Young Love

It’s a Sunday morning in a small town church, and the preacher stands before the congregation, his Bible open to today’s chosen Scripture.  From where I am sitting in my church pew, I glance across the aisle at the couple on the second row, sitting side by side and sharing a hymnbook.

Church dates are the cutest.  It looks like it’s their first.

She modestly smooths her dress over her knee, and he tentatively reaches out and puts his hand on top of hers.  For a moment he looks apprehensive, as though he’s afraid that his gesture will be rejected.  But although she is too shy to reciprocate at first, she turns toward him and her eyes light up with that spark of young love.

Ever so gently his thumb strokes the back of her hand, and the words of the sermon fade out as I become absorbed in their little romance, staring shamelessly.

Because it looks like their first church date, and for her, perhaps it is.

But her dress is outdated and her hair is white.  And by now, as her ragged breath comes in gasps and she grips his hand, looking frightened and ill at ease in her wheelchair, their Sunday morning excursions number in the thousands.

Fifty-two Sundays a year, for at least sixty years, they have walked together through the doors of the church.  But now he walks behind her as he wheels her toward their pew.  When the communion tray is passed around, he breaks the bread for her, and the ushers respectfully stand and wait as he feeds her the body of Christ in a sacred moment.

She becomes anxious, compulsively plucking at her dress and loudly whispering words that don’t make sense.  But he turns his creased and careworn face toward her, with love and longing and a depth in his eyes that I, at 21, cannot understand.  And he steadily reaches over and takes her wrinkled hand in his, comforting her as he gently continues to rub her hand with his thumb.  Her breathing slows and her panic subsides, and she looks down at their entwined fingers as though she is surprised to see them there.  Perhaps as though it is the first time.

At church, we talk a lot about Jesus and we talk a lot about love, and now I’m not sure that any of us, even the preacher, really knows what we’re talking about.

But I think Jim does.  Oh, I think Jim does.

Sex is Not About Sex

holiday“Sex makes everything complicated,” said Cameron Diaz to Jude Law in a 2006 romantic comedy called The Holiday. “Even if you don’t have it, the not having it makes things complicated.”

She’s right. Sex is complicated. This may be because sex is one of the most misinterpreted and misrepresented things in our culture…and I include church culture in that statement. As such, this post is going to look at sex not from a typical evangelical Christian standpoint, but from a Jesus standpoint.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Throughout His ministry, in every word He preached and every parable He told, Jesus was concerned with matters of the heart. This has never been as abundantly clear to me as it has been these past few weeks as I’ve studied the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus seeks to reframe a legalistic understanding of the law by showing us that we tend to focus more on the action than on the intent. As the Pharisees demonstrated, it is often easier to regulate and micromanage our actions than it is to undergo a radical change of heart. The former requires control; the latter, surrender. It is more difficult to navigate the ambiguity of the heart than it is to impose fixed outward regulations.

The church’s teaching on sex has become a vicious cycle. Most teenagers growing up in Christian homes are admonished to save sex for marriage. However, for some, this has created a stigma that makes it impossible to have guilt-free sex even within the context of marriage. How can something that has been bad, bad, bad, suddenly become okay? This deeply rooted mindset cannot be overcome in a 15-minute exchange of vows when our minds have been shaped our whole lives by a warped understanding of sex.

And so as it became more acceptable to talk openly about sex, churches began talking about it. A lot. To combat the shame associated with sex, Christians began teaching their children how great sex is, explaining that it’s a special gift from God that we don’t want to “open too early.” Obviously this approach is hardly better, as it dangles sex like a carrot that they can’t have for another 8 years or so. The pendulum has swung too far — now we focus on sex more than we probably should.

With this new understanding came another misconstrued notion about sex, which claims either explicitly or implicitly that if you save sex for marriage, your sex life will be far more gratifying than it would otherwise be. Youth pastors become statistical machines teaching us that monogamous couples have more sex, pure couples have better sex, and it’s all about sex, sex, SEX.

But I’m going to be so bold as to say that Jesus, and the Bible as a whole, teaches that sex is not really about sex at all. And searching “sex” in your concordance to figure out what God thinks about it won’t get you very far, because a well-developed theology of sex is found in:

1) A true understanding of creation. “In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).

Our humanity is uniquely defined by its status of being “in the image of God.” When we truly understand this, not just with our minds but with our hearts, it changes the way we see the rest of humanity. Each person is incredibly valuable regardless of gender, age, race, or social class, and we must treat with reverence whatever God’s holy hands have touched.

We must also understand that God’s creation is what it is; it is neither more, nor less. Pornography is damaging to relationships because it presents an unrealistic expectation of women and of sexuality. It not only causes men to see women as sex objects, but as inferior to the porn stars that feed their addiction. This is a horribly distorted view of creation — a woman’s body is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Her beauty should be loved and appreciated for what it is, and should not forced to compete with unrealistic fantasies. God created each woman, and each woman is a good creation. Respect her, because she is the image of God and the work of His hands.

And to the women — we tend to be pretty hard on the men because they struggle more with the physical side of this, and sex is a physical act. But if Jesus is right, and lust is a matter of the heart, where does that leave us concerning emotional affairs? When we dreamily indulge in steamy romantic movies and fantasies of Prince Charming, this is also a distortion of reality that the good, honest men in our lives can never live up to. Don’t spend your time wishing that the perfect man exists, because there is no such thing. God created each man, and each man is a good creation. Respect him, because he is the image of God and the work of his hands.

2) A true understanding of surrender. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1st Corinthians 6:20).

A theme that I see running through each teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is this unspoken phrase, “It doesn’t belong to you.” You don’t have a right to be angry (Matthew 5:21-24); you can’t just dismiss your wife because she isn’t your property to dismiss (Matthew 5:31-32); don’t resist the one who takes your tunic, because it’s not really yours in the first place (Matthew 5:38-42). If even you are not your own and therefore must honor God with your body, then it must surely be true that because she is not yours, you must honor God by the way you treat her body. To use someone in any way (not just sexually), is to objectify them and demean their created status. Lust and pornography are so damaging because they declare that God’s creation exists solely to satisfy our appetites and is not worthy of our respect. We must understand that whatever we desire is not ours for the taking. The creation belongs to the Creator.

3) A true understanding of relationship. “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).

The Bible speaks of equality, of mutual submission, and of sincere love far more than it speaks about sex — but I think that every one of these relational qualities is inseparable from a true understanding of sex. Sex is only one of the many ways that we can choose to selfishly gratify ourselves at the expense of another, but it so easily reflects an imbalance of power and further contributes to chaos and brokenness within the creation. If we were to outdo one another in showing honor, women would not seduce and men would not solicit. There would be no “If you love me, you’ll show me.” Instead, valuing each other as equals, we would seek the highest good of the other.

Marriage doesn’t automatically make sex right. If it’s still a power play within the context of marriage, it’s just as wrong as adultery, because it devalues your partner in the exact same way. If your marriage fails because you’re “sexually incompatible,” you’ve missed the entire point of covenant faithfulness. If your demands cause your partner to feel inferior or ashamed, you have failed to honor him or her. This is what I mean by the phrase I used earlier, “the ambiguity of the heart.” Because there’s not one straightforward rule that divides appropriate sex from inappropriate sex, we have to critically examine the motives of our hearts. And sometimes that can be more difficult and painful than following a set of rules.

How does this change the way we teach about sex?

1) These foundational principles apply to far more than sex. 

If you reread the first two, you’ll find that a theology of environmentalism flows just as easily as a theology of sex. If you understand the second two, you’ll learn that leadership in any capacity is a matter of servanthood, not of coercive power.

If we teach our children these fundamental truths of Kingdom living as a framework for their lives, rather than rules about sex that have little or no context to support them, it will make far more sense in light of the big picture.

2) It shifts the focus from sex to purity.

Creating rules about sex is like treating the symptoms of an illness rather than the cause. When we constantly teach abstinence, the focus is still on sex, when sex is clearly not the main point of sex at all. When we teach relational (not just sexual) purity, questions like “How far is too far” become irrelevant. These principles shift the question from “How selfish can I be?” to “How unselfish can I be?” They don’t just tell us why sex outside of marriage is wrong; they teach us why purity outside of marriage is right.

3) It reframes the whole biblical discussion of sex.

Why is the Song of Solomon in the Bible? It represents a loving, egalitarian sexual relationship.

Under the law of Moses, why would a man who raped a woman have to marry her? Because he had dishonored her, and now he was bound to care for her.

Why did Jesus say that divorce is tantamount to adultery? Because both treat your spouse as disposable, rather than caring for him or her as a precious creation of God.

When we seek to understand the Word of God, proof texting misses the mark. All of Scripture is bound up together in a beautiful mosaic of Kingdom values, and until we see the big picture, we won’t understand where each piece fits in. If Scriptures about sex aren’t about sex, they must be about far more.

So take a moment and examine your heart. Do you view your brothers and sisters in Christ with reverence, or with objectifying lust? Does your sexual relationship honor and validate your spouse, or does it just satisfy your desires? Is sex about sex for you? Or is it an expression of something far deeper?

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for one another, love one another deeply, from the heart. –1st Peter 1:22.

For further reading that has recently helped to shape and refine my understanding of sex and relationship, you can click on the following links:

The Porn Myth — Naomi Wolf

My Virginity Mistake — Jessica Henriquez

Christians Are Not Called to Have Amazing Sex — Rachel Pietka

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.

Lessons Learned: Miami Edition

Here’s the alternate and longer title of this post: What a Nondenominational Gringa Learned at a Hispanic Church of Christ.

As many of my readers know, this summer I spent 10 weeks in Miami, FL, working with a youth group. And the church wasn’t entirely Hispanic, but I’d say over half of its members speak Spanish as a first language and tan much more easily than I.

1011445_10151691177121952_67014394_n

I was a misfit in a lot of ways. First, although I hate to admit it, I’m a gringa through and through: blonde, pale, and of European descent, born and raised in the southern part of the USA, with no knowledge of Spanish. Second, as could perhaps be gathered from my undergraduate institution and church affiliation, I tend to be a bit more theologically liberal than traditional churches of Christ.

How did this work out?

Well, it took some adjustment.

But this misfit gringa was welcomed, accepted, and loved in a way that makes me terribly homesick for what I now consider my Miami church family. This summer was a huge opportunity for growth and shaped me in so many ways. Here’s what I learned:

1. Spanish. I hardly knew anything when I first came to Miami, but a little more than halfway through the summer, I really started trying to learn. The love I had for these kids provided the motivation I never had in high school. I googled verb conjugations and studied them. I read beginner books in Spanish. I went to Spanish church services. And the last week of the summer, I went to Spanish camp. My vocabulary consists mostly of ministry words and sappy phrases – “I’ll miss you,” “Talk to you soon,” etc. I had some embarrassing blunders, such as when I was texting one of the college guys – I was trying to say that it was good to see Mark (my boss) again when he got back from North Carolina, but it was too mangled for him to make sense of it, so he asked me in English what I meant to say. Turns out I had said “it was good for look Mark another time.” I also had to learn that te amo is “For boyfriend! Not for me.”

IMG_9891 - Copy

2. Terms like “black” and “white” are actually pretty meaningless. One of the youth group guys told me that I was white because I was born in the US. I was trying to explain that it’s a matter of heritage, not birthplace, and that if I were born to white parents in Honduras, I would not be Honduran but white. He clarified with a look of surprise, “I’m not talking about your skin color, I’m not racist!” Although I’m not sure if “white” as a cultural stereotype is much better. When I got home, someone asked me if Dominicans are black or Hispanic. I was like…”I have no idea. They’re Dominican.”

IMG_0238

3. Undocumented citizens, a.k.a illegal immigrants, are people. They’re not a group, or a statistic, to me anymore. They are names and faces. They are people I have hugged and kissed and shared meals with. And within the comfort of our middle class American bubble, it’s pretty easy to say what they should have done, or should do, or what should happen to them. But it’s not so easy when you know where they came from and why they came here. It’s not so easy when you look into their eyes and see them as unique individuals.

IMG_1222

4. After you have spent one-on-one time with a student, they are about 75% more likely to come to the next youth group event. If you want good turn-outs, invest more in the kids than the activities. Relationships are what really matter anyway.

IMG_9975 - Copy

5. God’s love transcends racial differences, cultural backgrounds, and language barriers. Hugs and laughter mean the same thing everywhere. Love is a universal language. And there is nothing more beautiful than a dark hand holding a fair one. One of the most memorable moments of the summer was the last night I was in Miami, saying goodbye to the family of one of the youth group guys. His mom tried to tell me thank you in broken English, and I responded that I would miss them in hesitant (probably grammatically incorrect) Spanish. It was kind of a Spanglish struggle. We looked at each other, shrugged, smiled, and hugged each other. That was all we needed to say.

IMG_0285

6. For a long time, my identity was wrapped up in my outspokenness, my opinions, and my beliefs. But I’ve learned that I can have deep and meaningful relationships with people without vomiting every doctrinal thought I’ve ever had about eschatology and substitutionary atonement. I don’t always have to be right…I just have to be me. And I know now that those are not the same thing.

1003877_4678050723770_1833235193_n

7. Just because there are things that frustrate you about a church, doesn’t mean you give up. No church is perfect, but for every reason to leave, there are a million ones to stay. And I say this as an exhortation to you as well: Relationships are worth working through differences, giving up preferences, and getting over pride. If I had given up and gone home the first time I felt like it, I would have forfeited so many incredible experiences and relationships that now I wouldn’t trade for anything.

photo

Kingdom Vision

For my Restoration movement class, I was required to write a brief paper on a concept that shaped the churches of Christ in America, and I chose to write about the evolution of apocalyptic theology in the church.  Apocalyptic theology is the beautifully radical worldview that chooses to live “in the shadow of the second coming of Christ” — by bringing kingdom values to earth and living as if the kingdom reality is already present here and now.  Throughout the years, this visionary mindset unfortunately fell by the wayside, but there is great beauty in living such a counter-cultural, kingdom-centered way.

Click on the link below to access the PDF:

Kingdom Vision: The Evolution of Apocalyptic Theology in the Churches of Christ

the cultural church. take 2.

Assignment for class: Write an iconoclasm treatise on something you want to change in the church.

Idea: Steal the title and first sentence of an old blog post and build on that foundation.

Product: See below.

In a culture consumed by consumerism, infiltrated with individualism, and saturated with syncretism, I have to wonder just how well the typical American church measures up to what Jesus intended for His body.  The place where contrite sinners used to come on their knees has become a trendy self-help workshop.  The place where Christians used to surrender all other loyalties is decorated with sentiments of nationalism and materialism.  The place where people used to find community has become a resource for expanding their own self-centered networks.  Gifts have become budgets and shepherds have become CEOs.  The church has become a corporation.

When a heart is replaced by an agenda and the Spirit quenched by “the way we’ve always done it,” when the counter-cultural call of our faith is replaced by a formula that mimics society a little too closely, the church has become nothing more than a lifeless structure.  The structure appears well made and carefully crafted, but it is hollow and in danger of collapsing.  At first glance, everything appears to be in place.  We have the programs, the technology, the board of directors, and a healthy bottom line.  But somewhere in all of this religious programming, one vital component is missing: God.

Throughout history, God has been an advocate for the poor, the needy, the desperate, and the ostracized.  People turn to Him at their lowest point when there is nothing else to depend on.  Yet, conversely, when we feel secure apart from God, we see no need for Him in our lives.  This is why Jesus said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24).  Could it be that in our zeal to do right, we have stored up a sort of legalistic wealth that keeps us from hungering and thirsting for righteousness?  Could it be that in our careful structures and organization, we have come to a point where going through the motions of our religion no longer requires the fuel of the Spirit?

In Revelation, Jesus instructed John to write to the church in Sardis, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1).  Could that describe many of our modern American churches?  When the religious program is carried out week after week; when tradition, rather than the living, active revelation of God, defines our faith; when people leave unchanged time and time again; is there life in the church?  Or has our heart ceased to beat inside our perfectly-structured ribcage?

In the dawn of the church, it was an underground movement persecuted for its counter-cultural values.  But we American Christians, complacent in our first-world status, have fallen in love with our culture and modeled our faith after it.  We seek power, wealth, and affluence, advertising ourselves and exploiting others to be the best of the best.  Have we not employed this same mindset in our churches?  We advertise our selling points as better suited for the population’s needs than the church down the street.  Needing to keep up our image, we hire dynamic speakers with Ph.D.s and professional worship leaders and showy youth pastors.  Inside this web of key church leaders, we create power structures and assume everything can be solved with a formula.  The pastor is above the worship leader because he has a Ph.D.  The worship leader is above the secretary because he is more visible to the public eye.  This particularly stood out to me when we drew our home church’s structure of authority on the whiteboards in class.  There were carefully drawn little “technical” lines and “realistic” lines and squiggly political maneuvers, but there was little room for God in any of those equations.

The church has failed to distinguish itself from the world.  We have become so consumed by our own businesslike strategies that we hardly know what it means to be a community of people that follows Christ.  As such, we have lost our witness to the world.  We do not model the freedom Christ offers.  Instead, we market ourselves as insurance against hell and invite people to join our legalistic hamster wheel of Christian production and consumerism, keeping up with the latest and greatest evangelistic strategies and architectural styles.  I have to wonder, if Jesus were to come into the typical American church, would He come in with whips and overturn the tables?

Jesus never called anyone to comfortable discipleship.  He called them to radical discipleship.  It is time for us to stop settling for security and go outside our comfort zone to follow Jesus.  There are times when it will be difficult and painful.  There will be times when we are afraid.  True discipleship is not easy, but it is worth every mile you walk, every dollar you spend and tear you shed, every piece of your heart you give away.  True discipleship is the adventure of a lifetime.  Perhaps it is time we rethink the way we “do church.”  What if it were less about the building and the budget and the bottom line, and more about a group of disciples coming together to encourage and challenge one another to make a difference?  What if it were less about the structure and more about the meaning?  What if it were less about business and more about community?  What if…what if it were less about us and more about Christ?

Such a paradigm change would require some drastic and uncomfortable changes in the way we have typically thought of church.  For some of us, maybe the answer would be to abandon the corporation altogether and begin again in homes.  For others, it may be prayer and fasting as we cast a new vision for our trajectory as the church and seek guidance from the Spirit.  We need to take a good hard look at ourselves in a mirror and see if we look like the world, or if we look like Jesus.  If we resemble any structure or ideal other than Jesus – if our identity is found in something other than a simple, undecorated gospel — are we really Christians at all?

Intergenerational Ministry: a Snapshot

Much of my undergraduate ministry training under Dr. Walter Surdacki has focused on the concept of intergenerational ministry, and integrating the youth of the church back into fellowship with adults.  One thing that I love about Dr. Surdacki — and something that kind of drives me crazy, too — is that he doesn’t always give us practical solutions.  He just makes us wrestle with a difficult concept.  I always have to work through it asking, “This is great, but how in the world can it practically work?”  Because I’m passionate and impulsive, I want everything to be fixed right now, but this can’t always be the case.  I’ve had to learn to slow down, translate the technical jargon into life application, and implement it little by little.  Volunteering with the youth group at Grace during my time in college has been such a valuable experience for multiple reasons, but also because it provides me with a way to put into practice what I’m learning.  These concepts aren’t packed away in a dusty notebook as intangible theology or ‘someday’ ideas.  I get to use them now, and while the ideas are still fresh in my mind, they become a part of my ministry that I build on as I go.

So I want to share with you one practical way I recently put the concept of intergenerational ministry into practice.  For a while now, I’ve been wanting to do something with my girls outside of church to spend some time bonding in a more chill atmosphere.  So I started planning my first subversive intergenerational attack: a movie night for the moms and girls.  The girls may have been a tiny bit less than thrilled when I told them their moms were invited, but it actually turned out great.

IMG_7742

It was hosted by one of our moms, Joanne Kraft (also a gifted writer — check out her facebook page here), and we ended up having 10 girls and 5 moms.  Joanne had thoughtfully provided quite the smorgasbord of cookies and popcorn and all sorts of snacks, so we had a very pleasant time hanging out and grazing.  We watched the movie Leap Year, a predictable but cute romantic comedy that of course ends with the girl leaving her personality-less fiance for the sarcastic and oh-so-cute Irishman.

After the movie, we had some open discussion about it:  What did you not like about her fiance?  What did you like/not like about the other guy?  She was kind of a diva — if you were a guy, would you have married her?  What do we learn from that about what kind of women we want to be?  I read from Proverbs 31 and its male counterpart, Job 31, and we talked about what a relationship would look like between two people who are totally focused on God.  Then I asked the moms to share some of their stories, which was powerful.  Here’s a very brief summary of the 5 in their diversity:

1) Married out of high school and divorced young before she met the Lord, but then married a godly man, and has a beautiful family.

2) Saved her first kiss for marriage!!

3) Knew that her husband was The One long before he did.

4) Just recently came to know God in the last couple of years and, while dealing with the pain of a broken family, wants her daughter to make better choices than she did.

5) Met her future husband on a mission trip and prayed that God would find him a good wife, unknowingly praying for herself!

yeah, I don't really have an explanation for this -- crazy youth minister stereotype

yeah, I don’t really have an explanation for this — crazy youth minister stereotype

From there we just had some random discussion, from crazy proposal stories, to girls asking questions, to moms giving advice and sharing their wisdom.  It was so fantastic.  And even greater — I hardly saw a single cell phone out.  They were all totally engaged in the discussion — because when a woman obviously in love starts telling the story of her romance, she’s cool even if she is a mom.  Instead of distinguishing between “girls” and “women,” it was more an atmosphere of “We’re all women in different stages of life with different things to share, walking the same journey together.”

It was a great opportunity for the girls to see their moms in a different way, to spend time in community in a more relaxed atmosphere than church, and for the moms to get to know each other and encourage one another on this journey of parenting middle school girls.  And it was a huge blessing to this girl’s heart to see how God is working in the lives of my group of beautiful and precious young women.

Ironically enough, I didn’t manage to get a picture with the girls and moms together, so this totally contradicts the point of this post, but here’s a picture of me and my girls:

IMG_7750

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.

No Agenda. Just Relationship.

A guy plans an elaborate proposal for the girl of his dreams. He spends a fortune on a beautiful ring, buys her a dozen roses and takes her out to a nice restaurant. He has spent hours making this super cute scrapbook of their whole relationship together.  When she turns the last page, there is a small scrap of paper that reads, “Will you marry me?” He smiles a hesitant smile as he gets down on one knee and opens the little box, faithfully declaring to love her for the rest of his life no matter what happens.

Unless, of course, she says no.

Because she does.

And he returns the ring and burns the scrapbook and they never talk to each other again.

The relationship ended because there was nowhere else for it to go.

Relationships end when a goal is not met.  If a girl likes a guy and then realizes he’s not interested, she stops talking to him and cuts him off altogether.  What’s up with that?  If she really liked him, you’d think she would enjoy talking to him whether or not they were together.  But too often it seems like relationships have to be “going somewhere” for us to invest time in them.

Or what about being somebody’s friend so you can “fix” them and lead them to Christ? Then one day you approach the topic of faith, they turn you down, there’s nowhere else for the friendship to go, and they realize that they were only part of an agenda for you. What good does any of that do?

As human beings, we want to control everything.  We have our little secret agendas for the way we want things to work out, and we try to manipulate relationships into the outcome we want.

I propose that we forsake agendas and create relationships simply for the sake of relationship — simply to love another person and give of ourselves. Let go of the expectations, stop trying to control the outcome, and just see where it naturally leads.

Be intentional about forming relationships with broken people that may not end in them accepting Christ. I’ve heard the quote that Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to make converts, he told them to make disciples.  And that’s a totally different process.  It requires that we invest in people whether or not we see a return. Those sorts of relationships don’t end once you get a person baptized, feel great about yourself, and forget about them.

Even within the realm of your love life, don’t fixate on one person and exhaust yourself trying to “make it work.” Create relationships for the sake of relationship, because you truly care about another person more than you care about yourself and how it will benefit you.

Live fully and love everyone. No agenda, just relationship.

Search for a Unified Truth: The Life and Legacy of John Hus

This is a brief paper I wrote for my Story of Christianity class on the Czech reformer John Hus.  He was an incredible man of God; humble, unassuming, but unwavering.  Click the link below to access the PDF.

Search for a Unified Truth: The Life and Legacy of John Hus

“O loving Christ, draw me, a weakling, after Thyself; for if Thou drawest me not, I cannot follow Thee. Grant me a brave spirit that it may be ready. If the flesh is weak, let Thy grace prevent, come in the middle, and follow; for without Thee I can do nothing, and especially, for Thy sake I cannot go to a cruel death. Grant me a ready spirit, a fearless heart, a right faith, a firm hope, and a perfect love, that for Thy sake I may lay down my life with patience and joy.”

JanHus