Our college ministry group is working through a New Testament in a year Bible study. It’s supposed to be 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Never seems to be quite that short to me, but, as in any time where I’ve kept pace with studies to help prepare for Sunday school or some such, I’m getting an amazing exposure through it to things I hadn’t considered or learned before.

I’m behind: I should be in John, but I’m working through 1Peter tonight. 1Peter has that passage about wives being submissive to your husbands. It’s not the one in Ephesians (5:22) that folks think of. But I was surprised to run into the same language.

That’s not what sent me to this post, though. I was more intrigued by the work connections I was seeing this evening. Any of the contexts of elders, of slaves, of masters, of governors… all of that advice to folks in those roles suddenly seemed pertinent to me. Sensitive to the idea that I might offend someone in a work context here (no reason folks would find this, but no reason to assume they couldn’t), I’ll refrain from details. I’ve just begun to realize that where the Bible calls out roles and gives advice, often that advice applies more broadly. I end up asking myself: is that insight only applicable to men? To old men? To old women? (etc, etc). Sometimes it seems it may be. But the context of ‘slaves, submit yourselves to your master with all respect’ seems applicable. The context of ‘a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight’ might not apply just to women. Of leading/shepherding ‘not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock’ sure would seem to fit a broader swath of folks than just those ordained as elders.

For those who trip across this who’re interested in the Bible study, it’s here, at least as of now: http://www.navpress.com/uploadedFiles/5x5x5_BRP.pdf

First name to look at is referred to in the first verse of the first book of the Bible: Genesis 1:1. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. Turns out, that word ‘God’ is Elohim. Even more interesting, that word ‘Elohim’ is apparently only used in Hebrew scripture.

‘El’ means mighty one, strong one, one of many supernatural beings, one more powerful than all the rest, and mythology / creation stories often discuss conflict across the gods. However, ‘Elohim’, being used for its single purpose in Scripture, annotates harmony and peace. There is no conflict when there is only one. (Note: Elohim is actually a plural, reflecting the multiple persons of God although pulling them together into one entity/name; Wikipedia indicated it can also be examined as ‘Hebrew grammar allows for this nominally-plural form to mean “He is the Power (singular) over powers (plural)”, or roughly, “God of gods”.’. There is also reference to ‘elohims’ in other verses [looking for citations] – messiness in my own brain ensues, though apparently the form of the verbs used in combination with the nouns helps clarify the intent.)

This concept of singularity expose attributes or means of reflecting upon God.
* He is personal : He (single, Elohim) created everything. He can’t create something greater than Himself, He created us, we are personal, and therefore some aspect of Him must be personal.
* He is perfect: because he stands alone, nothing can be great enough to influence, change or corrupt him.
* It is for his purpose we are created, or we wouldn’t be here. (single God created, ergo his purpose(s) are what cause us to come into being)
* Some discussion of the eternal reality being harmony

Interesting sermon, though as I reflect back over my notes, looks like I’m somehow missing threads to tie this all together well for myself (which would, of course, also mean it’s probably not tied well together for anyone reading this). I’ll look for the sermon to be posted to the spepchurch.org site and relisten to it / see where my notes don’t follow. Will also post the URL in a comment here. It’s usually a few weeks until the messages are posted.

So much for my resolution to spread the Word – been a few weeks for varying not very useful reasons. However, still think it’s useful and would rather admit my weakness and rebegin than abandon.

Our senior pastor’s begun a series on the names of God. Last week’s sermon was on Malachi 3:16-18, in which the Israelites are talking with each other (about God). Historically, the Israelites were returning back from their exile in Babylon and basically rebuilding and recreating their culture. Israel’s strong history of the government and culture pointing its people towards God was remote; just as America’s culture is steeped in Biblical underpinnings, but those underpinnings have less and less of an impact upon us today. Rather than bemoan that state, Pastor Glenn made a point I found interesting: are we / were we depending on our culture support our Christian faith? Were we / are we reliant on ‘going with the flow’, rather than investing personally and as a faith group? Does it have to be easy to be right?

Pastor Glenn pointed out how highly God values those who seek him, and pointed to Malachi’s depiction of the scroll of remembrance and of God’s promises to ‘see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not’ for those whose names are written in the scroll of remembrance. (See also the book of life listed in Revelations 20:12, where that book of life is mentioned as being separate from the books describing deeds. There’s talk of judgement based on deeds, but then also sparing based on one’s name being in the book of life.)

So we’re going to spend our next sermon series exploring the names of God, particularly as a means to understand the attributes of God that those names convey. Per Glenn’s illustration, you can only fall in love with a real person, a person you know, by what they’re like, and by their NAME. Or, in this case, names…

“God’s Word is no longer just being heard in a building; it is being multiplied throughout a community. It is multiplying because the people of God are no longer listening as if his Word is intended to stop with them. They are now living as if God’s Word is intended to spread through them.” – part of the text we covered in Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream in today’s Sunday school class. (My son is continually amazed that his mom likes going to Sunday school class.) This was part of a section talking about whether we are receivers or reproducers of God’s Word and discipleship. Gotta admit: I aspire to live my life in a way that glorifies God, through a variety of means. I put particular effort in certain areas where I’ve recognized God’s leading. But I’m not in an out-in-front kind of person, at least in that particular area of life. (Truth be told, I’m fairly quiet in lots of others and have to put a good bit of effort in the areas where my role does involve a certain amount of out-in-front.)

Today, though, I started jotting down notes and scribbles, ideas coming to mind of how to share. How do I share other things? Facebook, Twitter, this blog, maybe Google+ in the future. I spread ideas or pointers to things and let folks consume at their own pace, much as I consume and ruminate on lots of other stuff. Why not do the same? Some of the examples in the book talked about folks who took their pastor’s teaching from Sunday and then shared it more broadly. Why couldn’t I do this here? I don’t honestly believe there’s a lot of traffic here to see this… but putting it out here is a step of faith that God can use this in some way useful to glorify Him.

So, with that intro: today’s sermon was about gossip. Pastor Glenn’s full slides are up on our church’s site, and I’d encourage you to take a look.

Starting text: Proverbs 16:28: “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” We’ve been going through themes in Proverbs lately, and Pastor Glenn pointed out that Solomon gives a lot of space to gossip in the Proverbs. We talked about gossip being idle talk or rumor, something that rings true even if not approaching this from a Christian perspective. Pastor Glenn said that it could be harmless or even a good thing: I’d count that as spread of good news. If I mention someone’s baby being born, I’m community-building (I think). If I mention that I think that baby’s Daddy isn’t sure it’s his, welp, I’m pretty sure that’s not doing anyone any good.

We talked about gossip being the opposite of peacemaking (“stirs up dissension”), about it causing folks who are outside of a conflict to take sides (and thus spread the conflict), and Solomon’s wisdom in declaring “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him” (Proverbs 18:17). We talked about gossip being necessarily not full truth, as the full story isn’t there – it’s the truth as at best presented from one side of a story. Thus spreading it is a form of false witness (see Proverbs 21:28 for the outcome there) and encourages us to judge each other based on incomplete information. “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent— the LORD detests them both.” (Proverbs 17:15). [That’s not even going near the texts that indicate that judgement and vengeance aren’t mine.]

What about when we’re on the receiving end of gossip’s club (Proverbs 25:18) or are otherwise wronged in a way that causes us to want to lash out through gossip? (Boy, doesn’t that image fit?!) Pastor Glenn described our desired reaction as this: (quoting from my notes, rather than him directly): “God love to rescue somebody who waits on Him to vindicate them, so God can be glorified. If we retaliate through gossip, we lose the opportunity to watch God work through us.” The image that jumps to mind is when one of my kids hits their sibling because they’ve been hit first: sort of makes it hard to punish the original offense.

What about if we hear gossip? Recommendation was to pray that God glorify Himself and bless those who trust in Him, but leave the particulars of the gossip itself alone. Why spend time in considering the spread of muck? Why “pay attention to a destructive tongue” (Proverbs 17:4)? My favorite verse of the morning: “Like someone who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own.” (Proverbs 26:17)

So, you made it to the bottom here of my first attempt to faithfully reproduce and comment upon our sermon from the morning. I’m just “reproducing” : the original sermon will be up on our church’s website within the next few weeks. Looks like the ‘Recent Messages’ area is a bit behind at the moment, but there’s plenty of good material there, from both the series on Proverbs as well as other areas. Would also encourage you to check out the sermon streaming live next week: there’s a link from the front page – the service is streamed at 9:30 and 11:00 (Eastern time, for any of you who aren’t East Coast). I’ll be away next Sunday – we’ll see if I get to catch it that way myself. If I do, will try this out again. Otherwise, planning on enjoying a weekend away with the hubby and a visit with his bro (hopefully catching a ride on the back of his motorcycle) before getting “out-in-front” at the MIL-OSS conference. Somebody write one of these things and let me know what I miss in the Proverbs series, in case I don’t catch it online…

The school year ended about a month ago, which means our high school ministry has a new fledgling crop of high school graduates. Some are planning to leave at the end of the summer to go away to school, some are trying to figure out how to stay home/local but still transition to the next stage, and all seem to be in this odd stage of waiting for a shift. Bad news, guys. There’s no magic shift. On the first day that you’re in your new environment, you’re going to suddenly realize that awkward truth all of us realize when we’re in a wildly different setting with different expectations on us: we’re not ready. We’re mostly hoping to fake it until we either make it, or realize that we’re shooting for the wrong goals. (making it seems to be relative. In some cases, making it just seems to be making it one more day.)

That’s the scary news. The good news, sort of, is that God’s equipped you with lots of us who can relate. Our church is now spinning up a college ministry. We’re counting as an extension of our youth ministry, as there are some sort of statistics out there that say folks are still not yet adult until they’re in their mid twenties nowadays. I dunno about that. I can say it feels odd to be talking to these young ladies and gentlemen, and thinking back to life experiences I had at 18 or 19, that I was dating my to-be husband at 21… I look at one of the young couples in our youth group, at their plans to stay local for college for two years and then move onto their next stages of life together – at first you think – ain’t going to happen (statistically speaking), and then I think – but maybe I’m looking at a set of high school sweethearts who’re going to make it.

We’re still figuring out exactly how the ministry will work. The neat thing is that these guys are an engaging group of “kids”, who are really excited to help form their own community focused on the gospel. The adult leadership team has high hopes of helping these guys set their own expectations of what it means to engage with and through the church, such that we help them set mindsets and patterns that will cause them to help push the church to even more of a gospel community focused culture. Too many of our adults come to church on Sunday as individuals, hear a sermon, worship as individuals, and then leave to go back to their individual lives. We hope that by helping these kids feed their own hunger for something more, we in the end help spread that hunger through the church – both our own and whatever venues these guys may move to as God directs them to new geographies in their lives.

Pray for opportunities, for vision, and for excitement tied to God’s priorities. And, uh, pray that on the 16th (our first meeting) we’ll have at least a few folks there…

A few years ago, someone I worked with at the time invited folks to attend a ‘Dynamic Marriage‘ class he was facilitating at his church.  We got a lot out of it, and have in fact made some weak efforts to bring it our church.  (Weak meaning, talked about it amongst ourselves, talked it up a few times to folks at church, introduced some of the materials at a mens’ retreat…  but mostly just talked.)  This isn’t a ‘on my turf’ thing, but our friend’s church is a half hour away.  Packing up the kids and schlepping a half hour away to go meet with folks you don’t know at first?  Likely a stopper to getting this kind of information in the hands of most of our fellow church members or in the hands of other folks in our local community.  We were surprised by another reaction in class this evening, though.  When it was our turn to introduce ourselves, we said that we had been through the class before, thought a lot of it, and had considered taking it back to our church, but hadn’t really done anything substantial there.  I was surprised to hear the question “your church?”.  Realized we surprised folks by not being from their church.  May even have surprised them by suggesting that we were not considering joining their church.  May be just my read on their reaction: maybe they were just generally curious.   But it made me think some more when we got home…

I realized in “our” church, I’d likely have had the same reaction.  If someone’s in my church, I assume they’re a member, visiting to consider becoming a member, or visiting because some member made a reach out.  But not just visiting, or  visiting to interact in a program that my church doesn’t have, or heck, visiting to interact with another area of God’s church.  Intellectually I realize His church unimaginably wider/deeper/more diverse than my little pew bench.  But someone I’m still my little pew bench focused.  That pew bench focus is broken up a bit when I think about sharing with the less fortunate via missions or charitable giving, but I can’t say that I necessarily think beyond that to sharing of a less one-way directed manner.

Not sure what to do with these thoughts, as yet…  just thinking them.  Wondering if there’s some interaction there with the high school ministry, or that long thought about clowning ministry.  But it’s making me think about broadening that horizon a bit more than just that pew bench.

I have a not-so-secret dream to be a clown.  As a kid, I dressed up as a clown for my kid sister’s birthday party.  As an adult, when I temporarily left my software development career, one of the alternates I considered was being a clown.  I’ve done the clown thing at Pioneer Girl events: dressing up, doing balloon twisting, juggling, …  I wouldn’t consider myself good at it, but it does seem to be a theme in my life.

One of the avenues of “clownship” that appeals to me is that of a Christian clown.  Clowns seem to cause polar reactions.  Folks are either clown-phobic (a few, and often little kids), or are drawn to them and interested to see what the clown does or says.   What a great platform for a whole bunch of things:  for just giving someone the gift of a little bit of enjoyment in their day; for giving a parent the gift of seeing their child light up; for distracting someone from pain, whether that be physical pain in a hospital or emotional impact; for giving someone just plain attention which in some cases is a gift some folks too rarely receive; and for expressing truths in a way that causes folks to look at them in a new light.  I’m really attracted to the concept of gospel clowning, a way of sharing God’s truths in a manner that helps folks look at things in a different manner.  If I just go up to you and tell you God loves you, you’ll treat that as an odd behavior and throw away the message.  If I find a way to show you that in a gospel skit, well, you expect odd things from a clown and might just hear it out.

So….  I’m on the lookout for gospel clown skit inspiration.  Got to do one at our church talent show a few weeks ago, and hoping to use that to seed thoughts in a few folks’ minds to start a little clown troupe.  If you’ve got ideas, thoughts, donations, interest, …  and oh yeah, that prayer stuff, too – all ears.  Or, in my case, all clown feet.

We decided to use our new addition this weekend.  It turned out, REALLY use our new addition this weekend.  In past years, we’ve hosted a gingerbread party, where the kids decorate gingerbread cookies.  The kids get to invite their friends, we have a bunch of fun with them, and we’re happy to have a mess made in our house.  We clean up the house beforehand, so it sort of all nets out to where it was before we had a horde of kids.

This year, we upped the ante.  We did crafts with a ton of kids.  We’re so crazy, we gave the kids glitter.  We imported two teenagers to help, we fed ’em stuff we picked up at BJ’s, and just generally let them play when they got bored of crafts.  I’m a big fan of just letting kids play when they’re done with whatever stuff’s at hand.  Note that we’d have been in a world of hurt had we had a fire, as I’m not sure exactly how many kids we had.  I know it was more than 15, probably less than 25.  But we were just having a great time with these kids.   And the kids went home with crafts that they had made, and ran around playing with my kids, with other kids.  It was a blast!

And then we had the teenagers from church over.  Teenagers, it turns out, bring lots of teenagers.  And they take up a lot more space than do first graders.  We had more than 30  (!!!!) teenagers in our home.  We munched on food with them, did a white elephant gift exchange, went caroling around the neighborhood…  my kids, my husband, and I had a WONDERFUL time hanging out with these high schoolers.   I had talked my husband into letting us host the high school youth group, figuring we were already set up for a party, teenager parties are low key, and heck, what’s a new addition for if not for making it available for gatherings like this.  As teenagers kept pouring in, I really started to wonder if I had done the right thing.  Folks were stepping over and around each other.  All I can say is, I’ll do it again next year if they’ll let me.  One daughter picked one teenager to hang out with.  The other daughter picked another teenager.  All three kids were delighted to get to go caroling with the big kids.  And it’s a wonderful juxtoposition to see these kids, some of whom I’ve seen grow up in the church, in the same house as my kids.

So weekend’s over, tomorrow’s a back to work day.  But I really enjoyed our tremendously busy weekend, and all of the folks who flowed into and out of our house.  If you were one of them, thank you for coming!  We really enjoyed having you!

Ohhhhh…  just randomly ran across this article on the Onion and HAD to post a link.   Just HAD to…

I won’t even spoil it by giving you anymore info about it.  Just go read it.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait. (If you need a clue before jumping over there, this post is tagged in my ‘Christianity’ category, and I did tell you the article’s on the Onion… )

OK, you’re back.  Loved it, I hope!  Think about that whole ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ bit as the economy tanks and your neighbor’s worried about their job and thus their house and their credit and their ability to support their kids.  Think about the ‘love thy neighbor as yourself’ part as you go past an Angel Tree on your way to hunt down the latest toy for you or your kids.  Think about the ‘love thy neighbor as yourself’ part as you dream of Christmas bonuses and hear on the news of food pantries running low.  And if you need any other ideas, feel free to let me know.  And then hold me accountable, too, because that’s also loving your neighbor as yourself.

Two weekends ago, I had the privilege of being asked to give my Christian testimony to the high school youth group at our church.  I started hanging out with them last spring, when the youth director said they needed folks to come listen/talk/just basically be there for the kids.  I’ve known some of these kids since they were 4, so it’s really a lot of fun to get to hang out with the now.  Now, I’m the old lady they’re polite to, rather than the Sunday school or Pioneer Girl leader with all of the answers, but, hey, that’s life.  They’re at least polite.  :-)

So, in 10+ years of being a member of our church and of being a Christian, I’d never been asked to give my testimony before.  Our church does require that you speak with a deacon and an elder as part of the membership process and explain your faith, but I consider that a pretty friendly audience.  Giving these young adults something was going to be something entirely different.

I’ll talk more about how it went and how I prepared for it in later posts (yes, that does mean I have the intention of posting more frequently than I’ve done of late), but this is just a post to talk about why I think it was important for me to prepare to give a testimony.  Just to make clear how I’m using the word “testimony”, what I told the kids was how God called me to faith, where I had been, and how I knew that it was Him who called me.  There are other kinds of testimonies, having to do with what God’s doing in your life, and probably other things, as well, but the “come to faith” kind was what I gave.

My path to faith wasn’t the same as most of these kids.  For one, I never was in a Sunday school or youth group.  I became a Christian as an adult.  And mine wasn’t a lightning bolt experience, or a Paul on the road to Emmaus experience.  God used people and circumstances to bring me to Him, but there was nothing I’ve ever recognized as a pivotal moment.  Just a buildup to what became to me a natural acceptance of His plan and His glory.  Sometimes I wish I had had the Emmaus moment.  Instead, I got to wrestle with whether I was just going with the flow, or whether I was going with God’s flow.   I’ve wrestled with that before, but in prepping my testimony, I got to revisit it, and see if the evidence I looked to was sufficient to be convincing to others, and/or if there was something in my path whose description might help one of the kids.

I was very glad to give my testimony, and very glad when the giving it was over.  Turned out conveying it was useful to me, in terms of structuring my own thinking, and bringing to mind some things I hadn’t considered in a while.  One of the layman leaders in our church occasionally gives sessions on how to structure and present your testimony.  I’m planning on catching the next one that I can.  Doing it was a real gift to me; I’m hoping being able to do it again will somehow help someone else.  If NOTHING else, seeing other folks do it might give someone else the idea to think through their own, and have an answer ready if someone asks why they’re a Christian, and how it impacts their life.