Thursday, June 17, 2010


Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective.-Rob Bell in Velvet Elvis
Do you ever sit in church and find yourself nodding your head vigorously as the preacher says something in the sermon? Something that you believe so strongly that you PHYSICALLY have to express agreement?

Rob Bell's book makes me do that. And, I try to write about it here when I find myself nodding. So, here I go.

Try as you might, you cannot divide the world into "Christian" and "secular". You can stick a fish on a picture frame, but it doesn't make it any more Christian than one without the fish. You can put a U-2 album in the pop section of the music store and a Mercy Me album in the Christian section, but that doesn't mean that a listener will get more truth and hope from the second than the first. And it certainly doesn't mean that a Christian should not be a consumer of the first because they aren't found in the Christian stamped and approved section of the store.

I read once that there was no Hebrew word for "spiritual". Why? Because there was no separating the spiritual and secular for the Jewish people.

EVERYTHING that is done is connected to your beliefs.

Even that job you have that you think has nothing to do with your faith. (If you are performing your job in a way that is disjointed from your faith, well, things like Enron come to mind.)

Paul said, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:17)

Whatever you do. Do it all. In His name.

Not just the things you have labeled "Christian".

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Context is everything

To grab a few lines of Jesus and drop them down on someone 2,000 years later without first entering into the world in which they first appeared is lethal to the life and vitality and truth of the Bible.-Rob Bell in Velvet Elvis
Have you ever overheard part of a conversation then run off and told someone something based on what you thought you heard only to find out later that that wasn't it at all?

Have you ever started watching a movie in the middle and then get to the end and not understand it at all because you missed something key at the beginning?

Context is so important in these and other aspects of our lives. Why wouldn't it be important in our understanding of the Bible?

Sure, the Bible can bring meaning and enlightenment into our lives wherever we are...whether we are Bible scholars or first time readers. But, to take bits and pieces of the Bible and proclaim them to be speaking truths to us today without also understanding the context in which they were written is only getting part of the picture. The Bible is so much more vibrant when we get "the rest of the story".

One study I read, for instance, discussed the social climate that existed in Jesus' day that would have made the fact that the father of the Prodigal Son ran to his son to greet him more than just a visibly emotional way for him to say "welcome home". In that society, it was humiliating for a person of his age to run...much less to pull up his robes and run! The father risks humiliation to welcome his son home. When we read the story without understanding the full context in which the story was being told, we only get a shallow understanding of this father's actions. And since this father is a representation of our Heavenly Father, we aren't grasping the full depth and breadth of His love for us until we know the full social context of the parable.

In Movement Two of  Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, Rob Bell gives several wonderful examples of this sort of depth that can be added to the Bible through more thorough understanding of the culture in which the books of the Bible were written. He says,

The Bible originated from real people in real places at real times...To take statements made in a letter from one person living in a real place at a moment in history writing to another person living in a real place out of their context and apply them to today without first understanding their original context sucks the life right out of them.
But, how do we get this additional understanding? I wish I could tell you. But, I have found that Beth Moore breathes life into the scriptures beautifully when she writes a book or study guide*. She will fill in gaps in your knowledge that make Jesus' actions as a Jewish man in a Jewish culture facing Roman occupation so much more meaningful that what it means when read through just the filter of your own modern situation.

Is the story of Jesus' life powerful even if you don't know these things? Sure it is.

But it is so much MORE if you do.

*I recommend Beth Moore's Jesus the One and Only study highly.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The smackdown

The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. We are dealing with somebody we made up. And, if we made him up, then we are in control. And so in passage after passage, we find God reminding people that he is beyond and bigger and more.-Rob Bell in Velvet Elvis
My latest lunchtime reading material is a book by Rob Bell called Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. I came to know Rob Bell through his video series, Nooma, which our Sunday School class uses occasionally during those Sundays we are in between studies. Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill in Michigan. His videos are spiritually motivating and thought provoking (and they are visually pleasing, too).

Yesterday was a Nooma Sunday in our class. We watched the latest in the series, Whirlwind. In this installment, Bell discusses the seldom asked question, "Why do bad things happen?" He, as a lot of these sorts of studies do, goes to the book of Job for guidance. Of the 11 minutes in the video, 9 minutes are Bell reciting the questions that God asks of Job after Job has questioned God as to why all the bad stuff has happened to him. You know, the sorts of things like, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations?" and "What is the way to the place where lightning is dispersed?" On and on, God points out the length, depth and breadth of his might, power and glory. In our discussions after the video, Steve referred to it as the "smackdown".


Job's response? He put his hand over his mouth and said no more.

Friday, March 26, 2010


The first step in any spiritual awakening is demolition. We cannot make headway in seeking God without first tearing down the accumulated junk in our souls. Rationalizing has to cease. We have to start seeing the sinful debris we hadn't noticed before, which is what holds back the blessing of God.-Jim Cymbala in Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire
Debris. What an excellent word for the things of this world that we surround ourselves with. No, immerse ourselves in. Willingly, knowingly immerse ourselves in. Things that keep the noise level up around us so that we don't have too much head time. Things that occupy every waking moment so that we can't possibly commit to doing something God is calling us to do.

Heck, we can't even hear Him calling.

I can think of several in my life.
  1. Television. I could add up how many hours of tv I watch every week pretty easily, but I don't want to put it in a concrete number and admit it.
  2. Books. I have started reading from a devotional every night before bed and then I read a Psalm and a Proverb from my One Year Bible. Often I read something that really gets me thinking. Something that is really convicting. But, not one to stay in thought for long, I almost always pick up the book I'm reading for my usual "reading before bed" time.
  3. Music. I have about a 30 minute commute each day. It is never quiet. I fill the van with either my favorite morning show or music from my iPod. (My iPod is not very Christian, by the way. I seem to especially love music that I have to find "CLEAN" versions of when I buy it so the kids won't be exposed to bad language when they ride with me. But I still know what the artist is singing and, let's be honest, the kids probably do, too.) Some days, although not many, I will have a mini worship service in my van with some of my favorite music from Christian artists. Even then, though, I am surrounding myself with noise to occupy my mind rather than sitting still and listening for God.
  4. Photography. I have a photo blog and I find myself striving to put an image out on the blog that will get praise from someone. Anyone. It feels good to be told that something you did is liked. This coming week's blog theme is "manipulated", so it gave me free rein to open up my favorite photo editing software and play with photos. I spent, literally (and I, unlike sportscasters, do know what that means), hours on this.
  5. Online communities. The photography blog is just my latest attempt to reach out into cyberspace and get positive feedback, friendship and affirmation. I have already been through parenting communities, diet and exercise e-mail groups, Facebook, and Twitter addictions. I also love to blog. I have two other blogs beside the photo blog (this one and a more personal one focused on diet and exercise). I have tried to go cold turkey from each and every one of these except blogging. I have broken away from some but not all and every time I break one addiction, I pick up another.
I think I need to pray, as Jim Cymbala put it, for the Holy Spirit to put a shovel and broom in my hand to help me get rid of this debris.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Growth and direction

Almost two years ago, Steve and I moved from the church we had been attending, the church he grew up in, to a church closer to home. We had several very good reasons for leaving our old church and finding a new church home, but it was still a scary proposition. This was the case mainly because we were moving from a church where we knew almost everyone to one that was much bigger where we knew almost no one.

The first thing I knew I had to do was to find a Sunday School for myself and Steve. We visited a few and found a home in the Asbury Class. The leader of the class was warm and welcoming as was the rest of the class. The class wasn't too large and we liked the sorts of things that were discussed. Eventually, I became co-leader of the class, which made me feel even more at home because I love to teach adult Sunday School.

We went through the new member's class and joined the new church a year ago December. About two months later, the minister announced that he was being moved (as Methodists are wont to have done to them). We watched a minister we liked leave and a plan for church expansion get put on hold.

When we found out who our new minister was to be, I found his wife online through her blog. She found my photo blog and we had lunch shortly after they got to town. A warm and truly engaging person, I fell in love with Mollie and her family through her. Brian's very personal approach to us as members of the church (which isn't easy to do with a congregation of our size) made me thankful that our church had been brought this new pastor.

Now, our church is about to embark on an even bigger expansion than the one laid out in the blueprints that got mothballed a year ago. We recently found out that a loan has been approved for us to purchase a retail center that abuts the church parking lot. Perfectly located for us to grow without "moving", the largest space in the center is a empty grocery store. We will begin renovations there. I have walked inside this empty store and the amount of room is astonishing! I can't wait to see what we will do with this opportunity.

I am also anxious to see and hear what God will call us to do with this opportunity. In reading books like The Jesus of Suburbia, and Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, I have been made keenly aware of how easy it is for today's churches to focus inward on their own members and those members' desires and biases. What I hope to see is vibrant outreach in our community, where we can have true impact on those all around us that are not believers, that are not churched, that are in need.

What will God do with our church? What part will my family and I have in this growth? I guess we all just need to pray and listen! I find this so difficult to do, so please join me!

Friday, March 05, 2010

My D.J.

This morning as I drove into work, I put my iPod on and got a few nice songs strung together by some divine D.J.:

Hallelujah-Leonard Cohen
Peace on Earth-Todd Agnew
Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)-Jessica Simpson

I thought it was just what I needed this morning and found it amazing that the iPod, on shuffle, strung these together without a single one of the many pop and hip hop songs intermingled.

The song that speaks to me today is the David Crowder song:
When darkness falls on us
We will not fear
We will remember
When all seems lost
When we're thrown and we're tossed
We'll remember the cost
We're resting in the shadow of the cross.

When we are in the shadows of dark days, we are always in the shadow of His cross: protected, loved, and saved by His amazing grace.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Case in point

I finished Cure for the Common Life and started a new book during my lunch time getaways. Before I tell you about the new book, let me just say that having cleansed my palatte of the last book for about a week, I'm going to return to what I originally said about Christian "self-help" books like that one.

Not my cup of tea.

Here's the problem: for the duration of the time that I was reading that book, I was focused on ME, not God. I need to turn my gaze up, not in, folks. You can see from my blog posts during the time that I was reading the book that I wasn't thinking about anything but me. (And, I deleted one post about 10 hours after putting it up...even in the heat of it, I knew that one was too self-indulgent!)

Moving on...

I'm now reading Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala. Cymbala is the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, which I was familar because of its amazing choir (which is led by his wife). I'll write more on this book later, but I wanted to go ahead and share what it was that I was reading.

And, while on that subject, I'll also mention that I'm reading Bread and Wine each night. This is a Lenten/Easter devotional book just like the one I read at my pastor's suggestion during Advent (Watch for the Light).