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Is Ash Wednesday Biblical?

Used with Permission from Natasha Bouchette @ https://www.instagram.com/iamnatashabou/

Is Ash Wednesday Biblical? Yes. In what way? In every way. How so? For dozens of verses come together under the heading of this one day that kicks off, perhaps, the most Biblical season of the Church.

Let’s ask a question which might frame this discussion. Is it good for people to come together for an extra day to hear God’s word, sing God’s praises, repent, and begin a corporate fast? YES! These are what Ash Wednesday (and Lent) are about. So, what about those Ashes?

Ashes are to remind us of repentance and mortality. Our forefather Abraham said, “…I who am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). Joshua and his Elders, “put dust on their heads” (Joshua 7:6). Tamar, who was violated, “put ashes on her head” as she wept through her pain (2 Samuel 13:19). In Nehemiah 9:1 Gods people “were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads…and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.” But wait, there’s more.

Mordecai, whom God used to save Israel, “tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry” (Esther 4:1). Two verses later all the Jews did the same (Esther 4:3). It says of Job in 42:6 that he did, “repent in dust and ashes.” For the Prophet Daniel, “Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). In the book of Jonah God even accepts the Ninevites King who repents the same way Israel did, “and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes” (Jonah 3:6).  Jesus recognizes the history of God’s people Israel and the validity of that form of repentance by saying, “Woe to you…For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21). But wait, there is still more.  

On Ash Wednesday we say, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” This exact phrase comes to us from Genesis 3:19 which says, “For out of it you were taken (from the ground). For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” Few phrases could be truer. In Genesis 2:7 we learn how we started (dust). In Psalm 103:14-16 we learn our end (back to dust), “For he knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone. And its place remembers it no more.” Ecclesiastes 3:20 makes this clearer, “all go to one place; all are from the dust, and all return to dust.”

Let’s be clear here. I do not think that all Christians everywhere for all time are commanded that they must celebrate Ash Wednesday. What I am saying is that any Christian who does (and many who don’t should be open to it), find themselves on footing that goes back to the beginning where people repent with a reminder of ashes and dust nearby. This special day kicks off our super-biblical focus of Christ’s death (see all the Gospels).

The next time someone asks you if Ash Wednesday (or Lent for that matter) is Biblical. You can say, “It most surely is!”

Sunday Sermon – Correction and Expansion

After Sunday morning my wife brought out a few critiques of my sermon. My wife loves history, so when I wade into that realm I usually get more approvals or disapprovals than other weeks :). My wife and I have a good relationship on truth matters. We are both critical of each others thoughts on these matters, and I think this is an important model for the Church as well.

My reason for commenting on some of her thoughts here for everyone else, is because I tend to despise it when preachers and pastors overstep in their preaching. I see this enough and it drives me up a wall. Therefore, when I overstep I try to amend or clarify. We are supposed to be truth people, so we should make it clear when wrong or offering too narrow of a point.

  1. Other Religions – In first service I talked about “our love and relationships” with other religions and our ability to befriend them. I made this comment to make room for my then forthcoming critique of Islam. My wife’s concern was over the word “our.” Living Water does not formally have relations with other religious bodies and people. Therefore, she thought I should say “My” (as in Isaac’s) considering I do. This would not have given a false impression or overexaggerated sense of what Living Water does with other religions.

My Explanation:  I used the word “our” in a way to show that “Christians” do have relationships with other religious groups, and we at Living Water can lead the way. Perhaps I overstepped a bit here and should have been more specific, but there is room for the phrase broadly. Moreover, as a church we have set the tone for our relationships with other religions through our past visits to the Mosque, our invitation of an Atheist to debate in our sanctuary, and our general care when discussing other religious beliefs during questions and answer sessions. Therefore, I felt comfortable drawing on this heritage in speaking for us as a church. Moreover, since we had visitors in the congregation Sunday, my intent was to build a way of discussing a sensitive matter. If those visiting can know that our discussing truth matters is distinct from our treatment of human beings, I think it opens them up to hearing the ideas better.

  1. Slavery and Christians – In discussing slavery on Sunday I made a statement that the Evangelicals and Quakers were the first to start an anti-slavery movement. My wife’s point was that I needed to be more specific (or less) because the anti-slavery movements in Great Britain likely included other kinds of Christians too.

My explanation:

In this case my wife is right. I should have said, “Christians (in general) were the first to start an anti-slavery movement.” This would have encompassed Great Britain’s early beginnings, which was composed of more Christians than just Evangelicals and Quakers which I cited. When I was saying this statement, I was thinking of a quote from the book “What’s So Great about Christianity” by Dinesh D’souza. But, I failed to remember one word. Quaker and Evangelical Christians were the first to start and Anti-slavery movement in “America,” and not outright. Checking the quote again makes that clear.  

The point of this was to say that despite individual Christian’s failures over the centuries, Christianity is the reason for the kind of morality that opposed and worked to end Slavery. This is a tangible sign that Christian moral expression has the strength to achieve great heights and that Christians were the first. My wife was right. Thanks Sweetie.

To develop this even further, it might not hurt to point out that even though slavery was allowed in Old Testament times, the progression of the view that all people are made in the Image of God, made Christians very critical of the practice. In the letter of Philemon in the New Testament, Paul is writing to a slave owner who became a Christian. Paul has been traveling with the slave owners slave for some time in common work for the Gospel. Now, he was supposed to return him, but he is sending him back a bit late. Paul uses a neat rhetorical trick in this letter to affirm the societal rights of the slave over to be a master over him, but then subverts those rights by saying that we all have only one master, the Lord Jesus Christ. For a universally practiced thing like slavery, these are very audacious words thousands of years ago. Christian moral teaching is that all people are made in the image of God, and this is the foundation for why slavery cannot be a Christian practice.   

  1. Islam and Development of Ideas – On Sunday I talked about the difference between the Quran and the Bible. I mentioned how the Quran was a static dictated revelation and the Bible was a progressive revelation. My wife thought that the point may have been too narrow, because there has been some internal updating that took place in the Quran, and thus that looks like progress.

My Explanation: Here is where I stand by my point, but I do want to offer a longer explanation to make sense of what Vachelle is pointing out. It is correct to say that the Quran, the Holy Book of Islam, is not a progressive document toward Allah (their word for God). Everything given about Allah is final. In fact, in Islam, it is a great heresy to say that any updating of Revelation can take place for Allah. It is a very important distinction between Christians and Muslims. However, what my wife is referring to is that some factions of Muslims do have an abrogation system. In other words, some Muslims think that some earlier verses have been abrogated/exchanged for later verses.

This abrogation system however has more to do with social mores than it does for the nature or character of Allah. Therefore, I intend my point to be taken about the Quran and Allah himself, and I could have made this a bit clearer on Sunday. Moreover, I also talked about accommodation. Namely, that the God of the universe (and the Bible) has accommodated himself early on, to help people grow in their understanding of him and their own moral development. This is not the case in Islam. Accommodation is not how Allah shows himself in Islamic understanding.

Now, historically speaking, Muhammad the founder of Islam did not get his Revelation all at once. He got it in stages. Moreover, many of the supposed revelations that he got from Allah updated based on the needs or wants that stood before him or his army. So, in the one case they were not allowed to raid caravans, and then in the latter case they were given “new” revelation that allowed them to raid caravans and receive that wealth. In my conversations with Muslims on this development (which to me shows that there was personal views of Muhammad being made into “revelations”) they are not comfortable with the idea of development. The exception to this comes when Muslims are trying to convince Christians who don’t know better to convert.  

Now, let’s talk about Christians for a second.  There are plenty of Christians that have not become comfortable with the idea of progressive revelation in the Bible. Even though historical Christianity and Judaism rely on that as a basic fact of their religion, plenty of Christians act as if the Bible was dictated right from the mouth of God on every word. This is often at the crux of many classes I have taught about Scripture.

The full Christian view of Scripture (the Bible) is that it is truly the product of God and truly the product of humanity simultaneously. This is akin to Jesus Christ himself. Jesus is truly God and truly man simultaneously. Therefore, there are real human elements in the Bible. This is not something to be ashamed of.  It is something to be grateful for. It can make better sense of how we have an updated understanding of who God is through the centuries of Scripture. Moreover, we can offer contextual answers as to why something was written 3500 years ago to make sense of things. Muslims are left with thinking that their book has no or almost no human influence. But, then they are stuck in the insuperable puzzles of making sense of a supposedly “perfect dictation” that changes based on Muhammad’s needs. These are hard logical troubles indeed for them.

Let me lay out some of the other ways that Christians think through the human and divine composition of Scripture.

  1. Sovereignty – one way of thinking through these elements is remembering because God knows everything, he can know who is going to write what and when in advance. Therefore, human authors in their human recordings can actually be bringing about the kind of revelation that God desires in an entirely human way, while it also being what God wanted humanity to know. This perspective based off of God’s foreknowledge is well represented by the great scholar William Lane Craig.
  2. Authorization – One of the largest ways we see God’s Revelation to us in the Bible is by authorization. For example, most of what Moses wrote in the first 5 books of the Bible has to do with him being God’s authorized agent. In other words, God chooses Moses to help lead his people Israel, and what Moses brings about or writes, since he is God’s authorized agent, is also what God brings about. This a bit like the President and the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is not receiving everything the President says in perfect verbatim language or handing it in a verbatim way. However, She/He represents America and the President. What they say, is what the President says. They are operating in the capacity of authorized agent for a greater authority. This can solve the human/divine composition.
  3. Appropriation – Lastly, we come to appropriation. This is kind of a cool way of understanding how some of Scripture can be the product of humanity and God’s product too. Let’s use an example in language regarding the Packers. Perhaps Stephany tells her family, “I am going to the Packer Game this weekend.” Then, her husband Andy, agreeing with the phrase and also happens to be going to the same game, responds, “Me too!” Now, Andy did not literally say, “I am going to the packer game this weekend.” But, he did piggy back (or appropriate) Stephany’s sentence, and make it work for him to say the same thing. God can do the same thing with human authors. They can write some true or accurate about God or deal with a situation in a congregation, and then God can piggy back (or appropriate) it for his causes and make it speak for him. These last two that I mention are well represented by the Philosopher Nicolaus Wolterstorff.

Anyway…this is more than most of you cared to know. But, I think it might help us grow in our understanding of the Bible and other religions too. 

God Bless, Pastor Isaac

Lent

What is Lent about? My one-word answer is JESUS. Here are eleven questions and answers that seek to draw out the meaning of this great upcoming Church season.

  1. What is Lent? A way to adopt practices and attitudes that realize the suffering and death of Christ.
  2. Why Suffering and Death? The suffering and death of Jesus is the focal point of God’s activity in the earth. Nearly half of the Gospel of Mark and large percentages of the other Gospels are reporting Jesus’ suffering and death. Churches everywhere must do a better job of keeping that focus.
  3. What do we do? We fast/pray for 40 of the next 46 days (starting March 6th). Sundays are always a break day. Christians have always thought that Sunday is a unique day (cause of the resurrection) even during the Lent season. Therefore, whatever you are fasting (and you get to decide) you can feel free to not fast on Sundays.
  4. Why Ashes? There is no direct Biblical command for or against getting ashes placed on our heads. However, I have found Ash Wednesday weaved together a wide array of biblical themes all at once. The phrase, “from dust we came and to dust we shall return,” reminds us of the double reality that God used the natural earth to develop his human creatures, and one day their bodies shall go back into the earth. Moreover, especially in the Old Testament, we see the nation of Israel and other nations repent in “sackcloth and ashes.”
  5. What else are we doing? Well, the sanctuary is going to look pretty stark. All of the Christmas lights and backdrop are coming down for this season. In a sense, as we take on the attitude of fasting, prayer, suffering, and death, our environment is going to reflect that nakedness. At least partially. Moreover, we have some special songs that are going to be functioning also as prayers through the Lent Season.
  6. Isn’t all of this kind of grim? Are we not supposed to celebrate? Well, yes, sort of. However, there are so many Scriptural themes that remind us that God is still present through the suffering and sorrowful. People need this season! I find that plenty of Christians find this season an exercise in renewal. A broadening of their awareness that Sunday morning is not only supposed to be honored with a smile, but with one’s brokenness and suffering too.
  7. Is Lent Catholic? Lent predates the solidification of any one denomination. Thus, it is not expressly a Catholic or Orthodox or Lutheran activity. It is a universal way for Christians everywhere to focus on the most central person of the faith, Jesus.
  8. What else can this season offer me? Well, in a sense this is the wrong question. JFK would flip the question. However, perhaps broadly speaking I can offer an answer. 1) It can balance out all of the misdirected emphasis in the body of Christ on “pet” doctrines and teachings. There is no other Gospel but one that includes the suffering and death of Jesus. 2) It can remind us that God is near to the sufferer. 3) It challenges our way of having power. Christ gives his life instead of taking others. This is a most powerful demonstration of God’s activity.
  9. Are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday Holy Days of Obligation? In the ‘non-catholic world’ we do not typically have Holy Days of Obligation. However, I do personally hope that you come with a spirit to embrace physically what our faith brings about spiritually on these days.
  10. Where do the Ashes come from? On Palm Sunday each year (the week before Easter) we wave palms and sing Hosanna. Then, we dry the palms, burn them, and use the ashes for Ash Wednesday the next year. There is a cyclical and renewal process to all things that we participate in when we get ashes on our foreheads.
  11. What is the most funny story pastor Isaac has from Ash Wednesday? Come March 6th to find out. 😊 Or…I suppose you could listen online later too. Truly, Wednesday I will be sharing some, but we also have a special guest joining to help lead this service. Candace (who many of you remember has led worship before in the past), has a wonderful gift for teaching and leading and she will join me in leading this great service of Ashes. 

Pastor Isaac

Watering the Living

This last weekend I was invited to be the guest speaker for a retreat for young adults. This retreat led and organized by City Church was in northern Wisconsin in a town called Three Lakes. As beautiful as it was spacious, the outdoor environment along with some great cabins offered a setting of reflection on my vocation as “Pastor.”  

I had three sessions to share with these “young adults.” The theme was equipping, so I spent my time charting ‘waters’ for their minds to consider and molds to grow into. Not only did I go to minister to these young adults, I also was ministered to in a variety of ways.

  It was touching being together with numerous people around my age who were trying to serve Jesus with their whole beings. In the morning, I woke up to study. Upon arrival I was reading solo in the large study quarters. Then slowly, one by one, a plenitude of people arrived with no other agenda than to connect with God through His word. As I watched these young people, I sensed a bright future for God’s Church.  

I also met a young man named Joel. He lived up to the meaning of his name as “fire of God.” Joel is currently pursuing his PHD in Philosophy at UW Madison. He knew Larry Shapiro whom I debated this last October. Needless to say, we had much to talk about. Joel began his deep studies in philosophy to think through some of the doubts he was having about God and Faith. Philosophy has served him well. He has a vibrant faith in our Lord Jesus and he is a committed child of God. I hope some of you would add Joel to your prayer lists. He needs God’s favor as he seeks Him through his many more years of study.  

Thinking through some questions with Joel served as a reminder to me of the great treasure of the mind that God has given to all of us. Every one of us allows some cobwebs to grow in our minds. In fact, we are the ones who put them there as we passively receive much from our digital worlds. Our “Talent” is often not invested or saved.  

Connecting with Joel was like Jethro refreshing Moses with new insights and wisdom. Could you please pray that our further conversation would turn into abundant fruit that we know not what to do with. For years I prayed that God would bring me to Madison, so I could make an impact for Him at the University. That prayer was prayed miles away from here. Since then, God transitioned us here and together, we hosted a debate with a UW Professor in philosophy. All that being said, I do not think meeting Joel was by chance.  

Regardless of what steps are next, God has great people at the University. People like Joel are on the front line in unique ways. Few Christians get such a chance to ponder the big questions and use their gifts for God in this realm. I myself have thought and prayed much about PHD work in Philosophy. I have tried to faithfully live the dictum, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I have always thought that if I represented Christ with my intellect, perhaps others would follow.   I will leave that in God’s hands. But, this weekend has strengthened my resolve that the Church must think through its faith in intellectually challenging ways as to be a good witness to the world around us.  

For the Life of the Church, Pastor Isaac

Hard Blessings

What do you think of when you think of the word blessing? Goodness, abundance, grace, protection…These are the words that come to mind when I think of it. I was raised to always seek God and the good things He has in store for me. I’ve lived a pretty decent life and with that, I made the assumption that the blessings of God would cover me from the hard things in life. I wouldn’t have verbalized that, but in my heart, that is what I believed. Now to be sure, I’ve avoided disasters by making good life choices, but as we all know, there are some things beyond our control.

Several years ago a series of deaths took place in my life that totally rocked my world. Within 6 months there were 4 deaths that took place among friends and family. Every time I would start to feel like I could get up in the morning without the dark clouds, I would get another phone call…my safe blessed world had been shattered. Everyone who passed away were all dedicated Christ followers. I felt vulnerable, and unsafe in this world I had just opened my eyes to. This isn’t supposed to happen to me. I shouldn’t have to go through that kind of trauma. Where was God, my protector, the one who knew I loved him and did what was right. Was I not blessed, aka protected from the bad things in life.

I had equated blessings with material gain, comfort and all things warm and fuzzy. That is apart of God’s grace towards us, but it is not the total picture. Many times blessings are made available or amplified in times of need. God lead and prospered a whole group of slaves and made them into a mighty nation that still exist today! The ethical structures that governed them as a distinct people has influenced many nations including our own. Most importantly, it was through this people that God sent the world their savior. All this is against the back drop that for 400 years they were slaves in the great nation of Egypt. For 400 years they were considered subservient and less than human, yet they were blessed…

What Does It Mean To Be Blessed?

Where is the blessing in 400 years of slavery? Where is the blessing in being crucified for others crimes? Where is the blessing in losing those you know and love in quick succession?

God showers His mercies on those who follow Him and those who do not, because He loves freely, so there is a difference between one who has received a blessing and one who is blessed. The title or adjective of blessed has more to do with the one it is in association with and that is God Himself. To be blessed is to be bestowed holiness &, prosperity, etc. Not just prosperous in material possessions but in goodness, love, patience, joy, etc. To truly be blessed is to be in relationship with the God of it all.

Jesus tells us, blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who morn, are meek, who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied…We live in a fallen world, but God is sovereign. He can take ashes and create something beautiful. He can take a people in slavery and show them how to treat others in ways that only 400 years could of done. He can take the corrupt foolishness of the world upon Himself and make it the back drop for the greatest show of love this world has ever known. He can see His daughter in a lot of pain and say if you will just trust and abide in me, I promise you will make it through and on the other side you will have a greater empathy for others and a greater trust in me.

Many times we want our blessings to come easy and on our terms and call ourselves blessed. Oftentimes, the greatest blessings from God comes through the rough and tumble refinement of life. But those who are truly blessed find their satisfaction, their joy, their peace in Him even in the midst of life’s greatest struggles. For we trust that there will be a day when we see Him face to face and we will see the one whom our heart has longed for and truly be blessed.

What about Andy Stanley?

As some of you may have heard, Andy Stanley has been under a bit of criticism lately from some regarding a sermon he preached. In the sermon he talked about how the Old Testament is not entirely in place any more, and some had taken the comments to be saying that the Old Testament has no value for us today. Since we use Andy Stanley’s sermons and lessons in Men of Fire, I thought it might not be a bad idea to offer some knowledge on this subject, and while we can still feel good about using his materials.

A Little History

My first time in reading about Andy Stanley being under a little bit of criticism was when I read a First Things (A prominent journal) article a couple months ago. The article did give some good history on the use of the Old Testament throughout the life of the church. But, it’s criticisms of Andy were a bit much. The article can be found here. 

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/05/andy-stanleys-modern-marcionism

Back in the second century, a man by the name of Marcion rejected all of the Old Testament and most of the Gospel’s for Luke’s Gospel and Paul’s letters. The Churches got together and unanimously agreed that Marcion was incorrect. It also was a good impetus for churches to clarify their own position that the Old Testament was inspired Scripture and which books each of the churches really knew to be Inspired in the New Testament.

Today there are some in the wider Christian world that sound a bit like Marcion from time to time. Even though they believe the whole Bible is inspired, they place Paul’s letters in a sort of pristine place of use over the rest of the books. These Christians are Dispensationalists. At Living Water (as well as true blue historical biblical Christianity) are not Dispensationalist.

Critics have gone a bit far…

I do think the critiques have gone a bit far on this. I myself have a much more integrated view of Old and New Testaments, than does Andy. But, I think his comments in the Relevant Magazine article do a good job of explaining that the complaint many have had regarding Andy’s small comment, were part of a much larger sermon series. The point is that many have misjudged the sermon. I myself don’t like people lifting comments quickly from my sermons, but rather like them being taken as a whole. The link to Andy’s interview with Relevant is here…and I encourage you to read through it to see his perspective. https://relevantmagazine.com/god/andy-stanley-thinks-sermon-critics-curious/  

A little more theology

Andy seems to be in line with plenty of thinkers in evangelical and charismatic contexts, who have a much stronger sense of separation between the two testaments than integration. Martin Luther himself has some similarities to these thinkers. Moreover, there has been some debate on how to think through ‘what is still in place in the Old Testament and what is not’ for most of the last 2000 years. The major views to be rejected are anything that denies the Old Testament being Inspired Scripture, or anything that denies it is still useful to us today. Andy affirms a very high view of inspiration, infallibility, and usefulness, so it seems critics are clearly missing the point.

Most Christians agree that some things were fulfilled in Jesus. For instance, we no longer practice sacrifices, circumcision, Israelite priests, etc. Thus, even though the force of the Old Testament is always in place, there were some aspects that were fulfilled when Jesus came and died on the cross.  

What about Andy?

Andy is no Marcion follower…so the critics have gone too far. As I already said, I have a more integrated view of the Old Testament and New Testament than does Andy, but his own approach is not “out there.” Millions of evangelicals hold his view. 

Why we can stick with Andy?

We can stick with Andy for several reasons. 1) He is not a Marcionite. 2) His approach really speaks to people who are outside the church and works as a great outreach. 3) Even if we would ever disagree with something he says, we can wear our ‘big boy pants’ and have a great theological conversation about it. In a situation like this, I prefer ‘learning’ over ‘sanctioning’ where appropriate. And, right now we have nothing to sanction…but if we ever did, we could use it to talk about where we are different and distinct.

Big God

Growing up, there was one thing I always knew, I wanted to serve God with every fiber of my being. The greatest way I knew to fulfill that desire was to be a missionary in a foreign country. I thought there was no better or higher calling. I barely graduated high school, but I didn’t care, because the only thing that mattered was believing in Jesus and going to heaven.

I went to Bible college after high school, because I knew no other way to accomplish my goal of becoming a missionary. During those years I breezed through school, and graduated among those at the top of my class. This was an eye opener for me because I did not think this was possible. The joy and sense of accomplishment I gained through it was other worldly. I was surrounded by professors who loved God and served him well in this capacity. That may seem like a small deal to most, but it was a game changer for me. I began to understand service to God as something that went beyond the roles found inside of a church. It began a journey of not only understanding my role in God’s Kingdom, but better grasping the vastness of our God and the reality we live in.

One of my favorite movies is, Interstellar, and not for obvious reasons. When I watched it for the first time in my living room, I felt the presence of God expressed through immense joy. My mind was blown to know this movie was based on real science. Based on the possibilities of other worlds, wormholes and different dimensions, that theoretically could be out there, but yet to be discovered. I thought, how can man deny the reality of a being that transcends our physical dimension? As explored in this movie there are mathematical and scientific pointers to possibilities that we have yet to encounter! I experienced the wonder of God through a “secular” medium and it was legitimate.

In the past, I would have been closed off even to the possibility of such an encounter. My understanding of God was so limited that I had condemned everything as vanity and of no concern if it did not expressly read Jesus and Heaven. I had relegated the Creator of the universe to the pages on my night stand and an experience to be had once or twice a week. I neglected the grander narrative by which God was sovereign over the whole thing. Was the point of my faith in Christ just an insurance policy for the life to come? Does life now, matter to life after?

One of my favorite books in the Bible is Genesis. It is the introduction to humanity of the source and purpose of life. It casts a shadow over the rest of the Bible, as the last book is a continuation of the first. We meet God here, and see that He is the creator of all reality and intended it for good. He then entrust us with the care of His good creation, but we know where that story goes, and it is because of this twist we tend to limit the larger than life being of God to our short list of what is or is not of God.

My view of God was more focused on fire insurance than the life that was given through Him and meant to be experienced now. Remember, God did create this reality in all its vastness, complexities and even simplicity and calls it good. He created the brains that the scientist use to make discoveries of the universe and takes pleasure in it. The joy we find in the most basic human interactions are all ingrained in the fabric of the reality that finds its source in God. It all matters to God, and he blesses and ordains it for good.

My eyes were opened to the God that was bigger than the world I created for Him. I realized there was much of life to experience in Him that I had denied myself at the expense of His pleasure and shared joy. I wanted to please Him with every fiber of my being but had told Him with my actions all of this was not worth the investment. I wanted to tell the world about Jesus, but had left the other part of the story unsung. God wants to show us how to live now and how to do it well so we can continue the narrative together in Him. We serve a BIG God! Amen.

I Need You to Survive

A little over a year ago, I felt like I was supposed to put together a retreat specifically for the young women in my family. The theme of the weekend would be, fellowship in community. The goal was to bring us together in a way that went beyond the normal formalities. It ended up being a time I will never forget and a source of beauty I will reference in my memory until the day I leave this earth.

At one point during the retreat, I had everyone hold hands and sing along to a song titled, “I Need You To Survive.” If you know me, I am not a very physically affectionate person, so even though I initiated the gesture, it was a challenge. I then took it up a notch and sang the song face to face to everyone in the circle. Talk about feeling raw and open, but it was in that kumbaya moment that it sank into my soul that I needed everyone in that community to survive.

We are not an island unto ourselves. Although we like to live and think that way, it is inherently contradictory to the way we were destined to operate. We are beings made in the image of our Maker and I’m not talking hands and feet. God Himself, as expressed through scripture is a being in relationship. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are constantly giving of themselves to one another in holy union. As a result of this nature, He created beings whom He could lavish His love upon and who in return would do so towards others.

We Were Made To Exist In Community

It was told from the very beginning that God in his plurality, saw man in his singularity, and said it was not good to be alone. Community is a part of the image/character of God. In this, a reality exists in which we are outward focused and not centered on the subjective self isolating wants of the individual.

In Christianity, we refer to our community as the Body of Christ. This presents the image of a unit with interconnected parts all working together to properly function. This is the ideal but how often do we actually achieve this type of interconnectedness that God in His very nature models for us? Unfortunately, not often enough.

I heard this example used once. We often treat community like a bag of marbles. We congregate together based on our common spiritual experiences, etc., but when one marble slips through the mesh bag it doesn’t really affect the bunch. In reality, Christ’s community is meant to be experienced like grapes on a vine. Although, each grape has a personal connection to the vine, the whole cluster shares a common source and therefore a common fate. When one is plucked there is a noticeable gap. When one is rotting, usually the ones closest to it are next to go. What is happening to you affects me and vice versa. Our connection to God may be personal but it is not private.

I need you to grow and you need me. We are to be challenged by one another, loved on and encouraged towards good deeds among many other things. I need you in my ‘business’ asking me how have I stewarded God’s blessings in my life. You need me calling your attitude into question when you didn’t get your own way. If our fellow man is slipping away, I hope we care enough to not let him go without a fight. And when times are hard, we need the comfort of one another and the shared empathy of our Savior to get us through. We cannot run this race on our own and that is exactly how our God designed it to be. Life together, centered on one another in Him, ensuring the survival of the of the whole and not just one self. I need you to survive.

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A Response To The “Great Debate,” Does God Exist?

Last week our church hosted a formal debate where friends, family and the wider community were invited to participate. The topic was on the rationality of the belief in God. My husband took the stance that it was rational to believe in God and the visiting professor took the opposite position. Overall, it was a great night, and such a beautiful opportunity to be under one roof with people who fundamentally disagree on key subjects, but yet be civil and welcoming to one another. I would say, it was a holy moment…

With that said, it does not mean I was not nervously sitting in my seat as the debate played out. I had my head bent for a lot of it, because I wanted to hear the words and judge the ideas on their own merit. I did not want to read into the facial expressions or body language. So with my phone open, I tried to take as unbiased notes as I could.

It did take some brain power to follow and process the arguments. I then found something to be lacking for me in clarity through the arguments being made, and that was the definition and subjective use of “evidence.” Professor Shapiro almost exclusively relied on physical evidence while Isaac relied more on the nonphysical. I found this to be troubling, because Shapiro was ultimately saying, because there is no physical evidence for God, all other evidence does not amount to anything. All that is real, is physical and nothing can exist beyond its boundaries. To his credit, he said that not knowing the cause of something is okay, and that it is presumptuous to think that we live in a universe where all things should be knowable. Yet, he objectively argued for the exclusivity of physical evidence as the ultimate and only decider of what is rational. It eventually became evident to me that God CANNOT exist in Shapiro’’s world…

Mongoose Vs. Cobra
Mongoose are known to be able to get the upper hand on Cobra’s. This is because they are immune to its poisonous bit and also, because they can jump around quickly to get out of the striking path. One day a bet is placed on who would win a fight between the two. People largely placed their bets on the mongoose because they know it’s abilities. Both animals are placed in a box and covered. When the cover is removed, the mongoose is found dead.

What happened?

We could postulate that the cobra just out witted and out maneuvered the mongoose. Although, technically true, if we took a step back and look at the bigger picture, we could see the mongoose from the start was at a disadvantage. It needs the room to jump around as its defense, but when a box is put over it, it’s hands has just been tied so to speak. Evidence for God’s existence cannot exist in Shapiro’s world, because he has limited the scope for what is possible. Anything leading beyond the physical realm will always be a mystery not to be solved or, declared unresolved until further conclusion. He concludes, if God is non physical, and the non physical does not exist, therefore God does not exist and belief in God is not rational.

Shapiro comes in with the assumption that the physical is all there is. To limit the human experience to only its physical nature, I believe is to diminish the complexity of humanity and the universe as a whole. The mind alone is a wonder in itself. Our consciousness alone testifies of the otherness of our experience. We make the mistake of taking one discipline (scientific method) or sense of examining the world and broad brush our whole experience to fit through that lens. When there are a whole host of others ways to interpret ourselves and the world around us.

I believe Shapiro makes this mistake of limiting the importance of other evidences for God’s existence. Until one is willing to remove the box that limits your scope, you will not be able to fully take advantage of the evidences around you, and see what is in plain sight….

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Journey to Ordination

At the age of 20, after graduating Bible college, I received my Minister’s License. At the time I thought it was a cool bonus prize, but I don’t remember caring much especially when the bill came to renew the following year. I took a pass, and had not looked back much since. Although, it might not have seemed obvious to those around me, at the time I did not have much ambition towards formal ministry.

After Bible College, traditional modes of Christian service were not on my agenda. I continued to serve in my local church, but I no longer sought for my vocation to be associated within an exclusively Christian context. I had ‘outgrown’ that desire. Those thoughts would take a back seat as our family grew and an opportunity came to us that I felt totally unprepared for. A town not too far away was looking for a Pastor. We had heard about this position months before, but neither of us wanted to go down that particular path. One day, the conversation about it became serious and I knew in my heart, that God was going to change our lives.

I was told exclusively by my husband on more than one occasion that he did not want to be a Pastor, so how did we end up serving in this exact position? Overall, I was a good sport, but embraced the role as his thing. I was still trying to find my way. Shortly after, we had our 2nd child and I finished my Associates in History. I started to long to do more and I applied for the Bachelors program in History while starting my own nonprofit to help others pursuing their education. I remember one day registering for classes and feeling so depressed. I had no clue what I was going to do with this degree because I had no desire to fulfill the roles that it pointed to. Through a series of events and a semester break, I ended up applying to an online program that would accept my credits from Bible College along with my Associate to finish my degree in one year. In doing so, it felt like the death of a dream. I cried before going through with it, my degree would be in Religion and Social Science. I would be starting right where I ended. It was in that moment I started to say yes to God.

As much as I tried to deny it, I could not run away from the call of God on my life to serve His body. I am now beginning to acknowledge and embrace this mission as an adult. I knew from my earliest memories that God was real and He was always very present to me. I never really latched on to any one profession I wanted to do when I ‘grew up’ but , I knew whatever it was I wanted to serve Him. In high school I told my parents I wanted to be a missionary and at the time my mom in particular wasn’t too happy about it, but I didn’t mind. But along the way of trying to accomplish that goal I got sidetracked. During my time at Bible College I came to the realization that one didn’t have to be formally recognized as a minister in order to best serve God. He blessed us all with many gifts and talents and they were all to be used to serve Him. With this realization in mind I decided to serve Him outside of my safe context, the church. But it was there he was calling me too all along. I felt like it was a cop out to vocationally serve in the church, but the real cop out was not fully submitting myself to the God who knew me and what He purposed me for from before I was in my mother’s womb.

After side lining myself for so many years I had finally stepped out of the way. Accepting my purpose I felt like I could begin to run with better clarity. I felt free to become the person I was called to be. I began setting goals to accomplish and being ordained was one of them. For me, ordination, like baptism was a public declaration of the call of God and my acceptance and submission to His leading. At 29 years, I am now realizing the true value and gift this ‘bonus prize’ is and trying to redeem the time that my 20 year old self let slip away. I am now at home in the center of God’s will and I cannot imagine being anywhere else.

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