Friday, February 27, 2015

On Mercy and Mercy's Rain - a Novel in Review

“The gospel says that you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, but more accepted and loved than you ever dared hoped,” – Tim Keller

A young girl, who’s gone to hell and back, thinks that she doesn’t deserve a chance in life. Sound familiar? Can you relate? I’ve been there – bad things have happened and I’ve done bad things – but God has different plans for us - plans of mercy, love, and hope. 

I recently read, Mercy’s Rain by Cindy Sproles, which portrays the life of Mercy Roller, a girl who was ruthlessly abused by her father and involved in his death. Set in old Appalachia, Mercy’s Rain reminds us that God has a plan to love, forgive, and heal all of us, even those of us, who have been terribly hurt or have others. While reading this book, three things stood out for me:

The healing power of Christian community. Mercy receives healing from God, but equally important, she is loved by his followers. There is a scene in which, Mercy meets another young woman Isabella, a kindred spirit, who she can open up to.  Isabella holds Mercy while she cries, rocking her through the night, not asking questions, but just being present. It is the first time that Mercy experiences Jesus through the flesh of another. A striking reminder of how important Christian community is to a hurting world. 

There is nothing too big for God to heal. Mercy received literal and emotional scars at the hands of her father. All of us, have at one time or another, been hurt and these hurts endure. Sometimes we feel they will never go away. And, although, Mercy may always have her scars, God through His son, Jesus, mends her hurt and gives her new life. We too, are always, invited to receive this kind of healing. 

Nothing is too ugly for God to forgive. Mercy feels implicated in her Father’s death. Could God forgive a killer? We may not be killers, but all of us, have made big mistakes and hurt others. It is, as Rev. Keller describes, we are more “flawed and sinful” than we ever believed. This sin and guilt may lead to crushing, self-condemnation. Mercy’s journey to receive God’s forgiveness for her sins, allows us to reflect on our own inadequacies, and just how desperately, we need to Father’s forgiveness and thanks be to God, he is always so quick to give it.
Last thought: author Cindy Sproles is super cool, approachable, and next week, I will have her as my guest blogger. I hope everyone has a blessed weekend!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Reading Theology for Heaven's Sake and Earthly Sanity

For the past two and a half years, I have been in baby land. It is a magical, thrilling, and consuming place. Once you are in baby land, it becomes difficult to venture out, but the other day I did, and it was through theology. Thank God for theology. 

When I was a seminary student, I was a systematic theology major and I loved talking, reading, and preaching theology. Reading the thoughts of theologians like Karl Barth, Thomas Aquinas, Leslie Newbigin, Dorothy Sayers, Austin Ferrar, Oscar Romero, and others, opened my mind, heart, and soul to amazing, heavenly planes, and I was deeply thankful for the experience. 
Latest Selfie

Lately I have been reading Dr. Seuss, Beatrix Potter, and Curious George. All great reading. When I crash into bed at night, I sometimes read a novel. I can’t bring myself to read anything, “too heavy,” but the other day, I picked up Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will. Once again, I was transported, my mind was on a more heavenly plane, which brings me to my point. It is very good and necessary to read a variety of theological work over the course of one’s lifetime, because we need good teaching. We can’t generate this stuff on our own, no matter how smart we are. Great theology is always lived and acted upon. That’s why it is so vital to our lives. It shapes how we live, so we need to be reading, thinking, and inwardly digesting theological works. 
Sometimes we think, “I am not a minister or theologian, so why does it matter?” All the decisions we make on a daily basis -- what we eat, who we speak to, how we spend our time -- are all theological questions.

Sometimes we think, “Oh the Bible is always best. I’ll just read the Bible.” The Bible is best, but great theology helps us to read the Bible in not only sound and orthodox ways, but actually helps point us to its great, saving truths. Theology and Biblical Studies really are dance partners, and the latter is always the lead. 

Some of us are very good at reading one theologian or one particular genre of theology. We may love contemporary Christian books, the ones which are on the best seller list.  But if that is all we read, we are at a disadvantage. Contemporary theologians are often responding to the strengths and weaknesses of our culture and other theologians. This means they emphasis certain things, to the detriment of other important truths.  No particular theologian or particular “brand” of theology gets it all right, all the time. They work together, in constant dialogue, to form one great conversation. That’s why it’s great to read, not only contemporary theologians, but the church fathers and mothers, the reformers, and everyone in between. 

I am always encouraging women’s Bible studies to branch out beyond Beth Moore (no offense to Beth Moore). I sometimes daydream about walking into a women’s Bible study to discover they are reading Karl Barth. Not to be too high and mighty here, but when it comes to studying God, why not set the bar pretty high? Every Christian I know who is inspired by the Holy Spirit is capable of profound theological thinking.  

I have learned that it is impossible to understand the particulars of life -- Who should I marry? How should I spend my money? What should I do with my free time? -- if the universals are not decided. Who is God, what is our purpose, and where are we headed, are universal questions.  Sound, traditional, and varied theology helps us address those questions.  It brings us to a great heavenly plane so that we might live full, sane, balanced, and blessed earthly lives. Theological lives are lives that are dedicated to God and his people.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dear Tired Parents, Children Can Make Marriage Better (I promise)

Are we having fun yet?
There seems to be a consensus that parenting makes your marriage fizzle. To be sure, it can cause the best of marriages a ton of stress; you are up at all hours, sleep deprived, raging hormones, financial concerns, Cheerios  in your bedsheets etc., but parenting can make your marriage even better, so here are just a few ways how. My hope is that this list will encourage my fellow, exhausted parents (my son is up five times a night, so I need this as much as you).
1)      Constant entertainment. Nothing is more fun than children and the crazy, wonderful stuff they do and say. Bo and I were bored before our children arrived to constantly amuse us.
 2)      Greater opportunities to love and serve your spouse. All this service will wear you down, even bring you to tears, but it also brings about long-lasting fruit in your marriage. Once you have children, little acts of service or encouraging words go a long way and have lasting meaning. I now find Bo taking the children for a few hours to be deeply romantic.
This pretty much sums it up
3)      Less time to fight. You just do not have the time or the energy. Often you just have to buck it up, right there on the spot and say, “We’ll talk about this later,” and usually (not all the time) when later comes around tempers have cooled. 
4)      You become even greater teammates. One of you bathes, while the other one feeds. You work-out a routine and system and you need to constantly communicate, but the important thing is, you do it as a team.
5)      You give each other a lasting gift. The joy of watching children blossom and grow is amazing and to think, you did that together, and it is something you can always share.
6)      Your spouse will surprise you. I am sometimes awestruck to see Bo, who was once a rough, and tumble type of dude, have a tea party with my daughter – and they’re both really into. It is inspiring how children can bring out the best in us.
 7)      So many memories, so much laughter. Yes, before you had children the two of you got to travel together, you had more money, more time, you fit into your skinny jeans, but to my mind, this just pales in comparison to the joy of being a family.

These are some of the things we have discovered. How about you? How have children blessed your marriage? I would especially love to hear from some more seasoned parents.