Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Burned: Reflections on the Church

Acts 20:28
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God,[a] which he bought with his own blood.[b]

Ever been burned by the church?  Left a church or just been hesitant to go back?  Have you become cynical towards corporate worship or said along with Gandhi “I like your Christ, I don’t like your Christians [because] they are so unlike your Christ?”  Ever considered that Christ formed the church to help sanctify us?

I always find myself somewhat frustrated when people bash “the church”, especially with blanket statements and while I’ll be the first to admit a lot of this is my own sinful pride, I think some of my frustration is justified.  The church universal (Christianese Translation: All whom Christ has saved) is a bunch of recovering sinners/recovering dead people who are working to kick old habits as the love of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit sets them apart from what they used to be.  Therefore, hanging out together is probably going to be painful!  Yeah, we’ve been made new, but we’re not perfect yet, and our imperfections bumping into each other are part of what teach and change us.  It’s not dealing with sweet people that make us patient, it’s dealing with the ones that drive us absolutely crazy! 

There is, of course, a caveat and always room for discipline.  If a local church (one part of the body) begins teaching something that goes against scripture something should be done, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be abandoned right away.  Instances like this challenge us to search the scriptures, defend what we believe, seek the Lord’s wisdom, practice humility, patience, love, and gentleness in confrontation!  Again, the church helps to sanctify us.  There comes a point when one might have to leave such a church, but this should not be done lightly.  In the same vein comes general conflict.  If someone sins against you there are very clear instructions in scripture about how to handle the situation.  Matthew 18:15 describes the process, and the goal is always reconciliation and redemption.  That’s what being part of the body of Christ is all about!  Redemption, bringing about Christ’s kingdom.

I’m not saying the Church always does things right and many, many things have been done in the name of Christ that are wrong, but I think we need to be careful.  It is so easy to condemn and crucify others than consider our own wrong doing and we all would prefer to take the comfortable, less complicated, less painful way out.  I’m speaking for myself because I’m the worst.  My challenge is to remember that Christ came to save the Church as a body, not just individuals, and to love them because He did.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Praise and Cursing: Reflection on Language

Ephesians 4:29
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

James 3:9-12
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Growing up in a Christian home and in largely Christian circles, most of the “talk” that surrounded me was fairly “wholesome”.  People did not use profanity and even words like “butt” and “crap” were frowned upon.  On retreats I distinctly remember other students talking about how their experience from the weekend had lead them to try not to curse anymore and I know that I self-righteously judged those at my school who used foul language.  It wasn’t really until college that my pretty little world began to get really shaken.  I met Christians who did not adhere to the “rules”, who used words that offended and rattled me.  In one conversation with a friend on the subject, he noted an article by a Christian who was almost arguing in defense of profanity, which of course left me indignant.  How could “they” justify using such language?  How could “they” choose unwholesome talk?  What I didn’t realize was that it really wasn’t “those people” who were shaking up my thinking, but rather, it was God.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but all of a sudden my ears were opened.  The words I was using were thrown into the spotlight, their ugliness exposed and painfully vivid.  No, I wasn’t using words that strictly qualified as profanity, but neither was my language wholesome.  I started to see that my criticism of others was tantamount to cursing them, that my harsh tone was salt on wounds, that my loss of temper tore down rather than built up.  I was claiming to be a fresh stream yet spewing salt water.  The absence of crass jokes and “swear words” did not make my language pure and certainly did not justify me in God’s sight.  I did not meet the mark but fell far short of it (Romans 3:23).  Worse still, God made me realize that my black and white view of things had given me a false sense of self-righteousness and that I’d set myself up on a pedestal from which I looked down on others as if I had somehow not fallen short at all.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not necessarily justifying obviously foul language, rather I’m challenging a thorough examination of all the language we use.  Do the tones and words we use tear down or build up?  Is God glorified in everything we say or are we glorified?  Do we use our own standards to judge others and proclaim our own “righteousness” or do we look to the cross and humbly realize that our only hope of righteousness is the unearned righteousness given to us by Christ?  I pray for conviction, I pray for mutual encouragement among the believers, I pray that Christ will be glorified in every word we use.    

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Glorious Ruins: Reflections on Stewardship

"So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."  Genesis 1:27

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb."  Psalm 139:13

I heard on the radio the other day that Houston is the fattest city in the US.  Obviously, being from here and rather enjoying health and fitness this information bothered me.  I don't know how accurate this statistic is or even how they measured it (and the conspiracy theorist in me wants to call shenanigans) but the idea is a little scary.  On the other hand, I know both women and men who struggle with body image; they're too fat, not pretty, not strong enough, not good enough... I hear it whether it's out loud or implied and struggle with the same problem myself.

What I forget are what these verses say and what they ultimately mean.  God created us in His image.  I don't really know exactly what this means as God is a spirit, but I do know that it means we have value and worth beyond what we think we should look like.  Secondly, God knit us together in the wombs of our mothers.  Yet another indication that God took time to form us, that He cherishes us, that He put each of us together individually.  Yes, sin has marred this work, but it does not take away from God's initial act.  We are "glorious ruins" according to my associate pastor, Nathan Carico (he may have borrowed the statement from someone else, but I'll attribute it to him for now).  This is where we need to start, at the point where we realize that the God of the universe formed us individually in His own image.

But we need to remember something else as well.  God tasked man kind to take care of His creation, and I believe that includes our bodies.  This doesn't mean focusing all of our time and energy on how we look and what we eat, but I do think it means putting good things in our bodies and getting our butts off the couch and moving! Not for the sake of looking like some airbrushed model on the cover of a magazine, but for the sake of taking care of the physical body God gave to us.  So I challenge you, and me, to think about how we can best take care of this little part of God's creation and to remember what He created us to be in the first place.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Firm Foundation: Reflection on God's Character

“Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant.  For Your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary.  Give ear, our God, and hear; open Your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears Your Name.  We do not make requests of You because we are righteous, but because of Your great mercy.  Lord, listen!  Lord, forgive!  Lord, hear and act!  For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear Your Name.”  Daniel 9:17-19

God does what He does because of who He is.  Maybe that seems obvious, but I’m not sure any of us really understands it fully, or maybe it’s just that we don’t really believe it deep down.  This is evidenced by the way we live and think.  No, I don’t mean our trained responses in church or our Christian circles, us Church rats know the “right answers” and pretty words that make us sound smart and spiritual; I mean the core belief that informs our actions and habitual thought processes.  Let me give an example.

I know, as a fact, that the bible says God loved the world enough to send His son to die for sins so that we might be drawn near to Him.  I can quote John 3:16 and 1 Peter 3:18 to prove this.  I also know that when I “confess my sins He is faithful and just to forgive [me my] sins and purify [me] from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  Yet, after I fall into sin (translation from Christianese: pretty much anything stupid) I am stuck with feelings of guilt and frustration long after I’ve confessed it.  Why?  Because even though I know the truth, I don’t always believe it, as is evidenced by my feelings.

As usual, I doubt I’m the only one who struggles with this. 

So what’s the problem?  Why can’t I make this head knowledge heart knowledge?  I think one of the reasons (and there are probably many more) is that another belief is getting in the way.  I think what I really believe is that God’s love for me is based on me!  And why not?  I’ve read in a thousand different fairy tales/romantic movies (etc.) about heroes falling for heroines because of “X”.  They see their lady and are enthralled; first by her beauty and later by her character.  It is because of her that they will slay dragons and face perils, it is because of her that they will risk life and limb, it is because of her that they might die in battle!  Rarely do we read about a hero who fights for a bitter, old hag.  If you can think of such a story let me know, because I sure can’t. 

These stories make sense to our human minds; for, after all, why would anyone fall in love and risk everything for someone ungrateful, someone unworthy?  But God is not human nor does He have a human mind.  God loves His creations because He is a loving, relational, and merciful creator and because He has stamped His image on us.  We’ve marred it, made it ugly, we are ungrateful, unthankful, unfaithful, and give the worship He deserves to other things.  Yet, He sacrifices Himself for us; redeems us; makes us beautiful. 

This is the truth I need to remember, the truth we all need to remember.  It needs to replace our messed up beliefs and work to change the way we live and think. We can’t do this on our own we need the Hold Spirit to invade and uproot the lies in our hearts and help us stand on the firm foundation that is God’s character rather than the weak one that is our own.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Father's and Sons: Reflections on Intentionality

Ephesians 6:4

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

This morning I was greatly encouraged. Often on Friday mornings I will stop by the Starbucks near my apartment to celebrate the coming weekend and on this particular Friday, I saw two people I recognized. Sitting in the corner by a window were a father and son from my Church. The boy, who I believe is about ten years old, was wearing his pajamas and munching on what was probably more of a brownie than anything and sipped chocolate milk while his father, in mesh shorts and a t-shirt, was attempting a healthier meal of pita bread and apples. It was, of course, fairly early in the morning but both were grinning and I got a good wave from the son who saw me first. After a short chat they told me that this was their special breakfast and that they tried to do it every other Friday. On the Fridays the dad did not go with his son, he went with his second oldest, his daughter.

Aside from being uplifted just by seeing good friends (family really as we share the same Heavenly Father) so unexpectedly and so early I was encouraged for a deeper reason. In a society where there are so many physically/spiritually/emotionally absentee fathers, seeing a dad being intentional with his kids literally fills my heart with joy. This man does not just see his duty as a husband and a father to be merely a bread winner, rather, he sees that he needs to be a spiritual provider and trainer, and he acts on that duty.

I pray that all fathers would have this attitude. I pray this specifically for my future husband, that he would have a heart for our children and the spiritual wellbeing of our family. I pray this for everyone, for you don’t have to be a mother or father to be intentional with those around you; young, old, wise, or foolish. May God give us tender hearts and encouraging words, may we uplift one another, and spur each other on to good deeds.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Office Disaster!

Brought to you by Liquid Paper

A Challenge to Singles on Valentine's Day: Reflections on Love

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:46

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus… Philippians 2:1-5

It’s common around this time of year amongst singles to joke (complain...gripe, add your own verb here___) about Valentine’s Day.  If you’re like me, you try to laugh about the day centered around romantic love and displayed by flowers and chocolate and candlelit dinners, by dubbing it “Singles Awareness Day", proclaiming that you will buy yourself a comfort gift, and spend the evening with the only men who will ever be faithful; Ben and Jerry (for the record, I prefer Blue Bell, but the title did not work for my “clever” and “completely original” joke). 

Quite obviously, such jokes are rarely more than thinly veiled loneliness and, let’s be honest, a bit of narcissistic bitterness.  Maybe that sounds harsh, but if I’m being brutally honest with myself, then it really is the truth.  My heart aches with a longing for marriage and romantic love and quite often becomes jealous of those who have found it.  This entire month, not just the day itself, seems like one big reminder than I am still “alone”, still single, and sometimes it’s hard to deal with.  How easy it becomes to slip into a “woe is me” state of mind, to mumble and grumble about how “nothing ever seems to go my way” and blah, blah, blah.  It looks absurd as I type it now, but appears to be the most solid logic when I think it in my own head, and I sincerely doubt I am the only one tumbling around with these thoughts.

Add to the mix well intentioned friends who want to set you up with “the greatest most perfect guy (girl if I have any male readers)” and things get more complicated.  At first I loved this idea.  (Dude!  He comes with a recommendation!)  Then I discovered that my over analytical mind doesn’t really deal with one on one set ups too well.  So on top of feeling lonely on this day, I then begin to feel guilty!  I’m hurting other people’s feelings by not liking the guys they’ve introduced me to!  I must have a fear of commitment! I’m so ungrateful!  There must be something wrong with me!  Yaddah, yaddah, yaddah…

Again, I don’t believe I’m alone in this black hole of internal dialogue.  What I do believe is that this “Singles Awareness Day” I’m being challenged and majorly convicted.  In the verses I have listed above we are encouraged to have the same attitude as that of Christ.  Jesus, the Word with God from the beginning, through Whom and for Whom all things were made, became flesh to be a servant to those who hated him, to die for those who deserved to die. He didn’t come to be served and loved and pampered, he came to wash stinky feet and suffer His own righteous wrath for evil He did not commit.  His love is so great that He gave dirty, rotten evil doers His righteousness that we might be able to enter into the presence of a holy, holy, holy God and be called co-heirs with Him!

So what the heck does that have to do with Valentine’s Day?  Everything.  Aside from being the most baffling love story in history, it is a challenge and a reminder to all of us, not just singles, to love and serve others above ourselves. It deeply convicts me when I find myself in that black hole of narcissism and focuses my vision first upward and then outward.  It impresses upon me the great love lavished on me (1 John 3:1) and challenges me to lavish similar love on others.

God is challenging me this month.  When I start to think about how lonely and “unloved” I feel, I need to first, remember His love for me, and second, to seek to show others His love as well.  Rather than grumble about “Singles Awareness Day” I am praying to have an attitude the same as that of Christ, and focus on serving and loving those around me.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Even if He does not...: Reflection on Prayer

"Oh Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."  Daniel 3:16-18

In light of certain death, three men from Israel refused to bow before a king and his powerless god.  With confidence, they told him that their God, the one true God, had the ability to save them.  Yet, with an attitude I doubt many of us had today, they were willing to burn to death if He chose not to do so.  How could they do this?  Because they knew they served the mighty and good God of the universe, and that His plans were bigger and farther reaching than their own little lives.  They were willing to suffer and die with the knowledge that God could save them, but might chose not to.

Do we live and pray with this attitude?  Do I live with the knowledge that God could make me happy or comfortable in a situation and praise Him even when He does not?  Do I believe that His plans are better than mine?  Or do are all my pretty words just head knowledge?

What do you really believe?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Shoes I Just Don't Get: Reflection on "Fashion"

Fancy Clown?

Don't you step on my sued shoes?

I really don't even know what to say...
Maybe I'll just stick to my jeans and Toms because clearly I don't know the first thing about fashion, and really, I'm ok with that.

Friday, February 10, 2012

What I Wore to Work Today: "Boothy Tendencies

As you can see, I don't take great pictures, but it gets the point across.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Weakness: A Humbling Reflection

"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10

I am not a particularly strong person.  One of my new favorite terms for myself is “marshmallow” as I avoid conflict like the plague and do just about everything in my power to make sure no one is ever mad or irritated with me.  My idol is people, plain and simple and looking back over the course of my life I can see it very clearly.  The obedient golden child who rarely got spankings and cringed at disappointed glances really isn’t so golden or perfect; she’s just a self-worshiping narcissist who would generally prefer to take the easy way out.

On a slightly darker note, though most likely a connected one, I have struggled for years with mild depression.  It comes out of nowhere, like a tidal wave crashing into me so hard I feel I can’t breathe or even see past the end of my nose.  Joy is sucked from life and things go gray.  I feel guilty for feeling this way because I have been so, utterly blessed in so many areas, and I hear this voice telling me that I am ungrateful and that a real Christian wouldn’t feel this way. 

No, I’m not a strong person.  I listen to the lies Satan tells me, I worship gods that can neither see, nor hear, nor have hands to create or protect.  I forget the truths I learn from the word God has given us.  I forget to listen to the whisper that instills such truth.  I focus far too much on myself and ignore the plight of others.  I am terribly, terribly weak.

And I am learning to thank God for it.

The helplessness I feel, the gray I am often trapped in, always brings me to my knees, to the conclusion than I have zero power on my own.  And eventually that whisper breaks through all the stupid noise, the guilt, the foolishness and reminds me of Whose I am, what’s been done for me, and that it is in my weakness than He can be strong.  It isn’t when I feel brave and bold and confident that I can be effective, it’s when I am completely aware of my feebleness that I can be used for great things.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t always bring on the rush of endorphins that suddenly pulls me up out of the gloom.  I don’t actually hear a physical voice.  I still have to fight the lies banging around in my head.  But the whisper of truth reminds me of the rock I can rest on; King who stepped down from His throne to live the life I should be living, died the death I should have died, and breathed His spirit into me, replacing my heart of stone with a beating heart of flesh.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Pride Gut Shot: Reflections on Humility

Have you ever looked back on a conversation and been so embarrassed by what you said you sort of wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out?  I recently had one of those moments.  Looking back I can just imagine what the other people are thinking as I spout out something so inane and stupid that my pride takes a massive shot right to the gut.  This incident benefits me, even though it sure doesn’t feel like it.  It benefits me because of the well-deserved gut shot my pride gets. 

When I take stock of my day to day thoughts and really consider the attitude behind them, I find that most of the time, they come from a place that honestly believes that I am, in a way, the protagonist of some grand narrative.  I am the center of my own world, my own plot, and really I am better than everyone else.  This makes it ok for me to make fun of others when they say or do stupid things, at least mentally, and more than acceptable for me to distance myself from the socially awkward and/or weird.

The gut shot reminds me that all of these things I sort of subconsciously believe or at least live/think by are complete and total lies.  Yes, I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14 – a glorious ruin as my Associate Pastor says), but am still a recovering sinner and I am still quite fallible.  These blows to my pride underscore this truth and enable me to show much more compassion on others when they say foolish or embarrassing things. 

I see the same thing happen when God reveals my sin to me.  This conviction makes me far more willing to forgive sin done against me, and far more willing to show mercy to others in general.  Not to excuse sin, or look over it, after all scripture calls us to hate sin and even confront our brothers when they wrong us, but to throw off my prideful self-righteousness amidst those circumstances.

So I am thankful for embarrassment and sin conviction.  I am thankful that God does not allow me to bask in the fake sun of my self pride, and I long for the day when I can throw these things off for good, and rest completely, unhindered, in His righteousness and love. 

Monday, February 06, 2012

Amidst the Yuck: Reflection on God's Sovereignty

“Tell us your God story…”, “It was such a God thing…”, “God was working there…”, “It was amazing how God was guiding us…” 
These are a few of the phrases in “Christianese” that just drive me crazy.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about being aware of God working in our lives and reflecting on it intentionally, but I feel like nine times out of ten we use these slightly cheesy sayings exclusively in relation to circumstances that have worked out the way we believe they should, circumstances that make us happy or comfortable.  Very rarely do I hear people say, “Yeah, this situation really sucks, I’m not particularly happy, things are not working out /my/ way, and honestly, I’m angry right now, but I know God is good and in control.”
Our view, my view, of the way God works is small and relatively screwed up.
Take Job.
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.   The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” Job 1:21

He praises God amidst the yuck and even gives Him the credit for taking the things that made him happy away.  His act of worship is even more striking and insightful when you reflect on the fact that at the beginning of the chapter, God is the one who calls Satan’s attention to His servant in the first place.

8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Job 1:8

Maybe I’m the only one who never noticed this until recently, but this sort of shocked me.  Satan, our accuser doesn’t bring Job up in the first place, God does.  Moreover, Satan has to ask God permission to launch his attack and God has to approve.  My conclusion?  God is sovereign over all things, even the yuck.  To put it without the Christian jargon, God is completely in control over the good, the bad, and the ugly that goes on in our lives.

Two reactions can, and inevitably do, follow this realization:

1.       It’s not fair
2.       Awestruck praise
I think I’ve considered this on my blog before, so I may just be rehashing things, but here it is anyway; I am comforted by God’s control over the junk that happens to me.  Sometimes I get mad, often I complain to God, but I would so much rather a powerful God Who works things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose that we might be conformed to the likeness of His Son (Romans 8:28-29) than sort of like a god who is good and loving but has no power at all.
That’s why I get sick of hearing the rainbows and bunnies stories.  Not that I don’t believe them or that I am completely cynical (only a little) or that I don’t want them told, but because I want to hear more of us (myself as well) singing God’s praises when things don’t go /our/ way.  I guess what I want is more authenticity.  Be honest if you’re mad at God, at the world, if things don’t make any sense.  The Psalmists did it, complained to God, so why don’t we?  What do you think?  What holds you back?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Quote of the Day

A conversation between Brooke and Melanie:

Melanie putting super glue on a cut.

Brooke:  You're a freak!

Melanie:  I'm a nurse.

Isn't it amazing what seems odd to some and normal to others?