Christian, gifts from God, marriage

Marriage: Having Each Other’s Back

I wish I could say that I have total faith in God and His strength to carry me through any difficult circumstance that comes my way. The truth, however, is that I rely far too often on the flesh and blood people around me when times get tough. I have an amazing support system of family and friends, which I thank God for. Truth be told, I feel like I could handle almost anything with God and Jay. The struggles we have seen are not for the faint of heart. The strength of our marriage is in part due to the sheer need to cleave to one another as we pass from hardship to hardship. It is something we have done well these past 20 years (though far from perfectly). When I look back on the last few years, the hardest and most terrible moments had less to do with the circumstances we were going through and more with the state of our marriage in the midst. I have grieved many things in the past 20 years, from both of my parents to one of our children, and from my  dreams to my sense of self. I have confronted many trials and worked through many hurts, but there has yet to be a pain that cannot in some way be softened once wrapped in the arms of Jay. There is something about knowing that there is someone whose primary role in life, before any other earthly job, is to have your back. I suspect that it is this mutual goal that makes our marriage strong. It isn’t about seeing eye to eye (though that’s always a nice treat) or everything around us being perfect (it never will be). It isn’t about evenly dividing the chores (though that helps ease some burdens) or trying to meet each other’s every need (we can’t). It’s about “where two or more are gathered,” and one person lifting up the other who has fallen. It is a three-strand marriage, and it is very good.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him- a threefold cord is not quickly broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

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Christian, prayer

More Than We Ask

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” – Ephesians 3: 20-21

Sometimes I find it difficult to pray. It’s easy to ask people to pray for me, but to actually pray myself is hard. I know a lot of this is rooted in my lack of faith. I feel that what I’d be asking for is impossible, or at the very least highly improbable. What I truly yearn for would require serious intervention by the heavenly host, countering science, and literally being supernatural. I know that God is capable of this, and in fact specializes in this, but I can’t bring myself to ask. Maybe I’m afraid that not getting what I asked for would lead me to doubt my faith; so it’s better to not ask than to be disappointed or disillusioned. It’s not that I have never asked for something spectacularly impossible, it’s just that I’ve never gotten a “yes” answer to those big requests. So now I just send up some token prayers to the general effect of what I desire, but I don’t really petition heaven. 

Tonight, as I read these words from Ephesians, I felt some comfort. It doesn’t let me off the hook in my cowardly failure to fervently pray, but it’s good to know that God can meet me even in this place. “Far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” He knows what I’m thinking. He knows what I want. He knows my fears, my fragile faith, and my weariness hidden behind those token prayers. He can still answer my meager offerings and my broken dreams couched in, “If it’s God’s will.”

God can meet me in my imagination even when I’m too afraid to ask him to make it a reality. 

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Christian, gifts from God, loss

Stained Glass Lives

wreckedThanksgiving Eve in 2015, I sat in church holding a rock. As part of the service that evening, we were each asked to write something on that rock as a memorial. We would place those rocks on a table as a thankfulness monument to what God has done. What was God doing in our lives? What gifts had he blessed us with? Who were we becoming that should be memorialized? The word that kept running through my mind was “WRECKED!” God had wrecked my life. He hadn’t just thrown me a curve ball, nor had he simply turned things upside down. He had wrecked it. He had torn my heart out of myself. He had destroyed my very being. Could I be thankful for this? Could I see it as a blessing? I sat in my own little prison of broken dreams and silent pain, and wrote on that stone, “Wrecked my life.”

It wasn’t an accusation. It was both fact and resignation. I was working things out in my life or maybe more accurately, God was working some things out in my life. I was trying to catch my breath and lean into God in the midst of the pain. I was giving it over to Him and thanking him for the suffering, not in the, “I love agony” sense, but in the, “I know that God is good and I can trust him to turn the pieces of my heart into something beautiful” sense. Jesus and I had been clenched in many a wrestling match over the years, and I had stumbled through some pretty graceless dances with him as he tried to lead me, but nothing compared to this. I was holding onto the pieces of my life and waiting in wretched expectation.

Holding those broken pieces was difficult. The sharp edges cut deeply, and I was bleeding out. I was sure I died a few times. If I’m honest, I wished to literally die several times throughout that season. I couldn’t bear the place God had brought me, and I wouldn’t open up my bloody scarred hands and let him help me. As I was spilling my life out slowly and gasping for breath, Jesus was working his miracle. He was working out His perfect plan. I am certain he had been working it out long before I even knew I was broken.

I wish I could say that it was the end of the breaking, but He had barely begun. There would be a lot more shattering and crushing in the months that followed. I’m not naïve enough to think that he’s done the painful work, but I am far enough along to see the light shining through the artwork that he made from some of those broken pieces. I am far enough along to see that darkness helps us to see the light, and that my mind isn’t big enough to imagine what He had in store for me. This week I found myself counting the blessing that have come from the brokenness of that year, the brokenness of my life. Stained glass needs to be seen from a few steps away or you miss the full extent of its beauty. Sometimes life is like that too.

 

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Bible Study, Christian, ministry, social justice

A Mile Wide: A book review (of sorts)

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Thirty years ago, I gave my life to Jesus. I was just 13 years old. Growing up in a Christian home, I had attended church and Sunday school, VBS, and sang in the choir. I had believed in Jesus my entire life, and I had faithfully done all that Christians were suppose to do. Then, in the wooded grounds of Agape Farms, surrounded by tens of thousands of other Christians, speaker Roger Cooper introduced me to a personal savior. I didn’t need a second invitation; I didn’t struggle with whether or not I wanted to surrender my life to God. I just did it. I had no idea that I was missing such an important piece of the Christian walk, until someone shared it with me.

While my walk has had its stumbles, I have never looked back. I have followed Jesus faithful, albeit imperfectly, for three decades. And after all this time, what I know is that there is more. Deep in my soul I know it. There is more than what modern American Christianity is offering. There is more than getting out of bed early in the morning for some quiet time with the Lord. There is more than Sunday morning and Wednesday night church, Friday morning women’s study, and Friday night home fellowship. There is more than twice a year service projects and a summer mission trips. I’ve done these things. These are not bad things, but there is more. There is more than growing in the Fruit of the Spirit so the church pews can become nothing more than bigger and bigger baskets of fruit that never meet the true hunger of the world. Many in the church are fermenting in the pews, and not in a meaningful way.

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For me, like for many, my period of greatest change came with a period of great loss. In 2010, many of those things in life which I was holding on to as my identity began to slip away. When I started to question who I was, I ran to God. More accurately you could say that I was in a wrestling match with God that could rival that of Jacob. It was in that time that I began to really look at global issues of injustice: slavery, honor killings, child brides, poverty, gender based violence, and broken justice systems. I knew I needed to do something, and that something needed to be hands-on volunteerism, not just writing a check. It began with writing a check, and I continue to do so, but the hands-on part has still eluded me. I knew I needed this, but life has been hard and time and resources are in pretty short supply. How could I find the time to meet all the commitments I had in life as well as serve others? I was worn thin, and my spiritual life was suffering. The Christian status quo wasn’t working for me.

As a teacher, the first week of summer break is reading week. I curl up and read. This summer, my book of choice was A Mile Wide: Trading a Shallow Religion for a Deeper Faith by Brandon Hatmaker. I read and cried. C.S. Lewis said that friends are made when one person says, “You too? I thought it was just me.” Brandon (I’m making us on a first name basis, because, you know, CS Lewis said we were) wrote:

“I don’t know how you interact with God or if you, like me, have been trying to force intimacy in a way that isn’t really you. But know this: he will meet you where you really are. He’s there in that simple, authentic, vulnerable place where your questions are hard and your words are unrehearsed . . . he’s waiting for you, to meet the real you among the muck and the mire.”

Yes! Yes, to all of that. I have tried to grow in my relationship with God by mimicking others who seemed to be doing it better, but whose path did not fit  my journey. For instance, the morning devotional time, sneaking out of bed before everyone else to have quiet time at “the foot of the cross.”  Not happening. I’ve tried it. I promise you, I don’t like anyone early in the morning, not even Jesus.

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So was this just another how-to-book, following another person’s 5 step plan to a deeper prayer life, a more faithful walk, and a better ministry? No. It was the answer to my question, “What am I missing?’ And while I haven’t had the chance to live out what Brandon offers as a solution, I am confident it is exactly right. The answer isn’t to learn more about living like Jesus or to be a better church goer. The answer is found in living a life like Christ and not Christians. The answer is not in more Bible studies, more prayer breakfasts, more outreach programs, or more serving the church. The answer is in less. The answer is in less of me and more of Jesus, less church programs and more relationships with “the least of these” and the nearest of these.  The answer is profound and perfect.

I know this book will change my life. I already feel the freedom.

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I RECEIVED AN ADVANCED READER’S COPY FROM THE PUBLISHER IN EXCHANGE FOR MY HONEST REVIEW. YOU CAN READ THAT REVIEW ON GOODREADS.
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Bible Study, Christian, writing

A Little Bible Math

Time for a little math. I have just completed writing out the book of Mathew. In my paper Bible the book of Matthew covers 32 pages out of a total of 1072 pages. The book of Matthew takes up 1/33.5 of the entire Bible. I filled up 1.5 composition books. Based on the current rate, it will take me approximately 51 composition books to complete this project. It took me 2.5 months.  It will take 84 months to complete or 7 years. Considering I chose a 5 year Bible reading plan that is 6 days a week and I intend to write 7 days a week, and I began this during the summer when theoretically I have significantly more free time, I would say I am going a lot slower than I would have expected.

The good news is that I intend to still be a Christian 7 years from now, so I’m sure I won’t mind taking that long. I definitely can find enough shelf space for 50 notebooks. I still hope to be more faithful in my study, and I suspect that the writing plan breaks the chapters up differently based n the book. Todays venture into 1 Samuel had me writing more than the typical day in Matthew. I like the focus on manageable pieces of the story rather than a set number of verses.

Small sustainable life changes are the best kind of changes. Slow and steady wins the race. Run the race with endurance.

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Bible Study, Christian

Writing the Bible: The first book

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Day 1: June 16- Mathew Chapter 1. By verse 3 I had already made a huge mistake and had to scribble out an entire line. Despite trying to highlight lines to keep on track, I skipped a line and started copying the next one. In some ways this eased the tension. Page one already had a mistake so there was no fear of getting 20 pages in and then “ruining” everything. Also, I realized quickly that I couldn’t write on the back of the pages. While I still don’t regret my choice in notebooks, I will go through twice as many notebooks as I initially thought as a result of single sided writing. I am already thinking of ideas for the backs.

I am aiming for complete accuracy. As I write I am reading the verse. Then I go back one or two verses as a time to check my work and make corrections if needed. Most often a mistake is a missed punctuation mark. Sometimes I need to insert or scratch out a word. Because I am working slowly I am thinking about each word and phrase. I am amazed at how many times in this first month that I have thought about verses in a new way or really  pondered the meaning of something. The Spirit has so much room to speak because I am not hindered by someone else’s interpretation of the text, and I am not going too quickly through the verse to just miss something.

Several days in I realized that the red-letter aspect of the text complicated things. I had always thought the red letter versions were highlighting the words of Christ or God, but in this particular version they are highlighting conversation. Anyone’s words can be highlighted. However, they are not always highlighted. When they are highlighted they are not in quotes and when they aren’t they are in quotes. Rather than appear to be grammatically incorrect I decided to make mine a red letter version. That meant adding a dry highlighter to my supplies. Now I am going back a third time at the end of each section and underlining the appropriate places. My underlining skills are similar to those of a preschooler, but I’m getting neater.

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The five year Bible reading plan that I found is for 6 days a week. Because each day of the week provided a different book to be reading, it provided a nice balance. The issue of juggling 6 (actually 7 active journals because  Psalms and Proverbs alternate in the same day of the week) made be opt out of that plan. I opted to do the plan 7 days a week, in part because I know myself. I miss days. I get busy and forgetful and a day or two or seven go by and I haven’t written anything. Another thing I decided, was that I wasn’t going to double up to make up for missed days. If it took me 6 or 7 years to finish the plan, then it took 6 or 7 years. This isn’t a race and there is no deadline. I am going to be reading and studying the Bible until the day I die, and if I die before I finish this up, I am certain that I won’t be upset. I also decided that I didn’t want to double up and then miss out on the meditative aspect of the process. If I was reading chunks that were too long, would I really be able to recall the passage and reflect on it throughout the day. I did occasionally break this rule. Most days I was writing 3-4 pages in my composition book, but some days I would find the schedule only giving me one. I did at times double up, but with care. I really appreciated the shorter passages in general, knowing that there would be times that I would only have enough time for 6 verses. I did decide to bust out a second consecutive journal and start working through Psalms as a book to work on those days in which the passage was short, rather than continue on in the book I was working on. I figured this would be less important on days I was in a gospel or epistle than those days in which I was copying genealogies or the law. A break from those things might be nicer.

So where am I? 6 weeks in and I am about half way through the book of Matthew. I am almost finished the first of my composition books. I am thinking I’m going to need a lotos composition books to complete this task. We have a small house, so this could be problematic from a storage perspective, but I really want to keep them all and end up with a full Bible. By the time I’m finished all of my kids will be off to college, so perhaps I can take up some of their closet space. The reality of this is that the final product isn’t the goal. If I threw each notebook out as I went along and only kept the check list that tells me what I’ve finished, that would be enough. But I’d really like to see what it all looks like together. I hope my husband agrees.

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Christian, ministry, women

Inclusion in the Church Age

The entire story of the Bible, for all nations and all people, heads toward an invitation to inclusion, not exclusion. – Sara Gaston Barton

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Separation

We don’t know how long it took for paradise to be ruined, but it happened with a single incident.  Between “It was very good” and “The Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden”, we find Adam and Eve eating from the only tree they were told to avoid. The intimate relationship that humanity had with God was broken. Separation occurred. The spoiled garden, filled with thorns, would ultimately spread its way across the globe. Our sin nature would come to taint every relationship and all things. Man and women, both created in the image of God, would now be mortal beings.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

Romans 5:12-14

Exclusion

And so from Adam to Moses, humanity existed on the spoken promise of God that redemption would come. Moses would literally set in stone God’s plan for the forgiveness of sins. One man chosen from the nation of Israel, the Tribe of Levi, the Family of Aaron, would be given the opportunity to enter into the Holy of Holies on a single day of the year, and offer sacrifices on behalf of the entire nation. Forgiveness was available, but the nation would be dependent on a single man to act on their behalf. It was systemic exclusion established by God for a period of time.

 

The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die.

Leviticus 16:2

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Redemption

The plan laid out by Moses was an incomplete foreshadowing of God’s perfect plan. Just as humanity experienced separation from God as the result of a single incident, so would God’s plan for redemption be fulfilled in one lavish act of love.  Christ would sacrifice himself in an act of total selfless obedience in order to break the bond of sin. What was broken in the Garden was made right on the cross. The second Adam restoring all that was lost by the first. Jesus would be the perfect high priest and the spotless sacrificial lamb. He would be the mediator between God and all people. (1 Tim. 2:5)

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”  1 Corinthians 15:21

Inclusion

It was finished. The earth shook, and the curtain tore from top to bottom. The barrier that had kept the people out was no more. No longer would the people need to wait for that one day of the year to have their sins forgiven. It was finished, complete. No more would people need to go through a priest to speak with God. Everyone was welcome: Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old. It is the very nature of God that all may come. This is the New Covenant, an age of inclusion which demonstrates the heart of God. It is a foreshadowing of still another age to come.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28

The Church Age

Since the dawn of the church age, Christians have been breaking down the barriers that excluded people. Throughout scripture we see numerous examples of Godly women in leadership positions. Jesus stirred things up when he ate with tax collectors and sinners. He elevated the status of women and children. The early church continued living out Jesus’ teaching with the inclusion of Gentiles and female leaders. It seems that everywhere the church spread, the status of women would be elevated from their current situation. Unfortunately, our modern society is unlikely to use the word inclusion to describe today’s Christian church. While some of the criticism of the church is the result of a culture that stands morally opposed to the teachings of scripture, we should take some time to reflect on areas where that is not the case. Are our churches welcoming places for everyone, where everyone has the opportunity to grow and serve within the church community equally? Have we imposed restrictions on half the body of Christ in an attempt to meet the letter of the law but have missed the nature of God found within the larger story of redemption? It’s important to consider the impact of implementing unnecessary limitations on not only girls and women, but on boys and men. Are we displaying a false picture of the gospel to the world? How much greater could our impact on the world be if we fully engaged the entirety of the body of Christ?

It’s time for all of us to do better.

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IN READING A WOMAN CALLED: PIECING TOGETHER THE MINISTRY PUZZLE BY SARA GASTON BARTON, I WRESTLED THROUGH MY OWN QUESTIONS ABOUT THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN CHURCH LEADERSHIP. HER INSIGHTS, PARTICULARLY FOUND IN CHAPTER 5, “PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER”, WITH ITS ILLUSTRATION OF THE TEARING OF THE TEMPLE CURTAIN WAS A TURNING POINT FOR ME.  
SARA, THANK YOU FOR THE COURAGE TO NOT ONLY LIVE YOUR STORY, BUT TO SHARE IT WITH OTHERS.

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Further Reading:

A Woman Called: Piecing Together the Ministry Puzzle  Barton, Sara Gaston (2012) Leafwood Publishers

“Who’s Who Among Biblical Women Leaders” by Rachel Held Evans

“Christianity: The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Women” by Sue Bohlin

women church

 

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