Archive for January, 2012

Just For Fun

An interview with Jim Lepage came across my blog feed yesterday.  He is a graphic designer and a Christian who read through the Bible and drew graphic representations of each book (and more than one of some).  I clicked on his website and was utterly fascinated by his work.  I think he is really talented, and it was cool to see his perspective on the different books.  He clarifies in the interview that his intent was not simply to “sum up” each book with one image, but to capture the thing that jumped out at him the most, even if it was just a small verse.  As I looked at the pictures, I kept thinking, “Ooooh, I should give _________ this one!”  And then I thought, “How on earth am I supposed to give them an internet image?”  It occurred to me to use my blog, since most of the people who popped into my head were recent commenters.  So I decided to “give” (read:  show) one of these images to each of the people who commented on the last three blogs (in no particular order):

To Courtney, I give James, in honor of our Beth Moore study:

Word: James

To Larry, I know I should probably give 2 Timothy, but instead I’ll give I Peter, as a nod to our most recent discussion:

Word: 1 Peter

To Ann, I give I Corinthians…because it just reminded me of you:

Word: 1 Corinthians

To Becky, I give Ephesians:

Word: Ephesians

To Tim, I give Isaiah, in light of our shared love for the forties, fifties, and sixties:

Word: Isaiah 2

To Mr. Gardner, I give Romans, because it reminded me of your comment on the Karl Barth post:

Word: Romans

To Aimee, I would have given Psalms, because of our mutual love for Psalms 1.  But he really went a different route with Psalms.  In its place, I’ll give you this Hosanna one because I like it, and it reminds me of the praises from the psalms:

Word: Crucifixion (Hosanna)

I think that’s everyone who commented.  If I left anyone out, let me know, and I’ll “give” you one, too:).

I highly recommend looking at all his representations because a lot of them are pretty incredible.  I will warn you that there are a few that are risque and perhaps offensive.  Like Lepage said in his interview, he values “honesty over propriety.”  So…consider that fair warning.

If you do look at his pictures, I’d be interested in hearing which one is your favorite!

Package Deals

One thing I love about blogging is that it gives me a written record of the evolution of my thoughts and convictions.  For over five years, I’ve kept a family blog, the purpose of which is basically to show cute pictures of my kids and tell relatives what we are up to.  In between posts about first words and trips to the beach, however, spiritual thoughts would sometimes infiltrate what was supposed to simply be a digital scrapbook.  Although they didn’t fit with the purpose of the blog, I’m so thankful that I wrote them so that I can remember how I thought at different points in my life.  Below is a reprint of a post I wrote 2 1/2 years ago, on July 16, 2009.  That year was when I first took hold of the idea of the kingdom of God, and of the idea that Jesus might be calling Christians to a lifestyle more radical than most of us had been taught.  Looking back over these words, I see that while my thoughts are not 100% in the same place as they were then, the basic conviction has endured:

I had a conversation last week with a former youth grouper turned youth intern. She was talking about a Sunday school series she was teaching to the girls at her church on syncretism. The most recent lesson was on country music, a genre in which, to paraphrase her words, “God, church, drinking, America, and tractors” are all grouped together with a tidy bow. She was obviously highlighting the potential dangers of such philosophies which join Biblical concepts with unbiblical practices.

I have been thinking lately about the different things like that, but I haven’t been using the word syncretism (that’s a little too fancy, if you ask me:)). Instead, I’ve been thinking about things that are what I call “package deals,” things that have both good and bad in them, but you have to take the whole package. Take a movie, for example. A movie might have some amazing themes about life, love, and redemption that really make you think…and that same movie might have profanity, sex, and loads of violence. If you choose to watch it, you are taking a package deal. You have to take the good with the bad. Or take a political party. The two major ones each have their own package deals, called platforms. If you are going to vote for a viable candidate for office in this country, you must choose one or the other. And in doing so, you take the whole package of that party. I would love if I could pick and choose. I would love a party that was pro-life, pro-children, pro-education, pro-Christianity, pro-poor people, pro-environment, and anti-torture…but that party does not exist. That’s the problem with package deals. You have to compromise in order to choose them. And while compromise isn’t bad, per se, comprising one’s morals is always dangerous.

Christianity is a package deal, too. I think every sinful human would agree that there is stuff that is “good” and “bad” about Christianity, and by that, I mean there are elements that are either appealing or unappealing. God, peace, heaven, Jesus—appealing. Dying to self, turning the other cheek, giving everything to God—unappealing. But it’s a package deal. There is a point where you either believe and obey the Bible, or you don’t.

Here’s what gets me. I see the dangers of certain movies or certain political parties, but at different times in my life, I have chosen to compromise and watch them/align myself with them. But it is apparently a lot easier to compromise my morals than to compromise my nature. Because when I hear something that goes against my very nature (like the above “unappealing” aspects of Christianity), I am tempted to rationalize them away. Why is that?

I don’t think I am alone in that, which compounds my problem. Take turning the other cheek. I am beginning to think that the church is moving past the idea of turning the other cheek. More and more, the things I hear are not like, “Well, we should turn the other cheek, but our sinful nature makes it hard.” It’s more like, “Jesus apparently meant something else or was speaking hyperbolically, b/c turning the other cheek is completely impractical. I mean, how the heck are we supposed to fight wars if we turn the other cheek? Seriously, it makes no sense.” I hear indignation at the concept of turning the other cheek. I even read a Christian book in which the man advised his son (and readers, apparently) that if anyone ever bullied him, he was to hit them as hard as he could right in the face (cough, Wild at Heart, cough). I’m sure the feral nature in every man’s heart would leap at that chance. Unfortunately, I really do believe that the Bible would not approve knocking someone’s block off in order to defend yourself. I mean, what do you think dying to self means, if notdenying your very nature? Yeah, if someone hits me, I want to hit them back. No duh. And I’m not even a man. That’s what makes the whole “love your enemies” thing hard. And though I will entertain discussion on the use of violence to protect others (war might even fall into that category), to say that you should punch back the person who punches you, I believe, is biblically indefensible. Because according to our sinful nature, the Bible is hard. Christianity is hard. Dying on the cross was hard. And yet, Jesus tells us to be like him, to obey His words, to take up our cross, to die to ourselves. I mean, what did he mean by that?

I have similar thoughts regarding giving, but I think we’ve driven the bus far enough into Crazy Town for one blog, don’t you think? Just know that if you are reading these thoughts and feeling internal opposition, I’m right there with ya. Do you think I want to turn the other cheek? Do you think I want to die to myself? Do you think I want to give the way Jesus apparently called me to? No, no, and no.

But I do want to be with God. And I want to know God. I love Him, and I want to live for Him. I really do. And I am open to the idea that Christianity is radical, crazy, and completely impractical. Because Jesus was all those things.

Why am I writing all of this instead of showing you pictures of my cute kids? I don’t know. Frankly, it completely ruptures the thematic unity of my blog:). I just know that right now in my life, I really want to embrace the “package deal” of Christianity. I’m not even sure what that looks like, exactly, but I am trying to find out. I do know that the whole, entire purpose of my life is to know God and bring glory to Him, and to the extent that I don’t do that, I am wasting my life. Wasting it. And I don’t want to waste my life. I want to embrace my purpose, to be the person I was designed to be.

Even if that means taking the package deal.

 

 

What about Christianity makes it hard for you to take the package deal?

Doing and Being

Do you want to know the secret to a good New Year’s resolution?

It has to be observable and measurable.

Take it from a resolution veteran:  “I’m going to work out more” doesn’t cut it.  You need to say that you are going to work out this many times a week, at this place, and going to do these exercises.  And then you need to have a little chart or a space in your planner where you check off your workouts.

I’ve learned all this from experience.  Here are some of my past resolutions that worked:

Run 150 times this year, and at least 12 times each month.

Do crunches three times a week.

Read through the entire Bible, using x daily Bible plan.

The idea behind all this objective doing is the hope that, if you do something long enough, you’ll be something.  I didn’t resolve to exercise out of my love for bodily movement; I did it so that I would be in shape.  (Is this too obvious?  Bear with me; I’m going somewhere with it.)  I want to do my Bible reading so that I will be closer to God.

In 2010, I went for broke in the “doing” department.  Not only did I want to read the Bible through, I wanted to blog my responses.  It took about an hour each day, because even though I am a fast reader, my blogs were generally not short.  However, since this goal was public, my pride propelled me to follow through with it.  And so I did.  Every day, for 365 days, a blog post went up.  A couple of times throughout the year, I traveled to a place where I wouldn’t have internet access, so I wrote my blogs ahead of time and scheduled them to post.  I only got really sick once (a blasted stomach virus during a youth trip), but I still posted while my head was spinning and my stomach was churning.

That was the year of the earthquake in Haiti, and I decided to fast and pray about that.  Fueled by the experience, I instituted a personal weekly fast for much of that spring (I realize that I’m not supposed to tell you that, and that I’m probably cashing in my reward, but I believe that the bigger point warrants it).

The bottom line, is that I did spiritual disciplines that year.  I did them.  If doing something for 14, or 21, days is supposed to make it a lifelong habit, then what is doing something for 365 days?  I figured I had done everything in my power to force regular Bible reading into my life.  And so, in 2011, I wanted more.  I didn’t want to be the person who simply did her Bible reading, who clawed her way through it, through rain or shine, come hell or high water.  Instead, I wanted to be the person who thirsted for God, who spent time with Him out of pure desire and need, not because she had a checklist to complete.

And so that was my central resolution in 2011:  to thirst for God.

You may notice that, according to my rules, that resolution stinks.  It’s not objective; it’s not measurable.  In fact, as I found in 2010, it’s not even possible to do myself.  If it were possible, I would have achieved it in 2010, but in January of 2011, I found myself adrift without my Bible reading scheme, and able to go a week without reading!  Some good that whole year did!

My resolution, I realized was really a request.  It was a request for God to transform me, to make me thirst for Him.  All I could do was to keep asking.

The number of entries in my prayer journal is a reliable indicator of the number of days I spent purposeful time with God.  When I look in it for 2011, I see the following:  January was mediocre.  February was spotty.  March was pretty bleak.  April was looking to be the worst month so far…until the 27th.  From April 27 to June 1, I didn’t miss a single day.  And after that, I was very steady until the end of the year.  What’s more, my entries went from choppy lists to passionate paragraphs, where I poured out my heart to God.

I did not do that.

I tried just as hard from January to April as I did from the end of April on.  And my trying got me nowhere.  Finally, God just answered me.  He answered me through one friend, who gave me a great idea on reading through the New Testament…at the same time that another friend started a wonderful study on grace for the women of our church…at the same time that I was reading an amazing book that had sat, unread, on my shelf for over ten years.  The confluence of these factors struck the match in my soul.  And it has kept burning until now, well past the end of my New Testament reading, past the end of the grace study, past the end of the book.  Through this experience, I have seen the glory of God in the land of the living.  I have seen how He can transform my soul to make me be the person I want to be, apart from simply doing the things I want to do.

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I completely affirm the value of disciplines.  But every good discussion of spiritual discipline (and I’ve read a few) will emphasize that it is not the disciplines themselves that bring you to God, but it is God’s Spirit working within you.

And so this year, my “New Year’s resolution” is simply another request for God.  Make no mistake, I do have a few “measurable” ones, centering around justice and hospitality, but my “big” one is completely in God’s court:

I want to live a life of love.

Over the past six months, I have had recurring thoughts about the “weapons of this world.”  In 2 Corinthians 10:4, Paul tells us, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”  That verse has really taken root in my imagination, and I have mulled it over often.  What weapons do we fight with?  What has the divine power to demolish strongholds?  I have come to believe that the only “weapon” that fits that description is love.  Only love can transform a person’s soul.  Everything else amounts to coercion.

This idea has interesting ramifications in the area of international conflict, and I do admit an almost unhealthy interest in the debate between pacifism and just war theory.  But the reality is, I never have been, nor ever will be, a soldier, so there’s a degree to which that debate is irrelevant to my life.  But…that doesn’t mean I don’t use the weapons of the world.  How many times in relationships am I tempted to fight fire with fire?  How many times do I use the verbal violence of harsh words in order to force my kids, or others, into line?  The weapons of this world, I have come to theorize, are the things that try to force external behaviors in an attempt to control others.  Harsh words, yelling, biting remarks, passive-aggressiveness, the silent treatment:  these are all weapons of the world.

This year, I want to lay my weapons down.

As a wife, as a mother, as a teacher (whether college or Sunday school), I want to use love as my only weapon.

Maybe that’s impossible.  Maybe it’s stupid.  Maybe it’s based on a misinterpretation of Scripture.  I really don’t know.

But I want to find out.

One thing I know is that I can not live a life of love on my own.  I get irritable; I get frustrated; I am insufferable when I’m tired or sick.  I’m horrible at multi-tasking and thus, resent interruptions of my work.  I get easily stressed and am snappy as a result.  I have so many flaws that would prevent love from flowing out of me, and I have a handy arsenal of verbal weapons, ever ready at my disposal.  To instead choose peace and love every time I’m tempted to reach for a verbal spear will require nothing short of divine intervention.

But I want to live a life of love, as God’s dearly loved child, because I want to be a follower of Christ  And I want to be a full, practicing citizen in the kingdom of God.  And I want to be a living sacrifice, bringing glory to God.  I want to be a vessel through which His Spirit flows.

I want to be all those things, and without His Spirit actively accomplishing His purposes in me, there is no amount of discipline on my part that can achieve those goals.  In that way, my New Year’s resolution is really a prayer of helplessness.  Instead of relying on a checklist to make me into the person I want to be, I’m throwing all my hope behind the Creator Himself.

May He do great things in 2012 for all of us.  May He transform us all into the people we were designed to be.

What do you want to do this year?  Or, more importantly, who do you want to be this life?

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