Category Archives: Christian living

Let Our Words Be Few

Image “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.'”- Matthew 11:17 “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever…What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” –Ecclesiastes 1:4,9 Pride is as alive as it ever was, and it is so very seductive. No one is beyond its grasp. Pride whispers sweetly in our ears until we are lulled into believing we have the absolute right to demand the church be molded into our image, brothers and sisters in Christ bend to our personal tastes and preferences, and Christ himself be whittled down into a comfortable pocket guide for living. No one is exempt and no moment in time is safe from the siren call of pride and the assertion of the will. Each one of us is as prone as the other to fall into the trap. I will preface a link to the recent article by Rachel Held Evans by saying the words and specifics may vary, but the idea is not new. Nothing is new under the sun. We all at one time or another have desired to tailor God, His Word, and His purposes to our will.  Evans addresses the evangelical church, and its perceived failure to hold captive the attention and loyalty of so-called millenials.    The desire to cast a wider net is understandable, but some of the ideas represented here seem to be rooted in the desire to have a sovereignty of self, to base our criticisms of institutions on our own authority, not the authority of scripture. “It is clear,” Eugene Peterson writes urgently in Eat This Book, “that we live in an age in which the authority of Scripture in our lives has been replaced by the authority of the self: we are encouraged on all sides to take charge of our lives and use our own experience as the authoritative text by which we live.” Not only this, but “we are in the odd and embarrassing position of being a church in which many among us believe ardently in the authority of the Bible, but, instead of submitting to it, use it apply it, take charge of it endlessly, using our own experience as the authority for how and where and when we will use it.” We can slide so easily into the habit of self-appointed authority with God’s word, with His people, and, (this should cause us to shudder), with God Himself. It is so tempting to say we want a big God with power and glory and majesty, but in the same breath want to manage the Almighty and His work on earth. We want the great King to be safe. But we are to be admonished in this kind of thinking, just like the character of Susan in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: “Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.” This foolish desire to waltz into God’s house and lay out a list of demands has surely been a problem since the time of the writing of Ecclesiastes, prompting these words: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know what they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth. So let you words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-3) Let our words be few. And let those words be appropriately humble. Let us remember, no matter what generation we are in, that we do not call the shots. It may be that it is more tempting for the generations now coming of age to feel entitled than previous generations. (Though I doubt it. Nothing is new under the sun). It also may be that there have been some misguided attempts by various churches to cater to one group or another, motivated by fear of losing numbers. Haven’t we been warned though, that “the love of most will grow cold?” (Matthew 24:11) I believe a church’s effectiveness in pursuing and carrying out the will of God does not lie in popularity but in holding fast to His Word, and in effectively using those who will be counted present and available. The question, then, isn’t  what is the church to me, but what kind of instrument am I in the church? What do I bring? How can I humbly serve, minister to, love, console, rejoice with, and walk alongside my brothers and sisters? How can I be hands and feet to those outside the walls of my church and beyond the boundaries of my comfort? This is to walk in the feet of Christ. This is, again in the words of Eugene Peterson, “liv[ing] these Holy Scriptures from the inside out, instead of using them for our sincere and devout but still self-sovereign purposes.” This is the antidote to pride. So let our words be few. Let our demands be silenced. Let our condescension and criticisms be muted and our actions speak volumes. And let our actions not just show that we love our neighbor, as important as that is. Let them show that we submit to the will of the Father, and follow the first and greatest commandment, which, if we truly take Christ at His word, is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37-38) Let our words be few. Let our awe be genuine. Let us humbly acknowledge that God is God and His Will will be done, whether we choose to be a part of it or not.

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August 1, 2013 · 5:55 PM

He Did it, Too

Originally posted March 30, 2013

One of the arguments I have the least tolerance for is when my kids justify poor choices by pointing out someone else “did it too.”  This is either cropping up more or I am more aware/bothered by it lately.  I have come up with a standard reply.  (I have a few of those, and I suspect as my kids get older, they will tease me/repeat them back to me, as kids do to their parents.  Oh well).  My reply goes something like this: “Do you base your decisions on someone else’s poor choices or on what you know to be right?” 

I have to say, there are so many times that I say something quite parental like this, and first of all, a part of me says, “oh my goodness, I’m the mom now.  huh.” And secondly, I hear the same words echo in my head as a lesson for me.  This is one of those.  For me, it’s not making fart jokes or sneaking extra time playing wii.  For me, it’s a bit more subtle, and sometimes, a bit more internal:  gossip, envy, careless words, avoiding responsibility, a little bad habit here and there.  But no matter the bad choice, it’s always easier to justify if I can look around and see someone else doing something similar.  “She did it, too.”  So how do I  measure my choices?  What standard do I use?

Scripture comes to mind as a pretty handy tool for this.  And with Scripture, come some pretty wonderful examples of men and women making strong, wise decisions, as well as men and women making poor choices, all too often followed up by all sorts of justifications.  One of the most obvious to me of the latter is the whole finger pointing debacle in the Garden of Eden.  But what struck me recently, during this Holy Week, is a lesser discussed example of a brave, singular decision made by a nameless criminal:

The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:35-43)

Wow.  How brave, how wise, how (seemingly) alone this man was.  He could so easily have joined in with the mockers, or even the silent.  But he formed his decision, not on what anyone else was doing, but on what something inside him told him to be the Truth.  What a marvelous example of courage in the midst of the darkest hour.

So I will continue to ask my children, and continue to ask myself:  What do I base my choices on- what everyone else is doing?  what “he/she did”?  someone else’s mistaken thinking or poor decisions?  Or on what I know to be Truth?

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Filed under Christian living, Examining life, parenting

Worthy Now

 

Originally posted March 29, 2013

“Here’s what truly is at the heart of Wholeheartedness: Worthy now.  Not if.  Not when.  We are worthy of love and belonging now.  Right this minute. As is.”- Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

 
Last night our family attended the Maundy Thursday service at our church.  We sang one of my favorite hymns, Just as I Am, by Charlotte Elliot.  Verse three: Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 
 
Just as I am.  Why is that so hard?  Why is it regardless of if we are discussing faith, family, friendships, or work, there is for many of us, lurking beneath the surface, the idea that things will be better when we are better, when we are more worthy.  When I lose 5 pounds, when I clean up this house, when I am a better conversationalist, when I have worked a few more years, and feel more confident in what I’m doing.  When my kids are older and better behaved in public, when I am better at articulating my feelings, when I have things figured out theologically, when I get rid of all my bad habits, when I don’t doubt…
 
When will we figure out that when is never, and that right now is the absolute best time to embrace what is?    There is no perfect this side of heaven, and since when is perfection a prerequisite to worthiness and love?  Why do we allow that kind of thinking? 
 
I am not sure of the reasons this is so hard.  Maybe part of our humanity is that we constantly question our Maker, push back a little (or a lot):  “Am I really worthy?  Do you really love me?  Really?  Just as I am?”  Maybe there are old wounds that tell us we are not worthy, just like this, that we could use a little tweaking first.  Whatever the reason, what I do know, is that without exception, every time I sing those words I quoted above, I feel a sense of release, and something in me feels raw, tender, and accepted all at once.
 
I am ready to throw off the weight of the whens and the ifs, and to see myself as one who is dearly loved, right now (see Romans 5:8 and Ephesians 5:1).  Does that mean no refining?  Absolutely not.  Refining is a life long process.  This isn’t about complacency, it’s about the first steps to realize that there is nothing that should hold us back from life, and nothing that should make us feel unworthy.  It’s about taking the first steps to wholehearted living.  Right now.

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40 Life Lessons

Originally posted February 26, 2013

I turn 40 today, and as I reflect on where I have been and where I might be going, I thought I would write out 40 things I have learned so far on this journey…

  1. God’s faithfulness has never depended on mine.
  2. What I have has always been enough.
  3. It is never a good idea to compare myself to anyone.  Ever.
  4. From the moment I found out I was going to have my first child, a lot of people had all kinds of advice and opinions.  It was good to listen, there were a lot of wise words to heed. But then, like now, I needed to find my own path.  If I knew in my heart it was the right  thing, I learned to tune out the criticism.  I have come up with enough reasons to feel guilty all on my own.
  5. In general, I have learned to avoid negative and cynical people.  Like drowning victims, they tend to pull a person down right with them.
  6. The more trustworthy I am, the easier time I have trusting others.
  7. Authenticity is an unbeatable quality.
  8. So is loyalty.
  9. No one is perfect, no matter how it might appear to the onlooker.
  10. The more settled I am in my own life, the less interested I am in finding flaws in someone else’s.
  11. Admitting I am wrong and asking for forgiveness can be crazy scary, but totally worth it, no matter what the outcome is.
  12. Parenting is so much harder and more complicated than I ever imagined it would be (and I just ignore when people say “just wait, it gets harder”- I truly believe each stage has it’s own set of unique challenges).
  13. The depth of love I have for my children is beyond words.  Sometimes it takes my breath away.
  14. My family knows me better than I’d sometimes like to admit, and their love is all the more meaningful and truer because of it.
  15. Joy can be found in the simplest, most mundane moments, and can be totally elusive in the big, fancy ones.
  16. Meekness and submissiveness are not signs of weakness, but of a deep, inner strength.
  17. Rolling up my sleeves and getting to work often feels better than I think it will.
  18. Ten minutes of praying about something often goes much farther than three hours of talking about it.
  19. Friendships come in many different forms, some can be quite surprising.  Some friendships only last a season, and that’s OK.  They can still be of lasting value.
  20. No one gets to define me.
  21. Very close beneath the surface of anger is often hurt or fear.
  22. Grief and loss are inevitable.  There has been no way to prepare for them, I have simply learned to live through them and learn through the process.
  23. I don’t underestimate the healing properties of a good run, a good cry,a good laugh, a hot bath, or listening to a favorite piece of music.  Or all of the above.
  24. Time alone is essential and I cherish it.
  25. I am married to my best friend- we have been able to laugh, cry, fight, and love our way through anything.
  26. I cannot expect from others what I am not prepared to give.
  27. “Fake it till you make it” is sometimes the best way to go.
  28. I was not meant to carry others burdens and they were not meant to carry mine.  But a true friend can. shoulder the load for a bit and be company for the journey.
  29. Joy is more complete because of the pain I have felt.
  30. Doing something kind goes a long way to putting me in a better mood.
  31. A good book can soothe the soul.
  32. There is always more to learn.
  33. When meeting new people, I have learned its best to ask good questions and then really listen.  If all I do is talk about myself or what I know, I  have gained nothing.
  34. For every study that says coffee and chocolate are bad for me, there’s another one that says they will help me live longer (or at least smile more).
  35. Discontentment is a nothing but a joy-killer.
  36. It can be tempting at times to focus primarily on our strengths, and other times on our struggles..  But I have found the highest value lies in sharing honestly about struggles we have faced and how we have become stronger for the challenge   (and by the grace of God).
  37. Love really does cover over a multitude of sins.
  38. I have learned to go to church not just to be fed, but to feed.
  39. Just when I think I have life figured out, something happens to humble the socks off of me.
  40. It is good to have people in my life who challenge me, and good to have those who are a safe place to land.  I treasure beyond measure the people in my life who are both.

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Lavish Love

Originally posted February 14, 2013

 

A few thoughts on Valentine’s Day and entering into Lent...

“Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” – Isaiah 55:1b.

A good friend of mine wrote a Lenten reflection based partly on these words.  She touched on several important ideas, but what has stayed with me today is the idea of God’s abundant and gracious love and provision for us.  Another word that came to my mind was “lavish.”  It seems to me a recurring theme throughout scripture is The Lord as the lavish lover of our souls.  He provides rich soil, water that satisfies, He is the bridegroom, He puts forth wondrous feasts, banquet tables, wine and milk without cost.  And in I John we are told how great a love He lavishes on us by calling us His children, and that is what we are.

It is fun on this day, Valentine’s day, to cut out hearts, maybe eat some chocolate, and proclaim love for one another.  But as we now enter also into Lent, I am caught up in this idea of God’s lavish love and provision for me.  I just cannot shake it.  So where, then, does it lead me?  I think that if I truly understand the abundance I have, then I have no reason to be stingy with my resources, my kindnesses, my time, my energy, or my love.  God knows me fully (and yet) loves me fully.  Wow.  The depths of His richness are unfathomable.  May I see this today, and every day.  May I breathe it in and then may I live it out.

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Connection

Originally posted January 27, 2013

“I see the cultural messaging everywhere that says that an ordinary life is a meaningless life…And I also understand how grandiosity, entitlement, and admiration-seeking feel like just the right balm to soothe the ache of being too ordinary and inadequate. Yes, these thoughts and behaviors ultimately cause more pain and lead to more disconnection, but when we’re hurting and when love and belonging are hanging in the balance, we reach for what we think will offer us the most protection.” -Brene Brown, Daring Greatly


I have been mulling over the power of facebook and other social media in the area of self worth and presentation of ourselves to others.  It sometimes strikes me as odd how much of our daily lives we put out there for others to see.  I wonder at times what makes people “like” certain posts or take the time to comment.  And I wonder, how much do we measure ourselves by the click of a box, an online popularity contest that goes on everyday and sometimes to the tune of “poring over the excruciating minutia of every single daily event” (a favorite / semi-prophetic quote from Seinfeld) 

I recently read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, and it has honestly transformed much of the way I process my daily patterns of thought and behavior.  I highly recommend it.  I may have to “blame” Brene for this increasing discomfort with the faux connection via social media.  I love writing, I love connecting with people and sharing ideas.  I have a large and dusty collection of old journals, and stacks of old letters and cards from family and friends that tell stories and have the timeless power to bring an instant smile, and sometimes not a few tears.

But what we are pulled into in the world of constant status updates is a whole new animal. It seems sometimes that we take Socrates famous warning that “an unexamined life is not worth living” and turn it into “an unreported life is not worth living.”  Or to put it another way “if I have an experience, but I don’t update my status with pictures and a cute caption, did it really happen?” I am saying this with full awareness of my own desire to update and report.

So what’s the harm?  Beyond the possibility of boring others with the “minutiae” of my life, what are the consequences of this type of connection?  I have begun to think that there are three reasons that I am becoming a little more cautious, and maybe a little more hesitant to utilize this type of communication.  First, and maybe most obvious, is the insidious loss of importance of face to face connection.  Nothing, not even the wittiest virtual exchange, can replace sitting with someone and really listening and really being heard.  Second, and closely related to the first, is the impulse to put more importance on describing the experience than truly engaging yourself in the experience.  It’s frankly sometimes easier to snap a picture and post it, than to fully immerse yourself and just be in the moment.  And third, when we are crafting ourselves and our experiences so carefully I think we tend to lose part of ourselves.  To live fully we really need to be authentic, and that is hard to do in the world of social media where we could believe that most everyone else more in shape, more creative, better parents, and more beautiful than we ever could be.  And to begin to believe, as Brene Brown puts it, that “the orinary life is a meaningless life.”  We begin to slide into the sad pit of devaluing the very real and not-so-perfect nature of our own lives.  The knee jerk reaction is to put the best of ourselves out there.  But the best is not always the truest.  And embracing life and our part in it is not possible if we are constantly using the smoke and mirrors to keep up with the less than authentic parts of others. 

Personally, I have only felt the truest growth when I can be vulnerable and honest with someone who is vulnerable and honest with me, and we are able to challenge each other to authentic growth.  This is true connection.  And I don’t know about you, but I crave this. And I am so very grateful for the places I find it.  I think social media like facebook has its place.  But right now I am giving serious consideration to what exactly that place is.  What place do I allow it in my mind?  And how can I make more room for the wonderful flesh and blood people who see my scars and flaws, and who love me, challenge me, and provide for me what I think most of us are really seeking:  Connection.  Real Connection.

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Peace

Posted December 9, 2012

I wrote this in December 2009, and wanted to share it again, here:

I don’t know why peace seems so fragile. Why I can be sitting in the quietness of a morning prayer and by 10 a.m. any sense of that tranquility is shattered. Why, when surrounded by the holy music of this season I can be filled with awe and wonder at the glory, the mystery, but ten minutes later I can be dragged into the mundane and frazzled environment in the crowds around me. I don’t have an answer, beyond our own human weakness and inability to hold the gift of peace that is offered with grace and humility, not only now, but every day, if we will reach out for it. I don’t have an answer, but I keep on. I keep waking, walking, trying, failing, and waking again. And so it goes.

I don’t know where you are right now, in your mind, in your soul. I don’t know what will happen to you when you finish reading this, get up from your computer, and go about your day. And I don’t know what will happen to me. But I hope for you, and for me, that we will slowly begin to understand more of the peace that is beyond the song, beyond the words, beyond what we can hope for. And that bit by bit, we will learn to hold on to that peace in the midst of all of life, and that instead of chaos breaking into the peace, the peace will break into the chaos, and prevail.

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