Feb 27, 2012

Twice the Sons and Daughters of Hell, Selling Our Souls & Being Right

"Everything they do is for people to see....Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are." Matthew 23 4b-5, 15

I have heard people in Christian institutions and in a church say, "But if we do that, what will it look like?" I couldn't believe my ears. Perhaps without knowing it, they cared more about keeping up appearances than doing what was right. Being righteous by doing what is right can be costly; it can cost you friends, institutional or corperate money, maybe even a job/reputation. No doubt it can be hard decision should  you stare unemployment in the face, but at least you'll have your soul!

Nevertheless some in the church sell their souls in order to maintain their positions of power and good graces with funders or others. May it never be said about you and me. I was talking to a family friend. He said, "I don't know if I'd want to be in those positions of power. Who knows what I'd do." That's true. Power is able to corrupt, but God can keep power from corrupting us if we are committed to following Jesus in deed and in word and have wise counselors around us.

These same people who seem to be concerned about keeping up appearances perhaps only coincidentally are the some of the same ones who are hell-bent on being right. Meaning, if you don't hold what they hold to, every single jot and tittle, well then you are not on the straight and narrow--you are what's wrong with the world and with Christianity. They cannot fathom the possibility of being wrong.

It is wise for you and me to remember and to remind ourselves that we do hold some wrong beliefs. What those are might be difficult to identify because if we knew what they were, we wouldn't hold them. But we are fools if decieve ourselves into thinking that the way we view the world and even God corresponds perfectly to reality, to what actually is. There's an arrogance that comes from thinking we have all the answers. Not that there aren't some answers (we can't know everything of course). We start to see even other believers as less than--start making it about our way or the highway. We start training others in arrogance and in wrong ways of being and then make them twice the sons and daugthers of hell.

Those are strong words Jesus had for the Pharisees who "knew" their Bibles. Again, let's not kid ourselves, we could become just like them. The temptation is to make people and God into our own image.

So two things. Let's care more about righteousness and justice instead of keeping up appearances (and money) in our Christian institutions, organizations, and churches. Secondly, let's be careful about how we view and treat those who think differenlty than we do about matters of faith and practice (I am not talking about the central tenants of Christianity, but even if we run across those who clearly are acting as anti-Christs, Jesus tells us to love our enemies). We are to love our brothers and sisters, not lord it over them and not assert ourselves. Jesus tells us that the greatest among us will be servants and that those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Let us humble ourselves before the Lord so that in due time, he'll lift us up.

Matthew 23: 2-8,

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. 13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14] [b] 15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are."

Feb 26, 2012

God Remembers: (Good Sunday Meditations)

This is by the Rev. Bob Arbogast at Olentangy Christian Reformed Church:
(For some reason the formatting is being grievous! I apologize and have tried to fix it as much as I can.)

I have a bad memory. I’ve admitted that I don’t know how many times. Or if not a

bad memory, then a strange memory. I can remember a license plate number from the

mid-1970s: P64 519. But I can’t remember a speech I gave at high school graduation. I

can remember a phone number from Grand Rapids in the mid-1980s: 454-8830. But I

can’t remember most of my seminary classmates. I see them at synod sometimes, and I

don’t know who they are. I can remember the priest turning on a cheap Sony cassette

player at my father’s funeral in 1997. But I can’t remember standing by my father’s

open grave.

There are lots of times I wish I had a better memory. But I don’t think there’s much

of anything I can do about it. When I go to Kroger, I make a list. That doesn’t help my

memory. It just compensates for it. When Jan gets off the phone after talking with Katie,

she can give me a detailed account of the conversation. When I get off the phone after

talking with Kristi, I can only give Jan a general outline of what we talked about. I feel

like a failure, like a bad person. I don’t like this forgetting. But I wonder if that’s even the right

word. Am I forgetting something if I haven’t remembered it at least for a little while to begin


NONE OF US LIKE FORGETTING. That’s one of the things that worries us about

Alzheimer’s. If we get Alzheimer’s, we’re going to forget who we are and we’re going

to forget the people we love. And we know that if we forget those things, then there

won’t be much of us left. Not enough of what matters. That’s what scares us. We’ve

seen people, people we love, hollowed out by Alzheimer’s. We don’t want to go there.

None of us do.

But here’s what I think. Worse than forgetting is being forgotten. None of us wants

to be forgotten. Not unless we’re in the witness protection program. And even then we

don’t really want it. It’s a hard thing to be forgotten, to be lost to all you’ve known and

loved. But in that kind of situation, there’s no choice.To be forgotten by the woman you

pledged your life to twelve years ago, forgotten when she runs off with another man? That

hurts. To be forgotten by your son, the son you made so many sacrifices for, and now he

won’t even pick up his iPhone to give you a call? That hurts.

We watched the movie Precious the other night. Precious Jones is forgotten. Her

mother and father have forgotten she’s their child, their flesh and blood. They treat her

like a pest or a toy. When she finds out she’s HIV-positive, courtesy of her father,

Precious writes in her journal, Why me? At that moment, with a story like hers, Precious

feels forgotten by the universe. And who wouldn’t? The filmmakers don’t address the

obvious next question. But has God forgotten her? Has God forgotten?

THAT’S THE QUESTION THAT HANGS OVER this world every day. When a fifteen year

old girl is sexually assaulted by her father while her mother looks the other way, has

God forgotten? When people rising up to protest an oppressive government are

bombed and burned into submission, has God forgotten? When Haiti, the poorest

country in the western hemisphere, is devastated by an earthquake and a hurricane, has God

forgotten? When a traveler responds to the call of the Gospel to take risks to be servant and

winds up being assaulted by the hitchhiker he picked up, has God forgotten? When

Palestinian Christians are caught in the middle between Muslims and Israelis and the

whole world has forgotten their plight, has God forgotten too? When the Christian

community in Iraq and in Egypt and in Nigeria is under constant threat, has God


That’s the question, the aching, agonizing question, that hangs over this world every

day. And that was the question hanging over the world in the first century, hanging

over Judea and Samaria and Galilee. When Jews have returned from Babylon, when

they’ve rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple, but they have no king and the divine

presence is missing, has God forgotten? Has God forgotten? That’s the question, then

and now. Has God forgotten?


remembers. Take the rainbow. We know that the rainbow is a covenant sign. It’s

connected with a promise God makes, a promise God makes to every living creature on

the earth, a promise that the waters of chaos won’t win. We know that the rainbow is a

sign of that promise. And we usually think that the rainbow is a sign so we can

remember the promise. But the rainbow is not so we can remember; it’s so God can

remember. God says, I will see the bow and I will remember. I will remember my promise. I

don’t know for sure, but I imagine there’s always a rainbow somewhere in this world. That

means God remembers. Always God remembers.

When the family of Israel is enslaved in Egypt, God remembers his promise to

Abraham and sets Israel free. Later, when Israel is beset by enemies, God remembers his

promise to David and turns the enemies aside. God remembers. That’s a foundation

stone of biblical faith.

When the psalmist prays to the LORD, it’s a prayer about remembering. LORD, don’t

remember the mess I am and the mess I’ve made. LORD, instead of remembering who I

am,remember who you are. Remember compassion. Remember faithfulness. Remember love. And

that’s what God does. God remembers. Always God remembers.

OUR COVENANT SIGN IS BAPTISM. It’s a sign we can hardly see when it’s on us. It’s not

like the ashes of Ash Wednesday that even when they’re removed leave a smudge. No,

with baptism in no time our skin is dry and the sign is invisible. But not to God. God

sees. And God remembers. God remembers the promises. I am your God. You are my

people. God remembers.

I told you I remember strange things. But it’s not so strange, not really. You see, I

have a habit of rehearsing those strange things. I’ve been telling people for years about

that old license plate number. Every time I tell someone, the number gets fixed more

firmly in my memory. I imagine that’s how it is with God and our baptism. God sees the

sign, the invisible sign, of our baptism and God remembers. Again and again God sees.

Again and again God remembers. God remembers and there is no forgetting.

GOD REMEMBERS. THAT’S THE BEGINNING of the Gospel. As Mark tells the story, Jesus

begins his work by saying, The time is fulfilled. In other words, There has been no forgetting.

This is where the story has been leading. It’s time, time at last, time for the kingdom! Jesus comes

as the embodiment of God’s memory. God has not forgotten the promises. God is as good as

his word. God remembers a world in torment. God remembers a world fractured by abuse

and injustice, by disease and despair. God remembers and sends his Son to save the world

from slavery to fear and death. He does it by facing the fear. He does it by dying a

horrible death. He does it by remembering. Jesus, his companion on the next cross said

to him, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And Jesus told him, Today

you will be with me in paradise. In other words, I will remember. I will remember you. You will

suffer. You will die. But you will not be forgotten. I will remember you. That’s the heart of the


Certainly we’re longing for and waiting for a world in which girls aren’t abused and

kind travelers aren’t assaulted. We have our eyes set on a world where peace and justice

reign and tyrants have been sent packing. And while we wait, we look to Jesus, to his cross,

to his suffering, to what he was not spared. We look to our own calling to suffer with him. And

we know that God remembers. God remembers. Always God remembers. I may forget a lot

of things. There may be a lot of things that never once take root in my memory. But God

remembers. Always God remembers. And that will be so even if I forget.

In the name of the Father

and of the Son

and of the Holy Spirit.

Feb 24, 2012

Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkani To Be Executed & Slaughter in Syria

Please let's pray fervently for our brother, Youcef Nadarkani and ask God to intervene on his behalf and on behalf of Iranian Christians. He has been re-sentenced to death for leaving Islam and can be executed at any time. Scripture tells us to remember those who are in prison as if we ourselves were in prison.

O God our Father maker of heaven and earth, the one who holds all things in your hands, we ask that in the name of Jesus, you intervene on behalf of Pastor Nadakhani, his family, and the Iranian people. Save his life. Thank you for his faithfulness to you. He is an example to us. We can't imagine his suffering or the suffering of his family, but we pray that you'd give them peace and your church peace. May good overcome evil and may the Iranian church flourish. Jesus we ask this in your high and holy name. Amen.

If you haven't heard about him, you can find out more information here on CNN:

Pastor Nadarkhani

As Christians we cannot remain silent or prayer-inactive about what is happening in Syria. The Syrian government is slaughtering innocent people--mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, babies and grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. We need to cry out on their behalf too!

O Father, we feel helpless to do anything for the Syrian people. We have no worldly power. We cannot move the hearts of rulers. But you can. Jesus you are King of kings and Lord of lords. King Solomon says that the hearts of kings are like channels of water in your hands. Father, we pray that you'd intervene on behalf of the Syrian people. Their blood cries out from the land just as Abel's blood cried out when Cain slaughtered him. Father, there is much evil in the world, violence in the hearts of humankind. The insatiable desire for power and control leads to great evil. Jesus! May your kingdom come in Syria. May you move on behalf of the innocents. You alone can bring peace in the midst of human hate and evil. Jesus you are our only hope. We have and they have nothing without you. We ask this in your name. Amen.

See story from CNN here:
Why Isn't the World Intervening in Syria?

Feb 23, 2012

Who's The Greatest Christian?

These are thoughts from Pastor Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in NY, NY (USA) as quoted in A Guide To Prayer For All Who Seek God (Upper Room Books)

He says: When I was growing up, I thought the greatest Christian must be the person who walks around with shoulders thrown back because of tremendous inner strength and power, quoting Scripture and letting everyone know he has arrived. I have since learned that the most mature believer is the one who is bent over, leaning most heavily on the Lord, and admitting his total inability to do anything without Christ. The greatest Christian is not the one who has achieved the most but the one who has received the most. God's grace, love, and mercy flow through him (or her) abundantly because he walks in total dependence.

~from Fresh Faith

Blessed are those of you who are able to receive the love of God, who understand that you are completely dependent on him and that without him you can do nothing. Yours is the kingdom of Heaven.

Feb 20, 2012

What does it mean to follow Jesus in life and death? Ed Dobson's "My Story"

In 1996, I was a freshman in college. Every year our school had an annual Bible conference that coincided with the start of school. In fact, we were required to attend the few nights prior to the start of class. The first speaker I ever heard was Ed Dobson. Ed Dobson, not to be confused with James Dobson, was pastor of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan (USA). It is 2012 and I still remember the gist of his sermons. One of the things he said was that he noticed that pastors/churches feed people on the front pews--pass out bread over and over to people on the front pews. But then he asked (maybe not word for word but here's the basic idea), "What about the people in the back?" The people in the back are saying, "Hey, pay attention to me! I'm hungry. The people in the back are the tax collectors and sinners. Then he asked, "Who are the tax collectors and sinners of our day?" His sermon was much more powerful than I am now conveying. It stayed with me.

A few years after that I sermon, I found out that he had been diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. This disease attacks your body and shuts down organs. I was so concerned when I found out that I called his church to ask how he was doing even though I had never talked to him. I called because the little exposure I had to Ed Dobson branded Jesus deeper into my soul. I found out later that he'd stepped down because of the sickness that would eventually lead to death.

In this video Ed Dobson talks about life and death and what it means to follow Jesus. At one point in the video he says that he preached and did all sorts of things in the church but he wasn't really following Jesus (not that he wasn't a Christian). He was busy for Jesus...but not really following him.  After he stepped down because of the disease he lost his purpose for living...but slowly regained it. And at this point, today, he knows he is facing death and about to lose his ability to talk because of ALS. If you want to be nourished and motivated to follow Jesus, if you want encouragment in your walk and to see the beauty of God, watch this story about Ed Dobson:

Ed Dobson's "My Story" on CNN

Feb 18, 2012

God in the Dark Moments of our Lives

Here is a good and encouraging sermon from Charles Stanley. Well worth the listen:

The Dark Moments in Our Life

Feb 16, 2012

Messin' Other People Up in our Messedupness

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21

Here's the deal: in our messedupness we are fully capable of permanently messing up countless others. They in turn mess up countless others. That's why we must beg God for for mercy, we must humble ourselves and confess who we are to God and others if necessary, seeking forgivness and transformation. And we must also take steps to work out our salvation with fear and trembling so that others don't encounter evil and destruction when they encounter us.

The snare comes when we are so self-absorbed in our pain that we don't give a rip about the sort of effects our attitudes and behaviors have on others. Our pain dehumanizes us by desensitizing us to the pain of others. We are convinced that we are right and have a right to do what we're doing.

So we open Pandora's box--unleashing profound evil in the life of others. It starts with those closest to us and radiates out. Evil spreads like an aggressive cancer.

Yet let us not forget that life proliferates, too. We are to overcome evil with good.

Therefore it is of utmost importance that we understand that our sins--vices--bad habits of our temperament and blind spots can decidely and sinisterly affect the world in the same way that Adam and Eve's did.

Let us beg God to cleanse us and help us be proliferators of good.

Because like germs, we often spread evil unaware.

Feb 14, 2012

"Exclusive: Jeremy Lin says faith in God triggered 'Lin-sanity'"

Speaking of Jesus, success, and the way of salvation - here is Jeremy Lin's testimony about living in the wilderness and testing and obscurity.

He can no longer stroll anonymously down the streets of New York, but Lin has found peace. He is bombarded with interview requests (even David Letterman got turned down), yet Lin is experiencing a sense of ease he's never before felt.

His devout Christianity, bred at the Chinese Church in Christ in Mountain View, has been his guide since he was young. But Lin admits these last few months were a test unlike any before.

Sucker punched by the cold business of the NBA -- playing for his third team in a year -- Lin suffered in silence. Before he was the talk of the sports world, before he was crowned star of the Knicks, Lin was ridden with doubt and anxiety. So he doubled down on his commitment to God.

And without that, he believes, there would be no Lin-sanity.

What the country sees is a Cinderella story, Lin's meteoric rise from the NBA Development League to unstoppable star. But for Lin, it's a story of faith, the beautiful struggle he's now convinced he can win. Most importantly, it's a story of how he'll be completely fine if he doesn't.

"I'm not playing to prove anything to anybody," Lin said. "That affected my game last year and my joy last year. With all the media attention, all the love from the fans (in the Bay Area), I felt I needed to prove myself. Prove that I'm not a marketing tool, I'm not a ploy to improve attendance. Prove I can play in this league. But I've surrendered that to God. I'm not in a battle with what everybody else thinks anymore."

It took some time, some rough nights, long prayers and countless Bible studies. Lin confided in his pastor, Stephen Chen.

"It was hard. I could make him no promises," Chen said. "To trust what God is doing is definitely a lesson that Jeremy is continuing to learn and not to trust in his results."

See the rest of this article, "Exclusive: Jeremy Lin says faith in God triggered 'Lin-sanity'" by Marcus Thompson II in:

Silicon Valley's MercuryNews.com

Feb 13, 2012

Jesus, Success & The Way of Salvation

For those of you who know you have no thing and no one to recommend you other than God. Here are some words from Tim Keller in his book, Counterfeit Gods.

"All during his ministry, the disciples continually asked Jesus, 'When are you going to take power? When are you going to stop fraternizing with the simple people? When are you going to start networking and raising money? When will you run for office? When's the first primary? When's our first TV special?' Instead Jesus served humbly and then was tortured and killed. Even when Jesus rose from the dead he first appeared to women, the people who then had no status. Jesus's salvation is received not through strength but through the admission of weakness and need. And Jesus's salvation was achieved not through strength but through surrender, service, sacrifice, and death. This is one of the great messages of the Bible: God chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong, the foolish and despised things to shame the wise,  even the things that are not, to bring  to nothing the things that are (I Corinthians 1:29-31). That's how God does it."

pp. 95-96

Feb 8, 2012

My Family is Fractured too (A Dose of Comfort from Jesus at St. Meinrad's)

Hebrews 2:17-18, "For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."

I spent several days last week on a retreat at St. Meinrad's Monastery in St. Meinrad, Indiana. It's an hour west of Louisville and just east of Evansville, Indiana on I-64. We crossed the Ohio river twice, once in Cincinnati and another time in Louisville, KY and traveled through the green rolling hills of southern Indiana to get there. I didn't realize that Indiana had hills. That part of the state is beautiful and I found out that it is renown for its caves. It was about a three-hour and 40 minute drive from where I live. My husband and my 2 year old, Iliana, dropped me off. Shawn was most gracious by staying with her for a few days while finishing up his grading. I wasn't sure how she'd do without mommy, or how he'd do with little sleep, but both were fine. The retreat was a birthday present from Shawn.

My eyes and soul were nourished during my stay. I spent a lot of time alone, praying and reading. Twice out of 3 possible times I attended 5:30 a.m. morning prayer --vigils and lauds (praise) with the monks in the Arch Abbey, 1 of 7 Arch Abbeys in the world. The second day I had intended to, but I inadvertenly turned off the volume on my phone, so of course I couldn't hear the alarm.

I read quite a bit from the writings of Charles De Foucauld, Carlo Carretto, and John Chrysostom. I also finished reading Phantases by George MacDonald (C.S. Lewis' and J.R.R. Tolkien's literary mentor). I also spent time talking to the seminarians, those men going to seminary to be Roman Catholic priests. I remember their names and found them most winsome and Christ loving. Our conversations and their demeanor encouraged my soul. Their congregations will be blessed.

I appreciated our unity and our love for the Lord, even though there were some areas, as far as doctrine is concerned, where we politely disagreed. All I have is praise for the monks, the seminarians, and the landscape of that place. Also, for Joan, my very warm and hospitable tour guide. She offered to give me an inside tour even though official tours were on Saturdays, when I wouldn't be around. Oh and I can't forget to mention Kathy, the Guest House administrative assistant, whose warmth and helpful information made my stay what it was. She had just finished undergoing radiation for breast cancer after months of chemo. I'll continue to pray for her.

One of the most encouraging experiences on my retreat was Tuesday morning, May 5th. It was probably 6:45 a.m. after I ate breakfast alone in the guest house. I sat at the breakfast table, peering out the window with a view of the green lawn, tree line, monastery and Arch Abbey. I was gazing at the Abbey's spires which seemed to poke the sky when all of a sudden, I burst out with a lament to the Lord. I was very sad for my father who is in the throws of mental illness and whose actions resulting from his illness has, sad to say, divided my family. I told the Lord that I was very sad that my family was fractured. The moment I finished uttering my internal prayer of lament , he said to me, "I understand, my family is fractured too."

I can't explain it, but the Lord's crystal clear words to me deeply comforted my soul. And although, if I thought about it, I'd consider it quite obvious that his family is fractured, prior to his words to me, I wasn't thinking about the fact that he can relate to me in the fractured-family sort of way.

But then his words brought to mind Hebrews 2:17-18, "For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."

I will remember his words to me and the comfort I received and how in his comforting words to me he again confirmed the truth of Hebrews 2:17-18. Amen.

And I hope this encourages you--if you come from a fractured family, a family that you desire so much good for but for whom the good is slow in coming.

These are some thoughts from 2009.

Feb 3, 2012

Love and Disgust for the Church

I am sure that many of us deeply love the body of Christ and at the same time, loathe it. The way the church behaves makes us want to cringe and vomit (but we'd have to admit of and consequently gag over our own sin and misbehavior too).

I cringe nearly everyday. Dry heave. Throw up bile.

The advent of social media allows me to hear of and see of things I would've been ignorant about ten years ago. I am sick over things associated with Christ's church. I want to run and hide. I want to apologize. And I want to disassociate myself.

The more I think of it, the more I think deeply about it, I am driven insane. It's an insanity of wonder over God's love for us. How can he love and serve us when minute by minute we heap abuses upon his name, when we like the Roman soldiers, pluck the hairs out of his beard and spit in his face? How in the universe could he say to us and about us, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do?" How can he be madly in love with us when we sequester and quench his divine Spirit-life?
I don't know.

We deserve to be destroyed. But there is an incomprehensible grace. He redeems us. It is beyond understanding and deserving.

And everyday I am filled full. Everyday, I walk around in wide-eyed wonder because of God's deeply good and beautiful and loving character and because of the beauty of his church.

In no other place have I spotted the most beautiful, brightest, morning stars in all of creation. I've happened upon them in the church. The love and goodness and beauty I see keeps me within the church's embrace and gazing at the face of Christ. I know all this goodness, it's real. And all the distortion and sin and evil is not God or of him. It will fade away. It's temporarily, sometimes seemingly eternally real.

The church. It's all a deep mystery of goodness and of evil and of beauty and of the ugliest ugliness. In the end, we know that the good and the true and beautiful--the holy, will manifest itself and that every form of evil will be gone.

But it hasn't left yet and I can't ignore the evil or the things I loathe in the present. Therefore I am driven to prayer and action and a search for the wisdom of God.

Carlo Carretto shares some of these same sentiments. He writes:

"How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you! How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you! I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand sanctity. I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms. No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, although not completely.

And where should I go?"

~An excerpt from The  God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto found in A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants (Upper Room Books)

Feb 1, 2012

Loving the Life You Have: Managing to Grumble a Hallelujah

I just finished reading a good book. It's called Grumble Hallelujah: Learning to Love Your Life Even When it Lets You Down by Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira. How would I describe it? Witty, insightful, and packed with so much wisdom and insight that she could have probably written several books on each chapter. But Caryn comes off as a trustworthy older sister that you could sit and converse with for hours. In this book, she is transparent, self-deprecating, and convicting all at the same time. I should also mention that she's laugh out loud hilarious. I found myself having to turn back to different chapters in order to contemplate the truths she communicated so well in popular jargon. I underlined to death. I am still thinking about them.

Caryn talks about everything from letting go of jealousy and comparison, to letting go of our expectations of how God should work and learning to live a satisfied life. In doing these things, we learn to trust God and love the life he has given us. The book is geared toward women, but I think men can learn from it, too. It's a book that'd be great to use individually, but would go a long way in a group study. In reading and discussing it in a group setting, I think you'd find that you are not all alone, that you too struggle with the things Caryn speaks of and it'd be good to reflect on that in your group. It's definitely a book I recommend.

I wanted to include a sample of her writing goodness. It was hard to pick which section to highlight, but I thought that the chapter entitled Living Dead: Letting Go of Your Own Life would be a good choice.

"Matthew 10:39 says, 'If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give your life up for me, you will find it.' I was clinging while asking God to help me find my life in him. It's no supposed to work that way....

I've come to realize that John 12:25 means that we can't love our lives in ways that make us grip and cling to the lives we imagined or as our world, our families, or our churches led us to expect them to be. We need to be willing to let go of our own understanding of what's supposed to be and grab hold of what God has in store. We need to die to this life. We need to live dead. Cheery, huh? But look at how The Message translates John 12:25:

Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you'll have it forever, real and eternal.

This offers us the truth and the blessing and the hope of living dead. Of laying down and burying our expectations, our worldly desires, our lusts and longings, our fears and failures, our triumphs, our successes, our wealth, our dreams, our ideas, our everything. When they die as they are--as we have created them--and we bury them, burn them, and offer them to God, we get to see God doing his thing. We get to see resurrections. We get to see new life--in him. We get to see  God raise up our expectations, our worldly desires, our lusts and longings, our fears and failures, our triumphs, our successes, our wealth, our dreams, our ideas, our everything. We get to see God in all of them. As he defines them. As he would have them."

~ Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira in Grumble Hallelujah: Learning to Love Your Life Even When it Lets You Down pp. 146, 148-149

* Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.