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The End of “My Offerings” – and where you can find me now!

I’ve been writing in this space for a little over a year now, and you guys have blown me away with your insightful comments, helpful and loving disagreement, community, and support. You’ve helped me find my writing voice, become bold in my convictions, and pushed back at some of my craziness.

And the fun’s not over.

I’m happy to announce that you can find me at my new domain: http://aubrysmith.com

I dropped the cheesy and somewhat limiting moniker. “My Offerings” was the name of my stack of prayer journals from college, and it was my husband’s idea to have my blog named the same thing. It worked for awhile, but I felt like I could only write about certain things, you know? You’ll find a wider variety of topics at aubrysmith.com – though my favorite subjects are still the kinds of faith-things we talk about here. 

You can go ahead over there and look around, subscribe by email or RSS so that you won’t miss a post (no new posts will be coming from here – so switch your subscription over!). Tell me what you think – I’m a writer, not a web designer, but I figure if you’ve been with me this long, you don’t really care. And yes, you’ll still be able to access all the old posts here.

I hope you’ll join me at my new place!

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

The Unlikely Book that Changed My Life

I’m a huge reader: I probably consume about 10-15 books per month, mostly somewhere within the Christian genres. Theology, missions, history, relationships, hermeneutics, textual criticism, biographical stories, discipleship, anthropology, the occasional fiction…I love it all. Books are like my friends (in a non-sad way). I love to learn different things and soak up new ideas.

So, looking over the varied landscape of books that have really shaped me, I’m surprised to find that the one that has changed my worldview the most is this little book:

The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard Bauckham

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Don’t tune me out yet, non-theology types!

I came of age in the Left Behind era. Hungry for biblical knowledge and for special clues about the future, I tore through that fictional series, knowing that the stories themselves were fictional, but believing that the structure of the events were biblical. There is a group of theologians that do think this – called Dispensationalists – and this view is popular in the American South. What I didn’t know was there are several other end-times interpretations of the Bible that don’t include a secret coming of Jesus (“rapture”) or special timelines for a 7-year apocalypse. So if you study Revelation on a theological level, you’ll learn mostly about Amillenialists, Post-millenialists, Historic Pre-millenialists, and an assortment of many others.

Bauckham downplays these relatively insignificant arguments and gives priority to the prominent themes in Revelation – which are life-changing.

Bauckham lines out several major themes that run through Revelation:

The One who is and who was and is to come

The Lamb on the throne

The victory of the Lamb and his followers

The Spirit of prophecy

The New Jerusalem

Within these major themes are numerous sub-themes: the new exodus, Passover, witness, faithfulness, conquering/overcoming, truth and falsehood, the Spirit, the evil parody of the trinity, and others. It’s all fascinating stuff, and a good way to get a handle on many of the symbols (like lampstands, numbers, stones, etc.)  that can be confusing for us. He helps you read Revelation like you do the other books of the Bible: to find out what Jesus is saying to the churches.

Here are some ways that it changed my worldview:

1) True victory is acheived through sacrifice. We tend to think that the most powerful people are the ultimate winners. Whoever has the biggest army, the thickest biceps, the most advanced weaponry will squash the little people. And for right now, it does seem that way. Revelation portrays a slaughtered Lamb as a victorious, roaring Lion. John sees an army of redeemed and resurrected martyrs in white robes. The overcomers are those who laid down their lives. The slaughtered Lamb is the One who will bring God’s rule to earth. Conquest comes by sacrificial death – and we will be mocked for thinking such a foolish thing.

2) The true nature of things is not as it appears now. The first really will be last. The martyred who cry out, “How Long, O Lord?” are the victorious and vindicated. The powerful will be brought down and will cry out for death. The Lamb is the Lion. The powerful Beast and his unholy trinity-parody will be overthrown at the coming of Christ (as a side note: there is no epic end-battle. “And then the lawless one will be revealed,whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.” -2 Thess. 2:8, emphasis mine. So Jesus shows up and the battle is over. Boom.)

3) There are those who compromise with culture and are temporarily protected, and those who stand firm with Christ to their temporary detriment. Written during the height of Roman imperial and pagan worship, Revelation shows us that risk of persecution is not a legitimate reason to sin. Revelation was written to both encourage suffering Christians, and to strongly warn those compromising their faithful witness. We would do well to heed the warnings.

Bauckham writes: “The witness of Jesus means not ‘witness to Jesus,’ but the witness Jesus himself bore and which his faithful followers continue to bear. It is primarily Jesus’ and his followers’ witness to the true God and his righteousness, which exposes the falsehood of idolatry and the evil of those who worship the beast. The theme of witness is connected with Revelation’s dominant concern with truth and falsehood (72-73).” Thus, the way we live by faith is a testimony to the truth of who God is. Living in sin or compromise is to side with the lies of Satan.

4) The worship of God is central to Revelation – as it should be to our lives. If you want an incredible picture of an unfathomable God, read Revelation. Take notes on the One on the Throne – He is never Himself described because He is so holy. His throne, His worshippers, the scene where His throne lies – those all have beautiful descriptions. It’s like human words cannot describe the One on the throne. The entire book is theocentric (God-centered) rather than anthropocentric (man-centered). We see through the worship given that the universe is ordered this way. We should order our lives this way, too.

5) The unspoken connection between pagan Roman culture and the current American culture is astonishing. Bauckham himself doesn’t go this far. But he gives enough history and descriptions of life for Christians living in that climate that you begin to see the similarities for yourself. Rome sought to be the world power, and its citizens were just as zealous for it. Rome was the hotspot of prosperity and materialism and technology in the world. The whole-hearted loyalty and patriotism expected of the citizens. Once the Roman Empire became a “Christian nation” a couple hundred years later, Christianity became a nominal thing that you were born into, rather than a radically new way of living and being. What can we learn from this connection?

Such a study of Revelation made me ask really hard questions of myself, like:

Is there anything you won’t give up for the sake of faithful witness to Jesus? Air conditioning? Running water? Respect? A savings account and 401K?

Will you compromise your faithful witness of Christ to protect yourself, your husband, or even your children? Will you really trust in the world’s protection rather than God’s vindication? Of the two groups of Christians that Jesus spoke about in Revelation, which one would you be in?

Are you worshipping a god of your own making, or this God revealed in Revelation? Do you get mad when you don’t get what you want, or are you really seeing this God on the Throne that the whole universe bows before?

Could I bring the Gospel of peace to those deemed my culture’s enemies? Isn’t this a perfect picture of what Christ has done for us, the once-enemies of God? Am I willing to be considered a traitor to my country to be a faithful witness of Christ?

How can I live a life of peace and sacrificial victory?

How can I teach this life to my children when all I want to do is protect them?

And that’s why this book has ruined changed my life.

I’m linking up today with my friend, Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy. Need another good book recommendation? Head over to her blog carnival to see what books have changed the lives of others!

What books have changed YOUR life? Why?

 
14 Comments

Posted by on April 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Why Potty Training Changed My Life

Everyone dreads potty training their toddlers. Sure, you might get a little thrill when you first see those teeny underpants and get excited about your baby growing up a little, but once you get into it, you realize it’s the worst thing ever (unless your kid potty-trained himself/herself, and in that case, move along). After half a day, you realize that diapers were so much easier, and you’re actually going to have to juggle your entire day around this small person’s tiny bladder. It’s your new full-time job.

Today marks Breckon’s first full week of being accident-free. Looking back, I realized how much I’ve changed as a parent and as a person since we began in September. I’m not trying to be profound; potty training really did change my life.

First, I want to give a review of the Three-Day Potty Training Method. I could hardly find any online when we began, except the testimonials on her website. She guarantees success in three days, that it will be easy, and that it will work on the most stubborn child. I can’t divulge many of the details here due to copyright issues for her method, but it is one of those methods that tells you not to use any diapers, Pull-Ups, or anything other than cotton underwear.

Yes, that’s as horrible as it sounds. Be prepared to rent a steam-vac when you’re done.

We began the first time when Breckon was 22 months, her recommended starting age. Breckon had over 20 accidents per day. Dead serious. After four days of potty training and trying to take care of a 4-month-old, I found myself in the hallway outside the bathroom having a mental breakdown. Brady came home and found all three of us crying, then wisely told me to go out for dinner by myself. I went to Subway and sat there for hours by myself, without anyone touching me or needing me or talking to me. It was glorious. I gave myself permission to quit and picked up some diapers on the way home. We started for real at 27 months.

The method is fine; I will do it with Kian when it’s time to potty train him. She offers clear, consistent, well-reasoned rules to abide by for potty training, especially for a clueless first-timer like me. It’s positive and not bribery (side note: I finally did resort to bribery after 7 months of Breckon pooping his pants daily. And it worked. I decided that it was down to choosing one of two bad habits, so I chose the one that maintained my sanity.) I do think the best thing is to avoid Pull-Ups, because they look and feel like diapers and send the message that it’s okay to wet your pants sometimes instead of never. We’ve had a few awkward moments in public, but you just take about five outfits everywhere, get a good wetbag, and line the carseat with towels. But it’s exhausting, so you will never catch me judging moms who put their kids in Pull-Ups again.

My problem with the Three-Day Potty Training Method is the attitude it fosters in parents. Her guarantees of success make you feel like a total failure of a parent if your child doesn’t get it in three days. She gives false expectations, which makes the whole process more frustrating. She is very elitist about her method. “Won’t it be great to brag about how quickly your child ‘got it’?” That sounded fantastic to me 8 months ago. A lot of my friends were beginning potty training with their toddlers. I wanted Breckon to be the first! Surely, I would be hailed as the best mother, the smartest, the most consistent.

What a load of crap.

God, in his infinite wisdom, humbled me through the experience. Breckon was the last of that group of toddlers to finish potty training. Many of them used – gasp – Pull-Ups. For several weeks, I just grew more frustrated with Breckon for not getting it. I was following all the rules! I did everything well! Why wasn’t he performing?

God used potty training to mold me as a parent. Here’s what I learned:

1) My child is a person, not an extension of my ego. I used to really care about people thinking I was “that mom” at Wal-Mart with the screaming child she couldn’t control. I used to really care about Breckon’s outward behavior and for him to be the perfect child so that it would reflect well on me as a mother. What I learned through potty training is that sometimes it takes a little person a long time to learn a big skill. It takes me a long time to learn a new skill. He is not going to conform to some stranger’s guarantee of success. He is a person. He will learn it in his own time. I needed to give him the grace to work on his skill. Once I did, we all chilled out a little and it was a more pleasant process. Not faster, just less stressful.

2) I need to find and nurture my child’s strengths, rather than focusing on his failures. I am really good at finding what is wrong with a situation, rather than what is right. That in itself is not sinful – many people operate this way, and our world would fall apart without people like this. But it needs to be balanced by looking for the good. I was beginning to define my toddler by his failures – his soiled pants, his temper tantrums, his tendency to throw a fit at bedtime. He’s figuring this world out, how to act in it, how to function in it. Breckon is also very compassionate, artistic, and smart (this kid can identify all the letters of the alphabet and numbers 1-9. I didn’t even spend much time teaching him; he just absorbed it!).

3) A good parent is a humble parent. I don’t know everything about parenting. I hope my kids won’t need too much therapy when they’re adults. But if I don’t realize that I could be wrong about everything, I will stop being teachable. I don’t want to be that prideful parent who thinks that everyone should be like them and do everything they do. I’m a unique parent with a unique background and personality. And each of my kids is radically different. So how I parent will look different from how you parent.

4) Give yourself grace. Those four days that I tried to potty train Breckon and nearly drove myself crazy, it was not even a thought that I would give up. I had to do this. Looking back, I can’t believe I even thought that was a good idea. Kian had just gotten over his colic, and I was sitting down for the first time in three months. Breckon was still getting used to having a baby brother, and he really just wanted his mom back. If you’re in the hallway having an emotional crisis, just quit for awhile. It’s okay. You’re not a failure. Your kid will recover from the confusion.

5) Be realistic. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It took Breckon 8 months. My sister-in-law has been doing the Three Day Potty Training method for over a year with her son. I have a friend whose daughter figured it out lightning-fast. I know kids who potty trained themselves. But most of them take a long time. Just let your child figure it out in the time it takes them. Follow the rules you set out, be consistent, but then don’t get frustrated when they aren’t conforming to the time limit.

Have you potty trained? Did it change your life, too? How?

What method did you use? How did it go for you?

What advice would you give to first-timer parents who are potty training?

 
15 Comments

Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Parenting

 

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I Hate the Proverbs 31 Woman

I feel like Proverbs 31 is tainted.

My high school mentor (a man) once challenged me to memorize Proverbs 31 over the summer. I did, but to be honest, I was 15 and didn’t know what a distaff was, or exactly what it meant to choose flax. I didn’t have a husband and, at that point in my life, didn’t care to ever have one. I thought it was a weird passage to memorize and that it didn’t really apply all that well to me.

Then, every time a teenage girl made a painfully insecure remark on how fat or ugly she felt, a group of Christian girls would chant, “PROVERBS 31:30!! PROVERBS 31:30!!” in her face. (“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”) It was less of an encouragement to fear to Lord, and more of a social chastisement for seeking compliments. It was thrown at me a few times when I had voiced genuine fears or concerns, in the place of sympathy or love.

And now, as a wife and mother, I feel that  Proverbs 31 is wielded as a weapon against me more than ever.

A Proverbs 31 woman forgoes her career and life’s aspirations for child-bearing and child-rearing.

A Proverbs 31 woman uses weird words like “helpmeet,” and uses “purpose” as a verb (“I purpose to get the dishes washed today.”)

A Proverbs 31 woman keeps a perfectly pristine house – in high heels and pearls.

A Proverbs 31 woman stitches her children’s clothing by hand, hangs the laundry on the line, uses cloth diapers, and bakes phenomenal pies. Her sink? Empty.

A Proverbs 31 woman acquiesces to her husband’s every wish. She is quiet and meek, never opinionated, and yet – a tigress in the bedroom.

A Proverbs 31 woman knits, crochets, and cross-stitches. She decorates like Martha Stewart and actually succeeds in her Pinterest crafts.

A Proverbs 31 woman weighs 110 pounds and has perfect country-singer hair. (That’s in verse 52.)

I hate this Proverbs 31 woman. She is a box I cannot fit into. She is a trophy wife that I cannot be. And having her as your role model is the epitome of a graceless home. She has her list of rules, checking them off to make sure she measures up.

I can’t imagine how this woman seems to the single woman, the childless woman, the single mother working herself to the bone to make ends meet. If I – happily married, staying home, and shoot, even cloth diapering – feel that I cannot measure up to this woman, how do they feel? We can’t all be the 1950′s housewife that we seem to read into Proverbs 31.

The real Proverbs 31 woman is someone I like. Some scholars believe that the original placement of the book of Ruth after Proverbs in the Tanakh (Jewish Old Testament) was an indication that Ruth was such a woman – you would finish hearing Proverbs 31, then go straight into the story of Ruth. This helps me, because I need a real person with a real story. One who gave up her heritage and idols to follow her mother-in-law and her God. A woman who was once an outsider and was grafted into the community of God by faith. One whose story revolves around a simple life of obedience to God.

When we read Proverbs 31, we need to remember to jump ahead to the New Testament. Jesus - not a list of rules – makes a woman into a Proverbs 31 woman. He takes a controlling woman and teaches her to put others before themselves. He indwells the lazy woman and provides her with purpose and perseverance. He gives her the mind of Christ and instills wisdom in her over time. He breathes warmth into her cold heart and helps her become compassionate. He gives her strength in her weakness. He gives her dignity in her shame. The real Proverbs 31 woman is simply a Jesus woman.

The fruit of the Spirit has always been, and will always be, the outcome of a life submitted to the Holy Spirit.

So put down your list.

 

 
 

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The Country Club of God

I am pretty sure we’re doing it all wrong.

I’ve been reading a ton of books to prepare for our upcoming life overseas, and I just finished Miniskirts, Mothers, and Muslims. This is a must-read book for men and women who plan to spend any time among Arabs. It was written by an Australian woman married to an Arab Christian, and they have lived all over the Muslim world. She has 30 years’ worth of insight into cultural differences between Westerners and Arabs, and she has changed the way I look at Muslim ministry – and Christian community.

At the end of the book, I found myself wishing I had grown up in an Arab community. Mothers of young children don’t stay home, isolated and on the brink of depression. They gather together and drink tea and let their kids all run around together. Interdependence is vital to the community – you don’t even get your car fixed without a social connection.

I live in seminary housing (for now) – surrounded by people of my own faith. There are dozens of families that I have a ton in common with: young children, husbands working full-time and going to grad school, a desire to minister to others. But unless the temperature is between 70 and 80 degrees (so…one to two months out of the year), no one ever comes outside. Everyone stays in their little apartment, doing housework and homeschooling. I have lived here since August, and I know only a handful of families enough to carry on conversations easily.

Even at church, it’s entirely possible to go to a worship service and only barely brush shoulders with other Christians. No real fellowship there. No family. In fact, the only people I really know here are those in my small group. Loneliness is common in American churches.

And this we call the family of God?

Families need each other. Families don’t entirely focus on a book for 2 hours a week and then are separated the rest of the week. Families eat together and hang out together. They laugh and cry and are concerned. They are with each other – something that is much more powerful than we realize.

Jesus talked about Scripture with his disciples, but mostly, He was the Word-made-flesh. He showed up at weddings and ate with sinners. He showed his disciples how to live and who God was – as he paid his taxes and fed the hungry and sat in their fishing boats. Maybe, if we actually were family to one another, we would know how to react when a friend is grieving. We would know how to share the Gospel in natural ways rather than in formulas. Maybe we wouldn’t be so lonely or be in a bind when we have a need. Maybe we would have seen all of this before, and could imitate it ourselves.

The problem runs deep through Western culture. We are independent. We don’t want to need others. We hate that feeling when we are injured and have to ask someone to do a simple thing for us. And people? They come second to our set appointments and programs. I have somewhere to be – sorry!

How do we change something that is so ingrained into us and the people around us?

I guess the movements will be small. We invite others into our homes and to our tables and into the hardest parts of our lives. We swallow our pride and let others minister to us, do things for us that we can’t do. We make room for them by honoring them above our appointments and programs and the million things we have to do. We feast and have parties without any agendas. We pray with them in the trenches and voice the “How Long, O Lord” prayers with those who have no words for their grief. We open ourselves to be loved - and perhaps hurt – again and again. We lead the way by being vulnerable when everyone else would rather keep to the surface.

I want a family, not a country club meeting.

I think you do, too.

So, if you’re thinking, “Aubry, I know you, and this family stuff doesn’t describe you at all,” you’re definitely right. I like to keep safely to myself. I’ve been burned and I’m nervous to let you in. And I’m lonely because of it.

But I hope a year from now, five years from now, it does describe me.

Ditch the country club and join me in the Family?

 

Do you struggle with loneliness in the Church?

How are you moving away from the “country club” model and toward Family? How can we be better?

 

 
26 Comments

Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Church Life, Discipleship

 

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A Lenten Failure

On Ash Wednesday, my family began our “fasts” for the Lenten season to prepare our hearts for Easter. Our plan this year was to give up watching movies or Netflix in the evenings, and for my husband and I to go through Isaiah together, especially the Messianic passages.

While we did well in making space by giving up television, we utterly failed at our Isaiah readings together. I was already reading Isaiah in my personal devotional time, and I think Brady was, too. So we did well for about two weeks and then forgot. Instead, we filled our space with good conversations, homework, writing, and reading – not a horrible way to spend time, but it wasn’t exactly preparing us for Easter.

In previous years, our different fasts have been really good. We got through them, and Easter was a huge celebration for us. Is there anything redemptive about failing to keep your Lenten fast?

Hours before Jesus was betrayed, Peter tells Jesus that he would lay down his own life for him. Jesus  responds by predicting Peter’s denial of Jesus three times that very night (John 13:37-38).

My Lenten failure reminds me that my status is with Peter. I’ve made promises that were not kept. I stand among those who cried, “Crucify!” just days after they proclaimed, “Hosanna!”

My failure doesn’t prevent me from looking forward to Easter. If anything, it shows me my great need for a Savior who was raised from the dead.

We need the Great Promise who takes on our unfulfilled promises. We need Life to take on our death. And He buried those old things with him, and raises us to life, clean and new.

I need Resurrection. And my failure this Lent reminds me of that.

 

Did you fast for Lent? How’d it go?

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in Liturgy, Worship

 

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Bumper Sticker Theology and Fighting Words

The last few years, I’ve tried to make myself more aware of how Christians must sound to non-Christians. I realized how weird we really sound one day in church when I had a non-Christian friend next to me, and we sang:

There is a fountain filled with blood

drawn from Immanuel’s veins

and sinners plunged beneath that flood

lose all their guilty stains.

Gross.

It’s powerful, biblical imagery. But it’s also really graphic and means nothing to someone who hasn’t grown up singing it. I can only imagine what my friend thought of that song, and I forgot to bring it up afterwards to explain.

One way that this awareness has cropped up in me is when I read Christian bumper stickers. I sat at a stoplight behind a Christian driver the other day, who had a bumper sticker that read, “Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

And I truly believe those words. They are directly out of the book of John.

But as I consider it from a non-Christian perspective, they seem like fighting words. It seems like they are saying, “Your god is fake. Your experiences are worthless and false. You’re wrong, I’m right.” Perhaps the Christian only thought that they were taking a stand for Christ, declaring truth to tailgaters everywhere, perhaps leading them to consider Jesus as Savior. Perhaps they just love the verse and wanted a new bumper sticker.

I do believe that my God is the one true God. I believe that Jesus is the one way to God. I accept that others will think me narrow-minded for believing this, but it’s based in my knowledge of how deeply I have failed and how much I need Jesus – not my own stubborn pride and that I think I’m right. It comes from fall-on-your-face humility, not arrogant pride.

But this can’t be conveyed on a bumper sticker.

I fully believe that abortion is awful and life-depriving for both babies and women. But bumper stickers and billboards don’t care for struggling mothers in a crisis pregnancy with no emotional support.

I do believe God’s design for marriage is between a man and a woman. But legislation and picket signs don’t come alongside those hurt by the Church for preferences that they cannot control, and they don’t seek to build relationships in love. They only drive the wedge deeper.

We need fewer bumper stickers, and more Word-made-flesh ministry.

We have a tendency to turn Scripture into fighting words. I do it when I read my Bible. “Oh, this verse would be a good argument if I get into a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness. This one fights against the modern Gnostic movement.” While we should know what we believe, know what Scripture says about certain issues, we need to guard against turning the Words of Life into words of contention.

Because using Scripture as fighting points teaches us to look at what everyone else is doing wrong. It steels us against breathing in the Words and letting them soak into our bones, transforming us and making us holy and new. It turns our attention from the sin within to what is wrong with everyone else. As the planks in our eyes go ignored, we become prideful of ourselves and judgmental of others.

If we have the most persuasive arguments on the planet, but don’t have love, who can drown out the sound of that useless gong?

 

 
12 Comments

Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Bible

 

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