Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Worth Reading Wednesday: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

It's probably not a surprise that this week's edition of Worth Reading Wednesday is promoting Rachel Held Evans' book A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

In Held Evans' book, one of the topics she writes about is the "Proverbs 31 Woman" (chapter 4, January, "Valor").  She writes that in the Evangelical Christian subculture in which she grew up, she learned that the woman described in Proverbs 31 is "thought to represent God's ideal for women" (74), explaining that guys on her college campus "described their ideal date as a 'P31 girl'" and that "young women looking to please them held a 'P31 Bible Study'" (74).

I never grew up with this idea that a woman must aspire to this image.  When I was in college and took a "Women of the Bible" class, my professor explained that this Proverb was sung to Jewish women by their husbands on the Sabbath.  I remember thinking "how great that a husband thinks his wife is all that, even if she falls short" (because who doesn't fall short?), yet I also remember (I think; it's been a LONG time!) my professor thinking that the singing of the Proverb was telling women they had to do all of those things.  We had very different perspectives on this Proverb and the activity that goes along with it.

When I read Proverbs 31, I read it as the things that a woman is capable of accomplishing, not as a must-do list.  Are you a woman who is organized and competent?  Great!  Perhaps you have the makings of a great administrator ("She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls"--verse 15.  This verse shows that she is organized, can plan the day, and oversee help/employees).  Are you a woman who is generous and caring? ("She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy"--verse 20).  Perhaps you are called to use those skills to help others.

When I read about the Proverbs 31 woman, my thoughts are also drawn to the ideas of spiritual gifts in the New Testament.  Just as we all have different gifts and are all different parts of the body, perhaps this proverb is meant to celebrate the unique gifts of women as a body, and to show what we can all accomplish if we work together.

What does "Biblical Womanhood" mean to you?  Do you aspire to be a "Biblical Woman"?  If so, what is your understanding of what that means?  How have you learned about it?  What has your perspective been on the Proverbs 31 woman?  Do you see it as a celebration of women or as a list of what all women should be striving to be?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Don't Take My Word For It

I've been Tweeting and posting statuses on Facebook about Rachel Held Evans' new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, because I'm on her Book Launch Team.  But, I'm not the only one who has enjoyed the book, and I wanted to share some of the other reviews with you.  This is only a sampling.  If you'd like a review listed here, just put it in the comments (and I'll likely be sharing others throughout the week too)!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

MOPS Devotional: Adoption

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.

Back in August, on The 700 Club, Pat Roberston said, in response to a woman’s concern that her boyfriend doesn’t accept her three adopted daughters, that:
"A man doesn't want to take on the United Nations, and a woman has all these various children, blended family, what is it – you don't know what problems there are. I'm serious. I've got a dear friend, an adopted son, a little kid from an orphanage down in Columbia. Child had brain damage, grew up weird. And you just never know what's been done to a child before you get that child. What kind of sexual abuse has been, what kind of cruelty, what kind of food deprivation, etc. etc." the televangelist said.  Robertson continued: "You don't have to take on somebody else's problems. You really don't. You can help people – we administer to orphans all over the world, we love helping people. But that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to take all the orphans around the world into my home.
Now, I don’t have any adopted children, but when I heard about this and watched the video, I was shocked.  I didn’t understand how a Christian could think adoption was something to dismiss so easily.  I can understand not personally feeling called to do it, but to basically tell that woman that she should expect men to feel that way was wrong.  What I think he should have said was “you know, if he doesn’t want to join in caring for these children with you, it’s his loss, and it would be better to find someone who will.  But even if you don’t find someone who will, what you are doing is amazing and great and I commend you for it.”

Here’s why.

The thing is, as Christians, we are all adopted into God’s family.  We hear that over and over again in the New Testament:

Matthew 3:9; Romans 8:15-17; Romans 8:23-25; Romans 9:4-5; Galatians 4:1-7 and

Ephesians 1:5   5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,

Pat Robertson was right about one thing.  When he said that you never know what’s been done to a child before you get that child, he was right.  You never know what has been done to any of us before we come to find new life as followers of Jesus.  Everyone has some kind of baggage.  Everyone has been hurt and needs healing and unconditional love. 

I know that I am glad that God doesn’t have Pat Robertson’s attitude towards being so dismissive about taking children in and caring for them. 

As I said, I don’t have any adopted children, but I know some of you do or are maybe planning on it.  And I commend you for it.  It is a wonderful thing to open your heart and let others in and care for them no matter what their background. 

There’s a phrase from Proverbs 31 that means “woman of valor”; in Hebrew it is eshet chayil.  It is used in Judaism when a woman does something noteworthy.  Those of you who are adoptive moms or who are becoming adoptive moms, you all deserve to hear “Eshet Chayil!”

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Do You Tear Down or Build Up?

Every Thursday evening, we've been feeding groups of college students spaghetti, homemade sauce, and  homemade Italian bread.  It's been a fun way to get to know them a little bit better, and good for them to not have to eat cafeteria food.  At a recent gathering, one of them noticed a book I had out, The Story, by Randy Frazee and Max Lucado.  He said "hey, Randy Frazee used to be the pastor at my church".

It was a strange thought.  Typically, to me, I see a published book and the author is very far removed from my daily life.  It is almost as if the person isn't even real; it's a name on a page.  That has been changing for me, because I now have met and become friends with a novelist and communicated with authors on Facebook and Twitter and through e-mail.  I even got to have lunch with someone who is kind of a big deal (ok, so there were about 20 people there, not just me, but still!) and then have a conversation with him later in the evening.  In a couple of weeks, I'll have another chance to meet some other fairly well-known people.

They are not just names on a book cover.

They are real people.

They are real people with hopes and dreams and fears and insecurities.

They are real people that God loves every bit as much as he loves anyone else.

We forget that.  We think of them as someone who is open for us to critique, criticize, and even attack.  We let our personal feelings about the person or the topic (either positive or negative, actually) influence our response and yet we don't think about that person's personal feelings.  We hold them up to impossible standards of perfection that we don't hold ourselves up to.  Does every author get everything 100% correct?  No.  But we don't have to agree with everything a person says to learn something from it.  And yes, this is hard.  There are people that I do not want to bother trying to learn from, but I had that attitude of mine checked the other day when I saw someone re-tweet something with which I wholeheartedly agreed--yet it was from someone towards whom I typically harbor a bad, smug, eye-rolling attitude.

What are we doing?

When we tear someone down, are we treating them as fellow humans created in the image of God?

In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he writes:
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. --Ephesians 4:29
Granted, there are times when evil needs to be addressed and perpetrators of it need to be confronted.  But too often, our reactions may be more explosive than is necessary, and bring condemnation rather than grace.

The next time I think negatively towards something I read or hear, I want to try to remember these things:

  • this is a real person
  • this person is not perfect
  • this person is also made in the image of God
  • this person is loved by God
  • this person expresses his/her faith differently than I do
  • this person has a different relationship with God than I do
  • this person is my brother or sister in Christ
I also want to remember not to fear the person or the message presented.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.  We love because he first loved us.  Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. --1 John 4:18-21  
What  do you do when you come across a message contrary to your message or your belief?   How do you look at that person?  How do you treat that person?  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When We Fight With Our Christian Family

This morning, I read a post at Frank Viola's new Patheos Blog that I happen to think is very timely.  Not only because we are nearing the end of a hateful political season and we've all failed in loving our fellow Christians who believe differently politically, but also because of something new I've gotten involved in:  a book launch team for a book that is getting a lot of publicity:  Rachel Held Evans' A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

There are a great many supporters and a great many dissenters of Evans' book.  It is easy for me to interact with others who loved the book as I did, but a great deal more difficult to interact with fellow Christians who are tearing it down (with or without having read it).

There are times when my husband has come home from work and asked me about prominent Christians that coworkers mentioned, and I immediately roll my eyes, get all indignant, and tell him exactly what is wrong with their ideas.  Of course, none of you readers know that because I don't do it publicly, but does that make it any better?  Or does it make it worse?

In the post I linked to above, Frank Viola writes:

Civil disagreement and even debate, when done in the spirit of Christ, are healthy and helpful.  But when disagreements descend into second-guessing motives, distortions of one another’s words, mischaracterizations of one another’s views, and personal attacks, then we’ve moved into the flesh.
And so I wonder how to interact with and respond to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ when we disagree about a book.  What is the loving way to respond?  I don't want to get into petty arguments, but I do want to have helpful and fruitful discussions.  Is it possible?

I can understand that people will not see this particular book in the same way that I will, but it saddens me to see it attacked and described as mocking the Bible.  I know that as I read it, I felt the Bible come alive; I saw an honest and searching approach to understanding how different women view and are viewed in the words of that beautiful book that points us to Jesus.

Will Evans get everything 100% correct?  No.  But who among us will?  I certainly won't.  Even the greatest theologians in history failed in certain ways (I'm looking at you, Martin Luther, for your "On the Jews and Their Lies" essay), but the good news is that we are called to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves...not to love our favorite theological method with our of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

I have two hopes.  The first is that those who are attacking this book will actually read it with an open mind, and be able to see the good in it.  The second is that when I read articles or posts or books with which I disagree, that I will read them with an open mind and be able to see the good in them, and not be so quick to roll my eyes and get disgusted, and try to see where the writer is coming from.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.  I also initially posted a shorter version of this review on and then expanded it here.

When I just started to read A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I discovered that it had been described as putting the Bible "on trial "in the court of Rachel Held Evans, where she would be the "prosecution, judge, and jury" who would have the "final word on womanhood."  I read and read and read, but I never got to that part.  I guess my copy must have excluded it (the publisher send me an actual copy and not an "Advanced Review Copy", so maybe that had something to do with it).

Instead, what I found throughout the book was an exploration of what it means to be a "Biblical woman" by experiencing the various rules for women and looking at them from a variety of perspectives.  Through her journey, Rachel Held Evans brought in advice and knowledge from Amish women, an Orthodox Jewish woman, 1950s women and Catholicism (that is just a sampling).  She showed that there are many different Christian (and Jewish!) understandings of the Bible.  She was able to show how although we may all look at things a bit differently, there are many of us that still take seriously the question of what God wants from us.  It is the kind of book that makes one wonder "how can, and should, I apply the Bible to my life?"

Example:  (October, "Gentleness")  When she keeps a "jar of contention" in order to learn to be more gentle and quiet, she learns more about how gossip, or lashon hara, was detrimental to Miriam (in Exodus), she realizes that she had gossiped about another writer.  And although she was cultivating better behavior, she knew that it wasn't behavior alone that she needed to change, but the spirit behind it, and so she learned how to pray "contemplative prayer" in order to let God work on her insides.

Example:  (March, "Modesty")  Many Christian women are taught to be modest, but there are a lot of different ideas out there as to what modesty actually consists of.  During this month, Evans wears a head covering, full-length dresses/skirts, no short sleeves or v-necks, and no jewelry.  She consults with both Amish women and an Orthodox Jewish woman, who are known for prioritizing modesty.  In the end, she learns that modesty really has little to do with clothing, jewelry, or makeup, but rather the spirit behind it, and  that "modesty fits each woman a little differently" (140).

I loved that she took the time to research and understand Jewish practices.  In my experience, many Christians are seemingly unaware that we did not have the Bible first, and that there is a long history of interpretation before it came to be "ours".  While it is true that Christians are not commanded to keep Jewish law, understanding it and where it comes from gives enormous background and brings insight to the text.

Throughout the book, I found myself laughing, crying, feeling serious, feeling contemplative, and I ended the book with a smile on my face.  I could see the journey she had been on and could see how she had learned and grown in her faith.  A Year of Biblical Womanhood is an easy and fast read, but a thought-provoking one.  Christians who want to grow in discipleship of Jesus would benefit from reading this book.  As many of us know from participating in "small groups", discipleship is hard and not always a one-size-fits-all prescription, but we are always encouraged to seek God and ask how we should apply various things in the Bible to our lives.  While this is one woman's story, and is not meant to be something everyone must do, it can open up conversations about how to live our lives and better follow Jesus.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

It Takes So Long

The other day I wrote about how I have been baking bread weekly and some reflections about the yeast in bread and Jesus' one-verse parable about it:

"The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened." --Matthew 13:33

As I made this week's batch of bread, starting this morning, and just about to finish up now, I was struck not by the idea of the activity of the yeast being so hard to see, but the time that it takes to work.  It takes about 10 minutes to initially activate the yeast, and hour or so for the dough to rise the first time, and then an hour or so for the second rise after it has been shaped into loaves.  Then, it has to be baked.  Then, it has to cool for a little while or you'll burn your fingers when you try to slice off a piece because it smells so great and you want it so badly.  But in the end, it's worth it.  

We are not used to anything taking time.  So much of what we do is instantaneous:  texting, twitter, television shows on demand.  It has bled over into our faith, too.  We want people to make such quick decisions for Jesus without thinking about it, or we want him to return ASAP.

But if the kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which takes time to activate and really work, what does that tell us?  If the kingdom of heaven is not instantaneous, what can we learn from that?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How Does a Cannibal Trust?

The following is a shortened version of a talk I gave at a MOPS meeting on Tuesday, since a 20-30 minute talk doesn't really translate well into a blog post.  So I just copied and pasted a few of the paragraphs here.  

I think that one of the biggest plunges that anyone can take is trusting God.  I would bet Proverbs 3:5-6 is one of the most popular verses in the Bible.  It’s the first one I ever memorized, back when I was in my early 20s.  
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And lean not on your own understanding
In all your ways acknowledge Him
And He will direct your paths

Think about one word there that is repeated twice:  all.  Trust with ALL your heart.  In ALL your ways acknowledge Him.  We often will trust God with part of our hearts…and don’t get me wrong, I do it too.  But I’m slowly coming to understand how to trust him with all of my heart.  I’m slowly coming to understand that everything I think I understand on my own is not what I should rely on, but I need to rely on God.  Because when we truly trust God, we give up all that we are.  Now, most of the time we don’t all do it all at once—it is a process that we go through as the Holy Spirit not only speaks to our hearts, but as we open our hearts to listen to the Holy Spirit.  Because that verse is so well-known and a favorite of many, it’s easy to gloss over it.  What does it really mean to trust?  Think about how would you define it—maybe write down a couple of words you associate with trust.

First, let’s think of a situation where trust doesn’t exist.

Imagine if you were living in a tribe of cannibals.  If you could possibly be someone’s next meal, could you really trust your tribe?  I heard a speaker one time talk about a missionary who lived among a tribe of cannibals.  In their culture, they didn’t have a word for trust.  The concept just was not there.  I mean, how could it be, if you were in danger of being eaten by the people with whom you lived?  So this missionary had to come up with a way to explain trust, and what he came up with was “to lean your whole weight upon”.  And in chapter 3 of The Good and Beautiful God, the author writes about trust.  He says that “To trust someone is to believe that he or she has your best interests in mind.” (37).

It is scary to trust—it s scary to give up the control we want to have over our own lives and seek God’s dream for our lives.  It can be easy to trust God--or at least talk about trusting God--when everything is going well.  But it’s a lot more necessary to trust God when everything seems to be falling apart.  Look at the Psalms:  it’s not about trusting god when things are going well, it’s about trusting God in the face of adversity and enemies exulting and life falling apart.  

Discipleship is a risk.  No doubt about it.  People might think you are a bible thumper or a Jesus freak or even that you aren’t a real Christian or that you have shady theology for daring to say something against the status quo.  Trusting God through discipleship is a lifelong journey.  If it was a simple, one-time thing, we’d never grow or learn. 

Some people here today have been through a lot and have trusted God through those incredibly difficult times and I am sure I can learn a lot more from you than you can from me.  Others have not faced such things, yet are still committed to trusting God in other ways.  The trusting God with “all” that we talked about earlier is probably going to be different for everyone here.  One person may easily trust God regarding housing and another doesn’t.  That person who doesn’t may easily trust God regarding health, while another person doesn’t, but can trust God regarding her parenting.  

So I want to end today by asking you to think about what God might be calling you to do.   Maybe nothing at the moment.  But maybe some of you have been wondering and hearing a still small voice.  Talk it over with your discussion group, and take the plunge to follow him and trust him in all things.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

DVD Curriculum Review: She's Got Issues by Nicole Unice

I received this copy of Nicole Unice's dvd curriclum "She's Got Issues:  a dvd group experience" (and accompanying book, She's Got Issues) from Tyndale free of charge as part of the Tyndale Blog Network.

I'd been hearing about Nicole Unice's book She's Got Issues, so when I joined the Tyndale Blog Network and saw the curriculum was one of my choices to review, I quickly chose it.  The curriculum does not come with the book included; it must be purchased separately (but thanks to Ms. Unice for having the publisher include a book for me!), but it does include a Participant's Guide on the dvd that may be printed out.

In the dvd curriculum, Unice has six group sessions:

  • Surrendering the Kung-Fu Control Grip
  • Insidious Insecurity
  • Quitting the Comparison Game
  • The Big Leap from Fear to Freedom
  • Breaking the Silence on Anger
  • Uprooting the Bitter Weed of Unforgiveness
In addition to the topical sessions, there is also a short video for leaders as well as an introduction to the study.

The cover of the dvd case (and the book) is fun and inviting: a woman with her finger to her lips saying "shh"--to signify that we just don't talk about these issues.  

For the purposes of this review, so as not to make it too long I will focus on the introduction and first session.

In the introduction, Ms. Unice explains that there was a time in her life when she felt as though she wasn't experiencing the kind of freedom she thought Jesus was offering, or the change that should come with being a Christian.  She felt as though she wasn't really any different from the rest of the women living on her street, Christian or not, and these are the thoughts that grew into the book and then the curriculum.  She wondered what it is that keeps us from living the life that God offers us.  

Session 1:  Control opens with Nicole Unice speaking with another woman in what has the feel of a counseling session.  In this segment, which lasts about six minutes, the two speak about the woman's problem with control in her marriage.  It has an open and honest feel to it, although I wondered if it would make single women watching feel as if this couldn't really be an issue for them.   After the conversation ends, there is a time to pause the video in order to work on a journal exercise in the Participant's Guide.  

In the next segment, which is the main part of the session, Ms. Unice speaks to a group of women sitting on a couch. The session opens and closes with prayer, and in the middle Ms. Unice speaks of control, using scripture to explain some issues about control.  She brings a great deal of insight to the topic of control, explaining that while God has given us control (Genesis 1:26), we have used it in an independent way; we interpret the power He's given us outside of His kingdom.

I think the content of She's Got Issues is great and would work well in a women's Bible study.  As I mentioned earlier, that first session of the woman speaking about marriage might make some women think this is not for them, but I'd encourage them to stick with it.  I also wasn't sure what the purpose was of having the four women sit on the couch and listen as that was all they did--listen.  There was no interaction and it seemed as if it was done to give a feel of a chat with close friends, which is great, but it didn't quite get there.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Where is God in the Midst of Tragedy?

It's an age-old question, isn't it?  Where is God when it hurts?  Why did God allow this to happen?  Why didn't God stop it?  We search for answers, combing our Bibles for a verse to explain it all away and to dull the pain, yet it still squeezes our hearts and minds and brings floods of tears all over again.

Some questions just do not have answers, as much as we would like them to.  And yet, we feel compelled to speak, to offer words that can end up hurting more instead of helping.  Our empty platitudes come from a place of wanting to fix whatever the problem is, of wanting to make it better, of wanting to stop the pain from taking over.  We say things like "God needed her more" or "It's God's will" or "Now she'll be an angel" or "You can have other children".  None of those are comforting and all are theologically questionable, if not downright theologically incorrect.

When someone is suffering an inconceivable tragedy,we need to simply be a presence and let them (and ourselves) mourn.  In a world where we want everything neat and orderly, death brings the brokenness (or fallen, or sinfulness, if you prefer those terms) of our world front and center and confronts us.

I posted the following for friends and family members who were mourning a distant cousin of mine who was killed in a car wreck early Saturday morning.

For all who are suffering the loss of Keri Perotti:
"All of us have to face pain and difficulty, sometimes even tragedy. As we come to know and draw close to the God Jesus knows we find a new kind of strength to deal with our struggles. If we do not know God as our Abba Father, then we will never have the courage to face our problems. But as we come to know the good and beautiful God that Jesus knows, our struggles take on a whole new meaning. If God is truly good and is looking out for our good, then we can come to him with complete honesty. We can practice honesty when we pray--baring our soul and confronting those hurts that make us doubt God's goodness by handing them over to him for healing."
"Jesus knew he was loved by his Father and was therefore able to trust him through the pain. The reason Jesus could trust God in his darkest hour is because he had lived closely with his good and beautiful Father for all eternity. I now see how love that has been proved can be trusted even when things don't make sense. So when I encounter a world full of tsunamis and child molesters, airplane crashes and methadone-addicted moms, I don't try to force myself to say all is well. Rather, I say, 'Jesus trusted his Abba, and I will also trust in the God I know to be good.'"
--James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God, pages 64 and 65, the chapter in which he recounts the story of the death of his daughter Madeline.
We want to find the happy verses in the Bible, the ones that make everything better, yet if we take a better look, we can find the verses that affirm our despair and let us know that we are not alone.  We can connect with the Psalmist:
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all day long I go around mourning. I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. --Psalm 38:6,8
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? --Psalm 13:2
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also. --Psalm 31:9
We can connect with the one who chose death for us:
And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "This man is calling for Elijah."   At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink.   But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him."   Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. --Matthew 27:46-50  
And after that, after we have let ourselves grieve and feel the pain, we can reach out in our grief and accept God's comfort:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff -- they comfort me. --Psalm 23:4   
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. --Psalm 34:1 
This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life. --Psalm 119:50
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.       --Isaiah 49:13
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  --Matthew 5:4
We can also participate in God's comfort by being the ones to comfort others.  We can partner with God as we live in this world that is fractured and not all that we want it to be.  Put your arm around someone's shoulder.  Hold a hand.  Simply be there.  Weep with those who weep.

And look forward to a future filled with hope.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 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."                            --Revelation 21:3-4 
Let God cry with you.  Let Him know all of your heart's pain and suffering.  And let Him comfort you, let Him hold you in His arms as the child of His that you are.  Let Him be with you in the midst of your tragedy and suffering.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. -- Romans 15:13 

Bring Christ Your Broken Heart  (click to go to a page to listen)
by Sierra

If you've carried your burdens, as far as you can go
If you've reached the end of your own strength
And you just can't go on
If your days are filled with questions
And the answers they just don't come
If you've put your faith in those who let you down
If the road you're on seems like shaky ground
Turn your eyes toward heaven, He is waiting there
You'll find the peace you're longing for in His care
Bring Christ your broken heart
And He will comfort you
With love to heal your deepest hurt
And grace to see you through
Fall into His open arms
Bring Christ your broken heart
Bring Christ your broken heart
If you've prayed for the sun to shine
Only to watch it rain
And if you find you're weary from the struggle
Don't think you can try again
When love is just an empty word
That echoes through the canyons of your soul
And you wonder just how long you'll feel this way
Will you have the strength to hold on one more day
There is One who hears you and who understands
Place your wounded soul in His nail-scarred hands
Bring Christ your broken heart
And He will comfort you
With love to heal your deepest hurt
And grace to see you through
Fall into His open arms
Bring Christ your broken heart
Bring Christ your broken heart

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Fruits of the Politicians

It is less than one month until Election Day.  On that day, we citizens of the United States will cast our votes (if we haven't already) for who we want to be President of the United States.  We will stay up late into the night to find out the results, after which some people will celebrate and others will be sad, angry, or even enraged.

We will be a country divided, focused on the way that this country and this world is run, forgetting that Jesus' kingdom is not of this world.  We will have people gloating about the winner, forgetting that Jesus won not by popularity, but by death.  We will feel happy and smug to be a part of the "in crowd" of winners, and point at those losers who are in the "out crowd", forgetting that Jesus came to unite the nations of the world into one people as his disciples.

And Christians will be participating in this right along with everyone else.

And I what we will be participating in (not the voting itself, but the aftermath) a good representation of the new command that Jesus gave?  Is what we are doing now, leading up to the election, representative of this command that we are supposed to follow?
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. --John 13:34-35
When election day comes, and perhaps even more importantly, in these last days leading up to it, examine yourself.  Are your political views used in a loving way towards others?  What is being bred from discussions?  When you have a political opponent (be it a politician, a friend, a relative, a coworker, a fellow church member, etc.), do you love that person?
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  --1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Are you patient with those people with whom you disagree?  Are you kind to them?   Do you boast about the successes of your party and its candidates?  Are you arrogant when you think you are correct about a position or candidate?  Are you rude to those who think differently than you?  

Are the politicians that you support loving?  In a country where a great many people are Christians, and where a great many politicians also claim to be Christians, do we see some of the signs of what a Christian is in those politicians, and in ourselves when we get so consumed by politics?
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. --Matthew 7:3-5
We are fantastic about pointing out what the other party has done and currently does wrong, but can we see it in our own party and candidates?
In our political discussions in person, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on blogs, is the Spirit present?  Do we see these fruits in our own actions and in the actions of those we support?
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.   --Galatians 5:22-23
If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. --Galatians 5:25
Don't be too quick to answer, but think deeply about it.  If the answer to all--or any--of these is no, then perhaps we need to be introspective and ask ourselves why.  Perhaps we need to start living out the faith that is so easy to talk about.  Perhaps we need to repent.  

On Election Day, there are churches around the country that will be participating in Election Day Communion.  One of the goals of this is:
We’ll remember that real power in this world — the power to save, to transform, to change — ultimately rests not in political parties or presidents or protests but in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.
So maybe, on Election Day, instead of anxiously awaiting results, find an Election Day Communion church and join them for this sacred meal.  If there isn't one near you, gather together with friends of both parties in your home and have a simple meal with bread and wine or grape juice and pray together.  And as the results roll in, no matter what they are, remember this:

"...let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body..."
--Colossians 3:15

Friday, October 12, 2012

I Smell the Bread Rising

Every Wednesday for the last few weeks, I've baked multiple loaves of Italian bread.  Flour, water, oil, and salt are the recipe's ingredients, but then I sprinkle in a little garlic powder, rosemary, thyme, and oregano.  Sometimes my boys "help" me mix the ingredients and roll out the dough into circles after it's risen the first time.

As I sit here and smell the yeasty mixture rising, I think of a sermon I heard long ago, in a church I was only visiting for a day while spending time with my family in Connecticut.  The pastor spoke about one of Jesus' parables of the kingdom of heaven.
He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened." --Matthew 13:33
She talked about how the kingdom of Heaven is found in the ordinary events of daily life, such as a woman baking bread.  Many people today do not bake their own bread, and so this image is probably lost to much of the modern world.  

But I love it.  I love that God is present in the everyday events of life, that in baking bread I can think about ways in which the kingdom permeates our world and culture without us even taking notice of it.  Because isn't that the point of the parable?  Do we see each grain of yeast in the dough?  No.  But we can see its results.  We have to use one of our other senses, the sense of smell, to know it is there.  Likewise, sometimes, even though we may not be able to see the kingdom of God, we can sense it in other ways.

How do you see the results of the kingdom that you didn't know were there initially?  In what ordinary ways in your everyday life do you encounter God?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

How to Be a Better Wife: Find Your Highest Calling

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.

A couple of you requested the topic of marriage for today’s devotional:  how to be a better wife, support our husbands, and keep the flame alive.  While I will talk a little bit about marriage, it’s not going to be the sole focus for this today.  There are a lot of marriage how-to books, and I don’t think any of us have not heard the advice to have a “date night” (which can be great in theory but doesn’t always translate into practice).
There’s a lot of discussion about marriage, but specifically about the roles of men and women , in the various internet circles of which I am a part.

Before I started reading many blogs, I really didn’t know that there are a lot of people out there who believe women are pretty much only meant to be wives and mothers.  In fact, the most recent issue of Christianity Today was criticized by a man for the cover article called “50 Women to Watch”, because he believed many of these women should not be celebrated for their accomplishments because he believes they are going against what the Bible prescribes as their roles. 

In fact, it is the idea of gender roles and the question of what exactly is a Biblical woman that led author Rachel Held Evans on a year-long journey of living by every rule she could find in the Bible that pertained to women.

For example, in her chapter on “Obedience”, she must call her husband Dan“master”.  She’d already taken on all of the household chores, which made them both uncomfortable, because previously they’d shared them.  In fact, in their marriage, they thought of themselves as and worked together as a team.  Nobody was in charge…until Rachel’s project came to practicing “submission” and being unequal to her husband, letting him have the final say in everything.  At one point, she followed a list of things from the 1950s that wives should do for their husbands, because, as another author of a marriage book said, this was a biblical list.  So among other things, she had to freshen up before he got home, she had to make him comfortable, get him a drink, and make the evening his. The following conversation ensued:
"You know you don't have to do any of this to make me feel more like a man," Dan said at the dinner table as we dined on Martha's chicken piccata and Wal-Mart-brand mixed vegetables.  "In fact, treating me like a baby is a little emasculating."
"I know," I aid.  "This all feels kinda fake, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, it does."
We ate in silence for a while.  
"So what would happen if I ordered you to stop submitting to me?" Dan finally asked, a mischievous grin spreading across his face.
"Well then, I guess I'd have to obey you," I said. (page 214)
I tell this story from this book because for those of us who are primarily stay-at-home-moms, this is often our life:  we take care of the kids, the house, do the cooking, cleaning, and laundry, and our husbands.
But, we are not only wives and mothers.  We are our own unique selves, created by God with interests, passions, abilities, and gifts that sometimes do not fit into that mold, and we should learn to be able to celebrate who God created us to be and follow His calling within our marriages and families.

In the book How IChanged My Mind About Women in Leadership¸ Tony Campolo contributed an essay in which he talks about how another well-known Christian, spent 15 minutes speaking against Tony because he believed Tony no longer had his wife under subjection, because he and his wife had publicly started dialoguing about their very different beliefs regarding the rights of gays and lesbians.

But, Tony said, "there were others who applauded my willingness to affirm her right to exercise what she believed was her calling.  Christian marriage, contended my supporters, should be with persons who are mutually encouraging each other to actualize their God-given potentialities and gifts.  I now believe that if I had done otherwise, I would not only have frustrated God's will for Peggy's life, but it would have established an insurmountable wall between us.  Besides, as she has lived out her calling to be a Christian leader, she has become more spiritually alive and more interesting as a partner than ever before" (page 78).

In their marriage, Tony and his wife disagreed, but they both were able to affirm and respect the beliefs and passions of each other.  I think that this is key.  We see in the New Testament that marriage is often described metaphorically as the union of Jesus and the Church, and one of the things that the church—and by that I mean all believers, men and women—is called to do is to exercise their unique gifts. 
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes about a variety of gifts (which are not given by God based on gender), and that we are one body with many members.  I think that with this image of the church being given gifts, and the church seen as the bride of Christ, we women really have no reason not to exercise our gifts and callings.  If we can recognize those things and be all that we are created to be and live up to our callings—which, as Rachel puts it in a blog post—our highest calling isto follow Christ—then we can have the kind of partnership that a marriage is supposed to be.

Now, it’s a lot easier for the guys because they usually get identified first by what they do for their paying job and second as daddy.  We moms get identified first as mommy and then secondly as whatever else we might do.

For both of us, we need to identify as Christ-followers first, and then everything else is secondary.
I love being a wife and a mom and being home with my kids—most of the time, anyway!  But I also have to exercise the other things that God calls me to do. 

Your highest calling is to follow Christ.  Listen to the words of Paul about the value of that:

8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ,1 the righteousness from God based on faith.  10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,  11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal;1 but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Philippians 3:8-12  

He has made you his own—He has known since he knit you together in your mother’s womb. 

And so I encourage you today to take that leap, take that risk, that that plunge--our theme for the year--into answering God’s call on you as His child—and use how God can work through you to strengthen any relationship you have—with your husband, with your extended  family, with your kids, with your friends. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Worth Reading Wednesday: Christian Votes for Various Candidates

For today's "Worth Reading Wednesday", I'm just going to point you towards four articles from Think Christian about voting for various presidential candidates.  So often I hear that Christians must vote for so-and-so because it is the "more" Christian person or party (for various reasons).  But here are four different people explaining why their faith leads them to vote for a particular candidate.

A Christian Vote for Obama

A Christian Vote for Romney

A Christian Vote for Gary Johnson

A Christian Vote for Jill Stein

What do you think?  Can you understand and empathize with each of these articles?  Can you look beyond your own opinions to really see why a person of the same faith may vote differently than you?  What role does your faith play in how you vote or who you vote for?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Economics in the Kingdom of God

If we truly understood in our hearts the economy of God, capitalism wouldn't be possible, and Marxism wouldn't be necessary.

~ w/ credit to Shane Claiborne
That was posted on a friend's Facebook wall recently, and she followed it up with this:
Acts 2:44-46 - All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.

I don't know how this begins (or if I'd be unselfish enough to do it if I knew how to begin); but I know as I type on my ipad, sitting on my memory foam mattress, that right now I am too comfortable with my personal wants and comforts and tend to resist that which I think asks too much of me. I see a gap between where I am and what these verses tell, and I want to know what lies between my here and their there.
I have never taken an economics class.  My eyes glaze over when people start talking about the economy or 401Ks or IRAs or Social Security or Wall Street or anything related to those topics.  I just do not have a head for it, so I am utterly unqualified to really write anything informative about "the economy".  But I can ask questions about things that have confused me.

  • I have often heard in church, throughout my life, that everything we have comes from God, nothing is really our own; it is just on loan to us.  If this is true, why are so many of us so intent on claiming that we have worked so hard for our money?
  • How much money has been raised in campaign contributions this year (for all parties and candidates at any level) and if that was applied to the national debt, where would we stand?
  • Why are the verses my friend posted about often explained as "that's the church's job, not the government's", but so many people also believe we are a Christian nation founded on Christian values and principles?  Which values and principles really matter?  
  • If think about our needs and our wants and were really honest about it, then isn't it really our wants and the idea of keeping up with the Joneses that drives "the economy" and not our needs?  
There may not be concrete answers to these questions, and they make some people very angry.  I know I am very comfortable in my middle-class lifestyle and would not like changing it.  But I also see a lot of conflict between Christian faith and American culture, and I'm really not sure what to do about it.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, October 08, 2012

A Chance for Unity Not the Name of Freedom

 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.  20 "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,  21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,(1 )so that the world may believe that you have sent me. --John 17:18-21 

These are just a few of the verses we heard in church yesterday for World Communion Sunday, and the sermon was about oneness among Christians.  While I found it inspiring and hopeful, at the same time, I couldn't help but feel a little bit sad as I thought of the Christians out there in churches that were not hearing about unity or taking communion in solidarity with Christian brothers and sisters around the world, but instead were being told very pointedly their pastors' opinions on politics and for whom they should vote in the coming election.

How does preaching specific political opinions add to Christian unity?  In many churches, due to the makeup of the congregation, the location, the denomination, it's often going to be fairly obvious which way people lean politically.

And what of the minority parties within that congregation?  Will they feel welcomed as part of the body of Christ if they are being told their political views are wrong?  Doesn't this just become one more divisive way that inhibits our witness as loving to the world?

It seems to me that World Communion Sunday is a much better option.  It is a way to be united despite differences, not a way to be divisive.  Is it so important to feel right about one's political position that we have to make other Christian brothers and sisters feel less than for not agreeing?

What did your church do yesterday?  World Communion Sunday?  Pulpit Freedom Sunday?  Both?  Neither?  What would you liked your church to have done, had you had a chance to choose?

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Does it Really Matter Who Wins?

I didn't watch most of the Presidential Debate last night, only maybe the last 20 minutes.  After it was over, when I checked Facebook and Twitter, I was not surprised to see my Democrat friends supporting President Obama and my Republican friends supporting Governor Romney.

And I wondered what is the purpose of a debate?  Regardless of who "wins" or "loses" a debate, people are going to continue to support their candidate.  A debate is not going to change the mind of people who are already decided.  People want their candidate to win; they want to be on the winning team and be the ones to have power.

As I was thinking about this last night, I wondered how many people put so much time, effort, and energy and belief into his or her candidate.  It often seems as if people are so afraid that if the other person wins, the entire world will fall apart, and only the "right" candidate can save everything.

What concerns me more than the world falling apart (because I think it will, at some point, regardless of what we do) is that so many of my fellow Christians seem to put so much trust into a political candidate (either one) and into our system of government.  Do we have a great system?  Sure.  But it is not perfect, and we should not be confusing it with nor elevating it above the Kingdom of God.

Jesus said in John 18:36 that his kingdom is not of this world.  And we know that is true, because some (all?) of the ways in which his kingdom is run is counter to what we actually do.  And he doesn't mean just someday when we die and get our butts into heaven, but right now.  These are some of the ways that Jesus' kingdom works:

  • love your enemies (Mt 5:44)
  • pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:44)
  • comes slowly without people seeing how it works (Mt 13:31-33)
  • the humble are the greatest (Mt 18:4)
Of course, those are only a few examples, and I think that most Christians know that Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of Heaven a lot.

I see how passionate people are for their candidate, and I love passion.  But I would hope that all Christians understand that in the big scheme of things, in God's Kingdom, the winner of the U.S. Presidency is not of the utmost importance.  We need to make sure that as Christians, we do not make political candidates, parties, or policies our idols.  

Can we really understand that?  Do we want to understand it?  What does it mean to follow Jesus in a political climate such as we have here?

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Worth Reading Wednesday: Joy Newcom

For today's issue of "Worth Reading Wednesday", I want to spotlight my friend Joy Newcom, author of Involuntary Joy (website:  Involuntary Joy  Blog:  InJoyBlog).  I met Joy when we both worked for the same college, although our paths rarely crossed.  It wasn't until after I had stopped working there the first time (I worked there on two separate occasions) and then again after she had stopped working there that we became better friends (mainly over Facebook) and then after I moved away, we ended up communicating even more.

I will admit to being intimidated by Joy when I first met her.  She is strong and outspoken and I am very reserved (this is why my introverted personality loves communicating through writing and online).

Through knowing Joy, I have been able to put a face to issues that previously were only theoretical in my mind, if I even thought about them at all, such as having a disabled child and how laws and politics may affect people with disabilities.  I have been able to see other sides of issues that I had not considered, and she has caused me to really want to think through how issues affect real people.

I hope you all will visit her website and blog.  If you are not personally affected by a disability, you will learn much.  If you are affected, you will find someone with whom you can relate and share stories.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Have Some Exciting News to Share? Or is it Just Bragging?

Over the last few days I have been wondering about the difference between bragging and sharing exciting news.  I have seen a lot of what I have initially considered bragging on Facebook, and it often makes me roll my eyes and judge the person who I think is bragging.  When I had something exciting to share last week, I hesitated, because I was concerned that it would come across as bragging (and then people would roll their eyes and judge me as I do them).  I only came to the decision to share it after thinking about it for a few hours and talking to a couple of friends about it.  I came to the conclusion that since I also wanted the other nine people to receive their recognition that it was not just about me, and so I shared it.

After I thought about how I wanted to share something exciting, I started to wonder if whether or not what I see people share is simply that:  sharing exciting news.  Maybe it really is "hey!  I am excited about this great thing that happened to me" instead of "hey!  Look at me and who I know or what I did."

I knew there was a verse in the New Testament about boasting in the Lord, and so I wanted to look it up as well as other occurrences of the word boast and see what I found (please note that the following thoughts are my initial thoughts; I wanted to get this ready to post for another round of the Ultimate Blogging Challenge) so I didn't look up any commentaries or even at the notes in my Bible).

When Paul writes to the Corinthians, he tells them that if he is going to boast, he "will boast of the things that show [his] weakness" (2 Corinthians 11:30).  And in his letter to the Galatians, he writes "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14).  And in his first letter to the Corinthians, he writes that he is glad he only baptized Crispus and Gaius, "so that no one can say that [they]were baptized in [his] name" (1 Corinthians 1:14-15).  Paul does not want the focus to be on himself, but on Jesus.  He doesn't want people to follow him; he wants people to follow Jesus.  He goes on to say at the end of this chapter that, regarding calling, God chooses the foolish, the weak, the low, and the despised so that nobody may boast about themselves in the presence of God.  And then, in 2 Timothy 3:2 he warns Timothy that "people will be lovers of themselves" and will be boasters (among a litany of other things).

Can you imagine if our Facebook pages looked like that?

  • Hey!  Today I came in dead last in my race!
  • I lost my temper and yelled at my kids all day long.  Not really thinking of them as a blessing today.
  • Nobody likes me.
  • I really stink at leadership, even though I'm supposed to be good at it.
  • I am so glad nobody follows me on Twitter
  • I did the stupidest thing today
  • I hurt someone I really care about
  • Look at all my pictures of when I had the flu [instead of an exotic vacation]
Later, though, Paul does tell Timothy this:  "Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and suffering..." (2 Timothy 3:10-11).  

I thought, gee, doesn't that seem as if he is bragging about himself, listing all those good qualities he has?  Can you imagine if you saw someone post that on Facebook?  We'd think they were really full of themselves.

But I think rather than boasting, Paul is just confident in himself and his purpose is not to make Timothy think Paul is so great, but rather, his purpose is to encourage Timothy in his own faith.  

I think that is the key, here.  When we draw attention to ourselves, are we doing it so that people notice us, or are we doing it so that people notice Jesus and are encouraged in their own faith?

What are your thoughts about the fine line between boasting and genuinely sharing news and exciting life events?  What would your Facebook page look like if you boasted of your weaknesses?  What is the line between confidence and arrogance?  When you post exciting news, what is deep in your heart behind posting it?