Monday, June 17, 2013

Where Is God in all the Noise?

This was originally posted on a blog that is no longer accessible so I am posting it here.

In Bruce Main’s book If Jesus Were a Sophomore (which I highly, highly recommend for anyone, regardless of age), chapter two begins with “Making Space for God”.  Main asks the staff who worked for him “How would you make more space for God in your day-to-day life?”  He then relates the two very different responses from two very different young women.  Claire, who he said was a “collegian from a fairly conservative evangelical church in the Midwest” said “that to make space in her life for God, she would need to disengage from activity and find more solitude” (p. 27).  Lucy, a college student from Seattle, had a different idea.  She said “Making space means trying to see more of God in my daily activity.  In the complexity, hecticness, and confusion of each day, I want to see God’s Spirit at work” (p. 28).

While I don’t think these responses need to be an either/or situation, I think many of us are most familiar with finding God in the quiet times.  We know of Elijah hearing God in the silence in 1 Kings 19 or the many, many times that Jesus goes off by himself to pray.  And yes, those times are needed.  But for many of us, especially if we have children, those quiet times are very difficult to come by.  Some people may be great at getting up early, before the kids wake up, in order to have “quiet time”.  Not so for me.  I am not a morning person and never have been.  Then, by the time the kids are in bed at night, often, all I want to do is go to sleep as well. 

I think that when we separate out specific time for God, we can forget that God is everywhere, in everything.  I love this quotation by Abraham Kuyper with which I’ve recently heard multiple times:

“there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'”

We should seek to see God’s presence in all that we do, and not just have him be one thing we mark off on a checklist of things to do each day. 

Rather than making a priority list like this:

1. Quiet time with God
2. Take the kids to school
3. Go to work
4. Help kids with homework
5. Make dinner

we should have one like this:

1. Quiet time with God
2. Take the kids to school with God
3. Go to work with God
4. Help kids with homework with God
5. Make dinner with God

and so on. 

While Jesus did indeed spend time by himself praying, he did so much more.  He was there in the noise of his birth.  He was there in the noise of the visiting magi.  He was there in the noise of John the Baptist’s preaching.  He was there in the noise of calling the fishermen and teaching and healing the crowds and the arguing between his disciples.  He was there in the noise of his arrest and his trial.  He was there in the noise as the crowds shouted “Crucify, crucify him” (Luke 23:21). 

So where is God in the noisy times?  When the water is boiling over on the stove and the other pot is starting to smoke and the smoke detector goes off and the kids are screaming and you’re fighting with your spouse and the television is too loud and your head hurts and life seems chaotic?

He is there.  He will always be there. 

Jesus is there in those everyday, boring, noisy moments of life.  He is there when you need healing.  He is there when you need a friend.  He is there when you don’t know where you are headed but all you know is that you want to follow him with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind and with all of your life.  He is there when you are not sure what he means or what he is about and you are only thinking of following him.  He is there for you, for me, for your noisy neighbors that get on your nerves. 

He is there. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book Review: Sleeping in Eden by Nicole Baart

Nicole Baart's writing just gets better and better with each book, and Sleeping in Eden is, to be so cliche, a page-turner.  The book arrived early afternoon one day last week, and a couple of hours later, I began reading.  I kept reading, and we had leftovers for dinner because I didn't want to take the time away from reading to cook.  I read all through my son's tae kwon do class, all through the kids' baths, am not really sure when they went to bed, and then I finally finished around 11:00 p.m., and set the book down feeling like I just wanted to pick it back up and read it again.  

In Sleeping in Eden, Lucas Hudson is called to be the coroner in a suicide case.  While there, another body is discovered buried beneath the location of the hanging.  Lucas' story, the mystery woman's story, and Meg's story are all unraveled throughout the book as each chapter is written either about Lucas or Meg.  Both protagonists make us want to know them more, to be involved in their lives and decisions, and to celebrate and grieve with them.  

Sleeping in Eden is a fantastic read.  There is a depth to the book and the characters that is often missing from popular fiction.  All of the characters are real, vulnerable, and so human (so if you read the review of the person who returned it for a couple of bad words, take that with a grain of salt.  That reviewer missed out).  I highly recommend it.  

From the book's description:

She knew what he wrote . . .
One little word that made her feel both cheated and beloved.

One word that changed everything.


On a chilly morning in the Northwest Iowa town of Blackhawk, Dr. Lucas Hudson is filling in for the vacationing coroner on a seemingly open-and-shut suicide case. His own life is crumbling around him, but when he unearths the body of a woman buried in the barn floor beneath the hanging corpse, he realizes this terrible discovery could change everything. . . .

Years before Lucas ever set foot in Blackhawk, Meg Painter met Dylan Reid. It was the summer before high school and the two quickly became inseparable. Although Meg’s older neighbor, Jess, was the safe choice, she couldn’t let go of Dylan no matter how hard she tried.

Caught in a web of jealousy and deceit that spiraled out of control, Meg’s choices in the past ultimately collide with Lucas’s discovery in the present, weaving together a taut story of unspoken secrets and the raw, complex passions of innocence lost.

I did not receive this book for free as I often do for book reviews.  I bought it because Nicole is a good real-life friend I have gotten to know over the past year.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Disagreement in Love

When Tony posted about being accused of racism, I didn't even know what “regnant” or “nascent” meant in the statement that had come into question.  I didn't understand parts or all of the criticisms I read.  I’m not a stupid person, but sometimes, I feel that way when I can’t follow the arguments or conversations.  Sure, I have a BA in English Literature.  But it’s been 12 years since I received it.  Sure, I took some classes in seminary.  But it’s been 8 years since I quit.  Since then, the majority of my time has been spent taking care of my two children.  I’ve worked part-time, here and there, but primarily I have been a stay-at-home-mom.

Unfortunately, though, I have realized that I sometimes have made others to possibly feel stupid as well.  At the time when I was in seminary, I also participated in some discussion boards and I loved showing off what I was learning.  I loved the feeling that I was winning the argument.  Looking back, I was proud that I had more knowledge than the people with whom I was arguing.  There are times when I got–or still get today–angry, disdainful, arrogant, and don’t listen to what someone is saying.  My pride in my own intellectual ability sometimes wins out over how I treat people.

To read the post in its entirety, go here.

Celebration of Discipline: An Experiment in Study

This was originally a monthly series for Soul Munchies, but as Soul Munchies is on hiatus right now, the series will continue here.  The other posts in the series are: 

I felt that I failed at prayer and fasting, but this month practicing the discipline of "study" has been (as expected!) pretty great.  I chose to adapt one of Richard Foster's suggestions, to read a short book of the Bible every day.   I chose Galatians.  Instead of reading every day, I read as often as I could, but not only did I read the book of Galatians, I read it in a couple of different translations, and I read a couple of commentaries as well.  I journaled notes.  I wrote down questions.  I looked up other Bible passages that were referenced in Galatians.  I wanted to go back to it again and again and again.

Through study, I felt something in me come alive.

For some time now, I've neglected reading my Bible.  I've been reading a lot of other books, but my Bible, though I take it to church with me and it sits near my computer, has really served to just be there when I need to look up a verse here or there.  Reading Galatians, and thinking about what it means, what words mean, wondering about context and original intent and connecting it to other writings in the Bible made me realize how much I miss studying the Bible.

I've struggled for a long time with "Bible Study" because often, a Sunday school class or small group is not Bible Study; it is "Bible Application Time".  Foster writes in his book,

"We must understand, however, that a vast difference exists between the study of Scripture and the devotional reading of Scripture.  In the study of Scripture a high priority is placed upon interpretation:  what it means.  In the devotional reading of Scripture a high priority is placed upon application:  what it means for me.  All too often people rush to the application stage and bypass the interpretation stage:  they want to know what it means for them before they know what it means!"

That is what I have found over the years, and why I get so much more out of leading small groups than participating.  When I lead a group, I can study ahead of time and it is study that helps to speak to me.  I know that isn't the case for everyone, but it is definitely the case for me.

When I actually studied Galatians, rather than gave it a cursory read, asking "what's in it for me?", I was able to look at a bigger picture, I was able to come up with a myriad of ideas that I want to explore further through conversations, more reading, and through writing.  I don't get that out of "Bible Application Time".  In Bible Study, I can ask questions about Galatians 1:4 (who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father) such as:
  • Why was the time described as 'the present evil age'?
  • How are people set free through Jesus' sacrificial giving of himself?
  • 'Set us free from present evil age' doesn't sound like subsitutionary atonement/penal substitution but a lot of Christians focus on that aspect of "sacrifice". So how do we read it without reading into it?
  • The annotations say that the 'present evil age' is to be contrasted with the age that comes with the return of Jesus, so is this a reference to the Jewish idea of olam haba?
I can't ask those questions in Bible Application.  In Bible Application, I would have to ask such things as:
  • What evil things am I facing in my life?
  • What evil things are in this world today?
  • How does Jesus set me free from these evil things?
The problem, here, with this Bible Application Time, is that we don't actually need the Bible to ask these questions or discuss our experiences and responses to them.

I don't understand, either, why it is that we seem so scared of studying the Bible.  I have heard many times that we don't want people to think it is boring, that we want to make sure people know it is relevant to their lives, that we don't want to scare them away from it.  We want people to think the Bible is easy to understand, but, the problem is that the Bible is not easy to understand.

I also suspect that part of the problem we have with not studying the Bible is that we tend to equate Jesus with the Bible, and we think that doing Bible Application time is the same thing as working on our relationship with Jesus.  I think that it then scares us that if we don't understand the Bible, then we don't understand or have a good enough relationship with Jesus.

We need to be able to separate these from each other.

We can study the Bible.
We can read the Bible devotionally.
We can better develop our relationship with Jesus.

But those are all different.  Studying and reading the Bible are good, and they can help us with our relationship.  But so can other activities (which is what this experiment in spiritual disciplines really is all about).  Let's stop being afraid of not understanding the Bible.  Let's study it and get to know it on its own, with its own issues and contexts.  Let's use the freedom we have in Jesus, that we learn of in Galatians, to study the Bible regardless of how it applies to us devotionally, and see how we can experience growth through it.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Leadership, Celebrity, and Power in light of Philippians 2:6-11

This is the first official synchroblog of "The Despised Ones", a new blogging collective.  You can read my initial thoughts on being a"despised one" here and here.

This month, we're blogging on Philippians 2:5-11:

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,  6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,  8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.  9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,  10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.   

There are two instances of celebrity and power that immediately came to mind when I saw the topic.

I remember one time, I attended a church in which many of the people I knew were often talking about what "Pastor" said.  "Pastor said this" or "Pastor said that".  At times, it seemed as if people spoke more about "Pastor" and with more reverence than they did about Jesus.  That was my first experience with Christian "celebrity".  One day recently, I was curious about this church I'd attended years ago, because I knew it had grown numerically over the years.  When I looked at the website, something that struck me was that there seemed to be a wall preventing communication.  The e-mail addresses given for connecting with the church were generic and there was no way to know where they would end up.  There was no way to contact the pastor.  It gave me the impression of bodyguards, of a person too busy to be concerned with every communication request.  

At another time in my life, I had a job in which I had two co-workers (we'll call them CoWorkerA and CoWorkerB, because I'm trying to protect identities, and because I'm so creative with pseudonyms).  Together, the three of us, all part-time employees that didn't even add up to 40 hours per week, were responsible for our department.  And nobody was in charge.  It was deliberately set up that way, because those higher up in the hierarchy couldn't really fathom a part-time person being in charge, so, we were told, "just figure it out together" (Plus, to make it more confusing, each of us were paid from different entities).  Ideally, in a Christian atmosphere, this should work.  We should be able to work together, communicate well, and get along.  But, the problem is, we're all still sinners.  And two of the three of us definitely had our battles.  I had ideas.  I had plans.  I had already worked there for a year, and I thought I should be the one in charge.  CoWorkerB was a recent college graduate, and didn't have any desire to be in charge.  But CoWorkerA did have the desire.  CoWorkerA also had a certain number of years of experience, an advanced degree, and ordination.  CoWorkerA also had an outgoing and friendly--and possibly even overbearing--personality.  His presence, in a way, automatically exuded power and celebrity.  He and I were opposites in many ways.  

Soon after we began working together, I created a small poster to put up on the wall to remind myself how I wanted to act in this situation.  It's the verses that come just before today's verses about power:

Philippians 2:3-4   3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

I needed to remember this, because the small sense of power and control that I felt I had was being threatened, and I wanted to learn how to not need to be in control for my own benefit, but I also didn't want to let CoWorkerA walk all over me, either, and let him have all of the power by default just because his personality seemed to demand it.  It was a difficult line to walk.

In all of these examples, there are different types of leadership, celebrity, and power.  Some of it, such as being unreachable or being a more extroverted person, is more obvious and gives the impression of a celebrity pastor.  Some of it, such as my own, is not obvious, because it was internal.  

But we all have some type of power.

We need to be aware of the type of power we each have, whether it is economic, political, through parenting, through any individual choices we make, and when we demand others to look at and consider the power they have, we must also demand ourselves to do the same, because there are situations in each of our lives where we can all be humbled, where we can all think of others as better than ourselves, where we can freely give up our power for the benefit of all.  

The only question is, will we do it?

Sunday, June 09, 2013

New Blog Design

If you are a regular visitor here, you'll notice some changes happened this weekend.  I changed the design of the blog.  So, yes, you are still in the right place, but hopefully a cleaner, nicer-looking one!

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Album Recommendation: Treva Blomquist "So We Would Know"

Treva Blomquist is a singer/songwriter from Arkansas who offered me a free copy of her album "So We Would Know" which releases on iTunes today.  I know nothing about music or reviewing music, and she was ok with that; she just wanted to share it with people who might be blessed by it. And I was.
Description of "So We Would Know" from  "So We Would Know" is 11 songs about God’s goodness, faithfulness, mercy and love.  These songs are based on old hymn texts I’ve found, most of which were written in the 1700-1800’s.  It’s old hymns made new. 
I smiled when the first song, "Where Freedom Speaks", came on, because it was both simple and beautiful; a voice and a guitar, which just happens to be my favorite type of music to listen to and it's not something I hear often.  I listened to it twice at first, and really liked it.   Now, I am not a person who normally listens to music on a regular basis.  Most of the time, because there is so much noise in my house from my children, I choose silence when I have the opportunity.  But I found myself wanting to play it more and even found myself singing songs from it later in the day.

Although I was only familiar with two of the hymns, I loved how Treva made them new to me.  Too often, hymns get relegated to being "outdated" or "old-fashioned" and "boring", and I sometimes feel sad that they have been replaced by lyrics that use words such as "wanna" or "na na na na na".  There is often a depth to hymns that can be missing from more modern songs, and Treva's way of putting them to new music is something that I enjoyed listening to, and I think others will as well.

You can get four free songs here:

Monday, June 03, 2013

How Being Despised Led to Belonging

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about  becoming a member of a bloggers' collective called "The Despised Ones" , based on 1 Corinthians 1:28:

"God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are"

Ever since I began blogging regularly a little over a year ago, and became active on Twitter, I have seen what I perceive to be different groups of people and different levels of people and groups of people in this strange world.  I've slowly developed some relationships, but for the most part, do not feel as if I really fit in.  It brings back images from middle or high school (those lovely years!) when I had friends, but I was never really a part of the "in group".  

And so, when I found myself added to the group, I appreciated being noticed.  I was surprised and flattered to start getting new friend requests on Facebook, but I also let people know that I am slow to accept them until I get to know people.  

But it's a paradox, isn't it, to find myself "fitting in" and "belonging" to a group that is based on not belonging?  Because the low and despised in the world are those who are dismissed, who are looked down upon, who do not belong.  I have, through being considered part of an "out group", become part of an "in group".

I think that, deep down, we all really do want to belong to something, no matter how much of an individual or loner we might be inside.  It gives us comfort and security and contributes to our self-worth.  We want to feel appreciated, liked, loved.  When we belong to a group, and others don't, it makes us feel better about ourselves.  That might be one of the reasons that in so much of Christianity, we have an attitude of who is in and who is out, because we want to belong to the in group, the right side.  In belonging, we feel as if what we think is wrong about ourselves is cancelled out and that we are worthy.  We will think better and more positively about ourselves.  We will take pride in belonging; we will put the "Despised Ones" badge on our websites.  We will, in a sense, boast about belonging.

In 2 Corinthians 11:30 Paul says,  "If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness."

I had joked that a past blog post had made me consider starting a hashtag about boasting in weakness, where we all tweet about what we are so bad at, and that since I had never followed through, that I should put following through as something I am bad at doing.  There's a danger, though, in taking pride in being "despised", a sort of false humility that comes along when one wants to talk about how despised or persecuted we are.  It can be a way of saying "oh, poor me, nobody likes me" in order that others will then say "oh, no, that's not true!"

So I'm not sure what to think of being a "Despised One".  What makes me "worthy" of the title, and someone else "not worthy"?  Is it possible to become despised within a group of despised ones?  Is there a group that can come along that is "more" despised and bring this group to nothing?

Perhaps, the weakness here is that pride can work itself into anything that we do or believe, and that we will always be brought to nothing, no matter who we are,  or what group we belong to, in order to do as Paul also did when he told the Corinthians that he "decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified." (1 Corinthians 2:2).