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.

Oh, what a day is today

It’s a great time to be alive.

Today I realized the greatness of the hour in which we live. In the midst of extreme fear and dividing controversy, we have the greatest opportunity to know what our God is really like and to be just like him.

Today I was shocked by this verse that talks about loving our enemies… “for he is KIND to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36) Jesus said that about the Most High.

Pause and Reflect.

We live in a world with real enemies. Not only a spiritual enemy but human beings who seek to kill and destroy others as what they believe to be a duty unto God. It’s not much different from the world that the disciples knew. “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). It’s also not much different from the world that many countries ravaged by war have known for decades. But it is different from the safe and comfortable 29 years that I have lived.

Much of my life, I have not known the threat of an enemy. September 11th was my first exposure to terrorism and hate. I was only a freshman in high school and I didn’t fully understand the depth of hatred toward America. With recent events in Europe, the fear of our enemies is more tangible than ever before. With the coming Presidential election, fear is the weapon of choice, though disguised in caution and false wisdom.

As the fear of evil thickens, I begin to understand the fear of the LORD. If I truly believe that God is all-powerful…the one with the most power, the name above every other name and the highest authority in the entire universe, how can I continue to fear my enemy? If I believe that God has not fallen off of his throne, how can I fear those who sit on a smaller throne?

This life is a vapor; it is here today and gone tomorrow. The hope that we live by is that there is more beyond this life, and it is far greater. There is eternity full of goodness and laughter and peace. And it is the LORD who holds eternity in his hands.

Therefore, I have decided that it is the best time to be alive. It is the greatest opportunity to be kind to the ungrateful and the evil. It is the perfect time to be merciful and generous to the undeserving. Not only because God has been kind to me, but because I want to treat people the same way he does. I want to live in light of eternity and in allegiance to his kingdom.

Whatever my government decides and however the world responds to this present evil, my heart will not hate and my soul will not fear.

“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.” Proverbs 24:10-11

 

Save Part of Yourself

I really wanted to write a blog to finish out 2015. I had specific lines in my head that I wanted to write and I was going to post it on Facebook before I deactivated my account so that I could get more traffic.

BUT, the days kept coming and going without my computer being opened.

I had several blogs already written from months ago, saved on my computer but never posted. They are bursts of words exploding from moments of inspiration. They are really good too, but I never shared them.

I heard Elizabeth Gilbert talk about the story that you need to write and how it might be different from the story you publish. I love that there are expressions of my creativity that no one will ever see and that the process of creating it serves the purpose of the creation.

It’s really tempting to share every thing we create because we crave affirmation and approval. We want the praises of people to confirm that what we did for ourselves is valued and qualified.

I think that’s why those blogs were never shared. I want to preserve that sacred space in my soul where creativity and inspiration and life happen. It is a revolutionary thought for me to realize that I don’t have to give everything away. Therefore, when I do give parts of myself or when I share that sacred space with someone, it is genuine and powerful.

In 2016, I want to carve out more spaces in my life that no one sees. The last few years have been a journey for me to be less open with the world. It sounds counter-intuitive and opposite of what our pop-culture would preach but for me it is balance and centeredness. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be vulnerable, but it does mean that when I am vulnerable the outcome does not destroy me. It means that I will bare my soul but only to those who are worthy of it. And when the time comes to share those tender parts of my soul with the world, the healing will be complete.

It feels like a deep breath of fresh air to be able to say that I am worthy and to live accordingly. My entire being is at rest because it is finally being treated with respect, not by all the surrounding influences or voices but by myself. What peace there is when I am in alignment with heaven.

I can love and respect myself because God first loved and respected me.

Selah.

brave

When I decided to accept the 2014 dating challenge, I didn’t think much about it.  I was nervous for a minute or two but then just jumped all in and got really excited.  That’s me…all or nothing.

As soon as I posted the blog about it, one of my close friends texted me, “You are so brave!”

I wondered…What exactly did I get myself into that people think I’m so brave? Is it really that scary?

Then it hit me. This is terrifying! Putting yourself out there, risking rejection, facing fears, coming up against insecurity, getting vulnerable…why am I doing this again?

I soon realized that by taking on this challenge, I am taking on some of the biggest demons and darkest thoughts in my life. Part of me was intimidated and has often wanted to throw in the towel, but another part of me has continually risen to the occasion. That part of me wants to see my life free from such darkness that would constantly try to steal my joy. It wants to battle and war for freedom!

Last month, that same friend (without remembering her previous exhortation) told me again…“You are so brave!”

This time I didn’t feel so brave. In fact, I felt incredibly powerless and weak. I sat wondering, “what does it even mean to be brave?” Is it always doing what is painful for a more fruitful outcome? hoping? believing? …choosing to trust an unseen sovereign God? And I think that’s exactly what it means…but it’s nothing that I can conjure up on my own.

For hours, I cried and prayed for mercy as I listened to Bethel’s new song/album “You Make Me Brave” on repeat. I felt like I couldn’t even climb into God’s lap, but I needed him to come all the way down to me and pick me up. And he did.

When I couldn’t see it, believe it or feel it, he was leading me further away from the shore and deeper into unknown waters. My soul can’t understand it and often resists, but my spirit gave into him.

It really is only God who makes me brave.

“You make my footsteps and paths secure so walking on water is just the beginning. Cause my face to arise, stand at attention. For you are calling me to greater things.”

Five Little Nuggets

I’ve been learning a lot lately.

The learner in me tries to grow from every experience in life. I am always seeking out new things to learn about myself and about life. I love being able to look back on a season of life and saying that I learned something…I’m encouraged by the feeling that it wasn’t in vain but it had purpose and intention even when I wasn’t aware of it.

My most recent learning experiences, as you may guess, have been from dating.

I will generously share the wealth of wisdom and revelation that I feel I’ve gained from the last four months. It will probably sound familiar…but something powerful has happened to me where I no longer just ‘know’ these things with my mind, but I actually believe them wholeheartedly. So, drumroll please…

MY FIVE NUGGETS of dating wisdom (so far):

1. Patience is a virtue.  I used to say that it was a virtue that I didn’t have. Well, when God makes you wait long enough…you begin to learn how to value patience and see it as a blessing rather than an annoyance.

2. I am not my own.  One day, I realized that my heart was not mine to give away as I pleased. A long time ago, I gave my heart to God and trusted him to protect it. He has set up watchmen on the walls of my heart. Only he has the authority to allow or refuse the entrance of another heart.

3. Don’t be afraid of rejection. Giving AND receiving.  I know, way easier said than done. But huge lesson here…you can’t be afraid to hurt feelings. It is only temporary and there are more important issues to deal with than feeling uncomfortable by potential rejection. Don’t avoid it, don’t dress it up real nice, don’t pretend…just face it head on.

4. Know what you want, what you value and what matters.  I sat in a hotel restaurant by myself for hours on Easter Sunday in Johannesburg, South Africa. I drank coffee and starting making lists. It was the first time I felt the courage to write down what I actually wanted and could articulate what really mattered to me. It changes everything! Also, save yourself some energy and have the wisdom to not invest deeply into someone who doesn’t also know these things.

5. Finally, self-worth.  I had no idea how little I truly understood on this topic. Something that is worthy and valuable costs A LOT. It takes sacrifice and effort. It doesn’t come easy. I was thinking about how Jesus didn’t feel bad or awkward that the poor woman gave her very last two coins as an offering to God. (Mark 12:43-44) But he received it with joy knowing his worth and value. It wasn’t rude or impolite for God to take her entire gift. She saw his true eminence, counted the cost and gave everything she had – she determined him to be worthy; the rich who gave out of abundance dishonored and devalued God by sacrificing little – he was not worth it to them.

When the revelation of our true worth and value really sinks deep, to receive empty flattery and charm is as ridiculous as trying to buy a mansion with ten bucks. It’s humorous and slightly offensive. Don’t bother bringing that which costs you nothing and expect to receive abundant riches.

I said that this year would be about risk and it certainly has stepped up to the plate. Risk means you win some, you lose some. But you learn through it all. Onto to more learning and growing….so, I need a MAY DATE.