Friday, September 28, 2012

What's It Like to Be a Top Blogger?

Earlier this week, the blogosphere came alive with the Top 200 Church Blogs (which has since been changed to the Top 200 Ministry Blogs).  Due to the lack of women and other minorities included on the list, there was quite a bit of discussion about it on Twitter.  I participated briefly, to comment that I was surprised to see a blog that I knew was inactive listed, and to agree that there was some confusion as to what constituted a "church blog".  In no way did I ever expect to make "the cut"; my blog stats are probably laughable and my blogging consistency is very erratic.

The next day, Frank Viola came out with his own list of Top 10 Female Christian Bloggers, and he included me on this list.  The day after that, Adrian Warnock came up with his own list of Top 100 Christian Bloggers, which used all of Frank's list and some of the original list from Church Relevance.  I didn't--and don't--really feel qualified to be on either of them, to be honest.  In addition to the what I mentioned above about stats, many of these bloggers are much more knowledgeable than I am, or they write with a lot more transparency and vulnerability than I do, or they have published books, or they just know how to write better stories to which many people can relate.

So in the span of two days, I ended up on two "Top Bloggers" lists.  Of course, it felt good.  Who doesn't like being acknowledged for doing something well?  I wondered about what it meant to be on these subjective lists, not what it meant about me personally or my blog particularly, but what I should do with it.  These two people used their platforms to acknowledge me, and I realized that even when I read blogs that I enjoy, I don't always promote them or comment on them.  The simple realization to me that I need to be more conscious of affirming and encouraging to others came from being affirmed and encouraged myself.

It is difficult to explain why I write what I do. I love to write; I've been told I am a good writer.  While I write a lot about what I think on this blog, I really don't want it to be about me.  I want it to be used to help others in their faith journey, wherever they are spiritually.  If the day comes when I start thinking of this blog and myself important on its own and not because of who it should be pointing to, then it would be time to stop blogging.

So, I will leave you with these questions, and some encouragement after them.

What "top lists" have you been on in your life?  Did you use your position to help others along the way, or did you become self-important?  In what ways do you experience this now?  How can I help you?

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.
 --Psalm 115:1

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. --1 Thessalonians 5:11

Thursday, September 27, 2012

We *Can* Be United...When We Pray

I go to a MOPS meeting on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month, and am in charge of devotions for this year, so on those Thursdays I'll be posting here what I say there.

When Kelli sent me the list of topics that she already had for this year, I had to laugh that prayer was one of them. 

I stink at prayer—so I’m hoping to learn something from the speaker this morning.

When I attempt to pray, I get distracted.  I don’t set aside a regular time for it.  And I hate praying out loud in front of people.  It makes me feel like someone is eavesdropping on a private conversation and I end up being more focused on the people who are listening to me rather than the God to whom I am praying.

Or I hear about books like The Power of a Praying Wife (which I own) or The Power of a Praying Parent and all I feel like is that I’m a failure at prayer because I don’t follow everything they say. Or even finish reading them.

And as I was preparing this and trying to figure out what to say about prayer, I found out that my dad was admitted to the hospital.  And then I posted about it in the Facebook group for a Bible Study I go to.  And then I remembered last spring when I used my blog to solicit prayer for a guy named Matt in Kansas City.  
And I remembered praying so hard when my friend’s newborn baby was not healthy, and she died.

And I sometimes wonder what the point of prayer even is.

But then I remember my own words from a sermon I gave a couple of years ago about prayer.   I said that I don’t know how prayer works or why it is sometimes answered and sometimes not.  I only know that when we pray, all of our differences no longer matter.  What a person believes theologically or politically is of no importance.  Instead, prayer brings us all on equal footing before God.  In prayer, we are truly united.  In prayer, we are praying together to our Father in Heaven. 

So let’s do that now.

Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy Kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those that trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom,the power, and the glory, forever


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Church Shopping Saga *Concludes*

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".  

I haven't written about our "church shopping" experience since the end of July.  Around that time, we had narrowed down our choices from six to two, and attended those particular two a couple of times each.

And then one Sunday, at one of them, the topic was men and women, and the teaching pastor gave a fantastic sermon on the equality of men and women.  I think I had a big grin on my face through most of it, and I'm surprised my head didn't fall off from all the nodding in agreement I was doing, and I know he saw me because my kids like to sit as close to the front as possible.  While I have attended churches before that do not affirm women in leadership and I have still grown there, it was refreshing to hear this and realize that I am on equal footing here.  

While I still somewhat bristle at traditional church (I really do feel drawn to examples of "organic" church), I also see the benefits that come along with attending.  

To recap from the first post, the "qualifications" that we came up with were these:
  • Is the church led by Jesus?
  • Is it a place in which we can be fed?
  • Was there a good sermon?
  • Does it have good children's programs? 
  • Did we like the music?
  • Are there mission/service opportunities in which to participate?
  • Do they affirm women in leadership?
I really didn't anticipate finding one that I could say yes each and every one of these, but it seems that we have.  Now, no church is perfect, and I know that, and I will probably find things here too that annoy me, but in the couple of months that we have attended this church on a regular basis, I have felt so welcomed and affirmed by a variety of different people.  I sense a great desire from people to grow in faith and to love God and to love others.  

I haven't really felt excited about going to church in a long time; I've felt more like it's just a duty or an obligation--not something I actually have wanted to do.  And so this glimmer of excitement that I have feels new to me,   I don't know what it will bring, but I do know that God has led me here, I am at peace, and I am excited to see what is in store.

For what reasons have you chosen to attend the church you attend?  Do you tend to feel that going to church is more of an obligation or something you truly enjoy?  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

When You Can Only See A Step Ahead

I've been very busy lately.  It's my husband's extremely busy season at work, we have two young (5 and 2 1/2) very active boys, and I've found a variety of things in church and in the community in which to be involved.  On Sunday mornings I have Sunday school and church; on Monday mornings, I go to a community women's Bible study; one Monday per month I go to a writing group; on Tuesdays I meet friends for coffee; on Wednesday nights I have a class at church, on two Thursday mornings per month I have MOPS; on [some] Saturday afternoons I go to football games.  I have also been reading various books in order to review them.

It is the various readings for classes and reviews that I have found interesting, lately, because they all seem to somehow connect.

When I read the first couple of chapters of Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, I then read the accounts of creation in The Story version of the Bible for a Sunday School class.  I read What Matters Most by Leonard Sweet, in which he discusses the relationship between Abraham and God.  I then read that part of the Bible in The Story.  I am reading The Good and Beautiful God for my Wednesday night class, and chapter one had some insight about the Holy Spirit that is relevant to another writing project I am working on.  In chapter 3 of Jesus: A Theography, there is a discussion of man, woman, and the Hebrew word ezer that will be useful to my (tentatively titled) "Women Leaders in the Bible" Sunday School curriculum I'm writing to use at church beginning in January.

When connections like this occur, it is very hard to believe they are random; I do believe there is some meaning behind them.  It has been happening with other events in my life as well.  Last February my life was "interrupted" due to moving to a new town, and this fall I began going to a Bible study that had decided to use Priscilla Shirer's Jonah:  Navigating a Life Interrupted as the curriculum for this semester.  Last Tuesday I was talking to someone about the seminary her husband attended and my familiarity with it; a few days later I got some information from the seminary in the mail (I am on their prospective student list so it's not totally out of the blue, but it is only the 2nd or 3rd time I've gotten something in the mail).  Today, a Facebook friend and I were apparently writing things that had to do with each other around the same time.

I think there were more "coincidences", but I haven't been writing them all down, unfortunately.

As I have been sitting here reflecting on these, I thought of two verses from the Bible:
  • "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known." --1 Corinthians 13:12   
  • "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." --Psalm 119:105   
While I sense that there is something brewing with all of the "coincidences" that seem to be happening, I only know a tiny bit--if even that--of what it means.  I don't have full knowledge, only partial.  I can't see the light on the path ahead; I can only somewhat see what is directly in front of me.  The intuitive and faithful part of me knows that somehow, someway, God is working through all of these, yet the rational and impatient part of me wants to know WHAT God is doing and WHY God is doing it and WHEN I am going to find out what it is all about.

What has God been behind in your life, that although you could sense it, you could only see tiny pieces at a time?  How did it turn out?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Review: Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

I received this Advanced Reader's Copy of Jesus: A Theography from Present Testimony Ministry as a part of Frank Viola's Book Launch Team.

For the first time in a long time, I picked up a book to read on a topic of which I was very unaware:  the presence of Jesus throughout the entire Bible.  Over the years, I had heard about the idea of the pre-incarnate Jesus (which usually was just a checklist of "here's where Jesus appeared), but had not paid it much mind.  Until now.

The back cover of the book states that "Biographies of Jesus generally have been written by those trying to investigate the historical Jesus, with little attention given to the grand narrative of Scripture. On the flip side, those interested in tracing the theology of Scripture are typically disinterested in historical Jesus studies. These two approaches have yet to converge. . . until now."

To combine these two ideas is fascinating to me, and to see how Sweet and Viola weave the narrative of Jesus from Creation to The Return of The King made me want to pick up my Bible and compare notes as I read along (in hindsight, having a Bible and a notebook to jot things down in while reading would be something that I highly recommend--simply highlighting text isn't enough!).

I can't begin to imagine the amount of work that went into creating this book.  The endnotes are extensive; there are over 80 in the introduction alone.  I greatly appreciated that the authors did this; it shows they are willing to let anyone see what they used and where their ideas originated.

While I can't speak for the veracity of their premise and what actual Biblical scholars (of which I am not) might have to say about it, I found it to be a worthwhile read that sparked my curiosity and kicked my questioning and wondering brain into gear.  Rather than just telling someone about the Bible, reading this book encourages one to go to the Bible itself to explore the claims.  In this, Sweet and Viola place the focus on Jesus, as it should be.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Women Leaders in the Bible

Over the next few months, I am going to be preparing some curriculum to teach a Sunday School class at my church about women leaders in the Bible.  While I have a lot of ideas as to what to include, I would love to hear from you what you think it should include.  In other words, if you were taking the class, what questions would you come in with and what would you want to know?

Edit:  One idea I am tossing around is that after doing a lesson at the beginning on the general idea of "leadership", is to then take different qualities/characteristics of leaders and use them in subsequent lessons.  For example, if "courage" is a characteristic, I would use that with a lesson on Esther.  What are your thoughts?

Update: I've made this into an 8-week study. Some of the topics are "Callings, Gifts, & Gender", "Prophets", "Jesus & Women", "The New Testament Church", "Leadership", "Recap and Reflection". Two of the others I don't have lesson titles for yet as I'm not totally sure what I'm doing in them. But progress is being made!

Source: via Kelly on Pinterest

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Risk of Friendship

I go to a MOPS meeting on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month, and am in charge of devotions for this year, so on those Thursdays I'll be posting here what I say there.

This year's MOPS theme is "Take the Plunge"--in other words, take a risk.

We've all probably been down the slide at our local swimming pool:  it is exhilarating and scary but fun--and it goes a lot faster than you might think!  This week's specific  topic is friendship.  Friendship can or can’t be risky, and there are a couple of different types of friendships we have:

  •  Acquaintances (not really risky at all)
  • Friends (can be true, deep and intimate, and that is really risky)

For me, acquaintances are easy, friendships are a lot harder.  I have moved around and it takes time to develop deep, intimate relationships with people.

Let's look at an example of a true, deep intimate friendship in the Bible:  David and Jonathan.  It's kind of ironic, because we don’t think of men as having intimate friendships; we think that is our area of expertise, but David and Jonathan were closer than many friendships we may have today.  Here are some descriptions of their friendship:

  • Souls bound together (1 Sam 18:3)
  • Jonathan took “great delight in David” (1 Sam 19:1)
  • They loved each other as their own lives (1 Sam 20: 17)
  • Not divided in life or in death (2 Sam 1:23)
  • Their love surpassed that of the love of women (2 Sam 1:26)

How many of us have a friendship like that?  I’m not sure I do.  And, there’s more:

  • Jonathan gave up relationship with his father, King Saul, by taking David’s side.  He warned David about Saul’s plotting against him and was willing for David to become king and not want the job for himself
  • David was distressed when Jonathan died.  He later then learned about Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son. When Jonathan died, Mephibosheth’s nurse fled with him, he fell and was injured and was then lame after that.  Because of his friendship with Jonathan, David brings Mephibosheth into his own home, promises to give him the land that had been Saul’s, and promises that he will always eat at David’s table.  David will take care of his best friend’s son because of his love for his best friend.

SO.  What risks are you willing to take for a friendship?  Have you ever gone against your parent’s wishes in order to stick by a friend?  How about looking ahead to when our kids are teens?  What happens when they choose a friend over us? How will you “take the plunge” into friendship this year?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Review: What Matters Most by Leonard Sweet

I received What Matters Most by Leonard Sweet for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. 

We all have relationships, whether we are the most outgoing person or prefer to spend much of our time alone.  In Leonard Sweet's book, what Matters Most, he discusses an overall theme of "Faith Is a Relationship" (Part I) while exploring seven areas of relationship:
  • Our Relationship With God (Part II)
  • Our Relationship With God's Story (Part III)
  • Our Relationship With Other People of Faith (Part IV)
  • Our Relationship With Those Outside the Faith and With Those Who Are Different (Part V)
  • Our Relationship With God's Creation (Part VI)
  • Our Relationship with Symbols, Arts, Artifacts, and "Things" (Part VII)
  • Our Relationship With the Spiritual World (Part VIII)
Simply by exploring these areas of relationship, Sweet takes the concept of relationship to a deeper level than one might be used to.  We are used to hearing about how to improve a relationship with a spouse or how to have a personal relationship with Jesus in 3 easy steps, but rarely do we hear about the interconnection between these various types of relationships.  

Chapter Nine, "Loving the Others", was an especially powerful chapter.  Sweet writes, "Christianity has much less to do with being 'right' than it has to do with building right relationships--the strong protecting the weak, the rich serving the poor, the insiders making room for the outcasts" (pages 133-134).  It is through these relationships with "the other", Sweet explains, that we find God becoming human in the stranger.  

In a period of time where many people are searching for good, healthy relationships, but have difficulty finding them, Sweet's book would be a good one to read to in order to get focused on the journey with God and others that we take.  It will cause one to evaluate what one really is doing in one's relationships and inspire and encourage a person to go deeper and be more authentic.  

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

He Didn't Disappear!

I spent this past weekend in the town in which I used to live, and as I drove there on Friday I spent some time thinking about the church we attended while we lived there and our current church situation, in particular, the issue of baptism.

In our previous church, which was Baptist, baptisms are done by full immersion for believers.  In our current denomination, infant baptisms are the norm and we have seen quite a few of them done in the last few months.  The first time we saw one, I nudged my older son to pay attention.  After it was done, he informed me, "Mommy, he did not baptize anyone."  "Yes, he did," I explained.  "No, he didn't.  He didn't disappear." It took me a while to realize that this was not just an odd thought from the mind of a 4 1/2 year old, but rather it came from having only witnessed full immersion baptisms in the past.  In those baptisms, he would see the person being baptized disappear into the water.

I thought it really was such a beautiful metaphor for our life as disciples of Jesus, and a great description of what I think Paul is saying in Colossians 2:12 (when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead) and Romans 6:4 (Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life).

While baptism by water is a fairly quick event, we should always remember that it is only pointing us to baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is often a day-by-day journey.  It's like when we go to a pool with zero-depth entry.  Sometimes, we stand at the edge and just let the water lap at our feet.  Maybe we take a few steps in or maybe up to our waist (sometimes, we just do not want to get our hair all wet).  But sometimes, we jump off the diving board or shoot down the slide into the depths of water all around us and we are immersed.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit has been on my mind lately, and I hope to write about it soon (we'll see how that actually works out, though!).  Until then, I'll leave you with this:

I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you withthe Holy Spirit."  --Mark 1:8

In what part of the pool are you?  In what part of the pool do you want to be?