Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dear Jess,

(if you're new here, you can start at the beginning of the conversation with Jess, HERE.)

It's been awhile since I've written any kind of response to your thoughts or mine. So I have to apologize in advance if this is too much at once. I've been thinking a lot about what to say and I've had a hard time knowing what to write because there are some things that we haven't gotten into yet, and without those things it's hard to know where to go next. I want to know what you think about these things. So...HOLD ON, here we go: :)

I've just started this book called "Walking with God" by John Eldredge. It will most likely take me about a year to read it, but I'm going to try. I love this writer. I love the way he thinks and how he expresses himself. The first pages got me thinking about our conversation.

Christian or not, we've all got this longing. It's what brought you to the point of asking, "But HOW do you know God? How do you believe?" And it's what keeps me asking, "Am I finding Him, am I doing this right?"

If He were not there, our Creator and source, I highly doubt we'd be so concerned. Sure, we'd be bombarded with people's opinions of a Higher Power, religious ideals and theological guesses. But both you and I know that those things are not what pull at the deepest parts of us.

He does.

I believe that He made us to be in relationship with Him. One that runs much deeper than Sunday mornings, being good and doing right, and checking off some list of tasks that need to be done in order to be considered religious.

Sometimes I feel like you and I are actually more on the same page than you would ever think. Because even though I am a Christian and I do believe, I'm still struggling to make a connection in a way that means I'm truly in relationship with God. And a lot of that has to do with me. It's not about Him being distant and abstract, it's about me not knowing exactly how to walk with Him the way He made me to walk with Him, and not thinking that I'm good enough.

I came flawed in the first place. And then I made mistakes and believed a lot of lies that have kept me feeling "not good enough" for that walk with God. I know this so fully about myself. It is one of the things that keeps me aware that there really are forces of good and evil.

I believe that the evil in this world also has a source. And that mean dude will do everything he can to keep us from the relationship with God we're longing for. (Yes, I just said "mean dude," because it sounds less crazy religious than satan) It's what every good movie and book is based on. Artists and writers are drawn to writing and expressing stories of good overcoming evil because it exists. And we're drawn to reading and watching these stories because we too know that we're fighting against something dark. We're fighting it because we're inherently good, made in God's image.

Now I'm not saying this so you picture a big red man with horns on his head and a long tail, peeking around the corner, waiting to pounce on you. I don't think we have to look at it like that. I think if we've lived very long we're pretty aware of a whole lot of evil in the world, a lot of hard things that don't come from a loving God.

Sometimes I think it's pretty frustrating that God would have us here dealing with any kind of evil at all. And other times I understand that there is a much greater depth of love and understanding that come through trials. I don't think God looks at us like a bunch of guinea pigs, watching and waiting to see what we'll do with our latest test.

I do believe that we've made a choice. It started with Adam and Eve in the garden, the day they went against what God asked and chose themselves over God. That's what we still have a tendency to do. God allowed all of that because He would much rather have us choose Him, than to be forced into relationship with Him. I think about my kids a lot when I try to work through that. Do I want them to love me because they know me and find me lovable and worthy of their love? Or do I want to control them into loving me? Even though it's risky, I'd have to say I want them to choose me. I want a genuine love. And so does He.

Okay, that's probably about enough for today. I've most likely sounded like a zealot of some sort, but I just wanted to put some of the basics behind my beliefs out there. I may not have done a very good job, but I hope I made some semblance of sense. Take your time and let me know what you think.

Thank you again for putting up with my scattered thoughts and ideas,

(If you're new here and would like to start at the beginning of this conversation, click HERE.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

More from Jess

Below is my most recent email from Jess. Once again, I want to thank her for her candid way of expressing herself. Jess, you are NOT offending anyone with your questions. We can all see that your tone is one of careful questioning, not of judgment. Thank you for that.
I have read and re-read the posts in Highway, but Sabrina's most recent post about giving touches on another subject/list of questions I have.

Actually, I feel that she said what I've always thought was "more right" if there was actually a "more right". I remember the money basket going around the pews when I was small, but I didn't understand what it was or what it meant, and I had never known the word tithe.

After I met my husband, he explained the theory on tithing, the 10% rule. But I always wondered if Jesus was himself poor, and taught people for free, how does it make sense for common churches to consider tithing 10% of their earnings as WHAT they're supposed to do to give? I understand giving enough to allow a pastor to live completely in his passion of teaching God's way, but it seems that the act of giving has come to dollars and cents as opposed to aiding common folk through common sense.

Maybe my feelings on this topic are touchy because I haven't ever been and don't forsee a time in the near future where I can afford to give up 10% of ANYthing I make. Paycheck to paycheck prevents that. And I guess I feel a bit angry at the idea of going to church and knowing I'd feel guilty for not being able to contribute much to a tithing bucket. I feel like it would be expected, watched over, and judged by the neighbors sharing my row of seats. I feel a bit angry that if I didn't hand over that ten percent, I'd be judged as not worthy of the praise lavished by "good Christians".

Please don't take this last paragraph as angry-sounding; if we were speaking face to face, you would see that it's not. I just get confused by the "rule of tithing" versus my ideas of giving and versus my guilt for what I can and cannot do and versus my perception of how I am judged by those who believe and do as the tithing rule states.That's a lot of versuses. Sorry if it gets confusing to read. It's all a jumble in my head most times.

I have read just a bit of the conversion diary, but intend to go back and read more. I enjoyed her five step plan post in April 2008, I felt it made "sense"...which I am figuring out is a common theme. I don't think, for the most part, any of you have been speaking "Christianese" as you all put it. :) I appreciate the effort everyone has made to put things into "simple terms" for this confused gal. IT HELPS.

I hope you've had a wonderful weekend and that today has started off a great week for you. I hope to get to a bookstore later today to browse through selections in the Religion section. Wish me luck that the children will behave long enough for me to find what I need/want!


Sunday, January 18, 2009

On Giving...

Hello friends,

It's been awhile since I've posted on this blog. Lately it's been more interesting reading what has been written between Heather, Midnight Cafe and Jess. But I was reading a blog by a very dear friend Diana. She has a lovely, thought provoking blog called extra grace required, and by all means go and check it out. Recently she was able to hear Shane Claiborne speak. If you don't know who that is, I would highly recommend you check him and his ministry out. He wrote a book called The Irresistible Revolution : Living as an Ordinary Radical. This book will really make you think about serving, giving and living radically.
Diana said that one thing that stood out to her was something Shane said:

"The best thing to do with the best things in life is to give them away."

That also resonated with me for a number of reasons.
Lately I have been thinking about giving.

Does giving just mean tithing? Or can we give in other ways too?
Tithing is a touchy subject because there are so many different view on tithing.
Generally if you belong to a specific church you tithe to that church. But what if, like me, you do not belong to a church? What if you don't know to who or what you should give to.
And can you tithe in other ways besides giving money?
What if you give money but you can only tithe five percent or what if you can only tithe one percent of your income?

Okay so we do know this:

2 Corinthians 9:7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. NIV.

First of all, it should be from your heart, and with a joyful willingness.

Luke 21:2-4 NIV
2He [Jesus] also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3"I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

Then we see God honors those who give even when they have nothing to give. Ten percent or not. Give what you got.

Micah 6:6 & 8 NIV
6 With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

I am a firm believer that the Lord always looks at the heart and motives of people.
I suppose I could give all the money in the world to God, but if i was just doing it to receive praise from others, I really don't think the Lord would be impressed.

I guess what I am trying to get at is this:

Give what you can, with a cheerful heart, and with a willingness to give even when it's tough.

It may not always be with money.

I don't have a lot of money to give but these are things I do have:

hands to make a meal for someone who is hungry
time to visit someone who is lonely
clothes that I rarely wear that someone else may need
a house to open its doors to someone who needs shelter
a car to drive someone who needs to go somewhere important

Yes, I will still give money when I can. But I also have a lot of other ways to give as well.
Give my best away by giving the best of me.

The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dear Jess,

I loved what Midnight Cafe had to say in the last post. I'm hoping that post was a response that helped you with the questions that have come up so far in our discussion. It helped me :)

I've been thinking about the beginning of your last email. You said that you don't know where to start, where to go from here, especially with not having enough TIME. (for extra reading and stuff.) I totally get that. For now, why don't we just continue our discussion here? Myself and others can share our stories and if questions arise, you can email me and I'll include them here.

I know there's no time for extra reading, so I'm going to keep this short by saying READ THIS. It is a post by a blog friend of mine that speaks what I've been unable to speak any time that I'd like to open a discussion about what I believe. I hate to steal Pam's words, but they really are what I think too. So check that out. It will help you understand where I'm coming from and then we can take it from there. I'll tell more stories and you'll have that foundation in your mind. Coolio?

Thanks lady,

Friday, January 9, 2009

More on the Bible and Knowing God

Dear Jess,

I’m not good at beating around the bush. So, I’m going to just dive right in & see if I can make some more sense out of the answers you’re asking for…

About the Bible… Ultimately, I don’t think there’s definitive, empirical proof that the Bible is God’s book. There are the things I already mentioned – like the fulfilled prophecies – that seem highly unlikely if the Bible is just a book written by men to scare the common people. Regular men don’t have the ability to see the future. And, then there’s the fact that the Bible is 66 books, written by many different people, over more than a thousand years, in three different languages and it still has a high degree of unity. That also seems unlikely if it wasn’t inspired someone by One singular being. So, for whatever those things are worth, it seems plausible that the Bible was divinely inspired.

I can only totally agree with you that many people have twisted the words of the Bible over time to achieve their own ends, to enforce their own rules, to condemn others. I’m so sorry that it is that way. I have had my own moments of being so frustrated that I don’t even want to call myself “Christian,” and I still prefer to qualify that statement somehow when I talk with people. All I can say is that I don’t think that the condemnation and hypocrisy are what God intended. I think the key word is “twisted.” People have twisted and distorted the Bible to say what they want it to say. That’s sometimes easy to do since we’re reading the Bible in a language different from any of the 3 languages in which it was written.

Heather already mentioned how she enjoys Beth Moore’s studies because Ms. Moore so often goes back to the original language to check out what a word or verse or passage means. I believe this is essential in the study of scripture, and that’s why having a guide with some commentary can really help. If we know the historical context and we understand what some of the words meant in their original language, I think we see how the Bible is really and truly a story of God’s love, of God continually drawing people into relationship with God and with each other. When we don’t understand the historical context or the language it can all be kind of fuzzy.

Having said all that, I get the sense that what you’re really asking is HOW people believe on a personal level? HOW do we know God? You asked before how we can tell if something is God working in our lives or just life happening the way it was going to happen anyway. Heather and I talked a little about this today, and we both came up with the analogy of childbirth. I know, sounds crazy, huh? But, you see, childbirth is a little bit different for everybody. It’s unpredictable. And it’s not something you can usually describe and put into words. I even teach childbirth classes, and I still cannot tell people exactly what to expect. I can’t describe a contraction. But now that I’ve had them, I certainly know what they are. It’s like that. It’s hard to explain how you know that it’s God working in your life, but once you experience it, you know. I can imagine how frustrating that answer is. You probably feel the way I did sitting in my midwife’s office begging her to tell me if there was any way to know if labor was coming soon…because I sure wanted it to come soon, and she just kept saying that there was no way to tell ahead of time, but I’d know when the time came. So frustrating.

Have you ever had the experience of having something raise your awareness about something, and then suddenly you notice it all over the place? For example, we just bought a Saturn Vue. Before October, I had no idea what a Saturn Vue was, and I would not have been able to recognize one. Now, I see them all over the place, and I end up saying things like, “EVERYONE has a Saturn Vue.” Knowing God is something like that. If you’ve never noticed God in your life before, you’re likely to think that God just isn’t there or isn’t involved. When you finally have an experience that you really KNOW is God, you start seeing how all those random things fit together in a not-so-random pattern, and God was there all along.

I am just now seeing how some seemingly random things in my earlier life are coming together to benefit my oldest daughter, Vespera. We adopted her almost 3 years, and I’m seeing how my life experiences and my education, Mango’s experiences and personality, and her needs & life experiences all meet up in this amazing way…in a way that seems “meant to be.” It’s far too perfect to be random. That’s when I have to believe that it’s God.

I have to say this one more thing, but I’m not entirely sure how to say it. I think it’s important to remember that God is not only in the miraculous “meant to be” moments in our lives but also in the mundane day to day moments. And God can be active in the lives of people who don’t even believe in God. God is working in and through whatever humans are willing and able to help carry out the plan of love and redemption for the world. The Bible tells us that God IS love. So, in essence, anything that is love is from God. It’s kind of like the way that I said before that humans are created in the image of God, and, therefore, it is human to love and care and nurture people and relationships. Because God is love, humans love, and, in this way, God is part of every loving thing we do. Hmmm…hope that made sense.

Again, I hope this helps. I know that, in part, it can be just kind of frustrating. Unfortunately, I can’t give you any “pat” answers.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dear Heather (and friends)

The latest email from Jess:

I am going to attempt to see where I want to proceed in this conversation...I think that's why I'm hesitating in my response. I'm not sure where to go NEXT. I don't want to use the word overwhelm...I don't feel that emotionally...I guess the best way to describe what I'm feeling is UNDERTIMED. LOL I've found it hard to find time to reflect. I'm anxious to get to a bookstore and look these books up. I am not certain I will have many valid questions without starting some "research".

My first goal was to try and hear real stories about HOW you feel, how you CAME to feel, what it means to believe that Jesus' death saves us....I guess I would like to read through Midnight Cafe's post and see what questions I get from there. After that, I will re-read your most recent post and see what questions I have from there. Here goes:

With regard to the Bible - I guess the cynic in me says this: If the Bible is truly God's word (inspired or direct), then the mistakes that are bound to occur from translation don't affect me, and seem insignificant. BUT...if the Bible is just a combination of stories that old men made up and passed off as a "higher being's" philosophy for life to scare the commonfolk, then it bothers me. I do think that the stories in the Bible provide a good basis for solid, healthy living. I also feel that some people who base their life on religion twist the stories in the Bible to say doing THIS or doing THAT is "evil". I don't want that to sound judgmental, but even re-reading it I fear it will come across that way.

I want to say that the last paragraph that Midnight Cafe wrote about acting in a human way vs. Christian way really hit home and made SENSE to me. Thank you for that.

Heather - these recommendations are wonderful. The blogs AND the books and the studyguides. I am going to look for some this weekend, and take time to go read these blogs this week. I bought my Bible years ago, and have not been able to find a way to crack it open. I knew there were studies available and the "read it in a year" help guides, but I was afraid if I started it alone, I wouldn't have anyone to bounce my questions off to. So thank YOU for this forum, again. I know I've been saying it a lot, but it's easier for me to do while typing rather than in person. I think I'd get too nervous in person! Choke up, forget my words, babble about nothing. Much like right now. I will be back with more questions, but in the meantime....thank you to EVERYONE who has responded and will hopefully continue to do so. In the near future, I might put this information and link on my blog to point others in this direction. I'm just not ready to "face" the bloggy
world with my religious ignorance. LOL

Good night!

From Heather:
A HUGE thank you to Jess, once again. I appreciate the candid way you express yourself. That's how I do it too, so of course I like it :)

(The bold emphasis in Jess' email is mine. Not because I found it judgmental, but important. I will respond to Jess in post form very soon.)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Dear Jess,

I was relieved by these words in Jessica's last email (yesterday or the day before):

"I hope you know how much you are helping me. It was stories like these that I really needed to hear in order to see where people come from....and I don't know if books about "miracles" were going to help. You did, however, suggest some books, so feel free to pass those titles along whenever you get a chance. Happy New Year!"
Dear Jess,
I'm so glad to hear that our conversations have been more helpful than totally overwhelming :)

(Thank you to those of you who have shared your stories in comments and emails. That's a vulnerable thing to do, but I whole-heartedly believe that when we tell our own personal stories, the message of the beliefs within them become more valid. When we can speak from our hearts rather than talking in vague terms about religion, we learn more than we thought possible from each other.)

You asked if it would be okay to take a few days to ponder things. Absolutely not, hurry up!! (Kidding of course.) Take your time, lady. A lot has been said, so much to chew on. If I were you it would take me two weeks to respond.

You and I have also been talking about books that might help, so below are my recommendations. There are quite a few, but I thought if I gave you a bunch to check out, you could decide what interests you the most:

Philip Yancey:
"What So Amazing About Grace?"
"Soul Survivor"

Anne Lamott:
"Traveling Mercies"
"Plan B: More Toughts on Faith"

John Eldredge:
"The Sacred Romance"
"Waking the Dead"

Francine Rivers:
"Redeeming Love" (fiction)

You also asked about starting to read the Bible and wondered about recommendations for where to begin. Many people think the New Testament is the best place to start. I think it's difficult to just sit down and read the Bible at any point without some guidance, especially if it's new to you. I would encourage you to get a study to go along with what you choose to read. Some are cheesier than others, or maybe even just boring. So I'm hoping someone could give recommendations for good studies in the comments.

Any Bible study by Beth Moore is excellent in my opinion. I love how she so frequently teaches the definition of the words of the Bible from the original language. Learning the original definitions of the words has been one of the key things in having the Bible "come alive" for me. I am constantly saying, "OH, so that's what He meant." I'm moved and touched by how I can see LOVE in what He was saying when I truly understand it.

I'm pretty sure you could get Beth Moore studies on Amazon or something. There are books and workbooks that carry you through certain parts of the Bible. It might all sound kind of foreign at first (the studies) but I think if you're patient with it, you'll be surprised (in a good way) by God's intentions for you. He has the ability to make the Bible "come alive" for you too.

I also wanted to pass on two blog links for you.
Conversion Diary (a former atheist becomes a believer)
Bring the Rain (a Christian music artist's wife who lost a full-term baby girl shares her faith and her walk through grief)
(the links are going to take you directly to two posts I think might be of some help to you.)

I love it that you're interested in giving Bible reading a try, you brave woman! Be patient with yourself and open to it taking some time to grasp what's so great about it :) I know if you're taking this step of faith, God will speak to you. I just know He will. Cause He rocks.


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