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.

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.

He Grows Hope Slowly {The Heart of the Loving Vinegrower}

If you find me in the garden, you will find me in my sacred place.

In the garden I am reminded how hard the life of growing things can be. We plant, we water, we prune, and yet sometimes for no explainable reason, new life refuses to flourish. I know God understands the pain of planting a garden plagued by frustration and death. When my heart is hurting, it is in my garden that I best hear God’s voice.

Today I needed to hear the hope of the Master Gardener, so in the early hours of the morning I ventured out to walk with him wrapped in my cool blanket of grief and disappointment.

My Father is the Vinegrower” (John 15:1), Jesus tells us. I look at the overgrown rose vine welcoming visitors to my front door with its thorny branches positioned to strike anyone who ventures too closely. It had been planted to frame the archway with beauty and fragrance, but in my neglect I allowed it to grow attended. It branched without form and for months has dared me not to get too close. Overgrown and thorny. I will get hurt if I attempt to address it. Let it be, I tell myself.

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My Father is the Vinegrower,” I hear again. Then why is this thing so gangly and dangerous? As I survey it, I realize this moment isn’t about the rose anymore. It’s about other overgrown and thorny places in my life. It is about places in the Vine that overwhelm me. Abiding in Christ alongside the other branches isn’t alway fragrant, nor tender. There are topics, like this rose that rather than welcome others in, they wound and exclude.

Father, if you’re the Vinegrower then why is this vine such a mess? Why aren’t we what you envisioned for us to be? 

Enough of this, I sigh. Grabbing my ladder, twine, and pruners, I climb up to begin the work. At first I just try to force the vine onto the trellis, but the newer growth is too tender and it breaks off. My heart sighs, “That would have a been a beautiful bud someday!” So I go for the more mature branches, but they are inflexible and won’t be guided. From this perspective I can see where the vine itself wears scars from its own thorns. Some branches are discolored from the darkness of too much shade, being hidden like they are under the larger, more aggressive branches. It doesn’t take long to discover I will only be able to guide this vine to express its desired form with slow and gentle precision.

After an hour only the vine will know I’ve been there; to others it will look unchanged. But the training has begun with nudges, cuts, and tie-backs. Bearing the scratches and thorns of the work, I hear the words my heart set out to find, “My Father is the Vinegrower.” He grows it slowly and with his tender touches. He avoids the tugs that will break the tender; he knows the cuts that will give the vine the shape it needs. He know it will take time; but he will not neglect his work. He loves the Vine and delights in every last branch as they grow to reveal his beauty. We won’t alway see his work, but he is there–careful and attentive. Our Father is the Loving Vinegrower; his heart is good, his will is perfect, and his ways are tender.

Indeed, He is. My heart knows it full well.

If your heart is discouraged or despairing in a less-than-flourishing place today, take heart. Our Father loves us. He sees. He knows. He grows hope slowly, but always faithfully. He may take his time, but he is the Master Gardener. Wait for it–we will hear his voice in the garden declaring yet again,  “It is very good!” One day.

The Kingdom and Gender {Stassen & Gushee Quotable}

There are times when I read something that makes my soul inhale grace deeply and exhale big, big hope. Today it was this:

In terms of church life and work, gender differences are not dissolved but gender as a determinant of roles fades from view in light of the massive goals of aggressive world evangelization and discipling of new believers, doing the healing and delivering and justice-making works of Christ, and practicing the gifts of the Spirit to edify the church, until Christ returns. The criterion for who may pursue these precious kingdom goals is simply the whole body of Christ, with specialization directed by spiritual giftedness. At Pentecost, the Spirit fell upon men and women, as the Old Testament had promised (Acts 2:17-18; Joel 2:28-29). The last thing one wants to do at Pentecost or in the perspective created by the experience of Pentecost is to stifle gifts that might bring advances in the reign of God; too much is at stake. If the goal of the Christ-follower is to seek God’s kingdom, the primary issue is not specifying gender roles but maximizing mission, effectiveness and impact. Again, it must be emphasized that this perspective predates the feminist movement and is grounded not on late-twentieth-century secular egalitarianism but in a gospel and kingdom focus.

Leadership and authority in family life and in the church are to be offered in humility, in mutual submission and in the context of the narrative of how Christ exercised authority. As the glorious Christ-hymn of Philippians 2 put it, in the incarnation and on the cross Jesus was self-emptying, humble, devoted to the needs of others and ultimately obedient to the authority of God the Father (Phil 2:5-11). This connects with Jesus’ virtues of humility, yieldedness to God and justice that we saw in the Beatitudes. All Christians are to imitate this pattern.

Mutual servanthood places limits on the exercise of authority by any Christian in any setting. The model of Christ shapes the perspective within which all authority is employed. Any member of the Christian community can hold any other member, including leaders (or husband or wife), accountable to conformity with Christ’s example. The kingdom or gospel-advancing purpose of the church and the Christian marriage is the goal to which all are committed and thus sets a standard for the exercise of authority. Any use of authority which might stifle spiritual gifts that could advance the kingdom is inappropriate. Meanwhile, with this great freedom to use kingdom gifts comes the responsibility to use such gifts only for the purpose for which they were given. So no merely autonomous or permissive understanding of freedom is envisioned here. Mutual servanthood employs yet constrains freedom, unleashing gifts for responsible use, directs authority, orders Christian community and participates in the kingdom. In love, mutual servanthood creates checks and balances on the exercise both of freedom and of power that preserve and advance justice. This is the best model for all relationships in the body of Christ, including those between men and women, and husbands and wives.

~Glen Stassen and David Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, 2003

Breathe that fresh air in. Exhale hope.

It’s Time for Change {Sexuality and the Church}

If you know me at all, then you know that nothing gets me good and fired up like the topic of sexuality. I think that God gives all of us a wall to watch, a place where we see things others don’t see–we see the beauty that needs to be guarded on the inside and the threats that are approaching from the outside. For me, my wall is sexuality. What it was created to be is so beautiful, but our reality is so broken. So I sit on this wall and some days I lament, other days I fume, but every day I war.

I find myself getting angry over this topic a lot. Just this morning I read how California’s Supreme Court ruled to allow convicted child molesters to frequent parks. What kind of stupidity is this?

See, I’m surrounded by causalities of this war fueled by the sex abuse mindset that our culture has embraced as normal. And because we aren’t doing the hard work of fighting it, there are more and more victims every day. Just so you know, most children view pornography for the first time when they are eight years old. When I was eight, I wasn’t allowed to watch the Love Boat because my dad said, “The men don’t see women the right way on that show.” Well, if that was true, imagine what kind of vision problem pornography is fueling.

I know, this is making you uncomfortable. If you’re even still reading, you’re probably wondering why I keep bringing it up. I’m doing it because we need to wake up from this idea that the brokenness in our understanding of sexuality is someone else’s problem. It is OUR problem and our children need to know this is important to us…they need to know THEY are important to us.

Today, Anne wrote:

Make a ruckus. Make your leaders talk about this.

We are in a fight. We frequently point blame to the media and to pornography and to sex as the enemy. These things, especially sex, are NOT the enemy. Sex is a beautiful thing that we’ve been given to express love to our spouse. The media and pornography are simply tools the enemy uses to break us down, to addict us, to cause us to carry shame instead of strength and hopelessness instead of hope.

Our enemy is Satan. Plain and simple.

(I really encourage you to go read her whole post. Please.)

Make a ruckus. Yes. That is what we need–ruckus makers. Our silence on this matter is deadly. We have to start talking about it. Loudly. Too many have been wounded; we need more warriors. Now.

The next generation needs us to reclaim and revitalize the broken down walls of our sexuality and restore them to the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Kingdom. The work can’t wait. It needs to begin today. It’s rally time.

This conversation isn’t just about sex. Yes, that’s what our culture has made it. But we need to claim it back. The conversation needs to be deeper and wider. It needs to be about robust definitions of men and women that lead to wholeness and holiness. It needs to be about addressing intimacy and belonging needs. It needs to be about addressing loneliness in a way that makes the sex abuse mindset irrelevant and ugly. It needs to be about us understanding Jesus correctly and then mirroring his advocacy with tenacity, strength, and grace in one another’s lives.

Maybe you’re afraid. I am too. But I’m more afraid that we will do nothing than that we will do the wrong thing. Let’s not cover our eyes and pretend the whole thing away. I agree with Anne. Talk to your leaders. Ask them why they are silent. Get educated. (This is why I’m teaching the parenting class on sexual wholeness. Anne has a great list of resources…check them out and gather your tribe.) Talk to your children. Seriously, get the conversation rolling. Pray–fervently.

Will you please do the hard work of climbing up that ladder of discomfort and fear to join me on the wall?  It’s not a rhetorical question. I’m really asking: Will you join me in this? Those on the inside need us. Those on the outside need to know the closer they get, the uglier it’s going to get because we have something beautiful for which we are fighting. For the King and His kingdom!

I will leave you with a Marva Dawn quote: “What liars we are if we see something that should be changed, but don’t really want God to work in us to change it.” 

Gutsy Love {For Conversations about Sexuality and Intimacy}

On my desk sit books upon books about sex. Yep, you’ve got it. Sex. All these books stacked up and some overflowing on the floor. I myself have sat at this desk with these books now for many hours in preparation for an upcoming parenting class about sexual wholeness. I’m going to be blunt, because that’s how I roll: I’m burdened by the depths of our collective brokenness.

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We are so far off from what God has created us to be that it’s painful to listen to the grammar to which we (and by this, I mean the Church) has resorted to describe our sexuality. What is intended to be beautiful has been reduced to a sterile, clunky, and shame-filled vernacular of confused messages. No wonder our children grow up with no idea on which hook to hang their sexuality. Is it bad? Is it good? Shhhh! Don’t talk about it.

In some ways, I’m glad we’ve already pushed our children from the proverbial nest. We did our best to direct them to God’s best ideal and now it’s their turn make choices consistent with what they understand His desires to be for them. {Granted we still speak into their lives, but parents occupy a different space in their adult children’s lives.} But I tip my hat to today’s parents–you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Sadly, the Church has lagged way behind the culture’s conversation in regard to sexuality. Waaaaaaaay behind. Conversations of sexuality in the church are often non-existent or relegated to the “biblical roles of men and women.” Moms and dads are still figuring out how to have “the talk” (as if though it were just one) while the culture is openly espousing many, many opinions on topics that for way too long have been kept locked away in the taboo cupboard in some secret passage way behind the church custodian closet. If we feel overwhelmed and confused as adults, image how our children feel.

Naturally I listened yesterday and today with interest as the Twitter board lit up with comments from the Southern Baptist’s inaugural Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Leadership Summit on Sex (You can see the tweets on Twitter #erlcsummit). I was bummed. The conversation felt like a play back from things that should have been said twenty years ago. Nobody is going to be excited about a sandwich made from day old bread. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know–it’s a start.

I’m sad too. Sad that we so often miss that the conversations about sexuality aren’t about sex. It’s really about longings and desires to be loved, embraced, and to belong; to be found as a person of worth; it’s the God-instilled ache of the heart for intimacy in a relationship that reveals beauty and joy and togetherness in such a way that words aren’t powerful enough to define. And honestly, the Church ought to be writing the dictionary for that conversation…but we’re not.

When it comes to matters of intimacy, (and here I speak of non-sexual intimacy), we are awkward, discomforted by closeness. I think of my mentor Marva (although I’ve never personally met her) and her astute observation:

As persons have lost skills of interpersonal relationships, the poles of technology and intimacy have become reversed. We recognize that intimacy is missing from our lives, so we advertise our technological toys with sexy models and try to make our technology more intimate with personal names. On the other hand, we do not know how to express intimacy, so we have to find technological assistance to do it. Sexual union formerly  expressed the culmination of many growing intimacies–intellectual, spiritual, financial, recreational, creative, social, spiritual–and marked a committed covenant relationship. Now persons turn to sexual intercourse as a way to begin to know one another, and technical manuals are written so that it can be done as effectively as possible. The whole act of union carries an entirely different meaning.

What makes sex “good?” Is it its efficiency –that is the chief criterion in our technological milieu–or its extreme, albeit momentary, physical pleasure? I am distressed that our contemporary culture would reduce the beauty of an expression of lifelong fidelity to one’s spouse to a mere experiment in sexual gratification. There are other ways to express affection for one’s friends, to experience tenderness and intimacy, to enfold others haunted by their cosmic loneliness. 

Please listen to what Marva says next–because if we, the Church, are going to enter the cultural conversation with any credibility we have to first look inward and ask ourselves if we revealed love as beautiful in our communities. Do we love one another well? Have we made love to be fluff and convenience or are we persisting to love one another in places that are messy, uncomfortable, and reeking with the odor of loneliness that our brokenness, and primarily, our sexual brokenness has made for us? Have we unwittingly made sexual intimacy the only way for our children to experience a sense of being wanted?

Marva continues:

The Church has a wonderful message to proclaim–the hope of eternal meaning, the love of persons in deep relationship because God loved us first, the faith that we are accepted on the basis of the merits of Someone perfect and not because we have successfully managed to be the most efficient. Everyone in the world is longing for the Hilarity of that kind of hope, that fulfillment of being loved, that content of faith that will not change.

The superficiality of many parish fellowships belies the biblical possibilities. Why do Christians have such difficulty in truly loving one another, in being glad to belong to one another, in experiencing the empowering Hilarity that the grace of God and true community confer?

God freely chose to love each one us. We respond to the wonder and Hilarity of that by loving him, but also by seeking to become more loving toward others. Relationships that float around on the surface deny the reality of God’s gutsy love, a love so full that it compelled Christ to suffer depths of degradation and cruel crucifixion to demonstrate it to us. (Marva Dawn, Truly the Community)

Gutsy. That’s what I think we need more of. Gutsy conversations. {With our kids. With each other. Let’s get to talking about it! It’s time for us to take back our voice.} Gutsy commitments. Gutsy postures of humility for the sake of others. It’s time. We’ve been silent too long.

The Problem with the Duck Dynasty Debacle and Why I Cringe

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Do you remember when the seasonal rallying cry of evangelicals was “Put Christ back in Christmas”? If my Facebook feed is any indicator, it looks like this year everyone is preparing to celebrate Philmas. “Bring Back Phil Robertson”—really? Yes, there’s … Continue reading

A Prayer for Sunday Morning {A William Barclay Quotable}

William Barclay penned the following prayer–may it be yours today as you receive the ministry of Word and worship:

O God, our Father, you are Truth; give us your truth.

Help us to see the truth about ourselves, that we may see ourselves as we really are, and not as we think we are.

Help us to see the truth about life, that we may see what we ought to do, and not only what we want to do.

Help us to see the truth about you, that we may really know your wisdom and your love,

so that we may trust you wholly and obey your fully: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.