Saturday, January 12, 2013


"Lord, have mercy on me, the sinner."

This week the story of the tax collector and the pharisee has been in my mind Luke 18). Issues of comparing, constant effort and straining to find my own worth and righteousness in my self and my efforts instead of in Christ and what he has already done; what only He can do, in fact.

Amid the newfound sense of freedom, there is also guilt and struggle. It is hard to reorient yourself after so many years. It is hard to stop comparing and striving. It is hard to trust and rest.

If I'm terribly honest, I'd say that I'm even failing at this seemingly simple task. Sometimes it feels I am drowning in all this self-created effort.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Week 3


Week 1 - Christmas... and it was wonderful yet stressful and full of family, which is why it was so stressful! Seriously, why is family so complex?

Week 2 - Vacation with extended family, home and a funeral of a family member I've seen maybe 12 times in my nearly 20 years of marriage. Really tough, especially as an introvert where I enjoy some alone time and didn't get enough of it. Still, it was good.

Week 3 - Current week. First "real" week of sabbatical. Kids back in school, David at work, and I really having nothing to do. No church tasks. No meetings. No bulletin or tweets or FB updates to the church FB page. It has been TOUGH. And yet, good. But really, really difficult. Sadness mixed with self-pity, loneliness, more self-pity, a lot of prayer,  lots of reading books, seeing things in a completely different perspective, more sadness, more guilt, learning about grace, clinging to Jesus and yet questioning Him at the same time. A bit of disillusionment realized in my view of church, grace. Anger. More grace. Feeling like I only matter because of what I do and then realizing that even THAT... worth because of what I do and volunteer, perhaps it is meaningless a well .... a difficult week.

Week 3 hasn't ended yet. I wonder what will win.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Midnight Musings #1

At night my mind swirls with questions. Some deeply personal and emotional, others highly rational. Most is a reflection of the day, and usually I'll also revisit in my mind the pages of books I've read that day or week, which often fill me with more questions.

First, I am not sure I mentioned on my blog I'm in the middle of a 6 week sabbatical from volunteering at church. Sounds kinda stupid, doesn't it? A sabbatical from volunteering! But it is nearly like 'detox' in some ways; so entwined is my Christian faith with serving. Not sure if that's bad or good but it in many ways has become bad, so a few weeks of reflection and (theoretically) refreshment is probably a good thing.

But instead my mind is abuzz with questions and here it is, after midnight!

First, an easier one: What is discipleship? What does that word truly mean? I've read books, I probably have a fairly good idea of what it is but I think we use that word very, very differently and I'd love to really know what it means to disciple someone. My favorite definition is perhaps too passive, but is is simply allowing others access to your life, so they can shadow you as you shadow Christ. Yet I've heard others advocate a more programmed, 6 week, detached form of discipleship where the person gets access to your wisdom to speak into their lives but they don't actually get access to shadow you or even get to know you through example. Is that discipling or counseling/mentoring?

Second, I've been reading a book on the church. Nothing new; I read several books on church every year. And this one is not groundbreaking in what it has to say, but the author says it well. It is a good reminder of the Gospel and how the Gospel shapes the church.

I just finished a chapter on community and I loved what he had to say, but it made me so very sad because I don't think that true community the way he describes can truly exist. I think we've settled for basing it on commonalities that are shallow and I am not sure what it really means to really embrace the Gospel and allow it to inform every aspect of life.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Time..

Today I attended a funeral of a family member that we rarely see, along with gobs of out of town family we rarely see. The deceased was quite a character - in many ways, larger than life - so there were lots of stories about his life and a lot of humor. It was incredibly well attended but rather odd. This very well may be the first funeral I've attended where the person was a non-christian and the pastor presiding over it didn't pretend like he was.

It was just odd. First, the pastor acknowledged he didn't know the deceased and had only met a few times. I wonder if he really truly knew the family, either. He read from Ecclesiastes, that familiar passage of "for everything... there is a season"... and he tried to offer hope, peace and comfort but it just felt hollow. The hope he offered, that he pointed to in this difficult time seemed to fall flat, lifeless.

And though later I realized my duty to show grace to this pastor, acknowledging how difficult it must be to preside over a non-christian's funeral you have little contact with, and what you do have comes at the very end of his life, my first thought was more aghast.

I grew up in a church with a youth pastor that would always talk about that "God shaped vacuum/hole that only God could fill." It became completely engrained. So, to hear the pastor talk of our sadness with R gone and this "R sized and R shaped hole" in our lives made me nearly cry foul! For misusing Augustine and make this hole something a person could fill or take away.

His other points were fine, but perhaps I am jaded. I though the "Live without Regrets" thing was solid but familiar. You hear it all the time.

And finally, his last point was that R is not gone  (and to this I expected to hear a bit about the afterlife and heaven and maybe the Gospel) R's not gone, because he lives in all of us. Again, to me, it just isn't comforting enough.

But like I said, it must be difficult to be a pastor. I wonder if this guy was bound by certain requests of this non-believing family... how to keep it encouraging and hopeful, yet truthful, without mentioning the Cross or Christ?

I tweeted about it today and my conclusion was that without Christ, the only hope a person can point to is in the good of humanity. A friend of mine tweeted back that he always presents the gospel and that we are all facing the same just God.

It is interesting to think on, as all this brings up so much. Without Christ, truly, what hope do we have? What hope can we offer others?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Behold the Lamb of God - Quotes

Please, please read this exceptional book! Though it says it is an "Advent Narrative" - and it definitely is - as the book even states, it is not just for Christmas and can be read any month of the year, not just December in preparation for Advent. BUT.... you'll also want to re-read it during Advent! 

As I lamented to a friend, Christmas was difficult to really feel like I embraced the wonder and amazement and humility that one hopes to experience during this time. I love Advent - a time of preparation and waiting - yet, amidst all the 'preparations' I felt like something was missing. 

Behold the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey was a book I actually downloaded in October. I believe I read about it in a blog somewhere, very highly recommended, so I downloaded it in ebook format because it was less expensive than hardcover. (though now I also want the hardcover so I an lend it out more easily!) 

But I didn't read it until days prior to Christmas. That is one of the downfalls to ebooks. It is so easy to acquire books (especially when they are cheap) that you obtain them but fail to read them. And then, since you don't see them on your bookshelf, you forget they're even there. 

But luckily I found this book before Christmas. As I told another friend, "Christmas came late for me, but it did come." To that statement I was assured that I was wrong; Christmas had come right on time.... just for me! But this book was instrumental in it and I am certain I'll glean more and more with each re-reading. For some reason, his account of the Shepherds absolutely floored me, and I wrote all that out in my post titled "The Lamb" so I won't post it all here, but I will post some of the other quotes I fell in love with. Please, read the book! 

"No man, when he comes to die, will ever say, "I spoke too much of the grace of God." 

"This was the heart of Israel's religion: love. Only divine love made sense of the world. This love went beyond a mere feeling. This love was doctrine. Israel's story was a story of being kept, and the only reasonable response was to love the Keeper." 

"This, ultimately, is what the story is about. It is a tall tale filled with people in trouble, all living somewhere between wandering and homecoming, between devastation and restoration, between transgression and grace. Every mortal character in the story needs rescue, but tthey have all turned aside, and together they have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one. (Ps. 14:3) 

"But why had the glory of all glories appeared the to lowest of the lows? Why had the angel chosen to reveal this message to mere shepherds, unclean as they were? 
Because poverty is relative. Could it be that from the perspective of heaven, the poor shepherds outside Bethlehem were no more or less poor than the rest of the world sleeping under tis watch. Could it be that the poor of the earth were in fact all the people of the earth - poor in spirit, mourning and meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness? (Mt. 5:2-12) Could it be that the Savior's coming was for them as much as it was for anyone, and for anyone as much as it was for them?" 

"The shepherds could not have known that this boy came into this world in the same way he would leave it: Out in the open, among the outcast, poor, and despised - to ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile until the Son of God appears." 

"The chief priests were the keepers of the temple and of the religious life and culture of the Jews. The scribes, or teachers of the law, were the guardians of the Word of God. They wrote out copies of the sacred Scriptures, poring over every last jot and tittle. THey knew the minute details of every scroll of every book. They knew the lore. Still, curiously, not one of them seemed motivated to see for themselves if the Magi were right. They should have been the most expectant of the Messiah's coming, but all that the religious leaders displayed as they rehearsed these ancient prophetic details of their coming king was apathetic suspicion." 

"God's promised Messiah was a merciful gift of love to a people who needed both mercy and love. He would come to them in all their pain, brokenness, and struggle, and make everything new. THey were desperate for this, and the proof of their desperation was perhaps most evident in the fact that they couldn't bring themselves to live as through this promise was real." 

"God had told him, "I am your shield, your very great reward." (Gen. 15:1) God wasn't calling Abram's future descendants primarily to land or power. He was calling them to himself. He was the ultimate prize." 

"God renamed these two (Abraham and Sarah) Not according to who they were, but according to what he would make of them." 

"The problem wasn't simply that they couldn't see God's love. It was that they couldn't see themselves in an honest light either." 

"How easy it would have been to forget that God's covenant wasn't just about what he would deliver them from. His promise wasn't only a call out of bondage, though it was that. It was a call to Someone. God's call on the lives of his people has always been, above all else, a call to himself. He set his affection on his people and promised to make them clean and to give them life." 

"Still, for all Moses' greatness, from the day God sent him to lead, the people complained about him. THis wasn't because Moses was a bad leader, but because in order for people to be lead, they must leave something behind - and people grow fond of home, even if they've only been enslaved there. For every step Moses led them to freedom, they found something to lament and complain about." 

"He was Immanuel - God with his people (Isa 9:19, 6:13) He would turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. (Mal 4:6). Where there was despair, he would bring hope. Where there was brokenness, he would bring healing. Where there was sadness, he would bring joy. Where there was bondage, he would set people free." 

"Though no one could have known all of this at the time, Jesus was the priest who became the sacrifice, the king who took on the form of a servant, the prophet who himself was the Word of God (Jn. 1:1) He was Immanuel, God with us (Isa 7:14, Mt 1:23) - Son of God, Son of Man. (Jn. 20:31), Mt. 12:40) 

A Bookish Question

So, what are you reading right  now?

What were a few favorite books you read in 2012?

What books are you looking forward to reading in 2013?

What is your all-time favorite book ever?

Do you enjoy reading ebooks or regular books?

For me, I'm currently reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It is officially 916 pages, but from page 759 on is either notes or index. So far, I'm only at page 175 but I'm definitely enjoying it. It has been a long time since I've read a biography of a past president. The reason I am reading it is because I wanted to take a break from the "church business" books that I have an overabundance of, so I decided to first read a bit of Christian fiction (Calvin Miller's The Singer), and then a book on Advent that was very well and creatively written, (Russ Ramsey's Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative) and now I'm reading Team of Rivals, the book that the movie Lincoln, currently in theaters, was based on. It is fascinating.

As for my favorite books of 2012? I'm still mulling that one over. It is one of the disadvantages of a Kindle, sometimes I read in such great succession I fail to really savor, enjoy and reflect on books like I should. And some books I didn't necessarily love as much as found thought-provoking, which I do enjoy. Sometimes books are great because they affirm what you already believe, but sometimes it is enjoyable to wrestle with things that challenge what you steadfastly believe is the best or right way.

Before the end of my holiday, I hope to read Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find, as well as Wendell Berry's Remembering. Trying to add a few more fiction titles.

I read books on my Kindle, iPad and 'real' books. I have a slight preference for real books but I do enjoy the ease of having ebooks available instantly as well as being able to tote around hundreds of books one one device. Plus, Amazon has so many great deal on their ebooks! I have built quite a Kindle library with many free or severely discounted books.... many under 3 dollars.

So.... what are you reading?

BTW: I can't help it.... my favorite book ever is probably C.S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles. It is hard to resist a bit of childhood that continually amazes and refreshes you as you grow older. Seldom books do you LOVE as a child and even more as an adult.