Thursday, June 30, 2011


I am slowly reading The Gospel According to Job and wanted to share an excerpt from the last chapter I read because this paragraph struck my heart:

Some Christians treat love as though it were an evangelistic strategy, a kind of gospel-bait. Love is seen as a useful tool for attracting or luring people into the Kingdom. Naturally, once the fish has been hauled into the boat, the lure is cut from its mouth. But love is not a silver spoon or a jitterbug. Love is not bait for the gospel; love is the gospel. Love is not a means towards some other end; love is means and end together. The moment love is used as a tool, it ceases to be love. When people try to use love in this way, what they are really doing is using God. Instead of being used by God, they try to turn the tables and use Him. Religion becomes an instrument for the expansion of one's own personal power. Love becomes a weapon of aggression. Little wonder that the person who is suffering comes to hate it. For true love is not aggression; true love is not concerned with gaining power over others. Rather, love is the humility in which self becomes subservient to relationship.
In the Kingdom of God nothing moves, nothing happens, without love.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Temple Bodies

I was walking home from kickboxing today, exhausted and sweaty, not experiencing as many endorphins as I had hoped, and I was trying to remind myself why it was worth it. I met a new person, and we bonded a little bit over chatting between combos and encouraging each other through burn outs, so that was good. Plus the workout itself was good, even if it didn't feel super, I knew it was good for me. And then the thought My body is a temple sarcastically busted into my train of thought.So I thought about it for a little bit, what that cliche really means. People usually use it in reference to physical fitness or not smoking or drinking. They use it to explain how they treat their bodies, not to say what their bodies are for. However, the actual Bible passage it comes from relates to sexual morality:

1 Corinthians 6:18 Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 19 Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body.

But I didn't have a Bible with me, so I didn't worry about the context at that time. It struck me though, that a temple (like a church) is a place of worship, not something to worship (like people so often do with their bodies). For Paul to say that our bodies are temples of God is crazy! Temples are places to go visit then go home from! They are places to keep nice, wear good clothes to, maybe burn some incense at, not to kickbox in! They are certainly not places to hire prostitutes in (Paul reminds the Corinthians), or even (dare I say) masturbate in. For serious! Who would ever do that in a church? Only sick people I think.I wish more translations used the word church instead of temple for this passage (but they probably don't because the Church deep-down actually refers to God's people, not the buildings they meet in), because then maybe it would blow people's minds a little bit more like Paul meant to do. Because it emphasizes that for someone who has dedicated their life to God and opened their mind and soul and body up to the Holy Spirit, church is not a place to visit to worship God and behave well in. Worship is your whole life, and gathering together with other Christians is part of that, but it is certainly not limited to Sundays.

As for sexual sin - if you aren't a Christian, you haven't signed up for the Holy Spirit to live in your body, so I'm not about to get after you for how you spend... your time. BUT as a Christian, this was a crazy different way to think about my life. In one way, it almost makes things seem easier because there is no special standard that you have to keep in order to participate in worship; your life is worship. But on the flip side, it makes life way harder because every failure and shortcoming counts against us, whether we are at church or on a bus or with our friends or home alone. Thank God for his grace :) For calling us to the impossible task of living for him, then helping us do it better than we could have hoped.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Religion Gone Wrong

1 Samuel 4 tells a tragic story from Israel's history that demonstrates the danger of relying on religion for security or power. The Israelites are at war with the Philistines, and when their armies collide the Israelites are defeated and lose 4000 men. This was terrible for the Israelites, and the discouraged people were desperate to know how such a thing could happen. The elders decided that for the next battle, they would take the ark of the covenant (a chest that contained the tablets with the ten commandments, and a symbol of God's physical presence with his people) so that God would be with them and save them.

An envoy was sent from the army camp at Ebenezer to Shiloh (where the tabernacle was for worship), and the ark of the covenant was brought back to the great excitement of all the soldiers. It is interesting to notice that two priests accompanied the ark of the covenant - Eli's two sons. These men have been exposed earlier in the text as self-serving and abusive of their priestly power, so they were probably not accompanying the ark out of concern for this holy relic. Maybe they were hoping for a cut from any spoils of war that might be won, or maybe they wanted to be front and center in the celebration with the ark as it came into the camp. It's not very important, but it definitely ties in to the theme of this chapter of religion gone wrong.

So the ark arrives, and the reaction from the Israelites is "such a great shout that the ground shook." Often when the Bible refers to the ground shaking, it is a natural response to God's holiness, but in this case it is a reflection of the people's emotions and excitement.

The Philistines hear the shouts from the Israelite camp and are terrified to learn that the Israelite god is there. They fight with all of the strength they can muster for fear of being conquered by the Hebrews, and they win. 30 000 Israelite soldiers were killed, the ark of God was captured, and the two terrible priests also died.

All in all, God seems so absent from this chapter, especially in contrast to 1 Samuel 3, where God calls Samuel, makes him a prophet, and continues to speak to him and, through him, to all Israel (see 1 Sam 4:1). So what's the deal?God never promises an easy life for his people, and oftentimes setbacks or disappointments (even crises) test our relationship with him. Can we trust him even if he doesn't intervene? Or do we threaten and manipulate to try to make him rescue us?

It is curious to me that the elders do not think to consult with Samuel rather than march the ark of the covenant off to war. Maybe he was too young to have their respect or to know about warfare. Maybe they really didn't want to know the answer to "why did God bring defeat on us?"; they just wanted to win the battle.

It is also curious to me that the elders think bringing the ark of the covenant to battle will have a greater influence on God than the lives of his people - did they think he cared more about this ark than the soldiers who had been killed? Did they think he must not know the losses they had suffered or he would have intervened, that he needed a front row seat?

When the Philistines speak of Israel's god, they are not afraid of a supreme being, but of a powerful spiritual force that they know based on Israel's history. They know not of Yahweh, creator of heaven and earth, but the "mighty gods... who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues." They are in despair to be up against such a power, but they harness their fear and fight with everything they have, and they demolish their opponents.

When religion goes wrong, it can still stir up powerful emotions, but it is disconnected from spiritual power. Often people want to equate the two, to be moved emotionally as confimation that God is there and cares. However, pursuing the thrill of intimacy with God instead of God himself can lead to confusion and destruction on a much larger scale than we ever saw coming. The Philistines did not defeat God, but they routed the Israelites who thought they could harness Yahweh's power by putting his precious ark at stake.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Psalm 40:1-3

I am in the process of memorizing this psalm, and every once in a while when I am repeating a phrase or verse to myself for the umpteenth time, it strikes me differently. I love memorizing because it is such a different approach to scripture than reading for information or interpretation. I am up to verse 11 and thought I would share some of the things that have struck me differently or stood out to me so far.

The first three verses tell a beautiful transformation from agony and insecurity to salvation. The psalmist (David) says "I waited patiently" but we immediately see that God heard his cry and responded. I wonder what patient waiting looks like in this context, whether the "cry" that God hears is a spiritual cry from suffering in silence, or if it is crying out yet accepting God's timing for his response.

The Hebrew word for hear is shema, and it is a broader word than what we use in English (as always. Oh Hebrew). Shema can be used as a call to action, similar to the old "hear ye, hear ye," or a call to "listen up!" For God to hear David's cry doesn't mean that the sound made its way up to Heaven, so God peeked down over the edge of a cloud to see what was up. No, it means that God was listening to David and was prepared to act, so the next verse tells his response: "He drew me up from the pit... and set my feet upon a rock."

A to B. Sometimes it's as easy as that; sometimes it's not. For many, the journey from pit of destruction to rock of security feels like we are doing all of the climbing, and it takes months if not years. For David, it is still a journey - what is the point in his steps being secure if he has nowhere left to go? - but his perspective on his situation is transformed from hopelessness to hope.

With this hope comes joy: "He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God."

And with this joy comes a sign for others: "Many will see... and put their trust in the Lord."

Weird part I haven't figured out yet: the verse actually says, "Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord."

Any thoughts on the fear response?
Update: Ah the internet and it's resources... Yet again, Hebrew is too deep of a language for English, so of all the facets that belong to the word yare', translators chose fear. However, the verse could also read, "Many will see and stand in awe and put their trust in the Lord."

Friday, June 17, 2011

What are Your Wages?

Romans 6:20-23 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul uses the metaphor of slavery to portray the spiritual change that occurs when we put their faith in God through Jesus. People might not like the dichotomy he presents, that you can only serve sin or God - many will protest, "I don't want to be God's slave, but I'm not a slave to sin either. I just make my own choices, so where is the middle ground?" For Paul, there honestly is no middle ground, and that is why he presents only two options, both of which involve a bond of obedience and corresponding freedom: serve God and you will be free from the power of sin; or serve sin and you will be free from the obligation to do right. You can certainly be free from God's rules, but it will get you a paycheck of death.
Paul's message is not about fire and brimstone so much as affirming that choices have consequences. He has already laid a foundation for this argument in 4:4-5 of the same letter:
When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.

This is the irony of the gospel, especially in a culture that is obsessed with fairness and earning. Jesus warns against this attitude in this parable of a landowner who pays his workers all the same wage even though some were hired later than others. I love how the NLT translates verse 15 (the landowner's response to complainers): "Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?"

Sin pays wages, but God kindly and generously gives grace. Accepting Jesus means much more than changing bosses or trading one wage for another; it means agreeing to a completely different framework for our lives.

What are you striving for? Where does it lead?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Gratuitous Love

I started reading The Monks of Tibhirine, the true story of French monks in Algeria during the civil war of the 1990s. It is the inspiration for the award-winning movie Of Gods and Men (Des Hommes et Des Dieux - I know, the French title is flipped around), which I saw a couple months ago and LOVED and want to own when it comes out in July. We'll see how the budget goes.

Anyways, I was struck as I began reading the book by some parallels to ideas I am trying to sort out and have been reflecting on the last few weeks. This quote in particular stood out, speaking about the impact political changes in the 1970s had for Christians in Algeria (when a socialist and Islamic constitution was adopted):

Nationalization offered the remaining Christians another moment of reflection on the meaning of their faith. Duval viewed it as pushing the Church another step in the direction of gratuitous love, of giving without expecting anything in return. "The Church will be reduced to its essentials," he told the monks during a visit to Tibhirine. The essence of the Church was not in its buildings but in the "spirit of fraternity lived each day." The Church was there not simply to serve the needs of Christians but to be a sign of God's love for all [people] everywhere.

This is only on page 47 of 285, in the historical background to what will really be the plot, but it inspires me and says so much of what my heart wishes could always be true.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How to Belong?

I missed church yesterday to support Matt as he ran 5K.By support, I mean I went to Tim Horton's with a friend after the run started, and we made sure we were back to cheer as Matt and Tom (her boyfriend) crossed the finish line. Not only did I cheer, but I yelled, "Beat that kid!" as Matt indeed sprinted past an eleven year old. Don't worry; I don't think either of them actually heard me!

Also, Matt and Tom started the run late, so Matt was way ahead of that kid time-wise anyways.

(Matt and Tom after the run)

I was surprised how inspiring it was to stand there at the finish line and watch people running in, especially people who were running in pairs. I saw a dad and daughter side-hug with huge smiles as they crossed the finish line together, and there were several pairs of adults/kids from a mentoring organization who ran together and then cheered for other pairs as they finished. The sense of community among the runners of all ages and levels was tangible, and there was pride and excitement (and sweaty, blotchy exhaustion) in the faces of everyone as they finished. I saw people cross the finish line in jeans.

I told Matt that standing at that finish line was better for my heart than church would have been.

Although church is meant to be a community of believers and a tangible expression of God's Kingdom in the world today, sometimes we get side-tracked being too churchy. Yesterday was a beautiful reminder that community is born out of shared love, shared experience and acceptance. Not everybody wore the right clothes, and not everybody trained the same way (if at all). Nobody was preaching that I would get heart disease if I don't become a runner, and the early finishers didn't worry that the late finishers made them all look bad. People encouraged each other.

I wonder how fair it is to draw this comparison to the Church, whether there need to be rules to belong other than "sign up to run and then do it." I recognize that runners can have cliques just as easily as Christians, and I'm sure that many running organizations fall prey to petty arguments and division over relatively insignificant decisions. Sin is certainly not limited to the boundaries of church walls.

But this one experience got me thinking. What exactly is it that Christians sign up for? Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God and love people. When people are sincere in their efforts and obedient to the Holy Spirit, these "rules" probably need a lot less enforcement than we think.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Praying with Open Hands

This morning was our church's annual prayer breakfast. The food was SO good, and despite my very sleepy state I managed to be mostly sociable and enjoyed chatting with people.

Our speaker was a professor from Tyndale, and I greatly appreciated that he did not give a sermon but simply shared some strategies for prayer. He read Psalm 46 and focused on the verse that says Be still and know that I am God. This is a famous verse, but it loses a little bit in translation I think, since the word for "be still" can also be translated as "Stop striving." This speaks to me more - that we should not only be still but be trusting and submissive, and that this will enable us to know God better and recognize his work.

Another strategy for prayer that Dr. Wong shared was palms-down, palms-up, which sounds ridiculous but only because it describes what you do. Basically you hold yours hands open with the palms facing down as you pray about things you need to give to God, and then you flip your hands to palms-up as you pray about things you need to receive from God. We did this at the prayer breakfast together, and that simple physical movement was very helpful for me to focus better and stay engaged with what I was praying. It was very interesting to me that both aspects of my prayer related to the same request, but first I told God I wanted to give up the anxiety and frustration I have (palms down) and then asked for peace and confidence in him to move (palms up). Oftentimes it is easy to ask God to take things away, but we don't always ask him to replace those things with better habits or emotions or attitudes; in the same way we often ask God for things without first making room in our hearts to receive them.

So, I was encouraged by the prayer time that we had, and I learned new things too :) I hope this can be an encouragement/reminder for you as well!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Forgiveness Foils Satan

Paul's letters to the Corinthians are full of wise advice, deep theology and loving encouragement. I was struck today by 2 Corinthians 2:10-11

Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

For Paul, I think forgiveness is so critical because it is foundational for love. Love is easy to talk about when everybody already gets along, but the only way for it to deepen and grow strong is through sharing experiences and working through struggles. Healthy conflict and resolution are part of this process, and forgiveness is key because people mess up.

Just as love must exist for the entire community of the church, forgiveness must never be limited to or by certain people - this is why Paul is prepared to forgive anyone the Corinthians forgive. He refuses to import a grudge where others have established forgiveness. And the craziest part of this passage is his reasoning: in order that Satan might not outwit us, because he is a schemer.

Satan loves for people to be unforgiving. It doesn't matter to him who is in the right or who started it or who has more brownie points with God as long as someone is keeping wrong alive in their memory. As long as there is one grudge in a church, or one person who refuses to move on from somebody's mistake, that is a seed that Satan can nurture and grow into a miserable weed.

Certainly there are times when forgiveness seems impossible, when hurt or resentment or anger are embedded so deeply in our wounds that it is beyond our capabilities to release them; I truly believe that God's grace is sufficient for those times. Ultimately, however, if we will ever be truly healed from the wounds we bear, forgiveness will be key, and any delay of forgiveness when it is possible is not of God.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Primacy of Love

Matt blogged this week about 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) and how even though it is often read at weddings, it really relates to the love that must exist within the church. I have also been reading 1 Corinthians this week and was struck by the passage that precedes this huge description of love.

Paul is explaining to the church that different people have been given different spiritual gifts in order to work together as a unified body. There is no place for comparison or competition because they will simply become self-defeating. After all, what would happen if our internal organs stopped working together so they could prove how important they all are individually - the body would die!

Unfortunately the same thing happens in churches today: people get so caught up in the ways we are different (how we worship, how we serve each other, what our personal values are) that comparison begins to erode the unity we should have. We easily forget that immediately after Paul lists off a ranking of spiritual gifts, he launches into that famous chapter on love, saying that this is an even more excellent aim to strive for than the most elite spiritual gifts.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Build Each Other Up

We had a church meeting yesterday, and I had been thinking about it coming up all week because the last church meeting was.. shall we say.... dramatic. Not everybody gets along at our church all the time, and a bunch of stuff went down, not everybody handled themselves well, and in the end I think it could have been a lot worse than it was and it was good to clear the air and work through conflict as a community. But it was still dramatic.

One day this week when I was reading my Bible, this verse stuck out to me: Romans 15:2 "Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up." Churches would be transformed, I believe, if instead of pointing fingers and grumbling, people could think to themselves not only "That person sure sucks." but then add, "What could I do to help them?"

The meeting we had turned out to be pretty calm. There was a lot going on under the surface, but I think everybody was nervous to break the peace, so we just went through all the points we needed to cover and cut the meeting off before anybody asked the wrong question.

Call me crazy, but I think this meeting would have been better if someone had the guts to say "Our church is failing at (this), and we should work together to find a solution." (Okay I kind of said that, and the reply was "thank you, we'll take that into consideration. Meeting adjourned.")

It is delusional to think that avoiding conflict over real issues is better than working toward a resolution with discussion, flexibility and co-operation. If someone had a brain tumour that resulted in terrible headaches would you pat them on the back for popping a Tylenol or would you call them crazy and tell them to find a surgeon?

Scripture teaches us as believers to selflessly build each other up; that is impossible if we can't even have a conversation.

Rob Bell raises an interesting thought in Love Wins -
"Imagine being a racist in heaven-on-earth, sitting down at the great feast and realizing that you're sitting next to them. Those people. The ones you've despised for years." (50)

A lot of people are very content to spend their time on Earth in church sizing people up and congratulating themselves on being so spiritual and pitying themselves for being under appreciated by jealous sucky Christians. For many, the joke will be on them when they find out they've been "out-done" by a single mom, or a smoker, or someone with a lip ring.

I think the spirit of that verse in Romans is we should hope the best for our neighbours so that should we find ourselves roommates with them in Heaven we are happy to see them there, not outraged.

Iffy theology there people, I don't actually think we'll be living in dorms in New Creation, BUT IF. It really is outrageous for a church to go on about sharing the love of Jesus with the world when we have so many excuses for not sharing it with each other.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cheap and Natural Hygiene

I have been using the Oil Cleansing Method to wash my face pretty consistently for the last few weeks and am happy with the results! One of the girls at youth group was telling me she heard that it can be good for your skin if you rub ice on your face after you wash it to close up all your pores... Maybe now that we are finally having some hot weather I will try that! (Oh Esther, the fun we shall have when you come to visit!!!)

I have also been flirting with the idea of trying out No-Poo. I haven't used shampoo or conditioner since.. Sunday? So I just started, but so far it's going good.

Oh, the OTHER thing is using baking soda paste as deodorant - totally weird, but good enough for me! I put it to the test with a sweaty kickboxing class this afternoon and did not smell. I'm not swearing off deodorant for life, just exploring my options, and when I work out, part of what I want to do is sweat. So rather than find a separate deodorant that is not also an anti-perspirant, I can slap some baking soda up in mah pits and be good to go :) Probably TMI for many of you, but there you have it.

If you try any of these crazy things, let me know in the comments with what you think! Mom, you can count making kefir even though it's not hygiene-related.