Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 17)

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…

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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.

 

3 Questions For Tense Days in America

It’s been an unsettling couple weeks, hasn’t it? Kind of like someone shook up our snow globe of life and we’re trying to figure out where things are going to settle.

Sunday morning husband John and I arrived home from a trip in time to overlap briefly with our daughter and son-in-law who were in town for a wedding. We went to brunch before taking them back to the airport, talking non-stop, trying to squeeze 24 hours into our 5 hours together.

We talked a lot about the sad state of our country and the mandate we feel to do what we can to stand up for those who are being persecuted, but the tone of our conversation left me a bit troubled. Our talk was marked more by righteous indignation, anger and judgment than anything else. We shared outrageous tweets and news stories we had seen.

Later, I was reading in Acts 6 where the disciples are choosing men for special work. They look for “people whom everyone trusts, men full of the Holy Spirit and good sense…”

One they choose is Stephen who is described as “full of faith and the Holy Spirit…”

Later, in verse 8 it says, “Stephen, brimming with God’s grace and energy, was doing wonderful things among the people, unmistakable signs that God was among them.”

So, here’s the uncomfortable part. Would anyone listening to our conversation Sunday have identified me as “full of the Holy Spirit”? “Brimming with God’s grace and energy”? Not so much.

I’d be golden if a fruit of the Spirit was anger or frustration or criticism!

Yes, we need to speak truth. We need to rail against injustice. But bringing the kingdom of God will not happen if we are sucked into a vortex of CNN and Twitter madness that just fuels our anger.

To make a difference we need to be different.

We need to use different language, words marked by the grace and wisdom of Jesus.

We need to have a different spirit –  the Spirit of Jesus.

If we are to be the non-anxious presence, we need to be rooted and grounded first in Jesus.

So, 3 questions I’ve been asking myself:

  1. Am I taking time to be still, to breathe deep, to pray up, to fill up with the words of Jesus? Or am I turning first to news outlets?
  2. If someone overheard my conversation today would they note anything of Jesus in it? Anything different from the world? Am I listening with respect to the other?
  3. What does love require of me? 

“Wage peace.

Conspire justice.

Plot goodness.

Devise forgiveness.

Scheme mercy

Incite reconciliation.

Foment inclusion.

Practice resurrection.” Nathan Hamm

 

3 Questions I’m Asking About Spiritual Disciplines

When Katy was about 5 years old she did something I thought deserved a “time out” so I told her to sit on the stairs. A few minutes later, I walked by and heard her mumbling something.

“What are you saying Katy?”

Scowling and with the most disgusted, put-upon tone she could muster she said, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, later on however it produces a harvest of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it!”*

So if “discipline” is unpleasant,  “spiritual disciplines” will be something I hate…a necessary burden to make me more like Jesus, right?  But then I read Matthew 11:28-30:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

And then there’s Matthew 15:8-9 where Jesus says:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’”

A spiritual practice is not an end in itself – not something we do to get spiritual brownie points, but rather, training we choose, like training for a marathon, that bit by bit, stretches our spiritual muscles, draws us closer to God, and transforms us into people who are more like Him.

In Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook,** she writes, “The simple truth is that wanting to keep company with Jesus has a staying power that ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ seldom have.”

So, three questions I’m asking myself:

  1. Where is my desire and longing? Where am I least like Jesus, but long to be?
  2. How do I want or need to be with God? (For example, I am an extrovert, so the discipline of silence and solitude has been stretching, but so fruitful)
  3. What spiritual practices might the Holy Spirit be inviting me to step into? As I do, they may be hard, but do they foster love and intimacy with the Lord, or resentment? Is this something I am doing with Jesus, or something that is ill-fitting and legalistic?

The post on fasting seems to have hit a nerve!  Some of you identified with my struggle, and some of you thanked me for being authentic, but you guys are way too shy about sharing your wisdom, insights and encouragement that could benefit everyone!  So many of you respond directly to me instead of posting in the comments. I thought you’d like to see some valuable thoughts that folks sent me or posted on FB:

I trained like you would for a marathon. I started out fasting from sugar . . . the next time I added bread . . . meat . . . vegetables . . . fruits . . . juice . . . until I could just drink water. One day a week. These days I am working on fasting from all electronic devices one day a week!

My husband and I have been regularly fasting over many years. It is challenging yes, but the benefits so outweigh the discomfort, that we actually enjoy it, especially the 21 day fast Daniel fast we do at the beginning of the year. The awareness of God, how He strengthens and enables us to go through is amazing.  Starting can be difficult but when it becomes a part of your life, it’s much easier. Drawing closer to God in this way is worth it.
Fasting? You have come to the right person!
When I became Orthodox I knew right away this was not something I was going to like. We fast on Wednesdays and Fridays — Wednesdays because it was the day Christ was betrayed and Friday because that was the day Christ was crucified. It is all done to remember our Lord . These are not strict fasts– only no meat or dairy but that is bad enough for a little fat person who loves her ice cream, yogurt, cheese and COOKIES. However I’ve discovered that Oreos are legal!
 
Seriously, I have grown to look forward to the discipline especially of the 40 day fasts of Nativity and Lent. Still only no meat or dairy for those. The process has drawn me closer to my Lord and His sacrifice. Easy? No but so worthwhile and beneficial to my spiritual growth. Forgive me for sounding”preachy” but the whole experience has has been an eye- opener for me and among other things has taught me that I am never too old to learn new helps in my spiritual life.
 
Disclaimers also come with these fasts– do not make anyone else uncomfortable by fasting ( as if invited out or there is no other food available)  Thinking of someone else always comes first.
 *Hebrews 12:11 which we had memorized as a family.
** Highly recommend this book! In it there is a chapter on fasting.
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.

The Perfect Monday Gift

It’s Monday morning, less than 2 weeks before Christmas. If you’ve even taken the time to open this post, you are probably skimming it just to see if there is any nugget to help you get through a day of deadlines, carpool lines, headlines, and metro lines.

You may be preoccupied with the gifts you need to still need to buy. But what about the gifts that you need today?

As I reflect on the people of the Bible, so often it seems they didn’t get what they asked for, but they always got what they needed. It wasn’t usually comfortable, or predictable, but it was always good.

The Jews expected a military leader but they got a Savior who offered the gift of a forgiven eternal life with God.

The Magi were used to getting honor and awe, but received a humbling before the true King.

The shepherds were expecting a quiet night of sheep-keeping, but received an adventure and introduction of epic proportions.

Mary and Joseph didn’t expect to have to flee Herod as refugees after Jesus was born, but the Magi brought gifts that financed this detour.

You may not find the present you’re looking for, but you will have God’s presence. You may receive a deeper sense of your identity as a beloved child of His. You may grow in patience and peace.

His gifts may be beauty, or the delight of a child’s face, or an unexpected act of kindness.

Today, this ordinary Monday, may God give you the gifts you need in the exact moments you need them.

“The One that God sent speaks God’s words. And don’t think he rations out the Spirit in bits and pieces. The Father loves the Son extravagantly. He turned everything over to him so he could give it away—a lavish distribution of gifts.” John 3:34

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Worst. Parents. Ever.

Do you ever feel this way? Like you must be the worst parents ever?

Do you feel like you’re perpetually living a Plan B Christmas? Like NOTHING is going right?

Amazon was out of the Syma S107 Remote Control Helicopter so your child will probably have to be in therapy because they will be warped – devastated by disappointment, and labeled with a huge L.

You ran out of time, so instead of homemade cookies for the Christmas pageant reception you ran through Target to scoop up some store-bought ones, which actually took you an hour and 17 minutes (almost as long as it would have taken you to bake them).

Decorating the Christmas tree was supposed to be a fun family activity, but your 4-year-old swooped around the tree in his superman costume and knocked off two of the heirloom ornaments from your mother, breaking them into tiny pieces which the dog immediately ate. You’re still cleaning up glittery dog vomit.

You’re not alone.

Have you ever thought that maybe Mary and Joseph felt like the worst parents ever?

Trying to adapt to a Plan B life, they’ve absorbed the loss of a traditional wedding and “It’s a Wonderful Life” family.

Now they’ve had 9 months to adjust to the news that Mary is growing, you know… GOD in her womb, and like any expectant parents they’re probably nervous but preparing to do their best.

Maybe Joseph has made a cradle. Maybe Mary’s mom is ready to come and help out when the baby arrives. They probably have a PLAN for Pete’s sake!

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I’m guessing that walking 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for the census was not part of their plan.

What do you think they felt as they traveled? Did their fear of the unknown come out sideways in anger or impatience with each other? Did their out-of-controlness in the big things cause them to be controlling with each other in the little things?

Maybe Mary figured that since she was carrying royalty, God would alert others in Bethlehem and someone would put her up in a beautiful home. Nope. Didn’t happen.

Did they hope that at least Plan B would include a modest room and a little privacy?  No luck there either.

In the stable – stinky, dirty, crowded, what were they thinking? Were they feeling like the worst parents ever?

We can’t know the anguished labor pains that may have come from Mary, or the desperate pleas that Joseph may have given for help because they aren’t recorded.

Did they felt confidently carried in the will of God, or did they felt panicky, like when company shows up early and you’re not ready?

What we do know is this. They did what they could. They accepted the unexpected with commitment and creativity. And that’s all we can do as parents.

“Help” is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn’t matter how you pray–with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing. Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors. Years ago I wrote an essay that began, “Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.” – Anne Lamott

God is with you. In the dirty stable, or the bathroom or when you think you’re going to lose it with your mother-in-law.

You aren’t the worst parent ever. But you’re not the best parent ever either, because He is.

 

Nourishing Soul Food Friday During a Distasteful Election

Monday Nathan Hamm tweeted, “Halloween could never be as scary as Election Day.”

Instagram joked,

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(In case you don’t have enough to worry about, read about Creepy Clown Sitings here)

But in addition to jokes, there are thoughtful Christians trying to bring salt and light and love to a dark, contentious time.

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Willow Creek Community Church has mounted a campaign during this time of anger and divisiveness that has taken off. Read about it here. 

There are some excellent sermons being preached that bring a biblical perspective to this season. This is one of the best I’ve heard – by John Ortberg. He looks at several elections in the Bible and then offers some takeaways. Take a listen.

House of Cards – How Not to be Anxious During an Election

  1. Be Involved. Get information from people we agree with and disagree with. Vote.
  2. Be Civil.
  3. Be Confident (in God). God is not worried about November 8th.

And two minutes of gold from Andy Stanley!

Many people feel like they don’t have any good choice for president this election. I get that. But I’m distressed when people tell me they are not going to vote. This is a hard won privilege we have in the U.S. Please don’t take it lightly. John and I have already voted absentee – easy peasy! Cue the West Wing theme song!

Lastly, if you want some deliciousness to pass around while you’re watching the election returns (or a football game!) I want to share a great recipe from my friend Ally.

Cheesy Party Burgers

1 lb. lean ground beef

1 ts. salt

1 ts. pepper

1 ts. mustard powder

1/2 ts. smoked paprika

2 cups diced onion (that’s about 1 whole onion)

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 10 oz. can Ro-tel Diced Tomatoes & Green Chiles, drained (I used mild)

12 slices cheddar cheese

12 dinner rolls (I used Pepperidge Farm slider buns)

Glaze:

1/2 cup butter

2 TB brown sugar

1 TB Worcestershire sauce

1 TB mustard

1 TB sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350 and coat 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray.

Brown the ground beef, onions, and add rest of ingredients.

Put half of buns in bottom of 9×13 pan.

Top with ground beef and cheese slices. Finish off with top half of buns.

Mix the ingredients for the glaze in a pan on the stove and pour over buns. Can let sit for awhile.

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

 

 

Dear Friends

Dear Friends,

It is a stormy, gray day here. The pool is closed for the season, and most of our kids are starting school today. The tops of the trees are already tinged crimson.

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There is such a cornucopia of all the feels.

Grief at the end of a glorious summer…

Good bye to some of the rhythms and relationships that come with vacation, lake time, and outdoor sports…

The excitement and uncertainty that comes with new beginnings and new locker combinations.

Maybe even more than January 1st, September marks a BEGINNING.

We’re inside more, and more dependent on information – the weather report, full email in-boxes, school forms to sign, volunteer requests, schedules to keep straight, more meetings, the up-coming election, the WORLD situation for Pete’s sake!

September can feel like JUST. TOO. MUCH.

So, two quick thoughts and then you can go drink a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

You know I’ve been on a bit of a sabbatical from the blog this summer. You’ve been kind to encourage me and inquire when it will be over. It’s been good, and the Lord has prompted me to work on some other writing projects that I’m both excited and scared about.

As I’ve prayed about this space and whether/how to continue, the one thing I’ve been concerned about is clogging your in-box with anything that’s not a value add to your life. We are overwhelmed with so many good resources! So I’m going to be more careful. I will post less, and try some shorter posts (We’ll see how that goes!) but I pray God will use what He gives me to send you for His purposes and that you will be encouraged.

My friend James preached at our church this past weekend. In his message he shared the irony that the statue of Atlas holding the world, outside of the Rockefeller Plaza in midtown Manhattan is across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In the cathedral is a statue of Jesus as a boy, holding the world in His hand.

So this September, in the midst of busyness, take a deep breath and remember, Jesus holds the world. You don’t have to.

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The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure. Psalm 93:1

The Other “F Word”

Good Morning! I’m taking a little sabbatical this summer, and thought maybe with all tragedies in the world, and “other” bashing, I’d repost a series from several years ago. I pray you are having  a delightful summer and regardless of your circumstances you’re finding ways to make it more than “fine”.

One afternoon when Katy was in kindergarten she got off the bus and informed me that she had learned “the f-word.”

“Fart.”

She later told us she had also learned the “sh-word”

“Shut up.”

Honestly, in our family the real “f-word” isn’t fart.  And it isn’t another word that might come to mind.

It’s “fine”.

To my mind, “fine” may be the most terrible word in the english language.  And words matter as my friend Sharon always reminds me.

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Not My Thing

All of us have some “my things” and some “not my thing’s”. We all have stuff that in the Christian faith we call “gifts” – areas where the Holy Spirit has given us an extra oomph. Call it spiritual special sauce.

Hospitality, communication, encouragement. Those might be my things.

Counseling is not my thing. At. All.

In our family we like to say that somehow not one of us got the mercy gene.

Flat tire? So sorry. Buck up and carry on soldier.

Dog died? Sucks to be you.

Flunked a test? Your problems are so real.

Ok, maybe it’s not quite that bad, but almost.

The thing is, even if something is not our thing, Jesus still wants us to step up. We may not major in the areas of our weakness. We may call in folks who do have that thing for the heavy lifting, but we’re still called to learn and grow.

When someone comes to me with a problem, I can’t just say, “So Sorry. That requires mercy and counseling. Not my gift! Buh-bye now.”

We may not all be Mother Theresa, but our Jesus says mercy is always called for. Mercy isn’t just for people who think it’s “their thing”.

So I try really hard to pay attention. I have so much to learn from people who have the gifts that I don’t.

And God has a way of coaching us in the areas where we want to say “Not my thing!” 

I became a little more compassionate when God allowed me to experience deep pain, and loss.

I became a little bit better listener when God sent others to listen long to me, absorbing my tears.

But I still don’t have the gift of counseling (or administration, or helps, or wisdom, or…)

I wrote recently that John and I spoke on baggage in relationships and it seemed to strike a chord with a lot of hurting people. There was a lot of heavy baggage that they wanted to share with me.

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As people poured their hearts out I wanted to yell “9ll! Where is Rich Phenow (the most gifted counseling pastor I know)??!”

But here’s the deal…In those moments that aren’t your thing, you do what you can, and you get help.

I’m learning how to listen deeply. I’m learning how to be present to God and the other in the moment. I’m learning how to validate the experience of others and affirm their good choices, so that’s what I try to do.

But then I say, “You are facing huge challenges that I can’t begin to totally understand. I have some friends who are really kind and brilliant at untangling stuff like this. They have the gift of counseling. They would love to help if you’re open to that.”

That’s why Jesus gave us to each other. Together we’ve got our things and not our things covered.

Which means together we can do hard things.

What’s not your thing? What is God teaching you in that area? 

 

 

Judging the Woman in the Photo and the One in the Mirror

I look at the photo next to a post I’m reading online, and immediately my mind goes to critique like an East German figure skating judge in the 1980 Olympics.

Wow, look at those huge bags under her eyes!

She definitely shouldn’t have worn brightly patterned leggings at her age and size. 

That lipstick clashes with her red hair. 

Score: 3.2/10

Judgy Mcjudgerson.

And then I look into her eyes. And there I see the hope and uncertainty of all of us.

Her eyes say,

“This feels vulnerable and I really want you to like me.”

“I know I have bags under my eyes and I’ve tried everything to change that. I talk to God daily about accepting my looks.”

“I tried on five outfits before landing on this one, wanting to look fashionable and camouflage my hips, but not appear like I’m trying too hard.”

The details are different, but her eyes say she has the same conversations with herself that I have with myself.

It’s difficult for me to look at videos or pictures of myself.

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And I’m reminded once again…

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Wendy Mass

Jesus looks at the woman in the picture and says “You are fearfully and wonderfully made by Me. You are my beloved daughter, beautiful just as you are. Score: Infinity.”

The woman I don’t know in the photo is longing to be loved and accepted just like the one I see in my mirror. Just like you.

We’re all doing our best. Be gentle.

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