Friday, July 27, 2012

Real Life Friday!

The Olympics and Christianity


Everyone loves an inspiration. We all root for the come back, the success of the disadvantaged and the victory of the one who beat the odds. I love it too! That's why I adore the whole comic book genre of movies so popular these days. I watched with anticipation last night as Superman came back to avenge and make right all that had gone wrong in the world. He was alone, an outsider striving to overcome adversity. And he did. All was right with the world and my heart soared watching the final scene. I read articles and books chronicling the success of the underprivileged and disenfranchised and I marvel at their fortitude and perseverance.

But, I have a confession.  Anymore, I am less and less attracted to stories that highlight a successful person (politician, athlete, academic, etc) by pointing to their Christianity.  It's not that I'm not inspired by their stories, and it's not that I am envious of their success (although, even in that comment I understand my own heart's unending ability to deceive myself into believing I'm not envious).  I would just like to enjoy a good story without having to make it about religion...any religion.  Because generally speaking, that's what we end up hearing.  It becomes not so much about Jesus and what he has done, but more about the religion of Christianity and what the person has accomplished.

The Olympics!

All this is on my mind today as I eagerly anticipate the 2012 Olympics! I can't wait for the games to begin! I look forward to the drama and all of the individual stories. I think I take for granted the excruciating hard work and training it takes to make it to this level of competition. I know I don't give much thought to the sacrifices, the hardship and the heartache that goes into each athletes' training and and their lives as they prepare for this experience. I would like to remember as I watch, that all of these athletes are created in the image of God. All of these athletes struggle with living in a fallen world. All of these athletes are sinners in need of a Savior. All of these athletes have stories and experiences and lives lived overcoming adversity [the very definition of an Olympian must include "overcoming adversity" and "against all odds"]. For these reasons I'd like to see less of the religious angle and more of the sheer admiration, respect and astonishment for all those competing. I know, that sounds so, well inclusive. News flash - It's the Olympics. It's about athletic ability, competition, camaraderie, and teamwork, which by the way, are all God given gifts that we can delight in and are meant to be enjoyed.

Jesus Juke-ing and Christian-izing

You've probably heard of the Jesus-juke. If not you can read about here. Jon Acuff describes in detail what happens when someone tries to make joke filled conversation something serious and holy. In a similar way, I think we do this in a lot of other areas. We tend to Christian-ize everything, making it all about the religion. So we peer intently into the face of athletics, academia, and culture - looking for the one evidence of God. The problem is we're too close. We're looking too hard. If we step back, we'd find that God is not just in it, he created it.  He is all over it (and over it all) and, by the way, does not really need our help pointing it out! (Please don't get me wrong - I admire Tebow and the many who have stood for their faith in the face of an unbelieving world.)

Was Helen Keller Christian?

This may be a weak analogy, but I thought about Helen Keller.  Although we know her story, could any of us recount her knowledge of God or her reliance on her faith?

Do we know anything about her Christianity?

I honestly could not tell you. I've read about her and I can tell you all about her adversity and struggle, her hard work and perseverance, her overcoming her disabilities and the inspiration she was to me as a child growing up, but her faith or lack thereof is not something I remember.  And, that's o.k.

I'm Just Like You

Constantly seeking to Christian-ize everything in our culture leaves a bad impression. What you say?!? How can that be? It leaves a bad impression because it tends to send a message that Christians are different from everyone else (and I don't mean in a good way). The message is this: "I am a Christian, I have overcome because I'm a Christian (which leaves out all those who have overcome despite not being a Christian), and not only do I feel better about myself, but I pity your low estate. Frankly, the world has heard enough about how much better Christians are doing compared to them.  The truth is, none of us are getting it done.

What is the message the world needs to hear more than that? 

"I'm just like you". 

"I struggle the same way you do. I have fears and doubts just like you."

"I am in the midst of struggling with temptation and sin just like you are."

"My marriage is falling apart, just like yours. 

"My child is going off the deep end, just like yours."

"My finances are a mess and I'm struggling to pay my rent, just like you."


If you are in Christ, you know your hope comes from outside of yourself in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The reason this is such good news is because we know we're in a heap of trouble. We need daily doses of the gospel to remind us we are all sinners in need of a Savior. The world does not need to hear another "I'm successful because of my Christianity" story. The world needs to hear "I'm messed up, I'm just like you, and even though I'm a Christian , I still struggle just like you do. I have a Hope that comes from outside of myself and because my hope has nothing to do with me I don't count myself better than you, and I don't look down on you. Knowing this helps us live life together right where we are...

Let the games begin! 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Real Life Friday!

Real Life Wednesday! has moved to Friday. As I thought about changing the schedule I remember thinking that surely Friday would be a better day to post about my real life. It's the end of the week, I have a bit more time to write and think and I can wrap up the week. It certainly seemed like a good idea and theoretically it should work, but last week proved to be full and a bit intense. Friday morning came and the last thing I could think about was trying to formulate thoughts and put words to what I had experienced in my week! Rather than force myself to gather my thoughts, my Friday was spent with mundane tasks like grocery shopping and laundry, ending in a low key "pizza and a beer" dinner date with my husband. Now it's Sunday, and I have a bit more clarity and focus and energy!

I've been in a new position on staff at my church for a a couple of months now and I love it!  My heart beats for everything about it!  There is really no aspect of what I'm doing that I can say I don't like.  My days are full and no two are ever the same. Here a few snapshots from my week-
  • Two weeks ago I requested an intern to help with a couple of research projects.  Literally, one week later God provided a young woman on my doorstep!  She is passionate about serving God's people and has such a tender heart for caring and providing for needs in our congregation.  I am excited to work with her!
  • Because the ministry area I'm serving in has recently expanded, our team is stepping back to take a look at how we are doing ministry and to see how we might accomplish it differently.  We had an initial ministry design meeting this week and we're looking forward to a follow up meeting next week.  It is super exciting to see how God will move and shift this new team to better serve God's people!
  • I had eight meetings over two and half days.  I loved every minute of each of them.  I get to connect with women who are struggling, women who want to serve, women God has persevered and women God sends to encourage me.  I met with one woman early in the week to interview her about her struggle with an eating disorder and how God has freed her from that battle.  Later in the week I shared a bit of that story with another young woman who then revealed her own struggle with an eating disorder.  That's the nature of ministry - real life, real people and real struggles!

As I was thinking about my week I jotted these notes down: running in a million directions, feeling like nothing getting done. tired and overwhelmed. After taking a few days and a closer look I have gained a bit of perspective.
  1. Stacking my calendar to fill my day and week is not wise.  If I have learned anything this week, it is to practice restraint with my schedule.  I will intentionally build time into my day to think, pray, take a walk and eat something.  Taking those kinds of "breaks" in my day should help with the feeling that I'm running in a lot of different directions and it will hopefully reduce tired and overwhelming feelings.  
  2. I will remind myself that the work that I do is primarily connecting with people, not sitting at my computer.  Although I'm responsible for some administrative tasks, my first line of ministry is "one another".
  3. I will look at interruptions in my schedule as opportunities God is bringing to my life.  I am often tempted to  become impatient believing that what I have on my "to do" list is more important than the interruption in my day (a phone call, someone stopping by my office or a rescheduled meeting or appointment).  I [wrongly] believe that God is only working according to the schedule I have made...ridiculous I know - but true.
I would love to say that I had everything under control last week, but I would be lying. The truth is I was twirled around because of my scheduled, I was overwhelmed by the intensity of it all, I was cranky with my husband and I was exhausted every single night. But God, in the midst of it all, was teaching me more about who he is and more about who I am. He was caring for me, sustaining me and growing me up. I looked back at my tweets from last week. From Tuesday to Friday this was on my heart:

He should be able to deal gently with their failings, since he knows what it's like from his own experience. Hebrews 5:2
Everyday the world reminds me I don't measure up. God says - I know - I sent my Son for you. He measured up on your behalf.
In Christ, I can lay my head on my pillow tonight confident that Jesus paid it all. Rest, He says. I achieved the perfect day for you.
Don't go to bed tonight counting your sins against you. In Christ, God has accounted for all of them. It is finished!
I'm feeling overwhelmed.Trusting that Jesus was overwhelmed too and yet He perfectly bore up under the strain that I would not be overtaken.
Why do I think "it's all up to me"? Pride and unbelief. I want to point to myself because I don't believe that in Christ I have all I need.
I would love to say I'm in control but this week has reminded me I'm not. I don't hold it all together. Only Jesus has that job description.
"And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together" Col 1:17 praise Jesus!

I love seeing the progression of what God was doing in my heart.  He was preaching the gospel to me through these words, reorienting me once again to what Jesus has already accomplished on my behalf.  In moments when I forget the gospel I am thankful God reminds me to get off of the perfection seeking, controlling, guilt ridden roller coaster and rest instead in the finished work of Christ!  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Luther Insisted On Very Little...

Excerpt taken from Lutheran Theology by Steven D. Paulson

Luther insisted on very little but this one point, that God's justice was faith - alone - unaccompanied by any works of law. Consequently he administered forgiveness of sins to actual sinners by preaching it openly, publicly and beyond the law's limit.  He then urged the keys of the kingdom to be used liberally throughout the land by preachers in their own places of calling, dispensing a promise from Christ to a sinner that provided the absolute assurance of faith.  Preaching was the "means" of the Reformation cause, and could be started immediately, with great freeing effect, anywhere a preacher dared.  Overnight a priest could become a Lutheran preacher, and a congregation become a new, evangelical church wherever this freedom was exercised.  It was not just that people suddenly began to hear preaching, but the preaching was 'evangelical' because it identified the law's judgement of death as complete, and yet the promise of Christ as victorious over the law's judgement of death.  It centered preaching on two words that were normally controlled by a sacramental system with the law at its heart: 'Te absolvo' (I Forgive You).  

What havoc those simple words created!  Dispensing promises required only a call, the Scripture, and boldness to open heaven's gates by using the office of the keys for the ungodly, unjust sinners who abounded wherever the preacher went.  Sometimes, with one lecture or disputation, Luther would inspire an evangelical preacher who would then refuse to go back to the old priest-hood - even upon pain of death.  Freedom was in the air, and went directly from the ear to the heart so liberty was immediately at hand for many who sought to lose some shackle.  Luther taught and demonstrated that these simple words give absolute, indubitable certainty, and no one is more dangerous than a person who is certain.  The certainty was not based on human self-certainty; it was the opposite of that.  It was the certainty of forgiveness because of what the Son of God did by taking the sins of the world upon himself and defeating them at the cross.  The decisive cosmic battle of God against sin, death and the devil was already waged and won when Christ was raised from the dead to make a new kingdom of people who live with no law, nowhere to go, and nothing to accomplish.  They simply were - free.

Friday, July 13, 2012

He Forgave Us All Our Sins

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. 

He forgave us all our sins, 

having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; 

he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, 

he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Colossians 2:9-15

Real Life Wednesday [Friday]!

Real Life Wednesday is Friday. Alas, the middle of the week is proving to be quite a challenge for me...welcome to my real life :)

This Friday the 13th is a big day for a couple of reasons. My Pastor and dear friend Tullian Tchividjian celebrates his 40th birthday! There are so many reasons to celebrate and honor this man, but for me the most meaningful reason is because of the grace he lives out in his life every day. I don't believe there is anyone in my life who has taught me more about what grace in action looks like. I have stood on the sidelines watching him extend grace to others over and over and over again. And, I have stood in need of grace over and over and over again. He has freely given it...lavishly poured it out. This is a small way to honor a man who by God's own grace, has impacted countless lives by not only teaching about grace and freedom with his words but by demonstrating grace and freedom to everyone he comes in contact with. Happy Birthday Tullian!

The other and more important reason (sorry Tullian) this is a big day is that it's date night! I love Fridays for this very reason! It's why I say on Monday morning "five more days". Not because I don't like work and want to rush through the week to get to the weekend. I love my job and ministry, but I can't wait to spend time relaxing and talking with my husband Peter, as we enjoy a new food find or just hang out over a beer and a burger. Sometimes we know exactly where we're going. sometimes it's a spontaneous decision and sometimes it's a surprise like last Friday night. My husband came home giddy and announced we were going to have dinner at the new restaurant my son works at. We surprised him and were seated at one of his tables and enjoyed fabulous food, a bistro type atmosphere, and delicious dessert and wine on the patio afterward.

It's almost noon and I have no idea what we're doing tonight, and that's fine. I know that whatever we do the most important part will be spending time with my husband. In our busy lives this is a refuge each week that we can both count on and look forward to!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Stealing, Judging, Criminals And The Gospel

Stealing Stuff

What would you say if you found out the young woman sitting next to you in church was stealing?  What thoughts would go through your mind?  [and let's just pretend for a moment that someone sitting next to you in church would actually feel safe enough to share that with you]  Would you report her?  Would you make sure to keep your children seated safely on the other side of you?  Would you speak with someone in leadership to ensure that this person does not volunteer to count the offering?

Judging Others

I can think of several judgments I would make, but one stands out and it's this: "The fact that they have stolen from someone just reveals their heart".  Trust me, I have had that thought so many times over the years since I've been a Christian - it's embarrassing really.  Have you ever thought that?  Have you ever considered someone elses' sin and concluded that they certainly do not know God - how could they?  Because, isn't that what we're really saying when we refer to how a particular sin "exposes the heart"?  I have [wrongly] concluded that certain sins are proof that someone is not saved!  ugh...I've done it with my son - too many times than I'd like to admit!  How ridiculous sounding it is and yet this judgement gets played out over and over again in the hearts and minds of well meaning Christians.  We consider some outward sin and then we categorize it as being worse than others - thereby indicating serious problems and most likely a heart that's far from God or worse yet, unknown by God.  Maybe we pray for them to come to know God, or slip them some Bible verses or invite them to a bible study.  We think [to ourselves], they need help.

Who Is The Criminal?

The young woman I mentioned is a criminal.  Strong word you say - sounds kind of harsh. But, by all accounts she is breaking the law. If she were caught she would be arrested, prosecuted, and if found guilty she would be convicted, sentenced and she would pay the penalty - a prison term or fine.  That's a criminal.  Her record would forever reveal the truth that she had broken the law.

This young woman is real.  I recently learned of her story and I was surprised by what I heard.  She recounted her growing up years - 12 years in a Christian High School.  Raised in a Christian home.  Attending a church she liked.  I have not been able to get her story out of my mind.  Not so much because of what she had done, but because of my own thoughts.  Here was a real life depiction of the truth of who we are.  Criminals.  We are all criminals.  But here's the rub - we don't see ourselves as criminals.  An outward criminal act of theft is obvious.  An inward criminal act of coveting is not.  So we deceive ourselves and believe that some sins are not as bad as others.  And it gets worse.  We desire justice.  Someone has to pay for the crime...just not us.  Justice is for everyone else, but we cringe to think that our own "white lies" deserve justice.

The Gospel

As I listened to this young woman recount her story I found myself shocked at the thoughts in my mind.  Since that day I have recited in my mind the rulings I have set forth in judgement of others.  Stealing? Guilty - you don't know God.  Addiction? Guilty - you don't know God. Pre-marital sex? Guilty - you don't know God.  You fill in the blank.  What are the sins you consider to be evidences of unbelief?

This is what the gospel has to say about sin. No one is righteous, no not one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. If others could see past the perfect-looking external veneer they would see right into the heart of a pharisee, an unbeliever. Calvin said we're all "partly unbelievers until we die". The root of every sin is unbelief. We may get that Christ died for us and our eternal salvation is sealed, but we have not believed that the power of the gospel has anything to say about our current temptations, our sin and how it so easily entangles us. We have forgotten that we are all sinners, the same - grace levels the playing field.

If we were left with only that gospel truth, we'd all stand as condemned criminals awaiting our sentence.  We'd have no where to run, no where to hide.  My sin of judging others is level with another's sin of theft.  My struggle with covetousness is on par with my neighbor's battle with alcoholism.  Listen to the conversation between the criminals hanging on either side of Jesus at their crucifixion:
"One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds"
We are all guilty - deserving of receiving the due reward of our deeds.  The good news is, we are not left in our sin.  There was One who came to rescue criminals.  He came in the person of Jesus, a friend to sinners like you and like me.  He lived a perfect life - sinless, not sinful like ours.  And yet, he was treated as a criminal and received the treatment we deserve.  He was tried and convicted for our transgressions.  He was sentenced and imprisoned - paying an unjust penalty which would have been justly placed on us.  He was crucified for our atrocities so that we might never even be tried. Love is His name. Listen again as we hear one of the thieves speaking to Jesus:
 "And he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' And he [Jesus] said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise'.”

Instead of our record forever revealing the truth that we had broken the law...

...our record is now the pure and perfect record of Jesus!

I would like to say that I don't judge like I used to. I wish that were true. I may be a bit slower to speak, but my heart is still judgmental and although no one knows the thoughts in my mind, God knows. So more and more I am thankful for the righteousness of Christ. This beautiful spotless robe covers criminals like me and like you if you are in Christ.

I bet that young woman struggling with the temptation to steal would have been glad to hear this:

Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance?~ Tim Keller

The verdict is are innocent, blameless, perfect.  Christ has come.  It is finished.  This is the fuel that motivates my heart to love [and not judge].  

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:6-8

This is the verdict I need to hear over and over.  Although I'm a criminal, Jesus and His perfect record are mine!  

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Real Life Wednesday!


As I was sitting on the beach this morning enjoying the surf and marveling once again at God and His creation, I was thinking about July 4th and all it means to me and to the citizens of the US. I thought about all the men and women who fought so hard to win our independence and freedom. Countless stories are told over and over as we remember those who have gone before and those who are still fighting for freedom.

As quickly as my thoughts turned to the idea of independence, my mind was struck with my own fight for freedom. There is something deep inside me that screams for independence. It shouts for my rights, for my way. I want to be free to do what I want, to say what I want and to go where I want.

The one desire I treasure above all other desires is to be liberated from tyranny. To be sovereign, controlling my own destiny. When someone else tries to tell me what to do, I politely smile, nod, and then set about on my own course because after all, I know what's best for me.

The problem with following my own path and my own way is it's a disaster waiting to happen. I can look back over my life and there is no mistaking the fact that every time I took control things got worse. Even in recent months and days I can assess specific situations where my life was spinning out of control - that is until I gave up.

The One Battle For Independence I am Glad I Lost

Giving up. Now there's an interesting plan. Giving up would not have entered the thoughts and minds of soldiers in battle. Generals on the front line would not have entertained the idea of calling it quits. Their mission is to fight until the bitter end. Sounds a bit like me. Waging war, making one last stand, defending myself against all odds.

Only when I could see no way out did I cry for help. It was not until the picture looked so bleak that I entertained letting loose. God determined that I would make that last stand and that I would then surrender to the One who is mighty to save. I actually remember the moment God won. The battlefield of my heart was His victory. His sight had been set on me from the beginning of time and the victory had been won.

The struggle to maintain my independence was over. I had lost the battle to keep myself to myself...and I was relieved. It is the one battle for independence that I'm glad I lost. It's ironic isn't it? That I could lose the ultimate battle, and come out winning? So much for independence.

I still struggle with the desire to run my own life.  Day in and day out you'll find me somewhere between surrender and anarchy.  But my fate is forever sealed, I have lost to Love.  And I am glad.

Happy Independence Day!