This Little Piggy Went a Preachin’

A little story about a pig has wrecked me in a big way.

Never have I felt more understood than by this pig. Her story will preach.

I have shared openly here the tension I experience in being a woman called to ministry. I’ve never felt quite at home with my calling. It has simultaneously felt like it would destroy me to do it and destroy me if I don’t. It is a calling that is equal parts courage and cowardice. From this too, Jesus is in the process of saving me.

This weekend I will saunter my courage and cowardice up front and out in front of everyone to teach the church.  It will be my first time (well, from the “pulpit” that is). Everyone asks, “Are you excited?” “Are you nervous?” No. Neither. More like filled with the faith of a scaredy-cat chicken pig. On one hand, I’ve been told for so many years that I couldn’t or shouldn’t, that now that I am, I hope I don’t prove any of them right. On the other hand, the Word is beautiful and my confidence in His faithful ministry to the people is steadfast.

I’m feeling a whole lot of vulnerability. Showing up and being seen is always vulnerable. I will be less than perfect, but enough because of Jesus. Some people won’t like it, but I will still be fully loved and welcomed by Jesus. Inside I will probably feel like dying, but I’ll do it anyways because I am truly believing that these kinds of “deaths” are the only way to true living.  I’m believing that He who calls, equips. I’m believing that there are other women (and young girls) who need to see courage give a good left hook to fear and all the “girls shouldn’t…” rubbish. I’m believing that rejection (ironically the topic of my sermon) is a lesser truth than the grace and glory Jesus seeks to reveal through heartfelt obedience. I am fully convinced that wherever silence has felt like bondage, the voice of truth longs to bring liberty.

In the end, all that matters is not at all what I feel or believe; all that really matters is that Jesus will matter more to those who listen. To that end, this little piggy will preach.

No Filter Friday {Random Thoughts about Football, Church, and Authenticity}

To begin with, a little sports update: 

It’s no secret I’m a Seahawks fan. #gohawks! There’s a very interesting off-the-field development surrounding Marshawn Lynch and his ongoing refusal to talk with the media. I find it befuddling that we flaunt our societal value of authenticity yet criticize Lynch for his silence.  Why does anyone care what the dude has to say? He’s not a politician or a professor–he’s an {introverted} football player. I wonder how many of us would want to give an exit interview after a long day at the office…every day.

And to the surly butcher at the market who practically wielded a knife at me yesterday–I’m truly sorry your Chargers aren’t in the Super Bowl and I know you had more short ribs in the back for someone who isn’t a Seahawks fan. #calmdown

How do you respond to failure? If like me it undoes and flattens you, you must go watch this video of Clayton Kershaw accepting his MVP and Cy Young awards and wait for the very last line. There is much to learn in this speech about vulnerability, honor, humility, team, and the measure of true greatness. Show it to your kids. Tear a page out of his manual for your own life.

Church-y stuff: 

This week I have been in many conversations with my church peeps and a common thread is running through the words–God is at work. The work is deep, sometimes painful, and terribly discomforting. These conversations have helped me to see how quick we are to bandage up wounds that need a deeper healer. God’s work of binding up the brokenhearted is something much more profound than a conciliatory bandaid and a quick kiss on the forehead. He is not about a simple fix but lasting transformation. Stay with Him, friends. I know the work hurts. On the other side of the pain there is healing…there is a Healer.

I read this interview of Erin Lane and was stirred by this quote of hers:

I worry, though, about whether we’re doing enough to interact with people who don’t inhabit our particular lifestyle enclaves. I don’t see many examples of rich involvement in public spaces that are open to strangers and friends alike. That’s one of the unique features of the church, at least right now, that it offers a common space between your private friends and the larger community. I think we’re losing some of those rich public spaces where anyone can show up, regardless of fitness or food preferences or economic status and ability to work.

I see this at work in my own life and it’s giving me considerable pause. What can be done to create more common space and how can we invite people into it in such a way that it offers true welcome and acceptance? I wonder what would happen if we would all just calm down about our differences and be secure enough in our convictions to allow for divergency of preference. Friendship is sterilized when we objectify and classify one another according to camps, shared interests, and common allegiance to the same opinion.

I know it’s the spirit of the age to scrutinize and critique, but suspicion and cynicism do not exactly communicate, “Come on in! We welcome you!” Possibly before we are able to create common space we will have to do the hard work of ridding ourselves of the judgments that shoo away hospitality. It will maybe feel a little risky, unsafe…vulnerable–but we can do this.

That leads me back to my first thought about authenticity. We love authentic people, so long as they look just like us. That kind of authenticity requires no patience, no kindness; no love. If we are compelled at all by the words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you” then it might help us if we rephrased this command, “Go find an enemy and make them a friend.” Because after all, that IS how he loved us.

Blessed Are the Lightweights

I’m a lightweight. This is the conclusion to which I am coming as I once again study of the Beatitudes and wonder, “Whatever does it mean?”

What does it mean to ‘blessed?’ Everyone is always saying “bless, you” like it’s some magical happily-ever-after birdseed being thrown about at a wedding celebration. Have these same people read the hard words of Jesus?

When you are poor and desperate, heartbroken, powerless—you are blessed.”

I have been in all these circumstances. They did not feel blessed.

When you are merciful, newly pruned, and a peacemaker—you are blessed.” Implied in these circumstances are the offenses in need of mercy, the cutting away and scrubbing off of the impure, and the conflict for which someone must resist warfare.

I have been in all these circumstances. They did not feel blessed.

In point of fact, I do my best to insulate myself from such situations. These are for the brave and vulnerable ones.

Vulnerable | adjective: 1. Capable or susceptible to being wounded or hurt. 2. Open to moral attack or criticism.

Like most of our English words, ‘vulnerable’ is susceptible to being overstated and under practiced, in spite of Brene’ Brown’s best efforts.

I am a lightweight to the tough demand of Jesus and the vulnerability it requires.

***

Lately, I’ve been having a hard time keeping my mouth closed about different situations that so easily woo my commentary. Name it. Call it out. Pound a fist on the table, throw some hip into it, and boss everything in life back into order.

Shhhh!” I hear. “You have nothing to offer. It’s okay to cry about it—it is a sad reminder of what isn’t yet that should be. But don’t get confused—meekness is not weakness. It is only deferring power to the One who has true strength.”

***

Scot McKnight defines the blessed this way: “Blessed: Someone who, because of a heart for God, is promised and enjoys God’s favor regardless of that person’s status or countercultural condition.”

When looking at the text where we find the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, two notable features jump out:

  1. The promise of the “Kingdom of Heaven” (MT 5:3 & 10) sandwich these circumstances of profound vulnerability.
  2. Right smack in the middle of the sandwich—the meat, if you will—is hungering and thirsting for righteousness (MT 5:6).

Do you not hear the voice of Jesus in the hungering and thirsting?

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink” (JN 7:37-38).

and

I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (JN 6:35).

The Kingdom of Heaven is given to those who have discovered their greatest riches are nothing more than the pauper’s empty hands, open with desperation to receive their next day’s deposit of grace.

The Kingdom of Heaven is present in the comforting of those who mourn for the ashes of life to once and for all be replaced by the crown of beauty and festive oil (Is 61:3).

The Kingdom of Heaven is experienced now as practice for enjoying the reign of God whose power is mercy and judgment is love.

Friend, is the darkness thick with no glimmer of light? Does the waiting mock hope? Does everything feel out of your control? Do all your efforts come up short?

Good news: Your longing for things to be set right can be found in the one whom the prophet declares, “is our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:6). Jesus, the righteous One who became our righteousness (I Cor. 1:30)—in His presence we find the blessing, the favor of God.

***

Is there risk in being you—in your poverty, broken-heartedness, and powerlessness—in the presence of Jesus? Yes, of course. But as Brene’ Brown so aptly replies, “Vulnerability is not about fear and grief and disappointment. It is the birthplace of everything we are hungry for.”

There is no blessing without vulnerability.

Are you hungry for acceptance? Jesus says, “Come. As is. No need to dress up. Come as you are…and be blessed.” Come to the blessing of his presence. Let your heart rest in His righteous sufficiency. Sit in the gaze of God’s favor. Leave the hustle of work and worry and Martha’s nagged refrain, “Lord, do you not care that… ? (LK 10:40). Let the power and beauty of His presence dull the edge off the circumstances and fill your heart with his love. “Blessed are the lightweights–the scared, the weak, the can’t-do-it-on-their-own, for in the presence of Jesus their hearts will find strength.”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” MT 5:6.

An Unclenched Moment {A Prayer for Fear & Worry}

Gentle me, Holy One,

into an unclenched moment,

a deep breath,

a letting go

of heavy expectancies, of shriveling anxieties,

of dead certainties,

that softened by the silence,

surrounded by the light, and open to the mystery,

I may be found by wholeness,

upheld by the unfathomable, entranced by the simple,

and filled with the joy that is You.

~Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace

Why must uncertainty feel like fear? Why does it stalk us with unanswered questions and smirk upon our unknowing? Why do our hearts sink so quickly into sands of worry?

Yes, gentle us, Lord. Unclench our moment. Increase our trust.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. ~The Holy One (Joshua 1:9)

Books for the New Year

As promised, I’ve updated my reading list. I’m excited about the books cluttering my nightstand. They are eclectic, and challenging, and most of all, rich with beautiful and soul-stirring words.

All in Day's Read

Most of my reading is devoted to my preparation for the #LikeAGirl study. This new season of study is on The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). In addition to my other study books, I’ve been learning a lot from the following:

  • Sermon on the Mount, by Scot McKnight
  • The Sermon on the Mount, by Daniel M. Doriani
  • The Sermon on the Mount through the Centuries, by Greenman, Larsen, and Spencer
  • Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision-Making in Matthew 5-7, by C.H. Talbert
  • The Gospel of the Kingdom, by George Eldon Ladd
  • Sermons on the Beatitudes, by John Calvin
  • Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martyn Lloyd Jones
  • The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If you’d like to see the Amazon links to these books, you can find them here. Do you have a favorite book on The Sermon on the Mount? Leave me a recommendation in the comments. I’d love to hear who has aided your understanding of what Jesus means for his listeners in this sermon. You could also let me know what you/re prepared to read in 2015. Even though I might not have time to add them to my list, I’d love to hear about them from you. I’ve already made myself sick looking at the lists of the best books of 2014. How I wish I had more time to read, but then when I would keep working on my formula to make book-reading a caloric-burning activity?

A Beautiful Gap {2014 Reflection}

I’ve been immersed recently in strategic planning, something I both equally love and hate. I love the process: logic, analysis, innovation. It’s candy for my mind. But boy, can the outcome frustrate you; your mind builds this picture of what can be and it’s beautiful and invigorating, but then there’s reality. Thud. Rarely is the real world as neat, tidy, and efficient as plans shrunk down to flow charts and worksheets. 

A Gap Analysis is a tool used in strategic planning to asses the disparity ditch between what can be and what is. I’m a straight-up idealist. Louis and I are just hanging out, taking in our trees of green and red roses too. Disparity ditches are dangerous places for idealists. It doesn’t take much for me to crash a big rig of grand ideas into one of those babies, only to have it all go up in the flames of despondency and despair.

Last night Early this morning, I laid in bed saying goodbye to 2014. I thought of all the things that could have been, that weren’t. I could feel the wheels pulling toward the ditch, but then, in what I can only call a tug of grace, I thought of all I had for which to be grateful. I could see the snapshots of acceptance in my life–spaces of surrender that feel like victorious freedom. There were also portraits of promises hanging, inviting me to stand before them and discover their subtle strokes of genius.

Here I am on the precipice of 2015, with a new kind of G.A.P. analysis of my life: Gratitude, Acceptance, and Promise.

Gratitude | noun: the quality of being thankful; the readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

  • I am thankful for friendships–I am loved by truly beautiful friends in the most generous of ways. They gift me with acceptance, faithfulness, and truth.
  • I am thankful for my family, those both near and far–Our family has experienced a lot of growth pains over the last year. We faced challenges in 2014 that I hope never to repeat, but the crucible exposed the treasures of character, commitment, and forgiveness we didn’t know we had. We are better for the wear and I am thankful for the way we have faced the trials together.
  • I am thankful for God’s provision–Finances were dreaded this year, but each deadline was met with manna from heaven: temporary jobs at just the right times,dollar stretching further than expected, and grace to find sacrifice not so hard as I imagined it to be. Additionally, God provided us with great health. Aside from a couple broken ribs, 2014 was a year of great health for me and the hubs found himself sickness-free for Christmas and his birthday for the first time in as many years as I can remember.

Acceptance | noun: the action of consenting. 

  • I accept I still have a long way to go. I’m imperfect. I don’t have anything to prove. In the margin where mistakes are allowed, grace is found.
  • I accept that not everyone is going to like me. Some people do not want to be my friend. I will survive. I release myself from having to earn other’s approval.
  •  I accept that the way of wisdom is a humble path. I will still seek wisdom, even it looks like foolishness to others and understand that this releases me from the need to have impressive credentials or accomplishments.
  • I accept that surrender is the most vigorous work I may ever do in responding to God. It isn’t giving up, it’s giving in to his way in his time in my life. Surrender is dying to self in every moment so Christ can live in me in every thought, feeling, and behavior. 

Promise | verb: give good grounds for expecting; give hope, herald, evidence of. 

  • I see God at work–it might not be according to my plan, but I see him inviting me into places and relationships that are rich with the evidences of his leading. I see transformation happening. I see the humility, righteousness, and peace of His kingdom doing its thing.
  • I hear God speaking–what I am being taught through the #likeagirl Bible study is filled with grace and giving evidence to God’s faithfulness to the calling he has placed on my life.
  • I see growth–In January 2011, at the recommendation of a mentor I picked up the book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. The first chapter of that book unraveled my life. The question of the first chapter asked, “What would it look like for me to lead more consistently from my soul–the place of my own encounter with God–rather than lead primarily from my head, my unbridled activism, or my performance-oriented drivenness?” Where I was at that time left me unable to answer this question. I couldn’t find God in the context of my leadership. Long story short, life screeched to a halt. Last week I found this book in a box filled with reflections that I had written during that very raw time. There were tears, a few tics, and then a deep awareness that God had done so much in my life since that time. There has been healing, chastisement, redemption, and a growing up. What hope this is! What joy and expectation it gives me for the new year. 

How about you? Have you thought through the G.A.P. places of your life? It’s a beautiful gap! 

In looking forward to 2015 I want to treasure this reflection and be faithful in responding to God’s presence in my life. I plan to write here more–no, really I do. This site was originally started to help capture my devotional responses to Christ and his Word. It is good for my soul when I write…you’re welcome to peek at what I am learning about his beautiful love and the gracious invitation to be his disciple. I’ve been preparing for the new #likeagirl study which will be on The Sermon on the Mount, so expect regular reflections on Matthew 5-7. (I will also update my Reading page with the books I’ve been reading as source work for this study.)

In closing, I leave you with my prayer for 2015–

O God of such truth as sweeps away all lies, of such grace as shrivels all excuses, come now to find us for we have lost ourselves in a shuffle of disguises and the rattle of empty words. 

Let your Spirit move mercifully to recreate us from the chaos of our lives. 

We have been careless of our days, our loves, our gifts, our chances…

Our prayer is to change, O God, not out of despair of self but for love of you, and for the selves we long to become before we simply waste away. 

Let your mercy move in and through us now…

Amen

~Ted Loder, My Heart in My Mouth

What Are We Doing and Why? {Mark Labberton Quotable on the Church}

I updated my Reading page today with the books that are currently occupying my time. Take a look. I’d love to hear what books are challenging and encouraging your walk of faith.

The Church is a burden that weighs heavily on my heart with both hopeful expectancy and frustrated irritation. I know you’ve been reading the blogs and papers; you’re aware of how  much our humanness gets in the way of our living as the people God intends us to be. You’ve heard about the big and little fallings of notable of leaders and of compromise in the ranks. It’s saddening. Sometimes it’s downright pound-your-fist-on-the table maddening. Often it is personally convicting–my house is made of thin glass.

I’ve been reading Called: The Crisis and Promises of Following Jesus Today, by Mark Labberton. It is both soul salve and a swift kick in the Levis.

Here is a quote from my reading today:

Sometimes the church is just odd: habits, speech, attitudes, potlucks, whatever. Every church is something particular, and you smell it the moment you’re on the premises. The point isn’t whether a church is odd, but whether it’s odd because it imitates Jesus Christ. Does the church live that vocation? Surely this plain and unadorned questions is the one that people inside, and certainly outside, the church want to have answered. If the response is anything but yes, we have to ask ourselves what we’re doing and why. 

Few outside the church measure it by a standard of perfection. What they seek is far, far more achievable: authentic people whose proclamation of their trust in Jesus is backed up by their ordinary but self-giving acts of grace, justice and compassion.”

What are we doing and why? I’m stewing on this answer. I hope you will too.

No Time Like the Present {For When It’s Time to Change}

I’ve been neglecting my blog while I’ve been busy attending to my soul. There are some things in life that aren’t done best as a multi-tasked action items. Souls needs sabbaths from routines; they need rest to listen carefully in the quiet of life.

But the season is changing and autumn ushers me back into the rhythm of doing stuff I always do.

In the listening, I have heard it’s time for a change.  The old has to go; the new is already present and invites me to attend to its possibilities. The quiet awakens hope and urges me to embrace change.

In the quiet I have heard three clear calls for life:

1. The composed life is cowardly. I have worked to near perfection my keep-calm-and-carry-on skills.  Sadly, I use them everywhere it matters the least. I’ve no problem freaking out if my sweet husband forgets something trivial or if one of the dogs brings mud in the house. Man, I am all over that piddly stuff. Real stuff though, like people who need an advocate or dark places that need a light bearer, yeah, those places will mum me up so fast. I don’t like the consequences, particularly the social consequences, of making waves. I’ve become an observer boring.

It’s fear and I know it. Crusaders get shot and I find all kinds of clever excuses to leave the leading to others. Falling in behind rank is just a deceiver’s way of using others as personal shields.

It’s stupid. It’s not me. It has to end.

2. Cool love is really not love at all. Circumstances over the last few years have forced me to be in some really uncomfortable and unfamiliar places. I’ve been mostly detached. It has seemed like a really safe strategy–safe that is for my heart; and I’ve been all about protecting that baby. But when was Jesus ever uninterested or cold to others? When did he ever leave the loving to someone else?

Again, fear has been winning.

This too is stupid. It’s not me. I’m over it.

3. The life that Jesus invites us into is really pretty crazy. It’s far from the ordinary little existence I’ve been living. It’s a life that’s bold and brave. It’s throws the status quo overboard and turns the boat straight for the water falls. I’ve been thinking so much over the last couple of months how often Jesus was getting crazy on the Sabbath and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why so many of his followers are I am so ho hum.

I don’t know if Jesus is calling me to some crazy “thing” or just to live a life that would actually require trusting him. I do know he’s calling me to stop ambivalantly following the prefabricated model of institutionalized, mostly white, male-directed, suburban churchianty. I’m hungry to be where his presence is pressing people to see his goodness and love. I’d say I’m even a little agitated with how sterile, disconnected and inconsequential we I have made following him to be.

I’m a little nervous about what these changes are going to mean for me. And by ‘nervous,’ I mean excited; I’m excited to trust Jesus more and to see him more fully known in my life.

How about you? Are you feeling like the Spirit is pushing you to leave the comfort zone and step out/up?

Transcending Our Differences {Scot McKnight Quotable}

      One question has captivated my thoughts this week: how will there ever be peace? My heart feels weary for nations, churches, families, marriages, and friendships torn apart. War is in our hearts. What can be done?

May this quote spur on all of us:

Peacemaking is neither being “nice” (as defined today), nor is it “tolerance” (again as defined today); rather it is an active entrance into the middle of warring parties for the purpose of creating reconciliation and peace. But neither is soft-pedaling around real but not identical differences–that is, between those who have experienced apartheid and those who inflicted apartheid, between those who split a church and those who choose to remain, between a husband and a wife who are struggling to get along, between two colleagues at the office, or between parents and children who can’t seem to find enough common ground to trust one another. The peacemaker, as the person whom Jesus blesses, seeks to reconcile–not by pretending there are no differences or by suppressing differences, but by creating love of the other that transcends differences or permits the people to join hands in spite of differences. Jesus will speak of reconciliation on other occasions, and these perhaps are the best commentary on “peacemakers” (Mt 5:21-26,43-48;6:14-15;18:21-35). His framing of moral relations in terms of love (Mt 22:34-40) and servanthood (Mt 20:20-28) provide foundations for peacemaking.

–Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)

Yes, blessed are the peacemakers–those brave souls who enter into the war zone and overwhelm the differences with love–for they will be called children of God.

When All Else Fails {Amy Carmichael Quotable}

“And He [the Delight of God] bearing His cross went forth into a place called the place of the skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: where they crucified Him, and two other with Him, on either side, and Jesus is the midst” (John 19:17-18). The Delight of God–crucified. He who was as the Jewel set in the heart of that pure glory, where the God of Heaven and earth prepared the sunrise for the earth; He to be hanged in shame between two thieves, that our eyes might see His salvation, which He had prepared before the face of all people; a Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the Glory of His people Israel; that we, who sat in darkness, might see a great light; that to us who sat in the region and shadow of death, light might spring up–words fail, thoughts fail, before such love. “O come, let us worship and fall: and kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6). ~Amy Carmichael, Though Givest…They Gather

His light is still shining. Do you sit in darkness, not sure which way to go? Do words fail? Thoughts too? Then set your eyes to the horizon of his coming. Wait for him. Let your waiting be as worship, for he is faithful and his light will spring up.