Reading with Pearl: Children’s Bibles

I realize the topic of Bibles for children is pretty specific and perhaps not widely interesting but it’s an important one in our household so I thought I’d share what I’ve found/learned in the past two years.

First, there are lots of bad children’s Bibles out there but I’m not going to focus on that today. While there are many stories in the Bible that are not exactly appropriate for young children, there are also too many versions of the Bible for children that really whitewash what the true story is all about or even present versions with theological inaccuracies. The following Bibles are some of our current favourites. Meaning I approve of them and Pearl enjoys them too!

The Jesus Storybook Bible:

This is maybe the most popular one I’ve seen around the internet and that many people i know have. The illustrations are unique (and I like that Jesus isn’t Blondie McWhiterson) and the story is well told. The whole book definitely focuses on Jesus, bringing each story back to the central tenet of the Christian faith: that God sent His son to die for our sins. Some of the stories take a little bit of liberty in added details but not in a concerning way. While this is definitely an abridged version, it does cover the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, which I appreciate.

I bought this one for Pearl to start reading together at Advent last Christmas. She loved looking at the pictures but would never let us actually read to her from it. So I simply left it out in her room and with her books and she was able to look through it when she liked until she finally allowed us to touch it and read it to her. Just recently at Easter, we used this Bible to read the Easter story to Pearl during Holy Week.

Read-Aloud Bible Stories:

This one was given to Pearl by my brother and his wife (who are both very knowledgeable in the field of children and the church). They started her with volume 3, which has the creation story and later gave her volume 1. I believe there are five volumes in total. These books are great for the stage Pearl is in right now. The stories are very simply told, have the right amount of repetition, and hold her attention well.

Little Fish Books About Jesus:

There are eight little books in this series, all about Jesus or depicting His parables. These are books I had when I was a kid and when my parents were clearing out old boxes, they brought along three of these. I know we had more of them but who knows where they’ve gone to in the last twenty years. While it seems that the books are only available through the UK (we had the Commonwealth edition but they don’t seem to ever have been distributed in Canada), I was able to get used copies in terrific condition quite cheaply through abebooks.com. Pearl likes the small size of these books and I like how well the stories are told. Also, they’re easy to throw in to my purse for going out and about.

If you have any recommendations for children’s Bibles, I’d love to hear them!

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“The Lord was with Joseph”

We’ve lurched our way into 2017 in our household with bad colds for Pearl and I. Peter and I made it to 10:30 on New Year’s Eve and I spent most of January 1st in bed. Pearl picked up the illness from me and has had a rough couple of nights recently. Despite that, I’m hopeful for 2017. I’ve set some goals (I don’t know why that sounds better to me than resolutions but it does) and while the year may not look the way I hoped it would last summer, I am still looking forward to what it does bring.

Our house, morning of Christmas Eve.

Our house, morning of Christmas Eve.

As we enter into a new year, the story of Joseph has been on my mind. I know, not exactly seasonally appropriate but here’s what’s been on my mind.

Growing up, I heard this story a lot. Joseph and his dreams, Joseph and his colourful coat. Joseph and his brothers, more dreams, his success in Egypt. It’s told as a success story. It all worked out because in the end Joseph saves his family from famine. His brothers betray him, sell him into slavery, and lie to their father but it has a happy ending.

That’s not a false telling of the story but what’s struck me recently is that this couldn’t have been God’s ideal plan for Joseph and his family. Joseph is the son of Jacob, the great-grandson of Abraham. For four generations God has been promising to expand this particular family. God has promised that a great king will come from Abraham’s line, that Abraham descendants will be more numerous than the stars in the sky. It was never in God’s plan to let this family die of starvation three generations later. God could have kept them alive and safe in their own land. But He didn’t because Joseph’s brothers sinned hugely. Jealous of their younger brother, they could barely restrain themselves from killing him. Instead, they sold him into slavery in a foreign land where he suffered for years. He served in other men’s households. He was accused of crimes he didn’t commit. He spent years in prison. Genesis tells us that Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh. His entire youth was spent in slavery and imprisonment.

We know less about what Joseph’s brothers were up to in that time but what we do know points to them suffering too. Aside from a devastating famine, we know that Judah at least has turned from his brothers and raised sons who are “wicked in the sight of the Lord” and things degrade (Genesis 38, that’s a whole other story). We know also that the brothers are wracked with guilt for what they did to Joseph. When they stand in Joseph’s presence in Egypt and don’t recognize him, one of their first reactions to Joseph testing their honesty is to recall how Joseph begged for his life and they didn’t listen. No matter how many years have passed, his cries still echo in their ears.

My point is that none of this would have been what God wanted for this chosen family. God uses it, yes; Joseph remains obedient to God and faithful in his worship no matter the circumstances and God raises him up to a position where he’s able to help his family. But I don’t think God’s perfect plan involved those years of suffering for the brothers. It didn’t involve what followed for the Israelites – enslavement, escape, wandering through the desert.

Park time on Christmas Eve.

Park time on Christmas Eve.

I take comfort in this because I don’t think the way 2016 unfolded was God’s perfect plan for my life. We live in a sinful, fallen world, just as Joseph did and that means death and decay and broken hearts. It’s so hard to understand why an all-powerful God doesn’t step in and fix these things but as Christian we also believe that He is doing so. That when He sent His Son to die for us on the cross, that was the beginning of fixing all things. Making all things new. We’re not there yet and so we suffer. We suffer because we know that things are not as they should be. Just as Joseph suffered, knowing that his life should have been different, even as he gained power in Pharaoh’s court.

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Snowy Christmas Day in Vancouver.

Joseph trusted that God could redeem what had happened to him. That enslavement and betrayal was not the end of the story. We don’t know what Joseph’s relationship was like with his brothers after they were all reunited in Egypt. I can’t imagine that it was ever as good as it could have been. There are wounds that are not healed this side of Heaven. But the healing process can begin on this side. God works in our lives now, despite the sin, despite the roadblocks we try to put in His way. He works now. He is working now.

A ferry ride home.

A ferry ride home.

I am excited to see how God unfolds His plan for our family in 2017.

(The story of Joseph is find in Genesis 37-47.)

Book Review: A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards

A Tale of Three Kings - Gene Edwards (Tyndale, 1992)

A Tale of Three Kings – Gene Edwards (Tyndale, 1992)

This is a unique little book in that it isn’t quite a Biblical lesson, it isn’t quite a story. It’s a retelling, of sorts, of the stories of Saul, David, and Absalom, particularly as relates to David’s connections with each.

Saul was the first king of Israel, chosen by God when the people demanded they have a king so that they might be like the other nations around them. While Saul seems to start out well, he quickly falls into sinful behaviour and ceases to follow God. While Saul is still alive, a young shepherd boy named David is anointed as the next king of Israel. Saul becomes increasingly insane and eventually David is on the run for his life, living out of caves and in constant fear. Yet, when he is presented with an opportunity to kill Saul, he doesn’t. Because David trusts in God’s plan and God’s timing.

Fast forward years later. David is king. Throughout the Bible, David is described as “a man after God’s own heart”. Not a perfect man (see: Bathsheba and Uriah) but a man who genuinely seeks and desires God. The book of Psalms is filled with David’s honest cries to God – his praises and his pleas. David is a good king, chosen by God. His son Absalom, however, is steadily fomenting revolution. So here we have a contrast to the story of Saul and David. Now we have David and Absalom, where David is the king and another seeks to overthrow him. The question that the characters raise here is this: “Is Absalom another David? Or is he another Saul?” And, most importantly, how will David choose to respond?

Edwards points out that Saul was anointed by God and reminds us that sometimes people are in positions of power because that is God’s plan and just because they are insane or sinful or seem to be making the wrong decisions, doesn’t make it any less a part of God’s plan. He also makes the excellent point that we don’t always know who is a Saul and who is a David. Often, in the midst of action, we don’t know what the end result will be. We don’t know how history will view our current events. We don’t know what “the right side of history” so to speak will be.

Book Review – A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

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This is a book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time and it did not disappoint. I was familiar with Rachel Held Evans’ writing through her blog – mostly posts circulated by friends. And while I’ve never followed it religiously (pun!) I’ve generally appreciated what I’ve read from Evans.

A Year of Biblical Living (Thomas Nelson, 2013) chronicles Evans’ year spent attempting to live as closely as possible to the Biblical model of womanhood. Or at least, the Biblical model of womanhood as it is perceived today. (Comparisons to A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically are apt but the female perspective is crucial here.) While Evans doesn’t follow everything through for the full year, she does devote each month to a particular facet – from Purity to Obedience to Silence. She calls her husband “Master”. She attempts to cook her way through Martha Stewart in an effort to be a better wife. She remains completely silent in church. At the same time – and the part I enjoyed the most – Evans’ delves into research. She explores the roots of where we get our ideas about Biblical womanhood today. Through interviews with Jewish women, Christian scholars, and the women around her, Evans attempts to pull apart what’s Biblical and what’s cultural. It’s an important distinction and one I was able to learn a lot from.

As an adult, as a woman, and as a Christian, I’ve struggled with many of the concepts that Evans addresses and I appreciated her honesty as much as her investigation and exploration.

“…in our efforts to celebrate and affirm God’s presence in the home, we should be wary of elevating the vocation of homemaking above all others by insinuating that for women, God’s presence is somehow restricted to that sphere.

“If God is the God of all pots and pans, then He is also the God of all shovels and computers and paints and assembly lines and executive offices and classrooms. Peace and joy belong not to the woman who finds the right vocation, but to the woman who finds God in any vocation.”

Right there, Evans articulates a problem I’ve long struggled to identify amongst evangelical, conservative Christians. In an effort to elevate and value the role of a woman who stays home to care for her house and family (something I believe is fully worthy of respect), there are those who seem only able to do so at the expense of the working woman. As if a career is something you only do because you’re not married. Yet. Or you don’t have children. Yet. And not because you’re happy and fulfilled in your job. Or because you feel called to your chosen career. Or even because, at this point in your life, work is the best thing for you and your family.

I’ve been asked a few times recently if I plan to stay home after I have children. My honest answer is, I’m not sure. And I don’t want to answer that yet. Yes, I would love to be at home while my kids are young. I would love to be able to provide that for these kids and for my husband. But I also know myself and I know that in a year or two or less or more, I might miss working. I might miss the stimulation and challenge of a job. I might miss the regular contact with the outside world. I might even realize that I’ll be a better parent when I have a day or more a week away from my home and in a job. And that’s okay. I want to give myself permission now to have that option down the road.

I’ve sat and listened to Christian lecturers tell me that my ultimate role exists as a wife and a mother. That I shouldn’t desire anything more. That my family will suffer if I work outside of the home, if I send my kids to public school, if my husband comes home to a dark house and I rush in from work and make him Kraft Dinner. I believe that’s a lie. I believe that God created me (and every woman) with deep complexity. I believe He instilled in me skills and gifts and desires of all kinds. Some serve me well in my home and benefit my husband and will benefit my children. But others are laid deep within me and are there to benefit society, those in the community around me and maybe the world. I don’t think those desires are wrong; I don’t think they should be hidden away. I sat in a lecture like that next to a dear friend of mine, working on her Masters degree in Public Health, who told me afterward that she was sure being in school was the right choice for her, was what God had planned for her. And I applaud her. I look at so many of my Christian girlfriends who are smart and driven and who are changing the world.

I think of having a daughter of my own one day and what I’ll tell her about her future.

“God has big plans for you,” I’ll say. “God has good plans for you. He might take you anywhere. You might be a wife, a mother, a missionary, a doctor, a chemist, a researcher. You could be an accountant or a proof reader or a grocery store clerk. You can be more than one of those things at once. Don’t let anyone – even in the name of God – tell you to dream smaller.”

“As a Christian, my highest calling is not motherhood; my highest calling is to follow Christ.”

I think my favourite part of the book was when Evans addresses Proverbs 31. If you’ve been a woman in the Christian church for a fair amount of time, this chapter has hovered over your head. While beautiful, it can also be the Biblical equivalent of the magazine covers in the grocery story checkout line. Here’s what you should be. Here are all the ways you fail to match up. I certainly have never bought land or made clothes. And while I hope my husband and children rise up and call me blessed, it’s more likely to be for my chocolate chip cookies and sense of humour than because of my profitable trading.

But Evans goes to the source and examines the Jewish tradition of Proverbs 31.

“I looked into this, and sure enough, in Jewish culture it is not the women who memorize Proverbs 31, but the men. Husbands commit each line of the poem to memory, so they can recite it to their wives at the Sabbath meal, usually in song.”

Doesn’t that change everything? Instead of Proverbs 31 being a laundry list of requirements, of ways that we should act and aren’t, it’s a celebration. It’s a blessing. As Evans puts it, something to be given unconditionally, not earned.

“A woman of valour” – that’s what the Proverbs 31 woman is. And she might be a woman who brings by a meal for a friend who’s sick. Or who is up all night with a colicky baby. Or who comes home from a long day of work and kicks off her shoes. It is a woman who does things – any thing – for God.

Ultimately, that’s who this book is for: women striving to worship God. Though it probably be of interest to men and women curious to know what the Bible really has to say about the role of women.

Signs of Spring

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And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the Heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the Heavens to give light upon the Earth.” And it was so.

Genesis 1:14-15

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What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,

or where the east wind is scattered upon the Earth?

Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt,

to bring rain on a land where no man is,

on the desert in which there is no man,

to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass?

Job 38:24-27

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He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the Earth, the Lord is His name.

Amos 5:8

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The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out through all the Earth, and their words to the end of the world.

Psalm 19:1-4

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Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you?

Matthew 6:28-30

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You are the Lord, you alone. You have made Heaven, the Heaven of Heavens, with all their host, the Earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and You preserve all of them; and the host of Heaven worships you.

Nehemiah 9:6

Rejoice and Give Thanks

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First signs of spring outside of my front door. I can’t tell you how happy snowdrops make me every year.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This was a verse our pastor referenced in his sermon on Sunday. It wasn’t the main focus of the sermon but it leapt out to me.  This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Any time God’s Will (capital letters!) is stated so explicitly, it’s worth reading closely. Because there are many circumstances in my life where I might feel I’m not sure what God’s will is for me.

  • Rejoice
  • Pray
  • Give Thanks

Aren’t those lovely things? Those are the things I want to be full of today, and tomorrow, as the rain comes down and slowly ushers my world into spring.

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Book Review – The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey

I can distinctly recall the picture on the front of the Vancouver Sun. It was a computer-generated idea of what Jesus might have looked like. The man was neither greatly attractive or unattractive. He was an ordinary, Arab-looking man. He had dark skin, dark hair, and dark brown eyes. He looked nothing like the pale, blue-eyed Jesus of my children’s Bible.

The Jesus on the cover of my Bible (I was probably around ten years old), looked a little like this:

He kind of looks like my friend’s dad. Who is Mennonite.

I remember looking at that picture in the paper and thinking, “This totally makes sense! Jesus was a Jew living in Israel! Of course he wasn’t blond!” I wasn’t a dumb kid but I’d literally never thought about the very simple fact that Jesus, as a Jew, would look Jewish.

I’d also already seen The Jesus Film countless times and in multiple languages, which stars this guy:

Philip Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew, was published in 1995, right around the time when I saw that picture on the paper.

My point is, many of us have a flawed idea of who Jesus is. Personally, I don’t think it much matters what Jesus looked like. If it did, the Bible would have included pictures. It matters more what Jesus did and what He said and that’s what Yancey explores in this book.

One of the things I appreciate most about Philip Yancey is that he isn’t afraid to be honest. He never seems to back off from talking about his own doubts or fears or frustrations with God. His book titles alone will tell you that, like a book of his I read last fall, Disappointment with God. And so Yancey dives head first into discussing Jesus as we know him from the New Testament. A man who made uncomfortable statements and alienated a lot of people around him. He said weird things about eating his flesh. He told people he would cause divisions in family. He let his friend die so he could resurrect him. We read these passages in church and we’ve heard them so often that they become commonplace but they’re not.

Yancey devotes a portion of his book to dissecting one of Jesus’ primary speeches, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 8). It’s the one that starts with all the “Blessed bes”. Yancey points out that this is a sermon that should really bother us.

“Jesus did not proclaim the Sermon on the Mount so that we would, Tolstoy-like, furrow our brows in despair over our failure to achieve perfection. He gave it to impart to us God’s Ideal toward which we should never stop striving, but also to show us that none of us will ever reach that Ideal. The Sermon on the Mount forces us to recognize the great distance between God and us, and any attempt to reduce that distance by somehow moderating its demands misses the point altogether.”

While Yancey does draw from varied theological sources (from Lewis to Tolstoy), he focuses primarily on the four gospel books and what they show us about Jesus. It’s surprising how surprising some of it is, when it’s taken from books many of us have read or heard read over and over again.

This is the heart of Christianity. Without Jesus, Christianity is meaningless. So if you’re interested in learning more about who this guy from Nazareth was, I recommend Yancey’s book.

“God is not mute: the Word spoke, not out of a whirlwind, but out of the human larynx of a Palestinian Jew.”

A Blind Beggar on the Side of the Road

I read this Bible passage this morning:

And [Jesus and His disciples] came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; He is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him on the way.”

Mark 10:46-52 (English Standard Version)

This morning I’m able to envision the scene so clearly. Jesus, a great crowd following him, is on His way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. He knows He is only days away from His crucifixion. He is surrounded by “a great crowd”. His disciples, some followers, some curious bystanders, some people who have simply fallen into the crowd while making their own way to Jerusalem.

Bartimaeus sits near the gates of Jerusalem, probably where he sits many days. In other parts of the New Testament we are told of beggars whose friends bring them to a certain spot each day. There they can make a tiny pittance off of compassionate passers-by. Bartimaeus hears the sound of a large crowd drawing closer. “Who is it? Who’s there?” he asks. This crowd must have been larger and noisier than average to make him wonder. Maybe he had to ask a few times before someone answered, “It’s Jesus!”

Bartimaeus must have had some idea of who Jesus was, he must have heard some stories of miracles and healing. Because as soon as he hears Jesus’ name, he starts yelling. He starts crying out to Jesus at the top of his lungs. Keep in mind that Bartimaeus was blind; he has no idea if Jesus is close to him or a hundred metres down the road in the middle of this crowd. Bartimaeus doesn’t know if Jesus can hear him at all. But he keeps crying out to Him. How often have I given a half-hearted cry to God and given up because I don’t hear anything immediately?

The people around Bartimaeus began to rebuke him, to try to silence him. He doesn’t care, he doesn’t shut up. All Bartimaeus cares about, all he wants in his life is for Jesus to hear him and he will not stop crying out until that happens.

And Jesus hears him. It’s a beautiful moment. In the middle of the noise and the crowd and the commotion, Jesus hears the voice of one blind beggar. Jesus stops and says, “I want to see that man.” Bartimaeus, yelling and maybe weeping at the side of the road, is told, “Get up; He is calling you.” Those may have been the most beautiful words Bartimaeus ever heard.

And his reaction is wonderful. Bartimaeus jumps to his feet, ready to go to Jesus. He doesn’t delay, he doesn’t hesitate, he heads straight to Jesus. And because of his faith, he is healed. In an instant, his whole life is changed. Not just physically but spiritually too. We can see that because Bartimaeus doesn’t simply head back home but instead follows Jesus right then and there.

It’s an amazing story and an inspiring one for me today. I want to be like Bartimaeus. I want to persist in calling out to Jesus. I want to jump to my feet and be ready when Jesus calls back.

“Christianity begins with a personal reaction to Jesus, a reaction of love, an instinctive feeling that here is the one person who can meet our need. Even if we are never able to think things out theologically, that instinctive response and cry of the human heart is enough.”

William Barclay

 

“One holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”

The above title is quoted from the Nicene Creed, a statement of belief I learnt as a child in the Anglican church. Here’s a true story: I repeated this creed in church long before I ever knew what it really meant. When we got to this line, I wouldn’t say it. I thought it meant I believed in the Roman Catholic church and I knew I didn’t. I have Catholic family so I had nothing against Catholics, I simply thought I shouldn’t say out loud I believed in the Catholic church because I knew I wasn’t Catholic. It wasn’t until years later that I learnt the true definition of catholic. Namely, universal. In the Nicene Creed, “catholic” refers to the church as a whole, worldwide.

I’ve been thinking a lot about church lately. More specifically, what is the purpose of the church and why do I go?

I’ve gone to church for different reasons at different points in my life. I went because my family went. I went because my friends went. I went because the boy I liked would be there. I went to make friends. I went because I had obligations to fulfill. I went because I wanted to worship God. I went to be taught and to learn. I went because it felt like family there, because it was my community. I went because I didn’t feel like going and those were the days I knew I needed it the most.

Most of those are okay reasons. Some more okay than others.

I’ve been really blessed by the church and I’ve been hurt by the church too. I think, if Christians are honest, most of us have. It breaks my heart when I hear of people so hurt by the church that they refuse to return. At the same time I think, “Yeah, I can see how that happens.” I’ve been offended and I’m sure I’ve offended people. (Actually, I know I have because I’ve been told I have.) I’ve gone to churches where people have poured into my life and really blessed me. I’ve gone to churches where no one spoke to me.

Recently God has really been convicting my heart about the purpose of church. I’d gotten into a space where I expected certain things from a church.

I expected people to be friendly and welcoming.

I expected a Bible study or home group to provide me with fellowship and friends.

I expected strong, Biblical preaching that spoke to my heart each work.

I expected worship leaders who were musically talented and who led worship that moved me.

Let me be clear that those are all good things. I still think that a healthy and thriving church will have those things. But I know many churches don’t. That doesn’t make them worthless or bad churches. Instead, what I’m realizing, is that we may be called to stay at those churches and help them become healthy and thriving, rather than walking out and finding a church that already fits our ideal.

The church is made up of people. Human beings. Flawed, sinful human beings. Here on earth the church will never, ever, ever be perfect. It will never quite live up to God’s kingdom. Our hearts know this. This is why we are so often hurt and disappointed by the church. There may be Sunday mornings (or Saturday evenings or Wednesday afternoons or whenever your church meets) where it seems like Heaven opens up and we see a glorious glimpse of what church was meant to be. Those times may be few and far between. I’ve cried because church is so good and I’ve cried because church is so disappointing.

What God has laid on my heart these past few weeks and why I’m writing this quickly-lengthening post is that I’m looking at church from the wrong direction. I’ve been looking at church from the angle of, “What can this church provide me?” when I should be looking at it as, “What can I do for the church? What can I do to glorify God with this group of believers?”

It isn’t about me needing to do things for God. He doesn’t need me to do things for Him. My God, who created the stars in the sky, doesn’t need me to teach Sunday School or bake cookies for a church fundraiser. Those are human needs and in participating, I get to be a part of God’s work. Not because He needs it but because He loves me and wants to share His goodness and grace with me and, more often than not, I grow by doing these things.

Basically, after all this rambling, what I want to say is, I’m learning to be committed to the flawed Church. (Capitalized because I’m taking about that “catholic church” thing from up above, not as any one particular church.) If I don’t think I’m getting out of Church what I should, maybe it’s because I’m not putting in what I should. I need to be committed to the Church, not because the Church has been good to me but because I am a part of the Church and because the Church is precious to God.

(Side note: There are definite and tragic cases of abuse in churches and I am by no means advocating commitment to abusive or controlling churches or to those that don’t follow and preach the Bible. I’m talking here about your normal, flawed but still God-desiring, Spirit-seeking, Bible-following Church.)

In discussing this with someone recently they mentioned something Oswald Chambers wrote. I went home and read the passage (it’s found in the daily devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, which is a great devotional.) Here’s an abridged version of it:

We are to be fountains through which Jesus can flow as “rivers of living water” in blessing to everyone. Yet some of us are like the Dead Sea, always receiving but never giving…As surely as we receive blessings from Him, He will pour out blessings through us. But whenever the blessings are not being poured out in the same measure they are received, there is a defect in our relationship with Him….Stay at the Source, closely guarding your faith in Jesus Christ and your relationship to Him, and there will be a steady flow into the lives of others.

For reference the Bible passages Chambers draws on here are John 4:14 and John 7:38.

This is what I want. Not to go to church that others might bless me (that might happen and if it does, it will be great) but to stay at the “source”, to draw close to my Saviour, and from there to see the abundance that He provides and to (hopefully) bless others. I don’t know what that abundance, that “river” might look like. It might look exactly like what I hope for, it might not.

Another side note/disclaimer: I’ve read over this post a few times and I feel nervous about posting it because I understand a blog is a public forum and there are people who know me personally who read or might read this blog. I think there is a lot of offense in the Church (people offending others, intentionally or not, and people feeling offended) and it’s not at all my intention to add to that. I’m not talking about any single church here so if you read this and we’ve ever been at a church service together, please don’t read into this too personally. I can say good and bad things about every church I’ve ever attended or visited but, really, I have mostly good things to say. I have, by and large, been very blessed by the Church. (Both in the world-wide sense and in the individual sense.)

So why post all this then? Because this is how I feel and I believe my feelings are valid. Yours are too! Because this is a tiny smidgen of my experience within the church. Because I believe it’s important not to idolize the church or act like flaws don’t exist within it. Because I’ve been going to church my entire life and I’ve seen church ministry up close and that’s been a good and a bad thing for me. Mostly a really good thing. Because maybe this will encourage someone else. Maybe not. But it helps me to write this down and put it out in the world.

Mostly I want to post this because this is honestly what God’s placed on my heart recently and I want to share that.

Tetelestai!

Lately I’ve been reading the gospel of Matthew during my personal prayer and quiet time. I try to read a chapter a day (I’m not always good about that) and, because I don’t always pay as much attention as I should, I jot notes in my journal as I read. Questions I have, observations I make, prayers or what have you. Sometimes, once I’ve finished reading, I’ll read from a Bible commentary. One commentator I like is William Barclay, who wrote an accompanying book for each book in the New Testament. Barclay offers background and historical information, compares the various gospels, and offers his own thoughts and translations. I often find him very helpful.

I’m almost at the end of Matthew; today I read chapter 27, which is Jesus’ crucifixion. There is a passage there that I’ve always wondered about. It’s verse 46: And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As a Christian, this is a strange thing to read. I believe that Jesus was and is God. So how can He be forsaken by God? The thing is, Jesus was also a human man. He was unique in that He is the only person to ever live without sin. And in this moment, all the sin of the world, of every person who had ever lived, was alive, or would live, came down on Him. Sin separates us from God. It’s possible that in this verse we see the first time Jesus was ever separated from God the Father. (This is all part of the mystery that is the Trinity and that really needs a whole other post. Possibly from a trained theologian.)

Barclay offers this up as a possible explanation and it’s something that I’ve heard in various forms before. But he also offers another suggestion, which led me to write this post today. I’ll try and summarize it here: Part of what makes Christianity unique is that we believe in a God who is all powerful. At the same time, we also believe in a God who gave that up for a time to live a human life. This is Jesus, who was born on earth as a baby and lived as a man. He went through puberty, he had brothers and sisters, he had a job. He experienced all the ups and downs of human life. He also lived without sinning. Sometimes I find it hard to even imagine what a human life would look like without sin, but Jesus actually lived that. The Bible tells us that Jesus was tempted (Luke 4:1-12), just as we are tempted in our lives. Basically, whatever we may experience or feel, whatever joy or despair, Jesus knows it. He felt it too.

Barclay suggests that part of the human experience is feeling separated from God. He writes: It seems to me that Jesus would not be Jesus unless He had plumbed the uttermost and ultimate depths of human experience. Barclay tells us (and I believe this to be true from my own experience) that in life, often when tragedy comes, we will feel that God has forgotten us, forsaken us. I think that the majority of Christians, if they are being honest, will admit that they have experienced this at some point in their lives. As a man, Jesus also experienced this so that, as Barclay says, there might be no place where we have to go where He has not been before.

The really cool thing though, and the thing that got me excited, was that the story doesn’t end here. Jesus doesn’t cry out about being forsaken and then die. Matthew 27:50 says: And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit. (Bold letters added by me.) I never paid much attention that that but Barclay taught me something. Each gospel mentions this second cry but it’s the gospel of John that gives us more information. He said, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:30) Barclay explains that in Greek (the language of the New Testament) and in Aramaic (the language that Jesus spoke) “It is finished” would be one word – tetelestai. Let me just quote to you what Barclay has to say about that last word.

Tetelestai is the victor’s shout; it is the cry of the man who has completed his task; it is the cry of the man who has won through the struggle; it is the cry of the man who has come out of the dark into the glory of the light, and who has grasped the crown. So, then, Jesus died a victor and a conqueror with a shout of triumph on His lips.

I can’t tell you how that makes my heart feel. I already knew, and have known for a while, that Jesus was victorious. That His death was not final but instead He conquered death and rose again. Jesus died victorious and He rose victorious.

Jesus felt far away from God, just as any one of us might feel far away from God. Somedays, the presence of God is so powerful, like something I can taste on the air or feel in a room. Somedays, nothing. That says more about my circumstances and my heart than God Himself. I know that God is always present, but some days I have a hard time believing it. Knowing that Jesus too experienced that and overcame it gives me comfort. We have a God who knows that we will doubt Him, that we will feel alone and abandoned. We have a God who knows what that feels like. Through the Bible, He’s shared with us His own experience and we can take comfort in Him.