A Blog Post In Which I Compare The Bible To Lettuce Wraps

In the process of speaking with someone about their spiritual journey last week, I found our conversation to be quite – well, convicting is the buzz word we use in spiritual circles. We say we are “convicted” when our internal alarms go off, when we realize our hand is stuck in the cookie jar and someone knows. When hypocrisy is evident. When something we do fails to line up with what we say.

We were talking about what informs our faith, how we are living into the label of Christ-follower. And I found myself convicted.
My Bible-reading is hit or miss. Not a day goes by that I don’t refer to something I have read from the Bible. Much is hidden in my heart, in my memory. There is no doubt that my life and thoughts and deeds are informed and influenced by scripture. I’m a Christian; that’s what we do. It matters. My beliefs are based on what’s in the Bible.
But the day-to-day reading, holding the book in my hands? Hit or miss, honestly. No daily 5:45 AM appointment with my Bible. It’s not the last thing I read at night. Honestly, a good part of my Bible-reading these days comes from the internet; I faithfully read YouVersion and Bible Gateway, cross-checking translations and paraphrases. That doesn’t make it less relevant, or truthful, or powerful – but it’s different.
It’s like this: I snack all day long. I graze. Again, I believe it matters; I don’t discount the value of having the wisdom of the Bible close at hand via my computer or committed to memory via what’s hidden in my heart and memory. But it’s different than sitting down and just reading. Sort of “Bible Lite”.
Like picking up a box of lo mein at China Delight, versus sitting down at PF Chang’s for a sumptuous meal. Both are good, nutritious, relatively healthy and possibly made with the same ingredients. But the surroundings are different. Both feed me, but only one can be appreciated as a rich experience. (Sitting in the Food Lion parking lot gulping down a box of lo mein with a plastic fork is NOT a “rich experience”. I know. I’ve done it.)
Point is, when I do sit down and move aside all the things that clamor for my attention and just read, I’m always amazed. Refreshed. Invigorated. Educated. Inspired.
And left with a huge appreciation – again – of just how relevant the Bible is for life. So much of my daily efforts are focused towards the mission of our church – finding ways to communicate with folks who are far from God or outside the church. We rely on every tool we can utilize to demonstrate the grace and truth of God, the life that is found in following Christ, the open arms that characterize Jesus (but that have not always characterized the Church). All those things are good and necessary and I do not doubt that they matter, that they are integral to the mission God has given us.
Coupled with the sit-down, five-course meal that can be found in the Bible, I have found myself in the midst of a powerful and intimate time with God this morning. That’s been way cool. It’s a mystery, it’s supernatural – and yet it’s so completely, coherently part of the human experience. The way we were intended to be.
Way cool.
Here’s what I was reading this morning; the primary Bible I read is the New International Version. Romans 12.9 begins like this: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse….”

I read a good bit, up through chapter 14, and then I just started re-reading. So much of it I found applicable to some issues currently taking up space in my heart and head. Paul wrote Romans, and he had some great stuff to say about how we ought to live our lives. It matters.

Here’s the paraphrase from The Message – the parts that really got my attention:

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good. Romans 12.9-21, The Message

And here’s chapter 14, as paraphrased in The Message. Yeah, it’s a lot of scripture. Yeah, you might just skip it.

But you know the lettuce wraps at PF Chang’s? Pure deliciousness.

Yeah. It’s that good.

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:

“As I live and breathe,” God says,
“every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
that I and only I am God.”
So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.

If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning!

God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you’ll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.

So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you, are you? I said it before and I’ll say it again: All food is good, but it can turn bad if you use it badly, if you use it to trip others up and send them sprawling. When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face but to share the life of Jesus. So be sensitive and courteous to the others who are eating. Don’t eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.

Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong. Romans 14, The Message

The Bible And The Bills

Last week, I lost three very important things:

  • my Bible
  • my March church expense statement
  • my January church expense statement (don’t ask)
I looked everywhere; I turned the house upside down. I went through everything in my office three times. No sign of the Bible or the bills.
I assumed the Bible would turn up eventually. It’s quite amazing, actually, that my spiritual life isn’t hindered by the lack of a tangible Bible – there are tons of online resources like Bible Gateway and Youversion that are at my fingertips. I have a few old, tattered copies of study Bibles at home. But my red Bible is sentimental and personal; it means something to me. It’s underlined and dated and I’ve marked some significant moments in it.
As a brief tangent, I’ll reveal that there’s a small piece of paper tucked in between the pages of my red Bible, dating back about eight years. It’s part of a church program, and on it are written thes words:

“Consider yourself hugged.”

Slipped to me during a difficult time in my life, in the middle of a service during which my tears were flowing freely, I keep it to this day. It meant the world at that time. It still does today.
(I believe that my friend who wrote that reads this blog from time to time…wonder if they remember it as clearly as I do?)

Anyway, I’ve got notes like that tucked in my Bible, along with underlined passages with dates and the initials of the pastors who have revealed truth or insight (JR….BCH…JL…LG…DF…) It means something to me, my history intertwined with the writings of Paul and the words of Jesus and the history of God’s people. I missed it.
The bills are another story; suffice it to say that I struggle with deadlines. My monthly efforts to get my work-related finances organized, accounted for and submitted in a timely manner are not always successful. Having just had a roundtable discussion during which we were all rather strongly encouraged to do better in this area, the last thing I wanted to do was to let folks in the financial department know my predicament.
“Uh…hi, it’s Beth. You know how we were going to try to do a better job getting our statements in on time? Well….I can’t find mine…”

Just slap a sticky note on me that says STUPID.
Late last week, I gave up. I wrote the “I AM STUPID” email confessing my ineptitude, and I took a deep breath in preparation to accept Brian’s offer of a new large print Bible to replace my old one (grrr…..muttering and taking GREAT offense under my breath….)
And then, lo and behold, as these things tend to play out, I started finding things. First it was my Bible.
And undoubtedly you’re dying to know where I found my Bible, right? Well, I’ll tell you: it was in the trunk of the car, in my workout bag. Which I haven’t used in…well, long enough to have had no idea that my Bible was in it.
And then, I came into work on Tuesday and found the March financial statement in my mailbox in the office. Hallelujah, praise the Lord, etc! There was much cheering and shouts of “THANK YOU JESUS!” Later, I found out that I not only had Jesus to thank, but also Dennis Green, who admitted to placing the envelope in my box.
“I found it on my desk. I’m not sure how it got there, but I found it. Under some stuff.”

(If you saw Dennis’ desk, this statement would make perfect sense.)
Still waiting on the January statement, I finally decided to take matters into my own hands. With a willing and very clever accomplice, I snuck into Dennis’ office during his absence and flipped through a stack or two of paper.
Voila. All that was lost is now found.
And the point? Well, there is one.
Don’t give up. Own up to your mistakes, but be sure that it’s not over till the fat lady sings – or till Dennis cleans his office.

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left. – Lamentations 3.22-23 (The Message)


Listened to a great message tonight from my former pastor Jamie Rasmussen.

I base my life on the truth I find in the Bible.
So easily I forget that I can and should trust that truth in all times.
God delivers us from our circumstances.
Or in our circumstances.
Or, at times, even after our circumstances.

“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. Oh him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…” 2 Corinthians 1.8-10

Jamie says, “He’s always up to something to deliver us. We just have to trust him.”

Unleash 2010

I’m in Anderson, South Carolina, for NewSpring Church’s Unleash Conference. It’s an intense, one-day event crammed full of a NewSpring experience.

I came last year and enjoyed it, although the breakout sessions were hard to appreciate due to cramped rooms and lack of space. But God spoke so loudly to me and others in our group during the main sessions that it was an excellent investment of time and resources.
Half of our staff is here, with a big group of awesome friends who serve in amazing and diverse ways around PCC. The other half of the staff is home, feverishly working on all that’s needed to prepare for our first service in our first permanent facility on March 14th.
Crazy times.
Perry Noble leads NewSpring and will be the speaker for both large sessions tomorrow. He sent out instructions to read Genesis 34.1-29 and the first six chapters of Joshua to prepare for tomorrow’s first session.
I just finished. You gotta love the Bible – sometimes it’s so raw that it’s hard to believe that it’s the inspired word of God with relevance to our lives. Tonight’s reading included rape and lots of circumcision – along with some awesome works of God.
I can’t wait for tomorrow; I know God’s gonna move. Something’s gonna get unleashed…

As Sweet As Honey?

One of the most fascinating components of communication via the internet is the ability for a conversation to continue after an event. I’ve seen it – and participated – in real-time commenting on awards shows, the concert for Haiti, the inauguration and other occasions.

I love how it happens on Sundays, as well, after church. It’s intriguing to see people post their thoughts and reactions on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. I’m especially interested because it offers me a bit of feedback on the service.
Often, someone will connect the dots in a way that reveals something new to me.
Yesterday, my friend Connie did just that. She and I were both present at two events yesterday where we heard excellent communicators unpack different Biblical texts. Connie drew a few lines and put together a good blog post that made me think.
Check it out here. You’ll like it.

My friend Connie and her husband, Tom.

Another Reason I Love My Job

Our staff meets every Wednesday for devotional time and prayer. Every other Wednesday, we follow that time up with staff meeting, where we throw things, argue, fight, cry, laugh, sweat, ruminate and meditate and otherwise engage in activity conducive to the amazing opportunities we have to be part of the church here in Powhatan.

It’s good, intense time together.
But I have never experienced anything quite like today.
The staff meeting itself was full of conflict, head-butting and some challenging discussions as we worked hard to come to a decision regarding some important future issues. We don’t shy away from conflict, because we know we are all on the same team, fighting for the same goal. It’s a good thing. The meeting was fine.
It was the devotional time prior to the meeting that still has me reeling. It was probably the most thought-provoking 30 minutes I’ve experienced in a long while.
The context was community.
The text was Leviticus 15.
It was, surprisingly, inspiring.
Go on. Look it up.
It was Sammy’s idea.

How To Read The Bible

Read a great post today by Kem Meyer. She lists her suggestions for the top five places to start reading the Bible.

~Acts … to learn about the Church
~James … essential wisdom for daily living
~Ecclesiastes … an expose of the arrogant and ignorant expectations we fall victim to
~Proverbs … practical quotes, sayings and images for the here and now

I thought it was great, concise advice. What do you think?

Read Kem’s entire post here.

Blessed Assurance

One last walk this morning….

Contemplating my ‘take home’ from these blessed five days, surrounded by brilliant blue seas, white sand and glorious sunshine, I kept chanting, “Glorious.  Glorious.  You make everything glorious.  Thank you, Jesus.”
As a worship leader, I have noticed one of my habits is this:  During a gathering, overwhelmed by the privilege, the harmony, the rhythm, the Presence, the fellowship, I stop singing any scripted lyric and simply begin to say, “Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, Jesus.”  Not necessarily tearful, not rendered mute – just so overwhelmed, with nothing to say with any deeper meaning than “thank you.”
Gratitude flowed from my mouth this morning, the crazy lady walking on the beach talking to herself.
After turning around and heading back, I found myself grateful for the real-ness of Jesus to me, the authenticity of relationship that reveals itself almost daily.  Since making a decision to follow Christ publicly some 20 years ago, since jumping headfirst into church life, I’ve always heard this bit about a “personal relationship”.  Coupled with what I read in the Bible, I internalized so many things that were “for me.”  Real.  Unquestioned.  Unquestionable.
“My grace is sufficient for you.”
“Go, then, and sin no more.”
“I will never leave you or forsake you.”
“God so loved the world…”
“In all things God works for the good of those who love him…”
“Consider it pure joy when you face trials…”
“Wives, submit to your husbands…”
Et cetera.
(I forge ahead now without any certainty that this makes sense, but I have come to understand a subtle shift in the axis of my understanding that has, I believe, powerfully impacted my faith and the way in which I live my life.  Let’s see if I can articulate it.)
In the past, much of my Bible instruction took every statement as fact.  Emphasis was on the inerrancy of the word, and so every statement meant just what it said.  Period.  To examine the context or the culture was frowned upon- it meant what it said, and it said what it meant.  Memorize it.  Paint it on your walls in your dining room.  Buy keychains and greeting cards emblazed with the words.  Believe it.  Don’t dig around in the external factors.  Ignore the human part.  Learn the words.
To some degree, there is truth and power in this.  I have internalized so much of the Bible that it sometimes surprises me.  I have found comfort, peace, encouragement, wisdom, strength.
And yet…
In the past several years, I have been encouraged – and self-motivated – to read the Bible in context.  To ask questions.  To dig deeper into the discrepancies.  To consider the audience, the culture, the context.
To actually say, “This doesn’t seem to make sense.”

At the risk of sounding like I’ve discovered something rare and unusual that most of the world looks at and says, “Duh!”, I’ll just marvel at this for a minute.
Because I think that’s the key to my joy, my wonder, my gratitude, my primitive conviction that this is true, real, personal.  That Jesus is, as the old hymn says, “mine”.

Here’s what occurs to me:   The context is humanity.  Our humanity.  To read without a clear understanding of the culture, of the underlying lessons, of the motivations, the larger issues at play is to accept words strung together as moral imperatives, catchy sayings, legalistic commands.  And, in the end, words strung together leave a hollow place in one’s soul.
Without context, there’s no grasp of the humanity that Jesus inhabited.  The context is us.

The context is me.

Maybe this is so much uneducated, I’ve-been-alone-too-long drivel.  But it meant something to me this morning as I walked.  
Still processing.

“God, you make everything glorious.  What does that make me?”

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation, purchased of God
Born of his spirit, washed in his blood.

God’s About To Move

I’m plowing through the Breaking Free study and really soaking in the truth I’m finding.  Today I read something so powerful:

“According to 2 Chronicles 32.1, we can be faithful to God and centered in His will, yet still be attacked by the enemy.  Sometimes our enemy attacks the weak and wandering believers because they are easy prey.  Other times he attacks competent, fully-surrendered servants of God for the challgenge and the possible contagious effect of a fall….We are wise never to consider ourselves invulnerable, so that we stay alert and aware at all times…”

The Biblical example of Hezekiah and the other kings of Israel are fascinating bits of history – but the moral and spiritual lessons seen in their humanity stick with me much more than the facts.  Going through this part of the Bible again brings back memories of different places and times where I’ve studied this before – but these days, it’s fresh.
Just last night, I was commisserating with a friend about the malaise I currently feel.  Much of it seems related to church – both the practical, work-related issues and the interpersonal connections.  He pointed out to me that difficult times like these often reflect the work of our enemy, who gets agitated when God’s about to move.
God’s about to move.

I know He’s ever-present, always there, never leaves or forsake us.  I trust His presence.  I live in that.   But I’m sensing some truth here.  God’s about to move.  I believe that perhaps all this angst is more than just my personal junk.
God’s about to move.
I’m on my knees.  

Breaking Free

I’m currently going through this Beth Moore Bible study called “Breaking Free”, both as a personal exercise and as a way to share with a friend who is looking to grow in her relationship with God.

I’ve been blown away.
(I also must mention that every single time I think about the workbook or the study, my mind instantly goes to High School Musical.  “Soaring….flying…”  I’m hoping that passes, eventually….)
When I was a younger stay-at-home-mom – and a new Christ-follwer, Bible study groups were my lifeline and primary means of social interaction.  Living in a tiny town in Texas with two, then three, then four babies under the age of five, I didn’t get out much.  The women who were living life as I am now – 15 to 18 years into the parenting thing – seemed like foreign creatures to me.  I couldn’t comprehend a family life that didn’t include diapers and baby food, uninterrupted sleep and a baby firmly rooted to your hip.  But they were there, living around me, and along with the women who’d passed through that stage and moved into the empty nest or grandparent era, they held me up.
Not necessarily through social means – long phone conversations, lunches out, shopping expeditions, etc.  None of that was a reality or even an interest for me.
But these women met for Bible study, weekly.  And they dug in, hard.
And they valued child care.  Somebody else always made arrangements for there to be a child care provider there in the church or the community room or the library – wherever we were meeting.  They took care of that for the moms, so we could have two hours of focus on learning about God.
Not until this season of life do I recognize the gift I was given.
See, here’s a confession:  I try to have the Word of God “hidden in my heart”, as the Bible says.  Not all of it, of course, but I have paid attention for the last 20 years, and I’ve learned some things.  Much of what I learned sunk in and took root during those Bible studies.  That’s a good thing, for sure.  But these days?  Sadly, when you “do church” and ministry, often big chunks of what looks like “Bible study” can be more accurately termed “work prep”.  It’s still the Bible – it’s still powerful and relevant and meaningful, but there’s a difference.  And I can read daily email devotions and journal and all that – but there’s still a definite difference between those activities and a pointed, focused Bible study.
So I’m pounding through Breaking Free and loving it, absolutely loving it – knowing for certain that my knowledge of and relationship with God is growing because of this investment I’m making.
But, as always, I think like a minister or a pastor or a church worker.  I think about my friends who are currently going through Experiencing God with Chauncey Starkey through the iD program at PCC, and I get all excited about what they’re….well, experiencing.  I think about the community Bible study that’s happening here in Powhatan and wonder how many moms of little ones don’t know about it, who might need to be encouraged and invited.
I think about this Breaking Free study and wonder how many of you might want or need to go through the same thing.
I think about our church and wonder when I can organize something to give time and resources and care and energy and a chance to learn about God – like I was given in tiny little Hico, Texas – to moms who need it.
I think about our church and the tremendous excitement we have for God and for one another – and the tremendous need we have to learn the truth.

I’m grateful today.  
And I’m wondering about you:  Are you doing any in-depth Bible study?  What’s it like?  If not, do you want to?  What are you craving?