Faith, Culture & The Church
"In Him [Christ] you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."
(Ephesians 2:22, NIV)
(Ephesians 2:22, NIV)
As we all wrestle to wisely, kindly, and boldly live into the days set before us by a God who sees us right where we are, can I challenge all of us to remember the words of Ephesians 6:12-17?
Truth isn't in the headlines -- that is news. News changes every day. That is the nature of news. Truth is found in Scripture and the character of God. And His promises and plan are just as true today as they were when the scrolls (that have become the Bible) were written. His mission is the same. His strategy has not changed. His Sovereignty is not under attack or up for debate.
The enemy isn't the people with the money, power, and voice in the media. The enemy is Satan and he is always scheming against us and also tempting us to scheme against one another. God knows who is in leadership right now. He set them there for this time in history. He has long been in the business of using imperfect men and women to fulfill his purposes and will. And He asks us to believe and trust Him. In the words of Lysa TerKeurst: “God is good and he is really good at being God.” Do our actions, thoughts, social media posts show that we believe this?
Our weapons are not our words or our sleuthing skills. In fact, we don't need earthly weapons to wage earthly wars. That battle has been won. Jesus was and is the victor, and because he lives in us, so too are we. Instead, the ways we “fight” and what we “fight” against are opposite of the world's strategies, because our hope isn't set in this world. It is set in heaven and we are called to a greater battle--a more significant one that requires us to take up pieces of armor that are invisible in the physical, but made obvious by our actions words:
Our mission is to glorify God and to love and lead others to Jesus so they can have the hope and peace he gives to withstand the trials and tribulations that will come. Our mission is to be light in the darkness so that others can know freedom and grace. We have been set free in order to use our freedom to break free from the strategies of darkness and bring others along with us. We have been given grace, compassion and creativity in order to meet the needs of those who are hurting around us.
Our mission hasn't changed because the world around us is changing. Our mission remains and it is more important than ever that we be the ones who base our beliefs, actions and purposes on Truth, not news. In Christ, we are able to fight the battles we were built to fight, not against flesh and blood, but against the evil one. And Truth tells us we overcome him through the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.
Friends, let's not get side-tracked now. Let's not fix our eyes where they cause us to lose sight of our calling as children of the King who reigns over all the earth. Let's fix our eyes on Jesus, who suffered for us so that we might be able to live in this present age as people of joy because we see the bigger picture--the eternal mission. Let's use our energy, resources and time to pray, serve, encourage, build others up, care for the orphans and widows, sing praises, and seek truth in God's words in the Bible.
What if how we chose to “fight” right now was so starkly different than the norm that it caused others to stand in shock?
What if we faced our current circumstances with such joy, honor, and grace that it caught the attention of others outside the church?
What if we chose to “fight” based on Truth, instead of the news?
What if this crisis is an opportunity to pull on the armor we have set down for too long, and go do battle against the enemy that thinks he is winning?
You and I were set on this earth at this exact time, not on accident, but for a purpose. I say, let’s live into it! I say, it’s go, time!
I say, let’s throw off distractions and ideas that so easily entangle us, and instead run the race marked out for us. We have an awesome coach. He has a perfect strategy. He called us to his team. And with the weapons and teammates he has provided, we will reach the end of the course victorious.
Suit up, friends. It is time to throw down the weapons and battles that we weren’t meant to fight. And take up the ones we’ve been given in Christ, aiming to push back the darkness one act of kindness, honor, service, praise, prayer and love at a time.
Divided we’ll fall.
United we’ll stand.
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28, NIV).
Hurt can cause us to think, say, and do crazy things. Pain can sink into our minds and penetrate how we process everything happening around us. Wounds from our past can open up and knock us down in moments when we least expect it.
And yet, is experiencing hurt and pain to be avoided?
And for that matter, is it even possible to avoid the discomfort that arises, even in the places we expect to feel most safe, most understood, most unguarded and most at home?
It is no big secret that hurt and pain have caused many people to walk away from the church. Woundings from experiences with people and systems within a church are not uncommon. And though this isn’t something to be ignored, nor something to be taken lightly, it really shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Because churches, every one of them, are comprised of imperfect people all in a battle, fighting for love win more often than sin. Some days we warriors are victorious. Some moments, we are not.
All of us members of the body of Christ are made in God’s image, destined to live in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, but we are broken nonetheless. You and I, when we show up, bring our whole selves with us--our overcomings and our weight. We all enter our places of worship in need of grace because of our failings. We all come walking on the tight-rope of hope, one step away from falling down into despair. In our humanness we are fragile and fickle. In our Christ-likeness we are strong and sensitive. And everywhere we go, we bring our human weaknesses and wounding and our Holy Spirit power and grace with us.
Living as Christians in this culture makes us walking conundrums.
Several weeks ago, I brought my whole broken and redeemed self to church. I don’t recall why I was feeling more broken than redeemed that day, but based on the way I processed the experiences of that Sunday morning, I will tell you that the broken me showed up stronger than the healed me. I was hurting, though for seemingly no particular reason.
I was low on energy and my introvert-self was uncomfortable. And because I found myself walling and not wanting to strum up a conversation with anyone, I decided to do some “action research” (Thank you master of teaching and learning program for making me turn every question I have into an opportunity to find data!) to pass the time. I decided to “test” out a theory: If I don’t pursue a conversation with anyone, will anyone talk to me this morning?
As a word of advice, if you show up to church hurt, don’t run action research to collect data on something that may have the potential to increase your hurt. Instead, just close your eyes, pray and rest in the arms of Jesus. Trust me.
I am guessing you can imagine, based on my advice above, the data I collected didn’t make me feel any better. In fact, the data left me feeling more hurt, angry, and discontent with my life. My data pointed out what my assumptions were looking for--no one cared about me here. In the two hours I was present at church only one person came to talk to me. And he was simply thanking me for some things I had done to help he and his wife in a ministry they were getting started. Which was awesome. I was truly blessed by him taking the time to let me know that a small thing I had done was making an impact on the ministry they were doing. But since exactly zero other people pursued a conversation with me, this blessing was blotted out by my data.
This is what my data confirmed in my mind: I am valuable only to those who I am able to help. I am not needed for who I am, but for what I do. I am not a person people are excited to see because I am a good friend or they are a good friend to me. My role here is to do things for people, and finding friendship and people who are excited to see me because of a bond we share happens elsewhere. (Hello, who can tell I am an Enneagram 3? #funnynotfunny)
As a side note, to add to the sinking feelings of that morning, my husband is a pastor and people line up to get a conversation with him. Most weeks our family waits 20-30 minutes after the service for him to have conversations with people. My Sunday morning experiences starkly contrast his. More data to fuel my hurt and discontent!
Not surprisingly, this little experiment I ran on that Sunday morning several weeks ago set me up to feel hurt for weeks to follow. I couldn’t shake it and began to process everything even slightly negative that happened to me as proof that I was living on the wrong continent, working in the wrong profession, and investing my time and energy in the wrong things.
It was ugly. Just ask my husband. Hurt people, hurt people. And often they hurt the ones they are closest to and trust the most. This was absolutely true of me.
But God gave me the strength to actually say out loud, to my husband, all the ways I was hurt, disappointed and in need. (The delivery was not anything I would ever be proud of or that most people could even imagine of me!*) And, by grace and providence, God had “appointments” already lined up for me to process my hurt with a few friends--one who called me out of the blue, two who I run with on a weekly basis, and another that I meet on a monthly basis. If these “appointments” weren’t already a regular part of my life, I know for a fact I wouldn't have sought them out in my hurt. These conversations were instrumental in God taking me from where I was then to a new place of understanding later. He used them to also dismantle the lie that I didn’t have friends who cared for and loved me.
In addition, God spoke to me through his words. Because reading the Bible is a habit etched into my life, I couldn’t hide from the truth that He is a good God and able to be trusted. Even when I am hurt and maybe even mad at God, I still end up with my Bible in my hands because of how much it is a part of my morning routine. I have my parents and God to thank for that.
Over the course of a few weeks, and a lot more processing (mostly in my head while spending two weekends sitting in a deer stand with my oldest son) and digging into the truth of who God is and who I am in him, I began to see the beauty in the bruises caused from my data.
First, my disappointments of that Sunday morning propelled me to deal with and voice other hurts and disappointments from my past. Because I was so caught off guard by the depth of my hurt and response to my data, I was compelled to ask, “Why?”
Why I am so shaken up about this?
Why is this impacting me so much?
God knew I needed to wrestle with some hurts from the past in order to move forward in productive and healthy ways. My “why” questions lead me down paths toward these--even to the point of bringing me all the way back, via a dream, to some experiences from my teenage years that I had forgotten, but that clearly marked some scars in need of attention.
Secondly, this experience caused me to evaluate why I go to church. And pushed me to seek out answers to the questions:
And as I combed through Scripture and waited on the Holy Spirit to guide my thoughts, my soul found rest in these answers:
My data had nothing to do with any of these. My data was based on a human standard and a selfish motives:
God had work to do in my heart, and that was more important to him than my comfort and feelings of acceptance among my people.
Thirdly, hurt is not the worst thing in the world. Hurt hurts. No doubt about it. But that doesn’t mean it should be avoided. Nor does it mean that because I am hurting I should spiral into despair. Or even that I am far from God. Instead, my pain was first a result of my perspective. I had to own the part I played in the pain. Secondly, this hurt was a catalyst in the transformation of my mind--my understanding of the purpose of church. Somehow I had gotten wrapped up in wrong thinking which lead to wrong expectations, which lead to disappointment.
Hurt isn’t our enemy. In a culture where comfort is supreme, it is very hard to remember that our call as Christians isn’t to avoid hurt, run from pain or assume that when we experience these that we are in the wrong place. Comfort creates complacency. Hardship creates perseverance and learning. And yet, what do I expect from church, comfort. But that doesn’t work if one of the purposes of church is learning, growing and being sent out into a world full of hurt and pain.
Check out what Peter learns from Jesus, even in his hurt:
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt by Jesus’ questions!
Because of what he was thinking and feeling. He was hurt, but that didn’t cause him to abandon his relationship with Jesus, nor his mission as a disciple. Instead, his hurt lead him to examine his heart, pursue understanding Jesus’ words, and then live based on what Jesus said. And Jesus didn’t avoid saying things that hurt others if he knew that his words would increase the hearer’s effectiveness and commitment of heart.
And this is why I keep saying “yes” to church. Because I need to be transformed by the presence of God, to sing praise in corporate worship to the King of Kings, and because I sometimes need to get hurt in order to grow.
I am not called to show up Sunday morning to see how many people love me, how many people notice me or how I can feel better because of showing up. If those are my expectations, I will be disappointed every time. Which may not be a bad thing if that hurt leads me to evaluate the “why” of my hurt and the “why” of church.
But if that hurt causes me to abandon the church, write people off, and sink into my own self-pity, well, then that is actually on me. Because that reveals that I have lost sight of who God is, who I am and what this Christian life within the body of Christ is all about. I have then made it about me and what I think my needs are, rather than about God and what he knows I need. (If this is where you are, seek out counseling or friends who speak truth into your life, and allow them to help you process your way back to understanding that heals your perspective and grows you closer to Jesus’ design for your heart and mind. Dig into the Bible and wait on the Holy Spirit to give you knowledge and wisdom.)
I don’t know where you are in your feelings about gathering with a body of believers on a Sunday morning. But I do know that if this pastor’s wife who goes to the church she grew up at can get hurt on a Sunday morning, the odds are high that you have walked out the doors hurt too. That you have left feeling unloved, unnoticed and frustrated that when you came looking for comfort you found pain. And it hurts my heart to know that many of you have likely experienced this more times than you can count.
Hurt hurts. I feel that hurt with you.
But we get to choose what hurt does to us, in us, and for us. We get to choose to keep saying “yes” to church, Christians and the truth of the Bible, even when it hurts. And when we do, we can find new perspectives, healing and hope. We can learn to keep coming back, not for what we can get out of church, but for what we can offer up to God and learn about how to live for Him. We get to practice what it means to believe the fact that in this world we will have trouble--even on a Sunday morning.
But guess what you’ll find if you go and read this verse in its entirety, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).
Friends, our peace will not come from any other source than Jesus. No thing. No one. No experience. Sometimes it takes getting shaken up to figure out where we are expecting our peace to come from. Sometimes it is our hurt that helps us realize that this world, and everything in it, including our experiences within the body of Christ, are bound to disappoint. But when we choose to take thoughts captive and realign our minds, hearts and actions to the truth that Jesus is our peace, the Word is our strength, and heaven is our hope, we get to learn from our hurt and find the strength and joy to keep saying “yes” to all the places and people God calls us to.
*The ugly deliver was later followed by a very long apology and several late night conversations. Messing up isn't fun. Nor is asking for forgiveness. But both lead to a closeness and healing that wouldn't be found otherwise.
If You Want to Plough New Ground
I don't know how much you know about farming. But my guess is that I am one of few who spent her days feeding cows, picking rocks from the fields, and living life based on the seasons of the ground--ploughing, planting, harvesting, more harvesting, rest.
Growing up on a farm wasn't totally out of the ordinary in the small town where I lived. I had friends who lived similar lifestyles, and I thought nothing of the uniqueness of it. Now that I am older, and my years on the farm or long in the distance, I realize just how blessed I was to have learned the ways of agriculture. Not just because of the farm-to-table trend or the fact that I know where our food comes from (hard-working and brilliant men and women who spend their lives providing for the nutritional needs of our country). But also because of the truths and stories of the Bible ring true to me in ways that I know they wouldn't if I hadn't seen the metaphors that are set inside them in real life.
This phrase kept going over and over in my mind today as I was running: If you want to plough new ground, you have to venture into new fields.
I am not sure how it got there, but it was my companion for the road. And as I mulled it over, I truly wondered at the message of it. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that to plough new ground, one needs a new field. This is a simple truth. In the physical it makes sense. I am guessing one without farm experience would not have trouble understanding this concept.
So as I ran I kept trying to think of verses about ploughing that would help me understand what the Lord has put into my thoughts for this day. Hosea came to mind.
But in Hosea 10:12, the author is not penning farming advice. In our souls and in our journey toward heaven with Jesus, there is also ground that needs ploughing and ground waiting to be ploughed. But we have to go to that unploughed ground in order to start. This is hard work. This may bring fear, but if God asks it of us, who are we to say no?
Friends, we can't plough new ground if we don't venture into new fields. Choose today to go find the new field and invite the Holy Spirit in to help you get some ploughing started.
Fall Beckons Me to Take Note
The colors of Autumn are my favorite. The varying shades of greens, golds, reds and browns captivate me. Wonder and awe still me when I find myself on a trail adorn with a palate of these hues. Whether I am walking, running, or driving down roads that hallmark the end of summer--the change to harvest season--I notice creation’s pure, raw, stunning beauty. Such beauty is always there, but fall beckons me to take note.
And I wonder, how is it that dying can be so beautiful?
Why, when the leaves are destined to fall, never to return to life on the tree, did God decide they should display such majesty in the process?
Yes, the leaves will decompose and bring life to other plants, animals and trees. So there is great purpose in their death. But why make the whole process so stunning?
And, again, wondering overtakes me.
What if the allure of exquisiteness found in the forest trees of fall is really my heart being drawn to the reminder of another death that saved my life. A death that took place on a cross. From earth, this death looked gruesome, brutal, and unfair. A leaf falling never to return to life on the tree again.
A death that looked like a loss, but birthed my salvation.
Perhaps Autumn is the reminder that dying can bring life. A call to remember that God is making all things new all the time. And the process to him is beautiful and purposed.
Perhaps these naturally marvelous colors I love are here to remind me to choose to step into seeing the beauty in dying to what was only meant to last for a season. These leaves falling around me help me to also let go of what was only for the days past, admire what new things lie ahead, and glory in the beauty of the process.
How about you, what do the colors of fall help you see?
When you look around at the change of season, what changes in your life do you need God to give you the strength to see as beautiful and purposes?
Ask Him to show you, and trust that because he is faithful and gracious, He will.
Two weeks ago, I ended the telling of my testimony with the lyrics from, New Wine. To me, it was a declaration to my heart and the cloud of witnesses listening that night. In the months leading up to sharing my testimony, these words spoke comfort to my soul and reminded me that who I am and what I am called to hinge not on my vocation, location or plans: That I can trust God with what he sets before me. And that in the process of following the leadership of God, there will be pressing, crushing and the making of new things out of the old.
In my testimony, I shared that life as of late has required surrender and breaking--leaning desperately on the hope of new ground being broken to bring forth growth. The hope of new wine being poured and the new ground being broken filled me with hope and confidence in the future.
But in the days that followed the sharing of my testimony, the hope slowly dwindled. Instead, it seemed the crushing and the breaking were only producing the hope of a dream, the waiting on of a vision. Not the dream or vision actually happening. Doubt began to say, “Maybe those dreams and visions won’t ever actually happen. Maybe you dream too big.”
I don’t know about you. But for me sometimes dreams and visions are heavy parcels to carry. Sometimes the hope of the good that I know will come from the pressing and the plowing gets stomped on by the circumstances and emotions that usher in, presenting themselves as truth and reality.
That is where I found myself in the wee hours of late night and early morning this week, seemingly wrecked by the crushing and breaking. Disappointment, grief, and aloneness swallowed up my mind and soul and for two hours sleep would not come--only tears, silent pleas for understanding, and a metaphorical beating of fists on the doors of insight and understanding.
Yet, in between the sobs and the ugly snot blocking my airway, there were lyrics running in my mind--a sort of soundtrack to the scene of the pain shaking itself out as I sat in the silence of a quiet house, on a quiet street, in the middle of the night. Alone.
Where had these waves of discouragement come from?
Why couldn’t sleep just come?
I had no answers. Only aching and churning. For what and from what were both frustratingly unclear.
The gravity of goals, dreams, visions, purpose, parenting, discipling, and teaching. The dreams deferred, the doors un-opened, the misunderstandings, the changes in plans, the uprooted things. The living in the in-between of all the things. In those hours it all crushed. It all pressed. It all broke me down. It all left me feeling alone, exhausted and unable to sleep.
Until it ceased. And there were no tears left to cry and no thoughts left to think. Just silence and lyrics in my head and I ventured off to sleep. Worn out and torn up and yet peace enough to rest deep.
And this is where the story shifts from pain and pressing to truth and confidence even when I can’t feel God’s nearness, He hears my cries: I am never, ever alone. He sees. He hears. He pursues. And his rescue comes through the ministry of His Spirit and His people. The plowing is birthing growth even when it doesn't feel or look like it.
Twelve hours later, sitting in the nursery at church with a friend, God blew me away with who he is, who is to me, and the beauty of living life within the Body of Christ. With some caution and trepidation, a friend leaned in and said, “I had a dream about you last night. I am not sure what it means. If it means anything. But this is what happened.”
Tears filled my eyes as I realized that her dream woke her up at the time that I had ceased crying and was finally able to go to bed. God spoke to her through that dream to pray over me with praises. And that later she was to remind me that no matter what I am facing, praise was to be my road to what God had for me.
I was floored. I have believed from the time I was young that God still speaks. I have never questioned that the Holy Spirit does ministry through dreams and words. I just hadn’t seen it so obviously and clearly in my life. Here I was in our little church nursey, on just another typical Sunday, and God was using this space to remind me I was not alone. And not only that, God had woke up my friend in the night to intercede for me even though she knew nothing of what my week had contained.
But it gets even better. While I was tearfully trying to tell this friend the events of my sleepless night and how her dream and words “keep praising” were exactly what I needed to hear, another friend sat down next to me and said, “Hey, I don’t know if this means anything or not. But I had a vivid, and maybe slightly strange dream about you last night.”
She then proceeded to tell me her dream when another friend, who has more knowledge than the rest of us in dream interpretation, walked in. I am not making this up. We were nearly the last people at church and we all ended up in the same room talking about dreams about me. Both dreams were retold and then interpreted as messages of instruction, intercession, and future ministry roads to be traveled. (Both dreams involved roads.)
What in the world?
There is no denying He hears our cries (Psalm 34:17, Psalm 18:6). And He wanted to make very sure that I believed this of Him. I am in awe of His orchestrating of not just our lives, but our dreams, conversations and midnight cries. I shouldn’t be stunned, but I am. God is huge, magnificent and powerful. But he is also close, intimate and witty.
You see, I had no intention of sharing with anyone that I had been up in anguish during the night. I had no plans to ask for prayer or seek counsel on what I had experienced. At least not that morning. I didn’t understand my own sorrow and I didn’t know what to do with it. And most of all, I wanted to just sit in my heaviness for a while--process it, analyze, gain some understanding of it before I shared it with anyone. In fact, on the way to church that morning, when I was reflecting on my sadness, and heard the phrase, “put on a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” go through my thoughts, I made a mental note that I would do that later. I didn’t want to do that now. I wanted to pull away and hide in the dark and mull it over.
But I would show up to church because that is what I do. And I would put on my best happy pastor’s wife face and charge through.
And here is where I see the grace and pursuit of God most--he let me be found even when I didn’t even want to be found. He used my lack-luster obedience and the members of my church family to get through to me a message that would pull me out of my darkness and into his marvelous light. Even when I didn’t so much want that, yet. And he had it all set up and ready to play out before the church doors opened.
He orchestrated it in the midst of my crying. And the obedience and boldness of my friends sharing with me the “strange” dreams they had while I was wrestling with the pressing and the plowing of new things in my life, demonstrated His amazingly unexplainable power and pursuit.
How can I not love and serve a God like that?
How can I not praise and adore a Father like that?
How can I not bear witness to the necessity of living life alongside the believers that make up the body of Christ?
How can I not believe that he is a good God who is good to me?
There is wrestling in this life. There are doubts that can come and knock us down. There are moments in our journey in which we seemingly travel alone. These are real. These are hard. These crush and break. Yet, the song does not end there.
He hears our cry. He sees our pile of Kleenexes on the floor. And He responds by sending forth his words and encouragement through the people in our lives. He is a friend who is closer than a sister (Proverbs 18:24), who sends sisters our way to get us to open up about our hurts, instructs us to worship, and encourage us to keep moving forward.
This is the message my soul needed this week. I share this story in the case that your heart and mind need to be reminded of it too. I also share it because if my friends had not shared with me their dreams, my outlook on today and my trust in God at this moment would still be dismal. I would likely be sitting here in my heaviness, letting the heft of all that has been hard pull me down.
But I am not pulled down and burdened. Instead, I am putting on the garment of praise. I am searching desperately in my memory for the lyrics I heard in my mind when I sat sobbing because I want to know what I missed in them when my tears consumed me. My circumstances haven’t changed. The causes of my hurt and tears are not extinguished, but my eyes are set on believing that the new wine is coming, the ground is being prepared for a new season, and even though it is hard, I am seen, I am heard, and I am able to press on with praise as my weapon and the Body of Christ as my teammates.
We are in this race together friends. Let’s run like we believe it. Let’s be teammates that listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and abide in Him so that when the need arises for us to hear His voice--asking us to intercede and encourage each other--we are available and willing. Sunday mornings are for more than normal and routines. They are for the building up of the Body of Christ. Some times we are on the receiving end, and other times we are on the ministry end. And that is why we all need to keep showing up. When we do, miracles can happen that bring tears into the light and make way for hope and truth win.
Reflections on an Easter Evening
Sometimes I look around at my life--our little home that is sometimes clean, our backyard with a swing-set, a rabbit and a dog, our children who are not so little anymore, our marriage that is now the age of a teenager--and I wonder, is this really my life? How can it be that I am this blessed, this cared for, this crazy, this loved, and. . . this old.
Truly, I don't really know where the 10 years between 27 and 37 went. I am pretty sure my brain still thinks I am 27, but my body and the ages of my kids are helpful reminders that I am not.
On this Easter evening, I wonder at the time that has passed between Christ's resurrection and the life I am living right now in the wake of his saving grace. Do all the years between feel like a single second or maybe a minute to God? Does it feel like just yesterday he sent Jesus down to walk among us and teach us of redemption through relationship?
And then the bigger question, the one that should impact my every day arises in me and asks, do I live like the power that raised Jesus from the dead is as close and accessible today as it was on that first day that death was defeated? Do I live with an excitement like he saved me just yesterday? Do I live like I know my life today is different because of the yesterday of 2000 years ago?
When I look around at my little life and assess what I see in light of the fact that there once was a man who walked the earth with people just like me who had homes, and lives, and children and marriages, and pain I wonder at his perspective. He stepped into the mess of earth and built relationships with some of the least unlikely men and women and then he died in front of their eyes. And rose just behind their tears. And perhaps it felt like time stood still for a bit.
And yet, on the third day, when the stone was rolled away their ordinary changed because they got to see, touch, talk to and believe this Jesus was who he said he was--fully God, fully man, the savior of the world, the destroyer of ordinary.
What did the next years feel like to those who loved Jesus, watched him die and watched him rise? To those who began the first churches? Did the zeal wear off? Did they go back to their old habits or ways of thinking?
I don't think the ones who really believed him did. Most of them died fighting to share the Gospel of Jesus' saving grace to a world that persecuted them and ran them out of town. To choose to keep believing and professing Jesus was to choose a life full of risk of death. And they chose this!
Would who I believe Jesus to be give me the courage and the strength to risk it all--family, home, comfort, my earthly future hope and dreams--to live like I believed it, and share the truth of the Gospel with others?
Am I that brave?
Am I that courageous?
Am I that sure?
In short, no. I am not. My humanness is tripping me up all the time. But, Easter reminds me that God has been using unlikely, unsure humans to build his church since the days Jesus rose from the grave. And because of their stories and the Spirit’s power at work in me, I can at the very least start living like I do.
Perhaps the courage, like Jill Briscoe says, is waiting on the other side of my obedience. Perhaps, actions come first and the power settles in second? Perhaps my confidence needs to be weak because it is only in my weakness that He is strong. And then my faith is faith because I am operating out of true dependence on Christ and belief in the the one who is the Word come in the flesh, that all the world could know the light wins over darkness.
A lot of the days in my life start out just as ordinary as the one before. A lot of Sundays I corral my troop and arrive late to church, again! But on this Easter Sunday, I am reminded that there is actually nothing about this life I live that is ordinary because you and I have a great commission to fulfill--Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).
I can let the days go by and get stuck in the day-to-day, or I can take actions that show I believe, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (1 Peter 3:9). And that I have what I need right where I am to bring the powerful message of Easter to those who cross my path in the in-between of life now and eternity to come.
Happy Easter friends! I pray you and I both will not imagine for a second that we live ordinary lives. Instead, that we will remember, even if our lives look ordinary in the pictures we post that behind the screens, we are able to choose to live out beliefs that drive actions that move us into needing the courage found in the power of the Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave.
Fighting for Grace to Win
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV).
I walked away from a conversation the other day feeling wounded, like I had just been hit with an uppercut from a prizefighter. And this seems common lately, these unexpected blows caused from words, circumstances or judgments not founded on truth. Although another hit left me reeling, feeling like I might just fall to the mat, I have come to a new dependence on and understanding of grace. For this I am grateful.
Grace is an eloquent and beautiful word. But it came at a brutal cost--bloodshed and death. Grace from heaven is freely given and I delight in the grace I receive. But to extend grace is a constant and exhausting boxing match that takes place in my heart, mind and soul. Lies must be beaten down. Thoughts that assume the best of the other need to be set at center. And truly believing the God's really good at defending his own must outrun the determination to fix things myself.
To be grace to the one who jabs my sides is a brutal fight. A fight that requires a death. Grace required Christ’s death. And for grace to win in my heart, a death of my desires to seek truth and justice for selfish gain or emotional satisfaction must also occur.
Grace has already won me. But to allow grace to win in me the full armor of God must be put on. Hour by hour. Day by day. Week by week. I must suit up and fight to believe that I win, the Church wins, and relationship wins when I set aside my defenses and let grace truly cover the offenses. Because grace makes way for forgiveness. Forgiveness ushers in freedom. Glorious, undeserved, freedom!
Freedom sets us free from pain, bondage and mind games. Grace, forgiveness and freedom keep relationships intact and the body of Christ effective. And this is why relationships increase our Christ-likeness, propel us toward our purpose and build up lineage after lineage of faith.
My challenge for you today is for you to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you more clearly all the ways he has entrusted the gifts of relationships to you. So that you can love him more completely and love his people more intentionally. For example, friends, neighbors, co-workers, mentors, parents, children, widows, orphans, or the elderly. Pray for discernment to know in what area(s) of your life you need to intentionally pursue deeper relationships with others who grow your need for understanding and living grace.
Pray that you will know what obedience looks like for you and that you would know how to access the power, resources and creativity to obey. Take one step, and then the next one, and the next. Soon each step might be just a little bit easier. Or you’ll be stronger, so it will at least seem easier.
Jesus once said to his disciples, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35, NLT). How we live in relationship with others impacts the world of observers around us. Take the time often to Go & See who has helped to prove to you, through the way he or she loved, that relationships graft us into a tree of faith that started with the lineage of Jesus. Reminisce about those dear ones that loved you unconditionally, with grace and truth, setting you on the path you are on today. Let your remembering and documenting fill you with a gratitude that motivates you to pass keep the faith family tree growing.
And when words jab, assumptions knock you down, or circumstances throw you off balance, don't give up on the people it appears you are fighting against. Choose to put down your comebacks and let God be your defender. Choose to fight the real enemy--Satan the deceiver, liar, and destroyer--with prayer, praise, and truth. Choose to fight for grace to win in you because it has already won you.
In a previous post, A Letter From the Young, I expressed a call to all of us adults to see the challenges that the young face in this world full of access to technology, rampant with loneliness and in need of healthy ways of life in the midst of it all. A seemingly fitting analogy for this call for adults to step into the lives of the young is a playground:
When we were younger than we are now, we used to play in playgrounds with fences around the perimeter to keep us safe and within bounds. We had adults who knew what it took to keep us safe. But where are those fences now? Where are the adults who know where the perimeter is and who put up the fences to let us know where the lines of safety are? Where are the protectors and guides who outline the boundaries for us and blow the whistle to keep us from crossing over to places that harm us?
Perhaps you read, A Letter From the Young, and wondered: What does it look like to be a guide? How do I help set up boundaries to keep the young safe, healthy and thriving? If so, the 6 ideas below may be helpful for you to put this call into action. This list is not exhaustive, but it is a start.
Teach through modeling and discussions that devices are tools we are to control, but that if we are not careful can control us. These tools, when they are in our control, help us learn and grow. But when used to fill a need for relational connection, avoid boredom or as a means to generate ideas, it will not satisfy and potentially leave one craving more. Steve Jobs once used the analogy of a computer as a bicycle for our minds. (This was 25 years ago so I think it is suffice to now say, any personal technological device in place of computer.) A bicycle is a tool to carry a person to a destination he or she planned to go. And it gets one their more quickly than walking. But the rider determines the direction, pedals the wheels and steers the bike in the direction she intends to go based on the purpose she has for getting on the bike. Knowing why we use our devices and setting time limits on how long we will be on them helps us remain in control of the tool we are using. Perhaps this analogy in itself will help you explain to a child the positive ways in which to view and use the devices around them--most importantly, determining purpose and destination prior to tuning in, singing on, or scrolling through.
Know the guidelines for screen time issued by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Then work towards following them as many days of the year as you can. The site, HeatlthyKids.org, is full of specific and helpful guidelines. Here are the recommendations from AAP:
Do not allow devices of any kind in bedrooms or behind closed doors. Keeping screens in view not only helps you monitor what a child is doing, but the amount of time spent on a screen. Also, avoid screen use before bed. Staring at a screen makes your brain alert and alters the melatonin levels in your body, making it both hard to fall asleep, stay asleep and get into deep (REM) sleep. All of which heavily impacts your metabolism, your mood, your appetite for sweet or junky foods (and in turn your weight), your risk of developing diabetes and possibly even cancer, the list goes on and on. (Harvard researchers, Psychology Today).
4. Guide your child based on your family's values. In our family, we value learning, exploring and adventure. We value togetherness and interaction. In addition, we value hard work. Ways we instill these values in our home is by using them in our reasonings for our actions. In the summer, our children are required to “earn” screen time by completing the following list of chores and activities. There were many summer days they didn’t even get to screen time because they got caught up in the creativity birthed from the activities required on the list. Also, when screen time is allowed, compromise is taught because only one screen can be on in the house at a time. This promotes negotiating skills and screen time as something done together. Lastly, if there are friends over and screen time is requested, our answer is always, “We spend time with our friends when they are here. We don’t use screens because our friends came to spend time with us.” Allowing your family’s values into your language and conversations both teaches your children what is expected and helps them to see that they too can learn to make healthy decisions based on what aligns with your family values. (For more on creating and using family values, check outTriune Leadership’s Family Portrait Retreats.)
Become familiar with brain research and the impact technology, gaming or screens can have on development and self-control. It may be hard to find unbiased articles, but wade through what you find and glean what is helpful while not allowing fear to overtake your thoughts and actions. One helpful book is, The Culture-Wise Family: Upholding Christian Values in a Mass-Media World.
Let the Bible be your guide. Memorize, instruct and frequently discuss the meaning of pertinent Scriptures with the young in your life. In a culture that is always changing, we know that God’s word is constantly steady, active and able to penetrate to bring to light Truth, wholeness and wisdom. Believe that Scripture can help you know how to guide yourself and others to healthy boundaries in the area of technology, social media and entertainment. Here are some verses to get you started:
I believe the most powerful ally in this endeavor is the wisdom, discernment, and courage that is provided to all those who ask for it from the Lord. My challenge to you is to seek out knowledge and advice on how to navigate guiding the young to healthy habits but to not stop there. Instead, to continually seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance for what is best for each of the children you are guiding. And also for yourself. We lead others well when we are able to model for them healthy boundaries and habits in our own lives. Let the strength of the Lord be your source of grace, power and victory in pushing back the against norms of culture that can silently and slowly bring destruction to one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. Let’s claim and live the hope and promise found in Jesus’ words recorded in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Technology is not evil. In fact, many amazing miracles and relationships have come about because of the advances of communication technology. I love that I can keep up with former students and colleagues who literally live around the globe. Yet, we need boundaries to live healthy and productive lives and the younger generation needs us to help them learn wisdom within boundaries. All of which begins with placing media and personal devices in a rightful place in our lives, as tools that can be used for good when combined with wisdom, guidance, an understanding of the purposes and side-effects, and appropriate boundaries.
A Letter from the Young
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Hello, you might know me. I am one of the young. The future. The next generation. I know you see me, and I know you hear me. But I wonder some days do you know and see how to help me? Do you know and see how hard it is to be young during these times we are living in?
Sometimes I hear adults say, what is going on with kids these days? I am not sure what they mean, but it leaves me wondering if perhaps we are not measuring up to expectations.
To be honest, there are just so many expectations to wade through; the pressure of them all leaves me overwhelmed sometimes. I wonder, do you know what it is like to keep track of a cell phone, a Chrome book, a 6-day rotating school schedule, soccer practice, have social media presence AND keep up with all the other things that go along with growing up: navigating relationships, hormones, reputation, image, peer pressure, temptations and the loss of innocence. Do you see us collapsing under the expectation that we manage all of this and still somehow remain kids?
Did you know that our generation is one of the most connected, but loneliest? Did you know that our generation is most likely to be safe from the harm of others but more depressed and suicidal than previous generations? Did you know that even though we know how to use screens and navigate technology without fear, no one has experienced this technologically-filled kind of life, so we have little to no one setting up boundaries for us?
When we were younger than we are now, we used to play in playgrounds with fences around the perimeter to keep us safe and within bounds. We had adults who knew what it took to keep us safe. But where are those fences now? Where are the adults who know where the perimeter is and who put up the fences to let us know where the lines of safety are? Where are the protectors and guides who outline the boundaries for us and blow the whistle to keep us from crossing over to places that harm us?
Yes, our generation has so much freedom. So much information. So much access to everything we could ever want or need to know. Yes, we know how to use apps and websites to learn and connect. But what if it is all too much for us? What if we need boundaries and advisors to blow whistles to keep us safe? What if we need time limits and parameters and rules to guard our emotions, minds, and hearts against the loneliness and depression that comes with always having the option of being connected sitting in our hands or backpacks?
What if we need to be kids again? What if we need to only be held responsible for a backpack, some textbooks, a few number two pencils, and six wide-ruled notebooks. What if we need to be given permission to unplug? What if we need less freedom and more faces in our lives reminding us to limit screen time to only what is required to get homework done? What if we need fewer options for what goes in our ears and minds and more eyes looking us in the eye and reminding us that what we see in front of us is our real life and it is one worth loving, exploring and enjoying because it is a gift from the Divine Creator who has beautiful and prosperous plans for every day, right where we are?
What if we need you to lead us by example? What if we can’t carry this load because we weren’t meant to?
Will you step into this hard world with us? Will you get down to our level and see what it looks, feels and sounds like to be growing up in these times? We need you to see us. We need you to see our future and lead us there. We need you to be the ones who help us navigate this adult world because we don’t know how. We have the information. We have the products. We have access to more than you can even imagine, but what we need is you. We need you to teach us how to establish healthy habits and discern appropriate usage of technology. We are too young to know this on our own. We need you to teach us because our lives and your future depends on it.
The next time you see me with earbuds in, would you choose not to walk by, but to grab my attention and engage me in a conversation. The next time you see me scrolling when I could be playing, would you be brave enough to call me out on it? Maybe even kick a soccer ball my way and play with me? The next time you hear me obsessing about what I saw or heard online, would you be bold enough to ask me a question about my “real” life or relationships with friends?
It is hard down here. We just don’t always have the words to explain how or why. We don’t always know how to ask for help. We need you to see us so well that you know when we need help and how to offer it.
Will you be brave, bold and deliberate in showing us the way to fight back the norms of culture that seem to wash over us with a subtle but eroding force? We can’t know what isn’t taught. We can’t do what isn’t modeled. We can’t meet expectations that are not made clear. Would you teach, model and explain how to navigate this world with grace, humility, and confidence. We would be ever so grateful if you did.
With invisible tears,
The Younger Generation
The above compassionate reflection was inspired by what I see each day as a middle school teacher, along with my reading of the following texts:
The Shepherd Life
To choose or be called to a life of shepherding is to be asked to protect, tend to, care for and provide food and water for a flock. The shepherd must observe when the flock is thirsty and bring them to water. He must observe when the fields is running out of grass and move the flock to a new field with enough grass to feed them all. The shepherd must always be on guard for danger of animals, treacherous paths, and cliffs. This shepherd life is a nomadic life. A life that requires movement based on the needs of the flock--water, food, protection, care.
In contrast, the life of a king is more of a settled life. A king rules from his throne and sends this person and that army to where they need to go to guard and protect the land and the people. He may seek counsel from the people outside his castle wall and make decisions based on what he hears from the people he reigns over, but he does not live with them. He does not move when the water is dry or the field emptied of grass. A good king, though, will use his resources of people and power to provide food protection for his people. He tends to the needs of the kingdom but his flock is larger and his method more static.
And then there is Jesus. The shepherd-king. This son of man, son of God, savior-king, fully human and fully God who came down to earth to show us what it means to love, what it means to serve, and what it means to lead while living on this earth with heaven in our hearts. Jesus the shepherd-king both rules and reigns with all the resources of the universe and commanding this person and that army of angels where to go. Yet, he is also the shepherd-king who walks with his flock to water and pastures when the water is dry or the food has become sparse. He is ever-present with his flock, able to observe and intervene to care for, protect and guide the flock, not leaving behind even one.
How do we let Christ be both our shepherd and our king?
I believe we submit to him as King and find peace and trust in knowing that the permanence of his reign and his throne will protect and keep us--that he will use all his power and resources to provide for the needs of His people. Our fully human Jesus knew we would be prone to needing a leader king for our hearts, but maybe more so for our minds. Yet, I believe, we must see that God doesn’t fit neatly into “this or that” definitions: is he a shepherd or he king? Because he is completely and uniquely able to be both. He is able to sit on his throne and rule and reign and at the same time come down to our pastures and lead us beside still waters and restore our souls--he is both nomadic and static. He is both able to lead us to provision (cool water and green pastures) and provide us with our needs where we are via distribution of his wealth through his governance of people and resources.
The life of a shepherd is a nomadic one of walking with the Lamb while leading His lambs. The King created the water and the pastures, the shepherd is called to lead the sheep to the provisions of the King--all the while not leaving even one behind. As leaders and teachers, when we are faced with leading those around us, we may need to seek the Lord and ask: "What do the people I am leading need? How does God want to provide for them?" In addition, it will benefit us and those we lead when we seek discernment that is line with thinking like a shepherd. And also asking for wisdom for those areas of our leading and decision making that require us to trust the King of Kings who reigns and provides. We can never be exactly like Jesus to those we lead, but we can submit to his leading us as we try our very best to lead like Christ--guiding and teaching with hearts and minds modeled after the shepherd-king.