How Do You Think About Church?

ImageWe’ve had our fair share of struggles with the institution of “the church.”  Especially the unique challenges that come with a “mega church” (still weird to say!) that has experienced rapid growth in attendance, but not necessarily membership.  When everyone starting calling Donald Miller out for his blog post about his frustrations with the institutional church, we saw a lot of where he was coming from. 

Then I read this by Shauna Niequist: “She’s not a Megachurch. She’s my Sister’ and thought – yes.  Yes, this is the way I feel about our church.

You see, this church is much more than a building.  It is more than the size of weekly attendance.  It is more than their celebrity status.  It is much more than something we do on Sundays.  Its identity cannot be found in those things because it is much, much more.

 

It is the people we call at midnight on a Saturday because we can’t go back to our own home.  

It is the weekly dinners, the confessions, the griefs, the joys, the marriages, the babies.

It is the “band of brothers,” the community that the rest of the world longs for.

It is the pastors that take your call late at night because they care about you.

It is an extended family — the kind with all its quirks, all of its heartbreaks, yet wrapped up in a commitment to be “for you,” no matter how much that hurts.

We have been pretty banged up in this season, but it has been an opportunity for the Lord to show us how well this Church that the he has granted us, this family, loves us…and how much we love them.  They are not perfect — no family is.  But they have sacrificed time and spoken words of life into our weary family.  We have felt more and more like sojourners on this road of life, but we know that we have fellow travelers alongside us…yearning for our true home.

 

 

A Lenten Reflection: Jesus and Our Comfort

reliving the passion“Jesus has many who love his kingdom in heaven, but few who bear his Cross. Many follow Jesus to the Breaking of the Bread, but few to the drinking of the Cup of his Passion. They who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort for themselves, bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy.”

This quote from Reliving the Passion by Walter Wangerin Jr. stings a little at first.

“They who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort for themselves…

Do I truly love Jesus for His own sake, or do I love him for my own comfort?  What happens when I’m uncomfortable?  Do I expect to share in Christ’s sufferings, treated no better than he was?  Do I expect my way to look different than the way of the cross?

The truth is, I want the joy that Jesus offers without embracing his prescribed way of joy.  I want circumstancial comfort instead of embracing my Comforter in the midst of circumstances I wouldn’t ever choose.

And there have been a lot of circumstances I wouldn’t ever choose.

It seems that the more we try to sacrifice, the more we labor to serve and to lay down all that we own at Jesus’ feet, the more opposition we encounter.  We have had several Judas-esque betrayals and false accusations.  We have had to sit through two “trials” of sorts and keep our mouths shut, while our accusers hurl insults and lies at us.  I’ve sat there, biting my tongue and looking away to hold back the tears.  And they have left me extremely weary.

Yet – this.  “They who love Jesus for His own sake…bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy.”

There can be no resurrection without the Cross.  I believe this for Jesus, but do I believe it for me?

Instead of stewing with uncontrollable anger, I want my response to be a compassionate “Father, forgive them.”  As I’m being insulted, I want to see the face of Jesus in excruciating pain: shutting his mouth in response to THE false accusations of all false accusations.  Because the truth is, I am Judas.  I am the one hurling insults at Jesus.  But through the Cross, Jesus has taken on my Judas-ness and freed me – but this was not the freedom I was hoping for.  I wanted freedom from the shame, the insults…yet he granted me something much deeper – Himself, his presence.   He granted freedom from the chains of bitterness and the plots of revenge.

Philippians 4:10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

And so I wait.  Instead of despising the suffering, I bear it — knowing that His cross did what only an instrument of torture and death could do – produce a resurrection.  I look to him as one that is united to him in both his suffering and his resurrection.  I wait, while he uses this cross to produce unimaginable joy — a joy that proclaims to the world that I love him — not for my comfort’s sake, but for His sake alone.

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

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“Cain spoke to Abel his brother.  And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.  Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

 

The first human relationship we’re shown in Scripture, other than Adam and Eve, is Cain and Abel.  It ends in murder and this simple response to God’s inquiry: “…am I my brother’s keeper?”  The whole story of Israel reflects an oscillation between love and hatred of neighbor, with devastating consequences for Israel and her neighbors.

Thousands of years later, our response, though different in language in vocabulary, remains the same.  We live as though our actions only affect us, and as if our brother’s actions only affect them.  But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

When we neglect time in prayer and in the Word, it affects us, yes.  When we watch pornography, when we overeat, when we exalt the opinions of others, when we engage in sex before marriage…we immediately consider the short-term consequences for ME.  Most of us see this and feel the nagging guilt.  And somehow, we convince ourselves that it is okay as long as we are the only ones affected.  We can handle the consequences.  We are attuned to the “cause and effect” world that God has made.  

But we are near-sighted, unable to see the effect on everyone around us: our spouse, our friends, our co-workers, our boss, our children.  Suddenly, our sin kept in private is unleashed, devouring everyone around us.  In the same way that a small act of kindness is “passed on,” small acts of evil are passed to everyone we touch.  

But this attitude doesn’t stop there.  In the same way, when we see our brother, sister, spouse, family member…giving in to the deceitfulness of sin, we look the other way.  Left to myself, I am a “peacemaker,” valuing the comfort of staying out of conflict much more than the potentially uncomfortable consequences of rocking the boat and telling a brother or sister something they don’t want to hear.  This is a constant battle for me.  But if I truly consider myself my brother’s keeper, this is not an option, it is an obligation.  Sure, it may not affect me directly, but it affects my sister, her spouse, her children, her co-workers…the consequences are endless.  God’s pronouncement is that it is not good for man to be alone.  He has created us FOR each other: for each other’s flourishing.   

In the Kingdom of God, we ARE our brother’s keeper.  This is a central part of our identity as we seek to fulfill the greatest commands to love God and love our neighbor.  God’s very design demands that we consider our brother, and even prefer him.  Consider Jesus.  If he had preferred his reputation over love, he would not have reached out to the “untouchables” of society.  And if he had preferred his comfort over love, he would never have subjected himself to the excruciating pain of the cross.  The ripple effect of his choice to be his brother’s keeper has changed the course of history.  And as partakers in the new creation and kingdom that Jesus instituted, we too embrace our calling to be our brother’s keeper.

Instead of choosing solitude, we choose the gathering of the saints.  Instead of choosing to keep our sins to ourselves, we choose to bring them into the light, eliciting the encouragement and accountability of those around us.  We choose to surround ourselves by true friends, those that love our holiness over our comfort.  We choose to fight against the individualistic tendencies of this generation, choosing instead to be a hospitable people, welcoming and inviting.  And as we embrace our true identity, our true humanity as our brother’s keeper, we serve as a fragrance of the knowledge of God to those around us.

 

 

 

He Loved Us to Make Us Lovely

On this Valentine’s Day, here’s one of my favorite descriptions of love from Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage.  Thankful for a husband that displays this type of radical love on a daily basis!

“…We must say to ourselves something like this: ‘Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think “I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.” No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us – denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him – and in the greatest act of love in history, he STAYED. He said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.’ Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day.” 

Ham, Nye, and Why Christians Don’t Have to Be Afraid of Science

Bill-Nye-became-famous-for-his-role-in-educating-children-on-science

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Last night’s debate between Bill Nye (The Science Guy!) and Ken Ham reminded me of why I appreciate my seminary training.

And I needed a reminder.

Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, I have loved school.  I have senioritis, so that’s saying a lot.  But there are times I can’t stop thinking about the same question: Has it been worth it?  The academic rigor, the physical toll, the sleepless nights, the vocabulary drilling, the money…it all takes its toll.

But tonight, I was reminded that I am called to speak intelligently to those who want (or demand!) logical, thought out answers.  Including myself.

The “three-year ago me” would have been troubled by a lot of what was presented tonight by Nye.  I’m not a science geek, and have never been.  All that he said about rock formations, stellar astronomy (yes, when Nye said he was a “stellar astronomist,” I thought he was giving himself a compliment…and that’s after 2 semesters of astronomy in undergrad), microbes…let’s just say the concepts alone would have sunk me.  They seemed more plausible than what Ham had to offer.  Ham had good intentions, but when it came to the “scientific explanations” for certain things, Nye seemed to be able to do more.

Yet after slowly and carefully working through Genesis 1 last semester and asking a million questions from from different perspectives, I feel confident that the “Bible as a scientific textbook” approach to the Scriptures is a modern phenomenon which asks modern questions.  The Bible IS interested in where we came from, don’t get me wrong.  But if you begin to see the Bible FIRST as a story, and Genesis as the introduction to that story (and the nation of Israel’s story), the pressure to make the Bible answer questions it isn’t primarily concerned with dissolves.  Do I believe that God is the ultimate Creator of everything?  Absolutely.  Do I also believe that we have an obligation to take Genesis 1 in its historical, cultural and canonical context (among others)?  Absolutely we do.  Yet, instead of doing the tough work…we get scared.  And when we get scared and defensive, we don’t think through our answers.

Thank God that in my heart, I wasn’t scared.  Nye didn’t threaten anything within me…instead, he stirred my compassion for all the “science guys” out there.  Sure, he mocked Ham a few times here and there, but God has made Nye in His image with a beautiful mind.  A mind that marvels at the creation (Nye actually used the word “joy” to describe his scientific discoveries), yet has absolutely missed the beauty of the Creator.

You see, God, in his merciful providence, knew that deep-thinking “talk myself in or out of anything” me would NEED a firm grasp on tools to access the truth intelligently.  He knew that I would need it, and that those around me would need it too.  So here I am, desiring to finish strong – for the sake of the truth, the glory of Jesus Christ – in my mind, and in my sphere of influence.  He has created me for such a time as this — may I live faithfully unto His Name.

“He’s Not My Type”

ImageSingle people say it without shame.  Married people think it in the middle of a fight.

“We’re not compatible”…followed by “Is it supposed to be this hard?”

“Define compatible” is typically my reply.  I want to give her/him the benefit of the doubt.  But most of the time, I know what they mean before they say it.

“He’s not my type.”  “Our families are completely different.” “We can’t seem to communicate.”

I fear this is another area where we’ve exalted the god of comfort.  Every person who has breathed in the air of America knows the lure of comfort.  But maybe we aren’t as good as seeing it in this area.

The reality is, we are drawn to people like us.  We understand them without any effort.  We can serve them in a way that is meaningful without any effort.  We hang out with friends clear across town because they “get” us…when we’ve been given the opportunity to develop deeper relationships with our fellow church member down the street.

It is clear that we value comfort over diversity.  But we are not citizens of America (predominantly anyways), we are citizens of the kingdom of God.  And this means a re-thinking, re-ordering, living a “the first will be last and the last will be first” kind of life.  We are missing it.

I feel the liberty to speak into this specific area because I was a victim of it.  And it almost cost be one of the most beautiful gifts God has given me.

When I met David, we instantly became friends.  We talked about Guatemala, about Jesus, about theology, about “deeper things.”  But when we started dating, the “real issues” (as I perceived them at the time) came to the surface.  David didn’t look like a man I thought I would date (or marry): he was a firefighter.  His family has experienced a lot of divorce.  He grew up with his grandparents in a military town.  He wears flip flops everywhere.  He is an extrovert.  He didn’t go to college.  It is embarassing to me now…to look back at this list and realize that these things made us “incompatible” in my eyes.

So, I broke up with him.  A lot.  He hung in there, and he had a lot of people telling him to be done with me.  On the one hand, I felt the Lord pulling me towards him, but I couldn’t shake the “incompatible” factor.

Friends, the “incompatibles” were difficult to work through.  I’m not going to act like they weren’t.  But what we have found on the other end is a push towards Christ-likeness that we would not have experienced otherwise.  Like Christ in the incarnation, I have had to put myself in David’s shoes, approaching lightly with gentleness and humility…and listen.  Try to understand where he has been.  It has not been easy, but I am confident that this is right and good, because this is what Jesus was called to when he walked this earth.  He was far from compatible with the ones he loved.  Yet, he pushed through the barriers.  And in this, we can see true love — a love that transcends compatibility, a love that transcends languages, cultures, preferences.

What I have found on the other end of embracing our incompatibility is an opportunity to speak of our incompatibility with God, yet his joyful embrace of us.  We always joke about how neither of us would have even considered dating the other prior to when we met.  But the Gospel brought us together – a driving force that drove Jesus to love the untouchable, the woman, the outcast.  If he was culture-bound, he would have taken the route around Samaria — Jews (especially men!) were not “compatible” with Samaritans (especially women!).  Yet, he set aside the temptation to bow down to the god of comfort and of appearance, choosing instead to bow down to His Father.

And we have been given the same privilege, the same joy, of embracing the “other,” forsaking our own comfort, and choosing instead to glorify the Father through the Son by the Spirit.

Framing Our W-2’s

ImageI’m thinking about framing our W-2’s from this year.

I know that may strike most of you as…well…strange.  But as soon as I opened them, I was immediately reminded of the tremendous love of our Father this year.  Here goes nothing.

Most of you know that 2013 marked our first full year “on support.”  David left the fire department at the end of 2013 to support raise full time (for 2 ministry jobs, may I add!) while I continued as a full time graduate student.  We were not allowed to withdraw any salary until we got close to 100% of our salary raised.  It took us 10 months, and we are still not at our true ‘100%.’  We planned for 5-6 months, worst-case scenario.

7 months in, I got a part-time job…but still have been getting paid less than I ever did (for the same job) prior to seminary.  It is not much – let’s put it this way: his W-2 from October – December was the same amount as mine from July – December.  We didn’t pull a paycheck for David’s work until October.

In addition to living expenses, we have been paying off my school tuition as we go so we don’t incur any debt from it.  And we have had some pretty momentous medical bills along the way.

You guys, our W-2’s were collectively $22,000.  I’m pretty sure we were, by America’s standards, below the poverty line.  I cannot believe that number.

Yet we never went without, in the truest sense of the word.  In fact, I would say we’ve lived abundantly.  We never stopped our charitable giving, even when we weren’t getting paid a cent.  We have treated to meals and gifts.  And minus one car repair that is still being paid off, we are out of debt.  I don’t say any of this to boast, except to boast in Our Heavenly Father who is true to His word.  We have been transformed by the idea of “seeking first the kingdom of God” and trusting Him for the rest.  I wouldn’t run my life any other way.  That was our aim, and He delivered abundantly.  By all Biblical standards, I would call it a miracle.

I know the details of all this aren’t important, but hopefully they illustrate the magnitude of the God we serve.  My prayer is that our testimony of this past year spurs YOU on to step out into the unknown.  To seek the opportunity that brings the fullness of joy in His presence.  I urge you, seek first the kingdom of God!  We have a long way to go to truly doing that in the fullest sense, but God has honored our small steps in that direction.  He takes the little courage and trust that we have (that He works in us!) and works miracles.  Taste the joy that is waiting for you in His presence, seeing Him work modern day miracles.