Saturday, November 15, 2008

Faith Irony

I wrote a paper for phd school this week. The assignment was to read a book assigned by the prof, pick and audience that might benefit from reading that book, and write a review of the book to encourage them to read it. I found it to be an interesting assignment, especially because I am somewhat obsessed with writing.

I decided to write the review for DCEs working with young adults. I began the review by talking about how researchers can sometimes overgeneralize their findings because they do not spend time in the field observing and working long term with the young adults about which they theorize. I explained how that creates a gap between theory and practice. I knew my intended audience would understand that those in academia often just don’t “get it” when it comes to what teachers and youth workers deal with on a daily basis. I wanted to point out how and why this particular book was different.

My professor sent my paper back with a comment saying he didn’t understand the point of my introduction.

Let’s chalk it up to my first experience with academic irony.

Okay, I will go back and rework the paper. I am grateful that my prof gives this option. I will do what I should have done in the first place, and write the paper with the prof as the intended audience. Besides, for me to clearly explain my introduction would take a good 5000 words and neither he, nor I, have time for that.

I am reminded about a characteristic of 5-6-7 year old children that I always found rather endearing. They were like little police officers, lawyers and judges; they knew all the rules and how to apply them to every one but themselves. If I was talking to the class about a particular behavior I could invariably predict the response. (It is easy to know what young children are thinking because they have the habit of thinking out loud.) They were each sure I didn’t mean them. They would usually even glare at the person they were sure I did intend to talk to. This of course created a situation of students all looking at each other. Covert finger-pointing was usually involved.

I guess they didn’t get the point, either.

So, what is God trying to explain to me? Am I the rare, but, beloved child who knows the rules and actually follows them; or am I the one casting the undeserved glare at someone else? Do I “get it”?

The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers,

the exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people;

they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.

Isaiah 24:4-5

Hmmmm, I wonder if He means me? I wonder if I am a little rankled by my professor’s assertion that “religions think they have invented morality”? Perhaps that is what is behind my obscure introduction. Maybe I wanted to make him squirm a bit. It’s probably a good thing my writing was not very clear. Yeah, I better go back and rewrite.

Each morning before I read my Bible, my prayer is the following verse:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

From scripture to God’s ears to my heart; let it be so.

He is good. His love endures forever. II Chron. 7:3

Friday, November 7, 2008


Two members of our family are battling MRSA infections. MRSA stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. It's a strain of staph that's resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it. It can be a serious, even fatal, condition for those with compromised immune systems. In our family it is simply a nuisance that means doctor appointments, sulfa drugs and lots and lots of hand washing.

It occurs to me that in our faith life we often suffer from a different kind of MRSA; perhaps a Multiple Resistant Sin Annoyance. We have those sins such as pride, lack of trust, need for control, that we know we shouldn’t indulge in but yet we are at a loss on how to stop. Each of us has sins that resist our efforts to overcome. They are a nuisance for us and annoyance for our family and friends but if they compromise our faith systems, they can be fatal. No amount of hand washing will prevent the spread of this kind of sin infection.

Conquering a faith MRSA requires a specific regimen:

We must be vigilant in keeping our immune system strong. Instead of exercise, flu shots, and vitamins we need a balanced diet of scripture. We must read and study His word daily.

There are no sulfa drugs to battle this type of infection but we have something stronger. We have confession and absolution that exposes this sin infection to the light of God’s word. Through the forgiveness offered by our Savior and the process of sanctification found in the Spirit we can clean that infection and be rid of it.

Hand washing is highly effective in preventing the spread of bacteria and viruses. The more we wash the better. The same is true of attending worship. Not only do we hear God’s word and receive forgiveness of sins, but we also experience the support of fellowship. We cannot quarantine ourselves during a faith MRSA. We must not keep it hidden; instead we bring our sin out in the open and let God heal it. If we hide it away and refuse to acknowledge and treat our faith MRSA we will find ourselves covered in the faith equivalent of leprosy.

So now, wash your hands and stay safe from a skin infection, but, wash your heart to stay safe from a sin infection. God is your healer.

Though your sins are like scarlet,

they shall be as white as snow.

Isaiah 1: 18

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I will fear no evil

In this world you will have trouble.

But take heart!

I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Oh, how I wish this verse read differently:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I will overcome the trouble and take it from you.


In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! It will someday all make sense.

Instead, Jesus encouragement to those who are suffering is that He overcame the world.

How is this comfort to my good friend who has filled her house with family and friends helping her to provide round-the-clock care for her dying husband? How is this encouragement for her husband who has lived helplessly enduring the punishment his own body inflicts on his health and well-being? Yes, Jesus overcame the world, but, what about the here and now? What about the dwindling financial resources, the MS, the infections, fevers and seizures? What about today’s pain and agony?

Some suffering is mild. It is the everyday suffering of an unhappy, unfulfilled life. It is a suffering that lulls us into a false sense of control. “This is just my lot; I will endure.” This is a suffering that goes on needlessly because it does not realize that Jesus has overcome the world.

Some suffering is purposeful. It may be a strong suffering but the reasons for it are clear. It is a suffering that has a purpose and results in a reward. The pain of child-birth comes to mind. But, also, many of our day to day griefs result in a blessing that helps us understand the purpose of the grief.

But, some suffering is strong, and enduring and purposeless. What good comes of children losing their father or of future grandchildren never meeting a grandparent? What good comes of several lives being swallowed up in the deteriorating illness of a family member? One hopes the suffering brings the family closer but that is not always the case. Sometimes the suffering forces loved ones apart.

We want our lives to be carefully planned like the lesson plan of a teacher. We want a time for everything and everything in its proper place. We want to see progress in our life and faith like a grade recorded on a report card. We want to be prepared for every contingency. But grief and pain and suffering and sorrow rear their ugly heads and run roughshod over those plans.

Yet, it remains true: Jesus has overcome the world. The battles we fight, however real, are already won for us. The end result has been determined; it is the here and now that remains to be lived. We must take our Savior’s hand and look to the victory won for us.

I have so little that I can give that will ease the pain and suffering of my dear friends. I offer my prayers at many intervals during my day. God frequently brings them to my mind and to my heart.

Come quickly, Lord, Your good and faithful servant waits. He is ready to come home to You. We live in the gracious knowledge that through all the suffering we experience or witness, You have overcome this pain. We have senseless suffering but we do not fear evil; You have overcome this world and the new world waits.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23: 4