Entrance Exam?

I think we are in trouble when we make doctrine the “entrance exam” into a relationship with God.   What we are saying, in essence, is that we, in our own limited understanding, must mentally assent to all the right ideas to be acceptable….  I don’t think we understand what we are really implying there…. we are saying that access to the Almighty God of creation is based on getting our ideas in line.

I think it’s very naïve to think that our interpretation of Scripture is the only way to see it, and thus the key to entrance into heaven.   From a purely historical standpoint we should understand this by now.   For 2,000 years there have been MAJOR divisions within the “Christian” understanding of what the Bible means…. if all the minds over all this time couldn’t agree, why do we think that we now somehow have it all figured out.  Also, some of the major tenants of current Christian belief are totally contrary to what was believed in the first few centuries when people were much closer to the incarnation of heaven on earth in Jesus.   Is it because we are so much more educated now that we get it and they didn’t?   There is a common misconception that our current evangelical understanding of scripture is what was believed down through the centuries, when in actuality, some of the more basic evangelical “doctrines” are at most a few hundred years old.
Every time we read scripture, we interpret it.   EVERY TIME.   There is no getting around the fact that we each come to the texts with our own preconceived ideas of what it means over all, and we then filter all we read through that set of eyes.   We end up, not surprisingly, finding out that the Bible confirms all that  we have thought all along.  Wow, how great is that?  Not….  because someone else can read the very same passage and get the complete opposite understanding from it.    I’m sure most of us have done that little grammar experiment where you take a simple sentence and read it through several times, each time emphasizing a different word, and it totally changes the meaning of the sentence, or gives it all different nuances.   We do that whenever we read scripture.    And before we say, “well, we must go back to the original languages”  How do we really know where they put the emphasis in their writings, and how do we know what a word actually meant at that point.  It doesn’t take long to look at English words like nice, gay, sweet, or any figure of speech or idiom out there to find that words change meaning fairly quickly or have multiple meanings depending on context.   These days, if someone calls you”bad” or “sick” it is quite likely a compliment….:)  explain that to someone 2000 years from now working off a text that was written today.   And they would have a lot more documentation to go off of than we have from the time periods when the Bible was written.

So…. there has to be something more…. I believe there is absolute truth… and I believe the Bible can point us toward that to some extent, I love the Bible.  However, I heard a great example (and sorry for my rather base reference here, but it really makes the point well) if I write the word sex on a piece of paper, it might mean something, but to experience that is totally different than reading a word… or for a less crass example, try and describe for me the smell of a rose.  You can come up with some words, but in the end they are nothing compared to me taking you out to my front yard and pressing your nose into a beautiful blossom.     I know we all want the Bible to give us all the answers, but the only real answer it gives is to point us to a reality greater than ourselves and itself.  It points us to the One.   The creator of us all, the lover of our souls, the one who made us in HIS image….. and that image in us calls out to what it mirrors.   THAT is where we find who God really is.

So let’s drop the Christian SAT…. God has no entrance exam to relationship with him.

Butter over too much bread

To quote one of my favorite movies, lately I’ve been feeling a bit like “Butter spread over too much bread”. Life is busy. I am weary. I struggle sometimes to keep my perspective right and rejoice over all I have.
Do you ever feel like you are struggling and struggling and you only move backward? Do the days seem endless and your strength the opposite? At times like this I feel like a failure; like I’m failing those around me, but worse, I’m failing God. I start to believe I’m far from Him. I’m not making time for the spiritual, and thus must be backsliding, a spiritual lightweight, or incapable of truly connecting with The Father.
If I had hours to pour out my heart in prayer, long sessions of intimate worship, deep Bible studies to build my faith… THEN I’d be close to God.
But sometimes, I get a glimpse of a different paradigm. A glimpse into what it might really mean to be close to God. And most of me is starting to believe this is the truth, not what I have been led to believe for years.
God is in the weariness. God meets me and grows me in my exhaustion. He breathes his heart into me when I pour out one more hour of effort for someone else, when all I want to do is curl up in bed with a book, or a movie and have a moment for me. He’s there when I bend over my keyboard in tears because I just can’t do one more thing, bear one more responsibility, fix one more problem.
I think I’ve really grown when living the real. When theory blows up in reality. When heartbreak fuels discovery and healing.
That is where God is. And though it is not easy, and I often still want to curl up and hide… that’s where I want to be.

Roses

I LOVE Roses. The beauty in their patterns mesmerizes me. Their scent is so delicately beautiful. I don’t get them very often. But when I do, I treasure them.
We have a rose bush in our landscaping. It has light peach colored roses. Gorgeous.

I enjoyed it over the summer, whenever one of its rare blooms appeared. Then fall came, things got busy, we had school, a hospital stay, many events and activities, and the sweet smell of summer was a forgotten memory.
Then one clear fall day brought an unexpected blessing. One tall stem grew up from the plant and a single beautiful rose opened up on it. What a gift. I took a picture with my phone, breathed its scent in deeply and sighed with joy.

Why do I love roses so much? I began to ponder… I have for a long time, but as I thought about it a memory surfaced.

Once, several years ago, when we were deep in the thick of having babies, nursing, sleepless nights, church planting and more, I was having a particularly rough day. We had our small group from church over and were praying. I had to leave for a minute to go tuck a baby in, and while in his room, I was sitting on the floor in tears. Crying out to God, I was wondering how He even saw me. Was what I was doing good? …did he really love me as a daughter? I cried silently, no one else heard my plea.
I silently slipped back into my living room to rejoin the prayer time. After a few minutes one friend turned to me and said. “ Kathi, I believe that God wants you to know that He sees you as a Rose. Your fragrance is beautiful to Him as you pour out into your husband and children. “ He went on to say more, I have it written down somewhere, but that part has stuck in my memory.
A Rose. My favorite flower, and God sees me as that.
I often have no idea how He can see me that way, I see my own heart and failures and it doesn’t make sense to me. But, I know that He sees what we don’t and I try to cling to that.
So maybe when He sees me….He’s mesmerized too.

It was Late

It was late.   I was tired.  My beautiful older daughter was in the car next to me, worn out and not feeling well, and yet she came.

Yet another night I would not get to tuck my younger three children in bed.  My older two boys would be in their own world when I got home and my courageous husband would most likely be in bed already, struggling with the pain and trying to actually sleep for a change.

What was I doing?  Shouldn’t I be home with them?  Shouldn’t I put off this work for a few more years, until my family was grown.  When my children wouldn’t need me so much.  When we weren’t homeschooling all six kids at once.  When my husband was healed.  When I had more ‘free’ time.

Then a picture flashed through my mind.  A child, dark skin, beautiful eyes, playing on a floor with toys.  Now in a happy place because his mommy has a new job.  He plays with other children while she sews nearby.  She sews.  She no longer sells herself on a street while he cowers in fear wondering if she will survive.  She has hope.  She has a future.  She will heal.  And HE will have a future.  His sister will have a future.  She won’t have to sell herself.

Their mother learned to read.  She learned to sew. She learned there is life again after pain.

Should I tell them to wait?   Should I leave others like them to struggle while I spend a few extra nights at home?

So I smile and I drive on.  My kids will be ok.   I’ll get to tuck them in tomorrow, give them extra hugs in the morning while we snuggle on the couch reading the Bible together.   And yes, they might remember the nights when Mommy was gone and couldn’t tuck them in.  But with grace they will also remember that she said it was important to stand up for the orphans and widows… and she did.  And they will sleep in a safe place.  My older boys will remember someday, when they need to choose between self and sacrifice, that sacrifice is what makes all the difference.

And that beautiful daughter next to me, the one who selflessly comes each time, hauls things, sets them up, passes them out, answers questions, smiles, shares, packs up and rides home with me.   She will not have to sell herself, and she’s helping to build a world where others won’t have to either.

The Just Church…. a review

From the beginning chapters where Jim calls us to step out of our insulated worlds and to get ourselves “into trouble” by stepping out into God’s call for Justice,  through the clear steps to accomplish that in the second half of the book;  I was engaged, encouraged and inspired to dig deeper in the fight against injustice.  I walked away with an even deeper conviction that we must take up the call to “Seek Justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Is. 1:17)   And best of all, I came away with a plan and a way to actually accomplish that, not just inspiration that will fuel for a while and then die away.

I’ve been on a journey… Jim Martin just wrote this book about it.   Ok, Jim didn’t write this book about me of course.  But he takes the reader on a journey that has been mirrored in my life over the past several years.   I was called into the fight for justice through a process of Encountering the truth, Exploring how I could help and then Engaging where God called me.

In The Just Church, Jim Martin lays out a foundation for doing this in the local church.  He shows how individual congregations can go through these phases of Encountering the truth of the realities of injustice in our world;  Exploring a church’s resources, your communities needs and the Global opportunities that exist; and finally how to Engage in the areas you have discovered.

Throughout the process Jim highlights the many pitfalls and dangers this road can bring along and gives solid, practical, godly advice for countering then.

For instance, in the Encounter phase it is so easy to become quickly angered at the horrible evil in the world.  Our safe view of reality is shattered as we discover the evidence of atrocity around the world and we have a natural desire to rise up, run out and fight back.  We are fueled by anger, frustration and outrage.   Jim cautions and instructs how to build a more solid foundation than just our “visceral” feelings so we are able withstand the fears, problems and setbacks we are sure to encounter along the way.

I have seen this personally as I present information about trafficking to groups of women every week.   Often someone approaches me with fire in her eyes after I’m done, ready to throw her whole self into the fight, only to fall off the radar quickly afterward.  She didn’t take the time to research, count the cost and build a resolve to continue no matter what.     Jim shows how to keep this from happening to your church.

In the Exploration phase he reminds us to stay humble and move from just belief to trust as we take steps in to unknown territory.     Jim encourages us as churches to look to what is already out there that we can join in on, and for needs not yet being met.   We must take a humble and yet courageous approach as we seek to uplift and support those already in the fight but then take the bold steps in areas still in need.

In the Engage Phase Jim wrestles with the very real sense of fear we each encounter as we step so far beyond our own capacities and capabilities and move into the realm where God uses us for great things.    We must confront fear and come up with actions steps to take so we are not overcome by it.   He also illuminates that we must be willing to step out in faith and fail…  “…when faith is tested and pushed –especially to the failure point- it can recover stronger and more ready for the next challenge.”  (p.9)

 

I highly recommend this book not only for pastors and church leaders, but also for anyone seeking to find God’s deeper call on their lives, and to connect with God in a real and deep way they may never have before.