Lent – with cake

March 4, 2009

I know. Lent with cake sounds upside down. Lent is a time of penitence, of focusing on what it costs to follow this Jesus person. Each Lent, as I spend forty days in purposeful absention, I learn something new about God and myself. Cake doesn’t sound like purposeful absention. But this year, it is.

In the past, I’ve given up dishonorable speech for Lent (i.e. no gossip). I’ve made committments to pray and sit with God for an hour each day. Once, I spent my Lent praying for forgiveness for all the crap I’d done to people (including myself) in my twenties. Without fail, the leanings of my heart about what to focus on guided me deeper into my relationship with the Living God, so that each Lent, I stepped into the rest of the year spiritually fed and awake.

Gradually, my insights from Lent have been integrated into my day-to-day life. This Lent, I feel very aware of some of those integrations. I made a choice a long time ago to give my life over to Christ. I knew then and I know now that I would do that imperfectly and often sloppily. But when I gave over my vocational life, I put my life in His hands, instead of my own. That has meant, at times, less money, less security, and less clarity.  He has always provided – I’ve never been without a roof or food or friends. The yoke of that decision is light – but not without its accompanying worries.

Those worries have become burdens and even barriers in my faith life. I’ve been so confused and angry at God that I have spent weeks where my only prayers ran along the lines of, “What in YOUR NAME are you DOING?!” or “WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?” While I think it’s good and fine for me to be honest with God, I’ve often become stuck in those frustrations and fears, which I think are rooted in a lack of lively, creative, childlike trust in Him. I despair at times that He is really with me. I allow the circumstances of my life to determine how I feel about the Spirit. This is backwards. The Spirit has the power to determine how I approach my circumstances.

So this Lent, as my husband and I pray for provision and eat beans and tofu instead of something pricier and tastier, I am giving up despair for Lent. This Lent, I am focusing on the power that can raise the dead. “Resurrection power!” to quote my Pentecostal brothers and sisters. This Lent, G-Whiz and I are making one cake every week, to celebrate the fact that God is a good God – who delivers a delicious, abundant life – no matter what the circumstances may be. This Lent, I am choosing to abstain from despairing that God is good and God is present. With each tasty bite I plan on increasing my faith and setting down my fears.

Pictures of Lenten Cake #1 – Lemon Cake – soon to come.

(Quand meme, Jesu, viens vite!)


The Reassurance of the Psalms

March 12, 2008

You know, a place where we can see some real need and some real reassurance expressed is in the Psalms. For some reason this week, Psalm 38 and 39 were really talking to me. The Psalms give us so much freedom to just BE REAL. To be honest about how we are really doing with God.

Take a look at Psalm 38 – this is in verse 9 to 10, “Lord, all that I long for is known to you, my sighing is no secret from you; my heart is throbbing, my strength deserting me, the light of my eyes itself has left me.”

Dang. This is bad. It goes on like this for a while, too – and then look at the end of the Psalm – verse 21, “Lord, do not desert me, do not stand aside, my God./Come quickly to my help, Lord, my savior.” That’s it. That’s the end of the Psalm. Notice that it does not end by saying, Thank you Lord for coming! There ARE Psalms that end like this, but not this one.

It’s the same with Psalm 39, too – look at the end of that one – at verse 12, “Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for help, do not stay deaf to my crying. I am your guest, and only for a time, a nomad like all my ancestors. Look away, let me draw breath, before I go away and am no more.” Nice ending, huh? But you can see, that last bit there, the Psalmist is just crying out from her heart. Listen to me Lord! Hear my prayer! I’m talking to you! Feel that emotion.  It’s intense.
All this EMOTION in the Psalms – like the FEELING of wanting some situation to just DISAPPEAR – or feeling like God has just up and Forgotten you COMPLETELY, all that is all in there. I think there might be some Christians – with good intentions, I’m sure – who might tell us we’re should only be grateful and sweet and good inside, because we’ve been saved, right? but that just isn’t a reality God is holding us to, always being sweet inside. Obviously, we should always be grateful to God, but that doesn’t mean that is the ONLY emotion we are ever going to have towards him, or bring to him. That’s just not a reality we have modeled for us in the Bible.

The Psalms are very honest. They are also full of trust – sometimes in the Psalms, we’re waiting for God to act, but not quite seeing it yet. I hope I can communicate this – that actually DEFINES faith – waiting for God to act, and not quite seeing it yet. That’s what Hebrews 11 is saying when it says that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. This is a HUGE part of walking with God. Just waiting some stuff out. Just trusting that something is going on in heaven on our behalf, even though we can’t see ANYTHING happening at the moment. That’s part of why these Psalms are here. To reassure us again. This is how it is sometimes in life with God. But hold tight. Hold tight. God knows who we are and what we need.


The Reassurance of the Garden Narrative

March 10, 2008

Take a look at this little bit of Genesis 3:

The serpent was the most subtle of all the wild beasts that God had made.  It asked the woman, “Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?  The woman answered the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden.  But of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, “You must not eat it, nor touch it, under pain of death”.’  Then the serpent said to the woman, “Die? You will not die!  God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.”  The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, and that it was desirable for the knowledge that it could give.  So she took some of its fruit and ate it.  She gave some also to her husband who was with her and he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened.

Doesn’t it seem like the story of God and man and woman should have started off a little better?  I don’t know, maybe a little more reverent and worshipful, like, Oh, God, you’re so awesome, thank you so much for creating us, we’ll do whatever you say!  But instead, our story starts with us doing something completely wacky and wrong, eating from that tree we weren’t supposed to. I love what Ecclesiasticus says about this:
God made people in the beginning, and then left them free to make their own decisions.
God left us free to make our own decisions.  What a trusting God.  It’s kinda crazy, if you ask me.  Because look what Adam and Eve go and do with that decision making power.   Oops.

And there are some pretty serious consequences to this, if we kept on reading in Genesis 3, we have a list of all those consequences.   But what is AMAZING is that God is not just like, you know what? Forget you.  I gave you this opportunity to please me, make good decisions, and you sucked, so now we are not friends anymore.  Buh-bye.  No. If that’s what had happened, um, there would not be the rest of this book.

I think part of the point of this story is to help us see that this is just part of how we are – we LEAN in this direction that makes keeping God’s instructions something that takes REAL EFFORT.  I know that might sound bad – like – ooh – we are all made sinful and bad – but – even though that’s true – I think there is another piece of this story that gets overlooked.  Because really, this story IS reassuring.  I’m not going to ask for a show of hands or anything – but let me ask you, seriously – Don’t you struggle sometimes to follow God’s heart, God’s instructions?  I know I do.  I’ll gladly raise my hand.  I struggle  A LOT.  This story is here for a lot of reasons, but one of them is to reassure us: It’s not just you.  All your people are like this.  From the beginning.

And guess what?  God still keeps on walking with us.  For an entire life’s worth of stuff.  An entire Bible’s worth of people’s disobediences.

God keeps hoping that we will see that it would be better if we didn’t try to do it our own way.  We’re like Eve, we look, and see that something LOOKS good – after all, it says there right in the Book– she looked, and saw that it was pleasing and desirable – but if God has asked us specifically not to do that thing that looks pleasing and desirable – really – it will go much better for us if we stay away from it.  Whatever it might be.

The other day, I was thinking about doing something totally rotten.  I mean really, really rotten, something totally against God’s heart.   I was super, super mad at someone.  This person was being really horrible to people that I love.  And so, you know, super mature Christian that I am – I wanted them to suffer.  And this was on my mind a lot.  By a lot, I mean, um, all the time.  Nice, huh?  (I know, it’s nice.)

What was I doing?  I was going completely against God’s word.  How many times does God tell us in the Bible not to judge?  HE is the judge.  Of everybody. I was thinking that I was the judge.  But God is the judge.  Not me.  I was just like Eve. I was all backwards.  God knows that what I need in this area is not to punish this person, but to be free from worrying about it.

God knew who Eve and Adam were and what they needed.  And God knows us and what we need.

This is reassurance.


Why theology matters.

February 4, 2008

Recently, I spent some time with a ministry team in a prison. Some of the things that I heard that evening made think about how deeply our theology, our understanding of God, affects us.

There was a woman on the team – I’ll call her Carrie – who was feeling very uneasy and uncomfortable being at the prison. For me, going to the prison is the best thing that happens to me all week. I love how the Spirit moves there in our chapel service and I love the hunger for God that the inmates have. I don’t know if it will always be thus, but that’s how it is now. That said, I’m aware that prison ministry is not for everyone. But Carrie felt bad that this wasn’t her thing.

One of the other women said that we should pray for her, so we did. The whole time, I prayed the freedom of Christ over her. While God can and does call us to difficult ministry, it does not mean that in order to be ministry, it must be difficult. That is not in the Book. We are not required to force ourselves into ministry situations that are deeply uncomfortable in order for it to be authentic. She seemed to have a concept of God that led her to believe that she should be at the prison.

Authentic ministry is you giving of yourself, out of the bounty that Jesus and God have granted you, to someone in need. And people in need are everywhere. Not just prisons and hospitals and funeral homes. Those needs are just more obvious. Everyone is in need. Everyone needs a dose of uncommon grace and love. And really, ministry is just another word for caring, for loving.

So Carrie’s thing isn’t prisoners – so what? There are unlimited places for her to care and love for people, I’m sure of it, because “the world cries out.” I feel worried that she is going to either a) stop coming to prison and feel really bad about it or b) continue coming to prison, where she is hog-tied and barely able to minister because she’s profoundly uncomfortable. I would like to offer her the theological ground to stand on for a third option. c) She could leave the prison ministry with a clear conscience and a light heart, knowing that God has plans to use her wherever she will be. Perhaps one day she will feel pulled or called back to the prison, but for now, it can be someone else’s place of ministry. God is not a guy with a list of crap you’re supposed to do before your allowed to be considered a “real” minister. He just wants us to care for people.

I feel like I should have included about six pages of Scripture references in this post. Maybe tomorrow. Seriously. Maybe tomorrow.


Christ and Culture

February 3, 2008

The other day I watched several episodes of “How to Look Good Naked” – a show that helps women appreciate their bodies as they are, instead of how they think they ought to be.

I like the show because it helps people become compassionate towards themselves. The host is Carson from the “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” show, and he is sweet and warm with the women. Who knows where he developed a heart for this ministry, but he has one, without a doubt.

I genuinely enjoy the show and hope it helps not only women who were on it, but women who watch it, too. However, it highlighted something about our culture that freaks me out. These women, and I don’t think they are unusual, are so caught up in how they look that their very minds and hearts are preoccupied with it, to the exclusion of other, deeper things. Their preoccupation is also negative. These are not Hermosa Beach housewives who walk around all year in beachwear and $400 sunglasses feeling and looking hot. (That’s the same preoccupation, just with a positive slant.)

If we spend the energies of our hearts and minds concerned with how we look, those energies can’t go somewhere else. I love cute clothes and looking nice as much (or more) than the average female. But I see what a trap I can set for myself if I make this a central thing.

I don’t mean a trap, as in, “oh, I’m trapped, because I’m going to try on eight outfits! Oh no! I’m such a slave to the appearances of things!” No. That is too simple. And I don’t think it is wrong to have some sort of an aesthetic for our appearance. I’m pretty sure that in every culture, everywhere, this is a part of how we roll as humans.

I mean that it is a trap because it can casually and insiduously keep me focused on the appearances of things. Especially my own appearance. And nowhere, but nowhere, does the Bible ask me to focus on looking hot. (Or on my house being fabulous. But that is another post.) Micah’s simple instructions about what God requires include: act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. “Look hot” is not squeezed in there anywhere.

This is where I think Christ meets culture on this one – he asks me not to be fooled, not to be overly distracted by stuff like this. He asks me to remember that the Spirit is here in the world at work, and that there is plenty of ministry waiting for us to step into. He reminds me that the joy and satisfaction of looking in the mirror and seeing something pleasing doesn’t compare with the joy and satisfaction of being touched by God, or of reaching out and touching someone else.


Of Blogs and Bibles

January 16, 2008

Today I had a grumpy morning with the children. They were just being children – fussing about how much cinnamon and sugar goes on toast, clothing options, etc.

Sometimes we’re all, children and adult, just contrary. Well. To a degree. I guess none of us adults has thrown a complete crying, screaming fit because we couldn’t wear a striped shirt. Then again, probably very few adults have their wardrobe choices curtailed by an unimaginative dress code, either.

But I wasn’t feeling resilient this morning. I hadn’t had my tea. I just wanted to wake up and have normal conversations with everyone. No “discussions.” So, after a few minutes of testy discussions, I took my tea and went to my google reader to see what the blogs were up to. I was so happy, because my favorite blogger had a new post, and she hasn’t been posting much lately. I read it. It was nice. I read a few other posts here and there. Then, my google reader was empty.

I closed the browser and sighed. I said to my blank screen, “can’t you satisfy me?” I actually laughed out loud after I said that. I realized I was using blogs to distract me from how I was feeling. I knew I needed input from somewhere. I intuitively knew that I wanted some satisfaction from words. But I was looking to the wrong words. My little daisy Bible was sitting on the desk next to my monitor. I picked it up and read this week’s lectionary readings.

The Gospel reading is from the first chapter of John. John the Baptist says (v.29), “Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Right there I was hooked again. The Bible for me is like a dynamic, strange, endlessly fascinating, illuminating conversation with the most interesting person I’ve ever known. Today, when I read that, my mind went immediately to that oft-repeated phrase – that Jesus somehow takes away sins. I find that thought so interesting and so strange. What does it mean exactly? I know the traditional, orthodox answer, which I hold as a gift from the past. But how can I deepen that understanding, know what it means for real, for me, for my friends? He takes away sin in general? From me? Where does he take it? How? And, what then? And why a Lamb, a reference to sacrifice and dependence, first? He’s a shepherd, too, right?

And then I read the Old Testament reading, which was from Isaiah 49. In verse 4, Isaiah has the Messiah say, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”

Isn’t that outrageous? The Bible is incredible. It is full of this kind of despair and “FORGET IT!” kind of sentiment. When combined with an equally outrageous trust in God, it is a potent mix.

When I read the Bible, I know I will never be done plunging all of its mysteries. There will always be more for me to see, to learn and be amazed and baffled by in it. Already I feel pulled to spend more time researching and praying over those passages.

No one can rock it like God. No one has so much to say to me that is so encouraging, bizarre and wise. That is His job, to be loving and mysterious. The Bible kicks ass.

That said, let me affirm that I love reading good blogs. They can be a great blessing. Sometimes the rawest, most honest thing I “hear” all day is from a blogger – like this one from Melissa in Ohio. Sometimes the silliness of my fellow Christians just gives me a great laugh.

But nobody rocks it like God. Love you, God.


Eternity

January 8, 2008

Jesus mentioned it more than a few times. I have to say, normally, eternity just doesn’t really enter into my consciousness. But for some reason lately I’ve been thinking about it. It’s a strange concept. Time that neither ends nor begins. Ouch. It hurts my brain to try and grasp it.

The other day the kids and I were talking about how old my great-grandmothers lived to be. Their average age when they went to heaven was about 100. My people (at least the female ones) live for a looong time. I said something to my husband about how I was sad that I might be a widow for a long time, since he is 12 years older than I, and men. . . well, you know. Men just don’t seem to be able to hang on as long as the women. Not that we can predict anything in this life. I was just thinking about it as a possibility.

His response was that he planned on spending eternity with me. I told him (because I am sometimes maybe not the sweetest girl on the planet) that Jesus said there wouldn’t be “giving in marriage” and so forth in heaven. He was very saddened by that.

“But,” said I, “I’m sure if it is not marriage, it’s something better!”

He looked sad. And unconvinced.

The thing is, even though John (in Revelation), Ezekiel, Isaiah and others cover what heaven/ eternity is like, it is hard for us to imagine things so outside of our reality. The thing that sounds the best to me is the continuous worship. It sounds so awesome to join in with angels and everyone in singing and rejoicing to and with God. It seems like it would be so joyful and amazing and fun.

So many of our human interactions are difficult, messy and confusing. I imagine in our eternal “bodies” our relationships with each other will not be those things. It will be free and fearless. I’m curious to know what it will be like.

In the meantime, I hope some teeny piece of the kingdom leaks into the relationships I have now, in this pre-heaven, earthy place.