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Archive for October, 2007

I’ve been excited to see John at Ancient Hebrew Poetry writing about Job 28. Even when I don’t follow it all, there are things he says which make a lot of sense to me and give me new and exciting insights. I appreciate his translations and the explanations he gives with them. So far he has written three posts on this chapter. I look forward to the ones yet to come.

It’s hard, really, to rank books of the Bible on any kind of scale. All I can say is that for now, one of the books that moves me most deeply and powerfully is the book of Job. It is a beautiful book.

Of course I like Job, since I’m going through a lot of tough stuff, right?  But it’s more than that. Whether I’m suffering or not, it’s beautifully written. The dialogue is alive and real in an amazing way. I love hearing Job talk. I kind of like hearing his friends talk, even though their words frustrate me, because I realize there really IS nothing new under the sun. We still use the same kind of arguments to try to explain away or fix suffering today. But, when I read the book of Job, I hear the absurdity of those arguments in their extreme form so clearly, it makes me want to laugh, in a repentant sort of way. “Oh my word, THAT’S what I sound like?!?!”

And Job himself, wow, he sure expresses things in ways that I would be afraid to, and I’m not very afraid of talking about my hurt, pain or uncertainty. But Job is so real and so honest. He doesn’t seem to weigh every word and stop because what he’s about to say is going to contradict what he said a little while back.

He is honest with his fear and sometimes even terror of God’s power. And, at the same time, he trusts himself and his life to the all-powerful God over and over, to the dismay of his friends. They see his sins and the things he has surely done to cause his suffering, while he protests his innocence. He’s fed up with their pat answers and keeps saying, “Let me argue my case to God directly.” Even though he also complains about God and to God. Even though he thinks God treats the wicked too well. Even though He’s afraid of God and placing the full burden of his brokenness on God as the source of it all. Yet, he trusts God. Trusts him enough to beg to state his case before God. 

For some time now when I’ve gone back to read Job, I’ve been doing it in a very this-is-not-the-way-to-read-the-Bible way. Instead of reading it straight through, with everything in context, I keep reading and rereading Job’s speeches only. And then God’s response to Job. I know it’s not great to jump around in a book and drop out whole passages of the context. But, there is something about Job’s trust in God that I see, which I have missed before when I was reading it all as dialogues between Job and his various friends. Even though Job is answering them, his heart keeps turning back to God.

No, he doesn’t always make sense and yes, he frequently seems to contradict himself. But, in that anguish, even when he rolls in and out of hopelessness, he seems to keep his face turned to God. It is God he cares about and wants to hear from. It is God he is wrestling with. It is God’s sovereignty that he is simultaneously acknowledging and feeling crushed by. He is full of questions, and has plenty of fears and frequent bouts of despair and hopelessness. But God is never far from his thoughts.

And then God’s answer. The answer that silenced Job’s questions without really answering any of them. But never mind that. GOD ANSWERED. And although the answer silenced Job’s questions, God, in His answering, did not silence Job. Job was right, even when he was wrong. He could trust God. God didn’t wipe him off the face of the earth for his brashness and challenges and “wrong thinking”. God answered Him.

Any attempt at trying to put into words the beauty of this book or the powerful ways it touches my heart falls very short. I’ve started this post a few different times. And then given up, because anything I say ABOUT the book doesn’t do it justice. But I’m going to go ahead and post this this time. Not because I’m saying anything new or amazing. Not even because I’m actually saying what it is I’m feeling. I’m not succeeding at that very well.  

I’m going to post it because the process of trying to say it is my “Wow” (and even that isn’t a very accurate word). The process is the response of a heart that worships God more after reading a book that doesn’t always make a lot of sense, but which still penetrates to my heart very deeply. A book which draws me closer to God, even while I understand Him less. This book makes me worship with more awe and more honesty and more humility, yet also draws me to a more true and honest relationship with God.

How can a book make me fear God (and even fear the cost of truly and righteously following Him) more and yet cause me to be bolder in approaching Him?  I don’t know, but the book of Job impacts me in those ways. When I read Job at different times, I hear different themes. But this time through, the theme that jumps out at me is “Safe in the Hands of a Frightening God”.

As I thought about this, I realized something else–the book of Job has affected me deeply in whatever translation style I have read it. I love reading it (as I do any book of the Bible) in more than one translation, but when I am drawn back to the book, I can pick up whatever Bible is nearest to me and be stirred and learn from the reading of this book again, whether the words and style are formal, literary or even super simplified. I can’t explain that, and my saying that doesn’t negate all the important elements of the dialogue about literary translation vs. any other type of translation. But it does give me comfort that, for all the things that may be missing and imperfect in any particular type of translation, the Holy Spirit is still at work and speaking through His Word to my spirit.

Having said that, I’d love to read a translation of Job, such as John illustrates with Isaiah. 50:4-6 in his post where he talks about keeping the structures of parallelism in translation. While I cannot deny that the book of Job is beautiful to me in and of itself, regardless of the styles of the translation, I do have great appreciation for the beauty of the poetry itself, which is brought out by John’s translation.

Have I just contradicted myself so much as to not make ANY sense?

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I have learned the story of Martin Luther in bits and pieces. Those glimpses are always deeply challenging to me in ways that are hard to express in words. From what I have seen, he was a man who experienced intense emotions, trusted God fiercely, and followed Him passionately and sometimes waveringly (and again, I’m not an expert on the life of Luther, so feel free to correct me) . What strikes me is that the wavering didn’t negate the faith. Wavering and deep trust are not, as I often have heard implied, mutually exclusive. They are mutually enhancing in ways that cannot be comprehended with human logic.

I had always pictured Luther as one who did what he had to do confidently without really caring or being affected by the cost. Yet, as I hear, read or see parts of his story, I get glimpses of a man who counted the cost and maybe wasn’t always sure he could bear the cost, but knew that he would continue to obey and follow his God, no matter what. The commitment didn’t make the cost not matter. But neither did the cost, however much it agonized him, keep him from the commitment to follow God.

Today I received an email from The Listener’s Bible website, which is the internet home for the dramatic readings of Max McLean. As the name suggests, he is most well known for his dramatic narrations of the Bible in several different versions. He does, however, have recordings of other writings as well. Today’s email was an advertisement for the recording, “Martin Luther’s Here I Stand”, in honor of Reformation Day coming up next week. Here is the description of the recording:

In the late afternoon of April 18, 1521, in the city of Worms, Germany, Martin Luther, a 37 year-old Catholic monk was called to defend himself before Charles the Fifth, the Holy Roman Emperor. The speech he delivered that day, Here I Stand, marked the beginning of the Reformation, a critical turning point in Christian history, that decisively altered the spiritual map of the world.

In this recording, Max McLean introduces the events leading up to the Diet of Worms: Martin Luther’s prayer the night before he delivered his speech; Luther’s stirring defense; the Catholic church’s rebuttal; and, Luther’s final heartfelt response.

The 24 minute CD of this recording is available to purchase, but you can listen to the first half online here. Luther’s agonizing prayer the night before his confident “Here I Stand” speech gives me courage and comfort. Even though I have not heard the end of this recording, my admiration for Luther has grown from taking the time to think about and feel the weight of “the night before” his famous stand. His prayer for courage to do what was right is powerful and moving.

Have you ever done things that you were convinced God was leading you to do? And it didn’t make sense to those around you, even believers?  But you trusted God anyway? And then, as you trusted and followed, things began to turn out horrible, worse than even your worst critics and mockers had articulated? So bad, that you think, “Had I known it would turn out like this, I don’t know if I would have done what I thought God was leading me to do.” So bad that you question, “Was God really leading me? What did I do wrong? I must have done something wrong or misunderstood God to have to it be turning out this way.” So bad that your worst critics and mockers now rise against you with greater force, fury and confidence? And even when God has confirmed and reconfirmed that you are following in His path, you stand on God’s side continuing to obey, but a little bit on the side of your questioners, because they are asking questions you don’t have answers for. You don’t have answers to their questions, because they are the same questions you are asking.

I think that has always been the most costly kind of trust for me: the kind where I can’t answer my accusers because I am asking some of the same questions they are. But they are asking them as accusations, as proof, so to speak, against God. As proof of the foolishness or error of my ways. As proof, in their eyes, even of my lack of trust and following God. And I’m asking God some of the same questions, but with a heart that has already made my choice. A heart that agonizes at what I don’t understand about God’s ways, but responds to that agony by falling into God and falling back on trusting God even when it doesn’t make sense. And that not only leaves me without a logical defense, it seems to prove the point of my accusers that I’m speaking and acting illogically, unreasonably and erroneously.

I am not saying that Luther asked the exact questions I at times ask. And I’m not saying he wavered in exactly the ways that I do. And the consequences of my choice to follow God have never been as costly or widespread as Luther’s were.  But when I learn of his life, I am encouraged to see that the confidence and strength I remember most about him seemed to grow out of walking through and grappling with the questions, the agonizing, the conflicting and heavy emotions–weighing those and reaffirming, in spite of all of that, that his choice had been made. I really do think that rather than a wavering heart being a sign of a lack of trust, that wavering can at times be a part of the process of strengthening not only our trust in God, but our commitment to continue trusting (and acting in obedience to that trust) no matter what the cost.

Even as I write that, I’m aware of how easy it is for such trust to “make sense” to social scientists as a self-constructed deception that enables me to resolve cognitive dissonance inside of myself. I don’t at all doubt how crazy trusting God looks, because I feel that craziness myself sometimes. And yet, even though I see how crazy it seems, I continue to believe and trust that it only looks crazy when I have to make sense of it with the pieces of the puzzle that I can see in human terms.

When I only see the actions and results that happen on a human level, very little makes sense. When I catch glimpses of God at work, not just in very practical, down-to-earth ways through His people, but also at work in ways beyond my comprehension, I deeply believe I’d be crazy NOT to trust Him, NOT to follow His leading in my life.

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I am an introverted feeler, who happens to think a lot. I like to hear what other people are thinking and learn from that. I can’t always keep up, but that has never stopped me from listening and wanting to learn, and interacting internally with what I learn.

I process what I hear, of course, internally as a feeler. And when I try to interact, ask questions or give my two cents to thinking-based conversations, my input often doesn’t even seem to make sense. Since I already struggle to put words to what is inside of me, when what comes out doesn’t make sense to the hearer, it’s embarrassing, demoralizing and I don’t want to try again, because I already put so much effort into what was misunderstood.

In addition, the intensity and rapid logic exchanges which happen between intellectual thinkers easily overwhelm and intimidate me. When what I say doesn’t make sense to a thinker, and the thinker challenges me, I might remain confident inside myself on my perspective, but I rarely can find the words (and certainly not confident, logical words) to explain it better or in terms that can be understood or even seem worth considering by a deep thinker. Sometimes I wonder if my feeling interaction (even if I’m agreeing, but say it in a different way) seems to cheapen or lessen the impact of the intellectual depth that is being communicated. I don’t know, and I’m struggling even now to explain this. But, I’m trying to do so, because I want to say thanks to two thinkers who I can listen to and learn from, and who manage not to intimidate me totally in the process.

Reading (whether in books or on the internet) is a good way for me to listen to thinkers and follow a variety of perspectives on an issue without being quite so intimidated. Still, I find that I can’t handle angry, cutting dialogue, which seems to attack the person being disagreed with. So, there are conversations I’m interested in, but cannot follow because the intensity is so great I can’t hear the discussion. That’s not  a criticism, because obviously many other people can follow and participate in those conversations. But, it does mean that when I find a place where I can listen in to deep discussions and even disagreements without feeling intimidated and overwhelmed, it is wonderful. 

That is how I feel when I read John Hobbins’ Ancient Hebrew Poetry and Peter Kirk’s Gentle Wisdom. I couldn’t say what percentage of the conversations that take place there I totally understand. But, it is enough that I keep going back to have my brain stirred and challenged. And most importantly, I feel comfortable reading their sites, because of the humility and kindness which seems to undergird their strong opinions and disagreements.

I hesitate to link from this post to their blogs, because when I express this kind of appreciation, which I feel deeply and genuinely, it seems easily perceived as sappy and overly sentimental. To say nothing of, I’m paranoid of having my motives questioned as if I’m linking to their blogs to up my own traffic. I am not competitive. I could care less about technorati rankings. But I’m deeply moved at the moment by what I appreciate about these two blogs, and I wanted to try to put it into words, even though I’m aware that the above assumptions could be made.

Something I saw in a book my son is reading (Across Five Aprils, by Irene Hunt, set in the time of the War Between the States) made me think of how I feel sometimes following these two blogs, and the appreciation I have for the powerful, but gentle ways in which deep thinking and discussion take place there.

One of the characters, Jethro, while helping his mom hoe the garden, is telling her all about what he learned in school–how it was proven that the earth is not the center of the universe. His mother is not quite sure what to make of all of that. 

His mother looked thoughtful. “The Lord God created the earth and all upon it, Jeth. I don’t like to hear that His work warn’t of the best.”

“But don’t you see, Ma, He created the sun and moon and stars, too–some a little bigger, others maybe a little purtier. Seems like people on earth believed we had the best diggin’s jest because we wanted to believe that–because it made us feel important–” . . . .

Her eyes lighted a little. “Well, you done me a favor, tellin’ me things I ain’t never learned and givin’ me somethin’ to ponder over. It ‘mazes me, Jeth, it does fer a fact, the way you kin recollect all the things Shad tells you and how you kin put them from his way of talkin’ into mine.”

Like Jethro’s mother, I deeply appreciate John and Peter’s speaking their intellect in humble ways that do not  block me from hearing and understanding the things that I’m able to. I appreciate their graciousness, which doesn’t feel patronizing. Since I easily feel patronized, that is a big deal to me. (And I’m really hoping my point isn’t misunderstood  or either of them feel insulted by the analogy I’m making with this quote.)

Well, the next few paragraphs after the above quote don’t really fit into what I’ve been trying to say on this post, but I like the rest of the dialogue too much not to include it here:

She hoed in silence for a minute and then paid him the great compliment of going back to his story.  

“Did you tell me what that old feller’s name was, the one that done all the figgerin’?”

“His name was Copernicus. I kin even spell it fer you if you’re a mind. Shad made me learn how to say it and spell it too.”

“Sounds like a furriner.”

Jethro nodded. “I allow,” he agreed.

Ellen sighed, “Seems like furriners is allus stirrin’ up somethin’. Well, the pot can’t call the kettle black–look what we’re stirrin’ up amongst ourselves.”

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Matthew Ward said this towards the end of his autobiography, which I recently finished reading:

“[The Lord] was the one with the music ministry, and He carried it out through us.”

In the church, I often hear people talk in terms of “This is my ministry.” Or, “This is the ministry God has called me to.” I appreciated the different perspective in the above quote.

What do you think? Am I making too big of a deal out of semantics? How would it change (or would it) the work you do, if you thought about it as God’s ministry being carried out through you vs. your ministry for God?

If you’re interested in reading more about The 2nd Chapter of Acts, I recommend the following lengthy article, “The Frame Never Outdid the Picture”.

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Although I was just a babe in arms when they were going strong, The Second Chapter of Acts is a musical group I have grown to appreciate.  In fact, I think I probably like them better now than I would have if I had been old enough to listen to their music when it was first performed and produced. Rarely do I enjoy anything that is “all the rage” while it is “all the rage”. I need a few years to sort through popular things–whether it be music, clothing styles, philosophical approach–to decide what I think about them. When everybody’s talking about it, doing it, listening to it or raving about it, it is hard for me to pull back enough to see or hear the real thing for myself. I need time and quietness to pull away from everybody else’s opinion, and that is hard to do until the hoopla has settled (ha! How’s that for a well thought out explanation/defense for being “out of it” and “behind the times”, for NOT being “cutting edge”!)

Regardless of what I would have thought of them in the early years of the Jesus Movement in the U.S., I like their music a lot now. When I listen to music and am deeply touched by it, I want to learn more about the artists, to know them a bit better (however remotely and one-sided, meaning it won’t happen in relationship where they also get to know me) and to connect to and understand their heart.

It was a delight then, to read Matthew Ward’s autobiography, My 2nd Chapter. This memoir is personal and funny. And it doesn’t feel fake or stilted. It’s so natural that I can imagine literary critics judging it to be not well written (it sounds like someone talking or writing in their journal). As I read, I felt like who I was getting to know was Matthew Ward, not a profound author who was “touching up” the story of Matthew Ward’s life.

I did not come away from the story thinking or feeling, “Wow, what a great person that Matthew Ward is.” I came away feeling like I knew him better and had a glimpse of what his relationship with the Lord looks like. The story gave me a background and a context for the music I’ve come to enjoy. I like to connect the dots and this book helped do that for me. You know how you can idealize people you admire? And then, in contrast, how you have people in your life who you really look up to and appreciate, but who you know more completely–the good, the bad, the amazing, the annoying? There is something very good about liking and appreciating people without only seeing the things that are easy to like. And when I finished this book, I couldn’t idealize Matthew Ward, but I really had come to like him.

In a remote, admittedly detached way (you can’t REALLY connect to a person through a book), this book let me see Matthew Ward a bit more holistically. I was deeply moved as I saw how he lives out his relationship with God. I laughed at his sense of humor. And sometimes I squirmed uncomfortably at how far his sense of humor went.  I cringed as I read about some things that would grate on me if we knew each other personally. I smiled at how amazingly God brought the gift of music to Matthew, Annie and Nellie at an extremely difficult time in their lives. And then I smiled bigger as I read how God let that gift overflow as a blessing to many others. 

I am always encouraged to hear stories of how God faithfully perfects and changes people uniquely, so that they look more and more like Him, even if they look less and less like any kind of status quo around them.  I cheered as I understood how Matthew Ward experiences God in ways that are similar to how I do, but very different from the ways many people I know experience God. It was also nice to listen to someone’s theology, which in areas is different from mine, in the context of a story. Reading theology where the point is not to share  a point, but just talking about how that theology is lived out in another believer’s life, I’m better able to listen without becoming defensive or struggling to articulate in words how I understand it differently.

And while I came away from the story glad that I had gotten to see glimpses of Matthew Ward and his family, which helped to fill out my appreciation of their music, mostly I came away marveling at how God works. Not  in the sense that I understood more about how God works. But more like a deep amazement that I feel each time I hear someone’s story and see how faithfully and creatively God works. It’s not that I’m surprised that God works, just that I experience a delightful surprise each time I get to see His hand at work in another believer’s life in such personal ways.

So, I love stories, because they connect me to people and they cause me to marvel at God with us, at work in us. Even though this book was not one of the more literarily amazing books I’ve read recently, it was one of the more enjoyable ones, because it was a real story of a real person really being transformed and used by God in real ways.

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Lingamish has a very deep and moving CyberPsalm today–a prayer for hurting and broken and struggling missionaries.

His commentary at Lingalinga and the dialogue that follows is also good. Lingamish shares a prayer request for a spiritual retreat for missionaries going on, Peter Kirk gives some thoughts on a bigger perspective (which reminded me of 2 Corinthians 4:10), and Lingamish makes the following statement about a worship rehearsal in preparation for the retreat:

“you can just sense that people are here to focus on God in whatever state they are in”

And that, I think, hits at the core of delighting the Lord and bringing Him glory, even when our lives outwardly seem to be a mess.

I have to remind myself of that often. Crying through the brokenness and the doubt, I see that the brokenness and doubt are not measuring sticks of spirituality. They are not watershed issues which prove/disprove either my trust or the faithfulness of God. The brokenness and doubt don’t prove anything, in and of themselves. I believe what is important is the direction that my heart continues in, whatever my context–ease and smooth sailing or pain and brokenness that doesn’t seem to go away.

Here are ways I see people, full of questions and doubts and pain, choosing to keep their faces and hearts turned towards God:

  • Clinging to Him, like Habakkuk, no matter what fearful things seem sure to come.
  • Reflecting His glorious light through weakness, as Paul affirms in 2 Corinthians 4:7
  • Pleading with Him, praising Him, falling at His feet, desperate for mercy.
  • Trusting His ways, when His ways seem incomprehensible as they watch their baby start to recover from croup and find that he has suffered brain damage
  • Clinging to Him when the loneliness doesn’t let up and God’s sufficiency doesn’t seem to make much practical difference
  • Choosing to focus on God even when great injustice has hit close to home and home is many miles away

My heart weeps for each of these friends. And for many others whose stories are too personal or too heavy to even hint at here.  As I weep, I catch glimpses of how sacrificially and beautifully they live out the price of obedience, and bear the fruit of  costly trust. I see how their hurts display the faithfulness of God in ways that none of us would expect (we want His faithfulness to mean everything gets better. My friends’ lives show how God’s faithfulness is so much more complex and complete than that.) These friends make up my great cloud of witnesses. They are part of my living Hebrews 11 supplement.

“My heart  has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds  ‘Lord, I am coming.’ ” (Psalm 27:8, NLT)

Even as I ache for some of my friends who are attending the retreat, I am so glad that as Lingamish said, they have come “to focus on God, whatever state they are in.” And that makes me rejoice for them even while I hurt for them.  Today I see God delighting in a small part of His body, coming together with so many hurts, weaknesses, aches and suffering, choosing to be together and choosing to focus on Him. Choosing to trust and choosing to cling to Him.

With them, today, I choose again to answer the Lord’s invitation to talk with Him, as David did in Psalm 27, not leaving one part of my brokenness and pain behind. God doesn’t chop me up into the parts of me that He wants to meet with and the parts that He doesn’t. Thankfully!

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“Does it take what you’ve got before it gives what it gives you?”

That’s not really a million dollar question, but I call it that, because it gets close to the bottom line of my decision making process these days. With burnout, I tend to weigh any activity in terms of energy–energy it takes to do it, energy it gives me in the doing.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about the similarities and differences of burnout compared to other conditions of low energy, including chronic fatigue and depression. And while, indeed, there are many differences, the commonality of low energy means that I’ve gained a lot of insight by hearing what it is like to live and experience other diseases or conditions where exhaustion is a reality.

A common question (after the unspoken one, “Is it just in your head, a mind over matter thing?”) is, “Why can you do some things and not others?”  Or stated in another way, “Why do you seem to have energy to do the things you want to do, but not what you need to do?”

These are fair questions. And I will say that I often ask them of myself. Actually, I look at each situation and try to understand, “What is it that makes this seem doable and not that?” and “Why is this doable now, when it wasn’t earlier?” Being a lover of systemization, I think I’ve been compiling and collating and connecting my own observations. I don’t have any great answers, but I am getting a better idea of what goes into “having enough energy”. 

For today, the top question is one I’ve realized that I unconsciously ask before engaging in any activity. With burnout, unfortunately everything gets weighed by what it is going to do with the dregs of energy reserve that I have left. Is it going to decrease that energy or increase it?

Once I’ve asked that, I go through other questions, such as “How can I create the energy I need to do that task?” But each potential answer goes back to the original question, “Will doing this take the energy I’ve got before it gives me the energy it’s going to give me?”

I hate being so pragmatic, but that is part of coping with and fighting burnout. Accepting this as my reality actually helps as I let go of things that I can’t do. I think when I fight my reality of the burnout, I get more discouraged. When I accept it, I’m more free to find joy and contentment in this place, and not be so sad about all that I can’t do.

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