Thursday, July 29, 2010

Notable Quotable: Elizabeth O'Connor

"Each of us is the artist of his own life. Whether a man arrives or does not arrive at his own destiny - the place that is peculiarly his - depends on whether or not he finds the Kingdom within and hears the call to wholeness - or holiness . . . The man who hears that call is chosen. He does not have to scramble for a place in the scheme of things. He knows that there is a place which is his and that he can live close to the One who will show it to him. Life becomes his vocation."
-Elizabeth O'Connor, Journey Inward, Journey Outward

Do you believe you are the artist of your own life? Do you believe that all of life is the vocation of the Christian? Please share.

Friday, July 23, 2010

When Jesus asks you to volunteer

Read on to see what happens when God says "not now" to your plans and signs you up for something better. See if you can relate!
This summer . . . I had plans. But when they fell through, I got quiet and started watching and listening for opportunities Jesus might want for me instead. The result follows.

I planned to make money to fund my seminary education. And, despite due diligence, several projects fell through due to timing or being postponed.

Jesus asked me to volunteer to lead a Sunday night Bible study for women in drug and alcohol recovery at a local rehab house. We're reading through the gospel of John in The Message Bible. Wow. I'm seeing the power of God's Word at work in a fresh and real way.

Before I knew it, my friend and I were also on the hook to teach resume-building and interviewing skills. Someone else donated money for Bibles for these ladies. The ripple effect!

I so desperately wanted to serve patients at the hospital this summer while fulfilling a chaplaincy credit for seminary. But at the last minute, it got canceled.

Instead, Jesus asked me to take cookies to my new neighbor--and then to bring over chicken salad with croissants when her father fell ill. He asked me to fill in for my Sunday School teacher about four times, leading a class of men and women, which is new for me. He also asked me to share life with about 20 fifth and sixth graders at my church's Vacation Bible School. 

Perhaps most of all, I wanted to get pregnant this summer.

Jesus has asked me to acknowledge and live out my God-given role as a life-giver, whether I have any children or not. So I invited a ten-year-old girl out to lunch. She lost her mom to cancer last year and lives with her dad and five brothers. For just an hour and a half, I offered up a little bit of mothering and was blessed by this young woman's unbelievable grace and love for God's Word. My life-giving also extends to two developmentally-different brothers at church, one of whom sits with us sometimes. On some Sundays, their friend Joe tells me I am "gorgeous AND sweet." Really, what could be better?

Yesterday, I had a volunteer shift at a local hospital, sitting with someone who is dying with no friends or family to be there. And it struck me how we come into this world like we go out...helpless, sometimes frightened, just wishing for a warm touch. And so I held this person's hand, while realizing that life-giving comes in a million different forms. In fact, we must have a hundred opportunities to "give life" daily through our interactions. But how often do we choose to give life? 

Unless we quiet every noisy beep and ring and distraction and listen to Jesus. I'm not speaking of anything mystical and strange. Just quieting your heart so you can feel the stirrings that come as you focus on God and His Word, while also watching for the work God is doing around you--work that you could participate in. And when we let Him know it's OK to ask us to volunteer--that we'll be ready for our next assignment--then our eyes start to open to opportunities, and we'll do what He asks when it sometimes goes against what we had planned.

I didn't initially want what I got this summer. I planned for something entirely different and kicked and screamed when the results of my planning seemed to backfire everywhere I looked. God had something else in mind, and I'm finally starting to appreciate His "plan B"--which we all know is not a "plan B" at all in His economy.

You see, I'm starting to see what He's really asking from me is "availability." He's not always asking me to drop everything. He just wants to know that I will if He has a more important assignment for me at present. Back in May, I had a tight grip on my plans, and an agenda, and GOALS. I still have summer goals, but several of them have been postponed.

Jesus was asking me to volunteer, you see, and He didn't want anything messing with His plans.

What has Jesus asked you to volunteer for? What did the volunteering teach you about yourself and what you have to offer in God's Kingdom? How did it touch others? Please share.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What's your test from God?

Tears streamed down my face this morning as I watched this video about Abraham's test, Holy is the Lord, by folk singer Andrew Peterson.

I cried because we are, all of us, being tested, even as I sit here. We tend to want for a controlled, cushified, consumeristic--did I mention controlled?--life. But we don't get it. None of us do. We were born to be tested.

Just ask Abraham. The one God made the covenant promise to in Genesis 15. Here's a paraphrase: A son coming from your own body will be your heir [God didn't mention Abraham would struggle with infertility most of his life and be older than dirt when Isaac was born]. Look up in the can't count those stars, Abraham, my friend--but that's how many offspring or great-grandchildren I'm going to give you. I promise.

So how inconsistent, how two-faced, did that promise seem years later, when Abraham and his wife Sarah had a son in their geriatric years--and Abraham was then, quite simply, ordered by God to kill him? Insert the place right here where my heart starts hyper-ventilating. I can't help it.

This smacks of the way God gives a godly woman a husband--and that same husband dies one year later unexpectedly. Or worse yet, divorces her to be with someone different. Father, what heavenly purpose could there be in this? This is betrayal of the worst sort, when someone (anyone, really) who loves you promises you something big, gives it to you--but ultimately takes it and abandons you, carrying your dignity and heart off with them in the process.

In a very personal sense, this is how God gave me a Dad who loved me well, then allowed him to be taken at 61 years of age from cancer. Just before he would have met the godly man I waited 35 years to marry. The man he had prayed so earnestly for. My extended family met David three days after Dad passed away.

Seriously?!? That was the response of one friend who prayed so earnestly for me to find a spouse that year. She prayed specifically that Dad would meet said spouse. And in God's divine wisdom, only half of her prayers were answered affirmatively.

 A test. 

Will you still believe God loves you and will provide for you? Will Abraham? Will I? Because He's promised to, though all of the signs around you are screaming to the contrary.

And so Abraham walked 50 or 60 miles with young Isaac, a three-day journey that ended as they climbed Mount Moriah. Isaac was on the altar. There was wood for burning the sacrifice. A knife, even, to do the killing. Abraham's chosen son was getting suspicious. The moment of obedience had come. And...

An angel of the Lord cried out! Don't lay a hand on your boy. Don't do anything to Isaac. I see now that you fear God, because you didn't withhold what was most precious to you. And suddenly Abraham spotted a ram. The place where his life--and his faith--flashed before him would be called "The Lord Will Provide."

What will your place of testing be called? "God failed me and I deserted Him?" "Been there. Done that. Doing it my own way now?" Or will your faith be refined and purified through testing?

You may suffer losses unimaginable and people may fail you repeatedly and you may feel depressed and downcast. You may fear there is no way out. But there is, somehow. God cannot go back on His promise to love and save you and bring good out of your circumstances if you know His Son, Jesus. It's just not in His nature to do so.

I can testify, though sometimes with tears, that the Lord will provide.

"Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life." James 1:12, The Message

What's your current "test?" Do you believe God is providing for you? Why or why not?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Did I mention I'm falling in like with N.T. Wright?

I'm a girl who's on the beginning of her seminary journey. And as such, I have a lot to learn. Approximately two more years worth of seminary learning, to be exact. (And lots more learning after that.)

I've been learning, for instance, which authors my seminary professors would like me to read--John Piper, Dallas Willard, Miles Stanford, etc. And which books they would recommend I not bother with. Anything by Rob Bell, for instance.

But since at this stage in my life I'm not good at following directions "just because," I tend to a read a little bit of everything. And this approach serves me well, because on the Arminian/Calvinism theology continuum, I get exposed to almost every imaginable approach to Scripture.

Along the way, although I can assure you I am happily married, I have begun to fall in serious like with N.T. Wright. ("Tom" Wright is the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and a New Testament scholar.) Or perhaps I should say I am seriously in like with his even-handed approach to theology and his irenic, peace-loving spirit.

Call me ornery, but I like that Bishop Wright has not been liked by liberal Christians, that he has been questioned by the very conservative John Piper, that the emerging church digs him but his views don't line up with many of them consistently,  and that he is always trying to work out his faith according to the Word of God, set in its proper context. The latter, of course, is what I find most endearing--Bishop Wright's committed faithfulness to the study of the text and context of the Bible.

The funniest thing about this post is that I've read so little of Wright's actual writing--though I intend to. Since I so often struggle with the paradoxes the apostle Paul represents, perhaps I should start with one of his "Paul for Everyone" commentaries.

Meanwhile, prepare to be wowed by the essays and addresses found on this page. If I were you, I'd start with his "The Biblical Basis for Women's Ministry in the Church." I've read it three times already, and I still want to read it again.

So, yes, I've fallen seriously in like. Friends and family now have a built-in book shopping list for my next birthday. Now, if you'll excuse me--it appears I have a bit more reading to do.

What about you? What do you love or dislike about NT? Who are your favorite theologians?