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faith, hope, soul care, strength, trust, truth

Dear 20-someone

December 29, 2016

The creativity, fun and independence I pursued didn't conform to rules of religion. And then there was real God.

Dear 20-someone,

The recently silenced soundtrack of another 80s pop icon brought back realities and memories of my own 20s, prompting my letter to you. So many changes are going on in the larger world – and your own world too. I can’t speak how this right-now-crazy world will affect you with all its mixed-up changes, but I think I can speak to the life changes and confusion in your first quarter-life decade…the search for significance and purpose…hopes of making a difference…making your mark and the future that’s in front of you…surviving it all. I think too, that I can speak a little bit into the small world that’s right in front of you, that might matter a little too much than it should to you right now, the friends, the trends, the drama. Three whopping-fast decades ago, I’ve been there. And yeah, a lot has changed. But some of it remained the same.

Is every onramp to the twenties launched on a portion of luck, fierce independence and a small dose of angst…or was it just mine?

I entered college at seventeen, ran a fast pace through school and before my senior year, accepted an invitation to work in the field of my dreams and finish school at night. Before my twentieth birthday, I stepped into a pretty cool career not fully knowing how it all happened but whisked into the wonder of it all. The world of advertising handed a new rhythm of crazy-creative antics with people who thrived on fresh ideas and very big budgets, to this young designer who probably had more chutzpah than promise, but right-brained zaniness with left-brain practicality.

I audaciously adapted to working hard, and, at the end of our long days, playing harder. It was the decade of excess…music drove culture; drugs and sex drove music. Everything was at our fingertips or only a delivery guy away.

As I began searching for who I was, the beginnings of that quarter life decade brought a ton of fun as independence birthed new hopes and dreams, fueled on travel, relationships with the wrong people, relationships with the right people, champagne, frustration, loneliness, ways and means to numb it, preachy people, adventure, and frankly a lot of sin. I found myself in the middle of intense tension with heartache, on the edge of a future that I had never fathomed, and was convinced I didn’t want. Funny how you grasp at pleasure in the pressure, isn’t it?

But God…

I didn’t want Him. I knew what was best for me. God had rules in that book of His that I didn’t want anything to do with. The creativity, fun and independence I pursued didn’t conform to rules of religion. I knew about the God behind all the rules, the one I learned of in grade school religion classes, the one I was graded on. The one I put on the cross. The one who looked down on me with a painful-looking, accusatory scorn on his face, hanging from a crucifix against a two-story red velvet curtain as incense made me gag and sometimes throw up. The one who was stuck hanging forever in a cold, echo-y church that they wheeled dead bodies into in caskets and sang in Latin. That God was untouchable and mean…just like the hypocrites that followed him, and I didn’t want any association with them.

I bought into the lies when the world said there was no God. And if there was, I didn’t want him, her, whoever or whatever. I didn’t need God to mess up my life.

“The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction… So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.” (1 Corinthians 1:18 and 20)

However, there was this subtle love that kept pursuing me in my own crazy mess and I didn’t quite understand it. He kept showing up. Annoyingly. In little, gentle ways. Until things got under my skin to the degree that I went out and got my own bible to actually read and to prove that it too, was hypocritical, outdated and biased.

But I couldn’t.

God continued to pursue me. In my fight for independence, I found freedom: Jesus, the real person. He wasn’t a statue who hung with scorn on His face, and He wasn’t something made up by a bunch of yahoos who continued a myth like Santa Claus. But instead I got to know the person Jesus, who, out of love, offered living, open arms to hold me.

Jesus is as real as my husband sitting next to me right now. He’s as real as the three children I have raised, and as the parents who raised me with my brothers and sister. He’s the friend who meets me for coffee every morning that I ask Him to, and He’s the gentleman who waits to be invited in. He’s not trying to hide. He’s just waiting to be noticed.

I thought I knew better. In acutality, I didn’t need God to mess up my life because I was able to manage that all on my own. Can you relate? On the crest of this new year, I challenge you to just explore Him. He’s pursuing you and simply waiting to be seen.

“Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-31)

The world offered so much to me in the first part of my twenties. What it delivered though, was heartbreak.

But God…
He extended grace I never knew about through Jesus, delivered my life from anguish and remorse, and replaced it with peace that I can’t describe. I truly don’t know how I would have made it through the past three decades without Him.

Sure 20-someone, I know the church is full of hypocrites, and you don’t need the institution. The church has made mistakes and we’ll continue to trip up and make mistakes. But instead of looking at our failures and missteps, will you take a chance and look to Christ, whom we follow? We still have decades ahead to learn and grow in holiness in this lifetime…through Him, through His love, together. And we have so much to learn from you.

Follow HIM, He’s waiting quietly for you. You have so much promise ahead. And there’s a lot of fun, creativity, and freedom in Jesus; more than I ever found without Him. Encounter Jesus, and don’t go it alone.

Much love,
An Old(er) Friend

 

community, strength, trust

I’m Not Like You, But I Need You

October 31, 2016
We're disconnected lives with little in common but the gossamer fiber of Jesus and a willingness to become a braided cord of community, and Jesus shows up

When the battle’s the hardest

…it’s love that fights the strongest. Don’t go it alone.

As I clicked the latch on the front door near the noon hour on Saturday, the quiet of the room echoed the holy hush of God’s presence. He dwelt with us. We went well over the time we committed to run back into the busyness of errands, celebrations, sports and activities of our weekends. But we barely noticed, as the viral threads of love stitched hearts and souls, and hemmed us in at the edges to keep each one from unraveling. I sat and wept over the sheer witness of transformed lives in the midst of battle. How does God do this?

I later asked my friend, “How do you duplicate this?

What I was asking myself was, how do you share this experience–Jesus in the midst in big ways–and hearts so wide and so pliable that it exposes triumph and tragedy…

and we all win?

How do we transfer what happens between my kitchen and living room as ten to sixteen weary warriors trudge in, choosing to re-create an Acts 2 community over hot coffee instead of the warmth of a comforter on a dark morning, because the great Comforter offers so much more in the context of community?

How do I convey to the church that it’s missing so much by making community elective when we choose to be so selective with our time and our choice of people outside of Sunday mornings? This is so much more than Connect Groups. It’s disconnected lives with little in common but the gossamer fiber of Jesus and a willingness to become a braided cord of community, who make room for Immanuel to step in and break down walls of independent, self-sustained cocoons…and make them stronger. The bravado of stepping out into community returns more than just discipleship numbers. It rewards the one who says I’m not like you, your age nor your color, I don’t understand you, but I understand why I’m here; I’m an adopted heir of Jesus, and that makes me your sister or your brother.

And the reward is an encounter with the living Christ.

All we do on Saturday mornings is come with transparency in our souls and a longing for more than what we walk in with. But we come to connect; then God shows up. Some carry cumbersome burdens, some hidden insecurities, some secret sins, some silly stories and all we seek is to know and be known. Yes God shows up in, through and around each other.

How do I convey to the church that it’s okay to let down your guard… that it’s okay to need each other? …That yes, it’s important to gather as a large Sunday body and collectively honor and worship the risen King, but you pour out your heart in a large, darkened room, with an empty seat positioned between one another…and that’s not Christ’s best for you? Your Sunday check-in and polite smile is not going to pick up your self-contained, self-maintained brokenness when life kicks your butt and no one’s there to take your hand but maybe a spouse or parent if you have one.

Sweet church, it’s okay to need each other.

community, equipping, love, trust

To my sisters: Lady lessons on the battlefield

August 28, 2016
She's not the competition but the contributor to your victory.

Peaking through the needles and scant branches of the pine, my heart pounded a little faster. The sting of the last hit to the neck accelerated my adrenaline enough to acknowledge I was determined to apprehend our flag, but I needed help. As one sister took offense, snapped the band on her sling and catapulted her ammo, the other took to defending me. I lunged ahead for the flag, grabbed it and ran. My sisters had me covered. It wasn’t a typical day of ministry for the three of us: a women’s ministry leader and two female pastors; yet our strategy as women should be.

Our leadership team gathered this weekend for its annual “Advance”, a time set apart for deacons, directors and pastoral team to reflect on the past year, celebrate God’s hand on it, and seek His direction and guidance for what’s ahead. Worship, prayer, praise, laughter, a few tears, coffee, and the words “I love you” weaved through our days and evenings. A bit of planned down-time did too, and that’s when I found myself bouncing on the back of a pickup truck riding across a field to our destination: a battlefield, for a few friendly games of wrist rocket paintball. Three men against three women: prepped and ready to fiercely protect, encourage, and cheer one another…as if our lives depended on it.

Because our lives should.

But women, we see each other as competition and we fight against each other instead of with each other. Why is that? Do we believe deep down there’s only one open chair at the table? We measure and mark, compare and contrast each other as if another woman is going to pull back the sling and snap us in the neck, instead of seeing her as a contributor and cheerleader towards our victories. Ephesians 2:6 says, God “raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places…”

There’s room for every woman to sit at the table, so Jesus can share His riches with us together. Instead of jealousy and judgment, self-doubt and scarcity, we need to celebrate the successes of each other, defend one another and appreciate all the seats in the heavenly places. Yes, historically there’s been less room in business, and far fewer doors open or chairs available in ministry for women, but we have to link arms with each other and confidently get out there and play strategically, with love.

Pull up your seat my friends and please, join me at this great table.

 

And by the way? The women lost a few battles on the paintball field, but we ended up winning the war.

faith, fortitude, soul care, strength, trust

The Perfect Storm

August 10, 2016
Sometimes it takes a storm to get you to the other side of the lake

Sometimes it takes a storm to sweep you to the other side of the lake.

It was the perfect storm, a collision of two air masses with rapid change in wind direction and violent gusts that blasted me off my feet. Howling winds and furious squalls picked up debris as it raged; I bent my head into the gale.

As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.”  So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

I cried in the nights, “Jesus, don’t you care that I’m drowning?”

When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”  Mark 4:35-41

There are times when storms crash and dark skies will open to pour out a deluge. Sludge may muddy your path and rock your faith in the Creator and the created. No one is immune. This is when it’s most important to hang on, because sometimes it takes a storm to put you exactly where God wants you…anchored in His presence in ways you’ve never known before.

It was actually this perfect storm that rescued my soul.

I was hurrying to catch up to who I was becoming, but the hurry made me become who I was not. I began losing myself in the whirlwind…adapting for someone else, and succumbing to the rushed expectations of who, and demands of what, others said I am and should do in the midst of a fast-paced world.

Christian philosopher Dallas Willard wisely warned, “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.

Cutting through the vicious wind, Jesus’ rebuke whispered to me, “Silence! Be still!”  I heard His sweet voice urging:  “Quiet your life, unhurry your soul…submit your will, settle your thoughts, decelerate your body and stop doing what others expect of you. Rest child, and wait, I’m in the boat.” Suddenly the wind stopped and there was great calm. Shipwrecked, yes, because the storm swept me to a different place, but anchored in His love. Jesus restored my faith and breathed abundant life back into my soul.

If a storm blasts you, invite Jesus into your boat. Rebuke the darkness, and assert your authority in Christ over the wind and the waves. Remain steadfast in spirit, keep your heart focused on Him, get to the back of the boat and rest with Jesus. It’s all grace.

You keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3