Seeing Jesus in Worship

5 Aug

Have you ever considered this: When we gather at worship, Jesus is there. I know we talk about God’s presence, and we acknowledge- intellectually at least- that Jesus is there, but I’m not sure that belief has traveled the 18 inches down to our hearts. Try this (please): close your eyes, and imagine that Jesus is standing smack dab in the middle of our sanctuary. We know He is there because Jesus is the one who called the meeting to begin with. Jesus graciously welcomes us into His divine presence. Sinful, prideful, uninterested people that we are, we are welcomed to draw near to God-made-flesh. And then we respond to his love with worship… but how? How would you talk to God, if the One who hears our prayers was visible before you? How would you sing, if the Creator of sound was listening intently to your song? How would you hear the Word read or proclaimed, if its author was there, offering it to you as a precious gift? How would you give, if the One to whom the whole world belongs was passing the plate? Would our worship be different if we could see Jesus? I suspect it would. So let us come to worship offering our whole selves, with the passion befitting the people of God, who are welcomed to the sanctuary of God, and who stand in the presence of Jesus. May God open the eyes of our hearts, so that we can see Him.

Lent and Choosing Your Fast

5 Feb

This month, we enter the season of Lent. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is observed for the forty days (not counting Sundays) before Easter. Forty is a significant number, as it mimics the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, repentance of sins, fasting, and giving. For over a thousand years, Christians have observed this practice as a way of preparing their hearts for the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter. Through self-denial, we rid ourselves of vices and distractions, freeing ourselves to grow in our relationships with God. Traditionally, people have fasted from food. While this is still a healthy practice, I encourage you to consider the variety of ways we can fast this year. Consider fasting from media, whether it’s television or facebook, and giving that time to devotion or service instead. Fast from spending money on unnecessary and frivolous things, and instead practice contentment with what you already have. Perhaps you need a fast from people. Find time to take solitary walks, where God is your companion. Outdoors-men may even benefit from a camping trip alone, where a day or weekend can be devoted to prayer, self-examination and scripture reading. It may also be beneficial to use Lent as an opportunity to rid oneself of nasty vices, like gossip or over-indulgence of any kind. For people like me, this may mean saying “No” to desserts. It’s not that sugar gets in the way of my relationship with God per-say, but gluttony brings no glory to God and endangers the body God gave me and intends to use for His good purposes.

Spend some time in prayer over the next couple weeks. Ask God what kind of fast you need in your life this Lenten season. If the Holy Spirit convicts you, then be obedient. We will all share in the fast together, encouraging one another, and growing in grace as the people of God.

A Christian Feminists’ Take on the Modesty Debacle

5 Nov

Hello Friends! Greetings from the Muhlbaier home! We’re now a happy family of five (three humans, one canine and one feline), all of whom are currently sharing my sleeping space. Therefore, any crazy typos or poorly constructed arguments can be blamed on my perpetual state of sleep deprivation. And yes, I’m going to be blaming a lot on that for as long as possible.

In the last couple years, the whole modesty issue has bubbled up and then fizzled out a couple of times. On one side you have people like the Duggars. The women in that family wear skirts knee length or lower, cover their shoulders, avoid any tops remotely low cut, etc. The even wear swimsuit dresses. I am happy to say the men in this family also practice modesty by always wearing pants (not shorts) and shirts. They believe that nothing should be worn that would cause another to lust or draw attention to the body instead of one’s countenance. And then there is the other extreme which says women should be able to wear whatever makes them comfortable and happy, and men should just learn to control themselves. Women, they believe, are not to blame for what goes on in a man’s mind. They are reacting against a culture which says women who dress provocatively are asking for sexual harassment or assault.

So who is right?

I think they both are.

From a Christian Perspective

There is only one person responsible for the decisions I make or the thoughts I entertain: ME. Men are completely capable of controlling what/whom they look at, what thoughts they allow to linger in their minds, and the decisions they make with regard to their sexuality. The expression “boys will be boys,” is utterly ridiculous. It excuses bad behavior, and, frankly, it demeans men. Men are more than capable of being self-controlled human beings. When we act like they’re not, we do them a disservice. I don’t worry about my husband committing adultery or lusting in his heart when we go out into public and a woman is scantily clad. That’s because I trust in my husband’s ability to control his actions and his thought life. If he commits a sin in that department, the responsibility is his own.

That being said, Christians are called to love one another and do everything we can to help each other grow in holiness. Sometimes we can love our brothers best by covering up. Men are bombarded with hyper-sexualized images on television, the internet, and advertisements every single day. If men are prone to lust (not being a man I cannot say if that’s more the case for them than for women), then the Christian man has to be on guard all the time so that he can control his thoughts and (it goes without saying) his actions. We love our brothers well when we dress in such a way that allows them to freely enjoy our company and friendship without being on “lust prevention duty.” I’m not saying we all need to wear a mu-mu, but common sense and a little fabric can go a long way.

From a Feminist’s Perspective

Women should be able to wear anything or next to nothing without fearing assault. Period. I was very touched by the #yesallwomen twitter campaign. It did a great job revealing the common experiences of women in the western world where sexual harassment and assault is common, and the fear of sexual harassment and assault is universal. The world shouldn’t be like this. And the way a victim dresses in no way excuses the criminals who harmed her. I dream of a world where mini-skirts don’t elicit violence, and where I don’t have to talk on the phone and put keys through my fingers every time I walk through a parking lot after dusk.

At the same time, people take notice of what we put forward. As an ardent feminist, I want women to be noticed for their minds, spirits, gifts, talents, and character. If a woman walked up to me in an outfit that revealed more of her body than it covered, I guarantee I won’t be taking notice of her intellect. That’s not because I’m a sexist big or a lusty man. It’s because I’m taking stock of how she has presented herself to me. Like it or not, the way we dress says something about us, especially in the workforce. Perhaps it shouldn’t- but it does so we have to deal with reality. I see many women (especially college-aged women) who have beautiful bodies and they dress in such a way that those beautiful figures are totally exposed. Naturally, young men flock to them (who wouldn’t?). But are these guys attracted to their minds or their behinds? Probably the latter. I also cringe when I see dozens of photos with booty shorts and midriff bearing tank tops, because I know future employers will go to these social media sites and look at everything that’s public. I know that because I’ve done it myself as an employer. So my appeal to women on this front is to dress attractively, but in such a way that people will be attracted to more than your body.

So there’s my take as a Christian and a feminists. What do you think?

My Body is Fearfully & Wonderfully Made

30 May

Hello Friends,

I’m sorry for the long delay in posts. Those of you who know me in real life know that I’ve been growing a baby boy for the last seven months. Needless to say, pregnancy, in addition to pastoring a church and being a full-time graduate student, makes for a very busy life and blogging simply hasn’t been a priority. However, pregnancy has also brought about some remarkable spiritual insights.

I could probably write a dozen blogs based on my recent life experiences, but I’d like to focus on one thing today: the realization that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

“Fearfully and wonderfully made” is a biblical expression that a lot of people use in reference to babies. I’m sure than when my baby is born, and I count his ten little fingers and ten little toes, I will be uttering these words over him. In this season of life, though, I am marveling at how God has made me.

Like many women, I have struggled with body image for as long as I can remember. Diets began early. Obsession with the number on the scale was fostered by middle school. Even though I was always “healthy” I was never thin- at least by celebrity standards (I graduated high school at 5’6” and 132 lbs and now see that my body was perfect as it was). Even when I was doing well, my obsession with weight was always waiting- just below the surface- to creep back up and take over my life. Since adolescence I’ve gone through periods of extreme self-denial and over-exercise. Even when I’m not abusing my body, my mind has never been free of my disordered thoughts. Often I will lie awake in bed, grieved and repentant- not over that day’s sins, but that day’s dietary indulgences. And it’s only gotten worse in the last four years as my weight has increased. The only time I’ve felt in control was when I was exercising hours a day and counting the calories of every crumb which entered my mouth. I believed Satan’s lie that being beautiful and worthy was contingent on being thin. I believed the lie that being thin was a virtue. I believed the lie that I was a failure because I wasn’t skinny. I would never have said that aloud- I knew better intellectually. But our actions reveal what we truly believe. My actions reveal a diseased thought life. I learned how to hide it; how to disguise it as a concern with “health.” In reality, my mind was the unhealthiest thing in my body.

And then I got pregnant. I am now the “fattest” I have ever been. But for the first time since I was nine years old, I am free from my own body-hatred.

Pregnancy has shown me how beautiful my body really is. Every change reminds me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made- exactly as I am. My body has been designed for this task of motherhood. A swollen belly is hardly the only evidence of the life growing inside of me. The same chemical that causes nausea and heartburn prepares my hips to separate. The fatigue I experience is my body conserving energy for the work of growing a baby and growing the placenta which now sustains him. The aches and pains in my back, abdomen, and side are just indicators that my boy is growing. Every change is a reminder that my body is doing something amazing. It’s growing, sustaining, preparing to deliver and nourish a human being.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

I know that my present condition is temporary. My son will leave my body- and leave it changed. I probably won’t love my extended belly when the baby is no longer there. The Spirit of Christ inside me will likely have to re-enter the battle against my own disordered tendencies to hate my body. But this time, things will be different. I will have experienced the truth of Scripture- that my body is wonderful and beautiful- not because of how it looks, but how it works. And so:

DSC_5111-1I will delight in this body that carries, delivers and nurses my children.

I will delight this body that allows me to roll down hills, dance around the house, and squeeze my husband tight.

I will delight in this body that is strong enough to lift children into my arms, push wheelchairs around a department store, and pull the weeds out of my yard.

I will delight in this body that allows me to be the hands and feet of Jesus; to serve however he asks.

I will delight in this body that God has called good; because even my body can reflect the image of the One who made me.

And by the grace of God, I will replace the cycle of disorder with the cycle of delight. I will teach my children- especially my daughters- that they too have been made good; been made fearfully; been made wonderfully- just as they are.

Thanks be to God.

*Photo credit goes to Laura C.  Check her out at https://www.facebook.com/laura.c.camerakisses?fref=ts

 

 

Ash Wednesday

5 Mar

New Chapel UMC of Jeffersonville, IN

Today is Ash Wednesday.  This is one of the most solemn days in the church calendar, not unlike Good Friday.  While Good Friday focuses on our redemption, Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are mortal.  As pastors mark us with a cross of ashes- the biblical symbol of mourning- we hear these words, “Remember, O mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” (Genesis 3:19).  Ash Wednesday is meant to be a harsh confrontation with the knowledge that we will all die.  Each and every one of us will one day breathe our last breath.  Denying this is neither healthy, nor Christian.  Death is a reality of life; a reality which the Bible speaks to and prepares us for.

Though the message of the ashes can seem like a bitter pill to swallow (after all no one enjoys contemplating one’s own mortality), there is a purpose behind…

View original post 138 more words

Seeing Jesus

7 Feb

A couple months ago, I met Jesus face to face.  Before you get the wrong idea, you should know that this was not a vision or prophetic experience.  On the contrary, I encountered the Spirit of Christ in the actions of another person.  This encounter was so profound, that it continues to minister to me, and I’d like to share that story.

Last semester I took Greek with a professor named Brad Johnson.  With the exception of learning the Aorist tense, it was a fairly pleasant and refining experience I feel better for having.  When the day of the final came, my worst seminary nightmare occurred.  A snow storm started in Louisville around 4am.  My final was schedule for 8 am.  Normally, my commute is an hour and forty-five minutes.  I left at 5:45am, in an attempt to give myself some extra time to get to school.  However, the weather was so treacherous that it took me three hours to get to school.  If you’re doing the math, you will have calculated that I was 45 minutes late to a timed final exam. 

 I’d found out I was pregnant the day before, so I hadn’t studied as much as I initially intended to anyway, and now I’d lost almost half the amount of time allotted to take this exam.  Let’s face it- I was in a panic. I’d pulled over to email my prof about the weather conditions early on, but I had no idea if he’d received such an early morning message.  My anxiety was on a steady increase.  By the time I reached Lexington, I was so upset that I started crying… and continued to cry all the way into Wilmore.   After parking, I jogged from the car to the classroom.  I had no idea that I was about to encounter holy love in a tangible way.

When I walked through the door, I picked a seat in the back of the room, and frantically began looking for my pencil and whatnot.  Before I even sat down, my professor was at my side.  He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I got your message, but I didn’t email you back because I didn’t want you to be tempted to read it while you were driving. Don’t worry about being late.  Before you start the test, go take a walk.  Get a drink of water.  Calm yourself down.  It will be waiting for you when you’re ready.”  He said all of this with a gentle smile.  I know it sounds like a small gesture, but for me it was HUGE.  I’d spent the morning in a state of panic, but when I got there Brad was full of nothing but grace. When I went into the hallway, I was so overwhelmed by his generosity that I started crying again.  I knew that I had just experienced the love and mercy of Jesus at work in the life of another.  Before this experience, I’d known Brad to be a person of authentic faith, but afterwards, I realized what a holy person of God he truly is.  He showed compassion and mercy, when he didn’t have to.  He even gave me the full amount of time to take my test, sacrificing his own time for my sake.  

As much as I’d like to keep praising Brad for his behavior, I know in my heart that it wasn’t really Brad.  It was Christ, at work in Brad.  And when I left that day, I felt inspired by his example, but mostly I marveled at God’s transformative work inside us simple people.  If the Holy Spirit can exude from my professor, the Holy Spirit can also exude from me.  If Christ’s face can be seen in the gentle smile of a compassionate person, his face can also been seen in mine.  God really does make people holy.  The Spirit of Christ really does envelop willing hearts.  God really does meet us in our need (and everywhere else for that matter). And I really did encounter Jesus that day.

Thanks be to God.

 

Gender Equality and Homosexuality in Scripture

17 Jan

Yesterday, the linking of gender equality and homosexuality came up twice.  The first time was in the context of a class, and the second came over dinner with a friend.  It seems that some folks are putting the two issues in the same camp, assuming the arguments are congruent for both, and that support of one equates to support for the other.  I’ve even had a man tell me he couldn’t support women in ministry because it was a “slippery slope” towards ordaining gay people.  While it is certainly true that a proponent of marriage equality is more likely to promote equality amongst the sexes, the same cannot be said in reverse.  I say that for one, very good reason- the arguments in favor of gender equality are completely different from the arguments for Christian gay marriage.    

Biblical egalitarians, like me, have come to this position after wrestling with texts and evaluating the tensions within the biblical witness.  The point is -there are tensions!  Not every passage of Scripture that deals with women is in agreement with the others.  Yes, Paul limits women in 1 Tim. 2 and 1 Cor. 14, but Paul also praises women as leaders in Romans 16, and writes with the assumption that they will be praying and prophesying  in worship in 1 Cor. 11.  He also has the gumption to say things like, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise,” (Gal. 3:28-29 NIV).  On top of Paul’s testimony, we have four Gospels which portray Jesus’ counter-cultural encounters with women.  Not only did he offer deep respect for women, but he also brought women into discipleship (think Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Joanna, Susannah, Mary of Clopas, etc).  The conversation gets even larger when we bring in the dozens of Old Testament passages which deal with women.  Often, egalitarians are accused of disregarding Scripture passages we just don’t like.  In reality, however, we’re engaging all of the biblical witness, and interpreting two small passages in light of the entire biblical witness.  We aren’t disregarding passages.  We’re evaluating them within the entire canon of Scripture (the same thing we do with slavery by the way). We not only have the freedom to do this, but also the responsibility, because there IS tension within the text which calls for careful study and interpretation.

The same cannot be said for homosexuality in the Bible.  There are no tensions within Scripture when it comes to homosexuality.  Admittedly, addressing homosexual relations does not seem to be a high priority for any of the biblical writers.  That being said, the matter is addressed in both the Old and New Testaments.  In every instance, the practice is forbidden.  That’s it.  There are no contradicting texts.  There are no writers who disagree with those who came before.   The biblical witness is consistent.  As a progressively-minded person, I would LOVE to say something different.  But I cannot make claims about the text which the text doesn’t make for itself.  

I understand the motivation to link these two issues. After all, proponents of biblical equality and marriage equality are both concerned with the honorable treatment of all persons.  Throughout history, both women and LGBTQ folks have been treated as something less than human, undeserving of love and respect.  Such behavior is unbiblical and unchristian. Period.  Every human has been made in the image of God and has inherent and sacred worth, regardless of that person’s actions or beliefs.  But that’s where the link between gender equality and homosexuality ends. 

My friends, however tempted we may be to link gender equality with marriage equality, these two conversations should be had separately.  Scripture doesn’t link them.  The arguments for/against them are not the same.  Please don’t misrepresent advocates of either by assuming the two positions are necessarily linked.  The church needs to engage both of these issues, but the Bible doesn’t deal with them in the same way, so we shouldn’t either.    

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42 other followers