April 29, 2010

Book Review: The Naked Gospel

I wanted to like The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley. Really, I did. The book makes a great first impression. From its very clever clear plastic cover to its intriguing subject matter to the exemplary referrals from respected writers.  

The Naked Gospel centers on the premise that Christianity is anchored by grace—not laws, rules, morals, deeds or ethics. It puts forth the concept that Jesus plus nothing is the totality of the New Covenant. The back cover promises to tell truth—stripped of compromises and clich├ęs—“that we might never hear in church.” It’s geared toward those who are “burned out on experience-chasing, ceremonialism, or legalism.”

While I don't fit into that category, I started the book expecting I’d be shaken up. With each turned page, I hoped for the “aha” moment. And I kept waiting to challenge myself—as the back cover promised—to re-examine everything I thought I already knew about the Christian faith. But that moment never came. The book didn’t present much that rattled my beliefs.

Perhaps instead of offering that thought as a critique I should offer thanks that I’ve been churched in the message of grace and "Jesus plus nothing." Apparently many haven’t.

In its defense, The Naked Gospel has challenged me to look at the Old Testament with fresh eyes and presented concepts I want to explore further. Although I did find some of Farley's propositions confusing, like the idea of forgiveness as a once and done action.

Grace is the one thing that sets Christianity apart from all other religions. On the one hand it is an incredibly simple concept. On the other it defies logic and human thinking, making it very hard to comprehend. If The Naked Gospel helps a believer break the shackles of legalism, good deeds, morals, etc. and brings them one step closer to understanding God’s amazing grace it’s a good thing.

Check out the author's website or go to Amazon to purchase the book and read more reviews.

I received a review copy of this book free from Zondervan.

April 27, 2010

The Scone of Life

It was a nondescript building—more like a shed actually—tucked behind a rehabbed diner. Marked by the smallest of signs and barely visible from the road, one could easily drive by and miss it altogether. In fact, I would have if my friend Carrie hadn’t guided me to its “secret” location.

She’d told much about this place, but honestly from the looks of it I prepared myself to be disappointed. Yet my opinion changed drastically when I stepped inside and took a breath. An aroma danced in the air inviting me to inhale again, deeply. The tantalizing scents ushered in an olfactory experience that led me to one conclusion.

I was in heaven.

While heaven smelled blissful, it looked strangely like triangular pastries. Sugar, flour, butter, raisins, coconut and other ingredients like berries, pears, pineapples, macadamia nuts, lemon, chocolate or figs masterfully combined and shaped, then sprinkled with sugar crystals and baked to golden perfection.

While my nose knew we’d arrived at the pearly gates, I ordered one just to make sure. Filled with anticipation, I took a bite. Sweet and flaky. Light and luxurious. Decadent and divine. A melody of tastes blended to create a savory symphony that inspired angels to sing. Really, I heard them.

Singing in scone heaven.

The good news is one can take paradise “to-go” because it’s sold as blocks of frozen dough ready to bake at home. Carrie stocked up on a bunch to give as gifts (because she’s an incredibly thoughtful person). I bought a bunch to hide in my freezer, and perhaps share with my husband (because, well, I’m not Carrie).

I am, however, like Pavlov’s dog at the thought of those little bundles of glory safely ensconced in my freezer. There are puddles of drool on my desk right now. Seriously. It's gross.

While frozen scone dough allows one to stockpile inventory, it provides the distinct disadvantage of being…um…frozen. Before it can be baked the dough must defrost overnight in the fridge or be left on the counter for an hour. Either way, the road to scone bliss is paved with advance planning. Not always an acceptable answer.

This is especially true when one experiences what Carrie has aptly named—the scone emergency! This crisis can be brought on by a wide range of experiences (PMS, a bad day at work, a fight with your spouse, frustration with your kids, being disappointed by a friend, stress about finances, the sun rising in the East, excessive thoughts of scones, etc.), but all bring on the same urgent plea. “Help! I need one now!”

Perhaps this is why God created the defrost setting on the microwave.

Now I’ve tasted and seen that the scone is good and life will never be the same again. I marvel at the restorative power and scrumptiousness that awaits in my freezer. (Please don’t even think the subpar offerings at your supermarket or even at Starbucks are anything other than scone blasphemy!)

This entire experience has led me to believe Biblical scholars made a serious error when translating Jesus’ teachings on baked goods. Surely the true meaning of the text springs to life with these “corrections”…

“I am the scone of life.” (John 6:48)

“I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the fresh-from-the-oven scones and had your fill.” (John 6:26)

“I am the living scone that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this scone, he will live forever. This scone is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)

It’s kind of obvious, actually. A dry, crusty loaf… or warm, sweet, luscious perfection? The former leaves me grasping for the emotional and intellectual connection. And the latter inspires divine adoration and fills my heart with joy. Put in that context, hungering for righteousness is a no-brainer!

Perhaps I may be a bit off, but there is one thing of which I am 100% certain. After all this waxing nostalgic about heavenly pastries I feel a real emergency coming on.

P.S. If you feel I’ve crossed the line theologically, you obviously have never experienced these scones!

j. scones are made by renowned pastry chef Jodi Schad and are sold at her bake shop located at 4119 Swamp Road, Doylestown, PA. You can also buy them online at Williams and Sonoma. Or, you can drop by my house. (I will, of course, claim to have just run out.)

April 19, 2010

Love Lockdown

I wrote this over at Exemplify Online. I hope you'll follow me there.


I love it. I seek it. I strive to maintain it.

I want comfortable shoes. A comfy bed. Comfort-controlled climates. Comfort foods. Cups of comfort. Comfort zones. And comfortable relationships.

Stress? Conflict? Affliction? Suffering? No thanks.

In suburban America we place a high value on things that make us feel safe, secure and contented. We avoid, eliminate, alleviate and medicate that which causes us discomfort. And it’s not just that we want comfortable lives, we feel we’re entitled to them. When our comfort gets breached, we get protective, frustrated or angry.

The problem is that Jesus doesn’t promise circumstantial comfort for His followers—at all. In fact the Good News seems to promotes the opposite.  
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)
“In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33a)
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” (Philippians 1:29)
“If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” (Proverbs 21:13)
Jesus didn’t spend his ministry in the comfy digs of his four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath suburban Jerusalem home and expect folks to come to Him. He didn’t pen volumes to educate His students. He didn’t form committees to debate social reform. He didn’t sit on His throne and order His subjects to serve Him.

Jesus was a man of action and compassion. He brought His anointed touch, loving spirit and words of truth to where the masses didn’t want to go. To the sick, the lame, the brokenhearted, the cast out, the prisoners, the small, the weak and the marginalized.

And to His disciples He said, “Follow me.”

He says the same to us. When I read between the lines, I hear Jesus asking, “Will you follow Me even if it means leaving the confines of your comfort? Are you willing to step out of your self-made sanctuary and enter into uncomfortable circumstances, places or relationships in my name? Into the dirty, pungent, unknown, unfamiliar, strife-filled, potentially embarrassing and sometimes scary.

Am I? 

For a long while I replied, “Lord, I want to follow you, but can I stay close to the safety and familiarity of my own life?”

This past year God’s answer has been a resounding, “No!” As a result He’s led me off my map big time. He has taken me into a hospice, a prison, a chemotherapy suite, a slum, the mission field and most recently a Haitian refugee camp. Each situation was emotionally and physically far from my comfort, experience and qualifications; yet in each,  Jehovah Jirah ("The Lord will provide"), gave me the ability to do what He called me to do. Sometimes doing nothing more than loving in His name.

These experiences leave me awe-filled and thankful because in them I saw God—and His children—far more vividly and powerfully than I ever had in the comfort of my middle-class life.

Jesus says, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) Unleash your fears and trust me.
Our Savior is in dark corners, in the messy, the broken and the ailing. When we follow Him there, He will break us. Fill us. Use us.

And we will never be the same again.

Are you willing to follow Jesus where He calls you—wherever that is? If not, what's holding you back?

April 15, 2010

Love. It's All You Need.

It was still our last day at Camp Hope. I’d just finished sewing a big hole in a tent and our work seemed to be done. Jude led me to one of the tent schools. The children were inside having their lessons for the day. He went into the tent and motioned for me to come inside and sit down. Since we’d visited the schools a few days prior I wasn’t exactly sure what Jude had in mind. I don’t think the teachers were sure either.

I sat on the tent floor looking at the thirty or so students and they sat looking at me. Jude worked to seal a tent seam with duct tape, but didn’t need my help. Hmm, now what? I thought.

“Will you sing a song?” I asked in French that probably came out more like, “Sing me.” Regardless they must have understood because, as if rehearsed for such an occasion, the kids started to sing. Led by their teachers their sweet voices lifted up Jesus Loves Me, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, Glwa Pou Bondye (a Haitian worship song our group had learned that week, and sung dozens of times) and a few others I’d heard lilting from the school tents while we’d worked in the camp. They sang and sang and sang. So loudly at times my ears hurt.

I sang along, clapped, laughed and soaked in the incredibly beautiful scene. The children looked so happy. Even though others stood outside the tent and looked in, the moment felt incredibly personal. Like God had chosen me alone to receive such a gift. It was a time of lightness and joy and love. When the children’s last notes floated up to and past the roof of the tent, I applauded and said through tear-soaked eyes, “Thank you.”

And then I did something so unlike me. Something so unusual for my reserved nature that measures oh, so much of what I express. I knelt before the children and opened my arms out wide in a symbolic embrace. “Je t’aime,” I said (I love you). To my surprise they all crushed forward to hug me. All of them. I remember their giggles and how I used all the strength I had so they wouldn’t flatten me.

God’s love is something I read about, I write about and I talk about. But it isn’t something I often feel applies to me directly. Others maybe, but not me. Yet in that tent, in the middle of a scrum of hugging, Haitian children, I sensed God telling me, “I love you—YOU!” And I believed Him.

I realize that experience confirmed a truth that overarches all of life: We were made to love and be loved by God. And we were made to love and be loved by others. When we live out this truth, it doesn’t matter our circumstances, geography, economics, race, gender or age because it is well with our souls.

In a refugee camp, in one of the poorest countries in the world, after one of the largest disasters ever, one of the most beautiful pieces of scripture took on flesh and became real:
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 37-39)

And this picture proves it. (Yes, that’s me):

God loves YOU this much, too. Do you believe Him?

April 12, 2010

New Beginnings

I thought I was done, but I’m not. I’ve spent the last two weeks searching my mind for new topics and insights to write about, but thoughts of Haiti block all others from forming into something cohesive. It begs to be written about, not yet willing to let me move on. 

I don't particularly like Facebook, but have found it's THE place to feed my Haiti craving. Through photo albums of recent Haiti trips and friends' FB pages, I'm staying up to date with current happenings (and probably spending far too much time doing so.) Some of our Haitian friends are even on Facebook. I was just FB chatting with one of the dear, sweet translators we met. How cool is that? Technology is good indeed.

Yes, Haiti has seared my heart and mind and spirit. And for that I am intensely thankful. 

It was our last day at Camp Hope. We could stay only a few hours before we had to leave and start the seven hour drive back to Santo Domingo.

The day was cooler as overcast skies offered physical relief from the blazing sun. A gentle breeze provided respite from the waves of blowing dust of prior days. I walked into camp filled with sadness at the thought of saying goodbye to our new friends. Perhaps because of the physical relief from the weather, but on this day, more than any other, I noticed quiet and order and a distinct sense of peace about the place. Life in Camp Hope had a rhythm. Community leaders met, solving problems and making plans for the future. Children gathered in grade-level tents for school. Workers happily dug holes and trenches. Women washed clothes and sat together talking. A barber even set up shop under a scraggly tree.

It was also a day for high level officials. World Vision representatives were there checking things out as was the American man who owns the land that houses Camp Hope. He shared with us his vision for the camp—which includes building a school in the coming weeks, dealing with the coming rainy season and getting the residents more permanent housing.

Bobby Burnette, founder/director of Love a Child and owner of the land, meets with American Refugee Committee director extraordinaire, Leah E.
A plastic storage building arrived on site and caused a great deal of excitement. Bob, Doug and Gretchen set to work immediately to put it together. It was the only non-tent structure at the camp.
While life was far from perfect, I knew our friends in Camp Hope would be OK.

Jude and Junior were waiting for us, ready to get to work. While they led Sarah and I to a couple tents that needed mending, even they seemed to know the day was different. Jude, normally driving us with his calls of “Let’s go!” (translated: enough chatting, let’s get to work) softened his attitude and became a gracious host, showing us new things and introducing us to new people.

At one point Jude took Sarah and I to his tent to meet his tentmate, Nickenson. Nickenson is a young man of maybe twenty. Jude told us he’d lost his mother, father, brothers and sister in the earthquake. A six-person family now down to one young man. The four of us talked for a bit and prayed a little. As I prayed I started to cry for these two young men and for all the loss suffered in this country.

Jude looked at me, alarmed that he’d done something wrong. He seemed truly puzzled as to why I’d be sad. “I’m sorry,” he said.

Wiping away tears I said, “No, I’m sorry for all that you’ve been through.”

That’s the thing about the Haitians that we met. They didn’t look or act like people who’d suffered devastating losses. They didn’t wail with grief, wallow in self-pity or curse the injustice of it all. For the most part, they picked themselves up and persevered with what they had. Their faith remained strong. I saw people very much wanting to make a new beginning.  

So much love and loss, life and death, endings and beginnings in one place. And still they had hope.

Especially the children.

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” Luke 10:21

Next time I’ll share a wonderful story to share about the children and one of the most profound experiences of God's love I’ve ever had.

April 1, 2010

Of Saviors and Superheroes

In celebration of Easter and in honor of my favorite TV hero EVER here's a revised reprint of a post originally written on Good Friday 2008.

In just a few weeks, 24, will air its last episode. (Insert sobbing here.) From season one, episode one, Dan and I have remained captivated by every second of the show. For those of you unfamiliar with 24, it is simply the most exciting, adrenaline-filled, suspenseful, clever, riveting hour of TV—EVER!

Each season (one 24-hour day), evil forces (terrorists, double agents, Russians, corporate pirates, Columbian drug dealers, presidential assassins, etc.) try to annihilate the United States and our government. And each season, the Counter Terrorism Unit (a fictitious government agency) spends a frantic 24 hours trying to stop them. At the heart of it all is CTU uber-agent, Jack Bauer who single-handedly foils the plots and saves the day!

Season after season we watch in awe as Jack Bauer selflessly serves his country to rescue it. He takes incredible risks to save lives. He bucks protocol to do the right thing. He’s been shot at, imprisoned, tortured and left for dead. Many times he’s willingly offered to lay down his life for another. There seems to be no limit to what he will endure or do to thwart evil and see good prevail. Plus, he does it all without eating, sleeping or ever losing the charge on his cell phone!

There is no doubt that Jack Bauer is a modern-day superhero. A white knight in a shining, black, armored SUV filled with high-tech weapons and gadgets. He overturns evil with a combination of intelligence, selflessness, perseverance, determination, cunning, courage and an unyielding view of what is right.

If we could paint a picture of what a savior would look like, we might come up with someone who looks a lot like Jack Bauer.

Maybe this is the kind of messiah the Jewish people were awaiting when Jesus arrived on the scene. Many expected a warrior king who would overthrow the government, toss out the bad guys and set up a glorious Jewish kingdom on Earth.

But instead appeared a humble carpenter from unimpressive parents. A teacher who fought evil with swords of truth. A healer who offered restoration instead of condemnation. A friend who loved the unlovable. A king who became a servant. A lamb who willingly accepted the hate that tore his flesh. And a savior who bore the agonizing punishment that we all deserve.

And He did it for us. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corin. 5:21)

How amazing is it, that on the cross—tortured, humiliated, ridiculed, bleeding and deserted—Jesus, calls out to God on behalf of his killers, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Where we would reasonably expect (and even want) revenge, Jesus offers something no superhero ever will: mercy and forgiveness—to everyone, even the “bad guys.”

To our way of thinking, grace doesn’t make sense. But Jesus didn’t die just for the sins of the really bad guys; he died for the sins of each of us. NONE of us, on our own efforts, are good enough to bridge the gap of sin that separates us from God. We are the bad guys.

What doesn’t make sense about grace is that in place of what we do deserve—death, Jesus’ amazing sacrifice gives us what we don’t deserve—eternal life. All for the price of acceptance and repentance.

This Easter I pray that you lay your sins at the foot of the cross and accept Jesus’ gift of grace. He died not to condemn you, but to save you. He did this because He loves YOU.

“For God so loved [your name here] that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16