Sunday, March 24, 2013

To Suffer Is to Be Human: Is Suffering A Necessary Component of Humanity?

Is suffering a necessary component of humanity?
Jesus went through more physical and emotional suffering during His time on earth than most people could withstand in their lifetimes without wishing for their own death. And yet, Christ did not wish for His own death. His faith remained strong, and He sought the Father’s love through it to the end.
Many people have asked why Jesus needed to suffer, to save us from sin. If God is really God, why couldn’t He just take away the sin, and we could be done with it?
But as I sit here tonight contemplating the death and resurrection of Christ, I keep asking myself; if Christ had not suffered, would His humanity have been believable? If Christ had not suffered, as countless people suffer each day throughout the world, would reconciliation to the Father have been possible for all of humanity?
We often view suffering through the eyes of evil, which most suffering is a product of. And yet, Paul gives us a different picture:
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10.
Paul, during his lifetime, as many of you know, was persecuted. He was not only persecuted for what he believed, but for who he was within early Christianity. It was in those times of suffering that Paul was able to give us a glimpse into God’s will for our relationships with the Lord. It was through that suffering that a theology that was divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit was shaped and formed in the mind of this man who was abused for being a follower of Christ.  
It is an unpopular opinion, that suffering would encourage and bring faith to the heart of the believer, but I have realized that in my own life, this has been true. During the easy times, during the times when I think I have it all together and life is going well, I tend to lean on my own understanding. I tend to begin believing in my own confidence, my own ability, and stop leaning on who God is, what He is doing, and His will for my life. When the suffering comes along, it brings me back to the feet of the Father. It leads me back to the foot of the cross, which in turn places me back into the suffering that Jesus went through on that cross. Through His suffering, I can see that I am not alone. I am not crushed. I do not despair. Because God is with me. And I can share in the suffering of Jesus on the cross through His death, so that God can make new life in the body I live in today.
This does not mean we need to seek out suffering. It does not mean we must put ourselves in positions that cause suffering in our lives to find our way back to God. It does not mean that God ordains suffering, because through His Son’s suffering, God is giving us another way out. He is extending grace so that we can have reconciliation with Him. It does mean that God allows suffering, and although we cannot and do not ever understand it or wish it to be in our lives, it does mean that He will be with us through it. It does mean that we can seek the Lord’s face, and His Will, will be done in the earth. And that “the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies…” 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Body Confidence No Matter What Size

As I have shared on my blog before, I love going to Zumba. I really love working out, but it is something I do not get the chance to do all the time. With a family of six, dad working full time as a youth pastor, and mom going to school full time, our time is limited. Luckily, I have found a Zumba class in town that meets twice a week in the evenings. I have been able to go the last month or so, and it has helped my anxiety and stress level recede tremendously, which I am thankful for.

Although I love going, I have noticed some attitudes with the other ladies in class about my presence. It is not that they have said anything about my weight before (at least, I would not know because half of them speak in Spanish), but it is the way they look at me. Many of the other “big” women in the class stand in the back corners, all in black, hoping that no one see’s them. They love coming, and they are great dancers, but the majority of them are trying to hide.

If you know me at all, you know that is not how I operate. I am not a hider, and I have been on stage since the age of nine as a singer. I have always loved being the center of attention (sad but true), so being up front does not bother me at all. I can see the instructor better, see myself in the mirror and see if I am doing the moves correctly, and I just like up front better. It is just who I am, who I have always been.

The problem comes when other women in the class expect me to hide like the other women. They seem completely confused as to why I am confident in my body and willing to look like a fool no matter what I am doing. Both gyms I have attended were this way. There was just a general sense of them not really getting why I could care less about being in front of other people as a big girl. Big girls in movies are funny when they want to be up front (Big Amy in Pitch Perfect) but people are not really sure what to do with that type of person in real life. They are not sure how to respond, since most of our self confidence and body assurance tends to come from what we look like.

I pray that at some point, I can point out that my confidence does not come from myself. I cannot and do not do what I do of my own accord, because without the help of a Father who loves me no matter what size I am, I know that I would completely avoid the gym forever. When I go to Zumba and shake it, I am doing it to look good in front of everyone else there. I am going because I love to dance, I love feeling good, and I love to work out. No matter what size I am, those things are true. I thoroughly enjoy living outside their stereotypes, and being the woman that God created me to be: fearless, sure of myself because of whose I am, and am willing to look like an idiot because it is fun. I will continue to do these things whether or not I am 500 pounds or 100 pounds, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I know whose I am, and that’s all that counts. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Anna: How God Reminded Me to be Faithful

Last night after a particularly hard day, I warily went to bed around 11 to go to sleep. I was exhausted and ready to crash, but for some reason had a very unsettled heart and mind. The Lord pushed for me to go read my Bible, and if any of you know me well, being up until midnight is not my usual cup of tea. I do not often stay up past eleven, and if I do it is for something specific. Anyway, God told me to stay up and read, so I did.
I have a study Bible with various themes to study in the back of the Bible, so I chose to study the women of the New Testament. Most of them I have heard before; Mary, Mary Magdalene, Elizabeth, etc. but the first name on the list was Anna. I was left wondering who the heck Anna was, and then looked toward Luke 2:36 through 38. I read through the small area about her and then decided to read through the chapter to get a better idea of how and why she is introduced in the story.
When Simeon is mentioned in Luke 2:25 he is described as righteous and devout… a good Jewish prophet who expected the return of the Messiah and felt his life had been fulfilled by seeing Jesus and proclaiming “He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and He is the glory of your people Israel!” (32). Simeon is the one that is seen in all the movies proclaiming Jesus as Messiah. I had never noticed how Simeon’s proclamation as a Jewish man, is followed by a proclamation by Anna, the Galilean woman.
After further research, I find that by this time there was an incredible amount of tension between the Gentiles and the Jews. They did not like one another, let alone worship together at the temple. But Luke, in writing this book of the Bible, had to have seen an opportunity to demonstrate who Jesus came to save. Through both Simeon and Anna, God is telling us… He did not just come for the Jewish man; He came for the Gentile woman as well. This demonstration of Christ’s love for all of humanity is certainly powerful as Jesus was just an infant at the time.
Although this is part of the story, I also noticed that significance was placed on Anna’s widowhood. She had been married for seven years as a young woman, but never married again. They are unsure if the text means that she lived until eighty four years old, or if she had lived for another eighty four years after the death of her husband, but either way that’s a long time to live alone and unmarried as a woman in this cultural context. There was no possible way for her to own land, make money, or be considered a significant part of society. As a woman of that age, she was completely dependent on the men in her life for her survival. And yet, she chose not to remarry.
Instead, Anna (meaning grace and also the same as the name Hannah) (Ward) decided to practically live in the temple, praying and worshiping all hours of the day and night. She did not leave when everyone else left, she continued to pray and worship. Once she saw Jesus, she continued to tell everyone about his presence, that He was indeed the Messiah.
Through this story, I believe Luke is showing us just how faithful Anna was. She depended on God for everything, giving all of her time and energy to fasting and prayer. Simeon was righteous and devout, but Anna the Gentile was faithful. She never strayed from her worship, but steadfastly lived a life of worship as a prophetess.
As I doubted what God was doing in my life last night, and in my family’s life, God gave me a not so subtle reminder to be faithful, regardless of the circumstances that we may find ourselves in.  Through fasting and prayer, and steadfast dedication to Jesus Christ and the will of God in our lives, we will be doing exactly what God has called us to do. There is no promise of health, wealth and prosperity, but there is the promise of the coming Messiah. And just as God sent His Son the first time and chose to take our sin upon Him, God will send His Son again. We must remain faithful, steadfast in prayer and fasting, and continue to worship Him regardless of the hardships we may find ourselves in throughout our lives. If Anna can do it during her lifetime, I know that God can give me the strength to do the same.

Works Cited

Ward, Doug. Anna the Prophetess and the Hope of Israel. 28 Dec 2006. 16 March 2013.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Me? Perfect? Ha ha ha ha ha...

I am still becoming the woman God wants me to be. I think there are times that everyone looks at me, the youth pastor’s wife, and thinks I am all perfect and petrified. I have areas of my life together, but there are still ways I mess up on a daily basis. One particular instance comes to mind from last week when I reacted to criticism exactly like my father, which is not a good way to react. I am not going to share the details, but realizing how I had reacted directly after I had done it was a humiliating experience, to say the least.
It seems as though when I feel that things are going well and I have it together, past problems, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities spring up inside me. I may not have done or reacted like that in months, yet somehow it just happens out of nowhere. It’s frustrating, humiliating, and completely annoying. It does not help that it happens more often when I am feeling yucky or sick, and then it just seems like I tend to use a million excuses to make the responsibility anyone’s but mine, which is the worst part of it all.
I am working hard to take responsibility for my faults and problems, while taking them to Christ so that He can help me change them. It takes prayer, scripture, and the continual ability to say I am sorry whenever the snake that is sin turns its head in my direction.  
Thankfully, I believe that there is hope in these situations. Just as Paul comments in Romans 7:15, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate,” (NLT). I realize that what I want to do is not as powerful as what happens. But with Christ, I know that there is hope that one day this power will have no place in my life.
As I continue to look forward to that day, there is a simple remedy to when I realize that this happens. That remedy is to just be willing to say I am sorry, when it happens, and to be willing to go to another person in humility. It is a difficult, embarrassing thing to do, but it is absolutely freeing. Once that apology happens, I can let that incident go in my head and heart, and know that I did what Christ asks me to do.
I think more Christians need to learn how to fess up to their faults in every way, and simply ask for forgiveness. We cannot pretend to be perfect any more than we can pretend to be walruses… people are going to see that it’s just an act. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

My Purpose Fulfilled in the Creator

As a woman, who is a stay at home mom pursuing a ministry degree, and has been a stay at home mom for nearly nine years, I am irritated by anyone telling me what I can and cannot do. I am frustrated that male leadership in America has continually attempted to tell women what their “role” is. I am frustrated that women place restrictions on one another based on what they feel the feminine role is. I am seriously annoyed when anyone claims to have the down low on what every person of a certain gender should or should not be. It is entirely ridiculous and completely untrue.

I just finished watching the PBS documentary Makers: Women Who Make America and I suggest each of you watch it. Yes, it tells the story of the women’s liberation movement, but it also tells the stories of countless women who disagreed with them. I found it particularly refreshing that they showed both sides of a problem that continues to grow today, and once it was finished I kept thinking about how the problem really comes from certain people, telling other people, how to be human. We think we have to define humanity by what we do, by what we believe, and by who we are. But I would like to suggest a different alternative; let us be defined by WHOSE we are, and ask God to lead us.

Men, women, children, and all races are capable of doing what God will call them to do. As a human being, we all possess the inherent relation of being a child of God, regardless of whether or not we believe that is the case. When we talk about what women should or should not do, we attempt to define that on human terms without really ever asking God for input, while turning to a few specific bible verses to proof text our opinions. In this way of interpreting the Bible, we do not begin with asking God how to interpret Scripture, we are telling God what our opinion is then seeing if the Lord agrees. Is this Biblical? Is this what the Bible was written for? Again, this is not asking God who He is, but instead telling God who we want Him to be. The God I serve can never be so small.

Just as God is unfathomable to the human mind, I believe that humanity can be anything that God has created it to be. Women can be leaders, mothers, teachers, CEO’s, or choose to be at home with their children. Men can be these things as well, while caring for their children just as well as their female counterparts. Just as God can be our Father, Mother, Brother and Sister, humanity reflects God’s purpose in this: we can be anything that the Lord calls us to be. My purpose is fulfilled in my Creator, not in the role I play with the created.

For reasons I cannot explain, I grew up believing in my inherent ability to do what God calls me to do. I never felt pressured to be or do certain things, or fulfill certain roles. I pray that I can raise my children to be the same while unapologetically living out this truth in their lives; that God can and will equip them for every aspect of godly living no matter what “role” they may find themselves in. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Being Set Apart.

Sometimes it’s hard being set apart for God’s purpose. There are times I feel so close to the church family that I feel they are my family, and yet the times I am with my real family, feel so completely separate and on the side. I am not as fun as other family members, in their opinion, and not worth spending time with, because all I do is go to church. It is a hard thing to be in ministry, when the rest of your family does not seem to be interested.

I suppose I am feeling sorry for myself, and I know that there are worse problems in the world. And yet, it has been searingly hurtful for me. I feel like I am participating in a dodge ball game and constantly getting picked last, while I am the only one providing water and Gatorade for the whole team. I am always the one serving… without ever receiving the same love and consideration in return.

Which makes me wonder how often God feels that way from me. Have I been giving Him the time He deserves? The praise He alone is worthy for? Giving adoration to God just because He created me? If I feel this hurt from humans just because they are my blood, how much pain does God feel for those He Created who choose to walk away from a relationship with Him?
These questions do nothing to lessen the hurt I feel, but it is easier when the burden is shared. It makes walking this (at times) lonely road that much easier, to know that God feels that times a billion for His children who choose to walk away. I can share that pain with Him, and He understands and knows my heart. It really comes down to wishing they could love me as I love them, but without Christ, is that possible?

Do any of you have difficulty with your familial relationships in feeling disconnected because of your faith?