Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sermon #2

Sweating as my stomach did flip-flops, I marveled at my stage fright before last Tuesday's sermon #2. Surely by now I had established that the males in my class were friendly fellows. Encouraging, even. So I relied on the deep breathing exercises that reduce anxiety as I watched a fellow student preach. I wanted to break out into full-fledged yoga stretches, but refrained. Mercifully, I was second in line.

I shared a story from Debbie Alsdorf's book Deeper, about how her pastor-husband left her with two small boys, and her world shattered in an instant. I told them how Debbie's body couldn't handle an antidepressant of any kind, and of how Debbie's well-meaning friend suggested she read Psalm 139 throughout the day. Debbie was desperate, so she copied the passage at Kinko's and read it morning, noon, and night. She even set a stopwatch to remind her to read it more often. About three weeks in, her depression began to lift. She read it like this for one full year and God restored her life, and helped her to understand that He created her and is always protecting her.

My central truth: "These precious pages protect us." I talked about Psalm 19:7-11 and the over-the-top descriptions David used to describe God's Word.

In an attempt to describe my first point, that God's Word can be trusted to bring virtue to our lives, I talked about verse 7, where "refreshing the soul" means it preserves and rescues my life. I spoke of how we are all the "simple" or the morally inexperienced.

I told of a friend in addiction recovery who moved away from casual hookups to finding the hope she needed in the truth of God's Word. The power in this book to change our lives is palpable, true, amazing. (Just watch the movie Book of Eli if you want a visual picture.)

Second, I shared how God's Word brings priceless value to our lives. The most precious substances in the Near East -- gold and honey -- couldn't compare in David's mind with the value of God's law. "By them is your servant warned, and in keeping them there is great reward."

Honoring God's Word actually saves our skin! The Bible is not a battering ram, although unfortunately, some of us have felt bruised rather than blessed when others use it inappropriately. Instead, it is God's gift to us. Infinitely valuable, precious, and needed. It should have the effect of making our hearts happy and of giving light to whatever path we are on (v. 8).

These precious pages protect us. The challenge is to study and value them on the heart level, so that when a crisis hits the fan, we are armed and ready.


And so my sweating stopped and my quivery stomach stilled. As I looked up, my professor offered words of praise and encouragement that literally blew my mind. Is it a testament to my femaleness that I told him I wasn't that good? I wanted to get down on my knees and to thank my heavenly Father for bringing me this far, for showing me that His daughters can offer biblical truth in a truly feminine and excellent way. And so I thank Him now. Thank you, Father. Girls matter in your Kingdom. I'm starting to see that ever-more-clearly now.

Are you searching for the biblical support for women speaking in the church? I recommend this informative and well-researched article, Unmuted, from Dale & Jonalyn Fincher.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanks Be!

"Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone."  ~G.B. Stern

I am grateful. And I choose gratefulness over pessimism. I choose the glass half full over the half empty. I choose merrymaking over misery.

This is my God-given right, and because of what God has done on my behalf, it is also my inheritance. I pooh-pooh the psychologists who say my happy factor is a function of genetics and in-bred temperament. They haven't seen my dark moments. My losses. My dead ends. Or the multiple times my heart was severed in two.

"Choose hope," says author Leigh McLeroy's friend in The Beautiful Ache. "It's entirely reasonable." 

Daily, we choose whether to curse the darkness or to be thankful for the light. Gratitude is a choice, one that we can make moment-to-moment, one that has the power to change us -- and in so doing, to advance God's Kingdom in ways we never dreamed possible.

People who know this have the power to change things, simply by allowing the Holy Spirit to redirect their thinking--and in so doing to redirect their heart.
  • the Apostle Paul wrote "Rejoice in the Lord always!" while in prison chains
  • Corrie Ten Boom and her sister thanked God for a tick-infested room at a Nazi concentration camp, because it allowed them to read the Bible in peace
  • Mary the mother of Jesus, shamed by her out-of-wedlock pregnancy, said her "spirit rejoiced in God my Savior"

These ones, and millions of others, know the end of the story. God wins! And because of the sweetness of His promises and His presence, I choose to focus on this week's gratitude-givers:
  • the unexpected anticipation of preaching my second sermon to a classroom of men tonight
  • the joy on the faces of the elderly to whom my husband and I served a Thanksgiving dinner last night
  • after that, the balmy weather that led us out of our living room into a beautiful nighttime stroll
  • the giving of thanks time at this week's Bible study for women in recovery
  • Thursday's thanksgiving meal with family, an enticement for us to remember what God has blessed us with so we can share
  • tucking my two nieces and my nephew in Friday night when they visit, and waking with them early for buckwheat pancakes 

What about you? Because of what Jesus has done on our behalf, our spirits can dwell secure, leaving our hearts free to soar in gratitude. Let's hear your "gratitude-givers" below.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Who is Jesus to you?

"Who is Jesus to you?" I asked, as we wrapped up last week's Biblestudy. I know the answers I receive this week might not be Scripturally sound. And I am OK with that. Because coming to Jesus with all of our junk can be a messy process, a journey in which He draws us into His open embrace. In which He becomes real to us, and His revolutionary message of deliverance pierces us, changing our hearts and lives.




The Sovereign
with Skin on

[picture credit: 6th-century mosaic of Jesus at Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. No undisputed record of what Jesus looked like is known to exist.]

We are reading the gospel of John in Biblestudy, and Jesus is surprising us. He's surprising me, too, though I've been in church all my life. As one girl put it, "Jesus is getting awfully witty and sarcastic." We see His tenderness with the Samaritan woman at the well and with others who are broken and sick, and then we watch Him thunder down on the Pharisees in all their self-righteousness, and we stand in awe.

CS Lewis wrote that Jesus Christ is either a liar, a lunatic, or LORD. When I think of Jesus, I think of a Savior, Healer, and Defender. God who comes near, and who literally saved me out of the deep places of depression and anxiety I have experienced. I love how singer Nicole Mullen responds to how she knows Jesus lives in the song My Redeemer Lives: "I spoke with Him this morning." 

"Who is Jesus to you?" Look forward to reading your comments.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My first sermon

My first sermon was delivered to a sea of testosterone Tuesday night. (Yes, my preaching class is male with one notable exception. Smile.) What might surprise you, though, is that I actually referenced the terms menopause and monthly cycle in my sermon. Really.

My central point was that TRUE FAITH GROWS STRONGER THROUGH TESTING. And so I moved through Genesis 18:1-15, talking about the three visitors who came to Abraham and Sarah, their hospitality, and Sarah's laughter when they said she would have delivered a baby boy one year from then.

I explained Sarah's lifetime of infertility, the grief that flooded her being each month when she received her monthly cycle, and how decade after decade went by with no baby, a deep shame in her society. I mean, we know Sarah was an amazingly beautiful woman, but I think if she could have summed up her life to that point in two words she might say: ABJECT FAILURE.

So by the time these three guys (the Lord and two angels) show up on the scene, she is 89 years of age. She hears their prediction, and instead of crying the hot tears that had filled her childbearing years, she does what comes instinctively. She laughs at the preposterousness of it all. I would have, too, I fear. True faith is exposed in a moment. Sarah's faith was still in the incubation stage.

So God ups the ante. If we were to say it in today's lingo, in order to capture God's emphaticness and a fuller meaning of the text's intention, we would say, "Why in the world did Sarah laugh? Is anything too wonderful, extraordinary, or amazing for the Lord?"

The truth is, Sarah is still hiding by the tent, but she cannot stand it. She cannot take the heat. So she blurts: "Really, I did not laugh." And God nails her to the wall: "Actually, you did."

Now all of this would be truly sad if God wasn't up to something big. If He wasn't growing up Sarah and Abraham's faith. But He did exactly that. The New Testament sheds light on Sarah's growth in Hebrews 11:11 (RSV): "By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised."

To be honest, Sarah and Abraham make a great pair. God told him in the previous chapter that Sarah would have a son, and he rolled on the ground, laughing. But shriveled-up uteruses and failed dreams are nothing for the God who hung the moon and created our inmost being. Scholars think part of the reason God exposed Sarah and Abraham here was to grow their faith. The other? Quite possibly, to remind them to have sex at 89 and 99 years of age, respectively. To do their part to usher in the unthinkable promise.

True faith does grow stronger through testing. Abraham and Sarah are proof positive.

The sermon was well-received, and the pastor evaluating us encouraged me to preach it again, but next time, even more from Sarah's perspective (which is somewhat reflected above). He made me realize that I was the only one in the class who could preach it that way. I'm surprised to be saying this, but God is using the 20 males in my preaching class to challenge, encourage, and grow me in ways I never anticipated. Abba really does know what He is doing. Always.