Sunday, March 25, 2012

God's Word: Our Life

Keri Wyatt Kent

God says about his Word: "Command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you-they are your life." (Deuteronomy 32:47)

The Bible is not just a true book, it is a life-giving book. Yet how often I rush through it, slurping up a bit of inspiration (or maybe just information), then plunging into the rushing stream of my day. The hurry of my life spills into even my quiet time. I believe there is a better way to read Scripture. A way that transforms us, rather than just informs us. That way, I think, is to slow down. Way down.

Instead of trying to get through a chapter or section, what would happen if you spent several days just reflecting on one verse of scripture, one word or idea? What if you not only knew truth, but lived it?

It's important to look at the big story of God. We need context. But we also need to dig into the truth, and begin to live that truth. What good is it to know all about God but not walk with God?

Anyone who has used Google or other search engines knows the importance of "keywords." When you read the Bible, look for keywords. Take some time to research those words. Then, take some time to pray them, to listen to what those words are calling you to do.

Matthew 9:36 says about Jesus: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

The keyword, compassion, translates the Greek splagchnizomai, which means to be deeply moved in your guts with intense compassion, in a yearning, visceral way. It is gut-wrenching compassion, not disinterested sympathy. This is the compassion Jesus has for you.

A concordance will direct us to other verses using this word, such as "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion (splagchnon), kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Colossians 3:11-13).

This theologically rich passage includes many keywords: chosen, loved, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgive. These are the characteristics of Christ, and the characteristics we're called to have as well. We're called to have that same compassion that Jesus feels, deep in his guts-a compassion that ultimately led to self-sacrifice.

What if, instead of skimming over this verse in an effort to get our Bible reading checked off of our to-do list, we camped here for a few days, considering each keyword, digging into truth and praying about how to live out each word?

Each day, you have an opportunity to love. Jesus said the whole of Scripture can be summed up with the command to love God, and love one another. So what if you loved your family, your co-workers, your neighbors. What if you read just one verse, or focused on one word, but really lived it out? What if you let a word from God's word transform your interactions with others? In other words, what if you really believed that God's Word is your life?

Keri Wyatt Kent is the author of nine books, including Deeper into the Word: Reflections on 100 New Testament Words. She writes and speaks about slowing down and simplifying in order to listen to God. Learn more about her ministry at

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Cleavage Gap

By Sue Edwards

I was teaching a class of high-octane Christian women leaders on how to work with men in ministry. When the topic of appropriate attire surfaced, I could hardly keep from breaking out in laughter at the irony. Before me were women bemoaning the provocative way women dress these days, but four, yes, four, of them were showing enough cleavage to distract any man in our midst. I don't get the disconnect - the gap. Please know that I love these women dearly, and my intent is not to cause any sister to slink away in shame, but I love our brothers too.

I know good men are bothered by cleavage because, for our book Mixed Ministry, we interviewed many Christian men who told us how much any cleavage distracted them, that when just a bit of a woman is showing, a man's mind immediately goes to the whole thing. Not one man said, "It's ok, I'm used to it--no big deal." The men we interviewed were the men who will ultimately give women a place at the ministry table, or not. They are godly men who want to be faithful to their wives and to treat women as sisters in the workplace. And their united plea was for us to ask women to stop...and I've tried. But to little avail. About all I've accomplished is that guilty women, in my presence, keep grabbing the fabric of their blouses at the shoulders and pulling up, as if that would alleviate the issue. This tells me, on some level, they know, but not enough to purchase a tee or throw the offensive garment in the trash.

I don't expect immature believers, and certainly non believers, to dress modestly. But these are leaders, the ones who set the standard for others. I'm trying to get into the heads of these leaders who don't get the cleavage gap. What are they thinking? Maybe...

  • · It's impossible to buy stylish clothes today without showing cleavage, so I'm giving in.
  • · I've worked hard and long on this body, and, by golly, I'm going to show it off.
  • · My husband might secretly be drawn to other women if they show theirs, so I better show mine.
  • · I want to be loved and I'll never get a man's attention any other way.
  • · It's hot and I want to wear something cool.
  • · It's not my fault if men can't handle it. Women have been blamed too long for men's lust. I'll flaunt it just to show them, a similar attitude to feminist's bra burning back in the sixties.
  • · I'm too busy to be bothered by this issue. Men need to get over it.

I wonder if these women realize how much their insensitivity hurts our chances of being taken seriously by men. Seems to me when we show cleavage, we back up what men have said and thought about women for centuries. We care more about the power of our sexuality than we do about its effect on our brothers. We aren't thinking about the long term impact of our choices, just about how cute we look today. Or maybe it's too much trouble for busy women to assess the effect of the gap. That's understandable for immature women who don't know better. But not for leaders with far-reaching influence.

I thought about creating a workshop on "the gap", but women who attend would not be gappers. Confrontation embarrasses some offenders but I don't want to resort to storming around as the dress police. Rules are not the answer. Somehow we must find the root cause and help women uncover the reason for the gap in their personal thinking and actions. I'm befuddled when leaders flaunt the gap and then wonder why the glass ceiling hasn't shattered. I want to say, "Get a mirror."

I know most gappers would never cause a man to lust on purpose. I know they love Jesus with all their hearts. I guess they don't know how much they influence others, or maybe they just don't think through these issues. Whatever the reason, I have no solutions. It reminds me of the millions of messages that we taught on materialism through the years, and Christians simply ignored us. Materialism will be the indictment on the Baby-Boomer generation, but you can't blame preachers. They tried. I wonder what indictment will sadden leaders of this generation?

Dr. Sue Edwards specializes in ministry to women as Assistant Professor of Christian Education at Dallas Theological Seminary. Her books include Leading Women Who Wound, Mixed Ministry: Working Together as Brothers and Sisters in a Damaged Society.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Get Some Rest!

By Lesa Engelthaler

I envy people who can fall asleep, anywhere.

I glare at unworried souls stretched out across airport seats, snoozing away. Don't they have a plane to catch?

On the flip side, I am the Princess and the Pea. I have a bedtime ritual, fan cranked up loud (White Noise App; genius travel invention), only a certain familiar pillow will do and a soothing Jane Austin-ish read. Then, as I hit the window into dreamland, total darkness is a must.

Jesus and Rest

Jesus could fall asleep anywhere. One time, on a boat with his disciples, in the midst of a spew-your-lunch storm, Jesus curled up and napped.

Jesus' enviable ability to nap may have stemmed from his understanding of the deeper meaning of the word rest.

If I knew that I had only thirty-three years to live, I'd be in a frenzy to get my to-do list done or at least a few Bucket List items checked off, reasoning, "Hey, I'll relax in heaven." Not Jesus. He often climbed up a hill or sat on a rock just to be alone or pray. He even invited his disciples to join him, "Come away with me to a quiet place and get some rest."

Rest, or Sabbath-rest, as the Bible sometimes describes it, entails more than the ability to doze off easily. A.W. Tozer writes, "Rest is not something we do, it is what comes to us when we cease to do." And yet, for me, "ceasing to do" takes effort.

Resting is Hard Work
I don't know about you, but peace and quiet, isn't a natural part of my lifestyle. And yet I know I need to unplug. Ruth Haley Barton warns, "Because we do not rest, we lose our way."

So how do we include soul-restoring times in our lives? It sounds ridiculous but I have to plan-to do nothing. If I have to type the word rest through a few time slots on my calendar, so be it.

Get outside

My sister lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains; in the summer, her windows are open and quiet is what you hear. The view from her porch swing is green serenity. I, on the other hand, am a city girl, which makes quiet a bit trickier to come by.

For me, true soul-rest happens best outside. When I think ahead, instead of eating lunch in front of my laptop, I plop down on the bench that no one uses outside my office building.

When I have more time, I love to grab a quilt and my well worn Bible (you know, the kind made of paper and you turn actual pages) and head to a park, or in a pinch, my own backyard. I lay back, breathe deep, recite favorite verses or just look up at clear blue sky.

If I happen to doze off, how restful is that?

Recommended read: Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. Click here to buy it!

"There is an energy that comes from being rested that is different from the energy that comes from being driven." -Ruth Haley Barton

Lesa Engelthaler is a writer in Dallas, TX. You can find her at the Redbud Writers Guild:

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Jesus Diet: 40 Days of Slim Down Secrets and More

By Tracey Bianchi

"So, what did you give up for Lent this year?"

I hear whispers of these conversations every March (along with a sudden saturation of Filet O Fish commercials), which hail the coming of Easter and recognize that the church calendar is calling us to join an ancient practice. For those among us who come from more liturgical backgrounds, this six-week chatter is something we've heard all of our lives.

For those of us from less liturgical worship, it's all a bit odd and confusing-at best.

For me, it's been a poor excuse to get Jesus involved in my diet plan. Summer is coming; whimsical little sandals and adorable capri pants dot the malls. After a winter of hunkering down indoors, I wouldn't mind dropping a few pounds before its time to slip (or squeeze) into either. And so every year, my spring includes a diet. I skip sweets. I fend off cravings. Then I slap the name of Jesus on the end of my self-serving sacrifice and call it Lent.

As if the God of the universe really cares how many leftover Valentine's Day chocolates I have pilfered from my son's hidden stash. As if Lent was really just an ancient liturgical tradition designed to help me look good when I hit the sand and the waves come June.

For centuries, Christian communities have embraced a forty-day journey, one of reflection and intentionality that leads them directly to the foot of the cross on Easter Sunday. Simply put, Lent is a way of remembering the sacrifice of Jesus and the call he places upon our lives. Many Christians mark these forty days by challenging themselves to sacrifice because it is indeed what Jesus did during this holy season.

And yes, sometimes it does look as simple as skipping the brownies we are desperately dying to devour, but other times it involves practices that take us to places of deep character transformation. Lent can mean getting to work five minutes early to sit quietly in our cars and pray for our colleagues. Or breathing deep and calming our hearts before yelling at our spouse. Perhaps we add a moment of silence to our routine, fast on a Friday or journal a few poignant thoughts from our day that might normally be lost when the sun slips down. Or, finally reading that book on prayer from our sweet Aunt Jane.

Whatever your tradition, I urge you to consider what Lent might mean for you. I'm discovering that during Lent-or any other day-perhaps my best efforts are when I consistently decide to honor God's desires for my life. When I look at Jesus as more than the exclamation point on the decisions I've already made. Lent can be any day when we breathe deep and pause just long enough to catch a glimpse of God's holiness. When we recognize the majesty of small moments and the sacrifice of the loving God that made those moments possible. Lent is the journey of self-sacrifice and our selfless giving to others.

So I invite you to discover Lent-to journey toward a life lived for Jesus rather than asking Jesus simply to bless the lives we've already decided to live.

Tracey Bianchi is on pastoral staff at Christ Church of Oak Brook where she is a frequent teacher and preacher. Most of her time is spent raising a family in the Chicago suburbs while she dabbles in a freelance writing & speaking career. Her next book "Mom Connection: Creating Vibrant Relationships in the Midst of Motherhood" is due out in May of 2012 (Baker/Revell).