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5/09/2015

ARISE LIKE A MOTHER IN ISRAEL

Tomorrow is Mother's Day in the U.S. Mother's will be recognized in churches and homes across the country. Women without children will feel left out. Women whose children have died will feel sadness. Children of bad mothers will feel angry. Mothers of thoughtless children will grieve.  Some will say it is a meaningless day that served to offer a token to women who were note recognized as full participant's in their lives, choices, marriages, or opportunities.  Patriarchy wrapped up in roses and warm feelings.
 
Mother's make a difference.  Mother's, however, are more than a biological role.  The Bible illustrated that in the book of Judges where the prophet, judge, warrior, and poet Deborah said: "There were few people left in the villages of Israel--until Deborah arose as a mother for Israel."  The term in Judges 5:7 seems to reflect not her biological role (there are no mentions of her children so she may have been childless) but a more significant role as one who cares, protects, and guides.
 
There is a need for women to 'arise' like the Prophet and Judge Deborah as a "Mother of Israel". A role of authority, moral righteousness, civic engagement, courageous action, and enduring stamina. Sex trafficking, child abuse, domestic abuse, crumbling cities, destroyed families, disastrous laws, and ruthless greed.  Where are the "Mothers" who will arise?
 
Who will arise to care for those who have no one to care? Who will arise as one who protects the defenseless?  Who will arise as one to offer the light, wisdom and guidance needed?
 
"Arise!" It is time for women to stand on their feet and step in to the role of a "Mother of Israel". It is a role of authority and great responsibility.
 
Are we, fellow women, up to it?

4/03/2015

Tea and Pages: Where Did Holiness Go?

Tea and Pages is an occasional exploration of theological, social and Biblical topics from Marilyn A. Hudson.
 
In the 1960 Discipline of The Methodist Church was a section found in each of the disciplines through the life of this evolving denomination. "The Articles of Religion" presents the theological and Biblical basis for the beliefs of the church.  At this time the Discipline reflected the combined beliefs of three groups that merged in 1939 (The Methodist Episcopal South, The M.E. and the Methodist Protestant).   One is titled "Sanctification" and his prefaced by this statement: "The following Article from the Methodist Protestant Discipline is placed here by the  Uniting Conference. It was not one of the Articles of Religion voted by the three churches."

Sanctification was defined as "that renewal of our fallen nature by the Holy Ghost, received through faith in Jesus Christ, whose blood of atonement cleanseth from all sin; whereby we are not only delivered from guilt of sin, but are washed from its pollution, saved from its power, and are enabled, through grace, to love God, with all our hearts and to walk in his holy commandments blameless." (Paragraph 86 on pg. 37).
 
In A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, written by John Wesley in the 1700's he addresses this concept of what he defined as "inward sanctification" (pg. 33, point #17). 
 
Over time theologians would argue as to the role, stage, and purpose of this process. In the 1800's and early 1900's there were denominations that emerged predicated on the process of sanctification being a crisis point subsequent to salvation (a second definite work of grace), others followed in Wesley's steps of seeing it as a benchmark experience but also as an ongoing process, and still others firmly held to salvation and sanctification being a single action of grace. Numerous nuances of theology swirled around these key points.
 
Some groups became too focused on expressions of holiness in observable and measurable ways. Dancing, elaborate dress, extravagant spending, lewdness, secret societies, fairs, frivolity, and other actions clearly seen in a life were frowned upon and, as denominations emerged from these groups, formulated into rules of conduct for membership.
 
Wesley focused rightly on the work of the Holy Spirit in shaping the inner person.  He knew from his own experience of being a unawakened Christian that one can go to church, read the scriptures, pray and give to the poor but remain polluted by fears and sin. 
 
That word, however, is a key issue. Sin. As the 20th century progressed the term fell from theological fashion to be replaced by psychological and sociological ideas that basically presented sin as a quaint superstition.  Sin was an aged term that should be replaced by better education, economic equity, self-actualization, and similar ideas.  So, the term flowed between two extreme views. One end of that spectrum was a belief that humanity needed no spiritual salvation because sin was a myth to the other extreme that humanity needed, not only spiritual salvation, but also confining rules to ensure they reflected their state through both belief and behaviors.
 
The Wesleyan view of sanctification was often termed "scriptural holiness" and that is a good way to discuss the subject. The scriptural stance argues that the human being can do nothing 'to be' holy or sanctified.  That is an action and result of the will and grace of God.  It is always a gift of God.
 
In the 1988 Discipline of the UMC in "Our Doctrinal Standards" this process is clarified as being "the work of God's grace through the Word and the Spirit, by which those who have been born again are cleansed from sin in their thoughts, words and acts, and are enabled to live in accordance with God's will, and to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord." (page. 72, paragraph Article XI).
 
For Wesley, this process of becoming perfected in Christian love, thought and action did not remove human will but outlined the need for self-discipline, supportive mutual accountability, and a constant hunger for God in the Christ follower. All of his thoughts were reflections of scriptural principles.
 
Today, we see and bemoan the crumbling of social morality and personal integrity. The once strong walls upholding the concept of civilization are battered. We gasp at the cruel dimensions of human behavior but suggest its solutions can be found in education, economic status and better self-esteem. All that is needed are judicial applications of social programs and political action and the problems can be solved.
 
For Wesley, as expressed in A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, the person who has committed themselves to Christ has shifted their thinking in response to the work of the Holy Spirit in them. They are not forced to be a certain way; they willingly wish to become clearer reflections of Christ in their world. "He cannot utter an unkind word of anyone; for love keeps the door of his lips. He cannot speak idle words; no corrupt conversation ever comes out of his mouth; as is all that is not good to the use of edifying, not fit to minister grace to the hearers. But "whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely...justly...of good report."
 
The effective thrust of this 18th century renewal movement was to energize generations in the need for 1) a passionate and personal spiritual relationship with God, 2) an active and intentional personification of that faith through good works, and 3) a clear sense of the purpose of the Church as a vehicle to share the Gospel and help others develop a passionate and personal spiritual relationship with God. 
 
Perhaps current declines noted in some denominations can be attributed to a loss of the role of sanctification - of scriptural holiness - in modern life. Maybe the question churches should be asked is not how to grow numbers but to look inside and ask, where did the hunger for holiness go?
 
 

4/02/2015

Tea and Pages: Issues Over Substance

In Matthew 23:24 comes a startling statement from Jesus : "Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel."  The shock comes from the fact that these individuals swallowing things whole while picking out the tiniest object they found objectionable were not pagans.  They were not those who did not know the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Deborah, or Huldah.  These were the righteous of the day.  These were the ones who enjoyed a position as being leaders in the faith, keepers of the law, the godliest of the godly - the Scribes and the Pharisees.
 
I am reminded of that verse whenever contemporary society jumps on a social issue hobby horse: abortion, marriage, homosexuality, war, poverty, racial injustice, wealth inequality, women's rights, or climate change.  They have issues - a lot of them!  The issues are all important and there are many ways of viewing their impact on society even among Christians.
 
It is at that nexus  of Christianity and social issues that the problems seem to emerge.  So much of conservative Christian America identifies itself with these social issues. A specific and preferred view of them creates many problems and is used, inappropriately I believe,  to define what it means to be Christian, conservative, and American.
 
As important as those topics might be they are the gnats that take our focus as true followers of Christ with the camels we swallow whole. 
 
The camels include these serious substantive personal and social problems.  Address these and there is a strong, positive witness to the grace and love of God.  "I was hungry and you fed me...." A real 'when the rubber meets the road', 'put your faith where your money is' acting out of the substance of the Gospel.
 
We swallow, without thought, these massive camels...
Unforgiveness. We refuse to forgive. We keep out hurts open and painful. We never forget.
Intolerance.  They are not like us, don't share our view, and we stop listening and that leads to lack of conversation and communication that ends in intolerance. How shall they hear, see, experience the Gospel when no one is talking?
Jealousy. Always looking at others to measure your own success instead of measuring yourself against the life of Christ. As people living "in Christ" we are new creations and our values as Christians should not be those of the world. Nor should we compare ourselves against other Christians. Look only to Christ.
Arrogance. The know it all syndrome. Self-sufficiency run amuck. The doorway that allows pride to trip us up.
Hatred. God is love and those who hate set themselves in opposition to God.
Greed.  The eternally hungry who refuse to eat the Living Bread of Christ and be filled.  They want more and more of power, money, good times, and anything that pleases them.
Lying.  Liars lie out of fear so the crux of this issue is a lack of the courage to face consequences, tell the truth, and make a decision.
Lust.  Lusts of the flesh, the soul and the spirit. Lusts of sex but also lusts of power, prominence, respect, self-value. Lusts of pain, drugs, food and drink. All lead to a dark and sin filled life.
Strife.  These are people who stir the pot, make trouble where there was none, distract people from keeping their eyes firmly fixed on the life of the disciple of Jesus Christ. Their close friends are all these other camels.
 
Put away the childish emphasis on the gnats - God can take care of all those issues through a change in human hearts and minds - and focus instead on those camels swallowed whole.
 
Choose Substance - character, spirit, behaviors of the Christ follower - over issues and see the difference.
 
 

5/13/2014

It is About Strength

I happened upon a copy of Edith Deen's Wisdom from Women in the Bible and found a chapter "Radiance in Daughters: Grace and Beauty."  Building off of Psalms 144:12 Deen lays out an essay that highlights the major problems with much of Biblical interpretation and Christian church application of such interpretations.

For those unfamiliar the verse says :" May our sons be in their youth like plants full grown, our daughters like pillars cut for the structure of a palace."

Even at first glance it is apparent what theme connects those two phrases.  Yet, for Deen, and dozens of commentary writers (especially the Pulpit Commentary), the section about daughters is referring to issues of loveliness, grace and beauty.

Barne's Notes says of the sons they are to be "stout, strong, vigorous, well-formed, even in early life; that they may not be stunted in their growth, but be of full and manly proportions" and of the daughters "the idea of grace, symmetry, fair proportions: that on which the skill of the sculptor is most abundantly lavished."

Both elements of the verse address strength.   Attempts to define the meaning as having lovely and well-proportioned daughters (yes, that was one interpretation!) falls short, as do attempts to say that the writer would look to the artistic values of Egypt or Greece to define a daughter of Israel.

What does a pillar do?  It holds up the roof, it supports the superstructure, and it may do so unseen or hidden out of sight. It is, however, crucial to the soundness of the building.  Some translate this as "cornerstone" which adds additional nuances because a cornerstone is unconcerned about looks but is vastly crucial to building stability.  A cornerstone was the most important piece in the building because it determined the straight lines of the walls and without those the building, and its roof, would collapse.  It was often hidden as well, unseen, forgotten about but so important. 

So, I do not believe that it is accurate to translate this as some paen to having beautiful daughters but having daughters who are strong, capable, and steadfast - just like the pillars that would be used in a palace because a ruler would want nothing but the best keeping his roof steady.

In a society that is today vastly concerned with vapid externals of looks and appearance to continue to translate this couplet in such a shallow manner is to do a dis-service to young women.  It is more important that they be strong, steady, and solid in their faith than pleasing to the eye.  It is the difference between being "eye candy" and "rock solid".  





3/19/2014

INTRODUCING BIBLE RESOURCES

Introducing Bible Resources
A brief definition and list of some common titles for that type

1. INTRODUCTION TO EXEGESIS
 
EXEGESIS is “to explain or interpret.”  A critical interpretation of a text or a portion of Biblical scripture involves exegesis and brings together your own reflection and thought with a thorough examination of a text in context (historical, linguistically, etc.).  The first step is to thoroughly read and understand the text and then to branch out to look at the history, word meanings, and other topics.

 
2. BASIC TOOLS FOR STUDYING THE BIBLE

CONCORDANCES
Concordances help to locate specific words or phrases in the Bible, to survey how many times a term is used and some provide additional helps in articles and indices.  

Strong’s Concordance
  • Corresponds to the King James Version
  • Identifies Strong’s numbers (every word was given a unique number and this number can be used in some other resources)
  • An “exhaustive” concordance – small words “the” are included.
Young’s Analytical Concordance of the Bible
  • Corresponds to the KJV
  • It has a simple dictionary of Greek & Hebrew words; pronunciation guide
  • Two articles on “The Canon of Scripture” may be useful
Nelson’s Complete Concordance to the Bible: Revised Standard Version
  • Cross references words and names
Word Study Concordance: a modern, improved, and enlarged version of both.

 
LEXICONS AND DICTIONARIES
These works define the meaning of specific words in the Biblical resources and translations to provide grammatical forms, pronunciations, functions, etymologies, syntax, context in their original language, etc.

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), Kittel.
A listing of the meaning, roots, and contextual use of words in the Greek language in the N.T.  A working knowledge of Greek is needed.

Genesius’s Hebrew and Chaldee lexicon to the Old Testament: coded to Strongs….  Genesius.
Similar to the above – Hebrew essential.

Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (EDNT)
This work is a guide to the forms, meaning, and usage the words in the Greek New Testament  (3rd ed. , or to the 23rd ed. Of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testament Graece.   Each heading supplies information as to the gender of common nouns, the transliteration of the word, and one or more English word translations.  The index is significant in this work for locating words.

WORD STUDIES
Vine’s Vincent’s , Expository Dictionary of Bible Words ,Mounce’s complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words , etc.

3. TOOLS FOR UNDERSTANDING HISTORY AND CULTURE

BIBLE INTRODUCTIONS
Understanding the Bible. Harris 
An Introduction to the Bible. Hauer 
A survey of the Old Testament. Archer 

BIBLE DICTIONARIES / ENCYCLOPEDIAS
Dictionaries and encyclopedias are always the best way to get started in any research project.  These provide a quick overview of historical, cultural, archaeological, and theological topics.  Basic information about people, places, and events are quickly grasped and applied to your understanding and writing.

Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible
  • Stands as a major work of scholarship, though it is a bit dated and does not reflect the most recent archaeological discoveries.
  • Major Biblical words are given extensive treatment
 HarperCollins Bible Dictionary
  • Handy one-volume work summarizes recent scholarship
  • Emphasizes sociological & cultural interpretation
  • Avoids technical jargon and also does not give the original terms for the original Hebrew or Greek biblical words
  • Well illustrated
 Holman’s Bible Dictionary

Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary

Manners and Customs in the Bible

ATLASES
This type of resources provides many additional helps in understanding the context and history of a portion of scripture.   Maps, photos, articles may all contribute to understanding meaning.

Hammond’s Atlas of the Bible Lands
Intervarsity (IVP) Atlas of the Bible
Macmillan Bible Atlas
Baker’s Bible Atlas

 
4. GENERAL TOOLS FOR UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT
 
Common COMMENTARY SETS and BOOKS
 
Ancient Christian commentary on scripture [set] - A commentary series utilizing the writings of the Early Church period; useful for gaining appreciation or insight into how some of the earliest Christians understood the texts.

Expositor’s Commentary on the Bible [set] - A moderate work on the Bible using minimal Greek or Hebrew citations.

Word Biblical Commentary [set] - A more indepth commentary with discussions designed for the scholar and the lay individual.

Calvin’s Commentary [set] Does not include all texts of the Bible.

 
FINDING BOOKS ON BIBLICAL SUBJECTS IN A LIBRARY CATALOG OR DATABASE MAY REQUIRE USING CONTROLLED VOCABULARY:
 
  • Search using “Bible. O.T. Judges” or “Bible. N.T. Matthew”

3/16/2014

The Sorrowing Woman

In the mythology of Ireland is the 'Banshee' a spirit being said to foretell the death of a family member.  The Irish common folk had a history of 'keening' by the women as they followed the body to the grave. This wordless crying and wailing expressed the deep sadness felt at this loss of life. It was said this was in imitation of the mournful wail of the banshee, which can mean the mourning woman spirit. 
 
Some others wonder if it was the keening custom that gave birth to the mournful cry and the legend of the Banshee.  The Banshee was most often associated with the large houses or families. These, in Ireland, where often the ones least connected with the common folk and their ways and customs. They were often adopting foreign values and beliefs.  Perhaps, at some time, the earlier emotional form of grief response was deemed inappropriate or uncivilized to some.
 
I was reminded recently of this crying and sorrowing woman at the loss of a loved one.  So often the church (and well meaning Christians) want to distance themselves from grief and especially from emotional displays.  Sometimes, though, grief is a painful, soul stabbing experience where the loss and hurt cannot be soothed my well meaning friends who mouth platitudes and encourage thoughts of joy in the midst of loss.
 
My own tears were soul deep responses to the jagged knife of death severing a familial tie both precious and loved.  The amputation of a family member is not something that a person should stoically accept or quietly endure. If there is a time for weeping, wailing, screaming until throats are raw and the body collapses under the weight of the sorrow, is it not  when a close loved one dies?
 
It does not matter if both are people of strong faith because in such moments we are only, we are merely,  humans.  Christ, as he prayed in the Garden for the cup of his own death to pass by if it were God's will, wept tears of blood.  Can I not tear my clothes and fall to the ground in the searing flood of loss?
 
As a woman, perhaps  I view this differently.  We are born into this world amid high emotion, blood, pain, and struggle and when we leave it is the same.

As a woman, I see things in a more realistic fashion.  I see the ties of family where others see only air.  I sense the call of the blood where others feel nothing. I hear the whisper of the beating angel wings as they lift high the soul to its reward when others hear only weeping.  I feel the touch of departed loved ones reminding me that they are only gone in body.  In memories and spirit they are eternal.  So let me rant, rave, sink into mourning but do not hush me....the loss of a life is worth more than a few cards and flowers, don't you agree? 
 
The writer of Ecclesiastes (3-:1f) noted well that there was a time for everything..." There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven--  A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted..."
 
In time, I will move on..."A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance.."
 
So right now, I AM the sorrowing woman, I feel deeply the pain and the anguish and that has NOTHING to do with the level of my faith or my loved one...it has everything to do with being the feeling humans we are, those created in the image of God who, like the seasons, must go through winter's chill embrace to find the hope of a spring.  It may not be your response but it is mine.
 
Like that work beneath the surface as a plant struggles to claw its way to the light of day, it may be dirty, dark and a little too raw, but it is a process I need to go through.  What I need are not platitudes or catch phrases, but a shoulder occasionally, a listening ear, expressions of friendship and love.  Most all, I need one who will stay close to the garden of my grief and, as those first hopeful blades of healing burst forth, take my hand.

 
[Another recent article on this topic is here]



3/09/2014

The REAL Challenge: A Year of Living Christian

A few years ago an author, Rachel Held Evans, took up the challenge of seeing just what the life of a "Biblical woman" really was.   As friends responded to a resurgence of traditional views of marriage, home and deserted careers she was moved to act. "What does God truly expect of women, and is there really a prescription for biblical womanhood? "   So, for a year she lived the life of "Biblical Womanhood."  From covering her head to wearing a sign to inform people of the outstanding nature of her husband she lived up to all the expectations many traditional groups maintain the Bible demands of women today.
 
A.J. Jacobs took up a similar quest to explore life lived Biblically.  The Year of Living Biblically explores all the rules and comes up with some interesting - and often funny - observations about how even the most literal minded fundamentalists tend to still 'pick and choose.'
 
I was reminded of her book,  and learned of his, in some recent research related to one of my own projects. I found myself wondering if we - men and women - could take up a similar challenge and actually live out for a year all that we say is demanded of us as Christians?  
 
What does it mean to actually 'love our neighbors', live peacefully with one another, care for others more than ourselves, give ourselves to the work of the Gospel and so much more?
 
We - people in general- seem to function well with lists of 'thou shall not' items but can we think our way out of a paper bag of gray area ethical issues and remain in tune with the mind of Christ?  Can we be of 'one mind', can we be rich in spirit, can we cast all our cares on God? 
 
What would "A Year Living Christian" look like?  What would we learn? Could we recognize and make the necessary corrections or are we just too set in our ways or defensive of our accepted dogmas?

An intriguing question  and , I believe, the far more important challenge.

3/07/2014

Friendship - Jesus Style

People Silhouette VectorsRecently people have begun to question the rights and wrongs of forcing people to serve individuals whose lifestyles they cannot condone on religious grounds.  I cannot serve this gay couple because my religious beliefs tell me they are  [ fill in the blanks].   Sounds strangely similar to the rationale of previous generations of 'Christians' who argued that it was their right to own slaves because the Bible mentioned slavery, it was their right to fight slavery because the Bible said things about treating our neighbors as ourselves, or I can refuse service to this Negro because my religious group or society believes them to be 'other', inferior', or 'different'.
 
We like to stride to that high moral ground and plant flags in grand gestures but we really fail on the small daily, 'rubber meets the road' ground of ordinary life.
 
A writer is struggling to determine how best to develop their skills and is torn between several genres.  They excel at writing insightfully about subjects of a religious nature that demand thought, study and accepting the challenge that they might be wrong.  These works are well-accepted by the few who bother to note and respond or comment.  In evaluating the number of responses the writer decides writing about religious topics is obviously not the choice or there would be more support and response.  The crossroad of decision is made and they walk down a path that allows them to write deeply and significantly inserting their core spiritual values as they go.  Their talent is not added to the discussions of strictly religious themes where it would have challenged, inspired and educated because that group could not bring itself to show they appreciated or valued what the person was doing.
 
A person on Facebook, brought up to believe that Christians will help and support other Christians - always, finds that instead they often become tunnel-like in their vision, seek only people who think or act exactly like they do and hold themselves somewhat superior because of their religious experience. They require daily doses of 'scriptures' that affirm them, they manipulate people "if they really love God to pass this along right away! or post it on their page - unless they are ASHAMED of God."  They know a lot of people but care for none.  They invest their time online but never in people. They care for their profile but not your input.  One person noted that they actually received "more caring and loving support from agnostics and pagans than from my Christian friends."
 
We would do well to remember that on the high morale ground there is also a cross - we can stand there only as we remember the love and mercy represented by that symbol. 
 
So, what does it mean to be a friend - Jesus style?
 
Christians should be accepting of others as human beings who sin.  Jesus dined with those who were outcasts of the religious and righteous of his day. Those people who followed all the religious laws to be found blameless before God and who followed every rule of right living.  They ignored the tax collectors, the fallen women, the sick, and the hurting because these must be curses of God brought down by their lack of religious fervor.  Jesus spoke with the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the outcast and the social inferiors (women, Gentiles, etc.).  Is there any instance where he turned away from anyone?
 
To be a friend like Christ means we love everyone.  We may not like their lifestyle, we may not like them, and we may not want to act like we support a cause that is not reflective of our beliefs but WE MUST LOVE THEM! 
 
To be a friend like Christ means we care for others more than we care for ourselves.   We have one gift that we cannot refill, cannot replace, and that is the gift of time...the gift of ourselves.  The Samaritan on the road did not have time to help the man beaten and left for dead but, unlike the holier-than-thou types who had gone before, he took that time and spent in on the behalf of another. He did not check the pedigree, did not check the theological stance, or look for signs the man was worthy of his help.  He simply rolled up his sleeves, took the time, made the effort and did what was truly reflective of the message of Jesus Christ.
 
Why do we withhold the good word of praise that may affirm someone making a decision of how to use the talents they feel God has given to them?  Why do we want to pick and choose who is worthy of our help, care or love?  Why do we withhold the willingness to sit with sinners, show them love and show them Christ-followers are not all wild-eyed, raving idiots holding up intolerant and hate mongering signs? 
 
Friendship  - as Jesus knew so well - was the giving of oneself to others and for others.
 
So, the next time you march up that high moral hill to plant your flag, look around for the cross and then ask yourself what are the motives stirring you and are you being the type of friend Jesus was when he sat with sinners, walked with skeptics, loved the unloved and upset everyone else's neat little world?

3/04/2014

Reflections on Ash Wednesday


Every year Christians around the globe enter into a season of repentance called Lent.  Often beginning that time is observance of Ash Wednesday.  In this observance, ashes are placed on the forehead as a symbol of repentance and sorrow for sins committed.
 
Ashes, from an early time, have expressed mourning.  In Job 42:3–6. Job says to God: "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. The other eye wandereth of its own accord. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (vv. 5–6, KJV)  In the New Testament Jesus went into the desert to fast and pray and this too is incorporated into the understanding of what Ash Wednesday is because Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, self-denial, and focused spiritual growth.
 
Thus from ancient times, has come the connection of repenting and ashes.  During the middle ages, the Christian Church was dealing with a population largely unable to read, and so they developed many rituals and used various visual and auditory means to teach about the faith (banners, carvings, stained glass windows, choirs, etc.).
 
Today, many churches conduct an Ash Wednesday or a Day of Repentance observance.  Palm fronds kept from the previous Palm Sunday are burned and their ashes are used. Alternately, some pass out small cards for people to write down their sins or errors and they are communally burnt and the ashes used.  Some even fast for all or part of the day in order to signify the import of the time in the calendar of the Christian faith.  Just as night is needed to joyfully welcome a new day, the season of self-denial, interior growth and contemplation of God bring added meaning and power to the celebration of the Risen Lord.
 
Even if your congregation or church does not conduct such an event, a person can still take part in setting aside the next forty days until Easter (Resurrection Day).  In that time intentionally add fasting, prayer, Bible study, services of kindness and mercy.  Lent is reflective of that time when the seed is in the ground growing, changing, becoming...  Use Lent as a time to begin to grow in your spiritual life, reach out in Christian service and learn and pray more. 
 
 
 
 

3/01/2014

"Don't Mess with Mama's Baby" by Quintella Davenport

Are we ready to respond when something happens to alter our steps?  Here’s an event that may make you ponder the appropriate approach that should have been taken. 

Once upon a July 4th a lady and her two daughters, being 19 and 17, went to South Plains Mall; however, not any of the three wanted to go because of the crowd they knew would be in the mall.  There was a reason, which was to see if something they needed was available so they made a quick trip to one store and started back out of the mall.
The 19 year-old said, “Oh, let’s get a “Frulati” just as they were passing the booth and so she and mother turned and entered the booth.  The crowd was enormous and mother turned to look for the younger daughter and saw three tall men right behind her and one of the men grabbed her buttocks and squeezed as mom watched.   The younger daughter’s eyes were very large and her mouth fell open as the hand grabbed her.  A normally shy mom reached for the 19-year-old (who had no idea of what just happened) and said, “Come on we are going after these guys”. 
The men were all tall, definitely in their twenties, wearing cowboy hats and boots, which made them easy to follow in the crowded area.  As fate would have it, one of them needed to stop at the restroom outside the Sears store.  Therefore, the group of three was easily caught up to by Mama and her two daughters.  The man that had grabbed the younger daughter’s buttocks was standing there outside Sears waiting for his friend.  Mom said, “Sir?” and he responded, “Yes ma’am?”  Mom was quick to tell him she saw him grad her daughter’s rear end. He quickly started the denial process by saying, “I did not,” very vehemently.  Mom responded, “Maybe you did not hear me, I said I saw you grab my daughters rear end.” Again the man denied it to the point of getting loud and bowing up to Mom as if he was going to hit her.
By this time a crowd had formed watching the action.  There were people sitting on the benches outside of Sears looking on and wondering what was going to happen.  Well, Mom had no intention of giving in because this man had touched her baby inappropriately.  The man said in a hostile manner, “I’m married and I wouldn’t do that.”  The normally shy mother spoke up with, “You’re not helping yourself with me at all.”  The man once again bowed up as if he were going to hurt Mom and the younger daughter stepped up to say, “Sir, my mom has a power that you don’t know anything about so don’t mess with her.”  He mockingly jumped back and replied, “I’m scared.”  Then the man looked at Mom and said, “Well, if I did do this, what are you going to do about it?”  The crowd had increased to see the drama taking place.  Mom said, “Have you ever heard of the law?” 
Precisely, as Mom was asking if he had heard of the law, a plain clothed policeman stood up from the bench exactly beside where this fiasco was happening, and responded with, “Ma’am, I am the law, may I help you” as he was displaying his badge. 
The police handcuffed all three men and shared with us that this grabbing of girls’ buttocks had been happening all over the mall that day and thanked us for helping them catch the men responsible.  The police allowed the mom and daughters to get out of the mall and to their car while they held the men.  Considering this information, could the mother and daughters have been there for a reason?  Ummm…
Realizing this may sound like a part in a movie, this event is true; therefore, did the Mom handle this event appropriately?  Ummm…

 Our guest columnist is a freelance writer from Texas, Quintella Loudon Davenport.
 

2/21/2014

A Little Too Vague: Defining Christian Behaviors

Let's face it.   Christians, for saying they are full of light and love, can be some of the worst stinkers around.  It is no new thing, either. Just ask Paul and the church at Corinth.
 
Since the 1980's dozens of books on feuding churches, bitter church people, ethics, burned out preachers, and church fighting have been written.  Thousands of good preachers left the church due to the nasty conduct of good 'Christians.'  
 
I propose the main issue is that we talk in abstracts to a literal minded people.  Imagine, for a moment, if you sent you teenage driver out to the streets with the type of instruction on behavior given a Christian.  Firm rules of signage, speed, courtesy, and safety replaced with vague "just love one another out there!" or "Be kind to one another."
 
While I cannot suggest we adopt a long refrigerator list of do's and don'ts in Christian life (although many groups spend more time telling you what you can't do as a Christian than what you should do as a Christian) I do feel that some clear, basic, Bible based and theologically sound behaviors would not be amiss.
 
Maybe we should spend less time arguing the apologetics of doctrinal points and more time seeing the lessons Christ lived as a mortal human being.  His example of mission as he talked and listened to the social outcasts to share God's love.  His example of interpersonal relationships when he responded to his mother's request for help at a wedding and his equal treatment of people.  His righteous anger at death as he brought Lazarus back to life and drove those from the temple who were turning it into a marketplace.  His teachings about 'where the rubber meets the road': bullies demand your coat?  give even the extra one away; love is not just talk but it gets its hands dirty and gets involved like the Samaritan on the road.
 
I am currently exploring this very topic...what are the specific behaviors God expects of those who call themselves "Christian'?   I have found few works that communicate this in a clear and balanced manner suitable for the non-theologian.   Can we provide a tool for the new believer that is less vague and allows the child like understanding to develop into a mature and deep faith in a guided manner?  Do we have to toss people into the deep end of the theological pool in order to convey what it means - in actions, thinking, and feeling - to be a Christ follower?  
 
Maybe, if we can do that, there will be a lot less confusion, inactivity, decline of churches, and less than noble actions in congregations.  Maybe then, the 'church' - that corporate group of all believers everywhere - can be more focused on their mission of sharing the good news, making disciples and making a difference in the world.

1/31/2014

EQUAL PARTNERS: Marriage Through a Biblical Lens

Christians are instructed in the New Testament in specific behaviors that their "new life" in Christ will produce.  These 'gifts of the Holy Spirit' were to be seen in the believers.  Repeatedly the Christians in the various New Testament churches are urged to avoid one group of actions and develop another group of actions.  This was to be done through the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believing Christian and the growing self-discipline created by the adoption of new values and standards of conduct and morality. The behavioral expectations of followers of Christ was being clearly framed. 

Behaviors to Be Developed and as Results of Spiritual Transformation and Formation:
Love  (Rom.13.9; Matt.19.19; Eph. 5.22)
Kindness (1 Cor. 13.4; Eph. 4.32; 1 Th 5.15)
Faithfulness
Forgiveness (Eph 4.32; Col. 3.13)
Patience (Gal. 5.22)
Caring (1 Th 2:7; 1 Peter 5.2)
Self-control (1 Th 5.8; 5.13)
Good (1 Peter 2.12)
Joy
Submission, Mutual and to God (Eph. 5:21)
Gentleness
Respect (Eph 5.33;1 Peter 2.17; 1 Peter 3.16)
Honor
Sacrifice (Rom.12.1)
Unity (Phil.2.2.)

Behaviors to be Avoided and Overcome through Spiritual Transformation and Formation (Gal.5.20):
Sexual impurity
Idolatry
Witchcraft
Hatred
Discord
Jealousy
Fits of rage
Selfish ambitions
Dissention & factions
Drunkenness
Orgies
and anything that was the opposite of the first list.

It will be noticed that in very few places is there any emphasis on control or power and it is specifically linked to the behaviors to be avoided (selfish ambition, lack of respect, lack of  unity, lack of mutual submission to God, etc.)

Anyone who argues that the verses that say a man is the head of a woman, should be very careful and very clear as to the context of that source of authority.  The rest of the setting clearly says as Christ is head of the Church.
Does Christ limit a person from service or voice in the Church?
Does Christ control the Church?
Does Christ make his Church to suffer?
Does Christ make his Church to feel inferior?
Does Christ make his Church second class?
Does Christ make his Church ...

Go back to the list of behaviors to be demonstrated in the believers among themselves and as they interacted with the world around them.  This is important, because all that they did was a witness to the validity of the message of the Gospel.

A careful and honest look at the model of Christ and the Church applied to the marriage relationship reveals how far astray we have often gone.

In the marriage vows, women were once required to "obey" their husband?  Where did that come from?  Where is there a Biblical instruction for such...

1/29/2014

A CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE

A recent book follows hard on the heels of the return to an unhealthy and fundamentally unbiblical idea of 'Biblical womanhood and manhood'.  It is a firm belief that the great ill of society is 'feminism' and men who do not control their homes.  One book and blog attempts to define just what a 'true woman' is and how to become one. Others continue to value and interpret woman as an after thought to the more important issue of Biblical manhood.  Other books present a course of self-negation, abasement, and masochism for women while affirming arrogance, control and power for men.
 
The basic concept of most of these competing agencies is that once men and women return to a Victorian social structure of men working and women staying home, having children and pampering the man when he comes home, all social ills will be gone.  Others fondly think back to an Ozzie and Harriet family structure.  Yet both of these bred relationships based on struggles for power and the circumvention of the power allotment through manipulation, lies, and physical, emotional and mental abuse.  Some of the highest rates of sexual disease have emerged from times when, theoretically all was in balance with men working and women staying home.  Why did the men stray? You can't blame feminism but one can point a finger at the essentially dissatisfying nature of the unnatural and un scriptural structure of such power based relationships.
 
As is the case in so many of these issues, it is important to return to scriptures for guidance and balance all of scripture against the few proof texts so beloved of those who argue a 'true woman'  or Biblical manhood position.  Since so much of the argument takes place with in the framework of marriage, let us start there since the Bible itself uses the relationship of husband and wife to illustrate the relationship of God to His people or Christ to the Church. 
 
It is clear when looking at the expectations of the Christians in the New Testament that issues of power and control are subsumed into a mutual love and sacrifice.  Why should the marriage be any different?  Why the emphasis on who is in charge or in control or calls the shots?  The following principles are derived from scripture as working rules of conduct for individuals in what we will call a "Christian Marriage":
 
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will tend and care for one another in love. For Jesus said the greatest commandment was that you love one another.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will go out of their way to help one another. 
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will build up and edify one another.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will mutually respect one another.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will share one another's burdens.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will joyfully sacrifice for one another.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will pray for one another and live peacefully with one another.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will  be members of one another and be as one body and, as much as possible, they will be of one mind.
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  • Those in a Christian Marriage will be humble and not think more highly of themselves than they should.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will be tolerant, longsuffering, kind and forgiving of one another.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will sow into great love, goodness, compassion and commitment so that they will harvest those in the relationship.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will seek love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness and faith.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will seek to avoid vanities, envying or provoking one another.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will be subject, in love, to one another with respect and honor.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will love one another as they love themselves and as Christ has loved us to the point of giving his own life for our good.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will live a life of good works, willing to communicate and keeping the faith.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage will be swift to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry.
  •  
  • Those in a Christian Marriage may grow angry but will not let the sun set on unresolved issues but will seek to make peace, ask and receive forgiveness, and work to improve.
 
I chose not to cite any particular scriptures because of the many times these concepts are presented.  Scanning through Romans, the Gospels, Ephesians and other books, it is clear how the nature of the Christian community was expected to evolve in its relationship with God and with each other. Since the Bible uses several verses to indicate that the marriage relationship was an earth-bound reflection of a spiritual truth, it is clear these are far more critical to understanding how people in a marriage or a family should relate than almost anything else ever written. 
 
We have to explore and self-critique why we have been so "hung up" on the misalignment of the structure of marriage into a greater and lesser paradigm that often leads to abuse and negation.  Want scriptures in specific? Search the Bible, all of the Bible, balancing one part against another to see the balance that is there and the threads of love, freedom, mutuality and forgiveness running through its pages.

1/02/2014

New Year, New Life

Through out the Bible the passage of time is always marked by festivals, rituals, celebrations, and times of sacred fellowship. The underlying cycle is one that is seen throughout God's creation. We are born, we live, we reproduce, and we die :plant, animal or man it is all the same.

This cycle throbs with purpose, with forward movement, and with change and new life. 

Change is the constant companion of growth and it is our ability to accept and enjoy each new phase of life that brings personal satisfaction. 

Change is an opportunity to make course corrections, expand knowledge and gain useful experience.

Yes, each year we add a year.  Look at a tree silently adding rings, branches, stretching toward the sun and deep inside all the secrets of the universe, the events of the passing years, and the flexibility that insured survival, all wait to be learned in their own time.

It is New Year...a new life awaits for those with the courage to begin anew.

12/26/2013

Worship In A Gothic Setting: Multi-sensory Worship

The Question: How will this form - this Gothic style - contribute to a person's spiritual growth?
 
The Gothic style in church architecture that developed from Norman architecture between 1200 and 1500. Where Norman architecture (Early English and Decorated periods) was more box like and squat but with Gothic style came improvements in engineering science allowing buildings to be larger and to be taller (perpendicular).   It is a style dominated by the large style of church known as a cathedral.  These are marked by the use of the tower or spire, the arch (Gothic arch refers to the slightly pointed style), the use of buttresses (which added support to allow the church to go upwards) and large windows (often using stained or art glass).  The most popular shape was the cruciform or cross shape with its parts: The Narthex (foyer or vestibule), the Nave (pew or standing area), the cloisters or ambulatories (hallways or aisles along the sides of the nave, and the Crossing or Chancel and altar areas. To each side of this end would be the two cross pieces making the cross and these would be called the transepts.

 
What has to be remembered is that when these churches were constructed few people could read, few had ever attended any school and all their training had come 'on the job' as apprentices or laborers. The early services were all in the Catholic tradition and the spoken parts were in Latin, a language that only a handful of people (usually only the professionals (lawyers, scholars) and the clergy might understand.
 
To a largely illiterate populace how do you consistently teach the lessons of the scriptures?  How do you convey simple faith proclamations?  The answer was found in using a multi-sensory approach to worship.
 
The shape of the building was a constant reminder of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for the remission of sins.  Statues, stained glass windows and carvings around the church, in its walls, and engraved on its furnishings conveyed in pictorial fashion scenes of the scriptures and symbols that taught basic doctrinal or scriptural tenets.
 
In the use of incense, the Old Testament sacrifices were brought to mind and a person was reminded of the fragrances used to adorn the body of the Lord after his crucifixion and before his resurrection.
 
The light streaming through colorful pieces of glass arranged to show the accepted symbols or representations reminded people of the love of God lighting the dark and empty places of life.
 
The symbols of the shield, the lily, the rose, the pomegranate, the grapevines, and others reminded people of specific teachings about the nature of God, the church and the life to come.
 
The use of music was a reflection of scriptural examples of praising God with song, with harp and with instruments.
 
The use of candles were a necessity in pre-electronic light eras but they also were used symbolically to represent the warming and guiding presence of Christ in the midst of those who gathered in his name.  Christ candles on or near the altar were lit at the start of service to signify the entrance of the presence of Christ  ('where two or three are gathered there I am also') and extinguished to represent they movement of the body of Christ - through the people of the church - out into the world

Worship in a Gothic Setting: A Journey Begins

Recently as I began to attend a church built along the Gothic lines, I have had cause to explore what and why we worship as we do. The contemplation of that subject involves traveling the long and winding road of church history discovering the crossroads, the roadblocks, and the straight roads of what we call the Christian Church.

Teaching a class on general humanities several years ago, I had used church architecture as one of the
exploration possibilities as we discussed the idea of form and function in human history.  We looked at the symbolism of religious structures from several eras and traditions.  They were then urged to look at their own church to see what was being said about worship, people, and values by its form, decoration (or lack of it) and use.  Since most of those students attended modern and non-traditional churches held in auditoriums, store fronts, and old Baptist churches the results would be interesting.

Churches (and the denominations they represent) are classified as Low Church and High Church in regards to their worship styles.

Low Church refers to the less liturgical religious traditions.  Into this area will generally fall most Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Holiness, and non-denominational groups.  These groups will take great pride in following what they understand to be a more Biblical, less Catholic, and purer form of worship experience.  These groups often see history as a shackle to be shaken off and discarded in a never ending search for a new and more impressive spiritual experience in the present.

High Church refers to the more liturgical religious traditions.  Into this area will generally fall most Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist and Episcopal churches. These groups will take great pride in following what they understand to be more Biblical, historical, and traditional form of worship experience.  These groups often see history as a companion who enriches, teaches and makes meaningful the life of a person or a church.

Some groups will straddle a middle ground in the use of a liturgy (a word meaning the public service and refers here to an order of worship with responses and specific elements in a printed handout), robes for the clergy and processions into and out of the sanctuary.

Strangely, though, even those churches who would claim to be free of such formalisms as a liturgy actually use a liturgy.  They are like the old Christian who proudly claimed they had "no creed but Christ" not understanding they had just named their creed.   There is an underlying structure to the more "free" church service with its own formal, accepted and repeated practices: a welcome, three songs, a prayer, an offering, a sermon and a prayer/dismissal/altar call. These groups simply do not bother to write it down and often are more flexible as to order or time. 

Given all of these details, as I observed the Gothic nature of the sanctuary of my present church home it caused me to wonder.  What does it mean to worship in a "Gothic" sanctuary? How should the form of this place influence and shape the nature of the worship experience or personal spiritual response?  This led to other questions such as what is the Biblical definition of worship, what are the expectations of the person who worships and how will this form contribute to a person's spiritual growth?

The journey will begin with the last question answered first...


Biography

Biography
Noel Brooks: A Life Shining and Burning, 1914-2006

Waiting...Renewing...Moving

Waiting...Renewing...Moving

Huldah's Gate Badge - Men and Women Before God

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If you would like more information on implementing a Daughters of Huldah or a Sisters of Huldah group in your church or community, or in starting a RFA chapter please contact:

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