anxiety, Christianity, Covid 19, spirituality

Reclaiming My Faith

The current Covid crisis has literally paralyzed the world. We all seem to be just one particle away from the possibility of a terrible respiratory disease. I don’t know about you, but day and night, my mind obsesses. What if I already have it? What if I’m infecting my parents? Should I Lysol spray the mail? After a Target run, should I take a shower and burn my clothes? Never have I felt so vulnerable, so helpless, so ridiculous, and so afraid. Thank God for his mercy and compassion. For it is in these fearful moments that the Holy Spirit calls, convicts, and comforts.

Last night, at 3:30am, I awoke with a heavy chest, trying to get a full breath. Immediately, I thought, Is this the Covid? Is this an anxiety or heart attack? My mind began racing. Who would I call or where would I even go? Will I die alone? In that moment of desperation, I cried out to God. I begged him for patience with me, and I began to recite Psalms 23. Never has scripture been so sweet. I imagined walking with Him beside a beautiful stream, feeling protected and loved. My chest fills with air. “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death—whether literal or the metaphoric one I find myself in at the moment—I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” By now, my breathing resumes to almost normal. When I come to the end, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” my spirit is in a state of peace and I am overwhelmed with gratitude in this beautiful shared moment with my Lord.

I do believe that he is in control, that he has all of his children in his arms, and that all things work together for good to those who love him. I pray for Christ followers to be strong, to be bold, and to be faithful. This is not a time to be hoarding toilet paper and Clorox wipes. This is the time for us to reach out to the lost, to the hopeless, to the lonely, and provide them with a hope of forgiveness and peace in this life and the promise of an eternal union with God in the next.

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Christianity, Faith, spirituality

Living for the Kingdom of God

How are we living today for the coming Kingdom of God?

Do we believe what N.T. Wright describes in his book Surprised by Hope: that God’s purpose is that of rescue and recreation for the entire world and the entire cosmos? (pg. 184). If so, we need to show the world what is true, what is good, what is beautiful, ultimately what is God. How do we do that? By living distinctly different lives apart from the dominant culture. Lives that reflect who Jesus is and how He lived on earth.

When we understand that we are a part of an ongoing love story—one that started with the Israelites in the Old Testament, found its climax in the person, life, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and continues with the church today—we will be empowered with the Holy Spirit and compelled to live today for the coming Kingdom of God.

There’s a story told by Ken Gire (1998) in his book The Reflective Life called “The Old Onion Seller”:

In a shady corner of the great market at Mexico City was an old Indian named Pota-lamo. He had twenty strings of onions hanging in front of him.

An American from Chicago came up and said: “How much for a string of onions?”

“Ten cents,” said Pota-lamo. “How much for two strings?” “Twenty cents,” was the reply.

“How much for three strings?” “Thirty cents,” was the answer.

“Not much reduction in that,” said the American. “Would you take twenty-five cents?”

“No,” replied the Indian. “How much for your whole 20 strings?” asked the American.

“I would not sell you my 20 strings,” replied the Indian. “Why not?” said the American. “Aren’t you here to sell your onions?”

“No,” replied the Indian. “I am here to live my life. I love this market place. I love the crowds and the red serapes. I love the sunlight and the waving palmettos. I love to have Pedro and Luis come by and say: “Buenas dias!’ and talk about the babies and the crops. I love to see my friends. That is my life. For that I sit here all day and sell my twenty strings of onions. But if I sell all my onions to one customer, then is my day ended. I have lost my life that I love—and that I will not do.”

So what does the story tell us about living today for the coming Kingdom of God?

First, we need to recognize the grip that our own culture holds on us and reject those values. The American in the story expected a deal, a capitalistic bargaining technique, but in God’s Kingdom, money is not the issue, and the goal is something much different than simply sales and profits.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. We need to consider how we conform to what the world thinks is important and how we can break out of that conformity and conform to what God thinks is important.

Second, we need to embrace a communal life—not one that focuses on the individual. For the onion seller, life was sitting in the market, enjoying the neighborhood, soaking in nature, and conversing with friends. Acts 2 paints a compelling picture of the early church and what true community looked like in their early world. Verse 42 says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…and all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” We, as a church, need to consider what community could look like today.

Finally, we need to live as people of hope—hope in the present world, not just a future life in heaven—the kind of hope that the onion seller has that sees his presence in the market place as an integral part of his world as well. He is not worried about the future but he lives in the here and now—spreading love and joy in his corner of the world.
Colossians 1:27-28 says, “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” As the church, we need to reflect God in our community because, as Wright says, “Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness…will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.”

When God raised Jesus from the dead, the hope of renewal became reality, and we, the church, are called to live as proponents of this world—believing the victory is already won. God’s love and mercy have defeated selfishness and injustice.

The challenge is ahead of us, and together we need to consider how to let go of some of our cultural buy-in, live in community with one another, and spread the hope in our world today that Jesus Christ is alive and accessible through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We need to be a taste of the coming Kingdom of God.

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Christianity, Faith, Nonviolence, Relationships, spirituality

Unexpected Intimacy

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I had just sat down with my tall decaf mocha in one of the last seats available at the nearest Starbucks. Searching through my purse, I realized I had forgotten my reading glasses. So much for personal reading time. I had slipped my church bulletin inside my book for a bookmark, so I began to fill its blank margins with random thoughts about curriculum, coworkers, and composition—three topics that consume my professional life. Just then, I heard a loud obscenity across the room, spoken in an agitated voice. As I scanned the place, nobody else seemed alerted. It didn’t take long to spot the culprit of words that my grandmother would say “shouldn’t be used in mixed company.” A man in his early 60’s, scraggly beard, pale skin, was sitting alone at a table for two, just like me.

At first glance, I assumed he had in an earbud and forgot momentarily where he was, but as I continued to watch, I realized he was not on the phone at all. Instead, he was speaking with an unseen other. He turned his head to his right and looked the phantom straight in the eye, gesturing his pointer finger towards the table in an authoritative manner. Striking the table multiple times, he said, “It was 1960 for g_ _ d _ _ _ sakes!” I tried not to stare, but I was drawn to the moment, unable to look away. Suddenly, he sat back nodding gently towards his companion, then, he wrote down something on a pad of paper and calmly said, “Yeah. That’s true.”

As I looked around, people went about their coffee-shop activities, sipping lattes, reading on cell phones, or talking with their friends. For the next 15 minutes, I could only pick up on small snippets of the conversation—during the times his voice crescendoed and obscenities emerged. He was upset about someone who had lied to him, he also commented on his “worthless wife,” and at one point he said something heated about politics. But between every brief rant, he would pause, sit back, and listen, nodding or sipping from his bottle of water, and then jot something down.

At one point, I felt like I was violating his personal space. But with the margins of my bulletin completely covered and with a book that couldn’t be read, I had no other distractions. I’m not sure at what point my guilt from eavesdropping on a clearly private conversation turned to a gratefulness and privilege in sharing this intimate moment that otherwise went unnoticed. Perhaps the others were trying hard to politely ignore a man who may have been suffering from a mental illness. Perhaps they, too, felt unworthy to be privy to the deeper thoughts of a stranger, uncomfortable at being reminded that we have all been disappointed in people, desperate for someone to listen, and determined to find relief anyway we can.

Although I will never know the details of this man’s situation, I have thought about him every day since. I have thought about the sacred moment that we shared. And I’d like to think that perhaps, in his own way, the man was having a conversation with the God of the Universe, sharing his heartaches from life, but willing to pause in silence and listen. After all, when we reach out to Him with our frustrations at life’s disappointments, anger with the world’s injustices, and the heartache of loneliness, He will fill us with His peace, His comfort, and His joy.

 

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:33, The Message)

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Christianity, Women

Women in Church Leadership: What’s the Problem?

Growing up in a Southern Baptist church, I knew that women never preached from the pulpit or sat down in front as a deacon and passed the offering plate. Since my dad had raised me to believe that a woman can be anything a man can be, the seed of conflict over women preachers had been planted early on. In college, I spoke one time to a woman Methodist minister who had left the Baptist church, and she told me, “God called me, and nobody can tell me He didn’t.” Baptists typically justify their beliefs about women using 1 Timothy 2:11-12, which says that women should be silent in the church and cannot assume authority over a man. The problem with these verses isn’t just the avoidance of contextual understanding and consistent interpretation, but these shoddy interpretations actually deny many women their callings by God, render the church less effective in its overall mission, and limit the power of God to call whom He chooses in the world today.

Many Baptist churches, including mine, still deny women the opportunity to serve as deacons, let alone stand up and preach at the pulpit. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard 1 Tim 3:12 recited, which says that deacons must be the husband of one wife: therefore a woman cannot be a deacon. This interpretation never made sense to me because I knew we had male deacons in the church who were single and clearly not the husband of one wife. Furthermore, I know for a fact we have deacons that have been divorced and remarried. Why should that verse only apply to women and not these groups of men? Not to mention, Romans 16:1 discusses Phoebe (a woman) as a servant, or deaconess, of the church. Perhaps it is a patriarchal attitude not the message of God that reigns in our 21st Century Baptist churches?

Using passages to justify the denial of women deacons pales in comparison to using passages to deny women their place at the pulpit. 1 Timothy 2: 11-15 is probably the most popular passage used to deny women their call to preach. Paul wrote, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (New International Version). However, these verses must be taken in the context in which they were written. As with all of Paul’s letters, he expresses concerns “that are specifically related to his pastoral and theological concerns for specific churches and congregations” (Davis, 2009, pg. 6). Booth (1993) argues that if one uses this passage as defense against a woman speaking in church, one must also follow his other instructions that men raise their hands when they pray and women must not wear make-up, jewelry, or expensive clothes. Not to follow all of the instructions consistently is to be hypocritical. Furthermore, Booth (1993) points out that Paul’s praise of Priscilla and Aquila as “co-workers in Christ” (Romans 16:3, NIV) suggests “her primacy as a member of that teaching team” (para. 8) and demonstrates his affirmation of her and other women as leaders in the early church.

Not only does using verses, such as the 1 Timothy 2 passage, out of context demonstrate poor interpretation within the larger Biblical context, but this narrow-minded view denies women the ability to respond properly to God’s calling for their life. One of the roles of the church should be to promote healthy mental, emotional, and spiritual life for all members, which should involve encouraging the pursuit of one’s God-given call. Psychologically speaking, if a person is told by spiritual authority that she cannot follow the direct passion God has given her, then the church is at best hindering the attainment of self-fulfillment and at worst creating possible “neurotic distortions” in the individual (Kuhnis, 2002, pg. 696).

Unfortunately, when the church either discourages or denies women their place in its ministry, it is not only the woman herself who suffers, but also the effectiveness of that church as well. Newkirk and Cooper (2013) report that although more women are accepting the call to preach, due to the inevitable difficulties some face in certain denomination, “many talented and educated women are moving out of the church environment” (pg. 327). These women have the passion, the education, and the calling of God behind them, and if permitted, could reach more people for Christ.

Kuhnis (2002) suggests that the problem in some churches is a lack of true honest reflection as to why women in leadership positions (deacons and preachers) disturb them. Possible answers include: the importance of male symbolism, stubborn tradition, or simply sexist ideas stemming from cultural values. Davis (2009) points out that the Bible’s examples of women in spiritual leadership roles such as Deborah in the Old Testament reveal how God did and does call women into authority over men to better the lives of His people, and churches who are “stifling the service of gifted women…[deprive] the churches of able leadership at a time in redemptive history” (pg. 9). Acts 2:17-18, quoting the prophet Joel, says, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy; your young men will see visions; your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (NIV). We are living in the last days, and the church needs to use every impassioned soul willing to preach the good news to a lost world.

When the church denies women the opportunity to preach or to serve as deacons, it not only renders the church less effective, but also blatantly demonstrates lack of faith in the power of God. God used women from Deborah to Esther to Priscilla to others as well. The Bible says, “With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26, NIV). Booth (1993) reminds us that “Christ is too big to be bound by our biases…that Christ is too wonderful to be walled in by our small worlds; and that Christ is too splendid to be saddled with our sexist baggage” (para. 20).  Those who continue to deny women’s involvement in church leadership are not only ignorant of the Bible’s message, they are quenching the role of the Holy Spirit in individual lives, and they are demonstrating a lack of faith in the God they profess to love and worship.

 

References

Booth, W.D. (1993). The open door for women preachers: Acts 2:17, 18; 21:9,; Romans  10:15; Ephesians 4:1. Journal of Religious Thought, 50(1/2), 108.

Davis, J. J. (2009). First Timothy 2: 12, the ordination of women, and Paul’s use of creation narratives. Priscilla Papers23(2), 5-10.

Kuhnis, A. T. (2002). The ordination of women: A contribution from Jungian depth              psychology. Anglican Theological Review84(3), 689-702.

Newkirk, D., & Cooper, B. S. (2013). Preparing women for Baptist church leadership: Mentoring impact on beliefs and practices of female ministers. Journal of Research on Christian Education22(3), 323-343.

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2016 Presidential election, Christianity, Faith, politics, spirituality

Keep the Main Thing, the Main Thing

I am embarrassed to admit the amount of fear that has consumed me since Trump won the 2016 election and the parade of unqualified, undignified, and undesirable cabinet picks have inundated daily news. And while fears about our country and where we are headed may be legitimate, the myth is that even if Trump had lost the election and a different group gained leadership, they would somehow be able to unify this country and reach people who see their own lives as somehow more valuable than others, people who yell at minorities to go back to their own countries, tweet racial slurs about the current First Lady, and “Heil Trump” at their alt-right meetings. Laws can be passed, but hearts can’t be changed, and it has become clear that many people in this country possess a bitter hatred towards immigrants, minority, and women (just to name a few).

Hate-filled people will continue to exist and disrupt peace regardless of who is in leadership because the answer to the problem lies not in a state government run by a particular political party but in the faithfulness of individuals, impassioned by the spirit of God, to continue to show His love in the face of hate, His peace in the presence of fear, and His truth in the midst of falsehood. People have been unable to accept the Truth throughout history. Unbelievably, one source cited that almost 50% of Republicans refuse to accept that Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, an absolute checkable fact, yet there are so many more who refuse to accept the truth of God’s forgiveness for their sins and his unconditional love for their soul, and that is what Christians should be fighting for—our fellow men’s and women’s souls.

For me, it’s a wake-up call to examine my own spiritual life, especially my relationship with God, and shore up those areas that need strengthening. First, it’s clear that my angry and fearful response to the election has revealed an unhealthy attachment to this current world and the things of it. I have been in a state of dread that everything as I know it may be turned upside down, but Jesus himself said that neither He nor his followers are of this world (John 17), and I need to detach from the physical and embrace the spiritual in ways I have not yet done. Second, when it comes to the possibility of any discomfort in life, clearly I am spoiled like crazy and fear anything that might disrupt my comfortable lifestyle! Yet the Bible is clear that Christians will suffer but that their suffering is for Christ, and that I need to “fear not those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body” (Matt. 10:28). Finally, my feckless attitude has revealed a lack of faith in a powerful God who has used incompetent leadership throughout history to accomplish his goals. He is more powerful than any human leader can ever hope to be.

Finally, no government, no matter how incompetent, childish, or even greed-driven its members may be, can ever stop the light of the world from filling the darkness, take away the peace that passes all understanding, or in any way discredit the love of Jesus Christ that conquered sin and grave and is truly alive in the world! For those without Christ, the world may indeed become a darker place, but for those who profess to be his followers, our light should be pointing the way to the only authentic, eternal solution to what truly ails humanity: the person of Jesus Christ who offers abundant love, peace, and joy.

 

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2016 Presidential election, Christianity, Nonviolence, spirituality, Uncategorized

One Christian’s Response to the 2016 Election

On Tuesday, November 8, in the middle of a vivid dream, I was jolted awake by what I first thought was another Oklahoma earthquake. I lay still, listening to the quiet, waiting to feel the bed shake or roll, a motion that usually follows a loud boom or screeching that I thought I had heard. Yet nothing happened. Clearly, there had been a disturbance in the universe—I looked at the clock which read 2:15am. Finally at 3:00am, I checked my phone to see if an earthquake had been registered, and there was the news—Trump Elected President—posted around 2:00am. I felt physically sick and words, which would never exit my mouth, crept into my mind. The rest of the night was exhausting.

In those first few hours both fear and anger took control of my thoughts. How many Americans must be gullible and ignorant, sexist and racist, hate-filled and bitter, or self-seeking and prideful in order for him to win? Trump had certainly pulled the wool over their eyes, as my grandfather would say. Yes, it was a dark day for humanity and I firmly believe the universe ached in response.

Thank goodness the first person I saw at work was a part-time maintenance worker who always has joy in his heart and praise for God on his lips. Despite the fact I can go days without seeing him, God’s timing was perfect. “Praise the Lord,” he started, “God’s got a purpose.” Yes, he does, I affirmed, but was completely baffled as to what it will be. I mentioned my mom had awakened in the night as well, thinking about the Israelites in the Old Testament and how God allowed bad Kings to rule them in order to bring them back to a focus on Him. “Amen to that,” Anthony replied. He shared Isaiah 41:10: Do not fear, I am with you, do not be dismayed…I will strengthen you…I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. “It’s our job to bring the sheep into the fold,” he continued. Just then, a student of mine from last year passed by and gave me a hug for no particular reason. As the morning evolved, I continue to think on Anthony’s words and that moment we shared, and a beautiful peace and reassurance that God is with me and that his purpose will be accomplished replaced my fear and anger. Only a miraculous spiritual power could have accomplished that.

I made the mistake later that day of checking Facebook after I had sworn off media for at least a week. There was an uncompassionate article posted by an old colleague of mine that basically read “Too bad, deal with it. Trump won.” The anger began to grow, especially because I know she attends church. I prayed for love, (unfollowed the colleague), and reached out to a spiritual mentor who has known me my entire life. I asked her if a Christ-loving, biblically-following, spirit-filled Christian could have voted for Trump? She quickly redirected my judgment, in gentle reprimand, to compassion as she reminded me that many Americans, Christians included, have never been out of their tiny, white bubble of life, and that they miss the revolutionary fact that Jesus loved all kinds of people: the prostitutes, the Samaritans, and everyone in between. He spoke love and compassion to all people and never promoted prejudice, hate, and fear. And she reminded me that we need to be thankful that we have a broader view of the world and as she said, “Drink deeper from the Living Water.” Amen.

Yes, compassion is not a gift that, apparently, everyone has, and I continue to hope that I will be open-minded and love people from different races, different sexual preferences, different religions, and—as I dig really deep in the well and tap into the power of God—even different political views.

I know that the challenge for me will be to continue to dwell in the peace and compassion instead of the fear of uncertainty. I cannot imagine, if I did not have access to His Power during this time of uncertainty, what turmoil my soul would be in. I refuse to give up on the goodness of humanity, and I refuse to deny God’s power in any given situation. His peace and love will prevail.

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2016 Presidential election, Christianity, Uncategorized

Campaign Candor

The 2016 Presidential election baffles me. First, why do so many Christians believe that the Republican party somehow is aligned with God’s views? Watching clips from the RNC last week, I saw grown adults booing each other, preachers calling Hillary Clinton their enemy as if she were the devil herself, and speakers spouting half-truths or lies in order to build fear and hate in their audience. For a party that is touted as “Christian” much of the time, I didn’t see anything that even resembled the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus was in the business of reconciliation, not divisiveness; he didn’t assert his own personal rights—although he was entitled to all of heaven’s glory—but chose to give up those rights, to live humbly and model love and forgiveness. Jesus was not political, and the Bible seems clear to me that if Christians are truly in the business of following Christ, they will promote peace, not stir up discontent; promote love, not hate towards certain groups; and support causes that fight injustice, not agendas that simply support their own interest.

If Christians could demonstrate love towards all people, regardless of race, sex, political standing, etc., we could help heal the wounds that this country bears and glorify God in the process. And when it comes to voting for our next president, I hope they will prayerfully consider who can best lead this country. I know God is ultimately in charge and will bring about His Will, but I will truly be sad if the majority of Americans choose Donald Trump, a man whose rhetoric shows him to be prejudiced against women and minorities, insensitive to handicapped people, unwilling to cooperate in the interest of international relations, unable to control himself when anyone challenges him (he will have access to nuclear weapons!), and unsuccessful when it comes to company finances (His corporations have declared bankruptcy four times) and interpersonal relationships (married three times).
I think we are better than that. No political candidate can fix the problems of this world because at the heart of the problem is an evil that only God can destroy. And eventually He will. No candidate is free from immoral shortcomings—nobody is. But I want someone who can communicate the importance and acceptance of diversity, who champions the freedom to live however one chooses, and desires to keep our borders as open as we safely can because those are the qualities that make America a great country. And as for the 2016 election, Instead of isolationism, self-centeredness, and provincial thinking, I truly hope that compassion, generosity, and open-mindedness prevail.

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