Friday Morning Coffee #34

Good morning, folks. 

Pardon me for diving into the deep end. Usually these posts are a bit lighter, but I've promised to share what's on my brain as I sit down with my coffee on Friday mornings. And this is what's on the brain this morning.

I'm thinking this morning about how we react to the needs and hurts of others. Perhaps it's on my mind because of the story I shared with you yesterday

So many factors drive our response. Their need may threaten to shake a comfortable lifestyle. We may want to lay blame for their need at their own feet, washing our hands of the problem because it's "their fault." We may have a constructed hierarchy of what pain is valid, showing compassion to some, like a mom at a homeless shelter, but not to others, like a suicidal gay teenager. We may be overwhelmed by our own pain, unable to see past it to that of others. Or we may be overwhelmed by the onslaught of pain from many fronts, caving under compassion fatigue, feeling unable to let our hearts break one more time.

I've been thinking this week about this last one - compassion fatigue - in relation to the hurricanes that continue to pummel the coastlines. We rallied together to respond to Harvey. Then came Irma. Now Maria. Do we have the stamina to continue to respond?

I recognize there's a lot I could unpack and explain further here, but I'm not going to take the time to do that today.

As I think of our call to compassion, I can't help but think of Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan. (If you haven't read it recently, go take a look. It's in Luke 10:25-37.) We'd like to think we'd behave like the good Samaritan, but if this was a modern-day scenario, many of us would think he was crazy. Risking his life, giving his money, changing his schedule, getting a strangers blood and filth on his own hands. As much as we try to vilify the priest and Levite who "passed by on the other side," I think it's a very human response. 

Active compassion is disruptive. It demands a response. It demands sacrifice. It may call into question our current priorities or paradigms. It derails our plans. It breaks us open.

My prayer for us today is that we continue to hold ourselves open in compassion, holding a space for self-less, sacrificial love. May we see need - and respond as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. 

Who Is My Neighbor?

I noticed them when they arrived. 

The pleats of her skirt made a feminine flounce out of the stiff fabric. Her hair was perfectly coiffed. He wore slacks and a sports jacket, the unassuming tailored affair of the wealthy. 

They were seated at our table. His smile spread warmly across his face, sparkling in his eyes as he firmly shook my hand in introduction. She was quiet, but she leaned towards me in friendly confidence as she spoke with her face close to mine of their recent travels in Europe. 

She asked if I’d gotten to travel much. I told her of my year in Belize. Of my travels in China. Of our time in India. With this last mention, her eyes grew wide as she sat away from me in her chair, her chin tilted. 

“So you’ve been to India,” she said. “What did you think?” She spoke with a hushed frenzy, as if about to hear a piece of juicy gossip. 

I smiled as I remembered our brief trip. I told her of the precious friends we’d made, of the welcome we received. I told her of the delicious food, the beauty of the sea, the rich history. I told her of the incredible ministry and development work we observed, of the people who are tirelessly and creatively working to improve the lives of the children and the poor. 

As I spoke, my mind walked through my memories, transporting me to the other side of the world. We were sitting around the table with our newly made friends. We passed around the bowls filled with the Indian dishes I had watched being made in their kitchen earlier in the day. I had tried to take notes enough to replicate it at home. So many good conversations around that table. So much laughter. My heart swelled with fondness, with a desire to return, with longing to be with those precious people again. 

“We traveled there several years ago,” she said. “I desperately wanted to see the Taj Mahal. So, my sweet husband,” here she smiled across the table at him, “surprised me with a trip.” 

I smiled, nodding. I love hearing about the adventures of others, particularly to places I’ve been, particularly to places I love. 

“Well, I will never go back there,” she said, with breathy disgust. 

IMG_6944.jpg

This was not what I was expecting. I tried not to let the confusion show on my face. It was clear I wouldn’t have to ask for the details of their disastrous trip.

“One day, they were driving us around, and they took us through the poor part of the city. The way those people lived! I have never seen anything like it. So much poverty. The dirt. Those children…” 

In my mind, I was on the back of a moped, clinging to the waist of the caseworker as we wound through the streets to the small slum where the transient construction workers were living with their families. The children would spread a tarp under the shadow of the rising concrete facade of an apartment complex and sit at our feet. They brought me their notebooks with deliberately traced letters. I pointed to the figure. “A,” they would say. Then the next. “B,” they would say. I could feel the curious eyes of their mothers as they peeked out from their doors at my back.

I was hearing the voice of the caseworker as we walked away—“I was once one of those children. But people came who cared about me, and they made sure I got an education. Now, I can do the same thing.” I thought of the money she was saving to care for her ailing father. 

My attention returned to the woman beside me, now leaning in again as she spoke. “When you get to be my age, seeing things like that changes you.” She shuddered and shook her head—as if the mental image were on an etch-a-sketch and she could shake it away. 

Taking the Bible to English Class

Last week we talked about the importance of paying attention to the immediate context of what we’re reading in Scripture. Today, I want to talk about words.

I love words. I love how they can be spun and stretched and woven into a thing of beauty. I love that meaning can be conveyed not only mechanically or simply for the sake of information but as a crafted work of art.

God chose to reveal His Word to us through human language—and what a masterful work of art it is. The artistry of its language, its complexity, its imagery, its beauty—it invites us to study and consider it as we would any other great work of literature. But unlike any other piece of literature, we approach it with awe and reverence, knowing that what its pages communicate is not concocted by a human mind but by the mind of God. Its pages reveal who He is. Its words are alive.

When we pay attention to the literary nature of the Bible, we are not undermining its power. We are embracing it for what it is and how God has chosen to reveal himself. He revealed himself in a way we could understand—in a book, written in human words, using stories and poetry and logic, using the same literary tools we use today.

Words, Context, and Imagery

pexels-photo-207681.jpeg

This is where some would say, “Yes, Diana, but this is for nerdy English-major types like you. Why should I care about this?”

I will admit I probably get more excited about this than some. But this isn't a matter of nerdy-ness or liking literature. If we're seeking to be sensitive to the context of Scripture so that we read and understand it properly, there are some important words and literary devices we should pay attention to.

Physical Time and Space 

  • Speaker and audience, “I”, “you”—Who is speaking? Who do they assume is listening? How does this influence the way we understand the passage?
     
  • Place markers—Are you given any information about where this is taking place? Where the people involved are located? What does this have to do with the passage?
     
  • Time markers—Are you given any indication of when something is happening? Are you given a month, day, year? Is it put in the context of someone’s life or death? What does this time frame have to do with the passage?

Logic and Train-of-thought

  • Sequence markers—Are there words indicating an order of events? Look for words that imply a ‘first this, then that’ or ‘that was then, this is now’ relationship. Words like “after,” “now,” “then,” “when,” etc. How does this order of events affect the passage? Are they talking of something in the future or the past?
     
  • “Therefore,” “For this reason,” “Thus”—These words signal a conclusion based on previously given information. What is being concluded? Look back at what came before. What supporting evidence or logic led to this point? 
     
  • “For”—Often used to introduce an example or supporting piece of evidence in a logical argument, particularly when it starts a sentence. How does it relate to what came before it? To the entire flow of the chapter?
     
  • “But”—This word signals a contrast with what came before. Example: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…But God, being rich in mercy…” (Eph. 2:1,4). How does the verse contrast or give a surprising conclusion compared to what came before? 

Literary Devices

  • Repetition—Repeated words or phrases usually indicate emphasis. What words or phrases continue to reappear in a verse, chapter, or book? (Think about words related by a root, for example, joy and rejoice, or encourage and encouragement.) How do they relate to or point to the main message?
     
  • Metaphors and Similes—Both use imagery to make a comparison. A simile uses “like” or “as” (“the devil prowls around like a roaring lion”) and a metaphor does not (“the Lord is my Shepherd”). How does the imagery relate to the passage? What point is it trying to make? What is it illustrating?
     
  • Contrasts and Comparisons—Are two things being compared or contrasted? Are there connections being made to how they are similar or different from each other? (Example: Paul contrasts law and Gospel and life in the Spirit vs. life in the flesh in the book of Romans.) How does this relate to the passage? What point is it making? How does comparing/contrasting these things help to make this point?
     
  • Quotations—Is something else being quoted? Is it another passage of Scripture? Is it another source from the time? Is it someone else’s words? How does it relate to the passage? Is it being approved of or criticized? If it’s another passage of Scripture, look back at that other passage (you’ll usually go back to the OT from the NT), and read it in its own context. How does this context relate to what is being said in the NT passage?

Remember that our goal is to read and interpret Scripture well. Noticing these words and literary features helps us to read a passage of Scripture in the right context. They ground a verse in a train of thought or story as a whole. When we see it in its proper place in the whole, we are better equipped to understand it correctly. 

This is true in a small verse-by-verse and chapter-by-chapter sense. It’s also true with the Bible as a whole. Next week, we’ll talk about the big-picture of Scripture and how to locate what we’re reading within the overarching redemption story.

Friday Morning Coffee #33

Happy Friday!

This morning, I'm thinking about the book I've been plowing through over the last week: Surprised by Oxford, by Carolyn Weber. A friend of mine was kind enough to both recommend and lend it to me, and I've been thoroughly enjoying it. It's a memoir of Weber's journey to faith while studying Romantic literature at Oxford. 

With my own background studying literature in undergrad, I've been loving her literary allusions and the part the Romantic and metaphysical poets played in her coming to faith. Her story has been taking me back to the days of my freshman year British literature class, feverishly memorizing lines of poetry, soaking up the lectures delivered with the slightest hint of a Newfoundland accent. I've been feeling the pull to dive back into poetry again. 

I've also been thinking about the role other people play in our faith journeys. So much of Weber's story revolves around conversations with particular friends or professors and even a few chance acquaintances. It's had me reflecting on the web of relationships God uses as a means to bring us to Him - and to continue our growth. I am sometimes in awe He would choose to work through mere humans in this way.

As I write this, I'm thinking of the people God has brought into my own life. Of the people who have walked with me through the various seasons of "in progress" faith growth in the past. Of the people who are walking with me through this season, those people I will look back on in another ten years and point to as key conversation partners in the journey. For all of them, I am exceedingly grateful. 


How has the Lord used people in your life through your journey of faith? Feel free to share in the comments. I'd love to hear about it! 

A Tale of Two Sermons

I once heard two sermons. They spoke of the same little passage—a mere eighteen verses, hardly a column of text. But how different they were. 

It was not merely a matter of skill or style. It was not a matter of truth or falsehood, right or wrong.

One told me what I had to do. 
The other, what had been done for me. 

One sent me off with the suggestion to reflect on what I was doing wrong. 
The other sent me with thanksgiving of the One who came for me in my lostness. 

One piled on guilt. The other mercy.
One gave a word of law. The other the message of grace. 

I am no master homilitician, but I know which I prefer. 
I know which one drives me to awe and praise, and which to morbid introspection.
I know which one inspires me to change, and which makes me despair of ever being good enough. 
I know which one turns my eyes to Jesus, and which turns my eyes to myself. 

amazing-animal-beautiful-beautifull.jpg

The secret to true transformation is never law. It is never the litany of my wrongdoings, my misplaced loves, my sins. It is never the rehearsal of how I don’t measure up. Yes, I fall short, this I know—the Bible tells me so. But I thought the song was about Jesus.

How easily we forget our own message—the one that tells a story of grace coming to us in our unworthiness, the story of what has been done for us—not of our performance or our rehabilitation. All we truly have to give the world is Gospel—all else is just a Christianized rebranding of the “earn your way” slave drivers. 

Grace transforms us. It transforms my behavior and my attitudes. It possesses me with its glorious, excruciating, intoxicating light.

The Spirit transforms us. He peels away the thick dragon skin of my selfishness and pride and makes me a new creation. He gives me a soft heart, an obedient heart. My life bears His fruit.

To assume that this can be manufactured through guilt tripping or pump-you-up inspiration is to miss the point. It’s to forget our history. It’s to forget the gateway through which we walked into glory.

Our story will always be about grace. Our life will always be shaped and molded through a response to what has already been done for us. It is finished. We respond in thanksgiving. This thanks changes our hearts, and our newly transplanted, resurrected hearts change our lives.

This is the message I can never get enough of. It’s the one my parched soul laps up in rejoicing desperation.