10 Quotes that Changed My Life in 2013

Words are powerful. Sometimes, people say things that sear themselves into your memory, for good or ill. You’ll never forget where you were when they were spoken, or how they made you feel, and you’re a changed person because the depth that they conveyed introduced you to a reality you hadn’t seen before. 2013 was a year of significant growth for me, and I am indebted to those who have shaped me along the way. So without further ado, here are the 10 quotes (and one picture) that changed my life.

“Things will never go back to normal. You’re changed because of the people you’ve met and the things you’ve experienced. There’s a new normal that incorporates all of that and how it’s shaped the way you look at life.”

Specifically, this quote was about the difficulty of moving on with life after a life-changing mission trip. As obvious as it may sound, this was so freeing as I realized I didn’t have to ‘move on’ – that is, I didn’t have to choose between two realities. I could embrace the new and let it make the rest of my life even more amazing. And so far, it has.

“You may not have heard this a lot growing up, but you’re gifted to preach. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.”

If I could point to one life-changing moment in 2013, this is probably it. I can still point to the specific table in Starbucks where I was sitting when these words made my heart skip a beat. Until March of this year, I had never really given much thought to public speaking.  Ironic, then, that it has somehow become one of my most apparent ministry gifts. My knees were shaking as I walked to the podium that Sunday in March – bad combination with six-inch heels – and saw 600 faces looking back at me. And then I found my voice. Sometimes it takes other people to discern a calling for you, and without one man’s faith in my ability, I never would have thought of myself as (what?!) a preacher. To those who have supported, encouraged, and affirmed me along the way – you’ve changed my life.

“We need more people like you in the churches of Christ.”

Me? Church of Christ? I spent the first 3 years of college becoming convinced that those two didn’t fit together. But a fellow misfit — an abstract, artsy youth minister in a tradition of intellectuals who nevertheless believed in belonging — thought differently, offered me a job, and supported me through the growing pains of discovering a unity that transcends uniformity.

“It’s so obvious that God had a purpose in bringing you here.”

We all have those times when we wonder if we’ve actually made a difference – especially when we feel more like we’ve made a mess of things. But God brings beauty from the broken. I was sitting on a wooden bench with my aunt watching an incredible sunset over the water when she spoke these words. Yet, even more affirming than the words themselves may have been the tears that gave voice to my own depth of emotion.

“Find a husband to share life with, because even an independent girl like you will get lonely trying to go it alone. Don’t be in a rush — slow down and enjoy life. When you have a decision to make, ask yourself 2 things: Is it best for you, and will it hurt other people? God’s picked me up and dusted off my britches after too many selfish mistakes. And go out and look at the stars on clear nights, and see which ones are looking back at you.”

This is advice from an 88-year-old WWII veteran who joined the Navy at 15, fought as second loader at Iwo Jima, and came back and started a successful business without a high school education. I figured it would be wise to pay attention.

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A picture is worth a thousand words, right? This picture will always stay with me. Pope Francis looks at a crowd and sees individuals whose pain is very real. Learn to truly see people, and truly love them.

“Take pain and doubt with you as your companions. Say to them, ‘You can come with me if you want, but we’re moving forward.'”

Reid Hillin, Woodmont Hills college minister. He claims to have paraphrased this from another source, but either way, it’s a powerful concept. Let pain shape you and change you, but never control you. Life doesn’t have to be put on hold while you try to figure things out – live wholeheartedly, if imperfectly.

“I see people. They look like trees walking around.”

Mark 8:24. This is a text that I preached on for my Communicating the Gospel class, and this unlikely quote from my good friend Second Touch Blind Guy has changed the way I look at those around me. Do I see others imperfectly, distorted through the lens of my prejudices and cultural biases? Or do I love and appreciate their uniqueness and individuality?

“You know what disgusts me the most about Christianity? Grace.”

This was a little unexpected – and a lot thought-provoking. People have all sorts of pet evangelism methods – as if one size fits all! “Just tell people they’re going to hell without the grace of God!” Well, it changes things up a little when grace itself is the barrier to belief. Maybe evangelism – which simply means sharing good news, and is not at all synonymous with ‘conversion’ – is more about listening and understanding than it is about shoving a pre-packaged philosophy down someone’s throat and expecting them to think the same way you do.

“It would be difficult being with you, but it would be worth it.”

You asked me when I started to change my mind about you. And although I told you I couldn’t pinpoint a specific moment, this might be the closest one. As I recall, you also said that you read my blog posts hoping for a shout-out. Here it is, and I hope you’re reading, because this is about as close as I get to PDA. Thank you for loving me for who I am.

I’ve heard the first part of this quote more times than I can count, but never amended by the second half. It can be difficult for feminists such as myself to find a man who accepts the fact that we will never be domesticated creatures, yet still has his own clearly defined sense of self. These words prove that you are both. They reflect honesty and careful evaluation of the cost as well as a deep appreciation for the return. Although they might not be considered super romantic by some standards, they were to me.

“I love you.”

To anyone who has said this to me over the past year, it never gets old. These words are always life-giving and sustaining, and I could never have made it this far without the genuine love and support of so many people. May this new year be filled with abundant blessings, and may you find beauty in pain as well as joy, in failures as well as successes. Continue to love well, and change the world around you. I love you all.

Published in: on January 1, 2014 at 6:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How a Critic of the Church Became a Lover of the Church

To some extent, I get why my generation as a whole is leaving institutionalized Christianity. They’re coming to see the missional call of God as something that is better expressed outside the church, because in many cases, the church has failed to live up to its own missional calling. It has turned inward rather than outward, becoming exclusive and judgmental and self-centered. There are plenty of things wrong with the church. Like Adam and Eve, like Hosea’s wife, like Israel, she has prostituted herself to the gods of American culture.

I get it.

But Jesus still loves His unfaithful bride.

I’ve had to come a long way to understand this. I empathize with my generation; I’m part of it. Having spiritual gifts that I believed were worthless in my church tradition, having a restless heart, a progressive mind, and a revolutionary spirit, I went through my own phase of bitterness and criticism.

My story is similar to the stories of my peers, but with one big difference. I understand the frustration and the temptation to give up on the church. I have experienced the pain that the church has caused. I’ve been judged for my appearance, been told I’ve overstepped my bounds as a woman, and even been accused of heresy.

I’ve waded through misinformed doctrine, bad theology, judgmental attitudes, and all manner of distorted truth and confusion and contradiction, stripped away the layers of tradition and preconceptions, and torn off the ribbons and adornments of centuries of religious assumption built upon religious assumption, until my naked hope found a beautifully simple and uncluttered Jesus.

And now I find myself in a unique position. I was raised in a conservative church tradition, broke the mold, rethought and reshaped practically all of my beliefs…and came back.

I came back to the tradition I swore I never would, because I believe that God has a unique role for me to fill. My role is not to run away and be some individualistic rebel without a cause. My role as a broken, messed-up person is to be in community with the broken, messed-up body of Christ. My role, as one who has experienced and empathized with both sides, is to bridge the gap between them.

Here’s what I’ve learned on this journey.

1. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. I don’t have to agree with your views on predestination or premillennialism to accept you, love you, answer your phone calls at 2am, or call you my best friend. I believe that God calls us to a unity that transcends uniformity. Jesus said, “If you love only those who love you, what are you doing more than others?” By the same token, if we only consider those who share the exact same beliefs on every minute detail to be part of our community, how will we look any different to the world? All these denominations who “took their toys and went home” just look like a bunch of squabbling children. Again, Jesus said we would be known by our love, not by our exclusivity.

2. It’s a misconception that one can just “read the Bible” and find the one solid, absolute truth on any topic with no trouble. There are a lot of things the Bible is unclear about, and just about any position can be argued either way — and it’s been that way for centuries. There’s a reason that much of our theology is widely debated. Just because your brother or sister comes to a different conclusion, doesn’t mean that he or she hates God and is trying to destroy the church.

3. You can discuss differences without debating them. But the moment the Bible becomes a weapon, the moment it becomes about winning rather than about shared discernment and community, you need to backtrack quickly, repent of your divisive attitude, and reconcile with your brother or sister — who, by the way, is still your brother or sister.

4. Community is hard, but God intended for us to live in community. If you peace out because you’re tired of the uphill battle, you’re telling our Triune God that His greatest gift, indeed His very nature, isn’t worth fighting for. Jesus said that he who seeks will find. If, as I did, you hang on with dogged determination to what you know must be underneath the layers of confusion, you will find community there.

5. Leaders don’t leave behind. Think about it. If you turn around and there’s nobody following you, you’re not a leader. You’re just a loner. God has given me a passion for leadership and the strength to blaze trails, but if I become bitter or impatient and strike out on my own, I’ve forfeited my gift and have a lot of wandering sheep to answer for. What good is a scout who explores uncharted territory but doesn’t go back to tell those with him that there are green pastures ahead?

6. If you dislike the church as an institution, then love the church because of the people. If you dislike Christianity for the negative connotation often carried by religion, then love Christianity because of Christ, and love the church because He loves it.

7. It’s a little ironic, isn’t it, to be intolerant of intolerant people? Truthfully, I can’t stand them. I still struggle with it. I find it so much easier to have compassion on truly horrible people of the world than on members of the church who are bound by self-righteous legalism. And although Christ did tend to call these people out more so than “sinners,” it was not out of a spirit of hatred but of love. His righteous anger was for the self-made chains that bound those whose knowledge should have made them the most liberated. But have compassion on the intolerant, and pray for them to awaken to freedom.

8. As I said in another recent post, for every reason to leave a church, there are a million ones to stay. Every smile, every hug, every moment of fellowship, is like an anchor that pulls at my heartstrings and tethers me to the church. I can leave because of pride…or I can stay because of people. Broken, imperfect, irritating, beautiful people…just like me.

Do I still have growing pains? Absolutely. Do I still call out the church for its blunders? Yes, or I wouldn’t be true to my calling. But now it is in an entirely different spirit — one not of bitterness and one-up-man-ship, but of a loving leadership that desires the church to find its full expression of life and freedom in Christ.

And these lessons, beloved brothers and sisters, each one learned along a difficult journey with blood and sweat and tears, are how an angry critic of the church came to love it passionately, learning to make sacrifices and serve in humility. Because in the end, we’re all just trying to be like Jesus — but since the beginning, Jesus just wanted us to be together.

Faith and Worry

This kid has a theological pet peeve.

Actually, I have more like a million.  But tonight I will bring one of them to your attention.  Typically, I can’t handle cute Christianese phrases.  I shudder every time I pass a church sign that says “Seven days without prayer makes one weak.”  It’s like fingernails on a chalk board.  Homonyms are tacky.  Rhymes are possibly even worse.  And there is little to no theological depth behind any of these little maxims.

As such, one of my least favorite phrases is “Too blessed to be stressed.”  Even worse is its evil cousin, “Too anointed to be disappointed.”  Three-syllable rhymes are even more unacceptable than one-syllable rhymes, and the theology here is crushingly bad.  There’s no other word for it.  Just bad.

For one thing, it’s horrendously smug.  When you paste on a self-satisfied smile and tell a struggling person, “I’m too blessed to be stressed!”, it sends the following message: I am a super-Christian. You are ungrateful and have no faith.

Disappointment in this life is a very real obstacle, regardless of how “anointed” you may be.  But when you say that you’re above stress and worry because you have superior faith in Jesus, it makes a very normal person feel very alone in their struggles.  Now in addition to the cloud of worry hanging over their head, which is probably very legitimate and justifiable, they have a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach and the nagging thought, “I’m not a real Christian.”

When we don’t allow people to feel their feelings, we lose a vital sense of transparency — and thus, community.  Honest communication shuts down, and we get the fake little plastic smiles as we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to make ourselves super-Christians — happy little robots who are too anointed to be disappointed.  And somewhere in the midst of all this pretending, we lose the entire point of the gospel.

You see, Jesus didn’t come so that we would never experience these negative emotions, but so that we would have hope in the midst of them.

I have heard people before use Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34 as a strict command, as if a dark and angry Jesus is towering over us gravely shaking his finger in our faces and saying ominously, “Stop worrying! That’s what the pagans do.”  I have heard people reason, “Worry signifies a lack of faith…worry is a sin!”

It was a cool concept.  It made sense to me.  I eagerly jumped on the bandwagon and quickly agreed, “Yeah! Worry is a sin!”  Whenever I worried, I would slap myself around a little bit and anxiously repent, “God! I’m sorry! I’ll do better!”  And I would shove the worry into a closet and slam the door and paste on a fake smile, hoping that all that worry wouldn’t build up and come bursting out in a panic attack.  What kind of witness would that be?  What would that say about my faith?  I would be an ungrateful, un-anointed un-Christian, that’s what.

But then one day I saw Jesus’ words in a new light.  I saw a gentle, loving Jesus stooping down and tenderly cupping my face in his hand, saying in a soft voice, “Don’t worry, beloved.  I have it taken care of.”

At this point in my life, I truly do not believe that faith and worry stand in opposition to one another.  Rather, I see worry as a chance to exercise faith.  I do not believe stress to be a sin.  If you’re insistent on viewing it in a negative light, you could see it as a temptation.  But instead, I choose to see it as an opportunity: not to shove it in a closet or pretend it isn’t there, not to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and be a super-Christian, but to snuggle into the arms of the Savior and childishly, trustingly tell Him that you need help.

I’ve mentioned in another post, Dear Grace, that sin is less about doing something wrong than it is about a state of separation from God.  I’m open to correction, but this is the way I see it.  Jesus didn’t die because you parked illegally in a handicapped spot; He died to bridge the gap between God and humanity, to draw you back to Himself.  Following this logic, I would consider it more destructive to our relationship with God to pretend we’re fine when we’re not, than to allow ourselves to struggle.

The point of the gospel isn’t to ignore our brokenness; the point is to address it.  Salvation isn’t about denying our humanity; it’s about surrendering it to Jesus.  Don’t put Jesus off until you’ve got your act together; your messed-up-ness is the entire reason you need Him.

Don’t put contempt or condemnation behind words that are meant to be comforting and reassuring.  You don’t have to shoulder the burden with all the bravado of Superman.  There’s another way:

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Old Year, New Year

Much like culture assigns names to generations, at the end of each year I reflect back on what it has meant to me and attempt to categorize it.  2010 was the year of beginnings: my first real job, starting college, finding a new church.  2011 was the year of change: I dyed my hair, went on a crazy piercing spree, changed my major, and tried to figure out what life was all about.  And although there were plenty of both beginnings and changes in 2012, I would have to classify it as the year of growth, simply because I made the most of the changes and began to really understand who I am and where I fit into God’s story.

Being the introspective person that I am, for me the end of the year is a chance to look back and revisit the milestones that brought me to where I am, as I seek to better understand myself, why I think the way I do, and how I can continue to change in the course of another year.  So I’ll share some of those musings with you.

A year ago from right now, I had finally recovered from the crazy tailspin of an awful semester and was ready for 2012 to save me.  I predicted that 2012 would be a year of growth and the best year of my life yet.  I was right.

In January, I went to Passion youth conference in Atlanta.  I’ve kind of been a Christian my whole life.  When I was four, I could rattle off the books of the Old Testament better than an adult, and I was baptized when I was nine.  I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to love God, but there were definitely times when I doubted, when I compromised and followed my own plans, when I wasn’t close to Him at all.  But January of 2012 marks the turning point when I decided that nothing else mattered, and I wanted God’s adventure for my life no matter what that meant.  Perhaps, in a way, it was only then that I truly became a Christ-follower.  And since then, I haven’t even glanced back.IMG_0093

So I started back to school the next semester determined to seek God.  I read Radical.  I read Crazy Love.  I read Ephesians over and over and over again.  And as I plunged headfirst into a full load of English classes, I realized that I had to change my major; God was calling me to youth ministry.  After a serious inner struggle, I dropped one of my English classes, which brought me down to 15 hours.  And now I had even more free time to chase after God’s heart.  I went to church on Sundays, small group on Tuesdays, youth group on Wednesdays, and Sanctuary on Thursdays, holding onto all of it desperately and not wanting to lose the passion I had found.  In March I officially became a member of Grace Chapel and joined the choir.

Seemingly, God wasn’t content with my decision to change my major.  There was something else ridiculous that He was calling me to: Deer Run Christian Camp.  When my friend Caleb first suggested that I apply, I smiled and said I’d consider it while thinking to myself, “No way am I working at a summer camp, ever.”  I went to camp once, when I was in 3rd grade, and I hated it. They made me play sports and I sucked at it and everyone laughed at me.  Besides, I’m not an outdoorsy girl.  There was absolutely no reason why I should work at Deer Run — except that I knew I had to.061912jm_preteen2-163

I learned how to be outdoorsy.  I got used to not wearing makeup.  I got a Chaco tan.  I did the high ropes course and the leap of faith and trust falls and the climbing tower.  I played paintball and taught Bible lessons every day.  I got used to living with the bare minimum and getting creative when those few possessions were falling apart.  I learned to depend on God, moment by moment, in a way I’d never had to before: for physical strength, for energy, for wisdom, for patience, for the right words.  I told a kid about God for the first time.  I saw one of my girls baptized in the lake.  I laughed and cried and worshiped and lived with everything I had.

And then I started back to school in the fall with new eyes, new ears, and an insatiable eagerness for life, determined to be more intentional about relationships and less worried about grades.  I had six Bible classes, ranging from Educating Adolescents in the Church to New Testament Exegesis to church history and Greek, and it was glorious.  During the summer I had grown and been stretched physically, emotionally, and experientially; now it was time to stretch myself mentally as I dug into the academic side of theology.

Another incredible growth experience this fall was my decision to talk to a counselor at Lipscomb.  At first I was a little embarrassed to admit it, but to be honest, all of us have things we need to deal with and work through.  So I did a lot of that, learning things about myself, seeing areas where I could continue to grow, and learning to love myself.  And, following her example, I learned how to listen to other people better and how to ask the right questions to help them reach their own conclusions.

And then there were a bunch of little milestones this year as well: I got glasses which I usually only wear when they match my outfit, I turned 20, and I went to a Rascal Flatts concert, which I’ve wanted to do since I was 14.  I met some fantastic new people, including my beautiful and sweet roommate Morgan with whom I can share anything, and made some great new memories with the old friends.  So there’s not really a lot that was lacking in 2012, and there are no definitive New Year’s resolutions I can make for 2013 but merely to continue living in the present, seeking God in every aspect of my life and following His will even when it seems crazy, loving others and noticing everyone I come across, and living faithfully in the bigger story of which I am a part.

This time next year, I’m sure I’ll be sitting somewhere reflecting on the last 365 days; thinking about a job which I have not yet gotten, classes which I have not yet taken, people which I have not yet met.  The thought is exciting because, when everything falls into place around my relationship with God, it’s sure to be an adventure.  So here’s to 2013, where new lessons are waiting to be learned and new experiences are waiting to be had.  And here’s to you, God; next New Year’s Eve, may I be able to look back and say that I lived it for You.

A picture from Passion, which changed everything this year.

A picture from Passion, which changed everything this year.

Me with my brother and one of my best friends on their graduation day

Me with my brother and one of my best friends on their graduation day

The best group of co-workers a girl could ask for.

The best group of co-workers ever.

Badgers on my 20th birthday!

Badgers on my 20th birthday!

Church buddies at Grace Chapel

friends and fro yo

The Spoon-Fed Gospel

I spent this past week babysitting an adorable little boy who is two months shy of turning three.  I’ll admit right off that perhaps I don’t handle children in the “best” or “safest” way.  For one thing, I often use sarcasm. “Oh, you want to hide under the table and cry?  That’s so cool and super dramatic…let me know when you want to act like an adult and come out.”  For another, I’m hardly what you would consider overprotective.  I suffered plenty of bumps and bruises as a child, but I lived to tell the tale, and I learned important lessons from each one.  For instance, one of the scars on my right knee taught me that it’s not the greatest idea to ride a bike off a 3-foot drop hoping you’ll land smoothly (I never did it again).  I believe in letting children make mistakes and figure things out for themselves.

The child I’m babysitting (we’ll call him Thomas) is sadly underexposed to the world for his age.  He still sleeps in his parents’ bed, is not fully potty trained, and, as I discovered the first day, is still spoon-fed.

It was snack time, and Thomas and I took a break from playing to eat a banana and some pretzel sticks.  I peeled the banana part-way down and started to hand it to him without a second thought.  He wouldn’t take it. “No, you hold it!”  I was a little surprised by this and replied, “How about you hold your own banana, punk.”  His dad interjected, sounding almost embarrassed, “Actually, he doesn’t feed himself…you’ll need to hold the banana.”  I thought to myself, “This is not happening.”

When lunchtime rolled around, I made Thomas a sandwich and cut it into pieces for him.  As I buckled him into his high chair, I informed him, “Today it’s time to be a little man.  You’re going to do something super cool called eating your own food and being independent.  I’m going to go make my own lunch now, but I’ll be back in 5 minutes.  Have a blast with this new-found skill.”  When I returned, he had eaten a couple of pieces of the sandwich but was looking at one piece, a little confused. “This piece is too big.”  The solution was simple. “Pick it up and bite it in half. You’re welcome.”  And Thomas ate his own lunch.

Much to the glee of my Facebook friends, I posted these adventures on my timeline, receiving more “likes” than any other status in the past couple of months.  Someone commented, “It’s scary that this 3-year-old doesn’t feed himself and hilarious that you didn’t let him get away with it.”

But how scary would it be if he didn’t have my sarcasm to spur him on to greatness, and he was spoon-fed until he was 4? 6? Even 10? If, when he graduated high school and left home, he starved to death because he never learned to feed himself?  The idea sounds ridiculous, but what if I told you that it actually happens?  We paralyze our children by spoon-feeding them the gospel; and as more and more young people leave the church, we have to recognize and take responsibility for what’s happening.  We design elaborate children’s and youth ministry programs to ensure that kids have fun and that our church looks cooler than the one down the street.  But when, Sunday after Sunday, we put on a concert for the kids and call it worship, and then give them a gospel lecture that they tune out to play with their iPhones, we may be doing more harm than good.  We run our programs a certain way because we think we know best.  We think it’s our job to impart to kids all the information we have, forgetting that it took us a lifetime of mistakes to acquire it.  When you have all the answers, the hardest lesson to learn is how to shut up.

When Thomas was one year old, he began to want to feed himself.  He would whine and cry when he was spoon-fed.  But his mom hated for him to get his clothes dirty, so she ignored his tearful pleas for independence and continued to spoon-feed him because she had skills of dexterity which he still lacked.  She wouldn’t let him learn, because she could do it better.  But if we want to equip children, often we must sacrifice efficiency for the sake of teaching.  Sometimes we sigh and tap our foot impatiently while they clumsily put the puzzle pieces together wrong, because the solution is obvious to us.  But instead, we should be actively encouraging them to learn, helping them work through their mistakes, and teaching them to clean up after themselves.  Instead of doing things for them, maybe we need to do things with them.

If youth have been given doses of the spoon-fed gospel their whole lives, when they leave youth group, they’re anything but prepared. If we do everything for them rather than teaching them to do it for themselves, we’re turning out helpless babies whose faith starves to death when there’s no longer anyone to give them the answers.  They may have heard a million other people pray, but do they know how to pray?  Have they ever cried out to God in a crisis?  Do they know where to go in the Bible to find comfort?  Or have we done it for them all along without teaching them how to feed themselves?  Do they have a personal relationship with Christ, or have they borrowed their faith from their parents or pastor?  These are uncomfortable questions to ask, but we’ve got to start asking them.  And trust me, as an aspiring youth minister, these are questions that I have to wrestle with too.  Have you trained, equipped, and taught your students?  Or have you just put on a show for them?

I think the solution can be found in authentic intergenerational community and deep relationships in which we teach and challenge one another.  A community in which no voices are silenced and no questions are dismissed, in which children are free to make mistakes and encouraged to speak out, and to do, and to live the Christian life.  My vision for ministry is not a program, but rather a resource.  We need youth pastors willing and eager to work themselves out of a job.  We need to replace leaders with equippers.

The old saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and you’ll have fed him for a lifetime.”  Let’s start teaching people how to fish.  Let’s teach them how to chase after Jesus for a lifetime.

That One Time I Didn’t Go to Church

Today marks a somewhat strange and surprising milestone in my life. This is the first Sunday ever that I have not been sick, and still voluntarily decided not to go to church.  Because truthfully, today is one of those days where instead of being “led in worship”, I really needed to find it on my own. I didn’t feel like celebrating this morning; I felt like being quiet.

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve just been a little “off” the past couple of weeks.  One thing that’s tricky about being a Bible major is making sure you don’t forget the purpose behind what you’re doing.  It had been a while since I’d read my Bible just to read it.  And because I’ve been in frantic finals week mode, I knew that going to church this morning would make me feel resentful.  Turn in paper, get an A.  Go to church, get an A.  It would be somewhere else I had to go, something else I had to do, to punch the ol’ time card and say that I went.  Plus, a good friend was in town this weekend, and we’d made plans to get lunch together.  To be able to do that, I would have to go to early service.  And since most of the people I know go to second service, would there really be all that much community?  No.  I would sit there alone and not be able to muster up the energy to sing after 6 hours of sleep.

After the hustle and bustle and stress and frustration and confusion of the last couple of weeks, I really just needed to be alone with God to refuel.  And honestly, it was the best thing I could have done.

Instead of getting up at 7, I slept until 9.  And here’s what I did.

First, I spent a few minutes journaling and praying.  Then I listened to Fire Fall Down by Hillsong United and Give Me Faith by Elevation Worship.  And then I got on youtube and watched Lifehouse’s Everything skit and cried.  Feel free to take a couple of minutes to watch it yourself, if you haven’t.

The end of the skit reminded me of a Scripture in Colossians about God making a public spectacle of the powers of darkness, but I took a little journey through the Bible to get there.  First, I read the crucifixion account in Luke through the lens of the skit, which made me approach it in a whole new way.  That led me to Psalm 22, and then I went to Colossians where the verse was, and ended up reading the whole book.  There was a lot that really stood out to me today, but two passages in particular:

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” –Colossians 1:22-23.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took 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 2:13-15.

The contrast of these two verses really stood out to me.  Christ made me holy, without blemish, and free from accusation.  But he made the powers of darkness disarmed, humiliated, and defeated.

I feel like I’ve been in super defensive mode lately, but what am I fighting?  I am not my enemy.  Other people are not my enemy.  Finals are not my enemy.  The real enemy has already been vanquished, and God finds me beautiful and perfect.  And that’s what I found worth celebrating today, in my pajamas, in my bed, without any grand instrumental worship or a message from a famous guest speaker.  Just me and God, and a quiet reminder of what this is all about.

Church Work that Transforms

A brief “bulletin article” I wrote for my theology class.  I may or may not have turned it in last minute, so it’s not my best work, but I think there’s an important concept buried beneath the wordiness.

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“Don’t get so caught up in the work of the Lord, that you forget the Lord of the work.”  This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books, No Compromise.  It helps me to reevaluate and refocus my efforts when I start feeling burnt out on church work.  It reminds me to keep God at the center where everything revolves around Him, rather than compartmentalizing my life and seeing “church work” as distinct from my daily life.

When we ask ourselves what church work should look like, we first must ask ourselves what church work really means.  What constitutes mission?  Is it a mission trip?  A children’s ministry?  Or does it encompass far more?  If we exclusively relegate church work to the sacred sphere and continue on about our secular work without letting the gospel transform the way we engage in daily living, we miss the blessing of God’s redeeming work in the world.

I love the way Chris Wright phrases it in his book The Mission of God’s People: “We need a holistic gospel because the world is in a holistic mess.  And by God’s incredible grace we have a gospel big enough to redeem all that sin and evil have touched.”  As God’s people – as the Church – we have the opportunity to live within His redemptive purpose.  Our whole lives are active reflections of the work that God is already doing in the world.  And the most incredible part is that He has gifted each of us with exactly the right personality traits and talents to impact the world in the special way that He calls us.  There is a place and a purpose for each one of us that we can only find when we see our lives with God at the center, impacting every arena in which we live and work and do business.

So what should church work look like?  It should look like a natural extension of our lives.  If we give every part of our lives to God for His purposes, including the “secular” realm, church work becomes an integrated part of our holistic mission rather than a compartmentalized responsibility that can burn us out easily.  So let’s take a step back, look at the big picture, and accept God’s invitation to get on board with what He is doing in the world – this is the true work of the Church.

The New Restoration?

Maybe just because I’m a Bible major (now legit with a pair of Chacos which I just purchased today and which were undoubtedly an automatic ticket upgrade for heaven), I am fascinated with the study of how religion changes.

Every few decades, a new generation seeks to establish its own stake in the ground, to seek the truth for itself, to begin a new movement of faith. You see, while the Church is a perfect concept, it is made up of imperfect people. Every new movement, every new denomination, is begun with sincere intentions, but as with everything else in this broken world, decay is inevitable. Motives are forgotten, and we cling to traditions instead. Culture changes. People change. The movement, once so aligned with the truth, begins to shift from the original pattern….

Until up springs a generation of bold young leaders who realize that a change has to be made. It’s time to overturn the corrupted ideal and return to the beginning, throwing out traditions and trying again to find the pure, uncluttered truth. The previous generation sees what’s happening and attributes it to youth’s impulsiveness and self-centered desire for something new and exciting. But I, having grown up in the traditional church of Christ and now on the edge of what I believe is a new restoration, see both sides and understand what the younger leaders are trying to do. We really do want to return to what we see in the Bible. At least, I know I do.

The Christian Chronicle recently published a fascinating article about this paradigm shift, which you can read here. The Restoration of the 1800’s was a movement to return to simple New Testament Christianity which resulted in the churches of Christ. Now, large numbers of young adults are moving away from the title church of Christ and gravitating towards a nondenominational church community. While many church of Christ adherents are alarmed, thinking that they are losing followers, others have a different view of what’s happening. The article quotes Alan Henderson, chairman of the Bible dept. at Greater Atlanta Christian School (affiliated with the churches of Christ): “Churches of Christ should be at the forefront of welcoming this trend toward non-denominational following of Jesus. After all, isn’t that what we have worked for — and prayed for — for generations?”

There’s your basic introduction to what’s going on. Of course, I’ll be the first to admit that “nondenominational” has practically become a label and denomination of its own, and a few generations from now I’m sure there will be another movement to fix what’s become broken yet again. But I see a lot of cool things happening within this new restoration that I think today’s young adults are getting right.

When my parents were growing up, they heard a lot of “hell fire and damnation” sermons with an emphasis on works and the narrow path. Then there was a shift toward grace and love — “You can’t do anything bad enough to keep you out of heaven!” But now, this new generation seems to be trying to strike a balance. This generation isn’t separating the OT God and the NT God. They’re realizing that God is love and justice. He is grace and intolerance. He loves us the way we are…but He loves us too much to leave us the way we are.

This has created a slew of new Christian buzz-words and popular phrases that I’ve noticed. We’re not on the dreamy, romantic side of love anymore. Here’s an intense, passionate, tough love. A few years ago, one of the hottest songs was “How He Loves.” Now the one playing on the Christian radio stations is the Newsboys latest, “Let heaven roar and fire fall, come shake the ground with the sound of revival.” I’ve noticed at Sanctuary (an instrumental worship night actually held at a church of Christ) the language that the worship leader uses when he prays — words like “Crash.” “Invade.” “Destroy.”

Did I say “new” words? Actually, it reminds me of something John Donne wrote back in the 17th century. “That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.” What John Donne wrote was actually pretty shocking for his time as well. After all, there’s really nothing new under the sun, is there?

Bestselling books like Radical and Crazy Love point to another defining characteristic of this generation’s religion: we want to be different. We want to overturn society, we want to be loud, we want to change things. We’re not ashamed of our faith. We don’t want to stay in our church building. We’re passionate about social justice in the name of Jesus, and we’re desperate for revival, for revolution. We have a big faith, and we want to move the mountains. We’re not satisfied with traditions. We’re reaching for something more.

This desire to go beyond tradition, however, leads to the controversial slogan, “No religion, just a relationship”, and Jeff Bethke’s viral video “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus.” If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it below:

This video caused a lot of controversy over the definition of religion. Technically, religion is something one “believes in and devotedly follows.” From context, though, it’s pretty easy to figure out that religion means something different to this generation. Being in youth ministry and following the latest Christian trends, I’m pretty on top of the context. Religion has become a negative term describing something like legalistic hypocrisy or Pharisaical self-righteousness. This generation hates, hates, hates hypocrisy, and more than anything else, we want to be authentic. Even in Jeff’s description of his video he says, “[This is] a poem I wrote to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion…at its core Jesus’ gospel…is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification.”

I don’t agree with the terminology just because it has created so much tension in the transition, but just know that this generation doesn’t hate the Church. They hate the decay that our imperfection has caused. And that’s why we’re moving back to what we see in the Bible, to the original pattern that we seem to have lost sight of. We just maybe haven’t come up with the best slogans. 🙂 We’re not perfect either, but we’re searching, and I’m excited to see what God is going to do with the passion of this generation.

Anyways, this is just my nerdy Bible major take on what’s going on, so I just wanted to share it with you all and try to bridge the gap a little so you can get an insider’s perspective.