Archives for May 2014

God In the Personal

Such an ugly word.  A word that is filled with fear and pain, hopelessness and loss.  A word in which the treatment is as bad as the disease, a word that contains no promise of a cure.
We’ve lived through cancer twice now in my close family.  Once in one who had lived a long and good life and who chose not to fight.  Once in one who had just begun her life as wife and mother and who fought with every bit of strength she had.  Both times, our cancer word contained death and loss.



Perhaps this is why when someone I know learns firsthand of the horrors of this word, it stirs up something inside of me.   We all have causes and issues that make our hearts feel more weighty, that bring us to tears.  Causes alone, though, don’t have the power to stir us up the way an individual can.  I give money to causes, but a cause will not change me in the way that a person can.  God works through the personal to deepen our hearts in a way that a faceless cause never can.
Perhaps if I see pictures on the news or in the papers of victims of earthquake, flood, drought, I will write a small check for the cause of world hunger, and I may even refrain from meat on Wednesdays; but as long as I am responding to a cause it will not affect my entire life, my very breathing.  It is only when I see discrimination and injustice in all its horrendous particularity as I walk along Broadway, that my very life can be changed.  If it was necessary for God to come to us as one of us, then it is only in such particularity that I can understand incarnation…But a response to a cause will never change my life, nor open my heart to the promptings of the Spirit. ~ Madeleine L’Engle  in The Irrational Season
The differences in the pieces of life we each have lived allows different causes to stir each one of us to action.  Cancer, especially when this word contains a parent with children living at home, has become one of those for me.  One reason is that this word doesn’t have to end in death, you see.  Sometimes there is hope.  That hope, however, can be expensive.
May I introduce you to my friend, Mark?


Mark and I worship together and I know him best from making music together in the arts ministry at our church.  He is a musician by trade, performing and teaching in order to support his family.
Mark is a husband to Jana and a father of five beautiful children, three of whom still live at home.  His wife, Jana, is a self-employed speech pathologist who contracts with several different school systems.

Mark's Family

A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist don’t get very good health insurance.
Mark was diagnosed with cancer in 2007; his cancer word will not have within it a cure without also containing a bone marrow transplant.  He has not yet found a suitable donor.  Mark participated in a clinical trial that held the cancer at bay for several years.
Until this past December.  The cancer returned.  Mark still does not have a bone marrow donor.
He found another clinical trial, but this one requires that he live in Houston while receiving the treatments from MD Anderson.
A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist also don’t make crazy amounts of money.
He moved from hotel to hotel for awhile, living wherever they could find the cheapest price each week on Priceline.  He was finally able to find an apartment, but it is in a crime-ridden area of town.  He has been hassled several times when returning from his cancer treatments, and he can’t leave his windows open at night.  In Houston.  In the summertime.  He is trying to find work, but it is difficult to find teaching gigs in a new place when you are in the middle of cancer treatments.
So here they are.  Mark, living in a dangerous part of Houston all alone without his family to support him as he gambles for his life.  Jana, caring for their kids on her own while traveling hours everyday to and from work.  Both of them living 900 miles apart and trying to hold the fraying pieces of their lives together while living with the fear that their time together is slipping through their grasping fingers.
We can’t do much.  We can’t take away the cancer.  We can’t take away the fear.  We can’t take away the loneliness or the desperation of being a single parent or a distant parent.
We can do a little, though.  We can take away the one piece of their pain that has to do with their finances.  They are not big spenders.  They are frugal and they know how to stretch their paychecks.  And they will need a bit more while Mark is living in Houston.
I have never done this before on this blog.  I may never do it again.  But I know these people.  I have served with them.  And God is working through these individual people to change hearts and lives.  Will you join me in helping them?  You can give online at GiveForward.  (If the link does not work, copy and paste this address:
I know that we can’t do it all, that we can’t eliminate all hunger, thirst, suffering, pain.  This often frustrates me, but I am struck by the thought that Jesus didn’t do it all either.  He didn’t heal all of the blind while here on earth.  He didn’t heal all of the lepers or all of the lame, he didn’t feed all of the hungry.
I don’t know why He didn’t make all of the sad things come untrue immediately, but knowing this helps me to be content with not being able to help everyone but to, as Jesus did, help one beautiful person at a time.

To Interpret with Love

I have written recently about the difficulty of agreeing on Biblical interpretation.  It is easy to draw lines in the sand and difficult to discern between what is cultural and what is truth that transcends place and time.  It is easy to vilify those with whom we disagree and difficult to extend the grace of believing that they, too, are doing their best to follow Christ.
The ease of which I find myself speaking in terms of “us” and “them” while speaking of how we interpret the Bible forces me to search more deeply into how I see the Bible.
God's Words
Do I view the Bible as a way to live my own life or do I look into its pages to search out ways of making me right and them wrong?  Of even more eternal import, do I place the Bible as an idol above God?  Do I view the Bible or Jesus as the Word of God?
The Word
It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God.  The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him.  When it becomes really necessary (i.e. for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is myth (but of course myth specially chosen by God from among countless myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer.  But we must not use the Bible (our fathers too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and not read with attention to the whole nature and purport of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons.  ~ C.S. Lewis in a letter to a lady
When it does become necessary to know how to interpret a certain passage (only, as Lewis said, for my own spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity), to know whether it was only written to one particular culture or whether it should be obeyed in all times and places, I am learning that love should be my standard.   It seems obvious when you think about what Jesus mandated as the most important of all the commands, but it is a standard for interpretation that I had never thought about before.  Love is to be the standard for deciding which passages are cultural and which are universal.
Paul says in Romans that whatever commandment there may be, it can be summed up in the rule “love your neighbor as yourself”.  He is, of course, writing of the Greek word agape when speaking of love.  Agape is a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional sort of love.  It is the kind of love that seeks out the best for others before it seeks for the good of itself.  I think what Paul means, what Jesus means by “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” is that if we are truly living out God’s kind of love for others, we will always be led to do the right thing.
Picking Corn
Breaking the Sabbath
Even Jesus seems to apply the same principle to the Jewish Scriptures when He heals on the Sabbath or picks and eats grain on the Sabbath.  Rather than defending Himself by saying that He is not technically breaking the Sabbath, in each case He argues that sometimes violating the letter of the law is necessary in order to act in love and fulfill the spirit of the law instead.
I have a lot more praying and studying to do about this, but this idea feels incredibly freeing.  Rather than having to be a Bible scholar and know the ancient languages by heart, I can apply this standard of agape love and let God’s Spirit lead me to the best answer of whether a passage is cultural or for always.  Paul speaks of slaves obeying their masters, but agape love demands their freedom.  Paul’s rules about hair length and head coverings were good in his time and place, but they have no current relation to loving God or our neighbors.
We have been set free from the Law.  We no longer live under the supervision of the Law but under grace.  “What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?”  Paul speaks to this many times, saying that we are not to use our freedom to indulge our own selfish impulses but that we are to use our freedom to serve each other in love.  Love, agape love, is to be our standard, our way of deciding what is right and what is wrong, both in our deeds and in God’s Word.
After all, as we see in the story of the judgement in Matthew 25, Christ knows us by our actions as we serve the outcasts, the hungry, the sick, the poor, and the imprisoned.
But Jesus provides no list of beliefs at all.  People are judged not on what they believe but on how they have loved. ~ Kathleen Norris in Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

How We Love

Three Years of Writing

Three years.

Much can happen in that amount of time.  Much has happened.

There has been life and there has been death.  There have been a few acceptances and many rejections.  There has been writing and rewriting and yet rewriting again of a book.  There has been much learning and much reading and much perfecting of my craft.

Much can also remain the same in that amount of time.

I still discipline myself to write almost every day.  I still polish enough words to publish in this space once a week.  I still believe that I am in a season of very little ones where I am waiting, practicing and learning and refining my art.

Another element that remains the same is my fear.  I am learning that no matter how long I have been writing, it is still a frightening thing to release my words, that deeply vulnerable piece of myself, into a world that seems increasingly venomous.  I am also learning that no matter how much encouragement I get, I am still mostly convinced that my skill is substandard, clumsy, inept.

I am grateful when someone says that I spoke to them, that my words helped to heal or encourage their heart.  I am reminded that, as much as I may sometimes desire to reach the many, God is concerned with the particular.  One is as important as the whole.

I get restless at times.  I find myself chasing after something in the world of writing instead of just diligently writing and waiting on God, and I have to ask Him to reign me back in.  I want to spend time at writing conferences.  I want to publish my book.  I want to have my articles accepted into magazines and journals.  I want to write epically and impact the world for God.

Yet most of the time I am content with what God gives to me.  For truly, I am not ready for much responsibility and must continue to show myself faithful with the little that I am given.  I am content to put in the time so that I can learn how to make my words sing.  I am content to continue to read and study so that I have the substance to place within those words that will sing.  I am content to dwell in this moment, this moment in which my little ones are so very little, which won’t last for always.

So here I am.  Three years later.  Much has changed.  Much has remained the same.

One fundamental that has not changed?  The One I am writing for.  And so, once again, I will end as I began:

Whatever the reason for my writing, here I am in this space.  I will continue to obey, even though it is hard and often causes my heart to feel fear.  I will write.  God will listen.  I pray He will continue to be pleased.

Cheat Your Master

Once upon a time. 
Once Upon a Time
This is how a parable begins.
We hear once upon a time and when it comes from Jesus, we listen for morals and look for lessons of what we should do. 
Luyken Unjust Steward
Once upon a time there was a steward.  A steward who was accused and then fired.  A steward who then set out to cheat his master in order to protect himself.
This steward brought in all of his master’s debtors and reduced each one’s debt, thus stealing from his master but incurring debts of gratitude for himself.
Mironov Unjust Steward
Once upon a time there was a steward who was then praised by his master for having the prudence to care for himself.
It is bothersome and uncomfortable, this steward who is commended for being unjust.  It is not what we expect from Jesus.  It is not the moral lesson of selfless service we presume that Jesus will teach.
The moral seems to be, instead, that we should cheat our master.
This looks so out of character that we try to explain it some other way.  We search for ways around it and try to find sermons to explain it away.
Yet what if the moral is as it appears?  What if the moral truly is cheat your master?  How could this possibly be a directive from Jesus?
What changes it all, what turns everything on its head (which Jesus is prone to do) is the discovery of who the master is.
Our World
It all turns around when you understand that the master is the world.  It is the world whom we are to cheat.  The firing is our notice that our lives here will soon end, and before that day comes we are to cheat this master with all of his own tools.
If he gives us riches or beauty, power or abilities, we are to use them for our own purposes rather than for his.  We are to use them for intentions that align with the goals of God’s kingdom.
For if we won’t do that even with the world’s kind of property, Who will trust us at all with the true kind of treasure?
If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? ~ Jesus
So cheat your master.  Cheat him with all of his own temporary tools so that you can store up your own, lasting sort of treasure with God.

Art Credits: Photo of Neuschwanstein Castle by Alfred Borchard; Etching in the Bowyer Bible by Jan Luyken; painting of Parable of the Unjust Steward by Andrey Mironov; photo of Earth from NASA images


We value freedom quite highly here in the States.  We make it one of our highest goals to obtain freedom for everyone.
Freedom is a noble and worthy goal, isn’t it?  It is a good that we as Christ-followers support, right?  Even Jesus, after all, speaks of setting us free.
Yes, however…
Many of us who have grown up in the States have become confused about what freedom means.  We think that freedom means living without limits, being able to make our own choices, casting off all restraint.
This is not freedom.  This is autonomy.  Autonomy is a very different thing.
So what is freedom?  In the world of Jesus, what does freedom mean?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about freedom in Creation and Fall, his commentary on the first few chapters of Genesis.  He speaks of us being created in the image of the Triune God says that one of the implications of this is that we are meant to be relational beings.  Being created as relational beings means that we are dependent.  Dependent on God and dependent on each other.
This freedom we are given by being made in God’s image is, Bonhoeffer says, “a relation and nothing else.  To be more precise, freedom is a relation between two persons.  Being free means ‘being-free-for-the-other’, because I am bound to the other.  Only by being in relation with the other am I free.”
Yes, we are free, but free within our relationships.  Yes, we are free, but it is a freedom with limits, a freedom with boundaries.  It is a freedom that only makes sense within the context of our relationships.


It is the sort of freedom that a cellist in an orchestra has.
A cellist who asserts her autonomy while playing a Rachmaninoff symphony will only cause sour notes and chaos.  A cellist who asserts her freedom within the confines of the orchestral relationships around her creates art and beauty.  She is free to bring out the best within herself only because she willingly submits herself to the limits of the piece and the limits placed by the conductor.


Insisting on and clinging to our autonomy creates only sour notes and chaos.
Being set free, however, asserting our freedom for those around us…
This gives beauty, peace, joy.  This kind of freedom is what brings out our best, most true selves.

Art credits: Bonhoeffer plaque from Wiki Commons; Cellist photo from Amanda Wen