Thursday, November 25, 2010


One thing I might miss once I graduate is the fantastic feeling of freedom after finishing all the assignments for a class - this I have done when it comes to Sociology 101. I handed in a really great research paper last night, and I feel so free! I have my final in two weeks, and I will be one semester away from graduation :)

We talked a little bit about religion in class last night, and discussed Marx's view that the teachings of religion legitimate social inequalities. This is the opposite of what Christians would like to believe! Jesus was a revolutionary because he taught that women and children are worth as much as men; he drove money changers out of the temple; he healed lepers. However, churches don't always manage to keep the same revolutionary perspective when they look at the world.

The brokenness of the world is a matter of fact for now, and we talked in class about how the prosperity gospel has some problems. Like corrupt leaders who spend more money fueling their cars/hummers in a month than their parishioners spend on food. And like the fact that Jesus was killed naked on a cross. Not so prosperous.

The thing is that religions (in Marx's sense) give so many more answers than faith tends to do, and it is comforting to feel that life can be solved. I think this is why churches that justify social inequalities often get large followings, often including very sincere people, because people want an answer to the world's brokenness: "the [insert people who suffer] deserve it because they are sinners - just look at the drugs they abuse and the gay sex they have, the illegitimate children they bear or the idolatry of their culture; but you can have anything you want if you truly have faith God will give it to you" - like he's a mind-operated arcade game.

Faith, on the other hand, "is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb. 11:1) The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, "For by it the people of old received their commendation." Faith is powerful, but it doesn't mean you get everything you want before you die, and it doesn't mean you get all the answers to life. A lot of people died waiting for Jesus to come. A lot of people have died waiting for him to come back again.

But this suspense is why (and I know that religion is often just the structure that our faith fits into, the two aren't mutually exclusive, but I need the ideas separate to make sense) Christianity as a faith defies Marx's ideas about religion - because when Christians truly live out their faith with God's help, social inequalities cannot fool us into thinking that some people are worth more than others, or that injustice is inevitable. Yes, so much brokenness is caused by sin, but that is not the final word on the matter: every single person is a candidate for redemption, and the worse off they are, the greater God's power and grace and glory can be shown. This is the assurance we live with every day as Christians, even though it hasn't happened yet.

A couple weeks ago in class someone raised this issue about churches: Do we settle for peace rather than truth? Sometimes, yes, and I think it can be okay because church unity is really important and honours God. However, there are truths that can never be sacrificed in order to have peace, and I think this applies to inner peace as well. Sometimes it is so draining to see injustice or suffering, and it is tempting to brush it aside with the mantra "God is sovereign; Jesus is coming." I think that Jesus would rather us to be disturbed and horrified and pained, to struggle in prayer on behalf of others, and to draw our strength from him instead of checking out when it gets to be too much.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jonah and Hesed

Jonah 2:9 "But with the voice of thanksgiving, I will sacrifice to you"

Jonah prays in chapter 2 from inside a fish. He was up in there for three days and nights before he said anything that was recorded in the Bible, and at the end of the prayer the fish spits him up (and, apparently, his robe comes loose), which I guess means Jonah said something wise :) Needless to say, this prayer was born out of a lot of sitting and thinking.

So I have been sitting and thinking about Jonah. I think the strongest theme in the book is grace, and Jonah's prayer is him recognizing, accepting and responding to God's grace for him. His sacrifice of giving thanks is a huge step, because it means that God is ultimately good, whatever circumstances are happening around us. Gratitude is sacrifice because it means submission.

The alternative to submission is taking charge, blazing our own path, which Jonah tried to do. After three days in a fish, Jonah's reflection on independence comes in 2:8 - "Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love." Jonah realizes that he fled from God because he gave up his hope of hesed - the love and mercy and kindness of God that English doesn't have enough words for.

Jonah didn't know about Jesus, so when he speaks of steadfast love, he does so without the picture of God allowing himself to be nailed to a tree. It would probably never occur to Jonah that God would become a human and experience torture for the sake of redeeming lost people. As Christians, this is the hesed that we proclaim when we share the gospel, but like Jonah, we often resist the God whose grace is too overwhelming to look in the face.

In Jonah 4, the prophet is infuriated that God has spared Nineveh, and he rants, "This is why I tried to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in hesed. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live." Jonah is essentially asking God to take back his grace - to "un-spare" his life - because Jonah cannot stand what it means. As a prophet, he is humiliated because the destruction he prophesied will not be fulfilled; as an Israelite, his sense of justice is totally unfulfilled because the Ninevites were filthy and evil.

But God does not kill Jonah or the Ninevites. When Jonah gets mad because a plant that shaded him dies (and again tells God he wants to die), God explains himself to Jonah (rare in the Bible!). Jonah cares about a plant dying that he didn't plant or tend, or even sit under for more than a day! Well, God has pity on "that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 people" - they have done evil, but God made them. Heck, there is also "much cattle"! And that's how the book ends. Jonah doesn't get to say any more, we are just left with this bizarre story filled with people turning to God (the sailors in chapter 1 and Nineveh in chapter 3), and a prophet who keeps wanting to die.

So if the great big theme is grace, what does the story mean? At this point, I think it means God doesn't always do what we want. He does what HE wants, what he cares about, and if we are going to be part of it, then it is going to be a big ugly sacrifice for us to praise him sometimes. Because God loves people, all people, and we really tend to love ourselves. This is not hesed.

Hesed means remembering that God took care to create each of us and bring us to where we are today. God never forgets this, of course, but I think we often do. We forget it for ourselves, and we forget it even worse for people we don't like. Hesed sucks because there are people who put my stomach in knots when I think of God just letting them off the hook for being scum bags. It's hard for me to believe that there is really no one in the world who God looks at and just sees trash. Sometimes people get hung up on this and won't believe in him because "how can God love bad people?" Well... how can God love you? Of course it's easy for me to write because I know why God loves me - I'm almost done my religious studies degree!!

That was sarcasm at the end there - what I'm getting at is that grace is something that can put our stomach in knots, and it can make us want to die because it is so terrible. But it is also our only hope, and when it becomes offensive to us then we are not on the same page as God. When that happens, it takes a sacrifice to get back on the same page, and that is Jonah's prayer from the belly of a fish - idols are for those who have given up on steadfast love, but I will make a sacrifice of thanksgiving to you. Idols are like band-aids maybe, when the situation calls for an amputation; grace means that when our limbs get chopped off, healthy ones grow in their place.

These are ongoing thoughts, and I'm not sure how to wrap them up, but I am reminded of John Eldredge's book Desire. In the spirit of that book, I will end by saying that "just getting by" is an idolatrous band-aid we put on our hearts when we are tired of hoping. I fall into that trap all the time - wishing myself through a couple more weeks of school, or one bad month for money, or whatever. Maybe if I let myself be a bit more angsty with God instead of just getting by, then I would see more of the things I keep putting band-aids on that aren't going away - my trust issues, pride, laziness to spend time with God - the struggles I cycle through but never seem to really beat. The trick is seeing the futility of my own efforts without giving in to despair. That's where hope comes in, and with it thankfulness that (the last line of Jonah's prayer): Salvation belongs to the Lord!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

God Helps

I have been in kind of a funk the last few days especially, feeling generally cranky and disconnected from life and God. My devotional time has been minimal, which always takes a toll on me, and I was having a hard time being caught in the vicious cycle of "don't spend time with God, don't want to spend time with God."

I tried to pray about it last night and asked Matt to pray for me as well with no epiphanies, but I think God has answered those prayers in a couple of ways today, so I wanted to share!

First of all, my friend B called me this morning out of the blue after probably more than six months if not ten of not being in touch with each other. She has had a crazy life and crazy journey with God, so I thought it was really cool to hear that she is currently attending a Messianic synagogue! We made plans to hang out, and I am going to try to go to a worship service with her some Saturday because I would LOVE to see what a Messianic synagogue is like. Apparently they give out bagels after the service :)

B is pretty mystical and open as far as Christians go, and when I told her how happy I was for her to call this morning because I have been not feeling very good about God or life (not that I have complaints, just my mood has sucked) she told me to look at my hands. She said that when I feel sucky I should look at my hands until I'm sure of God's existence and presence. I am going to.

Then at church this morning I felt really connected to God during the praise time. This was strange because when I play keyboard I usually focus on not messing up and maybe singing and that takes up all the thinking I can do, but this morning during one song especially, I just stepped back from the mike and played strings of notes instead of chords, and it felt like prayer.

THEN after church I had a great conversation with a newish friend and it was really encouraging to just connect with someone.

So God is all over me today, and I am so grateful.

Friday, November 12, 2010

New Sponsor Child

Matt blogged about this, so rather than re-tell the whole story - you can read about the little girl we now sponsor, named Fabiola!

(click an ad while you're there!)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Four Great Years!

I guess Matt and I are officially an old married couple since we both forgot that November 8 marks four years since he asked me to be his girlfriend :) Ah well, since we both missed it neither of us feels too bad lol. Here's a cute picture of us on the subway and...

Here is a picture of us the night we went to Dirty Dancing for our one-year (aww!) Is it just me, or does Matt totally look like a hockey player in this picture?

Monday, November 8, 2010


Let me first say that I am officially fed up with Daylight Savings. I still wake up before the sun, and now I have an hour less sunshine to enjoy. Thanks for nothing, George Vernon Hudson.

I was inspired by Matt's blog on 1 Peter 5 to reflect on the privilege of ministry, because sometimes it doesn't feel like a great big thrill to be subjected to accountability, expectations and nut-jobs. However, I am encouraged by the passage in 1 Peter, and by this passage from 1 Timothy 1:12-16

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.

I think one of the best things about Paul is that he didn't forget his unflattering past. I think this is the key to being a person of grace (which I am frequently not but strive to be). When Paul reminds his readers (and himself?) of his insolence, ignorance and unbelief, he strips himself of entitlement and pride and is left with this outburst of worship in verse 17: All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

This is much more appealing to me than the smug advice I daydream about giving to people who haven't figured out the things I have. Which isn't advice I would have taken in their place anyways. And I probably don't have it as figured out as I think. Paul's biggest hope is not for people to get their act together, but for them to realize that they can believe in Jesus and receive eternal life. I need to remember that God's calling for me is to serve him and leave it at that. He can handle the rest :)