Archive for the ‘Citizenship 101’ Category

The Needy Season

The Christmas season is upon us again, and for most people, including us, that means that life becomes a whirlwind of family, friends, and general merriment.  It means that we have been to parties and observed time-honored traditions that bring our family joy.  It also means that we have taken a couple of occasions to throw the door open wide and welcome all comers to celebrate with us:



However, this year more than ever, I’ve noticed a funny thing in the midst of all this joy-making.  It seems like this time of year, when everyone is, at least in appearance, prioritizing family and community togetherness, we notice so much more the parts of family and community that we lack.  It’s as if the light of all the holiday cheer casts a glare on the holes in our support system.  I know people struggling with all sorts of forms of loneliness this time of year.  People who want spouses and have none; people who were betrayed by the spouses they have; people who are mourning the loss of loved ones that should still be here.  The list goes on.  I know for me, I’ve been haunted by so many memories of my dead brother this season that it’s as if his ghost has taken up residence in the house.  He is as much a part of my current environment as the presents under my tree, and his memories burst into my mind every day, begging to be spoken.  One of my secret joys is having a friend who shares his name so that several times a week, I can at least say it out loud.  I love the sound of it rolling off my tongue; it gives some little relief to the build-up of memories in my mind.

But it’s not just dead people who haunt us this time of year:  it’s any perceived lack in family and community.  All of our “holes” are magnified when seen in contrast to holiday cheer.  The type of friends we want but don’t have.  The family we wish for but don’t experience.  The life we pictured but haven’t seen in reality yet.  So many holes.

And I’ve decided that at least for me…maybe my holes are a hidden mercy.  Maybe, instead of being a failure in the Christmas system, they point me to the true meaning of Christmas.

I was reading an Advent devo by William Willemon this morning, and he pointed out that everyone, even the “nominally religious” loves Christmas because it gives us a chance to celebrate our own generosity, to celebrate what we have to offer to the world, instead of what was offered to us by God.  In one provocative passage, he argues:

We love Christmas because, as we say, Christmas brings out the best in us.  Everyone gives at Christmas, even the stingiest among us, even the Ebenezer Scrooges.  Charles Dickens’ story of Scrooge’s transformation has probably done more to form our notion of Christmas than St. Luke’s story of the manger.  Whereas Luke tells us of God’s gift to us, Dickens tells us how we can give to others.  A Christmas Carol is more congenial to our favorite images of ourselves.  Dickens suggests that deep down, even the worst of us can become generous, giving people.

Yet I suggest, we are better givers than getters, not because we are generous people, but because we are proud, arrogant people.  The Christmas story–the one according to Luke, not Dickens–is not about how blessed it is to be givers, but how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers.”

Now, listen:  I love A Christmas Carol as much as the next person, and I love giving gifts.  But I think Willemon might be onto something.  At least, I’m pretty sure that at its root, the Christmas season isn’t about family togetherness or gift giving.  At its root, the message of Christmas is that we were all poor, we were all in need, and we were all desperate for a Savior–a Savior that was given freely to us by a loving God.  And I don’t think you can feel the impact of that gift without understanding the holes in your life.  The lack.  The deep, yearning need.  The sense that all is not as it should be.

I have felt that lack this holiday season.  I have felt needy, and I hate feeling needy.  Not only have I felt the holes in my own soul, I have felt my lack of ability to patch the holes in others’ souls.  I see people suffering and understand intuitively that I cannot meet their deep needs, no matter how many Christmas parties I invite them to.  I can fill their stomachs with food, and their hands with treats, but their souls?  I’m sorry, but I don’t have that in me right now.

And I don’t think I ever did.

I think I needed to be reminded of that.  I needed to be reminded that I am not anyone’s Savior, I am not even my own Savior, but instead that I am desperately in need of a Savior.  When I think of that, I begin to see my “holes” as acts of grace from God.  Then, I begin to open my heart and let Him fill those holes.  And He does in beautiful ways–and funnily enough, He tends to use those who are historically considered to be “the least of these.”

For instance, yesterday, a small two-year-old girl who was visiting my house snuggled up to me out of nowhere and sang to me.  For no reason at all, she took the time to shine light into my soul yesterday.


Then this morning, I was approached by an Iranian widow who attends my church, and she handed me a beautiful scarf that she had knit for me.  She has so little in her life.  She is all alone in a foreign environment; even the yarn she used to knit was a gift to her.  And she used that gift to pour blessing into my life.


When I don’t see the holes in my soul, I am tempted to think that little toddlers and poor widows have nothing to offer me.  That instead, should be the one taking care of them.  I do try to take care of them, but my holes remind me that I am also needy.  That we all are.  And while we can minister to each other as best we can within our limited means, we ultimately are dependent on a Savior.  We can’t fill our own holes, and we can barely patch up the holes of others, but, through God’s love, we can find grace and peace in the Savior He sent for us all.

On my own, I am needy, so desperately needy.  But…unto me a child was born.  And that child was a gift that I could never earn through my own merit.  I understand that more at Christmastime, which is why I’m thankful for this needy season.


In our Wednesday night class last week, we women talked about all the ways we feel overwhelmed. We come from all walks of life, but a common thread of our answers was that, in some way or another, most of us were overwhelmed by the demands of work or family–or the demand of balancing work AND family. There was also a theme of feeling inadequate…like we were not “up” to our tasks, like we did not have “enough.” We didn’t have the talent…or maybe the money…or perhaps the organizational skills…or the patience…or the time…to do all the things we had to do.

In light of that discussion, we read a really crazy verse from the Bible:

“His divine power has given us EVERYTHING WE NEED FOR A GODLY LIFE through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3

A similarly unbelievable verse is found in 2 Corinthians 9:8…

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, HAVING ALL THAT YOU NEED, you will abound in every good work.”

I emphasize the “all that you need” part because both verses challenge our faith and our current experience of life. After we read them, we had to ask ourselves, “Do I really believe this?”

And even more importantly, “If I believe this is true, then why do I so often feel that I DON’T have everything I need?”

eynFor the next five weeks in class, we are going to explore that conflict. My dear friend, Courtney Steed, has written a Bible study called, “Everything You Need,” in which she uses Scripture and good ol’ fashioned logic to help Christian women grasp the wonderful idea that with Christ, we do have “everything we need.”

One thing I love about Courtney’s study is that is is SO practical.  It’s not simply, “Of course you have everything you need because you have God’s Spirit in you.”  That’s true, and it’s a big deal…but often our needs seem more tangible than that.  As Courtney says,

“So much of what I feel I need is not in a cloud above my head. What I need is not kindness, it’s a enough of money to pay the mortgage. It’s not just patience (though I need that tremendously), it’s time to go to the grocery store. Its not just gentleness, it’s time to myself. I need a nap, relief from my pain, for my relationships to be easier, my house to be clean and my kids to behave.”


This study, then, is going to be very relevant and practical for our day to day lives.  Last week, the main thing we discussed to set the stage for this week was the idea of Supply and Demand.  All of us have “Demands” that need to be met…from the demand for sleep, the demands of a job, the demands of a mother, the demands of relationships, health demands, time demands…it goes on and on.  We are only able to meet those Demands with our Supply, our resources.  This week we are going to talk more in detail about our Supply, but the one point we made last week was that our Supply always comes from God.  It’s all from Him, and that idea that we have it naturally in us, that we just have to dig down deep or pull ourselves up by our bootstraps or whatever is more of an American idea than it is a Christian idea.  In fact, Jesus Himself tells us,

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

So that’s Truth #1 from our study so far:  Our Supply comes from God.

Truth #2 is this:  Our Demand is determined by God.

God doesn’t guarantee us that we have “everything we need” to do whatever it is we want to do.  We don’t have “everything we need” to meet our own goals, but to glorify Him.  To me, this is a freeing concept.  So much of my Demand is self-imposed.  It is a list that I give myself, out of feelings of guilt or obligation.  In the next five weeks, we are going to learn how to determine God’s Demand for us, as opposed to Society’s Demands, or Others’ Demands, or even Our Own Demands.  I can’t tell you how liberating this idea has been in my life.  Since I’ve embraced these ideas, I have had so much more peace and feelings of adequacy when it comes to my tasks.  I still have a ways to go, but my soul definitely rests easier now, and I have much less stress in my life.  That’s why I’m so excited to share this study with our women’s class!

I can’t wait to walk through the ideas in this study with the women at church.  This week, we are going to look at our Supply and what all it includes.  I think you will be surprised–you have more than you think!

Nothing Happened This Week

Here I am at the end of another week, and I almost didn’t blog.  I actually had the time to do so, and as a lifelong journaller, I enjoy the chance to process the past week, but it was just that, “Nothing happened.”

Thinking casually back over the week, I just couldn’t think of many clear memories.  I enjoyed sometime at the end of the week to relax and unwind, I remember that, but what happened before?

Then I looked at my pictures.  There weren’t a ton of them, but they reminded me that this past week where “nothing happened” was actually a week rich in friendships and family time and memories.

For instance, nothing happened this week except that when we got home from Murphy on Sunday, my mom had left a bunch of clothes for the kids on my kitchen table.  She had stopped by on her way home from Louisville.


So nothing happened besides the fact that my mom showed yet again her amazing generosity and her love for all of us.

And nothing happened besides Greg getting to take his first day off in a long while on Monday.  Our family went up to Y.E.S. for lunch because one of our college friends, Shana, was providing it (but that’s “nothing,” right?  Everyone has amazing friends from college who help out in their ministries, right?)  We wanted to see her and to see the kids at Y.E.S.  Our kids ate lunch there, too, and enjoyed playing for awhile before we headed on to take a nature walk.


It was “nothing.”  Just some rock-skipping lessons on the edge of a calm lake on a beautiful day.  Nothing to see here, folks.



Nothing happened but a family walk and a chance to catch up with my husband.


We haven’t seen a lot of him this summer; he’s been busy with camps and trips with the teens, pouring himself into ministry, and acing grad school.  I’m so proud of this man—and so is Anna, who gave him the flower that is behind his ear!

That evening, nothing happened, except that I made two dinners, one for my friend, Heidi, and one for us.  I ended up staying and talking to Heidi for longer than expected, so I told my family to just eat without me:).  But really, that’s nothing.  Getting to talk to a wonderful friend who has just moved back and feed a bottle to her beautiful baby…nothing special there! 

I got home in time to eat dinner and pop popcorn for our movie night:


But it was nothing.  Just another movie night with the family that I love so much.

On Tuesday morning, nothing much happened besides a visit from our friends, the Steeds.  Afterward, they talked Luke into coming home and spending the night with them, but having good friends like that (and having a bff who knows everything about you) is “nothing.”  Not worth blogging about, certainly.

Once they left, Anna and I didn’t do anything besides go to a local park where she rode her scooter:


Absolutely nothing happened there besides a beautiful evening with my daughter.

On Wednesday morning, there was nothing to do besides go roller skating with Anna.  After all, Luke and Greg do not like roller skating, so we needed to take advantage of the time when neither of them were there! 


Nothing happened at the skating rink besides the fact that I got to watch my daughter’s amazing determination yet again.  I got to see her fall, then fall again, and again, and every time, bounce back up with a determined smile on her face.  She skated for miles that morning. 

We ended up sharing the rink with a YMCA camp group, which worked out because there were several games.  Anna’s favorite was limbo.


She was one of the five people who never got out!  But that’s really “nothing,” right?

That evening, I gave my testimony at church.  It could only be about ten minutes long, so this was the condensed version, and I didn’t pass out or throw up, so I’m counting it as a win.  The most surprising part was when I was mobbed by little girls while I was talking!


At the time, I was so confused by what made Anna come running to me, followed closely by her cohorts.  Afterward, Greg pointed out that I had been highlighting things that I still needed to work on as a Christian (selfishness, impatience, etc).  My point was not to put myself down, but to explain that as Christians, we can be honest about our flaws without letting them discourage us.  The whole point of my talk was how God gradually transforms us, so we know that, if we let Him, He is going to keep making us more and more like His Son.  Anna didn’t let me get that far, however, before she came running, out, apparently, to comfort me:).  Her friends were all giggly and happy, so even though it was a couple minutes before we restored order, at least it was a cute interruption!

After I finished, they all promptly piled on my lap. 


I felt very loved.  I had been nervous about speaking in front of everybody, so I’ve gotta say, this wasn’t a bad way to be greeted after I finished!

So yeah…nothing happened on Wednesday night besides the fact that I talked in front of my church for the first time and then got love-mobbed by a ton of adorable little girls.  Happens all the time, right?

On Thursday morning, we had nothing to do besides meet some friends at the zoo:


I didn’t get many pictures, and Anna and I couldn’t stay long, but we had a good time with the Burnells, the Wilsons, and my friend, Melissa.  It’s probably bad to say, but my favorite part of the zoo that day was seeing the kangaroos fight:


I normally don’t enjoy watching animals fight, but kangaroos are just so comical!

But besides the awesome kangaroos and the time spent with a great group of friends, nothing really happened there, you know?

Luke had ended up spending two nights with the Steeds, so we went to pick him up after we left the zoo.  Then it was home for a relaxing afternoon.  Nothing really happened that night, just that my friend, Caroline, came over for dinner.  She and I had really needed to catch up, and we shared a deep chat, with both tears and laughter, for hours.  But that was it, nothing else…well, nothing besides the fact that we each got a text/call from a teen from church, Brenda, who wanted to come over.  At first, we were worried that something awful had happened…but no, she had just texted Greg in grad school, and he told her we were at the house.  Brenda was excited that she had gotten her driver’s license, so she and her brother, Fidel, stopped by. 


Around 10:00, Greg got home from grad school, and the five of us sat and talked on the couch, and I think I laughed harder than I had all week.  Brenda is crazy!  It was 11:00 before everyone left and our kids were in bed. 

So really…”nothing happened” that night besides a deep conversation with an amazing friend, my husband’s completion of his summer grad school course, his giving of a GREAT presentation in class, and a happy group of friends in our living room, laughing until we cried.

Friday was a much-needed “home recovery” day.  I did nothing besides clean, organize, hang out with my kids, and then grill out with my family and have dinner together on the back porch.  “Nothing.”

And today, nothing happened besides having dinner with some great people:



So that’s it.  As you can see, nothing really happened this week.  Nothing besides coming home to a surprise from my mom; getting some much-needed time with Greg; visiting with my best friend, Courtney; spending some quality time with Anna; feeling amazing love from the little girls at church; hanging out at the zoo with church friends; catching up with my friend, Caroline; celebrating with Brenda and Fidel; and eating dinner with our long-time friends, Heidi and Michael.

Honestly, when I first thought over this week, I thought of its stressors:  things that were really not worth blogging about, simply because they are unoriginal and there’s not much I can even do about them.  But looking at my pictures reminded me of all the blessings of the week, all the times where God’s love and faithfulness were showered on me through my physical family and my church family.  I really think that God purposely lavished me with love this week from His people, and that love filled me with joy and peace.  In the One Year Bible this week, I read Romans 8, which reminded me that nothing can separate me from that love.  Looking back at this week’s blessings, I see how true those verses are.

And that’s a lot of comfort from a week where, really, “nothing happened.”

The Lamest New Year

It’s no secret that I love the coming of the new year. A natural navel-gazer, I relish this time where the general population actually engages with me in self-reflection, evaluation, and the forming of resolutions. And even though January 1 is just one day like any other, I like the idea of starting the new year off right, by engaging in the practices and habits that I hope to continue throughout the year. For whatever reason, January 1 has become deeply symbolic to me.

That’s part of why I was so disappointed that my whole family was sick this year.

Our New Year’s Eve celebrations are usually fairly lame, but this year was especially so. Greg, though ailing, was at a party for the teens at church while the rest of us sickies ordered pizza, watched Netflix, and went to bed at 8:00. We were all snoring by 9:00. A few hours later I woke up with a fever and chills. It was 12:35.

Happy New Year.

This morning saw a continuation of the “yuck.” Anna seems relatively unscathed, but the rest of us are battling this viral ickiness. After breakfast (take-out from McDonald’s because that’s the precedent I want to set for this year…), I crawled back in bed and stared at the new prayer journal Greg had given me for Christmas. The one I had saved until January 1 to start using:


Ugh. How do I “carpe” this day, I wondered. After all, Greg and I had already ruefully laughed at his comment that, “It looks like January 1 is going to be the first wasted day of 2014.” But I opened my prayer journal, thanked God for bringing us through to another year, and asked Him to show me what it meant to live fully even in the midst of sickness and less than ideal circumstances.

Throughout the rest of my day, I feel like I got my answer to that question. A few days ago, my mom and I were talking about how to figure out what God wants from us in this life. For me, I feel like the answer to that question comes from looking at the resources He’s given you. And today, my resources were different than normal. I didn’t have a healthy body to serve Him with–none of us did. And our bodies all needed rest. So rather than feel frustrated by this lamest of New Year’s Days, I decided to embrace reality. We all rested, and I did so not resentfully, but gratefully. I was grateful for the chance to rest, to nap, to have ample time to read the new history book Greg got me for Christmas. I was grateful for a husband, who, though sick himself, made heroic forays to the outside world to bring us sustenance and medicine. I was grateful for Netflix and Chromecast, for one child who is a great “sick kid,” and another who is excellent at entertaining herself while the rest of us are down for the count. Sickness aside, there was really so much for which to be grateful.

So really, it wasn’t that bad of a January 1, all things considered. After all, I want the first day to set the tone for the whole year, and today, I was reminded of the importance of rolling with the punches. I don’t want to spend 2014 fighting reality or getting upset when my plans don’t work out the way I want them to. I want to accept the life that God gives me, and to use all my available resources to live a life worthy of Him. And sometimes I just have to understand that my resources will be less than normal.

Hopefully, we will all feel better tomorrow. But even if we don’t, I hope that I can react to whatever life throws at me with grace and pluck and not fall apart when my well-laid plans dissolve.

I hope that for you, too.

Happy New Year.

Minds for the Kingdom

Two different things have recently made me very excited.

The first one was reading this book:


I would highly recommend this book to anyone who works with kids in any way, be they a parent, an educator, or even a volunteer at an after-school program.  Basically, if you come in contact with kids and want to help them in some form, then this book is for you.

In a nutshell, the book lists seven essential qualities that all people need in order to succeed in this world.  Then, by gleaning from psychological studies, it gives practical suggestions for developing these qualities in children.

And in case I lost you at “psychological studies,” let me reassure you:  they are fascinating.  It is amazing to see how the mind grows and develops.  Let me give you a quick example that I shared at our opening women’s class:

Imagine taking a six-month-old baby and sitting her in front of a puppet show.  The puppet show is wordless and simple:  There is a hill.  A circle is trying to walk up the hill.  A triangle comes and tries to push the circle back down the hill.  A square then comes and helps the circle.  The end.

Next, the triangle and square are set in front of the six-month-old, enabling her to reach and grab one to play with.

Which one do you think she grabs??

You might think, “Hey, she’s a baby!  It doesn’t make a difference to her.  She will grab at random.”  But no.  Almost 100% of the time, the baby will grab the “helper” puppet to play with.  Sometimes in the test, the helper is the triangle; sometimes it is the square.  It doesn’t matter.  Even at that age, a baby can recognize a helper.

Babies know more than we think.  And it’s never too early to start equipping them for life.

Here’s the thing about the book, though.  These seven qualities?  They aren’t just for children.  Like I said earlier, these are qualities we all need in order to succeed in life.  And I’ll take it one step further:  These are qualities every Christian needs in order to be effective in God’s Kingdom.

That brings me to the second thing that has made me very excited lately.

This year, I’m teaching a women’s class on Wednesday nights at my church.  I’ve never really taught a women’s class before, nor have I really considered it “my thing,” but for some reason, I am just giddy at the idea of getting to meet weekly with the amazing women at my church and to discuss ways to live fruitful lives in God’s Kingdom.

For the next eight weeks, we will look at each of these qualities in class.  We will see what the Bible says about them, and we will talk about personal and practical ways to pursue these qualities in our lives.  My hope and prayer is that our time together will be equipping:  I pray that this class will give us each practical, scriptural tools that will help us as we try to serve God.  There will also be a very pragmatic component with tips on developing these qualities in our children.  However, even with this child-focused angle, my hope is that women without children will benefit from this class.

If you live in Nashville, we welcome you to come join us on Wednesday nights at Woodbine Family.  Dinner is served at 5:15, and we start class around 5:45.  If you don’t live in the area, but want to follow along, I invite you to join our Facebook group, Woodbine Family Women’s Class.  In it, I will post weekly links to recap posts like this one, our weekly Bible reading guide, and hopefully start some online discussion about our topics each week.

We would love to have you join us as we seek to develop minds for God’s Kingdom!


What Do Bella Swan, Harry Potter and Superman Have in Common?

I remember once trying to explain to my husband the appeal of Bella Swan, the heroine of the Twilight series.  He had watched the first movie (very much against his will) and came out quite unimpressed with ol’ Bella.  I, too, was (and am) somewhat mystified by her success as a relatable character, but there was one part of her personality that stood out to me.  In the book, I explained to Greg, the vampire hero, Edward, can read people’s minds…but he cannot read Bella’s.  That makes Bella very mysterious and attractive to him and hints that there is something special about her, even though Bella outwardly does not seem unique in any way.  My theory then was that the phenomenon of what I call “unmerited special-ness” really appeals to girls.  I think that we hope that there is something very special about us that one day, someone will be able to see…even when nothing outwardly shows that we are special.  Thus, Edward’s inexplicable fascination with Bella is deeply appealing to us.

Now that I’m reading Harry Potter for the first time (don’t judge me), I’m starting to think that this longing is not just limited to girls.  Indeed, one of the most striking aspects about the first Harry Potter book is that the reader gets to vicariously experience Harry’s unmerited special-ness.  See, Harry is famous–a legend, even!–for an event that he doesn’t even remember or understand.  Somehow, as a baby, he survived a deadly attack and seemed to simultaneously vanquish a powerfully evil man.  Because of that, Harry is famous and admired, and a heavy sense of destiny surrounds him.  Apart from that central event, however, Harry is just as normal as can be.  He displays all the emotions–the longings, the pettiness, the love and hatred–of an ordinary human being.  As book 1 continues, we see more explicitly that Harry’s power derives not from his own merit, but from the love of his mother.  In other words, his lineage is what makes him special, not his inherent goodness of character.

Thinking about Harry’s inherited power makes me think of Superman.  Even though I have never really followed the Superman character through comic books or movies, I know the rudiments of his story line (plus, the trailer for the upcoming movie was a good refresher).  As with Harry Potter, Superman’s power–his special-ness–does not come from some inner merit, but instead is in his bloodline.  Put simply, he is an alien of a superior race, and because of this physical heritage, he is powerful and special.

What’s interesting to me is how well that archetype of this special-by-birth hero plays in America.  I can see why it would resonate in Europe, for example, since their histories echo with concepts like inherited nobility and divine right of kings.  But America, with our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, Protestant-work-ethic-inspired “American dream”?  You would think our superheroes would all look more like Batman, who changes the world through determination, rebellion, and full use of the earthly resources available to him. You would think that the image of an inherently special hero, blessed through no merit of his own, would not be so appealing.

And yet it is.  I wonder why that is so.

I have a theory.  My theory is, simply, that people want to think that they are special.  They want to think that they are destined for greatness somehow.  And yet, they also know themselves.  They know that they are, in general, ordinary people with the ordinary amount of strengths and weaknesses, and that, on the surface of it, there is not much about them that seems uniquely special or predestined.  And yet…they still hope.  We still hope.

What’s cool is that, as Christians, I think we have a story that speaks to that hope.  The story of the gospel is that we are that archetype of unmerited special-ness.  We were created as children of an all-powerful God, who has a destiny in mind for each of us.  And that destiny is nothing more or less than a chance to have a relationship with Him and partner with Him to further His Kingdom on this earth.  As Christians, we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).  God’s workmanship?  Is that not unmerited special-ness?  Good works prepared in advance by God?  Is that not destiny?

So often, the people I talk to–even Christians–lack this incredible vision for themselves.  We love Harry Potter and Superman, not because we relate to them, but because we long for what they have.  Instead, I think we should read about Harry Potter and Superman and think, “Hey, that’s me, too!”  I think that having that vision is so important.  Without it, we become stagnant and hopeless.  My goal a witness for Christ is to share that vision with the people with whom I come into contact.  I find that people these days don’t simply want to “be saved.”  They don’t want to just stay in line and follow the rules.  They want a purpose, a reason to be here.  I believe wholeheartedly that the Bible supplies that purpose.  Our challenge is to communicate that purpose in a way that gives them hope and excites them.

Like the Harry Potter series and Superman comics, the Bible has  good story to tell.  Unlike those first two, though, the Bible’s story invites real participation.  I think that as a church, we need to give that vision to the world.

Citizenship 101: Ethics in War

This blog was inspired by an experience I had the other day.  I plan on sharing the experience itself soon, but for my own understanding, I had to process it on a philosophical level first.  Thus, even though this post is largely theoretical, just know that it serves as a reaction to a practical scenario.  

I believe that life in the Kingdom is marked by the fruit of the Spirit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  And yet, I can’t help but notice a lot of martial imagery, even in the New Testament.  Reading Paul, it would appear that as citizens in God’s kingdom, we are also soldiers.  At least, that’s how Paul refers to his fellow Christians:  in Phil. 2:25, he calls Epaphroditus his “fellow worker and fellow soldier”; he also describes Archippus as his fellow soldier in Philemon 1:2.  Similarly, he instructs Timothy to “endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” and reminds him that “no one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs–he wants to please his commanding officer” (2 Tim. 2:3-4).  Perhaps you could argue that Paul is just using figurative language, but it seems to me that Jesus’ kingdom talk could be viewed similarly.  Right now, my conclusion is that as much as one is a metaphor, the other is a metaphor; as much as one is real, the other is real.

But wait–how can we be soldiers when Jesus tells us repeatedly to do such wussy things, like,

 “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:38-45).

Seriously?  What kind of soldier does not resist his enemies??  Why would Paul refer to us as fighters, if we are not supposed to fight?

The reason for this seeming discrepancy is that in Paul’s language, people are not our enemies.  According to him, “ our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).  And thus, he tells us to outfit ourselves in such a way as to wage war with these enemies:

13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”  (Eph. 6:13-18).

Okay, so our enemies are not people, and our weapons are not guns, hatred, anger, or poisoned words; instead, they are truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, God’s Spirit, His word, and prayer.  Those might sound kind of lame and ineffective compared to brute strength or biting rhetoric, but Paul assures the Corinthians that God’s weapons are all we need:

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

Our weapons are powerful, and they are perfectly suited to our mission.  But what is the mission?  Reading Paul’s words about our enemies, I must admit I get a little confused.  “Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”?  What the what?  And demolishing strongholds?  Huh?

I get some insight into the big picture from Paul’s words just a chapters earlier in the same letter.  Here, Paul does a great job of clearly laying out what we are supposed to be doing as Christians.  In these verses, I find the ideas that hold everything else together:

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Cor. 5:14-21)

See, our mission is not to destroy people; it is to save them.  Our number one goal is to reconcile the people to God.  And strongholds?  Those are the things that separate people from God.  Paul says as much when he describes strongholds as “arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 5:5).  In short, the picture I get is that our “enemy” is anything that separates man from God.

Here’s another big point:  it seems that God’s system has evolved in this area.  See, in the Old Testament, the Law commanded that the Israelites stone people for several different offenses.  The purpose of that brutality seemed to be to cut off evil from the group.  According to the Law, it would seem that the enemies of God were people, and that you overcame said enemies by literally bludgeoning them to death with rocks.  And, you know, that gets confusing when you compare it to Paul’s words (not to mention Jesus’).  In fact, I don’t really know what to say about that besides two things:  it didn’t work (evil was always present in the Israelites), and the New Testament gives us more sophisticated weaponry.

To me, it’s the difference between fire bombing a city and using strategic missiles to take out specific, high-value targets.  For all the casualties that the first causes, the second is actually more effective.  You can stone people all day long, but you aren’t going to beat the devil that way.  And also?  Stoning people is horrific.

So Jesus and Paul aren’t backing down.  They aren’t being wusses.  They are being more precise in their definition of enemy and more sophisticated in their tactics of taking him down.  Their ways have far less civilian casualties.

Here’s one way Paul describes our new fighting tactics:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.

21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Rom. 12: 17-21).

Here is another way:

“We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God;with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;8through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6: 3-10).

Okay, that’s all I have for now.  Here’s my (current) conclusion:  as citizens in God’s kingdom, we are also called to be soldiers.  Our mission:  to reconcile man with God.  Our enemy:  the devil and his schemes to separate man from God.  Our weapons:  righteousness, goodness the “armor of God” in Ephesians 6.  Our tactics:  loving people.

Right now, this is all theoretical, not to mention constantly evolving in my brain.  Hopefully, I’ll give you a scenario that puts some flesh on these ideological bones soon.  Until then, I’m open to any suggestions/revisions!

Be a Force for Good

I was sick the month of January.

It’s February 1, and I’m still sick.

I tell my class that one day they will get to meet Healthy Kim, and I assure them that Healthy Kim is a delightful person.  Now don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I’ve been on death’s door the whole time.  Rather, I seem to be on an alternating course of a semi-healthy congestion-and-cough stage, which inevitably transitions into a feeling-like-I’m-going-to-die phase.  After a few days of the latter, I will resolve to Go. To. The. Doctor….but then I’ll start feeling better.  Unfortunately, during my feeling-like-I’m-going-to-die phase, my house begins to look like I have, in fact, died, and that I’ve left it with no one to take care of it.  Greg does his best to pick up the slack, but in between his full time job and taking care of the kids while he is home, there’s not a lot of time for deep cleaning.  The result is that on days like today, following a feeling-like-I’m-going-to-die stage, my house looks like a bomb went off in it.  The downside of the carnage is that I do not have the energy to whip it back into shape.  The upside is that the chaos allows me to meditate on what it means to be a force for good in this world.

See, when I walk out of my bathroom, and see a piece of laundry on my bedroom floor, my instinct is to pick it up.  When I do pick it up, however, only to see fifteen other pieces of laundry strewn across the floor, my instinct is to drop the piece of laundry back onto the floor and simply exit the room.  My reasoning is, “I am way too tired to pick up all that laundry, so why should I waste the energy to pick up one piece?  One less piece of laundry on the floor makes no difference in the big picture; the room still looks trashed.”  And then I walk into the kitchen and have the same experience with the dishes, and I move into the playroom and repeat the reasoning in the midst of all the toys.  Finally, I tend to sit down on the couch, defeated, and check my Facebook.

Thankfully, I’ve found a line of reasoning that works on my overwhelmed and exhausted mind in times when the chaos of life threatens to overtake me.  Instead of making any kind of definite goals (actual levels of productivity being well beyond my capabilities in such compromised states), I simply tell myself to

“Be a force for good.”

In other words, don’t worry about the mess.  Don’t worry about the chaos.  Don’t think about the effort it would take to get this room cleaned.  Simply do something that will help the situation, not hurt it.  And so, as I pass through the kitchen, I will move one coffee cup from the table to the sink.  Just one cup, and I won’t even load it in the dishwasher.  And then I’ll tell myself, “Good job, Kim!  You were a force for good!”

(Yes, I actually do this.)

And then when I go to rest a second on the couch and find that there’s no room on it, I will tell myself, “Rather than push everything into a big pile, hang up that one coat, which will clear you some room.”  And I hang it up, and I congratulate myself again.  It goes on like that for awhile:  I do little, insignificant actions that don’t make the house look any better, but that make me “a force for good.”  See, even though I don’t see the results, I know that I made a little difference in the dynamic of my house.  Instead of causing chaos, I brought just a smidgen of order.

What inevitably happens is that my tiny actions start to change my mindset.  Gradually, I will be a force for good no matter where I walk in the house.  At one point, I may even decide to make a bed!  Or unload the dishwasher!  Or fold a load of laundry!  The hardest part is to get the ball rolling.  Once I start to move, however, I gradually become more and more of a consistent force for good.  But when I first survey the carnage, it is almost impossible for me not to fall into despair.

I have the same reaction when I survey the chaos of the world.  When I start to think of all the broken lives around me (not to mention those around the world)…and I begin to contemplate the amount of effort it would take to get involved in just one…and I begin to comprehend what a drop in the bucket all that effort would ultimately amount to….my temptation is just to say, “Forget it!”  And walk away.  Step over the piece of laundry, and exit the room.

I don’t think I’m alone in that temptation.  I know that, for example, whenever I talk about trying to buy fair trade chocolate, the most typical reaction I encounter is of the overwhelmed soul who sees fair trade chocolate as the 15th piece of laundry on the floor and wonders what the point is in picking up that one.  And just as it seems ridiculous that I cheer myself on when I move one coffee cup to the sink in the midst of a disastrous kitchen, it seems strange to people to choose one product to avoid, when there are so many other “bad” ones out there.  To such people, I just want to say,

Be a force for good.

If fair trade chocolate doesn’t ring your bell, then find out what does.  Or better yet, ask God where He wants you to start.  The bottom line is that once you start being a force for good, however tiny, your actions will eventually transform your mindset.  You begin to identify yourself as that positive force, and your new-found identity will start to run over into other aspects of your life.

In the end, the world may not be transformed…but your life most certainly will.

How are you a force for good?

Keep Calm and Carry On

Apparently, I like to begin my blog posts with a confession.  I just think it’s a good way to clear the air.  Anyway, today’s confession is that I love cheesy music.  I like “cool” music, too (Mumford and Sons is cool, right?  I don’t even know anymore), but I also love a good, cheesy song, with a nice beat.  For example, I am always happy when Kris Allen’s “Live Like We’re Dying” comes on the radio.  It’s peppy, it’s upbeat, and it’s a great reminder that life is short and that we need to make the most of it.  The other day, I heard a song with a similar premise.  It’s a song by an artist called Pitbull (as I just found out while googling it), and the chorus says this:

“Tonight I will love love you tonight
Give me everything tonight
For all we know we might not get tomorrow
Let’s do it tonight
I will love love you tonight
Give me everything tonight
For all we know we might not get tomorrow
Lets do it tonight”

See how it’s similar?  Both songs are written in light of the premise that life is short–that “For all we know we might not get tomorrow.”  And thus, Pitbull advises, the best course of action is to,

“Grab somebody sexy tell ‘em hey
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight.”

Now, you may notice there are some obvious differences in the content of the two songs.  Granted, Allen’s advice is a little vague, but basically, he counsels us to examine our lives (“start thinkin’) and to “turn it all around” instead of “throw it all away.”  Given his well-known religious beliefs, it makes sense to interpret the lyrics in the light of our need to follow Jesus and live “life to the full” (John 10:10).  On the other hand, Pitbull advises the listener to drop all social inhibitions and to embrace mindless hedonism.

It strikes me as I listen to these songs that you can tell a lot about a person by seeing their reaction to the idea of imminent death.

You can tell what’s important to them.  You can see the heart of their beliefs.  You can see which of their ideals are real and concrete, and which are merely abstractions to be dismissed when push comes to shove.

The first song, for example, holds onto ideals in the face of death.  The second one seems to let go of all of them.

Which do we do?

Our current culture seems to be obsessed with our imminent doom.  As an American and a Christian, I am forever hearing that my way of life is in danger, that the foundations of my country are in peril, that my economic system is collapsing, and that my religious freedoms are eroding.

Maybe they are; I really don’t know.  Or maybe all generations are so fearful.  I don’t know that, either. I’ve only been on this earth for 31 years, so I can’t tell you the atmosphere of past generations.  I only know that since the beginning of my memory, I have heard these predictions of doom from teachers, preachers, politicians, and others.

I guess I’ll see the truth of these predictions soon enough.  In the meantime, I am fascinated by the reactions to the idea that we might lose everything we’ve ever known.  In particular, I’m intrigued (and often saddened) by the ideals that we Christians are willing to shed when “push comes to shove.”

When we are threatened with dangers from every side, real or perceived, we find out what we truly believe in, and what we are really capable of doing.  In those times, we face the temptation to compromise our Christian ideals for what Lee Camp calls “the idolatrous conviction that our survival is more important than any other value.”*  We face this temptation as we talk about politics, online or in person.  We face it when we decide whether Ephesians 4:2 and 4:29 are real truths to be observed or whether they are irrelevant to something as “important” as an upcoming election.  We face this temptation as we think about our country at war and what behaviors we will support as Americans.  We are rightly appalled by the idea of countries who torture their citizens and who seem willing to use nuclear weapons if they had them…and yet, do we also support torture and joke about “nuking them all and letting God sort them out”?  We are faced, in other words, with the temptation to become like that which we oppose.  We are faced with the temptation to throw out Jesus’ fairly clear words and to instead become more like our enemies.  We are faced with the temptation to use the weapons of the world and to try to drive out Satan with Satan.  It doesn’t work.  All it does is make the fight irrelevant.  If there are no more good guys, then what does it matter who wins?

In the midst of these fears, I want to tell my fellow citizens in God’s kingdom to Keep Calm and Carry On.  I have loved this slogan, used briefly by the British in World War 2 (according to my five second research via Wikipedia), ever since I first heard it.  It really encapsulates something I love about stereotypical “British” behavior: the idea of staying calm in the face of disaster, of not panicking.  Sometimes, when I hear dire predictions of what is going to happen to this country if so-and-so is elected or such-and-such law is passed, I just want to look at my the doomsayer and say, “That makes it all the more important that we do not compromise our values.  We cannot throw out the words and teachings of Scripture.  We must continue to strive to imitate Jesus in all that we say and do, just as we always have.  Keep Calm and Carry On, my friend.”  I mean, really, if we really are on the brink of some sort of major collapse, do you want to go out looking just like your enemies?  Let’s do it like Jesus and die right.  

In the face of the fear of losing everything, let’s not take Pitbull’s approach and throw out all restraint, trusting our survival instincts to guide us into truth.  What really strikes me about the Pitbull lyrics are how hopeless they are.  There are no ideals behind his song; the lyrics don’t reflect a belief in anything. And I honestly think that same thing when I see Christians (including myself) act in ways that are totally worldly…and then act like those ways are justified by our extenuating circumstances.  When I catch myself wanting to fight fire with fire, I often have to stop and think, “Am I really that hopeless?  Do I really have that little faith in the power of Jesus’ words?”  It’s the sad truth that, according to my actions, I sometimes am that hopeless, and I sometimes do have that little faith.

Instead of the Pitbull approach, I want to take the approach of the Mumford and Sons lyric, which tells us to,

“Hold on to what you believed/

In the light/

When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight.”

In this tense election year, we will inevitably discuss and examine what is best for our country, both internally and abroad.  My prayer is that we do this in a way that doesn’t negate our beliefs in Scripture.  My prayer is that we continue to live lives of love…real, self-sacrificial love.

My prayer is that we Keep Calm and Carry On.

*Quote from:  Camp, Lee.  Who is my Enemy?  Grand Rapids:  Brazos Press, 2011.  91.

Just For Fun

An interview with Jim Lepage came across my blog feed yesterday.  He is a graphic designer and a Christian who read through the Bible and drew graphic representations of each book (and more than one of some).  I clicked on his website and was utterly fascinated by his work.  I think he is really talented, and it was cool to see his perspective on the different books.  He clarifies in the interview that his intent was not simply to “sum up” each book with one image, but to capture the thing that jumped out at him the most, even if it was just a small verse.  As I looked at the pictures, I kept thinking, “Ooooh, I should give _________ this one!”  And then I thought, “How on earth am I supposed to give them an internet image?”  It occurred to me to use my blog, since most of the people who popped into my head were recent commenters.  So I decided to “give” (read:  show) one of these images to each of the people who commented on the last three blogs (in no particular order):

To Courtney, I give James, in honor of our Beth Moore study:

Word: James

To Larry, I know I should probably give 2 Timothy, but instead I’ll give I Peter, as a nod to our most recent discussion:

Word: 1 Peter

To Ann, I give I Corinthians…because it just reminded me of you:

Word: 1 Corinthians

To Becky, I give Ephesians:

Word: Ephesians

To Tim, I give Isaiah, in light of our shared love for the forties, fifties, and sixties:

Word: Isaiah 2

To Mr. Gardner, I give Romans, because it reminded me of your comment on the Karl Barth post:

Word: Romans

To Aimee, I would have given Psalms, because of our mutual love for Psalms 1.  But he really went a different route with Psalms.  In its place, I’ll give you this Hosanna one because I like it, and it reminds me of the praises from the psalms:

Word: Crucifixion (Hosanna)

I think that’s everyone who commented.  If I left anyone out, let me know, and I’ll “give” you one, too:).

I highly recommend looking at all his representations because a lot of them are pretty incredible.  I will warn you that there are a few that are risque and perhaps offensive.  Like Lepage said in his interview, he values “honesty over propriety.”  So…consider that fair warning.

If you do look at his pictures, I’d be interested in hearing which one is your favorite!

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