Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Empty Vessel

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all [believers].

~ Ephesians 4:1-6 [note added]

You’ve likely seen the shirt, or bumper sticker, or status update: “Jesus hates religion, too.”  It’s the post-modern anthem for the Evangelical’s idea of Luther-esque freedom.  Let’s throw out rigid adherences, toss away antiquated practices, and dispose of the “old” way of doing things.  Let’s take a sledgehammer to the pipe organ, set fire to the pulpit, and never, ever, ever say anything that looks like rote prayer.  In fact, if you mention denominations that have even the slightest liturgical flavor, you must do so with a look of puckered disdain, all sour and “we-know-better.”

But this trite dismissal of all things religious leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.  I have to ask, does He really?

I know the common response, when looking for Christ’s example of anti-religious sentiment is His attitude towards and reaction to the Pharisees.  However, I have to note, that Jesus did not roundly renounce the Jewish faith.  Not once did He utter any anti-Semitic pronouncements.  Rather, He calls into question the state of the hearts of the individuals in leadership.  In fact, His ministry centered on reaching the most religious people of His time: the Jews, the remnant of God’s first covenant with humanity; though He knew they would reject him.  And let’s not forget that the foundation of their religious practice was instituted and directed by YHWH Himself.

And isn’t that wasn’t wrong with our religious institutions today?  People.  Our junked up, fallen way of dealing with others, with God’s word, with trying [and inevitably failing] to be God’s emissaries to the lost, the broken, and, frankly, each other.  It’s what the Pharisees were supposed to be.  It what we, the “un-religious” Church, are supposed to be.  Not anti-religion, but pro-relationship.  The two are NOT mutually exclusive.

So if nothing else, I take offense at the misuse of the word.  Much like there is a marked difference between schizophrenia and multiple-personality disorder (another pet peeve), the presence of religion does not immediately equate the absence of Christ.  Simply because someone practices an older, more liturgical brand of faith does not make them an empty vessel; they are not one who has no relationship with Christ, only hollow practices and numerous restrictions.  Frankly, we can not see the state of their hearts, what’s inside their jar of clay.  Only God can; and therefore, it is not our place to play judge.  By definition, religion is: the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance (3) a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practice.

“Service and worship of God,” isn’t that what we do?  Is that what we’re called to?  Isn’t that who we, as Christ’s body, are?

Which means I have a bit of a shock for my fellow non-denomers: by definition, WE ARE RELIGIOUS.  But don’t dismay, that’s as it should be.  Which brings us to another potentially uncomfortable truth: as the body, we are to live in harmony with other believers, even [or especially] our liturgical, “religious” brethren.  In fact, so long as the religious “they” holds fast to the truth of the gospel, we are told in no uncertain terms to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.  Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” [1 Peter 2:1-3].  That means we don’t talk badly about other denominations, we don’t react poorly to their various spiritual disciplines, and we treat all members of the body of Christ as He does: with tenderness and love.

So the next time you or I see that tag line, let’s remember, Jesus was religious.  He wasn’t disparaging, malicious, or slanderous.  Let us strive, within the appropriate boundaries of the gospel, to be harmonious, peaceful, and loving.  That, and not denominational disputes, is what the world needs from us.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

~ Romans 15:5-6

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Is there Separation?

Here's something I've never done before:  A guest author.

I found this recent post on a widely popular social networking site, and after reading it, had to share.  [And yes, the guest author is my very own husband, Anthony Baros.  Nepotism?  Yes, but it's my blog, which makes it my prerogative.]  Let's see if anyone's listening...

The following posting is in response to a recent article posted on titled: $1K Offered to Find "Separation of Church and State."*

Actually, the phrase "separation of church and state" is not found in the constitution and was made popular by Thomas Jefferson in 1802, in a letter to the Danbruy Baptist Association "believing with you that religion is a matter which lies... solely between man and his god, [the people, in the 1st Amendment,] declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state." What the 1st Amendment says is "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech..." Separation of church and state as it was intended was to prohibit the national government from establishing and mandating a national religion, like the Church of England, but believed that each person should be free to choose.

A person's moral standards always play a part in lawmaking and the creation of laws. It is not Christianity that enacts these laws, but it is the elected officials of the United States that propose and pass the laws that govern our country. Lawmakers are elected by the people, many, if not most, of whom do vote based upon their personal moral standard.

In recent litigation and law making, there have not been any attempts restrict a person’s freedom to not believe or to make people go to "church." There are no restrictions of freedom for what you believe or choose not to believe. A person will not get ticket, thrown in prison, not allowed to work, have to pay higher taxes, get kicked out of school, etc. because they don't go to church. I would argue that the opposite has taken place and there have been numerous attempts to limit a persons freedom and expression of religion; for example, the debates of the phrase "one nation under God" (Elk Grove v Newdow), decisions about prayer in schools (Santa Fe Independent School District v Doe), ability of Christians clubs to use school facilities with equal access as other groups (Good News Club v Milford Central School).

We are to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Each person has a right to choose. Each person is free to choose what they believe, even if that is not to believe in anything (that is still a belief). Each person has the freedom to choose not to pray or take part in the prayer. Each person can choose not to stand for the pledge or to stand and say the pledge of allegiance. However, in these debates and discussions about issues, we should be informed and knowledgeable about the foundation of our arguments, and not just assume they are correct, like the assumption that the exact phrase "separation of church and state" is in the US Constitution.

*to read the related article, go to:

Friday, October 1, 2010




What’s the first thing that comes to mind with these words?  For me, it’s stuffy old men in starched white collars and traditional all black attire.  Gigantic King James Bibles, overstuffed leather armchairs, solemnity, severity.  Aloofness.  Almost a holy distance from reality and the people who inhabit it.

May I admit that I’ve had a love/hate/scared-out-of-my-mind/love relationship with the idea of seminary?  When I first came to faith, anyone who had more time in the faith, and certainly anyone who had devoted their life to studying God’s word, was in my mind far superior in spirituality than I.  Frankly, this was true to a degree.  I was an infant, and they [whoever they were] had more experience with God, more maturity than I.  These people, with their formal religious training, were untouchable. Pious and righteous in ways I didn’t think applied to me; and I admired them from a distance.  This was the case for quite some time.  But as I grew in my faith and matured a bit, I began to realize that the same Holy Spirit who indwells the Billy Grahams and Beth Moores of my time also indwells me.  It was then that I wondered at the need for seminary.  I even scoffed at it for a period (yes, I was anti-seminary for a while), feeling that those who undertook this type of training were puffed up and rigid in their thinking.  Yet, after a measure of time and certain events too lengthy to relate here, my husband decided to go.  He loved it; he couldn’t stop talking about all that he was learning.  And honestly, these discussions reshaped my faith quite a bit.  I let go of prejudices, opened my heart to different ways of spiritual growth, revamped my study techniques, and even started reading his textbooks and listening to lectures for fun.  I eventually audited a class and couldn’t get enough.  In the end, I loved it.

During this time, I was given the opportunity to revise a curriculum that is close to my heart [a work that is still in progress].  At first, I was obstinate [a familiar theme, no?], it was a scripture based work that, frankly, worked.  But I started trying to modify it to fit the parameters I thought I’d been given. I met with individuals I greatly admire to get their take on it.  And one day, as I was plugging away, the severity of what I was trying to do accosted me.  This was God’s word that I was attempting to use for a specific purpose.  What if I got it wrong?  What devastation could follow?  My work ground to a halt.  I was petrified of inadvertently hurting someone with my inaccurate, inexperienced use of the sword of the Spirit.

That’s when it dawned on me: I don’t need theological education for my personal study.  But if I ever want to apply God’s word to other people’s lives, I’d better know for certain what I’m doing.  Much like training for battle, anyone can pick up a sword and learn to use it on their own.  But on the battlefield, if my only tactic is to wildly flail about, I will eventually wound my brethren.  To fight or lead effectively requires training.  Such training can come from multiple different sources: a seasoned warrior [mentor], a group of soldiers further along than I, or a school which specializes in technical training.

I picked all three.

At the inception of my training, I was strongly admonished by a dear professor regarding the extreme importance of using God’s word accurately, appropriately, and for His glory.  It was during this particular lecture that I slunk down in my chair, feeling the weight of her words on my chest.  I don’t really want that responsibility.  I’m afraid of it.

So do I now think that seminary [the specialized training to which I am subjected myself] will launch me into superior knowledge of the scriptures and God?  Hardly.  I will merely train with new [to me] tools and gain experience in the life of a follower of Christ.  I will be stretched and challenged by life-long teachers; encouraged and strengthened by the faith and insight and testimony of fellow students.  Hopefully through this process, I am better able to recognize my presuppositions and mistakes; and quicker to revised and correct them.  I pray that I leave more humble than I came in; knowing a bit more [while realizing how little that “more” really is] of our unknowable God.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Just 2 inches deep

On somewhat of a whim, we decided to pull up our front lawn [composed mainly of: creeping vines, crabgrass, and dandelions] this weekend and replace it with new sod.  We were weary of fighting a loosing battle with weeds and thought a fresh start would be best.  So, we bought the sod, [to be delivered later today], tore up the existing “grass” and began prepping the ground for the new.  Sadly, we discovered that originally our soil had been poorly prepped, if at all.  A mere two inches down, the roots stopped; because the ground had not been prepared, not loosened, not even broken.  It looked like the crews had come along and slappdc down the rolls of sod on top of whatever was already there.  We found more discarded construction material than not, and little [if any] soil enhancers.  Needless to say, we finally understood why our yard has been such an uphill battle these past few years.  Our grass was only two inches deep, and everything that lay under those two inches, or that could penetrate that depth, was taking over.

After digging and hauling and raking the results of shoddy lawn prep, this Sunday I heard a teaching about 2-inch deep spirituality [I love how God uses visual metaphors with me].  Our teacher was trekking through chapter seven of Ecclesiastes and noted that oftentimes we are the fools who prefer the vanity of laughter, which is like the crackling of thorns in the fire, to a wise man’s rebuke [vs. 5-6].  He noted that we would rather pretend that we’re okay, that we’re not going through struggles, than be vulnerable and admit it.  Or to even ask for help.  This teacher noted that we, as a Church [big C], don our plastic smiles and “everything’s-peachy-keen” attitudes when around others and try to hide what’s really going on behind closed doors, in our own hearts.  Because it’s the outward appearance that we’re striving for, not genuine transformation.

When we allow ourselves to be these plastic people, our relationships and spirituality become much like my lawn.  At first blush it’s green [we even had people driving by pull over to ask why we were tearing it out]; and our lives, at least to those on the outside, are nice and tidy.  But little by little, the creeping vines and dandelions and crab grasses start popping up.  Christ warned us of this, of the state of our hearts, when he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." [Mark 7:20-2].

Initially, there were only a few weeds, and we were able to control them by pulling them out; much like the darkness in our lives, we treat the external symptoms by trying harder at being good enough, at not letting the ugly parts of ourselves show through.  Then there were more, so we resorted to specific chemicals [retreats] and fertilizers [Bible studies] to feed the grass that was left.  It is like still striving under our own power, not really letting anyone in to see the problem underneath, just treating the symptoms.  But in the end, there were too many weeds, their roots were deeper, and they simply overwhelmed the tenuous hold the fescue had on that plot of land.  And if we, as followers, continue in this course our spirituality, our relationships, even our testimonies will mirror my lawn: choked by weeds, slowly dying, hopeless.

But if we give up our plastic selves, turn these masks over to God, we will be a new creation in Him.  He will till the ground, so our roots may deepen. He will remove what defiles us, if we let Him.  He will change us, and transform those with whom we share this remarkable journey.

The Psalmist marks just this [Psalm 119:25-3]:


My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!
When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes!
Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!

Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law!
I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.
I cling to your testimonies, O LORD; let me not be put to shame!
I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!

We cling to that which is useless, our strivings and appearances.  It is dust.  The only lasting and meaningful life is found rooted deeply and daily in the word of God.  We have to tell our Father the truth, not merely platitudes of praise, regarding the state of our hearts.  If we hurt, we need to tell him.  If we’re mad, we need to tell Him.  If we’re struggling, if we’re trapped in sin, if we’re so lost we no longer know the way out ~ we have to tell Him!  He will answer us.  He will teach us, strengthen us, change us!  If we ask Him, He will help us abandon our plastic selves.  He will reinforce our faithfulness with His own.  He will not shame us, but use our stories to free others and increase His glory!  He will enlarge our hearts to be more like His.

We will be what draws others to the Savior’s arms; a lush, and green pasture that invites the lost, the broken, and the weary to lie down and find rest, find peace ~ in Him!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Jesus wept.

Two words:  Jesus wept [John 11:35].

The shortest verse in Scripture, encompassing the full humanity of the Christ.  Wept, in the original Greek, is rendered dakruō, [δακρύω] meaning “to shed tears.”  It is neither a silent cry, nor a dramatic wailing.  It is visible, possibly audible.  It is a very human reaction to a poignant situation.

Which then begs the question, why was the Messiah weeping?

In the verses preceding, we learn that Jesus received word that His good friend, Lazarus, was ill, possibly dying.  Scripture tells us that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus;” Martha and Mary being Lazarus’ sisters [John 11:5].  Jesus stays where He was for two more days before departing to see Lazarus.  Following conversations with the disciples, “on His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days” [v. 17].  Christ has conversations with both Martha and Mary before Scripture tells us that when Jesus “saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” [v. 33].  Then Christ asks, “where have you laid him?

‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied” [v.34].

In the very next verse we find the heartrending words, “Jesus wept;” followed immediately by, the “Jews [saying], ‘See how He loved him!’” [v. 36].

It bears mentioning that Jesus, being fully God, is omnipotent.  He responded to this news of Lazarus’ illness by saying, “This sickness will not end in death.  No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” [v. 4].  On the way to Lazarus’ side, Jesus tells the disciples, “Our friend, Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up” [v. 11].  Yet the disciples misunderstand, assuming that Jesus literally means a state of sleep as opposed to death; so Christ clarifies in verses 14-15: “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.”  He even assures Martha, upon meeting her, that “Your brother will rise again” [v. 23].  Armed with knowledge incomprehensible to our mortal minds, and assurance of the outcome of the entire situation, Jesus weeps when He is taken to the tomb of His friend, “the one [He] love[s]” [v. 3].

Why?  Could His tears have been triggered by the sadness of those surrounding Him as He accompanies His friends to the tomb of their brother?  Certainly.  Could He be exhausted from travel, frustrated with the limited belief of those around Him, even keenly and supernaturally aware of the plot to kill Him brewing amongst the Pharisees?  Possibly.  Or was Jesus overcome by the death of His friend?  Did He feel loss, as we do?  Did He miss Lazarus; think of the joyful times they shared; wish that He hadn’t had to wait, to inflict sorrow upon those He loved, to help them believe in Him?  I can not, with any authority, say for certain.  Every time I try to ascribe a reason for the Messiah’s tears, I look again, only to find a new potentiality.  Scripture, so far as I am aware, does not reveal the complete explanation behind Christ’s tears.

What I do know in examining this passage is this:

1. Jesus had friends, for whom He cared a great deal; to the extent that their pain caused Him pain

2. Jesus knows what it is like to loose someone you love

3.  Jesus is the only true and lasting comfort.

..and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor,  Mighty God,
Everlasting  Father, Prince of Peace.

~Isaiah 9:6 [part]

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

~Revelation 21:4

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What makes you a celebrity?

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD ~ Psalm 139:1-4

There is something within us that longs to be recognized.  Something that wants others to notice when we walk into the room.  We want to be known, to be special, to be significant.  We want to matter.

It’s how we were created.  We do matter to El Shaddai, the Almighty God.  He notes our comings and goings, our sittings and risings, our every breath.  He knows us so well that before we even speak, our God knows what we are going to say.  To Him, we are so important He not only sent His only Son to die in our stead (while we were still sinners ~ Rom 5:8), He also places a piece of Himself in the heart of every follower ~ the Holy Spirit.  We are so significant God the Father marks our every breath, God the Son sacrificed Himself for us, and God the Holy Spirit lives within these dilapidated vessels of flesh.

Yet, we (as flesh) junk it up, don’t we?  We fail to revel in the wonder that is the Trinity delighting in us; and we begin, ever so slightly, to desire more earthly outlets.  We want people to know our name.  We want our deeds to be noted, complimented, and spoken about to others.  We want our face to be recognizable, even in select groups.  We crave attention from our peers, our superiors, those whom we respect.  We start to keep lists (perhaps mentally, perhaps not) of what we’ve done for whom.  We notice when someone whom we consider inferior latches onto our goals, makes them their own.  We become jealous of others’ attentions and opportunities.  And slowly that feeds bitterness, sows discontent and disillusionment with our calling.  And we try to manipulate what isn’t ours to control.  We use relationships to get what we want; we seek our relationships purely for selfish reasons.  We look for ways to get noticed by the powers-that-[seemingly]-be.  We push and strive against the dreaded invisibility.

And however noble the cause, whatever good our actions bring about, whatever friendships spring from all of this, our hearts are in the wrong.  We are sinning.  Granted, God can and will use any situation to bring about His will; however, if we focus on His will instead of our personal celebrity, His name is glorified.  And that’s the point, isn’t it?

So I’ll ask, imaginary reader, hoping you realize this inquiry stems from my own internal search: what makes you a celebrity?  Is it the people you know or who know you?  Is it the shiny, new ministry with which you’re heavily involved?  Is it who greets you when you enter a room, who visits your house?  Or is it, simply, the Trinity: God the Father as your Master, God the Son as your Savior, and God the Holy Spirit as your constant Counselor?

Because, when all is tested with fire, the only thing that won’t be consumed is the latter.  And that’s the point.  Not your celebrity, but HIS.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 34: A --less update

Psalm 93: The LORD Reigns

The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty;the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting. The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty! Your decrees are very trustworthy; holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.

Under the veil of transparency I sit, searching for a conversation with you, imaginary reader, that captures what has happened up to this point. I promised, a few weeks ago, to keep you abreast of my fasting. I had, quite honestly, hoped that I would have a report filled with spiritual wonders; a greater closeness to the Lord; a deeper understanding of the mysteries of Heaven. But between you, me, and the keyboard, this hasn’t been the mountain top experience I’d envisioned…and yet, I have felt the Lord move in ways that were missing before. I am coming out of a drought, parched and weary, into a place of new growth. Tiny shoots of life scratching through brittle soil. I am moving towards unfettered joy found only in the resurrection of Christ. I can see hope on the horizon. And my expectation increases daily.

Matthew 5: 20 ~ For I [Jesus] tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

The absence of sugar. For 24 days, I held fast. No sugar. No sweeteners, other than honey on occasion. I discovered a new love of fruit. My coffee was abrasive. I delighted in the metaphor of how bitter and joyless my life is without the resurrection of Christ, every time I poured a cup, or craved a treat. I gave my cravings over to the Lord, I rejoiced in His strengthening me. And then, without much warning, I felt the quaking of self-righteousness within me. I became the master of my cravings. I was the one holding out. I could get through 40 days. Me. For me.

And then, I got sick. I was exhausted, hungry, and miserable. On the way home from the doctor (day 3 of pain and no food), I prayed. I wanted so much to honor my commitment, to stick to it with my own power. But I asked for permission to have a milkshake ~ something to numb the fire in my throat and fill my belly so I could sleep. And the answer I got: my self-righteousness had gotten in the way of my worship. I had given up sugar to take things out of the way of my relationship with my Lord. But in doing so, I’d unwittingly erected another wall ~ my works. I had become like a Pharisee, righteous for my own sake. All show and no heart. Clinging to ritualized commitments, instead of to the Lord.

So I asked for forgiveness. I recognized that I could give up sugar for the rest of eternity and still miss the point. It is only through Christ’s work (not mine) that I find right standing with God. No amount of fasting will ever change that. So I had a shake (or 3). And I got back on my fast, with a new focus: God, not me keeping away from sugar.

Mark 1:35 ~And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

In regards to my snooze button: once. Only once have I risen early to spend time in prayer and meditation. And I will admit that was only when the sun had begun rising earlier (before the “spring forward” time change which causes my room to stay dark until well after I should be up). I’ll also admit that the time wasn’t of high quality; it was of “get-it-out-of-the-way” sort. And I have lamented this. I’ve been my typical guilt-ridden self. Hardly the point.

But in that, I’ve been instructed in and therefore open to the idea of 1 degree of change; which paraphrased to fit my illustration says, if I can take 1 step of faith growing closer to Christ, I have (from an eternal perspective) changed my entire trajectory. So, I’ve taken to praying differently (from a stance of relinquishment instead of pleading); and focusing more time throughout the day on God, His word (even just 1 line of scripture repeated at different points throughout the day), and His attributes. And, not surprisingly, I have grown. My worship is reflecting a slight difference. My thoughts are quicker to quiet, more readily on my Father when I wake than before.

While from the outside it looks like I’ve failed in this, I am changing. I am discovering new means of quality time with my Heavenly Father. And for that, I am glad.

Luke 10: 38-42 ~ As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Finally, to the one thing I’ve given up and actually stayed away from: the internet distraction of a certain social networking site. I haven’t visited it, haven’t thought about it, haven’t even wanted to. And I’ve found lots of time, time previously wasted, to devote to the Lord. But all that time has only resulted in was more doing, more busy-ness, more activities, more weariness, more striving – SIT DOWN, MARTHA! My soul is screaming. Sit at the Master’s feet. Be filled. Be still. Be at peace.

So there it is: seeming failure on all fronts. And yet, maybe not. Perhaps each is 1 degree of change, movement in a more Christ-like direction. I will keep trying, with the help of the Holy Spirit to guide and support me. And I will quietly delight in the metaphor that without the resurrection of Christ, all of my striving is hollow ceremony.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.   I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him."

~Lamentations 3:21-24

Wait.  It’s a word not frequently heard in our society.

Want your tax refund?  Well, give us 20 minutes (and $300) and we’ll write you a check…  Want a house?  Apply now and we’ll approve you immediately…  Want to lose weight?  Take these pills and drop 10 pounds by morning…

No, waiting is not an American trait.

Yet, that is what we, as followers of Christ, are called to do.  Wait.  Not just wait; but wait on the Lord.  In our culture of “gimme NOW,” we can loose sight of what it means to wait on the Lord.  I certainly have at times.  I want to be used by the Lord right this second.  I want my trails alleviated this instant.

Sometimes, we [as followers of Jesus Christ] are called to wait it out.  Whatever “it” happens to be.  It could be a marriage that has seemingly gone sour.  A financial situation in which there is no reprieve in sight.  Cancer.   Loss of a job.  A nebulous preparation of our spirit for our next venture.  Whatever the context, we are told to be patient, be still, and to wait on the LORD.

Waiting is never easy.  I don’t believe it was meant to be.  [Perhaps that is why as Americans, we find waiting so abhorrent ~ it’s uncomfortable at best.]  Waiting, I believe, is just another desert [think: wandering in the wilderness for 40 years] meant to draw us further into the arms of our Father.  It is a method used to focus our attention on the heart of God; to seek His face, His will above our own.

And in our waiting, we have the most amazing opportunity to discover more of the heart of God.  To attend even closer to His plans for our lives.  We are able to discover, on a new level, what it means personally for God to be our portion.  Daily.  Hourly.  Breath by breath.

I can write this now, with complete faith, because I have lived a part of it.  In years past, my husband and I were surviving our marriage at best.  We weren’t fulfilled.  We weren’t even content.  We were literally surviving one another.  And to that end, we each had to abandon our ideas of happily ever after and cling solely to the promise that God would be enough.  Each moment.  And there were days, for both of us, that God had to be enough in that moment.

And He was.  Every moment.  Every breath.  God was enough.  He was our portion.  His mercies and His love covered everything.  Years of waiting on the LORD has blossomed into an even greater happily-ever-after than I could have ever imagined, if left to my own devices.  And I believe my husband would say the same [at least, he has said the same to me privately.]

I don’t know what situation you’re facing right now.  I can’t fathom how it’s affecting you.  But I do know that the God of the universe, the beginning and the end of all things, is holding you in His hands.  He’s waiting for you to let go; to surrender control.  He wants you to give whatever “it” is to Him.  And you are just to wait.  Cling to Him; and wait.  His love and mercy will cover you anew every morning.  And He will never let you go.

It will be the most worthwhile endeavor you’ve undertaken.  Just…


Friday, February 19, 2010

Getting out of my own way

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  ~ Romans 12:1-2

I hate my alarm clock.

Understand that there is nothing wrong with this gadget: it works properly (oh, too properly), I can see it mocking me from across my bedroom (I can activate any snooze button in my sleep, hence the need to place it away from arm's reach), and I can certainly hear it shrieking in increasingly ridiculous decibels.  Perhaps, more than the apparatus itself, I hate waking.  Or at least waking before I'm ready. There was a time in very recent memory when I would bound out of bed (okay, not bound; but at least shuffle out of bed without malice) and head down to my coffee and quiet time.  Granted, that was in the summer months when the sun was peeking at me, just over the sill in my kitchen window; and my children could sleep until nine or so, as we had no commitments outside of the pool opening at eleven.  Even the recollection of those mornings draws out warmth and tugs a smile into the corner of my south.  But the dark, the winter, pulls at my resolve to rise early.  I dash across my floor, eagerly hitting the snooze button and take the few steps back into my bed, throwing the covers over me, silently  pleading, "five more minutes, Lord.  Just five more minutes."  And five becomes 30, then 60, until I have to get up lest the children be late to school.  Still dark, still cold; but now missing the delightful communion with my God.  I resolve to meet Him later in the day, which I generally do.  And I know that He is with me throughout my day.  His place is not scripted only in the times before my family rises.

Yet the paces of my day become flustered; my mode catch up, rather than soak up.  Quick fill-er-ups and stolen moments in the flow of the day; instead of separate, oasis in my life.

Upon meditation, I became aware of this and other tendencies in my flesh that are, though not pulling me away from God, certainly keeping me stagnant.  Pride.  Distraction.  Sloth.  [No, this isn't a prelude to one of my favorite movies.  It is merely the reason driving the next 40 days.] Which leads to me to the observation of a practice I thought I left far behind.  Though of late, I am becoming more respectful of the offices kept by our liturgical brethren.  This year, I feel the Lord is calling me to practice Lent.

Historically, Lent is observed for the 40 days leading up to Resurrection Sunday, during which observers recognize the temptation (ergo full humanity) of Christ in the desert prior to His Incarnate ministry.  It is a time where followers sacrifice something (e.g. "give up") for the prescribed period in observance of Christ's sacrifice of His place as God [leaving the Heavenly realm to live, caged in flesh, among the fallen on Earth].  Typically, a follower will abstain from something that is interfering with their relationship with God.  This is to prepare their hearts for the resurrection of Christ, the holiest day on the Christian calendar, the apex of history thus far.

I didn't exactly make my choices; more accurate would be to say that they were made for me as I  reflected upon my daily life.

Sadly, the first thing I think about when I wake is not the Lord, His plan for my day, nor even my delight in being His child.  It is: "what am I going to eat?"  Oh, how it pains me to write that.  Worse still, is the internal dialogue I have regarding the choices I've given myself.  Which will make me feel healthy and thin; which will be more satisfying, but send me spiraling into self-loathing when my jeans don't fit.  From that point, my mind is primed on its favorite topic: how I feel about, how I feel other people think about, how I feel about the way I think about how other people think about ~ how I look. Yikes.  Doesn't get more self-centered than that, does it?  Granted, I'm not one who looks at myself in the mirror and thinks everyone should be looking at me.  Quite the opposite.  I'd rather people didn't.  But that extreme is on the continuum of pride.  I spend a great deal of time thinking about how I look, and how other people see me.  Pride.

As I'm writing this, I'm having an internal dialogue with you [my imaginary reader] as to whether or not you like what you're reading so far.  You've interjected a few times.  I've made changes accordingly.  Have I mentioned that I have a desire for the approval of others?  With the painless anonymity of the internet, I can alert the world of my every thought and have anyone who is so moved respond.  Notice me.  Distract me.  My favorite social networking site has conveniently built this into my day.  And I have become a junkie.  I have a hard time getting on the computer to do anything without first getting my fix out of the way.  If I want to do a word search to compliment a study, I hop on the internet, but first check my page.  So this fixation feeds both my distraction and pride.

None of these activities/interests/practices are bad.  They are not sinful.  They are merely things that have crept into my life.  Things that if left unchecked, could settle into my life, could be habit-forming, could affect the way I engage in the praxis of the gospel. So, for the next 40 days, I'm giving up: sugar, my favorite social networking site, and my snooze button.  All three represent something in my flesh that is keeping me from realizing, rejoicing in, and proclaiming the miracle of the resurrection daily.  Without each, and in their place communion with and reliance upon my LORD, I will hopefully come out on the other side struggling less with pride, distraction, and sloth.  And delighting more in the sacrifice of Jesus, as He gave up His position in Heaven to walk among us.

I'll let you know how this all goes, imaginary reader.  If you'll hold me accountable.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  ~ 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 (ESV)

In the movie, Legally Blonde there is a scene where the main character, a stereo-typed, California sorority girl is introduced to her classmates at Yale Law.  Within the briefest exchange of dialogue, the differences between this girl and the members of her orientation group become painfully obvious.  All but the lead hold multiple graduate degrees from challenging programs, most have years of extensive volunteer service, and each is confident of their place at Yale.  The heroine has only her life experience to offer as her qualifier for her admission.  And that is seemingly hollow and superficial.

Have you ever felt as if you were the glaring misfit in a group of highly qualified individuals?

Recently I had the opportunity to be introduced to a group of men and women who all held what I consider to be the Christian Pedigree.  Most of these individuals’ stories resemble the following:

  • saved at young age (4/5 yrs old)

  • families strong in ministry (children of pastors or missionaries)

  • home-schooled or private Christian schooled; appropriately followed by attendance at Christian University

  • met spouse in youth group (junior high/high school)

  • engaged faithfully in decades (if not multiple) of service (missions, orphanages, homeless, at-risk inner-city youth, etc…)

  • certain, in the absolute, in what God wants to do next in their lives.

This information was gleaned as we sat around a table, introducing ourselves and explaining what had brought us to this particular venture.  I had the privilege of going last, of listening to the 15-plus individuals share their shining histories, seemingly unmarred by the world.  May I tell you that during this experience, I vacillated between sinking lower in my chair and arching my neck in self-preserving pride?  It wasn’t pretty.  In situations like this, I have a tremendous propensity to measure myself against other believers.  This particular tendency was more pronounced than ever in this room full of people with whom I was all together unfamiliar.  The seeming religious élite.

I, in my mind, smacked of this world.  Literally reeked of it.   I was tempted to gloss over, yadda-yadda, through certain parts of my story; then in the next instant, enticed to test the acceptance of these alleged little-Christs by flooding them with gory details.  Would their eyes bug out of their heads, mouths hang agape?  Would I be able to read the judgment on their faces?

Upon contemplation, I was reminded that my path puts me in the company of another woman for whom Jesus displayed a great tenderness.  In Luke 7:36-50, we find Jesus dining at the home of a Pharisee called Simon, one of the Israelite Pedigrees of His day.  No doubt Simon had the right family, he had certainly been educated in the appropriate schools; he had undoubtedly pursued a relative form of higher education and internship under a notable teacher of the day.  Simon’s acts of service were most likely judged by his entire community and deemed worthy of a man in his position – a religious leader.  While we are not sure why he invited Jesus to dinner, we can not assume it was to merely laud his own position.  Perhaps this Pharisee truly wanted to be close to Christ, to know Him, to come into a relationship with Him.  As voyeurs into this brief moment, we can not judge Simon’s heart.  We can only observe what is revealed to us directly through Scripture.

At some point during the meal, a woman “who had lived a sinful life” enters the Pharisee’s home with an expensive jar of perfume (37).  She positions herself behind Jesus, weeping, wetting His feet with her tears.  To dry them, she uses her hair and then kisses the feet of the Master.  She finishes her act of worship by bathing Christ’s feet in perfume.  This moment is so personal, so tender, so completely unavailable to us distant observers, that there is no dialogue.  It is an act solely between a broken sinner and her Savior ~ her heart to His.

This intimate act was likely unsettling to those who were immediately privy to it.  The Pharisee, while observing the silence, has an internal monologue, noting that if Jesus was truly a prophet, He would know that this woman at His feet was unworthy of touching them – that she was a sinner.  Christ, however, being able to hear the thoughts in Simon the Pharisee’s heart, responds with a parable: two men owed money to a lender, one indebted 500 denarii, the other 50.  The moneylender forgives both debts.  Jesus then asks, “Which one will love him more?”  Simon responds logically: the one whose debt was greater.  To complete the lesson, Jesus points out to Simon all the differences between his actions and those of the sinful woman:

  • Simon offered no water for Christ to wash, the woman wet His feet with her tears

  • Simon did not greet Jesus with a kiss (as was custom), the woman did not stop kissing Christ’s feet

  • Simon provided no oil with which to anoint Jesus’ head, the woman bathed His feet in perfume (the more expensive of the two).

Jesus ends His lesson with these words: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." (47)

When my turn finally came, I landed where I generally do: truth.  In God’s perspective, we are all the same ~ Christian Pedigree or sinner.  Their pedigree is mine, in that we share kinship as children of God.  These saints are as depraved as I without Christ.  Their birth rights no nobler, influence in the kingdom no greater, nor sins no less than mine.  These pristine sheep simply walk a different path.  And in that, I am called to share my experiences, not to shame my kinsmen, but to glorify the name of our God.  We are each members of one body, useful in different ways, and all completely dependent upon the sacrifice of Christ.

As for the table full of believers, of whom I was unsure would count me worthy, they did not judge.  They embraced me as a sister in Christ.  Alongside me, they acknowledged and offered praise for the grace and mercy in all our lives ~ and the source from whence it comes.  Christ alone.

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of "the brightest and the best" among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ.

~ 1 Corinthians 1:26-32 (the Message)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thoughts from the treadmill

It’s January.  And as I have done for more times than I care to discuss here, I have resolved to exercise.  Along those lines, I let slip to my kids (who are white belts) that I should take an adult karate class. So at the strong encouragement of my children, who delight in the idea of their mom kicking and “ki-ah-ing” right along with them, I spoke with the Sensi of their dojo. He was very enthusiastic, but did caution me that I shouldn’t eat dinner before coming to class. “Why,” was my naïve response. With what I consider a truly wicked grin, he responded, “So you don’t puke on the mats. Most first-timers do.”

Excuse me? Did you say, “puke?!”

As you can imagine, I am oh-so excited to start karate. In fact, I’m wondering exactly how long I can put off joining this class. I do have to see Sensi four times a week for my children’s classes, so I can’t completely avoid him. However, to make my yes be yes, I have resolved to get in shape (at least develop some muscle and endurance) before I start karate classes. Because, frankly I can imagine few things more humiliating than vomiting in front of other adults due solely to the fact that I can’t hack the workout. Yeah, it’s a pride thing. But I don’t think I could summon the strength to show my face at the dojo again, which would be a tragic way to end my kids’ budding karate careers.

As I was sweating profusely on the evil elliptical (right beside Barbie, who had been on her machine 30 minutes longer than I, and was only glistening the way aerobic-video instructors do, not the way people drenched in their own perspiration shine), I was commending myself for my resolve to get into shape so that I wouldn’t be embarrassed when I took a class to get into shape. “Ha,” I thought to myself, “I won’t throw up, I will even be able to keep up.” (Yes, if you must know, that was most likely the delightful cocktail of endorphins and peppy, workout music on the mp3 player talking.) And then, I had a sobering, more realistic thought flit into my brain: “what if, after all this personal preparation, I still puke?” I stole a glance at Barbie, to make sure she couldn’t read the mortification in my thoughts. Thankfully, she was grinning as happily as ever, flaunting her feat of sweat-free elliptical endurance.

It was then that I realized a number of the body of Christ approach our God this way. “Thanks for the invitation, God; but I’ve got some messy stuff I have to take care of first. After I deal with all of that, then we’ll talk.” Oh, I’m not just talking about people on the verge of conversion; I am primarily referring to those among us (myself chief amongst us) who consider themselves unworthy of serving, evangelizing, disciplining.

When we experience the invitation to serve, we reason that first we must get our act together. We need to whip ourselves in to spiritual shape before we can be useful to God. In our current state, we are too depraved, too messy, too fleshly. We need to be the model mother/wife/friend/daughter/neighbor/domestic diva/culinary whiz (one does need to entertain, does one not, when becoming a servant?), etc. We need to be better versed in Scripture, increasingly well-read, a stronger apologist, a more motivating leader, a more humble person, a little more mature, more organized, more articulate, more empathetic...Until our personal lists extend beyond our ability.

Granted, there are biblical qualifications for leadership, laid out in Titus 1-2 and 1st Timothy 3, to which we should adhere. However, God does not expect us to fix ourselves before serving Him. Quite frankly, He is all too aware that we can’t fix ourselves. Only an intimate relationship with Him can enable us to deal with our mess. Scripture, in fact, tells us that [God’s] grace is sufficient for you, for [His] power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). When we enter into service, not under our own power or abilities, but with the full knowledge and admission that we can NOT do anything apart from God, to whom are we assigning glory? Certainly not ourselves, in our weak and flawed flesh. We accept that, without God, we are insufficient. And through our weakness, our junk, our messes, He is evident, He is perfect, He is glorified.

The more humbly we submit ourselves and our mess to Him, through service, the more we have to rely on His power to get us through. The more evident it becomes to those we are serving, that we are not the ones responsible for our seemingly endless grace or love or wisdom. It can only be God.

And isn’t that how it should be? All the glory, honor, and praise going to God, instead of to ourselves in our own abilities?

So, instead of hitting the spiritual elliptical (whatever that looks like for you: becoming the model Christian, strengthening your apologetics, or waiting for maturity to smack you upside the head), hit your knees. Admit that you can’t do whatever it is you’re being called to do. Tell God that this task is so far outside of your abilities that you’ll puke on the mats (figuratively, of course). Beg His help, His guidance, His presence.

And then get up and do it. Because His grace is sufficient for you; God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor 1:27). God chose you. He is with you in your obedience. Joshua 1:9 assures us of this promise: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

So get off the spiritual treadmill and get on your spiritual mission.