Archive for the Theological Thursday Category

More than I can handle

I am going to state up front, that Pastor Roger preached a sermon about this earlier this year, so it isn’t something I came up with on my own. On the other hand, it isn’t straight-up plagiarism either. I hope. ;)

I have heard it said many times that “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” The thing is, I haven’t found that in the Bible. There is this:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV)

But that is dealing only with temptation and not trials of life. Sometimes we get so bombarded with trial after trial on top of trial, and I for one am right now at the point that I don’t think I can handle one more trial. I told a friend last week that maybe I should meltdown on the next person that tells me how strong I am. lol Because seriously, I am NOT as strong as I appear. Not even remotely close.

This isn’t the first time I have felt like I had more than I can handle, but I have to say that this time around it’s like the hits keep coming. Several years ago, I was tdy to Ft Gordon for class, and one day we all went to Myrtle Beach. At some point, I got knocked under by a wave, and when I came up, I got smacked by another before I could catch my breath, and this went on for a couple more waves before I finally got my feet planted which was well after panic set in. That’s kind of how I feel now; like the waves are coming faster than I can get a breath.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11 ESV)

Last week I let one of my friends at work know about one of the biggest trials going on because it is/was to have an impact on me being at work. Turns out not a huge impact at this point, but I’m not getting into that yet. Anyway, she asked me a few minutes later, “How can you stand there and smile like everything is ok?” I answered, “I have a lot of friends praying for me.” Well, that and I am pretty good at faking everything being ok when it isn’t.

In the midst of all this, I rely on God to get me though. To carry me when I don’t have the strength to get out of the bed in the morning. To give me the strength of will to hold my tongue rather than lash out in anger with verbal diarrhea. To not be so self-focused as to fail to pray for my friends who are going through their own trials. To remember that God is in control, and the suffering is temporary. To rest in the knowledge that Jesus redeemed me, and gave me the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide me…and to set my feet against the waves so I can breathe.

And the sun still rises in the east

Yesterday was something else. I woke up with a worse headache than I had gone to bed with, finally conceding that since no over the counter meds and no amount of hot showers were touching the pain significantly, the headache was a migraine. So I called in sick and took prescription pain meds which successfully took care of the pain while making me all loopy and ADHD. That’s why I didn’t write anything yesterday.

Tuesday night the hubby asked me, “So who do you think is going to win?” First I rolled my eyes because I knew he was just poking at me because I was so fed up with the politickin’, but then I grinned and I just said, “God.” Now I was pretty certain well before the election that President Obama would win reelection. In 2008 I was completely certain he would win the election. And, you know, in 2008, I realized that I could be at peace with Barack Obama as President even though I disagree with him politically on pretty much everything.

Daniel answered and said:
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him. (Daniel 2:20-22 ESV)

The President of the United States is not a king, nor is he the supreme ruler. His power is shared equally with that of Congress and the Supreme Court. In 2008, Republicans ridiculed the Democrats saying that they raised Barack Obama up as their messiah. After the lamenting I saw yesterday, Republicans did the same thing with Mitt Romney, and were therefore crushed by his loss as if the world is now going to end. There was (and still is) a plethora of derisive blaming and name-calling by defeated Republicans that is nothing short of vile and mean-spirited. And what’s worse is that many of the awful remarks I have seen are from professing Christians.

I think what the Christians lamenting the direction our nation is heading fail to realize is that we are not going to be judged for what is happening now or what is going to come now that the Republican messiah wasn’t elected (because apparently now if you are a Christian you have to be a Republican). We ARE being judged for what we have done for decades with our legalistic moralism and prosperity gospel teachings. The legalistic moralism focuses on sins that good Christians don’t do while the prosperity gospel promises us material wealth and happiness in the here and now. So what we are left with is either the self-righteous critical Christian or the selfish materialistic country club Christian, the latter of which pretty much prescribes to moral relativism and only as much backbone as to protect their possessions and personal comfort.

So to my fellow Christians I ask this: Which are you? Or are you a combination of both?

I think as a whole, Christians here in the US, particularly among the Bible Belt, are known more for what we are against than what we are for. We will attend political rallies disguised as prayer walks, and we will support entrepreneurs when they offend homosexuals, and then pat ourselves on our backs for standing up for our faith and our freedom of speech. But where is Christ in that? We want to pass laws to protect human life and protect marriage, but when has the law ever changed the human heart? We rail against homosexual marriage but turn a blind eye or even justify no-fault divorce. We may not be quite as vile as the Westboro Cult, but we still point the finger at homosexuals telling them that they are going to hell for their sin as if being homosexual is THE sin that will send them to hell, yet we are largely silent about fornication and adultery. Therefore, homosexuals see us just as they see the Westboro clowns because while we don’t picket funerals with “God hates fags” signs, we are just as guilty of not showing the love we are commanded to show to our neighbors.

So Christians, you want to “turn our country back to God”? You can’t do that through political means. Once social issues are political issues, the culture war on that issue has already been lost. Laws don’t change hearts; only the Holy Spirit can do that. Engage the culture instead of just condemning and avoiding it. Disciple instead of pressing for a quick decision that amounts to offering a “get out of hell free” card that produces no fruit. Stop looking at evangelism as a way to fill up your church building on Sunday mornings so you can continue to pay for it, and instead be willing to give up the comforts of an elaborate building in order to actually lead the lost to Christ and build his kingdom instead of filling our pews. Pray for a heart that is broken for the lost, and repent of your own self-righteousness. And pray for your duly elected leaders, whether you voted for them or not – not for your comfort, but for God’s glory.

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV)

The heart of the worship war

When you grow up in church, you tend to take things for granted, and don’t pay as close attention as you should. At least that’s how it was for me growing up in the Bible belt south. Church is routine, and depending on how life is outside the church house, it can be so routine that it doesn’t mean so much – it’s just a box to check off on your moralist checklist.

For the first 19 years of my life, I went to 4 different churches (5 if you count the few months I went to a Catholic church, but it was a technicality, and I had no intention of converting), and in those churches the service order was practically identical, and they each sang pretty much all the same hymns with the primary (if not only) accompaniment a piano. Good old southern 4-part harmony gospel with a definite country-western bent (like a Gaither Reunion only faster).

Then 20 years later, I discovered different sub-genres within Christian music just like secular music, and the churches we attended were singing these songs. Then we found a church home that sang both contemporary songs and traditional* hymns. I joined the choir and played guitar along with the music leader. Then he resigned and I became one of the worship leaders, which was not in any way a goal of mine. But because of this, I have a much different perspective on the songs we sing both from things I hear (whether direct or second hand) that people say, and from how I hear them singing along with us. But I also had my own bias to contend with.

The old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” was totally applicable to my attitude towards the “old” hymns. While a few I like because they were upbeat, I found them mostly old-fashioned and boring, and just went through the motions of singing them. Oh, sure, Amazing Grace would make me cry, but I always associated it with funerals so it was always a grieving song to me.

Then one morning, we sang a song called “Lord Have Mercy.” We had done the song before, but this was my first time leading it. (Note: this is not the arrangement we sing, but it was the only version I could find on YouTube, and it is the same song.)

I barely made it through the last verse and ending, and I remember thinking “I need to compose myself before the next song,” and when I turned to Josh to tell him to give me a minute, I guess he saw it before I had to speak, and spoke for a couple minutes while I stopped myself from sobbing. It was the first time a song had affected me like that, and would not be the last. I’ve had it happen again off and on, mostly during contemporary songs which reinforced my hymn bias.

But then it happened during a hymn that wasn’t Amazing Grace.

I grew up singing that song, and for the first time, of course while up in front of the congregation, I actually paid attention to the words I was singing, and nearly lost it. Oh, I had it coming because not long after having to step up into a music leadership position (albeit a shared one in which I still don’t want the lead position), I was aggravated over grumbling about the contemporary music. It wouldn’t have bothered me so bad if the person grumbling was singing the hymns with “gusto” (for lack of a better word), but there was no visible passion watching that person sing any of the hymns. As I told the pastor, I am not looking for a “holy roller, dance in the aisles” type of display, but that people would sing the songs like they mean it – like we are standing before the Lord singing to him. That’s when I determined that it would start with me, and that I would sing the hymns with all the energy I was pouring into the contemporary. It was reinforced when I read Singing to Build Up. That’s why Pass Me Not got me.

The worship wars aren’t specific to a particular church or even denomination. I think that as a body, we have slid towards relying on a particular musical style or accompaniment to motivate us to worship instead of relying on what God has done for us through Jesus on the cross to motivate us to worship. I just can’t help but think if we truly have hearts centered on what Christ has done for us, it would not matter what kind of song we sing, what accompaniment we have (or even if we have any at all), or whether or not we have sheet music or a power point slide on a screen. I came to that conclusion after reading Song Story: Matt Redman’s “The Heart of Worship”, and taking an inventory of my own heart and how I was approaching the worship service.

As I hear of further grumblings from the other side of the worship war, there is only one conclusion I can come to as to why there is so much active conflict and strife over music. Idolatry. Yes, that is harsh, but when you are dissatisfied with the music in your church, you are making music the object of your worship instead of the means of worship. Ask the members of underground churches in countries where being openly a Christian results in torture if not death if they need a praise band with the talent of Hillsong. Ask them if they need sheet music. Worship wars are a self-centered 1st world problem, but it is really a problem of the heart focused on the wrong object to worship.

*By traditional, I mean songs in a hymn book, which in the churches I have been in are relatively modern (reformation-era) with the oldest being written by Martin Luther.

Bearing burdens

Worse than being completely blank is knowing what you want to write about, but you can’t seem to get it started. That would be today’s problem. Maybe I should do all my theme posts on the weekend and autopost throughout the week. Like I have time to blog on the weekends….

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2 ESV)

I never did understand that verse completely until I grasped this one:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16 ESV)

I mentioned once before about having to take an issue I was struggling hard with to a small group of very close friends. After that, it became easier to deal with. The problem that was causing my issue didn’t go away, but I found it easier to squash the thoughts that sought to consume me. After sharing my issue, 2 things went to work.

1: I had accountability. I had people close enough to me to know right away if something was amiss, and call me out on it.

2: They were praying for me, with me, and over all the details of the issue, so I was no longer fighting myself alone.

That’s when I finally got what it really means to bear one another’s burdens. No judging, no condemning, just a commitment on their part to keep me from stumbling (and falling on my face). It made my burden lighter; my problem easier to deal with. I’ve been on the other end, and I know it’s tough to make that commitment to someone to hold them accountable and to faithfully pray for them. Tough, but so worth it.

Overwhelmed and exhausted

This has been one of those days. I’ve been up since 3:30am (this morning – hahaha) because I just could not go back to sleep. My nose & throat were both irritated, and in retrospect I maybe should have taken some more NyQuil (as I WILL do tonight). Now everything was going fine until I actually left the house. I got mad, I didn’t restrain my potty mouth, and I wanted to punch someone in the ear the majority of the morning. As I calmed down, I saw that I shouldn’t even have gotten mad to begin with.

Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut. Proverbs 10:19 NLT

We talked about that verse just last night in Bible study. It took me almost no time at all to blow it. sigh At least I took my own advice and confessed my fail to the other ladies from that Bible study. Progress. ;)

So I was thinking on the way to work this morning about a question I answered last night (which is the title of this post) about spreading yourself too thin. My job is a 40 hour a week job, but with an hour lunch and 1.5 to 2 hour round trip commute. Now that the hubby is working a 40 hour week also, and on an opposite shift, I am back in the hotseat for cooking & cleaning. That’s on top of yardwork, and half the grocery shopping. Add in a couple of Bible studies during the week, and a couple of runs, and I find myself low on time. Plus, we have a bunch of half-done projects, plus a ton that need to be done. Oh, and I want a garden and some chickens, and with our land layout and a boggy yard, I’m looking at raised beds, and chickens need a coop. I have a BUNCH of stuff I need to clean out and throw away. Oh, yeah, and I still have to spend time with my husband and my kids, and pay our bills on time (I had a fail last month and forgot one), and pay my mom’s bills on time. And laundry…always laundry…

I can’t do it all. I’ve tried, and I am steadily getting more overwhelmed and more exhausted. Not so much physically exhausted, but mentally and emotionally I’m struggling.

But I have a plan.

My house is cluttered and nasty. Whenever I start thinking about cleaning, I get overwhelmed with where to start, and end up just keeping the dishes, countertops, stovetop clean. But mainly the dishes and countertops. Since I am already doing that, that’s the room I am going to start with and give it a good top to bottom and in the cabinets and corners cleaning. Then the bathrooms, and just go room by room until it’s maintainable. Unfortunately for the kids, they are going to get some additional chores….inside and out.

And this all may fail and I’ll just have a nasty house and trashy yard. lol

Be real

Every now and then I’ll have an epiphany. Really, I just think it takes a while for my ADD to connect the dots between information. Or maybe I am just slow. Hahaha But Tuesday, I read this article and it hit a nerve that was already inflamed. This followed the one I had with last Thursday’s post that showed I’m not the only one with a sensitive nerve. But I really don’t want to turn this into a regular feature where I bash the churches I grew up in over perception (whether or not grounded in fact or emotion).

Of course, I posted the above article on Facebook, and, of course, it elicited a rather snarky comment (which I totally agreed with, btw, snark & all). I’ve kind of been mulling it over ever since, trying to remember any example of confessing sins to one another in any of the churches I have ever attended. I can remember a handful of instances of people getting publicly caught in sin, but no voluntary confessions.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16 ESV)

Oh, and I sure as heck wasn’t ever going to confess mine. Seriously? Drop the mask and show I’m still struggling with stuff? And be judged? Because, of course, that is what I expected. But the main problem with this is there is no accountability, so you just get deeper and deeper until suddenly you find yourself unable to cover it up, and it’s out in the open, huge and horrible as opposed to way back when it was just thoughts. How do I know this? Because I am pretty sure I am not the only one unable to self-regulate.

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)

Left on our own with our own thoughts, it is really easy to rationalize and excuse….and do. For those of us who grew up in the church, I think we sometimes feel we are expected to have an easy walk especially if our parents were teachers or more especially preachers or deacons. I learned how to wear the mask as if I wasn’t struggling with sin, while at the same time, internally rationalizing how it was ok. “This isn’t such a big deal.” “That’s not really bad.” That stuff builds up…and hardens…and hurts when it’s broken off years later.

Somewhere along the line, I have learned from keeping my skellingtons locked away. I got to a point with a particular sin that was trying (and coming real close to succeeding) to manifest itself, I knew I either had to do the deed or get someone to help me through it. Prayer alone wasn’t helping. So I shared that struggle with 4 friends to hold me accountable to not do what I wanted to do, and who would be praying with me and for me. And that wasn’t an easy thing for an introvert who doesn’t trust anyone to do. ;) You know what? It’s not so hard to deal with now. The entire situation has changed. Not immediately, and the underlying issue is still an issue, but it is no longer overwhelming and consuming.

So rather than bash, I’m pleading. Drop the masks. Be real. Just because you have been justified does not mean you have been glorified. There is a whole lot of sanctifying that takes place between the two. That’s the growth. That’s where the fruit is produced. That’s where you cannot hope to grow alone. There is a reason non-believers think we are all hypocrites. We are. We put on our masks and pretend that we no longer struggle with our old self, and instead of dying to self, we are killing our witness and testimony with our own self-righteousness.

Creed before Christ

Note: I wrote almost all of this post last week, but couldn’t manage to finish it until yesterday. So all references to “tonight” and “last night” were actually made last Wednesday & Thursday.

This rarely happens. I think up a topic I want to blog about while I am driving to work and I actually remember it when I get there and began a draft. By begin a draft, I mean I typed in the title, selected the category, and saved. Now here I am at the end of the day wishing I was in bed asleep but waiting on a load of laundry to finish so I can put it in the dryer…because I need it dry and ready to pack in the morning. I don’t know where to begin. So this may be long and all over the place since I won’t be finished before I go to bed tonight.

I grew up in church. I’ve been told never to start a testimony with that, but that is a huge part of it. My dad was a deacon up until I was 15. He and/or my mom taught small groups off and on up until I was 19. I got churched at church, and I got churched at home. I knew all of the major Baptist doctrine by the time I was a teen. Saved at 12, baptized at 14, and walked away from the church at 19. My best friend told me not too long ago that I didn’t just leave the church, I wanted nothing to do with “organized religion.” When I walked away, it was over racism, but over time I realized that was just the final straw in what I perceived as institutional hypocrisy.

After 2 decades of wandering in my own self-righteousness and slowly getting more and more debaucherous in my behavior, I got turned back. Yeah, it turned out that living my life in pursuit of instant gratification is empty – totally and completely unsatisfying. But I still had my anti-church bias, and even still after being an active member for the past 2 or 3 years after 20 years of living my life for me.

I am a member of a Southern Baptist(SBC) church now. I grew up in Missionary Baptist churches (which split from the SBC in the early 20th century) that were American Baptist Association(ABA) and Baptist Missionary Association(BMA). The BMA split from the ABA around 1948 or 49 ironically for about the same reason the ABA split from the SBC. My point being, each of the 3 hold to the same basic doctrines despite what the ABA old-timers have said for years. Remember, I stated my bias up front. ;) There are also General Baptists, Freewill Baptists, and Independent Baptists. The Independents, if I remember right, also split from the SBC during or following the 19th century Landmarkism movement (which was a lot of what was behind the ABA split), so they generally hold to the same doctrines as the SBC, ABA, & BMA with the added tendency towards King James Onlyism. I know I throw all that out without any references, but I’m blogging not writing a graduate-level academic thesis. That would be really long. Just sayin’.

And then there are the Westboro “Baptists” of whom I have nothing at all good to say, so I will save them for a day in which I am feeling particularly snarky.

But anyway, my Baptist doctrinal background is ABA & BMA, which differs little from the SBC. One thing I have noticed that is different between the ABA & BMA and the SBC is what is prominently displayed on the wall in the church sanctuary. That would be a huge framed poster of the church covenant present in every ABA & BMA church I ever attended. Yes, is was/is the most prominent feature. You know what else? I never could read it past the first paragraph before losing all interest. I would even try to make it into a song (in my head), but to no avail. It’s just something that irks me now, and I know it is only because of the statement about alcohol. Why? Because it is unbiblical. I’m not saying teetotaling is a bad thing, it just isn’t a commandment. Drunkenness is prohibited, not drinking. And I don’t say that just to justify my drinking. My drinking habit is best described as binging, which is why I voluntarily avoid it. Now. Most of the time. Unlike eating McDonald’s, getting drunk is still a temptation…unfortunately.

Anyway, my perception of the Christian life based on what I absorbed as a child and youth (whether actually overtly taught or not), was a tendency toward performance-based gospel. Yes, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but then don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex until you’re married, and try not to cuss too much. Hmmm, and dress up for church on Sunday, particularly Sunday morning. Dress or skirt mandatory. (Not so much anymore) Recipe for failure. Oh, sure, I learned very well how to look the part, but I failed (at all of them) because I didn’t get enough read your Bible and pray. I’m not saying I wasn’t taught that either, because my parents always stressed that (yet didn’t force me – wise, in retrospect, letting the Holy Spirit do the work), and I had a really good mentor for a few years from 10-15 years old who tried her best to get that through to me. It just did not sink in for 20+ years.

Ok, it was totally not my intent to turn this into a confessional post. Perhaps I should have finished it last night when I was fully snarky. haha Or maybe I should go back and read the blog post that got me riled up to begin with. But my point really is this: yes, doctrine matters. Yes, creeds, confessions, and covenants matter. But they are not the main thing. They don’t save, they don’t regenerate, they don’t produce fruit. Only Christ saves. Only the work of the Holy Spirit in a person saved by grace through faith in Christ will produce fruit. And good fruit isn’t just outwardly following a set of rules. There is no being good enough to win God’s favor. 12 year old me got that, and promptly forgot. 40-something me has had to learn the gospel all over again. Jesus is righteous, not me. He knew how I was going to rebel before and after accepting him, and he loved me enough to suffer and die in my place. And even when I can’t see it for seeing all my faults and failings (which are numerous), I am being conformed to the image of Christ. Much slower than I like, because patience doesn’t come easy for me, but when I look back at what I was, I can see the difference, and it keeps me running.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
(Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)