Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Love Story week 4: faith & bravery, small & valuable

Sometimes I wonder about my life.  I lead a small life—well, valuable—but small.  
And sometimes I wonder:  Do I do it because I like it? Or because I haven't been brave?
- "Kathleen Kelly," You've Got Mail

I think one of the most interesting questions you can ask someone is, "What scene in a movie best depicts you?"  (Dennis' favorite scene is from his favorite movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  He loves the moment when Butch rides away from the Hole in the Wall gang and says, "I got 20/20 vision, and the rest of the world is wearing bifocals.")  

Nora Ephron nailed me with these lines in You've Got Mail.  I wonder about my life.  A lot.  I wonder what makes it valuable.  When I first heard these lines, I thought, "Can a life be valuable and small?" For a long time I thought the only things that made my life valuable were things that got noticed.  Or things that I did exceptionally well.  A lot of these things required me to be brave—or rather, to pretend to be brave.  I'm not very brave.

I said that to Dennis once, and it surprised him.  "But you have so much faith!" he said.  

Is it possible to have faith and not be brave?  What's the difference in faith vs bravery?

"I just want to put these questions out into the void," Kathleen Kelly writes. "Good night, dear Void."

Dear Void: 
I'm putting these questions out there again because this week, I've been learning to tell the story of God's promise to Abraham.

The Lord said to Abraham, "Leave the place where you are 

and go to a place I will show you."

-Genesis 12:1

Scott Harris, our Missions Pastor at Brentwood Baptist Church, has said that when it comes to following God, it's a two part process:  leaving and going.  And often, leaving is the harder part.  I saw this play out first hand in Matt's life.  It was very exciting to go toward the adventure of an incredibly valuable life doing incredibly valuable work in South Africa.  And though leaping into the unknown required faith—and then rigorous training—it was all on a trajectory toward something.  

Then came the very real work of dismantling the life here, in this place.  Which life, he discovered, was really valuable to him.  Leaving behind the very real people you love and keep company with.  Reducing all your possessions to two crates.  Giving away or selling all the props for the life you know and love.  One of the most heartbreaking moments came when Matt realized:  he had to give away his dog.

You cannot stay where you are and go with God.

- Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God: Knowing & Doing the Will of God

Abraham is applauded for his faith.  And I think he is commended more for his leaving than his going.  Hebrews 11:8 tells us "Abraham went out, not knowing where he was going."  

Faith is the certainty or conviction of things not seen.  (Hebrews 11:1)  Abraham didn't have faith in a vision of the place he was going, or the new life he would live there.  He'd never seen it.  He had faith in the God who promised it to him.  I think he went out, and people thought he was crazy. I think he went out and felt very lonely.  I think his wife Sarah went with him, streaming a running commentary the whole way:  "Who is this God?  Show me a statue of him.  What does he look like?  You're the only one who's ever heard him.  What's the name of the place where we're going?"  I suspect that because that's what I'd do to Dennis.  That's pretty much what I do to God, and quite regularly.  Every time He asks me to leave the well-known comfortable place I am and go to What's Next.  Every time I have to give up my props.  

Brave: (adj ready to face and endure danger or pain.  

I know that I sometimes engineer my life to be small in order to avoid danger or pain.  In order to remain comfortable.  So that things won't get out of my control.

Henry Blackaby says that when we do this—when we have a problem leaving & going with God—it reveals that we have "a love problem."  We don't know God;  we don't trust that He is loving.  So we need to back up, take some time and get to know the God who is the Giver of good gifts, who does not change like a shifting shadow (James 1:17), who is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)  Abraham got to know God so well that though he could not see how his new life would actually happen, he considered God to be the One who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.  (Romans 4:17).

We follow a Person, not a path.

I know that it is possible to be both brave and afraid.  

I know you can be full of faith and full of fear, all at the same time.

I think Abraham was.  When he left the place he knew and went out, not knowing.  When it got very real and dangerous and uncomfortable on the way.  When many years went by, once he got there, until he saw the life he'd been promised.  He never saw all his descendants, as numerous as the stars.  We are those descendants, we who have faith and go out.

Abraham didn't do anything "big".  He tended flocks and farmed.  He fought off enemies and defended his family.  Sometimes he chickened out, and sometimes he stood up for them. He had a son.   In our spotlight-obsessed break-all-records multi/mega/look-what-I-did land, we might consider that a small life.  What made Abraham's life valuable?  It was what God did.

I will give you.... I will show you....  

I will bless you...  I will make you... 

and I will bless all the peoples of the world through you.

- Genesis 12:2-3

Here's the story of God's promise and Abraham's faith.

Who will you tell this story to?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Love Story Week 3: Identity theft

"Robber" by Elliott Worley

Last week I discovered that I might be the victim of identity theft.  We had to engage a credit monitoring service, which will watchdog activity for awhile.  We were glad to learn there had been no fraudulent activity so far, but it was sobering to look at their report.  I mean, there was everything in my public record and my credit history.  My whole identity laid out on a page, summed up in columns of transactions.  Is that who I am?

If you've ever had to fill out a college application or a job application or create a resume, you know that feeling:  trying to sum up your whole identity by a list of achievements and credentials.  It's why I don't write an annual Christmas letter.  I can tell you where we went on vacation this year, what our kids achieved, whether we renovated our kitchen—but that doesn't really tell you who I am after living this year.

I felt vulnerable, knowing that someone could change who that report says I am. Just by adding a bunch of transactions, the thief could change who the world thinks I am.  They could wreak such havoc on my opportunities, my credentials, my relationships.

So, I'm saddened to come to this week's Bible story and find that I actually have been the victim of an identity thief.  

Now the snake was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

- Genesis 3:1

There was Eve in the garden, so completely innocent.  I can picture what it looked like: it looked like my children playing alone in the back yard, completely lost in their play, completely without any hubris.  Completely unguarded.

Most of the childhood that I remember was spent in Dallas, Texas.  My family moved to Shreveport, Louisiana for two years, when I was in the fifth and sixth grade.  Fifth grade was the year I got glasses; sixth grade was the year I encountered Ginger and Shelly.  Ginger had red hair and Shelly had blonde hair, and they ran the sixth grade at Creswell Elementary School.  I was the new girl, and I was desperate for Ginger and Shelly to like me.  And pretty much, people had always liked me.  

Across the street from Creswell Elementary School, there was a drug store with a soda fountain.  (I am not making this up. I did not grow up in Back to the Future, but it was the sixties in a small town.) Every day after school, as we were walking home, we stopped at the drug store, where you could get a little tiny glass of Cherry Coke in one of those old-fashioned Coke glasses.  And every afternoon, Ginger and Shelly would pull me over in the cotton ball aisle to tell me "for my own good" what dorky thing I had done that day which meant I could not be accepted in their circle of friends.

That was not the year I stopped being a child, but that was when I became a guarded child.

Ever since then, if you say to me, "I need to talk to you about something," I am nervous as a cat; I'm right back in the cotton ball aisle.

There are grown up Gingers and Shellys roaming about, even in the church. (They also like the PTA, or whatever it's called now.) I ran up against a few of them on a church committee, on which I served many months of misery.  I came home crying most of the time.  One day my sweet and spunky friend Cindy Sterling rang my front door bell.  I opened the door and found that Cindy had left me a package of those round cosmetic pads you use to remove makeup.  The note on them said, "No more cotton balls!"  I quit the committee.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, 

‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 

For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, 

and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

- Genesis 3:1b-5

Oh, Eve.  What if you had replied differently?  What if you had said, "I am like God.  He made me in His image.  I don't need to know what He knows. I trust Him."  Life would have been so different.

But:  what if I responded differently?  

Satan is always hauling me from the garden into the cotton ball aisle, telling me about the one thing that would make me more acceptable/special/happy/fulfilled/good-as-everybody-else.  He's always showing me everyone's Pinterest feed and their Facebook pages, with their fabulous vacations and gorgeous dinners and kitchen renovations.  What if—this afternoon, tonight, tomorrow morning—when he comes at me, I said, "I'm already acceptable/special/happy/fulfilled/good-as-everybody-else?"  Why do I keep letting him steal my identity?  Why does God keep having to come find me, hiding behind my unrenovated kitchen cabinets, asking, "Who told you you were naked?"

"It was the snake!  He tricked me, and I ate!"

- Gen 3:12

Yes, that is what he does.  While he is pick-pocketing your identity, he distracts you by pointing in the direction of something-God-is-surely-withholding-from-you-and-you-need-to-get-for-yourself.  He lures.  He entices.  

I'm not letting Eve off the hook.  She chose. Poorly.  She chose to look.  She chose to doubt.  She chose to desire.  She chose to do something about it.  That's how it works. "Then desire, when it is conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown, brings forth death." (James 1:15)

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. 

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

- John 10:10

When Jesus says, "I came that they might have life," it is the Greek word   , which means "life as God has it."  Jesus came to give us back the life that God created in the beginning.  When John writes in his Gospel about seeing Jesus up close and personal, he says, "In him was   ."  (John 1:4)   Jesus understood that's what he had come for.  Long, long ago, when God had settled on us as the focus of his love, at the center of his long-range plan was the fact that he would deliver this    life through the hand of his beloved Son.  (Ephesians 1:4-6 MSG)

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.

Ephesians 1:11 MSG

Every day we have Eve's choice: to listen to the identity thief or listen to the author of life. 

Here's how your identity was stolen, so you can recognize the thief 

when he comes for you.

Who will you tell this story to?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Love Story: In the beginning

The first few days of January, we went to Texas to celebrate Dennis' mom's 90th birthday.  Our gift to her was that we flew our kids & grandkids there, most importantly 3 1/2 month-old Olivia Ruth Worley, who was named after Alice Ruth.

We had a family party. Just our immediate family, with all the generations of kids and cousins, is a big crowd.  So it took a long dining room table plus card tables & card tables & card tables, extending all the way across the house!  Alice Ruth had assigned where we should sit, with all the Texas and Tennessee cousins mixed up together so they would talk and get to know one another.  We hadn't been sitting at the table for very long before Dennis' cousin Nanda started telling stories, and then the avalanche of stories began, up and down the table, each generation having different memories to share and laughing at each other so hard we couldn't eat.

If I'd said to my kids, "We are going to Texas and for Grammer's party, I want you to prepare a speech about what it means to be a Worley and share a memory you have with Grammer," they would've dreaded it.  We would've presented our speeches and sat down and still been divided into Texas and Tennessee.  We wouldn't have laughed.  We wouldn't have felt like family.  We wouldn't have gone home knowing more about who we are and the family we come from.

We need to know who we are and where we come from.  It's part of knowing why we are here and where we're going.  Stories tell us this, so it's important that we know them and tell them.  

And it's possible to be living a story that isn't at all true.  

When I was growing up, my family's cousins would all gather on the family farm in Arkansas—my grandmother and her sisters and their kids and their grandkids.  My cousin Marcy and I were the youngest girls; my cousins Janie and Susan were teenagers.  Marcy and I thought they were the definition of cool.  We spied on them all the time.  My great-grandmother's farm house had those old walk-through closets;  the doors had the old-fashioned great big key holes.  Janie and Susan were in the front room.  Marcy and I could sneak through the closet connecting our room to theirs and peek through the key hole into the secret life of teenaged girls, which included bras and finger nail polish and rock'n'roll on the radio.  

This is what I remember from those summer days on the farm:  My grandmother had five sisters, and one of them, Aunt Helen, was never at these gatherings.  She was never talked about. My grandmother and her sisters would fill their days cooking from morning til night in the kitchen til it was hotter than August in Arkansas in there.  We were sent outside to play, and whenever we went outside, someone would yell, "Stay away from the well!"  Of course this meant we were irresistibly drawn to the well, til Janie and Susan told us, "You'd better stay away from that well.  Aunt Helen went crazy and threw herself down there.  If you go near it, she'll snatch you down it."  

I believed that Aunt Helen went crazy and threw herself down the well until I was a grown woman and mentioned it at a family reunion.  Everybody stopped talking and someone said, "Where on earth did you get that idea?" and I pointed my finger at Janie and Susan, snickering in the corner.  What really happened was that Aunt Helen got sick and had to go into what they used to call "a sanitarium."  She never recovered.  I learned in later years that there was a fair amount of history of depression in my family, a fact I needed to know when I dealt with depression.  The women I come from were teachers and mothers and farm wives and gardeners and poets, and some dealt with depression, but no one threw herself down a well, and this is helpful to know, so you don't spend your life afraid of the wrong things.

So, this week in our Wednesday Bible study, we go back to the very beginning of God's story, which is the beginning of each of our stories.  The story of creation tells us enormous things about God, about the world, but especially about our place in it and our unique part in God's love story.  None of us have ever experienced the world as it was when God created it, but we get glimpses, and our longings confirm that we were indeed made for it.  Most of all, the creation story tell us we were made for God;  we were, unlike anything else in creation, patterned in his likeness.  We were made to know him and play a huge part in his story.

God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. 

He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him.

- Romans 8:29-30 The Message

Where you came from:  it makes all the difference in where you're going and how you get there.

Here's the story of how it all began.

Who will you tell this story to?  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Love Story Week 1: Rahab

Every Wednesday morning I teach a women's Bible study.  We've been meeting together for 2 years.  This week, we begin our winter/spring study for 2014.  I'm calling it "Love Story."  I'm so excited about this study!

If you're like me, your holidays were spent making everything special—the most special it could be for the people you love.  How special is special enough?  I've been thinking about that for several months, and I've begun to think that we really wrestle with the need to feel special.  We are pressured by everyone else's pictures on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. What a fabulous time they're having!  What an incredible recipe they just made!  What a fantastic new makeover they just gave their living room!  Look at their new boyfriend!  Their engagement ring!  Their wedding pictures!  Their kids!  Their new job!  Their vacation!  

We can begin to feel that we must go out and make the same magical things happen, get those things for ourselves, or we aren't special enough.  

Paul tells us in Ephesians 1 that we are indeed very special, chosen and loved by God and destined for an incredible purpose:

Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.)

Later in Ephesians 3, we learn that God is able to do far more for us than we could ever think up on our own or dare to ask for.  And certainly more than we could get for ourselves.

We cannot make ourselves special enough.  But God already has. He has set his heart on us.  He has a present and future to bring us that is part of eveything he's been doing since the creation of the world.  And he delights to bring us that life.  That's the good news we call The Gospel.  That's the story of the Bible.

I noticed two things in our Bible study last fall:  

First, I'm not sure we believe this about ourselves.   Second, I'm pretty sure we're afraid we don't know how to tell it to others.  I feel that way!  So I'm very excited about tackling those two problems together in our next Bible study, and here's how we're going to do it, in a fun but challenging new way:  

We're going to learn to tell Bible stories.

We're going to learn 18 Bible stories together, stories that tell us about the long-range plan God has for us, the very special role we play in his story, and the way he delivers that life to us.  We'll learn about women like Rahab, who jumped at the chance to have that kind of life; Sarah, who doubted that God could deliver on his special promise and schemed a way to get it herself; the Israelites, who doubted that God could take them into their promised life and so wandered in the wilderness for 40 years; and the Samaritan woman at the well, who didn't believe she was included in the promise, but wound up telling everyone in her village about Jesus, the one who knew everything about her and offered her a new life.  Each week, we'll learn a new story, and each week we'll practice telling it.

Yep, telling it.  Because I'm betting that we're not the only ones who wonder if we are special enough, who feel the need to go out and achieve a "special enough life" for themselves.  We're surrounded by neighbors and friends and family members who feel the same way.  We can tell them a story that could set them free of that.

In learning these stories, we're going to deal with lots of things:  shame, fear, worthiness, belonging, grace, identity, purpose, faith, receiving.

For this study, I'm going to be posting a recording of me telling the story.  (Mostly to encourage you.  If I tell the story this badly, surely you can do better!)  Listen to the story.  And then practice telling it yourself.

I'm also going to post the homework hand out each week, so you can download it and keep up with us, even if you don't make it to the class.  The homework has some questions for you to consider and journal about.  But the most important question is this:

Who will you tell the story to this week?  

This is good news;  it's meant to be shared.  Pray about it and watch for the opportunity you'll have to say, "Have you heard the story about….?"

So here we go:  

Ready to learn how we get written into God's love story? 

Here's the story of Rahab. 

Who did you tell this story to?  I'd love to hear about it.