Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Reading the Bible is messing with my theology!

Those who have read my blog recently know that I've undertaken a Chronological Bible reading plan this year. I'm also attempting to read with new eyes...not relying on past sermons and teachings. I want to try and see these stories for the "first time." To be honest, I'm finding that this reading the Bible is messing with my theology!

Oh, I like to say I believe in God's saving grace - that it is based totally on His love and I realize I do not deserve this kind of favor...but I'm lying to myself. To be very honest, I live my life in such a way to try and "deserve" His acceptance. I am a very "American" Christian. I hate to admit it but I feel like if I am "good enough" I will somehow receive the favor of God. Then I read about some of the people in the Bible that God favored. 

It started when I read about Lot - I mean for crying out loud, the man wanted to offer his daughters to a crowd of ruffians to protect angels! Okay, so he didn't know they were angels, but still - HIS DAUGHTERS!!!!!?????!!!! And God saved him. 

Then I read about Abraham. The man was a liar! Then there came Jacob - the man was a cheater. Both of these men were blessed by God. Okay, this is seriously messing with my theology.

I wonder why God blessed these men. That's when it starts to hit me...it really wasn't because they were somehow holy or righteous...they just believed. 

Is it possible that God uses people not because they are special or doing what is right? That really doesn't work with my good Southern-girl way of looking at life. I always figured if you did what was right, life was supposed to treat you right. Yeah, I know my past history should be evidence enough that it doesn't work that way, but what can I say...I'm a bit dense at times. Still, I wonder if we don't all do this in a way. We have a very "American" way of seeing things, a pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of faith...but it doesn't work that way. 

Why does God include stories about patriarchs of faith that are less than exemplary? Maybe it's so we'll realize it's not something earned, and it's not something that always makes sense. His plan is greater than ours and sometimes we get to be a part of that plan - whether we 'deserve' it or not. (And to be honest, it's always NOT.)

The following is from a devotion I read today from youversion.com...it just seems to fit.

"Whenever God does something new, he involves people — often unlikely people, frequently surprised and alarmed people. He asks them to trust him in a new way, to put aside their natural reactions, to listen humbly for a fresh word and to act on it without knowing exactly how it's going to work out. That's what he's asking all of us to do this Lent. Reading the Bible without knowing in advance what God is going to say takes humility. Like Joseph, we may have to put our initial reactions on hold and be prepared to hear new words, to think new thoughts, and to live them out. We all come with our own questions, our own sorrows and frustrations, our own longings. God will deal with them in his own way, but he will do so as part of his own much larger and deeper purposes. Who knows what might happen, this year, if even a few of us were prepared to listen to God's word in scripture in a new way, to share the humility of Joseph, and to find ourselves caught up in God's rescue operation?"

So how has reading the Bible messed with your theology today?

Isaiah 55:8-11

The Message (MSG)
 8-11"I don't think the way you think.
   The way you work isn't the way I work."
         God's Decree.
"For as the sky soars high above earth,
   so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
   and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
   and don't go back until they've watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
   producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
   not come back empty-handed.
They'll do the work I sent them to do,
   they'll complete the assignment I gave them.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What if...

The past few days I've noticed a "theme" in a lot of what I'm seeing and reading. It has to do with reading the Bible. 

This year, I decided - probably for the upteenth time that I would FINALLY read through the Bible. I've been a Christian since I was a kid, and I read the Bible in bits and pieces but I've never read it all the way through. This year, however, I discovered a program called Youversion.com and it would allow me to read the Bible chronologically in whatever version I wanted...I chose THE MESSAGE version. I started out strong...and as of now I am currently WAY behind. I don't know what happened, but somehow I just got behind.

Unfortunately, I'm not alone in this. I read this in an article today by columnist Michael Brown, according to data from the Dawkins survey,....[of people who call themselves Christian] “The majority (60%) have not read any part of the Bible, independently and from choice, for at least a year.” Really? Wow! Not any part?

I'm not one to be judgmental of these people - I mean after all I'm about 3 weeks behind where I should be on my own "reading plan", but I find that I look for at least those "bites" of scripture every day. I guess I've become a bit of a "nibbler" in regards to my daily Bread. Still, I've been confronted by this in the past few days.

I have been thinking about HOW I read the Bible as well. I am somewhat of a "skim it" reader. I guess that started in college when I had to read massive amounts of material in a short amount of time. I tend to fast forward through passages - sort of like skimming over a plate of food and picking out the chicken chunks from among the veggies (oh, come on - admit it...you do that too!) 

As a teacher, however, I'm learning from my students an amazing lesson. When we read together, they tend to read s-l-o-w-l-y, and then we stop and discuss. They are reading this for the FIRST time. In doing this, I find nuggets I might otherwise have missed with my regular race-car reading...connections I might have otherwise missed. What if I read my Bible this way?

The other thing I've noticed is that I tend to read thinking about all the "sermons" I've ever heard on a passage, or I fall into the pattern of thinking that I already know this story so I don't even really read it. I guess my mind takes a detour.  That got me to thinking, I wonder what would happen if I could find a way to read the Bible "for the first time."

This morning, I read in a Beth Moore devotional a comment of how people in every culture learn from stories and how they TREASURE the Bible. That is what the Bible is - a collection of true stories that illustrate the power and love of our Father - it SHOULD be treasured. I'm afraid I've taken it for granted simply because I've forgotten how precious it really is. I've forgotten that these are stories written by people who were experiencing them for the very first time.

What if I somehow look at these stories with new eyes? What if I read them in a "brand new, never heard the Bible before, new believer" kind of way? What would I discover? What would I see that has been there all along but I've missed it because I THOUGHT I knew the story? What if...

What if I just quit talking/writing about it and scooted back over to youversion.com and caught up on my reading? Later my friends....I'm off to try reading "for the first time."

John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

John 20:30-31 "Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it."

Friday, February 17, 2012

What do you see?

Tonight, my husband and son and I were watching a video called "Beware of Christians." It's basically a documentary of four young Christian men traveling in Europe and honestly asking themselves what does it mean to be a Christian....not an American Christian, but a Christian. Very interesting video and great for discussion with a teen who might be headed to college in a few years, but that's not what caught my eye. What stopped me in my visual tracks as it were, were some shots of the cities they visited. They looked a lot like these....

What do you see?

How about this one?

This one is a bit more modern...

All of these are of course breath-taking. When I asked my husband what he thought of when he looked at these cities, his answer was "old". That makes sense - some of these places are hundreds of years old...but that's not what hit me.

As I sat and watched the program and looked at the pictures of these ancient cities, I was struck by the thought of how many people have passed through these streets. What were their lives like? Were they happy? Did they know heartache? Were their lives full? Did they have families?

Did they know Jesus?

When I see these cities, I see people and my heart feels a strange ache for them. What if I looked at the places around me with these same "eyes"? Would it change how I live each day? If I saw the homes I pass on the way to work as people, would it make a difference? If I saw the cars and office buildings and shops and schools with these eyes, would I live my days differently?

How about you? What do you see?

John 4:35 - "Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Even stronger men...

I'll never forget the first time I saw him. I walked into the art class my first day of college and there he was. He had long blond hair, patch work jeans and earth shoes - it was the 70's after all. There he was, sitting on the air conditioner, right above the sign that said, "Do not sit on the air conditioner," and it was love at first sight.

Okay, so maybe love is a strong word, but I did know immediately that this was someone who would be very special in my life. Looking back, I had no idea just how special. I am, of course, describing the first day I saw my husband, Dale.

This Valentine's Day, I decided to take a moment and tell you about one of the strongest men I know - my husband.

To say that Dale is steadfast is an understatement. This is a man who I have had the privilege to know for over 34 years and never once have I seen him waiver. Life has not always been kind to us - it never is to anyone. Still in all these years, I have never seen him lose sight of God. Through the loss of jobs, a child, even dreams, Dale has continued to hold fast to hope in the promises of God. That's strength!

Dale is a wonderful father to our two children. Some people don't stop to think what great strength and endurance that requires. Raising children is a lot like running a marathon - and raising teenagers is like running a marathon coupled with a warrior dash! I have had the honor of watching my husband become one of the most caring dads I have ever seen. That is endurance.

Dale is a husband...I started to use a lot of adjectives, but they all started to sound like fluff compared to the depth of the term. Dale is that kind of husband you read about in Ephesians...the one that loves his wife as Christ loves the church and gave himself up for it. Anyone that knows me would probably say a loud AMEN that living with me CAN'T be easy. I am loud, opinionated, strong-willed, and easily distracted. Housekeeping has never been a gift of mine, and - to use an old joke - I treat him like a god, placing burnt offerings before him each night. Truthfully, he does most of the cooking - probably out of necessity and pure need for survival. Yet in all this, he shows me love. He supports my crazy dreams and  believes in me more than I do myself. That is fortitude.

Dale is extremely talented. He writes songs, has an amazing ability in art, and is just plain smart. Dale knows something about almost everything - or he can figure it out. He has the smart that can't be found in simply going to school - he learns from life. He can take the most difficult concepts and cut through all the clutter (that's a nice word for manure) and speak truth into the situation. He's one of those people who can explain the most difficult concepts in such a way that a child can understand them - that takes a "smart" that most people never find. That is power.

Yep, strength, endurance, fortitude, power - Dale.

This Valentine's Day, my blog is dedicated husbands and to the strongest man I know - my husband.
Feel free to comment and brag on your own "strong man" this Valentine's Day.

Ephesians 5:25

The Message (MSG)
 25-28Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor—since they're already "one" in marriage.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Strong women

Lately, I've noticed a fascination with strong women. TV shows like NCIS, Bones, Unforgettable, and many others all feature a female lead that can truly hold her own against the bad guys. One of my favorite movies from a few years back is Miss Congeniality; Sandra Bullock made us look at pageant beauties in a whole new light.

On facebook, you can even "like" a page called "Strong is the New Skinny". Don't you just love it! Seems like everyone is getting on the "tough girl" wagon. Nike even has a new commercial featuring a woman in the gym who is putting the guys to shame.

When I was a teenager, the female role models looked much different. While I'm not quite the "Twiggy" generation, fitness wasn't really something anyone had really discovered. Girls might have been thin, but muscles didn't really seem to exist. In the movies, the women were always victims. They were all in need of someone to "rescue" them, and they often relied on manipulation and trickery to "get the guy". It's a wonder that any of us managed to move beyond those mental images...

I'll be honest, I love the idea of becoming a strong woman, too. I want to be able to hold my own at work, in a fight, or in any situation. On my computer at work, I have a picture of Mila Kunis as her character from the end of The Book of Eli. Inside I want to be that warrior woman - facing whatever the future holds - defending her home and those she loves.

I think that while women want to be strong, we have to admit that at times what we need most to have that someone we know will allow us to put our guard down and simply rest. For some of us, that person is our husband. We are lucky enough to have someone who supports our desire to be strong, who is unafraid of a "warrior" woman. They see their wives strength as a reason to celebrate and are not intimidated by it. (I guess it takes a real man to not be afraid of a woman who can "lift her weight" and has a punch that would knock out anyone foolish enough to mess with her or their family.) 

But no matter if you have that significant other or not, you can have that someone to run to. 
Jesus has promised to be a strong tower to where we can run. He is our true "rescuer". God is truly the One who allows us to lay down our sword and rest from the daily battle.  "He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me." Psalms 144:2

I also know that God doesn't have a problem with "strong women"; after all, he included stories of women like Deborah in the Bible. She was a warrior, a judge, and a leader. Think Abigail - she was a strong woman who saved her whole household by bravely facing danger. Esther - that was a strong woman who faced not just fear, but possible death in order to save a nation. All examples that godly women can be strong! Strong women are able to do what God calls them to and stand in the gap for those they love!

As I think about it, all these examples of "strong women" we are seeing on tv and in the movies are just the world recognizing what God has always known and planned. We are more than conquerors in Him who gives us strength.....the world wants what God has promised - whether they know it or not. Yep, strong is good - especially when it comes from our Father God.

Psalm 18:2 -  "The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The flowers bloom...

Today, the weather was so beautiful I decided to go out for a run at a nearby school. Afterwards, as I walked across the field next to the track, I noticed those tiny blue flowers that bloom right before spring arrives. They caught my attention and reminded me of a blog I wrote over 4 years ago. Decided it might be something I needed to revisit and share.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of helping with the Labor Your Legs Race with the Pine Belt Pacers. As I was setting up to be a course monitor, I noticed a small patch of white flowers growing alongside the road underneath my feet. Since I had a few minutes waiting on the first runners, I stooped down to take a closer look.

There were quite a few of these delicate little flowers, all in full bloom. No one probably ever notices them...they are so small and close to the ground. That didn't matter. They bloomed anyway. After all, they weren't necessarily blooming for someone else anyway. They were blooming because God had created them to.

Now I know I am using personification, but it made me think of the verse in the Bible that talks about "consider the lilies". Well, I am considering the wildflowers. They may be small, not nearly as spectacular as a rose or some other more noticeable flower, but they bloom just the same. They brighten the small area where they are. I was fortunate enough to be there to see them, but they weren't blooming for me. They bloomed simply "as unto the Lord."

Would that I could live my Christian life this way. Caring not for recognition, but "blooming" where I am as unto the Lord. Maybe I will be noticed, maybe not. I, like many others, wish I could be great at SOMETHING. I run, but I'm not really that fast. I write, but only a blog that very few will ever read or care about. I fail on a regular basis as a wife and mother. I teach, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for "Teacher of the Year" award. Let's be honest, I'm never going to be the greatest at anything....except being me. But really, that's all I've ever needed to be.

It would be so amazing to be considered the best at something, but maybe that's not my destiny. Maybe my life will consist simply of "blooming", even if no one notices. I live for the day when I can hear my Savior say, "Well done." Come to think of it, maybe that one little flower was also blooming for me. Perhaps, that's a part of the plan. We are to "bloom" as unto the Lord, then when the time is right, someone will see...and a life will be changed. Lord, help me to live my life as unto You...simply because that's what You created me to do.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

He notices me!

I have spent much of my life hoping to be noticed. I am just so "average." I am not the pretty girl, or the cheerleader, or the athlete, or the smart one, or pretty much any of the things that people notice....but I am loud and sometimes a little funny.

I hate being the loud one - seriously. It is a part of my life that I so wish I could change, but I do see how God uses it in my life. My voice is very distinctive and can be heard above the noise. I often say that I have been accused of many things, but not being able to be heard has never been one of them. As a teacher, that works for me....yet I often still hate that part of who I am.

I learned at an early age that I could make people laugh. I don't take that gift lightly for there is far too little laughter in this world. Nothing gives me the rush of hearing someone laugh at what I have said while they look at life in a different way. I love that people expect to laugh when they are with me.

Yet I realized the other day that I have spent much of my life just hoping to be "noticed" - surprising for someone who is just so hard to ignore.

I came to this realization during a Bible study the other night when we were talking about how our relationship with our fathers in some ways determines how we see our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Now, I had a wonderful relationship with my daddy - I always figured he pretty much hung the moon. (Yes, I know that would have been my Heavenly Father that did that, but I thought God had probably used Daddy to at least help with the positioning.) Still, I spent much of my growing up hoping that Daddy would notice me. When I was young, I would go to him and uncross his legs so I could climb up into his lap. I knew he loved me, but I wanted him to stop and pay attention to just me.

My daddy never said a lot - he was usually working, and I now realize, he was tired. Still, if I got a smile out of him, it made my day. I just wanted him to stop for a minute from all he had to do and notice me - to tell me I was good. I valued his opinion over that of the world. I wanted him to simply notice me....

Yep, as I sat in that group of women on a Wednesday night, I realized that I just hope that in the midst of millions of people, I will somehow be noticed. That is why when we read the scripture from Matthew 6:26-33, it took my breath away. I have read that passage so many times before; but that night, sitting around the plastic table with so many others, I saw something more....God notices me!

He notices me!!! He sees me trying so hard to find His will. He sees the times when I am scared and still moving forward. He sees my tears when I am alone and I think no one knows. He sees my smile when I have a tiny victory. I am not someone who stands out as special in any way, but somehow in the middle of all the busy-ness, He notices me!

He hears me when I'm saying nothing, but my heart is crying out, "Please see me." How is it possible that in the midst of all these people who have so much more faith than me, who are so much kinder than me, who are doing such great things - He hears me?

I realize that compared to many, my life is wonderful! I have a roof over my head, food on my table, two wonderful (most of the time) children, a husband who is also an amazing father to our children, a job, my health...I could go on and on. Yet somehow God notices my longing glances through the window of Life's bakery and gives me not only what I need, but sometimes the very things I hope for. He notices me.

I long to be special to Him. This week, I realized once again that I don't have to beg my Father to allow me to sit in His lap to get His attention....He already notices me. I'm not just one in a million - I am His. He's not too busy for me. He sees how hard I am trying and how tired I have become. He sees my frustration and how I stand there, wondering what to do. He notices me. Oh, how I wish I had to words to truly express how much that means.

Guess what - He notices you too...honestly I don't know how since He's paying such great attention to me, but He does. This week, may you be completely overwhelmed with the knowledge that you are special to your Father; I know I am. He notices me.

Matthew 6:26-33

The Message (MSG)
 25-26"If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
 27-29"Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.
 30-33"If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with gettingso you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.