Monday, March 31, 2008

So outta here.....

Just in case you're stopping by and wondering why I'm not posting......
I'm on my way to Florida for Spring break. :)
Sun, 80's, family, beach, friend, key lime pie, Mr. Souvlaki's, roadtrip, (after we get to Fla.) what could be better??
C-ya next week...... :)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Grace defined....

A few years ago as a part of a small group we were asked to answer the question "what is grace?" Without using the usual "unmerited favor" type answers. It was difficult. This was the best I could do. For some reason I am thinking about grace today.

Grace is God taking joy in us. It is his unconditional acceptance of us where we are. Grace flows and fills the cracks of the wounded soul. It is constant in that God gives it, and the end result is the same, yet it approaches us all and fills us in its own unique way - meeting individual needs. Grace is daddy - picking up the baby who falls as he is learning to walk and in pride and love with gentleness encourages him to try yet again. Grace is safety that embraces our insecurities.
Grace is quite simply God.

How would you define it?

Friday, March 28, 2008

What Is A SUCCESSFUL Church?

I came across a great post this morning as I was reading blogs. It is from Kathy Escobar at The Carnival in my Head. It is entitled The New Ways are Harder.
Here is a quote from her post:
"i sometimes miss the old ways. you see, the new ways are way harder. there are so many subtle ways that the road we’re on is so much trickier to pull off. i keep waiting for smoother sailing, greener pastures, someone to swoop in and say “we believe in you, we want to do this with you, what do you need?” and i’m starting to realize, it may not come. plus, i’m pretty sure the life of following Christ was never about ease, comfort, success, numbers, budgets, earthly relief. i’ll say, though, part of my human condition always seems to be longing for it. one thing i have observed is that many “new” churches are really still relying on old ways and that’s why they probably will get a lot further than we will! i look sometimes at them and think “what are we doing wrong?” and then i realize we really are talking apples & oranges. church as compared to this thing we’re doing that’s better described as a faith-community-missional-agency-Christ-likeness-
In the post she puts words to many things that I have been thinking. And she is so right. The old ways were much easier. (I especially like her comparison of the old ways and the new ways.) Being who we are supposed to be and doing what we are supposed to do, and not worrying about whether we are "successful" or not IS hard.
It's sad that church plants, gatherings, house churches etc. are only successful if they are large, growing, self sustaining (monetarily) entities.
Unfortunately, these little communities often don't make it because of this very thing. They can't support themselves. At least in the "old way". And it's hard to imagine a new way that can make this work. We are all such products of the churches we came out of that we often can't shift into a new way of being/doing church. The very definition of church has to change IMHO to make this new model work.
I have been reading Neil Cole's book Organic Church. He also addresses these issues. He contends that the DNA of the church must change. Our communities must become relational, and he suggests SMALL. I'm not sure I would go quite as small as he suggests, (two or three, which he sites as the Biblical model) but I get the idea he is trying to convey.
Small churches have stronger community, stronger accountability, necessary confidentiality, more flexibility, better communication, stronger direction and more effective leadership.
Small is good. Small is hard. Small is more intimate, more incarnational, more authentic and honest by nature. It's hard to hide in a small group. Small means seeing the problems, the messes, the sins of individuals and working with them. Everyone on the same journey, albeit at different points, working together to advance the Kingdom. In this setting self is often sacrificed for the group and for the sake of Christ. Struggles, honesty, messiness; it all makes us stronger if we are willing to to forgo easy and enter in to this kind of "church".
I hate that money dictates success. If we can't pay for programs we aren't successful. If we can't support a pastor on our own, we aren't successful. If we aren't growing, we aren't successful.
I don't believe it. Not for a minute.
It's the tight knit, incarnational, compassionate, missional small group that to me says success.
We are desperately in need of a new way of thinking. A new definition of a successful church.
But that's just my opinion.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Just what is Tithing anyway?

So now I have a new debate whirling in my brain. Tithing. what it is, what is isn't, what it really means, is it mandatory, do we have it wrong, does our way of doing church dictate tithing, do small communities have a better, healthier view of tithing?
Is it stewardship instead of tithing? Is tithing a small part of a much larger thing? Is tithing misused by the church?
Is giving to God a much, much larger thing encompassing compassion, justice issues, helping your neighbor, your community, your friend, being able to assist monetarily when needed, buy food for people, clothes for people, have a party for people?
Wow, this is a huge issue. One I never spent a lot of time thinking about before....
But now in light of so many changes in my life and way of thinking, I am obviously bugged by this and starting to rethink the whole thing.
Where is our heart in this? Do we tithe merely to have a tax write off?
Do we tithe because we've been taught if we do, God will bless us and we will be financially secure?
Is the tithe a bludgeon to keep us in line, a measuring stick of how good of a Christian we are?
Is the tithe just used to sustain the church and pay the pastor?
Or should we be doing this in a different way?
Some say in the age of grace tithing is not necessary. I think that is a cop out. But I'm still not sure where I stand on the spectrum.
Aaargh. Just what I need. A confusing issue to wrestle with over break.
And yes, a couple years ago I would never have even had these questions, much less engage and struggle with them. LOL.
Life is never boring......

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Go Raw....

A couple months ago I was reading The Omnivore's Dilemma. It was eye opening about the use of Corn, and especially High Fructose Corn Syrup here in the United States. Specifically how dependent our nation has become on corn, and the reasons for that. Amazing. I'm not gonna go into those reasons here - but if you are interested read the book! However, it is interesting that the pop (yes, I'm from the Midwest) we grew up with prior to the 1980's NEVER used HFCS. It used SUGAR. Imagine that. By the 1980's that was changing fast.

They replaced the original sugar formula with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Today, that sweetener is used in pretty much all soft drinks in the U.S. Why? Two reasons (if you believe the commonly held political explanation). The first is cost. HFCS is cheaper thanks to subsidies that the government provides to grow and use corn. The second is tariffs that are placed on the purchase of sugar, which makes it more expensive to buy. This is why sugar is still used in Canada and other countries to sweeten soft drinks, but everything in America uses high fructose corn syrup.

Steve Tanner

Anyway, while searching on the internet today I ran across this and I think it is cool. Coke, Pepsi and others are starting to make versions (for various reasons) of their product with Sucrose in it - you know, real sugar derived from Sugar beets.

Of course there is also Dr. Pepper who has started a formula using Cane Sugar. Now, if these would just become the norm instead of the oddity! Unfortunately, they will probably cost more, and that is always the trade off for healthier food. It always comes down to money doesn't it? Maybe that is why we are NOT seeing these in stores even though Kosher for Passover Coke has been around for several years.

Check them out.....



Dr. Pepper

Jones Soda

Now that you know maybe we can all make enough noise that Coke and Pepsi will take note???


I know, I know. I have not posted for several days. See, you actually have to have time to THINK to be able to post anything worth reading. Right now my brain is tired.

My daughter was home from college last week, well actually for 12 days, and I am exhausted. She is my drama queen. Always doing something, on the move - and it all requires drama. Did I mention she's a theater major? We had a good time, but wow. When she was home all the time I was used to this, but now? I guess I'm not. LOL. Life is much slower - and yeah, more boring - without her here. It's the old saying - you can't live with 'em, and you can't live without 'em. So true. So, when I finally catch my breath and get my act together, when I finally have all the financial/scholarship stuff submitted, when I am through this school week with all it's drama, when I am on break - I hope to post again. Or not. I will be in Florida with Jen...... :)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Looking for God: an unexpected journey through tattoos, tofu & pronouns

So, still feeling miserable after going home from work last night I curled up on the couch and watched a movie. ( was fun and brainless, what can I say?) After that I decided to read a book I'd been wanting to read, but had been to busy to begin. Last night was the perfect time.
The book, Looking for God: An Unexpected Journey Through Tattoos, Tofu & Pronouns by Nancy Ortberg was a perfect book to read. It moved fast, was easy to understand and articulated much of what I have been thinking for the past couple years. I found myself wanting to highlight vast portions - but it wasn't my book - I borrowed it from Julie. I am gonna buy my own copy though, because I liked it and would find it easy and comfortable to pass along to my friends. Ortberg's reflections are personal, insightful and thought provoking with out being judgmental and harsh. She, in fact is on the journey with us all, and is very open about her faults and mis-steps. Interesting chapters include: The Problem With Quiet Time (finally!), Could We Please Stop Talking Like This? (Amen!), Shoes (wow!) and my favorite considering where I've found myself over the past couple years: Longings, Aches, and Pains.
Here are some excerpts:

"I am applauded when I speak in terms of blessings and power. But people nervously shift and move to change the subject when I mention that things are sometimes difficult and that something might be wrong with me."

"..God is so often the most real to me when I go to those difficult places. Yet I want to avoid them, and quiet them, and pretend they are not real."

"But for most of my life, I have met God most deeply in the middle of the hard stuff. I didn't know much, but I knew that. So instead of burying it, I chose to face it and pay attention to it. I chose to wrestle with it and try to listen. And I chose to live with it and all the tension and sadness it produced."

"Two of the most powerful things that God offers us are His grace and His forgiveness. Yet when we insist on ignoring the difficult parts of life, we are effectively saying that we don't need those two things. So the power of God is lost in our lives. And we wonder why following Him has become predictable and dull."

"...your mistakes are not stronger than God's love for you. That realization builds a strong central core in your soul that is unshakable. If we face them, our longings, aches, and pains take us to an alone place. Perhaps that is why we avoid them. But if we refuse to avoid them, we find what is true about the alone place. That it isn't alone."

"We all have black holes in our souls that keep anything from filling us up for too long. They keep us in a constant state of neediness, always seeking reinforcement through pleasure and comfort and busyness. But if we allow ourselves to experience the longing, refusing easy answers for the aches and pains, we'll slowly build solid bedrock of God in our souls. Those alone places create a foundation that closes up the black hole for good."

"She encouraged him to face the issue, not ignore, avoid, or drown it out. She talked about being willing to wrestle with God, and to take the pain head-on rather than trying to numb it through destructive behaviors. To listen, to search, to struggle, and to wait."

"Henri Nouwen wrote that we have nothing to offer others if we don't know that we are loved by God. Of all the places we go to get love, our longings, aches, and pains are the most powerful and convincing. If we have the courage to go there and to live there in healthy ways, we will surely find that healing awaits us."

So, when I finished this wonderful book of essays, all I could say was - How did Nancy get inside my head???

I will leave you with this final thought from another chapter which pretty much sums up how I look at things these days....

"I am better equipped to live out a faith that is real when I have wrestled and read and thought and prayed about what I really believe. Who is God? How is He different than what I have thought? What is His true nature?"

I appreciate and highly recommend this book - find a copy and read it - you won't be sorry!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Oh No!

Does the fact that I am cold in this warm, warm room, or the fact that my head hurts bad enough to bang on the wall, or the fact that my ears hurt, and my eyes are watering, and I am tired to the bone and sleepy too mean I am getting this stupid virus that everybody else has had? All I have to say is, if I am, let me be over it before I leave for Florida in a week and a half......

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday morning thoughts.....

I remember being taught in college that prejudice is usually a result of lack of communication and therefore understanding. Of course they were talking broadly, but the concept does hold true even on a much smaller levels.

Did you ever meet someone you really didn't like? And I don't mean just first impressions. A lot of us don't come across well if you judge on first impressions alone.

I mean someone you have contact with over and over and you just don't like. They irritate you. I can think of two very specific examples. And one of those people ended up being a really good friend, and the other a good co-worker.

Why? Because we had a conversation. One that went beyond the masks and the pretense. One that helped me know them, what made them tick. And once they allowed me to see them, see their heart, see their baggage, what made them the way they were, the whole picture shifted. They no longer seemed petty, or mean, or derogatory. When those things still surfaced (and believe me, they did/do...) I understood where they came from and worked with them.

Now, I must admit, the reverse is also true - I have had friends who I totally gelled with. Totally got, totally resonated with. Only to find out that was a mask too. That was not the real them. And when I got to see the real person behind the mask I realized that was not the person I wanted to spend time with. Or be so transparently open with anymore. Which is sad. Had those people been who they really were to start with I probably would still have a relationship with them today because I would have known and accepted and understood the real them. Those masks that we think help us only hinder. I don't know where I'm going with this - it was just some thoughts that hit me as I was starting up all the computers in the computer lab this morning. Before we are so quick to judge we need to make an effort to get to know a person. We might just be surprised at what we find!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Kingdom of God is a mosaic not a melting pot.

(I know a lot of people have said this, but the first time I really "heard" it was in Mike's sermon about Diversity at Via Christus.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Grace (Eventually)

What did I do last night? I was privileged to go hear Anne Lamott! The evening included receiving a copy of her last book which she signed after the reading/question and answer session. Altho, since I already own that in hard cover it woulda been nice to get a copy of Traveling Mercies and get it signed instead. I had that too, but Carissa lost that one at school. I love Anne's books - fiction and non fiction alike. Anyway, for more on the evening go to Julie's blog! (yes, I am lazy - and Julie says it so well.... )

And, yes, Kevin, I know you are quite jealous. Just like I was quite jealous when you went to see/hear Derek Webb..... ;)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Can you hear me now??

So, this is another one of those thoughts that I'm working on - it is still in process, but this is where I am in my thinking this morning...

Yesterday, as I was trying to pray - with no success, a new take on an old theme occurred to me.
Why does it seem like God does not hear our prayers? We were always taught that you had to be "right with God" for your prayers to be heard. That sin in your life kept God from hearing you - unless of course the prayer was a prayer of repentance. If that is so than there are an awful lot of prayers not being heard. Would God deliberately ignore our prayers? Sometimes it feels like it - those times it seems like the prayers bounce off the ceiling and go no further. So - if it IS sin that stops the prayer, is it God punishing us? I don't think so.
What occurred to me today is the fact that I can't pray with this obvious "sin" in my life. It has nothing to do with any of the other requests, praises, etc., but it's there in the back of my mind when I am trying to pray about other things. It is something I should be praying for, asking for, wanting, and yet I don't, and until I get that fixed, how dare I think I have the kind of deep open relationship with God that allows fellowship and communication? Yes, he's still hearing me. And probably answering me. But I can't hear it, I can't see it, and I'm hiding instead of truly connecting with God. Because I know what he wants me to do and I'm not doing it. My guilt, shame and avoidance are the hindrance. It is not God's judgement.
When Adam and Eve sinned they knew they had done wrong. They were embarrassed, and they hid from God. And yet, he went looking for them. They didn't want to talk to him, but he still wanted to have a relationship with them.
He is still waiting, still listening; He is still there.
My prayers are not heard, because I am not able to pray.
He is not ignoring me - I am not comfortable being in His presence.
And so, I hide.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Real To Me
Nichole Nordeman

Every time I try to find you
Every road comes back around
Just another hoop to jump through
Another mile of covered ground

I am weary of the answers
More theory and cliché
They raise the letter of the law like a banner
'Til you're small and far away

All the questions in my head
Are from my heart instead

Be real to me now
That's all I'm asking
Be real to me now

Every scribe and every scholar
No winners in this debate
Everybody seems to stand up taller
When you're easy to explain

I don't need to know what I don't know
Just got to let it go

Be real to me now
That's all I'm asking
Be real somehow
More than anything
More than anything

So lay down the sword
And put away the doctrine
Love a little more, love a little more
'Cause everybody's broken

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Well, now the high school in our town has been hit with a threat of violence. This is the official notification the parents received. It could just be a prank - most likely is, however IT IS NOT FUNNY!! And if it is a prank that student still ought to be prosecuted. And no matter what he/she needs counseling. Coming on the heels of the NIU shooting, where a lot of our We-Go students attend college, this is all just a bit too much. And, unfortunately, this threat has racial overtones - reminiscent of December threats at NIU - copy cat? Attention seeking? Some dumb, misguided kid trying to be cool?
Some days I really feel we have failed our kids.... I realize adults aren't responsible for all the bad things that kids do - but this child is crying for help; he is desperate to be heard.
It is effecting the grade school I work in as well - we are only a few blocks from the high school. So, although it is sunny, and warm, and although we are testing this week (ISATS) and the kids desperately need to be out running around at lunch and recess, we also are on modified lock-down. The kids MUST remain inside ALL day. Period.
I don't know what to say. I am angry, and yet, my heart is so sad......

Monday, March 03, 2008

Are you daydreaming when you should be working?

There is a song with a very catchy tune getting a lot of airplay these days. On the surface I found myself humming along - until I really listened to the words. And then, well - I don't agree with the song. But a lot of people aren't going to think about what they are hearing/singing along with, and the song is just gonna keep on rolling. When I was looking for the lyrics so I could post them, I found this comment with a question:

An awesome song that’s been ministering to me lately is What Could Be Better, by 33 Miles. Am I the only one who’s noticed a lack of songs written about looking forward to Heaven?

I’ve heard it said today
Is all we’re given
Tomorrow may not come
So you better start living
I guess it all depends
On your point of view
Pardon me if I
Just don’t listen
To everything the world
Says I’m missing
There’s nothing here and now
I’m gonna hold on to

I’m living in the days ahead
I’m already dancing on the streets of gold
Can’t stop celebrating in my soul
I’m living in the days ahead
Nothing on earth could ever compare
Can’t wait for the day when I get there
When I see Jesus face to face
Tell me what could be better
Tell me what could be better

If home is where the heart
Is then I’m in Heaven
It’s the promise of tomorrow
That I’ve been given
Who is waiting there I am living for
He’s everything I love
And I believe in
And I can hardly wait
Just to see Him
And hear Him say well done
I couldn’t ask for more

I’m living in the days ahead
I’m already dancing on the streets of gold
Can’t stop celebrating in my soul
I’m living in the days ahead
Nothing on earth could ever compare
Can’t wait for the day when I get there
When I see Jesus face to face
Tell me what could be better
Tell me what could be better
Life is full of ups and downs
Inside outs, round and rounds
Can’t blame me for dreaming about it

I’m living in the days ahead
I’m already dancing on the streets of gold
Can’t stop celebrating in my soul
I’m living in the days ahead
Nothing on earth could ever compare
Can’t wait for the day when I get there
When I see Jesus face to face
Tell me what could be better
Tell me what could be better

People! Do you ever think about the message of the song(s) you are propagating???
Maybe you do, maybe the way I think is totally different than the way you think. Even if your philosophy of the end times is different than mine, still to subscribe to the words of this song is totally missing the point of being a Christian. I'm not saying we shouldn't be excited about the future, or that we shouldn't long to see Jesus. But we have to stop being, as the cliché says, "too heavenly minded to be any earthly good."

Why are you a believer? To save yourselves from hell, and get into heaven? Is your belief simply an insurance policy?? What are you living for? The future? As in, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through"? Don't you think that being a Christian, a true follower of Christ is much deeper than that?? Way too many Christians go to church every Sunday to do their duty, or even just to be seen so others will not think badly of them, and then rarely think about God things the rest of the week.

He’s everything I love
And I believe in
And I can hardly wait
Just to see Him
And hear Him say well done
I couldn’t ask for more

But He can! If he is everything we love and believe in shouldn't we be living in His way, following his example, doing His work??
The point of our salvation is to join in the work of God as he reconciles the world to himself. We are blessed to be a blessing. We are to be about God's business. Loving, helping, fighting injustice.
If we spend all our time thinking and dreaming of the days ahead, what happens here and now? What about the fact that Jesus spent his time feeding the poor, healing the sick, eating with sinners, loving the children, challenging authority, teaching those who wanted to be like him?
What do we do? Sit in church and sing about heaven!
To hold to this future theology means to give up on the world. To give up on the people God so desperately loves. It means that we are selfishly saying," it's all going to just be destroyed anyway, why should I even consider working to make this world a better place?" It's defeatist, fatalistic thinking. Are we just resigned to the fact that there is nothing left in the world that is worth redeeming?
How does that help the hungry, or clothe someone who is cold?
If we are truly committed followers of Christ, if we are truly accepting him as Lord, and King, and Ruler - shouldn't we be following his plan? His way of living?
Instead of preaching we need to live our faith.
Instead of going to church, we need to be the church.
Instead of dreaming of heaven, instead of not being able to wait to get out of here, we need to work to make it a better place for all those God loves - and loves equally.
Instead of blame we need love.
Instead of finger pointing, we need teamwork.

In answer to the question of the above song's title "What Could be Better?" I leave the words of John Waller's song The Blessing:

The Blessing

Let it be said of us while we walked among the living
Let it be said of us by the ones we leave behind
Let it be said of us that we lived to be a blessing for life

And let it be said of us that we gave to reach the dying
Let it be said of us by the fruit we leave behind
Let it be said of us that our legacy is blessing for life

This day, You set life, You set death right before us
This day, every blessing and curse is a choice now
And we will choose to be a blessing for life

Let it be said of us that our hearts belong to Jesus
Let it be said of us that we spoke the words of life
Let is be said of us that our heritage is blessing for life

'Cause blessings and curses are choices
Will we build up, tear down? The moment of truth is now

For your kingdom, for our children
For the sake of every nation
For your kingdom, for our children
For the sake of every nation
We will choose to be a blessing for life