October, 2017

Hey. I haven’t written on this ole’ thing since 2012. I even had it set to “hidden” for the past few years. And, after reading a handful of early posts, I came to but one conclusion. I was funnier back then. Something about the turbulence of life really gets at you. I don’t think I’m old enough to be funny again. I used to take time to notice the simple things, the quirks of life, if you will. Now, things like dusting and vacuuming and writing curriculum and such…all just feel so serious. So even though I’m out of practice, let me try to reclaim some of that levity I once had. Even now, as I sit in my living room, I’m staring at the little basket of toys I have on the floor for my dog. There’s a “bunny” in that basket. Navy (my dog), naturally chewed the ears off, so now it just looks like some kind of deformed dinosaur gerbil. She is obsessed with that thing. Even though she chewed the ears off, I really think it was out of love. It’s kind of like her little baby. Other toys she destroys within days, but this thing has kept all of its fluff. Navy is gentle with it. Soft. Tender. Maybe she knew it would look better without ears. Maybe she has a sense of humor.

Well, I want to talk about God for a minute because I feel like I am supposed to. There’s no real obligation outside of the fabricated expectation that I am a Christian writing on a blog and that’s just what Christians who write blog posts do. Apparently. They talk about God. Today I am tired of talking about God, so I’m going to talk about how tired I am of talking about God. He really is amazing and the reason I live, breathe, and love. But often in ministry is it can feel like we spend a great deal of time talking ABOUT God. Sometimes it can feel like I spend so much time talking about him that it squeezes out time WITH him. That would be like skipping a date with your husband to go get marriage advice from your girlfriends. There’s a foolishness to that. And if you do that enough, it eventually accomplishes the exact opposite of your intentions. One of the gifts of the church I work at is the emphasis they place on “abiding” in Christ, which is a Christiany way of describing spending time with God. Burnout is often rooted in the imbalance of pouring out without being filled up. It is also rooted in improper boundaries. I would not say that I am burnt out. But I can definitely say that if I catch myself in these moments and don’t abide, that’s exactly what I’m setting myself up for.

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Does this make me a hippy?

God loves to give me “now whatcha gonna do?” scenarios. Like the time in college I said to myself after being in junior high ministry for a couple years, “that was a good run, but I don’t think I’ll be doing junior high ministry again.” And then I get this call to work with 160 Jhigh students @ Faithbridge. God was like, “NOW whatcha gonna do?”

Or that time I said to myself, “I never want to live in Houston.” Then I found out Faithbridge was in the Houston suburbs. “NOW whatcha gonna do?”

For example.

 
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I remember when I learned about what they call the ‘social justice gospel.’ Depending on the evangelical community in which you find yourself, the definitions of this concept vary. But as a teen & college student, I simply thought this was a group of people that got together to help make the world a better place but never bothered to share the Gospel. I thought the social justice people were more concerned with being good people rather than making disciples. Nothing distinguished them from secular philanthropists. So I, like many (but definitely not ALL), permitted the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction. I appropriated a preach-the-Gospel mindset and forewent a champion-the-cause-of-the-oppressed mentality for fear of affiliating myself with the social justice-y hippies.

But my perusal of the Scriptures forced me to broaden my scope. Tough to read the Bible and walk away thinking that our only job is to communicate with words. (That said, if the Gospel is at all a cerebral concept, there is something to be said for verbal education – helping it sink in cognitively by literally teaching people about it.)

 
Tonight one of our trip leaders gave us a set of four passages to read together: Micah 2:1-2; Micah 3:5, 9-12; Micah 6:8; & Isaiah 58:1-14. There are three other girls on my team, and tonight the four of us read those passages. Over the past 4 or 5 years, they have become very dear to my heart. And if you read those verses, one thing is clear: God is highly interested in justice. Justice, it would seem, is an expectation for those who know him. A sure-fire way to ensure God won’t hear your prayers: tolerate oppression.
 
Weighty.
 
Now whatcha gonna do?

Sweet Blog

So…my sister’s blog is way cooler than this one. Check it out: www.speakingoftruth.com.

on suffering…

[This is going to be very VERY long.]

If God doesn’t intervene in every rape, molestation, or murder, that must mean he either isn’t loving or isn’t powerful.

This is one of the most forefront concerns in the minds of those resistant to God, and even those who believe but still wonder. And understandably so. The presence of evil does lead us to ask – if God is real, then why, God? Why?

Some say it is impossible to know and we just have to have faith that God knows what he’s doing and leave it at that. While I do think faith is required, I think an answer like that doesn’t give enough credit to the revelation of God’s purposes and intentions found in Scripture. I appreciate the faith of that answer, but it creates another problem. It essentially concedes that we can’t know. While, of course, we can’t know everything, to imply that the Bible is silent on this issue is biblically naive, and it leaves people with a legitimate question without a legitimate answer. It adds fuel to the fire by suggesting that God didn’t care enough to even explain himself. While it would seem like a God-honoring response, it does cruel injustice to his self-revelation.

I think many have tried to answer this question by explaining the weight of sin. And I think they are right to start there. Evil and decay and death are derivative of sin and in direct opposition to a righteous and holy God. We can trace it back to Satan, when he was cast out of Heaven for seeking his own glory. All is as it should be when God receives the glory due him. Everything is right and beautiful and in sync. We call it Shalom – peace. Thus, in diverting the glory due to God and applying it to anything less worthy shalom is disrupted, and there are consequences. That is why Satan was cast out of heaven.

Then God created the world.

He created it AS IT SHOULD BE. It was exactly the way he wanted it, in perfect equilibrium and shalom. All things glorified him and thrived as a result. But shalom was again disrupted when Adam and Eve, of their own free will, succumbed to the temptation of Satan to be “like God” and diverted glory to themselves. In that moment, things just….broke. God did not disrupt shalom, Adam and Eve did. God, in his perfection and holiness, stayed true to himself and justly enforced the consequences of falling grotesquely short of his glory. Think about it, why do people go to jail? They go to jail for the acts of murder and stealing, but what is at the root of those acts? Dehumanization. People steal because they place a higher value on objects than they do the individuals that rightfully possess those objects. People go to jail for murder because murder was an expression of hatred, a devaluation of the individual. Murder makes the statement that the individual is not valuable. And it shows that the murderer places a higher value on his or her own comfort level in this world (by extinguishing that which made him or her uncomfortable) than the life of the person killed. All in all, it is a misappropriation of value. This is what compels our justice system (ideally).

Why then do we question God for exercising justice on those who misappropriate value from Creator to created? We label him unfair for allowing death and decay to be in the world, when really, it is the natural consequence of diverting glory from God. We started it. We did it to ourselves. A murderer may not like going to jail, but he can’t argue with it.

Add to that this fact: we get what we ask for. Death is separation from God, not just the silencing of a heartbeat. People’s hearts stop beating physically because there is a measure of separation from God that we experience on this earth. It is a taste of hell (for hell is absolute separation from God). Pain and suffering is a byproduct of separation from God. Slavery is a byproduct of separation from God. The presence of evil on this earth is the absence of God, just like the presence of darkness in aroom is the absence of light. Dark is not a substance, it is the absence of light. The Bible says that where the presence of the Spirit of God is, there is freedom. Where light is, there is no dark.

But when we divert glory from God to something else, we are stating with everything that we are that God is not valuable, that we do not need God, that we do not want God, that we desire something other than God. For God to remove his presence from a place or for God to remove people from his presence IS God granting our request and desire. We get what we asked for.

The real question people want answered, then, is why doesn’t God intervene?

Unfortunately, that’s a bad question. It screams of ignorance. God DOES intervene. If he didn’t intervene at ALL, there would be nothing remotely joyous or beautiful or colorful about this place. You know that age old saying, “Count your blessings”? Well, do it. Count ’em. You wont have enough hours in your lifetime. Whether you are aware of your blessings or not, they’re there. It is God’s grace that you have life at all. Anything good in your life, anything good on this earth, anything redemptive in the world is because God – who could have justifiably annihilated us multiple times by now – chose not to remove us from his presence utterly. In other words, he could have sent us to hell instantaneously, but he didn’t.

That leads us to this question: Ok, but why doesn’t he intervene MORE than he does? Why does he just let the suffering continue?

I think a lot of Christians stop short in their responses to the original question about the problem of suffering and evil in the world. Yes it is because of sin. We have clarified that, and it is absolutely crucial to do so. But it still doesn’t rule out the fact that God COULD intervene more if he wanted to. He IS powerful enough. So why doesn’t he? That’s what people want to know.

The answer is found in the Bible. Not just a Bible verse here and there, the answer is found in the great theme threaded throughout its pages: God, the King, is in the process of reinstating shalom in his kingdom by reconciling the world to himself. He could have allowed us to be separated from him forever, but in his great love he set in motion a plan to restore fellowship between the world and himself through God the Son, Jesus. This is the intention of God’s plan from the moment he removed Adam and Eve from his presence in the garden. As he was explaining their consequences, he slipped in a promise – that from Eve would come one that would finally crush evil. We know him as Jesus Christ. To Abraham, God promised a homeland, a chosen people group, and that from his offspring would come one that would bless the whole world. Christ, the fulfillment of that promise, offers life and salvation and adoption to both Jews and Gentiles. To Moses, God promised that he, their King, would protect his people if they followed his laws. They didn’t, but Christ did, and we receive protection and life because of his righteousness, even though we were yet lawbreakers. To David, God promised to raise up a ruler from his offspring and to establish through him an everlasting kingdom. That king is Jesus, who spent his ministry teaching about the Kingdom of God. In the New Covenant, spoken of in Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36-37, and Joel 2, God speaks of planting his Spirit in the hearts of his people that they might be stirred to see how worthy he is of glory and that they might be equipped to participate in and fulfill his kingdom.

In God’s kingdom, there is no death. There is no decay. There is no rape. There is no murder. Just shalom. Everyone rightly values everyone else. There is neither idolatry of the created nor dehumanizing of the created. And everyone rightly values God, the King. They acknowledge his rightful place as Lord on his throne. And they worship him. They worship him because he alone is worthy.

This is what happens in God’s kingdom. This is what we mean by the word “Heaven.”

The Bible speaks of a day when God will ultimately establish his kingdom once and for all. He will do away with all suffering finally. He will intervene in every situation. Part of the process of God establishing his kingdom is the removal of evil. Sin and evil are not allowed in his kingdom. They are contrary to him. Satan will not be allowed in his kingdom.

But neither will humans. Not if we stay like we are.

It all goes back to the reality that we all willfully glorify things other than God. You cannot deny it. We are not pure enough to enter God’s kingdom and are actually the perpetuators of those things which cannot exist in God’s kingdom – selfishness, jealousy, conceit, revenge, hatred, destruction, etc. We are left hopeless – dead in our trespasses and sins – with no way of reconciling ourselves to God in our own power.

This is where Jesus comes in. King Jesus, at the will of the Father, left his throne in heaven, and came to earth to make people worthy to come into the kingdom. That’s why it’s so important that he lived a perfect life on earth. He never rejected his Father. He never glorified anything but the Father. So he shouldn’t have died. After all, isn’t death is a consequence of sin? So why did he die? Jesus died because he took the sins of the world upon himself. He suffered the punishment for our sin, paid the price, took the consequences, felt separation from God the Father, endured the cross…for us. Why? To purify us for the kingdom…so we could come. He exchanges our sin for his righteousness, so that when the Father looks at us he sees the righteousness of Christ. We appropriate this blessing via faith. By faith we confess our sin and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord. [Side note…I really like this definition of faith: “faith is believing that what God says is more real than what I see.”] Add to this awesome blessing the fact that God places his Spirit in the hearts and minds of those who acknowledge the lordship of Christ. The Spirit enables us to understand, think, and do things that we cannot do on our own (since we willfully reject God if left to ourselves). And he also promises to finalize this process once and for all when we die physically and our soul goes to be with him…aka, “glorification.” In other words, he is in the business of purifying us from all angles just so we can be part of his awesome kingdom. He even died for it.

And now we come to it – the reason why God doesn’t just end suffering now. See, the ending of all suffering IS the establishment of God’s kingdom. If we are asking for God to establish the fullness of his kingdom right this second, then we are also asking for Judgment Day – the day when God removes all evil from his presence utterly. That means that humans who are not covered in the righteousness of Christ will not be able to enter the kingdom.

Literally, the reason God doesn’t do that right this second is because he is waiting for more people to get covered in the righteousness of Jesus. Read Romans 8. He wants people in his kingdom. While it is horrendous that little children die young and people get cancer and wives are abused – and God weeps over those atrocities – consider the alternative: fewer people getting to enjoy the presence of God and more people having to endure eternal separation from him. God is actually waiting to establish the fullness of his kingdom because he knows he will also judge on that day. Read 2 Peter 3. The fewer people he has to judge the better, the more people in his kingdom, the better. So not only is it NOT arbitrary…it’s gracious.

Are you the one he’s waiting for?

How not to shrivel and die…

Gosh…I suck at blogging like I suck at diaries….

There is no real way to summarize all that has happened since I blogged last. I’m not even really sure that’s what blogging is for, anyway. But, as will always occur with the passing of time, I am not the same as I was in May of 2010. At minimum, I am definitely older. At maximum, I am but a fraction more like Jesus.

But my blog isn’t exactly geared towards relaying chronological details so much as it is an outlet for thought. This works out, because my thoughts tend not to organize themselves chronologically. Once the overarching theme of my thought-life has been determined, these thoughts – much like a google search – tend to arrange themselves in order of relevance rather than sequence or ‘date modified’. The interesting thing about being a Christian, though, is that there are inevitably two themes within one’s thought-life, which are directly opposed to each other and constantly battling for priority. [This is, of course, much better than there being only one theme…because if you only have one theme it means you are enslaved to it and have no idea that there is another theme with much better intentions that is poised and ready with guns and weapons just waiting for its cue.]

That’s neither here nor there at the moment….

What IS here and there at the moment is this present reality: my graduate school alma mater had an awesome conference last week and I didn’t get to be there. This present reality was thrust in my face thanks to facebook pictures. I was just scrolling through the pictures of “WEC Week,” reminiscing about how awesome it was in years past, and lamenting that I couldn’t go. WEC Week is basically a giant missions conference. They bring in speakers and missionaries and pretty much spend the entire time talking about how amazing God is and what an honor it is to participate in what he is doing in this world. Conversations like that really get me going because I find that there’s really nothing I would rather talk about. So to have a whole week of talking about my favorite thing to talk about is pretty spectacular. Therefore, to think about this week taking place without me is extremely bitter sweet. On the one hand, I like that I’m not the one carrying the conversation, if you know what I mean. On the other hand, I currently find myself somewhat depleted and, knowing myself, I know how recharging that kind of thing is…plus, it’s a lot like knowing your friends are all eating steak dinner while you’re at home fasting.

As I browsed through the pictures (of my friends mingling with guys like Afshin Zhifat, for example), I found myself wrestling through those emotions – all the while totally and completely conscious of the fact that a) it’s not good to want what you can’t have, b) discontentment is not godly, c) you can’t be in two places at once…duh, and d) God doesn’t withhold good from his kids – he’s not holding out on me. Thus, I have no choice to take issue with anything but my own perspective.

So I put my head on my desk and forced myself to say to myself, “Christen, you are doing what they’re talking about. You are doing what they’re talking about. You are DOING what they’re TALKING about.” Both are important – doing and talking. You need both. It’s just that sometimes they come in seasons. There will be seasons of theorizing and seasons of practicing. Depending on the season one is in, it’s good to seek the other thing out to find balance. While I was at DTS, doing all my theorizing & talking, I got a job at Chuy’s and I hung out with junior high hispanic kids to keep things practical. The season I’m in now is pretty much all practical and active. Maybe that’s why the yearning is so deep for the the theoretical. I miss it. I miss those times of verbal reflection and contemplation with my peers, with those likeminded people who speak my language. A good filler for me has been literature. I used to be afraid that once I left seminary I would get lazy in my self-education because nobody would be pushing me and hanging grades over my head [not that I really cared that much about grades, anyway]. Apparently that’s not gonna happen. I think I would shrivel and die if I didn’t have books.

But back when I was in the theoretical world, I yearned for the practical. I would have shriveled up without Chuy’s. I would have shriveled up from the hypocrisy of  spending obscene amounts of time, money, and homework talking about what we’re supposed to DO while sitting on my jack. Just like anything, we can run to spectrumal extremes. This may be another example of that. Is it possible that the point of ‘health’ on the spectrum of DOING and TALKING, THEORIZING and PRACTICING, is in the middle? I think you could even make the case that to separate one from the other is akin to divorcing what is designed to go hand in hand. Is theology really theology if it is not practical? Can we really be practical without theology?

bacon

i am starting to get the memo that dudes are really afraid of failure. apparently it’s kind of a big deal. and apparently, guys especially hate the idea of failing women.

on the other hand, there are a lot of women out there who don’t really think failure is a big deal for them personally. it’s that whole…”if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” idea. “if it doesn’t kill you, it only makes you stronger.” we like to learn from our failures, but we don’t (usually) define ourselves by them. or perhaps we have a fundamentally different definition of what failure is. i’m not really sure how that all works. either way, i am trying to gain a better  understanding of how deep this fear of failure thing runs in the male culture. and i am trying to understand how we as women can accommodate this legitimate reality.

as i got to thinking about it, i began to realize that i do have some standards by which i measure the success or failure of a man. i think these are biblical, too. so i decided to post this thought in hopes that it will release some of you from measuring success or failure by human expectations. my goal as a woman, therefore, is to be the kind of woman who has expectations of men that are “not of this world.” the beauty is, God is the force behind anybody attaining these otherworldly expectations. so here goes:

success is – 1) teachability, 2) repentance of sin, and 3) boldness.

THEREFORE, failure is – 1) not being teachable, 2) not repenting of sin, and 3) allowing fear to inhibit obedience.

point blank. that’s it. done.

so men, even though this likely will not douce your inherent need to “bring home the bacon,” please rest at ease knowing that there is at least one woman out there who will not DEFINE you by whether you were able to bring home any bacon…or not.

[let me add…you WILL fail. that’s kind of a given. the darkness of failure is the perfect backdrop for the beam of grace to pierce through with its brilliant light.]

forgetfulness

i have been pondering the concept of forgetfulness.

i wonder if adam and eve forgot stuff before the fall. or did they retain everything they learned? is forgetfulness a result of the fall?

what got me thinking about it is this: i was reflecting on moments when i learn something “new” only to discover, whether via journals or notes in my Bible, that i’ve actually learned it before. and it caused me to wonder about the purpose of forgetfulness. what is the point of forgetfulness? i mean, it is something that afflicts all of humanity. did Jesus forget things? clearly he allowed his divine intellect to be limited since he spent his growing up years learning new things. did he ever forget the things he learned and have to re-learn them?

and i realized that there are lots of really cool things about forgetfulness:

– it helps us heal from painful experiences.

– it allows us to enjoy the same subject multiple times.

– it prevents us from being prideful – forces us to be humble.

– it prevents us from self-inflicted guilt.

– it helps us to forgive the sins of others.

– it reveals what really matters to us – we generally make an effort to remember the things that matter.

– it forces repetition.

so even if forgetfulness IS a result of the fall, apparently God redeems it.