Friday, April 11, 2014

My Journey in Christian Apologetics, Part 1

(I include a lot of links in this post to previous posts that I wrote...reading them will give you even more of my story)
My church just wrapped up a 5 day Apologetics Conference.  It featured the speakers Dr. Norman Geisler, Ray Ciervo, and Simon & Nel Brace.  I had been looking forward to it ever since they announced we'd be having the conference again this year.  Our church held it's first ever apologetics conference last year...which I also attended.  Apologetics is a topic which fascinates me and I am always hungry for more teaching on it.  I've been on a journey of sorts for the last three years in coming to understand what it means to be able to defend my faith.  

The first time I heard the term 'apologetics' was when I was in my 20s.  It was also a time that I was not following God.  I had fallen away from the church and most of the standards and values I had held to be true in my early years.  Interestingly enough I still attended a Christian music festival every year during this dark decade.  It was there that I encountered books with the topic of apologetics.  Like many people I misunderstood what that term meant.  I thought it insinuated 'making apologies' for faith.
The term 'apologetics' actually comes from the Greek work, 'apologia'.  And, rather than meaning 'an apology', it is the word for 'making a defense or argument' for a case.  As a matter of fact, the word 'apologia' was used in the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  In I Peter 3:15 Peter writes, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason (apologia) for the hope that you have."  Christian apologetics is making the case for/ giving the reason for our faith.
Three years ago marks the point at which I started down the road that would lead me to apologetics.  And I recorded some of that journey here in this blog.  
It all began with an encounter I had on Facebook with an atheist friend.  That encounter shocked me & shook me and showed me how desperately unequipped I was to answer arguments against Christianity.  I wrote about that in the blog post, "My Friend the Atheist".  Basically I came to two realizations 1.  Atheism & Skepticism are far more widespread than I realized.  2.  Atheists & Skeptics ask exceedingly hard questions & make very complex arguments against Christianity....all of which I was completely unprepared for

That experience left me so rattled & raised so many questions that I didn't have a response to that I began a serious battle with doubt and sank into a place of despair and desperation.  I was in a spiritual crisis.  I started to write about that in "Dealing with Doubt, Part 1" and "Part 2"  I started searching for answers but had no idea where to begin.  I started doing some reading and some of the books I found that I'd hoped would help me answer my questions either a. left my questions unanswered or 2.  raised even more doubts.  

I continued to write about this issue in That Thing About Doubt, That Thing About Doubt, continued, and finally in That Thing About Faith...Seeking Revelation where I was finally starting to climb out of the depression and pit of doubt that I had been wallowing in.  Looking back at those last three posts written about 2 1/2 years ago I realized that now I've come even further in this journey.  For instance, in the one post I used quotes from the book No Argument for God...Going Beyond Reason in Conversations about Faith by John Wilkinson.  I no longer embrace everything that was written in that book.  Certainly it touched on the mystery of faith...which is absolutely a component of faith.  But, I no longer agree with the premise that Reason is not a vital component of faith and the conversations we have about it.  In fact, I now believe that Reason is essential.

We live in an age of atheism, agnosticism, & skepticism.  Christianity is looked upon with contempt.  We need Christians who are willing and able to have conversations with those around us who are asking very difficult questions.  I learned this the hard way.  But, looking back on that encounter I had on Facebook three years ago I am actually grateful now.  It has started me on a journey of study and spiritual growth unlike what I have experienced before.  My faith has grown stronger exponentially.  While I feared that the dark time of doubt was going to destroy my faith, it was a necessary refining process.  I think a lot of Christians are afraid of that process.  But, that's why I want to write about it encourage other Christians to consider challenging themselves to think more deeply about why they believe what they believe so that we may be better equipped to reach others in this world.

Check back again soon & I'll tell you more about this journey.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Fasting and Seeking God

It is only 2 days away from the  beginning of Lent.  I had not really considered doing anything in particular this year for Lent.  At least not until yesterday.

At church they called for  a congregation-wide time of fasting & prayer over Lent.  Fasting is something I've never really done before.  It's a spiritual discipline that wasn't really discussed in the church I grew up in.  But, yesterday one of our pastors laid out some very practical tools for fasting, gave reasons for fasting, & encouragement to consider it.

As we sat there I felt led to consider a fast over Lent.  But, more about that in a bit.

First I need to back up to the previous Sunday.  I felt God's presence move very strongly in my heart & in my mind.  As we were singing during worship, we sang songs about Christ's sacrifice on the cross and the redemptive power of his blood.  The following thoughts came to me & I sat down and wrote them out as quickly as I could.

"  As we were singing I felt this impressed on my heart.  I believe & accept whole-heartedly the redemption Jesus has given me from my past - from the darkness and sin that threatened to destroy me there.  But He didn't just take those sins to the cross.  When He went to the cross He took all our sins.  All of them!
  He wants us to experience complete redemption.  Just as I would never dream of returning to the life I lived then - it is completely behind me- my life restored- Jesus wants the same for me in other areas where I struggle.  Areas like apathy, discontentment, feelings of being overwhelmed & frustrated, anger, depression, & fear.  He has redeemed it all!
  Why would I continue to wallow in these when they were also nailed to the cross?

This really spoke to me.  I even momentarily thought about sharing it with the congregation.  But I didn't. (During our worship time, if people feel they have a word from God to share, they can approach one of the ministry leaders.  They give them a brief synopsis of what they would like to say so the ministry leader can assess if it is something biblical & not completely off the wall.  Then they signal the worship leader that someone wants to share.  They pause the music while that person shares with the congregation).

As I wrote those words and for a while afterward is was a physical experience too.  I could feel such a powerful sense of peace & relaxation.  I told John I even felt a little tingly.  That experience really had me thinking this past week.  As a matter of fact, as I was writing just  now I thought, "Why have I only been thinking about this over the week?  Why haven't I claimed it?  So, just now I prayed and claimed this word as a promise from God.  And, I accepted it as a gift of redemption from all that holds me back from Him and the life that He would have me live.

So in many ways that previous Sunday had prepared  me for the message this Sunday about fasting.  Here's what the pastor had to say about fasting...
-Fasting deals with our distractions and helps us focus on God.  Faith increases.
-Fasting often brings about breakthroughs and helps us to find freedom & clarity in situations we have struggled with a long time.
-Just as we fast before a medical surgery, so we should fast before a 'surgery' on our spirit.  He shared these verses from Hebrews 4:12 & 13

"For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword; it penetrates even to dividing soul & spirit, joints & marrow; it judges the thoughts & attitudes of the heart.

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight.  Everything is uncovered & laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."

And as I prepare for a season of fasting, I plan to do that - to lay myself bare.

Here are some steps that he suggested we take during a season of fasting...
1.  Hold struggles & burdens out to God in prayer.  Ask God what to focus on during the fast.
2.  Seek the Lord about the fast (what type of fasting should I do?).  Ask what He will give me the grace to do.
3.  Agree with God about the fast.
4.  Write a fasting plan for each day of the week.  Include what you will focus on in prayer that day, verses to  read, etc.
5.  Consciously surrender yourself to the Lord.
6.  Declare why you are  fasting.
7.  Keep a journal.
8.  Know that you will be tempted to break your fast.  Jesus was & so will you.
9.  Read your Bible while you are fasting.  Isaiah 58 is a great passage to read.
10,  Set apart times too pray when fasting.

Tomorrow I will share what type of fast I feel called to.  It's not a 'complete fast' that I will not be giving up food entirely.  More to come!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Downton Abbey! I miss you already!

I'm finding through recent comments & posts on Facebook that you either love Downton Abbey or you don't get it.  I fall in the the LOVE category.  I was a latecomer to the show.  I heard a bit about it during Season 1 & 2 and decided to see what all the hoopla was about.  I caught up with Seasons 1-3 through Netflix & DVD's borrowed from the library.  Season 4 was the first season I watched on tv as it was being aired.  I loved having something to look forward to on Sunday evenings ( I think the last time I had a show that I looked forward to watching each week was when 'Friends' was on the air.  Yeah.  It was that  long ago).  So, I'm sad the the season is over already.  It was too short!

Last night I laughed OUT LOUD several times.  I almost never do that while watching tv or movies.  Here were some of my favorite parts of  last night's episode...

-Carson's face when the young American valet asked if he could speak to him 'man to man' in hopes of getting some information about Daisy.  Oh dear Carson!  He looked so horrified.

-  Daisy's response when the American valet asked her if she was excited about the upcoming events in the house.  "I'm never excited." she replied.

-Any scene with the Dowager Countess & Mrs. Crawley is always fabulous.  Their conversations are just hilarious.  I love that the show has developed their relationship from merely being bickering biddies with very different outlooks on life to the obvious respect & affection they have for each other despite their differences.

-Mr. Carson & Mrs. Hughes sweet interaction at the beach & holding hands while walking into the water.

A couple other thoughts....

 - Have you ever noticed that everyone has impeccable posture?  The women in particular are always straight as a pin whether they are sitting or standing.

-Will poor Edith ever find happiness?  I'm curious to see how the storyline will play out when her secret child is brought closer to home & is living on the estate with the pig farmer's family.

-Was anyone else annoyed that they skipped ahead 8 MONTHS from the previous episode to last night's?  I know they've made dramatic skips  in time between seasons, but it seemed a bit much for between episodes.  We never even got to see Edith looking pregnant.  There was a lot of story development that could have happened.

-A lot of new characters were introduced last night & I had to play close attention to keep track of who was who & how they were connected to the other characters & story lines.

What were some of your favorite parts from last night's episode?

I had Downton Abbey so much on my brain last night that I was dreaming Downton Abbey the whole night.  Even the show's  music soundtrack was playing through my sleeping head.  I had a rather bizarre dream with Lady Mary in it.  Except Lady Mary looked nothing like herself.  Instead of a filmy, elegant & exquisite dress she was wearing a hideous 80s version of the drop waist dress with large shoulderpads.  And, instead of a fabulous 20s hairstyle she had 80's feathered back hair.  Also, she wasn't the waif-like creature that she is in the  show.  In my dream she was rather....plump.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Slow & Steady

"Slow & steady wins the race, right? Years & years (since I was a preteen!) of being on the weight loss/weight gain yo-yo ride has been discouraging & terrible for my overall health & well-being. 

I've determined that I don't want to try any sort of weight loss methods that aren't going to have lasting results. I truly, truly want to change the way I think about food, act around food, the way I live. When I look at all the changes I can and/or should make for a healthier lifestyle it is so overwhelming. 

My past method has been to jump all in, be really gung ho for a couple weeks (or in my best efforts, a few months) and then not be able to keep it up, make a few mistakes & throw in the towel completely. I've been an all or nothing kind of gal. The problem is, all or nothing doesn't work for me. I can't live that way. I need to ease into things a bit. 

So, I've decided I'm going to start slow. I'm going to tackle one goal at a time. And, hopefully I can make some real, lasting changes. My first goal? To stop my night-time snacking. This is by far one of my biggest weaknesses...and honestly I think a lot of my weight gain recently has been because of this area. 

And, I've been trying to keep this verse in mind when those night-time cravings hit (and they sure do hit hard!)..."For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline." (2 Timothy 1:7). Combining that knowledge & promise along with thinking about how much better I feel when I wake up in the morning without the bloat of night-time eating, I can usually hang on through those cravings. Continuing to pray for the strength in this area!"

This was a post I made  on Facebook this week.  And, I wanted to record it here so that I'd be able to come back & look at it when I needed to remind myself of my goals.

I actually started with another goal that I didn't mention in this particular post.  That first goal was to make it a daily habit to spend time with prayer, in reading His word, in worship.  This, has been a really, really hard thing for me over the years.  I'm not sure why.  But, I go through seasons of hungering for His Word, and then longer seasons of spiritual dryness and spiritual apathy.

I had been in another rather long dry season.  Oh, I was still going to church & feeling the presence of God & knowing I wanted more of Him.  But, during the week I'd get so caught up in everything that needed done, or distracted by 'more interesting' tv, the internet, etc that I really didn't spend time with God other than to throw out quick prayers now & then or occasionally listen to the Christian radio station.  But, it wasn't enough.

I'm not sure what signaled a change in me recently.  I guess it began around the time that I joined a group of women who were watching the video series that  accompanied the book 'Made to Crave'.  I had read about half of the book well over a year ago and came away somewhat discouraged actually.  But, I thought maybe I wasn't reading the author's intent properly...and maybe seeing her speak would bring clarity.

The whole premise of the book & the video series is that we have a spiritual yearning & need for God.  But, oftentimes we try to fill that spiritual need with other this case, food specifically.  I knew this to be true.  And, I really felt like my first step at making any changes whatsoever HAD to be making time for God.  Before I jumped into any other aspect of lifestyle changes related to healthier eating I HAD to tackle this issue first.

The first thing I did was write down 4 immediate goals...the idea was to tackle one a  week.  Those were...
1.  Time with God each day.  Even though the same time of day doesn't always work each day, I wanted to find a portion of time each day where  I could read the Word & pray.  I also didn't give myself a specific amount of time.  I wanted to set easy, simple goals.  The fewer parameters I put on myself, the less likely I was to fail.  So, some days I've really gotten into my quiet time and have gone half and hour...even up to an hour.  Other days it's been less...maybe 10 minutes or so.  And, that's ok.  I just try to find a time when no-one is around because I like to read the Bible out loud & I like to pray out loud.  I find I'm able to concentrate & focus better that way & I find it feels more like I'm really communicating with God instead of it all just  being in my head.

2.  Night-time snacking.  That's the main one I addressed in my Facebook post.  But, I didn't feel like I could even begin to start that one until I had #1 under my belt.  And, you know what, it hasn't been as difficult as I thought it might be.  The first couple nights were  rough.  Man those cravings hit me hard!  But, when I thought about how good I would feel the next morning if I didn't snack I was able to hold on.  Also, I've found that having a good book to read instead  of just passively watching tv has helped me keep my mind off food.

3.  Water.  I'm pretty good about drinking water throughout the day.  I always have a glass of water sitting on the kitchen counter.  But, I want to be more conscious of drinking even more.

4. Movement.  I want to do something each day to get my body moving more...whether it be taking a walk, sledding with my boys, playing Wii boxing, dancing.  I want to do something to get my heart rate up a bit.  Notice I did NOT call it exercise.  Exercise sounds so formal and...well, intimidating.  But, movement I can do.

So, I'm on items 1 & 2 right now.  And, I'm pleased with how it's going.  I'm not seeing a change in my weight yet.  But, I FEEL better.  And,  I'm going with that.  I'm keeping  in mind that the ultimate goal is lasting changes.  And to get there, it has to feel natural.  For it to feel natural, it will take time.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Proverbial Wake Up Calll

I debated on whether or not I was  going to  share this because I'm kinda embarrassed & sobered all at the same time.  Last night I went to the ER because of severe chest pains.  I thought I might be having a heart attack.

The pain came on suddenly around 7  & was quite intense. Friends of ours had just arrived for our small group Bible Study.  One moment I was talking & smiling and the next this sharp pain hit me out of the blue.   It was on the left side of my chest & radiated down my arm. I tried to keep smiling and talking, but the sharp pain kept returning.  Finally I pulled John aside and told him I was having really bad chest pains & I needed to go upstairs & lay down for a minute. When I lay down it was a duller pain, but it never went away.  When I stood up or moved around I'd have sharp, stabbing pains again..  I was a little freaked out.

After laying down for a few minutes I decided to just try to suck it up and go back downstairs and be with our group.  I felt silly & I didn't want to draw attention to myself and wanted to try to proceed with the  evening as normal.  I tried sitting & interacting, but the pain came back with a vengeance & I couldn't concentrate on anything being said.  My one friend noticed that something seemed wrong.  They prayed for me.  And another gal, who is a nurse, even took my blood pressure (It was normal).  After everyone left, I lay down some more while John got the boys ready for bed.

I had a really hard time deciding whether or not to go to the ER because I hoped it was just a fluke & I didn't want to go in unnecessarily.  But, at the same time, I didn't want to just poopoo it in the event it was something serious.  Not to sound melodramatic, but I definitely considered how important it is for my four little boys to have their mom.  So reluctantly I had John take me in.  His sister  (who lives next door) came over & stayed with the boys.

After an EKG, chest xray, & blood work all the results came back normal.  When the doctor came back to talk to me, he asked if I had done any strenuous  activity lately.  At that point I already had been given some pain medication & a relaxant.  I was feeling pretty mellow & was really tired.  I wasn't thinking too clearly & I couldn't think of anything unusual I had done.  The doctor felt that the issue was probably muscular.  And, he told me that  I should take pain medicine as necessary & follow up in a couple days with my family doctor.

It wasn't until I got home that I remembered that I had gone sledding with the boys the  day before & done some light shoveling.  The part that really perplexed me, & still does, is that I hadn't had any pain or soreness prior to last night.  And, it come on suddenly & acutely.  The thought that it could be stress related also occurred to me.  I love my boys fiercely, but raising four boys age 10 & under is sometimes loud, chaotic, messy business.  And, we're all kind on top of each other during these winter months in our little house.  In addition, John & I have been under some financial strain & the weight of multiple responsibilities weighs on both of us.

Anyway.    Why am I sharing all this?  Well, as I mentioned, in addition to being embarrassed for going into the ER thinking I was possibly having a heart attack & finding out it was probably only muscle spasms, it also got me thinking again about my health.

I hated having to admit my weight to the nurse last night when she asked my height & weight.  I know I'm not as healthy as I can be.  And, I know I'm overweight. I want to be an active mom with my boys.   And I still want to be active and healthy when I hopefully someday have grandkids.

I am beyond frustrated with the yo-yo effect I've experienced with weight loss over the  course of most of my life.  I am beyond frustrated that I can't seem to gain any self-control in this area of food.  And, I'm beyond frustrated with how quickly I can feel my body aging & failing me.

I know lots of folks have tried lots of different programs that have helped them lose weight.  I have had many friends share their success stories that they've had with some of these different programs.  But, none of those programs feels right for me.  As beneficial as some people have found it, I just don't want to take dietary aids, drink shakes, do cleanses, count calories religiously or use any other point system involving  food.  I just want to learn how to eat food like a normal, healthy person.  I want to learn how to LIVE.

So, while this wasn't a heart attack, I was sobered last night because I know that someday it COULD be.  If I don't take care of  myself I'm inviting a whole host of health issues to take root.  When I was younger, I could ignore all  that.  I still felt invincible.  The older I become the more aware I am of how fragile the balance is & how much of a blessing good health is.

Last night was my wake up call.  I just need to figure out what's  next.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Snow Day

It's been a snowy winter for us here in PA.  We've had a few snow days already & even one day that school was closed because of sub-zero temperatures!  Today is yet another snow day.  And, while I really do love the snow and I do like the idea of being able to hibernate inside the coziness of my house, I also have to say that I'm going a bit stir crazy!

The boys already had a long weekend.  They had off Friday AND Monday for Martin Luther King Day.  And, now here we are with another day off because of snow  on Tuesday.  They haven't gone to school for a full week since before Christmas vacation began!  And I think we're  all ready to get back into our routine.

However, this  morning as  I looked at the  snow & I felt the  excitement of my children...SNOW and a DAY OFF....I thought about the kind of mom I want to be, the kind of mom I often think about. I want to be a fun mom.  Do you know that it's probably been years since I actually went out and PLAYED in the snow with my boys.  Oh, I've stood there & watched sometimes or ran outside to snap a few pictures, but usually I just watch from the kitchen window inside my nice, warm house.

I recently read a story that someone had linked to on Facebook.  I won't go through the whole story here.  But suffice to say it was one of those that are touching...and maybe just a little sappy.  But, the part of the story that really stuck with me was a mom who decided to run & dance in the rain with her daughter.  I want to be the kind of mom who dances in the rain with her children.  Or for that matter, who plays in the snow & screams her head off while sledding down the hill with them.

So what was I waiting for?

I threw on my boots & put a pair of sweat pants over my jeans because I don't have a proper pair of snowpants.  Thankfully I DO have a good winter jacket my parents bought me for Christmas a couple years back.  I couldn't find my hat & gloves so I grabbed an extra hat & pair of gloves that belong to my boys (Ugh!  How are they big enough that I can wear some of their things now?)  And out I went.

A couple of my boys were already planning to head  out again.  Another one was planning on staying in for a bit.  He had just come back inside.  But, when I announced that I was heading out with them, there was a bit of disbelief at first.  But, then they ALL ran for their snow stuff to head outside with Mom.

I sledded with each of them.  I screamed like a crazy woman going down the hill.  I got cold & wet.  My non-snowpant covered bottom was freezing.  I just hung out with my boys.  I thought about taking out a camera to capture 'fun in the snow' moments.  But, I decided instead just to be out there with them.  In the moment.

And, I gotta say, it was pretty cool.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Fresh Start

Happy New Year.  I hope everyone had a truly blessed Christmas.
I've been thinking about this coming year & some things I want to accomplish or change.  I'm really terrible at resolutions because I usually fall off the bandwagon so quickly...and can't even remember what I resolved a couple months into the year.  So, these aren't resolutions per se but these are some areas I want to be more intentional about this year....

1. Get healthier. Eat better. Exercise more (anything is more than not at all!). I've gained all the weight back that I lost a couple years some. I feel uncomfortable & lethargic most of the time. My father was just diagnosed with diabetes and I found out that diabetes runs on his side of the family ( didn't know this before). It's time for me to take my health more seriously before I have a serious health problem.

2. Less time on Facebook. Facebook has been both a blessing and a curse. It has been an outlet for me & a way to stay connected. As a stay at home mom I often feel somewhat isolated. I enjoy the interaction that Facebook allows. And, I've gotten to know people better through Facebook. But Facebook has it's negatives too. First of all, it can become a cop-out for real face to face interactions with friends. It pulls me away from valuable time with my family & becomes a huge time-wasting distraction. And, I end up spending way too much time following links & reading things that just break my heart & make me wonder what is happening to humanity. ( Even positive article links usually contain vile, hateful comments in the online comments section).
So, I'm not abandoning Facebook altogether. I still think it can be a valuable tool. But, I don't want to let it control my time, my relationships, and my emotions any more.

3. I want to become more hospitable. I have used the excuse that our home is small & not conducive to entertaining as an excuse not to have people over. I guess I've worried that people wouldn't WANT to come if they will feel cramped. Well, our home IS small. But, I love the idea of hostessing more. So, this year I want to turn it into reality. Granted I can't have large dinner parties or other huge events. But, I can have people over for coffee or dessert. I can start small.

4. Become better organized. This is a tough one for me. And, I could go on and on about this topic. But, what it comes down to is that I feel better when I feel more organized & less cluttered or scattered. I want to take areas in my home in small chunks this year & slowly work toward having a more organized home. I will never be like some of my Type A or OCD friends. But, that's ok. I think sometimes I've held that in my mind as the standard & it seem so completely unattainable to me. So, I had kinda given up hope. But, I don't have to meet someone else's standard. I just would like our home to be warm, inviting, & manageable.

5. Get to know God better. Explore, Read, Pray, Question, & Meditate on Who He is. It might seem an odd one for someone who accepted Jesus into her life at a very young age. And, although I fell away for almost a whole decade (in my 20s), I came out of that time with a better understanding of Grace. But, I feel like I'm still just scratching the surface. And, I've been really searching in the last couple years. I want my Faith to be more than just surface deep. In this changing world, my Faith HAS to be more than surface deep to survive. I want to hide the Word of God deep in my heart & mind & soul. And, I want to be more than just a nominal Christian. I want to understand what it means to be an ambassador of the Father's radical love.

Oh, and I'd like to start blogging again more regularly.  :)  What are some things you want to do in this coming year?
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