Tag Archives: religion

Misrepresenting J M

I experienced a little dust-up with a Facebook friend recently. The subject of the dust-up isn’t important, and everything is okay now, but the experience triggered some thoughts about how I’m perceived and what some of my failings are.

Let it be noted that I am still trying to figure out how to integrate Facebook into my world again. I’m still not particularly happy to be back there. And the thing about Facebook is that you’re only really noticed if you’re 1) creating/participating in controversy or 2) sharing Pinterest-perfect lifestyle posts. Controversy gives me a bellyache, and I stink at Pinterest-perfect. I’ve said before–as a wife and mother, I’m a lot more Erma Bombeck than June Cleaver or Martha Stewart.

So in trying to find things to share, I share things that I like, things that speak to my interests and beliefs, things that I think might be helpful to others, etc. I share TED Talks. I share the occasional writing-related article. I share silly grammar cartoons and coffee pictures. And I share posts related to my faith.

What gets the mosts attention/likes? The coffee pictures. My occasional picture of my dog or kids. Maybe a good quote. And a status about something “happy happy joy joy” in my family.

Anyway. This blog post is not about the inanity of Facebook.

Rather, this blog post is about how I communicate my faith to other believers.

Here’s the thing. I’m not very good at sharing why I believe some of the things I believe. I don’t know how to explain it except to give some examples.

When I say that I have some concerns about the culture of “courtship” and the way it’s currently in vogue to push our teens away from dating, somehow, I come across as promoting licentious behavior.

When I say that I have issues with the way we teach God’s will in Evangelical circles, people seem to think that I mean there’s no room for God to work in our lives or that God can’t reveal His will in any way, shape or form.

And when I say that I have an intellectual faith rather than an emotional one, I somehow communicate that I have no room for emotion in my walk with Jesus and that I only have head knowledge.

What do these things have to do with the dust-up and Facebook? Well . . . I started thinking about these things because of the dust-up, and it seems like a lot of these misconceptions about me end up resulting from written interactions (like those that occur on Facebook or in e-mail).

I have to be candid–I’m not sure how to fix these notions.

I can say that I have no intention of promoting licentious behavior in our young people. I think sexual purity is vitally important to our material, emotional, and social well-being in this world. I can clarify that I absolutely leave room for God to speak however He wants to speak in this world. I can tell folks that I have had many, many, many days of pouring out my heart to Jesus in prayer–carpet-fiber-up-the-nose days, in fact, when the only posture adequate before the bone-crushing awesomeness of the Throne of Grace was one of utter prostration (and on those days, if I could have made myself thinner to melt into the floor, I would have).

But it seems hollow to say these things. It doesn’t ring true. It feels like I’m attempting to justify myself and that maybe then I sound like I’m speaking from both sides of my mouth.

It’s a little unnerving that so many of these misunderstandings occur in writing. I worry that maybe I’m not as good at communicating in the written word as I should be for . . . well, for a writer. If these things occur in live conversation, it’s a lot easier to make myself understood. Sometimes. I still get into a lot of trouble on the courtship issue . . .

I suppose the first question is, “why do I care?” And I’m not sure how to answer that except to acknowledge that perhaps I’m more tender-hearted than I care to admit. It hurts to know that I’ve misrepresented myself in such a way as to make people completely misunderstand who I am.

The second question is, “how do I deal with it?” And I can only come up with two possibilities–either stop engaging people on anything where I might potentially be misunderstood, or get better at ignoring the misconceptions. The third possibility–improving how I represent myself–needs to happen either way, but that’s a long process. And even so, I’m not sure I’ll ever really be very good at it.

For the moment, I’m just choosing not to engage. On Facebook, if I post something that might be controversial for some reason, I am choosing to just ignore comments that would draw me into a bad position. If I see a post that might have drawn a comment from me in the past, I am choosing to keep scrolling. It’s the social media version of nodding and smiling–which is, coincidentally, the way I’m choosing to deal with real life conversations.

I suppose this may not be a very interesting blog post. It’s a little bit like the ones I posted in the very beginning. This is me, working out my salvation with fear and trembling, perhaps. It seems like it’s a daily struggle to figure out how to navigate the world when you’re a human oddity.

Perhaps the best I can hope for is to represent Christ well. In that sense, it doesn’t matter what others think of me. It only matters that Jesus is proud of me. So maybe I misrepresent myself, or maybe others think I’m hypocritical, Pharisaical, hard-nosed, unemotional, or even heretical. Maybe that’s unimportant if I’m careful to speak with wisdom, knowledge, and good character.

Ultimately, I’m an ambassador for Jesus Christ. While ambassadors have to be mindful of how they comport themselves, sometimes, they do have to speak hard truths, and they can occasionally misrepresent themselves. But as ambassadors, they have to care less about how they are perceived and more about how the governments they represent are perceived.

I’ll say one thing, though–It would be easier to be a good ambassador for Christ if I weren’t so human.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

A Prayer

Lord,

Give me the patience to wait when you say, “not now;”

The courage to charge when you say, “I am giving you this victory;”

The wisdom to know the difference;

And the humility to praise you in either circumstance.

 

Give me peace when you are silent;

Fill my lips with praise that overflows my heart.

Make ready my feet and hands for your open doors,

And embolden my spirit to do your perfect Will.

 

Lord, may I know when to rest and when to work,

When to bow my head and when to lift my eyes,

When to speak and when to listen.

 

Soften my heart,

Open my eyes,

Unstop my lips,

Free my hands,

Unshackle my feet,

Engage my mind,

Fill my ears with songs that anticipate my eternal life in your presence.

 

Make me ready, Lord, for the works you have prepared in advance for me to do.

May your strength always be made perfect in my weakness.

 

Amen.

Gifts

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

— 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, NASB

I have a friend who is struggling right now with a sudden physical ailment that, if it turns out to be chronic, will affect her ability to do a lot of things that she is very gifted at doing–namely, speaking and teaching. She is a woman of deep spiritual conviction, a woman who lives her faith unapologetically in a thousand different ways on a daily basis, a woman who walks in obedience to God in every facet of her life while still maintaining a degree of humility that makes her approachable and open.

In short, she’s not the type of person one would think of as needing to be disciplined by God.

Sometimes, stuff just happens–I realize that. This is a fallen and cursed world, and sometimes people get sick or injured just because.

Because nothing is perfect.

Because our bodies are fragile.

Because life isn’t certain, even when we live and walk in obedience.

I saw my friend this morning, and in a group of women who all prayed for her healing, I could only think one thing: “I need to tell her that this isn’t her only gift.”

I don’t know why that came to mind. I don’t know if God put it there, or if it was just a rare dollop of wisdom hard-won through my own painful journey of the last year and a half, or if it was just . . . coincidence or a random thought.

I fought it, but it didn’t leave. In fact, it crystallized into a more complete thought.

“This is not your only gift. You are a communicator and a teacher and a leader. Those things are internal. They aren’t dependent on your ability to physically speak.”

(Physician, heal thyself.)

I don’t like saying these kinds of things in front of others, and I hesitated to say it to her at all, because I didn’t want to sound like I was giving prescriptive advice or telling her, without saying, that the struggle would make her strong. But the idea wouldn’t leave, so when our group broke up, I approached her and told her what would not leave my heart or mind. “I don’t know why I’m supposed to tell you this, and it will probably come out wrong, but . . . ”

And I told her.

“Your gifts are inside. They aren’t dependent on the external things. As someone who had her “gift” wrested from her pried-shut fists, I have to say that this isn’t the only thing you are. You aren’t a speaker; you’re a communicator and a teacher, and those things are internal. Those things won’t leave.”

She thanked me, and we shared a hug. I have no idea if what I said was meaningful to her, but maybe I wasn’t supposed to say it to her.

Maybe it was for me.

Most of the time, I feel like a very ungifted person. I belittle the gifts I do have, and assume that whatever I am capable of doing could be done by someone else in a far more competent way. And when it comes to spiritual gifts and the work of the Body of Christ, I am always willing to say what I’m not good at: “I’m not good at prayer. I’m not good at joy. I don’t have gifts of hospitality or teaching or shepherding. I’m not an encourager.”

In all honesty, sometimes I wonder exactly why God wanted me in His kingdom.

So, here it is:

Writing was not my only “gift.”

And even if it was, and even if God did take it from me (which I firmly believe He did), it doesn’t mean it was forever. Like my friend’s illness, it may just be for a season.

If God truly did give me an ability to communicate through the written word, then that’s something that’s inside. It’s not dependent on the specific outward expression of that gift. It doesn’t mean that I can only use that gift through writing and publishing fiction.

God’s vision is so much bigger than mine. His Kingdom is so much larger than I can see. I get focused on my little world, my little brick in His big plan, and I can’t see how that brick might be vital to something else. The truth is that my brick might be a foundation, or a keystone, or part of a support column.

I have been so fixated on the “me” of my work that I have neglected the “Who” of my abilities.

There’s that prideful spirit again.

I don’t know what God wants me to do with my work. I don’t know if He wants me to write fiction, or maybe just to keep this blog going, or find some other . . . thing.

C. S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

The psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

All I can do is be faithful, and take the next step down the road, and know that God will illuminate my journey one step at a time.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

Amazing Stories

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

— John Newton

I had a conversation a few days ago with several church folks, and the topic turned to sharing our testimonies. One of the men told how he had been in conversation once with an elderly woman who said she didn’t know how to share her story. “I have a boring story,” she told him. When he asked her to tell him more, she told a fantastic, amazing story of the power of prayer and God’s faithfulness.

I have been in a position of believing my story “boring” and “dull” many times. Of course, in talking to those believers who have what we might consider “exciting” salvation stories, they always say they would have preferred my background–brought up in church, saved at an early age, no significant consequences from the bad choices I did make, no arrest record, etc.

It’s easy to think my salvation story is dull. But the truth is that none of us have boring stories.

I have considered many times that we don’t fully understand God’s grace. When John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me,” we think he was only talking about himself.

He was talking about all of us.

If we fully understood God’s grace and mercy, I think none of us would ever again apologize for having a “boring story.”

Rather, we would understand that we all have amazing stories.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

The Violence of Atonement

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

— Romans 6:23, NASB

I just finished reading Leviticus. This is a challenging book for many modern-day believers, largely because we can’t really relate to the cultural context. I would submit that it’s precisely because we don’t understand the context that we should read this book. In general, I think the Old Testament is somewhat neglected by the modern church (outside of moralized Bible stories for children’s church, that is). Let’s face it–the Torah is tough to work through, and it’s hard to see the relevance of hygiene laws for a church that has been given freedom from such. However, to read all of these laws is to get a better grasp on the whole story of redemption.

Case in point: the practice of sacrifice as presented in Leviticus.

I recently read through the Bible as quickly as I could, starting last October and finishing in June. Really, on that reading, I was just consuming the way that a man dying of thirst might welcome a freshwater stream. I gulped.

On this reading, I am trying to slow down and meditate on what I read. As I’m working through all of this culture-building in the Old Testament, I’m trying to understand the meaning behind the rules God gave and what answers might be applicable to some of the big questions I hear about the Old Testament.

One question I have heard many times is, “why was it necessary for Christ to die?” We often give a sort of church-y answer to this, I think–something akin to, “well, there has to be a blood price paid for sin, just like in the Old Testament.” We see the Old Testament sacrifices as an imperfect picture of the ultimate sacrifice offered by Christ.

While this picture is true, I think it might be a little bit incomplete.

On this reading of Leviticus, I have been struck by the sheer violence of the atoning act. The priests were instructed on how to kill the animals brought to them, where and how to sprinkle the blood of the animal, how to dispose of its flesh, etc. They were even instructed on how to clean their robes of blood.

This is something that is easily overlooked, I think. We don’t sacrifice animals in church, so how can we really understand how much blood must have been present in the tabernacle and the temple? The altar was surely bloodstained. The priests perhaps had to kill animals several times a day. It’s no wonder God chose the Levites for the priesthood–they had no qualms about killing!

Why so much violence? Why was such a violent act necessary?

We might, perhaps, understand why a big sacrifice is necessary for a “big” sin or for a bundle of sins. But why so much blood for just every day, ordinary uncleanliness?

I think we underestimate the violence of sin.

I’m not a theologian, but I suspect this might go back to original sin. That moment, that act, separated us from God. We say that so easily in Evangelical circles–“sin separates us from God”–but do we understand what that means?

We sometimes communicate this separation as a temporary vacation from the eye of an overbearing dictator. In reality, this separation is an amputation from the one place where our souls were whole.

Original sin was an assault on God’s creation. It was a violent, bloody, painful act. It created permanent damage to not only our earthly flesh, but to our eternal souls. And what’s more, this violent act was perpetrated upon God. This assault on our souls, our flesh, was an assault upon the Creator as well. But it’s an assault that backfired; He’s still whole and perfect, but we walk around on injured soil as injured souls living in injured flesh.

As the assaulted party, God has the right to demand restitution. The restitution He has demanded in other places is pretty simple: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. No more, no less. But God was kind enough to demand less from the Israelites. He could have demanded their eyes, their teeth, and their blood, but He didn’t. Instead, He offered the substitutionary atonement model, and in His grace and mercy, He offered a path to eternity to those who believed on faith that the model was just a picture of something bigger to come.

So why did Jesus have to die?

Because we were dead.

Let us never forget the violence of sin. Let us never forget that our sin is a crime committed against a Holy, Perfect God. Let us never forget the violence of atonement, and that the price paid for our salvation was sufficient in its violence and pain and suffering.

Let us never minimize this truth.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

Waiting on God

A friend from my “old life” e-mailed me yesterday. This has happened about a dozen times since I disappeared from my old career. Periodically, someone must think of me in some fashion, go looking for me, discover I’m no longer doing that old thing, and drop me a note of curiosity, encouragement, what-have-you. Every time it happens, the old wound re-opens. I do not say this to complain about these people–it’s flattering and heart-warming to know that I am thought of, even if it’s only occasionally. I say this because these events cause me to, once again, miss work, wonder if I did the right thing, wish I could figure out a way to balance work and home, contemplate my skill as a wife and mother, and consider the possibility that I “missed my calling.”

Let’s face it: parenting is not a career one undertakes for the instant gratification or unconditional praise.

I often wonder if this is all there is. Certainly parenting is important–it’s arguably the second most important job I could ever do, the Great Commission being perhaps the first. And of course, if I’m doing both jobs together, the hope is that my four young charges will end up securely ensconced in the Kingdom and actively going forth to perform the Great Commission themselves. But as a career of personal reward, parenting is pretty far down on my list. I love and adore my children, but the everyday tasks and challenges of parenting are repetitive, exhausting, and at times downright painful. Oddly, when I look down the road at that moment when my youngest will be out of the house, I think of how empty my days will be, and I can’t decide whether to smile or cry.

Being a mother is not for the faint of heart. Sadly, my heart is very faint much of the time.

Kevin DeYoung posted his thoughts about waiting on God this morning. Mr. DeYoung never fails to offer something thought-provoking, and I confess that after my brief contact with that old friend yesterday, this post hit home. DeYoung says:

Can you believe that God has something good in store for you? Will you trust that someday when you see your beginning and middle with the ending in view that it will all make sense? Can you hope against hope that God has not forgotten you, that his promises are true, and that he is up to something? He was for Abraham and Joseph and Moses. Why not you too?

I am not very good at the whole “listening to God’s voice” thing. I do not believe that God micromanages us. I think that most Evangelicals get the whole “God’s will” thing wrong. They do themselves a disservice by sitting and waiting for God’s voice when they could be up doing something productive. I tend to follow the Augustinian idea: “Love God, and do what you like.” I believe that if you do truly love God, you will operate from your salvation, and those things you like will be within God’s will. And let’s face it–if God does have specific revelation or direction for your life, do you not believe that He is completely capable of speaking to you in such a way that the message is unmistakable?

Yet here I am at this strange place in life where most of my energy is directed toward raising children, and to be honest, this is not what I want to do forever. But having decided that I will not return to my old career, that waiting a decade or more to start again will ruin my chances of success in that career, what will I do when these children are gone?

Like Abraham, I find myself waiting on God. Like Joseph, I find my talents wasting while I am in a sometimes-unrewarding place. Like Moses, I find myself wandering from task to task while I attempt to keep small humans on some kind of course toward productive adulthood.

Do I believe that God has something good in store for me? In an eternal sense, absolutely. But in an earthly or material sense?

I have to confess: No. I don’t.

A hard confession.

Perhaps I am not looking at this parenting thing the right way. Certainly it’s fun when I laugh with my kids–and we do laugh and enjoy each others’ company. I do puff up in maternal pride fairly often; I may become downright unbearable when my eldest achieves his Eagle Scout rank. I am pleased and relieved when people compliment my children. (By the way, grandparents–those times when you go out of your way to compliment a child’s behavior to a young mother are pure liquid gold to that mother’s soul.)

But this is not The Thing. This is not what I have before me forever. This is a seasonal job–a long season, granted, but a season.

What comes next? How do I pray? Does God have something for me, or is He just hoping I’ll just go do something?

I do not know these answers.

Perhaps my prayer should be for love, for faith, for belief, for trust, for hope. Those are not unbiblical prayers, are they? Perhaps in the midst of those prayers, I will find what I am waiting for. Perhaps in the midst of those prayers, I will realize that what I was waiting for was here all along.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

Obedience

“God sets moral standards for His glory and our good. Thus, obedience is an act of worship and brings about human flourishing.”

— Brett Kunkle, Stand to Reason

I have started this post about four or five times since I titled it. I typed “Obedience” in the space and stared at this screen, knowing I had the words inside but not being able to channel them into some semblance of coherence. And I came to a conclusion:

Obedience is hard.

It is quite likely that I will stumble through this post and still not manage to reach coherence. But because the words are stuck in the neck of this bottle, I have to remove the stopper and pour them out.

I believe in obedience. As a parent, I have to believe in obedience. Otherwise, I will raise children with no moral compass, no sense of right and wrong, of limits and authority. And sometimes, yes, I do give them the “because I said so” line. “I’m the mommy. I don’t care if you don’t like it. You will obey, or you will be disciplined.” And because my children are basically good kids who have had limits all of their lives, they usually make the correct choice. Usually.

So why is it so hard when I’m the child?

The Father looks down at me and says, “because I said so.” “I’m your Father. I don’t care if you don’t like my rules. You will obey them, or you will be disciplined.” And often, the discipline isn’t so much something that God does to me but rather a natural consequence of my disobedience. This is life. This is how things work when we’re grown-ups.

Or is it?

Our country is populated by entire generations of people who don’t believe in and refuse to accept consequences. Don’t want to follow God’s rules? That’s all right–redefine the rules. It’s okay to take the life of an innocent if the innocent is unwanted, inconvenient, or burdensome. It’s fine to sleep around, practice serial monogamy, engage in whatever sexual practices suit you for the day because we can just call God’s rules old, outdated, patriarchal, unenlightened. Don’t worry about cheating on your taxes, engaging in voter fraud, or lying to the government in order to stay in the country and receive government benefits–it’s all okay, because it’s a means to an end, and after all, don’t you deserve to be taken care of?

Lest you think, my church-going friends and allies, that I give you a free pass just because you might agree with me on the above issues, let me accuse you of some disobedience as well. You call yourselves Christians, and yet you helped elect the most pro-abortion president in our history. How can you say you respect the unborn–or indeed, any human life–when you justify that behavior? And if you think I believe that all of the purity rings I see mean that our teens aren’t sexually active, you need to wake up–there are a lot of teens who wear those rings to satisfy their parents, and there are a lot of parents who think those rings mean they can breathe easy and stop being parents. Oh, and we aren’t immune as adults, either; sexual immorality is rampant in the corporate church, and in the name of love and unity, we overlook things that elders and pastors of another era would have confronted head on.

If legalism is law without love, then licentiousness, perhaps, is love without law. And we are indeed a licentious church, preaching love and acceptance and kindness and warmth and tingly, feel-good charity, all the while forgetting the law.

I do not preach legalism. I have no faith that the law itself can save me. And I know legalistic “Christians,” and they are . . . challenging, at best, and offensive at worst. Following the letter of the law, having faith that strict adherence to the law can save me, practicing a lily-white perfect outward appearance gives us a Pharisee–a white-washed tomb full of pride and arrogance and rot. And I have been a Pharisee, and worse, and it’s not fulfilling. Legalism is sin, I have no doubt.

But likewise, licentious behavior cannot lead to salvation, either. We preach love. We want people to feel good. But when we forget law, we cheapen the gospel. Why would anyone wish to be saved if we cannot make a case that there is a reason they need salvation? If there is no law to be saved from, if the law is flexible and morally relative, what’s the point of the gospel at all?

We cheapen and disgrace the name of Christ when we conveniently forget the law.

People say that we cannot “legislate morality.” While I agree that we cannot force people to believe that anything is right or wrong, we have to recognize that all law is some legislation of some morality. We have laws against theft, rape, murder, fraud, etc. because when we use a moral code to determine what behaviors are proper, all of society benefits. What better laws, what better moral code, than the one we already have–the Bible?

Obedience is law and love together. Obedience is love with limits. And sometimes, when we start with obedience, love follows. It’s true that we risk legalism, but I would rather risk legalism than licentiousness. While an individual may not benefit from legalism, society does. There is no societal benefit from licentiousness.

I admit that I have erred on both sides. I have been licentious and legalistic. My heart is a scale that too often becomes unbalanced. But I am beginning to understand, if not fully experience, that the perfect fulcrum is obedience–law with love, love with limits. By practicing obedience even when I don’t feel like it, I grow in love for Christ. By loving Christ more, I long to be more in obedience to Him. I cannot have one without the other and still be in balance.

Till next we meet . . .

J M