Learning to Kiss the Wave

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I walked into a room full with nearly 300 women, hungry, eager, craving to connect to each other and learn from God’s Word. I couldn’t believe my eyes–it was my greatest fantasy come true! 

We started off by going around the table to introduce ourselves. One by one, each of them shared who they were by sharing about their job, the number of years they’ve been married, and the number of children they have. At a table of 12 women, I realized I was the only one without children. 

While they were proudly identifying with their motherhood, I was becoming more aware of my barrenness…and began identifying with fear and insecurity. Immediately, I thought, “How do I get out of this? Can I run? Can I hide under the table? Can I fake an illness? Maybe I’ll just pretend to pass out, or that I’m receiving a phone call–quick, woman, think!!!” 

When my turn inevitably came around, I skipped over the awkward by identifying myself as “not a ballerina” and confessing my addiction to books.

I’m just so clever when I’m forced to think on my feet. 

We moved on to the next woman, and no one noticed we never got to the question about children for me–I never had to say the words, “I have no children.

WHILE THEY WERE PROUDLY IDENTIFYING WITH THEIR MOTHERHOOD, I WAS BECOMING MORE AWARE OF MY BARRENNESS…AND BEGAN IDENTIFYING WITH FEAR AND INSECURITY.

After months of being at peace with infertility (mostly out of relief from stopping all the crazy doctor stuff and my hormones finally weren’t raging anymore) the grief, the shame, the embarrassment, the insecurity, and the awareness all resurfaced again that day.

I watched a new mom holding her tiny newborn, another woman walk by with her baby bump, and another begin to nurse. I felt so alone.

Alone. Outcast. Different. Insecure.

Seems like most days walking through infertility isn’t so hard. Most days, it’s not even on my mind. It’s just a “not yet” or a “someday, LORD willing,” hope-filled thought. Then there are days where I am surrounded by hundreds of moments that remind me of what I am not, days where grief comes like a tidal wave. In Sara Hagerty’s book Every Bitter Thing is Sweet, the author talks about her journey through infertility and reminds us that “grief’s tide can’t be predicted.” She shares how grief is like rain; some days have a light drizzle that you hardly notice, other days a gushing downpour.

Usually, in my suffering, I want to run away and feel sorry for myself. I want to believe the lie that I am an outcast, a leper, that no one, no one, understands. I feel alone and start believing the lies that my story is unique and my pain is too severe for anyone to understand. Rather than going to God in those moments and looking upward, I pull away and start looking inward.

MY IDENTITY DOESN’T RESIDE IN MY JOB, MY MARRIAGE, AND MY BARRENNESS.  MY IDENTITY IS IN CHRIST.

Most of us want to run from our pain–it’s only natural. We touch something hot, we pull back; we get a headache, we pop an Advil. We don’t naturally desire to lean into the pain. But God’s way is supernatural. And that day, my heart was breaking and being comforted at the same time. 

I didn’t expect the grief to come that day. Infertility was something I thought I was at peace with–a light drizzle in the background–but instead, the grief came as a full on hurricane, overcoming me like a tidal wave.

As I fought to keep from believing lies, I was reminded of the gospel. I am not an outcast, I have been grafted in (Rom. 11). I am not forgotten or alone, I am chosen and loved (Eph. 1:4). I am not a product of my past mistakes or being punished for my past sin, I am a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). My identity doesn’t reside in my job, my marriage, and my barrenness.  My identity is in Christ.

Charles Spurgeon is quoted saying, “I have learned to kiss the wave that slams me into the Rock of Ages,” and it’s true; I am never more aware of God than when I’m drowning in the midst of pain and overwhelmed by circumstances outside of my control. It’s through the pain and grief that I’m pushed up close to the presence of God.

I HAVE LEARNED TO KISS THE WAVE THAT SLAMS ME INTO THE ROCK OF AGES

Suffering isn’t meant to knock us over; it’s meant to anchor us in. Pain takes us to a deeper place of healing, sending us to our very knees, where we can know the God of all comfort and the Prince of Peace in ways we never thought possible. Though we may often wish suffering away, God uses it to draw us near. 

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. (Hebrews 6:17-19a)

I’m learning to trust His purpose, not my plan.
I’m learning to find refuge in His love, not in trying to control my circumstance.
I’m learning to hunger for more of God, not for more of my own comfort or the comfort from others.
I’m learning to lean in, rather than pull back
I’m learning to hold fast to the hope set before me, in the midst of the storm.
I’m learning to anchor my soul to the Rock of Ages.

I’m learning to kiss the wave.

One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.  (Proverbs 27:7).

*This post was originally published at SelfTalktheGospel.com. You can read more of my articles here.

What Is the Gospel?

“A test”
“A road map for how to live your life”
“The books about Jesus”
“The Cross and Jesus dying for our sins”

All of these are responses I’ve received when I’ve asked the question, “what is the Gospel?”

How would you answer that? What is the Gospel?

 

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Image Credit: Harold Lloyd, Creative Commons

I can remember people telling me all of my life that I was a sinner, telling me Jesus died for me, and if I wanted to go to Heaven I needed to believe in Him. And none of that ever made sense to me. First of all, I wasn’t a sinner, I was a good person. Sure I did some “bad stuff,” but a sinner?? That’s a little harsh. Secondly, Jesus died for me? What does that even mean?

All I really knew of Christianity was some of my “Christian” friends telling my very best Jewish friend she was going to Hell because she didn’t believe in Jesus, and I personally didn’t want any part in that. So I sided with my Jewish friend and went to synagogue with her in 7th & 8th grade. That’s right you guys, I was practically Jewish for 2 years.

Then I started going to Christian church with my high school boyfriend’s family, and I think became a Christian then? I don’t really know because once I was introduced to cigarettes and booze, I left all that behind and ran to the party scene. And that was where I lived, a little bit Jewish, a little bit Christian, believed in God, was a good person (during the week), and sort of knew about Jesus. Until my father passed away suddenly and I realized this little made-up belief, and idea of being a good person and in control of my own life came crashing down in front of me.

Shortly after my father passed away, I was confronted with all of this God stuff once again. I knew deep within my heart I wasn’t in control of my life, my time on Earth, and neither was anyone else. But how can I know God? How can I know there is just one God? And what about Jesus? Why is everyone always telling me about Jesus? And in complete humility and honesty, I looked at my now-husband and asked him about God. I asked him about why people called me a sinner, why people told me about Jesus and asked:

“What does His death have to do with my life?”

I needed to make sense of this life, my life, and Jesus’s life. Because if what people were telling me was true, then His life and death have implication on my life.

So what is the Gospel?

Gospel literally means good news. The good news that Jesus lived the life we couldn’t live, and died the death we should have died.

In one word, the Gospel is . . . Jesus.

God created the world and everything in it (Gen. 1:1).
He set man on the earth, as His prize creation, and gave him a choice (Gen. 2:15-17).
Sin entered the world through the Deceiver, by tempting mankind to choose between trusting God at His word or eating the fruit of disobedience (Gen. 3:1-7).

Sin is simply trying to find satisfaction outside of God. It’s selfishness. It’s choosing our own way over God and His kind of life.

Adam and Eve ate the fruit of disobedience, and we do the same to this very day (Rom. 3:10-18, 23). When we sin, we break relationship with God. Something must be done in order to be brought back into right standing with God (righteousness) and inherit eternal life. A perfect sacrifice, a satisfactory payment, a fulfillment to the Law (Rom. 3:22-24, Matt. 5:17) must be made to inherit eternal life.

Religion and humanistic thinking tells us we can do enough good so that God will be pleased with us.
God tells us there is one way He is pleased with us . . .
Believing in His son (Acts 16:31).

In order to be brought into right relationship with God, a perfect sacrifice, a sufficient payment, must be made for our ransom. Jesus Christ paid for our sins with His perfect life by dying on the Cross.

His death was the satisfactory payment for our sin (1 John 2:1).

But it doesn’t just stop there. His death and His resurrection bring us new life (2 Cor. 5:17). The Gospel is what Jesus did for us on the cross, but it’s also the promise of new life. The Gospel is walking in the power of the Resurrection and living out our new life (Gal. 2:20).

The Gospel is Jesus.
The Gospel is hope.
The Gospel is grace and mercy new every day.

God
Man
Sin
Jesus
New Life

THAT is the Gospel.

Reading & Reflection

1. Read Romans 8. What words or phrases do you see repeated in the first 16 verses?

2. What is the difference between living in the flesh and living in the Spirit?

3. Do you struggle to believe Romans 8:1? Do you truly believe you’ve been forgiven of sin and God sees you as righteous? Spend some time reading the last few verses of chapter 8 and reminding yourself of God’s love.

 

I’m so excited to announce that we will begin a study of the book of Philippians beginning on Monday! Will you consider joining us??
Sign up here if you want to read along with us the month of August.

Am I a Legalist If I Don’t Drink?

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Early in May, a very famous worship pastor posted a picture of himself enjoying a beer poolside. It was innocent enough; he was just enjoying the warm weather, good friends, and a cold brew. I’ve seen stuff like this 1,000 times on Facebook and Instagram. Yet, for some reason it really bothered me, probably more than it should have.

I started thinking, “What was the point of that picture? Why did he make sure to capture the can of beer and post it on social media?”

It also kept making me ask myself the question “Am I a legalist if I don’t drink? Do I not fully understand freedom in Christ?”

I have been sober for nearly 8 years. Meaning, I don’t drink, at all, ever (except that one time I tried to impress my Italian in-laws by making vodka sauce for pasta, messed up the recipe, and didn’t cook out the vodka. That was accidental, I didn’t mean for my food to taste like a shot of Popov).

The last time I drank alcohol was at a wedding. I hadn’t been drinking as often (in college I drank just about every day for 5 years straight) so my tolerance was lower. I had several glasses of wine, got drunk and on the way home asked my husband to stop by a fast food place so I could eat. I never really eat fast food when I’m sober, but I’m drunk, I just want Del Taco or In-n-Out sooooo bad.

He said no. He didn’t want to stop there at midnight, so I could binge on a grilled cheese and fries. In my drunkenness I got angry and called him an “a*% hole” for not taking me there.

I woke up the next morning in complete shame and guilt. I was a Christian, involved in a bible study, my heart was sold out for the LORD, and I had just gotten drunk and called my husband an “a*% hole” the night before. And that was it for me. I knew I didn’t have a healthy, self-controlled relationship with booze.

Alcoholism runs on both sides of my family. I can remember as a child my uncle taking me to my friend’s house, and on the way he stopped to buy a bottle of vodka and told me “Now you can’t tell your mom and dad about this, okay?” He had been in lots of trouble for his drinking and wasn’t supposed to be drinking at all, and I saw from an early age the power of addiction. I visited another family member in the hospital after they had crashed their car into a tree as a result of drunk driving. The reality of what alcoholism can do was very real to me at an early age.

The first time I got drunk I was in 8th grade. I had a fake ID at age 17 and made some terrible choices from the time I was 17-22 that I would give anything to give back. Thankfully, by the power of Christ and the freedom in the Gospel, I don’t have to live in shame and guilt anymore. I know that Jesus has not only saved me and forgiven me of my sin, He gives me the power daily to no longer walk in bondage to that sin.

I say all of this, because I have noticed in the past couple of years this trend among Christians to post pictures of themselves drinking. Summer is approaching, beer will be flowing, drinks will be offered at parties, and I will feel more and more like the weaker brother every time I see those pictures go up on social media.

And I’m not really sure the point of all of this? Is posting a picture of your cocktail or beer really helpful?

I get it. You don’t want people to think you’re one of those “rule following, exclusive, legalistic Christians”.  Sadly, there have been Christians that have turned alcohol into a black and white issue, and said that all drinking is bad, etc. I’m not saying that. The bible doesn’t say that. If you don’t struggle with drunkenness, then having a glass of wine or a drink is a gift from the LORD to be enjoyed! “Do not get drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5:18) IS in Scripture. “Do not drink wine” is NOT in Scripture. Obeying His word is not legalism, adding to it is.

Drinking alcohol is not a sin. Being led astray or controlled by it is.

I’m grateful for the example my husband was to me early on when it came to alcohol. He was not controlled by it, in fact seeing that he could have just one drink and not get drunk or have a need for more, made me realize there was another way to live.

So again, I’m not saying not to drink, we keep alcohol in our house, serve wine to our guests at dinner, I just don’t partake. I’m just asking you to consider that there are people who have a very real struggle and addiction to alcohol, and to just be aware of that.

When you post that picture or status update of yourself holding a cold brew, is it helpful? Is it really about helping others walk in freedom?

Do you think about others who may stumble because of this?

Have you ever sat with someone in recovery and heard their story?

If you have freedom to drink alcohol, great! Enjoy it. But do you have to post about it?

And most of all, please don’t judge, criticize, tease or accuse of legalism those who have had to make the decision to stay sober. I hope there is wine in Heaven. It will be good! And I will be able to enjoy it because my sin nature will be gone, and I won’t have to struggle with getting drunk and cussing at my husband.

Some helpful verses on what the bible says about drinking and drunkenness:

Proverbs 20:11 Corinthians 6:9-11, Titus 2:3, Ephesians 5:15-21

For more of my journey read here:  From the Bars to the Pews

Other articles that are helpful when considering alcohol around people who are sober:

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Sober Person

Why I Gave Up Alcohol

 

A Love Like This

As I’m reflecting on Jesus’ last week on this earth, I am reminded of his love.

A love I don’t understand and a love I don’t know how to live.

I’m reading John 13 and realizing before the “Last Supper” Jesus did something so crazy, so upside-down to demonstrate one final lesson to His disciples about His character.

Jesus had spent three years with these disciples. Day in and day out, walking with them, teaching them, breaking bread with them, loving them. He knew them. All of them, their hearts, their thoughts, every part of them, every one of them.

Even Judas.

Jesus walked side by side with Judas. He was in Jesus’ inner circle. And Jesus fully knew him. Jesus knew Judas was a fake, a phony, a hypocrite, and a betrayer. He knew Judas was going to sell him out and hand him over. And look at what Jesus does the night before it happens:

“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:1-5)

Jesus, fully knowing that Judas was going to betray him, gets up from the table, takes the posture of humility, maybe even humiliation, bends his knee, and washes Judas’ feet.

“When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (John 13:12-20)

He does this to show us what is at His core, humility and submission to the will of the Father. So that we might believe He is the Christ.

Jesus doesn’t try to confront Judas, kick him out of the group, call out his sin, prove his point, etc. He knows his heart, tells him to his face “do what you came here to do”, exposing him, and yet trusts God’s plan to let him. Jesus shows Judas love even in the midst of his betrayal.

Jesus invites his betrayer to the table, feeds him, looks him in the eye, and bends down to wash his feet. He serves the one who would hand Him over to death.

 I don’t know how to love like this. I don’t know how to humbly submit like this. I don’t know how to forgive like this.

I will never be able to love and forgive like this apart from being filled with His spirit and remembering the love God has for me.

This kind of love, the love of Christ, is beyond my understanding.

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World Vision, Civil War in Christianity, and Where We Go from Here

There was a storm on social media this week, a civil war in Christianity. World Vision announced they would hire people in committed gay marriages, then in less than 48 hours, reversed it.

People were outraged.
People were divided.
People took a stand and dropped sponsorships for nearly 5,000 children.

We made a very loud, a very public, and a very clear statement this week.

We would rather be known for what we’re against, than what we’re for.
We would rather divide than unite.
We would rather write blogs calling each other out, than entering in.
We would rather oppose gay marriage than feed starving children.

Regardless of your position on World Vision, the damage has been done-on both sides, to both sides, and most of all to children around the world.

And I don’t know about you, but it feels like a tornado just tore through our neighborhood and now we’re left to clean up the wreckage.

What do we now? Where do we go from here?
Who are we really helping when we do this?

I am all for standing up for truth and proclaiming what is right.  ALL for it.  I don’t think it’s loving to let people remain in sin and continue on a path that takes them further away from God.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Yep, it’s in there.  And it’s hard to read.  Scripture calls this sin, and I’ve committed most of those in that list. But, if we’re going to “take a stand” for truth, for scripture, let’s take a stand for all of it.

Here are some other parts of scripture I didn’t see people “defending” in the midst of the World Vision debacle:

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.   Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  (James 1:26-27)

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:19-23)

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34-35)

As I look through the “works of the flesh” in Galatians, I not only see “sexual immorality”, but “enmity, strife, fits of anger, dissension, and divisions”.

So I ask you Christian, what were you known for this week?

This week, we publicly picked our sins to call out, publicly divided and cast stones, publicly committed works of the flesh, and got mad at the other side for doing the same.

And the whole world watched.

And I’m deeply grieved.

I’m grieved over the fact that prominent leaders used their platform to slander one another and disobey scripture in public.
I’m grieved that thousands of children lost their sponsorship for food, healthcare, and education in a day.
I’m grieved that we drew lines in the sand where Jesus didn’t.
I’m grieved that we unite quicker over being pro/anti gay marriage than we do over caring for the poor.

We have to realize that when we do these things publicly, we are shutting people out that Jesus died to let in.  When we defend only parts of scripture, we are hypocrites.  When we use our “platforms” to launch ebombs, we’re causing more harm than good.

As I processed the two sides, I couldn’t land on either one, I kept thinking there has to be a third way.  There has to be another way to process what happened this week.

And the LORD whispered to my heart, there is:

The Cross.

It’s not about picking a lane or choosing a side.  It’s about running to the Cross.
It really is the ONLY thing that unites us. It is the only thing that will bring us together, the liberal and conservative, gay or straight, hungry or fed, rich or poor, hater or lover.  The only way is the Cross.

I don’t know about you, but I’m choosing the way of the Cross, the way of the gospel, the way of Jesus.  The line in the sand for me is not us vs. them, it’s us vs. Him, and He chose to lift us out and graft us in.

So as we move forward, let’s commit to cleaning up the wreckage.
Let’s commit to slowing down, to praying before proclaiming, to examining our hearts before prosecuting others.
Let’s commit to being peacemakers, the kind that speak truth and show love, and help reconcile people to Christ.
Let’s take a stand for Jesus, by living closely to his new command in John 13. Let’s take a stand for Jesus by calling out sin and caring for the least of these.

Let’s be people of the Cross, not people of dividing lines or opposing sides. Let’s be people who recognize Jesus cares just as much about our sexuality as he does about the poor. Let’s be people who wage war against darkness, not each other.  Let’s be people of unity, truth, love and grace.

Let’s be people of The Cross.
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My Hopes for 2014: Extraordinary & Ordinary

Yesterday, I fell asleep to the memory of the night we ate pizza in Jerusalem.

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I don’t know if it was because I just finished Shauna Niequist’s book Bread & Wine, where she reminds us that life, deep-rich-meaningful-life, happens around a table or because I was watching Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown, where he travels all around the world to eat food in exotic places; whatever it was, I had pizza and I had Jerusalem on my mind.

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We had been in Israel for eight days and by this point, we were stretched physically and mentally . . . sometimes hiking 10 miles a day, in the wretched heat. We were learning about these incredible sites where the fathers our faith walked, we were standing where Jesus stood, walking where he walked, and learning where he taught.

But nothing, nothing, compared to standing in Jerusalem. The City of the King, the place where the Temple was built and destroyed, where the last parts of the Western Wall remained.

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The place where a city is divided between Jewish quarter, Christian quarter, and Muslim quarter. The place where Christ will come again. Really, the most extraordinary place on Earth. Full of history and prophecy, riches and poverty, love and hate.

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We not only wanted to learn our bibles on this trip, we wanted to learn the culture. What does Jerusalem, this extraordinary city, look like during the day? At night? So we set out to do what our guides warned us about, we ventured into the city of Jerusalem at night. To share a meal with friends from our trip.

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We found ourselves in the Jewish quarter, next to a synagogue and all kinds of shops, and sat down at a restaurant. Everyone ordered drinks and dinner, and then in the most extraordinary place, we did the ordinary . . .

We people-watched.

We ate dinner.

We talked.

We laughed.

We prayed.

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It felt so ordinary. Just sitting in Jerusalem, eating pizza. Until I realized just hours before we were literally standing on the Temple Mount, touching the Western Wall, the closest place to the Holy of Holies, praying side-by-side with devout Jews.

We were in a sacred place. A holy place. Perhaps the most meaningful place for the future of Christians. And I was eating pizza, watching people dance around at a bar mitzvah.

The most ordinary, eating pizza, in the extraordinary, the heart of Jerusalem near the Holy of Holies.

The ordinary meets extraordinary.

I wondered if this was much like Jesus life? In the morning healing the sick, casting out demons, teaching the multitudes, then at night, heading over to Mary and Martha’s for dinner. Just an ordinary dinner with friends, where he’d laugh, pray, eat good food, talk about scripture . . .

Were there parts of Jesus life that were just ordinary? Were his days a blend of the extraordinary & ordinary? Was this God-Man marked with a mix of his humanity and deity? Secular & sacred? Simple & divine?

As I reflect on this past year and think about my hopes for 2014, I want my life to be marked by the ordinary and extraordinary. I want to spend my days pouring out all that I have, using my gifts to further the Kingdom, loving people in the name of Jesus, and then have dinner with my neighbors, good conversation with my husband, laugh with my friends.

I want to find beauty in the simple. I want to redeem the ordinary.

Because really that’s when the ordinary can feel extraordinary. The simple life can be spectacular when you realize all is sacred.

I want my life to be marked like that.

That is my hope for 2014.

To blur the lines between ordinary and extraordinary, secular and sacred, just a little bit more.

I want to invite friends over for long meals.

I want to experience real community and fellowship.

I want to give more of my time, talent, and treasure.

I want to talk about scripture, and bear one another’s burdens, and pray for the sick and care for the poor, and I want to eat pizza with my friends, and laugh.

No big resolutions for 2014 just hopes that my year, my life, would be marked with simple, extraordinary, ordinary joy.

What about you?

What are your hopes for 2014?

Why I Changed My Mind About Holiday Giving

Five years ago we partnered with our church in something called Mission Christmas.  A group of us decided to adopt a family and buy them everything they needed for Christmas.  A Christmas tree with decorations, food, gifts for the entire family, and lots more.  We were all so excited to gather the goodies and deliver them one Saturday afternoon as a “surprise blessing”.

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I imagined we would drive up, the children and their parents would come running out, eager to receive the material blessings, and they would ask us why we were there and we could tell them about Jesus and we’d all live happily ever after!

Talk about idealism.

Here’s how it really went down:

A car full of white people drove up to their house.  When we got there, a group of men were out front in lawn chairs hanging out, drinking a case of Budweiser.  We got out to greet them and ask for the father by name.  A man quickly left to go into the backyard and everyone else acted as if they had no idea who the man was.  We then went inside to greet the mother.  Again, eager for the hugging and appreciation, we told her who we were and why we were there.  She stood quiet, in her kitchen, almost with her head hung low as we brought in bags of groceries and a giant Christmas tree.  The children came running out of their room so excited to see us, and then stood there and watched with their mother as we brought in bag after bag, gift after gift, in awkward silence.  We tried to make small talk and get to know them, but between my broken Spanish and their broken English, it was just well, awful.

We drove away, and I looked I at my husband and said, “that felt weird.  Why was that so weird?  Why did the dad run away from us?”

To which my husband said “we just humiliated him in front of his friends and entire family.”

My heart split in two.  Because he was right.

I had no idea how disrespectful and humiliating something like this must be for a father.  And we not only did it to him, but right in front of friends and his own children.

In that moment, I changed my mind about the whole “adopt a family” Christmas giving thing.  I realized that is a very awful way to actually love someone in Christ for several reasons.

#1  It’s prideful.  “Here we are!  Rich white people are here to save you and give you everything and you can call us your heroes!”

#2  It’s disrespectful.  We had not thought about how these parents might feel about “receiving” this unexpected blessing.  Or how it made them feel to know they were less fortunate than us and if we bring them stuff, they’ll feel better.

#3  It’s materialistic.  It’s assuming that the “poor” are the people who can’t afford stuff.  And our western way says the way to help the poor is by giving them stuff.

#4  It’s unhelpful.  Things like this really just make us feel better about ourselves.  We post pictures of the “poor” family we blessed that Christmas and share it with everyone to boost our ego.  When in reality, if we were standing next to them inline at the grocery store, we’d have no idea who they were.

So this experienced changed everything for me.  It made me realize that while the giving may seem good, we may even have good intentions, it’s a little bit of a blind spot in our culture’s eyes as to what is really helpful and encouraging.

It’s also changed the idea of “Mission Christmas” for my church as well.  Why not empower the parents themselves to buy gifts and be the heroes rather than the rich white people from a different neighborhood?

SO some things to think about this holiday season as a way to be a blessing . . .

Is your giving/outreach helpful or hurtful? 

Does it foster relational health between others or tension?

Is your giving really about blessing someone else or making you feel better?

Is there a different way besides materialism that you can bless someone?

Is there a way to give that promotes dignity rather than shame?

Do you have a relationship with the person you are giving to?  What if the better way to bless is not with presents, but with presence?

These are things I will be asking of myself as I give this holiday season.  And LORD forgive me of my pride, my distorted thinking, of what a “blessing” truly is.  Knowing that in this Christmas season, you LORD Jesus are the greatest Gift of all.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  (Matthew 6:1-4)

 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  (Luke 19:10)

*For more resources on how giving can be helpful, rather than hurtful, check out these books and articles:

 When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life” by Robert D. Lupton

Kim Feil’s book review on “Toxic Charity” by Robert D. Lupton

Complementarian Feminist?

Gosh dang it.  There’s that verse again.  It keeps haunting me!  I tried to ignore it, but it came up again last week in bible study and I felt like a deer in the headlights.

Because what does a barren, complementarian woman, gifted to teach and lead do with 1 Timothy 2:8-15?

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

Not because I was bored one day, but because I wanted to know what the bible really says about “women in ministry”, I set out to do some learning.  And I wish I could go back to a simpler time.

I’m one of those thinkers, black & white thinkers, who needs to know what’s “right” and live accordingly.  So I terrorize myself into studies like this that are, well, gray.

I bought a bunch of books on the topic.

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I read a lot of blogs.

I asked a lot of questions.

I cried.

I prayed.

I studied.

I talked.

I processed.

And I napped.

And you know what? I landed right back where I started.  That’s right.  I am still asking what the heck does 1 Timothy 2 mean?  1 Corinthians 14?  Genesis 3? Proverbs 31?  1 Peter 3?  Ephesians 5?

Because women’s discipleship has to be more than just being modest and quiet.  And what is modesty anyway?  Not wearing a low cut shirt and fancy jewelry or a position of the heart to be humble?

It has to be more than being mom.  Saved through childbearing 1 Timothy 2?  So where does that leave me, a barren woman who loves Jesus and wants others to do the same?

Yet it can’t just be “well all of those passages were for the olden days.  None of it applies today.”  Because then what purpose does ANY of scripture have in our life?

I tried so hard to be a feminist during this little excursion.  But I couldn’t get past all of the places in scripture that talk about “headship” and “submission” and “order”.

I see women all over my church, my city, the world gifted to teach and lead.  And doing great things for the Kingdom.  Are they really supposed to just “be quiet”?

The thing is, deep down, I want to do what’s right, I want to obey God’s word, every part of it, even parts I don’t like or don’t agree with.  I told my pastor “I really would wear a head covering TODAY if that’s what I thought this text meant!”  I truly want to honor God with my words, my actions, and my life.

But I also see women all over scripture who led, taught, discipled, encouraged, and equipped others (men and women).  So I know these verses can’t just mean, “women don’t ever speak.”

So the best answer I could come up with after reading these scriptures, books, commentaries, etc. is:

I.DON’T.KNOW.

If I HAD to put myself in a box of where I stand for “women in ministry” it would be . . .

A complementarian feminist.   Is that a thing?!  I have no idea?

Maybe I’ll find out when I finish some of these books.

I do know this:

Even if my theology isn’t clean cut, or 100% with a tribe, God loves women and uses them in His mission on earth.  He has gifted women and called them to serve in unique ways.  I long to see women break free from stereotypes, oppression, and insecurity and walk in the good works God has prepared for them beforehand (Ephesians 2:10).

I also long for them to know and delight in scripture, submit (yes, I said it, submit) to it even when it’s stuff that we don’t like.  I want women to view the world through a biblical lens, a Jesus lens, and live accordingly.

Either way, I know that woman or not, I am a disciple of Christ.  And in that, He calls me to love Him, and love others.  To be a minister of the gospel of grace, regardless of my gender, and proclaim the excellencies of Him (1 Peter 2:9) to anyone that would hear.

“Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. (Luke 8:1-3)

The Woman of The Well:  “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”  So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of his word.”  (John 4:39-41)

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:13-14)

I Can’t Keep Living in the What-Ifs

A few years ago, I stood in the sanctuary with 2 of my pastors after a service, asking questions to the meaning of a word from scripture out of Isaiah 61.  I shared what I had been wrestling with in this text, and just had to know the answer.  To which in the middle of our discussion, they both stopped, looked me straight in the eye and one of them asked:

“Have you ever considered seminary?”

The other replied “I think you would thrive.”

And I’m not kidding I nearly dropped to the floor in tears, because in that moment I knew.

I knew that was a marked moment in my life for 2 reasons.

#1 When TWO of your well-respected, wise, discerning pastors speak something into your life simultaneously, you listen.  That is something I believe called “confirmation”.

#2 I had been considering seminary, for awhile, I just hadn’t pursued it because “what if?”

That moment was nearly 3 years ago  . . . and I’ve stood paralyzed in the “what-ifs” ever since.

 What if seminary is just a stupid fantasy and not a God given dream?

What if I already am where God wants me?

What if God wants me in the public school and I’m running from His will?

What if I go to seminary and nothing comes of it?

What if people ask me “for what” and I can’t give an answer?

What if I never get a full time job at the church?

What if I get pregnant?

What if?

What if?

What if?

Well I can’t keep living in the what-ifs.

I had been stuffing this dream for years.  And I couldn’t stuff it anymore.  I had to stop with all the what-ifs and just go!  And quite frankly, it’s easier to follow your dreams when the outcome is obvious, the plan is clear, and the support is from many.   But at this point, the affirmation from a few was all I needed.

I finally decided I couldn’t keep walking around with this dream for another 3 years, wondering, waiting, and asking what if.  So last month, I sat down to ask the questions to my boss “What if I’m dreaming about applying to seminary?  What if I think that’s something God wants me to do?  And what if I think I want to spend the rest of my life stewarding that?”

And his response was a 100% yes.  All for it.  He didn’t ask me any “what if” questions, just confirmation, affirmation, and encouragement to pursue this dream.

What had I been waiting for all these years?

So I applied.

And I got accepted.

And now I’m answering some new “what ifs”

What if God uses this?

What if walking in obedience is so much better than walking in fear?

What if I stop trying to figure out where Jesus is taking me in 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, and just follow Him now?

What if I can be okay with not knowing all of the answers?

What if I use this opportunity to serve God and others with more of my heart and mind all the days of my life?

I don’t have any answers to the “what ifs”.  But I know that following Jesus isn’t always that predictable.  We want the road map, laid out before us, Him telling us every step of the way . . .  when to turn, when to speed up, when to slow down, when there’s a steep hill or a patch of wilderness with no food or water.  But He doesn’t.  He doesn’t tell us all those details.  He doesn’t give us a life plan with the next 60 years completely detailed.

He simply tells us “follow me”.

So I am.

 Are there “what ifs” in your life that keep you from pursuing dreams?

Where have you been paralyzed by fear to step out into faith?

PS I know what you’re all thinking . . . But “What if you get pregnant?”  Well then that baby will just get to be my first student 😉