13 December 2010

For Better... AND for Worse

Sometimes, life doesn't end up the way you want it to.

John was in prison. He had dangerously critiqued the political leader of the day and was shut up in prison. To top it all off, a threat of being decapitated loomed over his little cell. How was it that this was happening to him? Wouldn't everything be different now that the Messiah, the new, powerful conqueror, was finally here? Surely the Messiah's political coup and overturn of the throne would free John from his incarceration.

Just to make sure, John sent some of his students to ask Jesus about his situation in Luke 7:18-23. "Are you the one who was to come," they asked, "or should we expect someone else?" Jesus' response is strange:
"Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."

This little discourse is a quotation from prophecy about the coming Messiah (Isaiah 61). It is the same quotation that Jesus borrowed from when he began his ministry at the synagogue (Luke 4:17-19). This probably was not good news for John. While helping the poor and healing people was all well and good, when would Jesus assume the role of conquering king? Better yet, when would Jesus bust John out of prison?
Notice that Jesus leaves an action out of this quotation from Isaiah - When compared with the quotation from Luke 4, it is apparent that there is no mention of Jesus' freeing the captives this time. Jesus leaves out the segment that was relevant to John's situation.
This is a special rabbinical interpretation of a text. They would omit something to emphasize it. John would have been very familiar with this passage and would notice that this one phrase was missing. By omitting this idea, then, Jesus was communicating to John that he wouldn't be freed from prison. Jesus was not the political, conquering king that John thought he was. Jesus then encourages John not to fall away on account of his true identity.

Sometimes, following Jesus does not turn out the way we would like it to. We want the benefits without the sacrifice. Like John, we want a conquering king instead of a suffering Savior who calls us to die with him.

The truth is, you can't have the relationship without the sacrifice that comes with it. You either follow Christ with all your heart, for better AND (not "or") for worse, or you don't. Jesus said that some people will receive his message about the kingdom but then fall away when trouble and persecution comes (Matthew 13:20-21). But blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Christ's true nature and true calling to his disciples: devotion at all costs and in all circumstances.

21 November 2010

For God’s Sake, Think! – The Widow’s Two Coins

"Hermeneutics” is a fancy word to describe the process by which someone interprets the Bible. Every so often I blog about contexts behind certain biblical passages so that we can better understand God’s Word. I invite you to think critically about what the biblical writers are trying to communicate as I explain a passage’s background material.


Luke 21:1-4

1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

It has been many a time when a Christian organization has used the passage from Luke 21:1-4 to try to convince me to give to their cause. Jesus praised the widow for giving all that she had to the temple treasury, so shouldn’t you follow her example and give all you have to [insert organization]? While I certainly do think that giving is to be encouraged, I am very convinced that using this passage in such a way is unfaithful to its context. It is built upon a dangerous misunderstanding of the passage, resulting in spiritual manipulation (see 2 Cor. 9:7).

Part of the reason why a temple treasury was even collected was so that money could be dispersed to the poor and distressed social classes (widows, orphans) in the Jewish society. Somehow, the temple treasury was no longer meeting this need… In this story, not only is a widow poor and down to her last two coins, but the temple leaders required her to give to the treasury! She was supposed to be the one receiving from the fund, not the one giving to the fund. The system was corrupt and unjustly taking advantage of the poor rather than aiding the poor.

When Jesus compares the widow to the rich, he was not commending her for giving more than the rich because she gave all she had. He was commenting that she, in her poverty, should not have been the one giving to the treasury! It is for this reason that Jesus next predicts the complete destruction of the temple (21:5-6). The entire social system of Israel was corrupt, including the religious system. It was thus going to be destroyed, along with all of its unjust practices.

27 October 2010

Idealism - Good Thing?

"The need to perceive a deeper meaning for out lives is not just a midlife phenomenon. According to brain specialist Joseph Chilton Pierce, a brain spurt occurs in early adolescence related to the capacity for idealism. An adolescent's greatest developmental need is for adults whose model of a meaningful life encourages this idealism. If this capacity for idealism is not encouraged, the young person experiences profound frustration. Pierce suggests that our epidemic of teenage violence is a direct result of stunted brain growth and frustrated idealism caused by lack of meaning in the adult world that confuses them. When we move into adulthood without having discovered a deeper sense of meaning and purpose for our existence, our disillusionment can settle into a profound (and sometimes very subtle) cynicism and emotional detachment that are quite antithetical to the hope, passion and energy that are basic to our Christian faith."
- Barton, Sacred Rhythms - pg. 115

Does your life have meaning? Where do you find that meaning?

How are you modeling a meaningful life to those around you?

22 October 2010

Salt Isn't Very Tasty...

The indoor soccer team I joined last night won our game 7-6. In many way, though, we lost.

It had been a while since I'd been in a un-Christian sports environment. Playing intermurals at my Christian undergrad was, in many ways, an illusion to the real world where players cuss and fight among each other, occasionally threatening the referee. I hadn't experienced this since I was in high school and assumed that guys would mature by the time they were this age. Apparently not. As discouraging and even saddening as it was, though, it was quite refreshing. It was like I was meant to be there.

Christians are called to be the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13). This image of "salt" is often misunderstood. I've always been taught that Jesus was trying to make a statement about how Christians are supposed to "make the world taste better" by sprinkling their Christian-ize everywhere they go. If we're going to be completely honest, the Christian life is by no means "tasty." How is loving your enemies appealing? How about turning the other cheek? Such signs of "weakness" are in no ways attractive.
Before Christ ruined my life, I would consider actions such as retaliation and revenge very tasty. Perhaps even spicey.

Luke gives us a better idea about Jesus meant here:
Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, now can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out (14:34).
In first century Israel, salt was used to break up manure. It was thrown into nasty, smelly areas in order to decompose waste faster. This makes better sense with why Jesus parallels salt with light in Matthew 5:13-16. Both are symbols of how Christians are meant to expel evil from the world.

I think that too often we are hesitant to enter into dark, ugly and messy places because we are afraid that we will lose our "saltiness." We're fearful that the bad will influence us. Or perhaps we just use all of this as an excuse not to go outside of our comfortable Christian walls. Either way, regardless of whether we "save" ourselves by hiding or become too entangled with the world, we are going to become unsalty. Salt is only salty when it is used.

We are meant to be in the world, breaking apart spiritual strongholds, tearing down oppressive infrastructures, dethroning antichrists. When Jesus prayed for his followers, he asked that they would not be taken out of the world. He prayed that they would be protected from evil while serving in the world (John 17:15).

It was amazing what a few kind words at the game last night could do. A quick "thank you" was like water on a dry ground to the referee. I stuck out like a sore thumb because I didn't cuss out someone else who had "wronged" me. Salt is really salty when mixed in with very unsalty things.

I encourage you to dare to journey into messy places and share Christ by breaking something apart.

16 September 2010

Blessed to Bless

Last night, just before going to bed, I reflected on all of the good things in my life and was moved to the point of tears. In just that day alone I had enjoyed the company of good friends, an energizing run outside amidst breathtaking nature, the technology that enables me to enjoy beauty, the supplies that permit me to create art in my own little studio, various devices that serve to entertain, soft chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven, a loving husband who deeply cares for me...

I always feel very apprehensive about saying that all these wonderful things in my life that I have the pleasure of enjoying are because "God is good to me" or because "God has greatly blessed me." Don't get me wrong. I sincerely do believe that God is a GREAT God and that I am blessed beyond understanding. But saying these things makes me think about people who do not have access to beauty and wonderment and entertainment. People who do not even have access to food, clean water, or the leisure of wearing a new pair of clothes every day. If I say that all these good things in my life are a product of God's goodness, what does that mean in other people's contexts? That God is not as good to them? That God has not blessed them nearly as much as He as blessed me?

Where do we get the idea that "God will always provide?" What about that starving orphan living in Mongolia who dies before the age of 12? God didn't provide for him. Why should God provide the jobs we need here in the US, or the new washing machine to replace the one that just broke down, or the money to "live comfortably" when He doesn't provide for people who are desperately just trying to survive?

Why was I born in America, where I have been blessed my socks off?

I ask a lot of questions, ones that I'm not sure that there are any answers to. At the same time, I think that it's very important that I ask these questions.

For reason that we don't know, we have so much in our lives that have come to us by no merit of our own. Has God blessed us? Tremendously. Does that mean that He has chosen not to bless others? Perhaps it better means that God has chosen to bless others through our well being. Those He blesses are the instruments by which He strives to bless others.

God does not desire us to be tight-fisted people who hold on to all of our good things. May we extend our hands to others so that God can be known as a good God everywhere.

"Yet You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel."
- Psalm 22:3

05 September 2010

Every Action Has an Equal and Opposite Reaction

A few weeks ago I received a cute little fortune with my Chinese takeout:

"Do what you wish, as long as it does not harm anyone."

It's not much of a fortune, much less good advice. Yet, this seems to be this hedonistic philosophy behind much of our American lifestyle. A friend on Facebook recently posted a rant about how no one should tell her what to do because she is her own person and can do whatever she wanted.

Something I am still in the process of learning is that life isn't about you and what you want to do. I am not the most important person in this world, or even my own world. Every decision you make affects someone else.

Perhaps, then, others can tell you how to live.

Or Someone who knows it best.

12 August 2010

Self[ish] Thoughts

In a few short weeks I will be beginning my classes at seminary. From working on-campus this summer I've received many of those get-to-know-you questions, like "Where are you from?", "What are you studying?", or my personal favorite, "What do you want to do with that?"

Let me fill you in on my answers: "I just graduated from Mount Vernon Nazarene University and am continuing to further my education in Biblical studies. I hope to become a Bible professor someday."

This time of transition in my life has forced to carefully rethink my life's goals (which, I believe, are in line with God's... Not that I think that He has my life written out for me, but that's an entirely different topic for another blog post). What if the main reason why I want to become a professor is because of the authority I will acquire or the respect I will gain?

In the beautiful memoir In the Name of Jesus, Roman Catholic priest Henri Nouwen recounts his experience of living among mentally handicapped people.
"[...] Their liking or disliking me had absolutely nothing to do with any of the many useful things I had done until then. Since nobody could read my books, the books could not impress anyone, and since most of them never went to school, my twenty years at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard did not provide a significant introduction. My considerable ecumenical experience proved even less valuable."
What if, like Nouwen, I am somewhere down the road called to an area of ministry where I have no job title or status? Would I be ok with that?

The truth is, whether we are in full-time ministry or are simply full-time disciples, nothing we do in life should be for the edification of ourselves. Not accumulating money, not being famous, not being on the honor roll, not getting the next best position, not climbing the corporate ladder.

If we're trying to climb the ladder, we're going to miss Jesus, because He is climbing down it.

Jesus, equal with God, made Himself nothing (Philippians 2:5-11). We Greek nerds have a word for this: kenosis, or "emptying." Whereas Jesus made Himself nothing, we try to make ourselves something. When Jesus calls us to be His followers, He calls us to mimic this same lifestyle. To come and die.

Abba, teach me what it means to continue to die to myself, for it is only in dying that I am reborn. I am no longer my own but Yours. Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be empty, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to Your disposal.


Art Journal - Mom

19 July 2010

Art Journal - The Rain Subsides

Every good and perfect gift is from above.
- James 1:17

03 July 2010

The Want-O-Meter

I have this thing I like to call a "wanter." When I was little, I wanted a contraption called a "Skip It." My friend down the street had one, and I told my parents that I wouldn't want anything else if they got it for me for my birthday. Never ever.
So they got me the Skip It and to this day I have never wanted another thing.

If only that were the case.

I've wanted super soakers and art supplies and tapes and cds and G.I. Jane's and Play Doh and Polly Pockets and clothes...
Today I could probably come up with a list of dozens of things that I desire. Lately it seems like my "wanter" is getting a little out of control. I want more money so that I can add more things to my already existing pile of things.
There will never be too many things produced for our "wanters."
Our culture seems to be obsessed with this never ending cycle of spending money on the newest gadget. Sometimes even more money than we have (!). I think that the way we handle our finances can be one of the biggest spiritual transformations.

After David makes plan for the Temple, he erupts into a beautiful prayer:
But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.
Should we tithe net or gross? What is the least amount of money that we can give without making God angry? David doesn't even think about these questions. David understood that financial blessing was a chance to in turn be a blessing. "Who am I that I can be generous? I want to build your kingdom, not my kingdom."

I am convinced that God has financially blessed me so that I can bless others. Why was I born in such an affluent country? Family?
Even though I feel very strongly about this, however, my want meter sometimes fights for control. It's so easy to say that I want to honor God by giving generously but then become infatuated with getting the next new thing.
Abba, purge me of my consumerism and help me to view money through Your eyes... Your Kingdom come and Your will be done through my financial decisions.

29 June 2010

Art Journal - Telephone

And text messages don't count.

10 June 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing?

In one of the three books I've read within the last three days, a girl named Tibby finds herself working at a movie theater and contemplates the following:

She didn't used to fall asleep in movies. But working in a theater could do that to you. Once she'd taken the tickets for the four 0'clock show and made sure everyone was in their seats and vacuumed the lobby, she was allowed to watch. That was the whole reason she'd asked for Margaret's help to get her this job.
But now she'd seen The Actress fourteen times. The first three or four were pretty good. But slowly after that, the suspense drained out of the suspense. The spontaneity of the love affair shriveled to nothing. By the fourteenth time... well, she feel asleep.

As a lifelong movie lover, it was sad, in a way, for her to watch the magic of the illusion dry up like a piece of macaroni left overnight in her little sister's booster seat. It made Tibby feel dull and flat. And watching the excitement on the faces of the audience just made her feel worse. She knew that every audience member was taken in by the big sweeping climax, with the cellos and violins and gigantic close-ups of earnest, rapturous faces. They felt it was all happening magically and powerfully for them alone.
Tibby had gotten accepted to the film program at NYU. She was about to spend four years learning how to make films. She's thought it was what she wanted more than anything. But now Tibby was beginning to wonder.

She imagined, depressingly, what it must feel like to be a wedding officiator or a doctor who delivered babies. You'd watch these people in the middle of their personal wonders, imagining for themselves a pure, unique once-in-a-lifetime experience. And then an hour or two later you'd watch somebody else do the same thing. What they thought were miracles were your breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
It was sad that what you once thought were marvels on the screen were really manipulations. What you thought was art was just some gimmicky formula.

What happens when the thing you devoted your life to begins sucking the life out of you?

05 April 2010

We Are Weird

I have forgotten how weird Jesus' death and resurrection really is.

On Saturday I volunteered to help out with the annual Easter egg hunt that my church hosts for the Powell community. Before the kids were let loose to devour the thousands of eggs scattered on the church property they listened as a children's pastor presented the Easter story to them.

Maybe it was because of how simple the pastor told the story. She told the very basics so that the kids could understand things like "sin" and "crucifixion." Whatever the reason was, I suddenly felt like I was hearing this story from a non-believer's perspective. I was suddenly in the parent's heads. Man, do we Christians believe some really weird things:
God had a Son whom he sent on a suicide mission to save humans from all their evil deeds. After Jesus died and rotted in his grave for 3 days his body disappeared. Some said that his disciples stole his body, but they claimed that he came back to life and appeared to them. Jesus then returned to his mothership.


This story is ridiculous. It sounds like a crazy fairytale that is even weirder than the Easter bunny. How can we believe such an incredulous tale?

And yet I find myself having to believe this. For reasons I cannot explain, I am compelled to believe that there is a God loves people so much that he is willing to do whatever it takes to be with them. No scientific fact or even Christian apologetic can ultimately prove or find reason in this story.
This story is ridiculous, but it is also powerful. It is crazy, but foolish things shame the wise. It is weird, but full of beauty.

I can give no other explanation as to why I still believe this story other than the fact that He lives in me.

"This is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us."
- I John 3:24

19 March 2010

Be Still

There is a contemplative in all of us,
Almost strangled but still alive,
Who craves quiet enjoyment of the now,
And longs to touch the seamless garment of silence
Which makes whole.
- Alan P. Tory

Today I came across my journal. It was buried under books and paper in my nightstand drawer, untouched for months. I used to write in this journal religiously. I recorded all my thoughts and aspirations, ponderings and emotions. I didn't even know that it was lost until I found it.

Recently I have felt as if I do not know myself. This is a strange thing for me, because I've always been very good as listening to myself and figuring out what/why I'm thinking and feeling. My top muiltiple intelligence assessment is even intrapersonal, or "self-smart."

It seems like every single time I sit still enough to reflect my mind does nothing but sit still. It's running at 100 mph, reminding me that I need to get this done, or remember to tell so and so this, or attempting to recollect the Hebrew vocabulary words I need to know for the quiz this week. I may seem serene and collected on the outside, but I frequently feel in turmoil on the inside.

I've read somewhere that it becomes harder to think critically about life and faith as you get older. A person may have been deeply reflective in college but do not seem to find the time to continue this practice as adults (Steele - One the Way 160)There are now bills to pay, chores to complete, and social expectations to uphold. It's hard to know what's going on in your soul when there is never-ending homework to complete, dinner to cook, and a spouse to communicate with.

Isn't it amazing how many people never listen to their own souls and never sit in silence with themselves? Isn't it amazing how many people need to have their TV or radio on? Silence can be scary. It forces us to be still and listen to what's going on.

I encourage you to join me today by turning off your iPod, putting aside your homework/chores/work and just being quiet for a little while. Stop, rest, and be still before God.

Maybe finding yourself again will show just how lost you really were.

12 February 2010


There are two cats howling outside my window. They were so loud I thought that they were some breed of hound dog at first. I wanted to go out to investigate but got a sudden fear of rabies. I instead chose the safe side and looked up what is called "feline vocalization" on Google.
Cats, for whatever reason, cry and whine really loudly when they are in distress or grieving. The hurting cat outside my window has a friend huddled with him in the bush, shielding themselves against the cold. Whenever his cry crescendos, the other cat joins in. Their constant howling made me want to run outside to scare them away at first. After putting on my coat, I got this sudden feeling like I would be intruding on something sacred. As much as I hate cats, their meowing in unison has a sense of comfort. It is almost as if they are grieving together.

It is an understatement to say that Job was grieving after all he knew and possessed was taken away from him. The Hebrew word nud describes his reaction-- swaying back and forth, nodding his head, much like we see today with trauma victims. Job's friends come along and are so filled with compassion and grief for their friend that they sit next to him in silence. For seven days.
Imagine sitting with someone for seven days. Job's friends reaction was brilliant. It was a gift. It was so powerful, in fact, that the Jewish people adopted it as a grieving practice. To this day many Jews will perform the practice of shiva (literally, "sitting seven") and mourn with their loved ones for a period of a week.

Job needed this kind of support from his friends. But after the seven days were over his friends finally opened their mouths and talked -- a lot. They did so much talking that the book of Job is filled primarily of their speeches. They also got in trouble for it.

What does it look like for us to practice shiva today? What would happen if we avoided empty words of comfort and simply strove to listen and grieve with those who are hurting?

Just yesterday my husband practiced shiva. We were checking out at Odd Lots when Aaron looked up at the cashier, studied her face, and sincerely asked how she was feeling. What followed surprised me. With tears in her eyes, she explained that her sister was in the hospital dying and probably wouldn't make it until the end of the week. Turning to me, she commented that it felt like Aaron knew something was wrong. He seemed to be able to see right through her. She could see it in his face.

Shiva happens when we make ourselves available. It occurs when, instead of the casual "How are you?", we look in a person's eyes and ask them how they are really doing. It happens when we are intentional about making people, even cashiers at Odd Lots, a priority. This makes me uncomfortable. I see someone crying by themselves on my college campus and want to do something about it, but wimp out. I fear what they will think of me. I fear that I won't know what to say. I get uncomfortable thinking that I'll be making them uncomfortable.
In Romans 12:15, Paul simply says to mourn with those who mourn. He doesn't tell us to give a theological answer as to why that person is suffering. He doesn't tell us to say that everything is going to be ok. We don't have to have all the answers or worry that what we are doing is "weird." God uses uncomfortable situations like these to meet with people. All we have to do is be.

Maybe, just maybe, the best way to communicate God's presence and love to someone who is hurting is by simply sitting with them, being quiet, and meowing in unison.

09 February 2010

Judgmental Conditioning

"In our national surveys we found the three most common perceptions of present-day Christianity are antihomosexual (an image held by 91 percent of young non-Christians), judgmental (87 percent), and hypocritical (85 percent). These 'big three' are followed by the following negative perceptions, embraced by the majority of young adults: old-fashioned, too involved in politics, out of touch with reality, insensitive to others, boring, not accepting of other faiths, and confusing. [...] This is what a new generation really thinks about Christianity" (Kinnaman - UnChristian, pg 27).

And so pattern many of the other books I have been reading lately.

None of these perceptions are new. Nonchristians and Christians alike know these things. Problems is (well, a good problem), I do not know very many (if any) Christians like this. Perhaps that is because I am a religion major on a Christian college campus. I still would like to believe that the majority of Christians do not match up with these perceptions. Where do people get all of these ideas? The media? What other people say? Personal experiences? Why do they assume that all Christians are like this? You don't have a bad experience with one (or even a few) Russians and assume that all Russians are bad. Today we would call that "discrimination." Why do we generalize all Christians?

Here's the irony: These books are critiquing Christians for being judgmental, which in turn is making me judgmental toward Christians. I am tired of being angry and critical of other believers. I am tired of thinking of myself as more "righteous" because I am not like those judgmental Christians. Sometimes I think I may have been taught to be more judgmental toward my own family than unchurched people are.

Can I please read something positive? Hear some good things that Christians are doing? Please?

11 January 2010

Divisions in the Church (that Paul did not address)...

Theology is not a private reserve of theologians. It is not a private affair for professors... Nor is it a private affair for pastors... Theology is a matter for the church. It does not get on well without professors and pastors. But its problem, the purity of the church's service, is put to the whole church. The term 'laity' is one of the worst in the vocabulary of religion and ought to be banished from Christian conversation.

- Karl Barth, Theologische Fragen and Antworten

It is safe to say that unbalanced notions about either clergy or laity are due to unbalanced notions of the Church. Indeed, to be more precise, too low a view of laity is due to too high a view of clergy, and too high a view of clergy is due to too low a view of the Church.

- John Stott, One People

What do you think are the main points these theologians are trying to make? What are the dangers when there is dividing line between "laity" (ministers, pastors, missionaries, theologians, etc.) and "clergy" (everyone else)? Is the Western church still stuck in Gnosticism, where worldly things (ie - eating, working, playing, buying, selling) and bodily nature are a "lower level" than the spiritual?

More thoughts on these topics later...

09 January 2010

Lead me to Your heart.