Archive of ‘faith’ category
I think it’s time we had a little chat. You’ve been going to church for a while now. Since, well, birth. You’ve heard the gospel clearly articulated. You’ve earned your Awana badges. You’ve sung WAY COOLER songs than the Psalty the Singing Songbook gems I was raised on. You’ve been around the evangelical church block a time or two in your relatively short lives, and I’m grateful.
But as thankful as I am for the solid, Christ-exalting churches that we’ve been a part of over the years, it’s come to my attention that maybe we’re missing the mark in one particular arena. We do a great job teaching you Bible stories. We push hard to get those “memory verses” in you. We talk to you about quiet times. We talk about true love waiting. We talk and we talk and we talk. But as I’ve watched the news and listened to the voices and followed the social media (ohmygosh, the social media) over the past months, I’ve wondered if we’ve actually spent so much time and energy talking and teaching you how to be “good little boys and girls” who don’t wear this and don’t say that and don’t sleep around and don’t don’t don’t that we forgot how we DO treat one another. I think we’ve forgotten to teach you to be brothers and sisters and co-laborers.
So, kids, as we strive to do better and as you grow up and dream of your future, I have some of my own hopes and dreams for you as your mom:
Let’s start with you, girls.
I’m going to waste zero time and cut to the most crucial piece of advice I could possibly offer here and then work back from there. Because I know it may feel out of place, but trust me- you get this one right and so much will follow:
Girls, study God’s word. Read it. Learn it. Historically, so many of the theological heavy lifters have been men, leading countless women to position themselves in the shadows- with a cursory, anemic understanding of Scripture- assuming that they simply couldn’t understand what the seminary trained theologians could. FALSE. If you learn anything from me, it’s that you, my girls, are more than capable of studying Scripture for yourselves. Full stop. This is critical because the way you understand Scripture will completely shape how you view God and, in turn, His redemptive narrative and His creation.
Because you, girls, are a vital part of this narrative. A narrative that all points back to the Creator and King who deserves all of the glory and praise. But sometimes people get this confused. Sometimes people start to get tiny tastes of power and glory, and they become intoxicated. And with that power, they might start to relegate others into boxes that feel comfortable and non-threatening. That’s why you see so many strong, brilliant women within the church stuffing their God-given gifts. Because the message that’s been conveyed to them for years has sounded a lot like, “You know? You’re just a little too much.”
When those moments arise, girls, I need you to keep your eyes and heart locked in on Jesus and His infallible truth. Stay humble. Remain teachable, receiving Godly input well. But. After that. Don’t be afraid to shut the negativity out and run hard in whatever lane God calls you- whether that’s in the home, church, or marketplace- without guilt or condemnation. God gave you those gifts and passions to use for His kingdom and His glory. Get after it.
A final word of warning, girls, and this is important. Protect yourself from becoming jaded. These days, there is a lot of heated dialogue surrounding men versus women in the Church and the world at large, and rightfully so. A lot has happened, and a lot of women have been and continue to be profoundly hurt. Tragically so. But hear me: men are not the enemy. Sin is. Look around you as you grow up and notice the multitudes of men surrounding you, affirming your gifts, having your backs, and cheering you on as you run hard after what God has called you to. See the men who are tirelessly combating the lies the world may be shouting about your worth. See them, girls, because they’re your brothers, and we need them. Let’s do our part to build up this brotherhood and sisterhood within the Church.
Which brings me to a word to my son.
Son, if I could offer up one piece of advice to you, it would be this:
Remember the brotherhood and sisterhood. Remember your family.
No, I’m not talking about your biological family here. I’m talking about all of the people- male and female, black and brown and white- that you’ll come across in work, play, and worship throughout your days. Because the sad truth is that some Jesus-following guys just get… weird… around girls with time. Don’t be the weird guy. Girls don’t have cooties and they certainly don’t need to be feared; it is indeed possible to work alongside them, learn from them, and be led by them without lightning striking you dead.
In all seriousness, I pray that you would have eyes to see the kingdom of God as a family of brothers and sisters rather than temptresses and threats. I pray that you would be able to approach the family of God without prevailing feelings of distrust and suspicion. Oh how I pray that you would unapologetically and without hesitation stand up for those who might not be in power. That you might use your platforms, power, and privilege for good and for God’s glory. You need your sisters in the church, and they need you. Because when we work together, each with our individual gifts and in our given lanes and within the bounds of Scripture, yes- that’s how the Church is supposed to function.
And a final word to all three of you:
God has created men and women with equal value and dignity and worth. In his perfect design, He has created us with different functions and roles, but don’t you dare let anyone try to tell you that different equals inferior. If you settle on an inaccurate view of the worth and value of your brothers and sisters within the church, I fear you’re settling on a woefully incomplete view of God. And for this the Church will indeed suffer.
Because that, you guys, is what this is all about. Not about puffing out our chests with all of the power we can possibly exert. Not about the issues we champion or the camps with which we march. It’s not about our identities as strong women, faithful employees, husbands and fathers, movers/shakers/world-changers but about our identity as beloved children of the God who deserves all of the glory. Our greatest goal, therefore, is not in proving ourselves to the watching world but in professing Christ to a world who desperately needs something greater to watch.
We can do this. Let’s start small, and let’s start with us. And one by one, we can link arms with brothers and sisters ready to get on with this. There’s work to be done, and we’ve wasted enough time bickering, competing, and silencing. Are we a family or what? Okay good, I thought so. Onward.
So, here we are. Six weeks into our pre-Malawi training with one tiny week remaining. Years of prep- of seminary courses and church planting cohorts and books upon books- are behind us, and in just a matter of weeks, we’ll be standing on African soil. Our family of five. In our new home.
One might think that all of these weeks, months, years of preparation have surely left us feeling well-equipped and fully capable of tackling this task that lies ahead of us. Surely, we’re patting ourselves on the backs with hardy “you got this” words of encouragement.
In fact, all of this training- all of these many, many hours of prep work- have left me all the more confident that I, indeed, am exceedingly incapable of this task that lies before me.
All of this training has squashed any remaining notions of self-sufficiency and has left me praying a pretty simple prayer:
God, I need you. Help me to be okay with needing you. And help me to keep needing you every day.
I breathe these words in and out, day after day. My desperate battlecry against my bent toward self-sufficiency.
God I need you.
My intellect, strength, and abilities can only get me but so far, and as it turns out, “but so far” comes up way short. I could have never breathed life into my own lungs, nor do I have the power to sustain the life He has granted me. I need His strength. His peace. His joy. His righteousness. I can spin my wheels all the livelong day, but at the end (and beginning and middle) of the day, it is God who I need. Not my own abilities.
Help me to be okay with needing you.
It’s one thing to cry out, “Lord I need you,” but it’s a whole ‘nother deal to actually be okay with it. Because real talk? I’m often not. I know I can’t do this life on my own. I know I’m weak and in need of strength. I know I can’t save my own jacked up self. I know these things. But I hate them. So, I buck hard. I resist. I say one thing but believe another. I become my own functional savior.
It’s as instinctual as breathing to me. As if I can’t inhale the prayers of need without exhaling my acknowledgement that “THIS IS SO HARD.” But what if God’s glorified when He meets our every need? What if the Bible’s true and God’s strength actually is magnified in our utter weakness? If God’s glory is our aim, should I not be okay humbling myself in weakness and lack?
And help me to keep needing you every day.
We’re getting a bit crazy on this one. I might as well be asking God, “Make me REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE, Lord. Every. Single. Day.” Actually, it’s just like that.
But if I’ve learned one thing in recent months, it’s this: the more I need God, the more I know Him. And the more I know His character, the more confidence I have in expressing my need. Because, in God’s kindness and faithfulness and justice and goodness, I can trust that He’s going to come through for me. Every time. Maybe not in the way I desire. Maybe the path won’t be the easiest. And there could very well be days marked by more questions than answers.
But this I know for sure: He will draw me in close. He will remind me of who He is. And, because of this- because of who He is- I have everything I could possibly need for life and lasting joy.
So, to the self-sufficient ones… to the ones who want to run the show… the ones who need no one and nothing… the ones who have GOT THIS… join me. Come along as I wave my white flag. Because when we surrender our idol of self and turn instead to the sufficiency of Christ, we never walk away empty handed. He will meet our needs, yes. But better yet? He gives us Himself. And He will never, ever disappoint.
A lot has gone down over the past few months, huh? You packed and repacked bags, crated your bikes and baby dolls, and sold whatever was left. You said goodbye to that backyard fort you worked so hard to construct, to the school that was such a great fit for our family, to a life that seemed to work just fine. You said goodbye to consistency. To “normal.” To dance. To the only church you’ve ever known. To our dog. Oh my word, our dog. You have done some really hard things, kids.
I’m so, so proud of you.
But let me shoot straight with you for a second, okay?
Things are about to get even more crazy.
In just a few months, you’ll board a plane here in America only to land on African soil with all of its foreign smells and language and customs and just about everything. And there you’ll stand, a stranger in a foreign land, expected to assimilate and adjust and find home in all of the strangeness.
In just a few months, junk is about to get real. FAST. And, if I’m straight up with you, I have no clue how all of this is going to go down. How will your first day of school go? How will that first holiday away from cousins and grandparents and normal be? Will we catch on to the language? There’s no telling.
But here’s the thing, you guys. I know life seems to be shifting in seismic ways right now- and I recognize that it can be alarming that your parents don’t have all of the answers (SHOCKING, I know)- but in this season of unknowns and drastic change and more-questions-than-answers, I want to assure you of a few things that I know for sure and forever.
1. You’re not God’s ultimate gift to this world.
People are people. And kids are kids. Sin is sin. And we all need rescuing. Including you.
We do not love others- and we will not serve and love our Malawian neighbors and friends- from a pedestal. We’re not moving halfway across the world to swoop in as Americans who know better. No, guys. We’re going to link arms with our brothers and sisters in Malawi. To learn from them. To be the church. Together.
There is no us versus them. There’s just a we. A “we” who might do things differently at times. Who might speak different dialects and who might prefer varying cuisines. Who might do school and sports and free-time differently. But nonetheless, a humanity-wide “we” navigating this broken world together.
So, open your eyes wide, kids. There’s a beautiful and messy world out there waiting for you. A world filled with people who are more like you than different. So, love big. Serve extravagantly. And as you do so, just remember that you’re not God’s greatest gift to this world. Jesus is.
2. God’s presence will always go with you.
Jen Wilkin aptly says, “When we trust [God] as fully present everywhere, we are finally free to be fully present wherever he has placed us.”
You guys, there will surely be times when life just kind of stinks. You might be lonely. Afraid. Sad. You might feel like throwing a fit and slamming every door and screaming, “How and why did I end up here?”
And that’s okay. You can feel these things and have these days and still know that God is right there with you in the mess. You will never, ever be alone.
You can go in confidence because God himself goes with you. You can do hard things- things like moving and selling and saying endless goodbyes- because God is with you. And when you walk into that new school in a new country for the very first time, you can walk in knowing that he is right there with you. WITHIN you. Comforting you. Guiding you. Strengthening you.
Kids, you have been jostled around enough to make anyone dizzy over the past few months, and honestly? The jostling is only about to pick up more speed. But I pray- man I pray- that God’s constant presence and unshifting goodness can provide the stability that your dad and I can’t promise right now. We can be fully present anywhere he places us because he is always and forever fully present with us.
3. God’s glory is always worth it.
If I sit down and think about it, I could come up with one heck of a laundry list of reasons why we shouldn’t pick up and move to Africa. Kids, I know you could too. I’ve heard plenty of them already anywhere.
But pitted against a thousand and more reasons not to go, declaring and spreading God’s glory is going to win out every. single. time.
If we believe- like REALLY BELIEVE- that “from him and to him and through him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36), we’ve gotta live like it. We have to live like “all things” means all things. And when things that fall under this umbrella of “all things” happen- language faux pas, difficult relationships, lonely holidays- we can remember that he’s in complete control, and his ultimate aim is to be worshipped. For his name to be made great.
Ultimately, he’s going to get his glory, guys. There WILL be a day every nation, tribe, and tongue is around his throne worshipping. The cool thing is that he lets us be part of this. And man is he is worth it.
4. You are not mine.
Alright, you guys. This one is harder for me than you. Here we go:
Carson, Mary Grace, and Elizabeth- ultimately, you are not mine. You’re not mine to have and hold and keep forever. You’re not mine to coddle and place in an iron fortress of protection. You are gifts- some of the greatest, most precious gifts imaginable- given by God above.
A while back, our pastor, JD, got all up in my business when he said, “When God designs a child to be shot out like an arrow—and instead we treat that child like a piece of furniture that we plan to keep in the house—we not only stunt their development, we also discourage them from finding God altogether. In protecting them from all of life’s challenges, we show them a picture of our faith that is dismally boring. And where your depiction of faith is boring, they will drift toward more interesting things.”
You guys, there is nothing- not one single thing- that is more exciting than following God. Hear me, though- exciting does not always mean safe. It certainly doesn’t always translate to comfortable or easy, and as a mama, this is sometimes difficult for me to stomach. But, at the end of the day, God created you for to be shot out as arrows into this broken world. I love you something fierce, but God’s love is unimaginably fiercer. You’re some of my greatest earthly blessings, but earth is not your home. Heaven is.
So, dear kids, this is all exciting and challenging and beyond anything any of us are capable of. YOU DON’T GOT THIS. Nor do I. Be encouraged.
I love you guys. Let’s do this.
It all started with a boy. Sorta.
“Dad. You wanna know why I love (name omitted to protect the innocent i.e. her BROTHER’S BEST FRIEND) so much? Do you know why I looove him and why I want to MARRY him? BECAUSE HE LOVES DUKE. AND he loves Jesus. That’s why.”
First, the girl is brilliant. Best way to get under her big brother’s skin? Make a quick and borderline-aggressive beeline for his best friend.
Second, Matt’s response:
“Uh, well. That’s great, Mary Grace. I mean- Duke AND Jesus. Good call. But I have a question- you talked about him loving Jesus, but are you a follower of Jesus?”
This snowballed into the best kind of late-night parental conversation. The gospel. A decision. Prayer. Next steps.
And tears. So many tears. Even more than discussing future spousal prospects with our eight year old, the tears are what caught us by surprise.
“It’s just that- deciding to give up control of your life to someone else feels kind of scary,” she said. Like, you really, really, really have to trust someone a whole lot if you’re going to give him TOTAL control over your WHOLE LIFE.”
Oh sweet girl, truer words have never been spoken. This following Jesus gig isn’t a sure-fire guarantee for health, wealth, and prosperity. You’ve seen enough and experienced enough in your short eight years of life to appreciate this. But here’s the thing- when we cry out- when YOU cried out a few months ago- “God, my life is yours,” we’re not following with some blind, naive trust. This is not some spiritual-sounding exercise in holding our breath, crossing our fingers, and hoping for the best.
No, we surrender to a God who has promised us his forever presence. A God who fights for us. Advocates for us. Provides, protects, loves, and guides. There is no need to sit around anxiously hoping and wishing for the best when we have the presence of the almighty God who already gave us the ultimate: His Son.
So yes, Mary Grace. Your teary reflections were spot on. This life of following Jesus takes A LOT of trust. And if you’re anything like me, there will be days when this trust of yours wavers and your faith feels shaky. You might have doubts, and you’ll surely have questions. But I can promise you one thing: even when this happens- even when you’re at your unsteadiest- God’s love for you is unchanging. He will never leave you. He will never turn his back on you. And his plans for you are good. Maybe not always easy. Maybe not always comfortable. Certainly not always predictable. But always, always good.
I tried something new this summer. A family-wide, sync’ed up Bible reading plan through the book of Romans. It all started off grand. The kids had their darling new Kids Read Truth books, I had my iPhone app, and we all had some pretty solid intentions. We’d read Scripture. We’d talk about it around the dinner table. We’d strum harps and sing Kumbaya.
And we’d fail epically. Or, at least so it would seem.
I mean, we read it. Most of us at least, though all at different paces and with varying degrees of whining. I’m pretty sure we rehashed Scripture around the dinner table a grand total of thrice. And the harp sadly never made its debut.
As we approached mid-summer, I began to feel frustration creep in. Once again, my lofty expectations did not align with our summertime reality. Once again, parenting looked a lot more like a hodgepodge of messy moments than shining examples of family discipleship. And, once again, doing A + B wasn’t exactly equaling happy, compliant, Bible-loving children. No, A + B was simply driving me to an 8pm bedtime, overwhelmed and defeated. Romans and all of our well-written, beautifully-designed Bible reading plans could SHOVE IT thankyouverymuch.
Then there was that day several months ago. It was just another day when Carson approached me at bedtime in a completely nonchalant way. “Hey mom, I’m ready to get baptized.”
Pause for a second. For a solid year now, we’ve been having conversations with Carson about his faith in Jesus. And, for a solid year now, he had remained fairly adamant that he didn’t want to get baptized. He didn’t want to stand up in front of people, and he didn’t want people looking at him. It felt awkward and it felt scary and he just wasn’t ready.
So we backed off. We’d stand by him, encourage him, pray for him… but this was something that he and his logical, analytical little brain needed to hash out. Just between him and God.
So, I pressed a bit. “Dude, that’s awesome!” I said. “But, I’m just curious. How’d you get to this point? How’d you come to this decision?”
“Romans,” he responded, shrugging his shoulders. “I just read Romans.”
Funny how that works. We, as parents, spin our wheels, workworkworking to see our kids to follow Jesus. We use all the latest tools and read the best, most gospel-centered parenting books, desperate to be all that our kids need us to be as parents. And yet, at the end of the day, we’re reminded that what our kids really need from us is a signpost pointing back to Jesus. Back to Scripture. We quickly learn that we can spin those wheels all the livelong day, but the power to change their hearts lies in the Spirit alone.
So, Carson. Thanks for this reminder. This reminder that I can buy all the right books and say all of the right (or wrong) things, but I’m still not in control of you guys. And, you know what? That’s actually a really beautiful and freeing (and sometimes really really terrifying) thing. For BOTH of us.
Buddy, we are so very pumped for your decision to get baptized last weekend. This felt scary and risky to you, and you did it. Scared. Which stands in pretty close resemblance to what this crazy adventure of following Jesus is all about. But here’s the really awesome thing: we can do hard things scared because we know His presence goes with us, before us, and behind us. We can do hard things scared because we have His very word to guide us along the sometimes rocky way.
You know this. Dude, you saw this with your own eyeballs and experienced this with your own life this summer, but let me just remind you once again that His Word is truth. This world may lead you astray. Heck, I MAY EVEN LEAD YOU ASTRAY SOMETIMES. (I know it’s exceedingly hard to believe, but I’m not perfect.) Scripture though? It can be trusted. HE can be trusted.
We’ve got your back, buddy. Our big, messy church is chock-full of people who love you and who have got your back. And that God of the Bible who you met in Romans this summer? He’s totally got your back. So get after it. We love you so much.
It was just another morning. Just another meeting. A gathering of professionals, conference room brimming with degrees and smarts. The best of the best. I settled into my seat and looked around.
“Well, shoot,” I thought. “I FOR REAL don’t belong here.”
And from there, it spiraled. Fast.
“What if someone sees me? Sees me for who I really am? Sees that I clearly don’t belong within their ranks? What if I’m found out?“
I wanted to jet. Stat. I wanted to peace out before the secret was out. Before anyone else had the chance to point out the imposter in the room.
Shortly thereafter, it happened again. I had posted something online. A Facebook status, maybe. An innocuous quip that prompted someone to throw out the “w” word.
“Wise.” She called me wise. The hairs on the back of my neck bristled. “Delete!” I thought.
I wanted to pull the plug on putting my words out there. Because if I quit writing, people wouldn’t mistake me for something I wasn’t. I didn’t want to be found out.
Or I could tell you about the church meeting I sat in. With a whole slew of Jesus-loving, Bible-knowing people. People I love and respect. Church leader sorta people. And, yet, all I could think was, “Out. I gotta get outta here. Don’t they know that I haven’t been to seminary? That I’m not nearly as articulate as they are? I’m a nurse and a mom… a far cry from a fancy ‘Professional Christian.’ I. Do. Not. Belong.”
Same song, different verse. All with a common trailing thread and same toxic theme:
Hear me when I say- this is not about humblebrags. This is not a veiled plea for a pat on the back and a hearty “No, no, Catherine. You belong! You’re great!” No, this is a confession of how my heart can turn in on itself. It’s an acknowledgement of sin. It’s my head nodding “me too” to any of you who may live in the fear of being seen.
I know enough about myself to know this full-well: when I’d rather quit while I’m ahead than finish the work God has set before me… when I allow myself to become preoccupied with the feeling of not belonging… when I’d rather peace out that be found out… my eyes are focused squarely on me. I’m hinging everything on my feelings, while tossing truth to the side.
Feelings lie. But the truth?
Well, I’ll let King David do the job for me. Hang on, friends. This is good.
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,’
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.”
In short? You’re already found out, my friend. So am I. We can flee and we can cover up and we can believe lies about ourselves all the livelong day, but we’re not about to escape the reach of our omnipresent and omniscient God.
So, dear mama who is knee deep in child-raising… The mom who cringes when she hears, “You’re doing a great job, mama! Keep it up!” Because SHE knows the truth. She’s well-acquainted with her messy house and often-messier attitude. “Little do they know,” she thinks.
Dear businesswoman who’s kicking tail and putting in the hours at her job… Who’s climbing the ranks and earning the accolades but has a nagging sense of dread. Dread that someone, someday, will view her for who she truly is. An imposter. A wanna-be.
Dear ministry leader who is running hard after good things… You who tirelessly train, lead, teach, and disciple. You who, in the quiet of the night and in the still of the day, still find yourself questioning, “Do I have what it takes? Are my Bible smarts up to par? Is my prayer life robust enough? Am I ‘good enough’ to be leading these people? What if someone sees me for who I really am?”
Dear anyone anywhere who has ever feared being found out, I have a few questions for you. A few points that have been helpful in my own journey and with my own VERY REAL ISSUES.
1. Am I placing more value on who God says I am or who others perceive me to be?
2. Am I placing more emphasis on who God says I am or who God says HE IS?
3. Am I more interested in presenting a perfected version of myself to the world or an already-perfect picture of my Savior?
4. Is my quest for belonging and identity misplaced? Am I looking for my identity in an earthly job, role, or organization?
5. Do I spend more time lamenting my own weaknesses or praising God for the strengths and abilities of others?
6. If my fears come true, and I am seen for who I really am- if I am found out– what then?
Listen. If your biggest fear is being found out, then let me just fill you in on a little secret.
It’s already come to fruition.
You don’t need to fear being found out; you’re already perfectly known by the One whose opinion holds all worth. He looks at you with eyes of love and with a spirit of mercy, grace, and kindness. He sees you and says, “You’re right, my daughter. You don’t measure up. Not in the least. You’re not enough. But in me and with me and through me and because of me, you are whole. You’re not enough, but I totally am.”
And that, my friends, is where freedom is found. Rather than wringing our angsty little hands and crying, “Heaven forbid I’m found out,” we can pray, “God of of the Heavens, find me, see me, search me, and know me.”
And he will. And he does. And, still, he loves.
So, if my life is laid bare for all the world to see, I pray that people would look long and hard. But I pray that they would gaze right past me. That they would see Christ and his strength in my weaknesses. I pray that any strength or gifting I may have would herald the Giver of everything good. And that they would see his grace and mercy completely overtaking any and every sin in my life.
Maybe I have nothing to fear after all. Maybe this whole “being found out” thing- maybe it’s a gift after all.
Last weekend, our sweet Elizabeth Francine was baptized. For the second time. We weren’t there for the first.
I am told that Elizabeth was first baptized as an infant in the local church near her orphanage. The denomination of churches to which we belong doesn’t do infant baptisms, and yet, I have always been jealous that I missed out on this. I picture her sweet little frame held close as the life of baby “Francine” was dedicated to God. I imagine fervent prayers being offered up to God by the body of believers in that remote eastern Congolese village. “Lord, be with this child.”
Meanwhile, back in the States, an equally fervent body of believers was praying. Praying as our adoption process stalled and halted and picked back up again. Prayed as we learned of a little girl who needed a family. Prayed, “Lord, be with this child.”
And He was. And He is. Several months ago, Elizabeth began talking seriously about following Jesus. We prayed and talked and prayed some more. “Baby girl,” we said. “The decision to follow Jesus is not always easy. It’s going to be an adventure- the greatest and sometimes hardest adventure you’ll ever go on. But our God goes with us.”
Lord, be with this child.
So, Saturday night, Matt looked into Elizabeth’s eyes as they stood in front of our church. “Elizabeth, do you believe Jesus has done everything necessary to save you? And do you promise to do whatever He tells you to do, and go wherever He tells you to go?”
And as she went down into the water, the tears came. Because the Lord has indeed been with this child of ours. This child of theirs. This child of HIS.
I wasn’t there for Elizabeth’s first baptism, but you better believe I was front row and center this go ’round. And I’m not sure I’ve seen a more technicolor picture of our God’s faithfulness. Ever.
So, to that little church in eastern Congo, I say, “Thank you. The Lord has heard your cries.”
And to her unbelievably strong and deeply resilient Congo family who, since Elizabeth’s birth, has begged the Lord for her salvation, I say, “Thank you, the Lord has heard your cries.”
And to our village here in the States who has come alongside our girl and our family to speak truth and love over her life, I say, “Thank you, the Lord has heard your cries.”
And to our faithful God to whom salvation belongs, I say, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
It starts young.
“Good little girls do this.”
“Real Christians don’t believe that.”
“If you wanna be cool, you better put on a pair of these.”
“If you’d like to belong, here’s what you need to do.”
“Color in the lines, child. Don’t rock the boat. Clean yourself up. Gotta look presentable.”
Belonging. We all crave it. No one wants to be the square peg desperately wiggling to fit in a round hole. Or the lone one outside the box when everyone is safe and cozy within.
Just recently, I turned to Matt and announced in more-than-slightly melodramatic tone, “Maybe it’s me. I guess I’m just BROKEN. NO REEEEALLY. Is something wrong with me? Clearly, something is wrong with me.”
And then, the floodgates just opened as I went on.
Maybe I’m just too passionate.
Too much this. (And, often, not enough that.)
I feel like I don’t belong anywhere.
Perhaps you’ve been there. Maybe you’ve felt like something is… off. Like you just don’t belong. Like maybe your passion is too big or your beliefs all wrong. Maybe you glance sideways and see the huddles. The groups of people who seem so alike in all the right ways. They’re not too much, nor are they too little. They don’t rock the boat. They color in the lines. And they fit ever-so-neatly in all the right boxes.
Maybe it’s that you feel like you’re too liberal. Or too conservative.
Too outspoken. Too silent.
Too political. Too unengaged.
Too Baptist. Too Catholic. Too Presbyterian, Methodist, or Pentecostal.
Too much law, not enough grace. Not enough law… easy there on that grace.
The truth is, it’s easy to feel a bit unhinged over all of this. Like you just don’t fit in. Even at church. Especially at church.
But what if…
What if we were never designed to be boxed in? What if, rather than hiding out in our own comfy little boxes, our goal is to be hidden in Christ? To know Him. To enjoy Him. To share Him with others.
What if we could be okay with our Creator’s work? So what if our passions and words and days don’t look precisely like all the others, so long as our eyes are locked in on Him, just doing the next right thing.
What if, rather than this elusive idea of “fitting in,” our greatest relational objective is to see one another as God’s image-bearers? What if our eyes were trained to look straight through boxes and walls and differences to lock in with our peers- all different and unique in their own ways? To say “I see you, and I see you, and I see you too.”
What if our identity could be so secure as a child of the sovereign, holy, unchangeable One that we could stomp out our comparison games once and for all? What if, rather than obsessing over our differences and questioning our belonging, we make a deliberate decision as the body of Christ to be a united front? Because there’s work to be done. And we have- no, I HAVE- wasted too much time on comparisons.
Here’s the thing, friends. God does not view us as too much or too little, too weak or too strong. Because we’re vessels created in His image for His glory. Vessels fearfully and wonderfully created by the masterful Creator who makes no mistakes. Vessels for God to use for HIS purposes in HIS strength. We don’t need to shine ourselves up or tone ourselves down. We simply need to come with empty hands saying, “Alright God, this is what you’ve got in me. Have at it.”
And He WILL. He’ll have it, alright. But, spoiler alert: this initially looks a whole lot like our own sanctification and realignment. We’re so eager to put our “yes on the table” and do great things for God, but often God is saying, “Whoa, hang on now. I know you want to use your passions and your giftings, but let’s start with me. Let’s talk about who I am.”
We say, “My passion is just too big.” He says, “I’ll show you passion,” while pointing to the cross.
We say, “I’m too weak”, and He reminds us that His power is amplified in our weakness- that He alone is enough for us.
We say, “I’m just so tired,” and He shows us the rest found by abiding in Him.
And when we say, “I just don’t belong“… well, THE ETERNAL AND IMMORTAL GOD looks at us and calls us HIS.
So, fine. Maybe I am passionate at times. Maybe I do have a bleeding heart that can cry at the drop of a hat. Maybe I’m too much on some days and too little on others. Maybe I champion all the “wrong” things and don’t fit in a single box around me. And maybe you, too, can relate.
But, for the love, let’s just agree on something right here, right now. Let’s agree to stop apologizing for who God made us to be. Let’s stop bemoaning and belittling His creation. Let’s drop that whole “I’m too this, not enough that, WOE IS ME” act because I annoy even myself with that mess.
Let’s pause. And, sure, take inventory of the gifts, personalities, passions, and abilities our Creator has placed within us, leveraging every last drop of it for His fame and glory.
But, let’s keep first things first. Christ as our primary identity, chief goal, and greatest treasure. Because when we’re hidden in Christ rather than hidden in our own personalities and ideologies- when HE is our greatest prize and highest goal- nothing. else. matters.
One mission. Singular focus.
Coloring in the lines and fitting in the boxes is SO LAST SEASON anyway.
Oh hey, February. I see you. I know 2017 is old news and everything, but listen. I’m not ready to move on without first addressing 2016. Because goodNESS it was a year. One of those game-changing, life-rocking years that will not be soon forgotten.
It’s funny, really. Because on January first of 2016, I determined that “rest” would be my one word- my primary mission statement- of the year.
I wrote about longing to do and to be and to be used up by God. I can just sense my passion spilling out onto the keyboard as I typed. And still, I felt as though God was telling me to stop. To wait. To rest in Him.
And so I did. I pulled back and pressed in. I begged Him to reveal Himself to me. And I am here to say, my friends, that those kind of prayers never, ever return void.
Over the past year, God stretched me and pushed me so far outside of my comfort zones that it’s laughable. I’ve found myself on a stage and I’ve found myself overseas and I HAVE FOUND MYSELF INVOLVED IN FREAKING WOMEN’S MINISTRY FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.
Is it unbiblical to say that God’s surely ROTFL? Because I’m pretty sure that’s precisely what’s happening right about now.
But here’s the thing. This crazy year- all. of. it.- flowed straight out of a deliberate season of rest. I have found that the greatest rest often comes when I’m busy seeking His face. I saw this and lived this close up. And as He taught me His character anew, it’s if He slowly released me out, saying, “Alright, kid. Now go live it. Follow me. Eyes straight ahead. Keep in step with my steps. Just keep doing the next right thing and the next thing after that and just keep stepping and stepping.”
And as I’ve stepped, followed, fallen, and stepped again over the past year, here’s what I’ve learned: Our God is loving, and He is kind. He is quick to forgive and slow to anger. He is righteous and good. But our God is not safe. He doesn’t call us to “be still and know that [He] is God” so that we can sit around and bless our little hearts within the confines of our Christian bubbles. No, that verse that we love to quote? It’s preceded by this:
“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling…
‘Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!'”
I mean, just check out that imagery right there. Mountains trembling. Waters roaring. The earth crumbling in.
You see, sometimes it gets messy. Scary. Uncomfortable. Sometimes our footing will get slippery and our ground shaky. Sometimes God will jack up our sense of comfort. Sometimes, he’ll ask if you’ll go, and you’ll say, “well, crap.” Sometimes, you’ll wave your arms around wildly like an obnoxious school kid yelling “me! me! me! pick me!”, and He’ll say, “No, not you. You wait.”
No, God’s not safe. But we’re safe with Him. Because no matter where he sends us or where He keeps us, he has promised His presence. He’ll always be with us- leading, teaching, giving grace for every impossible moment.
2016 taught me that God’s not afraid to get all up in our faces and in our spaces if the end game is our focus and affections ultimately directed toward Him. If experiencing His presence is the ultimate win, then God forbid I get comfy doing this life on my own. Lord, keep launching me into scenarios my stubbornly independent spirit simply cannot handle without you.
Man, I don’t know. I started off 2016 with “rest” as my theme and goal, and God really jacked with my life and heart. In the best way possible. Because, God.
That said, I don’t even know what to think about my goal and theme of 2017:
If assuming a posture of rest got me into THIS much trouble, maybe I’m just asking for it in 2017.
But, God, YES. Interrupt me. May I cling more tightly to Your holy design than my daily agenda. May my days be rearranged at a moment’s notice. May my priorities be realigned. May I pour out from the rest I’ve found in You. Lord, interrupt me.
And all God’s people said… “hang on tight.”
As you know, tomorrow is a big day for our country. Donald Trump will be sworn into office as the next President of the United States of America. Occupying that same big, white house and following in the footsteps of such predecessors as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson, all eyes will be on President Trump over the coming four years.
That’s the thing about leadership, kids- it’s a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. People watch their leaders closely. People listen. People mimic. Leaders set social mores and solidify cultural norms within their sphere of influence. It just so happens that the presidential sphere of influence is deep and wide.
But, guys, listen. As a new president steps into the oval office this week, and as we stand witness to the inevitable change he has promised over the coming weeks and years, I need you to know something. I need you to know that even the most powerful human in the world would have no bearing on your own moral code. And I need you to hear me when I say that our family will never be swayed or defined by behavior and attitudes deemed “normalized” by our society.
Kids, here’s the deal. This is how it’s going to go down tomorrow:
You’re going to wake up, and you’re going to get dressed and go to school. It’s going to be business as usual. You’re going to work hard and obey the rules and show kindness to your classmates. And then, you’re going to come home. And when you do, we will have a new president. And you know what? The American flag will still be flying, and our God will still be in control. Truth will still be truth. Our hope will continue to be firmly rooted in Christ. And our family’s rules, expectations, and norms will be completely unchanged.
Because, in our home, we will not live in fear of any leader or policy or perceived threat, for we know our Keeper, and we know that He alone is sovereign.
In our home, we will not place our faith in promises of economic change and prosperity, for our God is the manna-provider, and we believe in radical generosity no matter what.
In our home, we will throw open our doors to those on the fringes of society, knowing that those are the very people to whom Jesus gravitated. When the world’s eyes are closed to the outsider, our eyes will lock in and say, “I see you.”
In our home, we will be slow to speak and quick to listen. We will speak the truth in love and will use our words for good and not evil.
In our home, we absolutely will not support the normalization of anything that goes against scripture, no matter how counter-cultural this may be. We will live by the norms set by Christ Jesus Himself, chiefly love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
In our home, we will respect others. This means that we will respect our elected officials and those who voted for them. Likewise, we will respect those who stand in adamant opposition and who are mourning the transfer of power. We will look around and see our peers, colleagues, family, and president through the lens of the gospel, recognizing that we are all broken sinners in desperate need of grace and mercy. And that not one of us can be saved by our own merit or goodness.
Listen, kids. Learning to lead well is so very important. Still, our lives do not rise and fall based on the power of any earthly ruler or authority. And no role model, no matter how charming, competent, or smart, is worthy of our complete allegiance.
So, in summary, I guess my message is this: Don’t be like Donald Trump. Or Abraham Lincoln. Or Rosa Parks or Malala Yousafzai or Steph Curry or Beyonce. (Though, let’s just be real. If you’ve got pipes like Bey… I claim lifetime first row seats at your concerts.) Don’t strive to be like Moses or Peter or Paul. And if you have your mom and dad on some pedestal, I hereby give you permission to knock us down. Because, you know what? Every one of us is deeply flawed, and we’ll all ultimately lead you astray.
Carson. Mary Grace. Elizabeth. Hang with me; this is important.
In our home, we will always, always point you back to Jesus. You’ll see plenty of leaders and influencers come and go. So, go ahead and take note of the good. Of the ways in which they lead with excellence and model what is right. Meanwhile, don’t forget to learn from the bad. From their mistakes and missteps.
But, at the end of the day, remember- any good you see in this world is found in its fullness and completion in Jesus. And kids, no person is ever, ever too broken for His mercy.
There’s only One who keeps His promises every. single. time. One who loves perfectly, no matter the sacrifice or inconvenience. One whose kingdom will never, ever fade and who will be worshipped by every nation and tribe, color and dialect.
And I have one clue for you: it is certainly NOT our president.
So, let’s land there tomorrow, kids. And every single day that follows.