Monday, August 27, 2007

Bad Charter. Bad. (And an update of sorts)

Last week I went through extremely patchy internet service, with most nights not being able to connect at all. It wasn't my modem, Charter said, and it took them a week to get someone here to fix it. I'm really glad I can go to the office after hours and get done what I need to get done online, because I don't know what I would've done without that option.

So, it looks like I'm back to a somewhat stable internet connection tonight. After the Charter technician was here for an hour and a half this morning, he swore he fixed it. Time will tell. I've never been a fan of Charter Communications, but they are the only non dial-up choice in town.

Last Wednesday I met with a local pastor I'd met briefly a year ago through the Midwest District of E-Free Churches. With a paid staff of 23 and an insurmountable number of volunteers, they may not be a mega-church but they are close. As much as I dislike the idea of mega-churches, if I've heard my call from God correctly I'll most certainly end up working in one.

The senior pastor there is one of the warmest, nicest pastors I've met and he knows how to preach from scripture straight-up (I've only heard him a few times, but those times were excellent and I still remember them). We made a connection right away, and he encouraged me more than anyone else has (which is kind of sad, really) once he heard about my call, how it began and where it ended up. I am thankful knowing that when the time comes for me to leave my current ministry, which I plan to do if I choose to take online courses for seminary. Why have I decided this? Because I've never felt called to be a worship leader. It just happened to me, with God in his surprising ways. I've done what I set out and was hired to do, which was change the worship style at our church from traditional to contemporary/blended. So in order to get the practical ministry experience closer to what I ultimately feel called to do, I want to work within an equipping ministry area of a church. (Which isn't available where I am currently a member.)

The meeting went really well, and he was excited to talk to me and welcomed me with open arms, saying there would be a place for me whenever I needed it. That felt good. He was thrilled I got into Bethel, and when I told him I was applying to another, more affordable school he said, "Remember you get what you pay for. Don't short yourself on a good education just because another place is less expensive."

Good advice, I guess, but that's pretty easy for a senior pastor of an almost mega-church to say.

Why I Feel Like a Coward Today

Today I did two important things... I called the housing director at Bethel Seminary and told her I would not be moving into the apartment they had reserved for me. Then I signed my financial aid package form, checked "No, I will not be attending Bethel Seminary and I reject all aids and grants", then mailed it.

I've been sad for the last couple of weeks with the startling realization that as a single woman, I have no idea how I can afford to go to seminary. The grants Bethel offered me were quite paltry and in their words, "It's based on your 2006 income." Which makes no sense to me, because I wouldn't have that same income as a student. So I'd be forced, as Bethel's MA program is three years, to take out about $50,000 in loans just to pay tuition and student fees. I'm starting to understand why it's best to go seminary right after undergraduate school, because most likely the grants offered would be a lot more because my income was next to nothing.

I could take out $50,000 in federal loans if I wanted to. Most people do. But in order to pay that back in the alloted time, I'd have to make a $300 a month payment. Honestly? I don't see how that's possible. I know what people who work in ministry make, and it's not enough to afford that plus all the other expenses life requires. I don't have the luxury of another income to help out with things like that. It's just me, and I have nothing to fall back on.

I've been reading about the high cost of seminary, and am not surprised some have the same experience as I.

Ministry and School Debt

Shortage or Shift?
Seminary Students Speak Out

One Man Ministry

I'm starting to feel like just another statistic of someone who wants to enter the ministry, even feels a called to it, and just can't afford to go to seminary. Since 95% of full-time ministry jobs in the church require a master's degree, what's a person to do? Ignore the debt, be a bad steward of their money, and be saddled with debt for 20 years?

It feels a little like this:

Living a life with a burden vs. living a life of regret.

I'm sure I sound incredible dramatic. That's where I'm at right now, and it's frustrating. I feel like the cowardly lion, who's been swat on the nose and instead of standing up I've run away.

If on courage
You must call
Then just keep on tryin'
And tryin'
And tryin'
You're a lion
In your own way
Be a lion

Come on be a lion

-from The Wiz, "Be a Lion"

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I have cool friends

... who give me great gifts like this. How lucky am I?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Welcome Home

Welcome Home, 734th Battalion.

My City Celebrates. I hate war, and I love that they are back home.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

For Whom the Rooster Crows

I am like Peter.

The one who promises Jesus over and over again that I won’t do it. That I could never… that the sin tastes so bitter I’ll never want it again.

But then the rooster crows and I do it. More than three times, even. (Not like once isn't enough.)

I could blame it on all the temptations of this world. I could try to justify it by remembering that I’m not such a bad person compared to the next guy. I could remind myself that God forgives it anyway, and I’m not hurting anyone, so what’s the big deal?

I am hurting myself, though. And more importantly, I’m hurting Him.

Sometimes I think it’s the hardest thing in the world to fight what comes naturally over doing what Jesus desires me to do. I know that He fights on my behalf (see the top video to your right), but I let myself get dragged down. And I have to say it – most of the time, I don’t try to fight back.

“Sin is fun,” my friend Angie once said. But I have to ask myself if this fun is better than what Jesus offers me. Common sense tells me that it’s not. Both my heart and my head tell me it’s not. So why is this struggle constant with me?

I can anticipate the response that is coming: "I know that all God's commands are spiritual, but I'm not. Isn't this also your experience?" Yes. I'm full of myself—after all, I've spent a long time in sin's prison. What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?

-Romans 7: 14-24 (The Message)

Would I rather have the fun that’s become habit instead of the newness and discovery Christ offers me? I’ve fought my whole life, trying to understand that what Jesus gives me is better than what the world offers me. What will it take to get this through to my head and my heart? What can be done to overcome this sin that produces guilt and shame? What will it take for me to remember how much better Jesus is for me?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. –Romans 7:25 (The Message)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

So Much Music, So Little Time

A plethora of great music is emerging from the world as of late, and I cannot help but wonder if it's a direct result of the death of the CD. We live in a world of down-loadable singles, and unless each and every song on an album is good, we won't buy it. That works for me, because I hate wasting $15 on a CD that only has two good songs on it. I am thankful those days are gone. Aside from my favorite artists still producing quality stuff, there are some new (to me) artist I've discovered that are also keeping up with the big dogs.

Jason Gray's All the Lovely Losers .While this is straight-up power pop, which is not usually my thing, the thoughtfulness of the lyrics grabbed me from the beginning. From the song This Far:

It’s hard for me to walk by faith in the face of all that I can see
Sometimes I fear I’m just a fool for my belief
But then I feel You come and move in me
And I hear You whisper in my ear and for a moment I can see
This is how You brought me here

I don’t believe You brought me this far to give up
So everyday I keep on fighting for it
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if I’m faithful
Or a fool to believe You’re still leading me

It's easy for me to relate to this song at this point in my life, with a decision about seminary looming in front of me, and all the doubts that plague me at the same time. The rest of the album seems to branch off from this song - about the journey we take to become more like Christ, the ups and downs, the pruning and the growth.

Switchfoot's Oh Gravity!. I've been a fan since the days of The Legend of Chin, so I go way back with these guys. (I even remember the store where I bought my first CD of theirs). Oh! Gravity is a great follow-up to their crossover success This Beautiful Mess. They've stepped up their musicianship in a big way, and their lyrics remain as thoughtful as they were in Mess

John McLaughlin's Indiana. I discovered John on MySpace and from the moment you hear the opening bars of Industry, the first song on the record, you just know it's going to be good. And it is. All of it. He's a great mixture of Paul McCartney and Billy Joel with a ton of extra energy thrown in. Aside from outstanding musicianship, the lyrics are also very thought-provoking. Check out Beautiful Disaster on youtube.

Sara Groves' Add to the Beauty. This album came out in 2005, but I've only recently purchased it. Several friends would rave on and on about Groves' music, and I never got into it. Her musical style was what turned me off, and there are still some songs that just don't do anything for me. But she is, without a doubt, one of the best lyricists in Christian music today. I always feel like she's on a journey that doesn't stop and wants to take me with her.

Brandon Heath's Don't Get Comfortable. More power-pop, and a little brighter than Jason Gray's, with lots of good hooks and memorable tunes. My post on Sunday, and the video are from this album and there is plenty more where that come from. Here are some lyrics from the title track:

You've been looking for a sign all this time
If you seek you'll find me every time
I am going show you what I mean
I'm gonna love like you've never seen
You are going live like you used to dream
This is your new song

This is a great reminder that when we allow God to work in our lives, and we are willing to go along for the ride, we will be changed in a way we'd never expect.

Our God Reigns, also a song worth a mention, is a track that would work as a contemporary worship song in most church settings, and is one of the better worship songs I've heard lately.

Deserving a mention as well is Mute Math, whose song Typical rocks my world on many levels. Their music may be thrash, but their lead singer is Sting all the way.

So much music, so little time. What's a girl to do?

Monday, August 06, 2007

An invitation...

My first family member joined the blogging world back in May and I've been neglectful to promote it. Meredith is a lovely writer, an even lovelier person and I know you'll appreciate what she has to say.

confessions of a slacker mom

Head on over there for the chance to read a blog that is truly honest about oneself and about a God that changes us if we let him.

Very Left Reverend - go easy on her. She likes Beth Moore.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Small Victories

I had lunch Friday with an old friend I haven't been in touch with for about three years. He's one of the first friends I made in this town after I moved here, and we lived in the same building for 5 years. Far more than just neighbors, we spent 3-4 nights a week together and developed what I thought was a good, solid friendship. Back then, he was going through a lot - the death of his mother, a major move, a career change and above all else, a breakdown in his faith in Christ. Once he learned about my relationship with Christ, the questions came. He grew up in the church, called himself a Christian, but didn't have a relationship with Christ. A good amount of his questions were just factual, and many of them required me to stretch my apologetics. (I quickly learned that defending my faith is not always something to be learned from a book.) So our bond was strong - he at one point called me his "spiritual adviser". (Typing that now makes it sound in the vein of eastern religions. But I assure you, it wasn't.) It gave me the opportunity to pay forward what was once given to me by my good friend Travis.

Why did we loose touch? He had a series of great experiences where God helped him restore the faith he lost. The death of his mother created a huge chasm, and my friend finally allowed God to close it. He found some great Christian guy friends, he moved out of our building and I just never saw him again. Loosing him was a big deal to me, and it happened at a time where I was going through a lot and needed a good friend. I was angry and hurt because he wasn't there when I needed him to be there. It made me feel taken advantage of.

I've run into him on occasion in the last three years, as we have some of the same friends. Each time, I didn't want to be anywhere near him. I held a grudge for quite a while. I needed him to come to me, because my last few emails to him went unanswered. I took that as a hint to back off. Then - completely out of the blue - he called me about 6 weeks ago to borrow something he knew I had, and I hoped for a lot of things. I hoped I could finally be honest and tell him how much he hurt me. I hoped our meeting again would help mend whatever broke, and I hope it wouldn't be awkward. It wasn't awkward; in fact, it was nice. We saw each other three times that week and each time was good. It felt like old times. I didn't tell him how he hurt me, but I realized it was only for very selfish reasons I wanted that to happen.

So I called him last week and we made plans to have lunch. And as I sat across from him, I had a small victory. I realized I'm not who I was. God not only gave me the strength to forgive him, (though he never asked) but I'd also forgotten how it awful it all made me feel. We laughed, we smiled and I enjoyed our time together because I've finally healed.

...I used to be mad at you, a little on the hurt side too
But I'm not who I was
I found my way around
To forgiving you
Some time ago but I never got to tell you

...When the pain came back again
Like a bitter friend
It was all that I could do
To keep myself from blaming you

...Well the thing I find most amazing

In amazing grace
Is the chance to give it out
Maybe that's what love is all about

I will probably still ask myself if the pain of real friendship was worth it next time someone like him comes along. But I am tasting small victories right now, and it feels good.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Diva Meltdown Week

As a once self-proclaimed pop-culture junkie, I've stopped keeping up with a lot of it in my old age. There really is too much to do, and there are much betters ways to spend my time than trying to feign interest in E!'s Daily Top Ten. (I do occasionally enjoy The Soup, though, probably because they make fun of everything.) I did, however, happen to catch Best Week Ever last week, and wow... what a week for diva meltdowns.

1.) Lindsey Lohan arrested, again.

2.) Brittney goes crazy, again.

3.) Paula Abdul cries and acts crazy, again.

The second video I have in my sidebar has been there for a while. Craig Ferguson is eloquent and honest in his concern for the stars who clearly need intervention, and he wonders why the friends of these stars don't say anything. As someone who's never had a close friend or family member with a major addiction or obvious meltdown like those mentioned above, I really don't know how I would act in a situation as this.

Where do we draw the line? And this question is two-fold, really: 1.) The line of when do we step in and 2.) the line of when to stop... well, making fun of these people. Our instinct is to make fun, especially of celebrities. (I believe Kathy Griffin built her whole career around this. I know, I'm a Bravo addict. Don't even ask me about Top Chef or I won't shut up.)

I appreciate Craig's honesty and with so much material out there to work with, it's probably hard not to get a few jokes in at their expense. And as he says, why aren't their friends stepping in and doing something about it. Is it because all their friends are their employees? Is it because we as a society as so afraid of being PC that we keep our mouths shut in the name of "tolerance" Is the "I don't want to offend" statement ever okay in situations like this?


We are becoming too dependent on ourselves, and life wasn't meant to be lived that way. We are created for community with each other. (Read Shaine Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution for a whole new way of looking at community.) If a friend is crashing and burning, it's up to us to put out the fire, even if it does offend them. We need to love them that much.