Wednesday, November 7, 2012

So Maybe You Were A Jerk During The Election

Good afternoon folks. I want to thank you. I want to thank you each for the times you have chosen to overlook offenses throughout the past year, it has been to your honor and I am proud of you. Thank you the times you've avoided arguments over disputable matters (Rom 14:1), and have chosen not to judge your neighbor for his or her misdeeds, foul words, and misplaced votes. You have let your light shine (Matt 5:14).

You have also failed. You've been self-congratulatory (Rom 12:3). You've lost your temper (Eph 4:26). You've complained (Phil 2:14), served yourselves (Phil 2:3) and spoken thoughtlessly. You have judged your neighbors (Luke 6:37) and hated your enemies (Matt 5:44). Your limited goodness does not negate your misdeeds.

I'm right there with ya.  We're sinners living in a fallen world.  We mess up a lot, and our God is not amazed or surprised to that we fail and his love is so much greater than our failings.  Throughout our proud and pathetic moments God has remained and will remain good; his never fails (Ex 15:13). God goes to bat for us (1 John 2:1) and continues to guide our steps (Pro 16:9), answer our prayers (Jer 33:3) and cover over our sins. We've been busy for the past while, and life is about to get busy again. Take this comparatively calm moment to think clearly about how you've acted in the days leading up to yesterday's vote, and to understand beyond any shadow of doubt that in spite of anything you've said or done that here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst (1 Tim 1:15).  Etch that saying in your heart and I'm confident you'll have a better chance of not being a jerk in 2016.

Monday, October 15, 2012

I Need Community Or I'll Die

In the first week Robert probably saved my life. It was a preventative measure, and it was high school, but his impact on my life was enormous. He may not even know. It's amazing how we can change one another's lives so nonchalantly.

It went like this: I'd graduated 8th grade from St. Paul Lutheran as part of a class of 32 students, which was a record at the time. Most of my classmates went on to small Christian high schools. I went to a public school where I joined an incoming class of over 500. I knew about seven people, and I rarely saw any of them. Being alone was bearable for the six hours out of the day when there was class but lunchtime bad. Lunchtime was terrifying.

Photo by: The U.S. Army
The cafeteria was packed, but somehow it was never crowded enough for me to inconspicuously sit anywhere. The tables were round, so sitting meant approaching a group. I was afraid to sit with a group who might reject me, so I sat alone at an empty table and my table stayed empty all through lunch. It felt pathetic to be so alone in such a crowded room. The same thing happened on the second day. And the third day. I felt so lonely I wanted to cry.

On the last day in that cafeteria I sat down feeling insignificant, awkward and alone. Then Robert walked up to me and changed me life. I'd seen Robert at St. Paul and at church but we hadn't talked much.
“Come on” Said Robert, “We don't eat here.”

I didn't know exactly what he meant but he was talking to me and that felt nice. He said “we” too, which felt even better. I followed Robert and he lead me to a little nook in the science hall where he and the kids from the Christian Club ate. Maybe it's dorky that we had a club, but I really needed those people. I ate with them every day for the next four years. They were there for me when I needed a place to belong. They were my family when I was alone.

Being alone is the worst. We weren't created for it (Genesis 2:18), and God wants better for us. We're meant for families, both real families and adoptive families. I don't meant to say we ought to never take a moment alone. I'm an introvert and I need time alone, but even as an introvert I know I cannot survive without a loving community.

I believe there is no comfort like that of truly belonging. Sadly we often live without the supportive communities we were created to thrive in. We hang back from meeting new people because we imagine we aren't interesting or cool enough. We avoid friendships we think will carry too much work. We don't share our struggles because we tell ourselves we aren't important. We even hold back encouragement and compliments so we don't appear too attached. We keep one another alone when we were created to be in awesome communities. Brothers and Sisters, this is all very dumb and we need to cut it out.

I know that it is hard to offer or to ask for help. It requires vulnerability. We get hurt when we're vulnerable, but it's so totally worth it. Jesus made himself vulnerable so that we could have a relationship with him. He got hurt, but still thought we were valuable enough to do it anyway. Jesus loves us, thinks we're terrific, created us exquisitely, and is excited to walk through life with us. With our confidence grounded in him, we needn't fear rejection. When we reach out, the worst thing that can happen is that someone may decline our awesome friendship. That's sad to be sure, but the way I see it it's their loss.

Root yourself in Jesus and take confidence in knowing he's crazy about you. Then reach out and love somebody. You just may save their life.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"I Don't Care What Anyone Says!"

Dear Christians,

Please stop using the expression “I don't care what anyone says.” I'm embarrassed to say I hear this expression from the mouths of Christians frequently. To clarify: Christians are recipients of undeserved forgiveness.  We've been charged by God to:

Obey those in authority (Hebrews 13:17)
Be all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:22)
Only evangelize with dignity and respect (1 Peter 3:15)
Love their enemies no matter what (Matthew 5:43-44)
Live at peace with everyone as far as is possible (Romans 12:18)

There are things which Christians should not compromise on in any situation, but not compromising is not the same as not listening. It is one thing to disagree with a person. That can be done respectfully and lovingly. It is another thing to not care what they say. That kind of apathy is hurtful if not hateful, and does nothing to win them over. If someone disagrees with you they are going to go right on disagreeing if you won't be civil. Without listening to your “enemy” you don't earn the right to be listened to.

When I was younger I was passionate about evangelism. Sadly I was also an ass. I shared my understanding of God's goodness and love at the slightest provocation, but I'm afraid that I was a pathetic ambassador of the gospel. I was pathetic because I didn't care what anyone thought. I thought this attitude was brave; it is not. It is unloving. I would ask people about their religious beliefs and then proceed to wait for my turn to speak. I didn't listen to them because I didn't care what they said. This was an incredibly disrespectful practice.

Listening is one of the most basic and essential ways to show a person love. By failing to listen I failed to share out the gospel I was so excited to talk about. I didn't win any hearts because I didn't demonstrate God's love. When we aren't listening we aren't loving.

Sharing Music, Roman Style by Ed Yourdon
We talk often in Christian gatherings about a need to love our neighbors, to act generously, and to be ambassadors for Christ. We rarely discuss the vital and loving act of listening to people we disagree with. Let's change that. Listening is a loving and generous action; it shows God's love practically and powerfully. Let's give it a try.

Who do you find hardest to love? Likely they're the person who is hardest to listen to. Try this new tactic this week.

  1. Don't try to love them.
  2. Meditate on the great patience and love God has shown you.
  3. Look at what you have in common with your challenging friend.
  4. Let me know what happens.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jesus Is A Hugger

The worst is not knowing whether or not to hug somebody. You see somebody you love, value and perhaps miss dearly; you smile widely and move forward to . . . second guess yourself.
Photo by Joi Ito
I do this. I ruin hugs. I rush toward them and then I hesitate,
“Are we 'huggin' friends?” I wonder at the worst moment possible, “Is this ok?” “Will this make them uncomfortable?” “Will it ruin everything?”
Now I've waited too long and it's awkward either way.
I ought to be honest with myself. I've never lost a friend because I hugged them. Only once in all of my memory have I hugged a person and known it was a mistake. They didn't want my hug. In my defense we went from hugging friends to non-hugging friends overnight via hearsay and gossip. Not my bad. They hugged back though, but their body language told me not to hug that guy again.
Hugs are seldom mistakes, still I hesitate though my pro-hug instincts tell me I've left friends in need without the hugs they craved.
Humans need hugs. You've probably heard that babies face huge challenges when deprived of touch. A human being's need for physical contact doesn't evaporate once they learn to walk. We all need touch. We need hugs. I'm in the camp that recommends 12 a day.
Hugs. I need hugs; I love them - but I'm so awkward. I love people, but I get so stupid self-conscious that I talk myself out of hugging. I'm terrified they'll be all weird because I busted out the hugs, despite the fact that this has literally never happened.
“Don't be weird about this” I tell myself. “They like you.”
I love hugging-friends. I don't mean just my friends I hug regularly. I love them, but I especially appreciate those friends who hug no matter what the time and place are. I love their confidence. They never sneak hug, side hug, one arm, or awkwardly hug too slowly or for too long. These are friends for whom hugs are a special ministry. They remind me that I'm OK, and that touch is good.
I am not yet one of these people. I don't have the joy that they do. The hugs they give are given liberally and lovingly. My hugs smack of a fear of rejection. This is a shortcoming. This is not God's will for me; scripture says perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). Slowly but surely God is getting me there. I can count on Jesus for that.
You see, Jesus touched the untouchables. He was a hugger. He was a hugging-friend. He IS a hugging-friend. He's not afraid of our rejection, but liberally offers his heart to anyone. Jesus loves us without hesitation, judgement or fear. Despite our resistance to him, Jesus never hesitates to bring us into his arms.
I'm held back by fear, but knowing God's love helps me move forward. What keeps you from passing that love forward? What gives you courage?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Vanilla Legacy

Did you ever hear about Edmond Albius? Yes, he had a name like a Harry Potter wizard, but he was more than just a name, and our lives would not be the same without him. Albius was born into slavery, but in 1841 he invented something that changed our world forever.

Before Edmond Albius changed things, Mexico was the only place in the whole world that could grow vanilla. There's a sting-less bee in Mexico that is the only bug in the world that naturally pollinates the Vanilla Orchid. Without pollination these orchids won't produce vanilla pods, and the pods are the tasty part. Sadly leaving Mexico means leaving the bees. No bees means no pollination and no pollination means no vanilla.  A Belgian botanist did invent a way to pollinate the orchid artificially, but his method was unusable and laborious.  Then in 1841 Edmond Albius took a stick and invented a simple technique to pollinate vanilla orchids. After over 150 years we still use that technique. Almost all vanilla on earth is pollinated this way.  He is the reason I get to enjoy vanilla. Oh yeah, Albius was only twelve years old when he figured it out.

This story stirs my desire to be remembered. Vanilla is grown globally because of Edmond Albius.  I may never do anything so globally important as that boy did.  This bothers me.

It's a basic human impulse: We want legacies. We want to leave something indelible that will be around after long after we're dead and gone. People build companies, challenge governments, break records and even wage wars with this end in mind. We do so in vain. This world is temporary. None of our legacies outlast us.  C.S. Lewis talks about this in The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit, immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment."

I love this quote. It makes me question my longing to be remembered. I hope it makes you do the same because we are more permanent than any of our accomplishments. Our neighbors, enemies and friends are more lasting and valuable than anything we can build.


Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21
What do you treasure?  Is it of earth or heaven?  Lay down your worthless treasures.  Jesus is happy to forgive you if you have clung to the wrong things.  He is also happy to replace those old "treasures" with beautiful new ones, because he treasures you.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Lovely And Excellent Vietnamese Coffee

 Photo by: Jean-Marie Hullot
I confess, I've turned up my nose at French Roast. I've just enjoyed every other kind of coffee more. There are so many stunning varieties of coffee that I've asked why “French Roast” is even a thing people drink. The answer is probably “The French.” Though this may be stereotyping, they're reputed to have some opinions about food.

Today I learned what French Roast Coffee is for. Mind you, I did not set out with the intention of buying or drinking the stuff. It sort of happened to me. A few weeks ago I worked a trial-shift at Zingerman's Coffee Company. It was great. I tried Liberica Coffee and Indian Coffee. I tried coffee's brewed brewed in fancy, simple and sciencey ways. I tried Vacume Pot, Espresso, Chemex and Pour over. I left with new knowledge and a notable caffeine high. Like coffee, new knowledge leaves me thirsty for more, so I went out and bought a Vietnamese coffee brewer.

I read articles, watched videos and determined that I had to buy coffee and sweetened condensed milk ASAP. The the tutorial that I found most helpful was by HighBeamFilms, but I'll give my recipe here. It is partially because I couldn't find brief instructions.

How To Make Vietnamese Coffee:

Start Boiling some water. 12 ounces is enough
Add 2-3 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk to a mug
Place your filter basket on top of your mug
Coarsely grind French Roast Coffee
Add 2 tablespoons of ground coffee to filter basket
Level out the grounds and tamp lightly
Splash coffee grounds with about an ounce of water
Wait 15 seconds
Fill basket with water
Put the lid on
Wait 5 minutes
Stir it
Love it

Come to my house and I will make you this coffee; the process is fun and the end product is sweet, creamy and strong.  

You may be wondering what this has to do with anything.  To which I can only say.  "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things" -Philippians 4:8


Find something lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy and share it. Share it with your family, enemies and friends. Share it in real life. Share it online. Lets see if we can drown out some of the election-year negativity with some goddly excellence. Oh, and use the comments to let me know what you find excellent. Go!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

God, Forgive High School Me

image by: Egan Snow
I fell asleep with the window open and woke up cold with the chill smell of leaves blowing through my room.  The particular cold botanical aroma of late summer awoke memories of Interlochen, the northern Michigan arts camp where I spent the last week of every summer for all four years of high school.  Filled with nostalgia, I also felt regret as I remembered those years.  I did not live up to the standard by which I judged others.  I was rude, fearful, and self-righteous.  Since high school, I’ve apologized to many of my friends for the person I was.  (If you feel you deserve an apology but have been left out, please let me know.)
I think I've improved as a person since then, but I don’t want to focus on that; it is unimportant.  Hopefully we do improve as we live life, but life isn’t ultimately about self-improvement.  Being better now doesn’t remove the consequences of my words and actions, not can it earn forgiveness. I personally must remember this or I fall back into self-righteousness.  Christianity doesn't smile on self-righteousness.
As I understand, teach, and live it, Christianity has little to do with good behavior or morals.  It can produce them, but at it's core Christianity is repeatedly realizing that our most heroic efforts to live holy lives have been unsuccessful (Isaiah 64:6), and finding that God offers his unconditional love to us no matter what we’ve done.  Regardless of how we've failed, God loves us more than we can imagine.  God readily forgives us, no matter how we embarrassingly we’ve behaved.


Read The Parable of the Prodigal Son today.  Did you know that “prodigal” means “Wasteful?”  Both boys were wasteful.  While one wasted his dad’s money; the other wasted precious time withholding forgiveness.  Which boy is most like you?  Whichever one you are, God welcomes you into his presence with open arms.  Jesus loves you relentlessly, with love you’re worst actions can never undermine.  Sometimes we struggle to accept this. We try to earn God’s love, but it’s free and can only ever be free.  When do you find it difficult to accept God’s love?  What wears down your resistance?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

For All My Friends With "Real Jobs"

Many of my friends wait tables.  One evening one such friend was serving a family that had an adorable little girl who, in the course of the meal, became fascinated and delighted with having a server. As my friend bid the family goodnight the girl told her parents, 

“I wanna be a waitress when I grow up” 

“Oh no, baby” her mom said, “You'll go to college and get a real job.”

It was a cold and tactless thing to say in front of a server with a four year degree.
Construction Worker by: wools

I currently have three part time jobs, one uses my BA.  These jobs probably wouldn’t fit that mother’s definition of “Real Jobs” But they're perfectly real.  They really take up time, really wear on my body, and I've really put up with some really rude people.  Yet as offensive as that mother was being, I’ve honestly caught myself using the same expression. 

When my friends and I use the expression “real job” we're usually daydreaming.  We’re talking about holding jobs that would only work us 40 hours each week, provide medical insurance, let us go to church on Sundays, and maybe pay enough to support a family. When we say “real job” we're fantasizing about finally and decisively breaking into the middle-class.  “Real Jobs” are something we search, pray, and wait for.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting those jobs, but I think we're mistaken to call them “Real.”  I have three real jobs now.  Real life has already started whether or not it's what we anticipated.

I am finishing up my last week in a professional ministry position and beginning a temp job at a mailorder company.  This is perfectly real, although it wasn’t a part of my plan.  Regrettably I’ve been letting the strain of circumstances dictate how joyfully I live my life.  Let me be frank: This is total crap.  Jesus didn't die for us so that temporal circumstances would get to tell us how happy we're allowed to be (Philippians 4:11-13).  Sure I’d like life to be better than it is.  Everyone wants that.

Literally every person in the world would like it if their life were better than it currently is.  This is important to remember because it shows that possessions, income, and status won’t automatically make us happy if we get them.  If they did then the rich people would all be happy.  They’re not.  With that knowledge in mind, we might as well find a way to enjoy life now.  If life improves, fine.  If it doesn’t we’ll at least have learned the right skills to deal with it.

Our joy in life is hugely affected by the attitudes we choose to practice.  My piano teaching mother taught me “practice makes perfect,” and though I didn’t quite believe her, practice did make “better.”  We can practice joy or we can practice grumbling, and we'll get better at whatever we practice.  If we wait for life to improve to practice joyfully thanksgiving, we won't have the skills to actually enjoy our success.  

So here’s my resolution:
I’m going to strive to thank God for every moment I get to be alive (1 Thess 5:18).  I’m going to work my heart out packaging delicious things at the mailorder company. I’m going to dance when I hear music.  I’m going to watch sunsets with my wife.  I’m going to smile at strangers and try to see the face of God in them.  I will forgive Ann Arbor drivers.  I will try not to one-up my friends when we vent about our hardships.  I'll brew beer when there is money and still share it when the money is gone.  I will go on walks this fall.  I will practice, and I will get better.


How do you practice joy?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

It's A Trap! Reflection on Psalm 43

Image By: Rishabh Mishra
It was recess and I was standing guard while the ladies were enjoyed the swing set.  I should explain.  I was standing guard because it was the habit of boys at my school to chase the girls during recess.  It was all in good fun, but the arrangement bothered me; to my superhero-loving 8 year old mind the boys seemed like bad guys.  So, as only an 8 year old can I resolved to oppose bad guys wherever they might be.  I declared myself the girl's body guard; when a boy would run at a girl I chased him away, kicked him, and yelled, “Don’t chase girls!”
While I stood guard that day a friend of mine yelled over from the play structure, “Hey David!  Come over here!”
“No!”  I had a job to do.
“I wanna show you something cool!”
This particular boy, we'll call him Jack, was good at catching cool bugs, however; I thought this could be a trap.  As I considered, he yelled, “I promise it’s not a trap.” That might seem a suspicious declaration to you, but it neatly dissipated my suspicions at the time.  I was not the smartest kid; I assumed he was bound by his promise to me.
“It was a trap!” Jack shouted once I had climbed to where he stood.  Two boys blocked my retreat route and four others came out from various hiding places.  I was surrounded.  No one hurt me.  This game was too fun for either side to ruin it that way.  I ran through the crowd and dove heroically down a slide.  Their plan was clever.  My escape was daring.  Everyone won.
            This is the greatest extent to which anyone was ever lain in wait for my blood.  I’ve been blessed; I have not been oppressed by an enemy, but sometimes circumstances can be bad enough without enemies.  I’ve hunted for jobs without finding them.  I’ve been hungry.  There have been difficult obstacles.  I’ve asked God what he thinks he’s doing much like David did in verse 2.  I love how the Psalms let us see the weakness of David.  Apparently it is OK to be weak sometimes.  Crazy right?  I think if there's a right way to deal with our weakness David nails it in 3-5.  He calls out to God; he steels himself against despair, and resolves to hope.  Sometimes that's all we can do.


            Call out to God today.  Whether you’re in a time of comfort or a time of hurt, take time today to ask God to guide you, increase your joy.  Praise him and resolve to hope.  Then, if you can, go hang out with someone who loves you.  God Speed.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

This Man Does Not Represent Us

Today a dim and violent individual said some of the worst things a person can say (maybe don't follow the link. It's pretty bad.).  He insisted that he spoke in the name of Jesus, my God, and in the name of Christianity, my religion.  I have written about this before, but since horrible things continue to be said and done, I suppose God's people ought to keep on speaking and acting as well.  Most of what I want to say is this:  This wretched man does not represent me, my God, or my church.  I'm a minister in a Christian church and am personally acquainted with hundreds of Christians who posses widely varying opinions about homosexuality; some believe it is an abhorrent sin and some do not, but I cannot think of one person from either group who would fail to be revolted by this man's disgusting behaviour.  You read that correctly: regardless of whether Christians view homosexuality as a sin, we reject and deplore these hateful threats and violence.

Image by Sister72
I'm sad that this isn't the first incident, or even the worst.  Last year the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported that more fatal hate crimes were committed against homosexuals in 2011 than in any other previous year.  People have been doing awful things.  An infuriating number claim that they do them for God, not just any God, for Jesus, you know, the God who laid his life down for his enemies.  The contradiction here is baffling.  These haters are not representing Jesus Christ, they are representing themselves and their own fear, insecurity, and depravity.  Jesus knows what it's like to be screamed down by a hateful mob, and he didn't seem fond of the experience (Luke 22:42). 

Jesus was someone who actually stood between a lynch mob and an notorious sinner (John 8:2-11), which is precisely the role Christians need to take up.  So called “Christian” bigots have been getting a lot of press, and we could  complain and call it “liberal bias in the media” or we could agree that such awful behaviour should be  denounced from as many venues as possible until it ceases.  We don't have to be embarrassed, these people don't represent us, but since they are acting so boldly we really must step up to act on Christ's behalf in our churches and communities.  We can't tolerate senseless hatred and pretend to serve the God of love.  If a Christian friend of yours abuses someone verbally because of their sexual orientation, call them out on it (Proverbs 27:17); that's not acceptable (Colossians 3:8).  If they won't correct their behaviour, and they insist on calling themselves Christian, part ways (1 Corinthians 5:11), you don't need that noise in your life.  Jesus was pretty clear about whether or not to remain on speaking terms with those who claim to follow God but who refuse correction (Matthew 18:15-17). 


Pray that God would change the hearts our enemies, silence false preachers, and embolden us speak the Gospel.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Suffering Builds Character

Image by ephotography
When the zombie apocalypse comes Michiganders will be fine.  While the world goes into panic mode and civilization ends, we'll continue to produce cars, cereal, and muffin mix as though nothing changed. This is not because of our active para-military organizations, well armed gangsters, or our fondness for roughing it. No, it takes more than weapons and knowledge to weather a zombie apocalypse; it takes grit, something we've developed in large supply. We've learned how to push forward when we feel there's no reason to hope. Economic trials and countless bitter winters have ingrained this virtue in our bones so that in the bleakest of circumstances we will not give up. We have been conditioned to suspect that we may lose everything at a moment's notice, to hope we won't, and go on with life anyway.

Paul writes about being content regardless of his circumstances (Philippians 4:12), and to some extent I think you have to face serious hardships in order to learn this attitude. James and Paul both promises us that suffering produces character, perseverance, and hope (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4). These verses do not always feel encouraging.  They feel like something Calvin's dad would say, but they're true. I know remarkable men and women of character, hope, and perseverance, and I've no doubt in my mind that it was their struggles that tempered them into the remarkable people that they are.

If you've read The Return of The King you remember how awesome the scourging of the Shire was. The Scourging of the Shire was a book-only adventure in which the hobbits returned to the Shire to find it overrun and enslaved. Merry and Pippin lead a revolt so swift and sudden that it barely occupied an afternoon. They wrecked their enemies in an instant, because after what they've been through there was nothing in the world that could have plausibly stood against them. This is what our hardships do to us, they build our character and turn us into warrior hobbits.


2 Corinthians 1 says that our suffering enables us to comfort others when they have trouble. Take a moment to consider that this is true for you and your own hardships. What trials are you facing today? How will God use those trials to produce character and hope? Know that God sees you in the midst of your hardship and is working it out for your benefit and his glory (Romans 8:28). Praise God for life's difficulties today; God loves you enough to turn you into a hero.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dropping The F-Bomb

“I’m a Feminist” said a pastor to a classroom of sheltered churchgoers.  He waited while his students laughed.  It took a few moments for them to realize he wasn’t joking.  They began to look curious; some even looked scared.  They had never heard a feminist talk about feminism.  He had their attention, and that was just what he wanted.  In the tradition of that fine professor, here it goes:

I am a feminist.

When I use the word “feminism” I am referring to the belief that men and women are equals who ought to receive the same political, economic, and social rights.  Feminism acknowledges and denounces the institutionalized sexism that has hurt and hindered women throughout our history.  These are perfectly Biblical ideas, though not all Christians embrace them.


Fans of gender roles often argue that the Old Testament law did not establish a society with equal gender roles.  They are correct, but the Old Testament also made provisions for slavery, demanded blood sacrifices, and had rules about how far one could walk on a Saturday.  These Old Testament practices are not a part of Christianity, not because they are culturally abhorrent (they are), but because Christians don’t follow the Law of Moses.  We don’t even pretend to follow the Law of Moses; that law was the old covenant.  We follow Jesus now.

We follow Jesus’ New Covenant, precisely because no one was ever able to follow Moses’ Old one.  Read Hebrews sometime and you’ll see that the purpose of the Old Covenant was only ever to point us toward the new one.  In this perfect New Covenant Jesus Christ has invalidated those sad divisions which once set one human being up as inherently superior to another.  Doesn’t it say in Galatians that there is now neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3:28)?  The kingdom of God doesn’t have room for gender hierarchies any more than it has room for apartheid.  Which is to say we’ve tolerated far too much of both and it’s time we said so.

Straw Womaning

I hear a lot of complaints about feminism, but most are not complaints about feminism at all, but about individual persons claiming to represent feminism.  Opponents of Christian-Feminism point to the most verbally abusive persons who happen to wear the title Feminist and argue that Feminist ideal must logically conclude with becoming such a person.  This is ludicrous.  If someone were to point at Rush Limbaugh and warn me that Christianity would turn me him, it would be all I could do not to laugh.  (We make a point of not judging on this blog but I will say that Rush’s words do not appear to fall in line with Christ’s promise that we can recognize Christians by how they love; however, only God knows the heart)

Biblical Relationships Don't Have Ranks

Ephesians 5:22-33 are often cited by proponents of male superiority.  Well no, actually 22 and 23 are often cited and the rest are left off and ignored.  These more popular verses are the ones which demand a wife submit to her husband.  Now those two verses are completely biblical, and useful for teaching, rebuking, and encouraging, but they are an incomplete picture, like any two verses of the Bible. In reality the command for women to submit to their husbands is coupled immediately with a command for husbands to love their wives with the love Christ has for the church.  This might seem lopsided, in one direction or the other, but wait a second.  In Ephesians 5:21 All Christians are commanded to submit to one another, which means submission is as much a husband’s job as it is a wife’s.  Submission is a Christian trait, not a female one.  John 13:34-35 is explicit that we must all love one another as Jesus loved us.  This is not a man’s unique call.  We all, every one of us, are called to love with increasingly perfect love.
It is so sadly human of us to turn these commands to love into arguments about who needs to do more.  The truth is that we are each asked to love our spouses, our brothers, our sisters, and our enemies with more love than we could possible muster on our own.  Nothing good dwells in us (Romans 7:18), male of female, we need Jesus in order to love.  We need his forgiveness, spirit, and power.


Ask yourself: How does gender influence how you view others?  Is that fair?  Is it Christian?  Whether or not you wear the name Feminist, all Christians are called to consider other’s better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).  Pray today that God works this change in your heart, God is eager to forgive and to pour his love out through you.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Do Not Judge; Love With Love Unequalled

Love by: Cindy Andrie
I'd like to say a few words about judgment today. This is my problem and it is your problem; it is ours, each of ours. We must each own our responsibility for our drops of judgment that have culminated into a violent and destructive flood. We Christians are a body. We suffer as one; we triumph as one.  We fail as one. If you do not take vigilant responsibility for your own actions and inactions then the body is in trouble, because no one else can take responsibility for you.

There is a rampant and destructive perception in our world today that Christians are intolerant and judgmental, and I'm sorry to say it but that perception is not wholly unjustified. It would be easy and comfortable to say that the media and non-Christians ought to treat us with more understanding, but that would be passing the blame. It would be pleasant to comfort our guilty consciences with the promise that we are blessed when people hate us (Luke 6:22), but brothers and sisters we cannot give ourselves such false comfort. We are blessed when people hate us because of Christ, but we are often not hated because of Christ, but because of ourselves.  We are perceived as hateful and egocentric because we have behaved hatefully and egocentrically. We cannot hope to control the perceptions and judgments of others, but we do control our own actions. We cannot control what the world says about us, but we can control what is true about us.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is being slandered and ignored because it is not being represented. It is not commonly taught. It is not commonly lived out.  It is used and abused as a marketing tool and an excuse for attention seeking protests that neither serve God nor people.  We must change this, and that change starts with each of us.  Our love must become more pervasive and relevant than the Westboro Baptists' hate. The great commission does not call non-Christians to be indulgent or patient with loud inept followers of Christ; it calls Disciples of Christ to give compassionate witness to the radical love of Jesus Christ.

Hopefully we are will be unfairly judged, at least a little.  If we do as Christ commanded and do our good works in secret (Matthew 6:1-4), then it may be hard for us to build a good reputation in the world. This is fine. If we secretly give to the poor then our reward is in heaven; we do not need the world's approval, nor do we need to seek it.  Seek God's approval.  Our secrecy in regards to our good deeds, in a way, serves as an accountability measure. When we treat our neighbours shamefully or rudely there can be no chorus of excuses saying, “Though Christians have done some bad things, they've done more good things.” We are not afforded such excuses for sin.  As a matter of fact We are afforded no excuses for sin, we are only afforded liberal forgiveness.


Jesus knows your heart. He knows your motives, your loves, passions, resentments, sensibilities, and sensitivities.  You've done good; you've done evil.  He is still working on you. He loves you, delights in forgiving your failures and is generous in giving his Spirit (Luke 11:11-13). Therefore since you have been forgiven by Jesus, reconciled to the Father, and empowered by his Spirit, I exhort you to love with love unequaled.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” -Matthew 5:43-45

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” -Romans 12:17

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” -1 Peter 3:9

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Life is Hard, Especially For Jane Eyre

I started reading Jane Eyre this week. I am really enjoying it, and this is a relief as it is a book I feel obligated to read. Especially since I have pretended to have read it in the past. I think we all pretend to have read more books than they're actually read; I hope. At least I will pretend this is true; I cannot be the only one who feels overwhelmed by the vast universe of books I haven't read. Back to the point: I am really enjoying Jane Eyre, not just the book but the character too. Jane is magnificent.

Jane Eyre is brave, bold, and smart. I wish I was more like her. I hope I am a little, but not too much, like her. Where I am reading she has just had a rather pointed dissent from Christianity. Jane feels, reasonably, that it is unjust for her friend Helen to submit patiently to undeserved reprimands and punishments. This is a common feeling; injustice is hard to stomach. I have felt this way, and every human, especially children, feel this way from some or all of the time. We want the world to be fair and it is not. There is not a neat and easy truism that makes this problem go away. There are comforting truths; explore them. Today I will not give answers away. Some truths do not feel precious, or even trustworthy, unless you've wrestled with them yourselves.

Read Luke 13, in which Jesus explains that bad things do not just happen to bad people, and in which he heals the sick, and laments the difficulty of salvation.

Read Job, in which a lot of bad things happen to a pretty good man who feels rather put upon by it all, but in the end God has a thing or two to say as well.

Read John 16, in which Jesus promises that in this world we will have trouble, but that he has overcome the world.

Read Hebrews 12, in which the author submits a perspective of hardship that is rather comforting if you've been blessed to have kind and loving parents.

Read 2 Corinthians 1, in which Paul reflects that his hardships have equipped him to comfort and serve his neighbors.

Read Jane Eyre.

Live. Ask. Struggle.


We are not given an easy answer for why God doesn't prevent bad things from happening. He does not promise to, which is at least a testament to his honesty. Bad things do happen; wrestle with it. Read the Bible. Ask the Lord. Let me know any insights or conclusions you come to, that's what the comment section is for. Good reading, and God speed.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


I was going to have to take this kid to the hospital.  It wasn’t the way he fell that tipped me off so much as it was the way he didn’t get up.  I ran over to where he lay, knocked to the ground by a larger boy who hadn’t seen him; he was face down and hyperventilating.  The unfortunate perpetrator stood by: a young boy who’d honestly hit his victim by accident.  He looked terrified; sometimes it’s hard to be the big kid.  Within a few seconds the sight of a panicked kid and a prostrate kid had won the attention of about a dozen boys and adult volunteers.  The panic on the older boy’s face increased, swelled, and then burst out of his face.
            “He’s Faking!” he told me, “He’s faking” he repeated.  It became a mantra
            “What happened?”  Asked the next kid to arrive
            “Nothing He's faking, I just bumped him.”
            “You just bumped him?”
            “Yeah he’s faking”
            “Oh, what a faker” (no joke, they said, "faker")
By: D. Sharon Pruitt
            In another moment the poor guy was surrounded by boys all eager to tell the next person who arrived that the guy on the ground was a “faker.”  Fortunately the camp nurse arrived soon, and he spoke to the scared boy on the ground instead of to the scared boy towering over him.  But the kid couldn’t answer; he could barely breathe.  Most of the immediate problem was panic.  Once the taunting crowd was dispersed he finally stopped hyperventilating enough to reveal that he’d hit his head and was feeling nauseous.  I ran to get my car and driving partner.  He had a concussion.
            Why is it so easy to blame hurt people for their injuries?  The larger boy was guilty of nothing more than carelessness, but he let his fear make him defensive.  I’ve said it before: Fear is a lousy motivator.  The big kid only did something wrong once he started blaming the crumpled and panicked boy at his feet.  

It’s an easy thing to do: to blame survivors for their wounds.  Hiring managers discriminate against certain races because they perceive those races as lazy, even referencing unemployment among that race to justify their prejudice.  There is a problem with this.  Rape survivors face ridicule when they tell about their attacks; they’re interrogated about where they were and what they wore, as if they need help blaming themselves for the unsolicited violence they experienced.  This is a problem.  The poor and hungry too, often find judgment when they look for mercy. So often struggling families are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, as though children deserve to live with hunger and fear because of their parents’ addictions or malfunctions.  This blame game is not acceptable.
Scripture says that we should each trust the saying: “Christ died to say sinners of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)  And we're urged to consider other’s better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).  It’s a hard word to accept but the Bible, in no uncertain terms, places every person on equal moral footing before God.  We're all equally undeserving of God's love.  No Christian retains the right to think of him or her self as better than anyone else.
This is not the part where I challenge you to give away all of your money and possessions. Jesus challenged exactly one guy to do that exactly one time (Mark 10:17-27) and the point that Jesus was making was this:  It is impossible for us to be good enough to earn God’s kingdom, but nothing is impossible for God.  God’s love and grace are free gifts that none of us have ever done a thing to earn.  Despite all of the kind and good things you done, God isn't impressed (Isaiah 64:6), your relationship with God is a gift.  You’re on spiritual welfare; we all are.

            Try to live the next 24 hours without judging or blaming others for their troubles.  We’ve received much mercy from God; we can pass it on.  Relying fully on God to work this good thing in us, let’s try treating our neighbors with the undeserved grace we’ve received.  Today, may we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).  God Speed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Re: American Gods

If you’ve not read any Neil Gaiman, you’re missing out.  He tells stories delightfully, blending whimsical fantasy with honest portraits of injured and incomplete human beings.  American Gods follows the story of Shadow, who having been recently released from prison is quickly recruited by a con-man.  Despite his apparent criminality Shadow is an easy character to sympathize with.  Shadow helps American Gods to feel more like a thriller than a fantasy novel.  As Shadow meets gods we meet them too and I was grateful to be introduced to Gaiman’s strange world through a protagonist who started off knowing no more than I did.
At the beginning of the book I had favorite gods, and the idea of these myths walking in real life was exciting.  Gaiman shattered my modern ideas of the old gods by depicting them as they were first imagined: powerful and petty.  The ancient gods of Rome, Ireland, and Africa are human, and as such they are messed up.  They are as likely to be helpful as they are to be cruel; they are caricatures of the humanity, afflicted with the human condition.
American Gods also paints a startling portrait of culture in the United States. Just as old world gods are real in Gaiman’s novel, the new gods of convenience and technology are real as well.  They look silly next to the old gods, but ultimately are not different.  They are no more or less corrupt or corrupting.  They hit closer to home.  I know no one who has ever sacrificed a child to an old god.  We all know of friendships that have been sacrificed to ambition, lust, or selfishness.  These modern gods are real.  In Gaiman’s world, and also in ours, anything that a person worships with time, attention, and energy is a god.
I do want to say that American Gods is for adult audiences; there were points in the novel which vividly depicted monstrous gods of sexuality and of death exacting sacrifice.  Their sacrifice is disturbing.  These scenes were not many, and I they serve the novel's purpose of portraying how we can loose ourselves in devotion to our gods.  I mention it so that you do not read anything you cannot unread.  Overall the book was excellent, but that sort of thing is not for everyone.
            I want to say that Neil Gaiman was incredibly considerate towards Christians, Jews, and Muslims when he absented the Lord from his pantheon of mythical gods and goddesses.  Jesus does not appear; neither does the God of Israel, nor Allah.  A monotheistic God could have introduced problems into the world Gaiman wrote.  Besides the narrative problems God would cause, the books would have offended a lot of people if Gaiman had treated the God(s) of the world’s dominant religions like he treated his trickster gods.  That sort of offensive writing might have sold a lot of books, and I appreciate that Gaiman didn’t exploit that route.  Thanks Neil, if you're reading this.


Ask God to show you if you have served other gods.  Whatever your god has been it cannot satisfy the thirst of your soul.  The gods of this world only steal life.  False gods demand sacrifice, but the true God sacrificed himself.   He loved us while we were still enemies so that we could experience life to its fullest.  Read Romans 5:8-10.  Jesus death meant our forgiveness.  Jesus resurrection meant our adoption.  God is alive. God loves you.  Enjoy.