30 January 2012


My small group is reading through the Bible in one year. Although I'm really behind in my reading, I can't help but to keep returning to the story of Jacob's first encounter with Yahweh in Genesis 28:10-22.
Jacob is fleeing from his brother Esau and stumbles upon a "certain place." In other words, "no where in particular." He falls asleep and has this incredible dream in which Yahweh speaks directly to him. When Jacob wakes up from this monumental dream, he says, "Surely the Lord was in this place, and I was not aware of it."

God was there... and he didn't even know it.

This story is very countercultural for that day. Back then, you just didn't find God in the middle of nowhere. If you wanted to talk to a god back then, you went to the temple. Gods could not be reached beyond a temple because it was thought that that was their permanent dwelling place.

Yet here's a God who is not confined to the temple. He shows up off the beaten path in a place that doesn't even have name.

I can't help but to wonder how many times God is in my midst and I am completely unaware of it. I walk to school every morning without inviting Him to come walk with me. I sit down to eat lunch, oblivious that I just might have a lunch buddy with me. God is present in the everyday, often mundane, parts of my life, yet I am not aware.

I'm learning to cultivate a sense for God's presence and to invite him into my everyday activities. The God of the universe has chosen to dwell among a being as sinful and ungrateful as me. I want to join Jacob in exclaiming, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven!"

God is closer than I think.

20 January 2012

Trash Talking the Law

Recently, a video entitled "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus" has gone viral and sparked many discussions on Facebook. While I won't point out the many flaws in this video's theology (many others have undertaken this and done a fantastic job -- I don't have much more I could add), I was struck by the widely-held view about the nature of the [Old Testament] Law. Ever since I was a little girl, it was ingrained in me that the Law of the Old Testament is bad, but Jesus is good and replaced the Law. I was taught that the Law was bad because the Israelites thought that they could earn God's merit by upholding it. Instead, the Law brought death and self-righteousness.

This perspective completely disregards the greater witness of Scripture. This past semester, as I was studying John, I was really impacted by what the writer of John had to say about the Law:
"From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
- John 1:16-17
The word that the NIV chooses for "blessing" is the Greek word for "grace." In other words, this is saying that "From the fullness of [God's] grace we have received one grace after another." I think that we have often m
Linkade "grace" into an ambiguous "Christianize" word. What does "grace" even mean? (I griped a bit about this in this post.) At its core, "grace" means anything that is given. It implies "giftedness."
The author of John gives two examples of God's gifts: the Law through Moses and Truth through Jesus. The Law is not presented as something that was bad; it is presented as a gift from God.

A few weeks ago, my husband took me out to lunch at a really nice Asian restaurant. It was late in the afternoon and I was starting to become really hungry. As we were driving to the restaurant, I saw all these other restaurants and desperately wanted to stop anywhere to satisfy my stomach rumblings. In my mind, I developed a rating system of what restaurants sounded really good to me:



Red Robin


Bob Evans

Really Good



But then I got to P.F. Chang's and the food was sooo good. I was so glad that I had waited! The other restaurants could not compete with honey sesame chicken. Now, however, I had a dilemma. I couldn't rate P.F. Chang's fairly on the rating scale. Red Robin was rated much too high. I could rate P.F. Chang's as "really excellent," but that still would not do it justice. It would be too close in rating to Red Robin.

So, in order to fix my dilemma, I need to rate the other restaurants lower.



P.F. Chang’s

Super Excellent

Red Robin


Bob Evans




Do I really think that Fazoli's is "bad?" No, I would gladly eat there any day of the week. But now that I've tasted the awesomeness of P.F. Chang's even Fazoli's ravioli pales in comparison.

I think that this is what's going on for the New Testament writers. The Law was a beautiful thing to them. It was the revelation of God himself to his people. It was a wonderful gift. By following the Law very carefully, the Israelites were loving God the way they knew best.

But now God revealed himself through His Son Jesus. How could this even compete with God's revelation through the Law? This is why many of the New Testament writers (like Paul) seem to be "trash-talking" the Law. It was a wonderful grace, but it was nowhere near as special as the grace of Jesus.

I learning to think of the Law in the Old Testament much in the same way that the first recipients thought about it - as a grace. God loves us so much that he has given us "grace after grace."
Studying and mediating on the Law, even though it has been fulfilled (not annulled) through Jesus Christ is a way that I can reciprocate God's love and better appreciate his grace.

11 January 2012

"God's Will"

There's plenty of talk about "God's will." We have self-help books that contain the keys to "discerning God's will," as if it were some kind of secret knowledge that has already been determined. People interweave "God's will" into everyday conversations:
"But, only if it's God's will..."
"I trying to figure out God's will for my life..."
"I wonder if God wants this to happen?"

We've somehow conjectured the idea that God has only one plan scripted out for our life, and if we don't figure it out we'll fail.

Lately, even politicians have been joining in the conversation, claiming that it was God's will that they run for office. Jerry Falwell recently proclaimed that God revealed his presidential pick, as if only one [Republican, obviously] candidate can do God's will in office. Christian fans are proclaiming that it has been "God's will" for quarterback Tim Tebow to "miraculously" win football games as a testament to his outspoken Christian witness.

I think that we're a bit confused about the nature of God's will. I also think that determining God's will is a lot simpler than other people make it out to be.

One particular Scripture passage that we draw our theology of "God's will" from is Romans 12. Here, Paul discusses just how it is that the Roman Christians he is addressing can discern God’s will. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,” he writes, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (12:2). After our minds are transformed, we can understand God’s will. Unfortunately, many English translations do not accurately encompass the meaning of the latter half of 12:2. The NIV, for instance, translates the adjectives “good, pleasing, and perfect” as modifiers of “God’s will.” A better translation from the Greek reads as follows: “[…] so that you may be able to prove what God’s will is – that which is good, pleasing, and perfect.”



English translations (NIV, KJV, ASV, etc)

“God’s will is good, pleasing, and perfect.”


“God’s will is that which is good, pleasing, and perfect.”

Although these translation differences may be subtle, they make a significant difference in how we should understand the nature of God’s will. Are things “good” because God declares that they are “good?” Or can things be “good” in themselves, and God affirms and delights in their “goodness?” In light of Romans 12:2, the latter is the best understanding of God’s will. We can know that things are within God’s will for humankind and creation because they are in accordance with his goodness and perfection.

What is God's will for me? Pursuing a life that pursues God's goodness and God's perfection. Living a life that invites God's kingdom here on this earth, as it is in heaven.

May we continue to delight in God's goodness and seek to pursue it in all we do.

(p.s. Now you don't need to read any more self-help books. You're welcome.)

04 January 2012


It is refreshing to look on a new year as a chance for change. It's strange, really. There isn't too much that is different between December 31 and January 1, save for the exchange of a 1 for a 2 and a new calendar for the refrigerator. And yet, something about taking down the old calendar and putting up a new one gives us a sense of a fresh start.
As is the case with just about every new year, I find myself longing for a fresh start for my "spiritual life." I begin setting goals that are sure to whip me up into spiritual shape, much like a new diet or workout routine.

Whenever I look at my journal I panic when I see the large gap in entries, especially as of late. Sometimes I'm even tempted to catch up by fabricating entries (do I think that it will be handed in...?). I reflect on how regularly I've been reading my Bible and spending time in prayer. If I've been faithful for a few consecutive days I give my "spiritual life" a shiny sticker. If not, I feel guilty and resolve to try harder. I vow to follow a strict, rigorous routine that is sure to make me a holier person (or, at the very least, a good legalistic Christian).

I think that the Sunday school answers of "read your Bible" and "pray" have been so ingrained on me from an early age that I've become attuned to gauging the quality of my relationship with God on their frequency. I'm only starting to learn that these two disciplines are by no means indications of my "spiritual life." They are not the end result, but the means to the end.

Am I loving God more and more? Am I falling in love with his people? Am I becoming more gracious, more compassionate, more generous? Am I becoming the person God created me to be? These are the questions I need to be asking myself, not whether I following a set of tasks. While I definitely think that spiritual disciplines (reading Bible, prayer, solitude, journaling, fasting, etc.) are some of the vehicles by which we can cultivate a healthy spirituality, the accomplishment of these tasks are not the results we should be aiming for.

This year, I resolve to be less interested in the tasks I am accomplishing and more interested in the person I am becoming.