Why did this take so long?

That’s what I asked myself when it hit me. It seems the most obvious of obvious things, but somehow it was escaping me. That’s usually how these “aha” moments hit me.

Sometimes the most obvious things are the hardest to see.

As it pertains to this blog, I have lived on a struggle bus for a while. I can’t even tell you what iteration of my blogging life this particular blog represents. I put an end to that by actually paying for my domain name – if I have some monetary skin in the game, I am going to stay put! But even after that, pain and mental roadblocks have left me feeling helpless as I sit down to write and nothing happens.

But something hit me just now as I was in the Ladies’ Room…sorry y’all, but that’s where I am hit when some of my most profound thoughts.

I am a delightfully ordinary woman seeking after God. And that’s absolutely enough. 

This call to be ordinary is not a call to mediocrity. It is a call to slow, steady abiding in Christ and letting Him do His good work in me in His timing. The peace of this ordinariness is otherworldly. I am tired of trying to be something and someone I am not, to fit into a mold or image that “they” have crafted (who is “they” anyway?!). And I am TIRED OF FOCUSING ON MYSELF!! And that is what whole long tortuous journey has been about – me! It’s time to kill that noise and get back to writing and thinking and talking about what is my deepest passion – the things of God.

I thank you for your patient tolerance of my public navel-gazing. Let this post serve as a re-calibration of sorts. A turn back to what started this writing journey in the first place…our Lord Jesus. 

More later…grace and peace…

 

And yet, she said yes…

At first blush, she was the most unlikely of women to be called to this extraordinary role. But I think that was exactly what made Mary the perfect candidate for this vital role in redemptive history. Nothing about the birth of Messiah was how it would have been envisioned by the Jewish people of the time. They expected a king – and all the attending pomp and circumstance. Christ’s birth was the complete opposite of that. Everything was upside down – including the “royal couple” who would be His earthly parents.

Mary was an unassuming figure, probably 14 or 15 years old at the time we meet her. She was betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter; she was a virgin who lived a quiet life in Nazareth of Galilee (think Danville or Decatur; not a metropolitan mecca or center of cultural or political power). She was preparing to be the wife of carpenter. She did not have dreams or visions of greatness. She was…ordinary.

But her life changed completely when an angel appeared to her:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. – Luke 1:26-28 ESV

A few items to note:

Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Betrothal in those days was nothing like what we call “engagement” today. Ending a betrothal was not as simple as returning a ring and canceling the reservation for the reception. In order to sever the agreement, the man would have to write a certificate of divorce. So when we meet her, Mary is a woman who has been promised to Joseph,  a woman in waiting for her bridegroom. She was expected to keep herself pure until the wedding night, when her union with Joseph would be consummated.

So, to be visited by an angel and told she would be with child, and that child would be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit was probably a bit disconcerting to say the least!

I mean, can you imagine the scandal? How many people do you think believed her when she shared this story? Joseph surely did not; when he learned this, he determined to divorce her:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,  and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. – Matt. 1:18-25 ESV

We hear this story so often that I think it could be easy to gloss over this, to sanitize it. But this was no small event. Old Testament law was not kind in these situations. The law stated that a betrothed woman who claims to be a virgin but is found not to be is to be stoned to death at the entrance of her father’s house (Deut. 22:20)!

Harsh.  And Mary would not have been ignorant of this. She knew exactly what she was getting herself into when she say “yes” to God. And I would imagine she would have no expectation of Joseph standing with her. But she said yes.

Mary believed God. And that belief came at enormous cost. That belief was risky.

Who would believe her?

What would Joseph do?

What would her family do?

What would the public think or do?

Her very life was at risk.

And yet….she said…Yes, Lord. May it be to me according to your word.

There are three things that came to my mind as I thought about Mary.

First – faithfulness is hard, and the road taken is usually the road less travelled. Last night I was trying to imagine myself as Mary. It did not go well. I have so many questions…and not just about the virgin part! All the questions I posed – and more – would have flooded my mind and spilled out of my mouth. The fear that would have gripped me would have been paralyzing.

I have no doubt that Mary felt fear too. I have no doubt that her mind whirled with questions. But she did not hesitate. She knew the road would be hard, treacherous even. And still she said yes.

Secondly – Obedience doesn’t always make sense. How much of what God had revealed to her through His angel “made sense”? Human sense. None of it. Did it make sense that Joseph would understand and marry her anyway? Would it make sense that her family wouldn’t seek to harm her? Did it make sense that she, an ordinary woman from a nondescript town would be chosen to fulfill the promise of God, a promise that is woven through the entire fabric of Israel’s history up to that point? I mean, women dreamed of being the mother of the Messiah. Why would God choose Mary?

Why does God choose any of us? I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t make sense that I am a child of God. It doesn’t make sense that He saved me out of my misery and sin. But He did. And when He blesses me with the gift of ministry, when He showers favor on me, it makes no sense. The only thing that makes sense in that moment is to say Yes, Lord.

Thirdly – Obedience belongs to God, not to other people. Mary’s ultimate statement: I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me according to your Word. This is the battle cry of a woman of valor. A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Mary is praised, is called blessed among all women because she feared God more than man; she sought to obey Him, and not other people.

Had she been consumed with the potential consequences of say yes – even the very clear and present danger of being STONED to death – she would have shrunk back. She would have hidden. She would have said no. God’s plans would not have been thwarted – but she would have had no part in them.

What does this mean to us?

Mary displayed deep faith and enormous trust in God. She was confident, but not in herself. She was confident in her God. Confident in His character, His power. Confident that He would do what He promised. This is not something that can be mustered at the snap of a finger. This is a heart that has been shaped by the Word of God, belief in God, love for God – over time. So the first thing it means for us is a slow, steady walk with the Lord that is day by day. It’s kind of like a marathon. If I were to try to run a marathon tomorrow, I would probably drop dead after half a mile. But if I spent the next six or seven months training and slowly working up to that 26.2 miles, I would probably be able to run a marathon by July or August. Don’t know why I’d want to….but you get my drift. Slow. steady. Consistent. In the everyday and the ordinary. This is where you prepare; this is how you prepare.

Yesterday I watched the state funeral for George HW Bush. One of the eulogizers said something that cracked me up: “Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington do not encounter heavy traffic”. To which we all could say a hearty AMEN!

But is that no less true in our everyday lives? What do we hear from our culture. Our celebrity culture is omnipresent – and we all want to capture some sliver of it – hence the term “15 minutes of fame”. Limelight looks good on any complexion. Or so we think. The one on top is blessed, favored, etc.

But the life of humility is much different. It is hard, it can be painful. It can be dangerous. But this is the life that God commends. Mary was said to have found favor with God. I often hear the phrase “Favor ain’t fair”. It usually refers to something awesome happening, as if to say, “Don’t be mad; it’s favor”. But sometimes favor doesn’t feel good. Sometimes favor is hard. Sometimes you want to ask God to stop favoring you so much! But those moments and seasons in life are often where our greatest blessing are born.

Mary traveled the road of humility; a quiet, ordinary, but faithful life. So the second thing, which flows from the first is realigning what we value to match what God values. His values are completely antithetical to what the world values. So that slow, steady walk with God reveal His will and ways to us, rewiring us as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts.

God may indeed call us to extraordinary things. He might not. But regardless, our lives should be under-girded with a faithfulness to God and a desire to follow Him where He might lead – be it in the unseen, everyday of life, or the giant and amazing. In whatever God calls us, our heart’s cry should be “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me according to your word.”

Rabbit trails and winding paths…

I think this post should just be called “Random Stream of Consciousness”. All the thoughts flowing through my mind today spilled into my journal. I thought I’d share a sampling, just to give you some insight into the person behind the blog.

When I was in seminary, blogging was a relatively new phenomenon. I loved it; it helped me flesh out all the ideas and concepts I was learning prior to committing them to paper for a grade. My first “digital journal” if you will. Blogging then was much different than blogging now, but I still feel the need to wade into the blogosphere waters. It seems that in my pursuit of seeking understanding, I have lost my way as I try to get myself out of this theological sludge that presently surrounds me. I am tired of living for other people, but I feel trapped in this pattern. What do I do?

This is what I do: I begin to redefine what it means to follow Jesus, incorporating what I have learned, and letting go of things I cling to that I know are not correct. And it is time to own my faith, for better or worse, instead of looking to everyone else in the theological universe to tell me what to believe. The balance is delicate because I am not advocating closing myself off from all voices of influence and wisdom. What I am saying is that those voices of wisdom can come from different corners of the Christian world, and I need not be so dogmatic about it all.

Example from my political life: Although I tend to lean left, I am not a hardcore liberal. In terms of public policy and the definition of government protection of its citizens, I am what would be considered liberal. Protection in this view would be more than just military might, but also programs that provide safety nets for the least and most vulnerable. I find it ironic that organizations that scream the loudest that we need to reclaim our “Christian heritage”, poo-poo such liberal ideas – ideas that Jesus Himself spoke about when talking about separating the sheep and the goats. But, I digress…

Where I depart from liberal ideas are the social issues of marriage and family. In those areas, I am a conservative. I have tried to twist the Bible into a pretzel to justify SSA and marriage and I just can’t. I also cannot countenance the myriad justifications for abortion. None of them hold water for me.

However…I am not a social crusader for either of these issues. What I mean is, I cannot jump on the conservative bandwagon of trying to legislate homosexuality or abortion away. Quite frankly, I don’t think it can be done. More importantly, I don’t think that is what Jesus meant when He commissioned us to go and make disciples. To the contrary, I believe that this combative stance that is constantly railing about what we’re against undermines our true purpose as followers of Jesus, which is to show Christ’s love as He draws people to Himself. This is not a capitulation to the world’s ideas and ideals; it is a bit a realism that laws can only go so far. I am fully convinced that our mission as believers will necessarily clash with the society in which we live. We seek the welfare of that land; but for me, the cause of winning people to Jesus overrides the need for a society that matches my own moral code and is actually a deeper and more fruitful way of seeking its welfare. We simply cannot legislate belief.

And so, to those on the left, I do not go far enough in my liberalism. But to those on the right, I go too far. But for me, my desire is to love people and share God’s truth with them. I don’t need a law to do that, and to some degree, I believe that laws will actually hinder that process, especially when the people behind such laws are fellow believers. Love them into the Kingdom; let God do the hard work of changing them. We can’t do that, and no law ever will.

I digress again…

I use this as an illustration of the grey areas that bridge the distance between black and white answers on so many issues. In theory, things can be clean and neat; but life is not theory, and things are never so clean. Decisions have unintended consequences; lives and hearts and minds and feelings make life messy. Beyond the pages of a blog or a book, or beyond the steps of a platform or a chamber of Congress, life bears out the marks of those consequences, intended or not, in stark relief. We can never know all the consequences of a given decision or action; but we must own them all the same, regardless of intention.

The consequence of my own decisions is the big ball of confusion that is my inner life at the moment. I’ve chased the rabbit trails through winding paths, tossing to and fro with every wind of doctrine, seeking solace in this truth or that system. I want all the answers; I want the systematic categories to perfectly fit together.  If there is a sermon outline, I’m the one who must have all the blanks filled in or I have a breakdown. Doesn’t quite matter as much that I actually understood what was said. How completely backward, right?

I live in my head much of the time. I love figuring things out and systematizing ideas and beliefs. I want to be consistent from one issue to another. I don’t like loose ends and unanswered questions. But faith does not always satisfy the desire for certainty. By its very nature, it cannot – faith is not needed if you know all the things. Never mind the fact that I am a finite created being that can’t possibly know all the things. Minor detail.

Perhaps this current path to wholeness requires that I give up my quest for certainty in all things, answers to all questions. Perhaps this path to wholeness is acceptance of mystery, unanswered question, and paradoxical truth. I find myself in utter dependence on God when I understand the least; I cry out to Him when the questions are the most pressing. I reach and stretch and hope and pray and desire when He is hidden in mysteries.

Christianity is not merely a set of beliefs, but a way of being, a way of living, a way of being present in this world. Something I can’t quite grasp apart from living it out with brothers and sisters, no matter how many systematic theology books I digest or Bible translations I read.

This turns everything on its head for me, for my current categories do not fit the direction I’m going…

Broken crayons, patience, and grace…

I used to love getting that brand new box of crayons at the beginning of each school year. You would have thought I’d won the lottery. And those few times I was able to convince my parents to get me the big 64-color box with the sharpener on the back? Watch out! I was in heaven!

The frustrating thing for me was that those crayons wouldn’t stay “new” for long. As I would use them, they would slowly wear away, or worse, get broken. I wasn’t much for coloring with broken crayons. Even that fancy sharpener on the back of the box couldn’t fix that. And so I would long for the next school year to start, or for that magic moment when my crayons looked too awful and I would appeal to my parents for a new box.

At times, we can treat our lives and our relationships in this same fashion. That breathless feeling of a new relationship; the promise of a new job; or the excitement of moving to a new city can be intoxicating. But when that newness wears away, we can sometimes start to fade away. We can get restless and impatient, and our wanderlust kicks in as we search for the next new and exciting thing to give us that euphoric feeling again.

Life cannot be this way all the time. Life is not an endless stream of adventure and new things. Much of life is slow and steady. Predictable. Normal. Ordinary.

This year, the Lord has been walking me through this idea of ordinariness. There is nothing wrong with being “ordinary”, especially when you consider what ordinary means. It is in the normal ebb and flow of life that roots form and deepen, habits are formed, relationships are established and fortified, and commitments are confirmed. Even the process of writing requires that steady, methodical rhythm of routine and discipline. Ah yes…the “D” word. How we love that. Patient, steady faithfulness requires it.

Don’t despise the ordinary in your life. God uses it to bring depth and color to your life. Much of our lives will be filled with these large spaces of simple, faithful living. Walking out or callings or vocations, loving our families, cultivating our friendships, taking care of our homes. We need patience and grace to fulfill this calling, to fill these spaces with the rich color of faithfulness and dedication. Integrity and character.

This is the thing about broken crayons: they are great for filling in large spaces with deep, rich color. You need a sharp edge to make sure you are coloring “within the lines”; but to fill in that big spaces, the soften wedge of a broken crayon cannot be matched. We need our broken crayons. We need those parts of our lives that feel broken, ordinary, or mundane, to fill out our character and grow us up. As we walk through this life, it is easy for us to feel like those crayons, once so sharp and new, being broken and worn and frayed. But oh, how rich the color our lives can bring to our world if we surrender our brokenness to the Lord and faithfully walk with Him.

More later…until then, grace and peace…

 

Technical Difficulties…

So, my journey with Blogger has officially come to an end. The functionality of Blogger is just not conducive to what I’d like to do with this page. So I am in the process of moving my blog and domain over to WordPress.

More to come…stay tuned!

Random, mini-tirade, breakdown, and all around rant…

This is the deal: I want the Reformed Theology stuff without the Complementarian (CM) baggage. Does that make sense? I’m tired of this CM/EG (Egalitarian – sorry I love acronyms) fight. It’s getting old. Older than old. Rickety. It’s making me crotchety. I don’t like being crotchety. But now I’m crotchety.

The tentacles of the so-called New Calvinists and all their friends are spread throughout American Evangelicalism (AE) and they are CM freaks. I do NOT believe this is a Gospel issue. It is not central to the Gospel, or a requirement for believing the Gospel. This fight is a distraction in my eyes – a distraction to the very real and present dangers that face us in this world, and in our churches. While we are parsing out what a woman can and cannot do during a worship service, people are becoming disillusioned with church, abused by church, or otherwise disenfranchised because of our witness. All that can be seen from the outside is fighting and quibbling. Scratching and scraping for position and power. 
All the things they see in the world. 
What is our witness? What do we stand for? Do we simply stand for defining what man and woman should be and do? Do we simply stand for a list of things that we are against? How about what we’re for? 
I’ve grown tired. Tired of the theological drama that ensues on a daily basis in blog land. It is part of the reason my love for blogging is being slowly strangled to death. One wrong word, one wrong phrasing, and even if you are an unknown nobody, you can blow up and be blown up by the word/theology police. The invisible Evangelical Magisterium that have appointed themselves as the theology police for all of Evangelicalism. 
And this is not a tirade against rigorous theological reflection. But how many extra “essentials” are we going to add onto being saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? There are too many strings attached. It’s too burdensome. It’s too exhausting. Perhaps I care too much? Not enough? Depends on who you would ask. But this woman, who once craved theological study and was passionate enough to spend two years of her life studying it, has lost her mojo. I want it back.
That’s my story for today…