Monthly Archives: May 2006

Poor Indeed

Have you ever been poor? More than broke, more than bankrupt, more than desperate…have you ever had nothing? Where you had nothing and nobody to call your own? No where to turn? Completely and utterly destitute?

I haven't. I have never wanted materially. Not once.

I have a hard time even conceiving of it. Born with middle class American privileges: education, food, opportunities. I've never lacked for the basics, and I've often had way more than enough. I've been through some temporary rough patches, but nothing a little elbow grease and bootstrapping couldn't fix.

I hesitate to even write this, because I don't want to sound like I know what I'm talking about. 'Cause I don't know anything.

I can't do anything right.

I don't know how to live like God wants me to live.

I don't know how to stop doing the things God's Word says not to do.

I don't know how to do the things God's Word says to do.

I don't know how my own inner voice works anymore.

I don't know how to stop second guessing myself.

I'm walking around and I'm doing my job and I'm taking care of my kids, but I don't know how to do any of it without offending God. It's unbearable. It's paralyzing. It's horrifying. I've been shaking. I've been queasy. I've felt ominous clouds rolling over my skies. And there is no way I can fix it. I cannot live right at all. There's no way out.

Forgive me if you know what's coming. I didn't.

I was trolling along aimlessly through blogs, feeling so bewildered when I encountered this verse (that I of course have seen before but never understood) in a blog at reallivepreacher.com: Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:3 NIV). In the comments, rlp says:

The classic interpretation of this is that Spiritual Poverty is the state in which you understand that you are unable by the force of your own will, to live your life in ways that are spiritually healthy. This is VERY much like the first step in AA when a person admits he is powerless over alcohol.

Many of us believe in living in certain ways, and then are unable or unwilling or unprepared or whatever to do so. Christian spirituality begins with an admission of that fact. That's what I think Jesus is getting at.

So that's what this feeling is. Being poor. It's ugly. It hurts. It doesn't feel blessed at all.

And yet, to know that every teeny tiny thing I have, even this glimmer of understanding, is something He has given to me is remarkable.  

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Can I Do This?

No.  I don't have it in me.  I don't have it in me to start this absolutely enormous and overwhelming journey.  As I investigate answers to my own questions and the ones posed to me by friends and skeptics, I find … more questions.  The kind that are even harder to answer…the kind with no answer.   I feel discouraged and tired.  Inadequate.  Confused.  Who am I to do this?  Now?  At 40?  

No.  I don't have it in me. 

And yet, He does.  It's hard to phrase right, but I have felt stirred to apologetics since I encountered the word for the first time.  He leads me to books and sites and questions and answers and people.  I know there are sites that talk about what a true calling is, and I will go study them in time (my list of things to study only grows at an exponential rate), but I don't think I need an explanation to know I am called.

I cannot do it.  He has to do it if it is His will.  I'm grateful for all of it, even this spinning in my head.

I'm going to go to sleep now.  I will remember to thank Him tonight for the gift of sleep.  

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Greek to Me

When I was a senior in high school, I remember taking a field trip to Lincoln Christian College. One of the things we did was listen in on some kind of class or campus sermon – I don't remember the details, but one thing sticks out in my memory. The speaker was talking about possible translations for Mark 19:23-24 [NIV]:

As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God's kingdom? Let me tell you, it's easier to gallop a camel through a needle's eye than for the rich to enter God's kingdom."

I recall that at least one translation option the speaker presented would have changed the meaning of the verse. [biblicalhebrew.com has an interesting dissection of the translation for the interested.] I remember being surprised and angry. There was more than one way to translate the bible? Not just the "thees and thous", but important words that could even change the meaning? How many of these translation problems were there? Why did my church never talk about this?

On reflection, I think they probably did talk about it at the adult bible study level, at least a little. At the high school level, however, I remember more talks about saving yourself for marriage and the evils of alcohol. I don't remember any discussions even remotely connected to theology or history or intellectual reasons for faith in Christ. Most of the church I remember was a "how-to" discussion – how to live your life according to what the bible said (with a healthy dose of reminder of what would happen if you didn't!)

Perhaps the adults in the crowd knew why there were there and knew why they believed. What about the children and the teens and even the young adults who have been there all their lives? What are they thinking? Will children brought up in church naturally and easily continue to have faith if it is not explained to them how we got here and why? I certainly didn't. I know a lot of kids that didn't. One of the youth ministers at my new church lightly reminded us that kids in Sunday School often acted as if they were innoculated *against* Jesus; that the little bit of exposure could prevent them from getting the "disease" as an adult. When we condescend to children, we are the administrators of the vaccine.

It's natural to focus on the obvious unbelievers when it comes to sharing the good news. Speaking from experience, though, there is a group of very important people that need reaching that are not so readily apparent: children reaching the age of reason. Teaching bible stories and preaching virtues from the good book won't count for a thing when Heather and Justin question whether God even exists. Don't take the children's faith on faith.

This is not just about high school seniors about to go off to college and be challenged by those "athiest professors". It took me until high school to start asking difficult questions out loud, but I had them long before that.

If *I* didn't know there were over 500 eyewitness to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, I can tell you that your 7th grader doesn't know. Your 7th grader's friends are laughing in his face because he believes something so "ridiculous". And your 7th grader doesn't know what to say. The historical and logical and intellectual reasons to believe in Jesus and the validity of the bible and the existence of God just weren't presented to me as I grew up. Yes, our kids need to know how to live by God's Word, to not watch too much MTV or have sex in the back of Justin's van on the way home from the football game. But "how-to's" only come after "want-to's".

Living by the Word is a choice each of us make for ourselves. It's not an easy choice, but if we have determined with our own hearts AND minds that faith in Jesus is reasonable and true, then it is a more understandable choice to make. Show the children the evidence. Help them build their faith from the ground up. Show them the difficult problems and the possible answers. Show them the same careful respect and concern you would give to those who are not Christians, whom you would like to bring to Christ.

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Why Pain?

My friend Tim gave me permission to quote him from one of our email conversations about another friend of mine who experienced a distressing childhood: (the italics are my addition)

It is sad that bad things happen — and they do — and it raises questions of why God allows us to experience pain. But he does: there is no contract which says otherwise. The existence of evil and pain is the biggest theological barrier to most people's belief in God. In a way, it is a symptom of our natural narcissism: God's first job should be to keep us from harm and pain, emotional, physical, or otherwise. (Never mind that God himself chooses to suffer and weep.)

But, to quote the old song, "I beg your pardon: I never promised you a rose garden." And in a world full of free agents, having the ability to impact each other, some are allowed to run amok. God allows it. I've read so many atheists' stories, where, sometimes after years of believing in God, they suddenly wake up and realize there is pain in the universe, and suffering, and that bad things happen to relatively "good" people. (Well, duh.) And it destroys their faith, because they're not prepared to believe in a God who might allow such a thing. It blows my mind that people can go whole decades of their lives without noticing the universe is unjust. And when the clue sets in, *blam*, atheism.

Well, get a clue, friends: there is indeed pain in the universe. Besides natural occurences (to repeat myself) most of it comes about because we're allowed to make choices, and allowed to have an impact on each other. We can even murder each other. It's just that simple. God will straigthen out everything in the end — recompensing even the murdered for what went wrong — but he doesn't (always) intervene now because he's hoping the murderers, despite what they've already done — just as Christ hoped on the cross ("Father, forgive them!") — will come their senses, and that their souls may be spared from the judgement they rightfully deserve. He loves even the murderers. So the wheat and tares grow up together, indistinguishable for the moment. Every ounce of pain we've felt can be more than compensated for. Ask Jesus, who was tortured and murdered unjustly, but has been raised above all names which are named.

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I Am The Town

I had a dream last night:

I was in a small western town.

 

It was baking in the heat of the relentless red sun.

 

The people of the town were worried since there had been so little rain. The fields and the dirt roads and the front yards of the houses of the town were growing large cracks in the baked clay soil. The land still grew some vegetation, but it was sparse and weak and barely enough to sustain the people. I talked with the people and felt their worry.

 

Over the years, some muted rains would come to the town. They were never enough to spring the land to life, but enough to keep what was there alive. The townspeople barely noticed these soft rains. Indeed, their worry got stronger and their whispered complaints to either other grew louder. "What will we do," they said?

 

They went on, scratching a hard life out of the wretched cracked dirt; resigning themselves to the harshness of the dust that coated their clothes and hair and lives.

 

In time, a few noticed the gentle rains were becoming more frequent. The top of the soil, they saw, was softer to the touch.

 

One afternoon, large dark clouds appeared over the horizon. The people looked up from their fields and stood where they were in the sudden stillness to watch the thunderheads close in.

 

The clouds burst open and it rained. It rained like they had never seen it rain before. Sheets of it poured out of the sky, drenching the people, the houses, the streets and the fields. The people were dumb with awe as the great and terrible storm brought them what they had ceased to hope for. They had forgotten that rain like that even existed.

 

When the rain slowed and finally stopped, the town was a disaster. Muck and mud was everywhere. Puddles of water pooled in the streets and the fields. But the sun was gentle and the air was clear and sweet smelling. The people started to greet each other outside their houses and they remarked with amazement that the dry, cracked town had not been destroyed with flash flooding. 

I realized then that the gentle rains were responsible for protecting the town. The soft rains the people had ignored had softened the ground enough so that the great and terrible storm could be borne. The mighty rain was able to be absorbed into the ground and into the cracks without wiping the town completely away.

 

I remembered this dream so vividly upon waking this morning. My first thought was that it was such an odd thing to dream about. But following that, it came to me, that it was a sort of answer to a question I've had, and had written of indirectly last night in an email to a friend.

Why here? Why now? Why is my relationship to Christ been reconnected here and now and why is it so incredibly different and strong than when I knew him as a young person?

I am the town. My Father's storm is pouring great and terrible rain down on my cracked and dying land, but because he has stayed with me through the years, and shown me his grace in quiet ways, I will not be washed away. I am covered in muck and mud and have much to clean up. But the air is sweet and my town will live. He says: "I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU, NOR FORSAKE YOU."

Thank you for all of your rain, Jesus.

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Sometimes You Just Need The King James Version

The Lord's Prayer

Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done in earth,
as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory,
for ever.

Amen.

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

This is the way I learned these as a child. It makes me feel like a child again to recite them to my Father, and I think that is good.

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A Skirmish

Backstory: 

Confrontation, in my book, has always ranked right up there with real fun stuff – going to the dentist or perhaps poking myself in the eye with a sharp stick.  I expend a fair amount of energy trying to prevent it or avoid it.

I grew up in an authoritarian family, and my father had some what they call "anger management issues" these days.  I learned very early on to avoid the hot zone.

I also experienced an (unrelated to the above) terrible act of family violence. Among many other life changing affects, it tranformed my avoidance of conflict into more of a phobia. 

Just the thought of arguing makes my stomach turn.  There are some discussions I just won't have because of the potential for conflict.  I can force myself to do it if I really feel I need to, though. My position at work requires me to participate in technical discussions that sometimes disinigrate into arguments. If I want to get what I consider the best position heard, I sometimes have to fight for it. Sometimes I will, sometimes I am unable. It's a limiting factor for my career, but that's been okay with me.

I do force myself far beyond any other situation when it comes to doing the right thing for my children in maintaining consistent rules and discipline at home. My daughter is a natural born lawyer and has a never ending supply of arguments why she should be able to do what she wants to do, and she will use every trick in the book to get it. So I persevere more than I would. Sometimes it comes down to ugly conflict. I do it for them, but it has been a real struggle.

Current Story:

Last night, my friend Alexander* and I met some friends from another website we hang out at. Paulina* I had met once before, and have had a natural easying going relationship with her. She brought her boyfriend Craig*. I know him through the site, but not well, and this was the first time I was meeting him. Alexander had met him before, and warned me he was a big personality – very loud and opinionated.

We started off a bit awkwardly, but Craig started bringing up fairly interesting subject to discuss. He said that he and his friend always hung out on Thursday nights, discussing and debating the big topics – politics, gender, philosophy, media, etc.  Apparently he really wanted to get our conversation going in the same vein, because he started baiting the table, stating positions analogous to what you would see from a troll in forums. Normally, I just refuse to get into these kinds of discussions. However, because I am trying to think less of what *I* want and more of what other people need, I tried to consider that this seems fun to him, and I will try to make him comfortable, so okay, I'll play. Plus, I've been studying the basic principles of logic, so perhaps there was a little urge to test out my wings with some friendly debate. 

I'll admit – he got a heated debate started when we stated that women always play games, and men never do.  Harumph. 

The details of the conversation that ensued are irrelevant. But the important thing is that as I started to deconstruct his position using the few principles I've studied thus far, I started to see how he was coming from a morally relativistic viewpoint.  And oh hey!  I knew something about this!  And I knew why that was bad. 

 I found myself starting to defend absolute truth and Christianity in short order. I prayed to the Father for an emergency dispatch of the Holy Spirit, because I was going to need it!

Now, I've only just begun my study, and there are so many things to learn, but it's so amazing how clear the fundamental truth of the matter has become to me, and how incredibly important.  I can't really remember all the things I said over the course of the debate that followed, but Alexander told me later I represented my position and Christianity very well.  He was astonished at how I remained composed and calm even when Craig was getting pretty personal in his arguments. There were many things I had to say that I didn't know the answer to, but it felt so good to be confident in the answers I did know.  I had something for him to consider.

I prayed to keep my ego out of the discussion, and keep myself gentle and respectful. I don't know that I succeeded completely, but I do know that it was far, far more than I could have ever done before, and certainly not something I would have or could have done on my own. Especially towards the end of the conversation, he took two final swipes:

First, he said that if I were a Christian, he couldn't convince me of anything because I would always come back with faith as an answer. To this, I pointed out that the number of my arguments that were based on faith during our entire conversation were exactly zero. I asked him to give me an example of one that I had not based in history or reason, and he could not. I honestly think that surprised him.

Second, as we were wrapping up and calling a truce, he was trying to mollify Paulina, who apparently felt a little ignored and upset at the conversation. (I do feel bad for that part, and I will have to call her this morning to apologize.) Craig stated that this was all in fun – that I had made good arguments, and that if were honest, I would concede his points. I asked him at that point (nicely) did he just state that I was being dishonest? That I was lying? The amazing thing is that he denied it right away! He said point blank that he had not said that. Of course, Paulina and Alexander jumped in and told him, yes indeed, you just did say that. We all laughed, but it wasn't very comfortable.

Alexander and I dropped Craig and Paulina off at their hotel and went out for some coffee so I could recover from the stress of the conflict. He knows me pretty well, and was there to listen and make me laugh at stupid things.

I don't know that I've made any difference in Craig's opinion, but this discussion validated some things I have been thinking, even moreso than I ever would have suspected.

  • Jesus is making a HUGE difference in my life.  (Yay!)
  • Apologetics is really, really important for my own faith.
  • Apologetics is really, really important for talking to other people in ordinary ways.
  • I'm happier than I've ever been. 

Life is good. Thank You, Father.
*Pseudonyms

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