Jesus Is The Worst Mystery Ever

peekaboo

Jesus Is The Worst Mystery Ever

By Beth Demme

Sometimes words come out of my mouth, and I’m astounded at how awful they sound. It’s even more shocking when I then repeat those words.

“Jesus is like, um, the worst mystery ever,” I said to a room full of Christians. “Yep, Jesus is no good at being a mystery,” I then repeated.

I was speaking to a group of moms and children at a retreat designed just for them. The theme for the weekend was “A Holy Mystery,” based on Colossians 2:2-3 where Paul (or whoever wrote Colossians) refers to Christ as “God’s mystery, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Of course, God is a mystery. Of course, the incarnational truth of Jesus is mysterious. Of course, the Trinity is beyond explanation.

I wasn’t disputing any of that. My point was that once we start looking for clues, we see God all around us and even in us. As strange as my words sounded, they weren’t wrong.

Although we will never be able to completely explain God, the love of God is not hidden from us.

As I stood in a room full of moms and kiddos, with my daughter at my side, I was overwhelmed with the truth of how much God loves us.

It makes sense that the love between mother and child would make me think of God. Consider what 1 John 4 says:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. … We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:7-9, 19 (NRSV) (emphasis added)

When my children were both toddlers, I was a crummy mom. Honestly, I was.

I knew I was crummy at the time. I knew I wasn’t doing a good enough job controlling my temper, taking care of myself, or thinking through my parenting decisions.

I also knew my kids deserved the best mom possible.

I prayed that God would change me. I prayed that God would make me different.

Have you ever asked God to make you different?

My prayer was answered, but not with an instant change-o, presto. Instead, I felt God’s presence, and my perspective changed. I came to understand that God chose me for my children.

Because I’m a mom by adoption, I always knew my children were chosen for me. But as I prayed for God to change me, I began to understand I was chosen for my children. God chose me for them, knowing I was going to be an imperfect parent.

I experienced the truth and depth of God’s unconditional love in an undeniable way.

Experiencing this truth transformed me. It didn’t instantly make me a better mom, but it gave me the courage to work on the issues that were getting in my way. Because I understood God was with me despite my imperfection, I was willing to seek and receive healing. In that way, I became a better mom and a better person.

That is to say, I am becoming. I certainly haven’t arrived at perfection or even at a location in the neighborhood of perfection. I fail often, but no matter how often I fail, I can still turn to God.

God is always there for me.

And a God who is always available, never hidden, is, in a way, the worst mystery ever.

What do you think? Do you think God is mysterious, but not mysterious at the same time? Have you prayed that God would make you different? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook. I would love to hear from you.


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A Biased Review of Finding God in the Waves

mchargue

A Biased Review of Finding God in the Waves

By Beth Demme

Mike McHargue’s debut book, Finding God in the Waves, was released on September 13, 2016. This is the story of how one man lost his faith, and found it again, through science. Mike went from Southern Baptist to Atheist to Unspecified to Methodist. I want you to read his book. Here’s why.

I cannot write an unbiased review of this book. I hope you’ll understand.

I’ve known Mike for a long time. Since before he was part of The Liturgists. Since before he was “Science Mike.” Since before he was Madison or Macey’s dad.

I first met Mike back in his days as a devout Southern Baptist.

Back then, Mike was the kind of Southern Baptist I would not talk to about faith. Not because there was anything wrong with him (or his church), but because I felt inadequate.

Back then, my faith already had a pitted patina. His faith seemed shiny and easy.

I experienced faith as something deeply private and personal, but his faith was an integral part of his identity. He didn’t need to wear a shirt that said, “DEACON,” because … well, because you could tell. At least, having lived in the South my entire life, I could tell.

I knew he and I probably had different ideas about the Bible. Mike admits in the book, he “once made fun of a friend for saying, ‘God is bigger than the Bible’”—just the kind of thing I might say.

What’s In Your Bible? Probably Not the Apocrypha

sweet girl reading Bible

What’s in Your Bible? Probably Not the Apocrypha

By Beth Demme

For the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at “What’s In Your Bible?

When I looked to see what was in my Bible, I found questions and notes leading to questions. I think questions are good stuff! I can’t imagine reading the Bible without questions popping up.

In addition to looking at questions, we looked at how meaningful and important handwritten notes and highlighting in a Bible can be. We can’t write a book, poem, or blog post and have it included in the scriptural canon (aka Bible), but in our own small way, we can add meaning to scripture when we make a note in our Bible.

This raises an important point: How did we get the scriptural canon as we have it today?

There are some books in the Bible that aren’t necessarily part of every church’s scriptural canon. (Canon, not cannon. A canon is a group or collection of exemplary literary works. A cannon is a huge gun.) As we look at the Apocrypha, I’m going to get into the weeds a bit. Don’t abandon me! Knowing a little bit about these things will make the Bible, and Bible study, more manageable and meaningful.

How many books are in the Bible?

If you said 66, you’re right.

And you’re wrong.

What’s In Your Bible? Questions or Answers?

Smiling Woman Studying Bible

What’s In Your Bible? Questions or Answers?

By Beth Demme

What do you see when you flip through the pages of your Bible? Do you see highlights? Notes? Randomly placed bookmarks? I invited you to send in photos of your Bibles so I could see, What’s In Your Bible? Your photos taught me a lot.

Bibles that are written in and marked up can convey family history, reveal your own “additions” to Scripture, or highlight what you dug up as you got messy in your study.

Sometimes we mark verses for educational and, perhaps, impersonal reasons. But for the most part, I think we mark verses that speak to us. The reason for each note or highlight is unique to our life, our circumstances, and our relationship with God.

Sometimes reading the Bible leads to questions instead of answers.

Joy sent in this photo of the Bible she received as part of her confirmation class in 1990. She opened it to Matthew 2 for me. She has a note next to the Beatitudes describing them as a “Bill of Rights”—this was a new idea for me, so I added the same note to my Bible.

What’s In Your Bible: Make It Messy

Bible Highlighting

What’s In Your Bible?
Go Ahead, Make A Mess in Your Bible

By Beth Demme

Do you remember when you were in school and you first started using highlighters? At first, it was hard to know what to highlight, right? Eventually, you learned to be judicious and careful with your highlighter. You learned to highlight the snippets that would be meaningful to you when you returned later to review the material.

This is true of my Bible highlighting as well. There was a season when I wanted to highlight everything, but eventually (with practice!) I learned how to highlight snippets that were especially meaningful or felt theologically important.

Some people develop a system and always stick to it. One teacher says to circle the verbs in red, underline names in green, circle the numbers in orange, and mark references to angels in blue. That is such a neat idea! However, it’s not one I’ve been able to implement successfully. For one thing, this kind of system makes me hesitant to pick up my Bible if I don’t have all my colors with me. Also, I get bogged down speculating what I will do if a named angel is taking a numbered action. The system isn’t broken, it just doesn’t work for me.

I’m more random in how and when I highlight or make a note. Remember, I think highlighting in my Bible is okay because I use my Bible as a tool. It’s okay to dig in, make notes, and ask questions. In fact, I think it’s important for Christians to do this.

Digging into the Bible has changed how I understand myself, my world, and my God. Sometimes digging in is messy.

What’s In Your Bible: Making the Bible Personal

What’s In Your Bible: Making the Bible Personal

By Beth Demme

woman_writes_in_bible

Actors hired by Capital One ask, “What’s In Your Wallet?” We’re rephrasing the question to ask, “What’s In Your Bible?” (Click here to read, What’s In Your Bible? Maybe Your Family History.)

Are there changes in your Bible? Have you modified it? Would you like to? Don’t faint. I’m not suggesting you delete (or add) any books. I’m suggesting that if you take the time to personalize your Bible, Bible study can be more manageable and meaningful.

Although the Scriptural canon is now long-established, you can layer your copy of the Bible with personal meaning.

When you purchase a used book from Amazon, sellers have to describe the amount of “use” the book has endured. A “Like New” book has “absolutely no signs of wear.” It’s in such pristine condition Amazon considers it “suitable for presenting as a gift.” At the other end of the spectrum is a “Used-Acceptable” book. A book in this condition usually costs less because it “is fairly worn” and can suffer from “aesthetic issues such as scratches, dents, and worn corners [or] identifying markings.”

Family Bibles buck the system on this one. The more writing they have in them, the better. The more dog-eared the pages are, the better. The more identifying markings they contain, the better.

What’s In Your Bible? Maybe Your Family History

What’s In Your Bible?
Maybe Your Family History

By Beth Demme

In an ad campaign by Capital One, stars from Jennifer Garner and Alec Baldwin to Samuel L. Jackson have asked, “What’s in your wallet?”

I guess they would be pretty disappointed by my wallet. My husband and I decided a long time ago to avoid credit cards as if they were the plague. (I do have 1 – I’m not an animal!—but it’s not from Capital One.) I also rarely carry cash these days, so my wallet has been reduced to this little pocket on the back of my cell phone.

Cell Phone Pocket Wallet

Apologies to Jenny, Al, and Samuel L., my wallet is basically empty.

I don’t want to know what’s in your wallet, but I am curious:
What’s in your Bible?

For the last two weeks, you’ve sent me awesome pictures of marked up Bibles. This confirmed for me, again, that you are my people; we are “of a mind.” You have generously opened your Bibles and invited me inside your private world.

This week I want to share three special stories with you. These photographs and the stories sent with them have reminded me that as much as we treasure the words of the Bible, we can also treasure the Bible itself.

The Bible gives us a pathway for building our relationship with God, but a Bible can also build a pathway for a family to build upon through multiple generations.

These stories all belong to other people. I try to treat them with the care and respect they deserve.

First, I want to tell you about Joy’s family Bible.

Why Faith Is Not An Olympic Event

By Beth Demme

Beijing, China - Aug 18, 2008 Olympics: Kaie Kand breaks away from field of runners to win 800 meter womens' race

Beijing, China – Aug 18, 2008 Olympics: Kaie Kand Wins 800 Meters

I love to watch the Olympic Games. I’m amazed by the dedication and skill of the Olympic athletes. In the Olympics, everything from figure skating to javelin throwing looks easy. None of those things are easy, but they look easy because the athletes are incredibly skilled and highly trained. They are, literally, the best at what they do.

I’ve written before about Olympic parenting. There was a time I thought I could train—read, research, plan, and pray—my way to the gold medal platform in parenting. This was a beautifully idyllic phase that occurred before I was a mother.

I now offer this word of caution to people without children: You may be the Michael Phelps of Hypothetical Parenting, but so what? I dominate at Wii bowling and I’m not joining the Pro Bowlers Tour.

Parenting isn’t an Olympic sport and no one is giving out medals to the people who do it best. In fact, I’m sure we would struggle to find agreement on what “doing it best” even means.

Faith, like parenting, is not an Olympic sport.

Faith is not about training and performing. Faith is not about being scored, judged, or evaluated.[Twitter Link]

You Can Be Busy and Idle At the Same Time

By Beth Demme

You can be busy and idle at the same time. (@BethDemme)

I used to think of busy and idle as opposites, but now I’m not sure. Lately, I’ve felt like a car idling at a red light. The engine is running, but the car isn’t moving. The mechanical and electrical components of the car are active, even busy, but the car goes nowhere.

Sometimes being busy leaves me at a standstill.

We usually connect being busy with being productive:

  • The early bird catches the worm.
  • A rolling stone gathers no moss.
  • The office is a hive of activity.

We have a mentality that says: I’ve got to roll up my sleeves and hit the ground running in this race against time where I have my work cut out for me.

What if these expressions are wrong? What if productivity doesn’t come from being busy?

What if the most productive action we can take is Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God”?

A few months ago, transportation engineers in London began trying to change the way people move through Tube stations with escalators. The rule has always been stand on the right side and leave the left side for those who are willing to walk up the escalator. The right side was idle, the left side was busy. Conventional wisdom said everyone would get out of the Tube station faster if at least some people walked faster, if some people were busier.

Engineers no longer believe that’s true. They’ve done a Changing of the Guard “About Face” and now they want everyone to stand on both sides of the escalator. They want everyone to be idle during their escalator ride.

According to the London transport engineers, having more people idle will make Tube stations more productive. They have mathematics and everything on their side. You can read about it here.

This lesson feels important to me right now. I need to learn that being in motion doesn’t necessarily create progress.

In Matthew 13, the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke in parables. Jesus replied: “The reason I speak to them in parables is that seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” Jesus goes on to quote Isaiah, saying people “will indeed look, but never perceive.” Jesus says the people’s “ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes.” (Matthew 13:14-16)

My (current) favorite devotional, Pray-As-You-Go, illuminates the passage this way: “Jesus talks about how we have so many images and experiences in our life and yet we don’t always understand the importance of them. … Jesus says we are blessed right now, at this present moment, for what we see and hear.”

Blessed for what we see and hear? Right now? If my desire to be productive always compels me to focus on the next moment, idea, opportunity, or task, I’m probably too busy to notice God’s presence with me in this moment. Being busy can rob us of awareness.

I wonder how many moments with God I’ve already missed?

We tend to think Bible study is a place to meet God—and it can be. But I’ve also read the Bible without pausing to experience God. (This tends to happen more when I’m trying to stick to a reading plan or other self-imposed deadline requiring me to complete specific readings each day.)

Don’t throw tomatoes (or stones) at me, but reading the Bible doesn’t necessarily move us forward spiritually.

I can be busy and idle at the same time, even in Bible study.

In Bible 100, I encourage people to end every Bible study with this question: “So What?” I learned this in EfM. Asking this question made me realize how much time I had invested in Bible study classes because I wanted to do “the right thing.” I wanted to check it off my Christian to-do list when, really, Bible study is about transformation. If Bible study isn’t making you into a more loving, caring, and forgiving person, you might be doing it wrong.[Twitter Link]

Is Bible study transforming you? @BethDemme

I get it. If we are productive we can be sure we haven’t wasted this one earthly life. This life is too precious a gift to let it go to waste. But if I’m so busy I miss God’s presence with me in this life, then I have wasted it, no matter how productive I’ve been. I’ve been a car at a red light; mechanical and electrical components busily humming along, all the while sitting still.

What do you think? Are you ever busy and idle at the same time? Do you think it is possible to be busy and idle at the same time, even in Bible study? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.


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Prayer Is More Than a Hashtag

By Beth Demme

girl_praying_beth_demme

In the wake of recent tragedies, I’ve seen a lot of #Prayfor____. I’ve seen the hashtags criticized, too.

I get it. It’s not enough to pray for something if prayer is a way of avoiding responsibility or giving only lip service. It’s not enough to pray if you expect God to change a mindset or fix a problem without getting you personally involved. I agree, in those cases, #Prayfor____ rings hollow.

But I also see that we #Prayfor____ because we are crying out to the God who is Love. (1 John 4:8) [Twitter Link] We acknowledge how much we need God to help us through this maddening, confusing, scary time.

Sometimes I pray because I don’t know what else to do, but I believe God does. [Twitter Link] It might sound crazy or naïve to you, but I believe God interacts in this world, and that makes #Prayfor____ meaningful, even powerful.

Each time I pray, important things happen within me.

First, I get to experience what I affectionately describe as my sixth sense – a sense of peace that can come only from the wholeness and goodness of God. Second, and I say this a lot, I am reminded that I am not God.

Although I don’t actually think I am God, there are times my actions suggest otherwise. Sometimes I act like I’m in charge, of everyone and everything. Sometimes I talk as if I am responsible for the choices and decisions other people make. Worse, I sometimes get stuck in my own self-sufficiency; I think and speak as if I don’t need God.

The only one who doesn’t need God is God, and I’m not clear on how that works theologically.

Even a quick prayer before a meal reinforces my non-god-ness. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge that while I bought the groceries and cooked the food myself, God still had a lot to do with the creation of the meal (weather, nature, etc.) and with me having a place to prepare and eat it.