To work in church or To not work in church

It happened again last night.

I came face to face with the reality of hard work that comes with a life of ministry. And I have to ask myself again and again, do I really want to work with the church? I quickly reworded my question to myself…is God really asking me to work with the church? Because if it were up to me and what I want to do, I’m not so sure I’d go down that road. But if God is asking me to…how can I say no? Instead, I squirm and wiggle and complain a little until I finally give in.

I’ve always had this love/hate relationship with church. When I was a working for a missions organization in Georgia, I didn’t go to church. I wrote a blog about it and it ended being my most viewed blog on this site. I still struggle with a lot of the same issues. And often I want to dust my hands off and be done with institutional church. But I still want to share life with people; I still want to break bread and give thanks and worship God together; I still want to study the Bible and learn from one another.

I’m realizing that ministry isn’t only hard because people’s lives are messy and we all have to navigate through this life of brokenness. It’s hard because we also have to come up against materialism, consumerism, biblical illiteracy, self-gratification, sexism, racism, greed, nationalism, and so on. These things don’t only exist in the people attending church, they exist in people leading the church as well.

This is when I start to think a 9 to 5 job sounds really nice. Let me punch in my time and stay away from all this drama.

But if my life is an offering to God, should I not make every effort to bring him the most glory? And what I’ve realized this week is that it doesn’t bring God glory for me to avoid the hard stuff and bypass what he’s asking me to do. It doesn’t bring God glory for me to short-change myself and sit back in passivity. I want to be faithful with what I’ve been given and not bury it in the ground.

This is my journey. I’m graduating from seminary in June and I’m not entirely sure where I’ll go or what I’ll do. Whatever it is, in the church or outside of it, may it reflect the beauty and glory of the one who rescued me from death and gave me this beautiful life.

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What’s the bigger story?

I want to be better about writing.

Honestly, how much or how little I write reveals how well I am taking care of myself. Because when I’m rested and fulfilled, I can’t help but write. But when I’m overwhelmed, exhausted, and depleted, writing is just another chore. It’s interesting how I sometimes avoid what I need most.

This week, two things in particular caught my attention.

1) The war is not over. 

It’s true that when Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead, he gave us the right to become children of God and as his children we get to share in his victory over death. That is amazing! But people still die. People still endure insurmountable suffering. What the heck? How can this be good news? Because with Christ, death and suffering is not the end of the story. And there is a bigger story at play that has yet to be completed. We do not become immortal when we become Christians, but we do inaugurate the coming kingdom of God with transformation and renewal.

Does anyone really understand the concept of the Kingdom being now but not yet? How can it be finished and not complete at the same time? How does death and resurrection coexist? Is it linear? Is it outside of time?

I’ve swung on a lot of pendulums in my life and this is no exception. As a child, the Kingdom was Heaven…a place you go after you die, but not much more. As a young adult, the Kingdom was all here and now…today is the day for victory because heaven is here inside of me. Both seem to forsake either the now or the not yet of the God’s kingdom. And neither promote faithfulness to a covenant relationship with Christ.

This week, I’ve been pondering this tension and the significance of the war that rages on around us. If we as Christians deny that there is a war going on, we are burying our heads in the sand and offering no help or hope to the world. I was blown away by an analogy by a scholar named Oscar Cullman.

“He compared Christ’s first coming to a decisive battle in a war (like D-Day in WWII, which determined the course of the war), and Christ’s second coming to the victory of that war (like VE-Day when the Allies finally triumphed in Europe). Whereas the decisive battle for the kingdom of God has been won by Christ’s death and resurrection, we still live in a time of struggle – the war continues. Nevertheless the outcome is assured and will be effectuated at the second coming.” (Plantinga, An Introduction to Christian Theology)

So don’t put down your weapons. Don’t throw away your shield. Stand firm and be courageous, ready to fight. And along those same lines…

2) It’s not about me.

This came up twice this week. After the second time hearing it while listening to a podcast from a church in Atlanta, I jotted some things down in my journal.

Pray. Stay close to God. DAY by DAY. It’s not about you. It’s bigger. Find your place in the larger story that is ultimately not about you. Be faithful…faithful with what you have and where you are. It’s not about you.

Basically…get perspective. There is a lot more to this world, to the cosmos, to eternity…than me and my little life. God holds me closely and intimately cares for me, but it’s not about me.

I’m reminding of one of my favorite lines in the musical Les Miserables:

“Marius, you’re no longer a child
I do not doubt you mean it well
But now there is a higher call.
Who cares about your lonely soul?
We strive towards a larger goal
Our little lives don’t count at all!”

What is the higher call for us today? What is the larger goal we strive toward? The sooner we realize what it is, the sooner we realize that our little lives don’t count at all.

Explore. Discover. Pioneer.

These are words that have an appeal to them yet to live by them takes on a whole new meaning. I battle with myself constantly on these words. They are words that I want to define my life. They sound exciting and alluring. They make for an inspiring social media post. But when it comes down to it, it’s actually quite challenging to take up these words and place them as a banner over my life.

I’m finding that both musing over the words and living the words are necessary.

Part of my victory comes because I have decided to fill my mind with difficult challenges. Sometimes this makes me feel like a fake because I think about it way more than I do it. But my reality comes from my thinking. If I never think about living a life of risk and discovery, I will definitely not try it or even recognize opportunities to do so.

Therefore, the other part of my victory comes from acting on my thoughts. If I only think about living by faith but fear and control keep my fingers gripping onto my possessions, I’m not actually living by faith. In his book The Final Quest Rick Joyner says, “There is no courage unless there is real danger.” Risk isn’t really a risk until you act.

Yesterday Charles and I went on a hike that he called CYOA: Create Your Own Adventure. It wasn’t your average hike with predictable outcomes. Neither of us had been to where we were going. The car was struggling on a steep dirt road (at one point, I thought we’d be stuck in the middle of the desert). We parked on a random spot on the dirt road and eventually found a “trail” that pretty quickly came to a dead end. Do we turn around? No way…this is CYOA! So we trudge through the desert in the middle of Devil’s Canyon, making our own trail. Climbing on rocks, dodging cactus and resting under a Joshua tree. We did not see a single human on the trail and no one knew exactly where we were. To be honest, if Charles had not been leading the way I would not have explored past the dead end or ventured further into the canyon.

This is when I realized again my love-hate relationship with exploring and pioneering. Breaking new ground is hard work. Making a new path scraps you up a little bit. The well-traveled road is tempting because it’s comfortable, ‘safe’ and predictable. It sets my control and fear at bay…and that is exactly why I must go off the path. I must explore and force myself to break new ground. I must protect my soul from comfort and ease. I must not obey fear and comfort.

Risk and adventure are spiritual disciplines for me. I do it to remember that I am not in control and that my little sphere is not the center of the universe. I do it to remind myself that the status quo isn’t always the best choice and that nothing of value comes easy. I do it to be mindful of the God who is with me and guiding me.

At the end of my life, I want to be known as one who emptied myself completely, owing this world nothing and finding everything in Christ.

How Joseph Saved Christmas

On my last night in South Africa, I celebrated Christmas with my WR squad. We sang songs, ate cookies and read the story of Jesus’ birth. As we were reading about this groundbreaking event in history, one part stuck out to me more than ever before.

It was about Joseph.

Mary gets tons of credit (rightfully so, she was a champ). But if you really think about it, God put more responsibility and risk on Joseph. Joseph was the one who carried the lineage of David. His involvement in Christ’s birth was a vital piece to the fulfillment of ancient prophecies about the Messiah. Pregnant Mary without Joseph could not have accomplished the purposes of God nor experienced the promises of God.

The Spirit can fall on anyone and work miracles like an immaculate conception. But only a man within himself can choose to obey God. Joseph made that decision.

Joseph could have said no. He could have chosen fear (of the unknown, of societal pressures, of the opinion of man…) but he chose to obey the angel Gabriel and believe him at his word.

His decision partnered with God’s plan in a way that required free will and choice. God could not control Joseph’s answer. And yet God rests the entirety of Christ’s fulfillment to scripture on this one man.

God still has faith in humanity. He still has faith in you.

What decisions do you need to make with your own free will to bring about the purposes and promises of God on the earth? Decisions that will not only affect you but those closest to you and future generations. It’s time to change history with our decisions. This Christmas, let us be like Joseph and decide to refuse fear courageously obey God.

I’ve decided to stop trying to be like Jesus

Last month, I listened to someone share their desires to be more like Jesus. It sounds noble. It sounds like what we as Christians should say. But I found myself feeling exhausted and fatigued after her words.

And without thinking I responded by saying, “You know, I am just at a point where I’m done trying to be like Jesus…I just want to be with him.”

It takes a lot of effort to try and be like Jesus. I mean, come on…he was freaking perfect. I am not. Mary of Bethany never tried to be like Jesus, she just sat at his feet. She just loved him.

I’m finding that I have more Christlike qualities and characteristics when I stop trying to be like Jesus and start being with him.

According to heaven, I am already like him (1 John 4:17;  Ephesians 2:6). So why would I struggle to make that more true than it already is? As if I even could make that more true by my effort and striving.

As I am with him, I become like him – and what is true in heaven becomes true on earth.

This is what it looks like to establish his Kingdom and cause heaven to come to earth. Just being with him. My only goal is to behold the glory of The Lord – and in that be transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). It’s a natural progression, not anything I can create. To become like him, I must behold him.

Is it hard for you to enjoy the presence of God without feeling like you have to bring him something? Like you need to display all you’ve done to be like him and earn your place before him?

Yeah, me too sometimes. But then I remember that it was HIM who invited me to come and he welcomes me, expecting nothing.

Be at rest with God. Be at peace with him. And do not delay being with him. It’s the only safe place, the only trustworthy place to be.

Naked

I’ve been in a really vulnerable place with God lately. He is so present around me, but when those moments come where it’s just me and him – I shy away, I hide. He’s still speaking to me and leading me. I’m still talking to him and listening to him. But when he pushes a little deeper and when it starts to get really intimate – my fear or shame or whatever pulls me away.

How can I articulate how it feels to be completely bare before God? It feels like my insides are ripped open and on display, while I am using all of my effort to pull my skin back over my blood and guts so I can be seen by this perfect God. Heaven forbid that his hands get a little bloody…

Everything in me wants to receive this insane love that caused God to endure my pain and blood. All I want is to just melt into his embrace. But still, I try to keep him from seeing the real me.

Who am I fooling though? He CAN see. I’m not very good at hiding, even though I convince myself that I can cover my nakedness from him. And maybe it isn’t so much just letting him see me, but it’s the risk of hoping that he will still want to love me. Sometimes I wonder why he stays…why won’t he leave? My throat closes and tears rise to the surface when I think about this kind of love.

I find myself exhaling a sigh of relief when I realize that he is so confident, that he didn’t make a mistake, that he isn’t worried, and that I can trust him.

Last week, I was at a concert by myself. The artist sang an intimate love song and I sat still as I listened to the beautiful words. My heart could feel the longing in the lyrics…a longing not for romance, but for this radical lover of my soul. Even though this deep intimacy and nakedness before God terrifies me, I’m ready to lose everything for him to say that he is mine.

“Ready To Lose”
(Ingrid Michaelson feat. Trent Dabbs)

When you coming home?
It’s the quiet in the night
That makes my mind make noises and guessing second times
Tell me that you’re mine
Say it one more time

I’m ready to lose everything but you
I’m ready to lose everything but you
Everything
Everything

It’s the heart in you
I know it in my bones
That made me change direction when I thought better off alone
Say it one more time
Tell me you are mine

I’m ready to lose everything but you
I’m ready to lose everything but you
Everything

Tell me that you’re mine
Say it one more time
Tell me that you’re mine
Say it one more time
Tell me that you’re mine
Say it one more time
Say it one more time
Tell me that you’re mine

I’m ready to lose everything but you
I’m ready to lose everything but you
Everything
Everything

Say it one more time
Say it one more time

catching lies

Remember how I don’t really care about the devil?  I kinda, sorta went on a rant about it in one of my blogs like two years ago. Well, I am starting to wonder if I should have a little more concern on the issue of that nasty creature.

I’m still not interested in giving him any glory and I definitely don’t want to do for the devil what he can’t do for himself.  But today, I realized that he has been pursuing me quite consistently and it might be helpful for me to know about it.  It might make me feel a little less like a crazy person, if I could see the strategy against me.

Yesterday, he slipped the same lie into my roommate’s head that he had told me last week. Except, it wasn’t until she said it out loud that I realized it was ridiculously untrue.

The lie: “I should just move out. I’m too different from everyone else in this house.”

Silly nonsense.

Today I realized that there were lies he had told me about other people and how quickly and easily I believed him. Lies so subtle that I had to really be looking for them to even discover them. I needed an awareness of the truth but I also needed an awareness of those quiet, soft doubts that were contaminating the whole batch of hope.

My mentor called it having a lie-catcher. My mind instantly thought of a dreamcatcher.

dream catcher

Dreamcatchers were used by Native Americans to filter out all bad dreams and only allow good thoughts to enter their mind. They hung above the bed and were used as a charm to protect sleeping children, from nightmares.  It was believed that only good dreams would be allowed to filter through and bad dreams would stay in the net, disappearing with the light of day.

I’m not about to hang a dreamcatcher over my bed or get it tattooed on my body or anything.  But I see value in the discipline of filtering all the information that comes my way…catching the lie, and allowing only truth to penetrate into my soul.

What if we could see what weapons our enemy is throwing at us?  What if we could catch it before it wounded us? Before we let it wound those around us?

I want to be a woman who is able to distinguish the most subtle lie from the truth, and not be caught off guard by the pursuit of my real enemy. I want to have vision for the unseen and sight for every lie that would try to steal from me. I want to walk in a wisdom that catches the lie and exposes its fallacy with the light of what is true.   amen? yes and amen.

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