Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Redemptive Pursuit

I am beyond excited to tell you about an amazing project that I am honored to be a part of. 

My dear friend Lauren called one day with an idea. The idea was to create a weekly devotional designed especially for women. Lauren did not feel this was a need because there aren't resources out there. But rather, she felt it was a need because so many of us have been steeped in these amazing resources and should share them with others. In short, we have been blessed by ministries at our churches, colleges, and elsewhere, and we desire to bless others in return. Out of this desire to help women grow in faith, hope, and love, Lauren has rallied a team of contributors. I am privileged to be part of this team, which will continue to change and grow over time.

About The Redemptive Pursuit:

The Redemptive Pursuit is a weekly devotional for women seeking to serve God from where they are. We believe that we are redeemed by the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ.  We seek to live out the reality of our redemption in thought, word, and deed in order to bring glory to God.

The Redemptive Pursuit seeks to help women do this in three ways:

1) By equipping women to grow in their relationships with God through application of scripture and prayer. (Heb.10:24-25)

2) By comforting women in their hurts with the knowledge of God's sovereignty and love.  (2 Cor. 1:3-4)

3) By inspiring women to look at their lives with a focus on God's current and coming Kingdom. (2 Cor. 4:18)


If you are a woman or simply want to have great material with which to minister to women, here's how you can get involved:

1) Receive our weekly devotional via email by filling out this form.

2) Check out our website at www.theredemptivepursuit.com.

3) Follow RPDevotionals on Twitter.

4) Join the Facebook community with others reading The Redemptive Pursuit.

Our official launch is Monday, April 4th! Stay tuned as we continue to discover new ways to serve and strengthen women in all stages of life.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Future Not Our Own

055 Monsenor Oscar Romerophoto © 2010 Greg Poulos | more info (via: Wylio)

Today marks the 31st anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. In his honor, I post some of his most haunting (and true) words:

"It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.  The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.  Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.  No statement says all that could be said.  No prayer fully expresses our faith.  No confession brings perfection.  No pastoral visit brings wholeness.  No program accomplishes the church's mission.  No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.  We plant the seeds that one day will grow.  We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.  We lay foundations that will need further development.  We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.  We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.  We are prophets of a future not our own."

These words have been deeply meaningful to me. When I left NYC, they helped me walk away. When I left staff at BU, they helped me trust in God's plan. And now, they continue to ring true. We are to be common laborers in a greater Kingdom--a Kingdom that will last.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

You Deserve It

Gift :Dphoto © 2010 mmlolek | more info (via: Wylio)To those who know me very well, there is little hiding how I feel about the word deserve. The D-word is one of the most abused, misused, and overused words in America.

I was reminded of what I deserve when I was meditating on Christ's second word from the cross: "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43 NASB). What happens just before this utterance to warrant such an amazing statement from Jesus?

"One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!" But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" (Luke 23:39-42 NASB)

We are constantly hearing that we deserve happiness, deserve time off, deserve to find someone who loves us and treats us well, deserve the biggest car/house/bank account possible. And, to be frank, these are all lies. They're not lies because we don't work hard, or because we should have low standards for ourselves. They are lies because these things are pure gifts; and you can't earn gifts.

Yes, we should take time off from work to spend with our families and those we love. But we don't deserve this time because we worked hard all week/year/career. Rest is a gift from God. We are allowed to rest because God has finished all of the work that needs to be done, has paid the penalty of our individual and collective eternal inner murmur, and gives us rest so that we can reflect upon His work, not our own. Likewise, we do not deserve love, wealth, blessings, peace, or health.

So what do we deserve? To be blunt, we deserve hell. I know hell is a hot topic right now in American Christian circles, and I'm not going to weigh in because I feel enough people have weighed in already. (My pastor's take, which is satisfying to me.) But whatever you want to call complete separation from God and His blessings, that is what we deserve. We deserve to be left to our own devices, enslaved to ourselves. We deserve loneliness because we are selfish; we deserve weariness because we are never satisfied; we deserve war because we feed it with our words of hate. 

Yes, we have blessings here on Earth. But they are all because God has not removed Himself from our fallen world. We as Christians are called to put our faith in God's Kingdom, which is both beyond this world and also constantly at work within this world. And God's Kingdom is a Kingdom of grace, not of karma.

So next time someone announces something awesome on Facebook (adoption, engagement, graduation, job promotion, admission to a great school, retirement, etc), stop yourself from joining in the lies. Be congratulatory and sincere, but do not be deceived; they do not deserve it. Everything worth celebrating is a gift.

There is a criminal in heaven with Jesus today. And we don't know much about his religious background, his understanding of theology, or his way of life. But we do know that he saw himself rightly as a man deserving death and judgment. We have a lot to learn from him.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Seasons and Dogma

Four Seasons - Longbridge Roadphoto © 2008 b k | more info (via: Wylio)This is my first year on America's beautiful West Coast, and as such, this is the first year I have not experienced winter. (Say what you will, Californians, but a week of rain and some occasional 40 degree weather does not count as winter.) Because of this, it is March and Spring is already in full swing. Really. The roses are in bloom. Because of my upbringing on the East Coast (northern and southern), I was sure I knew how the seasons worked. But here, they are completely different and my experience-based knowledge is unhelpful. In Southern California, there seem to be two season: Hot and Dry, Warm and Not Dry (not wet mind you).

Why am I writing about this?

Well, in short it's been a good reminder to me of how finite my knowledge is, especially my experience-based knowledge. While it is true that there are four real seasons where I grew up, if I claimed that as a truth for the entire world, I would be full of bologna. However, I do this a lot in regard to people's personal walks with God and other matters of faith. "Oh, you start started reading Romans? Get ready for some headaches!" or "Have fun being engaged. It is great for a week and then sucks." or "You don't like any church? Oh, I completely understand!" When because of our own stories we say that people must progress in a certain way in their faith, relationships, attitude toward work, or anything else, we are making broad assumptions based on our own lives. And this is very self-centered of us. If we only believe God can work in one way because that's the way it happened with us, or our friend, or our Dad, or our pastor, then we are deceived. As God is not finite, His ability to meet each and every one of us where we are at and walk with us uniquely through life is real.

Hopefully I remember this very basic little lesson that the birds chirping outside my window at 2am (yes!) have taught me: Your life is probably different than mine, and that's okay. In fact, it's great!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Commenting Change

Hello readers!

I am writing to bring your attention to a big change that I just introduced on Following Jesus. In an attempt to make the comments section of each post more interactive, I am now utilizing a new comments platform. You will now be able to 'like' comments and comment on a comment itself, in a conversational way. Unfortunately, in installing this new feature, it seems that your old comments are no longer viewable. I will be working on this, as each and every one of those comments is super important to me. I can still see them behind the scenes, but for now, they appear as if they are gone. I assure you that they are not gone and I am seeking a solution. 

Thanks for bearing with me as I learn A LOT about hosting a website. 

Laura

Thursday, March 10, 2011

No Argument for God

By the time I left home for college, I had been ministered to by six different youth pastors/couples. Why six? Well, it's complicated. One big reason is that I moved when I was 16. But most of the story of going to multiple youth groups has to do with boys. I was dating or interested in a boy in all but two of these groups. And the rest of my story has to do with me wanting more answers than people could give. I have always been curious to the point of skepticism. And I often threw all of my questions about/problems with God at my youth pastors and demanded that they "fix it." Now, I feel bad for all six of these people/couples who tried to love me as Jesus would; I now realize how difficult and prideful I was. To all of you: I'm sorry. 

But, I also now know that I needed to ask a lot of hard questions. That was important to my faith. I'm sure I could have asked them more graciously, and that is the aspect of my journey that I wish I could change: my lack of appreciation, trust, and patience. None of my youth pastors made me feel bad about this behavior at the time, but I now know what it is like to be in their shoes. And boy, it's not fun. It's an honor and a privilege, but it's hard.

All that to say, John Wilkinson was one of the six. I remember once throwing a list of Bible-related questions at him and giving him something like a week to come up with answers. Hmm. Yea, not such a great tactic. I'm sorry, John. John also led a crazy Bible study with us (teenagers!) through the book of Revelation. Yeah, okay, who does that?!? John does, because he's courageous. But one thing I appreciated about John was that he never tried to dismiss my questions as unimportant or shame me into not asking/thinking them. He knew that doubt was a vital part of our journey with God. He never tried to argue me out of skepticism; He just let me sit in it and invited Jesus to be involved. And that was incredibly good for me.

And now, he's written a book called No Argument for God. I have yet to read the book, but it's #2 on my Amazon wishlist and it'll be in my hands once I rack up some more Amazon gift cards earned through Swagbucks. If you, like me, are weary of Christians treating the Bible like a science textbook or recipe box, and yet you are also weary of anti-intellectualism within the Church, this book should be a breath of fresh air. John embraces intellect and uses it to discuss the value of doubt and irrationality. 

One of the most important faith processes I underwent was the process of admitting that my brain was simply a human organ, and like my stomach and lungs, it was limited and finite. Admitting that God's story is magical and mysterious humbles us in our humanity. I watched this video of John talking about similar ideas today and now I can't wait to read it. 

"We have to realize that reason is very human-centered." -John Wilkinson

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

Crown of Thornsphoto © 2007 Doug1021 | more info (via: Wylio)

"But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.
Luke 23:34

As I begin my meditations on Christ's words as he hung on the cross with Luke 23:34, this song has been stuck in my head all morning. I hope it stays there.


O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.

Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.



(For the record, please sing this at my funeral.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Work and Rest

All content from "Work and Rest" by Timothy Keller at our old church, Redeemer Presbyterian, in NYC: 

You're being told here that through Jesus Christ you can look at your life, you can look at your self, and say, "It's absolutely satisfying; it's absolutely good. There is nothing else that needs to be done. It is good.  All the work that I need to do is finished." How can that be? How is it possible?

On the cross, Jesus is experiencing infinite restlessness, cosmic restlestness. Why? So that when he died, he is able to say, which he did, "It is finished." What is finished? Everything necessary for salvation for the most exacting conscience, for the most incredibly perfectionistic eternal inner murmur. Do you see that? In other words, Jesus Christ came to live the life you should've lived perfectly, to die the death you should've died (paid the penalty) perfectly, so that God looks at you...and in Christ, He says, "It is good. And everything necessary that you've got to do: it is finished."

You can say, "I rest not on my works but on His. Accept me not because of my work but because of His work."

You're not God; He is. You need to say to yourself, "I'm not the one who keeps the world running; I'm not the one who is bringing money to my family. I am not the one who is meeting my needs. I am not the one; God is the one. I am not God."


------
I needed to hear this today. I thought it was worth passing on to you. Download or listen to the whole thing here (last sermon on the page).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Seven Weeks of Lent

Open Bible with pen Antique Grayscalephoto © 2010 Ryk Neethling | more info (via: Wylio)
Usually Ash Wednesday comes and goes before I've had a chance to really make a decision about how I'm going to observe Lent. I observe Lent in untraditional ways.  I do so not out of obligation, but out of desire. I appreciate both Advent and Lent-- seasons where we meditate upon the bookends of Christ's life. And so this year I have ample time to make a decision about what I want to do during Lent. Ash Wednesday is next Wednesday, March 9th because Easter is not until April 24th this year. So, here's my plan:

Every week, starting on Ash Wednesday, I am going to do an in-depth study of one of the seven utterances of Jesus from the cross. I haven't started the study yet, but from light Googling there seems to be an agreed-upon order in which Jesus said them.

Week 1 (3/9): "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do."
Week 2 (3/16): "Truly, I tell you today, you shall be with Me in paradise."
Week 3 (3/23): "Woman behold your son." and "Behold your mother."
Week 4 (3/30): "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"
Week 5 (4/6): "I thirst."
Week 6 (4/13): "It is finished!"
Week 7 (4/20): "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit."

If any of you have any Bible study materials on this topic, I would love to hear your opinion of them. Or, if you've heard a good sermon on one of these sayings of Jesus, I'd love the link. I will probably do my own self-directed (er, the Holy Spirit lives in me) study, but I'd love to have other materials. My typical in-depth study involves a lot of word studies and commentaries.

I invite you to do this study as well if you would like to meditate deeply with me upon the death of Jesus and how it changed the world. I might or might not be blogging about this study; I don't plan on it, but I won't be surprised if I do so anyway. If you have other plans, I'd love to hear them as well. Some good suggestions I've encountered in the past are:

- Giving up sugar or chocolate

- Walking one mile a day while praying for different things each day (Mondays: your city; Tuesdays: your neighbors, Wednesdays: a global conflict, etc)

- Fasting from spending (no clothes, eating out, entertainment, etc)

- Fasting from Facebook, TV, or something else that distracts you from listening to God

- Bringing a meal to a homeless person (or someone you usually avoid) once a week and asking to hear his/her story while you eat together

And remember, let's focus on Jesus, not on ourselves. Fasting or devoting yourself to study during Lent does not make you cooler in God's eyes. These actions are not to become better people or to prove anything; they are meant simply to focus our attention upon Jesus in a new way.

***Update 3/4: I just took some three new projects for the next two weeks, so this in-depth study might not be quite as in-depth as I had planned, at least, not right away. Just keeping it real.

See my post Seven Weeks of Lent Reviewed from the end of this endeavor.
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