December 4, 2012

Sing to the Lord an Old Song

Source: Google Images
My favorite holiday station is the one that plays music from the '40s to the '60s. As much as I love Josh Groban's Ave Maria, it doesn't come with the memories of Frank Sinatra's version. Michael Bublé may do a fine White Christmas, but it's not the same as hearing Bing Crosby's classic. And while there are contemporary Christmas songs that I enjoy, they don't come with the depth of personal history as the songs and artists that my parents listened to when I was a child.

Listening to the older versions brings back images of my dad, my grandparents, and aunts and uncles who are long gone. In my mind's eye, they're all gathered around the tree or at the table for Christmas dinner and they're all young, healthy, and strong. I can see my aunt wrapping gifts to place under her tree. I remember my excitement when my grandparents took me to Sears to see Santa. Those older songs bring back memories of traveling to Texas to see family, arriving just in time to be tucked into bed. More than memories of the past, perhaps they're visions of the future, a tiny glimpse of heaven.

And so it is with the old hymns. While the Bible tells us over and over the importance of singing a new song, it never says to throw out the old. God wants us to recognize His mercy in new ways. He wants us to use our creativity to give a fresh perspective on our love for Him. He wants us to be so overcome with emotion for all that He has done that we can't help but burst out in new and impromptu songs, but He doesn't want us to forget all that has come before.

Just as the older artists bring back memories of traveling to spend Christmas with family, older hymns bring back memories of traveling with the Lord. They're spiritual markers. They remind us of God's hand in our own lives, as well as in the lives of those who have sung them over the ages.

Source: Microsoft Clip Art
All Creatures of Our God and King connects us to St. Francis of Assisi, who wrote the words 800 years ago. And Can it Be That I Should Gain and Hark, the Herald Angels Sing connect us to Charles Wesley, the co-founder of Methodism.  All the Way My Savior Leads Me and Blessed Assurance remind us that, despite her blindness, Fanny Crosby wrote more than 8,000 hymns extolling the grace of God. The older hymns connect us not only to ancestors we never knew, but to all of the brothers and sisters in Christ who sang those same songs to praise God. They are spiritual markers not only for individual believers, but for the church.

So, by all means, sing to the Lord a new song...just don't forget the old.

Until next time,

Sing to the Lord a new song. sing to the Lord, all the earth. ~ Psalm 96:1


December 2, 2012

More Than a Season

Source: Microsoft Clip Art
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and as we sang the familiar songs in worship to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, I had a bit of an epiphany. If we believe that Jesus is coming again - and as Christ's followers, we do believe He is coming again - why do we limit ourselves to anticipating His arrival to the four Sundays before Christmas?

Shouldn't we always be watching for His coming? Shouldn't we live in a constant state of anticipation? Shouldn't we be filled with hope all the time?

I'm not big on New Year's Resolutions, but I'm making one right here and now. I will not limit the spirit of hope and anticipation to a season. I will live my life in constant hope and anticipation, watching and waiting for the return of Christ, because He is coming again.

Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne

Until next time,

"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." ~ Matthew 24:42

November 23, 2012

For the Beauty of the Earth

Northeastern Oklahoma is usually filled with brilliant colors in the fall, but this year's colors have been, well, muted. Some might even feel that they have been disappointing. A second consecutive year of extreme heat and drought have taken a toll.

We had far too much heat and too little rain, turning landscapes that would normally be alive with brilliant hues of orange and crimson into dull shades of taupe and brown.

Still, even when it seemed that the overall landscape was dreary, there were wonderful splashes of color to be found.. 

Sometimes God calls us to look at the big picture. Other times, He calls us to focus a little closer in order to see the details in His handiwork. And He reminds us that, no matter what, there is always beauty to be found.

Until next time,

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. ~ Ecclesiastes 3:11

October 5, 2012

Be Careful Who (and What) You Follow

It took me awhile to get the hang of it, but once I did, well, the rest is history. I am addicted to Pinterest.

The concept of creating boards and pinning pictures seemed so absurd that I couldn't imagine why anyone would do it. Then one day an invitation popped up in my email. I ignored it at first but after a few days I decided to go back and see what it was about. I was overwhelmed. It was a couple of weeks before I looked at it again and I still couldn't understand the appeal.
And then one night I was bored and went back a third time. That's when I was hooked. I've tried very few of the helpful hints that I've pinned and none of the recipes, but I do have my eye on a craft for the near future. I have over 240 craft pins, but I tell myself that I'll get to them someday. At least one is a start.

One of the people I began to follow was a friend and former coworker. She has four young children so I wasn't surprised that she didn't pin very often. Occasionally I would see a series of pins showing adorable girl's rooms in shades of teal pinned to a board with the name of her oldest daughter. I thought she must be preparing to change the room from little-girl-pink to something that would reflect how quickly her daughter is growing up. Sometimes there were pins of party ideas, or fun treats and I would think about a fun mom she is.

After watching these pins for a couple of months, I ran into this friend and asked if she was redecorating her daughter's room. She laughed.  "No, that's not me. My daughter has hijacked my Pinterest board." It turned out I was following a nine-year-old. And if that was not humbling enough, the nine-year-old had more followers than I did, a fact which made that child positively beam with pride when I told her.

It got me thinking about how easy it is to allow substitutes to get in the way of the One we should be following. It can be exercise, or travel, or food. It can be relationships, or politics, or, um, Pinterest. It can be work, or family, or church stuff.  It can absolutely anything (and everything) that keeps our focus off of Christ.

And when I realize just how many things I allow to distract me from Christ, that's humbling, too.

Until next time,

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and
take up their cross and follow me."
~ Matthew 16:24b (NIV)

September 15, 2012

Judging by Appearances

In one of my last posts, I told you about going to hear Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein speak as part of the 40th anniversary of Watergate. They only spoke in about 10 cities, so it was a fairly unique opportunity to hear their take on the events firsthand.

One of the most interesting parts of their talk centered on my favorite president, Gerald Ford. I know, he was president such a short time and you don't hear a lot of people say he's their favorite president, but I have admired him almost from the moment he took the oath of office. There was a bit of a detour in my admiration for him when he granted a pardon to Richard Nixon. That was largely because, at 15, I thought the trial of a former president would be great entertainment. By the time President Ford ran in 1976, I had changed my mind and respected him all the more for the pardon and I was disappointed that I was eight months too young to vote for him.

It took Woodward and Bernstein a little longer to come around. As they told the story, the Sunday morning that President Ford announced the pardon, Bernstein called Woodward, waking him. He didn't beat around the bush, blurting out "The S.O.B. pardoned the S.O.B." Only he didn't say "S.O.B.". They were both convinced that a deal had been made between Nixon and Ford before Nixon resigned but they could never find any evidence to substantiate their suspicions.

It was many years later, as the 25th anniversary of the Nixon resignation approached, when Woodward was working on a book and called President Ford and asked if he could talk to him. Ford immediately agreed to an interview. Woodward traveled to California and the two men met for the first time. President Ford spoke about the turmoil the country had already been through in the two years between the Watergate break-in and the resignation of President Nixon and his belief that a trial would have torn the country apart. He truly believed we needed to put it all behind us, and the only way to do that was to grant a pardon. Now he had said this before, including the first sworn testimony a sitting president had ever given before Congress, but it was the face-to-face conversation in the historical context provided by the passage of a quarter century that made Bob Woodward realize he and Carl Bernstein had been wrong about the pardon.

Source: Kennedy Library
Not only were Woodward and Bernstein convinced they had been wrong, but so was a vocal critic of the pardon, Ted Kennedy. Largely as a result of Woodward's book, the Kennedy Library awarded President Ford the Profile in Courage Award in 2001. This is a portion of Sen. Kennedy's speech as he presented the award:

At a time of national turmoil, American was fortunate that it was Gerald Ford who took the helm of the storm-tossed ship of state. Unlike many of us at the time, President Ford recognized that the nation had to move forward, and could not do so if there was a continuing effort to prosecute former President Nixon. So President Ford made a courageous decision, one that historians now say cost him his office, and he pardoned Richard Nixon. I was one of those who spoke out against his action then. But time has a way of clarifying past events, and now we see that President Ford was right. 

It's easy to look at Woodward and Bernstein and wonder why it took them so long to realize they had been wrong, but the truth is we all allow our preconceptions to cloud our thinking. I see liberals who refuse to cut George W. Bush any slack and who question his motives in all areas. I see conservatives who refuse to cut Barack Obama any slack and who question his motives in all areas. If only we could set aside our emotions and political biases for a minute, we might get a glimpse of two decent men, each of whom has made some good decisions and some bad decisions. We might learn that it is possible to respect someone with whom we disagree on many issues. And we might just grow up a bit.

If only...

Until next time,

I said to myself, "In due season God will judge everyone, both good and bad, for all their deeds." ~ Ecclesiastes 3:17 (NIV)

July 30, 2012

Ready for This Particular Chicken to Cross the Road

When you live in the Bible Belt, every shot fired in the culture wars seems to be the shot heard 'round the world, or at least throughout our section of the world.

The current battlefront can be found at Chick-Fil-A. I refuse to take sides, although I'm sure there are those who think not siding with them (whichever side they're on) is taking a side.

Call me silly, but I think companies can support whatever causes they may choose to support and customers who don't care for those decisions can choose to take their business elsewhere. That seems simple enough.

I don't understand Christians turning this into a holy war with snarky comments and pictures on Facebook. These Christians represent both sides of the issue.

Really? Jesus gave his life for a holy chicken war?

I think not.

Paul indicated in I Corinthians that marriage can be a distraction from the Gospel. While he wasn't speaking to this situation, I think it applies. While there are married couples who manage to serve the Lord fully through their marriages, as Paul says, most who are married have divided interests. As Christians, when we let ourselves become distracted by who is or is not supporting gay marriage, we have divided interests. 

Sometimes I wonder if we all have a case of spiritual ADD as we bounce from one battlefront in the culture war to another. Whenever Christians get caught up in this stuff, we're not focused on Christ. We're focused on convincing others that we're right. That's not our job.

God does not call us to make people just like us, which is a good thing. Jesus unloaded on the Pharisees over that sort of thing, masterfully employing the phrase, "son of hell." (I alternate between chuckling that he used that term to describe religious leaders and feeling convicted that he could be referring to me.)

We're called to love others. We're called to tell people about Jesus. We're called to tell the world about God's grace. We're called to share the story of God's love for each of us, love demonstrated in Christ's sacrifice.

Nothing else compares.

Until next time,

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. ~ 1 John 4:10

July 14, 2012

My Brush With History

I'm a news junkie, largely because I love to watch history unfold. My earliest memory of a national event is President Kennedy's assassination when I was 4, and I have no doubt that's what taught me at an early age that history isn't just in books. It happens all around us. 

So a few months ago when two men whose work was connected to one of those historical events that I watched unfold came to town, naturally I wanted to see them. My friend, Trella, and I looked forward to the night for weeks. We knew we needed to plan better for this one after finding ourselves watching George Will from very bad camera angles on a monitor in a standing-room-only area outside the auditorium where he was speaking a few weeks earlier.

We arrived two hours early. We were so early that the ushers tried to direct us to the VIP reception to meet the speakers but we knew we I wouldn't be able to stop giggling long enough to pull that off. Instead, we went into the basketball arena (the University of Tulsa learned something from George Will's popularity) and carefully chose our seats. Since we were the first to arrive, we had plenty of choices. We decided we wanted to be dead center. Unfortunately, the VIPs who were invited to the reception had several rows of the center section reserved just for them so the closest center seats were many rows back from the stage. Like Goldilocks, we tried those seats for awhile but decided we could do better. By that time others were beginning to arrive so our options were more limited. We moved to the section just to the right of center and found seats near the aisle two or three rows back from the stage.

We were rewarded for our efforts when the speakers came out, walking right in front of us. One of them was visibly surprised by the size of the crowd - a few thousand people - filling the arena. They took the stage and spoke for an hour or so about their experiences and the historical event which had propelled them to fame decades ago. The whole time I couldn't believe that I was so close to these men who have been household names for most of my life. When they opened the floor to questions, I knew I had to get in line.

I've never been one of those people who goes anywhere near a microphone in front of a crowd, but here I am, asking my question.

The first guy responded that my question was a good one. Or maybe he said it was great. No, I think he said it was the best. question. ever. Oh, I have no idea what he said, I just know he indicated he liked the question and I couldn't believe he was looking directly at me as he spoke. Then he turned to the other guy who spoke to me for several minutes as he continued to answer the question. Although his words were obviously intended for everyone in the arena, he looked me directly in the eye the entire time, as though he was speaking only to me as he told a story. It was a thrill I can't begin to explain.

It was a day or two later before I had a revelation about that night. I was thrilled for the opportunity to talk to these guys who had impacted history. But I get to talk directly to the One who created history every. single. day. And while His Word is clearly intended for everyone, it speaks directly to me each time I read it. Why do I forget that? Why aren't I as excited to greet Him every morning? Why do I take speaking to Him throughout the day for granted? Why do I neglect Him?

I won't lie. There are still many days when I take my relationship with God for granted, but then are those other times when I break through that indifference -- or more accurately, when I allow Him to break through my indifference -- and I find that I can still have that same feeling with God that I had for those few minutes when two famous guys answered my question. No, that's not right. It's not the same. It's way better.

Oh, and who were the speakers? These guys -- and Carl even looked up!

I couldn't have been more excited if they'd been Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, themselves!

Until next time,

You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first. ~ Revelation 2:4a-5b

May 10, 2012

His Grace is Sufficient

There is a street in downtown Tulsa that for most of my life, was one-way -- northbound only. It has been a two-way street for around 10 years now...maybe more. To be honest, it still kind of freaks me out when I see a car coming towards me on Boston Avenue.

If I worked downtown and drove on Boston every day, I probably wouldn't give it a second thought but as it is, I only drive down that street a few times a year, almost always northbound. I don't think I've driven south on Boston more than half a dozen times in the years since it has been two-way. It just doesn't feel makes me tense and it's almost as though I can hear a voice in my head screaming, "Danger, Will Robinson!" as I see buildings from the "wrong" side.

But just because it feels wrong to me doesn't mean that it actually is wrong. The city determined years ago that it no longer made sense for Boston to be one-way. They did a study -- I suppose they did, anyway. (I'd hate to think they messed with my head without doing a study first.)  They painted a yellow line down the middle of the street. They publicized it in advance and officially declared it a two-way street. But I can't help it. After all these years, a two-way Boston Avenue still doesn't feel right to me.

Driving down Boston causes an internal struggle for me. Being a member of a Southern Baptist church causes an internal struggle for me, as well, and has for at least 15 years. Don't get me wrong.  I agree with most Southern Baptist doctrine. I love my church. That church has been a part of my personal history for over 50 years. Each day as I put on my makeup, I am confronted by a scar over my left eye that has been there since one of the first Sundays I set foot in the church as a 2-year-old child and was injured in the nursery. For many years I have seen that scar as a reminder that God called me to that specific church. 

But it's no secret that many Southern Baptists believe that women are less than men. They don't come out and say it quite that way, but that's their meaning. Most who hold that opinion will tell you that they believe that men and women are sort of equal but were created to serve different purposes, and it just happens that the woman's purpose is to be subservient to men. They point to verses to justify their positions -- verses that were not written in English and that can be translated and interpreted in more than one way. They can read explanations about the different interpretations and still refuse to consider any possibility that perhaps, just perhaps, the interpretation they have clung to all of their lives is not the best interpretation of that scripture. It doesn't feel right to them, just as a two-way Boston Avenue doesn't feel right to me.

Just because allowing women to serve God wherever He calls us doesn't feel right to some people, doesn't mean it's wrong. God is absolutely the same yesterday, today, and forever. His grace has always been sufficient for all of us, men and women alike. But we were not intended to stay the same yesterday, today, and forever because that would be a sign that we're not growing and maturing in our faith. If we are growing in our faith, we will be changed.

Not permitting women to serve fully is not an affront to women. It is an affront to the Holy Spirit who indwells each woman who follows Christ, just as He indwells each man who follows Christ. Women do not receive some diluted version of the Holy Spirit. Women don't function in the power of the Holy Spirit on some kind of pro rata basis. We receive a full measure of the Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. To deny the role of that Spirit within women is to deny God, Himself.

We cannot deny God and glorify Him at the same time. Until Southern Baptists figure that out, we will never fully be the church that He has called us to be.

Until next time,

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. ~ Galatians 3:28

April 8, 2012

He is Risen!

Reprise of a post written in 2010. The message doesn't change...

Years ago, when I taught first and second graders in Children's Worship, one of the boys asked me about the Easter story. 

He said, "Let me see if I have this right. Jesus came to earth and was born as a baby, then He died on the cross, and He rose from the dead, and because of that I'm saved."

"Yes, that's right."

"But that doesn't make sense."

"You're right," I replied. "It doesn't make sense. God doesn't have to make sense to us. That's what makes it faith."

It's impossible for us to intellectualize God...I'm mean He's God. He is all-knowing. He created the heavens and the earth. He created us. How could we begin to intellectualize Him with our puny little brains, and our painfully limited abilty to comprehend All that He is?

It's enough to know that He loves us, and that His love for us is so great, that sent His only Son to die as a living sacrifice for us. A Son who was - in every way - a part of God.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see
. ~ Hebrews 11:1

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!
Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!


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April 7, 2012

A Day for Reflection

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and Christ's Triumphal into Jerusalem and culminates in the darkness of Good Friday.

But what about Saturday?

We have no idea what the disciples were feeling on Saturday. They must have felt inconsolable grief at the loss of their rabbi and friend, but did 10 of them also feel guilt for spending Friday in hiding while John and the women stood at the foot of the cross? Were they still totally overcome with fear for their own lives? Did they think they had been wrong for the previous 3 years? Were they beginning to question who Jesus was? Had they lost hope?

Saturday surely left them with questions, but Sunday's coming!

Sarah Reeves, "Lamb of God"

March 12, 2012

My Lenten Detour

I was considering giving up the sin of judging others for Lent...and beyond. Then I remembered I had jury duty.

I had served twice before. I knew the drill. You show up on Monday, you bring a book -- expecting lots of down time -- and you're released to go back to your own life by Wednesday afternoon. (If anyone thinks we no longer have a draft, I would argue that we do, and we call it jury duty.)

As I walked from the parking garage to the courthouse, I could easily spot my fellow jurors. I thought about how odd it is that we're plucked from our normal lives and kept in the basement of the courthouse for a few days, silently hoping that our names will be called so that we can be released from the boredom of said basement. This time would be different though. This time I would silently pray that my name would not be called.

The last time I served was 25 years ago and I sat on a jury for first-degree burglary, which meant the house was occupied when burglars broke in during the night. We came back with a guilty verdict, sending the defendant to prison. The time before that I served on a civil jury, deciding a case involving car repairs. What I remember most about that first experience as a juror was that by Tuesday afternoon when my name was finally called, I felt as though I had won a trip to Paris. Whether that was my youthful naivete or just the tedious boredom of the jury room, I don't know. I just remember that getting out of that basement felt like freedom.

As it turns out, our city has become much more violent over the last 25 years. When I read the paper looking for jury verdicts following my most recent service, I think there were three murder trails and one rape trial decided by the jury pool that I was part of. When they called panels of 38 and 45 for voir dire on Monday morning, I knew that was a bad sign. Shortly after lunch on Monday, my name was called to another panel of 45.

When we arrived in the courtroom, there was another drawing. Thirty-six of the 45 of us were called into the jury box for voir doir. We soon learned that the defendant had been charged with murder. There were a few of us who had come back with guilty verdicts in previous trials and I think most of us assumed that we would be thanked for our time and sent back to the jury room. The voir dire continued through the afternoon and into the next morning. We were sent downstairs as the attorneys made their final selection, most of us hoping not to be selected. When we were called back up, the names of the final 12 jurors and 2 alternates were read. As we neared the end, I began to breathe a sigh of relief and started to pick up my purse. Then my name was called.

I don't think there was anyone on that jury who wanted to serve on a murder trial. I know I didn't. It was surreal to find myself listening to opening arguments. But we did it, because that's what we were called to do. And it was a privilege to see the lengths that the courts and the attorneys will go to in order to ensure a fair trial. I wouldn't have thought it possible to truly presume innocence, but I learned that it is. That's something I need to apply better in my own life.

On the final day, as we entered the deliberation room, roughly half of us were either undecided or leaning not guilty. As we talked through the testimony and the sequence of events, one by one, we each joined those who were convinced of the defendant's guilt. We talked about the difference between no doubt and beyond a reasonable doubt. After several hours of deliberation we came back with a unanimous verdict of guilty.

I had prayed all week that we would come back with the right verdict. I had prayed for discernment and clarity. For each of us, I think it was something different that persuaded us of guilt. That's how God speaks to us. We each recognize something different in His voice.

Soon after the verdict was read we found ourselves surrounded by deputies. Other jurors had noticed the anger in the eyes of the defendant's family members who were seated in the gallery. We had kind of joked about wanting security as we returned to our cars (which we received), but suddenly the personal ramifications of the verdict began to feel real. It would have been so much easier on a personal level to say "not guilty". But it would have been the wrong thing to do.

As the judge spoke to us after everyone else had been released, he quoted the scripture from Matthew 7 about judging others, and assured us that we had not judged the defendant. We had judged his actions.

Our Christian walk is much like jury duty in that we follow where we're called to follow and we do what we're called to do, even when it's something we would never choose for ourselves. We know our Master's voice, and we respond to His commands. My prayer is that I'll get better (and faster) when it comes to saying, "Yes, Lord."

My first act of following His directives will be to go back to my original Lenten intention and work on that judgment thing, learning to freely apply the presumption of innocence. For I am judged as I judge others.

Until next time,

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:13

February 16, 2012

The Grace of God

You often hear people talk about how we choose the wrong people to be our heroes, and they're right. We shouldn't make heroes out of athletes and celebrities. At the same time, we shouldn't be so quick to throw celebrities on life's trash heap.

I didn't realize how quick I am to do that very thing until last Saturday night, when I heard about the untimely passing of Whitney Houston. I always liked Whitney but I was never a huge fan. I recognized that she had been blessed with a fabulous voice, but there was a time when you could not turn the radio on without hearing one of her songs, and I thought she suffered from a bad case of over-saturation. And then there was the messy marriage, the drugs, and the occasional public embarrassment. I got tired of Whitney and her problems and I filed her under "Fallen from Grace".

I"m embarrassed to admit that. No one is ever beyond redemption in the eyes of God, and they shouldn't be in my eyes either. God looks at my messiness, my mistakes, and my crummy attitude, and still, He sees me as His beloved child. His grace is never beyond my reach. No matter how many times I rebel against Him, He welcomes me with open arms. And so He welcomed Whitney last Saturday afternoon when she slipped from this life into the next.

Judging from the hullabaloo in New Jersey over Gov. Christie's decision to fly flags at half-mast this Saturday, there must be a lot of people who dismissed Whitney because of her public failings, just as I had. I understand those who are incensed that the flags are never lowered to half-staff for the funerals of New Jersey's servicemen and women who die in the line duty. I agree that flags should be lowered to honor the true heroes of this nation whenever one is buried to remind each of us to stop for a moment in gratitude for a life lost serving our country.

But I think it's also fair to lower the flags in New Jersey for a favorite daughter who did not choose to be idolized for it's not Whitney's fault that we choose the wrong people to be our heroes. Yes, she made bad choices, and she disappointed, but who among us has never made bad choices? Who among us has never rebelled against God? Who among us has never made mistakes? When Whitney was on top of her game, New Jersey was proud to claim her. They should be no less proud now. For she is a child of God, and she is loved by the Creator of the Universe. She is a reminder that lasting redemption is possible, but we will not experience the fullness of that redemption in this life.

Long before Whitney, another musician cried out the Lord, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant a willing spirit, to sustain me." Even as Whitney's life sank into the abyss, I'm sure God could see the exuberant joy of a young woman who loved Him with all of her heart. That girl was still inside the middle-age woman but most of us didn't see her anymore. Then this week, we saw all of the videos once again and were reminded of what had been. None showed her optimism and enthusiasm more than Whitney singing the National Anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl.

I didn't see Whitney perform that night because I was stuck on an airplane at Hobby Airport in Houston for a few hours as fog rolled in, eventually cancelling the flight. I don't remember seeing the video before this past week. As I watch it, I am filled with conflicting emotions. I'm transported back to memories of how we felt as a nation as Desert Storm began and I'm carried away by the sense of patriotism that clearly filled the stadium. I am overwhelmed by a God who would give her such a phenomenal gift and at the same time give her a mother who would see to it that she knew Him. I see Whitney's youthful exuberance and it makes me smile for just a moment before I remember the sad ending to her life, and I begin to feel tears rolling down my cheeks. And I feel shame for ever filing Whitney under "Fallen from Grace", for she has been redeemed.

Until next time,

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned an fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. ~ Romans 3:21-24

January 5, 2012

It's Not All About Eve

I'm tired of taking the rap for Eve. Heck, her husband - who was up to his neck in her deed - wasn't willing to take the rap for her. When God confronted Adam and Eve after they had eaten the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam's response was, "The woman you put here with me -- she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it." Don't get me started on Adam.

Not that I think for a minute that I would have done any better than either one of them. I know better than that. It's the insinuation by some that the Fall of Man was more Eve's fault than Adam's, when I think the Bible teaches that it was the result of the predilection we all have for rebellion against God. It's the implication by too many that Adam would not have been so easily persuaded by the serpent that offends me. Even if not directly by the serpent, wasn't Adam just as easy to persuade to rebel against God as Eve was?

It's one of those things for which I intend to have a chat with Paul when we all get to heaven. Just what did he mean in I Timothy 2:14* when he wrote,  "And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner"? So what is he saying? Surely he's not implying that Adam didn't become a sinner because that wouldn't be right. Excuse me, but we don't call it the "Fall of Woman".

We each have a certain amount of cultural conditioning to overcome in our walk with Christ, and Paul surely had a boatload, what with having been a Pharisee and all. Maybe he was guilty of what we Baptists call backsliding when he wrote that verse because it doesn't seem to line up with Genesis 3. More likely, I think that he was well aware that he was writing to people who were new Christians, and who, like Paul, came from a religious background that placed emphasis on following Mosaic law. They didn't have the experience of decades of following Christ in their own spiritual walk. They didn't have the example multiple generations before them who modeled Christlike behavior. They didn't have the benefit of 2,000 years of faithful Christians who had studied the New Testament scriptures and written books and hymns about God's unfathomable grace. For that matter, beyond whatever letters each church had received and/or shared, they didn't even have a New Testament. Many of those early Christians had legalistic baggage they had not yet learned to let go of and more importantly, they lived in a culture that was immersed in that same legalistic baggage. Paul knew his audience in the early churches, and he knew the minds of those who had not yet come to Christ. I think Paul didn't want his words to become a stumbling block to a culture that had enough trouble grasping that God's grace was extended to Gentiles as well as to Jews; never mind trying to explain that God's grace covered women as well as men.

Even so, I always took the words of I Timothy 2 blaming Eve for the Fall of Man for granted because after all, Eve did take that first bite. There's no getting around that. But then I had an "aha" moment earlier this year when I was reading Genesis. I'm visual, and whenever I think of the Fall, I always picture an image of Eve talking to the serpent that came from the teacher's packet in my first grade Sunday school class. It looked something like this:

Source: Google Images
Naturally, Eve is prominent in the illustration, as is the serpent, and there's that smoking gun fruit in her hand. You'll also notice that Adam is nowhere to be found. That's why I had always pictured Adam coming home from a hard day's work tending the garden to find Eve wiping fruit juice from her lips. But in reading Genesis again this past summer, something jumped out at me that in all of my previous readings had never fully registered. Adam was with Eve when she took the bite out of the fruit. How had I missed that? Following the conversation with the serpent, Genesis 3:6-7 says,

Source: Microsoft Clip Art
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 

Now it's not clear if Adam was around for the serpent's spiel, but it is clear from Genesis 2 that before Eve was formed, God directly told Adam not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:16-17 says,

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

So I have to wonder, what was Adam thinking when he saw Eve reach for the fruit? Was he curious, too? Had he been tempted to eat the fruit himself?  Did he fully comprehend the meaning of death? Did he think it was something from which you could recover? In that split second, did he decide to use Eve as his food taster just to see what would happen? 

If Eve's sin was the first sin of commission, Adam's was the first sin of omission. They occurred simultaneously. And if those who believe that a gender hierarchy was in place from the very beginning of Creation are correct, then it could be argued that Eve's sin was not the first -- that it was Adam's failure to stop Eve from eating the fruit that was actually the first sin.

The death that Adam and Eve experienced did not come in a physical way the day they sinned. Theirs was a slow death, one that began with expulsion from the Garden. We live in a fallen world today not just because of the failure of Adam and Eve to obey God, but because of all the ways each of us continues to rebel against Him. The Fall of Man isn't about Eve's sin. The Fall of Man(kind) is about OUR sins -- the sins of men and women, alike.

There are lots of things about scripture I don't understand but this I know: despite the fallen world in which we live, the God who forgives me my sins is not still holding Eve's sins against me. That's because my Savior paid for Eve's sins the same day He paid for mine. That's the power of Christ's sacrifice. That's the power of God's grace.

Until next time,

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. ~ Romans 3:22-24

*Revised when I reread this after posting and realized that on a roll, I had inexplicably typed I Peter (not once, but twice) instead of I Timothy. As the governor of my native state would say, "Oops."