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From the Inside Out

November 30, 2015 Leave a comment

Everlasting
Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending
Your glory goes beyond all fame

And the cry of my heart
Is to bring You praise
From the inside out
Lord, my soul cries out
— Hillsong United, “From the Inside Out”

I’m hurt and I’m hurting. I’ve been hurt by people in churches before because, well, we are sinful creatures and that’s what happens. While I recognize that, there’s a certain amount of faith and trust that you place in your church leadership. Sometimes, that faith and trust seem to make them infallible in your mind. So when lousy news comes your way, it can be devastating.

2015 has been a year of significant downs rather than ups. Not just in my personal and work life but also in my spiritual life. For most of the year, my family has not attended church. There’s always been something going on, whether it’s an injury, depression, lack of sleep, or early nap time for the little man. But we’ve attended when we’ve been able to. However, of course, when I either make plans to attend church or have just attended church, an earth-shaking event occurs. In August, it was the departure of an elder and his wife—people we were close to and related to most. In September, nearly 3 weeks later, another elder resigned out of dissatisfaction with the choices of our denomination. That left 2 elders and—honest to God—I don’t know how many deacons. Now, it’s November. And we finally make it to church. There was a big meeting 2 weeks ago and I figured it regarded the position of the remaining elders. Boy, was I ever wrong.

My senior pastor resigned during the meeting. I had planned to attend but ended up working late and just didn’t feel up to it. Now, I’m glad I wasn’t there because I don’t think I could’ve handled the shock of what I would’ve heard. It was a big enough shock for me simply hearing it from another church member in nursery. And that wasn’t even in full detail. One of the elders sat us down after church and explained what happened during the meeting and what led our senior pastor to resign.

All day Sunday, I found myself simply reeling from the shock of no longer having a senior pastor to turn to. It’s like someone I put faith in and trusted for 3 to 4 years broke that trust. So, of course, I too feel broken. Hurt. I hoped I’d never have to go through this again after the pain of what I endured at my last church. As I go through my mind, with each previous church, there’s been an element of pain and broken trust. Why should the present or the future be any different? But I feel as though I need to hope for the best. Funny how I can hope for the best in a church full of sinful people but fail to hope for the best in my own life, a person full of wickedness and sin.

I pray for the restoration of my former senior pastor and his family. I pray for my church because I love my congregants dearly and hope that we are able to survive this storm. I thank God for our sister church in Philadelphia that is willing to help us during this time of need. And I thank God that He is faithful to us even when our shepherds are not.

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Categories: Christianity

Figuring Out My Faith

April 27, 2015 3 comments

This post will probably be a stream-of-conscious rambling and full of typos because I’m typing this on my phone. Bear with me. I hope this is short because I haven’t adjusted to the size of the iPhone 6 so my fingers keep slipping. (Not plus size; just regular size.)

Anyway, for the past 2 weeks I’ve been attending a local Roman Catholic Church. In a lot of ways, it feels like a homecoming and in other ways it’s changed. I still remember the sign of the cross, many of the congregational responses (although some have changed and one deleted), and when to sit, stand, and kneel (for the most part). I enjoy the 20-minute homily (mainly for the brevity), the availability of hymnals, and the fact that I can (again, for the most part) enter and exit the church unnoticed.

But there’s so much I disagree with now that I’ve been away from Roman Catholicism. After having been Protestant for as many years as I was Catholic, the following are my gripes:

  • Transubstantiation. This is a big one for me. I don’t believe that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus. I believe they are symbols that represent his body and blood.
  • The Catholic Church being considered the “true” church. I get the sense (from this Sunday’s homily) that anyone outside of the Catholic Church is “outside the fold.” I don’t know if that means lack of salvation but I bristle when I think that there’s only one “true church,” ie, denomination.
  • Mary. I’ve been hearing from Catholics lately that Mary is not worshipped but merely revered as the mother of God. Unless the position on Mary has changed within the past 16 years (and I don’t think so), I’m pretty sure Mary is worshipped to be almost if not practically on par with Jesus’ holiness. My entire schooling was in Catholic institutions and I firmly believe that Mary is held to a higher standard than a saint like, oh, John, Paul, Ringo, or George. (Whoops. Well, I got 2 out of 4.)
  • Kneeling before statues. I’m no longer comfortable with this. I’ve read through Genesis and Exodus a few times enough to know that God doesn’t seem to be a fan of “idols” or bowing down before man-made images.

I guess those are a few of the things that hold me back from Catholicism. (Although I must admit, it really pissed me off on Sunday to see how many people accepted the host and then bypassed the cup [er, chalice as they call it now]. Partake in the Eucharist in its entirety or don’t partake at all. Yes, I’ll admit: It’s gross to drink from the same cup as other people [backwash and all that] but if it’s holy, then it’s purified, right?)

Like I said before, I’ve been Protestant about as long as I was Catholic. (I was essentially a Protestant for 2 years while finishing up high school.) I gravitate toward Protestant beliefs. Much of it makes sense to me. I think Martin Luther (of the Reformation) was a badass. I’ve enjoyed the emphasis on worshipping Jesus alone. It was refreshing to hear a different perspective on salvation: grace by faith alone. (Catholics believe in grace plus good works—something I now battle with based on my interpretation of passages from the Book of James.) I’ve learned so much more about the Bible, especially the Old Testament, in Protestant churches.

But I’ve become disenchanted with many Protestant churches. In an effort to try to shift away from Catholic traditions, some have abandoned liturgies from their services. Sure, the service tends to be somewhat structured, but it lacks that liturgical feel that the Catholic Church provides.

Call me old fashioned, but I am dismayed at the growing trend of using PowerPoints (or nothing at all) for worship music. I’ve never understood how anyone is supposed to know or be able to sing any of these new worship songs without sheet music. Unless you listen to Christian music religiously, which I suppose is the assumption, there’s no way to know the music being sung in church. In the Catholic Church, a cantor sings the chorus for the entire church then encourages everyone to sing the chorus with him or her, thus introducing the melody. The cantor usually sings the verses alone when the song is not in the hymnal.

Then there’s my biggest beef with Protestants: the hour-long sermons. Perhaps in the days of Jonathan Edwards when he preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” people were much more attentive and receptive to a lengthy sermon. These days, we in America have short attention spans. Long sermons bore us to tears even if you are an entertaining, charismatic speaker. There’s only so long you can hold your audience’s attention before it drops off. (Speaking of that, kudos to you if you’ve made it this far. And yes, I’m still typing on my phone. Ow.)

Protestant (excluding non-denominational churches) tend to be on the smaller side (unlike 200+ people in a Catholic Church) providing the opportunity for it to become a place where “everybody knows your name.” I’m at a point in my life where I want to be invisible. I want to go to church, worship God, and then leave with minimal to no interruption. I go to the Catholic Church in the same community where I worked at a local library so running into my former coworkers occasionally is to be expected. But for the most part, the church is so big, I can dodge them if needed.

Regarding childcare, Protestants win over Catholics in my estimation. Protestants usually have a nursery or some form or childcare or Sunday School for young children. Catholics tend to deal with their screaming babies during Mass. Some Catholic Churches have partitioned a room in the back of the church with speakers and a glass panel to accommodate people with special needs, such as moms with babies, the elderly, and the physically handicapped. But it’s hard for many Catholic Churches to retrofit this.

I guess that’s my 2 cents on my faith. I’m stuck in limbo. I probably won’t return to the Catholic Church as a member (technically I’m still a member of a church on Long Island, NY) but I don’t know if I can handle one more 7-11 praise song at a Protestant church. (Sing 7 words 11 times.) I recognize no church is perfect, but at this point, which church’s shortcomings am I able to tolerate?

We’ll see.

Helpless

January 29, 2013 Leave a comment

I always feel helpless when I’m on an airplane. There’s something about not seeing the pilots (to whom I have entrusted my life) that freaks me out. At least I can look at a bus driver and evaluate whether I want to be on a bus for a short period of time. Sometimes I’ll even get glimpses of train conductors (who, in my opinion, tend to be scruffy). Usually I don’t get to meet the pilots until the end of a flight, but that doesn’t do me any good by that point. I know they’re going through their pre-flight checks before takeoff (which are highly important, of course), but gosh, meeting a pilot and knowing he doesn’t have alcohol in his system would really put me at ease.

So what do I do so I don’t have a freaking panic attack? I pray.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 20:7)

Maybe I could change that to a modern version:

Some trust in cars and some in planes, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

It is a good verse to remember for transportation. I pray and give up everything to God and hope in him for the safety and protection of myself and all on board.

For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:14)

God is sovereign over all things and he was sovereign when planes hit the World Trade Center and he was also sovereign when US Airways Flight 1549 miraculously landed on the Hudson. God watches over each and every plane that takes off, lands, or even sadly, disappears. This is my consolation when I am helpless:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

Not that I live on the edge of life in the hopes of attaining “gain,” so to speak, but if anything were to happen, I am reminded that I’d receive something better than this present life.

But, hey, I still pray for a safe takeoff, flight, and landing.

Categories: Personal, Prayer Tags: , ,

Faith

January 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Faith plays an odd role in my life. It’s the thing that has brought me back from the brink of death. In case you’re not aware, I’m a born-again Christian who believes in Jesus Christ as her lord and savior. Or in more politically correct terms, I’m a Jesus follower. I believe in the teachings and commandments of Jesus. I believe that he has fulfilled Old Testament law and that I don’t need to adhere to everything to be a good Christian.

I used to think, in order to be a good Christian, that it was necessary to pray every day and read the Bible every day, but Jesus didn’t say any of those things. Jesus said the ultimate commandments were to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40).

Faith, for me, is sort of an odd duck. I have it. Then I don’t. It’s a process. I believe in God, but I’m lousy at attending church regularly. I read the Bible as often as I can (though not every day), and I pray as I think of it.

There was a time I would’ve said faith was central to my well-being. And in some ways, it still is. It’s one of the most important things in my life. But if I’m honest, I don’t rank God first through my actions. He’s often secondary to other things. I don’t mean for things to be that way. I try to put God and government first when it comes to money (although, if I’m honest, the government comes first most of the time). But when it comes to time, God only gets a small portion of it. He should really get a much larger portion but I don’t know how to spend time with him that isn’t meaningless.

Maybe I should just sit in silence and see how he speaks to me.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood Leads Me to Question the Bible

December 28, 2012 2 comments

AYoBW

I read A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. It got to me in a way that no other book has. I began questioning such verses as I Timothy 2:9-15, Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18, and I Peter 3:1-2. I will quote those verses for you because I hate seeing a string of verses without seeing the actual words.

I Timothy 2:9-15

…likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

Ephesians 5:22-24

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Colossians 3:18

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

I Peter 3:1-2

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.

It’s tough for a married woman to believe the Bible, especially when you’ve got verses like that. Evans quotes Sharyn Dowd who says:

…the apostles ‘advocated this system not because God had revealed it as the divine will for Christian homes, but because it was the only stable and respectable system anyone knew about. It was the best culture had to offer.

So this led me to wonder: Are these verses cultural to the time and period these women lived in, or are they prescriptive for millenniums later?

It’s a question I still haven’t fully answered. Evans came to the conclusion of “mutual submission” based upon Ephesians 5:21 that says “submit to one another.” But then I feel like she’s picking and choosing which verses to adhere to and which verses she wants to throw out. But Evans admits to picking and choosing:

For those who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is not a matter of whether to pick and choose, but how to pick and choose. We are all selective. We wrestle with how to interpret and apply the Bible to our lives. We all go to the text looking for something, and we all have a tendency to find it.

Evans has come to the conclusion that picking and choosing is what people who hold the Bible as sacred do. I tend to agree with her. I wrestle with the following text, for example I Corinthians 11:4-10:

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

As far as I’m aware, the only Christian denominations that require head coverings for women are the Amish and Mennonites. Most Christian denominations do not require head coverings and take the tact of Christian liberty upon this passage. So why not Christian liberty with the passages regarding wives submitting to husbands?

The verse that I feel like was elevated above every other was the following one from Galatians 3:28:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

I read the endorsements at the beginning of the book and became quite skeptical when I saw a blurb from Brian McLaren whose book I couldn’t even finish because it was so riddled with theological error. (I didn’t have to go to seminary to understand that McLaren was doing mental gymnastics in his book, A New Kind of Christianity.) I became even more skeptical when I saw an endorsement from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, who (to my knowledge) isn’t even a professing Christian. Then for the month of June, she used Debi Pearl’s book (of No Greater Joy Ministries), Created to Be His Help Meet, as her rulebook for submission. This really threw me for a loop as Pearl’s book is another text filled with theological gymnastics and riddled with error. (Who can forget or forgive the passage in which Pearl tells a young woman who is physically abused and threatened by her husband to stop “‘blabbing about his sins’ and win him back by showing him more respect”?)

When I told my husband that Evans’s book had been featured on Oprah’s website and NPR, he did further investigating and found that Evans and her book had also been featured on “The Today Show” and “The View.” Then he asked me, “Do you really want to take your cues from someone who’s been featured on Oprah and has an NPR endorsement? I’m highly skeptical of anything that was featured on morning talk show circuits.”

Kathy Keller, wife of famed pastor Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, criticizes Evans’s hermeneutics and biblical interpretation. (Did Rachel go to seminary like Ms. Keller? I don’t know many women who have a keep grasp of hermeneutics that haven’t attended seminary.) Trillia Newbell who wrote for the Desiring God website took a different tack:

As I read the book, it became increasingly clear to me of one theme: God’s word was on trial. It was the court of Rachel Held Evans. She was the prosecution, judge, and jury. The verdict was out. And with authority and confidence, she would have the final word on womanhood.

Did she? According to Evans, she was looking for a “good story” when she first embarked on her year of biblical womanhood, but in the end:

I think I was looking for permission—permission to lead, permission to speak, permission to find my identity in something other than my roles, permission to be myself, permission to be a woman.

What a surprise to reach the end of the year with the quiet and liberating certainty that I never had to ask for it. It had already been given.

Evans found what she was looking for, but she leaves a lot of evangelical female readers like me bereft of where to go from here. Should we pick and choose as she has done or should we accept that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” as it says in II Timothy 3:16-17?

This is a long post, I know, but I’m really trying to think out the implications of Evans’s book. My husband and I were discussing the roles of men and women in marriage, and I simply couldn’t help but feel that women are marginalized in certain denominations of modern Christianity.

When Jackie Roese delivered her first sermon at Irving Bible Church near Dallas, Texas, in 2008, she had to have a bodyguard for protection.

“I think the strangest thing I heard was that a woman preaching on a Sunday morning would inevitably lead to the acceptance of bestiality,” Jackie said with a laugh.

Even before I read Evans’s book I wondered what would be so wrong with a female preacher? As Evans pointed out, Mary Magdalene was sent to tell the disciples part of the gospel—that Jesus had risen from the dead! Isn’t a woman preacher better than no one at all? I know some people would argue no, but I think “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (I Corinthians 9:22).

And I think that’s the point of Evans’s book. The Bible is confusing, contradictory, and culture-based. Do I still believe this sacred text? Yes. Do I think people pick and choose which text to adhere to? Yes. And do I think the ultimate goal is God, Jesus, and the gospel? Heck, yes!

Jesus Prayed and God Said “No”

January 9, 2012 8 comments

I’ve been bitter lately because I haven’t been blessed with a child while I’ve watched others conceive and give birth during that time frame. I have not only prayed for a child, but I’ve cried, pleaded, beseeched, begged, and bargained in the hopes that I might be a mom. Alas, that has not been the case. I get bitter and upset with God, not because He’s not answering my prayer—on the contrary, He is answering my prayer—I am dismayed because He is saying no.

I have been praying for various people who have been out of work to obtain full-time jobs. Again, God has been saying no.

In Paul E. Miller’s A Praying Life, he contrasts asking selfishly in prayer against not asking at all.

Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane demonstrates perfect balance. He avoids the Not Asking cliff, saying, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36).

. . . In the next breath, Jesus avoids the Asking Selfishly cliff by surrendering completely: “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (14:36). Jesus is real about his feelings, but they don’t control him, nor does he try to control God with them. He doesn’t use his ability to communicate with his Father as a means of doing his own will. He submits to the story that his Father is weaving in his life.

And most of us know what happens after Jesus prayed: he was unjustly crucified by the Pharisees and Roman authorities.

Reading that prayer through the lens of A Praying Life struck me with a view I’d never had before: God denied Jesus’ request. Jesus must submit to the Father’s will and not follow his own. If God can say no to his own son, how can I expect a “yes” answer to all of my prayers? This realization is a game-changer for me because I now know in these things I must submit myself to God’s will. God’s will is not for me to have children right now. It is a painful answer as I’m sure temporary separation from the Father was a painful answer for Jesus. It’s a painful answer for God to tell dear friends that they will remain unemployed for several years.

Not that submitting to the will of God will be easy; in fact, it will be even harder knowing I must do it willingly.

Bible Verses of the Week

January 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Image from alex-diaz.com

I “randomly” turned to Psalm 103 in my devotions yesterday, and it was full of quote-worthy verses. Here’s a passage that stood out to me:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. (v. 8)

Oddly enough, a few days ago, I read in Joel 2:

Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil. (v. 13)

I like these verses because they are reminders of God’s attributes. In the midst of my pain, stress, and anxiety, I don’t feel a God who is any of these things. (Well, maybe the slow to anger part because I haven’t been smited yet.)

But God is gracious: I have three, going on four, part-time jobs in a down economy.

God is compassionate: I am earning money to pay bills and start a freelancing business.

God is slow to anger: In all the stupid ways I’ve disobeyed him and blasphemed, he still loves me.

God is abounding in lovingkindness: He has surrounded me with supportive friends and family.

God is relenting of evil: Oh, the punishment I deserve for being a rebellious child and having my heart set against him!

Satan has really set some attacks against me so that I destroy myself. But I am thankful that God’s truths are reiterated in different ways.

 

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