Archive for March, 2009

Have you ever met Jesus on the Road? A Blog for the not so faint of heart.

What I mean by the not so faint of heart is that this blog is lengthy.  So, please, my dear Siestas, don’t get ticked at me and tell me how long it is.  If you aren’t interested in reading a long post, just skip to the latter half of the blog and you’ll get the basic drift.  I just got my April 2009 Christianity Today in the mail and the title “He Talked to Us on the Road: The Surprising Rewards of Christian Travel” (written by Ted Olsen) immediately caught my eye.  Let me tell you, Ted Olsen works it in this staunch article.  He had my mind going about a million different directions. 

The beginning of the cover story begins with a quote by Martin Luther in the year 1520 “All pilgrimages should be done away with…For there is no good in them, no commandment, but countless causes of sin and of contempt of God’s commandments.  These pilgrimages are the reason for there being so many beggars, who commit numberless villainies.” (qtd. on page 23).  In typical Luther fashion, he states his opinion in the most absolute form possible, but it is significant that he relents a little bit by then going on to say, as Olsen points out: “I say this not because pilgrimages are bad but because they are ill-advised at the time” (24). 

 Just in case you are type-a… Dictionary.com (since we are all about the world wide web in the blogsphere) defines a pilgrimage as “a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion”.

So far, we are here: Luther says there is nothing good in a pilgrimage, not because a pilgrimage is in itself a bad thing, but because within his own historical context they were more than unhelpful, for they even led some to sin.  I just want to get off track and paint a picture for you a little bit- Luther was faced with serious stuff.  For instance, he was dealing with the likes of Johann Tetzel who was arguably the most “brilliant” seller of indulgences.  Some might argue that he would fit quite well in our modern-day American economic system.  Tetzel had systematic programs to lure people into buying indulgences and these programs often incorporated relics- for example, the bones of various saints or martyrs.  These relics were collected and believed by the masses to be salvifically efficacious- like they could release souls from purgatory, or at least limit the horrific sentence.  Carter Lindberg in The European Reformations, explains well how serious the situation was in Luther’s time: “The very effort of late medieval theology and pastoral practice to provide security only led an insecure world to more insecurity and uncertainty about salvation…The Christian’s life of pilgrimage toward the heavenly city was increasingly perceived, literally and not just theologically, as an economy of salvation…This theology, however, enhanced the crisis because it threw people back upon their own resources.  That is, no matter how grace-assisted their good works, the burden of proof for these works feel back upon the performers, the more sensitive of whom began asking how they could know if they had done their best” (Lindberg, 60).  I think Lindberg paints the picture well.  Let me summarize this: Common folk, like you and me, who knew how jacked up they really were began to feel relieved that someone out there could help them on what seemed to be an impossibly harsh spiritual quest.  So when Tetzel and others like him would offer the means of salvation through various relics, they were overwhelmingly grateful.

Martin Luther who was a professor in Wittenberg went to a church whose Prince (Frederick the Wise) had gathered within it one of the largest relic collections in the area, supposedly 19,000 pieces- for example, there were apparently pieces of the burning bush… milk from Mary (um…that is so so gross)… all the way to a piece from Jesus’ very crib (see Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, 61).  Interestingly enough, Prince Frederick the Wise forbid Johann Tetzel to enter Wittenberg with all of his relics and indulgences because Frederick with his own tail on the line “did not want competition for his own relic collection with its associated indulgences” (The European Reformations, 75).  But, the really astonishing part is that “Luther’s parishioners overcame this inconvenience by going out to Tetzel” (Lindberg, 75). 

Well, of course, Luther was horrified when his parishioners returned and said they no longer needed confession, penance, and the mass because now they had tickets to heaven (Lindberg, 75).   Now, this is a serious pastoral dilemma.  Especially if you’re one of the few people in the world at the time who could actually read Greek and Hebrew, and therefore knew these behaviors were out of the bounds of Scripture.  What was all the more sickening was that most of the people who bought these indulgences were peasants who didn’t have the money to spare in the first place.  These supposed tickets to heaven often took advantage of the poorest.  At the end of the day, Luther simply despised the thought of a person trying to attain salvation through various human strategies- whether these strategies were pilgrimages, indulgences, etc. So you get the point…Luther was obviously justified in his day for being opposed to pilgrimage…but now I am being redundant and annoying.    

But now back to the article in Christianity Today- Olsen switches the focus from Luther’s own historical situation to our modern horizon.  He says simply but powerfully, “The time has changed.”  So often we have a hard time understanding that what is right for one generation of Christians may not necessarily be right for another.  For example, the earliest Christians worshipped in the Synagogue.  But, that doesn’t mean that we should leave our churches and head to our local synagogues.  In the same vein, what was right for the peasants in Wittenberg is not necessarily right for all of us, because, as Olsen said, the time has changed.  I think this is why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide us in wisdom and knowledge.  But moving right along.  Olsen quotes Luther scholar Graham Tomlin saying, “It’s been possible after several centuries to disentangle pilgrimage from the works righteousness that Luther so disapproved of, so that now Protestants can go on pilgrimages –though most often, they don’t call them that- without any sense that they are earning God’s favor for doing so,” (24).  Graham Tomlin (not Chris Tomlin!) says that for most people, the pilgrimages are like study tours or holidays with a spiritual dimension (24).  But pilgrims are not mere ‘tourists’ but set off with the intention to experience the divine. And I LOVE what Olsen goes on to say: “Fewer pilgrims today travel in order to escape punishment for their sins, but the temptation to spiritual pride on such journey is strong as ever.  Religious travel has thrown a kind of spiritual trump card on the table.  An eagerness for such distinction misses how manufactured the quest for “authentic” spiritual experience on the road can be, or how transformative an organized excursion can become” (25).

Have you ever noticed this phenomenon?  It’s like in the movie Mona Lisa Smile when they are horrified that Julia Roberts’ character claims to be a professor of art even though she has never seen the Sistine Chapel.  We see this often in our own worlds as well- if a Christian hasn’t been to Jerusalem then he or she has a two-dimensional vision of the biblical text while those who have had this privilege may as well be wearing three-dimensional Scripture goggles.  I wish they could just bring us all a pair home, ya know? It would be a heck of a lot cheaper.  Well, even though this appears to be an annoying contemporary struggle we sometimes encounter…it shouldn’t keep us from setting out on ‘pilgrimage’, for as Olsen says, “We are not just minds created to soak up knowledge.  We are bodies that stand in one place at a time, seeing and feeling our surroundings” (26). 

This article bring us the best of both worlds, for it elevates the significance and rewards of Christian travel while also stressing the importance of our homes and local churches, which are equally as holy.  Graham Tomlin says: “Pilgrimages, just like Christian conferences, can also lead to disparagement of the local in favor of the big and global.  But if they lead to rediscovery of Jesus, the incarnate Word, they can lead to a renewed appreciation of the ordinary people and places that make up real live churches.  At least, well-led pilgrimages, and conferences can do that” (29). I just love that.  Believe me, I am a huge conference fan.  I have been to Moody’s Founder’s Week conferences, Passion conferences and even Living Proof Live conferences and gone out with revitalized energy for God more times than I can count.  There is just something so wonderfully overwhelming about worshipping with a vast gathering of believers.  I think that is the point- conferences are great when they stimulate fresh passion for Christ and then cause us each to go back to our local communities and churches with a renewed fervor but NOT when they make us unhappy and dissatisfied with our local churches.  The same goes for pilgrimages.  We don’t go to the island of Patmos to see where John penned the book of Revelation to get a spiritual fix so that we come back home where we are bored with our little town and church up the road.  We go for a unique spiritual experience that will enhance the life and community to which we are journeying back.

Olsen’s essay goes out with a serious bang, for he says: “Those who best journey today may not be those who are talking about their trips to Jerusalem, or to Iona, or to Santiago…They are probably those who talk about living and ministering in Overland Park or Beacon Hill.  Those who are thinking about the space they inhabit as holy land.  Those who have returned from Emmaus and understand that God doesn’t only meet us on the road.  Theirs is the God who said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them.” A God who travels.  And a God who dwells.  A God who has made the whole world his holy land because he has made his people a holy people.”  (29)

One of the reasons this article resonated with me is because I went on a spiritual pilgrimage the summer of 2004 when I was at Moody Bible Institute (which we indeed called a “study tour”) with the aim of tracing the European Reformers.  It was life changing for me.  We studied the English Reformation in England, the German/Lutheran Reformation in Wittenberg, Calvin’s Reformation in Geneva, and the Swiss Reformation begun by Zwingli in Zurich and the Anabaptist Reformations thereafter, and then we ended with the Catholic Counter-Reformation taught straight from Vatican Square.  That trip was supposed to be all about me learning about church history- and I did- but more significantly, it was during that trip that I felt turmoil in my heart over a relationship I was in.  An engagement, actually.  Surely enough, we broke up the day I returned from the trip.  I had barely even gotten off the plane.  The Lord, rich in mercy, and slowly but surely, through several various awe-inspiring moments during the course of that trip, planted courage in my heart to prepare mentally for the end of a relationship that I knew was going to be one of the most excruciating emotional seasons of my life. 

Another equally life-changing moment for me on that trip took place in a little church outside of Berlin.  A small church was hosting us for a few days before we traveled elsewhere and we stayed right there on the church property.  And when I say small, I mean, like I think there were thirty to fifty people in the church.  The church in Germany, at least generally speaking, is persecuted socially.  Not physically, buy socially.  Christians really aren’t super cool in Germany.  Kids apparently don’t sport the WWJD bracelets there in hopes to obtain positive attention.  The particular church we were staying with was struggling emotionally and financially but they showed us hospitality that I have rarely experienced in the States.  They invited us to join in a worship service with them and I will never forget one of the songs that we sang.  It was “Shine, Jesus, Shine” by Graham Kendrick.  You’ve probably heard it before.  The chorus goes like this: 

Shine, Jesus, shine


Fill this land with the Father’s glory


Blaze, Spirit, blaze


Set our hearts on fire


Flow, river, flow


Flood the nations with grace and mercy


Send forth your word


Lord, and let there be light.

And I sat weeping in the back of the church.  That little church sang that song like the eschaton was coming the very next day.  Like the time was really near.  It was just so pure and urgent.  And I couldn’t stop crying.  I had to excuse myself. I’ve only ever told one person this story.  But here I am on a blog, about to tell all of you.  This is why- because a small group of us snobby students, the intellectual types who would actually pay gobs of money to trace the European Reformations during our summer break, had just been mocking this very song a few days before.  I am not exaggerating any of this; we were mocking that very song “Shine, Jesus, Shine” by Graham Kendrick.  We were making comments about the lack of substance in the song and how catchy it was, and I don’t mean in a good way. I mean in a bad and processed cheese kind of way.  Why? Because apparently we thought we were the sophisticated intellectual types with ears fit only for the lofty hymns and complex choral traditions that flow out of the hallowed halls of Westminster Cathedral.  I mean we had in fact sat in on Evensong at that stately cathedral just days before, but never mind that most of us were well under twenty-two years old and had zero idea what were talking about, right?

Let me tell you.  That song, “Shine, Jesus, Shine” brings tears to my eyes and chills up my spine every single time I hear it.  That little church in Germany meant what they were singing.  They needed Jesus to shine in their land and they needed the Spirit to blaze and at that moment that little church in Germany spoke louder to me than all the other enormous world-renowned churches that we had visited.  I had spoken careless words and engaged in pompous banter and the Lord kindly chastised this child of His in a way she would never forget.  He made that ‘cheesy’ song come alive and dance with the depth and glory of a symphony.  Calvin’s Church, St. Peter’s Basilica, Canterbury Cathedral, etc…well, I’m glad I saw them, but none of carved an entirely new contour on my heart like that little church outside Berlin.

Well before I say Hasta Luego, Siestas, just a couple more things:

First, check out the article by Ted Olsen in Christianity Today some time soon.  Even though I didn’t attempt to summarize his article, I do admit that I did not even come close to capturing the entirety of his message. My blog is faux, so go get the real thing.

Second, I want some feedback on some of your travel experiences…is there a place where you experienced God’s presence in a unique and lasting way?  A moment you have pondered in your heart until this very day?  Talk to me, I want to hear about it.  And if you haven’t been able to travel enough to satisfy you, where would you like to go?  Is there a place with specific spiritual significance that you would like to set out…if you could?

Be blessed,

Melissa  

P.S. The picture above is random, I know, but it actually really reminds me of my trip to Europe and all the amazing church art and stained glass we saw. 

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Esther Poll

Hi Siestas! Several people have suggested that we do Esther for our Siesta Summer Bible Study. I’ve added a poll to our sidebar to see how many of you have already taken it. Would you mind taking a second to give us your answer? The poll will expire in a few days.

Also, I’m excited to tell you that our LPM web site is getting a much needed makeover very soon. My hero, Curtis Jones, is working on that project. (Picture me looking very relieved.) And we have changes in the works for our blog, too. Yeah! Will you pray for us as we go through this process? I will speak for myself and say that I need God to make me much smarter than I am when it comes to all of this. Thanks, sisters! We want to serve you with excellence!

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G.P. Are You With Me?

We’ve been asked a few times lately what in the world G.P. means. (Beth says it in the Esther videos.) G.P. stands for God’s Property, which is from Kirk Franklin’s song “Stomp.” It’s an LPM favorite. God’s Property is actually the name of the choir that partnered with him on that song. This is not great quality, but here’s the video for you. Enjoy!

Glory, glory!

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When the Mask Comes Off

When I was a teenager, I would look at the other kids at church and think I had absolutely nothing in common with them. They must all love being there every Sunday and Wednesday and never fight their parents about going. They must never wish they could do all the things their friends at school were doing. They must never sit on the row and be insecure because they weren’t sure if their church friends were going to talk to them that day. They must have it all together.

There was even one day in Sunday school in 10th grade when we divided into stations to talk about issues teenagers faced. I went to the station on peer pressure and to my absolute shock, I was the only one! That further reinforced my belief that I alone was being pulled in by the undertow. Over time, with no one I felt I could relate to on the shore, I gave in to the strong current.

What grieves me now is that other kids were going through some of the same stuff I was, at least to an extent, but no one was talking about it. I didn’t know. Many of us felt isolated in our secret struggles, whatever they might have been. Late in my senior year (which was the low point for me), I was at a party with some friends and a girl from my church was there. I didn’t know her very well at the time. She told my boyfriend to spill some dirt on me because it was killing her to think I could be so perfect. Are you kidding me? Partly because of who my mom was, and partly because it’s in our nature to think everyone else has it altogether but us, she had this very, very false perception that I didn’t struggle.

Her words haunted me for the next year. I felt so bad that she had the wrong idea and that I had allowed the masquerade to persist. Eventually, the guilt got to me and I invited this friend to meet me for lunch. During our time together I was finally able to take off the mask. At that point I was a freshman in college and the Lord was delivering me out of the pit I had been in. Thankfully, I was also able to share the work He was currently doing in my life.

That friend was one of the first people I ever shared those struggles with. It was not easy for me, but it felt so good to be real with her. It marked a turning point in my life toward authenticity. I’ve found that it does me no good to surround myself with pretenders and it does others no good for me to be a pretender.

Two weeks ago Curtis and I were at a very low place in our parenting experience. Jackson’s behavior had brought us to our knees and we felt hopeless. Annabeth was at my parents’ house and we were driving in the car with him to Wednesday night church. Both of us were in tears because we were so frustrated. I asked Curt if this is how it was going to be for the next 15 years – us hating ourselves because we feel like failures and not even recognizing who we’d become. Neither one of us wakes up in the morning hoping we can spend the whole day disciplining our three-year-old, you know? We were seriously at our wits end.

Curt, trying to console me a bit, told me that his best friend had recently asked him how things were going with our two. Curt had told him that things were fine. His friend’s reply was, “Thank God. If you’d told me things were good, I don’t know what I would have done.” Our friends are also in the trenches with their newborn and their two-year-old son. What if Curt had told him everything was great even though it wasn’t? All four of us would have felt alone and like failures.

That night after Bible study, our Sunday school teacher and his wife summoned all the couples from our class over to a table. In tears, he shared a struggle they were having with their three-year-old daughter. They were at their wits end. They felt hopeless. Like failures. He literally said they wondered if this is how it was going to be for the next 15 years.

So we’re not the only ones? We’re not the only ones!

Curt raised his hand and said, “Us too!”

We were able to spend some time praying for one another. I can’t tell you how encouraged Curtis and I felt. We had walked into church that night in despair and we left with hope.

You know what’s crazy? That very night we saw a change in our son. And since then, his heart has been a little softer and a little quicker to respond to discipline. We saw the hand of God move in our situation – from our friends’ vulnerability that let us know we weren’t alone to our kid’s softened heart.

People need us to be real. Of course, I don’t mean “real” to the point that we’re trying to shock others with our sin nature. We don’t need to let it all hang out. I have struck out many times on this. We must be Spirit-filled to walk the fine line.

When we’re authentic, two things happen. One, we encourage others who are struggling in the same way. And two, we allow ourselves to be encouraged by others who have been there.

I was once an incredibly self-righteous person. I was proud of being good. Then God let me eat it and I saw what was really in my heart. There was nothing good there. I learned to surrender my weak self to Jesus every single day and let Him change my heart. If I stopped doing that, I’d turn right back into my old self. That is the scariest thought ever. The stakes are especially high now that I’m a wife and a mother. So I no longer care to portray a false sense of goodness or perfection. I want to show others that He is good and He has is all together. He can take a heart that craves sin and make it thirst for righteousness. He can take a Failure and make her a Victor. He can take our struggles and turn them into strengths. That’s what He’s done for me, what He’s doing for me, and what He’ll keep doing for me until He takes me home.

For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:5-7)

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Insights from the Interstate

OK, Siestas, Keith and I are on Interstate 10 in his blue Ford Super Duty (that always sounds like a diaper blow-out to me. I guess you can tell I’m shoulder-deep into grandkids these days) heading east on Interstate 10 back to Houston. Star and Geli are sacked out in the back seat, worn to a frazzle. We’ve been at our cactus ranch-land for four days while Keith “did miscellaneous heavy ranch stuff” (his words, not mine. I asked him how I should describe what he’d been doing) and I worked hard and blissfully from our porch on a writing project. Normally I would have waited till I got home to blog but, seriously, some pieces of information are simply too important to wait. Thank goodness for my trusty internet card t-boning my tiny little HP.

I have just had the onion rings of my life. OF MY LIFE. Actually, they came with Keith’s order (a side of beef, ground and shaped into something resembling a Goliath-burger). I wouldn’t have dared order onion rings for myself but what you eat off somebody else’s plate is cancelled out calorically by the exertion you use to reach across the table. No brainer.

Actually I didn’t want to stop and eat. I was anxious to get on home to AJ and the babies and just wanted to get something to-go and eat it in the truck. Keith said, “Lizabeth, there’s some kind of award-winning little cafe in Junction that I been dying to try ever since we got some land this direction. Whataya say we get a bite there?” I pouted half a second then felt my stomach growl. “Are you sure you’re not talking about a barbeque joint? Junction can do some barbeque. For the life of me, Honey, I’m trying to picture an award-winning cafe there.” He swore (not the bad-language kind) and declared. Even knew what side of the road it was on.

Lo and behold. We pulled up in a diagonal parking space outside a restaurant called “Isaacks” (hear that really loud. It was a Texas-size sign. One of our Siestas, Holly, just reminded me of the best part of the signage: underneath the name in bold letters is “Air-conditioned.” A make-or-breaker in Texas.) Clearly the restaurant has been there since Abraham courted Sarai and probably wooed her right there at the soda bar. That was before the Law when Abraham didn’t have to worry about kosher. Because I don’t think it’s kosher. I don’t know for sure. You can bet your last dollar it still has its original charm though. I didn’t see a single sign of a remodel in at least 50 years. Why fix somethin’ that ain’t broke? That’s what my Papaw used to ask.

Sho –nuff. (Also my Papaw) Right there at the check-out counter hanging just above the jumbo jar of super bubble was the plaque: “Texas Monthly: The 40 Best Small-town Cafes 2008.” I was beside myself. I do love me some culture about better than anybody you know. I knew we were in for a treat.

“Help yourself,” chirped Miss Helen, waving us to any spot we liked. She’s been waiting tables there since 1967. Yes, of course, I asked. Are you kidding me? You know how much I love all manner of women. And I’ve just got to say, the woman could still wear a mean pair of blue jeans. I told her so. Even tucked in her shirt. She was sassy. It was one of those kinds of restaurants with a lot of taxidermy on the wall. I wouldn’t have been a big surprised if Miss Helen shot ‘em and stuffed ‘em herself.

She handed us a couple of large, tri-fold menus with the heavy clear plastic covers so the proprietor can change out the menu when he has a special. Only I don’t think they’ve done much changing-out in a while. But let me be clear: some things don’t need changing.

Like Isaacks.

I got the Mexican dinner. Miss Helen said they made their chili gravy from scratch. That did it. I slapped the thing shut and handed it back like a woman who knew what she wanted. Keith first had a mind to get chicken fried chicken since Miss Helen told us it was one of the local favorites. I couldn’t have been happier. Knew I’d get to share. Then at the very last split-second, he threw a curve ball. “The hamburger and the onion rings.” Miss Helen jotted it down, nodded, and scurried into the kitchen for a refill of tea.

I was baffled. “You got a hamburger?”

“Yep.”

“Instead of their famous chicken fried chicken?”

“Yep.”

“Are you out of your mind? Or watching your figure?”

“They batter their own onion rings here. Homemade it says.”

And I am telling you as I live and breathe that, fifteen minutes later when Miss Helen emerged from the kitchen, it was like a beam of light from Heaven shone all around that 9-inch-high plate of golden battered, deep-fried onion rings. It was a sight to behold. I nearly put my hand over my heart. I think my eyes watered. Never, I said N-E-V-E-R, IN ALL MY LIFE have I ever tasted an onion ring that good.

The onion rings of my life.

I’ll be dadgum.

Surely you don’t think that could wait till I get home.

Come on and tell me the best kept little café-secret in your neck of the woods. Keith and I are road warriors, remember? We go WAY out of our way for a darn good meal.

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Big and High

While my kids are taking siestas, I wanted to give you some new pictures of Annabeth at six weeks old. I just figured out how to get them to sleep at the same time and I’m a new woman. Praise the Lord.

I took these first three earlier today since she was looking so cute in her first little Polo dress. It’s a little big on her still, but that’s okay because baby clothes only truly fit for a day. Daddy came home for lunch to watch a little March Madness and he was very taken with his littlest girl in her pink dress.

Sister was slightly more tolerant of Big Pink Bear this time.

She started smiling about a week ago. We get a few more each day.

These were after her Tuesday night Bible study debut.

This is what happens when daddies help fold the laundry. Little boy undies end up on someone’s pretty little head.

Yes, I did just post 10 pictures of my baby on this blog. Sorry. I have a sickness and it is called motherhood.

A few days ago Jackson was giving Annabeth some kisses on her head. I told him that right now her hair is short like his, but since she’s a girl, one day she’ll have long hair. He said, “Oh. Big! Big hair! High!” Apparently, he gets it.

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The Life of a Minister’s Wife

Part One

The Life of a Ministers Wife – part 1 from stephen proctor on Vimeo.

Part Two

The Life of a Ministers Wife – part 2 from stephen proctor on Vimeo.

Part Three

The Life of a Ministers Wife – part 3 from stephen proctor on Vimeo.

Many thanks to Stephen Proctor for these videos and to Rich Kalonick for our recap video. Thank you for serving us with your gifts!

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Ministers’ Wives Weekend Recap


LPL Minsters’ Wives Nashville TN from Rich Kalonick on Vimeo.

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Siesta Scripture Memory Team: Verse 6!

Calling all you hard working, head-filling, brain-bathing Scripture-memorizing Siestas! It’s time for Verse 6! No slackers here, young ladies! Let’s not be afraid of a little challenge. Did you know that memorization is one of the best ways on earth to keep our brains sharp? Yep. And I also heard a few days ago that all the multi-tasking we’re doing does not work the part of our brain that requires stimulation to tap into our brilliance. (Every single one of us has brilliance.) That part of our brain requires tremendous focus on one thing for extended periods of time, pushing our thoughts a solitary direction that stretches and works it beyond its normal exercise. That’s part of what Scripture memory does! Especially when you now have six verses to keep rolling around in your darling little brilliant brain.

I think it’s time for some extra incentive! (Drum roll please) Next January 22-23, 2010 (Friday evening and Saturday till noon like LPL’s), we at LPM have decided to throw a Siesta Scripture Memory Team Celebration Event (how’s that for a mouthful?) in Houston, Texas at my home church. Perfect timing right after our year of Scripture memorization wraps up. I will do the teaching and my good buddy, Travis Cottrell, will be with us to lead us in worship…and probably a few laughs. We will not take any registrations for the event until late next Fall. It will be ONLY for those who meet the following requirements and free of charge as our love and appreciation gift for seeing our goal all the way to the finish:

*You must officially sign in with your name, city and Scripture 20 out of 24 times on our Scripture memory posts on the 1st and 15th throughout 2009. I was really tempted to require all 24 times but then I remembered that a few of you very faithful memorizers didn’t know about it until the second month. The event is not for anybody out there who has memorized Scripture as much as we affirm you and cheer you on! It is for women in our Siesta community who have memorized Scripture as part of this 1st and 15th Scripture Memory Accountability Team. If you started with us late, you can double-up on your memory work several times and go back and sign in on older posts to make sure you accrue at least 20 sign-ins and verses.

*You must be able to say 10 of your 20-24 Scriptures from memory to one person during the course of the event. (Not up in front of everybody, mind you! I’ll simply have you break into two’s for a half hour at the event and you’ll say your Scriptures to one another.) For our meditators, you’ll need to paraphrase 10 of your Scriptures as closely as you can with your partner until it is clear that the Truth of it abides in you even if every word is not in a row. Remember, Siestas, if this seems hard that the purpose of the year was to memorize 24 Scriptures. We can do 10 of our choice with one another!

*You must bring your 2009 spiral with you with at least 20 memory verses recorded in it. It will be your ticket in the door. And it should look well-worn. Grin.

No exceptions to these requirements please. Please don’t ask next December and get me feeling all sappy. This is the way it needs to be so the event can provide a small, temporal reward for a year of hard work. The eternal and internal rewards are immeasurable.

*There will be prizes for those who have memorized all 24 verses and can say each one of them from memory to a partner at the event. We’ll make sure they feel affirmed without anybody else feeling lame. Everybody there with have accomplished something HUGE!

It will be so much fun! The smaller size of the group and the process we’ve all been through together will make it really intimate and special. Work hard and come! Those of you who live far away, the event will be free but you need to start saving your money for other expenses. This is a great time to start looking for flight deals!

Late next Fall many of you will know whether or not you’re going to meet those requirements and we’ll begin taking registrations then. My home church is Houston’s First Baptist on 7401 Katy Freeway in case you want to begin looking for where you might try to stay. I don’t mind saying that we have the best food and best shopping in the whole wide world and our Januarys are mild so you’re probably not going to get snowed in. Melana, save your dollars and bring us Miesta Moose! Warm in Alaska, we can make you a whole lot warmer!! Canadian Siestas, fly south like a snow bird to Texas!!!

PLEASE DO THE WORK AND COME!! It will be such a blast!

OK, now for my selection for Verse 6. It’s a Scripture we studied on our last night of The Inheritance Bible Study in Houston and, boy, do I need it and, boy, do I want the promise it offers. Again, you are welcome to share mine or offer your own. As usual, names, cities, and Scriptures only, please Siestas!

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:9 NIV

Here’s part of what makes this special. The New Testament translates two primary Greek words as forms of “bless” or “blessed.” One of them (lexical “makarios”) describes a state of being. A resultant condition, so to speak, like those described in the Beatitudes and in many other parts of the NT in reference to those who belong to God through Christ. It basically means to live in the face (coram Deo) and favor of God. The second one (lexical “eulogia”/”eulogeo”) is the conferring or speaking of blessing. As my NT Lexical Aids say, it means “to confer blessing upon, call down divine favor…” The former is a state of being. A beautiful thing indeed. The latter is blessing spoken. Also a beautiful thing, especially for those of us to whom words are a primary love language. It is this latter word for blessing – the one that involves something spoken – that is used in 1 Peter 3:9. The gist of the exhortation, restated from God’s point of view, is this:

“When you use your mouth to bless those who have insulted you or spoken evil to you, I, Myself, will speak blessing over you that you will receive as part of your inheritance.”

When we speak blessings over others who were HARD to bless, He speaks blessing over us. And, let’s admit it, sometimes we’re hard to bless, too.

We’re going to get plenty of opportunities to practice this spiritual discipline because, as the verse clearly states, TO THIS WE WERE CALLED. We were called to manifest the Spirit of Christ through our words when someone insults us. It’s a hard part of the high calling of God but to this we were called SO THAT we may inherit a blessing.

Pretty good, huh?

OK, Siestas, I’ll hop off of here and let you start getting your Scriptures in.

Let me say in conclusion for all of those who prayed for the ministers’ wives’ event this weekend that it was one of the most meaningful weekends I’ve ever been part of. I will never forget it. We are preparing something for you to get a little taste of it so look for that later in the week. It will include some of those comments you (understandably) wanted to read so badly.

I love you, Dear Ones, and I am honored to be your servant. STAY IN THE WORD whether you’re memorizing it or not!!

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Melissa’s Theological Wrestling Match: Reverence for God Revisited

A few months ago I wrote a blog called “Keeping it Real and Reverence for God”.  There I admitted that even though I resonate with my generation’s passion for spiritual authenticity, I find myself uncomfortable with some of the crass and colloquial statements that we sometimes use to express our feelings of anger or confusion toward God.  It wasn’t just a coincidence that I had just finished reading Leviticus and gotten the feeling that perhaps many of us had forgotten the awe-inspiring nature of the God at whom we are hurling these comments. I made the following statement there that summarizes the tenor of my blog-post:

“The hard truth is that we are going to endure times that we feel God is absent or even that He is forsaking us in a certain situation but we should be careful how, when, and to whom we verbalize it. Perhaps, in smaller matters that mostly have to do with out distrust in God, we may need to repent of our unbelief.  In matters of great disaster that leave our heads completely spinning in devastation, perhaps we should first confess our anger and grief in our personal prayer lives or maybe even with an individual and very trusted accountability partner.  He obviously knows when we are angry with Him, so we should confess this to Him, plead with Him, and pour out our hearts to Him in truth, butmust we always publicly express our displeasure toward God?”  

I tried to make a distinction between comments we make to God privately in prayer or whatnot and what we say to God or about God in a public forum (for example, a blog or a sermon, etc).  And then I made a qualification that I hope you caught.  I said, “Perhaps you have better answers and solutions than I do.”  This was my attempt to warn you that I even though I felt fair enough warrant to say what I did, I also knew there was much more to the story. 

And there is. 

And I’ve been doing a lot of reading in that direction because I never want to get too stuck in my theological viewpoints that I miss out on allowing Scripture to knock down my tightly held interpretations.  I think sometimes we search Scripture in order to look for support on viewpoints we already maintain, when we really should expect Scripture more often than not to confront and destroy those viewpoints- after all, we are human and we’ve been wrong before, right?  So we can be wrong again.  I have on occasion seen people maintain viewpoints that are so obviously contrary to what Scripture says in effort to defend a position that they have held for many years.  To see this sort of behavior firsthand is astonishing.  It is also one of my greatest personal fears.  So I did more study because I felt there was more depth to this tension that we experience as Christians- this tension of fearing and showing reverence to God while at the same time maintaining confidence to approach Him and voice our despair and unbelief to Him.

In addition to looking through some of Jeremiah, the Psalms, Job, and Lamentations, I’ve read two things that have caught my attention lately: a book called “The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith” by Christopher J.H. Wright and an article called “If God is Good and Sovereign, Why Lament?” by Nicholas Wolterstorff (published in Calvin Theological Journal 2001).  Both of these publications have me thinking a whole lot about the literature that reflects a voice of protest and lament in the Bible itself.

So, What is Lament?

To use Wolterstorff’s explanation “The lament, at its heart, is giving voice to the suffering that accompanies deep loss, whatever that loss may be.  Lament is not about suffering.  Lament is not concerning suffering.  Lament does not count the stages and try to identify the stage in which one finds oneself.  Lament is the language of suffering, the voicing of suffering.  Behind lament are tears over loss.  Lament goes beyond the tears to voice the suffering.  To voice suffering, one must name it- identify it.  Sometimes that is difficult, even impossible.  The memories are repressed so that the suffering is screened from view.  Or one is aware of it, in a way, but in naming it, identifying it for what it is, would be too painful, too embarrassing.  So one resists.  Then, one cannot lament.  One suffers without being able to lament.  Lament is an achievement.   Lament is more, though, than the voicing of suffering.  The mere voicing of one’s suffering is complaint, not lament.  Lament is a cry to God.  This presupposes, of course, that lament is the action of a believer” (42-43).

Wright also made a comment that hit me in between the eyes.  I hope you will read it all the way through:

“In the Bible, which we believe is God’s Word, such that we find in it is what God wished to be there, there is plenty of lament, protest, anger, and baffled questions.  The point we should notice (possibly to our surprise) is that it is all hurled at God, not by his enemies but by those who loved and trusted him most.  It seems, indeed, that it is precisely those who have the closest relationship with God who feel most at liberty to pour out their pain and protest to God- without fear or reproach.  Lament is not only allowed in the Bible; it is modeled for us in abundance.  God seems to want to give us many words with which to fill in our complaint forms as to write out thank-you notes.  Perhaps this is because whatever amount of lament the world causes us to express is a drop in the ocean compared to the grief in the heart of God himself at the totality of suffering that only God can comprehend” (50-51).

And then he says something even more striking:

“It surely cannot be accidental that in the divinely inspired book of Psalms there are more psalms of lament and anguish that of joy and thanksgiving.  These are words that God has actually given us.  God has allowed them a prominent place in his authorized songbook.  We need both forms of worship in abundance as we live in this wonderful, terrible world…I feel that the language of lament is seriously neglected in the church.  Many Christians seem to feel that somehow it can’t be right to complain to God in the context of corporate worship when we should all feel happy.  There is an implicit pressure to stifle our real feelings because we are urged by pious merchants of emotional denial, that we ought to have “faith” (as if the moaning psalmists didn’t).  So we end up giving external voice to pretended emotions we do not really feel, while hiding the real emotions we are struggling with deep inside.  Going to worship can become an exercise in pretence and concealment, neither of which can possibly be conducive for a real encounter with God.  So, in reaction to some appalling disaster or tragedy, rather than cry out our true feelings to God, we prefer other ways of responding to it.

It’s all part of God’s curse on the earth.  

It’s God’s judgment. 

It’s meant for a warning.

It’s ultimately for our own good.

God is sovereign so that must make it all OK in the end” (52).

And then comes the real clincher.  Wright says, “But our suffering friends in the Bible didn’t choose that way.  They simply cry out in pain and protest against God- precisely because they know God.  Their protest is born out of the jarring contrast between what they know and what they see” (53).

Wolterstorff gives two main parts to a lament: First, lament is a cry to God for deliverance:  “Deliver me, O God, from this suffering” (see Psalm 22:19-21a as an example).  Second, lament is a cry to God of “Why? “Why, O God is this happening?” (Psalm 22: 1-2 as an example) I don’t understand it…I cannot discern your hand in this darkness” (44).  It is crucial as believers in Christ that the “the cry occurs within the context of the yet of enduring faith and ongoing praise, for in raising Christ from the dead, we have God’s word and deed that he will be victorious in the struggle” (52). 

Now I’ve never uttered a lament in my life.  I’ve complained, don’t get me wrong but I’ve never composed or verbally expressed something of my own in the form of a biblical lament.  If I am to be honest, I must admit that my personality tends to want to err on the side of reverence for God and unwavering trust no matter the horror of the situation rather than choose the route of raw authenticity.  I don’t say this to boast, for I am obviously numbered among those “pious merchants of emotional denial” who lay pressure on people to stifle their real feelings that Wright so eloquently rebukes.  And I am openly grappling with Wright’s words.  I think he may be right about me.  Just like those who I think have stepped over a boundary and offended God in their attempt to be “authentic”, I think in my attempt to “reverence” God I may have been emotionally aloof and callous toward real human suffering.  In this I have ignored my own Savior’s haunting words, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Over the past few weeks of studying lament and protest in the biblical text, I’ve felt a humanness that I don’t always feel.  I haven’t felt as dismissive of suffering or brokenness.  I feel a little more in touch with reality.  So this is me being theologically vulnerable with you today.  And it ain’t easy.

Now back to our previous issue- the paradox.  The paradox is something like this- we have confidence to voice our despair and our confusion to God but at the same time we must remember to whom we speak.  Now in this blog post I am trying to come clean that I may have swung too far on the pendulum, but there is of course the polar opposite extreme.  There are a couple of passages that draw a line for us concerning our protests and laments to God that I think we must keep in mind.  Psalm 73 is a passage that often gets my attention.  The Psalmist Asaph compares the righteous and the wicked and he despairs that the wicked are carefree and prosperous.  Why do the faithful exert so much energy when there is no advantage for them over the wicked?  He then lets us in on something- he wouldn’t speak this out loud to others because he knows he would betray God’s children. He refrained from speaking disturbing words to the people of God because he knew they could cause serious and perhaps lasting damage.  This is profound.  In addition to Psalm 73, there is a fascinating passage in Jeremiah where Jeremiah says something absolutely SHOCKING:            

“You understand, O LORD; remember me and care for me.  Avenge me on my persecutors…When your came, I ate them; They were my joy and my heart’s delight, For I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty…Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?  Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?” (Jer. 15:15-17)

 Okay, so Jeremiah has just asked God why his pain is unending even though he has lived faithfully and in painful isolation for God’s very name, and then he says to the Lord, “Will you be to me like a spring that fails?”  This is bold, Jeremiah, very bold.  This is Scripture, mind you, and I am getting uncomfortable.  God then says:

“If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman” (Jer. 15:19).

Here God’s words to Jeremiah show that even though we have a voice with Him, there is a line that we can cross when we protest and lament.  Jeremiah may need to watch his mouth at this point.  The Lord has deemed Jeremiah’s words to be worthless, though of course He allows him the opportunity to repent.  There are boundaries to our protests.

The point of this blog was to take you through a theological journey I am going through- one of dealing with the paradox of the Christian life.  As Wolterstorff pointed out in his essay, there have been many in our theological tradition resistant to following the biblical writer’s example and fully partaking in lament (Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin are just a few examples).  And they had their reasons.  Some of them are pretty good reasons.  For example, Calvin would have voiced his suffering but would not have cried out “Why?” since he believed he knew the answer to that question: suffering is sent from the hand of God for our good.  As Wolterstorff says, “We must choose, then, between the massive weights of our theological tradition, on the one hand, and following the psalmist and permitting ourselves to lament, on the other.  Should we choose against the tradition, that choice must not be quick, or glib…We must know what we are doing when we make the choice; we must realize the consequences” (50).  Wolterstorff who wrote in the wake of the early death of his own son chose to lament but he is careful to caution us to make our choice intelligently.

Be assured- these are theological questions and I know they’re tough.  These are questions concerning how we apply and interpret biblical texts, whether or not we feel that we have the freedom to speak in the same way the biblical authors spoke.  And if we believe we do have that freedom, then just how far is too far?  Where is the line?  So, faced with the paradox and the promise that some amount of pain is inevitably coming your direction- how will you respond?  Will you swing toward the direction of refusing to verbalize your deepest questions and uncertainties or will you lament like the Psalmist or like the prophet Jeremiah?  And beyond that, do you think lament should be used more commonly in corporate worship contexts?

As far as I am concerned these are very difficult questions without any simple answers, but this doesn’t keep me from asking you where you stand in the midst of all of this and what insight you may have. 

Praise the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph; the God of David, Solomon, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, Peter, and Paul.  Praise the God who carries His people through a dark and broken world and grants us bright hope for an everlasting tomorrow.  The God who will one day light the beacons of heaven, sound the trumpets, and until that great day scatters glimpses of triumph for us through all the tragedy. 

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