A Captivating Story

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I recently reread C.S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy, recording myself reading it for my niece. I’ve always found The Horse and His Boy the most awkward book in the Chronicles of Narnia, because it’s the only one of the seven whose protagonists are not children from our world, but from Narnia’s.

Upon this rereading, I felt a greater appreciation for what it adds to the series, in particular the understanding of Aslan, the great Lion (the Christ-type in the stories).

One of the characters (a talking horse) speaks ignorantly of Aslan before he really knows him:

“No doubt,” continued Bree, “when they speak of him as a Lion they only mean he’s as strong as a lion or (to our enemies, of course) as fierce as a lion. Or something of that kind. Even a little girl like you, Aravis, must see that it would be quite absurd to suppose he is a real lion. Indeed, it would be disrespectful. If he was a lion he’d have to be a Beast just like the rest of us. Why!” (and here Bree began to laugh) “If he was a lion he’d have four paws, and a tail, and Whiskers!” (p. 214-215, emphasis added)

Not to ruin the book for you, but at that very moment, the speaker feels the tickle of whiskers of the great Lion and sees him at his side, revealing him to be very much a real lion in every way.

This passage speaks allegorically of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the greatest miracle of Christmas. To many, I imagine it seems quite ridiculous that Christians speak of the Son of God (complete in his divinity) being born as a human being.  It wouldn’t be surprising if many imagined that we are speaking metaphorically when we speak like this. To paraphrase the passage above, “If the Son of God were a man, he’d have two hands, feet that get dirty and bowels!” Yes, as a baby, Jesus cried and had dirty diapers…he was a baby.

The incredulity of this aspect of the faith is one of the things that makes the Christian story so compelling to me.

Hasn’t there ever been a story that so captivated you that you wanted to live a part of it? That’s what the Christian narrative is for me. But the overwhelming, incredible thing is that I do get to be a part of it.

I, like the foolish prince in Lewis’s story, get a chance of mercy and grace, when I have done nothing to deserve it. Then I’m called to use the gifts I’ve been given to further the story.

I’m thankful for this reminder at Christmastime. May you too, find grace and mercy in Christ this season, maybe even for the first time.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8, ESV

Note: Please don’t be off-put by my calling the Bible a “story” or a “narrative.” I do not use these terms to imply that it is in any way fictional.

Why I Observe Yom Kippur

For a few years now, I have sought to set aside the day of Yom Kippur (or the day before, as that has fit my schedule better a couple of times) for Sabbath rest, reflection, and communion with God.

This year, I took off today to observe the holiday. When asked by a coworker how I would be spending my day off, I answered “Celebrating Yom Kippur.” That brought up the obvious follow up question, “Are you Jewish?”

No, I’m not Jewish. I observe Yom Kippur because as I read the Bible, I was always fascinated by the Day of Atonement ceremony. This day was the one day each year that anyone was ever allowed into the Holy of Holies, where God resided. And the passage into the Holy of Holies was only allowed by the spilling of a lot of blood.

The Day of Atonement, like all biblical ceremonies, pointed to the coming Messiah. This coming Messiah would shed his blood so that all–not just the High Priest–could enter the Holy of Holies, where God dwelt.

Jesus was this Messiah, which was evidenced by this occurence when he died: “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51, NIV). No longer was there a heavy curtain protecting us from God…we were invited in. No more blood of bulls was needed: the blood of Jesus was enough.

So with that great sacrifice in mind, I soberly spend this day considering what our Messiah has done, setting myself at His feet by reading His Word and praying that He mold my heart. What a great God we serve!

Sadness, Loss, and Hope

I’m emotionally raw. Staying up too late last night watching coverage of the rescue and recovery efforts in Moore hasn’t helped that.

I know I don’t talk about it much these days, but Oklahoma is near and dear to my heart. I spent 4 years of growth there, making lots of memories, getting to know lifelong friends, and (occasionally) studying.

In 1999, I was still living in Kansas, where we experienced our own May 3rd tornado. When I moved to Norman (one suburb over from Moore) in 2001, I remember watching the community grow and rebuild after that tornado with the highest recorded winds in history. Then in 2003, during final’s week, a tornado hits Moore again as we huddled up in our dorm fifteen minutes away.

When I heard yesterday’s storm was headed to Moore again, I couldn’t believe it. How does a community as small as Moore handle yet another storm? To see tragedy strike anywhere isn’t easy, but it’s not hard to think of it as just a news story.

After being away from the area for 8 years, I don’t have too many friends there anymore. Still, I know these people, these neighborhoods, these landmarks. For me, this was not one of the things you think, “Oh, that’s sad” and immediately turn your attention elsewhere.

Hearing about the school struck with a direct hit of this massive tornado made me instantly think of Newtown. It wasn’t long before the news coverage went there as well. To the news  anchors, it was the heroic acts of the teachers in the face of imminent death that was the connecting link. There’s definitely a story there.

But more than that, I pondered the link between the two as consequences for sin. Please read this carefully, because sometimes statements like this can be misunderstood and/or stripped of their context. I know others still have made statements like this and have meant that natural disasters are a direct judgment on specific people for specific sins. That’s not what I’m saying here.

Both cases like Newtown and natural disasters are caused by sin. In the case of the former, it’s the individual(s) perpetrating the crime who are sinning, following our first father and the sin nature that is in each one of us. But natural disasters, too, are caused by sin.

Because of the original sin (and each and every one thereafter), we live in a fallen world where such things as super-tornadoes can and do happen. Not primarily as “acts of God” (though they are within the sovereignty of God) but as indirect “acts of man.”

Were those affected by this storm more guilty than you or me? No. We all bear the guilt.

At the same time, through the death of the perfect Son of God on our behalf, we have the right to draw near to the One who comforts and heals. I pray that during this time of loss and tragedy more people will be drawn towards the only One who can provide eternal relief to our sad plight.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

I shameless borrowed that illustration from Facebook. If you made it, let me know and I’d be happy to credit you or take it down. Thank you.

Merry Christmas

I hope that on this day that you will find peace and rest in the God who sent His Son to be born a baby on this earth for us.

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

- Isaiah 9:6 NIV

Where Does Our Hope Lie? (re-post)

In spite of the gloomy weather, the impending crowning of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and the prospect of tomorrow’s New Testament test, I’m feeling upbeat. You know why? Because none of this caught God off guard. He’s not thinking, “Uh oh! What do I do now?” What allows me to be filled with joy in this world of shifting sand is the constancy of the Creator who is ever faithful and ever true to His words that He’s so generously recorded for us in the Bible. Instead of looking at the waves and the wind, I need to focus on the steady arm of our Heavenly Father and the marvelous work done by His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross.

What pessimism those who don’t have an all powerful, all good God must have! Where lies their hope? In themselves? I know I frequently let myself down. In humanity? One look at the many genocides and wars of the 20th century would cloud your outlook at any hope of an utopian society. In money? One tumultuous day on the stock market or one thief could take that all away. In a loved one? They may be here today, and gone tomorrow.

No, these things provide little realistic hope that tomorrow will be better than today, or that today will even be better than yesterday. Instead, let me join with Habakkuk and say,

“Though the earthly things I counted on do not come to pass,
Though my money and resources are taken away,
Though the people around me fail me,
And though the political future looks dim,
“Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And make me walk on my high places.”
-Habakkuk 3:18-19 NASU

Thank you for allowing me to candidly speak from my heart.

Originally posted 11/8/2006

I Am Not Silenced

For a couple of years now, I’ve been reading the blog of Rachel Held Evans. While I don’t agree with everything she says, I find it helpful to read the views of someone who has a different take than me as it gives me deeper understanding and polishes my views.

Lately, Rachel has talked a lot about some recent comments of  John Piper about the masculinity of Christianity, as well as some things Mark Driscoll has previously said about the subject. I have read John Piper’s original statements and was not phased by them. I believe I, even as an unmarried woman, will benefit by the strengthening of the men in my church. When they grow in faith, we all grow.

If I understand Rachel correctly (and I’m open for correction), she and many of her blog followers feels like statements like these are evidence that women are being silenced in the evangelical church.

I’d like to go on the record as saying, as a woman, that in no way do I feel silenced in the church.

Yes, my church and I believe that God only calls men to the pastorate. I believe that both the home and the church are rightfully led by men. Not because they are better or smarter than women, but because this is the order that God has set up.

I don’t think I, as a woman, have a lesser status if I choose to submit to authority. Jesus submitted to the Father’s authority, and I don’t think that makes him inferior to the Father.

I don’t claim to be speaking for all evangelical churches. But in this post, I will gladly talk about my own.

If I will never speak from the pulpit, in what ways do I have a voice in my church?

1. In my small group. Public teaching is great, but it’s in this small group time that the real sussing out of our faith happens. It’s where we work on applying the sound teaching we’ve heard and work out what it means in our daily lives.

2. Through access to the pastors. Any concern I have I can take to the leadership of my church and they will listen. I know this, because they have listened previously. They don’t treat me like a child who needs correcting, but as a sister in Christ with valid opinions and concerns.

3. I’m encouraged to not stick to soft topics in my studies. My church supported me while I was receiving my Master of Divinity, not a “soft” degree. I studied theology and biblical languages, among other subjects that interested me. I’m not using this degree professionally today by choice, not by force.

4. My church believes that being a woman is not an excuse for poor or weak theology.

5. I’m a vital part of my church. If I did not do my part, my church would suffer for it. This is as God designed the body of Christ. Most of us aren’t the flashy parts of the body, but we are all necessary for a well-functioning body.

6. My church leaders know my strengths and will seek my help and even advice when they see that they could benefit from it. They don’t seem to think arrogantly that women have nothing to contribute.

7. My church invests in me, providing me the training and support I need to take a more active role in our church’s counseling ministry.

These are just a few points that came to me easily…I’m sure I’d come up with a more complete set of points if I spent even more time on it. But I do want to be clear that I am not silenced.

Christ’s Body

I mentioned in last week’s thankful post that I was thankful for my small group at church, my second family. But I’m also thankful for my church as a whole.

When I moved to North Carolina, I had only planned on staying here for school. I’m not a southern girl at heart, so this would not be my first choice of places to settle. But I have settled, almost entirely because of my church.

My church certainly has it’s flaws (it’s made up of sinners!), but I believe the trend is that we’re growing closer to Christ in word and deed. The elders and staff are great models and encouragers. They don’t allow us to get away with being superficial in our faith any more than they would settle to do so themselves.

In my church is where I started to learn what real ministry entails. It’s where I’ve learned to say, “I don’t know.” It’s where I’ve learned to love God and others more (though I have a long way to go).

I feel for those Christians who try to go it alone. What gifts and opportunities for sharpening their missing!

“Born This Way” or “God Made Me Like This”?

I read Justin Lee’s answers on Rachel Held Evans’ blog, and I’ve been chewing on it for a few days. To better understand what I’m going to say here, read that post. Justin’s words didn’t necessarily change my views on homosexuality, but it did refine how I express them a bit.

For the record, I don’t understand how Justin makes the leap to the idea that marriage can between two individuals of the same sex. Like in all issues, I believe the burden of proof in a Christian debate belongs to the one who is going against traditional Christian understanding. Not saying the Christian status quo is always right, but to go against what has been handed down to us through history, you should be able to provide reasonable proofs for that breakaway. I haven’t seen that from Justin, though to be fair, he says he will be addressing that more.

But is it wrong to be “gay?”

Yeah, I put “gay” in quotes, because I think that there is already a worldview assumption by labeling someone “gay” or “straight,” and that is that our sexual attractions are a defining characteristic. I don’t believe that’s the case.

I do believe people when they say that they were born with desires for the same sex. I was born with addictive tendencies, but that doesn’t excuse my addictive thoughts (“I have to have some ice cream”) and behavior. So I’m not opposed to the idea that someone is “born this way,” as long as they’re not using that an excuse for their sinful thoughts and behavior.

But I don’t think it’s right to say “God made me like this,” because God has better plans for your life than for you to be marred with sinful desires. Unfortunately, you are born with a sinful heritage and aren’t perfectly how God created you. But if you trust that He did the work to pay for your sins, you can be born anew. God doesn’t usually remove our sinful desires, but He can use them to mold us more into the person He wants us to be.

So then, is it wrong to be attracted to someone of the same sex?

Yes, and no. It is wrong to look lustfully at anyone other than your spouse, no matter their sex. But I don’t think it’s wrong if you look at someone and think, “Wow, they’re attractive.” But we rarely leave it at that, do we? Most of the time we continue to look, dwell on the thought, and play with it in our imaginations.

Sexual sin is rampant in our culture. Even among the most sexually conservative, it’s usually believed to be okay to look, but not touch. But this is not the standard that the Bible gives us (see Matthew 5:27-28).

God sets a hard standard for us. One so high that I believe it’s impossible to live by apart from the grace of God.

Ah, and that’s the sweetness. Regardless of our history and regardless of our desires, God offers us His mercy through His Son and his grace through His Holy Spirit.

While I don’t like the term “gay Christian,” I think it’s possible to be saved by the grace of the God and still struggle with homosexual desires. These desires can be frusterating, I’m sure, because there’ s no lawful (speaking of God’s law) fulfillment of these desires.

But all our desires will ultimately be eclipsed by God and great goodness and blessings.

So what is a Christian who struggles with same-sex desires to do?

First of all, they need to share their struggle with a couple trusted, mature friends. Hopefully, you’re already in a church family so that makes the choice easier. Your small group leader, a pastor or their wives would be good people to ask to come alongside you.

You may never be attracted to someone of the opposite sex, which means you may never get married. In that case, you’ll be given grace from God (day by day!) to live a celibate life. Will that be easy? Absolutely not. I know this because at least to this point, I’ve been called to live a celibate life.

I’ve already gone on longer than I usually do, but I don’t want to end before I encourage my fellow Christians to share the compassion and grace of Christ. That means we don’t joke about homosexuality or fear those who have homosexual desires.

Did you read that post (linked above)? What are your thoughts? You’re always great, but remember to be civil in the comments.

My Thoughts on Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

The next selection the Faith and Fiction Roundtable was the science fiction book Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. The book is in 3 parts, each part being 600 years further in the future than the last. The first section takes place 600 years from now, with some sort of nuclear holocaust happening in our time. Canticle takes place in a Catholic monastery built with the desire to preserve Western scientific knowledge as much as possible through the new dark age.

The setting of Canticle for Liebowitz had me thinking a lot about the place of the Church (as a whole, not specifically the Catholic Church) in changing times. The members of the monastery in this book were much more concerned with preserving their sacred texts than in saving the people, many of whom were suffering greatly due to the consequences of scientific advancement. The Church—or as much as we  are shown in the book—seems to have no answer for this suffering.

So what should be the Church’s answer in troubling times? While we no longer have the cloud of the Cold War over our heads as it was when this book was written, we still live in a time of uncertainty. The amount of physical destruction I’ve seen with my own eyes this spring has sobered me and taking away the joy I once had in watching storm clouds rolling in.

I believe that the Church–and thus individual Christians—has no greater task in times like these than to point people to Christ. While there is a place for meeting physical needs—a practicality that should not be overlooked—this can’t be the only outreach to hurting people. At the same time, preaching to spiritual needs while disregarding physical needs will fall on deaf ears. Both must go hand in hand.

But the chief task of both word and action is pointing to the hope found in Christ. There is great peace to be found at the foot of the Cross, and we do others a disservice when we downplay it.

Other Faith and Fiction Roundtable Participants:


Peace, Joy, and Strength

Week 2 of my Summer of Growth challenge and we’re to point 2 of John Piper’s Challenge to Women:

“That the promises of Christ be trusted so fully that peace and joy and strength fill your soul to overflowing.”

I’ll take this in pieces. “That the promises of Christ be trusted so fully that…

1. “…peace…fill[s] your soul to overflowing.”

Would I characterize my life as being filled with peace?

Yes and no. I don’t fret about the big things: death or the after life. It’s just the little things.

I think I’ve grown in the area of worry, but it’s all too easy to fall into it. I know it’s when I’m focusing too much on those little things, so they seem really big.

I frequently sing the hymn “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus” to myself:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”

2. “…joy…fill[s] your soul to overflowing.”

I think this is an area that I’ve been lacking in lately. My life over the last few months could not be characterized by joy. Ho-hum would be a better term. I’ve allowed my relationship with Christ to become more of a duty and less of a joy. And for that, I do God a disservice. Reading the Bible, prayer, and worship aren’t items to simply be checked off of a list.

3. “…strength fill[s] your soul to overflowing.”

If God’s strength had not filled me during those weeks in April, I wouldn’t have made it. It might sound melodramatic, but I fully believe that without God’s help, I would have struggled more emotionally (that may have exacerbated my physical problems).

But how much more would I know of God’s strength if I was more closely walking with Him?

The truths in the Bible are powerful. But I have to know them and remind myself of them frequently through consistent Bible reading and study…