not just our strengths and our gifts, but our failures and weaknesses too.  

Around same the time I was watching this, I was taking a couple of Spiritual Gifts Surveys (I like to take them every so often).  If you aren't familiar with those, they are assessments that give people a general idea of what their gifts are so that one can better understand how to use them in the life of the church.  And, really, don't we all want to do what we are good at doing?  Who wants to do something he or she is bad at doing?  I certainly don't.

But in her talk, Nadia spoke about being a flawed person.  "I am a flawed person," she says.  "I should not be allowed to be here talking to you.  But you know what?  That's the God we're dealing with, people."

And then, shortly after that, she spoke the most beautiful and encouraging words:
"This God has never made sense and you don't need to either because this God will use you; this God will use all of you, and not just your strengths but your failures and your failings and your brokenness and God's strength is perfected in human weakness so your brokenness is fertile ground for a forgiving God to make something new and to make something beautiful so don't ever think that all you have to offer is your gifts because God's going to use you too, God's going to use all of you."
God can use my failings and weaknesses?  God can use my irritation and my anger and my yelling at my kids?  God can use my messy house and my messy thoughts and my far-less-than-perfect life?

Today, one of the windows I had open was from a church in Minneapolis, Jacob's Well, where my friend Andy spoke recently.  I'd asked him if it would be online so I could listen and he'd told me they'd had a lot of technical issues so probably not.  I checked again today, and there it was.  I listened sporadically (see previous comment about toddler, plus the five year old kept needing things too) and at one point Andy started talking about the song "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong.  As the music played, for the first time today I smiled and felt some joy returning (I'm sure it helped that it was combined with one son playing outside, one son napping, and the spoonful--or two or three--of chocolate buttercream frosting that I had to make sure was ok to frost the cake with) and felt the irritation and anger leave.

Early in Nadia's talk, she said "God always comes to us and makes us new, and than makes us new again, and then makes us new again.  It's called death and resurrection."

I don't know how God can use my failings and weaknesses from today.  Maybe it is just in such a simple way as to remind me--and to let you know--that new life is always possible, not just once, not just at one time in your past, not just something to look forward to in your future, but right now, and every minute of every day.  We can continually be made new. The horrible person I was this morning does not have to be the same person I am this afternoon.  I don't have to wait until tomorrow to start over (although, I'm sure I'll have to do it then too...and the next day and the get the idea).  With God's grace, I can be a new person, right now.

What a wonderful world.

Edit:  After I wrote this, I thought it would fit in the "Life Unmasked" Series at Joy in This Journey.  You can find others here.
Life: Unmasked

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Church Shopping Saga Continues: Are There Mission/Service Opportunities in Which to Participate?

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". 

It's been a while since I've written about our church shopping saga.  It appears that we've narrowed our church search down to two or three that have, for various reasons (that are difficult to put into words), made it to the top of the list.  Likely what we will do is now spend a few months at each of the "finalists" to see how we fit.

In this series, I've written about all of the initial "qualifications" that we came up with, except for the one about mission/service.  In some places, the ideas of mission and service are combined and in others they are separate, with service relating more to serving within that particular congregation and mission relating more to serving in other countries.  For the purposes of this post, I'll keep them separate, as I'm currently thinking about mission and what it means and I don't have any concrete thoughts at this point.

In most of the churches I've attended, I've been involved in different activities:  Bible studies, Sunday School class, Alpha courses, small groups, children's ministry, youth ministry, greeting, writing for a newsletter, etc.  Some of those I have enjoyed and others I struggled through.  I want to attend a church in which I will be able to serve in ways that I enjoy and that use my gifts.  As expressed in another post, this means I hope the church is open to women in leadership positions.  

I've had a couple of good conversations with one of the pastors of one of the churches we are considering.  I was very up front about my views on women in ministry and, I am happy to report, we were in agreement.  The denomination of this church does allow women in leadership (which I knew), however, this particular congregation has not had any women in leadership positions.  Because this is common in the town in which I live (as far as I know, there's only one church that has women elders), I am starting to see it as more of a cultural issue that can perhaps change, rather than something that is stuck this way.  I was told that while women have been nominated for positions at this church, nobody has wanted to be the first one to do it.  I can understand that; it's difficult and scary to be the first one to do something different.

I also have a meeting set up for later this week with one of the other pastors regarding the possibility of teaching some kind of a class this fall.  If this goes well, I think we'll be attending this church for at least the rest of this year to see what it is like.  And, if I do end up teaching a class, I may just end up putting up the lesson here for you all to use too.

It feels like somewhat of a relief to have narrowed the search down, although, I did enjoy visiting the different churches multiple times.  I think, through this whole experience, what I didn't want was to find a church where I was expected to just be the "Good Christian Woman" who puts on her smiley church face in the morning and never rocks the boat.  I want to be in a church in which I can be me, in which I can be the me that God is still creating me to be, whoever that turns into.  I hope this place is it.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Can You Do Greater Things Than Jesus? Book Review of "Greater" by Steven Furtick

I received this book, Greater, by Steven Furtick for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. It will be on sale September 4, 2012.

Have you ever pondered Jesus words in John 14:12, where he says "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father" (NIV).

These words of Jesus are what came to Steven Furtick's mind as he thought about the death of Steve Jobs. Bringing him a new challenge, he wondered "Greater things than Jesus, the greatest man who ever lived? What does that even mean? How can we do greater things than Jesus?" (p.4). Furtick explains that he does not think it means that we will do more powerful miracles or be greater than Jesus, but rather, through the Holy Spirit, "Jesus released a greater power for us to do extraordinary things on an extraordinary scale" (p.4).

Furtick believes that people are in danger of wasting their lives doing ordinary things and living mediocre lives. He wants to encourage people to live greater lives for God, and by greater, he means this: "the life-altering understanding that God is ready to accomplish a kind of greatness in your life that is entirely out of human reach. Beyond Steve Jobs. Beyond what you see in yourself on your best day. But exactly what God has seen in you all along." (p. 10).

Furtick weaves the story of the prophet Elisha throughout the book in order to give an example of someone who was willing to trust God and live a greater life than he'd imagined. Using Elisha's life, Furtick comes up with a process one goes through in order to live this greater life. Here are a few of the steps:

  • destroying the old way of life/what chains you to the ordinary (Elisha burns his plows) in order to fully surrender to God
  • do some preparation to join with God in what he will have you do (Elisha digs ditches to be filled with water on the promise that water will come to the drought)
  • do whatever God asks even if you think it is beneath you: having humility (Elisha tells Naaman to go bathe in a river)
Overall, Furtick's book was inspiring, practical, and challenging. It is easy to read and many people could benefit from it. There are discussion questions included at the end of the book in order to write our your own thoughts or talk about it in a group. These would be better served at the end of each chapter.

Some things I would have liked to have seen would be to not use Wikipedia as a source for a definition, some discussion about what other interpretations may exist for the initial verse of John 14:12 as well as some discussion about the context of the verse. While I appreciate Furtick's encouragement to people to live a greater life and truly listen to what God is calling them to do, I just don't think that is the message that follows from reading that verse. I think the book might actually be greater if it wasn't there and it focused more from the beginning on calling/vocation based on the life of Elisha. It also would have been good for Furtick to return to the verse at the end of the book in order to tie it all together with the beginning.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Healthcare and the Kingdom of God

Many Christians are fascinated with "the end times" or what "heaven" will be like.  I used to wonder, too, and I even read all the Left Behind books out of curiosity.  Many people are focused on who gets in and how they get in, but let's not think about that right now.  I'm curious about what it will be like.  Sometimes, I think that those of us living in the United States (since we tend to think our way of life is the best in the world)  think that it might just be American culture extended.  I started to change when I read Breaking the Code by Bruce Metzger and multiple books and articles by N.T. Wright (including Surprised by Hope).  Through these, I started thinking differently about "heaven".  

I especially appreciated N.T. Wright's explanation about "life after life after death".  We are often so focused on what happens when a person dies and we combine it with what happens for eternity that it was helpful to me to be able to distinguish the two.

To my understanding, the Bible doesn't give us a clear picture about The Resurrection.  We have some hints here and there but we cannot know for certain what life will be like.

In our country today, especially because it is an election year, we are focused on a few things in particular:  gay marriage, healthcare, and the economy/unemployment.  

As I was thinking about the things that I see in the New Testament, it occurred to me that these things will eventually be a non-issue.
  • There will be no marriage at all, straight or gay. (Matthew 22:30 "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.")
  • We also expect it to be a time of world-wide peace.  We will have no need for a military or weapons manufacturers.
  • There will be no sadness or depression, no death, no pain of any kind.  (Revelation 21:4 "he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.")
So, the three things that we find to be so very important to us in the United States right now will be of no consequence in the Resurrection.

It is this one about healthcare that got me really thinking.  Because these things will not exist, we will have no need for doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, therapists, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, pharmacists, insurance companies, funeral directors, lab workers, physical therapists, or kleenex.  Since none of these medical facilities will be needed, there will be no need for anyone to research diseases or medications, no need for custodians to clean facilities, no managers for them, no receptionists, no people for medical billing, no need for any kind of medical equipment to be made for facilities, no need for construction to upgrade or build new facilities.

Unemployment will be very high.

When the Kingdom of God is fully realized, what will our lives look like?  What will our relationships be like?  What will our day to day activities be like?  Will we have jobs?  Will we eat?  Will we sleep?  The usual Hollywood vision is that of wearing robes and walking around on fluffy white clouds, but that seems pretty boring to me.

Revelation 21:5 tells us "And the one who was seated on the throne said, 'See, I am making all things new.'" All things new.  Everything new.  Nothing that we know now will be the same.  For those of us who aren't usually too keen on change and like to have some kind of control over our lives, that's a disturbing thought.  

What would it look like now if we thought more about God's dreams and plans for The Resurrection?  In many churches each week people pray "thy kingdom come...on earth as it is in heaven".  We pray for God's kingdom to come and be realized now, not just later.  If we mean this and we truly want God's kingdom now, and if the future kingdom/heaven/world to come/resurrection has all healthy people, it brings up some questions for us now:

  • How is healthcare related to God's kingdom coming now?  Is it related?  
  • Is it something that we should do something about now or do we think that it is something that we just have to wait for to happen then?
  • What is an individual's responsibility regarding healthcare for oneself, one's family, and one's neighbors?  
  • What is a nation's responsibility regarding the health of its citizens?
  • What is the Christian church's (read:  all Christians, no matter the denomination) responsibility to these things?
I don't have the answers to these questions; I'm usually much better with questions and theories than practical applications, but I think they are good questions to ask, especially because so many Christians believe that the United States is a Christian nation/was founded on Christian principles.  Many Christians have no problems fighting for the right to life, but should we also fight for the quality of life, once it begins?  If many Christians insist on being a Christian nation, then how should a Christian nation look at healthcare?  

Monday, July 09, 2012

Being Christian in a Remote Area: How would you do it?

The following exercise is from the synchroblog at
Fielding Melish and his wife Felicia have two children, ages 10 and 6. They live in a very remote part of Maine, USA. They are surrounded by extended family, none of whom are Christians. The nearest churches are one hour away, and by all evangelical standards, none of them are good. These churches are either highly legalistic, highly libertine, or just flat-out flaky.
One of Fielding’s cousins is a practicing Christian. They see each other once a year. Fielding’s cousin has shared Christ with Fielding many times over the years. Whenever they’ve talked about spiritual things, Fielding shows interest.
Felicia grew up in a Christian home. She’s received Christ, but she isn’t evangelistic and is overwhelmed with working long hours and raising two small children. She would love to find a church nearby for the spiritual support and instruction, but none exist.
Fielding has no college education. While he is capable of reading, he is not a reader. He doesn’t use the Web either. He’s a man who works with his hands, both for his career and for recreation. He’s an “outdoorsman.” He hunts, he builds, he does manual labor, etc. In his spare time, he helps his elderly parents with various building projects.
Fielding is not an atheist. Neither is he an agnostic. He believes in God. He believes Jesus is the Savior of the world who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. He hasn’t fully surrendered his life to Christ, but he is not sure what that looks like exactly. His children know a little about the Lord, mostly because of what their mother has taught them.
Recently Fielding asked this question:
When I’m with my cousin once a year, I want to learn more about God. But when I come back home, and I’m around everyone else, my mind is off of God, and I am back to working, raising my kids, and helping my parents. Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle. (By “in the middle,” Fielding means someone who believes in Jesus, but who isn’t fully absorbed in the faith yet either. They simply don’t know enough nor do they have any spiritual support system around them.)
Relocating is not an option for Fielding and his wife. Even if they wanted to relocate, they don’t see a way they could do it financially.
Remember: Fielding and his wife don’t personally know any Christians. None of their extended family or coworkers are believers either. And the nearest churches (which are an hour away) aren’t recommended.
Question: If you were Fielding’s cousin, how would you instruct him and his wife the next time you saw them?
As I read this idea for the synchroblog this morning, I thought it was a fascinating question.  It shows how much we rely on two things in particular to feed our faith and grow in it:  gathering together in church and reading our Bibles.  It also made me think about how, although we talk about surrendering our lives to Christ, it may take us many years to completely surrender as we are always learning and growing.  
I think what is missing is acknowledging the work of the Holy Spirit in people's lives.  It is only in recent history that people are able to have individual Bibles, and in many countries, people cannot gather together for church (as we know it).  
The best advice for Fielding is, I think, prayer.  Fielding doesn't need to be able to read or be with other people.  He and his wife and children can pray together and grow together and seek to be led by the Holy Spirit.  They can have discussions about their hopes and dreams and questions and doubts.  Fielding's cousin can provide support through phone calls or letters.  

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Worth Reading Wednesday

Today's "Worth Reading Wednesday" is dedicated to the topic that has had our country's attention for the last week:  the Affordable Health Care Act / Obamacare.

Why Christians Should Be Ok With the Supreme Court's Health Care Call
by Julia K. Stronks at ThinkChristian
"First, Christians are clearly directed by both the Old and New Testaments to put the care of the sick and the poor at the top of their concerns. If we believe that God is sovereign over all of life we have to accept the challenge that our concern for the sick and the poor is an individual concern and it is a concern of government, churches and businesses."

What Chief Justice Roberts Did Not Say
by Valerie Elverton Dixon at Sojourners
"The chief justice’s opinion does not judge the morality of the law. Roberts does not speak of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the goals it sets for the entire human community, including universal health care. He does not speak of the concepts of liberty and justice for all, that the government has an obligation to its citizens to make health care something that is available to all."

Most Americans Support Obamacare; Christians Remain Divided
by Stoyan Zaimov at Christian Post
"Christians were mostly divided on the issue, with respondents from different denominations sharing opposite views. While 52 percent of white evangelical Protestants wanted the Supreme Court to strike down Obamacare, 46 percent of Catholics wanted it to be upheld – with 36 percent expressing their disagreement with the health care bill. Another 60 percent of Christians from other denominations supported the president's bill as well."

Render Unto Caesar:  On Paying Taxes After Obamacare
by Albert Mohler at
So, should Christians defy the government and refuse to pay taxes if some involvement in abortion is almost certain? The answer to that question reaches far beyond the issue of abortion — and far beyond the question of taxation. The answer to that question must be "no."

What the Obamacare Decision Means for Christians
by John Stonestreet at
"The first thing we can agree we are for is that the health care and insurance situation in this country is just not acceptable.  Millions in our country do not have adequate or any health insurance, and while some avoid this by choice, many, including many with children, simply cannot afford it. The current system is broken, and Christians need to care about those who suffer. The Affordable Care Act is not the best answer for the problem, but it’s a problem that Christians shouldn’t, in good conscience, ignore. Morally, the status quo is unacceptable."

A Lawyer Evaluates Supreme Court Decision
by David Opderbeck at Jesus Creed
"I will offer some thoughts about how I think Christians should think about it. But first, and perhaps most importantly, I’d like to suggest that there is no single position that can be called the Christian view on this particular case.  It’s a complex issue in terms of economics, social policy, history, and the law.  Let’s try to give each other the freedom to express nuanced opinions on these difficult questions."

Obamacare and Why Churches Don't Need to Be Political Mono-Cultures
by Nadia Bolz-Weber at Sojourners
"I whole-heartedly support more access to affordable health care for all Americans and hope that the ACA will accomplish this. But it is unfair to assume that people who disagree with the ACA do so because they want the opposite of what I want – that they oppose it because they want to keep poor people from having access to quality medical care. It is unfair for those who oppose the ACA to assume that I support it because I hate freedom and liberty."

Making Your Own Healthcare Reform
by Michael Joseph at Relevant Magazine
"Yet, in my work, I continue day-after-day, hour-by-hour, to meet with people who come to me for small time, garden variety health needs that would, more than likely, be cured by nothing more than a good night’s sleep. And I get to charge an arm and a leg to tell people that. There’s no denying the current health care system is broken, but adding more people to the rolls of the insured won’t solve the problem."

Edited to add the following that I read after compiling links for this post.
Obamacare:  What They Don't Want You to Know and a Viable Solution to the Healthcare Problem  (An interview with Tony Dale)
by Frank Viola at Beyond Evangelical
"Because health insurance is so closely tied to employment, most employed people have virtually no choice and no control over what is happening to 20% of their potential income. By exploring the quality alternatives now available to Christians outside of the health insurance environment, we regain control in these vital areas."

Monday, July 02, 2012

Paying Attention to the Journey

The other day, I mentioned that I'd recently driven from Iowa to New Mexico.  That's about 2000 miles, round trip, with two kids in the car.  They did extremely well, and my husband did all the driving while I looked at the scenery.  To be honest, since we were driving through Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, there really wasn't much to look at.  We got silly at one point saying "Look!  More sky!  Look!  More clouds!  Look!  More fields!"  Now, this type of scenery might be just what some people like to look at, and that is great if it brings them some kind of pleasure and peace.  But it really isn't my favorite kind of scenery.  I like trees, mountains, and beaches (which I haven't seen in some time).  It definitely was not an exciting drive.

I also remember a time last winter when I was driving to and from a town about 40 minutes away from me a lot.  At one point while I was driving, I'd been so lost in thought that I couldn't quite figure out where I was even though I knew where I'd come from and where I was headed.  

In both of these instances, I was mainly focused on the destination.  The road to get there was simply that:  a means to an end.  The road was generally irrelevant because what I really wanted was to arrive.  

And isn't that something that we generally do in life?  We get so focused on our goals or where we want to be in 5 years or 10 years that we forget to enjoy the journey of getting there.  Or, in our faith, we get so focused on the end result (getting to heaven) that we don't live an abundant life now.  We look so forward to what we have deemed the "exciting" part that we do not appreciate what we perceive as the slow and boring parts of life.  

We are always in a hurry to get through things, but do we really know why? (to be fair, even if we were not rushing, time does go by awfully fast).  

I think that part of the reason we don't appreciate the slow and boring parts of life is because we often hear that "we are only on this earth temporarily" or "we are not of this world".  

I think that this is a mistake.  

To disregard this world and our life on it in such a manner is, I think, somewhat insulting to our Creator.  We read in Genesis that when God created everything, he deemed it "very good" (Genesis 1:31).  And in Revelation we see the creation of a new heaven and new earth, the new holy city of Jerusalem being brought to earth from heaven, and God dwelling among his people (Revelation 21:1-3).  

I suppose it can be a little disappointing to learn that this is what the Bible talks about, and not about flying off to a place called Heaven to be with God there.  But if we slow down and stop to think about it, it is actually more exciting.  To know that God cares about this world and what happens here gives us a confidence and calling to love and care for it as He does.  We can see that our lives right now, though temporary, have meaning and purpose.  

My Jewish friends taught me about a concept called tikkun olam, repairing the world.  Essentially, what this means is that we are in partnership with God to set things right again (this plays very well into the Reformed Theology I am currently learning about the idea of reforming the world).  

If we continue to rush through life, can we really appreciate all the little parts of life that have their own importance?

I joked earlier about the boring scenery on my cross-country drive, but at the same time, it stirred other thoughts in me as well.  The immense spread of land, often desolate, is so different from large cities, and even from the small town in which I live.  There was the one place (in Texas, I believe), where we drove by what could only have been thousands of cows.  I am assuming they will end up being our food.  There was the one car we passed that was packed full and was following a U-Haul.

All of these are things that we can easily forget and dismiss, but all of these are things that happen in life.  Our lives are entwined with others, whether we know it or not, and if we pay better attention to the quiet and boring parts of the journey, we connect with others in ways we may not imagine.