A Selfie Gospel?

Living an authentic Christian life is just hard, isn’t it?

In a world of curated shiny “selfies” we want to be honest about our own mess and love others well in the midst of theirs. We don’t want to be the fakey judgey plastic Christians, banging others over the head with our Bibles, ignoring our own sin.

In the past few years I think there have been some brave, articulate Christians who have modeled vulnerability and authenticity well. It’s been a much-needed corrective to a Christian culture that just wants to show happy-clappy to the world and use the sword of Truth as a weapon of mass destruction.

These truth-tellers have been detailed and explicit about their mess, and God’s love, but sometimes I feel we’re in danger overcompensating – of making an idol out of authenticity and stopping short of truly grieving it as sin.

It seems like it has become more noble to talk about our sin than actually repent of it.

A pastor stands up or a writer writes “real” –  confessing motives, actions, thoughts, words – a heart that is darker than we’d guess.

We’re like, “Wow! That is so great! He is sooooo AUTHENTIC!!

We applaud their courageous honesty and breathe a sigh of relief. “Phew! I’m not the only one”, we think.

When we feel safe to show our rough edges, our failures, our missteps; we may celebrate grace. Yay! There’s NOTHING we can do to be holy, or good enough. I’m ok, you’re ok.

But have we translated Jesus’ acceptance of us right where we are, into an endorsement of whatever feels good to our culture? Has his patience in our minds morphed into tolerance of everything?

Does it mean we ignore God’s grief over our sin, or the price that He paid to rescue us, or the dreams that He has for our growth in character that is like Him?

Has “authentic” become code for celebrating sin under the guise of “Jesus is Love so it’s all good”?

Has love become all comfort and no cost?

Do we think someone loves us only if they endorse our behavior?

Here’s what I’ve been thinking… We get into trouble when we omit God from any Gospel equation.

You may say, “Well, duh!” but think about how inclined we are to do this.

Truth – Grace = Gospel – God  (pharisaical)

Grace – Truth = Gospel – God  (self-centered)

Both omit God from the equation.

 Do you take the kindness of God for granted? Do you see His patience and tolerance as signs that He is a pushover when it comes to sin? How could you not know that His kindness is guiding our hearts to turn away from distractions and habitual sin to walk a new path? Romans 2:4 The Voice

Clearly I’m not the only one thinking about this.

And…

fullsizerender-137

 

The church is where we as the broken and beloved come to receive grace and forgiveness, to place ourselves in God’s hands for His refining and redemptive work. This is not easy stuff! I’m thankful for grace AND truth… grateful that we’re on the way together.

 

The Air You Breathe

Recently one of my closest friends was in a crisis situation – the worst day of her life – and in the midst of the chaos, as she was trying to make hard decisions, she had the wisdom to say, “I need to put on my own oxygen mask first.”

You’ve heard this one MILLION times on the pre-flight safety spiel, and have probably heard it as a metaphor for our spiritual rhythms.  

My friend was at a crucial juncture and knew she needed strengthening for what was ahead when family members and others would be needing a lot from her. She knew she couldn’t give what she hadn’t first received.

The other day I was feeling really down and I couldn’t figure out why. I texted a close friend who asked: “Are you tired?”

My first answer was, “No.”

After some reflection I texted, “Well, yes, but I shouldn’t be.”

And then after a little more reflection… “You know…I haven’t been doing a TON, but I realize it’s all been really draining relational stuff. Hmm…”

I realized I was just a little “out of breath”.

Our ability to give good to others comes from the good we first receive from God.

Here’s the thing… I think some of us are putting on masks that pump noxious gas into our systems. We primarily breathe in rants on social media and we absorb raunch and obscenities over TV and movies.

And some of us are putting on masks filled with sleeping gas. We inhale escapist stuff that isn’t real – isn’t pure oxygen, but rather lulls us into false complacency.

But what are the life-giving masks we need to choose?

The love of God is the oxygen we need to do good work in the world. If you want to bring heaven to earth you will need the oxygen the refreshes and renews.  Without breathing deeply of His love we are in danger of sucking in and spewing out bitterness, anger, and criticism, especially in these politically contentious days.

This is not an easy deal! Can we help each other?

What does putting on your own oxygen mask first mean for you today?  

There are a couple of apps that have been helpful to me – Centering Prayer app and Pray as You Go app. Both provide a short portion of Scripture and silence for reflection.

What are the ways you breathe deeply of life-giving relationships, experiences, and practices? 

 here

Soul Food When There’s No Holiday to Celebrate

Ohmygosh ohmygosh! I don’t know about you, but February and March about kill me every year. Stay tuned cuz I’m working on something that I hope will sparkle the sox off us in March and carry us through. Meanwhile…

Two great books I’ve been reading…Highly recommend them both!

First, Jesus Outside the Lines: A way Forward for Those Who are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls. I love this fresh look at Jesus who won’t fit into our boxes. Here are some of the chapter titles:

Red State or Blue State?
For the Unborn or for the Poor?
Personal Faith or Institutional Church?
Money Guilt or Money Greed?
Affirmation or Critique?
Accountability or Compassion?
Hypocrite or Work in Progress?
Sexual Freedom or Chastity?
Hope Or Realism?
Self Esteem or God-Esteem?

“I am too conservative for liberals, and too liberal for conservatives.” – Everyone who follows the whole Jesus.

In Holding onto Hope, Nancy Guthrie uses her own personal story of grief as a prompt to look at the life of Job. There is an 8-week Bible study at the end.

This week I met with the leader of a local World Relief office to see how our church can help with sponsoring families, tutoring, providing legal clinics for refugees. I loved this story…

Many of you have probably seen this, but it’s such a day-brightener I just had to include it. 

Lastly, a cozy, soooo easy stew for winter nights, or for sharing with a new mama or someone who just needs a meal! 

4 Hour Beef Stew

In a large baking dish put:

  • 2 lb. stew meat
  • 1 medium onion cut up
  • 1 stalk celery cut
  • 6 carrots cubed

Blend together:

  • 1 t. salt
  • 2 TB sugar
  • 2 Tb. tapioca

Sprinkle this over the meat and veggies. Add 1 can peas and 1 can condensed tomato soup (spread over top)

Cover tightly and bake @250 for 4 hours. Serve over Pillsbury canned refrigerator biscuits.

I pray you have a fabulous weekend with glimpses of God’s everyday graces.

*Some posts on this blog contain Amazon affiliate links – I receive a tiny commission on any purchases you make from links, but I’m not paid to recommend any particular item. I’d never include a link to anything I didn’t own or feel great about endorsing.

What Binds us Together

In 1995 I took my first trip to Africa. It was at the height of the AIDS crisis in Uganda. There was little information, lots of myths, many were dying, and the air was permeated with fear.

Although Uganda has green hills and banana trees, the prominent images I carry with me from that first trip are those of coffins being carried along rust colored roads and the smell of smoke from cook fires.

One day we traveled beyond the hot, dusty nowhere, over lumpy paths to meet a woman who lost her husband, all her family members, and was caring for five orphaned children on her own.

Her name is Josephine – tall, lean, dark, and strong. She and friends greet us with dancing, songs, and the rare treat of an scrawny chicken that they had cooked for us, their guests.

We sit together on stumps next to her crumbling mud hut by an open fire, burned down to coals – her “table” of sorts. Gathered around are her people who are doing life by her side, helping with kids, and gardening, and encouraging. We try not to offend her sacrificial hospitality, choking down what she offers, knowing she will go without. I listen to Josephine share her story of loss after loss after loss, and I marvel at her resilience.

Finally, she turns to me, looks me in the eye, and asks, “What is it like for you, in America?”

I gulp, nervously thinking, how can I tell her? What can I tell her?!” How can this woman possibly understand a broken garage door, or pre-school teachers, or my grandmother who recently died in a comfortable, antiseptically clean hospital?

And then the Holy Spirit gives me some words. I say, “You know…our lives are very different. I don’t experience the day-to-day struggle you do here, but what I’m struck by is what we have in common. We are both mothers. We both have hopes, and dreams, and fears for our children, and we both look to God for help. We both have people He gives us.”

When we compare, we are driven apart. We get sucked into thinking “my loss is worse”, or “your loss is worse” but none of that matters. You may have lost a dream or a husband, and I lost a job, someone lost their home, another lost their sight. Loss is loss. We need each other. To hold hands and hearts. To hug and listen, and just be with each other in our pain. God knits us together with the common threads of hope and loss and joy. Together we read, and together we make choices:

“This day I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live..” Deuteronomy 30:19

I asked some blog readers to send me selfies wherever they are. As I scroll through these I tear up thinking of you – of the challenges and hopes you have today. We may not know each other personally, but we know God, and together we choose the Life that He offers.

Katie in Jordan, building bridges to Muslims  (I love this picture take at Petra!)

Carrie, minister to students in Edina MN.

Kathy, in pink, who is a Community Bible Study Leader (here with some of the women in her small group)

Jane, a world citizen and journalist who splits time mostly between Singapore and Switzerland.

3 generations of love – so much awesome in this picture! Sue, Kit, Ally, and Karen in Florida.

Daughter Maggie, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area and works in HR for Tesla (with Riggins who I’m sure reads the blog too).

Jess, a young mama in Minneapolis (with Greta Sue)

Christine, working with a non-profit in Nazareth

Daughter Katy, working as liaison between USAID and Congress in D.C.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing today, know that you are not alone!

5 Strategies for Anxiety

I’ve always seen myself as a strong person.

I’m up for a challenge. I don’t get scared. I’m not timid. I travel the world, will talk to anyone, and am always up for an adventure. Given that, I was really caught off-guard a few years ago when seemingly out of nowhere, I experienced a physical feeling of absolute terror. I felt like I was hyper-ventilating…out of control…racing thoughts…A panic attack?

“This is not ME!” I wanted to shout.

As I mentor young women, the most common confession I hear from them is that they are dealing with some degree of anxiety. It is hardly surprising given the speed of our lives, the conflict in our nation, and the 24/7 bombardment of noise. Add in the gray drear of February in MN and you have a perfect depression cocktail!

I know there’s no quick fix, and I’m not a trained therapist, but I thought I’d share what I tell myself and others when anxiety or depression creep around like a stealthy jaguar waiting to pounce.

  1. Get help. You are not alone. There is no shame in what you’re feeling. Set up an appointment with your doctor and a Christian counselor. Do your part (including getting medication if that’s what your doctor recommends) and trust God to do His.
  2. Slow down – say “no”, observe Sabbath, get sleep. What are the guard rails you have in place to protect yourself?
  3. Turn off the things that amp your anxiety – news, tv. books. Pay attention to what’s going on when you are most anxious.
  4. Lean in to relationships, experiences, and practices that bring life and peace. Make a list now. Praise music, exercise, an encouraging friend, getting outside? Our friend Mark Batterson reminds me:
  5. Affirm the truth. Satan is a lying liar and can distort anything. What are the lies you hear in your head when you’re most anxious? “You’re worthless”, “You can’t do this”, “You’re all alone – this is all on you” ? List them and then go to God’s Word and write down statements of truth (1 Peter 2:6; Psalm 32:7; Psalm 3:3;  Psalm 51:12; Philippians 4:7; Psalm 71:20;  Psalm 41:11; James 1:2-5; Psalm 37:23-24; 1 John 4:4; Hebrews 4:16; 1 Kings 8:28;  Psalm 91:4; James 4:7-8)

Lastly, a couple of resources for anxiety reducing practices:

Abide is a guided prayer app that I use. You can choose the topic, choose background music (or a rushing stream like I have), and the person praying (there are definitely some I like better than others). Some of the prayers are more like Lectio Divina, and some are Examen prayers.

Breath prayer – Breathe in a name for God. Breathe out the desire of your heart. Example: Prince of Peace…Calm my anxious heart.

Those are my thoughts. What would you add? What has been helpful to you?

 

Soul Food For Valentines Day

I don’t care if you’re married or single or widowed or dating or whatever…in my mind Valentine’s Day is a chance to remind everyone that God’s banner over us is love, that God Himself is our ultimate husband, champion, warrior, shepherd, redeemer…

What better reason to celebrate, right?!

Spoiler alert: Not to be sexist, but if you’re a guy, or if you’re in a season with toddlers and NO TIME even to go to the bathroom, or you hate recipes or being “crafty” you may want to delete this right now. Ok, I’ve warned you…now carry on.

A couple of years ago at Easter, my friend Heather gave me this vase within a vase, filled with multi-colored jelly beans on the outside. I thought it was so cute I decided to adapt the idea for Valentine’s Day. Warning: Unless you choose a candy you don’t like, it’s hard not to eat the decorations 🙁 !

I’ve made star shaped croutons to give away at Christmas before, so I thought I’d try heart shaped ones.

Parmesan Croutons

English Muffin bread

Olive flavored cooking spray (I used butter)

Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

Place slices of bread on jelly roll pan and put in freezer for 30 minutes. Remove and use small heart cookie-cutter to cut croutons (I found them at Michaels).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat bread stars with cooking spray. Toss bread stars with cheese, salt, and pepper. Bake 10 minutes or til golden. Put in cellophane bag to accompany soup you drop off for a new Mama.

This salad recipe from my friend, Kitty doesn’t call for croutons, but it’s awesome and seems Valentiney 🙂

Salad part (you figure out how much 🙂 ):

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Green onion
  • Either raspberries or strawberries
  • Crumbled bacon
  • Blue Cheese
  • Candied pecans or almonds

Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing

1/2 cup raspberry vinegar

1/2 cup salad oil

1 t. salt

1 t. dry mustard

1/2 cup sugar

Blend in blender and add poppy seeds

I’m hosting a couple of gatherings over the next week so I pulled out the bunting I made last year.

 

The Most Neglected Mandate for Troubling Times

Confession: I probably gripe  5  10  15 times for every one time I pray for our leaders. Yikes!

I’m thankful I have friends like Kathy, who remind me how neglected and how important this practice is.

1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (‭1 Timothy‬ ‭2‬:‭1-4‬ NIV)

Ouch!

What if every time we started to say something critical about our leaders, we prayed for them instead?

My friend also sent this powerful prayer, written for the inauguration by Duke Kwon. I have prayed through the whole thing a couple of times, but now am going to write out a section each day in my journal to pray ig. It was written for the inauguration, but is applicable for all leaders at all times. You can just insert other names or “our leaders” if you want. I hope this will be a helpful resource for you too.

The original post appears at the Grace Church website, which can be accessed here.

GRACIOUS GOD,

We pray on behalf of our nation this day, as Mr. Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. Sovereign Lord, we “lift up our eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven” (Ps. 123:1).

We pray for our new President (1 Tim. 2:1-3). As he takes the Oath of Office, we pray he may do so with humility, a clear conscience, and due consideration of the weightiness of so solemn a responsibility (Jer. 4:2Ps. 24:4). As President Trump begins the execution of the Office, we ask that you would bless him with “the fear of the Lord” — a reverent sense of dependency and accountability that would become a well-spring of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Please protect the President from the many seductions of power: the will to “win” at all costs (Mk. 10:42-45), retaliation towards enemies (Rom. 12:17-21), exploitation of the weak (Prov. 22:22), failures of faithfulness to one’s covenant of marriage (Mal. 2:14). In particular, we ask that you would guard the President’s marriage. May his devotion to his wife Melania grow and flourish.

We ask that you would give the President the character and skill to lead our nation effectively. Restrain all foolishness and evil in the meditations of his heart, the words on his lips, and the work of his hands (2 Thess. 2:7Eccl. 4:13Matt. 15:18-19). Pour into his heart such virtues as prudence, compassion, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Make him a lover of truth (Ps. 51:6). Grant him grace to repent of wrongdoing when needed (2 Tim. 2:25). We also ask that you surround the President with friends and advisors who are just and wise (Prov. 19:20).

Please direct and “channel” the President’s heart, guiding it according to your Word and will (Prov. 21:1). We pray that the policies of President Trump and his administration would promote human flourishing in our nation and around the world. We ask you to grant President Trump your justice and your righteousness (Ps. 72:1, 12-14). In the coming four years, please protect the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our nation, whether through this administration’s policies and priorities or in spite of them. Send your Spirit and pour out your loving-kindness upon the orphan (including the functionally parentless), the poor, the immigrant and the refugee, the unborn, the elderly, the racial minority (black and brown neighbors in particular), and many others who are too often diminished and forgotten (Deut. 27:19Ps. 139:13-16Prov. 14:31Zech. 7:10; Jas. 1:27). Indeed, we are bold to ask, by your kind providence, that by the end of the term of this Presidency, our nation would be by certain measures more equitable, more compassionate, more humble, more generous, and more alive to your great grace. Jesus, could you please do this? Not because we are righteous or because we deserve it, but because of your mercy (Dan. 9:17-19).

We pray for ourselves, too. We ask that you would “inaugurate” in our hearts a readiness to offer whatever honor that is due to his Office (Rom. 13:1-71 Pet. 2:17) — not least, for those who are followers of Christ, by praying for the President with earnest petitions and appropriate thanksgiving (1 Tim. 2:1-3). Help us to remain zealous to do good (Gal. 6:9). Keep us vigilant against evil (Rom. 12:21Gen. 4:7). Save us from both political triumphalism and apocalyptic despair. Sustain our hunger and thirst for righteousness and grace (Matt. 5:3-6).

And we continue to pray for our nation’s healing after a terribly divisive election. Yes, we pray for civic unity, particularly among Christians of divergent political persuasions (Jn. 17:20-21). But even more so, we ask for grace for the process by which unity is forged. We pray for truth-telling, charity, empathy, repentance, and mutual understanding. We pray not for a negative peace marked by an absence of tension or disagreement, but a positive peace marked by the presence of hope, equity, and a Godward regard for one another as fellow image-bearers. Heal us, O Emmanuel.

O Lord, on this Inauguration Day we place neither our ultimate trust nor our ultimate fears upon President Trump, a “mere mortal” whose heart is directed and re-directed by your sovereign will (Prov. 21:1Isa. 40:23Ps. 56:4; 146:3-4; Matt. 10:28). “Others besides you have ruled over us, but you alone do we worship” (Isa. 26:13). You are the King of the nations and the true Lord of history (Acts 17:26Ps. 22:28Isa. 40:21-24). Indeed, “you alone are God” (Ps. 86:10). So we gloat not; we despair not; we shrug not. King of kings, we place all our hope and trust in you.

In the name of Christ and for his glory alone,
AMEN.

 

5 Tips I’ve Learned From Great Gift-Givers

This post may be a little untimely. After all, you’re probably not thinking about Christmas shopping for next year.

But maybe you have friend with a birthday coming up and who doesn’t love giving and receiving gifts just because it’s Monday, right?

Or maybe you’re an employer who can’t give your team a raise, but wants to encourage and acknowledge their hard work.

I’m super easy to buy for because so much delights me! Give me a copy of Country Living UK to lose myself in and I’m as happy as if you had given me a car. (I’m really not a car person, so that’s probably not a fair comparison.) But not all people are so easy.

Anyway, whether you’re easy or not, don’t you know people who are just awesome gift-givers? I want to learn from them, so this past Christmas I paid close attention to gifts that particularly delighted me and made some notes.

Here’s are 5 things I came up with:

Continue reading

The One Practice You May Need Most This Week

How many of you are multi-tasking right now? Admit it…

You’re waiting in line at Starbucks, listening to the guy next to you talk about his favorite Super Bowl commercial, and scrolling through this post.

Or you have CNN on the TV, while you are eating a piece of toast, feeding your toddler, and clicking back and forth between this and Twitter. Right?

Me too.

I want to do and see and hear ALL OF THE THINGS. Now.

I have a busy mind and a serious case of FOMO.

Like gawkers at an accident, I’m also perversely attracted to what outrageous thing has been said or done in our unsettled (ahem…?) political climate.

The problem with this is that it makes for a lot of noise in my little brain. A lot of different voices vying for attention.

Silence may be the most important discipline you and I need this week.

No, I don’t mean not speaking up for those without a voice. I don’t mean abdicating our responsibility to speak truth.

I mean silence as in turning off the radio. Turning off the TV news. Turning away from Twitter.

I mean making space for God. Leaning in to hear His whispers instead of the shouts of the world.

The other day I was walking around Lake of the Isles at an arctic 5 degrees. I had been listening to a podcast on my phone, but all of a sudden it stopped – frozen – and I was left with a lot of white space.

The world around me was snowy and silent. The clatter in my ears was stilled.

With this space, I found myself noticing the beauty of creation and thanking God.

Several who are experiencing injustice around the world came to mind and I prayed for them.

A new idea emerged.

The Holy Spirit prompted me to reexamine how I’m viewing a relationship.

God spoke into the silence.

Some of you reading this may be genuine candle-lighting, silence-seeking contemplatives. Bless you. That would not be me.

But my frozen phone made me think about the importance of choosing this as a discipline more often. So yesterday my Sabbath included no radio, no news, no Twitter.

Less static, more stillness.

What if, this week, we set aside time to turn off the noise, and like Samuel, said, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”?

Soul Food When Injustice Seems to Overwhelm

I think this from Bustle on Instagram sums up what many of us are feeling at the end of a long week of upheaval, anxiety, and unrest.

So I’m thinking we need some good news for the weekend. 

This is my favorite picture from the week. The world is really just a small village and we belong to each other.

If you’re like me, you may resonate with the question Chris Nye poses in his article titled “Does Knowing ‘God is Sovereign’ Really Help”?

“There are times when God allows the consequences of human error to play out. And sometimes we have to suffer through it to learn, once again, to trust Him, whose kingdom and dominion never end.”

Read the whole article here.

I was so heartened to hear of lawyers offering free legal help to those immigrants confused and stuck at airports.  

But many are asking, “What can I do?” My friend Dale Hanson Bourke wrote a fantastic article titled, 6 Things Your Church Can Do During the Refugee Ban. Take a look!

And then there’s this song from the Brilliance that I want to keep playing on repeat.

When I look into the face
Of my enemy
I see my brother
I see my brother

Lastly, who can’t use a little bunny inspiration?

 

Have a great weekend, friends! Remember you’re not alone!

« Older posts

© 2017 Laura Crosby

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑