Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What They Don't Teach You in Bible College/Seminary...

I officiated my first funeral this past weekend.  I'll be honest with you - I was nervous, like to the point of hyperventilating in the car ride to the funeral home... twice.

The week prior several things struck me, mostly while I was sitting in a local Starbucks preparing the funeral message.  You see, while I was sitting there figuring out how to write a sermon that doesn't sound like a sermon, that will both comfort those who are mourning and challenge those who are lost, I found myself staring off into the distance having a lot of those "thinking dazes."

While I was "thinking," I saw someone that attends the local seminary up the road working away on some sort of exegetical paper.  This person was digging hard into their word study, making sure that all their lexical ducks are in a row as they attempt to fill out 20-30 pages worth of substance on what I am sure is less than 5 Greek or Hebrew words.

So, I sat there staring at them (hopefully not for too long) remembering fondly how I used to do that.  I used to dig deep into the meanings of words and the placement order of a passage.  I used to chart out my word studies lining up the prepositions, pointing back and forward and highlighting all of the different nuances.  What grammatical Greek fun was had!

But not on Friday afternoon.  No, on Friday afternoon, I sat there staring at a Seminary student who was learning how to rightly divide the Word of God, which is so very important; while I was sitting there attempting to write something I never learned how to do in all of my years of schooling.  Because of this, I have thought through several things now that I believe you will never be taught (at least not unless you seek it out) in Bible College/Seminary that I have now discovered in my short time as an associate pastor.

Here they are in no particular order:

1. How to listen and not debate.
2. How to listen and then respond in prayer.
3. How to offer compassion, not sympathy.
4. How to learn from people who have far less educational experience and knowledge than you do.
5. How to write a funeral message.
6. How to write a wedding message.
7. How to treat people as souls and not things to fill with knowledge.

I'm sure there is more that I will find out along the way, but man, what an interesting journey it has been so far!

Monday, January 23, 2012

For your enjoyment...

In my day job, I get to talk to people about how they read their Bible, helping them along with their journey/walk/trek with Christ.  Trust me, I know that I am incredibly blessed.  I actually get to sit down with people and talk to them about the Bible.  It's fascinating, and I am still amazed almost every single day when I sit down at my desk to tackle another day.

Reading has never been a problem for me.  I was always an avid card carrying member of my local library and devoured the Summer Reading Program list every year by June since the age of 5.  Remember the Pizza Hut Book It program?  You know, where you read so many books and then you get a free personal pan pizza of your own choice?  No?  Well, let's just say, I had a free pizza there every month.  It rocked!

So, when it comes to reading, I have no problem with reading the Word.  I love to read.  God has designed something in me that enjoys that enjoyment of holding a book, reading a line or verse, letting it soak, thinking over it, and then continuing on with the rest of the story.

What then, do you do when you really do not enjoy reading?  I hear this a lot, from people of all ages, sizes and genders - "Yeah, I don't like to read."

The first few times I heard someone say this to me, I felt like a bit of my soul was being stepped on.  Don't like to read?  What does that mean?  What about poetry?  What about prose?  What about fantasy, adventure, and story?  For the love of all that is good, WHAT ABOUT STORY?????

Time has moved on though, and I have had more conversations where this has been said that now besides that statement doing actual damage to my reader soul, I have learned to soak it in and move on rather quickly to an answer for the problem of the willful illiterate.

The answer is this - you don't have to like to read to be a student of the Word of God.  Don't misunderstand me, you do have to actually read the Word of God to be a student of it.  A dislike of reading does not mean that you do not read it.  It means that you learn to read the Bible, you study it, and you let the living, active part of Its Being take care of the rest.  And just because one that does not like to read learns to read the Bible (and actual comes to enjoy reading it), does not mean that they will then like to read other things.

Here is the difference - the variable, if you will - the Bible is different than any other thing you will ever read.  Yes, it has story; yes, there is beautiful poetry; yes, there are fantastical chapters filled with language of things that our minds have a hard time comprehending (I'm looking at you 7-headed dragon sweeping stars down with your tail) - but it is the very Word of God.  It is not inspired by any writer in this world, it inspires the world of writers.

The Bible is so incredibly different than any other book.  You see, you don't have to read it cover to cover in that order.  You can start somewhere in the middle.  And you actually don't have to race through it to discover the plot as it thickens page after page, you can read it slowly, meditatively - letting what you have read be digested by your mind and soul.  Reading the Bible should not be an exercise in training your eyes to read, but it actually should be an exercise in awakening your soul to what it has missed for so long.  Each page, each sentence, each word is there for you.  Imagine that?  Things that were written thousands of years ago, with a purpose for someone thousands of years ago is still purposeful to you now today.  Fascinating.

Let me leave you then with a few tips I give to new readers of the Word, or to those who simply "don't like to read."

1. Read the whole Bible, but don't start with Leviticus.

Meaning, the entire Bible is inspired and relevant for you.  Don't cut out something because you may think it is boring or don't understand it.  We have heretics for that.  But, at the same time, let's be honest about your level of reading and understanding.  Maybe it's time to start with a short book like Philippians.

2. Read the entire book at a time.

If you are going to begin with Philippians, then read all of Philippians.  Don't read a chapter of it, and then start on another chapter in another book.  All of Philippians was written and recorded all together, so read it all and then move on.

3. Don't be afraid to read something again.

If you are enjoying something a lot, then read it again.  You would be surprised how re-reading something will help with the whole "meditating" aspect of reading your Bible.

4. Be smart about the chronology.

If you are completely new, then you may not want to read the Bible backwards.  You may be a little confused if you read the book of 2 Kings and then 1 Kings, or Exodus and then Genesis.  However, you don't need to read Genesis then Exodus then Leviticus.  You could read Genesis and then Matthew and then go back to Exodus.  This brings us to our last point.

5. Read it to remember it.

This is not a beach novel or something that you are reading to check off on your list, which will then "fall off the shelf."  The entire Bible has a theme and a continuous story of God's revelation.  It all fits together.  So, if you read Genesis, know that parts of it are continuous to Exodus, and realistically to the rest of the Scriptures.  Read the parts in light of the whole.

6. Yeah, I know I said #5 was the last point, but this one is hopefully a gimme.  Enjoy your time with God!  Think of it as a love letter, think of it as your instruction, think of it as whatever you will, but for goodness sakes - Enjoy it!  Let your soul resound with Psalm 119:111 which says, "Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart."  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Once again, I give you...

Well, here we are again - the second day of a New Year.  Last year, I attempted to set out some resolutions, and of course succeeded in some and failed miserably in others.  But that is life!  We can plan to attempt to do something, but the course that is laid out for us will not set us up to do those things, or we are simply lazy.  I like to look at it as choice #1.  : )

This year, I am determined to do a few things, once again.  So, here we go... again:

1. I will NOT eat at McDonald's this year.  Lately, anytime that I succumb to eating there quickly as I am out and about it leaves me anything but satisfied - actually feeling mostly greasy and a little heartache-ey.  So, McDonald's, you are out.  It's been real, but something changed.  Whether it was me or you, who can say?  I can't really say, "It's not you, it's me," because I am pretty sure it is you - it has always been you!

2. I am going to read more.  I don't think I want to put a number on this, because that is not what I am getting at.  I read a lot, mostly for my day job.  Mostly things that are interesting, but not typically something I would just love to sit down and read.  So, aside from what I have to do, I want to read more.  I want to read more stories, read more books on theology, read that Bonhoeffer bio that has been sitting on my shelf since it came out to print.  You know?  I want to read more!  And for those of you who are like me, feel free to check this amazing site out to keep track of what you read.

3. I am going to lose weight.  It has to be done.  I am the ripe age of 29, which means that if the world is still kicking on my doomsday birthday, I will be turning 30 this year.  Apparently things shift and change and all sorts of stuff, so I need to lose weight and get some sort of stability in this area before the great shift happens.  In order to achieve this goal, I am using livestrong to log my calorie intake and accountability to keep me working out!  Yep, I am actually being held accountable to make sure that my butt is moving!

I think that is it.  As always, there is the general niceties like write more often, stay on budget, be more friendly to people (I am told that I have a wall), and the like - but I want to keep things simple this year.  So, there you have it.  What's yours?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's All the Same?

Recently, I saw a commercial for a local car dealership that was attempting to be very P.C.  So P.C. in fact, that they had not only a Caucasian male saying, "Merry Christmas," a Jewish male saying, "Happy Hanukkah," and a Black woman saying, "Happy Kwanzaa," BUT they also had almost every nationality represented spouting out in their various languages a form of "Happy Holidays."

Touching?  Sure.

What actually bothered me though was that at the end, the owners of the dealership stood there and said something of the sort: "Whatever it is, it's all the same.  Happy Holidays."

It is?

I am not trying to saw that Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and whatever holiday that is out there right now is not wonderful - no.  They are wonderful, and celebrating them because of who you are, what you believe in, and even because of your tradition and lineage is a great thing.

What I want to ask is this: Is Christmas actually the same as the rest of the holidays?

My very P.I. answer is this:  NO!!!!!!!!!

Christmas is NOT the same.  The Incarnation of God is NOT the same as a celebration of lights that preserved a nation.  The very fact that God came to earth is NOT the same as a celebration of a people group.  Not that these holidays are not wonderful, but they are NOT the same as Christmas!

Because Christmas, the real Christ-Mass, is a celebration of the very fact that Jesus came.  It is remembering the night that angels bent down to earth to sing praises and choruses of Hallelujah because God became flesh.  It is NOT a celebration of mankind - it is a celebration of the God who became Man.  It is NOT about human goodness, but about the fact that finally there was a Human who was Good.  It is NOT about stockings filled with coal, but about the One True Gift that is for Everyone, those with coal and those with sugarplums.

So, while I am sure the sentiment was well-intended by this car dealership (mostly so they would get more sales this December from one and all), I am going to have to say no, NO - it is NOT all the same.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, October 10, 2011

No Line on the Horizon

U2 is by far and away my favorite band.  Even if I don't agree with Bono's skewed theological beliefs, Adam's love affairs, Larry's unbelief, or the Edge's... well, I love the Edge - there is nothing wrong with the Edge.  Even though all of these things, I love and appreciate U2 beyond measure.  Their lyrics have inspired me for years; their poetic historical accounts have lit a fire under me especially at times when I was merely a flickering flame; and who doesn't love sweet guitar licks?  I mean, come on!

I'm not sure that I want this blog to turn into a place where I am constantly revealing the process of my grief, so I do promise that more blogs on other topics will come, but something inside of me started burning this weekend as I was listening to my U2 playlist.  Next Monday would have been my mom's 54th birthday.  The irony of it all is that I rarely ever remembered my mom's age while she was alive.  In fact, on several occasions in my childhood and teen years, I remember saying, "Happy Birthday MOM!  How old are you again?"  I never forgot her birthday, but I just couldn't make the number of years stick in my brain.  Now that she is no longer here, I am not quite sure what will happen with this memory lapse, but for now, the # 54 is bright and clear.

What does this have to do with U2 and a fire burning inside of me, you may ask.  Well, the simple matter is this: It turns out that we are incredibly selfish people.  My mom would have been 54 next week; and the shock of grief at times can be overwhelming.  I miss her.  I want to talk to her.  I get angry at the fact that somehow God took her away.  How could he do that?  Didn't He know that I needed her here?  Didn't He know that she was supposed to be a witness to my life here on this earth?  Didn't He get it that she was supposed to be a grandma one day?  Did God mess up?

These are the thoughts that plague me at some of the most inopportune times.  So, it is most certainly comical to me that God would use my love for U2 to express something so deep and profound because when the grief hits, it is hard to focus.  You may ask, what does the song "No Line on the Horizon" have to do with this?


Selfishness is looking at God and telling Him that He should have known better; but He speaks to me and says that He does know.  My mom would have been 54, but now she is Eternity.  My mom would have been facing another Michigan winter with a car that always continually gave her problems, but now she is in the heavenlies - where the idea of "weather" is comical.  My mom would have been facing another stack of bills every single day, adding fear and worry to her already loaded plate.  Now she is in a place where peace, pure bliss, and joy reign.  The words fear and worry have no meaning.  My mom would have been waking up to another day of pricking her finger, writing down her #, taking a bunch of pills, and shooting a shot of insulin into her system.  She now resides in a place where medicine does not exist and never has, because there is no more disease, there is no more heartache, there is no more pain, there is no more crying - there is simply her and Him.

You see there is no line on the horizon for my mom.  I miss her with all of my finiteness, but if I cannot wrap my head around the fact that the Infinite has it all in His ever-loving Hands, then well, I am selfish.

For now, it is enough for me to say out loud, "Happy Birthday, Mom; you are in the best place possible.  I cannot wait to see you again."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gasping for Air

I have always been one of those "sports girls."  You know the type - played basketball and can actually shoot a 3, into lifting weights at the gym and not just doing the elliptical machine, still has issues with nail polish on my fingers - that type of girl.  I'm not sure if this is the reason why, but whenever anyone finds out that I happen to have asthma, they look at me with a bewildered expression and say something like, "Really?  You have asthma?"

Yes, indeed.  I have the thrilling experience of having my lungs swell to the point where my ability to breath becomes extremely difficult (to say the least).  I know that brain function depends on oxygen, but truthfully, whenever I am in the midst of an attack, my brain is working overtime.  Mostly, thinking about the exact location of my inhaler, and then thinking about how insanely silly and stupid I look, followed up by more self-conscious thoughts, then slowly thoughts that I really need to calm down.  These all happen within a matter of a second and then are re-thought over and over again.  It's quite the vicious cycle.

Having asthma is a bit of a problem for someone like me who has major issues in the realm of pride.  You see, I try again and again to do things all on my own.  I have issues, if you will, with letting things go.  So, to be reliant on an inhaler every time I want to go work out is extremely trying.  In recent years, I've tried to just do exercises that won't require that I take my inhaler - like yoga or pilates, even light jogging.  But every now and then, I begin to think that I am doing so well with my work out, that I try to add on more and more - and then the lungs start to swell more and more.  Before you know it, I am keeled over, feeling like an idiot - gasping for air.

It is in between the gasps that I am reminded that God created my lungs.  He is the One that I live and move and have my being in; He is concerned with every hair on my head, so why would every breath that I take be any different?  Way back in the day, there was a song called "Air I Breathe."  It's funny what a simple lyric will do for a girl with asthma; but hearing that "This is the air I breathe, your holy presence living in me," did wonders for my prideful, asthmatic psyche.

Now for the abrupt shift - my mom died.  In fact, it is now just a little over two months ago that I received the phone call from my uncle telling me this.  I am not exactly sure what the grieving process is for other people, but right now, for me, I feel like I am stuck in a permanent asthma attack.  I spend a lot of my time gasping, and being stuck in my prideful state thinking that I can get myself out of this one; I can fix it; I can stop gasping for air without the help of anyone or anything; I can do this on my own.  It's a lot of silliness, really.

I know that every day is one day closer, time is the healer, and all of the other such timely phrases.  It is actually realizing this every single day, physically making a conscious effort to know that God is not only concerned with my ability to breath while I exercise, but that He is concerned that I am not gasping for air while I grieve.  We never suffer alone, we only feel like we do.  He is not far off; He is not stuck in some cosmic conversation.  He is near, ready to bring Joy in the morning.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Checking Up

So, it's raining outside.  It must be April.  As most of you know, "I'm only happy when it rains," so, April is one of my favorite months of the year.  This and October, well and of course December (my birthday month).  The rest of the months, I could really take them or leave them.

As we are entering into month four of the year, I have decided to assess the challenging situation that I have put myself in for the year.  How are my new year's goals/resolutions going?  You know, those ones that I made public to one and all here.

Well, I have to be honest.  They aren't going half as badly as I thought they would be!  I am pretty much on target for 3 out of 4.  I have been reading extensively, and will definitely have 25 books done by the end of the year, although currently I am in the problem of reading a ginormous book, and I refuse to stop reading it to pick up something slightly more easy and breezy to accomplish this goal.  So, I may not reach that goal after all.

I have been cooking on a regular basis, and really have been enjoying it.  Recently we even picked up a panini press cast iron pan, and that has opened up a whole new world of cooking to me!  Grill cheese taste so much better pressed like a panini!

And even though the incredible temptation of Starbuck's new mini Red Velvet Whoopie Pie has been upon me ever since it was introduced this year, I have not had sweets (except on my husband's birthday and when we were out of the country in February).  Surprisingly, this has not been as hard as I thought it would be.  But the summer months and my addiction for ice cream in the hot, sticky nights has yet to come.

That leaves me with the one that I am failing miserably at.  Writing daily.  Who knew it would be so hard?  Well, I did know, but I thought I was bigger than that.  Apparently not.  I have been writing, just typically not what I wanted to be working on.  I've had a lot of opportunities this year to teach, speak and preach, so I have been writing a lot of lessons and sermons, but still my book has only a page.  One page.  I'm pretty pathetic.  Oh well, I think it is time to reassess this goal and shoot to start writing once a week.

That's always the good thing about quarter year check-ups.  You can always admit defeat and try to amend your goal.  So, that is my encouragement for you today.  If you came up with goals for the year, check up on yourself and how you are doing.  And if something was dropped, then maybe it is time to try it but in a different light.  And if not, there is always next year!