Doing More?

god, identity

“I feel stuck.”

These are the words one of my precious student leaders pulled me aside a little over a month ago, as she continued to tell me of her eagerness to grow in her faith.  I listened to her, encouraged her, and gave her a few tangible things to “do.”  But I struggled to explain to her the fuzzy line between “faith without works are dead” and the hard truth that doing anything more won’t mean anything more to you without faith.

I talked to my sister today, who explains to me that she doesn’t want to “eat spiritual steak,” because she’s still a “spiritual infant.” Certainly, I’d love to see growth in my sister.  But I find myself again explaining to her that doing more won’t magically grow you more.

The crazy thing is–I think I operate my own life with the belief that I’m never a good-enough Christian, that there is always more to do.  I think of a conversation with a good friend a few weeks ago, who told me that there was “always more ministry to do” as she justified adding more to her plate.

I’m 7 years older than my sister, who is 7 years older than my student leader. Between the three of us, we have the same notion that we must do more in order to grow more in our faith. I asked my sister what she thinks the “goal is” for faith, and she told me to live a life where everything glorifies God. I asked her if she though I was strong in my faith then. She stuttered (jerk).  Point proven.  If the three of us over the course of 14 years all have this same notion, my guess is that this is a feeling that will never go away.

It’s a sucky feeling, to not feel good enough. We get enough of that in our day-to-day life, that when you add not being “good enough” in faith, it all just feels so hard. Faith shouldn’t be this hard, right?  Faith shouldn’t be something that you’re “good” at.

This last month on three separate occasions over the course of one month I’ve heard lessons taught on the comparison between the Pharisees and “sinners”: a tax collector, an adulterous woman, and the woman who fell at Jesus’ feet. In all three occasions, it’s proven that there is no distinction between them in terms of sin: They’ve all messed up, no one is without sin.

And in all three stories, Jesus proves that the ones who are “good enough” are the ones who know they’re not.  None of them are saying “Hey Jesus, what more can I do?”  In fact, the ones who do end up hearing answers that turn them away from Jesus (sell all my possessions? who is my neighbor, really?).

At the end of the day, all I want is God.

In every other aspect of life, I have to do something in order to gain something. It’s just the way it is. But what makes Christianity unique is that it’s the only way that doesn’t require more.

I’m not denying the value from spiritual disciplines. But I am denying the belief that doing them or anything else will somehow bring me certain results.

I just want to touch Jesus’ cloak for healing, wipe his feet with my tears, and admit I don’t have it all together. This is far more difficult that doing more, because it’s vulnerable. But that’s where God is–we’re too busy covering ourselves with fig leaves and to-do lists to understand that.

Lessons from my one-eyed cat

god, love

I have a cat.

A one-eyed cat.

Most of my friends know this–my Facebook and Instagram were covered with pictures of her for a while, and while I’ve slowed down on snapping every cute thing she does, I post about her regularly.

Iris is very affectionate. She is always begging for love, and it can be pretty annoying. She always wants to be petted and cuddled. She’s also very vocal,, so she mews and mews and does a weird cry so you’ll pet her. And in the middle of the night, when she’s all alone, her cries as she roams my home sound like, “Hewwo, hello???”

I promise it is cute–most of the time.

This morning, Iris interrupted my prayer time meowing, so I held her as I prayed.   I just asked God to use this time to speak to me, when she jumped out of my arms and began crying out. I said, “Iris, I had you in my arms. Why did you jump out? It’s your own fault that you’re upset.”

And that’s when it dawned on me:  God always has room for us, room for affection and love and grace.

We are the ones who reject it, run away from it. And yet, we are the ones complaining loudly., treating God as if he is the one who abandoned us.

We are like my annoying, affectionate, vocal cat.  And just like I love Iris and think she’s the best animal on the planet, God has the feels for us even more.

(PS: When I named Iris, I named her part because of the eye situation, part because I love old lady names, and part because of the Goo Goo Dolls song. The entire song is about a person who feels Isolated, but wants so badly to be loved. I didn’t know Iris the cat well enough to understand how fitting this would be. Ha.)

On David and Bathsheba

faith, god, lessons, sin

We talked about David and Bathsheba yesterday with 5th and 6th grade…

…no, I don’t have a death wish.

When I heard this story growing up, I don’t think I got it. I think it was honestly told to me as a warning against sexual sin.

But to focus on the sin itself–whether we talk about the adultery, the murder, the lying–that misses the point completely.

And, as always, a sixth grader pointed it out to me.

When David confesses and repents in the 51st Psalm, he says, “You would be just to punish me.” He knows he deserves everything to be taken away from him-after all, it was God who gave it to him.

David also says, “You don’t desire a simple burnt offering as my sacrifice. What you desire is my heart and spirit to be broken for you–you will never turn that away.”

David knows that, although God could punish him and no one could call him unjust, that God can’t turn away a repentant heart. It is outside of his nature.

Sounds pretty simple, eh? God just requires our heart.

But it sounds freaking scary and outside of our nature.

It is really risky to be vulnerable with God.

It is scary to open our hearts up to anybody, but for some reason, it’s even scarier with the one who made our heart in his own image.

We have this tendency to smooth over our actions and admit they never happened. We move on with our life, and if we feel especially bad, do some sort of “penance” to pay for that sin–say something extra-kind, give extra in the offering plate, make sure we attend church that Sunday, pray more.

But God doesn’t want us to do more. He wants us more.

It’s like we’re back in the Garden of Eden, afraid to be vulnerable with God and let him see the “dirty parts” of us, and so we cover ourselves with fig leaves, thinking he won’t notice.

Because bearing our naked soul is scary.

You remind me of God.

christianity, church, discipleship, friendship, god, identity, love, Relationships

When is the last time you looked at someone you despise (because, let’s admit it: you don’t like everyoneand was able to pick out characteristics in them that remind you of God?

I was asked this about some people in my life who hurt me, and I really struggled: It’s easy to find things about a person we don’t like, but what about things we like about them?  Better yet, what are some things in them that remind me of God?

Being able to say, “I see God in you” has impacted my relationships with those I struggle with.  I’m now able to say to them: “You are very creative. It reminds me of God.” “You are outgoing. It reminds me of God’s boldness.” “The way you love people reminds me of God.” It has radically impacted relationships…and even if they don’t appreciate the comment, it helps my heart to focus on these things.

Let’s expand here and think outside our “enemies.”  When is the last time you encouraged a friend, telling them you see the Lord in them?  For me, almost never. When a friend told me how I remind her of God, it only confirmed what I was learning: It changes people when they hear how they relate to the Creator of the universe.

So here is your homework for this week: Focus on a few people in your life–at least one friend and one not-so-much–and tell them what you see in them that reminds you of God. What message is more powerful than that?

God is Able

christ, faith, faithfulness, god, identity, jesus, prayer, theology

Saturday I had the blessing of spending a few hours with my teenager sister while she copped my WiFi.  We watched a Mythbusters episode together, where they proved it is scientifically impossible to be buried alive and escape.

This was comforting.

Why? Because that means no Zombie apocalypse. Unless it’s Walking Dead style.

Why else? Because it exemplifies what Christ did.

Now, I know that his grave is way different from our graves…I get that.  But for a while (and don’t cry “heretic” out to me) I forgot how magnificent it is that Christ rose from the dead.

Not only that he rose from the dead, but that he rose others from the dead.  He healed the sick, the  handicapped, and the diseased. He gave hope to the hopeless and changed ridiculously lost people into the examples by which we lead our Christian walks by.

Wow.

For a while…and I hate to admit it…I forgot two central truths:

God can do anything.

God can save anyone.

For a while, I wasn’t sure of this; at least, I wouldn’t have admitted it out loud. In fact, I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t sure of this.  It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized that I wasn’t operating my life based off of these truths.  And when you’re not walking, you stop talking.

You see, these truths radically change the way that you live.  It means that nobody is too far of a reach to pray for.  It means that you don’t just complain about people, but pray for a change of heart in them.  And speaking of prayer, it radically changes your prayer life.  Prayer isn’t just a time of asking, but a time of believing that it can actually be done.

 

At one time, these truths provided me hope and comfort…..and I want to cling to them again.  Because, if God can move mountains, then God can save my family from drug addiction.  And if Christ can raise from the grave (which I watched on Mythbusters yesterday is scientifically impossible) then Christ can raise up my teenagers from their sin. If God can lead adulterers and bigots and prostitutes and cheaters and hypocrites to him and use them as leaders, why could God not lead certain people in my life to salvation?

God can do it.

I know he can.

And as soon as I realized this in the least bit, I saw it happen in a huge way. I really did.  God is working in the lives of the people I didn’t think he can save, and he is slowly moving them away from their addictions to sin.  Can I get a stinking Hallelujah?

God is able.

I never again want to get in that dark place of not believing that.

Miriam: a woman of Position, Pride and Prejudice

bible, god, lessons, women

On Sunday mornings, I have the privilege to take my already-small youth group and break it down to where I teach an even smaller group for Sunday School.  I contemplated if I wanted to change the way I do Sunday School since the group is so small, but I like that I only have to teach the high school girls on Sunday morning.  And it’s enabling us to do the Women of the Bible right now!

So I planned on doing Women of the Bible, and I planned on doing Miriam yesterday…then Sunday Morning I found out the middle school boys’ teacher was gone, so they came in with me.  Oops!  But this lesson STILL spoke to them!  Awesome :)

Miriam was Moses’ sister.  I honestly knew very little about her, even though I’m taking a Pentateuch class, even though I’ve read through Exodus, even though I’ve heard the Moses story 3974421 times AND have taught on it before.  But no matter how many times I read a passage, I find that God still finds ways to teach me (just as when I taught Jonah!)

Miriam was a leader.  In fact, in Micah it says that Moses, Aaron, and Miriam were the ones who lead the Israelites.  God acknowledged her as important and essential.  She led the women in praise after they crossed the Red Sea.  She led the women to adorn the tabernacle.  Not only was she a leader, but the Bible names her a prophetess, meaning that God spoke to her.  This is a very special title for someone.  There is no doubt about it–God was using Miriam in special ways.

But we find in chapter 15 that Miriam and Aaron got a little jealous.  And I can just imagine this whole thing take place–I’m SURE that Miriam had to start this gossip, as I know how women are (and she was the one punished!).  They start talking about Moses’ wife, an Egyptian woman of who God had no problem with.  So why were they against this woman if God had not said Moses could not marry her?  Most likely had something to do with their own prejudices against darker skin.  Then one of them suggests, “Has not God spoken to us too?”

Uh oh.  Pride alert! WEEEEOOOOOOOWEEEEEOOOOOWEEEEEOOOOOO! (that’s a siren sound!)

I love this part:  God comes down in a pillar of smoke. Ha! Calls the three of them together into a meeting room.  Then God blocks the doorway with the smoke!  I can just IMAGINE being Miriam!  It’s like I just hit my sibling, and I turn around and Daddy’s at the door with the paddle!

And a spanking Miriam got!  She turned white with leprosy, an ironic punishment for two reasons: (1) Her prejudice against Moses’ wife had to do with her skin color, or the fact that she looked different from everyone else.  Now Miriam would look different from ALL of them!  (2) Miriam wanted power, she wanted to be recognized.  But having Leprosy means that she would be exiled.  She wouldn’t be able to be around people in order to lead them.

Aaron quickly humbled, as he turned to Moses and said, “My lord, do something!” Calling Moses “lord” showed his respect for him.  Then Moses talked to God, and asked him to do something.  And God stood his ground in his punishment, but compassionately let it only last 7 days.

You see, God knew what he was doing.  God knew that Miriam was usable, that’s why he chose her in the first place!  God could have just wiped her off the planet, struck her down, turned her to dust.  But he gave her a punishment that was fitting.  She needed to be humbled, and I think after this she was.  I can’t imagine the “Walk of Shame” that took place as she walked back to camp.  What’s amazing is, it was time for them to move on in their travels, but they waited for her.  They obviously respected her a lot.

This story shows us that even God’s greatest leaders can struggle with pride.  It also shows us that if a person has pride, God will knock it out of them!  The punishment will be devastating, but needed.

When I was little, I got some whoopins.  I grew up with boys, and they were constantly getting me in trouble.  But spankings didn’t change my attitude, so my mom came up with a new punishment:  essay writing.  Oh, how I hated this!  It lasted hours, it caused me to think about what I did, in many cases it was pretty ironic because I usually said dumb things and had to pay for them…and it was rewarding.  I changed my behavior.  It humbled me to think about the stupid things I did, and I learned.  Great job, mom!

Our Daddy is doing the same thing when he punishes us.  Encouraging, but scary.  Sometimes the spanking is quicker and “painless”. ;)

Insert Controversial Title About Hell Here

christianity, god, hell

Rob Bell said in his video promoting his new, very controversial book Love Wins, “What we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.”

So to sum it up, our view of hell shapes how we view God.  But I think that’s doing it the wrong way.  Our view of God should shape how we view hell.

One of the most popular views of hell is a fiery pit where Satan reigns and billions of people spend eternity for sins, big or small.  Thus, God gets viewed as an unfair judge, and quite a bit less powerful, if Satan gets to reign in hell (which is false. For a concise layout of hell, read Mark Driscoll’s post here).  God isn’t so loving, but judging.  So of course, if Bell starts his theology with hell, he’s going to come to the conclusions that he has come to regarding God and who he is, and what his love is like.  Hell becomes a place for people who don’t necessarily deserve it under the “traditional” view, and in denying that one begins to adopt a view that people are inherently good and can come to heaven many ways.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.

But what if we start with God?  I believe God is loving, caring, gracious, merciful, and jealous for my affection.  I believe God is fed up with us not paying attention to him, yet is still pouring out grace and mercy.  Thus I believe hell is a place for people who are constantly rejecting him, and they are getting what they truly desire–separation from God.  Hell is not where God started when creating us, but what resulted from our separation from him.  We ALL deserve hell, whether we think we are “good” or not, yet God has been gracious enough to let us escape it if we desire him.

Bell is completely on the mark when he says, “Millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message, the center of the Gospel of Jesus is that God is going to send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus. And so what gets subtly sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God.  But what kind of God is that?”  Once again, we are beginning our theology with hell.  And that’s what gets taught in the church!  I wonder how many “Christians” became so after hearing a fire and brimstone message?  Only becoming a Christian to escape hell?  What does that do to their view of God, if they are so afraid of him?  How can they ever learn to love a God who just sends people to hell all the time?

What happens when our theology begins with God–where it should begin, as theology literally involves God to begin with?  How much more loving does he look?  You see, the point of Christianity isn’t to escape hell.  The point of Christianity is a restored relationship with our creator.  Hell is the result of us denying that relationship.  Christ didn’t come to save us from hell or from a wrathful God, but to restore our relationship with Yahweh.

Bell makes some compelling statements, statements that many people make and resort to after hearing the fiery messages of God’s wrath.  And don’t get me wrong, we should fear hell.  It’s not something anyone should desire.  Yet the thing we should desire most is to be right with God–God. So. Loved. You. That. He. Sent. His. Son. To. Die. For. YOU. You, who are undeserving of such a thing. You, who daily deny him. You, who if you believe that God really does love you, and desire to have a relationship with your creator, can live for eternity with him.  An eternity that starts right now.  And guess what happens?  Love wins.

Mirror, Mirror

christianity, god, identity

What if my relationship with the mirror “reflected” my relationship with God?

(hahahaha, I had to make that pun)

I was thinking about this tonight as I was preparing to go out–how many times do you look in the mirror?  When you get up in the morning and get ready, you spend a good thirty or so minutes  in front of the mirror.  When you brush your teeth that two or three times a day, you look in the mirror.  How about each time you use the bathroom, do you check yourself out in the mirror while washing your hands?  Before you leave to go somewhere, quick look in the mirror to make sure there are no blemishes or marks or food on your face?  And even when just passing one of the many mirrors around us, take a look?  Pull out your phone to look after eating to check your teeth?

The point is, we look in the mirror NUMEROUS times throughout the day, even if you are not particularly narcissistic.  You spend a lot of time in it the morning, and probably quite a bit before going to bed at night.  Throughout the day you are continuously interacting with the mirror.  What if our relationship with God was the same?  What if we interacted with God and “checked in” with him all throughout the day instead of compartmentalizing him into one part of the day?

How about this–what if we relied on God like we do mirrors?  When you look in the mirror, do you ever doubt what you see?  What if you thought about God like this?  And when you look to God to give you truth about who you are, whether it’s to affirm your identity or reveal blemishes, how do you react?  Do you believe him and do something about it, or act like the mirror is a funhouse mirror?

I pray that I might spend as much time with God at least as much I do in front of the mirror, and certainly as often.  I pray that I might rely on God like I do mirrors to reflect my divine image and to reveal my blemishes and the areas I’m screwing up in.

Jonah the Crybaby

bible, god

Well, I told myself I wasn’t going to post another blog until after I got back from Kentucky. But then I remembered a few things:

  1. When I get back from Kentucky, I’m going to want to post about Kentucky.
  2. I should talk about this while it’s fresh on my mind.
  3. I don’t feel like going to bed yet, even though I leave in 4 hours for a 9-hour drive to Kentucky.

So, onto Jonah.  I studied Jonah last week for my Sunday School lesson with the high schoolers.  We’ve been going through the minor prophets, which I have honestly loved.  It’s been very refreshing to read the MPs in a new way, because I’m trying hard to understand what’s going on in order to teach it.

Anywho, so Jonah one day was eating his cereal, when God tells him, “Go to Nineveh and preach destruction to them.”  Jonah drops his spoon and is all like, “Forget THAT!” and flees towards Tarshish.  He pays a fare and boards a boat.  So then a huge storm comes, and the sailors are automatically like, “Okay, whose god is ticked off?”  They then realize that Jonah is downstairs sleeping, still running away from his problems, and ignoring a huge storm outside the boat. The sailors realize that Jonah is running away from his god, the God.  Jonah’s just like, “Look, just throw me over.”  (This might seem brave to the reader, like he’s coming to the realization that he can’t run away from God anymore; but I think it’s just a part of his crybaby act).  I don’t understand why, but the sailors think it’s a good idea to just try to row back to land, but they realize that they have to do it–so they throw Jonah overboard.  Then a huge fish gulps Jonah right up, and Jonah begins crying and praying to God.  He repents, and God tells the fish to spit him up (after three days and three nights of course!).  So now Jonah finally goes to Nineveh, and preaches what God tells him.  And what do you know?  The whole city repents.  You’d think Jonah would be excited, right?  His preaching and prophesying worked!  Nope!  He gets mad and yells at God, “I knew it! I knew you would just have compassion on them!  That’s the kind of God you are!”  Kind of a funny prayer to me.  So he runs away and sits outside the city, waiting to see what will happen, as if God will change his mind about having compassion.  He takes shade under a tree, but God sends a worm to eat its leaves and Jonah starts feeling that sun.  He gets so angry that he wants to DIE.  He cries again to God, and God says, “You care for that tree right?”  Jonah replies, “So much, that without it I just want to die!”  God responds, “Well you sure care for that plant a lot.  But how much more do I care for a great city like Nineveh, with tons of animals and needy people?”

So what do we take from Jonah the big crybaby, anyway?

  1.  We can NOT run away from God.  No matter how hard we try. We can’t do it.  And if we try, God will find us! Oh yeah.  In all seriousness, if it is God’s will and God commands us to do something, we are eventually going to have to do it.  So save the trouble and the energy and just go do what he tells you to do.  Trust me; when God called me to work with youth, I ran away and got myself into a pickle myself.  And God got his way in the end :)
  2. God is going to have compassion on all sorts of sinners.  I thought about the parable of the vineyard, how each person was paid the same amount for varying amounts of work.  Seems unfair, right?  But we need to remember that no matter what you did, how much sin you committed, etc, the reward is the same under the grace of God.  God will have compassion for you when you repent, no matter what the sin is.  This is hard for me sometimes, when I think about someone like a child molester possibly getting into heaven.  I would classify this man as a pedophile or sex offender for the rest of his life; but the truth is that if he comes to Christ, he is redeemed and achieves sainthood just like me.  I can honestly see why Jonah was so cheesed.  It’s the flesh in me that wants justice in this situation, but luckily I am not the judge.
  3. God cares for us DEEPLY.  Jonah wanted to die, just because the plant giving him shade died.  In the same way, God desires to see us growing and cares for us immensely.  I think it’s funny that Jonah was like, “I knew it! I knew you’d have compassion on them! Oh God full of grace and compassion!”  It makes me laugh!  I think that it is our responsibility, as believers and followers, to exhibit this same kind of love to others.  Jonah cared for a PLANT.  What would happen if he cried over people the same way as he did a plant?

Well, I hope you enjoyed my post on Jonah, a huge cry-baby.  But you know what?  I’m just like him in many ways.

ps, I really like that Jonah is so fast-paced.  Very different from the other prophets so far ;)

Great is Thy Faithfulness

faithfulness, god, testimony

I had a rough day, so I need to remind myself of all of the things that God has specifically done for me as an individual to exhibit his Great Faithfulness.

God showed his grace to my sister, and she is now a passionate follower…and sometimes gives me great wisdom :)

When I prayed for an internship, he gave me one that rocked my world, changed my life, and affirmed my passion in ministry.

When I prayed for Christian fellowship while home in STL, it was granted in ways I never expected. I found new friendships and strengthened old ones.

I asked for more Christian brothers. And I now have a plethora, and that list grows seriously daily.

I begged God to send me Christian women. Through my internship, I met some wonderful women who constantly bless my life.

God sent a few people recently who revealed that I had blessed their Christian walks when I was young. Like, real young. One remembered my name from meeting me when I was 12 and contacted me.  Another was a Sunday School teacher.  God showed me how I have developed since. Amazing :)

God granted my prayer and has sent me some truth-tellers who tell me like it is. I can now reform.

God always provided when my parents couldn’t.

After my internship, I asked, “Now what?”  And God showed me what I desired most, and then gave it to me. I am a youth minister now. Still weird to say out loud.

When I was mad at God for not letting me be an RA this year, he showed me that’s not what I really wanted. I desired true discipleship, and there were much greater ways for me to do that.  Then he gave me this amazing discipleship group that I get to hang out with. And they like listening to me talk. whoa, God is crazy good :)

God gave me the most amazing rainbow of my life in the middle of a time where I was distressed.

For years and years and years I begged God to help me get rid of my depression.  I read a chapter of a book (and i don’t EVER read, unfortunately) and almost overnight I was better.

Every time I’ve ever prayed for a job, I’ve gotten one.

I’ve prayed away heartaches, headaches, hunger, and lack of heat. God always provides.

I get comments on my blogs sometimes. Always a prayer answered, that maybe something I have said resonates with someone besides myself :)