Friday, April 30, 2010

Update on Mark and Ed

Several weeks ago, I posted about these two developmentally-different men from my church, and how their mom had died, and now they don't show up at church anymore...after all these years. And how it makes me profoundly sad, and makes me feel that as orphans, as those who are quite defenseless in this big world, our church should be helping them however we can.

The other day Pastor Chuck updated me on what's going on with them. I found out that a social worker is trying to get them into a state home, but in the meantime,  they have been placed with a guardian way out in the country where they share a bedroom and get to roam around outdoors. And that sounds very idyllic and nice, except for the fact that they haven't been able to attend church since. A thing that was so much a part of their regular routine.

A week or so ago, Pastor Chuck's secretary told him there was a young man there to see him. And an advocate had brought Ed to the church, just so he could see Pastor Chuck, whom he thought must have forgotten him by now. Instead, Pastor Chuck almost jumped up and down with glee. It was a joyful reunion.

And now, as I sit here, thinking about these two beautiful souls, I wonder if there isn't more we as a church could do. I wonder if I might ask our S.S. class to form an informal bus ministry where one of us goes each week way out into the country to pick up Mark and Ed and bring them to their church family. I wonder this. And I pray. Will you continue to pray with me?

Father, you are a father to the fatherless and a defender to those who find themselves defenseless. I admire your watchcare over Mark and Ed; show us how to participate in your work. And please, Lord, will you help them to find a place near our church, where Mark and Ed can experience your love with their church family and the church family can in turn be blessed by their innocence and joy. This is what your Spirit is whispering to my heart, Father, and so this is how I pray. Much love, your daughter

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Guest post: Did Jesus break the Sabbath?

By author and speaker, Keri Wyatt Kent

What did Jesus teach about the Sabbath? Something shifted tremendously in how people followed God after Jesus walked our planet. Although the roots of the Christian faith are in Judaism, the way that modern Christians keep Sabbath, or don’t, looks quite different from the way ancient Jews did. Jesus said he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. But really, that fulfillment changed a lot about how people lived out their faith.

Even when Jesus walked the earth, people were aware that he was shaking things up. 

The gospel writers often tell us that people marveled at Jesus’ teaching because he spoke with “authority.”

Commenting on the rabbinic tradition and this idea of authority, pastor and author Rob Bell writes, “Different rabbis had different sets of rules, which were really different lists of what they forbade and what they permitted. A rabbi’s set of rules and lists, which was really that rabbi’s interpretation of how to live the Torah, was called that rabbi’s yoke. A rabbi’s followers believed that rabbi’s set of interpretations were the closest to what God intended through the Scriptures. And when you followed that rabbi, you were taking up that rabbi’s yoke.”
Bell continues, “Most rabbis taught the yoke of a rabbi who had come before them. … Every once in a while, a rabbi would come along who was teaching a new yoke, a new way of interpreting the Torah. This was rare and extraordinary.”

So Jesus offered this new yoke, which he claimed is easy. But in a way, it seems harder. He often began with “you’ve heard it said” and cited the Old Testament law. Then he followed with “but I say to you.” For example, he said, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Don’t commit adultery.’ But I say, ‘If you look at a woman with lust, you’ve already slept with her’” (Matt. 5:27–28, my paraphrase). And, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Don’t murder.’ But if you call someone a fool or hate them, you’ve killed them” (Matt. 5:21–22).

His teaching encouraged people to hold to a higher standard than mere legalism but also helped them to realize that keeping the law perfectly is an impossible proposition. 

Examining ourselves in light of the spirit of the law, rather than the letter, points us to our desperate need for grace. Jesus exhorted his listeners to examine their hearts, their attitudes, as well as their actions. He challenged his listeners to bring outward practice and inner reality into alignment. This again directed his most attentive listeners toward grace, not more careful legalism.

Here’s what I’ve noticed, though. Jesus never used the “you’ve heard it said, but I say to you” formula to discuss Sabbath. He didn’t, for example, say, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Keep the Sabbath holy.’ But I say …” And he definitely never said, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Keep the Sabbath on the seventh day,’ but I tell you, ‘Switch it to the first day.’” Why is that?

Jesus did criticize the Pharisees for piling rules onto the people, burdening them with lists of what they couldn’t do, not just on Sabbath but in regard to all sorts of regulations and man-made traditions. He accused them of valuing their traditions over the law, saying, “You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition,” and quoted Isaiah 29:3 to condemn them (see Matt. 15:1–20). He said the Pharisees burdened people with rules (Luke 11:46).

While he didn’t use his “you’ve heard it said, but I say” formula to teach about Sabbath, he did find all sorts of teachable moments to instruct his followers, and his critics, about Sabbath. Usually this happened when he defended his choices to heal people, cast out demons, or engage in other questionable activities on the Sabbath. Not surprisingly, he focused on aligning our hearts with our actions.

He did say, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” And he claimed to be the Lord of the Sabbath. But what does that mean? Does it set us free only from the ceremonial aspects of the law, or from the law entirely?

The thing Jesus seemed to get in trouble for most was breaking the Sabbath, at least in the eyes of the legalists of his day. They watched him closely, seemingly in hopes he would slip up and break the rules, although he hardly seemed interested in hiding his actions from them. In fact, he tried over and over to teach them about the heart of Sabbath, asking, “Don’t you on the Sabbath untie your donkey and let him have a drink, or pull your sheep out of a pit?” to point out that compassion is never against God’s rules (see Luke 13:15; Matt. 12:11).

Norman Wirzba writes, “Jesus does not obliterate Sabbath teaching but reframes it so that we can see once again, with renewed emphasis, what creation’s ultimate meaning is.”

Jesus came to die for us, but also to live for us, to show us how to live. He modeled spiritual practices like solitude, prayer, and compassion. If you are someone’s disciple, you try to emulate them, try to live as they would. And Jesus kept Sabbath. Not in the way his culture expected, perhaps. He exercised great freedom. If we are his disciples, we will take on his yoke. We will live in this life-giving rhythm of work and rest. Jesus kept Sabbath in a new way, a way that shook things up. As his disciples, we can keep Sabbath too. And apparently we’re free to shake things up as well.

Keri Wyatt Kent is a speaker and author of seven books, including Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity, from which this column is adapted.

Monday, April 26, 2010

From a Christian college bathroom wall...

The other day I was using one of the bathrooms at the seminary, one that the college-aged women usually frequent, and I saw that over 15 of them had written quotes or sayings on a piece of paper that was in one of those plastic announcements things.

Wondering what females at Christian colleges are thinking these days? Well, you're in luck. I stole the paper. Figured that wasn't a crime according to the student handbook. Here goes:

  • I used to have trouble finishing things, but now I . . .
  • Sometimes we stare too long at the door at the door that's closed that we miss the one that's open.
  • Love God; Love People!
  • I used to be indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.
  • God has not forgotten you! :)
  • All generalizations are false.
  • 6/5 people don't know fractions.
  • Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.
  • There are 3 kinds of people: those who can count, and those who can't.
  • Do not wait for your knight in shining armor, he probably knows more about polish than how to use that sword of his. Instead, look for the knight in slightly dented, used armor, he will be your champion. -Benson Brazier
And my personal favorite:
  • A lot of people go to the bathroom with pens...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

She loved much: the end of an alabaster vase

Oops. Boom. Shattered.

Late last Saturday afternoon the husband's elbow went flying out as he removed the tablecloth, and the stand holding my alabaster vase careened, and the vase fell to the floor, its lip shattered.

Although I witnessed the whole thing as I did my homework in the living room, I didn't hear a crack and thought perhaps it had been spared. That God had allowed it to remain intact because He knew of its worth to me even more than I did. I sucked in hard, audibly, and held my breath.

The husband confirmed my fear, though, and the look on his face was one of pure panic and adrenaline. I shook my head slowly, sadly. I sucked my breath in again and said I could not speak to him. Not now.

The next minutes are hazy, but my mom called, and announced that my entire family was up at the hospital three hours away cooing over my new nephew (without me), and I lost it. Lost. It. Completely. Mom was concerned, but I couldn't speak to anyone. And as David overheard my tears and the pain in my voice, he fretted and stewed.

My alabaster vase story goes like this: years ago an incredible mentor, Kelly, helped me to understand the extravagance of God's love for us when I was facing some deep and dark times. She embodied Jesus to me.  And so she special ordered this alabaster vase to present to me as a gift: to remind me of God's extravagant love and how my life is a love offering to those around me. (See the story of the woman with the alabaster jar in Luke 7.) And something in me became more alive, more in tune to loving others well, because of the giving of this memento. The vase moved everywhere with me and was always in a prominent location wherever I lived.

Since I have very few fine things in my life, and few sentimental items, I didn't realize how much this gift meant to me. Or what would happen if it suddenly shattered. I wasn't prepared. I couldn't even look at it. 

In just moments, I felt situationally depressed.

And that is when the husband entered the living room, a pained look on his face. He sat down on the ottoman in front of me. I told him the story of the vase through my sobs and tears.  Then he placed his hand on my face, saying, "I will never forget this day." My heart stirred. "Why?" I asked. "You didn't mean to knock it over." And he said something about the significance of my pain and how much this had hurt me and how everything in him wished he could change things. 

Sad though I was, a small burden lifted. Someone had acknowledged who I am and why in the world this loss touched a part of me I didn't know existed. A foundation stone built into my life by a dear friend. One who probably doesn't realize the impact she's had on me. David entered into my pain and acknowledged that it's OK to hurt. 

And, if I'm honest, I have to say that it still hurts. I can't look at the vase, so David has packed it away...probably in a box with the shattered pieces scattered around like sawdust. Ironic, isn't it? My alabaster vase, broken, like the jar the woman poured out of so lavishly, as she dispensed costly nard perfume on his dusty feet. 

The thought makes me ask Jesus if I am generous like her, if I love those he loves without expecting anything in return, especially to the least of these, the "least-favorites," the troubled, the poor, and the weak. Perhaps I will always remember the day the vase dropped as well. Maybe it will remind me of Abba's love, subduing my selfishness to help me love more extravagantly and recklessly.

If it does, it will be worth the pain. Oh, to have this written in my obituary one day: 

"She loved . . . much."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Notable Quotable: Luther

"It is the supreme art of the Devil that he can make the law out of the gospel. If I can hold on to the distinction between law and gospel, I can say to him any and every time that he should kiss my backside. Even if I sinned, I would say, "Should I deny the gospel on this account?"

Luther, Luther's Works, Vol. 54, p. 106

Sunday, April 11, 2010

When eggs interrupt

I have yet to hear a woman say her journey through seminary was linear and tidy. (To be fair, men may not feel like their journey is tidy, either.) Still, there is something unique about the female's journey through seminary. And through life in general.


I'm sorry, men. But I've been mulling over this post for months. And this is the honest-to-goodness truth. I could just leave this untouched as one of the "elephants in the room," but since there are so few female seminary students blogging these days, I'd rather not.

Maybe your story is different, and if so, I hope you'll comment below. But here is how I see things:

I was told that I would get a period sometime in later elementary school and so I began to wonder about its arrival. It came when I was 13 and I cried. I knew next to nothing about how any of it worked and wished I didn't have to endure the monthly curse. Periods of stress made it go away, but that was bad for some reason, so I always prayed for it to come back. As a young women, I got my college degree, and set off to build a career using my communications skills. I always wondered about having children and began to hear my biological clock ticking in my late 20s, with no mate in sight. There was no mate in sight at age 30 either. Or 33. By now that clock seemed to be a ticking time bomb placed right next to my ears. My ovaries were over-eager. My mating instincts were in high gear.

This is what it's like to be a woman, I thought. But God--why haven't you brought me a husband?

And so, after doing my part by casting my net out on eharmony, David entered my life. I married at age 35. The delights of marriage are many. We're happy and healthy. Yet as I hang out at age 37, we wonder: Could we have a child?

I'll spare you the agonizing details, but you should know this: it is not easy to work/go to seminary/minister/keep up with friends and family when you're thinking about your eggs. And praying that at least one of them is not shriveled up. That this whole thing will work the way God intended it to without extraordinary measures. It makes you weigh your options more carefully. Hang back on major decisions. And even say "no" to certain things.

Like the Clinical Pastoral Education credit I was scheduled to take this summer. Eleven weeks of learning, growth, and ministry, and I was thrilled to be participating. Until I was told late in the game that I would have to pull two 12-hour shifts a week on-call instead of the two shifts a month the brochure seemed to indicate. It didn't take me long to think about the possible effect on my stress level and reproductive health. I said no, with a quivering lip. I delayed the dream.

These are the choices women in seminary sometimes make. Because our lives are complex and glorious, made up of hesitation and faith, full of joy amidst the juggling. And, hopefully, a desire to see God glorified in all the messiness. To look up at any moment and say, "What now, Father? You've called me to know you better through seminary, and you've called me to be a daughter of Eve/ezer/lifegiver, and would you tell me please, what is the next step?"

So, yes, I'm still in seminary. Studying hard for an intensive Counseling class that will be here soon. Praying for God's Will and looking for His direction. All while caring for my ovaries and uterus. This is the place I find myself sitting in right now, as I remind myself to rest in God's goodness and trust His plans.

That's all, folks. Thanks for letting me clear the air, and be assured, the posts to follow will not even include the word eggs. Smile!