Monday, August 30, 2010

Asking the Wrong Questions

I took Greek in school, but I couldn't conjugate anything for you today and there are very few vocabulary words I could pull out of a line-up. I studied Paul's missionary journeys in school, but don't ask me off the top of my head to tell you whether Paul went to Laodicea or Ephesus first (I think it was Ephesus because that was on the coast vs Laodicea which is inland, but the point is I don't know for sure offhand). I took a course in undergraduate on Shakespeare's works, but don't ask me to explain the form of a sonnet to you - I don't remember.

Here's the point - the educational process is less about the facts and figures we learn and much more about learning how to learn and how to think clearly and well. Maybe this isn't true of all education - I'm fairly certain that doctors need to remember the anatomy they were taught in school without looking at a book, but you get the point.

And so, I'd like to offer one of my top 3 seminary take-aways that just might transform how you read and understand the Bible:
Don't ask the wrong questions.

You see, too often we read the Bible expecting the Bible to answer questions it wasn't written to answer. The Bible is not a history book. It wasn't written to provide an unbiased, detail-specific, geographically and chronologically accurate and cohesive history of the era in time it covers. Instead, it's a book about God, meant to explain who God is and how God works and who we are as God's people.

Let me get more specific, we can get very frustrated reading the Bible if we get hung up asking questions like, "Did Jesus overturn the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple in the beginning of his ministry or toward the end?" After all, John's Gospel has it happening early and the other gospels have it happening late. I could ask who's wrong and who's right, but that's the wrong question and it won't get me anywhere. A better question is, "Why did John choose to tell the story when he did?" or "What does it tell us about Jesus to see this story in this context?"

Here's another example: in Genesis 1 we read that God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them in 6 days and then He rested on the seventh day. We have and continue to debate this idea extensively in our culture - i.e. was it 7 24-hour periods, or is it a relative statement? is it literal or figurative? Does this disprove the theory of evolution? All of these are the wrong questions. A better question - what is Genesis 1 telling us about God? For starters, it's telling us that God created everything and everything God created was very good. You see, now we're getting somewhere.

It's so important to ask the right questions because if we spend too much time asking the wrong questions we either get frustrated and stop reading because we don't understand, or we decide the Bible must not be true because it can't answer the questions we want it to answer.

Next time you pick up your Bible, ask God to show you what it's teaching you about Him and who you are as His child. The Bible is God's gift given to us, it's a story of God's tireless and relentless pursuit of you and me, it's a story of Jesus offering us life that we don't deserve, it's a story of God choosing you and me - don't miss the chance to be amazed by asking the wrong questions.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Kiss Me

"An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips." Proverbs 24:26

Some kisses are awkward - like when you bump noses or suddenly remember you ate onions for lunch. Most kisses are awesome - they come from someone you love, they're a gesture of intimacy and love and warmth.

Both of those statements being true, I definitely agree with the Proverb above. Sometimes honesty is awkward, sometimes it's even painful, most times it's beautiful - always honesty is preferable.

Who do you need to be honest with today? Maybe you need to be honest with God about where you have or haven't been in relationship with Him. Maybe you need to be honest with your spouse about the thoughts and feelings you've been having and not sharing. Maybe you need to be honest with your kids about ways you've fallen short. Maybe you need to be honest with a co-worker, boss or someone who works for you. Maybe you need to be honest with yourself.

Whatever it is, be honest - and when you're done being honest, ask the person you were honest with if they enjoyed the kiss (haha, okay, maybe not, but it could be fun if it's your spouse :)

Monday, August 23, 2010

After the Message

Priscilla and Aquila – Acts 18

- Rome to Corinth to Ephesus

- sent out of Rome by Emperor Claudius when he expelled the Jews

- met Paul in Corinth and helped start the Corinthian church (all tentmakers, lived together for about a year and a half)

- went on and ended up in Ephesus where they helped lead that church, hosting the church often in their home

Taught Apollos who was an important preacher and evangelist in Ephesus

- could have shunned him as a false teacher, but they saw that he was earnest and genuine and instead found opportunity to guide him in the right direction

Risked their lives – may have cost them their business to host the church (Romans 16)

Obscure: not discovered or known about, not important or well known

Romans 16, roll call of the obscure

We live in a culture of rock stars, fighting obscuritywith youtube, 24/7 news channels (the airline guy who became a folk hero), blogs (there are blogs about becoming a better blogger and getting your blog noticed), twitter (game of how many followers, or minions I can collect), facebook

*everyone has become their own agent

Problem: we can get so caught up and spend so much time trying to look like something and never be anything

People who tweet all day about loving their spouse and loving Jesus – only problem is that love is a verb and if they had spent half the time they spent tweeting actually doing those things they might have some credibility

Not everyone could be Paul – in fact, Paul’s letters are often a testament to the fact that the hard work came when Paul left and people like Aquila and Priscilla were left to be faithful in a world that encouraged fulfillment

Kevin DeYoung:

“What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church — a multitude of faithful, risktaking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency. Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church.”

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he didn’t leave one – he left many, he left the church to continue his work, he asked us to be faithful – are we being faithful or are we trying to look faithful?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Something Personal

This is a break in our regularly scheduled programming...

Today, I want to talk about being a working mom. I suppose I can talk broadly about being a working parent and I'm sure much of what I have to say is applicable to both moms and dads, but I will also own "working mom" as my primary perspective and not generalize about how the guys probably feel. (you know you're in trouble when a blog post requires this much prep)

Anyway, being a working mom is not new for me. I have been a working mom since Jacob was 6 weeks old. In fact, I came back to work at 6 weeks because it was Holy Week and I couldn't imagine not being at church for the most important build-up to the biggest celebration of the year, which is obviously Easter. Now, let me be honest, while that was true and I had planned long before having Jake to be back that week, I didn't go back crying and weeping to leave my baby boy at home. I went back to work ecstatic to get out of the house, eager to be around adults and have a schedule and go to meetings and eat lunch instead of being lunch (okay, maybe that's too personal, but I'm being real here).

I wanted to work. I love what I do and I wake up every morning eager to do it. This isn't the right decision for everyone and I'm not writing this in any way to advocate for working moms over stay-at-home moms. This was and is the right decision for me and my family for right now.

That said, being a working mom gets harder all the time. I love Jake so much and he is growing so quickly and I don't want to miss anything. He is at an awesome stage of talking and learning and I even have trouble resisting the constant gleam of mischief in his eyes. It's also getting harder because Jacob is old enough to go to preschool two mornings a week and take swim lessons and do so much more. I want him to do all of those things, but that means balancing my job, Clark's job, Jake's activities, laundry, groceries, cooking, cleaning and so much more.

I know I'm not saying anything here that hasn't been said a thousand times by a thousand different people, but being a working mom is hard. I constantly feel as though I'm not doing anything in my life as well as I should or could. When I'm at work, I'm thinking about home. When I'm at home, I'm thinking about work. And often, my husband bears the brunt of my stressed out and harried existence - and yes, you guessed it, that means I now feel guilty about a third area of my life where I'm not doing nearly as well as I would like - the wife category.

And so, to update you on the tally, I'm now a less-than-perfect pastor, a less-than-perfect mom and a less-than-perfect wife - if I weren't somewhat of an optimist, that sentence would read "I'm a slightly-above-failing pastor, a slightly-above-failing mom and a slightly-above failing wife." And I haven't even mentioned yet how awesome I'm not doing at being a child of God and a follower of Jesus Christ.

Anybody feel me out there? Can I get a witness?

Here's the thing - we were lied to when we were told we could have it all. We bought into the lie when we decided we could have our cake and eat it too and then decided to ask for seconds.

So, where's the give? Awhile back, Andy Stanley wrote a book called "Choosing to Cheat" where he talks about this very dilemma. He says that there's a reality that we're going to have to cheat somewhere and when we do, we need to cheat in favor of our God and our families. I'm in a season of my life where I need to pick up the book again, and for those of you feeling the same way maybe you should to (if you can find the time).

We've built up expectations in our life of how we're supposed to be perfect at everything. Let me ruin the dream - it isn't going to happen. At some point, we have to decide what's important and where to draw some lines. And then we have to walk a grace-filled life. We need to receive grace and we need to give grace.

I don't have many answers - I'm a work in progress, but here's a prayer from one working mom to others who may need to use it today (it's short cause I know y'all don't have time :)

"Jesus, give me grace today for every time I've fallen short. Give me eyes to see the things I can do better and give me wisdom to see the things I need to let go. Show me Your way. Amen."

Monday, August 16, 2010

After the Message

Profiles of the Obscure: Epaphroditus

Kindergarten report card – what was your mark for “works well with others?”

In school the ‘others’ were classmates; in adulthood, the ‘others’ are co-workers, spouses and neighbors and dare we say, fellow church members

Are co-workers the people we compete with for the next promotion, people we gossip about, people we gossip with (usually about our boss and other co-workers) or are they people with a shared mission, a shared goal whom we work with and depend on?

Epaphroditus – Philippians 2:25-30 and 4:18

Paul calls him his co-worker – he came and worked alongside Paul, caring not about his own recognition, but focused on a shared mission and goal.

Do we depend on each other or do we put up with each other?

Work, Marriage, Church

John 17:20-23 – Jesus prayed for us to live in complete unity so that the world would know God’s love

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I Need a Place to Hide

I'm talking about the kind of place where I'm not going to run into anyone I know, the kind of place where no one is around so if I need to lay on my face in prayer, I can. If I need to pace or dance or play my music really loudly, I can. If I need to sing, no one else has to hear me. If I need to talk out loud to myself or to God, I can.

This feeling of needing to hide pops up more frequently these days. I suppose some of that has to do with parenthood - as any parent will tell you, there's no hiding with kids in the house. Even your morning shower is open to interruption once they're big enough to open doors on their own. I suppose another contributing factor is the heat of summer. When the weather is cooler, I like to work outside in parks and other places where you can find spots to be alone. Then, there's the leadership factor, i.e. the fact that there are always decisions to be made and almost never enough time to put the amount of thought, consideration and prayer the decision needs. E-mails come in, I hit reply. Situations happen, I react.

But let's be honest, the big reason I think the feeling comes with more frequency is self-imposed. I've chosen to roll with our culture and live in a way that opens and invites interruption 24/7. If someone sends me a message on facebook, my phone lights up. If I get a text it sounds an alert, and if I don't get it right away it sends another alert 5 minutes later. People know the church phone is my cell phone so if they don't get a call back quickly, they know it's not because I didn't get the message or at least see the missed call. So there's the guilt, the expectation and the constant contact. Most of the time, I thrive on this interaction. Sometimes, I need to hide.

I'm not meaning to complain. I sound like I'm complaining. Maybe I am complaining a little. But, what I'm trying to say is that I need a place to hide. I need some habits in my life to help me disconnect and get quiet enough to hear God. It might be a place, but it just as easily may be a discipline.

Any suggestions? How do you disconnect? Where do you go to rest?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Talking, Talking, Talking

I make a lot of mistakes, every day. Most of them have to do with opening my mouth too much and too soon. The Bible verse I struggle with most is James 1:19 where we're told to be slow to speak. I'm quick to speak. In fact, I'm fast to speak. I'm the fastest. If there were an Olympic gold medal to be had for opening your mouth quicker than everyone else, I would win it.

I do try. In fact, as a kid I use to pray that God would make me one of those quiet people that everyone likes who doesn't speak much but when they do everyone listens because they know it will be worth it. This wasn't just an occasional prayer. In junior high, every time we took communion and prayed at the altar, I would pray this prayer. Yes, I know there are much more important things to pray about, but in my junior high mind being likable topped the list.

I don't think there is such a thing as an unanswered prayer (despite Garth Brooks song). I think sometimes the answer is simply "no," or "wait," or "be patient." I've learned in years since that God most likely chuckled to Himself as I prayed those prayers, thinking "just wait to see what I'll do with your propensity to speak." I do believe God made me a talker and I do believe God is using my gift of gab for His glory and for His kingdom...just not all the time. Being called to speak does not equal being called to speak always.

And so I continue to pray for the patience and obedience to be slow to speak - not so that everyone likes me, I've given up on that. Rather, I pray that God will make me slow to speak so that I take time to listen to Him. I pray God will make me slow to speak so that I can hear what He's saying through the people around me. I pray God will make me slow to speak so I don't talk over Him as He's speaking into someone else's life.

I also pray that whenever I do speak it would be God-honoring, honest, sincere, gentle and in love.

How about you? Have you listened to God today or just talked to Him? Make time for both.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

"God is Still on the Throne"

Two years ago I was at a conference where Dave Ramsey made 10,000 people, including myself, stand and repeat those words. The economy was just starting to go downhill in a way people were feeling at home and Ramsey's message was one of faith and encouragement to remind us that nothing about our faith and our hope and our foundation has changed or been shaken.

I was reminded of those words this morning as I talked with several people, some looking for jobs, others fighting with teenagers and others trying to make difficult decisions.

It's so easy to feel defeated, let frustration win the day or allow stress to dominate our lifestyle, but truth is truth - God is still on the throne!

Our hope in this life and the next is sure in Jesus Christ and that's more security than anything in this world can ever give.

Monday, August 02, 2010

My two cents...

So, I would like to be the 1,000th person to blog/comment about author Anne Rice's recent departure from Christianity - you can read more about it here. If you're interested in comments from others that I appreciated you can check them out here and here.

In truth I don't want to talk about her decision specifically because, I'll be honest, I've never read any of her books and I didn't know anything about her other than her name before the recent news. So it's hardly in my place to comment on her life, her history and her motives. However, her departure and the attention it has received brings up an interesting point: It's in to bash Christianity, especially among people who call themselves followers of Christ. I've done it, I've supported those who've done it and I understand it completely.

As Christians, we've too often settled for being cultural Christians who take Jesus as a vaccine in order to avoid infection as people whose entire lives are changed and impassioned in a way that makes no logical, earthly sense. We've settled for wearing the t-shirts and putting fish on our cars instead of radically selling out in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ. Brennan Manning said it well when he said, "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable."

As a result of our sinful, selfish, judgmental living, we've given Christianity a bad name. And so, we have two options: ditch the name and separate ourselves from its failures; or fight hard to redeem it with faithful living.

The first option is obviously easier and I don't want to readily dismiss it. I was at a conference a few years ago where Andy Stanley, one of my pastor heroes, was speaking and he was asked a question about how to go about taking a traditional church stuck in some old ways and mindsets to a place of renewal and relevance. He said, "I don't know, I wouldn't be the one to do it." He went on to explain that while he didn't dismiss the work as necessary he would rather spend his time starting something new that has the opportunity to do so much more in a shorter time than spending years fighting for inches forward. I resonated with his response that day - might explain some of why I'm a church planter today.

The word Christian is not used in Scripture. So, it's tempting and maybe even useful to ditch the ill-fated, misperceived, confused, beaten-up moniker and move on.

On the other hand, if we just change names and don't fight the cultural Christianity that got us here, what have we really done? In other words, you can change the name, but it doesn't change the behavior. We could unanimously ditch the word "Christian" today and probably by tomorrow "Christ-follower" would be a bad word because all the former "Christians" would have adopted it.

For better or worse, when Jesus ascended to heaven, he asked us - the Church - to be His hands and feet in this world. Crazy, right? He asked us - a bunch of imperfect, sinful people to be His living, breathing letter of recommendation. We've messed it up - again and again and again - and yet God still calls us. It's a high calling and an almost impossible task, but who are we to question the living God? We have a lot of work to do to redeem a name we have dragged through the mud more times than we can count with judgmental and hypocritical living.

Good news - Jesus said He would help us. He said He would even send a helper, His Spirit to live in us and work through us. Maybe we should start leaning on that, throw away our safety nets and get dirty reclaiming the Church, whatever you want to call the people composing it. After all, Jesus called the Church His bride and died for it - it's worth our every effort.
After the Message

Yesterday we started our series on Profiles of the Obscure. We're taking it back old-school and learning about some of the people in the Bible we may have never heard about or talked about before. Highlight - getting everyone in the mood by singing "Father Abraham" with the motions - so wish I had that on film!

Our profile subject was Boaz whose story is found in the book of Ruth. He was the "kinsman-redeemer" who married Ruth and, through their son, continued the family line of her dead husband. Perhaps the most incredible thing about Boaz is not that he simply stood by his family and did what was right, but he went out of his way to do so. Ruth was not an Israelite - she didn't look right or talk right. She didn't know how to pray or how to worship. She was a foreigner, a member of a hated enemy of Israel. Yet Boaz redeemed her and welcomed her to the table. He praised her for her loyalty and her decision to follow the one true God.

Jesus did the same for us. He took us in - sinful, selfish, bruised and road weary - and gave us a new name. He redeemed us - bought us at a price.

What's your story of redemption? Have you shared it? Have you passed it on to someone else who needs to know they have a seat at the table and a Savior who wants to give them a new name and a new story?