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Bees, Dead Leaves, and the Gospel

When I was in first grade, I loved bees.

Keep in mind this was the same kid who avoided the scads of Book Fair covers emblazoned with big-eyed puppies, kittens, and horses like they were the actual plague, so it’s not like I was an animal-lover in general. Nope. Just bees.

I remember frolicking in the field of pale pink clover blossoms beside the playground in the spring when all the other kids fled, sometimes catching bees in my hands and naming them.

This was partly because, at age six, I’d already realized there was some power in not being afraid of something that everyone else was afraid of. Also in being just a little bit weird.

But it was also because I’d been stung only once (entirely my fault and easily cured with some sympathy and baking soda), and I’d eaten honey dozens of times, and I knew that both stings and honey came from the same place. One of my favorite reading spots, the crab apple tree in the front yard, became the #1 rated honeybee restaurant for a few weeks each May, and I’d sit with my book in the crook of the most comfortable branch, listening to the hum of bees flying around me, gathering what they needed to make something beautiful.

I remembered all that this weekend as I climbed the same tree and the blossom-filled dome above me vibrated with buzzing and flight…and I felt perfectly safe and happy. Something that has made several of my friends shudder and run inside is still my favorite sound of spring.

This is the view from my old reading spot. I haven’t found a Minnesota reading tree yet; this needs to be fixed.

When it came time to climb down and start on yardwork at my parents’ house, I realized I have a weird favorite smell of spring, too.

Picture a woodpile stacked near the porch, and raking out a wheelbarrow-full of dead maple leaves that have been trapped behind it all winter. As soon as you do, you can smell drying wood and crumble-dry decay, but also dirt and worms and fresh-sprung grass and life.

I realize that description probably doesn’t make anyone want to concoct a new scent of cologne (which I would 100% buy), but I’m telling you, it’s fantastic. You breathe in deeply and you can smell the memory of fall and the death of winter into spring, all at the same time.

Which is, I get it, kind of strange.

There are some parts of springtime we can all agree are amazing—warm breezes and opening flowers and the plop of a turtle into the ice-free creek. Others, like the bees and the dead leaf smell, are a little more…underappreciated.

While I was raking, my dad was cutting up firewood with his chainsaw in the background. I get oddly philosophical while wearing earplugs, because it removes the option of talking and forces me to just think.

This time, I thought, “All of this is kind of like the gospel.”

There are some parts of our faith that almost anyone can appreciate—the power of sacrifice, the aching poetry of certain hymns, the value of community.

But beyond that…Christians are a little bit weird. We’re not afraid of the sting of death. We see life and hope instead of decay and despair when we worship on Good Friday. We hear something beautiful in the Bible when others only hear a terrible noise. Or, like Paul puts it, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

If I had started this post saying, “You know what I love most about spring? The sound of bees and the smell of dead leaves,” you probably would have thought, “Wow, Amy is crazy.” (Maybe you still do, but go with me here.)

Once I described it, maybe you changed your mind at least a little, to the point where you could see why I might enjoy those things.

But unless you’ve experienced them yourself, you won’t really know.

Same thing with Christianity. If you don’t know my Jesus, I can tell you facts about him that will sound pretty crazy. And maybe, on a good day, I can describe the experiences in my life that have convinced me that he’s real, and you might think, “Sure, I can understand why faith is important to her.” But until you know him, until you really understand the gospel…it’s not going to fully make sense.

But when you finally do, I promise, it’s like spring after a long, long winter.

If God Has Given You More Than You Can Handle

If you’ve ever wandered around the gift section of a Christian bookstore, Googled the most popular inspirational Instagram posts, or been #blessed with a prayer journal, you’ve probably seen slogans like this making the rounds:

Handle.jpg

And if you run in the gospel-centered (*cough*, slightly nerdy, *cough*) circles that I do, you’ve also seen people talking and writing about how this idea is 100% feel-good nonsense.

Read those articles and you get the general picture. Many of them get a little snarky, because being snarky is cool. They tell us somebody who likes to paint the world with rainbows and fluffy kitties hijacked verses like 1 Corinthians 10:13, “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it,” and infused it with an upbeat, you-can-do-it mantra.

They, very correctly, point out that if we only had what we could “handle,” we wouldn’t need Jesus or faith or any of those other things that are kinda foundational to Christianity. Along with that true statement, though, I at least picked up on a tough-love, drill-sergeant mentality from that crowd. You know…

“Life is pain, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something—probably floral hand-lettered pallet art of Jeremiah 29:11 infused with essential oils. Jesus promised we would suffer for our faith. That’s right, SUFFER. So don’t you Philippians 4:8 your way out of this one. It’s about our holiness, not our happiness…so stop being so happy.”

That sort of thing.

Okay, that’s exaggerated, but you know what I mean. There’s something a little bit fun about pouring the cold water of reality and exegesis on someone’s overly-cheery, Bible-lite parade. I’ve been there, rolling my eyes at the “Never Too Much to Handle” crowd and their me-focused, repetitive worship choruses.

So…I get it. But take a look at that verse again. Especially how it starts. There might be something else we could talk about here.

“And God is faithful.”

That hit me recently, because it means that the Corinthians were doubting God’s faithfulness. When life got hard and the pull of the world felt too strong, they felt God wasn’t being fair in holding them accountable. Probably, they even felt confused and abandoned, just like many of us.

So before Paul gave them specific teaching about their specific situation (temptation), he told them something that is generally true, for all of us, in all times, and in all situations: God is faithful.

Always. No matter what. We can build all the rest of our theology on that one truth.

And guess what? That’s a very comforting thought, a rock-solid, never-changing, dare-I-say-inspirational promise, especially when you are facing what feels like a lot more than you can handle. It’s a reminder that even then, even when you’re stressed or exhausted or waking up at 3 AM every morning with the same nagging fear, even when there’s no money left in the bank account or someone you loved is no longer around or you don’t know what to do next and your prayers are met with silence…even then, God is faithful.

So yes, remind people to give Bible verses proper context. Don’t turn Christianity into a bunch of happy slogans that can’t stand up to our difficult and broken world where we’re supposed to be taking up our cross like Jesus. Talk about hard truths and passages that don’t make us feel good, because that’s not the point.

But also…don’t cling so tightly to anti-prosperity-Gospel annoyance that you start criticizing simple faith. Don’t treat Scriptures merely as texts to be interpreted and forget that they’re also promises to build our faith. Don’t become too cool for hope.

And if you’re stuck in one of those hard times, the most inspirational thing I can tell you is: God is faithful. Even if you can’t see it now where you are, you can see it in Jesus’ sacrifice and in the Bible and in the answered prayers of the past and in the thousands of tiny kindnesses around you. And, by faith, you can see it in the end of the story too.

So hold on, with me, with the Corinthians, with Christians who post hand-lettered Bible verses and the ones who post snarky satire articles making fun of them. Let’s grow in faithfulness to a faithful God.

The Best of 2018

It’s the first Monday in the new year, at that means…time for a blog birthday party! It’s still crazy to me that the blog I started in January of 2014 has lasted this long.

5 cake

In 2018, I wrote 39 posts, which is less than any previous year. Before, I’d only give myself a week off if I was deathly ill or it was a major holiday. This year I let myself skip if I was working on another writing project or had a busy weekend or just didn’t have anything worthwhile to say.

Overall, I’m a fan of the change and the freedom to pause…which is also why I’ll be taking the rest of January off. I love exploring my faith through writing, but I also feel like it might be time to step away and spend more time with God without an audience. So I’ll see you in February!

Here are a few of my favorite posts of the year, in no particular order. (So yes, it’s a “Best of”…but according to me, so a little biased.)

What Matters More than Your Problems

Why: The great thing about doing a post reflecting on a great song is that you have most of your content given to you already, and Andrew Peterson’s “Is He Worthy?” is my favorite song of 2018.

Quote: “When you’re repeating back God’s faithfulness with dozens of your brothers and sisters, from all different backgrounds, suffering in a hundred different ways and still singing…you start to be able to feel the things you know in your head.”

Baby Dedications for the Rest of Us

Why: Basically any time I get a chance to talk to my generation, and myself, about how being a part of the church means serving others and not just being served, I’m in. Also, it was through the church that I realized I actually enjoy kids. Who knew?

Quote: “Here’s the thing, though: you don’t get a family—a real, beautiful, stuck-with-each-other sort of family—without sacrifice.”

Chase Your Ordinary Dream: Time Travel Edition

Why: I’m a history nerd.

Do I really need a longer explanation?

Okay, fine, contrasting two pre-Civil-war preachers was fascinating because it shows that not much has changed. You’ll always have your private-jet feel-good-gospel leaders…and the ones who do what’s right, even at great cost and without reward here on earth. Also I just really want to hang out with Leonard Grimes in heaven.

Quote: “Appearances can be deceiving. Faithfulness has a cost. And history sometimes exalts the unworthy and forgets the selfless heroes…but God does not.”

Judas and the Mermaids: the Seduction of Sin

Why: My annual Judas post almost always makes my favorite list, because it’s helpful in shaking up my perspective on important things, especially my own sin. Add an eerie mermaid song, and this is a lesson I’ve returned to a few times throughout the year.

Quote: “We have to start with ‘All sin is seduction, and it leads to death’—even our sin—before we can get to the glorious truth of ‘God’s grace is salvation and it leads to life’—even for our sin.”

Come Quiet

Why: This is a lesson I’ve been kicking around for several years now, so it was fun to finally put it into words and share it. (Slightly ironic, since the whole point is that sometimes we don’t need to have everything spelled out and expressed? Maybe.)

Quote: “And maybe it’s good, sometimes, to remember that our words—that even my many, many words—are ultimately not enough. The best response to the hard times of life is not frequent check-ins with others for reassurance, more logical reasoning, a longer to-do list or a five-year plan…but silence in the presence of a God who is in heaven and in control.”

(If you’re interested in past “Best of” posts for some guidance in exploring the archives, here are: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014.)

 

 

Star Wars Valentines

Happy Valentine’s Day Eve! (That’s a thing, right? Like, where you eat carrot sticks and rice so you can eat too much chocolate the next day?)

It’s become a tradition on the blog to put up a page of homemade Valentines in February. This year’s round is for my sister, a big Star Wars fan. (You’re welcome, kid!)

Do some of these probably already exist out in Internet-land? Yes. Are there about a billion Star Wars valentines being sold every second today to young padawans who have class parties tomorrow? Yes. Did I still really want brooding Anakin on a valentine of my own? Also yes.

I could have gone on for dozens of punny slogans, but here are a few. Put more ideas in the comments…I love reading them! And check out the Theologian, Lord of the Rings, and love-at-first-fight valentines too if you need more.

Okay, friends: here’s your chance. You’ve got three trilogies (and an extended universe) of characters to write valentine mottos for. Go!

Hobbit Birthday Party!

It has already been established that I am basically a hobbit.

Today is my birthday, so I decided I should celebrate my birthday like one, too. Which unfortunately does not include a trip to the Shire, but will involve lots of po-ta-toes and music and laughter and going barefoot.

Birthday

As hobbit tradition goes, the birthday celebrator does the gift-giving. Since you, friends and blog readers, mostly live in all corners of Not-Middle-Earth, I decided to virtually “give” you some amusing or useful things on the Internet.

Feel free to “open” whichever character’s “gift” most corresponds to your personality. Or just whichever one seems interesting.

Also, if you just want more Lord of the Rings, here are a few posts that involve Middle Earth in some way.

Party!
Sauron: Because he is evil…but could use some strategy pointers.

Gollum: Because he is really just misunderstood.

Arwen: Because she is a princess and pretty, but not super practical.

Gandalf: Because he is smarter than you in basically every area and manages to pull it off without you actually hating him.

Legolas: Because he reminds me of somewhat-melancholy music, particularly the cello.

Saruman: Because he is consistent, smart, and kind of a jerk sometimes.

Pippin: Because he thinks you need people of intelligence on this mission…quest…thing.

Eowyn: Because she is an interesting female character struggling with strict social conventions.

Enjoy, and feel free to comment with your own suggestions if you like. In the meantime, I’m going on an adventure!

Lord of the Rings Valentines

Last year, I made a series of valentines based on famous theologians (the comments section of that post is priceless). Afterward, my sister texted me and said: “Those were great…but I didn’t get half of the jokes. Next year, make Lord of the Rings valentines.”

When the twin sister requests something…she gets it.

So, here you go. Enjoy them, print them out, use them as inspiration to watch a certain movie trilogy this Valentine’s Day instead of the latest rom-com, whatever works.

TheLordoftheRingsValentines

With love,

The Monday Heretic.

Any other characters you’d like to suggest? Or some alternate captions for the ones already pictured?

The Blog Post That Isn’t

Have you—yes, you, the person reading this—ever posted something on Facebook just to make others think of you in a certain way? Taken a picture of you looking good or doing something awesome just to impress someone? Said something borderline mean just to be funny, modified your real opinion just to fit in, refused to admit you were wrong just to show that person, that one particular person who is so self-important, that you are just as good as they are?

ME

Or, maybe a better question: has there been a day when you haven’t done one of these things?

It’s been a while for me, even here on this blog. I’d like to say that I always write on it for the right reasons, but most of the time (all of the time?) our motivations are mixed. On my good days, I write on this blog because I want to start good conversations, because I love it, and because I know God has given me the gift of communicating, and I want to use that to his glory.

On my bad days, my fear of a life that goes unwitnessed means that I turn to the Internet with my thoughts and stories and feelings in order to feel validated and secure. I let my good desire to be loved turn into an endless cycle that feeds on the affirmation of others and yet is never quite satisfied. I want you to like what I say, and to like me, and to like me so much that….

That what? That I matter, I guess. That I am doing something great for God. That I can finally feel like I’ve earned your approval, and maybe his too. (more…)