Books for the New Year

As promised, I’ve updated my reading list. I’m excited about the books cluttering my nightstand. They are eclectic, and challenging, and most of all, rich with beautiful and soul-stirring words.

All in Day's Read

Most of my reading is devoted to my preparation for the #LikeAGirl study. This new season of study is on The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). In addition to my other study books, I’ve been learning a lot from the following:

  • Sermon on the Mount, by Scot McKnight
  • The Sermon on the Mount, by Daniel M. Doriani
  • The Sermon on the Mount through the Centuries, by Greenman, Larsen, and Spencer
  • Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision-Making in Matthew 5-7, by C.H. Talbert
  • The Gospel of the Kingdom, by George Eldon Ladd
  • Sermons on the Beatitudes, by John Calvin
  • Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martyn Lloyd Jones
  • The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If you’d like to see the Amazon links to these books, you can find them here. Do you have a favorite book on The Sermon on the Mount? Leave me a recommendation in the comments. I’d love to hear who has aided your understanding of what Jesus means for his listeners in this sermon. You could also let me know what you/re prepared to read in 2015. Even though I might not have time to add them to my list, I’d love to hear about them from you. I’ve already made myself sick looking at the lists of the best books of 2014. How I wish I had more time to read, but then when I would keep working on my formula to make book-reading a caloric-burning activity?

Retrospection

Retrospection: the act or process or an instance of surveying the past.  Looking back.  Second guessing.

I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.  Ruminating on the “if only” moments.   The changing of seasons seems to turn us on our heels and face us toward the things that have been.  Surveying them some how helps us to say one last goodbye before turning and moving forward into the “what has to be” of tomorrow. 

The past is a treasure box filled with trinkets, rust, and gold.   Some things meaningless; others priceless.  Some things painful; others exhilarating with joy.  History inevitably is mingled with tears, smiles, and a lot of sweat.    

From our treasure box of the past, there are many lessons we can take with us into the future.  Here are my retrospection discoveries:

1.  You can never have too many family dinners.  It doesn’t really matter what you serve, sitting around a table is an incredibly unifying experience.

2. You can never welcome too many people into “family” status.   Family are the people who will stick by you no matter what and not because they have to, but because they can’t imagine doing anything different.   Sadly, “friend” has become a casual word filled with lopsided definitions, but “family” speaks a greater truth–it says “We belong to one another.”

3. Define the battle before you start fighting.  So many battles; so few victories.  So much wasted energy.  There are things in life that are worth fighting for; there really are!  There are also too few warriors; people willing to take up the sword and fight.  Yet, I observe that too many of us get drawn into the wrong battles where we become weary, injured, and often disabled.  And the war we should have been fighting goes on without our contribution.  Think deeply about this as a spouse, parent, friend, employer/ee.   For what are you really fighting?

4. Forgive quickly.  People make mistakes–a lot of them.   Forgiveness is an excellent trainer.  You want good character?  Then choose forgiveness as quickly as you can.  Walk into it.  Take big steps toward those who you feel have wronged you.  You will find humility, selflessness, patience, and mercy shaping your character into a beautiful reflection of the One who modeled the true depths of forgiveness.

5. Laugh.  Why the heck are we so serious?  Learn to laugh freely–at yourself, at the nature of things, inappropriately if you must, just never at others.  Carry a joke book if you’re laughter-impaired.  I married my husband because of his laugh–seriously, I did.  Before I knew his name, I knew his laugh.  Laughter makes us human; makes us lovable; makes us vulnerable to be real.  Laughter marches to the rhythm of the heart. 

6.  “Please,” “thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I love you” are endangered terms.  Before we lose these beautiful creatures once and for all, make them a part of your daily repertoire.  If you’re uncomfortable with them then practice in front of a mirror.  So many things in life could be fixed with one of these words.  Speak the power of charity; sincerely, generously, and frequently. 

Today, spend some time in retrospection.  Think about where you’ve been.  The blessings you have received.  The lessons you have learned. …and treasure them.

What discoveries would you add to the list?

Question of the Day: How Do You Stop Evil?

How can we stop evil without becoming evil in the process? 

I’ve shared snapshots along the way of my study through the parables of Jesus.  This week I’ve been studying Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43–The Parable of the Wheat and The Weeds.

Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away.  But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also.  The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’  And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’  But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them.  Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.” …Then He left the crowds and went into the house And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”  And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one;and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels.   So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age.The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness,and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father He who has ears, let him hear.”

Klyne Snodgrass (Stories With Intent, 2008) summarizes the point of the parable as being about God’s coming judgment.  His kingdom has been brought, but it is incomplete since evil still exist in the world.  However, judgment is coming.  “The parable conveys that judgment belongs to God and His agents, not to humans.”

Snodgrass concludes with, “We cannot be tolerant of evil, but the destruction of evil is not our task.  We must stop being evil, and we must stop evil from destroying, but how can we stop evil without becoming evil in the process?  That may well be the human question.”

The news abounds with stories of vengance.  Churches and communities are easily ripped apart by blame storming.  Witch hunts and inquisitions fill our history books.  Anyone who has ever had anything unjust happen to them knows far too well the temptation to repay evil with evil.  We pound our fists in anger when the bad guy gets away or the good guy suffers unjustly. 

Did you ever suffer an injustice?  Has something evil happened to you?  How did you respond?  How did you guard your heart from growing bitter? 

How can we stop evil without becoming evil in the process? 

How do you answer?

Drawing the Line

Lines.

As children we were taught how to color inside them.

As teenagers we practiced how to cross them.

As adults we recongize the importance of having lines; boundaries.

Those lines that say,

“Stop!”

“No more.”

Lines that declare,

Autonomy.

Importance.

Value.

Safety.

Sometimes we draw lines for others

     …to keep them safe.

Other times we draw lines for ourselves

     …to keep us safe.

There are different kinds of lines: Battle lines, laugh lines, and finish lines.

Everyone has and needs lines, but recognizing where we need them, and how to draw them is not always easy. 

I’ve drawn lines before.  One line I drew with platinum & diamonds when I called my man my husband.  I’ve drawn lines with loyalty to defend friends in need of faithfulness.  I’ve drawn lines with convinction to stand for what I know is right.  Many lines I have drawn with humility on bended knees.  I don’t regret any of the lines I’ve drawn.  When viewed in panoramic, they outline the clearest picture of who I am.

Today I need to draw a line; create a symbol for the emotional threshold that needs its space…its safety…its peace. 

The only question I still haven’t answered is if it will be in the sand or in the cement.

How about you?  What have you learned about drawing lines?  Any that you regret?

Was Jesus a Fundie?

This is a quick I-have-to-get-the-question-out-there moment.    I need your help…really, I want to hear your ideas. 

I’m reading Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World.  Not because I really want to be reading it; I’m required to read it for class. 

I know reading this and wrestling with the issues is good for me…but it’s really discomforting.  Really. discomforting.

I keep asking myself questions like, “Am I fundie?”  “What would Jesus think of all these views if they had been postulated back in Palestine?”  “What kind of parable would He tell to knock sensibility back into the conversation?”  “Was Jesus a Fundie?”

Now mind you, I have a very Fundamental background, so I’m not afraid of the big, bad, scary Fundies.  I know they’re soft-hearted; but their compassions often get obscurred by their convictions in a Anabaptist similar way.  Yet, for the most part, their convictions are usually pretty right on, as far as representing what the Scriptures seem to be saying.  (Yes, I take exception to that generalization…but that’s another post, or at least it has been other posts.)

I suppose I’m displaying my naivette, but how would Jesus respond to the Normative Pluralist–the ones who believe that all ethical religions lead to God?  Or to the Inclusivist–salvation is universally available, but will lead to Christ?   How would Jesus draw them back to the essence of the cross?

I find myself drawing a hard line on this…read, a very judgmental line. (Which makes me fear I might be a Fundie!  Oh the Fundie confusion of it all!)  I believe in salvation in Christ alone.  Period.  It seems this is the line in the sand over which Jesus didn’t allow the toes to cross.  I hate it when people draw hard lines, but I think I would rather hate myself for joining them on this issue than be wrong about it.

Anyone out there wrestle with this issue?  Where do you land in the conversation and why?

Holiness: The Family Way

I love it when an idea I’ve been dancing around finally “clicks.”

This happened for me last night while I was sitting in church.  The pastor was preaching on the holiness of God; teaching how God’s holiness has implications for His people.

In short: God is holy and His holiness cannot be contaminated with anything unholy. God’s holiness requires that He be separate from anything unholy.  That’s a problem for us–because we are a most unholy bunch.  Not one among those of whom the world calls righteous lives up to God’s standards of perfection. Only Jesus.    Jesus brings a reconciliation plan for unrighteous man to be restored to the holy presence of God.  Thus, the sacrifice of Calvary–the blood shed for the institution of the new covenant…of which you and me can be a part of.

I’ve understood this on a personal level for some time, but last night my mind made an association it had not before.

Strangely, from the moment the Power Point title page of “Set Apart” flashed on the screen I started thinking about one of my favorite verses:

“God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” (Psalm 68:6)

Family is one of the most beautiful of God’s creations. I have spent much of my adult life studying the family–what the Scriptures say about it, what makes one work well, and what makes one struggle.  My own family is dear and precious to me beyond words.  My heart grieves the loss of dear people in my life whose families are painful places for a number of different reasons.    I love that one of the names for the church is the “family of God.”  I rejoice that God’s commitment to the generations is expressed in families–be they birth families, step families, adoptive families or church families.  Recently, I’ve become involved with dog showing and I’ve noticed the familiar fondness the members of the club demonstrate for one another.   The power of family is so strong that you will find them everywhere.  Somehow as part of God’s design, families complete us.

As it was for Adam in the garden, it is not good for man (or woman) to be alone, and so God sets us in families.

And those families and their love change us.  Families have a “way” about them; a style that is all their own. My own family is quirky.  We laugh a lot–and loudly–usually at inappropriate places and times.  People stare at us, and none of us care.  We fight to the death over things we believe true, but hold on with sweet grace to one another.  My contagious case of stubbornness has been caught by my children, as has too their father’s tenderness.   To be a member of our family is to act in such a way as to represent the family name.

Being a member of the family of God works the same way.  We have been “set” into God’s holy family.  Participation in it means we are going to adopt the ways of God.  Not through effort and striving, but through the bonds of love that imitation can’t resist.  I’ve never met a woman who was “trying” to be like her mother.  No, quite the contrary!  But we can’t resist the draw to imitate those traits with which we have been most accustomed.

Holiness is the family way.  In point of fact, we were all lonely being separated from God.  “God sets the lonely in families.” Because of Jesus, we can be reconciled with the Holy One.  He sets the sinner in holiness. Not our own, but Christ’s–He gives us Christ’s righteousness and calls it ours!  And so, we can pray “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name.”    As my own children can’t help but demonstrate their belonging to our family name, so too, we children of God demonstrate His. Holiness is the family way.

How will your express the family way today?

Clarity

I love clarity.

Clarity–(noun)
1. clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity.
2. the state or quality of being clear or transparent to the eye; pellucidity: the clarity of pure water.

If ever I become President, my first initiative would be to have mandatory infusions of clarity for every politician, theologian, and organizational leader.  If only such a thing were possible!  Oh, what a beautiful world this would be.

Or would it?

This week for my Parable Bible Study, we explored the Parable of the Seed:

The Parable of the Growing Seed

26 “He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”    (Mark 4:26-29)

The line that gets my heart all contorted is “although he does not know how.”  There’s no clarity in that!

Parables are Jesus’ way of teaching about the kingdom of God.  Just as His disciples wanted to know then, we today want to know:  What is the kingdom of God and how can I belong to it?   This parable in particular reveals that the kingdom of God involves a process. The seed is scattered, there is a time of unseen growth, followed by the seen growth and eventual harvest.  While theories abound as to what the seed and harvest may be, the point of the parable is focused on the process.

It is about the mysterious necessity of faith.  The kingdom of God requires an acceptance of “not knowing how,” but an assurance in the heart that “it does.”

I like my assurances to come with more substance than “I don’t know.” I like plans, especially detailed plans.  I like it when plans are executed accordingly.  But this doesn’t really require much faith, does it?

I don’t like not knowing if my mom will be healed of her cancer.  Or if my sons will walk faithfully in their heritage of spiritual upbringing.  Or what my life is going to look like in three years.  Will God keep my nephew safe in Afghanistan? Will I always have this annoying autoimmune issue?  Will I ever be all that I believe God wants me to be?  Am I where God’s wants me to be, doing what He wants me to do?   I wish I knew these things, and much more.

Think about it:  When are you most apt to have the most faith?  When a crisis hits and you don’t know the solution or its resolve.  Right?   And then when the crisis is “over, we’re so relieved.  We check “exercise faith” of the list of things to do.  I think we get this wrong.  Maybe when we have a  kingdom mindset we can welcome all the questions and unknowns as our way of  participating by faith in the mystery of God’s activity in our life,  even if we can’t see it…yet. If you’ve ever had a doctor give you potentially bad news, or received a foreclosure letter in the mail, or held a pink slip in your hand, or had a spouse walk out for good, then you know exactly what I am talking about.

As I look freshly through this parable, I can see how much for what we ask of God…and expect of Him, really requires very little faith.  So many of us, myself included, want the all-powerful God to act in our lives in such a way that we would scarcely need faith at all. No, none of us want the “night” of unseen growth–we just want God to wave a wand and plant full-grown oak tree.  Righteousness, peace, and joy–all virtues of the kingdom–take time to grow.

Maybe it’s safe to say that in matters of faith, clarity is antithetical to the kingdom mindset. This is discomforting to my flesh, but deeply satisfying to my heart.  How?  I’m not really sure–it just is. “…the seed sprouts and grows, though {she} does not know how.”

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

How about you?  Do you find discomfort in the mysterious ways of God?

(If you’re looking for a scholarly study on the parables, I highly recommend Stories with Intent by Klyne Snodgrass.)

Dogs, Pool Guy, and Early Morning Image-Management

Do you ever feel like your sanctification is on parade for other people’s entertainment?

Mornings like the one I had today have caused me to consider its possibility.

In order for my story to have any meaning, you must understand three important facts:

1. We own three dogs…three very badly behaved dogs.  They don’t listen when they are called.  They run away when you attempt to ‘capture’ them.  They bark at everything and everyone.  They possess absolutely no common sense.

2. On Thursday, our pool cleaner comes to service the pool.  He usually leaves the gate to the front yard open while he is here.  Our dogs hate the pool cleaner.  Hate.  When dogs become possessed by hate, they become even worse behaved.  Today is Thursday.

3.  We live on a quiet street.  Very little traffic, EXCEPT for school mornings between the hours of 7:30 to 8:30.  During this hour, affluent parents–the kind that you might find pictures of in magazines–drive through our neighborhood to drop off their children at a small private school.  You get the picture, right?

So, with those facts in place, the story begins with me enjoying my last cup of coffee, in bed, still snuggled in my pajamas, clinging to my last string of peace and calm.  Then I hear it; the unmistakable bark of the dogs cornering our poor pool guy.  The last time this happened, one dog was so overcome with panic he ran into the pool and yes, I had to jump in for the rescue.  At this point, I’m figuring said pool guy is setting up the tripod for his camcorder so he can capture the circus and share it with the world on YouTube.

There’s no time to put on clothes, so I grab the first jacket I can find as I run downstairs for the dramatic rescue.  By the time I reach the patio, the dogs are in a full force attack.

I call their name.  No response.  I call again.  The pool guy looks at me and his face says everything, “Oh my goodness, what is this woman wearing???!!!” Then the dog with the fastest legs and the least intelligence looks at me, possibly scared by my attire he makes a bee-line for the open gate.

I’ve no choice but to pursue him.  As I reach the front yard, what I have feared my whole life comes upon me: I am back in 7th Grade, sitting in a class of Vogue-ready peers and I am in my pajamas–not the beautiful, Ritz-Carlton variety, but the ratty, worn, unflattering, you-should-have-ditched-them-years-ago-but-you-love-them-too-much kind.

As the dog dodges in and out of luxury cars driven by perfect people, I chase him wondering, “Just how tall is my rooster tail? Will it cause an eclipse?”  “Are my underwear darker than my pajama bottoms?  Oh my gosh, what underwear AM I wearing?”   “How much is this jacket actually covering?”  “I don’t need shoes.  I took a redneck class on how to go barefoot and be beautiful.  The chipped nail polish is part of the appeal.”  “Oh, fabulous.  Fancy meeting you here, long lost friend.  Yes, let’s do catch up over coffee.  I’ll be dressed in a hour.”  “Oh no, I don’t need any help.  You all just sit there in your cars enjoying the show.  Can I bring you some popcorn to increase your viewing pleasure?”  “Please take note of my car in the driveway.  I didn’t park it in the garage so that you could all take note of me in the weeks to come as I drive around.  Remember this moment.  Relive its joy!”

And in one moment, I come face to face with how much pride still resides in my heart.  I am ashamed of how much I value my image.  Mind you, not the image of God in me that has gone completely unmarred by this event.  No, I’m undone by the image of man which I so tightly manage with composure and ill-fated attempts at perfection.

…and I’m wishing I didn’t own dogs.  But then who knows what God would have to use to humble me.

How about you?  What brings you face to face with where you are resisting God’s work in your life? Not sure?  My dogs are for rent.

Do You Have a Mentor?

This last week in a staff meeting we had a “Godilocks and the Three Bears” inspired prayer card.  We were asked to fill in the answer to three columns:

Column One–“Too Big” These are the things in life that are overwhelming.  When we “sit in this chair,” we feel hard-pressed on all sides.  These are the painful challenges in life we all probably wish we didn’t have to deal with–a health challenge, a sick relative, a difficult relationship, a rebellious child.

Column Two–“Too Small” These are the areas in life where  we know we’re being soft on ourselves.  We’ve become comfortable…maybe even lazy.  No example is needed…if you’re like me, three areas of discipline in which you’ve slacked off just popped into your mind.

Column Three–“Just Right” These are the areas where you stand before the Lord with a clear conscience.  They are the areas where, for the moment, you’re walking in the perfect balance of God’s empowering grace and your own hard work.

I’ve been nagged by the “Too Soft” column since I completed the card.  The things I wrote down were all accurate…I have those areas where I know I need to step it up.  But the thing that keeps nagging me is what I didn’t write down.  So for accountability sake: I’m writing it here and then maybe I’ll have some peace of mind.

One area where I have grown easy on myself is in mentorship.

I have had some incredible mentors in my life.  People who have invested in me in profound ways. I’m always my best me when I let myself be an open book with someone who’s not afraid to take a red pen to my story.

I need an editor…we all need an editor.

Scripture makes it clear that we need the other members of the body to speak the truth in love to us…that we’re to be committed to building one another up…making disciples.  Jesus had twelve. Timothy had his Paul.  Who has you?

So I am going to be getting back in the hunt for a new person to speak into my life what I am not able to hear on my own. I’m not sure who it will be yet…I know it won’t be a friend, family member, or someone with the gift of mercy.  I’ve had enough mercy…I need a truth speaker.

What do you look for in a mentor?  Do you have one? (I mean a true one…the one that catches you on the line and reels you in to the truth of who God is calling you to be no matter how much you flip and flop!)

If not, it’s time for all of us to get moving until we can say along with Godilocks, “It’s just right.”