My God Box Is Too Small

By Beth Demme

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A healthy and sustaining spirituality anticipates new knowledge, welcomes the search for truth, and dares to live with uncertainty.” –EfM

I read this quote recently and instantly loved it.

Sometimes I dare to live with uncertainty. Other times, I find myself stuffing God into a set of too-small boxes.

The first box I try to squeeze God into is the Bible.

I feel uneasy admitting this to you because I love the Bible so. I don’t want to give the mistaken impression that I think the Bible is ancillary or unnecessary. The Bible is a place God and I meet daily. The Bible is vitally important to me.

Still, I have to admit the covers of my Bible don’t have the capacity to hold all of God.

Anyone who has experienced the love of God knows that God exists outside the Bible. The Apostle Paul knew it. He wrote in Romans 1:20, “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s external power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made.”

That passage gets a resounding “Amen” from me every time.

The Bible is one place we can meet God, but it is not the whole of God. [Twitter Link]

Happiness Is a Heart Condition

By Beth Demme

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In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NRSV) This is also translated, “Happy are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

Happy.

I like being happy, feeling happy.

I’m not a student of New Testament Greek, but I can tell you what the commentaries say about using the word “happy” here. They say it’s right. The Greek word used here is macarios which means happy, not eulogeō which means blessed. Also, this verse is part of the Beatitudes and beatus is the Latin word for happy (benedico is the word for blessing).

In other words, Matthew 5:8 says there’s a connection between my happiness and the condition of my heart.

In a way, happiness is a heart condition.

Looking For God In All The Wrong Places

The Wise Men Got Lost, Too

Traditional Wise Men Picture Beth Demme

By Beth Demme

Epiphany is more than a sudden inspiration; it’s a season on the church calendar! Epiphany is when we celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men as described in Matthew 2:1-12.

Epiphany conjures up an image of three robed men riding camels through the desert at night, following the light of the brightest star in the sky.

As with most things in life (and in the Bible), it isn’t that simple.

A star led the Wise Men to Jesus, but if you read the story closely, it seems like they got lost along the way. Ultimately, they travel for years before the villain of the story puts them on the right path and they find God where they least expected.

The Birth Of Jesus Is The Death Of Self-Sufficiency

Christmas is About Helplessness

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The Birth of Jesus is the Death of Self-Sufficiency

By Beth Demme

In 1944, a German Catholic priest named Alfred Delp spent his final Advent in a Nazi prison. A few weeks before he was hanged, Father Delp described the Virgin Mary as “the most comforting of all the Advent figures.” He wrote:

Advent is the promise denoting the new order of things, of life, of our existence. We must remember today with courage that the blessed woman of Nazareth foreshadows the light in our midst today. Deeper down in our being, our days and our destinies, too, bear the blessing and mystery of God. The blessed woman waits, and we must wait too until her hour has come.

In the midst of Father Delp’s hopeless situation, he wrote of courage, light, blessing, and mystery. I probably would have felt abandoned to the darkness, but Delp saw himself waiting as Mary waited. He believed that just as Mary’s pregnancy ended in a miraculous birth, so too, his tribulation would end in a miraculous re-birth.

As Father Delp’s life neared an untimely and ugly end, Mary’s example reminded him of an important truth. Even in tribulation, he, too, deep down in his being bore the blessing and mystery of God.

You, too. Your days and your destinies, too, bear the blessing and mystery of God.

My personal tribulations seem minor, even petty, compared to the specter of a Nazi execution, but the power of Mary’s example remains. Even in the midst of my troubles and imperfections God loves me and lives in me.

For nearly 2,000 years, Christians have been trying to find the right words to describe what happened between humanity and God at Christmas and Easter. The word atonement, literally at-one-ment, is the best we’ve come up with. We become one with God through Christmas and Easter, but in a way that defies our sensibilities.

Both Christmas and Easter have an element of helplessness about them.

To Follow Mary’s Example This Advent We Have to Know God

Or: Why Mary Is Better Than Moses And Paul

Mary Knew God By Beth Demme

To Follow Mary’s Example This Advent, We Have to Know God

Or: Why Mary is Better than Moses and Paul

By Beth Demme

The Virgin Mary is often extolled as an example of a willing servant, especially this time of year. It is true, Mary is the ultimate example of what can happen when one woman says yes to God, but it’s important to remember her “yes” was possible only because she knew God.

Mary was able to say “yes” to God because she knew God.

In her song, the Magnificat (Luke 1:47‑55), Mary describes God as:

  • Savior (v. 47)
  • Mighty (v. 49)
  • Holy (v. 49)
  • Merciful (v. 50)
  • Strong (v. 51)
  • Promise keeper (vv. 54-55)

God asks Mary to do something impossible, but instead of focusing on the task, Mary leans into what she knows about God and responds, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” (Luke 1:38)

When Moses was given a seemingly impossible task by God, he responded very differently. Moses did not say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” Instead, Moses said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) God reassured Moses saying, “I will be with you.” (Exodus 3:12) Moses, however, remained unconvinced and asked God, but who are you? (Exodus 3:13)

Unlike Moses, Mary never has to ask who God is. Mary knows God.

The First Advent What Did Mary Know?

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The First Advent What Did Mary Know?

By Beth Demme

There’s a popular song we hear every Advent called “Mary, Did You Know?” It was first released by a Christian recording artist in 1991. Since then it’s been recorded by a variety of musicians and has appeared on Billboard’s charts for Christian music, country music, R&B, Hip-Hop, and the “Hot 100” (whatever that is).

We don’t really know what Mary knew 2000+ years ago at the first Advent (at least, I don’t), but I love to consider questions with unknowable answers so here is some food for thought.

For starters, we know some of Mary’s sources.

Gabriel was the first to give Mary information.

We Are All Waiting For God

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We Are All Waiting For God

By Beth Demme

Hi friend! I have a special, personal announcement! After months of discernment and prayer, and two additional months of meeting with my pastor, I have decided to answer the call to vocational ministry. I am now a candidate for ministry in the United Methodist Church!

I was honored to preach at St. George Island UMC on Sunday. This blog post is based on the sermon I shared there. If you would like to watch the whole sermon, it’s posted here. I would love to have your feedback!

Happy New Year! I know we haven’t dropped the ball yet or toasted with champagne, but we have, in fact, begun a new year in the life of the church. Advent has begun!

Advent is a season of waiting, and preparation, “for the birth of Christ, and a celebration of God’s unconditional love.”

In Advent We Wait

One of my favorite pastor-writers is a Lutheran pastor from Denver named Nadia Bolz-Weber. Last year at Advent she tweeted, “The wait is over. It’s finally #Advent. Oh … wait…”

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I’m not good at waiting. I avoid slow traffic and I use my iPhone to entertain myself in line at the grocery store.

Even though I’m not good at waiting and I normally avoid it at all costs, I actually love the liturgical season of waiting.

Advent reminds us that we are all waiting for God.

Maybe you are waiting for God to:

  • heal you or a loved one from an illness,
  • show up in the midst of a difficulty like unemployment,
  • make himself present in your suffering, or
  • maybe you are waiting on reassurance that God is present with you today.

If waiting has gotten you down, please know that you are not alone. Psalm 69 says, “I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. … Do not hide your face from your servant [God], for I am in distress—make haste to answer me.” (Psalm 69:3, 17)

I’ve been like that Psalmist, crying my eyes out and sobbing until my throat was parched. I have begged God to be present with me, or to change a situation, or to bring healing. Maybe you have, too.

Advent reminds us that our wait is not wasted because Advent leads to Christmas.

When my husband and I decided to start a family, our adoption journey involved a lot of forced waiting. We were at the mercy of local and state officials, federal officials, and the Russian government.

Of course, the wait was worth it! The love I feel for my children eclipses the memory of the months and months of waiting.

Pregnancies last 40 weeks, adoptions often take longer (our daughter’s adoption took more than a year). In either case, it can feel like a very long and uncomfortable wait. And yet, in the end, it’s worth it.

Advent is a worthwhile wait because it leads to Christmas.

At Christmas, we celebrate that God was physically present in this world. We celebrate that every prayer uttered before the birth of Jesus, and since, has been heard and lovingly received.

Normally I don’t celebrate waiting, but Advent is different.

In Advent, we wait for The One who the Gospel of John calls “the light of all people.” (John 1:4) I celebrate my belief that God will restore everyone and all things, from my smallest mistakes to the tremendous evil and suffering present in the world today.

In this season, I wait to celebrate the birth of the one who “was in the beginning with God” and through whom “all things came into being” and whose “light shines in the darkness” and overcomes the darkness. (John 1:1-4)

Advent is a time to remember we are all waiting on God and this wait is not wasted. Christmas is coming.

Are you good at waiting? How do you celebrate Advent? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.


Suggested Resources for Celebrating the Season of Waiting:

 

The Thanksgiving My Life Changed

By Beth Demme

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It was just before Thanksgiving 2002. My husband and I followed the pediatrician down the hall, our footsteps echoing off the undecorated walls and hard floors. We were inside a maternity/pediatric hospital in a small coal-mining town in southwest Russia.

The doctor led us to a bright room, with a big window, three cribs, and one precious 9-month old baby boy. As soon as we walked in, he stood up in the corner of his crib and looked at us with huge brown eyes.

The doctor may have spoken to him in Russian. I don’t remember. She may have spoken to me through our translator. I don’t remember.

All I remember is walking over to his crib and scooping him up. I immediately spoke to him in cooing mother tones I had never uttered before. I held him close. I studied his face.

How to Talk About Adoption

#NationalAdoptionDay

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How To Talk To Adoptive Families

By Beth Demme

It’s #NationalAdoptionDay!

As a parent by adoption, I’ve seen firsthand how people struggle with adoption language.

Here’s a very simple vocab primer: an adoptive parent is a mom or dad who has adopted a child after the biological parents’ rights have been relinquished or terminated.

Sometimes people say “natural” or “real” when they really mean “biological.” There have been times I felt hurt by inartfully worded questions. Can I be really honest with you? I may never forgive the woman who compared our adoption experience to choosing a puppy at the pound. Nope. Not even close. 

In our family, I am the mom. I’m not just an adoptive mom, a fake, or some kind of substitute. I am the real mom.

While I am the second mother in a series of two, I’m not a second-place contestant.

After The Election

Can 59 Million People Be Wrong?

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The presidential election went as I expected, but not as I had hoped.

It’s not helpful to rant and rave. It’s not helpful to complain about the results.

59 million people voted for each candidate. It would be wrong to dismiss either batch of 59. That means I will not call names or point out the reasons I did not vote for President-Elect Trump. Nor will I dismiss the 59 million who voted against him with platitudes about prayer and finding peace in the true kingdom of God.

In the wake of the election, I am asking God to bring comfort to those who will feel (even more) marginalized by the results. My gay friends. My black friends. My Latino friends. Perhaps most of all, my American Muslim friends.

Had the election turned out differently, I would be asking God to comfort my friends who feel marginalized by a changing economy and changing demographics. Perhaps I will be strong enough to continue to pray for them as well. Lord, give me strength.

I pray we find ways to have a productive dialogue and make America great for EVERYONE.

A productive dialogue will not happen without mutual willingness.

The people who just won will have to be willing to sit down with those of us who lost. And those of us who lost will have to be willing to sit in dialogue with those who defeated us.

This is always true in American politics. This is always true in a democratic republic.

I am also asking God for courage. Now that I think about it, this would have been my prayer regardless of the outcome.

Lord grant me the courage to stand up against the forces of evil. Instill in me the courage to be a voice of love and unity in a time of hate and division.

As I’ve tried to say before, no matter who you voted for, no matter whether your candidate won or lost, I still value your friendship, your ideas, and your humanity.

What about you? How are you feeling post-election? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.