Thursday, July 14, 2011

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:29-31

I am a gal of reason.  I love finding out more about life, the universe, and everything (a quick shout-out to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fans)-- discovering the ins and outs to how things work, why things happen the way they do, what is changing, what's staying the same, and so on.  I want to know the facts of the matter.

Maybe you are like me, looking for proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  That's the crazy thing about faith.  It's mysterious, miraculous, not always defined by the five senses or a logical equation that explains exactly how X plus Y equaled Z.  Sometimes it seems irrational, completely illogical.  But reason and faith are both on the same pursuit - the pursuit of truth.  I cannot explain the mystery of this grace, this forgiveness, except to share my experience and show the evidence of the hope that I have, to tell you that yes, it is true!

I can imagine Peter staring out across the water at Jesus.  A reasoning human being would argue the laws of physics.  Of course Peter doubted!  That's what a reasonable person does in those circumstances.  "Sure, Lord, I'll come... how about by row boat?  It's windy, Jesus, I think I'll stay here in my boat.  Don't you think you should be wearing a life vest?  Hey God, don't you see the waves?  Don't you know anything about the physical properties of H2O?"  I don't know about you, but I don't even want to go out on a lake in a boat when it's windy, let alone step out of the boat and try to walk on the waves.  Talk about seasickness. 

Reason looks at the circumstances through the lens of reality-- my eyes tell me there's water out there, what I know about water is that I can't walk on it.  But faith, faith asks you to trust in something, or someone, in spite of our instincts, to know and trust this guy because he has proven himself trustworthy and faithful.  He's the kind of guy that has proven to be so good and real and true that you'll obey him, even when he asks you to step out of a boat and walk on water.

That's faith.  Faith beyond a reasonable doubt.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Direction and Instruction

I've approached the Bible many different ways since becoming interested in Scripture and God. My first attempt at reading the Bible began in Genesis and ended shortly thereafter in Leviticus. As a teen, I tried without success to find the section of the Bible where Thanksgiving prayers were located. In college, someone finally gave me a little direction in Bible reading and suggested I start in the New Testament.

I have often approached the Scriptures like a roulette wheel - I wagered that if I flipped open to a random page in the New Testament or landed somewhere in the Psalms, I probably would find something that spoke to me.

During more challenging seasons, I have been taught to read specific books and characters for encouragement and guidance and to read the Bible with purpose for the valley I was in or the mountain I was on. Now that we have kids, I've occasionally revisited stories in the Bible with them over breakfast.

It's tempting to let Bible reading happen more sporadically or to abandon reading altogether when things are going well, and when you feel like you've read it all before. Stories that used to inspire or that spoke deep truths to you once begin to lose their luster. It's hard to imagine miracle stories becoming old hat, but it happens - ho hum, big deal, water to wine.  When this happens, I know I need to find another way to enliven my spiritual life through the Word.

In order to keep my reading, and by extension my faith, more vibrant and alive in this current season, I need two things: direction and instruction. I need a goal or a plan to direct me through passages of Scripture that I might not otherwise visit when I spin the roulette wheel of Bible readings. After reading, I need instruction, which varies in its appearance - instruction, for me, involves dialogue with my husband or conversing with small group members and friends about what I've read. It includes instructing others, specifically my kids, in what the Bible says. 

I recently started using the Book of Common Prayer, available through's Bible app, for daily devotional reading.  YouVersion has a bunch of different reading plans available through their app, but this one appealed to me because of its historical roots.  I am a big fan of it because the app pulls daily readings from all over the Bible, helps you track daily readings, and both the plan and the Bible verses are on my phone.  I've been at it for about a week now, and each day has included psalms, a prophet, an epistle, and a gospel reading.  The plan is 808 days long, so I won't be running out of readings anytime soon.  Because the plan spreads out its Scripture references, I am able to start in praise and worship (psalms), move to conviction and confession (prophets), jump over to instruction (epistle), and end in example (gospels).  I don't know if that's how the whole plan will go, but that's the way it is looking right now.

It's hard to make a regular, purposeful commitment to direction and instruction, for myself and for my family, but the rewards are immeasurable and substantial.  Whatever method you choose to bring the living water of the Word into your life, I hope that you are able to do so regularly, so that you may experience in yet another way how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:18).

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mamas and Daddies, Don't Drive Your Kids Crazy

There are days in our household when our patience with the kids has worn so thin you can see straight through it to burning rage and frustration, and about the time the sun starts to set, that weather-worn sheet of patience just isn't enough anymore to spare our over-stimulated children from the wrath of bedtime.  Oh, the sun doesn't set on our anger-- I'm pretty sure the kids know we're not happy with them after the fourteenth time climbing the stairs.

I don't think we're alone in our strife; there's a new book out for adults right now, written in the spirit of bedtime stories, called, Go the %$#@ to Sleep, that in spite of the language captures the essence of bedtime for many families.  We're all tired, and somewhere, our kids have picked up a manual on classic manuevers to manipulate Mom and Dad out of going to sleep.  Every kid has figured out that going potty, asking for a drink of water, requesting another book, hunting for the one stuffed animal, tucking in, begging for another hug and kiss or song or prayer, etc. will delay the inevitable shutting of the eyes.

The "Battle at Bedtime" boils down to one thing: thy will be done vs. my will be done.  I want you to go to sleep, and you want to stay up.  One of us is going to lose, and it isn't going to be me.

Your will vs. my will infiltrates every day life, but because of the Super Cape of Patience being sucked away in the tornado of the day, the war is especially heated at bedtime.  When that cape disappears earlier in the day, parents everywhere find themselves exerting their wills over their kids whenever they have a chance.  Being firm sneaks across the line to force.  I know I've crossed the line from firm to controlling when I say no to requests like, "Can I take this toy with me in the car?" or "Can I put on this dress?"

I probably say "this is one of the hardest things about parenting" every time I talk about parenting, but I do believe this is one that ranks high on the list.  When we ask for obedience from our kids, is it with their best interests in mind or is it simply because we want them to do what we want them to do?  Why are we asking for obedience?

Ephesians 6:4 is explicit about how parents should instruct their kids.  Here are two versions:

"Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to resentment], but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord." (Amplified)

"Fathers, don't exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master." (The Message)

The Sarah version says something like this, "Mamas and Daddies, don't drive your kids crazy.  Love on them, guide them in the ways of Christ, but don't beat them into the ground with your rules."  We say over and over again that we want to rear our kids up in the Lord, but I don't think we know what we're talking about.  Jesus didn't lay out a bunch of rules, after all, and he didn't guilt his followers into obedience.  He didn't beg for love or deny them love because they screwed up.  He taught them, disciplined them when they screwed up, and then gave them grace upon grace.

Honestly, it's easier to yell and scream than to follow Christ's example with our kids, but in terms of effectiveness, I think Jesus's way wins.  Shocking news.  Oh there are times I'd like to yell, Go the $#@% to sleep, for sure, yell instead "GO TO SLEEP!" but nope, surprisingly, that doesn't work either.

So, mamas and daddies, together let's hunt for our Super Capes and do what we can to conquer our own wills and try to do the will of our Father.  God help us.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mama and Papa Bear vs. Three-Year-Olds

Click above to jump over to Driftwood, my personal blog, about my most recent parenting questions. :)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lettuce Encouragement

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:19-25

I am a big fan of salads. Especially salads with honey French dressing, shredded cheese, croutons, grilled chicken, cucumbers, etc. I’m an iceberg lettuce kind of gal, in spite of the nutritional value of the greener leafy veggies. Lettuce and other vegetables are an essential element to keep our bodies healthy with adequate nutrients and vitamins. I realize I ruin the nutritional value of my salads with that honey French dressing, but at least it has honey in it, right?

These verses prompt us to do a whole bunch with lettuce. LETTUCE draw near to God. LETTUCE hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. LETTUCE consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. LETTUCE not give up meeting together. LETTUCE encourage one another. Like I said, lettuce is a really, really important vegetable.

There are occasions in my walk with Christ and with the church during which I feel particularly encouraged, and there are other moments where I find myself feeling alone and deserted. Usually it has a lot more to do with where I’ve positioned myself than where God is or where the people of God are. These verses emphasize what WE should do as a community of believers—draw near to God, hold unswervingly (that’s without changing course) to the hope we profess, consider how we can urge one another on toward love and good deeds, meet together, encourage one another. There aren’t any “you’s” or “me’s” in these verses – it is a collective agreement between me and all y’all: US.

There are a lot of other elements to salads, all of which keep things tasty and interesting. Just like our walk with Christ, there are a lot of things we can add in to keep it fresh and fun—conferences, concerts, Christian music, blogs, books, etc.—but without the sustaining power of community and relationship with other believers to encourage us in our walk, all we’d have is a pile of cheese, croutons, cucumbers, and dressing. The kind of community that is demonstrated in these verses is an intimate, vulnerable, challenging, loving community. It is essential. We need lettuce.

Oh, look at that… lunch time!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tackling Fear and Discouragement

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“He said: "Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's.” (2 Chronicles 20:15)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him.” (2 Chronicles 32:7)

The three verses above both talk about fear and discouragement. Do you ever find yourself gripped by fear or discouragement? Like the wind has been sucked out of your sails and you are stranded in the middle of a huge lake with no oars? Fear paralyzes us, blinds us to the path that God has set before us. When I am discouraged by my circumstances, I find myself fixated on my circumstances and my emotions. I want to shout out, “I’m afraid! I’m not going anywhere! I am stranded in this phase of life and YOU haven’t shown me any way out!” Our personal “vast armies” could be a dead-end job. A monotonous stay-at-home life. Unruly children. Infertility. Miscarriages. Trouble with your marriage. Difficulty finding a spouse. Feeling without purpose. Mounting stress at work or in class. A sick family member. A personal illness. Those vast armies circle, aim their arrows, and prepare to take us down.

But God makes three promises in the verses above: He is with you. It is HIS battle, not yours. He is more powerful than whatever it is you are facing. In the face of fear and discouragement, God commands us to be strong and courageous. How can we do it? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). One of the comforts I have rested in is that I do not need to understand the battle, I am called to trust and acknowledge God. That’s all. I’m not called to solve every problem – it is HIS battle. He will make my paths straight. I need to trust his path-paving and believe that He has a plan and purpose for me, even if it looks different than what I expected or takes a lot longer than I want to be accomplished. Jeremiah 29:11 promises that God knows the plans he has for us, plans to prosper and not harm, plans to give us a hope and a future. Our hope and our future may not look the way that we had expected. But what matters most is that He is with us. He is more powerful than what we are facing. And it is His battle.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

For Freedom

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1

Freedom is a big deal in America. In our Declaration of Independence, the forefathers declare that freedom—liberty—is one of our unalienable (universal, moral, natural) Rights, along with life and the pursuit of happiness. If you look up “liberty” in the dictionary, every one of the definitions begins with “freedom,” freedom from rule, freedom from control, freedom from captivity. We care a lot about freedom.

It seems, too, that God cares a lot about freedom. I like that. Way to go, God, I’m all about freedom... that is until I look around at the world and wonder whether things have gotten a little out of hand. I’d like God to just take control over me, my circumstances, the suffering in the world, and just fix it all. Force love and obedience. Clean up the mess. Isn’t that what we ask of Him when our circumstances turn ugly, or when natural disasters strike, or when bad things happen to good people? Fix this! Look at this mess you’ve allowed to happen! What kind of a God are you??

But freedom is a double-edged sword. We choose to be good, and we choose to be selfish. We choose to feed the poor, and we choose to ignore the poor. We choose to embrace people, and we choose to put people in concentration camps. In order to fully embrace freedom and to understand to a somewhat greater degree the way God works is to recognize that if God compromises one part of freedom, the whole thing would fall to pieces. Being only a little bit of a slave is still being a slave. So God grants us freedom, recognizing that He’s taking one serious risk, that we will not choose Him, and that we will choose to remain a slave to our selfish nature.

Being a slave to our selfish nature sounds so baaaad, and I feel like I can kind of write myself out of that formula, like checking off that I’m not really into bestiality so I must be okay. But I think one of the freedoms we gain from Christ is clarity—outside of Christ, the choice between good and evil is often hazy. As a nonbeliever, I often felt directionless, confused, disoriented, unsure, and worried… about pretty much everything. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is sometimes difficult to discern what is real and true and good and beautiful. This, for me, is one of the yokes of slavery – the yoke of floundering around trying to find my own way outside of Jesus.

In Galatians, Paul is addressing a group of people who have said that Jesus is not enough for salvation, for freedom. They set up a Jesus+ system. But it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, not so that we should continue carrying around a burden of guilt, misdirection, wandering, etc. All of nature and humanity is bound by laws, but within those boundaries we are granted freedom. If we choose poorly, we pick up the yoke of slavery and are bound by the consequences of those choices. If we follow Christ, we walk lightly in his freedom.

So, believer, what are you beating yourself up over today? What are you carrying around as your Jesus+? Maybe a little of what Paul personifies in Romans? “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:14-15, 24-25)

Hey soul sister, it is for FREEDOM that Christ has set you free! Lay it down before Him, whatever “it” is. Sure, ask him to cleanse your spirit, to strengthen and guide you, to lift that burden of sin you still carry. You will surely stumble along some more as he who began a good work in you carries it on to completion. But rely on him, rejoice in his freedom, and praise him for the good gifts he has given you through the holy spirit – like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control. All of these are given you through the Holy Spirit.

Praise God for freedom in Christ!