In which I brag on my high school girls…

Today when I met with the group of 10th grade girls I mentor we talked about our goals and plans for the year. As a part of planning some of our discussions, I had each of them brainstorm quietly on a piece of paper a few topics they’d like us to address. When I brought them home and started to read them, I was BLOWN AWAY by not only the depth of their thoughts but the breadth! I love to brag on these wonderful ladies, so I thought I’d share my compiled outline of their thoughts. I’ve reworded and done a tad of fleshing out (like on “sin”) to make it be a proper outline, but all the ideas are theirs — there is not a topic here that doesn’t come from what they wrote down!

Suggested Discussion Topics for 2013-2014

1. Who Is God?

  • Character & attributes

2. How do we experience God?

  • Do you have a personal relationship with God?
  • Do you ever think God’s not listening or you don’t see him in your daily life?
  • Talking to God (Prayer)
    • What is prayer?
    • Why should we pray?
    • How should / do we pray?
    • What experiences do we have with prayer? (Is God answering your prayers?)

3. Why does God matter to us?

  • Sin.
    • What is sin?
    • What does God think about sin? / How does sin affect our relationship with God?
  • Salvation.
    • How does God “fix” sin?
    • Repentance, Forgiveness, & Reconciliation.
      • What does it mean to “repent”?
      • What is forgiveness?
  • Predestination vs. Free Will

4. What does it mean to be a Christian? / How do we respond to God?

  • What is a Christian?
  • Church history / denominational family tree
  • What does the Bible say Christians should do / be like?

Love God

  • What is worship?
  • How can we love God (more) ?
  • How do I be more Christ-like / How do I live out my faith?

Love Others

  • What does it mean to love my neighbor? / Who is my neighbor?
  • Loving my enemies
  • The body of Christ: Community, Encouragement, etc.

General

  • What is the Bible? How should / do I read it?
  • How to be an example / mentor
  • Dealing with tough stuff (e.g. death, depression, loneliness, etc.)
  • The female body: body image, modesty, etc.
  • School: Managing time wisely
  • How to be a light at a Christian school (dealing with disagreement / hypocrisy)
  • Revenge
  • Witnessing: Being a light / telling others about Christ
  • What does the Bible say about how to be a righteous woman?
  • Being a Christian even in the midst of “coolness” / Dealing with peer pressure
  • Healthy relationships
    • Family
    • Romantic
    • Friends
    • Dealing with conflict
    • Gossip / accountability

Ok, folks — there is PREDESTINATION on there! I am so impressed. (Not to mention my other mentee / friend, who just started her own blog with the question “What is sin?” I mean really — how do I get to be friends with all these fantabulous humans???)

Advertisements

In which God says, “SRSLY???”

Today in Chronological Bible-Reading Land — the epic conclusion to the story of Israel’s great rebellion against Yahweh’s plan to lead them to the Promised Land!

Previously, on “The Book of Numbers”… Israel is racing toward Canaan, prepared to overrun them and inhabit the land promised to them by God. But when they arrive, they are cautious — they send twelve spies to scout the territory and report back. Once they see the giants who live there, ten of the spies are so afraid that they lose their faith and make the people believe the land is awful and they’re all going to die. Only two men — Joshua son of Nun and Caleb, a foreigner — stand between Israel and total rebellion against God. Will they be able to save their people?

Short answer: No. Unfortunately the people cave in to mass panic and basically say, “Wahhhhhhh, things are scary! Now we’re going to die horrible, violent deaths and our children will be carried off as plunder! It would have been better if we had died (horribly and violently…) in Egypt (after which their children would have grown up as slaves…) instead of coming here! Just kill us now — we may as well die in the wilderness instead!!”

Then God says, “SRSLY????”

And I don’t blame Him at all! You’d think after all those miracles that the nation of Israel was privileged to witness that they might have a teensy bit more staying power in the face of adversity. I mean, let’s review the list of miracles these folks have witnessed since being slaves in Egypt:

  • The Ten Plagues. You know — locusts and darkness and boils– oh my! (Oh yeah, and also that all of these plagues ONLY AFFECTED EGYPTIANS. What.) Exodus 7-12
  • The Parting of the Red Sea. Red Sea or Reed Sea debate notwithstanding, God arranged for a large body of water to allow Israel through… and then drown an entire battalion of Egyptian charioteers. Y’know, no big deal. Exodus 14
  • Bread of heaven. Once they made it to the desert, the Israelites were fed by God literally making it rain food. Exodus 16
  • Water from a stone. Then, once the Israelites were a bit thirsty, God made a rock become a water fountain… with enough for all two million Israelites. Exodus 17
  • Epic battle-wins. As long as Moses kept his hands raised to heaven, the Israelites would be winning battles. (Too bad Israel didn’t have a football team…) Exodus 17
  • God comes for a visit. When God and Moses had the first summit meeting (yuk yuk yuk), God set the whole mountain on fire and announced himself with trumpet blasts. (But even that wasn’t enough to stop the Israelites from worshiping a cow made of their melted earrings instead…) Exodus 19-20 God also frequently signified his presence with pillars of cloud and fire over the tabernacle. Exodus 33, Numbers 9, et al.
  • Holy Moses! After speaking with God face-to-face, Moses’ face literally glowed. Exodus 34
  • “…I got better!” When Miriam spoke against her brother, God struck her with leprosy… and then healed her. Numbers 12

So, after all this, after ALLLLLLL these miracles that they’ve witnessed with their own eyes… the Israelites are terrified of a few “giants” that are currently inhabiting the land that God has promised to give to them.

Sigh. Good thing God has more patience than I do! But after all this, even He gets a bit upset. He decrees that for their mind-blowingly stupid disobedience (okay, maybe God didn’t use quite those words…) their consequence is to wander in the desert for 40 years — one year for every day of spying — until all the Doubty Mc Doubtersons have died in the wilderness, like they wanted.

Whoops. Be careful what you wish for has gone to a whooooole new level here.

What really gets me, though, is that even after all this the Israelites persist in their childish whining and ineffective attempts to manipulate God. It goes something like this:

God: You’d rather die in the wilderness? Okay. Request granted.

Israel: …On second thought, all that milk and honey sounds real nice. How about we go to the Promised Land now? We’re just gonna stroll on over…

Moses: Don’t go over there, you dummies! God said you’re gonna die in the wilderness, and so you will. If you climb over that hill you’re gonna get whupped by the locals.

Israel: Oh, come on, it’ll be fun — Ow! Ow! Ow!

Wow. Seriously silly stuff. It gives me a lot more empathy for Moses when he gripes about the rough lot of being the leader and divine intercessor for these knuckleheads.

Anyway, so then presumably the Israelites realize that God means business and get ready for some serious sand dune-age. But then, my chronological Bible plan sends me to this beautiful psalm attributed to Moses. No idea if it actually lines up with this story, but it is certainly a thematic match for what Moses and the Israelites must have been feeling as the reality of “40 years of wilderness and then you die” set in.

In amidst the honest lamentations of God’s wrath and the shortness of life come some beautiful statements of faith and supplication, which are all the more powerful when you think of the probable context. (I think this psalm is very appropriate for Lent, too!) So today, I will leave you with these favorite bits from Psalm 90:

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us —
yes, establish the work of our hands.

Back to the Bible…

Wow. So I just looked and the last time I posted on here about my Bible-reading was in September. Yikes! Part of that is because, well, I haven’t been so good at my Bible-reading lately. (Which is bad not because reading the Bible every day makes you a good Christian, but because when I read the Bible daily-ish I feel more peaceful about life.) But no worries — I have returned to my Bible-reading plan of choice just in time to share with you some thoughts about Leviticus today! Woohoo!

I’m not gonna lie — I’m kind of excited to be done with Leviticus. It’s not the most engaging of narratives… in fact, it’s not a narrative, but a list of rules and guidelines. But even amidst all those regulations about goats and shekels I found an interesting tidbit today:

All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it. (Lev. 26:35)

This comes during God’s explanation of the consequences for repeatedly rejecting and disobeying God’s laws. I find it fascinating that the earth/land is personified as a victim of the people’s sinful rejection of God. Because the people have forsaken God’s commands (including the lying fallow of the land during the jubilee years), one consequence of their disobedience is not only to be driven from their homes but for the land they have abused to be taken from them and let to rest as it should.

Hmm… yet another verse emphasizing our call to care for our earth. It makes me wonder how so many people thought (and still think) that the earth was/is our plaything to be used or abused at will.

Humans sure have a messed-up view of authority. For example, we are given “dominion” over the land — but as we see here, that should mean careful, tender guardianship, not selfish exploitation. Same with people (usually men) who really push male headship — if you really believe in that, it should mean you lovingly care for and support your wife, not control or rule her. Same with children — parents should take “raise them up in the way they should go” as a call to Christ-like modeling and tender care, not a controlling demeanor of punishment and “justice”.

God doesn’t control us! As strange as it sounds, God actually allows us the free will to make our own decisions, for good or ill, up to and including rejecting him. (And he gives us a lot of do-overs, too!)

So where do we get the idea that leadership equals domination and guidance equals control?

“The Lord watches over the WAY of the righteous…”

Psalm 1

Blessed is he who walks after the lord
But the way of the wicked will perish

I find that I read this Psalm eschatologically / moralistically: the way of wickedness – wicked acts – are lost and perish because they do not align with God’s victorious plan. I don’t really read it like “the righteous will go to heaven and the wicked to hell”, because Jesus repeatedly debunks that notion. And although the intro and body talk about God blessing the person, the conclusion says

“The Lord watches over the WAY of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.”

The way of the righteous – righteous acts, a righteous way of being – indeed align with God’s victorious plan, and thus prosper. If my way is to do bad things, but the universe ends up good, my way perished. If my way is to do good things, and the universe ends up good, my way prospered. I cooperated and participated in God’s plan, instead of failing against it.

I read it this way, because the view/teaching that “good things will happen to good people and bad to bad” doesn’t hold water from any angle — Job and even other psalms show that often the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer in this life. But I might be wrong. The author may have actually meant it this way at the time. The psalmist may have really felt that good will happen to good people. It would be in strong alignment with, say, most of Proverbs.

But even if the author DID mean it that way, which seems somewhat probable to me, I reinterpret it for myself from a “wider perspective of scripture, philosophy, and observations about life” to mean “good acts prosper and bad acts fail in a universe that ends up victoriously good”. My move to reinterpret, however, may be a knee jerk, based in the desire to have each passage be based on an underlying “absolute-truth-revelation nugget” posessed by the author and expressed into his subjective context. Why am I unwilling to let David be wrong for a chapter? Wasn’t Job wrong from time to time? I think I (and others) end up doing some funny things to passages when we read them with assumptions (or at very least, the wrong assumptions) about what the nature of the truth they contain must be.

What do you think David meant by this?
What do you “do with” this passage?

Scenes from Exodus Four: Part Two

In Exodus chapter four, God is preparing Moses for the eventual outcome of Pharaoh’s hard-hearted resistance to God’s commands: the death of the firstborn. I’ve always struggled with that particular plague, since it seems like an awful lot of death on account of one man’s stubbornness, but this time around I noticed a passage that changed my understanding:

“Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.'” (4:22-23, emphasis added)

Somehow I never noticed this line before, but it illuminates the Exodus story in a whole new way for me.

Israel is God’s chosen people, his heir, his family, his children. And Egypt (represented in and personified by Pharaoh) has been killing God’s heirs, working them to the bone during 400 years of slavery and sometimes even targeting them outright. In fact, the mass murder of Hebrew sons is what set the scene for Moses’ whole life story, and those “deaths of the firstborn” draw a clear parallel with this plague. Because Egypt has been killing God’s “sons”, in return, Pharaoh and all Egypt will lose their sons.

It’s still a lot of death — the “eye for an eye” mentality prevalent in the Old Testament is much heavier on justice than my little grace-saturated brain likes — but when I stop and think of how many Israelite men and boys (and women and girls) were killed over the space of four hundred years, and the intense suffering the Israelites endured, and the sorrow and despair into which I imagine the Israelites sank, it makes a little more sense that the Egyptians would be made to have some empathy and understanding for what they put God’s people through.

What parts of the Bible do you struggle with?

Scenes from Exodus Four: Part One

So Moses is pretty self-deprecating. I mean, I get that he’s literally looking God in the face (in the branches?) here in Exodus 4, but he sure comes up with a lot of reasons for why he’d make a lousy spokesman. He’s too slow, he wouldn’t know what to say, he’s not worthy, and so on. Eventually, after several lame excuses including “I’m a bad public speaker”, God finally lets Moses have it, Job-style:

“Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and teach you what to say.” (4:11-12)

Sounds pretty final, doesn’t it? I’m sure it’d knock my socks off. God gives Moses a little smack-down to remind him of God’s sovereignty and ends the matter with “now go” — but he also throws in a little reassurance at the end, promising to help Moses and teach him what to say. How nice! Let’s see how Moses responds:

But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (4:13)

WHAAAT??? Props for manners, but didn’t God say “now go”? Isn’t this over with? Did you really just get called on running out of excuses and then point-blank REFUSE God’s command with a petulant “I just don’t wanna”? I’ve never seen anyone be so brash on behalf of their own incompetence!

Moses’ statement here reveals what’s really behind his excuses: defiance. It’s not about being a bad public speaker — he simply doesn’t want to follow God’s commands. He just wants to sit around with his isolated little desert tribe and take care of sheep. Much simpler that way.

It’s funny how we humans can even use humility to defy God.

Of course, we’re all aware of the prideful side of defiance; Satan is an oft-cited reminder of the dangers of self-elevation. But there can be a sort of defiance in excessive self-deprecation as well. When we refuse to acknowledge the gifts God has given us — when we bury our “talents” in the ground — that is defiance. When we insist that we can never do it and deny God’s ability to help us overcome the challenges he’s given us — that is defiance. And as we see with Moses, defiance looks just as prideful, stupid, and shocking when it grows out of self-deprecation as when it grows from self-inflation.

But before we rag on Moses too much, let’s remember that we’re not exactly lily-white angels here.

It’s never easy to admit, but we, too, defy God, and like Moses we try to hide our defiance behind excuses. “They’d never want me on the worship team — I’m just not good enough.” “I can’t bring that up at a board meeting — I’d only mess it up anyway.” “God can’t really be calling me to do that — I must be hearing things.” We gasp at Moses’ impertinence to suppose that he can say “no” to God — and then we do the exact same thing.

Yes, we should make sure that what we hear is really God’s call, but once we’re reasonably certain the call is from God, it is our job to follow, not avoid.

Do we really think that God doesn’t know about our failings as well as our talents? Do we really think that God doesn’t already know how busy our schedules are, or how much we hate public speaking? Do we really expect God to say, “Oh! Well, I thought you would be just the right person to love this neighbor — but now that I know you couldn’t possibly drop anything from your busy, busy schedule — what was I thinking?”

Seriously, folks.

We are not called to be perfect at the cost of never taking risks. We are not called to tell God what we can and cannot do. We are not called to sit on our arses and tend our little sheep in comfort and isolation.

We are called to be faithful. To God.

That’s not always easy. The experience of most people today is that God’s communications with us are vastly more ambiguous and subtle than burning bushes that say “now go”. But it would be foolish to assume that ambiguity equals no communication at all. God’s call and voice can come through observation of the world (Rom 1:20), through quiet whispers (1 Kings 19:11-13), or even through “just knowing” that something is the right thing to do. These may seem like fuzzy and unclear half-calls to us, and following them could possibly even be a mistake if we’re wrong. But even in the midst of that uncertainty, sometimes we must lay aside our fears, our self-deprecation and our hidden pride and simply “now go”.

Righteous Facepalm

This morning’s reading was Genesis 19-21. Much of this territory is very familiar to me, but today I was particularly struck by Abraham’s deception and folly. Back in Genesis 12, we read the story of Abraham telling the Egyptians that Sarah was his sister, only to have her taken into Pharaoh’s harem and barely rescued by God’s intervention, which forces Abraham to tell the truth and earns him a lecture from Pharaoh, who appears to value honesty more than God-fearing Abraham. Wow, nice one, Abraham.

But apparently Abraham hasn’t learned his lesson, because he does it AGAIN in Genesis 20. Upon entering the land ruled by Abimelek, Abraham decides it’s a great idea to return to his harebrained scheme and again insists that Sarah is his sister, not his wife. She is again taken by the king because of her great beauty (anyone else think this is weird considering frequent comments about her old age?) and the royal household is cursed with barrenness until Abimelek speaks with God in a dream and then confronts Abraham about his deception, to which Abraham lamely replies, “But I was scared… and besides, I wasn’t totally lying… she is my sister, sorta…”

Seriously, Abraham??

Not once, but twice, Abraham acts as if he has zero confidence in God’s protection and tells a ridiculous lie to save his own skin — with no regard, I might add, for his wife being made someone else’s wife! Not only that, but both times he is rebuked for his dishonesty by the very foreigners whose supposed covetousness and lack of “fear of God” he cites as reason for his deception.

Some patriarch of the faith!

We see here an example of the apparently oft-occurring biblical theme of the “righteous” being shown up by “unbelievers” and the normal order being turned upside-down. This idea crops up again and again throughout both the Old and New Testaments: Jonah, the Pharisees, and the parable of the Good Samaritan, just to name a few.

I’m gonna be honest — I don’t entirely know what this means. I mean, I feel like it’s something about not judging people or creating false hierarchies — the quote about “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” comes to mind — but what does that mean? Stopping at that quote — as if we have our answer — would be a cop-out that ignores the complexity of this idea and the importance imparted by its frequency of appearance. What I will say is that, having identified it as a pretty major theme, I will be watching for this idea to crop up again, and perhaps I will understand more the next time I encounter it.