Thursday, December 8, 2016

Bless My Soul, It's Christmas (An Open Letter to Battle-weary Souls)

Someone finally informed Wisconsin it is December, so she distributed the cold and snow throughout the state and for all intents and purposes it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

It is in light of this season that I step out and write my soul a letter. My soul so long hibernating needs the light of the Star. And while the world is busy in their bustle, asleep to the manger child, my nocturnal soul thirsts for the peace that can only be found nestled within the Living Water poured out that first Christmas night.

This letter is for the soul, yours and mine, that sees the words Hope Peace Joy Believe plastered on every store shelf, but is finding those entities elusive.

For you, Soul,

I get it. You are stressed. Pulled in directions you never thought possible. And the bows that wrap those perfect Pinterest packages threaten to strangle you. Parades of the cute and creative stream past you daily, reminding you that no matter how much you do, it will not be enough.

You are smothered, starved by grating expectations.

The standard is too lofty, the bar too high.

The mounds of mail, laundry, stuff, stand as grotesque monuments to the truth that you will never get it all done. You just can't keep it all together, and you can't help but see your foibles and failures as the empirical, indisputable evidence that you fall short.

You pray for elves to take over the menial, tedious, daily tasks that hamper your spirit and hinder the great things you could do if you just had the time, the energy. With time and energy you could devote yourself to things that matter. Things that bring glory to God.

You could feel sufficient. You really could. If only.

But here is the true news, the news for all people- If Christ was born today, God could lay Him in your basket of clean yet crumpled laundry, smelling of mildew because you kept forgetting to take it out of the washer (if only an elf could just perform that one task how much simpler our lives could be!), and it would be enough

God did not design you, Soul, to be sufficient without Him.

And the measure with which He determines your worth has nothing to do with your prowess with vacuums, packages, laundry baskets, gourmet meals, or craftiness.

It doesn't have a stitch to do with how well you keep the smile on your face the one thousandth time you say yes to something you don't have the time to perform.

Your sufficiency isn't wrapped up in the decorations and lights. It isn't strapped to your vehicle as you travel to every important must-see place this Christmas season.

Your sufficiency is where it has always been- with Your creator. It isn't bundled in a cozy handmade quilt, festooned with tulle and sprinkled tinsel. It is swaddled and in a manger.

If you want to know what you are worth, Soul, look only to the Christ child.

Would He have come if you were not of infinite worth to the Maker of the World?

Would your faulting, halting words so offend and grieve God that they could not be atoned for by the blood of the same body breathing in the stable?

No, Soul, it was never the intention of God to give us a Pinterest Christmas. He could have made the birth of Jesus cute. Every amazing and adorable idea under the sun has been born under His watchful eye, and yet He chose the crude, the cruel, the stinky, the inconvenient, to be the birthplace of His one and only Son. A setting that would so embarrass us, God made sufficient, holy, by stepping right into it and making it part of His story.

Just like you, Soul. He stepped in and made you part of His story. You, who are embarrassed by your idiosyncrasies and incapability, are one in whom God delights. He looks at the forgotten Advent calendar, the cookies unmade, the decorations still in their boxes, and the tears that come with unrealized expectations, and He is satisfied. Because it is not about those things. It never ever was.

If you want to know what God thinks of you, follow the wise men to the child, and the child to the cross. Follow the women to the empty tomb.

You worship a risen Savior who was not drawn in by the impressive acts of men, but by their humility.

Your faults and fall-shorts are the perfect soil to grow the joy of Christmas, if you allow it. It is the soil God chose Himself, and He will tend and see it to the end until what grows from the dirt and ashes is nothing short of His glory.

Bless the Lord, O my Soul, and forget not all His benefits.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Owning Your Right Here Purpose

Working in the universe that is the local church, I have been thinking about Christmas since about the beginning of October. You know, just a couple months after Hobby Lobby displayed their Santa crafts in the back of the store. If you are not in the mood to contemplate Holiday cheer, I'm inflicting it on you anyway. So, sorry not sorry ;)

This past weekend I had the privilege to attend a conference for the "Belong Tour". In case you've never been to an event like this, these big-time writers, singers, fitness trainer Christian women put together a conference to speak and create a space for women of all walks of life to "Belong". Good premise, good conference. I thought of things in a new way. I was inspired. And I bonded with some amazing women. If the conference was designed to make me feel like I belonged, mission accomplished.

It was also a great avenue for children to be adopted through World Vision, for supporting families wracked from life-threatening illnesses in their children, and for us women to find our "lane" (our purpose), get into it, and do great things in the name of the Lord.

The last thing spoke to many women, no doubt. Me included. Here I was watching women do the things I love to do- write, teach, and make music. Check, check, check. Congrats, ladies. You are all living my dream.

But towards the end of the conference and in the days that followed, I have had to step back and recalibrate. Honestly, my dream is not to be up on the stage with those women. I wouldn't turn it down, but I am not making that my end goal.

Here is my end goal- and here is where Christmas comes in. (I know you've been waiting for it.) My end goal is to follow the path I am on and not spend so much time planning for the future that I miss this stuff going on right here and right now. At the end of my life I will not be disappointed that I never made it big. I will be disappointed if my life passed me by and I was so distracted by the future that I was never fully in the present.

I want to be like Mary. We look at the people that line our bookshelves or teach on stages and think that is about the most obvious evidence of greatness there could be. But here's what I think- and this is especially for you parents of young kids- your life may feel like it is in a holding pattern right now. You may look forward to those things you can do when the kiddos grow up a little, but the truth is there is value in what you are doing right now. This minute. (After all, you are reading this blog.)

Mary had a baby. One step in the direction God asked her to go. It wasn't fancy. Quite the opposite. It was about as basic as could be. But after that she was amazing simply because she continued to be present. We see it in the Gospels. She was there until the end, and beyond. What if I could simply be wherever Jesus is? Even if He is just in my living room?

I'm accepting the fact that anyone can write a book. Some will even be successful. Maybe one day I will see my book in a bookstore. Maybe I won't. But my purpose doesn't lie in the pages of a book. It lies in simple trust. One step, no matter how mundane, can be transformed by God into a life of beautiful service, and if He is the only one who ever sees it, that is enough. He rewards what is done in secret. And He has given us tasks so specifically designed for us we can't even fathom it. I am the only wife to my husband. I am the only mother to my kids. No one else gets to do that.

So I want to encourage you where you are. Maybe you do feel like you are in a holding pattern. Maybe you would like to live your life like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book and go back and try a different path. But God has you here for a reason. All He desires is your trust. He lavished love on us when He sent His Son for us and He has. not. stopped. since then. You are precious. You are His masterpiece. Own it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Sick, Tired, and Totally Blessed Out

It took ten minutes maybe to get the phone call from the school. We had just dropped our youngest off at 4K and made our way to pick up some coffee before a kid free morning date at Aldi when my husband's phone rang. He answered it, listened, hung up, and turned us around. Unbeknownst to us, Heidy was sick. That cold sore I saw in her mouth that morning? The one that made me think "weird"? It wasn't weird. It was Hand Foot and Mouth Disease.

And let me tell you- HFMD is no joke. We are on Day 6 of the illness.

Yet, this whole experience reminds me of what a loving God we have. It actually illuminates 4 important points to me about our relationship with God and each other.

1. Our sickness does not sway God's love. God is not disgusted by us. He is holy. He cannot be in the presence of our sinfulness, yet He loves us completely. No matter how feverish and slobbery and whiny my daughter is, my heart is full of love for her. Her chubby little legs are still adorable. Her arms strung around my neck warm me to the bones. There are times, recent times, when I am disgusted by myself. I repeat my sins. I am whiny. I don't trust God. I am spiteful and short with my kids and husband. I make myself a martyr and then resent others for not noticing. I am jealous. I am lazy.
And I am still loved. I belong to the Father, and He knew what He was getting when He bought me. His love is everlasting and unconditional. When He looks at us He doesn't see lemons. He sees His children; His sick children clothed in the sacrifice of His perfect Son. He doesn't love me any more or less than He did yesterday because He loves me completely every day. And He loves you in the same way.

2. Quarantine might be a good way to keep a virus from spreading, but when it comes to sinfulness we are way too late. Quarantine isn't an effective lifestyle. We aren't to dabble in ungodly living, but the goal is not to lead lives where grace is unnecessary. The goal is to get out there and love our sick neighbors actively and completely. And if we sin in the process (which we will because we are sick too) there is grace for that. There is a reason that Jesus said when you visit the imprisoned, you are doing it to Him too. Quarantine works for disease control, but it was never meant to be a permanent way to live. God, reveal to me the people I have avoided...

3. We should be less concerned with "catching something" from others, and more about others "catching something" from us. Grumbling is contagious, but Grace can be too. If I am more aware of the Grace I am carrying in my body through the work of the Holy Spirit, I will be less worried about the potential sickness of sinfulness around me. The words of others may sting, but they won't cling. The baffling decisions people make to ruin their lives or the lives of others will move me to action and compassion instead of judgment and division.

And here may be the best one of all: God is looking forward to our healing even more than we are. A couple nights ago my daughter was feeling well enough (thank you Tylenol and smoothies) to dance. She donned her hot pink fedora and black cowboy boots and smiled for the first time in days. I nearly cried. It was a glimpse of my little girl coming back to me.

I used to think our good works pleased God because in Christ we are His kids and He delights in the fact that we are showing His love to those around us. I still think that's the case, but now I think there is another side to it. I think in those moments where we serve and delight in God, we are a glimpse of what we are truly meant to be. Like my dancing daughter. The snapshot may be blurry, but you can see in that moment a vague indicator of the joy that will be ours when we are our fullest and truest selves. And that glimpse touches the heart of the God who alone knows who we were created to be. As much as I long to be healed and whole, God longs for it all the more. But He is gracious and patient and willing to wait for that day with us. I can't think of anything more comforting than that.
So please continue to keep my family in your prayers as we trudge through the sick season, and I will pray for you too. One day we will all be healed and we will all be together.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Post Where I Broach the Subject of People-Induced Stress

My son's balloon lasted all of 2 minutes this morning, and the "POP" that heralded its demise was music to my ears.

I am not balloonaphobic, or some sort of balloon bigot. It is just that the benefits of their delightfully cheap mode of entertainment is often outweighed by the obnoxious distraction they are when we have stuff to get done. Like getting ready for school, for example.

So when the kids discovered the treasury of old balloons stashed in the garage amongst God-only-knows-what, and then proceeded to slobber all over them before shoving their shimmering, slimy, limp balloons in my face to the chorus of "PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE," I was done. I thought of every single thing they had to accomplish before I would even contemplate touching one of those slobbery rubber specimens.

The kiddos were diligent and completed their tasks. I wiped the balloons off thoroughly, blew them up substantially (in hopes their lifespan would be diminished due to explosion), and handed them off to my husband to tie off since my arthritic fingers could not get the job done.

Then this morning my son comes in with a balloon he's blown up and asks me to tie it. I remind him who I am and what I am capable of, and he seeks out his dad. The balloon is tied, banished to the boy's bedroom, and promptly popped on the popcorn ceiling. Victory.

This morning, I empathized with the balloon.

For almost a year now I have submitted to a regiment of nutrition and lifestyle guidelines in an effort to heal my body of the chronic illness of rheumatoid arthritis.* As is typical for most RA sufferers, after years and years of medication the medicines stopped working. Then one day God directed some people into my life that put me on a path to healing. A path with strict nutrition guidelines, rest prescriptions, and the limiting of stress. A ministry family with 4 kids- what could go wrong?

The nutrition has become second nature, and my lack of coffee and sugar of any kind really doesn't stress me out like it once did. My daily allotment of rest is a little tougher to handle since I don't have any substances to prop me up. I used to "run on dunkin'" and now I walk tortoise-like through each day hoping to get as much done as possible.

It's the stress that I have had to watch closely. Because out of all three guidelines stress is the most unpredictable.

And I don't think this is true for just me.

I have had to view my life through latex. I have had to monitor the pressure in my balloon. I have had to decide exactly what to fill my life with because if I am careless I will explode, and that means physical pain.

I am convinced I am not the only person struggling with stress, so I am going to share with you lovely readers what I have found to be an incredibly helpful tool (outside the Bible directly) to handle people-induced stress.

So you know what to look for
in the bookstore.
Brant Hansen is a hilarious human being. I haven't met him personally, but I listen to his podcast, which is pretty much the same thing. I am sure I will see him someday and he will know precisely who I am since he talks to me so frequently. His writing has me scrambling for a pen to underline, and annoying my husband with "Listen to this!" He is transparent and  definitely unafraid to be a "non-example" of what to do. I purchased his book Unoffendable after hearing his segment on The Eric Metaxas Show podcast. What I expected was a methodical walk through the Scriptures to prove his point that we are not at all entitled to our anger. What I received was a confrontation, not to my beliefs, but to the way I was living- and I didn't even know I was doing it. I realized that if I really took the Bible seriously on this point it would change my life immediately. I ordered the book and loved it. He didn't waste time making up new truths. He said, "Here's what the Bible says about how we should view our anger and this is what it looks like in real life." It made me think and practice, and I can see a difference.

It's chapter titles like this that keep me reading...
The chronically ill part of me loves this benefit- when I am not wasting my energy and life clutching the offenses against me, I have more energy and patience for the things I love. People-induced stress is one of the biggest drains on our lives. Since we can't take the "people" part out, why not follow God's prescription of forgiveness?

I wish I could sum the book up in a sentence, but I don't want to cheat you out of reading it. It is a quick and witty read which complements the depth of its meaning quite perfectly.

What I will say is this:

Today is a new day. A day to practice forgiveness in the little things because some day we will have to practice forgiveness for something big, and won't it be easier if our forgiveness muscles aren't all atrophied and whatnot? 

A day to face that same person who gets our goat over and over again and forgive them before they ever open their mouth.

A day to remember that we have been saved not because we are the moral superior to an
yone, but because God loves us fully and completely through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

A day to remember that we have already received the best news we will ever get, and to let that color our response to the infractions against us that pale in comparison to our eternal salvation.

A day to refuse to be shocked by the callousness and carelessness of humanity, and to let things go because haven't we all been callous and careless and isn't it forgiveness to which God calls us?

A day to trade our anger for action. Anger doesn't accomplish the righteousness God requires (James 1:20). Love in action does that.

A day to quit our occupation of judge. Retire! Let someone else discern people's motives and judge people's hearts- someone like God. We really aren't that good at it anyway.

A day to let go of our imaginary control. God knows our issues. He knows what has gone down. He is a God of mercy and a God of justice- just look at the cross.

A day to wipe the scoreboard of offense clean and look at our offender through the eyes of the One who made them.

A day to rest in who God is, and who you are in Him. You are forgiven and loved completely.

* In case you are wondering- yes, the program is working.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Time to Celebrate

"So... there is just this stuff that squirts water at us?" My oldest sounded less than enthused. She'd never been to a splash pad. Neither had I for that matter.  

"Basically," I responded with some enthusiasm. "Let's just try it out. I've heard it's really great." And so as the temperature made its inevitable ascent, we 5 piled into the van for an adventure 30 minutes away. 

Let me just say the kids were totally impressed. We drove up to an enormous jungle gym coupled closely with the satisfyingly wet splash pad. Kids screaming as they careened through walls of water, little boys laughing recklessly as they sat on streams of water shooting from the ground. It was all hilarity and mayhem, and my kids fit right in. 

It's not lost on me that in the past days we have been celebrating, laughing even, while our nation mourns, while we shake our heads and wonder at the depths of depravity all around us. We have prayed. We have called for justice. And then we have smiled as our kids run abandoned through a park of water.  

We celebrated on Sunday as well. My husband celebrated 10 years in the pastoral ministry and the church banded together with funny t-shirts and prayers and a standing ovation. We ate delicious cake with purple frosting and took pictures to post on Facebook. 

I thought of those who were mourning. The people Scott preached about. Those who need the hope of Christ. And here is what hit me- we are to minister to those in pain, to comfort with the comfort we ourselves have received from God, but that comfort is nothing if we spend all our resources focusing on the injustice to the exclusion of the goodness God pours freely every single day. 

Rejoice in the Lord always. Give thanks in all circumstances. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits. 

My kids ran recklessly, showered, misted, doused with the refreshing water. And no amount of sorrow made them any less wet. The atrocities of humankind, and I am not ignoring that the acts taken recently have been particularly atrocious, cannot diminish the goodness of our God. We are saturated with His love. 

The schemes of the devil can in no way diminish the glory of our God. They cannot remove our salvation. They cannot reverse the atonement of Christ. They cannot put Jesus back in the tomb. They cannot rob me of the faith that is mine in Christ.  

And he knows this so he distracts us. He deceives us into thinking that our brooding and battle lines will do more good than giving glory to the only One who can defeat death and bring true peace. I thank God every time I see a post on Facebook that acknowledges the hurt and evil around us in light of the gospel. 

We are called to minister, to bind up, to cry out for justice. We are called to pray and seek God's will. We see all those things in the Psalms. We are not called to despair, become cynics, or doomsday prophets.   
There is a time for everything, but never a time to forget the goodness of God.

We are called to recognize and proclaim the saturating, penetrating, love of a God who grieves with us, but not like us, because even in the darkest times He knows He is working all things for good. And as that ethereal "good" proves too elusive for our fallen eyes, He gives us His Spirit. 

So I am trying again to be more intentional about celebrating God. To love, mourn, pray, listen, and celebrate deliberately. Because we should not let satan win his little battles in words of hopelessness and "what do we do now?" 

Thanks only to the God of the universe we are more than conquerors, and that is something worth seriously celebrating. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Seeing Beyond Me

Finding Dory made me feel, deeply. Triumph, loss, joy, love. And discomfort.

Ok, not the whole time. Just some of the time. I won't spoil the movie for all the poor unfortunates who haven't seen it yet, but my GOODNESS. She would get so close to finding her parents, and SLAM. Another obstacle! Another stinking obstacle! I assume the creators wanted to make Dory seem even that much more amazing because when the chips were way down on the ocean floor, and all seemed hopeless even to me ("Remember, Lauren. It's a movie. It's a Disney movie for crying out loud. It will work out. It will. But HOW?") Dory never gave up hope. Yeah, it worked.

That wasn't the uncomfortable thing for me though. Well not the only uncomfortable thing.

One of the characters is near sighted. Like me. And when the picture entered her point of view and all was fuzzy and Dory was a "little blue blob" a part of me felt a hint of panic. I could be the only one of thousands of near sighted people who felt that way, but it is a bit unnerving to be confronted with a very real handicap that you have "corrected" in a moment when you least expect it. Now was it
funny? Yes. Did it give me a good way to explain my own limitations to my family? You bet. So bravo Disney/Pixar. You brought forth the really unnerving question:

Is the near-sightedness limited to my physical body?

Um, no.

It creeps deep into my consciousness.

"No one cares what you think."
"You have nothing new to say."
"You don't know what you are talking about."
"Who wants to read one person's opinion?"
"You should be spending your time on something else."
"You are wasting people's time."
"Don't bother investing the time when you will probably just fail anyway."

Gross. It makes me cry just typing those things out loud.

Compound on that the guilty feeling that the problem is my lack of faith, and I am broken.

I have no tidy answer.

I have only the faint echo in this canyon that sounds:

Give thanks in all circumstances.

If faith required seeing, it wouldn't be faith.

If faith required a "feeling" it wouldn't be faith.

Faith is a verb. Faith is trust.

Faith is action even when you don't feel what you think you should feel.

Faith is acting on what you know is right even when it is plain old scary.

Don't underestimate what God can do. Don't sell Him short.

Just take one more step.

Maybe you aren't near-sighted. Maybe you see this world and God's plan 20-20.

Or maybe you see the obstacles and they are so much nearer and clearer than all the fuzziness in the future and you just want to circle your tank in safety.

I really don't think you were made for captivity. None of us were. We are free in Christ and if the Son sets us free we are truly free.

And we can take our eyes off ourselves and focus them on the Savior. It takes practice and I am just relearning. Thank God He is patient and straight-up relentless.

God grant us the courage to trust in You, make the next move, and just keep swimming.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Everyday Prayer

I hunted. Scoured the house and van, all in search of the elusive Underground Abductor- the abolition installment of the historical graphic novel series "Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales," by Nathan Hale*. (Hence the series title.) I visited our library, convinced I had returned it. Bless them for their patience and helpfulness. I called the library that sent the missing novel to our town so that I could kidnap it without a trace. No dice.

Nowhere. No good.

The bustle of Holy Week and Easter company put the search out of mind. A blessing wrapped in the chaos.

And though I felt compelled to write this morning, the gnawing of this task left unfinished would not give me the brain space to focus. I would have to spend the soggy day dismantling my home, and with no guarantee of a successful recovery.

So I prayed. Admittedly, I always feel like these are genie prayers. I rub my magic lamp and make my wish, "Please God, I want to write. I do. But this book won't leave me alone. I have to find it. Please please PLEASE help me, Lord. Help me find this book, which is so insignificant in the big scheme of things."

I prayed it a couple times, maybe 3. By the last time I was embarrassingly desperate. My path of home demolition was set and I wanted nothing more than to pry this book from my conscience. I left my bathroom and headed to the kitchen. As I did, I heard my oldest daughter's voice behind me.

"Hey, Mom. Guess what I found."

I turned to her. A smile wrapped her face, and her hands clasped something behind her back.

"What?" Could this be it? Could it be?

Her right hand shot out from behind her back, holding the treasure. She grinned and held out to me, Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor.

I reached out and grabbed that girl. I hugged her and kissed her face like she had just risen from the grave. She collapsed onto the floor and I kissed her blond head. "I prayed for this! I prayed for this you know! Thank you, God!" She just laughed. Her mom is weird.

And so here I am. I made myself a cup of chamomile tea, honey and lemon. Then promptly soaked my hair in it just in case it is true that this is a natural method to lightening my hair and I don't have to take out a loan for a hair appointment. I sit typing, my shirt reeking of yesterday's sweat, my body unwashed, and my hair smelling of sweet summer, all while it rains drearily outside my office window. (There are benefits to having a job where no one can see or smell you through a screen.)

This life isn't glamorous. I could look at the messes and gripe (I often do) of the incessant cluttering, scattering, ignoring. I could see this morning's discovery as a happy coincidence. After all, could God not have gifted me with the book without my pleas?

Yes. Yes, He could have and might have, but that is not the point.

Prayer, of any and all kinds, is a gift.

It draws us to our knees in humility.

It admits that we cannot do this on our own.

It acknowledges the God-ness and the Goodness of God.

It postures us in the direction of seeing God at work in our lives.

It reminds us of all the reasons we have to be thankful, the most important of which is that if every answer to our prayers from here on out is "no," God has given us "Yes" in Jesus Christ and there is nothing that trumps that. Nothing. Ever.

It may take a while. Like tea steeping and hair soaking, results aren't always immediate, but know this: n
o prayer is too small, no task too insignificant. God wastes nothing, and He cares about the intimate details of your life. Just be prepared for Him to work, mainly in ways unexpected.

He loves you, and so do I. I'm sending you a virtual hug today. It smells better this way.

Now off to find our Dora the Explorer book... pray for me, please.

* In case you are wondering- this book series by Nathan Hale is really cool. The 4th grader read it in a night, and I anticipate the same from my 2nd grader- especially since I gave him only 24 hours to read it so as to get the book out of my house before it evaporates again.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Living the Gospel with a Military Mentality

First off, a disclaimer: This post originally was totally and completely based on recent "articles" I had read by very... opinionated... people. While I actually agreed with some of their points, I believe there are far more effective ways of opening someone's mind to your point of view than by belittling and debasing the "other side". We can certainly share our differences of opinion in a respectful way.

That being said, this blog is not a place to fire off random rants at every person or people group that offers up views in contrast to my own. I try to keep this blog a safe place of thoughtful meditation on what God would have us know and how He would have us live (like He is God and we are not), and encouragement to carry on. For this reason, this will not be a "rant", but what I hope is a helpful, thought-provoking post that offers a more centered and peaceful perspective to anyone who finds him or herself in conflict with another human being. Like that could ever happen, right?

You should also know that if you want to slap me by the end of this post, you are not alone. My 21-year-
old self has already rolled her eyes multiple times and taken the back of her hand to my face on more than one occasion.

Here is my my radical proposal... the church on earth would make a lot more headway in kingdom work if we stopped viewing ourselves as different denominations of the same religion, and started realizing we are different branches of the same military.

I know, it probably isn't that radical. Paul speaks of being a good soldier of Christ in his second letter to Timothy (chapter 2). And while maybe you weren't bred into a deep and abiding love for our nation's armed forces, hang tight. This will apply to you!

In my father's 29+ years as an officer in the United States Navy he had the opportunity on many occasions to work with other branches of the military. It wasn't optional. It was necessary. In fact, he even worked with different branches of other countries' militaries. In the process, he witnessed and experienced conflict between individuals, a phenomenon that is present even within the same military branch. But he also witnessed extraordinary cooperation. Such as when America's armed forces rushed to the help of Haiti after a devastating earthquake. Or when he worked in the Pentagon for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and helped develop military strategies for 15-20 years into the future. He developed deep admiration for men and women in different branches of service, many of whom he considers dear friends to this day.

In his own words: "Despite conflicts, differences of opinion and even some included doctrinal differences, unity of mission was overriding." 

When we as a church view ourselves simply as "denominations" it implies that what makes us who we are is defined by the differences we have with others of the same faith. When we are different branches, it implies that we are all connected to the same source. We are working toward the same purpose in different ways. We are growing from the same tree, if in different directions.

And this is beneficial for at least 3 reasons-

1. We can identify who the enemy is, and isn't. We remember the enemy isn't our neighbor. Never has been. If Christ didn't make that clear enough in His parable of the Good Samaritan (where the "bad guy" was the only one who did the right thing), Paul removes all doubt of this in Ephesians 6:10 ff. Seriously, how much time do we waste fighting within ourselves while Satan sets about breaking our world and distracting those who would rely on Jesus?

2. We can return our focus to helping those who are under the tyranny of sin and the devil. Without all the finger pointing, we are freed up to share intelligence. We don't start acting like the other branch, but we learn from them and apply that knowledge to our own situations. The church is a living, breathing thing. It stands firm on eternal truth while growing to meet the needs of the world around it.

3. We can see the value in other branches. Each branch brings something to the table. We need the
Navy and Army, Air Force and Coast Guard, Marines (technically under the department of the Navy) and Reserves of all branches.

Do I say we give up striving to live the truest form of the Gospel and forsake all doctrine in the effort to get along? Actually no. Don't forsake truth for grace. But neither should we forsake grace for truth. The only way to live in Jesus (who is both grace and truth) is to live in the tension between the two. It is harder, but without both sides, you only get half of the Jesus message.

And what is a more powerful way to earn a person's respect and open the lines of communication than to say, "I don't agree with everything you believe and you don't always agree with me, but I see the value in who you are and what you bring to the table"?

Maybe you don't see this conflict in your church. Maybe you have the opposite problem.

But I know for sure that in every church family there can be found someone we don't see eye to eye with on every situation. We see it in every arena where sinners gather, in fact. Perhaps someone who simply doesn't do things the way we would do them. Someone who speaks out of turn and comes off abrasive. Someone who posts ridiculous articles or rants on Facebook.

I can't give you any advice on how to change those people, but I can tell you that our perspective could go a long way in giving us peace in those relationships. It might even give us permission to respectfully step away from that person without feeling guilt over it. If we can't put distance between ourselves and that intolerable person, we need to look to the benefits above.

1. Remember who the enemy is (and isn't).
2. Shift your focus to those in need of your efforts.
3. Look for what that person brings to the table that is positive.

God put them in our lives for a reason. Pray and search diligently for that reason. Pray for that person. God will not deny the faithful prayer of a believer looking to reconcile with another one of His children.

Who is someone with whom you conflict that you can pray for today? Take a moment and intercede for them and for your relationship with them. Then let's trust God to do what He alone can do- reconcile. He is faithful.

Monday, January 18, 2016

More Than a Relationship App

The countdown began before day break. The words whispered expectantly from her small mouth...

"Can I play on my tablet?"

Good morning to you too, Sweetie.

It was a Saturday morning, ushering in the weekend and, consequently, electronics. It is a rule around here and the kids don't mind it as long as the weekend delivers their blessed kindle fires.

My oldest was rapt with anticipation because, while she has more games than she will play downloaded onto her divine device, she really really really couldn't wait to download two more. Because they super fun and completely free,

A metaphor for salvation came to mind, but it was more of the American cheap imitation variety.

Salvation is not free. Not like that.

As fun as it would be to visualize clicking the little "FREE" button, however that looks to you, and going about our lives, Christianity is just not like that.

And that is good news. Especially for those of us who look at our lives and think, "This discipleship thing is no joke. I'm exhausted."

When your faith is based on a click and a purchase, you are still in control. Jesus gets organized neatly into a specific system in your life right along all the other morals you pull out on special occasions.

When faith is not "FREE", but "PAID IN FULL" then you realize that you did not buy into Jesus. He bought into you. He is in control.

In our password-saved world, where we can literally purchase anything at the click of a button, or the touch of the screen, it can be easy to lose sight of what it means to purchase something.

Lilly purchased her games because she was tired of the old ones.

You were not born again out of boredom. You won't be discarded or replaced.

Jesus tells a great story of what purchasing means in the kingdom of heaven,

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it." Matthew 13:45-46

Jesus was so brilliantly to the point.

The pearl is you. In full knowledge of your sins and faults, God valued you enough to give up His Son. Jesus willing left His throne. The One more precious and blameless than our little minds can fathom, gave Himself up for us. For you.

That is a love that will not tire and move on. It is a love you can count on. It is a love that confronts us not just on the peaks, but in the valleys where we can't seem to reconcile with our friend no matter how hard we try. Where our kids won't.stop.fighting. in the church pew; at the communion rail. Where we collapse after a day too long, or stay up through a night too long.

Love met us when He formed us out of dust, dug us out of the dirt, and saved our soiled souls. Love still meets us.

So on the days that are just too hard, Love is still there, in your face. Call Him out. You are His. That is a big deal.