Archive for December, 2011

An Epic Saga of Bible Reading

Do you have any big plans for the new year?

I do.

I plan on getting chewed up and spit out by the Bible.

Again.

Don’t get me wrong–I love the Bible.  LOVE it.  This year, I have had some amazingly profitable Bible studies.  I read through the New Testament this summer and found it to be incredibly inspiring and enlightening.  I also studied Hosea in August, and really got caught up in the story of God’s passion for His people.  In the fall, when my family was going through a tumultuous time, I immersed myself in Philippians, and it kept me spiritually afloat (mixed metaphors, anyone?).  Right now, I’m going through a Beth Moore study on James with my best friend, and good ol’ James has been predictably hard-hitting and motivating.

But there is something about reading through the whole Bible that completely confuses and disorients me.  Recently, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary had a post on her experiences with reading through the Bible, and I was laughing out loud at her description of all the ickiness that goes on in the Old Testament.  I think it was just refreshing to hear someone else articulate the feeling.  Besides all the raping and slaughter and such, the Old Testament is also disorienting because it comes to us in 39 books, and I know precious little about their backgrounds.  By this time in my faith, I’m pretty familiar with the structure and background of the New Testament.  But the Old is a whole ‘nother story.  The books aren’t arranged chronologically, and sometimes even the content of the books isn’t arranged chronologically (see:  Jeremiah); they come in a variety of genres, each requiring its own set of interpretive tools; and often when you start a new book, you are thrown into a historical setting about which you have NO information.  It’s not uncommon to begin a book of prophecy and have no idea who is talking to whom, and at what time, and in what set of circumstances.  I do use several books on the Bible as I study, such as introductions and commentaries, but even then, it’s often hard to get my bearings and to put myself in such a foreign context.

So that’s some of the stuff that makes the Old Testament (and sometimes the New Testament) hard to understand.  But as Mark Twain said, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”  And I from the other quotes on the Bible I read by Twain while searching for the correct wording for that one, I think I partially mean it the way he does.  Yes, I understand Jesus’ plain words about loving our enemies, and that bothers me, because I know I must follow them.  But I also understand the story of Nadab and Abihu, and that bothers me because I can’t get how God would do that to them.  And I understand the story of Jehu, and that bothers me because I don’t know why God would use such a brutal murderer.  I understand the story of the Israelites taking over Canaan, and that bothers me because of all the genocide involved.  I understand David’s words about wanting someone to dash his enemies’ babies against the rocks, and that bothers me because I am generally against dashing infants.  And so forth.  

Now, believe me, I have sought and received several different answers to the questions that bother me, and have received much wise counsel from people much more educated and further along in their spirituality than I.  I have also spilled a considerable amount of ink and an even larger amount of pixels trying to sort out these issues myself.  And most importantly, I have prayed to God for guidance repeatedly while reading Scripture, and His Spirit has helped me in the process of discernment.  But the end result is generally the same:  by the time I limp through reading the whole Bible in a year, I am spiritually beat up, disheveled, and disoriented. I’ve only done it twice, though, and the second time was much better than the first time.  So I have even higher hopes for the third time.

Now, you may be thinking, Why do it, if it is so challenging to your faith?

I have asked myself the same thing, after each time I’ve finished.  The first time, I honestly thought I would never try to read the whole Bible again.  I finished it at the end of 2006, and I had read it in isolation, never getting to compare notes with other readers.  The sad part was that there was a year-long Sunday school class at church that was reading the same one year Bible that I was, and they met to discuss it each week.  But I was already scheduled to teach for most of the quarters of the year, and so I didn’t get to attend.  I would often pass that class on the way to the one I was teaching, and wish so badly that I could go in and just ask, “Okay, was anyone else completely weirded out by this week’s reading?”  But there was another part of me that thought I might get kicked out of church if I asked the questions that were rattling around in my head.

And so it was that I put the Bible away with a sigh of relief the end of that year.  I decided to spend 2007 just reading the psalms, a book which, baby-head-bashing aside, is like chicken noodle soup for the questioning soul.  I took heart from David’s honesty, from his unwillingness to pretend that his faith was perfect or that he had all the right answers.  I appreciated his rawness, his seeking, his frustration and sadness, intermixed with his joy.  My faith rebounded, and I went on to study the Bible piece-meal for a few more years.

And then in 2010, I decided to try again.  Why?  Because I wanted to know God.  Reading the whole Bible had given me a jolting wake-up call that God was very different than I was.  I tend to unconsciously make God in my own image, which is a form of idolatry.  The best antidote to that self-delusion, I found, is the strong elixir of the whole Bible.  It provides a shock to my system that forces me to acknowledge how different God is from my conceptions of Him.  And since I want to know who God really is, and not just who I want Him to be, I confess that the battering of the whole Bible has become somewhat addictive to me.

Also, I believe that the Truth is strong.  I believe that it–no, that He–can handle our questions, our confusion, our honesty.  I have faith in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present God.  And because of that, I know He is more than a match for the struggles of my limited intellect.  Armed with that faith, I began again in 2010.

My reading in 2010 was much better, for two reasons:  1) I took the time to process my thoughts through typing them out in an ongoing Bible blog, which helped immensely, and 2) I read through it with several different Christians (and one atheist!) who chimed in with their two cents.  Reading it this way proved to me that the Bible is meant to be read and interpreted in community.  I was still worn out by the time I crossed the finish line, but even then, I knew I was going to do it again in a year.

And now we are here:  2012.  Time to start again.  I’m going to use the same Bible I did in 2010:  The One Year Bible.  That way, I can refer to my blog to laugh at get insight from my old thoughts, as well as the thoughts of others.  It will also be interesting to see where my interpretations and responses have changed.  As I start, I want to formally invite anyone to join me who so desires.  And I also want to say this to anyone who needs to hear it:  I know it’s hard to read the Bible sometimes.  And I know it’s even harder to understand parts of it.  I know that while it is amazing and uplifting and life-changing and inspirational, it can also be confusing and disorienting.  I know that.  So if you ever read the Bible and come away feeling further from God instead of closer to Him, please know that there is someone who understands those feelings.  When I felt that way, I often wondered if I was the only one.  Maybe I was:).  But if you have ever felt like that, or ever feel that way in the future, please know that you are not alone.  And if you are ever confused or uncertain about something you read in the Bible, and you just want to talk to someone about it, I will talk to you.  I can almost guarantee you that I won’t have hard and fast answers for you, but I will jump in there with you and work through it.  One way to get my attention is to leave a comment on either this blog or the Bible blog.  Even when I am not actively referring to the Bible blog (as I will be in 2012), I still get email updates whenever someone leaves a comment.  I will go so far as to guarantee that if you leave a comment on the Bible blog about Scripture, I will respond to you.  As one who is extremely indebted to those who have responded to ME when I’ve been lost and confused, I would be remiss not to pass on that blessing (albeit with a lot less wisdom and insight).

So those are my Bible reading plans for 2012.  I also have bought or plan to buy a few books that I think will help with journey…in addition, of course, to the faithful references and commentaries that I have already accrued.

Wish me luck…and feel free to join me!

Have you ever read the whole Bible?  How did you take it?

Chocolate Update and Confession

Greg and I recently decided to try to start buying fair trade chocolate, a conviction I blogged about here.  A couple nights ago, Greg asked me if I had read about Nestle partnering with the Fair Labor Association to investigate the use of child slavery in its supply chain.  He really didn’t have to ask:  if it wasn’t featured on the front page of Yahoo! news or my friends’ blogs, then the answer was no.  I hadn’t heard.

After his heads-up, I read several articles about the agreement, and while it seems like good news, it also seems from my “research” that these companies have a history of making promises without backing them up with action.  So we’ll see.

Besides some healthy skepticism, my impromptu investigation of Nestle’s claims led to a couple of different emotions in me:  it made me feel kind of warm and fuzzy about the populist power inherent in capitalism, while also arousing strangely competitive feelings against Great Britain.

Regarding the first emotion, look, I know capitalism has its problems.  That said, there is something uniquely empowering in the ability to affect the decisions of a corporate juggernaut with the use of (a whole lotta people’s) measly little dollars.  It reminds me of the thrill that my kids got at the Science Center the other day when they used a lever and pulley system to lift up a car.  As Jack Sparrow would say, it’s just “a matter of leverage.”  Yes, fair trade chocolate has a long way to go, but just look at how far fair trade coffee has come!  When my hippie husband broached the idea of buying fair trade coffee a few years ago, I couldn’t find it anywhere, and on the rare occasions that I could physically locate the mythical bag, it was outrageously priced.  Now, you can buy fair trade coffee at Wal-mart and Target, and it’s honestly not that much more expensive than regular coffee!  We can do this, guys!  Power to the people!

Secondly, though, must Britain always beat us to the punch on the slavery issue?  I keep thinking about William Wilberforce, whom I conveniently picture as Ioan Gruffudd, and not this guy:

File:William Wilberforce.jpg

Gruffudd’s movie reminded me that Britain voted to abolish slavery in 1833, while the U.S. lagged some thirty years behind (and wasn’t there a war involved or something?  I forget).

And their annoying moral superiority still goes on today, people!

Did you know that Nestle already sells a fair trade Kit Kat bar in Britain?  And it’s not like Kit Kats are some little rinky-dink candy over there:  they are the best-selling chocolate bar in the UK!  And Cadbury also has a fair trade line of chocolate that they sell in Britain.

But do they sell the fair trade Kit Kats in the U.S.?  And for that matter, does Cadbury sell fair trade chocolate in the States?  No, and no.

Why?

I confess that I haven’t fully investigated the disparity, but I can only imagine it’s because they know we don’t care.  We. don’t. care.  Because if we did, we wouldn’t buy them, and then they’d have to sell us something we would buy.  It’s quite simple, when you think about it.  And so now, I’m feeling competitive.  We’re America, dang it!  We are proud of our morality, our Christian heritage…unlike those pagan Europeans!  (Sarcasm.)  Did Bradford call England the “city on a hill”?  No, he called America that.

So…why are we still behind?  

Well….probably because we (read: me) are not so awesome at sticking to buying fair trade chocolate.  Oh, we can do the chocolate chips and the cocoa mix, and we don’t really buy chocolate bars anyway…but we (okay, I!) have two downfalls.  One is M&M’s.  I don’t buy them for myself (for real–I really don’t buy candy just for the heck of it), but I did “need” them for my gingerbread house party and for SANTA bingo with the Y.E.S. kids’ Christmas party.  In retrospect, I could have probably used some substitutes, but I was in a hurry and not thinking creatively.  Really, there’s no excuse, but I’m not as concerned about the errant M&M’s because they were for unique circumstances.  What really bothers me is the brownie mix.

In my house, we always have three or four boxes of brownie mix.  Because of the nature of Greg’s job, we usually have people over to eat about once a week, and brownies are a really quick, easy dessert to throw together.  Plus, they often go on sale, buy-one-get-one free, and there are tons of coupons.  Cheap, simple, delicious.  There’s just one problem.  It recently occurred to me (like, today, when I was unloading my four boxes of Ghiradelli brownies from Publix) that brownie mixes have chocolate in them.  And I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that the chocolate is probably not fair trade.

*Exhale*

Now, that will require a lifestyle change.  (Seriously, we love brownies that much!)

I often have to reorient my gaze to the big picture (CHILD SLAVERY!), and remind myself that I really am committed to being more responsible with my measly dollars.  But now, you gotta help me out.  It would be so great if I had some good, quick, easy, cheap, non-chocolate-laden dessert ideas to replace my brownies.  I need the kind of thing that most guests would like and that I could throw together easily when we are having people over.  In fact, that’s going to be my ending question:

Do you know any desserts that fit my criteria?  This is important, people (and I’m only sort of joking)!

I will leave you with this for inspiration (I couldn’t find any clips like I wanted, so I had to go with the preview.  And full disclosure:  I may have a penchant for cheesiness):

“If there is a bad taste in your mouth, you spit it out.”

I agree completely.

Kingdom Voices: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Happy Christmas eve, everyone!  My family has a busy day planned that I hope glorifies God and shares His love for others.  But first, in honor of the day, I thought I’d share another excerpt from my Advent devotional.

Of all of the words of the Bible, perhaps none captivate me more than Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.  That parable ignites a wide range of emotions in me, from fear to wonder to excitement to passion to desire to meet God in the people around me.  There is something utterly profound in Christ’s statement that, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (25:40).  Truly, it is hard to plumb the depths of those words, and to fully understand their implications.  I think, however, that Bonhoeffer does a pretty good job here of briefly exploring the import of the amazing picture that Jesus paints in that parable:

“One day at the last judgment, he will separate the sheep and the goats and will say to those on his right:  ‘Come, you blessed…I was hungry and you fed me…’ (Matt. 25:34).  To the astonished question of when and where, he answered:  ‘What you did to the least of these, you have done to me…’ (Matt. 25:40).  With that we are faced with the shocking reality:  Jesus stands at the door and knocks in complete reality.  He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing.  He confronts you in every person that you meet.  Christ walks on the earth as your neighbor as long as there are people.  He walks on earth as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, and makes his demands.  That is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the Advent message.  Christ stands at the door.  He lives in the form of the person in our midst.  Will you keep the door locked or open it to him?”

The idea of being able to meet Christ in each person among the masses of humanity around us, and to serve Him directly through loving our neighbor never ceases to enthrall me.

What passage of Scripture most excites and motivates you?

*Quote taken from:  Bonhoeffer, Dietrich.  “The Coming of Jesus in our Midst.”  Watch for the Light:  Readings for Advent and Christmas.  Farmington, PA:  Plough Publishing House, 2001.

Good Instincts

So often, the natural desires that come from deep down inside me are…well…bad.  They are selfish, they are petty, they are grasping, they are selfish, they are impatient, they are worldly, and they are desperately selfish.  Did I mention that they can be selfish?  The Bible talks about the flesh being in opposition to the Spirit, and I can relate so completely.  Really, I have learned to trust none of my knee-jerk reactions to situations because generally, they are the wrong things to do.

And then I became a mother, and lo and behold, I found a good instinct!  I love my babies so incredibly much…and even more than that, having those babies opened up a whole other level of love and compassion for all children.  I have blogged about these feelings in the past on our family blog, and I may even reprint that post here some day, but the gist of it was that when I had kids, I suddenly felt a profound love, not just for my own children, but for all the children of the world who did not have a loving caregiver.  On a deep, guttural, soul-hurting level, I mourned the abuse that was undoubtedly happening all around me in this world.  The feeling was so overwhelming that I wasn’t even sure what to do about it…or if there was anything I even could do.  It even briefly put me at odds with God, but eventually, He brought me through it, and showed me some productive steps I could take to advocate for hurting children.

It has been awhile since I’ve thought about that rawness of emotion, that deep hurt for hurting kids that I felt shortly after having my own, but yesterday, I saw a reprint of the following blog post on Rage Against the Minivan.  She was sharing these thoughts from another blogger, and the words reverberated in my soul and reminded me of that tumultuous time in my spiritual life.  What I love is the way this blogger has used that passion to do something constructive.  This is her second year to use her blog to help an orphaned child (you can read about the first year here).  I love her words, and I love the way she enables us each to participate in the beautiful act of looking out for an orphan in his distress.  Even if you don’t contribute $5 toward his fund (which I highly recommend), it is worth the read:

life rearranged

Hello my sweet friends.

I’d like for you to meet Xander.

The squishiest, sweetest, most delicious little face you ever did see.

Xander lives in an orphanage in Eastern Europe with no Mommy and no Daddy.

Those almond eyes, a sign of Down Syndrome…and likely much needed medical care.

Once when Henry was a bitty baby, I found myself in his nursery in the wee hours of the morning consoling his whimpering and kissing his feverish little forehead.  I remember thinking: of all the people in the entire world, I’m the only one who can make him feel even remotely happy.  All he wants is his mama.  No one else will do.

And suddenly, out of the blue, in the glow of a new mom’s overwhelming love for her first baby, I was crushed at the thought of the orphan crisis.

How, if my life were different…if one of millions of things weren’t exactly the same as they are now…

I was devastated at the thought of a feverish and sick child whimpering in a crib alone.

No mama to stay up and whisper sweet nothings and coo in his ear.

No daddy to chase him around the house and throw him high into the air for no reason but to elicit squeals of delight.

No cherry flavored Tylenol and cool washcloths for his head.

In that moment, in the middle of the night, sitting in a gliding rocker, in a perfectly decorated nursery, I sobbed.

And truth be told, I’ve never really stopped sobbing over it, you know?

Something happened that night, or really the moment I became a mother, that made me look at the entire world differently.

The world is a much smaller place the moment you have children. 

I think we all break in some way for the orphan crisis…but we have no idea where to start or what to do.

After all, little Xander is only one of 143 million orphans.

Read that number again.  Roll it around in your brain.

Horrific.

And let’s not forget all of the other issues of our broken world. The cancer, the poverty, the dirty water, the child trafficking, the abuse, the wars, the AIDS pandemic, the….name it.

I’m tempted to shut down in an overwhelmed panic.

Because the truth is, we can’t save the world.

We can give and give and advocate and try, and it still won’t be enough.

Right?

But you know what?

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

It doesn’t mean it’s a good reason to sit back and do nothing.

We must try.

We must do our part.

We must.

Do not buy into the lie that your portion does not matter.

Do not allow yourself to believe that you cannot make a difference.

Do not give yourself permission to throw up your hands in frustration and then cover your eyes with them.

Because today my friends, we will do something.

It may not be much, but we will do our part because it’s the right thing to do.

Because God calls us to do it.

After all, last Christmas, $5 at a time, we made a difference for Cliff and raised almost $9,500…Cliff who is now Joshua and has a mama, a daddy, three brothers and a whole host of grandmas and aunts and uncles.

I know your heart breaks for orphans.  I know it does.  And I know that it may not be possible for you to adopt.  But a family out there would love to. And you can help.

Together we will combine our portions for Xander’s adoption fund.  So that when a family steps forward to adopt him, a gift of funding will be awaiting them.

International adoption is expensive.  And is hands down the biggest deterrant to would be adoptive families.

Not desire.  Not extra bedrooms.  Not politics.

Just stupid, awful money.

So let’s bless a family today.  Let’s bless Xander.

Let’s make this Christmas be about more than wrapping paper and twinkling lights.

Consider making a tax deductible donation to Xander’s adoption fund through Reece’s Rainbow.

I know life is expensive and times are tough.  I know.

But ask yourself this: Can you afford not to?

Reading Jeannett’s words, my heart not only went out to Xander and all the orphans, but my mind started mulling over the good instincts that God gives us, those times when doing the right thing is actually natural.  For me, it is caring for orphans because I’m a mom, and moms take care of kids.  For you, it might be something different.  But I think it’s worth it to identify those instincts and to thank God for them, because I believe they are part of being made in His image.  As we are trapped in bodies that are so often dogged by sin and selfishness, those beautiful instincts are good and perfect gifts that come down to us from the Father of the heavenly lights.  I’m sure that, like everything else, they can be manipulated, and we can use them wrongly.  Like everything else, they must be guided by God’s Spirit.  But in the midst of all of our bad instincts, it’s nice to have a few good ones, you know?

What are your good instincts?  Were you born with them, or did they develop over time?

Birds

“But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  Luke 18:16

I carry around a list in my head of all the things I need to do in a day.  Before I had kids, this mental list dictated my day.  It kept me focused on all the tasks I needed to complete, and I would methodically move from one to the next until they were done.  I call this practice, “sticking with the plan,” and Greg occasionally makes fun of me for it whenever it veers into neuroses.

My children, on the other hand, could not care less about “sticking with the plan.”

Much of “the plan” even revolves around them these days:  fixing their breakfasts, packing their lunches, playing with them, helping with homework, etc.  And yet, there are also those pesky other things that must be done:  quiet time, laundry, mopping, cooking, emailing, budgeting, errand-running, and so forth.  My kids are not always on board with that other list.  And frankly, that’s not always a bad thing.  In fact, their indifference has managed to get me to do something that all of my husband’s loving jabs could not:  cultivate the discipline to break from the plan when needed.

My children have taught me that sometimes a tea party is more important than a mopped floor, and that curling up with two babies and a pile of books can and should be the first priority of many days.  They have taught me that most of my tasks are really not that important at all, and certainly not too important to be interrupted several times to take care other others.

And they have taught me to watch birds.

A couple of days ago, I was walking from the family room to the bedrooms, probably carrying a pile of items to be distributed to rooms along the way, when I caught sight of Luke sitting on the living room floor, gazing out the window.  He was situated between the glass and the sheer white curtain, just a gauzy outline of a five year old.  Out of amused curiosity, I stopped and asked him what he was doing.

“Oh, just looking at the birds.  Do you want to come watch?”

It was a question whose answer held a strangely moral dimension for me that day.  My mental list had been very prominent in my thinking, and I had been zipping through it, check-check-checking things off.  And yet, suddenly, watching birds seemed like more than a suggestion; it seemed like the right thing to do.

“Yes, buddy.  I’d love to.”

And so I settled in behind the curtain, cross-legged against the glass, and watched the crows fly from tree to tree.  I watched a blue jay chatter on a branch, and smaller birds zip in between “the cord lines,” as Luke calls the telephone wires.  We laughed together at each unexpected flight and each avian interaction, wondering aloud what the birds were saying to each other.  I totally forgot what it was that I was supposed to be doing, and can’t remember even now, because I knew somehow that I was doing something that mattered so much more.

I was looking at the birds of the air and realizing that they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet my heavenly Father feeds them.  Are Luke and Anna and Greg and I…are we all…not much more valuable than they? 

Sitting there, I was thankful to a God who not only took care of birds, but who gave this overly-driven mama a kindergartner who was delighted by them.  I remembered fondly how, even at less than a year old, he would be fixated by the smallest outline of a winged creature flying through the sky.  We would laugh at the way he would ignore all of the large, bright toys we were waving in his face to point and grunt excitedly at the pinprick of a bird so far overhead that we adults had missed it.

Back at the window, we remained contentedly gazing at the birds for well past the normal attention span of a five year old.  It was a cold, gray and gloomy day.  The sun was gone, it was too wet to play outside, and in my mind, the coloring of the day could best be described as “dismal.”  After sitting and watching the birds for a good, long while, Luke and I decided to play with his Toy Story characters, which really excited him.  Still, he could barely stand to wrench himself away from the window, sighing, “It’s just such a beautiful day.”

And I looked out the window again…and realized that it was.

Sometimes it’s so easy to see why the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

 

 

How do your children–or any children–draw you closer to God?

Call for Books (Mind-blowers only, please!)

Last year, right after Christmas, I had an amazing reading experience.  My husband had gotten me When Helping Hurts, which is kind of a “game changer” of a book, in that it makes you rethink everything you do to help the poor.  I absolutely consumed it at my parents’ house in a matter of hours, and it simply blew my mind.  It was such an amazing experience to have my whole way of looking at a subject be completely transformed.  Then, when we were at Greg’s parents’ house, his mom loaned me the book, Same Kind of Different as Me, which kind of served as a powerful illustration of several of the principles in When Helping Hurts.  Plus, it was a deeply moving book all on its own.  I loved that experience of reading two powerful books in such a short span of time, and I will forever remember that week or two fondly, as a time of great spiritual growth.

Because of those memories, I am eager to repeat that experience.  I am looking for some good, world-rocking books to read in the lull between Christmas and the craziness that will be my 2012.  Here are some books that I think might fit the bill, and I’m interested in any other suggestions:

1.  The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard

A trusted friend said that this one was a “MUST. READ.” and then actually sounded smart when he used the material from it in a discussion (Just messing with you, Sean, if you are reading:)).  So naturally, I’m dying to read it.  Plus, I learned from the Amazon reviews that Richard Foster (RICHARD FOSTER!) called this book “the book I’ve been searching for all my life.”  Wow!  Richard Foster.  I was sold at “MUST. READ.” but that just elevated my level of need for this book to DEFCON 1.

2.  The Blue Parakeet, by Scot McKnight

Having read through the entire Bible a grand total of two times, I now consider myself an expert in being confused by it.  As a result of my forays into the entirety of Scripture, I have become increasingly concerned with the problem of hermeneutics.  I even have an ongoing blog post in my head called, “In Search of a Consistent Hermeneutic,” which, if I ever actually type it, promises to be incredible scandalous incredibly scandalous?  Anyway, before I try to hammer that all out into my keyboard, I’d like to hear some different takes on hermeneutical approaches to Scripture.  Apparently, McKnight does a good job of highlighting the inconsistencies of our traditional interpretive models, and I would actually like to hear someone admit that who is a believing Christian and not the atheist who kept commenting on my Bible blog last year.  Unlike my atheist pal, I’m hoping he has some constructive solutions.  So…yeah.  Really want to read this.  (Also, I can’t turn around these days without hearing something about Scot McKnight, and I had never heard of him before, like, two weeks ago.  So now I’m wanting to know what the big deal is.)

3.  Half the Church, by Carolyn Custis James

Speaking of incredibly scandalous, I’ve been recommended this book several times through the blogging world, and I have decided that I’m interested enough to read it.  It seems to be all about women’s roles in the church, which is a pretty contentious subject these days (and probably all days, really).  Like most of these books, I don’t anticipate agreeing with everything in it, but I’m eager to hear her argument. (The lone exception to my skepticism is Willard’s book.  I fully expect to be blown away by it).

4.  The Bible Made Impossible, by Christian Smith

Did I mention that I’m interested in hermeneutics?  Because I am!  This book has gotten rave reviews from several bloggers I read.  Also, “the most helpful favorable review” on Amazon mentioned that this book addresses the  “interpretive quagmire that exists in the Protestant world,” and that totally sold me.  Anyhow, I just wanted to check this one out.  Full disclosure:  I’m not sure that I know what “biblicism” is, which might be a problem.  And like I said before, I seriously doubt that I will agree with everything (or even most) of what is in this book.  Like I alluded to with The Blue Parakeet, though, I’m kind of in the market for a new hermeneutical model b/c the makeshift one I’ve been using keeps confusing the heck out of me.

5.  Unclean, by Richard Beck

This book intrigued me, both because it is by a fellow coC’er, and because the amazon reviews used phrases like, “paradigm-shifting.”  Ooooh…I do love a good paradigm shift!  (Also, in hindsight, I might be a little too swayed by the verbal stylings of the Amazon reviewers.)  Anyway, from what I remember from reading about the book, it’s all very psychological and talks about the concept of “disgust” in the church.  I don’t know, it’s definitely not something I sought out, but I have found myself bizarrely intrigued by it.

So now that I’ve gathered the books that I’m wanting to read in one place, feel free to go buy them for me add to the list.  Over the years, I have created my own maxim:  “To love is to give something to read.”  (Doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, does it?)  I will now alter that phrase to say, “To like is to give reading suggestions.”  (Hmmm…still not really flowing.)  Anyway, I’d love to hear any recommendations for any great books.  Not just any books, now!  I’m looking for some big, fat, juicy, thought-provoking, “paradigm-shifting” mind blowers!  No pressure…but yeah, I want some good ones:).

So…do you have anything for me?

(Also, have you read any of these?  What do you think about them?)

The Dreaded Syllabus

I’m supposed to be working on my syllabus for the courses I’m teaching next semester.  I have to meet with the head of the department tomorrow to go over what I have written.

Instead, I’ve been eating oreo balls at an alarming rate, vacuuming the house, and making shrinky dinks with Anna, interspersed with moments of opening up Microsoft Word, staring worriedly at my half-written syllabus, and biting my fingernails.

It is not my most productive strategy, but I can’t help it.  Syllabi absolutely terrify me.

They always have.  I remember when I was in college and would be so excited about starting a class (yes, I’m a nerd).  On the first day, students would file in, and a cheerful teacher would do something moderately fun to break the ice, and everything would seem so nice and welcoming…and then, it would happen.  The professor would hand out THE SYLLABUS.  Pages and pages of rules and guidelines and…oh…a list of everything you were expected to do for the whole semester.  Every single time, I would look at the list of papers I was expected to write and completely freak out.  Every. single. time.

It didn’t help that syllabi are totally free of grace.  They are the most graceless documents outside of mortgage agreements and insurance policies.  Syllabi are all about penalties and loss of letter grades and unexcused absences and rules for paper spacing.  There’s no, “Just do your best,” or “You can handle this” inferred in a syllabus.  Instead, I tended to interpret the following message: “This class is obviously too demanding for you and probably completely over your head, and you would do best to go on and drop it.  Stop wasting my time.”  And I would agree with the syllabus’ unspoken words.  I would think, “There is no way I can write all these papers and read all these books and do all these journals and take all these tests and learn all of that stuff!”   I kid you not, in at least 50% of my classes at college, I spent the first day seriously pondering walking out and dropping the class because I thought it was just too hard.  (You are probably reading all this and thinking, “And they want you to come back and teach??”  Ha!  I know.  I am just as surprised as you are!)

Here’s the thing, though.  I never dropped a class.  Never.  And I never failed one.  In fact, I always did pretty well.  I always found out that I could write all those papers, and I could read all those books, and I could do all those journals, and I could take all of those tests and learn all of that stuff.  It’s just that when you see it all at once like that, when you see up front what’s expected of you, it tends to be overwhelming.

I thank God in heaven that He did not give me the syllabus for my life.

I haven’t even had that bad of a life.  I’ve had a pretty great one, actually, but if I saw a syllabus-like list of all the demands that would be made of me, even in the midst of the blessings, it would be overwhelming.  If I had seen all at once that I would have a miscarriage, my brother would die, and my husband would lose his job all in the span of a relatively few years, well, I can guarantee you that I would have been on the floor rocking back and forth in a fetal position.  And even when you don’t consider the traumatic stuff, if I saw on a sheet of paper how many loads of laundry I was going to have to do and how many diapers I was going to have to change and how many times I was going to have to vomit in my life…well, no thank you.  I would take one look at the list of demands on that paper and say, “There is no way I can do this!”

Thinking about the syllabus for a life, I realized the grace that God showers on us by making us live out our days one moment at a time. He probably knows that giving us the whole picture would lead to a panic attack that would make my inward, first-day-of-class freak outs seem mild by comparison.  Instead, He unspools our lives for us, one beautiful/difficult/joyous/tragic minute followed by another.  And He experiences those moments alongside us, carrying us through the hard ones, rejoicing with us over the happy ones.

One of the great ironies of my life is that I tend to spurn this moment-by-moment existence, yearning instead for the big picture.  In those times of waiting, of uncertainty, of confusion, I beg and plead with God to please, please just show me what’s around the bend.  I pray to Him to relieve me of this time-bound existence, of this insufferable ignorance of the future.  I ask Him to please not make me walk this path in darkness, with only the light to see the very next step.

But then I think about the syllabus, and I realize that instead of complaining, I should be thanking God for the mercy of minutes, of hours and days.  I should be thanking Him for meting our life out to us in little spoonfuls of time, letting us savor each second of our existence before it fades into our future.  I should be thankful to Him for hiding from us what’s around the bend, to spare us from dread of the tragic and over-anticipation of the happy.

One day, when God’s kingdom comes fully, we shall be free from the constraints of time.  Until then, I have to keep reminding myself that time is a gift, and ignorance of the future a blessing.  They are both given to us by a God who knows what we can handle and who wants to be there each step of the way to tell us that yes, with Him, we can do this thing.

And now, I have a syllabus to write…

(Just kidding!  I finished it before I finished this post.  I do have some sense of priorities!)

What about you?  Do you think having a syllabus for life would be helpful, or would you freak out like me?

Kingdom Voices: Karl Barth

The Advent devotional I read yesterday was by Karl Barth.  I found it to be both absolutely fascinating and at times, somewhat confusing.  And yet, there was a section that jumped out at me and just didn’t let go.  Since it was most likely an excerpt from a greater work, I cannot claim to fully understand it, but I loved these ideas of fully communing with God as we go throughout our life:

“Believing is not something as special and difficult or even unnatural as we often suppose.  Believing means that what we listen to, we listen to as God’s speech.  What moves us is not just our own concern, but precisely God’s concern.  What causes me worry, that is God’s worry, what gives me joy is God’s joy, what I hope for is God’s hope.  In other words, in all that I am, I am only a party to that which God thinks and does.  In all that I do it is not I, but rather God who is important.  Imagine if everything were brought into this great and proper connection, if we were willing to suffer, be angry, love and rejoice with God, instead of always wanting to make everything our own private affair, as if we were alone.

Just imagine if we were to adapt everything that gratifies and moves us into the life and movement of God’s kingdom, so that we personally are, so to speak, taken out of play.  Simply love!  Simply hope!  Simply rejoice!  Simply strive!  But in everything, do it no longer from yourself, but rather from God!  Everything great that is hidden in you can indeed be great only in God…

We must once and for all give up trying to be self-made individuals.  Let us cease preaching by ourselves, being right by ourselves, doing good by ourselves, being sensible by ourselves, improving the world by ourselves.  God wants to do everything, certainly through us and with us and never without us; but our participation in what he does must naturally originate and grow out of his power, not ours.  O, how we could then speak with one another!  For whatever does not grow out of God produces smoke, not fire.  But that which is born of God overcomes the world (1 Jn. 5:4).”

I very much want my life to be like that.  Like Barth, I have a vision of being “taken out of play,” so that I am simply God’s instrument.  That is my picture of dying to self. I’m not sure, of course, exactly what that looks like in my life, but I liked Barth’s ideas.

Quote taken from:

Barth, Karl.  “To Believe.”  Watch for the Light:  Readings for Advent and Christmas.  Farmington, PA:  Plough Publishing House, 2001. 137-139.

Sour Patch Kids and Sin

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved Sour Patch Kids.  I would get them every time I went to the movies, and would eat the whole bag by myself…despite the fact that they would inevitably leave my taste buds completely raw by the end (sidenote:  I don’t think that Sour Patch Kids are actually a food product).  Anyway, even though the candy laid waste to my tongue, I would not only polish off the bag, but then pour all the little leftover sour granules into my mouth to cap off the experience.  Mmmm…heavenly.

File:Sourpatchkids.jpgMy relationship with Sour Patch Kids came to an abrupt end, however, sometime in my mid-teen years.  I had bought–and promptly devoured–a bag at the mall…just before I came down with a stomach bug.  Needless to say, after spending hours heaving their acidic goodness into the toilet (you’re welcome), my body was done–DONE!–with Sour Patch Kids.  In fact, it promptly passed an internal decree that we would no longer be eating that candy under any circumstances.  For the next ten years, I could not even look at Sour Patch Kids without my stomach lurching, cringing in memory of The Dreaded Event.

Shockingly, in that ten years, I still caught several stomach bugs, despite not touching Sour Patch Kids.  That’s because, while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend consuming whole bags of Sour Patch Kids, they are not what made me sick.

I was already sick when I ate them.  My sickness didn’t come from them, but from something that was already inside of me.

Perhaps you see where I am going with this.

I happen to love rules.  I see great value in them.  Rules keep me safe.  Rules keep society stable.  Rules help us to survive.  Rules are even instinctive.  My ban on Sour Patch Kids, while uninformed and ineffective, was simply a natural survival instinct, like the birds who learn to avoid the berries that make them sick.  That’s why we still have birds, people.

See, when we suffer, we don’t like it, and we don’t want it to happen again.  Thus, we try to ferret out the cause of our suffering and to make a rule that will prevent future suffering.  In terms of physical suffering, this can be an effective strategy for a safe and harmonious society:  do we not like random murders?  Let’s make murder illegal!  Were some children horribly maimed at the factory they worked at?  Time for some child labor laws!  Did my daughter haul off and smack my son?  No hitting!  That’s a rule!

But there is one area over which rules hold no sway.  Oh, they can control, at least to a degree, our physical behavior, but they have no jurisdiction over our souls.  Paul comes out strong against rules in Colossians:

“Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”  Col. 2:20-23

Wow.  Mull that one over for a minute.  Paul tells the Colossians here that these religious rules are completely pointless.  They lack any value in actually restraining sin.  And even more than that, Paul says that they are worldly!   I still can’t really wrap my mind around that one, but the bottom line is that he dismisses this attempt to regulate morality.

This verse is not the only place in the Bible that warns against the pitfalls of external regulations.  In fact, you could argue that the Old Testament Law was a grand experiment in the efficacy of using rules as a path to God.

It didn’t work out so well.

The Law seemed great in theory:  do this, don’t do that, wear these clothes, avoid that mold, don’t eat shellfish…and voila!  You are clean before God.  But in practice, it just didn’t work out that way.  In fact, here’s what one former Pharisee said about his experience with following the Law:

“What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

 13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

 14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”  Romans 7:7-23

Paul concludes by lamenting, “What a wretched man I am!  Who will save me from this body of death!”  Then, he answers his own question:  “Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

You can see from his talk in Romans 7 why Paul might have spoken so harshly against external regulations in Colossians.  He had learned through a lifetime of experience that rules just didn’t work.  They didn’t bring him closer to God; if anything, they just made him more aware of his distance from God.  If anything, rules just gave his sinful nature something to rebel against.  In that way, they made him sin even more!  Paul is careful to note that while the rules themselves weren’t bad, they did bring out what was worst in him.  That’s why they failed in their purpose.  The one thing that the law “was powerless to do” was to set us free from our sinful nature (Rom. 8:3).  The spiritual ineffectiveness of rules is similar to my ban on Sour Patch Kids.  I can avoid them all day long, but that will not protect me from getting sick if there is a virus already inside of me.  Similarly, we can make all kinds of rules to keep us away from situations that might lead us into sin, but they are still not going to keep us from sinning if the problem is in our heart.

And yet, God knows we try.  We still do love rules.  At least, I do.  I love them ever so much.  I periodically ban myself from Facebook in an attempt to focus my mind on things more spiritual; I cut myself off from a particular show, or a certain practice.  And I don’t believe that those disciplines, in and of themselves, are bad.  The problem is when I try to make my personal rule a universal rule, when I force my rules upon others.  That’s where the Pharisees ran into problems, and that’s where we in the church can run into problems.

Recently I stumbled upon a Mormon blog post describing their church’s struggle with regulating women’s dress.  As I scrolled through the lively comments section, I was mainly thankful that I wasn’t personally having to figure out the issue along with them!  I was also struck by the futility of trying to solve the problem of lust by telling women what they could and couldn’t wear.  Honestly, it just doesn’t seem effective.  Plus, when you consider religions that have taken this concept to its logical conclusion, it just gets pretty scary really quickly.  Legalism can be quite oppressive.

Thankfully, I think that, for the most part, we Christians realize that.  I am grateful that I have never been to a church that has enforced an actual dress code, regardless of how much they are concerned about modesty.  And I’m glad that I have never been a part of a church that forbade movies or playing with cards that had faces on them, which I have heard has happened in the past.  I’m glad that we seem to be slowly but surely giving up–at least on the church level–the unscriptural idea that we can regulate morality through rules.

But there’s another side, too.  

Sometimes I wish the pendulum could just stay in the middle, you know?  Would that be so hard?

Apparently, yes.  It would seem that we humans love the wild and exhilarating ride that is the extreme pendulum swing, and so we just keep banging back and forth into oblivion.  Now, instead of being hyper-legalistic, we have a strain of anti-legalism.  We can get to where we are skeptical of any challenge to our lifestyle, any claim that might make some demand on our behavior because we fear that such claims might be legalistic.  A friend of mine recently shared how passionate she is for God here lately, and how she feels that God is calling her to a deeper level of service (yes, this is a real friend, and not just a “friend” that is really me:)).  She also, however, expressed frustration at sharing her passion with her dear Christians friends, because she tended to be met with skepticism.  Whenever she shared her suspicions that God might be wanting a little more from her, she was chided for trying to earn her salvation or for being legalistic.

I myself have received a few (very kind and often funny) comments from friends in passing that seem to assume that I now view it as a “rule” that we should not go to movies or buy stuff because of this blog post I wrote.  I was also warned in the comments section of that blog not to make an idol of asceticism or to let it lead to Phariseeism.  I took the comment as the thoughtful, helpful point that it was, but the sum total of the reaction to that blog did make me think.  To be honest, I completely understand the drive to avoid legalism at all costs.  I don’t want to live under the burden of 50,000 rules that do nothing to bring me closer to God.  But when I hear the backlash my friend has received from her passion, and the concerns about legalism as a result of my movie thoughts, it takes me back to my Sour Patch Kids response.  It’s the same story all over again:  something hurts us (in this case, it’s having too many rules); we vow, “Never again!”;  and then, we assiduously avoid any appearance of having rules, at all costs.

But where does that leave us?

I know it leaves me with several questions.  Specifically,

Is there room any more in the church to challenge  each other without being seen as legalistic?

Is it possible to call each other to higher standards without making “rules” about acceptable behavior?

In what ways can we spur each other to more Christ-like behavior while still acknowledging that only God can transform our hearts?

I honestly don’t have the answer to those questions.  I only know that “anti-legalism” can lead to spiritual inertia, apathy, and irrelevance just as surely as legalism can lead to spiritual ineffectiveness and oppression.  I’m sure that there is a middle ground…and I’m hoping to figure out what that physically looks like.

Any ideas?

I Want In

There is a mother in Uganda praying.

I know she is there, and I know that she is praying.

I know because I am a mother, and that’s what I would do if I could not pay to feed and educate my children.  And so, as surely as I am human, I can tell you that she is praying to God with everything in her soul to please, please take care of her kids.  I know, because that’s what I do every night for my kids…and I can pay to feed them and educate them.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————

I have long known that there are other countries besides America.  And I have known that those countries have poor people in them.  Like, really poor people.  I have known that there are children who starve to death every day.

I guess that makes me sad.

I say, “I guess,” because it’s not like I’ve been doing a ton about it.  Oh, I sponsor a Compassion child.  Who doesn’t?  And I’m good for a few bucks a month to each of my missionary friends.  Also, I am a sucker when guest speakers come from Healing Hands, or when Samaritan’s Purse sends a mail out.  You can definitely write me down for $20 a mailing.

My friends, this is what we call a Token Effort.

And why has it been token?  I think it’s because the problem is so overwhelming.  Even if I sold every single thing I had and gave it to the global poor, it would be but a drop in the bucket, a drip in the vast cauldron of need.

So since there seems to be nothing truly meaningful to do, I settle for token efforts.  Because apparently I view “meaningful” as “solving the whole problem.”  Apparently, the metaphor of the old guy throwing the starfish back into the ocean and making a difference to “that one” doesn’t really resonate with me.  Or maybe it does, and that’s why I have literally one Compassion child.

Anyway, these past few years, my eyes have been opened to this whole, “Kingdom of God” thing, this idea that God has a kingdom, on earth, that is made up of His citizens who do His will.  And I’ve always known that this Kingdom is global, but for awhile, I had to just focus on the local.

I will never forget this time a couple of years ago, when I heard about a family, strangers to me but family in Christ, who were coming to Charleston with their severely ill daughter because she was having a surgery done at one of our hospitals.  It was when the concept of the Kingdom was just starting to bloom in my soul, and their coming electrified me to an amazing reality.  I knew instinctively that they were coming into my territory.  That was back when I had first conceived this picture of the kingdom of God as a vast network, a spiritual map laid over the physical reality of world geography, a map of spiritual towns and provinces, of spiritual  jurisdictions.  When fellow citizens came into my jurisdiction, it was my duty to take care of them.  I just knew.  And so I did.  It was such a joyful, meaningful time in my life to get to serve God in that way.  I kind of felt like I was being called up to the “big leagues” in a sense, like I’d been handed an important assignment.  I did my best to fulfill my assignment, and in turn, my assignment fulfilled me.

Fast forward to last fall, when I read Radical, by David Platt.  Even though I’m not sure I agree with everything he said in that book, Platt did an amazing job of expanding my picture of God’s kingdom to the international level in a very vivid way.  It set my hair on fire. And so, naturally, I…

put the book away and vowed never to read it again.

I’m serious.  I still have not given it a second look, to this day.

It just moved me too much.  I was distrustful of the emotion that it stirred, because it honestly didn’t seem legit to all-of-a-sudden care so much about the whole world.  It seemed like a passing phase.  I told myself to wait, and if the emotions didn’t pass, then I would act.

The emotions didn’t pass, and Greg and I started to talk about how to act.  We were kind of stuck in a quagmire, though, as our finances really did not permit much leeway for “charitable donations.”  We started to pray for God to show us what the heck to do.

In response, He graciously relieved us of our mortgage and our gigantic electric bills and our separate sewer bill and our yearly HOA fees.  He generously gave us a much more manageable house with much more manageable utilities.  And on my birthday, He gave me renters to more than pay the mortgage on my old house, as well as a swift kick in the pants, via Kisses from Katie.

Reading that book refreshed my vision of the world, a vision started by Radical last year, continued by a close reading of the New Testament this summer, and bolstered by studies of Ephesians and Philippians this fall.  My vision of the spiritual map overlaying the physical, of the cities and provinces and jurisdictions, is back…and it’s global.  I know my local responsibility, but now I’m seeing the woman in Uganda.

I might not see a specific face, but I see the line that connects us, as two nodules in this vast global network (in my mind, the line is electric blue, in case you are wondering whether to commit me).  I see how she and I are connected.  I know that God is hearing her fervent prayers and moving in the soul of one of His “rich friends” in America.  “I have many people in this city,” God told Paul.  “I have many people in this world,” God tells the woman in Uganda.  “I have one for you.”

And the bell rings in my soul.

Over in America, everything in my life screams, “It’s time.”  It’s time to fulfill some long-neglected civic duties.  My civic duties are not to save the world or even to save one person, but simply to carry out God’s plans when He puts them on my heart.

They are on my heart.  So I chat with Him about it:

It goes like this:

“God, I want in.  You know, to that whole international thing You’ve got going? “

“You mean, My Kingdom?”

“That’s the one.  I want in.

“Good.  It’s about time.”

“What do I do?”

“Well, for starters, you could take that money your parents gave you to buy that new iPhone for your birthday, the one you asked them for, and use it to pay for my child in Uganda’s education and meals for a year.”

“Okay.”

And I realize that I don’t even want the iPhone.  I don’t. even. want. it.  All it is to me in that moment is an obstacle that stands between me and doing something real with my life.  And I am not having that.

“What else, God?”

“You know those Compassion children you’ve been dreaming of?  The ones that your kids will pick out, who are the same age and gender as Luke and Anna?  The ones whom I love just as much as Luke and Anna?

“Yeah…”

“Don’t you think it’s time to go ahead and help those kids?”

“Um, yes. Yes I do.  What else?”

“After that, learn how to pray for the whole world every day.  And then wait for your next assignment.”

“Got it.” 

Now, lest you (understandably) misread this and think that God and I were kicking it at Starbucks having this conversation, let me assure you that there were no external voices and no visiting angels (though that would have been nice).  Nope, this all happened securely in the confines of my soul…you know, that place where God’s Spirit lives?  I just translated the thoughts into a conversation…because I kind of think that is what it was.  My husband preached on the parable of the soils Sunday, and so I guess that God has been using His Word and my prayers to till the soil of my soul so that when the water of Kisses from Katie rained down on it (this metaphor is getting away from me), a plant sprang up.

And so when the moment to act came, I was ready.  (And so, incidentally, was Greg.  For some reason, he likes and trusts me, despite my bizarre visions of maps of the kingdom of God).  Now, we weren’t ready because we were good people.  We weren’t ready because we had worked hard for our money and had selflessly decided to sacrifice for God.  No, we were ready because, just as I hand my kids some money on Sundays so that they can drop it right into the plate, God stuffed some money in our hands and pointed us to how to use it.

And I was ready because my picture of God’s kingdom had returned.  In fact, that’s really the heart of what I’m trying to share right now.  When I think of God’s kingdom, it almost feels like a dare.  It is a dare to take my eyes off my conception of the “big picture,” to take my eyes off my Excel spreadsheets, to take my eyes off my well-reasoned assessments of how much change one person can enact in this world…and to put my eyes on God.  To be a citizen in God’s kingdom is to be constantly reminded that everything hinges on God’s plans, not my plans.  It is to be lead to open doors and to be given the strength to walk through them.  To be a citizen is to have the faith that I am part of a much bigger plan, and that through the good works prepared in advance for me to do, God’s kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

The Lord has a powerful kingdom on this earth, a kingdom that will one day reach its fulfillment.  And I. want. in.

A mother in Uganda is praying.

And I click “submit payment.”


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