Want What You’ve Got! (manual)

A bible from 1859.

A bible from 1859. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a drawer in my kitchen where owner’s manuals go to die.

It’s a slow death, mind you, but I don’t think they really mind… They have lots of company in there.

A quick look today confirms the presence of manuals for an eclectic assembly of household items: irrigation system control panel, coffee pot, rice cooker/steamer, lawn mower, crock pot, shower head, carbon monoxide detector, wine refrigerator, cordless telephone – should I go on?

Everything we own requires instruction to some degree. Whether we read the book cover-to-cover first or file it away until malfunction and frustration get the better of us, there is a learning curve when it comes to using our stuff.

Most of the time I’ll use an owner’s manual the day I take an item out of its box. Once it’s set up and functioning properly, though, the how-to gets deposited in the drawer with all the others. Only when a problem arises, like when the coffee sprays out horizontally instead of pouring down steadily into the cup, does the manual see the light of day. Useful for troubleshooting and for finding the manufacturer’s phone number so that I can call and complain about the coffee stains on the carpet, owner’s manuals add precious little to my quality of life. So I hang onto them for awhile, until the statute of limitations for that gizmo or gadget has been reached. Then I throw it away.

A lot of us treat the Bible like I treat my owner’s manuals.

We indulge in a quick read when set-up or learning is needed, but once things are up and running, we file it away on a dusty shelf or in a deep, dark drawer with other things we just might need some day.

Malfunction takes place and frustration sets in, so we take the Book out and we open it up and we look for a way to troubleshoot the problem we’re experiencing. If that doesn’t work, we page through in an effort to find a way to customer service – so that we can complain to the Manufacturer about His faulty product (and maybe get Him to send a new one at no additional charge, because the customer’s always right… Right?).

For many, God’s Word is valued about as much as an Ikea assembly pamphlet, serving a limited purpose and contributing precious little to the owner’s quality of life.

Some would say that God is good for helping us get started, but once we figure out how things work, well – we can take it from here, thank you.

Some reach for the Book in times of loss or in throes of fear and find peace in its pages. At least for awhile.

Others leaf madly through when nothing seems to make sense, searching for a way to get to the top of the chain of command – because we get very tired of being passed through the powerless ranks and being asked for the umpteenth time, “will you hold?”

Do we Want What We’ve Got – the words and presence and heartbeat of God in these pages – or are we simply looking for another owner’s manual that we can use to diagnose and repair what ails us – something that serves us – a user’s guide (as if we can use God to get things to work the way we want them to)?

If what Jesus said to the tempter in the desert is true – that “it is not just bread that keeps people alive. Their lives depend on what God says” (Matthew 4:4) – then the Bible is much, much more than a how-to book… It’s a game-changer.

It’s meat and carbs and sustenance. Heck – it’s all six food groups!

Without God’s Word we may be walking and talking, but friends, we aren’t living.

Want the Word of God that You’ve Got today – on that shelf, in a drawer, on your personal electronic device – and let it connect you to the Author Himself.

Your life depends on it.

Daily Questions: Where do the Bibles in your house live? What are your reasons for opening up God’s Word? Are you looking for solutions? Instructions? Relationship? Connection? Food?! The Word of God is living and active, not just small print on a page. How does someone read a Book like that? Or does that Book read you?

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Want What You’ve Got! (papasan)

papasanI have wanted a papasan chair for as long as I can remember. It sounds silly (maybe shallow) – I know. I have a house full of chairs and couches and cushions, but there is just something irresistibly inviting about a papasan seat.

I’ve always been able to dismiss the thought of purchasing a papasan by simply looking at the price tag. While not costly in the world of furniture, I just haven’t been able to justify the buy. After all, this would be my chair! And isn’t it ridiculous for an adult to buy a chair that she has no intention of sharing?

Weeks ago I nearly tripped over a papasan frame while second-hand shopping. This particular store doesn’t tag their items, but when I was given the opportunity to buy it for $10, I simply couldn’t resist. I took my prize home and hung it in the garage until I could earn enough points on my credit card for a soft, cuddly cushion from Pier I. Almost two months after squeezing the generous frame into my little car, I sat down in my very own papasan chair for the very first time.

I don’t sit down much. With work commitments and family activities and church functions and errands to run, it’s extremely rare for me to stop moving long enough to sit during the day. But the first time that I sat in my papasan chair, which is tucked into the limited space between my bed and my bookshelf, I covered up with a scandalously soft blanket given to me by a friend and I closed my eyes. And fell asleep.

Do you have a place where you can go to simply rest ?

As ridiculous as it sounds, when I sit in just about any other chair in my house, I am unable to rest. I see the piles of laundry to be washed and folded. I see the books I should be reading for the groups I’m leading this week. I see the computer where dozens of emails wait to be read and responded to. Rarely am I able to sit for more than a few minutes before my to-do list trumps my need for silence, and reflection turns into production once again.

Each time I take a break from my driven, scheduled way of life to sit quietly in my chair, I can’t help but Want What I’ve Got.

Would you believe that Jesus advised His followers to find their own papasan chairs?

Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” (Matthew 6:6 The Message)

When I sit still in my papasan chair, bringing only myself (and my blankie) before God, shift happens. Some days it takes longer than others, but eventually my self-centered thoughts are replaced by the comforting presence of the One whose grace I most desperately need and whose gifts I am most thankful for.

Today, why not curl up somewhere cozy and be your quirky self in the presence of God? Make Him your focus so that grace may abound!

Daily Questions: Look around your house today – is there a place where you can minimize distractions and take time out to be still as you get to know God? What would it take for shift to happen for you? Want the space you’ve got by redeeming a nook or a cranny! Some folks I know have a Grace-Space in their homes where family members can go and not be interrupted – a chair or a corner where a Bible or a blanket or a candle are kept for use in quiet moments of reflection and prayer.

the SO WHAT? NOW WHAT? Bible Study

The study translation Bible 2009

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been around the block.

When it comes to studying the Bible, I’ve made my way through this method and that format, using these tools and those materials. I’ve studied with the help of this translation and that paraphrase. I’ve considered his detailed commentary and her in-depth workbook

After all, if you’re like me and you take God’s Word seriously, you’ll go around the block again and again for even a GLIMPSE of His truth in those sacred pages.

I’m beginning to wonder, though, if all of our methods for studying and approaching the scriptures can’t be summed up in two painfully simple (but potentially loaded) questions:

SO WHAT?

NOW WHAT?

SO WHAT? I’ve just read this story in the Bible – SO WHAT? What’s the big deal? What difference does it make? Why does it matter that Jesus said this (or that David did that)? Seriously – what’s the big whoop?

How many times have you read a biblical text and failed to think about the reason those words were written? How often do you open and close your Bible without pausing to consider why that passage on this day?

‘SO WHAT?’ is an invitation to dig down to the crux of the matter, to the root of the text, deep into the heart of a God whose words are important enough to have endured thousands of years in order to be spoken into your life today. It may not be the most scholarly approach to the study of God’s words, but ‘SO WHAT?’ cuts through the Christian-ese and pretense to usher you into an honest assessment of the impact of scripture on a very real YOU in a very real world. If we cannot figure out the ‘SO WHAT?’ there is simply no point in moving forward to the ‘NOW WHAT?’

Yet it is the ‘NOW WHAT?’ that separates the spiritual tweens from the wise and devoted gray-hairs in the Kingdom of God! It’s the discipline of asking God to move you from the classroom of Bible study into the internship of “doing the Word” (James 1:22) that determines whether your efforts at learning will ultimately bear fruit or die fruitless – its growth tragically stunted inside of your head.

NOW WHAT? Asks the question that the faint of heart will avoid at all costs.

NOW WHAT? Forces the hand to be played and the play to be made.

NOW WHAT? Puts skin on the bones of a passive faith, bringing Jesus to life again and again in our love-starved, faith-starved world.

NOW WHAT?’ is the question that burns Spirit-fire within the believer whose curiosity cannot be quenched. For if we faithfully ask the question, we have no choice but to join the Author in His work as it is being written on the pages of the lives all around us.

To ask ‘NOW WHAT?’ is to drink deeply of the living water offered by the Savior, and then to take buckets of that very same Water to dehydrated souls, wherever they live.

No study of the Bible is complete without the ‘NOW WHAT?’

Because the Word of God is not passive, but ALIVE with the power of the resurrected Christ! ACTIVE with the movement of the living Spirit of God!

The SO WHAT? NOW WHAT? Bible Study will cramp your style, make you look like a fool, get underneath your skin and make you squirm.

Doesn’t that sound GREAT?! I’m in!

Now what?

EXPOSED! Baring All for the Glory of God

Bare feet running

Image via Wikipedia

How far are you willing to go with God? Where do you draw the line when it comes to doing things His way? At what point do you dig your heels in and refuse to take one more step down the path of His choosing?

Before you answer, I think you’ll want to hear this story.

Tucked into the pages of Isaiah in the Old Testament are a few verses that demonstrate just how far God might ask YOU to go in response to His call on your life…

Isaiah was a prophet of God. His role was often to communicate the truths of God to the Israelite people, and much of what Isaiah ended up sharing wasn’t “good news.” Rather, God used Isaiah’s voice among the people to issue warnings to them about their choices as individuals and as a nation. Probably not a popular guy, Isaiah likely spoke to less than receptive audiences as God strategically placed him among those who needed to hear what He had to say.

You know how that goes, though, don’t you? How easily we tune out the voices that push us beyond our comfort zones. How quickly we turn and walk away from those whose message is not what we really wanted to hear today. How powerfully our personal filter systems work to edit out the words that we aren’t ready to hear, tying the hands of the prophets among us.

God isn’t surprised by our lack of interest. HIS hands are NEVER tied!

Finding in Isaiah a boundless spirit of obedience, God made a STATEMENT WITHOUT WORDS that demanded the attention of Israel. God told Isaiah to:

“ ‘Go, take off your clothes and sandals,’ and Isaiah did it, going about naked and barefoot…” (Isaiah chapter 20)

For THREE YEARS! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! As a sign of events to come, God used His creative license to capture the attention of His people by exposing the prophet Isaiah to the ELEMENTS of CRITICISM and MOCKERY – not to mention discomfort and embarrassment – for years.

God knew that there were some who would never listen to WORDS, so He gave them an illustration to look at instead.

I have to think that Isaiah was NOT the kind of guy who took the wearing of clothing lightly, making this experience one that HAD to be initiated by God (though I’m sure there were some who just shook their heads, thinking he had gone overboard with the “God stuff”).

Let’s be completely honest… The lives of faith that we lead today are pretty darn safe compared to the risks Isaiah took to be obedient in the work that God prepared for him to do. You might argue that Isaiah was a PROPHET, after all, and that the work of a prophet isn’t for everyone (and of course, you would be correct).

But until our small lives are exposed for what they REALLY ARE, how can we hope to display the glory of our risen Savior as HE REALLY IS?

Standing naked and barefoot in front of ANYONE is the surest way to bring us down to size; to humble us; to tell it like it really is. Only then, when others can clearly see that we aren’t “all that,” can we begin to represent the One who IS “all that” and THEN SOME!

The good news here is that God doesn’t make a habit of leading His people into obedience through the physical act of undressing (huge sigh of relief!), but He DOES lead His people into obedience in ways that will stretch us, challenge us and cause at least some discomfort inside of us.

If we aren’t being led by God to expose our humanity in ways that illuminate His divinity, I think we have to ask ourselves whether we’re being led by God at all.

There’s an old Amy Grant song that says:

“When the world begins to see you change, don’t expect them to applaud.  Just keep your eyes on Him and tell yourself, “I’ve become the work of God.” (I Have Decided)

God may be leading you down a path of humility and risk that, to the watching world, may look a lot like insanity. But you will be in very good company there, whether God chooses to make you an open book or a comic book.

Either way, it’s out of your handsyou’ve become the work of GOD.

from WOE to WHOA!

whoa

whoa (Photo credit: stgermh)

Isaiah had a vision.

His vision was of God, in heaven, seated on His throne in unimaginable glory (not to mention the angel-seraphs, whose voices raised in worship to this majestic God literally shook the foundations of the temple where Isaiah stood).

In the Bible, where this vision is recorded, we’re told that Isaiah’s first response to this holy eye-full isn’t what we might have expected. He doesn’t look around and say ‘how cool is THAT?!’ He isn’t in awe of the beauty of heaven or of the powerful six-winged seraphs. Isaiah’s first words in response to what he is seeing are these:

Woe to me!

Man sees the living God in all of His splendor, and his first response is WOE?!

I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” Isaiah 6:5

Isaiah’s words make me wonder what we’re doing when we paint a picture of God as the mighty, all-approachable One. Are we faithfully interpreting God’s Word when we effectively humanize the Father of the Trinity, whose presence is heralded in heaven by the thunderous voices of creatures who shake the foundations of heaven and draw smoke at the sound of their praise?

What if we need to experience WOE in the presence of God, like Isaiah did, before we can be cleansed from our sinfulness and called to a life of ministry among people whose lips and lives are tainted by evil and colored by the world?

Maybe this is why we’re skeptical about those who preach a faith that is reminiscent of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure – all ‘awesome’ and ‘righteous’ and ‘DUDE!’ from the word ‘Go!’

I wonder if this is what the church leaders of old were thinking when they designed worship, placing a time of confession early in the service, before the proclamation of the Word?

Perhaps they learned, as Isaiah had, that WOE comes before WHOA in a life that has truly seen the One, True God.

Of course God is WHOA! Amazing! Magnificent! Holy! But until I am WOE, humble, aware of my sinfulness in the presence of God, I’m not in a position to experience His WHOA in life-altering ways.

May your experience of God begin at WOE and emerge as WHOA!

In God’s perfect timing.

With God’s perfect blessing.

Not skipping the hard stuff, but living it out in faithful ways by the power of the God who sits on His throne, exalted in glory.

And by the LOVE of that powerful God for YOU.

 

CREATING Space vs. FILLING It

 

Some people walk into a room and suddenly… it’s full.

 

Full of talk. Full of words. Full of opinions and agendas, served up without invitation for the rest of us to join in. Full of energypositive or negative – that proceeds to drive every conversation and interaction in its direction. Full of personality that draws attention to itself, shrinking the potential of our contributions by its overpowering, can’t-get-a-word-in-edgewise presence.

Some people walk into a room and suddenly… it’s full of them.

Now, some people fill space because they require our attention in order to feel validated and in control. Some people fill space because they’re afraid of silence or obscurity. Others fill space because they have an agenda to pursue which, for them, is a higher calling than pursuing things like relationship and harmony and community.

There are those, however, who fill space because they sincerely believe they have something to give to God. The problem is that when we fill the space around us with ourselves, we create a vacuum whose suction effectively removes God from that space altogether, leaving us alone with our gifts and no Spirit to power them.

This is what resonates in the words of the Apostle Paul to the church in Rome when he says,

“…it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” Romans 12:3 (The Message)

If you’ve ever worked as a teacher, you might understand this from a programming perspective.

We can plan a lesson, activity or event and approach it with the goal of filling the schedule to meet objectives and create outcomes for the participants. This would involve lots of detail as we seek to maximize every moment for the greatest potential gain of knowledge, skill or understanding. After all, as the teacher, you are responsible for providing your students with every opportunity to learn. Right?

In the church, this approach has been heralded for every kind of teaching. If you plan it (well), not only will they come, but they will learn and grow and succeed in the future because of your ability to fill the time.

The hole in this bucket, however, is created by the assumption that we know what they need to know. We can fill an hour or a weekend or a sermon series with every bullet point we think important, but that implies that we somehow know what needs to be heard by our students. Even when the Spirit of God is leading us to serve as teachers, none of us is so perfect a mouthpiece for the Holy that we can single-handedly (or, single-mouthedly) communicate God’s truth to His people.

I think we often misinterpret our Kingdom-work in this way – as a call to fill the room with our gifts, our vision and our passion (God-given though they may be).

What if we were to follow God’s instructions to King Solomon instead? Instructions given to this gifted, passionate leader regarding the building of God’s Temple – the place where God Himself would live?

“About this Temple you are building – what’s important is that you live the way I’ve set out for you and do what I tell you, following my instructions carefully and obediently. Then I’ll complete in you the promise I made to David your father. I’ll personally take up my residence among the Israelites – I won’t desert my people Israel.”         I Kings 6:11-13 (The Message)

God tells Solomon that what’s important is how the people LIVE and that they DO what God has instructed. This is their work – to live obedient lives in front of God and one another! And what does God promise to do in response to their faithfulness? He will fill the space in the Temple. He will move in and live in community with them. He will be near and He will be present; God with us.

Physically, God instructed Solomon to build a building that would house His presence in an unprecedented way.

Israel was to follow the detailed instructions God gave in order to create space for Him to fill!

The exciting part of this story is that Israel did just that. They completed the Temple and created space for God to live among them. And God, in His faithful fulfillment of promise, moved into the neighborhood.

“When the priests left the Holy Place, a cloud filled theTemple of God. The priests couldn’t carry out their priestly duties because of the cloud – the glory of God filled theTemple of God!” I Kings 8:10-11 (The Message)

Oh, that we would live lives so faithful to the detailed instructions of our Lord that the space we create for Him here would be filled, not with ourselves, but with the glory of Emmanuel.

The presence of God.

 

The ‘C’ Word (a PINK Tuesday post)

The letter C

Image by Mel B. via Flickr

I know, I know… you’ve heard all of the quotes before:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr

If you don’t create change, change will create you.”

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”

 “Change is the only constant.”

We could go on, but we know the drill. Change happens. Ready or not, willing or not, it’s a-coming. For some of us, change is equivalent to a four-letter-word that brings with it a discomfort that only makes us wiggle and squirm and ultimately finds us fighting back in an effort to keep things the way they WERE (the way we happen to LIKE them).

For some, though, change is a necessary rite of passage that creates the momentum necessary to move us from here to there; from where we are comfortably seated now to where we need to be for our next adventure in life. Does it hurt? Yup. Is it hard? You betcha.

I suspect that some of you are anticipating the type of change I’m facing this summer – that of an (almost) empty nest.  Or perhaps your change is about 6 lbs. and wears diapers and cries every time you manage to fall asleep. Maybe your change is an empty chair at the dinner table or one less passenger in the carpool. Change can look like moving boxes or new neighbors or the ceiling of a hospital room, but no matter what your view, everything is (of course) always about to change.

Jesus deals with the idea of change in a way that you and I might consider a bit harsh. Listen to these words from Matthew 10:34-39:

“Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut – make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law – cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me. If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”

Change in my own life has often been bloody. It’s often felt more like the work of a really sharp knife than, say, the warm hands of a potter and the whirring sound of a potter’s wheel. Yet Jesus clearly says that until I am cut free of what I consider comfortable, I am not capable of being joined with Him. My work, my family, my ministry are only that – MINE – until I yield to the severing that His sword came here to do.

Change is running rampant in my life this summer! I’m feeling the awkwardness, the discomfort, the brewing of what may very well become for me my own ‘perfect storm.’ Yet I trust the One who wields the weapon that ultimately makes me capable of giving more, seeing more, loving more and doing more than what I’m equipped to do today.

As this season of change runs its course in me, Pink Tuesdays are going on sabbatical! Vacation! What you can expect from Pink Shoes Ministries this summer is a more random expression of growth than the predictable Tuesday morning post. Expect CHANGE! The visual format of this blogsite will be changing! Who knows what future posts might look like as God re-shapes me for His service?!

In these months of change, please consider exploring some of the posts you may have missed in the past. I’ll be updating and organizing them by category in hopes of making it easier for you to find what you might need. And please take time to write me a note, letting me know better how to encourage and support you in YOUR static and fluid seasons of life!

As change unfolds, perhaps the ‘C’ word will emerge as…

Centering!

Catalyst!

Celebration!

CareFREE!

Spirit, I say ‘BRING IT!’

 

What’s in YOUR Faith Chest? (a PINK Tuesday post)

Box 1 -Wooden Chest.

Image by ~Brenda-Starr~ via Flickr

My home church has a beautiful tradition of encouraging faith development in our youngsters. At baptism, each child is presented with a meticulously hand-made wooden chest. We call them Faith Chests, and when we give them to our children we explain that they are intended to house the items of faith that they will acquire as they grow.

I was recently looking through my son’s Faith Chest, searching for a medallion with his baptism date on it. While in there, I found such a variety of faith-related things that I had to laugh out loud. Among his faith items I found…

a small New Testament (gift from VBS)

a handmade blanket (gift from the quilters at our church)

a photo frame made out of craft sticks, holding a picture of my son at VBS

a poster with faith-facts about my son, created in Sunday School

a set of home-made Resurrection Eggs

a cloth drawstring bag filled with items that tell the Passion Story

a recycled plastic bottle filled with rice and some pretty obscure objects (not really sure what the faith connection is here)…

My son’s Faith Chest contains memories and reminders of the milestones and events in his growing faith life. Things he has made. Gifts he has received. Props used to teach and tell the stories of the Bible.

My son’s Faith Chest contains the stuff that faith is made of.

And this got me thinking… If I had a Faith Chest of my own, what would be inside? Which items from my 40+ years of life would mark the events and kindle the memories of a growing faith? What have I accumulated on my journey that belongs in a keepsake like this Chest of Faith?

And my answers, well, they tell stories.

The Stuffed Lamb from high school frienemy, Robin. Robin and I were like-minded and competitive, enjoying each other’s company immensely and yet vying for the same kind of attention from pretty much the same people. What resulted was a tumultuous friendship that often got turned inside out. During one of these rinse cycles, Robin showed up at my after-school job with a beautifully wrapped gift from the only Hallmark store in town. It was a Precious Moments lamb; stuffed, soft and cuddly. She knew I loved Precious Moments. And she knew that in spite of our egos-out-of-control, I loved her, too. The lamb would definitely make it into my Faith Chest, because it reminds me that when those who know us best can love us still, that takes faith.

The Scrollwork Metal Cross from neighborhood Bible study friend, Leslie. We were both attending a neighbor’s Bible study group, which started with The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren and took on a life of its own. What began as a loosely connected group of people who knew, liked and might be related to the hostess morphed into a circle of friends whose faith grew simultaneously for all too short a time. At one point I took on leadership of the group (while what was really anticipated every week was my husband’s retelling of the Veggie Tale versions of the scriptures). I showed up for the study one night and was presented with a Pier 1 bag, handed over to me by Leslie with a smile. She had found it while shopping and it made her think of me. Dainty and sizeable, the metal cross has graced my wall ever since. Several months later I got a phone call. 40-something Leslie had died unexpectedly, after dinner one evening. The cross would belong in my Faith Chest as a picture of the beauty to be found in spontaneous acts of giving, because life is short. Why wait?

The Dead Carnation that I received, gave back to God, and then took home with me again. I walked into the sanctuary and was handed a fresh carnation. All of us were. I held it. Smelled it. Twirled it around between my fingers. At some point in the service, I was asked to let it represent an intention – something that I wanted or needed to give to God. Hmmm. I held it and smelled it and twirled it some more, and surprisingly ended up in tears. I knew what the flower had to be, and I was certain that I needed to return it to God. I laid my intentions on the altar and walked away. I gave back to God my plans for what I would be when I grew up someday. I gave them back and trusted that my sacrifice would be sweet, like that flower. Later in the evening, someone had gathered up the flower/intentions and put them in a bucket. I found mine – it was pretty distinct – and I took it home with me. A reminder that what I have – all of what I am – is a gift from God. The dead carnation would be at home in my Faith Chest because I believe God will remember the surrendered dream it represents, and because I believe His dreams for me are even more beautiful than this one would have been.

The Scrapbook given to me by my husband several Christmases ago, which served as an invitation to contact a local recording studio and have some of the songs I’ve written over the years recorded. This would be in my Faith Chest because it reminds me of the faith that my husband has in me and the value that my life’s work has in his eyes. When people have that kind of faith in you, you don’t take it for granted. You thank God for it. You thank Him for it every single day.

I could go on. I could go on and on and on.

But what I really want to know is, what’s in YOUR Faith Chest? What are the things you can touch and feel and look at and smell and taste that remind you of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going on this life-long journey of faith?

Indulge yourself in this opportunity to pack your Faith Chest full!

Full of memories of God’s work in you.

Full of connections with Him through the people in your life.

Full of opportunities captured and embraced to be all that you can be in His eyes.

Full of all the stuff our faith is made of.

To Be(rean) or Not To Be(rean): THAT is the Question (a PINK Tuesday post)

Portrait of a philosopher or an orator. Marble...

Image via Wikipedia

Pastor/author/speaker Rob Bell has a new book hitting the shelves today, and the religious community is astir. Words like radical, universalist, false prophet and heretic are erupting from the mouths and the laptops of many whose closely-held interpretations of Scripture are being challenged in Bell’s controversial book, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Surprisingly (or not), many of those whose criticisms are already raging have yet to actually read the book.

Several years ago I took my women’s study group through a book written by atheist Christopher Hitchens. Some of my group would tell you that they were cautiously skeptical when the study began – it felt almost like heresy to even open the book, God Isn’t Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, but we did.

We bought used copies – most of which had been removed from the shelves of libraries. We read it. We discussed it. We cross-referenced the author’s references. We looked things up and we broke things down.

It was one of the most eye-opening and faith-building exercises I have ever engaged in, and I think I can tell you why…

Questions are Inevitable

When we willingly choose to take on the challenge of examining Scripture in light of a different worldview or theological perspective, we can state with absolute certainty that “if you read it, they will come” (the questions, that is).

It is questions – not answers – that draw us deeper into the mystery of that which is worth knowing.

The more I have learned about the God I worship and the Savior I follow, the more questions I have;  the less I seem to know.

Sometimes we are paralyzed by our state of not knowing, especially when we’re so full of questions that we wonder whether God is even find-able. Yet Psalm 34:10b says that “God-seekers are full of God.”

Some of us seek answers, while some of us seek God. There is a difference.

Those who push against the comfort level of the frozen chosen often find themselves on the sharp end of a critical tongue; full of something, all right, but whether that something is God or something more pungent depends upon who you ask. As we mature in our faith, struggling with what we believe as it rubs up against the faith of others, we begin to respect and even appreciate the questions. And the ones who are brave enough to raise them.

There is Safety in Numbers

Community is critical in the working out of our faith. Thinking people easily fall to the temptation of that fateful tree, choosing the illusion of knowledge over the gift of faith. Challenging one another to think and study and find words for the ideas taking shape inside our heads is invaluable to lives being lived for the glory of God!

Often these snapshots of community look more like a train wreck than a garden; the faint of heart need not apply themselves to such experiential efforts. It takes guts and a ravenous hunger for God to drive a man or a woman into community and keep them there.

Self-preservation is thrown out the window when one chooses to become part of a community of faith; a limb or an organ in the Body of Christ. Here we are equipped to tackle the tough stuff of life and faith in authentic and life-altering ways, and we do so alongside others whose imperfections and mis-directions may very well drive us insane. It’s in the tension of community, though, that we are given perhaps the clearest picture of the God we cannot see with our eyes.

In the end, those who have fought long and hard to be an island and have lost are those who are more able to articulate what it is that they have found.

Acts 17:9-12 tells the story of itinerant preachers/missionaries, Paul and Silas, and the people of Berea.

The people there were more open-minded than the people in Thessalonica. They listened to the message with great eagerness, and every day they studied the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was really true. Many of them believed.” (Good News Translation)

One translation says that, as a result of their searching the Scriptures, many believed. The Bereans were known for their need to test the words of men against the Word of God. They were commended for it! You and I probably believe that what Paul spoke to these faithful students of Scripture was provable by the Scriptures themselves, but we don’t hear about them using their findings to beat down those whose message seemed to be inconsistent with what they had found in the pages of God’s Word. They simply tested everything, and many of them believed.

How many of us can say that this is the way we have chosen to approach the study of the Bible, the things of God?

How many of us who are quick to condemn a teaching or a teacher can honestly say we’ve studied the Scriptures – exhaustively – for ourselves?

How many of us are basing our beliefs on someone else’s say-so rather than on the authority of the revealed Word of God?

There are plenty of believers who are choosing the road of condemnation and name-calling these days. Let’s not be one of them.

To Be(rean) or Not To Be(rean): THAT is the Question on this PINK Tuesday.

Hoop Jumping L4L.02

Hoop jumping

Image by Oliphant via FlickrThe WORD

The WORD

“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem. They asked him, “Why don’t your followers obey the unwritten laws which have been handed down to us? They don’t wash their hands before they eat.”

Jesus answered, “And why do you refuse to obey God’s command so that you can follow your own teachings? God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Anyone who says cruel things to his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say a person can tell his father or mother, ‘I have something I could use to help you, but I have given it to God already.’ You teach that person not to honor his father or his mother. You rejected what God said for the sake of your own rules.

You are hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he said about you: ‘These people show honor to me with words, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is worthless. The things they teach are nothing but human rules.’” Matthew 15:1-9 (New Century Version)

Remember that one of the disciplines we’re working to develop during Lent is listeninglistening to JESUS as He speaks into our lives from His Word. Go ahead – read it again (feel free to read it from your favorite translation – here’s a link to many different versions if you’d like to give a new one a try: Matthew 15:1 at Blue Letter Bible).

Initially, I thought we’d just ease our way into Jesus’ world, Jesus’ thoughts and Jesus’ agendas. Start with the easy stuff and progressively get to His more challenging teachings, maybe as we get closer to Easter. Break ourselves in slowly. But, good grief! There IS NO ‘EASY’ when it comes to what Jesus had to say! These are fighting words spoken to the keepers of the Law. Fighting words that could get a prophet killed; the Messiah crucified.

Jesus has, in these few sentences, accused the leaders of the church of passing off their ‘traditions’ as Gospel. The Jewish hand washing rituals that were spoken of by the Pharisees and Law teachers were not something that God had taught them to do. Jesus says that they are teaching man-made ideas as commands from God, passing off their rituals as God’s ways. This was an especially brazen act in Jesus’ day, when the average Jewish devotee did not have his/her own copy of the Holy Scriptures. What Jesus is saying is that the leaders of the church were taking advantage of the people, furthering their own agendas by failing to distinguish them from the actual teachings contained in the Word of God.

The horror! No wonder Jesus called them hypocrites – a word that meant ‘actor’ or ‘pretender.’ ‘Poser’ is what we might say today. People whose perceived authority enables them to misuse their power, mislead the innocent and make it harder than necessary to walk in the ways of our God.

Amazing. That NEVER HAPPENS TODAY! (?)

The APP

A lot of us know a lot about the Bible. A lot of us have read much of the Bible for ourselves over the years. But a lot of us have not, and we’re taking for granted the sincerity of our faith-leaders when we base our belief and understanding of God on their say-so; on second-hand information.

The APP for today isn’t easy. (Neither was yesterday’s, by the way.) In order to apply these words of Jesus to our own lives, we have to be ready to make it personal. By that, I mean that we have to be ready to study God’s Word for ourselves, taking responsibility for what we’re learning.

The modern day church has created – perhaps inadvertently – a generation of couch potato Christians. Worshippers who are really just groupies, looking for the best show on Sunday morning. Followers who are out to have their ‘ears tickled’ by teachers and leaders who are still passing off their traditions and agendas as Gospel truth.

Much of today’s church, like the church at the time of Jesus, requires a whole lot of hoop jumping that is not biblical, and many of us are so entrenched that we aren’t even aware that such a thing is going on.

This isn’t right. Jesus said so.

To take this text literally, I believe we’re being called to ask the burning questions that are already floating to the surface as the Spirit stirs the pot…

Why do we do (this) in our worship?

What are the roots of our faith practices and traditions? Are they scriptural?

If something feels heavy and burdensome, isn’t that a clue that someone other than God is putting that thing on me?

I don’t know about you, but I sure want to be able to tell the difference between God’s ways and His best for me and the hoop jumping that goes on when we buy into the hidden (and not-so-hidden) agendas of those whose traditions are more sacred than the Word itself. This is not to say that all church leaders and teachers are like the hypocritical Pharisees and Law-keepers that Jesus refers to – there are beautiful shepherd-leaders and Spirit-filled teachers in every denomination and non-denomination today. But how will we know that what we’re being taught by others is a sincere, Spirit-led interpretation of the Word if we don’t compare what we’re hearing to the Word itself?

Today’s APP could be aptly titled: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. And Read the Bible. And Know What It Says.

Some of us have been spiritually bullied long enough. We’re tired of jumping through hoops of tradition, empty ritual and shallow words.

Today, pick up your Bible.

Pick up your Bible, and READ.

And this weekend, READ and REST. I’ll see you back here on Monday, as we continue to experiment with being Literal 4 Lent.

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