life, Light

Manipulation & Weenies

“Christian manipulation at its finest,” my daughter said, as she walked into the kitchen.

“Let’s hear it.”

She proceeded to read a Facebook message from some random guy who wants to connect:

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Free Dream Interpretation Line?

Needless to say, she denied the request.

“It isn’t the same kind of manipulation,” I said, “but it reminds me of a time, when I was your age, that I received a letter in the mail at work.  It started, ‘Dear Julie, You are unattractive, no one likes you and you are a failure at work…’ The letter continued to insult me for several paragraphs before inviting me to a seminar on self-esteem.

What? You’re going to tear down my self-esteem and then invite me to pay you $250 to build it back up?

Unfortunately for the letter’s sender, I was really cute back then, had lots of friends, and I had just received a raise, so I couldn’t have been too much a failure at work…”

Manipulation of the Weeny Sort.

The hub was away fishing this morning so my daughter and I went out for breakfast. Over omelets and pancakes she told a familiar tale of manipulation of the weeny sort.  One of her friends, who has been seriously dating the assistant minister of a hip downtown church, just got dumped.  They had been dating for a very (4+ years) long time.

“He probably said something like, ‘The Lord told me it isn’t His will for me to continue in this relationship,’ ” she said, “because that’s what they always say.”

They being the “fine” Christian men who date, dump and then blame it on God.

“Four years of her life,” my daughter said, shaking her head, “and then trying to pass himself off as all spiritual.”

“If I were the young woman being dumped,” I said, “I’d want to know whether God mentioned anything to him about the relationship not being His will FOUR YEARS AGO.”

Because the fact is, he’s a jerk.  He can pretend that the break-up is him being all godly and obedient, but where was his obedience 4 years ago?

If the relationship is not God’s will now, then the relationship was not His will then. So either he ignored God then, or God has nothing to do with it.

Chances are good that it was the hip young minister’s idea to date her – take her off the market for 4+ years with no intention of marrying her – and it was the hip young minister’s idea to dump her.

Because God doesn’t string people along.

“I want to smack him silly,” I said as I finished my orange juice, “because how is anyone supposed to argue with, ‘blah, blah, blah, blah, blah … and I must be obedient to God.'”

As if God has any part in breaking a young woman’s heart.

 

 

 

 

 

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Wearing Nothing But a Belt

I’m studying the book of Romans this year with a group of women from a wide variety of age groups, races and religious denominations. It does my heart good to see the body of Christ in all its jasper and carnelian glory.  (See The Throne of God.)

However, studying Paul’s letters in any setting with any group, listening to everyone-but-me speak of Paul with glowing affection and adoration, I can’t help but wonder:

Who died and made Paul God?

Jesus?

We evangelicals tend to treat Paul as though he is a deity. We do. I was in a blog comment discussion once with a guy who actually wrote, “Paul was God.” To be fair, what he meant was that Paul’s words are on par with God’s. But are they?

Paul wasn’t a prophet – he didn’t speak forth the very words of God. He was a missionary, a church-planter. A flawed, human church planter. And though he had some really good things to say, he wasn’t any different than the flawed human missionaries and church planters you might know.

Everyday Christians who do not do the good they want to do, but the evil they do not want to do. Continually.

I have often wondered when this evangelical love affair with Paul began and now, thanks to my Bible study notes, I think I know. It began with Martin Luther:

“When I learned how the justification of the sinner proceeds from the free mercy of our Lord through faith… then I felt born again like a new man,” Luther wrote, … “In very truth, this language of St. Paul was to me the true gate of Paradise.” – J.H. Merle D’Aubigue, The Life and Times of Martin Luther (Chicago: Moody Press, 1958), 55-56.

“Later, Luther called Romans ‘the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel.’ He taught that ‘every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, [and] occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul.’”  – Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1976), xiii.

Purest gospel? Purer than the gospels written by those who actually lived with, served with and sat at the feet of Jesus for three years? Of those who recorded His actual words. In red letters?!

If it all began with Martin Luther, I can see how the adoration of Paul would be foundational to being an evangelical, to being born-again. No wonder I feel like the kid yelling, “The emperor is naked!” among crowds who are admiring his new clothes.

Pointing out human flaws in Paul’s logic, pointing out his sometimes defensive posture and his convoluted writing style makes me highly unfashionable. Leprous even.

But then, take a look in my closet and you will see that I’ve never been all that concerned with fashion.

Why does it rile my soul?

Because I think it does harm to the church to look at Paul’s writing through such a (falsely) rosy lens. It insults my intelligence when Bible commentators twist themselves into pretzels trying to make sense of Paul’s baffling words in order to preserve the idea of his perfection rather than just telling it like it is: Paul was human and humans get defensive, try to please everyone, misquote their sources, embellish when trying to win an argument and just plain misspeak.

The church would be healthier if we were allowed to point out the elephant in the room. Isn’t ignoring the elephant the thing that makes a family dysfunctional?

Telling the truth would also make church a lot more appealing to those who say they are too intelligent for church as well as to those who, like me, notice a bit of nakedness but feel pressured to pipe down, dress up in good Christian clothes and pretend.

I have a lot to say about Paul, whom I actually like in many ways. It’s not his fault we put on these unfortunate glasses.

If you want to know more about Paul and me, type “Paul” into the search bar at the top of this blog and scroll away.  If you’re about to throw 2 Timothy 3:16 at me, type “The Inerrancy of God” into search and read, read, read.  🙂

In the meantime, I’ll keep the belt of truth buckled firmly around my waist.

#fashionable

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A Nugget for Your Noggin.

I’ve excavated some old Biblical logic in hopes that you will bury it in your brain:

I was reading my Bible Study Fellowship notes while savoring a hot cup of my good friend joe (with cream). The topic was John’s vision of the throne room and everything was clipping along just fine.

“The Bible speaks of other believers who received visions of God’s transcendent nature and character,” a new paragraph began, and it mentioned Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.

Good, good, good and good.

And then:

“The apostle Paul was ‘caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.’”

Whoa! What?

When was Paul “caught up to paradise”? I checked the footnote to see what Scripture they based that statement upon.

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord.  I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.  I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.  Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say,  or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  2 Corinthians 12:1-7

How does Paul saying he knew a man who was caught up to the third heaven translate to HIM being caught up to paradise?

I was too comfy and too lazy to get out from under the cozy afghan on my cozy sofa to brave the 22 chilly steps (44 round trip) to my library to grab The Bible Knowledge Commentary, so I stayed put and checked an online commentary.

Matthew Henry: “for doubtless [Paul] himself is the man in Christ of whom he speaks.”

Doubtless? I’m in doubt.

Mr. Henry proceeded to commend Paul for his humility in not referring to himself directly. Paul’s humility? Since when? In that very same chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote:

I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing.  I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.  How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!   2 Corinthians 12:11-13

Paul’s defensive and accusatory remarks don’t sound like the model of humility to me.

Even his self-deprecating remarks come off as humble brags. Take this one, for example:

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. Philippians 3:3-6

And then there are all the I, I, I’s of 1 Timothy 2: I urge, I was appointed, I am telling the truth, I am not lying, I want, I also want, I do not permit.

John often referred to himself indirectly as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and it was well within his personality to do so, he did so consistently and there are verifiable incidents that tie that descriptor to him.

But indirectly and humbly referring to himself in the third person was NOT within Paul’s personality and no where else was it his m.o.

So let’s get logical: In the context of 2 Corinthians 12:1-7 – where Paul is arguing that he is equal to the apostles who actually walked with Jesus – a humble, indirect statement just doesn’t make sense.  If ever there is a time to speak boldly and directly it is when arguing a case or asserting one’s credentials.

Perhaps it was due to Matthew Henry’s impressive and exhaustive work that this doubtful interpretation has been promulgated in commentaries ever since. Even by my beloved BSF – who taught me to read the Scriptures for myself under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

When I read, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven,” for myself under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,  I hear Paul saying that he knew someone who had been given a vision. And that person may have shared it with him. Or that person may have told him he couldn’t share it with him.

And I wonder whether that person was John, because John and Paul may have very likely crossed paths in Ephesus.

Or perhaps it was someone else altogether.

All I know for sure is that Paul DID NOT say that HE was “caught up to paradise.”

So why does the church twist Scripture and logic and temporarily change Paul’s personality in order to say he did?

Perhaps, when it comes to the church’s love affair with Paul, the lover is blind to its beloved’s blemishes.

#buryitinyourbrain

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Light, restoration, the friends

Broken Offering

It’s Sanctity of Life Sunday and I was asked to preach the sermon at my church.  So there at the podium I stood with a large, painful sty forming in my left eye and with a mind so exhausted from grief that it couldn’t hold a thought.

This is what I said:

Last month, down in fellowship hall, Tim asked me a few questions about crisis pregnancies. He was writing a paper for seminary.  He wanted to know who puts the greatest pressure on a woman to abort.

“It’s not always a who,” I said, “sometimes it’s a what, and that person or thing is different for every woman.”

For the recent high school graduate sitting across from me in the counseling room it was her reputation in the eyes of her younger siblings.  She had always been a “good girl” and they had always looked up to her.  She wept at the thought of letting them down.

For the young waitress, who had recently moved to Michigan from Oregon, it was her abusive live-in boyfriend.

For a distraught sixteen year old it was her harsh grandma who said “you can only have the baby it if it is a boy.” An ultrasound revealed she wasn’t.

For the married woman carrying an anencephalic baby it was a team of doctors talking at her around a conference table.  They convinced her that aborting her 7 month fetus would be easier than giving birth and watching him die. It wasn’t. “Why couldn’t he have died in my arms?” she cried in group. Deciding how and when someone will die is a decision way too heavy for us humans.

For a co-worker, back in my social work days, the pressure was a what.  She was booked to go on a party cruise when she found out she was pregnant.  The cruise was already paid for and she wanted to get her money’s worth – and that meant drinking. Fairly heavily.  She was also newly engaged and she wanted to look slim and trim and not-pregnant in her wedding gown.  She thought she’d just get rid of this baby, conceived at an inconvenient time, and have another, later.

Tim also wanted to know what pastors can do to help women in these crisis situations.  What can a pastor do? What can a church do? What can you do?

In the case of the good girl, you can help her re-frame what it means to set a good example.  Instead of modeling perfect behavior, she can model perfect love.  You can help her show her younger siblings what it means to take responsibility for a mistake.  To lay down one’s reputation, one’s immediate plans, one’s life for the good of another. Jesus said greater love has no one than this.

The woman with the abusive boyfriend needs a dose of logic and some practical help.  Logic because her boyfriend threatened to take the baby if she didn’t abort, and keep him from her.  The abused are often so beaten down by their abusers that they believe their ridiculous threats.  “Joni,” I asked, “why would he take the baby when he doesn’t even want the baby?” With that question her sobbing ceased.  Helping her meant teaching her to take abusive thoughts captive to God – and it meant putting her up in a hotel for a couple of nights until she could arrange to get back to her family in Oregon.

I didn’t know how to help the cruise-bound co-worker back then, back before I became involved with the crisis pregnancy ministry. I knew that she had grown up in a Christian home and that she already knew that abortion would harm her spiritually, so I didn’t say anything.

And I didn’t say anything several months later when she plopped down in a chair in my office and asked, “Now what am I supposed to do?”  Three of us in the foster care agency had gotten pregnant since her abortion – two of us were about to go on permanent maternity leave and one, the first of us to deliver, had just visited the agency that day to show off her newly born daughter.

I began volunteering at a pregnancy help center two years later mainly to educate myself so I would know what to say next time.

I became acquainted with the many ways abortion can do harm – spiritually, physically, emotionally and psychologically. I learned things that may or may not have made a difference in that co-worker’s decision. That crafty serpent was promising her that abortion would be no big deal and oh how she wanted to believe him.

I’ve led several groups of women – and even a couple of groups of men – through a post-abortion Bible study, and I’ve witnessed how healing takes place.

So now, if a post-abortive co-worker were to plop down in my office and ask, “Now what am I supposed to do?,”

I would listen to her story with nonjudgmental ears.

I would help her name all the players in her decision to abort and assign an appropriate portion of the blame to each.

I would gently help her put a slice – no matter how big or small – on her own plate.

And if, after all the excuses and justifications, she could recognize that none of them were worth the price of a life – her child’s life – healing would begin.

And if she could name her child, acknowledge his or her existence, claim him or her as her own, her child would finally have a mother.

I’d help her ask forgiveness – of her child, of God, of herself.  Forgiving one’s self is always the hardest.

A young girl was walking through the woods on a glorious early spring day.  Suddenly a snake appeared in her path…

Forgiving ourselves means recognizing that we’ve been duped by the enemy of our souls; betrayed by the faux friend who offered us a way out and then slithered away hissing “Sucker.”

Men suffer in the aftermath of abortion, too.  Sometimes it’s the father who failed to protect, or who was lied to or who wasn’t given any say in the matter.  Sometimes it’s the man who drove his friend to the clinic, thinking he was doing the helpful thing, only to be smacked in the face by the full realization of what it was he helped her to do.

The pressure to abort almost always involves some sort of fear.  But as long as we have a powerful God to help us, the right solution to a fearful situation is never the taking of an innocent life. Perfect love drives out fear.

Mother Teresa said, “There is no love in abortion.” She was right.  I’ve looked at abortion from every angle and I’ve yet to find any love.

The solution to any crisis pregnancy is Love.

When a woman comes into your pastoral office or your living room or your cubicle contemplating abortion, help her look for the love in it, and when she can’t find any, help her find another solution.  Inspire her towards love.

And when a woman plops down in your office and says, “The serpent deceived me and I ate,” lead her back to love.  Because that’s what God does.

All life is sacred.  The sanctity of life doesn’t only apply to humans.  God is the Good Shepherd of all of His creation.  Jesus told us that not a sparrow falls to the ground outside our Father’s care.

I’ve encountered Christians recently who scoff at praying for a pet. They seem to think having dominion over animals means it’s okay to treat them harshly or callously.  But that’s not how God exercises His dominion over us.   He came into our doghouse and camped out with us for thirty-three years.

As I cared for my dying little beagle these past 3 months, I saw up-close what a Good Shepherd He is.  As I carried her home from a walk too long, holding her little heart to mine, as I cooked for her and prayed for her, anointed her soft little head with oil and measured out medications,  as I showered her with a depth of love I hadn’t previously known, I realized that I am not kinder or more loving or more compassionate than God. As deep as my love for the Be, His was deeper.

Upholding the sanctity of life is not about judgment, upholding the sanctity of life is about Love.

After the Be died on Wednesday I had nothing for today.  I knew I should sit down and gather my thoughts but my mind was numb.  I just needed to grieve.

I tried again on Thursday but to absolutely no avail.  I just needed to be quiet all day.

All of Friday was spent preparing for a Saturday morning deadline.

And then, after an early morning meeting yesterday, the words finally came.  I knew they would be delivered in weakness today, but at least I had them to deliver.

And I think perhaps that was God’s exquisite desire all along – that today’s message be written and delivered from a place of deep grief.

#exquisite

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life, Light

A House of Worship Where Worshipers Arise

The first thing I noticed when the hub and I walked into church Sunday morning was the joy. The place was abuzz with joyful greetings and  joyful conversations.

We were visiting the church affiliated with the Christian school at which the hub is an administrator.  It was their first Sunday in their newly remodeled worship center so we went in support.

The second thing I noticed was the diversity.

Diversity of color, diversity of socioeconomic status, and I suppose diversity of political opinions.

But I heard absolutely no political talk.

And that was refreshingly welcome.

The words, “I’m blessed” came from the lips of those who have a lot, materially speaking, and from the lips of those who have little.

It reminded me of the wonderful diversity at Saturday morning BSF leaders’ meetings.  Everyone is “blessed” there, too.

How is it that both these diverse groups can meet on Sundays – and brutally early on Saturdays – black, white, comfortable, struggling, liberal, conservative – with such joy?

I pondered and concluded that the joyful gather around a person – a Savior – rather than an ideology.

Or a need.

Studying John 6 these past few weeks, I noticed that some who were following Jesus wanted a political leader, they wanted to make him king. Others wanted free bread and fish.

They wanted Jesus to provide for their political and physical needs while all He wanted to talk about was their spiritual needs. So they started grumbling.

And many quit following.

“You don’t want to leave, too, do you?,” Jesus asked the Twelve.

“Where else would we go?,” responded Peter, “You have the words of life.”

Ah, to spend a couple of hours worshiping with those who want nothing from Jesus except life.

The pastor, who was reared in Africa – the son of medical missionaries – lived and served 22 years of his adult life as a church planter and leadership developer in Uganda.

“Worshipers in Uganda wouldn’t like these screwed down seats,” he said, “they’d want to be able to push them aside and dance.”

He was preaching Psalm 100:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

He pointed out that the Hebrew word for “Know” here is not restricted to mental activity. It is a visceral knowledge that goes deep into the emotions, into the “deepest stomach.”

That’s the kind of knowledge that elicits push-those-chairs-aside-and-dance worship.

The kind of knowing that the Lord is God that causes a diverse people to all feel blessed. To stand together joyfully.

In peace.

Toward the end of the sermon the pastor mentioned his little granddaughter.

What kind of a world will she grow up in?, he wondered.

And worried.

But then he caught himself.

She’ll grow up in a world with God.

God never changes – even as the world changes.

The same God who was with him and his family while they were living and ministering amidst wars in Uganda will be with her, too.

She’ll experience God in ways that he has not because she’ll experience Him in a different culture, a different context.

I liked that thought.

I like the idea that the same God is moving just as faithfully and just as powerfully in every generation, but in new and different ways, come what may.

It’s His story, not ours.

His story.

So why are we demanding, grabbing, protesting, threatening, terrorizing, accusing, slandering, backbiting, worrying, panicking when it’s His story?

May we simply gather in church and, God help us, as a nation around the One who created us all.

P.S. Spent a couple of hours this morning cleaning gum off the bottom of lab tables.  Ew. Don’t stick your gum under your desk/table, youngsters, ‘cuz one day somebody’s momma is gonna’ have to scrape it off.

#elicit

 

 

 

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faith, Light

Human Flourishing

aleppo-syria

– gettyimages.com

“In the faces of the children of Aleppo we see your image, God, and it is bloodied. In our helplessness and anger at this evil, help us to not grow cynical but to trust that this bloodshed broke your heart long before we even started paying attention.

Come and rescue these little ones and all the Syrian people from the futility of war.

May violence no longer be heard in Syrian land, nor devastation within her borders.

In this nation where we were first called Christians, send legions of angels to lend aid and protection; shield those who bring relief amid great danger; bring justice for those who are dead, and heal those traumatized by this horrific conflict.

May those who bring this terror be visited by angels and converted to the cause of human flourishing.

Lord hear our prayer.”

– Prayers of the people at our little church this morning.

#humanflourishing #relishthethought

 

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