Long Term Teaching

womenconnectBlank looks, averted eyes, glances at the clock. Anyone who’s had teaching experience is acquainted with these indicators. You’ve worked hard and long (and even prayed!) over a Bible study lesson, talk or sermon, but no obvious “a-ha” moments are visible from the audience. No questions from participants as they linger. An even worse scenario: they don’t linger!

My first opportunity to teach (though “teach” is hyperbole) was with preschoolers when hair-pulled-back-in-a-bun “Aunt Mary” from the church in which I grew up asked if I would help with these tots. I was only about twelve so a class in hermeneutics wasn’t required to get the attention of these wigglers. Just supply crayons, a three-minute story about David or Jesus (why, oh why, didn’t we teach more about women in the Bible?), an enthusiastic rendering of “Jesus Loves Me” and the morning was a success.

As a young wife and mother I taught an after school neighborhood Bible club. Because the materials—think flannelgraph (look it up on Wikipedia!)—were supplied by the sponsoring organization, little study was necessary. The promised after-session KoolAid© and cookies also helped secure audience attention.

Decades have slipped by and myriad teaching opportunities for which I am profoundly grateful have been my lot. Topics have varied from time management to Bible survey; audiences have been as diverse as international women in Bonn, Germany to twelve men sitting on tree stumps in a Zambian village. Some opportunities have been planned and prepared, others not so much (the men on tree stumps!).

Each Sunday I sit among a dozen or more women who gather to hear from God and each other. (Pictured here on a celebration Sunday some time ago.) It’s not necessarily a time when I teach, though learning takes place. In this group I’m cast as the teacher though I’m more comfortable with the term “facilitator,” and I’m grateful that God has graciously allowed me to participate in the teaching/learning process. To be honest, I would probably study even if no one asked me to teach, but what a thrill to sit together with eager learners and see God’s Spirit minister to us all. Each week I spend hours in prayer and study and yet that very human side of me occasionally wonders if anything I’ve shared contributes to the listeners’ growth in Christ.

Such wondering is not necessarily a negative, nor is it a plea for praise. I take seriously these words: Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). I’ll keep looking for the “a-ha” moments, but even when I see a few blank looks, averted eyes, glances at the clock, I’m committed for the long haul.

Puppies, Thunder and a Roaring God

thunder-stormDuring all the years we had children at home, we also had puppies. While no four-footed, furry friends now share our living spaces, we can visit too-cute-to-be-true Zasu in New York, white ball of fur Gracie in San Diego and black, lumbering, lovable Sam in San Francisco. While these much loved pets are about as unlike a trio as can be found, they share one common trait: when thunder roars from the heavens, each prefers to find a cozy place of safety.

Probably few of you think of puppies and thunder when reading the Bible, but lately I’ve been soaking in two Old Testament prophets, Hosea and Amos, and repeatedly I’ve been stopped by phrases like these: The Lord roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem and He will roar like a lion. To be honest, I much prefer God and Jesus described as shepherds, mother hens or gentle lambs but there’s no getting around these stop-in-your-tracks words coming down through the ages.

One need not engage in deep theological study to discover why God’s voice rumbled from the heavens. His loved people refused to acknowledge him as Sovereign King, choosing instead to worship idols of their own making. Their worship had turned into self-satisfying acts of pride. They broke a covenant of love designed to both honor God and serve each other. God, with passionate, loving anger, wants them to see how much they’re missing and just exactly how far they’ve obstinately and intentionally strayed from a perfect plan.

It’s a little like a parent who sees a toddler run into the street. This is not the occasion for a gentle, “Johnny, remember how we’ve talked about standing on the curb, how we’re to stop, look and listen?” No, now is the time for a scream from the core of the parent’s being. A life is in danger of being snuffed out. It’s time to roar.

I am emphatically not advocating a return to hell-fire-and-brimstone preaching. My husband was deeply wounded by just one sermon of that ilk, wounds that took decades to heal. I don’t believe that thunder, lion-like roars are God’s preferred way of speaking to his people. But when it’s necessary to save us from ourselves, when gentle prodding has been ignored, when the knee has refused to bow, God’s roar of love is just one more effort to get our—my—attention.

Following the Dots

follow-the-dotsIn the long-ago-far-away days of my childhood—“before the earth’s crust hardened” some might say—I loved My Weekly Reader, a newspaper-like tabloid written especially for elementary school students. Newspapers were highly prized in our family; a picture burned into the memory is my dad sitting in his chair each evening after supper reading The Detroit News. Not a page was skipped and the comics (the “funnies”) were as important as op-ed articles.

My Weekly Reader featured timely news articles from a child’s angle plus “Uncle Ben” letters describing new inventions and discoveries. I seem to remember an activities page that often included my favorite: follow-the-dots pictures. If you looked carefully before putting pencil—always a yellow No. 2—to the numbers, the eye could almost discern the finished product. But it was in going from 1 to 2 to, 36 or 53 or—the challenging 103!—that a feeling of satisfied completion settled over this student.

For some reason I thought of following, or connecting, the dots as I contemplated what it’s like to listen for and then follow God’s leading. Rarely do we see the full picture, the completed plan, when he whispers one or two steps that he asks us to take. In fact, often what he asks seems insignificant. Even more often, I hesitate to take the step because it’s outside my comfort zone: my “pencil” (my abilities, skills, desires) is dull, insufficient for the task. Sometimes my one small step of obedience—following 1 to 2 or 15 to 16—seems absolutely unnecessary for the Big Picture. The pencils of others would do a much better job.

While God frequently leads us through his Word, the Bible, I’m finding that almost as often he speaks to me from words in a novel or the newspaper. Other times, as I sit in my Quiet Chair and contemplate the world in which I live, its tragedy, its people with broken dreams, I hear a whisper that sounds strangely like, “Pick up your pencil and follow the dots in my plan.”

This means, of course, that I’m well acquainted with his plan as revealed in holy scripture, that I don’t ignore the hard words found in Hosea and Amos, that I don’t just sink into the psalms of green pastures but walk boldly into deserts of lament. That I consistently re-examine my long-held (and usually comfortable!) political and societal and economic viewpoints. That I bare my heart and ask God to prick and even do open heart surgery when necessary.

I’m hearing whispers from God; I’m seeing a few dots; I’m on the verge of picking up my pencil. Can it be that part of that picture is described in what I reverently speak each Sunday morning: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?

I’ll keep you posted about my following God’s dots. What picture lies before you today? What picture might he be asking you to draw here on earth so that it more closely resembles his heavenly kingdom where he reigns supreme? These are not comfortable questions…

Power

powerCAUTION: SOME CONTENT IN THIS BLOG MAY BE UNSETTLING OR DISTURBING! But it’s been said that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

Someone else commented: When you only read authors…you agree with, you aren’t going to be challenged.  Defending an elegantly crafted argument from the opposing side will teach you far more about an issue than simply nodding your head along with your favorite writer.

 So…I hope you keep reading.

I’ve been thinking about power recently. Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today and author of thought-provoking, and thus occasionally disturbing, books, suggests that “the most transformative acts of our lives are likely to be the moments when we radically empty ourselves, in the very settings where we would normally be expected to exercise authority.”

Much rhetoric heard over the recent very long months—from all sides of the political spectrum and from people of all colors—was polluted by the pursuit of power. Upraised fists, voices raised to unbelievable decibels, printed posters with disgusting slogans, illegal and destructive actions.

Some would say they are pursuing power to help the powerless. A noble pursuit, one even sanctioned by the prophet Micah: What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. But acting justly and loving mercy is not accomplished in a vacuum; justice and mercy must have objects and those who deeply desire to bring about change must act. You and I might disagree with the tactics but at least these people are on the front lines of what they believe.

As an experiment, I’m suggesting that you read a blog by Dr. Christena Cleveland. Before the title of her article sends you into orbit, let me suggest that you quietly and thoughtfully read it several times (maybe print it out), and then write down the points with which agree and disagree. What does she say that make you uncomfortable? Why? Where do you see yourself in her descriptions? (Avoid seeing others…just yourself!) After reading the article (and before knowing anything about her), what do you assume about Dr. Cleveland? Why?

You can Google the title of the article (Trump, the White Man’s last gasp, and the Resurrection) or go to her blog (www.christenacleveland.com) and look for the March 21, 2016 article.

*Photo accompanying this blog is used by permission.

Just Wondering on Martin Luther King Day

mlk-dayI grew up in a white Protestant family. I attended white elementary and high schools. I was taught by and worshipped in a white Protestant church. I’m old enough to remember the off hand prejudicial remarks made by members of my extended family: “That blue car is a N— color.” “Oh, he’ll always try to Jew you down.” “Watch out! Kennedy will be a puppet of the Catholic church.” The only black people I knew (from a safe distance) were the people of African nations to whom missionaries were sent. No one needed to teach me that the white race was better, more intelligent, more (justifiably) deserving. I breathed it in as easily as I breathed midwestern air.

Fortunately and thankfully, I also breathed in another wisp of air as I listened to my dad offhandedly talk after supper about his day at the Detroit factory where he was what might be called middle management: “Today when the sweeper and I ate lunch…” The sweeper? Without being told, I knew this was the janitor and everyone knew all janitors were black. And he and my dad ate lunch together.

Recently I read about the attitude of some white preachers in the early 1960s: “Some white preachers slandered him as a ‘philanderer with communist sympathies.’ Others dismissed his heroic efforts saying King dabbled in politics and didn’t stick to the pure gospel that sidestepped earthly racism for heavenly rewards.” Sadly, I remember these attitudes although not espoused from the pulpit of my evangelical church. Perhaps more dangerous than sermon fodder, I breathed them in from not-so-offhand remarks made by faithful churchgoers of my parents’ generation.

As the tide turns and we this week inaugurate a white president, I’ve been wondering… If Barack Obama’s skin had been white (or even light tan) and his name had been John Jones, would his politics alone have generated such vituperative reactions? After a week’s vacation produced a healthy tan, would Nancy Reagan or Jacqueline Kennedy been dubbed “an ape in heels”? Would we have accepted one artist’s depiction of the president’s wife as a “grotesquely muscular-armed Marie Antoinette” if her name had been Sally O’Hara?

I have lived long enough to know that prejudice and racism lie just below the surface, exposed to view whenever I think my rights, my heritage, my children’s future, my way of life are in danger. But how can I claim my anything if I also claim to be a follower of Jesus? How do I square my demands for rights with Jesus’ life:  …he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being? Or the apostle Paul’s teaching: …in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

I wonder if Donald Trump would have won—on politics and issues alone—if his skin had been black? I wonder…

Adding Spice to Prayer

spices“How can I pray for you?” How many times over the years have faithful friends asked me that question. To be honest, it often put me in a bit of a quandary. Shall I share extremely personal needs, trusting that they will be held in confidence? Or, do I explain that my day-to-day needs are similar to women everywhere? (With cultural variations, of course.)

One of the ways my husband and I have reaped rich prayer rewards as we’ve prepared for short term mission opportunities has been through sending a detailed calendar of our “proposed” itinerary. You know, of course, why I use the word “proposed”: Robert Burns said it this way, The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, or more profound and biblical, In their hearts human beings plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. (Proverbs 16:9 TNIV)

While using our accurate-as-possible timetable of events and activities, friends have specifically partnered with us in ministry through prayer. By using their “sacred imagination”—i.e., one informed by the Holy Spirit—they can sense when we might need renewed energy or relational wisdom or logistical abilities. In a very real sense, they are “with” us no matter how divided we are by miles and hours even though they may be unaware of specific details. Instead of a bless-the-missionaries prayer time (God knows the details so even that is important), new spice and vitality is added.

This week I’ve been praying for a team from our church ministering in Egypt. A calendar such as I’ve described gives excellent information about what they—many who are personal friends—are doing. Or at least what is planned. The other day, for example, they celebrated the Orthodox Christmas and I prayed that they would be absolutely soaked with joy. Imagine: two Christmases in the space of just two weeks! Today they donned work clothes to labor alongside Habitant for Humanity brothers and sisters: I asked that electric tools work well and fingers and toes be protected.

But two other very practical exercises were part of my prayer plan this week. First, I checked the time in Egypt: eleven hours ahead of my Mountain Time here in Colorado so before I drift off to sleep each night, I pray that they are awakening well rested and ready for the busy day ahead. But I’ve added this one fun aspect to my praying. With the internet I easily discovered current weather conditions in Egypt. How nice that most of their time in the Cairo area will find them enjoying weather in the high 60’s and 70’s (F). Great temperatures for building that house! But as they travel to another part of the country, I see that temperatures will be higher and I pray that they will adjust quickly to the change.

With imagination and willingness to be involved at a deeper level with people in ministry, new vitality—spice!—can be added to our prayer life.