musings of a saint and sinner

Monday, February 27, 2006


Last night, I went to the Rescue Mission in the city. I was to speak there because our church was sponsoring a service and a meal. And our worship band was there playing gospel and praise songs. After the service, I attempted to make some small talk with some of the ladies there, but ran out of things to say. So I decided to go "jam" with the band. It's been so long since I've hung out with musicians, but it was the most fun I've had in a while. One of the guitarists was playing a lot of bluegrass...he said that he used to make fun of it until he came to times of pain in his own life...and then he knew what all of the songs were talking about. That's my experience of country music, bluegrass, and folk too...I may not know a lot of the music (I've only been into it for about 5 years), but what I know I love....because it speaks so sympathetically of the sorrows we all face. And it paints a real picture of all of the other things that we experience...the joys too. Music can truly heal the soul. It makes us not feel alone anymore.

Last night made me wish that I could sing in a country or bluegrass band for real. I love the harmonies, the words, the music. If I could fulfill a dream not for any other reason than the pure pleasure in doing it, that would be it.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

sharing burdens

This has been a tough week for both my husband and I, for various individual reasons. I am discovering something about marriage. That verse that says the husband and wife will become's not joking around. Suddenly, our individual sorrows...and joys...are felt by the other one as if these were their own. Suddenly, we long to "fix" the source of pain. Suddenly, we are in deep communion with each other's souls.

And when we are the suffering one, we know that we no longer face our sorrow and burdens alone.

The two shall become one.

strengthening the faith muscle

Ouch....It's painful...I don't want to exert myself. I'm a couch potato Christian, comfortable and cozy. I want everything handed to me on a silver platter. Ask me to face up to trials and pain and things that make me unsteady? I don't want to. Isn't God supposed to make my life smooth and easy? Don't I deserve it by now...after all the pain and trials I've been through?

You know when I feel most afraid? When money is unstable, questionable, unable to be trusted in. I like to trust in what I can see, hold on to it with all of my might.

Is money my god? I'm not could it be?

And yet I find myself freaking out when it isn't a sure thing.

So...maybe I idolize money.

Maybe God is training me more to lift so that my faith muscle gets stronger.

The strain comes when I have to trust Him for no other reason than He said so.

Trust Him to provide. Trust Him that no matter what happens, He will be by my side.

Suddenly being a couch potato doesn't cut it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

crushed spirits

Lately I have been seeing all too many examples of people that I know and care about being steamrolled over by the goal-oriented..... These driven folks are well-meaning, but they put the task over the priority of the people again and again, while saying that their goal is to minister to the people. They crush the spirits of people who have ideas for ministry because the ideas do not conform to their plan. And I am seeing this at more than one church, with more than one Christian.

Why am I so shaken up by this? Because I am exactly the sort of person who could easily fall into such a trap. I am an introvert...and a stubborn, goal-oriented one at that. I see what I want done, how I want it done, and it better get done that way! I'm going to make an impact in this world and that's that! Sometimes I ignore people when they talk because I have my mind on the latest project. I forget to be "fully present." I forget that I am not the only one whom God has gifted...He gifted them too!

Crushed spirits are the work of the devil. And as I see from the outside what the effect of steamrolling over people is, I am shaken up. I want no part in it. I want to honor the gifts of God in others, not just myself.

May I never crush God's work in someone while I think I'm on my way to my own.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


You meet an interesting cast of characters when your car breaks down.

This weekend, I planned perfectly for a trip to Iowa to see my friends from Camp perform a life of Christ's at least an hour-long production...really good stuff...I had so been looking forward to it. And this was the only time they would be close enough to me (even 3 and 1/2 hours at that!) for me to be able to justify going. I emailed a good friend from Chicago and she agreed to go with me. We rearranged our schedules (which, for me, included rearranging preaching schedules), packed a survival kit, and even took the newer of the two cars (hers) so as to avoid car trouble.

It was the coldest day of the year. 2 degrees, with a wind chill far below 0. Ouch.

We were only a half hour down the road when another driver on the road got us to roll down our window. "You have a flat tire," they hollered. That was about 3:15 in the afternoon.

Sigh. We really didn't have time for this. We kept driving on it, hoping to get to a gas station.

No such luck. It started smoking. Another driver stopped to assist us. My friend, Johnna, called Geico's road side service. A towtruck who could change our tire was only about 5 minutes away. He showed up, with a pick-up truck already on his towtruck. But that was fine. He would just change our tire and we would limp down the road till we got somewhere that could give us a new tire or patch us up.

We waited.

He motioned for us to roll down our window. "We might have a problem," he said. Apparently, the last time Johnna had had her tires rotated, they had torqued the caps on the lug nuts so hard that they became warped, making the tires impossible to remove with ordinary tools. We would have to be towed to a shop.

The tow truck driver dumped the pickup he was carrying and was all ready to tow us into town to the nearby Farm and Fleet. We hopped in the tow truck. But before we did, we made sure we were to leave the car running. We were. We shut the door.

Oops. We had locked Johnna's keys in the running car. Happily, our kind tow truck man could get back in. (What couldn't he do???)

Farm and Fleet was full up. They were the only shop open in town. So the tow truck driver took us to a shop owned by his brother. I don't think it was an official shop. But he said he would take a look at the tire...which they quickly determined was shot and that we needed a new one.

"Take a seat in our waiting room, girls," they said. Waiting room? We didn't see one...there were a couple of lawn chairs by the heater, so we sat down....

...and quickly noticed that a man was balanced up on a ledge, trying to fix the heater. The blower wasn't working. They were afraid it would blow up! Finally, it got started up and the owner of the shop yelled out, "Praise the Lord!" But then they were afraid that carbon monoxide had entered the air. So they all stood in a line facing the heater..."It'll sting your eyes if there's carbon monoxide," they said. Apparently, there wasn't.

We waited for about an hour and a half...thinking someone had gone to town to get our tire. They hadn't. Finally, we all piled into a wasn't owned by any one connected with the shop. It was just the neighbor's truck. We thought we were just going to make a quick couple of stops. It turned into a whole string of errands....the owner of the shop had a sick kid, so we had to stop at drug stores to get medicine for him...only they kept closing just as we would come to them.

Finally at 6:30, I said, "you know, we really need to get going," and they finally realized they had kept us a while. (Maybe we're just too much fun?) By 7:30, they got us out of there.

And yet...odd as it might seem...we had an awful lot of fun with those guys....just country guys with some chivalry left in their blood, taking care of "the girls" (as they called us). They carried the tire for us, cleaned their icky shop bathroom for us, and treated us with respect. They seemed to genuinely enjoy each other. One of the men actually talked like a Donald Duck...but the owner of the shop treated him with the utmost respect and making fun...and it was clear that the man with the funny voice was very smart when it came to cars....he seemed to know everything about them. You know, it's not often that you meet a group of guys that treat you with respect. And especially car guys who don't act like you're stupid.

We learned a lot of things this weekend. But one thing we learned was that there are some gentlemen left in this world.

When you can't do it

Relationships are not clear-cut things. We moralize about them, cast rules about them, form generalities about them...but when it comes down to it...what do we really know?

The imprecise nature of relationships...their confusing way of taking a new turn just when you think you know their path...of slipping through your fingers just when you think you have a grasp on them...

Have you ever had a relationship in which you really didn't know what to do next? It seems as if no matter which way you turn, you will do the wrong thing. This can be in all kinds of relationships: parents, kids, churchgoers, coworkers, siblings, love interests, spouses. But no matter who we're talking about feel blocked in. You say to yourself, "There's no way out."

On those days when you don't know what to do...when you are blocked in from behind and find that you truly are "in bondage to sin and cannot free yourself." You find that the other person in the relationship is as well. There are ropes tangled around your limbs. You can't move. You can't fix it. You can't save it. It's all messed up.

And in that moment is when you know you need to hear the absolution..."I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." And as the sign of the cross is made over you, you know that Jesus has taken all of your failures into Himself. He has become sin for you. He has carried it all in His body. And He has made you (wonder of wonders!) the righteousness of God. It's the great exchange. The unlikely marriage in which Jesus takes all of our brokenness and gives us all of His righteousness and goodness.

And when Jesus gives you all of this, you know that you can face whatever the future may hold in this relationship. You can face it confident, knowing that you are not the miserable failure...rather, you are "in Christ." That is your identity now.

And Christ has unlimited resources to draw on.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Why postmodernism doesn't work

The other day I was in a real state. Feeling empty. Uninterested in God or helping others. Lonely. Depressed. As if I were uncommitted to anything else in this world.

I told my husband, "I feel like I don't care about much of anything. I'm just focused on myself."

He said, "No, you're not," and proceeded to go down the list of things I had demonstrated caring in, things I am invested in.

Our culture tells us, "Follow your heart. Be true to yourself." And when it comes to religion, it is the same. We are told, "Everyone has their own truth. Follow your own truth. It may not be true to me, but if it's true to you...great!"

But there's a problem with that. Reality is not always equal to our personal inner experience. All kinds of things can muddle reality and truth: our current mood, our life experiences, our upbringing. Even our faults can monkey with our perception of reality. Or, to use a Christian word, our sins muddle our perception of reality.

If I had gone by my reality alone on my day of depression, logically, I should just go ahead and die. After all, I was worthless. (Not that I was suicidal, of course.)

What I needed was an external word, coming from outside myself, an external word that told me what was true when I could not see it for myself.

That is what the Word of God does as I see it. And it is why I believe postmodernism is in error...if we rely on our perceptions alone, we may get ourselves in real trouble. Thank God that there is a corrective, and that truth is not determined by me.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Internet scrapbooking

Recently a fellow pastor brought up the fine church lady tradition of quilting...Getting together in community with other church women to make handmade treasures which would then be given to those in need. The pastor remarked that after the current senior citizen generation, this tradition may well die off. One woman suggested that scrapbooking groups would take the place of quilting. My pastor friend said, "But it isn't the same. Scrapbooking is about creating a shrine to yourself. It's fundamentally self-centered."

I don't know if I have ever thought of scrapbooking that way before...I can't say I completely agree with her. After all, wonderful family memories can be preserved through scrapbooking. It can be a way for us to reflect God's image in us by being creative and making something beautiful. It even can be a gift for someone else as was the case this past fall: it was the senior pastor's 10-year anniversary in our congregation and the church secretary created a GORGEOUS book of memories for him, using her gifts of scrapbooking and rubber stamping.

But while I don't quite see scrapbooking in such black and white terms as my pastor friend did, I do see her point. Our culture is a culture to self. You have only to see the many vapid blogs, MySpace entries, etc. to see our worship of ourselves. Then there are the folks who change their Instant Messaging screen names multiple time a day (I used to do this constantly, hoping someone would notice me, pay attention to me) (not that everyone who does this is selfish, but many are). My emotions, my experience, the world revolving around me. We are internet scrapbookers, creating monuments to ourselves. We are bored silly and we think more emphasis on ourselves will cure our boredom and fill our void inside.

And I have to ask I the same way? The answer is, "of course!" I do, after all, belong to two online forums and I have two blogs. Sometimes I use these communication avenues to say something meaningful (I hope I do that here) or to minister to others. Or to be creative. But sometimes, I am focused on enshrining self. And enshrining self will never provide the fulfillment I am hoping for.

What will provide that fulfillment? Well, Jesus gave us two commands that I think were good ones: Love God and love your neighbor. Through reconciling us to God in His death and resurrection, Jesus has taken care of the first one for us. The second one is our job. Fulfillment in life does not come from self-love primarily (although a healthy self-esteem and knowing oneself is certainly important). Fulfillment comes from loving your neighbor. It comes from laying down some of your own desires for the other. Giving things up, though, only means that you gain. The servant of all shall be first. Dying means living. Losing means gaining.

I'm not talking about doormat Christianity. But I am talking about realizing that there's a world out there that needs self-sacrificial love more than it needs food and water.

Maybe it really is that simple after all: Love thy neighbor.

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