Fresh Bread Is a Love Language

As Bill Giovannetti pointed out in his recent seminar “How to Write Like Ruth” at the West Coast Christian Writers conference, the Book of Ruth is a love story. It’s not about Ruth and Boaz, Bill said. It’s about the love between Ruth and Naomi, two widows who have only each other. Ruth seals her love for Naomi with a covenant in the first chapter of their story, overriding Naomi’s insistence that Ruth leave her as her sister-in-law Orpah had done:

Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17.)

Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab, William Blake 1795 (Wikipedia)

This love covenant, this promise before God to stay with Naomi no matter what, found its fruition in the declaration of the people of Bethlehem by the end of the book:

Ruth, Naomi and Obed, Simeon Solomon 1860 (Wikipedia)

The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

A clear distinction jumps out from that passage: as important as Boaz is to the story, he is not the guardian-redeemer spoken of here. Obed, the son born to Ruth, the baby who is also Naomi’s grandchild, is the one identified by the women of Bethlehem as the guardian-redeemer who will renew Naomi’s life and sustain her in her old age.

God Gives Bread Once and Again

Bill pointed out that there are two places where the narrator says that God gave something. The first is when Naomi, from her famine-induced exile in Moab, learns that Israel’s famine has ended and she can return to Bethlehem.

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread. (Ruth 1:6.)

The second is at the end of the story, when Naomi’s widowed daughter-in-law Ruth marries Boaz.

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. (Ruth 4:13.)

Another aspect to note, though not one explored by Bill, is how wordplay in chapter one leads to Jesus over one thousand years later. It’s all about bread.

Bethlehem is a Hebrew place-name that translates to House of Bread. Naomi could return to her home town, the House (beth) of Bread (lehem), because God gave them bread.

When God later gave Ruth conception, she gave birth to a son. This son, Obed, in turn had a son, Jesse, who in turn had a son who would become king of all Israel, David. This is where the Bible takes the wordplay of the Book of Ruth and turns it into a fulfillment of prophecy as you continue reading through David’s life, then into the prophets, and eventually reach the life of Jesus.

Jesus is a descendant of David. (Matthew 1:5-16, Luke 3:23-32.) He is a descendant, therefore, of Obed, the child God gave Ruth to conceive. And just as God gave bread to his people, through this child he gave Ruth he also eventually gives his people Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, … it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:32-35.)

This bread, Jesus the Bread of Life and the Bread from Heaven, Jesus who is also a baby born in Bethlehem, is given to end the spiritual famine of separation from God.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51.)

As he told his listeners moments before, life with him is simple.

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29.)

Taking what God has given, this Bread of Life, means you believe in the one God has sent. That is how you eat the heavenly bread that sustains, nourishes, and satisfies you even better than any fresh-baked loaf hot out of the oven.

(Source)

You partake by believing, which is itself an expression of your faith and of your hope. As one of Jesus’ closest friends wrote:

Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:21.)

Remember the words found in Ruth: “the Lord gave.” He gave you Jesus.

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How To Dress Better

[From the archives.]

I don’t want to show you a picture of what I looked like in the tux I wore for my Senior Ball back in high school, but suffice to say I looked goofy. Same goes for the tux I wore for my wedding; still looking like a goof. And if you’re waiting to see what I look like in a tux nowadays, you’ll have a long wait because, again, the goofiness can come through. Tuxedos just aren’t my normal attire.

I do dress formally for work, though. After all, courtrooms are formal places where we have formal proceedings so you’d expect people to dress formally right?

You’d be wrong. Except for the attorneys (and not even all of them), I can go a whole day seeing people dressed extremely casually. How casual? How about like this? And then there was the guy who showed up for his probation review hearing in a shirt that said “If I wanted your opinion I’d give it to you.” (He May not have realized  that it was my opinion on his probation performance that counted.)  I don’t toss people out based on clothing, though, because for many of them it’s as much as they could do to find their way to court that day.

So what is my formal attire? My black muumuu, of course. Don’t worry, I wear slacks, a dress shirt and tie too. But I don’t get as fancy as these judges (scroll down that link a bit to see some robes from overseas courts).

Even if I dressed like the Lord Chancellor, though, I still wouldn’t be in the best finery possible.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Matthew 22:8-13.)

Why on earth would someone be tossed out of the wedding banquet for not wearing the right clothes? Because this is the wedding banquet of the Son, and the guests and the bride are one and the same: the People of God.

“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”

(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19: 6-9.)

These clothes – the “fine linen, bright and clean” – are Christ himself and his righteousness:

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment. (Galatians 3:27.)

and,

Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4.)

It’s not about laws and rules and it’s not about picking the right outfit. It’s about Jesus and all he has done for us, being righteous for us and clothing us in that righteousness so that we are always acceptable in the sight of God.

Do you have the right outfit for the wedding banquet? If you belong to Jesus, you’re wearing it right now. If you don’t yet belong to him, he is ready to hand you an outfit tailor-made to fit.

***

[If you want to see fancy duds here and now, though, you can’t get much fancier than this:]

***

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The Unknown Encourager – a tale of stress, anxiety, and getting through the weekend

This past weekend was hard. It was great and it was hard.

I spent Thursday evening through Saturday afternoon at the West Coast Christian Writers conference. That meant not being home with my wife on Valentine’s Day. She sent me along to the conference, encouraging me to join over 200 writers and faculty who would be making the most of two packed days together.

If you think this odd, she is also the one who sent me out the evening of our 20th anniversary years ago to be at a program at the local university. It was a bunch of incoming students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and I’d worked with the group for years every September on a mock trial.

When I told these 17 & 18 year olds that she gave me up for them on our anniversary because she knew how important their program is, they burst into applause. So I asked them to help me out. I held up my phone and called my wife. As soon as she answered, all 250 students promptly yelled out “Happy Anniversary!”

She was tickled. It turned out not to be too bad a way to celebrate.

And while we didn’t have dinner together this past Valentine’s Day either, we did get to spend the night before Valentine’s Day together. This is how she occupied her time part of last Wednesday evening:

My wife inscribed personally addressed Valentines on snap bracelets to give to her roomful of five-year-olds on Valentine’s Day.

My wife is one of my great encouragers, the greatest God has placed in my life. She makes conscious efforts and takes deliberate steps to support me. Sometimes it’s in my writing (see why this blog is my wife’s fault, as I explained in the very first blog post), and sometimes in my darkest moments (see The Best Woman I Know Is the Woman I Married). She’s strong when I’m weak, and she’s a booster shot when I’m running full tilt. I’ve told her more than once that her encouragement lifts me up. So she sent me to the conference on Valentine’s Day.

I had been looking forward to the conference for months. I’ve attended two earlier WCCW conferences, but this time Susy Flory, the conference’s chief organizer and director of WCCW, asked me onto faculty to lead a session on blogging.

The theme of this year’s conference was Write Brave.

By the time I drove to the conference on Thursday afternoon, I felt anything but brave. It had been a rough two weeks.

Flying Solo in a Crowd of Encouragers

My Dad went into the hospital on January 30 and spent two nights being tested and monitored for his fatigue and shortness of breath. At 95, the conclusion was that his heart is continuing to fail. His primary care doctor and his cardiologist both scheduled follow-up exams and blood tests in the days and weeks following his discharge from the hospital.

I had to rearrange work, taking afternoons off to get him to the lab and the repeated doctors’ appointments. It was wearing on me. This wasn’t the first time I’ve gone through something like this with Dad (see Head and Heart at 92 Years Old), but it still wears on me to try to juggle my responsibilities to him and my responsibilities at work.

My wife the encourager encouraged me to stop trying to do it all. “Take two weeks off work,” she said. “You’ve got unused vacation days you have to take anyway.” So I did.

The conference fell at the end of that first week off. I’d taken Dad to his cardiologist for a second time since the hospital and she said she didn’t need to see him again for a week and a half. It was just a matter of monitoring him for a few days, and the staff at his assisted living apartment house could do that while I was gone.

Everything was going according to plan. I arrived at the conference site the evening before it started, helped Susy and others to set up tables and arrange the reception area, and checked into my hotel room early enough to get a solid night’s sleep. The conference started Friday morning. My session on blogging wasn’t until the following afternoon. All I had to do was listen and learn.

And try not to let my mind dwell on the fact that I was two hours away from Dad if an emergency arose. That became an impossibility.

The first phone call came from his home health nurse at 1:00 Friday afternoon. The second was his cardiac care nurse calling at 3:30. Next I got a call from the LVN on staff at his assisted living facility at 6:30,  just as I was pulling into a restaurant parking for a faculty dinner Friday night. I sat in the car talking to her for fifteen minutes.

The final call came at 8:30 that night. I was stepping out of the shower in my hotel room when I heard the phone ring on the bathroom counter. It was his primary care doctor. She’d been receiving calls and messages from all these nurses all day. As we spoke, it became clear she did not consider any of their concerns to require immediate action. I was able to go to sleep with a bit calmer mind than I had expected. Not calm. Just not as wildly stressed and anxious as I’d expected.

How was I supposed to keep my head in the game for presenting my own session when it was wrapped tightly in concerns for my Dad’s health? I needed to not be isolated, to not fly solo, to not go it alone. I needed to reach out for help. That’s hard for an introvert like me, but I knew I needed people.

One person who came alongside me was my wife, who continued in her support even from a distance. I told her what was going on and she was praying. Susy Flory was praying too. She’d been part of a group of my writer friends I’d asked to pray for Dad since the hospitalization. Then there was the conference’s faculty chaplain, Michele Cushatt. I had only met her Friday morning but by Friday afternoon I told her I needed chaplaining and she made time for me. Her insights and prayers and just taking the time to let me talk through all I was feeling worked wonders.

And then there’s the encourager who has no idea she encouraged me.

The Unknown Encourager

Kathi Lipp is one of the best communicators among a conference faculty full of good communicators. She is also my unknown encourager. It’s not that she’s unknown to me, of course. It’s that she is probably unaware that she encouraged me and built me up so that I could speak at my session without being overwhelmed by all I was dealing with, and she did it in two very practical ways.

The day before my session, Kathi gave a talk on social media, a quick five minute look at platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram in a large group session. I was going to touch on the same topic in my break-out session and tell the class I only have time for two, Twitter and Facebook, admitting I don’t know how I could find time to learn to use more platforms and monitor them.

Then what did I hear Kathi say in her talk?

“Of all these platforms, choose two.”

The master communicator just encouraged me to admit to my students that not only do I only use two, but that they don’t need to use more than two either.

The second encouragement came in an interview. Kathi and Michele (the faculty chaplain) host the podcast Communicator Academy and Kathi interviewed me for it early Saturday afternoon. She wanted to hear about my blogging, how I got started, and how I view it as a ministry of encouragement.

What she didn’t know, and what I hadn’t anticipated, is that this interview provided a mini dress rehearsal for my session. Kathi is good at asking questions and providing insights to make an interview seem like a natural conversation, and once we finished – much too quickly, I thought – I came to realize that she had helped me think through what I was hoping to say to those in my blogging session. She unknowingly encouraged me to think my students might be as interested as she was in what I had to say.

The session started on time. My PowerPoint did not. Try as we might, no one, including the tech expert on site, got it running smoothly. I did without. The room also turned out to be the wrong size, but no one could have anticipated that. Twenty people probably could have sat comfortably in that space; the number was in the high thirties with people standing along the walls and sitting on the floor. Others saw how crowded it was and went to other sessions.

My ability to carry through to the end of the allotted fifty minutes, to keep a standing room only crowd interested, and cover everything I’d planned to cover was by God’s grace, grace he delivered through my wife, Susy, Michele, and Kathi.

I appreciate them, whether they know they’ve encouraged me or not.

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Making God Look Better Than He Is – a futile endeavor

Solomon built a temple for the worship of God, a place all Israel could gather together in the name of the Lord. When he finished building the massive temple – stone, and cedar, and gold paneled walls and doors – he instructed the priests to place the ark of the covenant in the innermost room, the most holy place. There were multitudes of musicians and singers singing praises, while priests sacrificed countless sheep and oxen, and all the leaders of Israel joined in the day of dedication by gathering in the temple courtyards alongside the Israelites who were there in even greater number.

Solomon’s Temple (Wikipedia)

As the ark came to rest in the innermost – the most holy – place of the temple:

Then a cloud filled the Lord’s temple. The priests were unable to carry out their duties on account of the cloud because the Lord’s glory filled God’s temple. (2 Chronicles 5:13-14.)

Where did this cloud come from? It was the symbol of God’s presence originally given to the Israelites as they set out from Egypt to travel to the land God promised them.

The Lord went in front of them during the day in a column of cloud to guide them and at night in a column of lightning to give them light. This way they could travel during the day and at night. The column of cloud during the day and the column of lightning at night never left its place in front of the people. (Exodus 13:21-22.)

As the Israelites dedicated the temple of the Lord that day, they saw this symbol of God’s presence once again. Yet it is more than a symbol.

The priests were unable to carry out their duties on account of the cloud because the Lord’s glory filled God’s temple.(2 Chronicles 5:14.)

The priests could not carry out their duties. What duties? Praising God and offering sacrifices of thanksgiving, among others, duties they carried out in the temple. But they couldn’t, because God’s glory filled the temple. There was no room left for the priests to do their work.

Glorifying God

You might hear someone talk about glorifying God. That’s a good thing, if what you mean is you want to speak in ways that tell of how glorious God is, and act in ways that reflect his glory in the way you love and care for and serve the people God has put in your life.

It doesn’t mean anyone has the ability to make God more glory, though. God is glorious, magnificent, wonderful, and excellent beyond measure. God doesn’t need people to increase his glory. He certainly didn’t need the temple priests on that day of dedication to bring him more glory.

God brought his own glory, and it is infinite. God’s glory is overwhelming, and in the presence of his glory you see that he is all sufficient. Let this be a comfort to you. He is the one who is perfect already, and he wants you to join in his perfection, not for you to contribute a measure of your own. Besides, you don’t have any perfection apart from that which is in Jesus.

The cloud which symbolized God’s presence is no longer needed because you have God the Holy Spirit in you now. Jesus is in you because the Holy Spirit is in you. The glory of God is in you because the Holy Spirit is in you. God has filled you just as he filled the temple.

God will use you to his glory, because he has brought you into his glorious presence even now.

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6.)

This is reality. You are seated with Jesus right now in the heavenly realms as you live and breathe and walk and serve here on earth.

All to God’s glory.

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The Valentine’s Day Post That Made My Wife Cry

[An archived post.]

Valentine’s Day 1987

Our first Valentine’s Day was supposed to be a romantic affair. I planned a meal for just the two of us, something I would cook in my then-girlfriend’s kitchen and we could eat by candle light, gazing lovingly at each other. When I arrived around 5:00 that Saturday night to start with the pots and pans, though, I was met with a change of plans.

“A friend from out of town just called. He’s in Sacramento with a flat tire and doesn’t know his way around, and his spare is shot too. I told him I’d be there as soon as possible.”

“OK,” I said. “Let’s go.”

“You’re not mad?”

“Flat tires happen.”

So we drove into Sacramento and down to the south side, about a 25 minute trip. On the way, she filled me in that this was a guy she knew from Young Life leadership, and it turned out her phone number was one of the few he had in our area and she was the first person to answer when he called. I also got the impression that he originally called thinking she could put him up for the night while he tried to find a tire place that would be open the next day, a Sunday.

By the time we got there, he’d been able to contact another friend he could stay with. He apparently figured out that she had plans and he didn’t want to intrude any further. Still, he needed a ride to their place. It turned out that their place was all the way across town on the north side of Sacramento. Another half hour or so in the car and we were dropping him off at their door.

This left us even further from our starting point, and it was 45 minutes more before we got back. All together, with driving and talking and picking up and more driving and dropping off and driving still more, it was after 7:00 when we made it back to her place.

We got take-out for dinner.

Valentine’s Day 2013

My wife and I were watching television and a Hallmark commercial came on. You can bet that this time of year, their commercials are focusing on one thing and one thing only, Valentine’s Day. This one was no exception and it hit all the sappy sentiments imaginable: tell me you love me, etc.

The commercial ended and I mimicked the first couple of the sentiments to my wife there on the couch: I love you. You’re beautiful.

She looked at me and asked about the third line, “We’re not going to grow old together?”

I laughed and said, “We’re already growing old together!”

Soon the commercial (Tell Me You Love Me) came on again and I decided I’d go through the whole list for her this time. Why not? It would be a shame to waste a perfectly good sappy commercial.

I love you.

You’re beautiful.

We’ll grow old together …

… in sickness and in health.

You’re still the one.

I need you.

You’re my superhero.

I’ll never let you go.

I miss you.

The thing is, by the time I finished reciting this litany of sentiments to her there on the couch, I realized that I wasn’t just mimicking a sappy commercial. I meant each and every one of them, from the first I love you to the last I miss you.

I love her more now than I did on the day we married, and she is as beautiful to me now as ever.

Growing old together with her is a life’s dream of mine, and we’ve had our share of sickness and health and good times and hard times.

She is the one for me, and God knows that she is the one I need in so many ways. I figure that’s why he’s put us together.

My wife is my superhero, able to do things that I could never do.

I never do want to let her go, and miss her when we’re apart even when I’m just out running a quick errand and about to see her again.

Yes, each and every one of that sappy commercial’s sentiments has a place in my heart. I rejoice in my wife, who is a blessing from God every moment of my life.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

***

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“I Don’t See Color” – a lazy response to racism and bigotry

“People of color are at a distinct disadvantage in our society.”

“Not with me.”

“Not with you?”

“Not with me. I don’t see color.”

“How can you not see color?”

“Everybody is the same color to me.”

“But they’re not.”

“See, that’s your problem. You see color. I don’t.”

“I have a problem because I see color?”

“Yes. If everyone didn’t see color – like me – then there would be no racism and bigotry.”

“So you think it would be better if everyone had the same skin color?”

“That’s not what I said …”

“Because everyone doesn’t have the same skin color.”

“I know that.”

“And despite your self-imposed color-blindness, racism and bigotry still exist anyway. It’s by seeing the color of people’s skin that we can recognize how some people are treated differently than others simply because of their skin color.”

“But I don’t see skin color, so I don’t do that.”

“That sounds lazy to me.”

“What?”

“Lazy. And a cop-out. People of color are disadvantaged and being taken advantage of and we see this precisely because we are seeing the color of a person’s skin. ‘I don’t see color’ is a cop-out that passes on the responsibility to see racism and bigotry and speak out against it. That accommodates the racists and bigots …”

“What do you mean? I’m not racist or bigoted!”

“… and perpetuates the racism and bigotry.”

“Perpetuates?”

“Yes, perpetuates. Because responding to the statement ‘People of color are at a distinct disadvantage in our society’ with ‘I don’t see color’ serves no purpose except to stifle discussion on important matters affecting everyone. That allows the racism and bigotry to continue unchallenged.”

“I didn’t mean to stifle anything.”

“Maybe not, but ‘I don’t see color’ moves the conversation from how to help people who are mistreated and oppressed in our society and puts the focus on you. It’s not about disadvantaged people any longer; it’s about you.

“Me?”

“Yes, you. And frankly, it’s not about you. You aren’t the one needing help in this situation.”

“I don’t know. Maybe I am.”

“Yeah? How so?”

“I needed you to tell me to stop saying stupid things like ‘I don’t see color’.”

“Good point. Now let’s move from that and put our attention on the fact there’s a real problem with racism and bigotry against people of color in this society.”

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Babies, Contact Lenses, and Visions of God

My eyesight started to worsen back in high school, but it wasn’t a big deal. By the time I was in law school, I needed glasses for driving because I couldn’t even make out the eye chart at the DMV. Eventually, I wore glasses all the time. My far distance vision stunk.

Near vision was good, though. I could read without glasses just fine. Every word was sharp on the page. The optometrist said it was because each of my eyes had an astigmatism that wouldn’t let me focus at a distance but sharpened my focus up close. That’s great for someone who likes to read. So I took my glasses of for reading.

Then we had kids. Newborn babies are easy to hold, but when they transition from infant to toddler they get grabby. It’s a wonderful feeling when your child reaches up and rubs your cheek or grabs your ear or hair. Very sweet.

When you wear glasses, it means they have something else to grab and your frames become a plaything they reach out for. Our son took my glasses off my face regularly. The regular dislodgement was cute at first. He’d knock them askew and I’d straighten them out and we’d repeat this until one of us got tired of it.

He got a little bigger, which meant a little stronger, and he was no longer knocking them askew. He was taking them right off. Not in a gentle way, but pulling them out to the side or down my nose and completely off. He bent the frame constantly. A couple times he even bent the earpiece off completely.

I took my glasses to the optometrist to get the frame repaired more than once.

When our daughter was born a couple years later I remembered my lesson about babies and eyeglasses and asked my optometrist about contact lenses. He prescribed them and I learned how to put them in and take them out: pull eyelids open vertically to lay it on the lens, pull eyelid back at the side to pop the lens out. I was good to go. Now I could see far distances, didn’t have to remember where I’d laid my glasses after taking them off for reading, and could hold our new baby without wondering when she’d start wrenching glasses off my face.

Then we were at church one night. The event was over and everyone was walking to their cars when I stopped to talk to someone. Our daughter was at the grabby stage between infancy and toddlerhood and was reaching for my face as I stood there holding her in the dimly lit parking lot. No glasses for her to bend into a pretzel, yay!

She reached up to my eye, poked her finger in at the side, and pushed my eyelid back. The contact lens then did what it was designed to do. It popped right out. Onto the asphalt. Of a large parking lot. In the dark.

So much for my plans of avoiding ruined lenses when holding little ones.

Trading Visions

I reached 40 and my vision in one eye was 300/20 and the other was 400/20. The only time my eyes could see clearly was when I brought something right up close under my nose. Otherwise I had trouble reading a clock on the wall without my contacts.

I went to an ophthalmologist and had surgery on my eyeballs. Complete success. I no longer needed glasses for driving, or even seeing clocks on walls. Everything at a distance was in sharp focus.

My near vision suffered, though, as I developed what everyone tends to get after age 40. The need for reading glasses. At first it was only when my eyes got tired but now almost 20 years later I use them for everything up close. I have pairs of reading glasses stashed throughout the house, in the glove boxes in our cars, and at work.

Me, reading, with reading glasses

I’ve traded one vision for another, near for far.

Godly Vision

God speaks of visions as well, warning against false sight …

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:16.)

… and providing true sight.

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:17-18.)

God wants to trade our false vision for true. Better than glasses, contacts or surgery, the Holy Spirit provides the ability not only to see clearly but to speak clearly of what we see. Visions of God and prophecy of God reveal God to us and to others.

Clearly.

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Naming Injustice and Oppression in Pursuit of God’s Justice and Mercy

[In today’s guest post, Lindsay Bruehl shares her open letter of gratitude to her church, a place where she stepped out of bondage to the injustice of judgmental legalism, finding freedom to grow in God alongside God’s people.]

The other day I wrote the most vulnerable piece of my life on my personal blog site. I want to share with you what led to the revelation of what happened to me and why I knew I could share my story without fear because of you, Wilshire.

Wilshire restored my faith that the transformational power of the local church is still alive and moving us forward for good.

Justice is a passion of mine and what led me to Wilshire, but what Wilshire also does is name the principality causing the injustice. I don’t know if you know how powerful that is to the human soul.

My Road to Emmaus

I have written about walking out on church in a previous post, “My Road to Emmaus.” I thought I had gone through all my pain and fears before I found Wilshire. But something else crept up this week unexpectedly, and I had an anxiety attack when another article came out on sexual abuse and church—this time addressing men I had always respected. Sexual assault is what made me flip my lid and walk out of church two years ago. I was shocked at the silence and lack of sympathy from church leaders and people I had been worshipping with for years. I kept asking myself, “How could this be? How are preachers not aware the abused are in their pews and they aren’t speaking to their pain.”

It was weird that two pastors on Twitter — Jonathan Martin and Cheryl Bridges Johns — could hear my pain. How can someone on Twitter hear me and people in my everyday life can’t? I can’t believe they found me worth their time, but they did, and they walked me through what I needed to process, healing me with the most beautiful words I had ever heard.

Pain is not pie

I do not compare pain with anyone. That is traumatic and not gospel at all. We treat everything as if it is pie. There isn’t enough for everyone to flourish, or your pain doesn’t matter because others have it way worse. What that does is force us not to deal with our pain. When I started listening to my own pain, I started hearing more clearly what people of color, LGBT, the poor, etc. have been telling me for years. This is systemic, and you aren’t hearing me. The thing is, I always thought I was an advocate. I knew racism and exclusion of LGBT was wrong and that there was a system working against the poor. I spoke up and believed them, but what I had failed to realize was that I was participating in the system. Pain showed me, and I left.

Name it and claim it

Coming to Wilshire I heard you name almost every week the abuse against women. Every time someone said it, it was like a part of my soul was being freed. When the #MeToo movement started, I felt the nudge I could say it too—but I ignored it. I kept thinking others have it way worse. This was not a part of my life I wanted to revisit, so I kept pushing it away.

My bitterness toward church was growing too. I knew I could not trust this story with the church. I saw the responses women coming forward were getting. I mention in my personal blog how some Christian men spoke to me when I challenged them on the “boys will be boys” narrative.

What I feared about church was coming true. What was worse was experiencing the silence of the nice people who just don’t want to rock the boat too much. A lot of these people do amazing work for justice, but they won’t say the Principality’s name. After listening to Jonathan Martin for two years, I learned we cannot cast out that which we will not speak. From the Gospel of Mark 5:9 (NIV) when Jesus was dealing with demon possession: Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” Legion—for we are many—that sounds like a name for systemic oppression.

What put me over the edge

When another article came out revealing another pastor guilty of abuse, and then reading about nice people who had supported him even after he had called the women liars, I lost it. I was shocked because I thought I was free. I found myself looking back at my past and getting angry. Jake had me talk it out, and I finally said everything that happened to me. Some of it I had suppressed and was just now remembering again. I had to suppress it to move forward. I had nowhere to take that story. Even if I did, it would not have been seen in the light of a systemic problem against women—just something unfortunate that happened to me.

Jake told me to write my story. It was the first time I admitted this part of my story to myself, and I shared it the next day. It also was the first time I knew I was protected enough to do it because Wilshire (a church!) would believe me, care that it happened and name it so we can end it.

What I’ve learned

Several things I have learned since sharing my story:

  • I found the source of my anger with the church, and now I can work on forgiveness.
  • The power of shame crumbled telling my story. It was abuse.
  • My screams of, “It’s the system and why don’t you hear me?” intersected with people of color, LGBT, poor, Muslims, etc. It is not the same pain, but it was the intersection where I could see I had been blinded by the system too.
  • We can do all the good in the world, but if pastors continue to pretend pain can be overlooked and go straight to joy, the church will stay in infant spirituality.
  • Naming the principality makes it safer for someone sitting right next to you to come out of hiding. We need to say “misogyny” and elevate women.

Writing my story is the most freeing thing I have ever done, but I also feel really weird. Living totally free, hiding nothing, is not a world I am used to. I am trying to orient myself here. Hiding had gotten comfortable.

I received an anonymous letter telling me she hopes more stories like mine come out, so we will actually do something about it. She cannot face her family or her church. What I would give to know her name and sit with her so she won’t be alone. I know her story, though. I will tell her story, and we can work together to say its name: “misogyny,” “abuse,” “assault.”

I offer my story to let others know they are not alone. My story I also offer as repentance for what I could not see until I went through my pain.

***

Lindsay Bruehl is a Texas Native, married for 17 years with 2 kids. Lindsay started writing after a huge life change a year ago, and now nothing is the same. Writing has helped Lindsay uncover her own story and connect to others who have felt left out. Now she’s applying to seminary out of her passion for the local church to be a place for everybody. No exceptions. You can find Lindsay at her blog, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

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A Conversation with the World’s Oldest Man – learning to let go in the midst of disaster

[An imagined conversation between Methuselah and Noah.]

“There is room,” Noah said. “We will MAKE room.”

“I am not to go, my grandson,” Methuselah replied. “You know that.”

“God did not say you cannot join us.”

“And he did not say I can. You and your family are the ones chosen to enter the ark, to care for the animals. To survive this …” His voice gathered strength. “This judgment.”

“Are you to be judged too, Grandfather?”

“I do not know God’s judgment of me. But I am to die without entering your boat. Besides, are you sure it won’t leak and lay stuck on the ground as the coming waters cover the earth?”

“Of course! I followed all of God’s instructions, from the wood to the sealing pitch. It is perfectly safe and …” Noah stopped as he heard his grandfather chuckling. “You are teasing me at a time like this?”

“It is good to have a laugh in times like these, Noah. Remember that as you speak with grandchildren of your own one day.”

“It would be even better for you to remind me when I have those grandchildren on my knee as you once held me.”

“That is not to be.”

Noah turned away and muttered, “You seem so sure.”

“Of course. Why else would your great grandfather Enoch have named me so prophetically, to announce to the world with my birth that with my death there will be an event worthy of note?” Methuselah looked down at his wrinkled hands extending from his robe’s sleeves. “Although I wonder if even my father knew how noteworthy it would be.”

“I never met him.”

“Yes, he lived a shorter life on this earth than most.”

“But you told me he did not die.”

“And so he didn’t. God took him to be with him in the heavenly realms rather than taste death. That was just a few years before your birth.”

“He escaped death!” Noah had almost shouted the words, then caught himself and lowered his voice. “Why not you?”

“This is all in God’s hands, Noah. My father knew God and walked faithfully with him. Perhaps I have not been so faithful.”

“But that’s not true. You’re more than …”

Methuselah held up his hand. “You must stop. God told you it is time to get in the ark, that in seven days he will send the rains to cover the earth. I will be covered as well.”

“How can I enter the ark shut up safe with every member of my family but you?”

“You can do it because God has commanded it of you. His ways may seem impossible, but if he has command it then he has also provided all you need.”

Noah looked at his own hands. “Yes, I have the physical strength to follow his orders. But do I have it in me to see this to the end?”

“You will know,” Methuselah said, “at the end.”

“And so I am to leave you out here to drown in judgment?”

“You must leave me here. This is the prophecy of my father: when I die, it will come.”

“Stop speaking of your death.”

“Why? I have now lived longer than anyone we have ever known, or even ever heard of. Who’s to say when I shall breathe my last?”

“You will die in the floodwaters!”

“Do you know that? You and your family are to enter the ark today. They are already waiting inside for you so they can seal the door with that pitch you’ve saved for the last.”

“And you are out here, waiting to DIE!”

Methuselah smiled once again. “I thought we weren’t supposed to speak of my death.”

“You know what I mean.” Noah threw his hands up.

“I do. You mean you love me. You are a good grandson. Now come embrace your grandfather before you climb that ramp and enter your boat.”

Noah did as bid, and shook as a sob escaped his lips.

“I will not tell you not to cry,” Methuselah whispered into his grandson’s ear. “There is much to weep over, including our parting. But I am mindful that I might not die in the floods after all.”

“You mean God will take you into heaven without tasting death, like your father Enoch?”

“No, I must die. That’s the prophecy. But it is with my death that this comes. I suspect I might just die before the clouds gather and the first raindrops fall. While you are all shut up in that ark with those animals – the smell, Noah! – I will be out here in the fresh air enjoying the sunshine. And then I shall breathe my last.”

“You seem pleased, I must say.”

“Of course. God has planned this from before my birth. This is a good way to die.”

Noah renewed his embrace. “You are stubborn.”

“It is good to be stubborn in following God.” He pushed Noah away to arm’s length. “Now go. Your family is waiting.”

Noah climbed the ramp and stopped at the top, turning back to face his grandfather. “And you?” he called.

“I will be fine.” Methuselah sat on a rock and raised his face to the sun. “I have a feeling I will be seeing my father soon.”

Noah closed the door and sealed it with pitch.

***

Doing the math: According to the genealogy of Genesis 5, Enoch was 65 when Methuselah was born. Enoch lived on earth for 365 years but instead of dying he was taken up by God because he walked faithfully with him. (Genesis 5:24.) Methuselah was 187 years old when Lamech was born. Lamech was 182 years old when Noah was born, making Methusaleh 369 at the birth of his grandson. He lived a total of 969 years. (Genesis 5:27.)

Genesis 6 and 7 speak of the ark’s purpose, with Noah finding favor with God and therefore being chosen to build it. He, his wife, sons, and daughters in law were all to shut themselves up in it along with the animals they would care for. The floodwaters came when Noah was 600 years old. (Genesis 7:6.)

Since Methusaleh was 369 years old when Noah was born, that made him 969 years old – the year of his death – when the waters flooded the earth. Did he die in the flood? Did he die before? The Bible does not say. But one translation of the name Methuselah is “man of the dart” while another is “when he dies it will be sent.” (New World Encyclopedia.)

Why did Enoch give him this name? Whether it was prophecy of God sending something on Methuselah’s death or that he was like a dart or lance, the name suggests judgment of a sort. I came up with this dialog between Methuselah and Noah not to represent the actual last days of Methusaleh but rather to provoke thought on God’s ways of working in people’s lives throughout the ages. This happens still today.

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Social Media Is Like Fast Food – Don’t Get Stuck by Yourself in the Drive-Through

[April Fiet’s guest post considers fast food and social media, life and companionship, and finds a way through to spiritual health and being a good neighbor.]

In the course of an especially busy week, I have found myself in the drive thru of a fast food place both eager to eat and dreading it at the same time. On the one hand, eating out is supposed to feel like a treat. On the other hand, I know that I’m in the line of cars at the drive thru either because I have overcommitted myself or because I have told myself I’m too busy to eat mindfully, which most of the time isn’t as true as I would have myself believe. I’m torn between happy I don’t have to cook and clean, and frustration with myself for not prioritizing better. It’s some kind of shame spiral I think Brene Brown would have a whole lot to say about.

As I have spent time exploring my relationship to social media, I have discovered that logging on to Facebook or Twitter is a lot like sitting in the drive thru, at least for me. The drive thru promises quick food, when what I really need is to be nourished. Social media promises instant contact with others, when what I am really after is to know someone and to be known by them. I tell myself that if I just log on, I’ll be filled at least a little bit. Well, I tell myself that subconsciously. If I were to tell myself that out loud, or even in my mind, I would deny it. But, if I were to take the risk of being honest with myself, I would have to admit that it is true.

I go through the drive thru because I’m hungry. But, is my body fed and nourished by what I am putting in? Does it satisfy my hunger in a lasting and healthy way? Or, have I only taken the edge off, while also conditioning myself to go back to the same place when I’m hungry the next time?

Perhaps some of my time online is spent in the same way — an attempt to take the edge off of the loneliness of my life. Each “like” may soothe the ache for a moment, but does it meet that primal need?

Social media isn’t the problem as much as it is a symptom. I believe the pervasiveness of social media merely highlights the way our desire for fast, simple, and immediate has overtaken that soul longing for what is intentional, authentic, and lasting. Finding and forming community is difficult work, and it is far from immediate. When we open ourselves up to be known, we risk being wounded. When we allow ourselves to know others, we risk being let down. Community-building is vulnerable work, and it does not happen overnight.

The media spends a lot of time publicizing the risks or benefits of certain foods from trans fats to new diets and the latest superfood that promises to be a panacea. We know that what we put into our bodies can either nourish us or harm us, and we know that the way we eat can contribute to a variety of health issues. We spend far less time talking about the risks of disconnection from others and loneliness, though these things are dangerous as well. For former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, loneliness is a growing health concern. Lack of meaningful and deep connection is harming us, just as eating fast food every day will harm our bodies.

In January, I set some concrete goals in order to better care for myself and my family. I decided that our family needed to break the habit of picking up a quick meal on the way home from church, even though sometimes it’s hard to have the energy to cook when both parents are pastors. We talked about it as a family, and came up with some options to help us stick to this goal. I also decided to begin a simple exercise routine that I can fit into my busy schedule whenever I can find 30 minutes (Fitness Blender workouts for busy people, for the win!). These goals and changes are not anything special. In fact, I would guess that they are remarkably similar to the goals many people make around the first of the year.

More recently I have decided that, while these goals are important, it is just as important that I tend to my emotional health. Social media is not in itself a roadblock to connection and emotional well-being, but it can help me deceive myself into thinking I’m already connected and emotionally healthy. I can look at the number of friends on my list and tell myself I’m not lonely. I can log on and take the edge off of the isolation. I can feed myself quickly, but I’m not receiving the nourishment I truly need.

I have made a few changes in my own life as I have begun to take inventory of my emotional well-being and need for connection. One of the simplest changes I have made is charging my phone for the night in another room. I cannot start my day by rolling over and checking my email or my notifications if the phone isn’t right there. I have also turned off all social media notifications because the notifications will be there whenever I decide it is a good time to look at them.

These changes address some of the impulses that can trick me into thinking I’m connected enough already, but they do not address the positive side — what steps I need to take in order to make meaningful connections. For starters, I am reaching out to the people who live closest to me – my neighbors. Do I know them? Am I listening to them? Am I being a neighbor? I think being a neighbor means more than making sure I keep my lawn mowed, but I am still discovering what else it looks like. For now, I am taking my cues from the people around me who seem to have this connection thing figured out. And what I’ve noticed in them is that they always seem to be listening, and they are always looking up. I cannot expect that these things will get me the connection I’m after immediately, after all this is not a fast food diet. But, I am hopeful that practicing community will help me find more of it daily. Perhaps if I take the risk of being a neighbor, I will find someone being a neighbor to me, too.

***

April Fiet is a reluctant trailblazer who preaches, pastors, and parents in partnership with her husband Jeff, and enjoys accidental alliteration and crocheting creatures.

You can find more from April at her blog At the Table – where you’re invited to pull up a chair and join the conversation – as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

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