Friday, November 28, 2014

Doing Violence to our Sin

We reached a troubling passage of scripture at BSF last Tuesday. The part where Israel creates the golden calf. But it's not the calf itself that troubles most people, interestingly enough (frankly, we're all quite comfortable with the idea of a dramatic falling away from God -- we witness it in our own lives all the time).

It's God's response that troubles folks -- and troubled me. He has Moses call anyone "on the Lord's side" to come to him, and then instructs them to take swords and walk through the camp killing. In the end, about 3,000 rebellious Israelites are slain that day. That's less than one percent of the group, but still a significant number. Our BSF lesson notes said that it was the "ringleaders" of the group who were killed, but I personally didn't see anything in scripture that indicated that was the case. (I'll keep studying this passage. I assume they come to that conclusion based on other scriptural principles and how they would apply here.)

In any case, such a massive slaughter understandably disturbs many. It doesn't sound like a "God of love." But I was reminded in our lesson, and in my pondering it this week, that we need to be careful in our exultation of this one glorious characteristic of our God to not forget about His other characteristics. He is also a God of purity. And a God of justice.

Our teaching leader compared this to a case of gangrene. When I first learned about gangrene, and how soldiers who acquired it in the battlefield would have to have limbs amputated, it horrified me. But that's the nature of the infection: it spreads very quickly and is absolutely destructive. There's no playing around with gangrene . . . no dabbling with methods to slow it down . . . no patient "tolerance" . . . you have to cut the stuff off completely. This was truly the only loving way to help the infected soldier. Any weaker response in the name of kindness meant death.

We even see Jesus promoting a similar principle. "If your right hand causes you to sin," he said, "cut it off. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It's better for you to live your life a bit maimed than to lose your life completely later in eternal punishment."

I used to gloss over this passage, trying not to think about how . . . primitive Jesus' approach sounded. I mean, it's not our physical hand or eye that causes us to sin. It's a dumb command.

But then I had a friend tell me about her husband. Her husband who had just confessed to her that he was addicted to internet porn, and who told her (this was twenty years ago or so) that they needed to get rid of their internet connection so he wouldn't be tempted so much. AHA. Then I got it.

If your internet connection is causing you to sin, cut it off.

If that TV show you enjoy is causing you to sin, cut it off.

If your friendship with your old college buddy is causing you to sin, cut it off.

If your job . . . where you pass that tempting woman every day who has made her willingness abundantly clear . . . where you have little or no accountability for your time and whereabouts and opportunity for indiscretion abounds . . . yes, even that job that is putting food on your family's table . . . if your job is causing you to sin, cut it off.

If Jesus expects us to be willing to give up an appendage, how much more these things?

Because we simply don't take sin seriously enough in our society. Not other people's sin -- many of us are quite obsessed with other people's sin. We don't take our own sin seriously. And it's our own sin that we're told to do violence to. Cut off your own hand. Set aside your own friends (even family). Excommunicate your own church members. Exterminate your own people.

If we see things from God's perspective -- the infinitely holy God whose primary purpose is to re-establish relationship with defiled humanity -- it makes more sense.

The sin in our lives deserves a dramatic response. Even a violent one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


A few years ago, it was The Thing on Facebook to post something that you are thankful for every day during the month of November. Everybody was doing it. I think only one of my friends is doing it with me this year. But I'm keeping it up because I think it's a good spiritual exercise. We aren't nearly grateful enough.

This year, however, it doesn't seem quite as easy to come up with stuff to post every morning. I'm not quite sure why. Might be because I'm working again, and my brain is more occupied and doesn't roam as easily. But I think it's more that my perspective has been changing. I'm still thankful to God, but for different things.

I'm still glad that my family and I are healthy and safe. But I'm thanking God for the struggles we have had over the year that remind me that my family is in His hands . . . that I am not as powerful as I think I am.

I'm glad when I have a good night of sleep. But I thank God for the nights that I can't sleep and I realize how helpless I am to take care of even my most basic needs . . . and I learn to depend on Him.

I'm glad that we have such conveniences and luxuries as television, internet, and cell phones. But I'm thankful to God for the conviction I get on a daily basis that I'm using these devices as an escape . . . that I have been put here on earth with actual people he intends me to interact with and have an influence on . . . and that my tendency to escape into these virtual worlds shows how un-Christlike I am at heart and how amazing it is that my Savior chooses to love me anyway.

I'm glad that I have a job I enjoy, that uses my gifts well, that makes me excited to work every day. But I thank God that I am reminded every day that anything good that happens in my classroom is not a result of my planning or my brilliance or my talents . . . it's a result of God working in these kids' lives . . . hopefully through me, but often despite me.

I'm glad that I am not experiencing the trials many others are facing today. But I thank God for the trials I AM facing . . . because I am increasingly more desirous of an intimate relationship with God than I am of an easy, comfortable life . . . and I know that God only allows the trials He does to build that desire and that relationship.

And I'm thankful for the little inklings of that desire in my life. Lord knows, it is not natural to me.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May we all be truly thankful.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The STUFF. Stop Buying the Stuff!

Black Friday is this week. Uuugggghhhhh.

I've never enjoyed Christmas shopping. Wait -- no, that's a lie. I did enjoy it at one time, I think. Way back when. But it's been a long time. I don't much enjoy shopping in general, but particularly when I have something specific that I'm looking for, and that I have to get, and a lot of these types of items.

This year, there's even more to it. As I mentioned in my post about our trip to Fredericksburg, I'm increasingly finding myself disturbed by the excess and consumerism in our society. Good heavens -- the amount of crap we BUY!!! Really, it's shameful.

We have closets FULL of clothes, to the point that we literally could wear something different every day for weeks and never wear something twice, but we still pick up new stuff once a month or so while we're out looking around in the mall. (Well, some people do. I don't.)

We have kitchen cabinets crammed full of utensils and appliances that we rarely if ever use, but we still find something at the friend's Pampered Chef party that we think we just have to have. We have enough food items sitting on our pantry shelves to keep us from dying for, again, weeks if we needed to, yet we still bring an entire week's worth of food and more home every time we go to the grocery store -- and we probably throw out enough food in a week to keep a starving African child alive for a good long time.

The STUFF . . . just the random stuff that we keep buying because we think we need it -- it will change our life somehow -- it will give us that extra bit of spare time that we need to connect with our family -- it will add that touch of beauty or fun that will bring us joy in our homes -- it will give us health and strength and vitality as soon as we have the self-discipline to do something with it . . . oh, what sorry people we are. It's not magic, for Pete's sake, it's just stuff.

And more than that: we inflict this STUFF on the people we love. We give them more useless items to fill their spaces and fail to fill their voids. We even ask children (and some adults) to make lists for us of things that they want us to give them. Don't tell me you don't need anything -- Christmas is for things you want. Forget how content you feel in your current circumstances: dig deep, create a place of lacking in your life, and figure out something you want, gosh darn it!

My oldest struggles with the Christmas list her extended family requires of her every year. She doesn't need or want much of anything. She doesn't want to get excess junk. She genuinely would rather just have money to use when she needs to buy something later. This year, she put toys on her list that she wants to give to some children she knows who get little or nothing for Christmas. That way, she gets the fun of opening presents on Christmas day and also the joy of giving to someone else who genuinely appreciates it. And she doesn't have to find a place or use for stuff she never really wanted.

I'm proud of her. It remains to see how that will go over with the family.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reality TV Christians

Apparently John Luke Robertson is engaged. And apparently he and his fiancee are staying abstinent until marriage.

My first reaction: I would never want to put myself in a position where I felt such information needed to be shared with the world. I have NO desire for fame.

My second reaction: it saddens me to no end that being abstinent until marriage is a big enough deal to be a news story.


A friend was telling me a while back that, at the church we attended together a couple moves ago, most of the young people we loved and respected have no qualms at all about living together and having sex before they get married. None at all. Christian young people. It's just no big deal.

I cannot tell you how sad that makes me.

I suppose I would expect that of unbelievers, but even in them, it makes me sad. It's one thing when you have an ideal in your head to save yourself for your wedding day, but you fail to live up to your ideal in the end. That's a sad thing, too. But it's quite another to go into your dating years without even having the mindset that saving yourself is a desirable thing worth the effort. Without feeling any sense of shame or guilt AT ALL about crossing a line that the God you claim to worship and submit to has clearly drawn for you. Clearly.

How in the world did we get here? How did the church manage to raise a generation who has so little regard for the word of their God?

Ugh. If I think about this too much, it really discourages me.

So back to John Luke. I haven't seen "Duck Dynasty" for a while -- my girls kind of got off of that kick. They're more interested in the Duggar crew these days and their various courtships, engagements, marriages, and baby-birthing.

I don't know what to think about the Duggars. If nothing else, they at least are putting some important topics out in the public eye to be discussed. Like modesty, healthy relationships, and such. And for the most part, they don't seem really pushy about things.

They just seem annoying. Are friends going to hate me for saying that? The Duggars annoy me. They're the kind of people that, if I knew them in real life, I would admire for some things but would avoid having to spend too much time with them because they just flat out turn me off.

Maybe they're different in real life -- maybe they would seem a little more genuine and natural than they do on TV. I can't imagine living your life in the public eye like they do: staging conversations and situations for the ever-present cameras (because yes, I have no doubt most of those are "staged", even if they are conversations and situations that would have happened for real without the cameras there).

For instance, when Jessa's boyfriend (I forget his name) approached Jim Bob to ask for permission to propose. They did this on camera. I don't believe for a moment that Jim Bob walked into that room without knowing that this discussion was going to happen. It was awkward; it was weird; it was a personal moment that did not need to be acted out for the world to watch. And it annoyed me that they did act it out for the world to watch.

I suppose I should be happy that there are confessing Christians out there living a Christian life in the public eye as a testimony. But I'm not sure that I am. I think I'd rather there were more confessing Christians living a good Christian life in their homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces for their friends to see as a testimony.

And dear friends, that would most definitely include saving yourself for marriage. Sigh.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Weekend Wonderings

And it's Monday morning again. And again, I don't know what to blog about.

We had a busy weekend, and I could tell you all about that, but frankly, I know most of you don't care. I mean, okay -- you care . . . you're not cold, heartless people. But you don't want to hear the details of our social life.

And you probably don't want to hear this, either. But what I'm going to write about is a couple little things I found myself wondering over the weekend.

We went to the Texas Renaissance Festival on Saturday, and I found myself wondering about the people who do this kind of thing on a regular basis. First of all, can you really make a living at this stuff, or is this a hobby that you support with a boring "real job" the rest of the year?

But also, what kind of person is willing to take on a persona like that and live that way every weekend? I mean, I'm an actress; I understand the fun of being a different person for a while. But some of these are odd folks, my friends. Have you been to a Renaissance Fair? Interesting, yes -- entertaining often -- but also pretty freaky.

I've thought before that my ideal retirement job would be to volunteer at a historical site somewhere, giving the tours and informational talks in character. I would love that. But were I to do that, I would not choose the type of character these folks were playing. This had nothing to do with history -- this had to do with having an excuse to be outrageous and outlandish and get legally paid to do so.

I also found myself wondering, if an actual person from the Renaissance jumped forward in time and showed up at one of these events, would they recognize anything? Would they be just as freaked out by the weirdos? Or was the Renaissance really as weird as all this?

And weren't knights and jousts from the middle ages? A few centuries before the Renaissance? Does anyone at these events really care about the timelines here?

Anyway. On to other wonderings from the weekend.

Yesterday, our school held a fall festival to raise money. Adding on the secondary school has proved rather costly (we have a new 9th grade class this year and will add classes as they move up). A high school is much more expensive than an elementary school. And a brand new high school needs to prove itself before it gets enough students enrolled to support the program through tuition. Thus the need for a lot of fund-raisers this year.

Here's what my husband suggested and what I keep thinking: there are some incredibly wealthy people out there. Lots of them, really. People who could give up the several thousand dollars it takes to run this secondary school for a year and never miss it. And some of those people have a real passion for education. Some of them have a real passion for the faith, and for young people being raised up and trained as warriors for the kingdom.

There is a person out there somewhere who would love nothing more than to pay the operating expenses for this school for a few years until the enrollment is such that it can support itself. We just don't know how to find that person. How do you find that person?

This I wonder.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Old Testament Law, Justice, and Slavery

Our BSF study this year is about the life of Moses, and it covers the Old Testament books of the law, the complicated parts that everyone gets bogged down with and argues over. I've been particularly looking forward to this study. For one thing, I've always wanted to understand those books better -- to know how to apply them to our modern life. But more than that, I had many friends back in my early years of BSF who said that this particular year of BSF was life-changing for them.

So, last night was our first lesson actually starting to get into the specific laws (Exodus 21-24). And because we're just getting into it, I'm not yet going to claim any grand revelations or insights. But I did find some things interesting . . . and I did get hints of grand revelations and insights that may be to come.

- There are three types of Law given in the Old Testament. The first is the Moral Law, represented by the Ten Commandments. These were described as laws about "how to live as individuals." They are binding upon all people at all times, throughout history and throughout cultures.

-The second type were the civil laws. These were about "how to live as a nation", and they specifically applied to Israel in its theocracy at that time. Many (probably most) people argue that these laws do not directly apply to us today. However, they reveal the character of God, and therefore the principles behind them should be applied today.

- The third type were the ceremonial laws. We haven't read these yet, but they involve the sacrifices and so forth which maintained Israel's relationship with a righteous God. Jesus' sacrifice fulfilled all of these. They do not apply anymore.

- But going back to those civil laws: these are the most controversial because it takes discernment to figure out what to do with these. But again, if you are looking at the principles behind them, a couple things stood out to me.

- There is a whole group of laws that apply to personal injury and property rights (Ex 21:12 - 22:15). Here is where we find the first instance of that old adage, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." And what's interesting is that, this does seem to be the first instance of that concept. Like, ever. In ancient times, retaliation was the rule. If somebody did you wrong, you got back, and often in a really big way. This principle was given to ensure that punishment was equal in proportion to the offense, and it was rather revolutionary in that respect, apparently.

In other words, the laws were an attempt to teach the Israelites (and through them, the rest of the world) about Justice, a primary trait of God's. God is just . . . in fact, He is Justice; the only understanding we have of the concept of justice comes to us from where God has inserted Himself into our world and our understanding. On our own human understanding, we only get retaliation. But when we are taught justice, we recognize it as good, because we are made in God's image, although that image has been corrupted.

Now, when Jesus was on earth, he went even further: "You have heard it said, 'Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you . . . if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other one, also." Jesus taught mercy and self-sacrifice. Not that justice was now invalid . . . but Jesus' coming was the beginning of the era when we can be indwelled by the Spirit and enabled to do beyond what our human nature allows . . . when we are enabled to be Christ-like.

- Another note: this passage talks about slavery, and I know many are troubled by the fact that the Bible seems to "endorse" slavery. But slavery as discussed in the civil laws given by Moses is a different animal than our modern notion of slavery. First, the law called for the death penalty for anyone who kidnapped and sold any person. Clearly, this type of slavery (which is basically ALL modern or recent forms of slavery) is out of God's will. Hebrews, it seems, took slaves as payments on debts or punishments for crimes -- that kind of thing. Slavery as it happened in the United States, and as it continues around the world today, would have been unacceptable in the ancient Hebrew state.

Second, permanent, involuntary servitude was not allowed among the Hebrews; slaves were to be freed in their seventh year -- and even given a share of the flock and food to be able to start a new life and avoid falling into slavery again.

Third, a slave's family was respected and considered. Families were not torn apart, as often happened in slavery in America.

Fourth -- and this is most telling to me -- slaves were offered the option of choosing to become a permanent slave to their master rather than taking their freedom in the seventh year. And this option was often chosen. Apparently, slavery was not always undesirable. Hebrew slaves were treated well, considered part of the family, were protected by strict laws about their care, and were often quite devoted to their masters. (This particular concept of choosing to become a permanent bondservant is a model of our relationship with God as believers. A topic for another post.)

And again, we see new standards set in the New Testament, after Jesus ushers in the Age of the Holy Spirit, when we are enabled to "be holy as He is holy." In the New Testament book of Philemon, Paul writes to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus, Philemon's slave who ran away and then met Paul and became a Christian. Paul is encouraging Onesimus to return to his master and submit to him . . . but he is also encouraging Philemon (also a Christian) to see his relationship with his slave as changed. "Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever -- no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother."

Paul doesn't call for the elimination of the slave/master relationship -- as practiced in Israel, that institution actually revealed important things about God and about man. But just as Jesus encouraged us to go beyond simple justice to godly mercy, Paul encourages Philemon to go beyond his rights as a slaveowner to a relationship based on brotherhood in Christ.

Just a few things I noted . . . none completely digested and analyzed yet . . . more insights to come as the year progresses, I'm sure.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Worried about The Church

I'm a lousy blogger these days. One of the reasons I put myself on this schedule to blog every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday was to force myself to write, to sit and think of something to say three times a week, to discipline myself into the mental activity of examining what God is communicating to me on a regular basis and articulate it to the world so I am held accountable.

Then I went "back to work." And I find all sorts of reasons to justify skipping a blog day. Some good reasons, some wimpy ones. I'm a lousy blogger these days.

I keep a document on the computer where I write notes to myself about ideas that pop into my head here and there that I might want to blog about sometime. I read through that list the other day and had to laugh; there are some items on there that I can't remember now what in the world I was thinking about. C'est la vie. That brilliance is lost to the ages.

But I do notice a pattern to my little jottings. I'm worried about The Church. About The Church not being who we are supposed to be . . . and blaming the rest of the world for that instead of ourselves.

Several weeks ago, a teacher in a Sunday School class we were visiting made the comment that we need to worry less about getting prayer back into our schools and more about getting prayer back into our churches. AMEN.

Another item from my list: when Robin Williams died, a good friend of his commented that the remarkable thing about Robin was that when he was tired or frustrated or at the end of his rope, he didn't get cranky and irritable -- he got all the more sweet and kind. Gentleness was his default mode, the place he went when his mask was off and his guard was down. And I thought, what a stunning denunciation on The Church when such a statement could be said of one who very likely was not a believer but could hardly be said of anyone in The Church. I don't think I've ever known anyone like that.

I was reminded this past week of the story in Acts about Paul addressing the Athenians at the Areopagus. He started by mentioning their many temples to many gods and acknowledging their obvious religious devotion. Then he pointed out their temple to "an unknown god" and offered to fill them in about that god they don't know yet. He approached them with gentleness and respect. He quote their own poets and spoke their own language -- not just the Greek language, but the language of education and intellectualism. He didn't berate them for being sinners. How often does The Church berate people for being sinners rather than gently and respectfully filling in the gaps they are missing?

Many in The Church are fond of proclaiming that God is going to punish -- or is already punishing -- our nation because of our sin. Abortion, homosexuality, promiscuity, drug abuse, etc. etc. etc. God's wrath is coming upon us, people!

Here's the thing, folks: I think there may be something to that. I think God may allow a level of destruction to fall on our nation . . . but it's not because of the sins listed above. God expects the unregenerated to sin; their consequences are already set. If God punishes the United States, I believe it will be for the sins of The Church. The Church whose first command from her Lord was to preach the gospel -- not morality, not "the Christian nation", but the gospel of forgiveness for and deliverance from sin. The gospel of a New Covenant, a new relationship with the God of the universe. If The Church in America had been serious about fulfilling the Great Commission in our communities for the last several generations rather than simply making ourselves fat and comfortable in our "One Nation Under God," we might not be having to deal with all these other sins.

Revival starts with us, Church. With you and with me.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Enjoying God is Conditional

You know, they say that your brain continues to think about problems and concerns while you sleep. I wonder if that's true.

Last night at BSF, our teaching leader made a statement that troubled me. In her lecture about Exodus 19-20, she remarked that "God's covenant with Israel was unconditional," (that is, they did nothing to earn it or maintain it or cancel it) "but their enjoyment of that covenant was conditional: it depended on their obedience."

And as I said, that troubled me. So, He chose them to be His people -- all on His impetus; they had nothing to do with making that happen -- but they don't get to enjoy that covenant unless they do this and this and this? It kind of sounds like some passive aggressive manipulation. Like some kind of sick game.

But this morning, I woke up and thought while lying in bed, "What should I blog about?" And that statement from my teaching leader suddenly came to mind . . . and I got it.

Because it's kind of like my husband's and my relationship with our daughter. She had nothing to do with the decision to be born in our family. She did nothing to "deserve" it. We established that relationship, and she just gets to benefit from it.

And there's nothing she can do that can sever that connection between us. We will always be the people who birthed her. Always. That relationship between us is "unconditional."

However . . . if she wants to enjoy all of the benefits of that relationship, there ARE things she has to do. If she wants to enjoy our company, she has to spend time with us. If she wants to share in the material blessings our family has, she has to either live under our roof or accept the gifts we offer her. If she wants the benefit of our wisdom, she has to listen to us and trust us. If she wants our help with problems, she has to open up to us about those problems.

And yes, she has to obey us. If she wants the benefit of our protecting her from certain dangers in the world, she has to trust and obey.

We don't dangle those blessings in front of her face, trying to manipulate her into doing what we want before we will give them to her. It's the natural course of things that for her to have those blessings requires a level of intimacy between her and us -- and she has the choice of nurturing that intimacy or not. On our end, we are all open arms.

And so is God on His end.

Yep, now I get it.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Stuff Dreams (and Nightmares) Are Made Of

Have you ever heard of The Actor's Dream?

It's when an actor dreams of being on stage live before an audience and not having any idea of what he's supposed to be doing. No lines, no memory of any blocking . . . he has to ad-lib his way through a scene with other actors that are furious with him and an audience who clearly recognizes that he is a clueless idiot. There are variations on this, of course, but that's the gist of it.

I've had The Actor's Dream before. Awful. I also had The Bride's Dream frequently the year I was engaged. This is where it's time for me to walk down the aisle, and everything seems to be falling apart. I can't find my bouquet -- my dress is torn (or I'm still in my pajamas) -- the church is all wrong -- the music is out of control -- you get the idea.

And I had The New Mom's Dream when I was pregnant. That's when you're dreaming about taking care of your baby and suddenly remember that you have another baby -- one you've completely forgotten about for the last, oh, two months or so. And where is that baby? Is it starving somewhere in the house? You haven't heard it crying -- does that mean it's dead??

I hate these dreams.

But the one I have most commonly is The Teacher's Dream. Or The Student's Dream. Or sometimes a bizarre combination of both where I'm both teacher and student, not prepared for either scenario.

This morning, right before I woke up, I dreamt that I was teaching my Freshman Bible class. Of course, it wasn't in my usual room or with my usual students -- it never is in such dreams. But in particular, I had a new student, a young man whom I have had in class before (can't remember his name) who hates school and is an absolute troublemaker.

It all went downhill from there.

I completely lost control of my class. Students were coming in and out of the room without my even knowing it. Those still in the class were clearly playing me for their own amusement. I was yelling constantly -- CONSTANTLY. The clock said that class was over, and I had not accomplished a single thing, partly because I wasn't sure what I had intended to accomplish in that class today.

Horrible. Such nightmares make me appreciate my reality all the more.

The Freshman class I teach at Summit Christian Academy is a treasure. They are all great kids. The culture of the class is such that all the peer pressure in the room is toward responsibility, focus, and academic success, and yet they're still a lot of fun. I love these kids. (I love my 7th graders, too, but there is just something special about this class of Freshmen.)

Every day, I teach with the true sense that I am training warriors for the Kingdom. That these kids (the 7th graders, too) are going to be used by God in mighty ways in the future, and I am so privileged to be a part of preparing them for that. This is my Dream Job. The good kind of dream.

[On a side note: If you would feel so inclined, I would love if you would visit this website (click here) about our current school fund-raiser and make a contribution to help SCA meet its operating expenses this year. So my dream job can continue and these future warriors can be trained well.]