Thursday, January 28, 2016

Asking Myself: What is it that reconciles us with God?

This is the fourth installment of my series "Asking Myself," in which I weekly ponder one question posed in Teresa Blythe's rich book, 50 Ways to Pray. You can find the start of the series here and last week's post here.

Q: What is it that reconciles us to God?

Every time I've thought about reconciliation this week, I've fallen down a different rabbit hole. When I first sat with this question, I was struck by how simply an answer floated forward in my heart. God reconciles us to God. "It" is Christ's death on the cross that reconciles us with God and us with others. Perhaps because I'd been so intentional about pondering and noticing God's unfathomable love for me in recent weeks-- this extravagant love doesn't shock me like it should. He loves me and He takes all the responsibility for reconciling me, an enemy who was once far off, separated from Him by my own evil thoughts and actions, to Himself. Here's the verses:
Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. --Ephesians 2:16
For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ's blood on the gross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. --Colossians 2:19-22
So, to answer the initial question, there's the once-and-for-all fact that God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ's bodily, bloody death on the cross.... and no, I don't really understand how that works or even why that was the only way to do it, or why God chose that way. I'd like to. But it's enough for me to take security in the story of Jesus' deep love for even his enemies--a love that can see beyond evil thoughts and actions and by faithfully acting on the potential he saw in us to become his fellow sons and daughters and fellow and joint heirs, he created the possibility of it being so.

Then I have to sit with the word "reconcile" for a bit. Cuz I noticed that in the verses, there's more than just God reconciling us to Himself. Reconciliation brings me right into His presence, and His loving presence is what transforms my thoughts and actions so that I can experience my being reconciled, at peace with God, who happens to be at peace with everything. Like, what?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Winsome Wednesday "What Things are True"

Can I confide in you, Internet? Can I insert my truth into your gaping silence and before a million robotic eyes? In the hours after I clicked "publish" on my last "Winsome Wednesday," I regretted and fretted. I felt ashamed. The atmosphere in my heart was the polar opposite of what I've intended to create with my weekly campaign to follow Paul's advice in Philippians 4:8 to fill my thoughts with things lovely, true and winsome-- all around me and even in me.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Asking Myself: In what ways does God intervene in the world?

This is week 3 of my blogging series "Asking Myself," in which I ponder the ultimate questions of faith posed in Teresa Blythe's excellent book, 50 Ways to Pray. My thoughts are a work in progress, so please join the discussion!  If you're just arriving, check out week one's parts one and two, and last week's post.

Q: In what ways does God intervene in the world?

This one has been taking me a little while to chew on.

It's an uncomfortable question for me because of the cognitive dissonance between my experience of God and some of my readings of God. My view of God through a New Testament, Jesus-lens sees God's interventions to be strictly grounded in love, justice and mercy. And this view is at odds with what seem some very troubling examples of God intervening and tinkering and manipulating in the Old Testament. (What do I mean, specifically? Pharaoh's hardened heart and Elisha's juvenile delinquent taunters who were mauled by the she-bears come to mind as troubling examples of an Angry, Arbitrary, Partial God of whose hand I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end. This is not the God I know.)

But back to the question. In addition to being a little unsettling, it's an important, weighty one because my belief in who God is, His nature, as I wrote about in last week's Ask post, hinges on what I believe are His actions. Love does, right? Love is a verb, can I get a witness?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Winsome Wednesday: 10 Things I Do (Almost Daily) to Spark Joy in My Life

I'm taking a slightly different approach to this week's list of lovely. Instead of linking out, I thought I'd dig around in my own life. I'm not a naturally joyful, sunny kind of person... I have to make it a spiritual discipline to follow Paul's advice in Philippians 4:8, from which my "Winsome Wednesday" post springs. These are 10 simple house-keeping and soul-keeping habits I've created in my daily life that help create an atmosphere of joy in my heart and in my home. They are written in chronological order rather than ranked order.

#1: Rising Early
I'm an early riser born to early risers. I won't say this is for everyone, but getting up before the rest of the house allows me the space to get my head on straight and spend some time reading or writing or praying before the day starts bustling. The corollary to this, as you might have guessed, is that I rarely stay up past 10 p.m. Actually, I'd love to crawl into bed around 9.

#2: Keeping a Journal
I've used a journal since 1992. That was junior high, ya'll. Thankfully, how I've used a journal has evolved quite a bit since the days of my fickle crushes and tween angst. Journaling is now my number one place for quiet reflection, prayer and communion with God. I treasure my current journal because it's a like a secret garden I can go to plant spiritual seeds and record sightings of new life forms. I treasure past journals, and even past entries because in them I can meet my former self... for better or for worse.

#3: A Very Brief Workout
I've never been an athlete. My body is just asymmetrical enough that I'm uncoordinated and prone to feel like an old lady any time I attempt high impact exercise. And I think I'm fine with that, because I discovered the joys of yoga about a year and a half ago. I turn my personal morning yoga session into a soul-centering, God-worshiping time with a 19-minute, 3-song playlist. Maybe someday I'll get up the guts to make a little yoga video to share with you.

#4: Create Visual Calm
This is a fancy way of saying that I like my bed to be made every morning because it's the biggest thing in my bedroom, and the simple act of straightening out the quilt makes the spot where I journal look clean and tidy. This also means I send my three boys' dirty clothes down the laundry chute, close my shower curtain, plump the couch cushions and maybe if I'm especially ambitious, clear away the dishes from the table and counter. I also make the boys participate-- no toys are allowed on the main level. They have their room on the second floor and their toys in the basement. It's not a perfect system, but it keeps the level of crazy down. Oliver, my 2-year-old, breaks this rule routinely. As I type, he's playing with some contraband Legos on my desk.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Asking Myself: What is the nature of God?

Welcome to week two of my year of asking "Ultimate Questions" a term and a reflective prayer exercise I've borrowed from Teresa Blythe's 50 Ways to Pray. Find the start of the series here. This week, I'm pondering another theological question. I'm enjoying the process of putting my thoughts on pixels, but I'd be honored if some readers added their own comments below or through PM.

Q: What is the true nature of God?

When I think about this question, I reframe it as what is God's strongest character trait? What motivates His actions? What drives His thoughts?

Immediately, Bible verses chime in to answer. God is love. God is light, in Him is no darkness. God is good (all the time!) God is great (and greatly to be praised!) God is holy (Holy! Holy! Holy).

So, in my impulsive thoughts, God's nature is a lot of things. This is perhaps shaped by my early reading and re-reading of The All-Inclusive Christ by Witness Lee. But the "God is everything" answer doesn't satisfy me right now. I aspire to hold and then stow away in my heart's inner pocket a simpler, more elegant thought about God's nature. Something a little less like the warm fuzzy vagueness of a CCM worship song chorus and more like a new discovery, a pearl of great worth, a treasure, the magic decoder ring to life and everything. Just kidding. Not like that last one. I'm not advocating secret-password Christianity.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Winsome Wednesday 1.13.16

Philippians 4:8 (NLT)
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 

Baby Sloths

So, my husband and I like to make fun of adult sloths, big scruffy animals that take about 10 minutes to shift positions in a tree. Baby sloths appear to be 10 times more energetic and 100 times more adorable than adults. As you can tell, there's absolutely no rhyme or reason to my list of winsome on the web. These are just the little happy distractions I need to break up the cold winter days.

Worthy of praise

Charley Harper is one of my favorite artists because he combined great design with depictions of the natural world rich with personality. Here's a little video about what made him so special.

Our Favorite Kid's Bible

Whenever Ollie says, "I wanna read God!" he's referring to The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm and illustrated by Gail Schoonmaker. And I'm so glad this is the one that best holds his interest because it is also the easiest for me to read in large swaths because of its big full-bleed art and poetic but minimal text on each page. What this Bible excels at is creating an overall picture of the thread running through the entire bible: A God who loves His people so much that He steadfastly pursues them and cares for them even though they are continually doubting His goodness and disobeying Him.

Jesus You're My Super Hero brick movie

Ok, so this video made the winsome list not because I agree with the theological trajectory of this song, but because it made my boys go crazy on Sunday after we finished creating our Lego Duplo garden of Eden scene. And because I think worship should be fun. Stephen and Rockam got into it by coming up with other superheros and toys to insert in the Jesus is "better than ___________" segment of the song.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Home churching with Legos

The Parrinos are in a season of doing church as a family at home. Usually, this involves reading the bible with the kids and dancing around in the basement to Go Fish worship videos. Two Sundays ago, we tried a group reenactment of Genesis 1. Yesterday, we had planned to read about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden out of The Big Picture Story Bible. We didn't really want anybody to have to be Satan in a skit, so we decided to build the scene with Legos... Duplos in this case because the vast majority of the boys' Lego sets don't have flowers or trees or animals. 

A portion of our homemade Sunday school involved Joe putting on an impromptu puppet show with a Ninjago snake mini figure, giving him the crafty voice of Satan. I was totally uncomfortable with this, thinking it would freak the boys out ... but the older two really got into it (Ollie had already wandered off to play with Magna Tiles at this point). Joe's snake voice told Stephen and Rockam that he would give them whatever they wanted as long as they decided to disobey God. 

"What do you want... Sssss....Rockam?" The minifigure rasped. 
Rockam, true to form shouted, "I want a sword so I can CHOP YOUR HEAD OFF! HYAAA!"

Love that kid.

Stephen's response was that he would try to outsmart Satan and ask for something he wanted, but then turn around and obey God anyway. Of course, we liked Rockam's answer better, but I think in reality, we all would answer more along the lines of Stephen's "strategy." We didn't jump on the chance to correct him, but gently reminded him of how crafty and clever the enemy can be. 

Using Legos was a great way to make a lesson less of a chore and using creative play helped Joe and I discover what is inside our boys' hearts. I think Lego modeling might become part of our go-to Sunday home school curriculum in the future.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Asking myself: How does God find us?

Q: How does God find us?

This the second half of this week's "Praying Ultimate Questions," a reflective prayer exercise from Teresa Blythe's informative and inspiring book, 50 Ways to Pray. I've committed to writing my thoughts on one of these deep questions each week of 2016. If you missed the first part of the question, and my response, click here.

The immediate answer that comes to mind as I listen to this question in my head is that God finds us lovely... and lovable. I'm interpreting the question to mean "How does God see us?" or "what does He think about us?" instead of a literal reading, because the idea of a God trying to locate us is like assuming God didn't actually know where Adam and Eve where hiding as He walked through the garden, calling their names in the cool of the day. I definitely believe God is omniscient of our whereabouts and that He could easily locate the original couple's physical coordinates as well as the metaphysical location of their fallen-fruit hearts. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Winsome Wednesday 1.6.16

"It's Taco Tuesday! Except... on a Wednesday!!! But still called Taco Tuesday!!!" If you don't have Lego-obsessed children who have watched the Lego Movie a million times, just ignore that quote and enjoy my Winsome Wednesday (except on a Thursday.)

Philippians 4:8 Amplified
Brethren, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them].

Lovely and Lovable Owls
Owls: Our Most Charming Bird by Matt Sewell has won me over with cute meets witty in the forest. I highly recommend it for nature and bird lovers. You can read my review here.

Is It OK to Ask?
Considering my #oneword is "Ask" I thought this was an interesting post by Teresa Blythe, in which she expounds on an episode of King of Queens (which I've never watched) to explore how God handles our most frivolous prayers. Her response is freeing to those who can't shake seemingly shallow longings.

Prayer of the Imagination
Woodland Hills Pastor Greg Boyd's sermon on Wonder was part of his pre-Christmas sermon series. So I'm a little behind on everything, but don't let that put you off. He supplies an antidote to our human tendency to lose our sense of wonder as we age. Listen to his suggestions for tapping into the sehnsucht in your heart. And... learn what this German word means!

You Are My One Thing

Asking might be my "one word" but Jesus is always my "one thing." So maybe it's a little weird to refer to Jesus as a "thing" even if He's the one and only... but this video and song from Bethel music gives me all the feels. And what a location for a worship gathering! Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Asking myself: How can we find God?

Since my one word this year is "ask," I'm planning to reflect my way through 52 "Ultimate Questions" from Teresa Blythe's 50 Ways to Pray — with one question per week. That's the book on my kitchen table, which makes a dandy but chilly place to pray in the wee hours. If you'd like to join me, I'll be posting the question for the upcoming week on Monday and my reflections some time during the week. I'm a little late this week. Blythe recommends finding a quiet space for about 30 minutes to sit with the question, journaling your thoughts if that works; it did for me. Below, I've transcribed my own journal entries from the last couple of days. The first question is a 2fer:

How can we find God? How does God find us?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Sewell's "Owls" a charming retreat for birdwatchers (and wannabes)

In my Taiwan and early Kentucky years, I was a budding birdwatcher. A decade ago, Joe and I really got interested in eastern bluebirds and even built a nesting box behind our town home. Alas, that was many years and several blogs ago. But I still love birds, and when I have an empty nest and attain senior citizenship, I plan to become a birder in earnest. Until then, I've got my kitchen window and Matt Sewell's adorable book, Owls: Our Most Charming Bird.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

One Word for 2016

A thought and action I've set my mind on this year: ask. 

It doesn't hurt to ask. And yet for me asking can be painful. Sonetimes I'm too timid to voice my concerns or request help. Sometimes social situations clamp up my soul and mouth. Sometimes I dread the answer. Sometimes I'm too busy and distracted to ask the important questions. And sometimes I ask rhetorically without waiting for or even believing there will be an answer. 

When who I believe was God whispered the word "ask" to my spirit, it seemed like such a slim little word. Not weighty or poetic or on trend. But when I let it linger in my mind's ears for a while, more meaning tumbled after those three clipped letters:

Ask deep questions. Ask the seemingly stupid question. Ask on behalf of others. Ask permission. Ask God... And receive. Ask people about themselves. Ask for help. Ask myself why I want something. Ask forgiveness. Ask and listen to the answer. 

Then ask some more.