Saturday, December 13, 2014

N.T. Wright on the Vocation of Prayer

In his Evil and the Justice of God, N.T. Wright lists prayer as one of the ways Christians are called to anticipate the Kingdom:

Prayer: In Romans 8 Paul indicates that prayer is a key, central anticipation of the eventual redeemed world order. In that world, redeemed humanity will take its rightful place, worshiping the Creator and set in stewardship over the world, sharing God's sovereign rule (Romans 5:17; Revelation 5:10). The new life of the Spirit, to which Christians are called in the present age, is not a matter of sitting back and enjoying spiritual comforts in a private, relaxed, easygoing spirituality, but consists rather of the unending struggle in the mystery of prayer, the struggle to bring God's wise, healing order into the world now, in implementation of the victory of the cross and anticipation of the final redemption. In prayer we are invited -- summoned -- to become more truly human, to worship the God in whose image we are made and so to find ourselves interceding for the world he loves. the start of God's address to the world, following the death and resurrection of his Son, is the creation and vocation by the Spirit of a people, drawn from every family, who will live consciously out of tune with the world as it presently is and in tune with the way God intends it to be (Romans 12:1-2: "Do not be conformed to this present age, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds" -- a statement that might serve as a title for this chapter), and who by bearing that tension in themselves and turning it into prayer, become agents of that new world beginning to break into the present one in healing and hope. Prayer thus lies at the heart of the task of God's people, their glorious, strange, puzzling and ennobling vocation. (Kindle ed., Ch. 4)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bonhoeffer: The Mystery of Love

This Advent season I'm reading God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas. Compiled from various works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this small devotional has been a means of light and peace for me in the bustle of seminary finals and holiday festivities. This week, the reflections focus on mystery. One such mystery is love.

The mystery remains mystery. It withdraws from our grasp. Mystery, however, does not mean simply not knowing something.

The greatest mystery is not the most distant star; on the contrary, the closer something comes to us and the better we know it, then the more mysterious it becomes for us. The greatest mystery to us is not the most distant person, but the one next to us. The mystery of other people is not reduced by getting to know more and more about them. Rather, in their closeness they become more and more mysterious. And the final depth of all mystery is when two people come so close to each other that they love each other. Nowhere in the world does one feel the might of the mysterious and its wonder as strongly as here. When two people know everything about each other, the mystery of the love between them becomes infinitely great. And only in this love do they understand each other, know everything about each other, know each other completely. And yet, the more they love each other and know about each other in love, the more deeply they know the mystery of their love. Thus, knowledge about each other does not remove the mystery, but rather makes it more profound. The very fact that the other person is so near to me is the greatest mystery. (20-21)

Monday, October 6, 2014

When I Don't Know What to Say About My Singleness

Sometimes the only thing worse than being single is thinking about singleness. Or talking about singleness. Or reading about singleness.

Or writing about singleness.

For the past three years, I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to write for a Christian relationship service. I’ve learned so much about myself and about relationships through the process. I’ve read more articles than I can ever count, and my already overcrowded bookshelves have been overwhelmed by the additional volumes on dating, courtship, engagement, and marriage perspectives. I have tirelessly studied this topic.

In my love life, I have tried to apply all the principles the experts suggest. When something hasn’t worked, I have adjusted my methods. I have been strict, and I have been relaxed. I have ignored my heart, and I have been guided by it. I have prayed for marriage, and I have let the topic rest.

Sometimes I’ve taken breaks from thinking about relationships at all. I have wondered if being called to singleness wouldn’t be so bad—at least I could cancel my dating service subscriptions, throw away my relationship books, and pretend to be fulfilled in every way.

But the reality is, I’m not fulfilled...

Read more at Single Roots.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Yesterday's Injustices Tomorrow?

From my class reading in Stassen and Gushee's Kingdom Ethics:

A holistic character ethics needs to develop a self-critical understanding of how we perceive authority, change, threat and truthfulness in our society. Without that, Christians will not understand how to act effectively to "seek the shalom of the city where you dwell" (Jer. 29:7). They will emigrate inwardly into small enclaves of self-fulfillment. Their ethics will ignore powerful influences in the society that shape people's character and will lack the antidotes with which to correct secular ideologies. They will not know how to share in God's compassion for he mistreated. They will naively support an unjust status quo. They will have an ethics that focuses only on philosophical or theological generalities, or only on individualistic virtues, and act as if God is Lord only of theological doctrines, or of the private, individual life and not of the power structures and struggles for justice. Those who do not understand the causative forces in society are condemned to repeat yesterday's injustices tomorrow. (75-76)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Reading the Beatitudes in Context

I started seminary this week. After years of  prayer and months of planning, I'm finally here, studying for online classes through Fuller Theological Seminary. I've dreamed about this for so long, at times it still doesn't feel real. How is it that I am so blessed?

I'm taking two classes this fall -- Church and Mission in Global Contexts, as well as Christian Ethics. Both classes have already sparked much thought, but it is the latter that prompted this post.

As a part of my reading for Christian Ethics, I have begun to work my way through Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, by Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee. During the second chapter, titled "Virtues of Kingdom People," the authors hone in on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as a framework for Christian Ethics. As part of their discussion, Stassen and Gushee present a paraphrase of the beatitudes that seeks to illuminate what Jesus words would have meant in their original context. While this paraphrase is reminiscent of the words so familiar to many of us, the suggested connotations to Jesus' statements are profound.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

N.T. Wright on Redefining Marriage

N.T. Wright explains the dangers of redefining marriage. As always, he is gracious and well spoken.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I Hurt Someone This Week

There is a big difference between hurt and harm. We all hurt sometimes in facing hard truths, but it makes us grow. It can be the source of huge growth. That is not harmful. Harm is when you damage someone. Facing reality is usually not a damaging experience, even though it can hurt. ~ Dr. Henry Cloud

A family member posted this quote on Facebook this week. I've read it before, in one of Henry Cloud's books, though the precise title has escaped me. It's a truth I've often remembered when confronted with the dilemma:

1. Tell the truth and hurt someone.
2. Stay quiet and harm someone.

You would think the choice is an easy one, but it isn't. For some of us, it can feel like the most difficult choice in the world.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Donald Miller on Church and Christian Agency

Last month Donald Miller stirred up the blogosphere when he wrote about his church attendance habits. I wasn't offended -- I can relate, actually -- but many Christians expressed concern and disapproval. A few weeks later, RELEVANT posted an interview with Miller, in which he clarified his earlier statements. Miller also explained his personal vision for Christian community:

I think one of the problems with the current model of evangelical traditional whatever-you-call-it that we’re doing is a lot of people walk into a church and they feel the agency to be an apostle, to be a disciple of Jesus is given to one person in the room, or maybe five or six—and that’s the pastoral staff. And I would love to see a model of church where the pastor stands up and says “you are all pastors.” Just buy a box of sheriff badges and give it out and read Hebrews and say, “you are a pastor, and this Sunday meeting is time to equip the thousands of little churches that will leave here and take place in your homes around your dinner table.”

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Praying for Diamond

I read a story this morning that pulled tears toward my eyes:

Her name is Diamond.
By the time she was 21 she’d had three children with three different baby-daddies and been around a lion’s share of city blocks. Her eyes are as deep brown as the dirt on the earth, but not as dark as her heart or as heavy as her shoulders feel under the weight of ongoing drug abuse, failed relationships and the guilt of neglecting her children. She’s chosen her addiction over kissing her kids goodnight, goddamned habit she can’t kick for the love of anything – even though she kicks herself to sleep every evening when she lays her head down on a different street corner, or at the local bus stop depending on the weather. Diamond would give thanks to the powers that be – if she believed in them – for the pretty looks that make her so successful at panhandling for money as well as selling the poems she writes on her wrist on the rare occasion when she’s hit with inspiration. Maybe in five years or never, Diamond will have just enough ounces of willpower to get straight and finish high school. Maybe in five years or never she’ll be alive and clean enough to raise her own kids. Maybe in five years or never she’ll have a job and live in her own home, like she always dreamed.
It will either be in five years…or never.

Read more at A Deeper Story.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Book Review: ‘Pulling Back the Shades’

You don’t have to choose between being sexual or spiritual.

The words are a bold white-on-black, printed across the top of the book’s back cover. The front is even more provocative, designed to be reminiscent of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades series. However, the similarities end there — Pulling Back the Shades, which hits shelves today, has nothing to do with bondage.

It’s all about freedom.

Christian authors Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery have joined forces to address “Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart” (according to the subtitle). And the book delivers what the cover promises; its 150 pages explore an incredible range of topics related to both sexuality and spirituality, all in the conversational style you’d expect from Dannah and Juli. [...]

The authors also spend some time unpacking the spiritual overtones woven throughout theFifty Shades books. While neither woman had read the trilogy, Juli chose to do so in preparation for writing Pulling Back the Shades. Her review is quite alarming.

Visit Marry Well to read more.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Christian Response to Mental Illness

I recently discussed the issue of mental illness among Christians with a friend who almost lost someone to suicide last week. Thinking about the topic led me to do a little research, and in the process I came across an old blog post by Ann Voskamp titled "What Christians Need to Know about Mental Health." Voskamp begins:

Dear Church,
Cancer can be deadly and so can depression.
So can the dark and the shame and the crush of a thousand skeletons, a thousand millstones, a thousand internal infernos.

Her words are heart-wrenching, lovely, and true. She continues, weaving her own story into a cry for Christ's heart in us towards the wounded. 

We won’t give you some cliche – but something to cling to — and that will mean our hands.
We won’t give you some platitudes — but someplace for your pain — and that will mean our time.
We won’t give you some excuses — but we’ll be some example — and that will mean bending down and washing your wounds. Wounds that we don’t understand, wounds that keep festering, that don’t heal, that down right stink — wounds that can never make us turn away.
Because we are the Body of the Wounded Healer and we are the people who believe the impossible — that wounds can be openings to the beauty in us.

If we love like Jesus does, how can we have any other response?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Come and Make All Things New

I find my hand too quickly reaches to change the station when Christian music comes on the radio.

It's not that I don't like music that focuses on its Creator. I do. I may even say that it is the most true sort of music, as it expresses the most True of realities.

It's just that most Christian music isn't really about God. Sure, God is a character in the song, but the protagonist is almost always the omnipresent me. Or, if God is central, it's his relationship to me that is most praised.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Donald Miller Rarely Goes to Church, and I Can Relate

Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, made a lot of people mad on Monday when he wrote that he doesn't go to traditional church services very often. He explained that he connects to God better though work than through song.

Some people were outraged. Others were politely disconcerted.

Miller responded with another post, clarifying his view (and doubtlessly making even more people mad).

It's going to take me awhile to process Miller's posts fully, and then even longer to develop my opinion. Still, I'm thankful he brought up this important (yet sadly polarizing) topic.

I have realized in recent years that I was incredibly blessed to spend about half my childhood as an un-churched Christian.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Book Review: ‘True Love Dates’ by Debra Fileta

I first came across the work of Debra Fileta while reading RELEVANT. I soon found and subscribed to her blog, as her thoughts on healthy relationships are generally spot-on. Here in the Marry Well Lodge, we’ve frequently discussed Fileta’s articles — most recently, her thoughts on Mistakes to Avoid in 2014. When I received an email offer of a complementary copy of her book — True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life — I was thrilled.

I approached the book with fairly high hopes, and I wasn’t disappointed. In the introduction, Fileta lays out a map for where her book will take you.

If you’ve picked up this book, it’s likely that you’re searching for true love. Your desire for marriage may be strong, even feel like a preoccupation that you can’t seem to shake. You might be sick and tired of being single and alone, watching your friends get knocked off, one by one, into the world of love while you feel more and more isolated. Maybe you found someone you thought was “the one,” only to have your heart broken and your hopes shattered, alone once again. In a world that seems to cater to couples and families, sitting at a table for one is the last place you want to be.
But the ironic thing about finding true love is that it must start at a table for one.

And in that statement lies perhaps the greatest strength of Fileta’s book. While many Christian dating books focus on honoring God and the other person, Fileta takes time to focus on the importance of introspection and personal growth. Only after you have learned to to be a whole person can you relate properly to other people and to God Himself.

Visit Marry Well to read more and enter to win a free copy of True Love Dates.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Heart of Christianity

I have been going through Justo L. Gonzalez' The Story of Christianity. I thought studying church history would be fascinating and perhaps inspiring. I did not expect to be challenged by it, or shamed by it.

This story is breaking my heart.

Consider the words of Basil, the Great Cappadocian:

If one who takes the clothing off another is called a thief, why give any other name to one who can clothe the naked and refuses to do so? The bread that you withhold belongs to the poor; the cape that you hide in your chest belongs to the naked; the shoes rotting in your house belong to those who must go unshod.

While we might argue about Basil's understanding of personal boundaries, his heart is exemplary.

I've never met anyone with a heart like that.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Gary Thomas on Love and Desire

Author Gary Thomas recently posted an excellent blog series on the differences between love and desire. He introduces his topic this way:

When an immature 29-year-old soul proclaims, “I love him; I really love him!” she may well be speaking with a five year old’s heart: “I love candy; I really love candy!”
Our culture has made love and desire synonyms.
As long as we mix up the two, we will never understand biblical love, and thus we will never understand sacred marriage. Biblical love is perhaps best understood (though not fully defined) with the old-fashioned word benevolence. It is wholly others-focused.
A five year old loves candy in the sense that he desires it. He wants to eat it. In the same way, an immature 25 year old says he “loves” a woman because he desires her. He wants to have sex with her, or at least he wants to be around her and he wants her to want him back with the same intensity.
The kind of love the Bible calls us to is a love that is focused on the other’s benefit, not our desire.

Read the rest of Part 1, and then check out Part 2 and Part 3. While his primary focus is the marriage relationship, Thomas' insight applies to almost any relationship. We can desire people in many ways -- seeking their approval, friendship, support, etc. These desires, though not always evil, are necessarily rooted in our own tastes, preferences, needs, and ambitions. Love is something entirely different. Love is always only about the other.