September 1, 2015

The Importance of Having an Eye for Those Who Are New

It's that time of year! Many people have transitioned to new places and they are popping in to visit churches in their new cities. As that is happening in our city and our church, I continue to think back to the post below. I hope it is an encouragement to you as you seek to welcome others.

In the 14 years we've been married, my husband and I have only searched for a church home one time. It was during our seminary years, when we were first married and he had not yet become a pastor. After that season, he was hired by a church and then, 8 years later, we started one, so we've experienced church a little differently than most. 

But I will never forget being a visitor and, honestly, the experience has shaped almost everything I do in our current church. 
As a visitor, I remember being nervous and uncertain, but mostly I remember being eager--eager to find our "family", make friends, hear the Word preached clearly and powerfully, eager to worship, and eager to belong. When we weren't spoken to Sunday after Sunday, our eagerness deflated quickly. It still makes me feel uncertain when I think about it. 

Until you are new, until you're a visitor, it's difficult to understand what it's like and to put yourself in a visitor's shoes at your churchbut it's so important to try. A warm, welcome, and helpful environment is one of the most essential ingredients for a person to become a follower of Christ and grow and connect within the church.

A sweet friend of mine just moved away to a different state this past summer. She wrote and told me of the loneliness and uncertainty she's feeling, especially in her and her family's efforts to connect to a local church. This is a woman who loves the Lord and, while mothering young children, sacrificially served in our church. She is eager not only to connect but to serve where God has taken her. She wrote what she wished others could see, which I'm sharing with her permission:


"It is the first day of Bible study. I am in a new town and have had a hard time making new friends. I have looked forward to today, to an opportunity to meet some sisters in Christ, hoping to find My People in the midst of a storm. Please make me feel welcome. 

I come to the steps of the church. I have a child on each side, and a stroller. You all say hello, then watch as I try to lift the stroller up the stairs. Please help me. 

I am in a new place. I don’t know where to go and don’t see any signs for where to bring my children. Please direct me. 

After dropping off my children, I meekly walk back toward the main entrance. I don’t see any signs directing me where to go. Good! There are some moms behind me! I will wait for them, smile, and ask if I can go with them.  I try to make eye contact. They continue with their laughter and conversation and walk around me. Please just say hello. 

I finally find the sanctuary, yet I don’t feel safe. I see all these sisters in Christ. But they all seem to know each other, and are not interested--or at least don’t seem to be interested--in making a new friend. Please help me find a place. 

I bow my head and pray. I ask the Lord for the strength to get through the morning, and that I will now respond to others the way I wish someone had responded to me. Please, Lord, let me feel your presence when I feel so alone.  Let me find my place at Your feet.

I see a friend, the one person who has reached out. She smiles and makes room. Thank you for being like Christ and showing love."

My sweet friend is in a time of transition, as are many people at the start of this new school year. We will all more than likely encounter someone new in our churches and our neighborhoods this very week. Let's ask God to give us eyes to see the outsider, the new person, the lonely. Let's push through the awkward and interact with them. Something as simple as a helping hand or a warm welcome can show them the love of Christ and invite them into a community of believers. We may even have the opportunity to introduce them to Christ Himself.

August 26, 2015

Claire

People ask me how I'm doing since she died.
I cried in the peanuts and cashews aisle at Costco, I say.
That's how I'm doing.

She died on August 14th at 7 pm. We had been with her in her hospital room just moments before, taking turns going in to say goodbye. Her name was Claire. She was my friend.
Life is a mystery, which we see most saliently in death.

I've wanted to write about her like I would a eulogy, but like her husband said at her memorial service, you can't sum up a person's life in mere words.

I simply see the snapshots of her that intrude my thoughts as I lie down to sleep or as I'm stirring dinner in the saucepan at the stove.

Dinner. She and her family came over for dinner this spring, and it must have still been chilly outside, because she wore a coat, a long black coat. I remember what we ate. I remember that she sat to my left at the table. She gave me a bottle of vanilla, real vanilla, that she'd brought back from her time away receiving treatment. It sits in my pantry, wrapped in the burlap ribbon but missing the fragile purple flower she'd tucked in its knot.

Missing. She is missing the cool in the air today. She would've insisted we enjoy our drinks outside on a day like today, she with her hot tea and me with my coffee. She told me about her cancer on just such a day last summer. I remember I got to her an hour late because the highway was closed down. The highway is never closed down, but it was that day. She told me about her illness and the tears immediately sprang up. I reached across the table and held her hands and prayed.

Her hands. At the end, she couldn't speak because of the trach; she could only mouth words or write shaky letters too difficult to decipher. Mouthing words took energy that she didn't have, and so she dozed off easily. When she'd open her eyes, she'd raise her hand up. I learned quickly this was her signal for me to hold her hand. And so I did, praying and talking and praying some more. Her hands were soft and warm, and though familiar already, I studied them thirstily. They reminded me of her children's hands.

The children. We talked so often about our children. I'd ask her questions about mothering mine, and she'd, year-by-year, describe what it was like to send another off to college. She fought so hard to stay alive for her children. I held the hands that reminded me of her children and I told her what a delight they are, what a good job she's done. She smiled and mouthed, "Thank you." And if there is one good that has come from this, it's getting to know her children, especially the one who spent hours on our couch this summer.

This summer. I didn't expect this summer. I haven't wanted what it's given. But if I know anything now in this mystery called life, it's something that I learned this summer--that God doesn't run way from pain and death. He ran into it and He runs into it still. He swallows up mortality with unending life.

Life. Her race is finished. But her life goes on. She is free from that hospital bed and from mouthing words and from discomfort and from machines.

The machines. I won't forget the beeping, the pulsing of air. The cords. The smell of the hospital. The nurses. The bed. Her feet sticking out. Was she cold? Did she hear me praying? Did she hear me saying how thankful I am to have known her?

Know her. I cannot know her further. There are so many questions I'd still like to ask her. I thought I'd be able to get to those. She was reserved and private, a mystery that I'm left to solve with a limited number of clues.

Clues. I have many clues as to what she loved and even some clues to who she was before she came to faith. She spoke of her children, praying, and Jesus. She chose simple lines and hot tea. She gravitated toward nature. She didn't care about outward appearance, yet she dressed and carried herself with elegance.

Elegance. At our mutual friend's wedding a few years ago, I did a double take because she looked so elegant and beautiful. She was wearing makeup, and it was the first time I'd ever seen her in it. I kidded her about it, and someone took our picture together, and her eyes are closed, and yet somehow she still looks beautiful.

Beauty. If I stop and listen for it, I can hear the cadence of her voice when she prayed. It was beautiful, a different cadence than when she spoke, a lilting, childlike sound that conveyed absolute assurance she was heard by her Father.

Father. He has made a way for her through death. He has made a way for those left behind to be brokenhearted yet also rejoicing. I would have despaired if I thought I would not see the goodness of God in the land of the living. Claire is in the land of the living.

Living. Life continues on. Decisions have to be made, even the small ones, like whether or not nuts are a good choice for the reception after a memorial service. I cried among the nuts at Costco, because I didn't really care whether there were nuts in the first place, because I didn't want to be going to a memorial service for Claire. I want to see her again.

The Costco cashier, seeing my basket brimming as my tears just had been, asked breezily, "Having a party?"

"Something like that," I said. "A celebration of sorts."

Because that is what a life of faith warrants. And because I will see her again.

August 20, 2015

The Everyday Question of Motherhood

As a mother, there is a constant, uncomfortable battle that rages inside of me. It is not the big or dramatic: Will I raise my children to love God? Will I train them to obey Him? Do my children belong to Him? Those big questions were settled a long time ago.

The constant battle of motherhood is more subtle, more everyday, more hideable. At the center is one question: Will I sacrifice?
The Everyday Question isn't answered one time, with the birth of a child, with the planning of school, or with the decision to discipline. This question Will I sacrifice? is answered everyday.

It’s answered when a child wakes early with a need, interrupting my quiet hour alone with the Lord. It’s answered when a sick child keeps me from worship and adult interaction at church on Sunday mornings. It’s answered when I am emotionally spent, but a child’s behavior requires my patient, purposeful response. It’s answered as I systematically teach my special-needs son how to interact with others.

In motherhood, the Everyday Question is answered every time a child’s concern or need must come before my own. (And as every mother knows, this is most of the time.)

Too often, I attend to necessary tasks leaving the stove to help with pant buttons, helping to search for a beloved toy, excusing myself from a conversation at church to take tired children home for a nap while my heart grumbles: If I just had one moment to complete a task or have an adult conversation without an interruption.

The Everyday Question asks not just about my duties, but also about my attitude: Will I joyfully pour out my life as a fragrant offering before the Lord for the benefit of my children? Will I serve my children out of obligation and duty, or will I serve out of the joy of serving God Himself? Will I die to myself so that I might live to God in the specific calling He has given me as a mom?

The Everyday Question must be answered everyday.

Because motherhood is not so much the big, dramatic acts of sacrifice, but the little, everyday, unseen ones. Because we can have a clean house and obedient children and not sacrifice. Because we are so easily deceived to think we can live for ourselves and be faithful to God in our ministry as moms.

Jesus said that those who live for themselves will have an unfulfilling life, but those who lose their lives for His sake will really experience life. As parents, our self-death for Christ’s sake not only produces fruit in our own hearts, but produces fruit in the hearts of our children, fruit that grows by the power of God. Let us choose to joyfully give of ourselves for our children.

Everyday.

"For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal bodies" (2 Corinthians 4:11).

"For the love of Christ compels us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:14–15).


August 12, 2015

Three Anchors for Ministry Wives {Podcast}

Almost every pastor’s wife I've talked with has at some point said the words, "I am not the typical pastor's wife." I've said those words myself a time or two, and it seems to me that what we're really wanting people to know when we say them is that we're not some weird, plastic person who doesn't live in the real world.

Becoming a pastor’s wife almost feels like we've been handled this weighty mantle or persona. We are treated sometimes as "other", like we're a creature at the zoo and everyone is stopping for a look from a safe distance.

The truth is that I've always been quite sure I'm not the typical pastor's wife, but it's taken me a long time to figure out what it really means to be a pastor's wife.

In all this trying to figure it out, I finally realized I was trying to make "pastor's wife" my identity. I was trying to rise to the challenge of the persona. And it wasn't working for me because it is not meant to be my true identity.

And, if you're a pastor's wife, it’s not yours either.

I’m not trying to throw off a role God has given me. I'm not encouraging you in that way either. I embrace and enjoy being a pastor’s wife. I find it an honor, sanctification on steroids, and an opportunity, but it’s not an identity to live by. It’s a role that gives me opportunities to serve, but it doesn’t tell me who I am.

In fact, I've discovered over the years that trying to live from a foundational identity of being a pastor's wife actually holds temptations that have tripped me up, caused me to sin, and caused me pain. If we try to make pastor’s wife our foundational identity, it is a false identity. If a false identity is our foundation, no matter how “good” it is, it becomes a heavy weight to carry around and is actually no foundation at all.

If a true identity is our foundation, it is a weight to hold us, otherwise known as an anchor. An anchor is any device for holding fast and securing firmly. Do we not in ministry need something to secure us firmly and hold us fast? We don’t need more weights to carry. We need anchors that keep us from tossing about when the wind and waves of ministry pick up. We need anchors that help us hold fast over a long period of time. We need anchors to help us navigate the rough waters of criticism and discouragement.

In Scripture, I am really drawn to passages where church leaders faced questions and temptation related to identity. How can they, who’ve gone before us, warn us about the temptations lurking in ministry and also point us to anchors of identity that will hold us and help us endure?

Please enjoy this talk I recently gave to a group of pastor's wives where I dig into this idea of ministry and identity: Three Anchors for Ministry Wives.

August 4, 2015

Amie Patrick on Eating, Body Image, and the Gospel

In April at The Gospel Coalition Conference, I attended Amie Patrick's session entitled "Eating, Body Image, and the Gospel". I went with the intention of learning how to better minister to women in my church who struggle with these issues and left with not only those lessons but nuggets of truth for myself. You'll definitely want to listen to it yourself.
Afterward, I connected with Amie and asked her if she'd answer a few questions on my blog, because I know many people--men and women--fall somewhere on a spectrum of shame and condemnation in their relationship to food and their own bodies. The gospel, as it does in every area of our lives, has something to say about these issues, and Amie draws these gospel truths out so well. She knows what she's talking about, because she's lived it and been set free herself.

Perhaps this is not your struggle. It's not necessarily a huge struggle for me, but I have at times noticed an unhealthy relationship forming toward food and my body. I do tend toward comparison and toward perfectionism, and this, of course, touches areas of body image. Even if it's not your struggle, as Amie says in her talk, we all will at some point have an opportunity to minister to other women who are struggling in this area. I pray that Amie's answers will help and bless you, no matter where you fall on the spectrum. 

Amie is married to Darrin, who is the founding pastor of The Journey Church in St. Louis, and together they have four children. While she is currently working on a book about body image, Amie and Darrin have a book coming out in November entitled, The Dude's Guide to Marriage: Ten Skills Every Husband Must Develop to Love His Wife Well

CH: How did your own issues with eating and body image begin?

AP: I realized that I was a compulsive eater when I gained thirty pounds in the first two months of my freshmen year of college. By God’s grace, I knew that there were likely some deeper issues motivating that compulsion, but I couldn’t pinpoint what they were and felt absolutely powerless to bring my eating under control. I was also profoundly ashamed and embarrassed that I had gained weight. In retrospect, I can clearly see that the roots of these issues had been growing for years, and that some challenging circumstances during that time just brought those issues to the surface in my physical body.  But I felt absolutely blindsided by what seemed like a sudden and all-consuming preoccupation with food, and even more discouraged that I was clueless as to what to do about it.

CH: You say that struggles with body image are opportunities to experience the powerful realities of the gospel. What do you mean?

Absolutely. I believe that God, in His mercy, often brings us to the end of ourselves so that we can see the depth of our need and the riches of His grace and mercy. Our struggles in this life rarely feel like opportunities to know and experience God more deeply and fully; more like awful expectations to try harder and prove that we can figure out how to improve on our own. But I believe that it’s only when we give up trying to rescue ourselves and rest in the reality that we are completely accepted by God because of Jesus’ perfect life and death on our behalf that we can find more freedom and joy than we ever thought possible. God’s acceptance through Christ creates a completely safe place for us admit and confess the depth and ugliness of our sin, and to experience forgiveness and healing (1 John 1:9).

God used food and body image issues in my life to expose how much I depended on myself and my own resources instead of Christ. For a long time, I really only believed that I was “ok” if I was at what I deemed to be an acceptable weight and was consistently making good choices about food. It was only when those things became seemingly impossible that what I really believed became clear. Much of my identity was based on my ability to perform, achieve and overcome all on my own. Although I never would have blatantly stated it this way, my functional reality was that I was justified by my own works, not by what Jesus had done for me. God is so merciful in that He doesn’t let us settle for less than all that is ours in Christ. Trying to prove your worth and earn acceptance is a terrible, hopeless dead-end. I firmly believe that continually growing in our understanding of these truths of the gospel is foundational to any sort of lasting freedom and transformation.

CH: There is so much shame involved with body image and food. As Christians, how do we overcome shame and have a proper relationship to our bodies and food?

AP: I think that we have to start with developing a biblical understanding of the purpose of food and our bodies. Both have functional purposes in this life, and both are meant to be enjoyed as gifts from God. Neither were ever meant to be worshipped or used as measuring sticks to determine our worth and value.

Many of us have deeply rooted patterns of expecting food, or mastery over eating and our bodies, to bring us contentment and fulfillment, which simply isn’t possible. And then we wonder what is wrong with us, why we can’t ever succeed with diets and exercise, or why we can't look good enough. There are a lot of people out there who lose weight, meet their food and fitness goals, and still aren’t happy. The idea that we can perform our way out of shame is a cruel illusion.

Shame is eradicated when we start agreeing with God, that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), In Christ, we can turn away (repent) of our attempts to use food and our bodies for purposes for which they were never intended, as well as unbiblical standards that we’ve allowed to be ingrained our hearts and minds. I had to repent of a long-held belief that being and staying overweight was one of the worst possible failures, which is definitely not a biblical truth. I didn’t even know that I believed that until I gained weight and experienced a disproportionate amount of shame and embarrassment. But that long-held belief was a lie that held me hostage, and it was only when I repented that I was able to let go of the unbiblical, shame-inducing standards related to what I ate and how my body looked.

CH: How can we relate with other women in a way that promotes a biblical perspective on body image?

AP: We have to start with ourselves. It’s crucial to identify what we truly believe about beauty and to examine how those beliefs do or don’t line up with God’s Word. Our culture has an extremely narrow and limited view of beauty, but God is the author and architect of all the beauty in the world, and one way that people reflect God’s image is through our physical appearances. We relate to others with words and actions based on what we believe in our hearts and minds (Luke 6:45). So if we believe things that aren’t biblical about beauty, it’s going to be reflected in the way that we relate to others. Jealousy, comparison, regarding others primarily according to their outward appearance, and attempting to prove our worth by constantly talking about our achievements with food and exercise are sins that begin in the heart. Adjusting our words and actions without examining our heart motivations and walking in humble repentance misses the point and doesn’t work long-term. 

I think we also have to be aware that most women struggle with some sort of woundedness and shame related to their physical appearance, including those who we consider to be the most beautiful people on the planet. It’s a huge issue, even for those that we assume have no reason to struggle.  Many, many women have been used, abused or regarded primarily for their beauty or perceived lack of it. The subject of beauty is a tender spot for a lot of us, and we desperately need understanding, compassion, and truth from the body of Christ in order to experience healing and see ourselves as God does.

CH: What are harmful responses to body image issues that are often given under the guise of biblical counsel?

AP: I think that many of us truly want to be helpful to others, but don’t know what to do or say. So we resort to statements that seem encouraging, like, “You look fine!” or “ I don’t know what you’re so worried about”, which can actually feel dismissive and patronizing. A few of my very well-meaning friends in college kept trying to assure me that I was beautiful and that my weight gain wasn’t a big deal, but when I challenged them that I didn’t really think they’d be ok with it if they had gained thirty pounds in two months, they had to agree they were operating from a double standard. A willingness to be a great listener, and to think deeply about how you would feel if this were your struggle is so important.

That kind of empathy builds trust that may allow you to be able to explore deeper heart issues with someone.  We often start on the surface with people who are struggling with food and body image, encouraging healthy eating, habit changes, increased exercise, accountability, etc. All of those things are important, but for those who have continually struggled in these areas, focusing primarily on outward, surface changes rarely works, and can be a means to avoid identifying and working through the deeper and bigger heart issues. Pulling weeds is good, but when the weeds have big roots, you have to uproot them in order to grow a beautiful garden. 

CH: For those who struggle with these issues, it often seems hopeless that lasting transformation can happen. What would you say to them?

AP: I understand that hopelessness, because it was my reality for several years. I begged God for a different issue, anything else, for a long time. It was very important for me to repeatedly refuse to settle for quick fixes, and to allow God to transform me from the inside out. There were always be a new diet or exercise trend out there that promises quick results, and sometimes delivers them. By God’s grace, I knew that what I really wanted was not just to be thin or fit or to make better choices, but to truly be FREE. Looking back, I can see stretches of time where I wasn’t losing weight or seeing huge outward changes,  but God was unraveling lies and deep-seated beliefs and sin patterns, little by little, one piece at a time. And gradually, I could see that I was being transformed from the inside out, and that inner transformation was producing visible changes in my behavior, habits and body. It wasn’t quick, flashy or dramatic, but it was real change.

A really important step for anyone struggling with this issue is to pray for and pursue safe people that you can talk honestly with, and who can encourage you towards inside-out change. We all need people in our daily lives who can remind us of the truth when we’re hopeless. God never gives up on us and He has promised to complete the work that He has started in us (Philippians 1:6).

CH: Have you experienced victory in the areas of eating and body image? And if so, how did you get to that place? What does "victory" look like?

AP: I definitely have. I am absolutely a different person with regard to food and my body than I used to be, and I consider that to be nothing short of a miracle, a reality that I struggled to believe was even possible.

Victory for me is about freedom, not a particular weight, clothing size, or perfect adherence to strict eating rules. It’s certainly not about perfect behavior or a perfect body. It has meant that food is not such a big deal to me anymore. I love great food and enjoying meals with others. But food is also “just food” and I don’t expect it to provide any sort of lasting comfort, fulfillment or peace. I’m also now much more free to enjoy the body that God has given me and all that it allows me to do. Stewarding my physical body well feels less like a prison sentence and more like a privilege. I have been able to lose weight when I’ve needed to, and to exercise consistently for the right reasons. Perhaps most importantly, in seasons when I’ve gotten a little off track, I’ve been able to return to healthy patterns without feeling like I was torturously starting over. 

Dealing with the heart issues behind my compulsive eating and shame towards my body was without a doubt, the primary factor in lasting transformation. Continually renewing my mind (Romans 12:1-2) has been vital.  Along with those things, on a very practical level, I worked a lot on awareness on what was actually happening in my physical body. I lived for a long time disconnected from what physical hunger felt like, how my body felt when I ate or didn’t eat certain foods, and what it felt like to be truly physically nourished from food. I learned how to pay attention to how my body felt when I was more or less fit, instead of just treating exercise as something I needed to check off a to-do list. 

One thing that I really tried and struggled to find was a community of people where I could be vulnerable  and grow in relation to these issues. Looking back, I’m ok with the reality that I may have struggled so hard to find it so that I could be a person that pushes to make sure we create truth-filled, encouraging opportunities for this kind of community in our churches. I’m convinced that true transformation is found in Christ alone, and I hope that we continue to work towards creating communities where people who struggle with food and body image issues feel welcomed, loved and encouraged by the hope of the gospel of Jesus.

July 22, 2015

I Believe; Help My Unbelief

Have you ever wrestled with doubt? I haven't so much doubted the existence of God as I have doubted the character of God. Barnabas Piper, author of the new book Help My Unbelief, recently asked me a few questions about my own experiences with faith and doubt. I hope my answers will encourage you in your own faith today.

BP: What does “I believe; help my unbelief” mean to you?

CH: I actually pray this verse often, usually when I’m battling fear or uncertainty, and what I’m saying to God is, “I trust you, but I want to trust you more. Help me trust you in the next moment and the next when the temptation to fear comes calling again.” I’m choosing to believe his character and his promises, but I am also acknowledging that I’m feeble and susceptible to wavering. I am reaching out in belief, but I need him to reach out in return with an extended hand to help me along.

BP: Do you have a favorite Bible passage about belief and doubt? What is it and how has it impacted you?

CH: My struggles with doubt haven’t concerned the existence of God but rather the character of God. I have doubted that he loves me. I’ve doubted that he is for me. I’ve doubted that he is good. But mostly, I’ve doubted that he will be faithful to me.

There was a time when he clearly called me into a specific situation, I followed him, believing he’d be faithful, and then difficulties and obstacles appeared and remained too long for my comfort. I wavered in my belief that God would come through. I started making a Plan B in my mind, but then I read a passage that gave me great comfort and fed my faith in a way that helped me persevere through the uncertainties. The passage is about Abraham’s faith and is found in Romans 4:17-21. I go back to it often:

“God in whom [Abraham] believed . . . gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

I love that Paul says God can call things in existence that didn’t previously exist, which He did for Abraham in the form of offspring. I also love that Abraham “in hope believed against hope”. In other words, faith allowed him to look beyond the physical, beyond his circumstances, beyond what seemed impossible, and wait for God to call something into existence. When I read that passage, I began praying for that kind of faith.

BP: What is belief in God?

CH: I immediately think of Hebrews 11:6: “...whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Belief in God is a choice to trust that he exists and that what he says about his character is true. I think of it not as much a choice of climbing up to “get” God but a choice of throwing my full weight--my very life--backwards onto Him.

BP: What do you see as the relationship between belief and doubt?

CH: I’ve noticed in my own life that believing God is a choice that leaves me hanging out in uncertainty for a longer period than I’m usually comfortable with. I don’t know with absolute certainty that he exists, because I can’t see him. I don’t know with absolute certainty that he’s going to come through for me according to his promises. But faith is giving him the space and opportunity to show me he exists and to actually come through. Faith involves waiting. Doubt exists and creeps into those waiting spaces. Doubt demands measurable, tangible results or answers almost immediately. Doubt insists that I prepare a Plan B just in case. Doubt reminds me that I’m basically in freefall while I’m waiting. So, in my mind, the relationship between belief and doubt is that they often mingle together. I have to call on faith (“I believe; help my unbelief.”) to tamper down doubt’s incessant shouting and help me wait it out.

BP: How can a person strengthen their belief in God?

CH: One can strengthen their belief in God by “feeding” their faith.

I have had salient moments in my life where I’ve heard or read something that deeply assures me of God’s existence and character. These are typically general revelations as Romans 1 speaks of it-- creation and moral law. For example, I heard a world-renowned surgeon on a television show talk about trying to reconstruct a child’s face after a terrible accident. He said, “As much as we try, we can’t completely form a face, but we do what we can.” It made me think of the intricacy of the human body and pointed me to a Creator. Recently, I went to an aquarium where I sat with my children and learned about the neon creatures that prowl the ocean floor. All I could think about was how these creatures surely were made by Someone extremely creative.

Noticing and thinking about how the world works (and how Scripture speaks so accurately about these things) definitely feeds my faith, but I also think about how I’ve seen evidence of God in my own life. Lately, I’ve thought about the “aliveness” of Scripture. As a writer and a prolific reader, I love words and have been greatly impacted by books, but I don’t go back to the same books and read them over and over again. Books have worked powerfully in my life, but their power to consistently affect and change my life is limited. What I find interesting is that I can read the Bible over and over again and it tends to read me instead. The Bible’s ability to cut straight to my heart year after year in season after season confirms it as true and God as real to me. Thinking on this feeds my faith.

July 16, 2015

Who Pours Into You?

Who pours into you? That's the question I get asked most often these days, and it's gotten me thinking. Because sometimes my answer to the question posed is a garbled mess. I know what people are asking: "Do you have an older woman that you meet with regularly who offers you her biblical wisdom and shoulder to cry on?" I've had it before, but I don't have it currently, and for some reason, I feel kind of bad saying it out loud. Almost like I'm doing something wrong.
But that persistent question has gotten me thinking about us all. I wonder if, in all our talk of discipleship and mentoring and "pouring into", we've created for ourselves a culture of entitlement. Do we believe it's a biblical imperative that there will always be a Paul to our Timothy? Should we always have someone "pouring into" us in a linear, hierarchical sort of way?

I don't think so. I think it's more circular than that. And I think to believe that we are entitled to have a personal "pourer" is to cripple ourselves from the growth we crave.

But perhaps that makes my point. Do we actually crave growth? Or do we crave a person who is god-like who can tell us what to do, empathize with our emotions, absolve us of our sins through spoken forgiveness, and guide us through our circumstances? Growth can definitely come from processing our lives intimately with another, but if we aren't prioritizing the growth that happens in relating directly with God, we will be forever stunted.

The Bible speaks of believers making progress by "eating" the Word. Babes drink milk but then grow to maturity and eat meat. A babe drinking milk is in a receiving posture, but when I think of eating meat, I think of how I purchase, cook, and serve it to my children. I am a "pourer" who also feeds myself on the meat I cook. Babes in the faith need pourers, but if we aren't babes in the faith, we must be able to feed ourselves (and are expected to feed ourselves).

Part of growth is actually being the pourer. The non-babes are all meant to be pourers. If we're getting frustrated and resentful that no one is personally pouring into us, we're missing something. Perhaps it is our turn to be a pourer and, in pouring, we find the growth we're looking for.

But that doesn't mean we aren't to be or shouldn't seek to be poured into. It just often looks different than what we expect it to, and our problem is that we stick to only one formula--the hierarchical formula. In fact, God has given us the Church so that we might be poured into. This idea elevates the idea of intimate Church, because we must be open with our needs, our sins, and our victories if we are to be poured in to as we desire. I think we often wait for that one person to open up our heart and life to, but God intended for the mature to open ourselves up in community, so that we have a circular discipleship in which we serve and are served. This doesn't come easy. We have to fight for it.

So when I am asked, Who pours into you?, I don't think of one specific person. I think of my pastor-husband who preaches verse-by-verse through the Bible. I think of the elders who provide for and protect our church. I think of the young women who ask me hard questions and cause me to search the Scriptures for answers. I think of the women I'm discipling who in turn disciple me. I think of the staff and elder wives who serve so faithfully and encourage me to use my gifts. I think of my friends who are willing to say hard things. I think of the people in my community group who pray for me. I think of long-time friends who live at a distance and listen and respond objectively to my struggles. And, yes, I think of several older women who help me know what to do in parenting and marriage. This is the Church, and it's a gift to receive. Go grab hold of it!

And if God asks you to walk through a season of pouring without much receiving, know this: He is enough. He will feed you.

Reposted from October 2014
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