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!)

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The cul-de-sac of faithfulness

February 22, 2009

This past Friday, I was out walking on a suburban street with my eighth grade English group. They come, if you can imagine, from 4-6 pm on a Friday afternoon, to do vocabulary, to read and to discuss literature with me. Oddly, they are all boys, and there are only three of them. On our walk, I asked them to pay attention to details as they looked around the California suburbs, to use those details in a writing we were going to do later.  I’d never walked on that particular street, and it turned out to be a dead end, so our walk was short.  When we got back to class, I wrote about the dead end being a surprise to me.  As I was writing, one of the students asked me how to spell cul-de-sac.  I almost laughed out loud.  He was right, it wasn’t a dead end, but a perfectly tidy, circular cul-de-sac.

When we were out walking, I was once again surprised by my own life. What a strange way to spend Friday afternoon. I finally know what I love to do vocationally, but I am hanging out with three thirteen year olds, walking down a suburban dead end cul-de-sac. This is not chaplaincy.

I do not mind so much, anymore, that it has taken me so long to find the thing that I love to do so much. But waiting to do it, the time that it is taking to equip myself to do it, that wears on me sometimes. The economic realities of my family’s life dictate that I cannot do another full-time un-paid CPE internship right now.  I need to do two more internships.  The possibility exists that I may find a paid internship, but they are rare.  I want nothing more than to be walking through a hospital, meeting people and having the opportunity to accompany them on their walk through difficult times.

Instead, I’m working at an after-school program, teaching English.  I am very grateful for the work, especially given our economy’s downhill nature these days.  My husband has been looking for work for about three months now, which is also dispiriting.  I was laid off from my ESL teaching job in January.  With all my heart, I wish I could be making a living (even a small living!) doing the work that I love.  But, for now, I simply can’t.

This brings me to faithfulness.  These days, when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we pray it fervently.  When we give thanks, as we do at every meal, we do it even more reverently.  There is something about being on the edge of poverty (I know we are not nearly as close as many) that makes us even more grateful for what we do have.  We are trying to be faithful, to hold on to just a mustard seed of faith in a time of great unknowing and great need.

I try not to despair, to think of all the things that could derail me from the path that I believe God’s asked me to take.   Jesus meant something when he told us that moving a mountain was something we could ask for and expect.  He wasn’t joking, I assume.  My husband keeps moving forward, looking for some kind of job that a former pilot could do well, even if it’s not for much money.  This continual searching without much positive feedback requires the fuel of hope and faith on his part.

Faithfulness for me, right now, means trusting that God’s hand is at work in the midst of our want and confusion, even though I can barely discern what His hand is doing.  Faithfulness is not giving up on a dream of serving His people.  It means that even though I’m walking on what looks like a dead end, as the eighth grader reminded me, it is not a dead end.  It’s a cul-de-sac.  Hopefully this time will be like a cul-de-sac in my life.  I will get to the end of it, turn around and be back out on the road that I want to be travelling.


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.


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.


Testimonies and theology

January 5, 2008

Recently in church we had someone tell us a story. It was a true story about her parents. They were church planters all of their lives, and never saved for their retirement years. Whenever anyone would ask them about the wisdom of this plan, they would reply, “seek first His righteousness . . .and all these things will be given to you.” (Matthew 6) When they retired from church planting, the wife decided to teach school in her retirement. They looked for a house near her work, and found the perfect house for sale. However, they could not afford it.

As they were talking to the real estate agent, someone from a cell phone company happened to be canvassing the neighborhood to find people who were willing to have a cell phone tower in their back yard. Out here in Cali, they often make these towers look like fake palm trees. Of course, the family agreed to the tower tree, and they were able to buy the house. Later, another cell phone company approached them, and now they have two cell phone towers in their backyard. They call them “the money trees.”

This is a sweet story, is it not?

However. The theological conclusion that was delivered with this sweet story was this: God is faithful and works in mysterious ways to make circumstances good for people who trust Him.

The problem with that theological conclusion is that then the opposite of that statement needs to be false. But it is not.

God is faithful, yes. He works in mysterious ways, yes. He works out circumstances so that they are good for those that trust Him: sometimes.

I feel like this is dangerous to do in church, celebrate something like this, and not give some time to other, less straightforward stories about life with God.  A story like this is next door to the truth about God.  But it presents a warped picture of God and His people.  Sometimes people are super faithful and trusting and God doesn’t work like this.

A serious percentage of the Psalms are not what you would call content.  They cry out to a God that is working so mysteriously that His people are frustrated and lost.  Sometimes they say something like, YET I will praise You, God.  This means in spite of dire circumstances.  If no cell phone towers had appeared, that couple probably still would have praised God, because they were faithful followers of His.  But we don’t hear that kind of story very often.  I feel like there should be a balance in church testimonies.  The good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.  It would be a much more honest reflection of the people of God’s experiences with Him.

What do you think, innerweb?  Do you just love stories like the “money trees?” Or. . ?


Isn’t it the same thing? (Evangelize/Proselytize)

December 6, 2007

Financially, my family is in a pickle. From things that I’ve read, this is a common problem in re-marriages and step-families, when substantial child support and alimony payments are part of the financial equation. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to generate more income on my end of things, as my husband is already doing all he can.

To that end, yesterday I had an interview with a company that does academic enrichment tutoring and instruction. They are looking for people to be English tutors. The company has a solid reputation in the area, and I really liked the director. I hope they decide to hire me.

Because I list my graduate degree from Fuller Seminary on my resume, it often prompts questions in secular interviews. Sometimes the questions have to do with something they heard on the radio, or they want something basic explained. Like the time someone asked me what the difference was between Catholics and Christians. I really don’t think they believed me when I tried to explain that Catholics ARE Christians.

Yesterday, my interviewer asked me where I fell on the Christian spectrum. He is not a believer and doesn’t know Christian jargon, so I tried to explain it simply. I said that I am an evangelical who believes that Jesus has asked us to bless not just our little believer’s corner, but the larger community. He asked if I was a fundamentalist. I told him that I didn’t really feel like I was in that camp, although I believe in the authority of the Bible. Then he said, “So if you’re evangelical, you’re basically saying your goal is to proselytize people.”

Remember, I’m interviewing for a position tutoring English. I said that I was pretty sure those two words are not synonymous. I explained the Greek root of the word evangelical. Euangellos in Greek is “bringing good,” so an evangelical is one who brings something good, in this case, the “good news” about redemption in Jesus. Proselytize, according to my OED, is “to make proselytes,” and a proselyte is “one who has come over from one opinion, belief, creed or party to another; a convert.” It comes from the Greek aorist form of proserk, meaning “to come to a place.”*

So is it the same thing? No, it is not. I hope that I manage to bring the good news about God in Jesus. If it causes a person to move from one opinion to another, that is really cool. But my primary work as a follower of Jesus is to share the good news, and to share it as if it really is good news. Good news is not scary or threatening. Good news doesn’t sound like, “if you don’t believe in Jesus you’re going to Hell!” You’d be hard pressed to find Jesus inviting people into his circle with that kind of talk anywhere in the Gospels. Good news doesn’t come in an argumentative or defensive tone. Good news makes a person feel relieved and comforted.**

The good news sounds more like this. In spite of the fact that I am broke, I know I serve a God who will somehow, some way take care of my needs and my family’s needs. It is good news that God loves me abundantly, and that his love can transform my life for the good. He can help me turn into a person who joyfully serves others, rather than a person that is only concerned about herself and her little family circle.

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*I had to look up the definition and root of proselyte after the interview.

** I am aware that sometimes the gospel/good news is received badly, but that is another post.