April 22, 2014

Celebrate God's Graces

We recently had our college ministry leaders in our home, and Kyle and I sat among them, adults and students alike, listening as they shared stories about the year and how God has moved. They also shared struggles and wrestled with questions about next year and there seemed to be some uncertainty.
I remember when there were none of you. It was me, piping up from the couch. I remember driving through Grounds and praying through tears for God to help us reach college students. And He did. Now look where we are, almost six years and scores of students later.

I didn't mean numbers, and I didn't mean that we should draw attention to ourselves. I meant that the vision we originally had for the church was God-given and that He's making it a reality. This church is all of ours now. We started with a desire to have an inter-generational church where students and adults alike meld together in one Body, and it's taken a while for all of us to awaken to the possibilities, but it's happening.

That's what I heard as I sat on the couch--God's sweet whisper of grace through the mouths of the ministry leaders as they gave voice to the original vision.

It's happening. Me again, from the couch. It's happening, and you are a part of that. Be encouraged!

Maybe it wasn't as much an encouragement for them as it was for me. Because I'm constantly forgetting from where we've come, and I'm forever having memory lapses of God's goodness and faithfulness. There is always something I can find to be discouraged about, always evidence that I could be further along, whether it's in our church or my parenting or anything really. When I give more attention to these things than they deserve, I hinder my own thanksgiving and joy.

But that evening that I spent listening from my couch reminded me that if I just take a moment to look carefully enough, there is always something to celebrate. It may be as small as a conversation or a relationship or an indication that someone we're investing in is having a light bulb moment. It may be a kind word from one child to another or a word of encouragement out of the blue. It may be that something that we've been faithfully doing for years and years is starting to bring forth spiritual fruit. Whatever it is, give it the attention it deserves. Celebrate God's graces!

Let's encourage one another! What are you celebrating today that God has done? I'll go first...the picture above is of my middle son's baptism on Palm Sunday. I'm celebrating his new life in Christ!

Also, I'd like to spend my next few blog posts answering questions about church planting and/or ministry. Do you have one that you'd like me to tackle? Simply leave it in the comment section of this post.

April 18, 2014

We Need All the Days of Holy Week

I always look forward to church on Easter, because the songs are joyous and the day-long focus of Christ's conquering of death settles such peace in my heart. It's a beautiful day of fellowship, new life, and rejoicing.
I find, however, that I often want to jump over Maundy Thursday and Good Friday without thinking and just get to the celebratory part. I don't dwell on the last supper or the betrayal or the crucifixion. Why sit somberly, I reason, in what I know will result in Easter morning? Why grieve when our mourning has already turned to dancing?

But the truth is that Easter morning is only one part of the story. An important part, yes, but jumping straight to the resurrection leaves us with little understanding of why it is so needed. There is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday, and there is no Good Friday without Maundy Thursday. Each part of the historical account completes the story; if we remove one, we don't have it at all. 

Each part of Holy Week tells us a part of the gospel:

Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on a donkey, a symbol of a king coming in peace. 
Because of sin, there isn't lasting peace between God and man. We need peace with God. 

Maundy Thursday harbored the agony of Jesus' betrayal. 
We are the betrayers. We are the sinners.

On Good Friday--good for us, not for Him--Jesus died. 
The moment He died, He took the wrath of God upon Him for our sins, forgave us all trespasses, and made peace between us and God.

On Silent Saturday, the world forgot and moved on, but some waited, confused but holding to a sliver of hope. 
We doubt. We need proof that Jesus is the One who can actually forgive, proof that He is God. 

Easter Sunday is the proof. Jesus underscored everything He'd said and done by conquering death. His resurrection is our proof that He is God and that the work needed to bring peace is finished. 

Aside from this season, I think most Christians, myself included, tend to think in terms of only one of these days, and it's usually Thursday or Sunday. Some of us dwell in our sin, forever in Maundy Thursday, knowing fully the agony of what we have done in betraying Jesus. We forget that there is a Friday and a Sunday, or we try to earn our Sunday, so we continually tell ourselves only half of the story.

Some of us dwell only on the resurrection, and we lose sight of the depth of our sin. We find ourselves wondering what the big deal is about grace and why others seem to be overflowing with such joy and thanksgiving. We are telling ourselves only half of the story.

And then others of us are forever in Saturday, doubting that Jesus really did what He did and doubting that He really loves us. 

We need them all, all the days. We must sorrow over our betrayal, we must think about the agony of the cross, and we must also rejoice that God made a way to wipe out our sin and the sting of death.

So today, join with me in considering what we have done, but let's not stop there. Let's consider also what Christ has done, what this day represents. And then on Sunday, with the sin that's been wiped away fully in view, let's rise with joy in our hearts as we consider also what Christ's resurrection means. It means that He is God and He is love and that our peace has been won. 

That's the whole story.

April 15, 2014

The View That's Ahead

The first time I hiked Humpback Rock on Skyline Drive, I thought I was going to pass out. It was an oddly warm January day, so I had to step carefully to avoid the ice and snow from the previous week, and about halfway up, the wide path gave way to rock piles and treacherous turns. My thighs burned, and I had to stop quite often to catch my breath and take swigs of water. I wondered when the top would come and if I'd ever get there. Mostly, with complaints rising up in my chest, I questioned if all this exertion would be worth it in the end.
Because at the base I'd gotten a good look at the goal: a stack of huge boulders jutting out over a ledge. The rocks were certainly striking, because they stuck out above the tree line, but from where I stood, I doubted the views I'd see would be what everyone said they were. I hiked it anyway, thighs screaming and feet slipping on icy rocks all the way up.

Finally, the path leveled out, and with a heaving chest and flushed cheeks, I came to the jutting rocks. Tentatively, I stepped out as far as I could go without fear of falling and looked around.

The view was incredible. The cars driving on the road below appeared tiny, and I followed them as they snaked along the curves in the hills. The mountains sloped down into quilt patches of farmland, divided by white houses and black fences. The sky was so expansive that I could see it in various layers and colors. I laid back and closed my eyes, feeling the warmth of the rocks below and the sun above. A deep satisfaction and sense of accomplishment washed over me; It had been worth it after all.

Life is a difficult hike, isn't it? Sometimes the path is smooth and we're bouncing merrily along, but most of the time it's slippery and treacherous, and we wonder if it will all be worth it in the end. Because we've heard of what's to come, and we're told the views will be glorious, but we haven't seen it for ourselves and it's difficult to imagine. All we see are the things in front of us: the trees, the stumbling blocks, the gnats flying around our face. And we feel things too: the pain, the exertion, the complaints rising up in us. It's a matter of faith that the views are ahead and a matter of endurance, and no one can do the work for us.

But doesn't it feel good to breath hard and know your body is working as it's intended? Just the same, it's quite an accomplishment to push forward in faith, to ignore the gnats, and to get back up again when you've fallen over a stumbling block and you're bleeding. We were made for this--for faith. We were made to hope that the end and the views are a reality and to anticipate what we'll find at the top.

So let's keep walking, keep pushing, keep believing. Because these light and momentary afflictions will give way to rest and warmth and joy. They will give way to Him. Where we once could only imagine and hope, we will see clearly. And we will look back at the trail on which we've come and, with great satisfaction, know that it was worth it in the end.

April 10, 2014

One Way to Be a Better Counselor

A few years ago, I sat across from a young woman whose life was spinning out of control. She had initiated getting together, but her questions were half-hearted, and I knew she wasn't really interested in doing the right thing or in pleasing the Lord. I wanted to say just the right words, words that would resonate with her or spark some affection for the Lord. But my words fell flat, and our time together was awkward.
The following week, I was reading in Ephesians and the words immediately made me think of the young woman and all the wisdom of that specific book that applied to her situation. If only I would have said this, if only I would have said that. It's all I could think of as I read, but I knew the time had passed and that I'd missed an opportunity with her.

As I thought back about our conversation, I was deeply convicted. I had relied heavily on my own wisdom and experience, but I hadn't given her words with the ability to pierce the heart. I hadn't given her the Word.

I hadn't given her the Word, because I didn't know it well enough. Sure, I could have plopped my study Bible on the table between us and said, "Hold on a sec while I try to remember where that verse is..." But some occasions call for more subtlety and sincerity, and that conversation was certainly one of those times. And I'm not a big believer in just throwing verses at people as a solution to their problems without listening well and helping them apply the principles of Scripture to their context.

I decided then and there that if I were going to meet with women and offer them biblical counsel, I needed to know the Bible well, and not just know it but memorize it. I needed to be able to quickly draw on the Word no matter the situation, to give an answer in season and out.

My next thought was, "I can't do that. That's impossible." Followed closely by, "I don't have time for that." But it just kind of felt like a line drawn in the sand by God, and I knew I needed to step over that line. Honestly, it felt more like an invitation, and I accepted with a mixture of fear and excitement.

I remembered a friend mentioning a memory plan for memorizing books of the Bible, so I printed off Galatians (my favorite book of the Bible) from Bible Gateway and just went for it. What I realized right away is that I have a time everyday when I can work on Scripture memory: when I'm getting ready in the morning. I can say in the shower what I remember without looking and then work on the rest when I'm standing over the bathroom counter blowdrying my hair or putting on makeup.

I cannot tell you how much I have benefitted from this practice! God brings things to mind that I've memorized, He's helped me understand difficult parts of what I've memorized because I repeat passages in the context they're written, and I've grown to love the Word even more than I did before. One of the best benefits is in teaching and counseling others; God has made good on the promise that if I memorized it, He would bring it to mind when I was counseling others.

I don't say all this to you to draw attention to myself or to add one more thing to your plate that you should be doing. I say all this to you because you have the same standing invitation that I had to put Scripture to memory, to be endlessly blessed by it, to love the Lord your God with all your mind, and to be a more effective counselor in your ministry to other women.

I hope you'll accept.

The system for memorization that I mentioned above is but one way of doing it. If you've memorized verses or passages or books of the Bible before, what system have you used that worked for you? And when in your day do you work on it? 

April 8, 2014

Unrealistic Expectations (and where they come from)

The enemy's accusations have residual effects. Unless accusation is named for what it is and wrought powerless with truth, they wrap themselves like vines around every last thought and become a faux identity that we use to characterize ourselves. When accusation has had its full effect, the enemy no longer has to accuse but watch and goad, because we've taken over for him. We self-accuse.

I know this because all spring I've been untangling the vines of accusation that have subtly wrapped around my heart, my thoughts, and my identity. It's also why I asked you to consider your greatest insecurity: because accusation distorts our most sensitive parts and squeezes life and joy right out.

The Lord has helped me recognize that my greatest insecurity, fed by the enemy's accusation, is that I am a disappointment. In the past I have believed that I am a disappointment to God, but that accusation is currently being wrought powerless with the truth of who I am in Christ.
Most recently, however, I have believed that I am a disappointment to others, that once they really get to know me, they will find me deeply disappointing. This accusation still holds some power in my life and its effects, I've discovered, are most far-reaching in the area of ministry. Because of the nature of the work, it's difficult for me to know (and hold) the line between what God wants for me to do and what I assume others expect me to do. I often entertain the idea of attempting both, precisely because I don't want to be a disappointment to anyone.

As a result, the expectations I place on myself are burdensome and impossible:
Know everyone's name.
Have every church visitor over for dinner.
Be the perfect mother and the perfect pastor's wife on Sunday mornings.
Have an answer for every question.
Respond lovingly and gently every time. Absolutely no room for failure or an off day.
Say yes to every request or need.

These expectations are, of course, of my own making. No one handed me a pastor's wife job description, and no one is doing a job evaluation at the end of the year, and no one is holding these things over my head. They are the standards I've set for myself, and they are directly connected with my greatest insecurity and the enemy's accusation.

It's so frustrating that the enemy takes the things I love--hospitality, connecting people, counseling, and leading--and makes them burdensome and joyless. And I let him!

So the untangling has been happening, and it's a confusing process because my heart and mind have been set for so long on not being a disappointment to people. I find, however, that as I've asked the Lord to bring truth into the untangling process, He's not quick to lay out job descriptions with measurable standards attached. He's not accusatory. And there isn't disappointment at all. He's mainly just asking me to consider what I'm passionate about and what He's gifted me for, and He's releasing me to do those things and to enjoy those things.

Instead of the expectations I have for myself, He's drawn me to the one-anothers in Scripture.
Love one another.
Serve one another.
Forgive one another.
Submit to one another.

It's freeing to me that it doesn't say, "Love everyone" or "Serve everyone". It's on a more individual, relational scale, a scale I can handle.

So while I have a list of burdensome expectations for myself, God holds out a whole different perspective. A life-giving perspective. The question is: will I listen to accusation and go again to my list of expectations to prove I'm not a disappointment? Or will I believe first that I'm not a disappointment (because of Christ) and let that freedom inform how I love and serve?

Do you struggle with placing unrealistic expectations on yourself? How has God taught you how to respond? 

April 4, 2014

I Thought Ministry Would Be Glamorous

As early as high school, I had a sense that I might one day be a pastor's wife. The thought wasn't totally coherent, and it certainly wasn't something I went around talking about. I didn't sit guys down and interrogate them about their future vocation on first dates. I just kind of knew it would turn out the way it has, and all along I wanted it to turn out like it has.
When I was in high school and college, however, my idea of what ministry would be like wasn't at all accurate, so when I thought of what it might be like to marry a guy going into the ministry, I imagined it to be quite glamorous in a Baptisty sort of way. I'd stand with my husband at the back of the sanctuary to shake hands and everyone would know my name. I'd be honored and respected all over town because of my pastor's wife title. And I'd be spiritually glamorous too, having memorized the Bible somewhere along the way and knowing all the answers. This is how I imagined it.

The pastor's wife thing happened, but ministry has been nothing like I imagined. I shake hands, yes, and people sometimes know my name (sometimes not), but there's not much glamour in it all. Ministry is not about me (that was lesson #1), but it has been for me in the sense that it's shone a big ol' bright spotlight on my heart. The first thing God highlighted was my self-centeredness and my ambition, and He set the decision before me: would I seek to serve others or be served by them?

Sometimes I see a culture of ambition among church leaders that is scary to me, especially in the world of church planting. Let me clarify: I see an ambition in myself that is scary, and I recognize it in others because I've learned to recognize it in myself. The culture's insistence on performance, followers, flash, and results has infiltrated our church planting world and drives us, almost without us even realizing it, to use people rather than serve them and to question our success when obstacles get in our way or numbers sag. We seem to be just as obsessed with celebrity as the culture around us, and we're only content with the work as long as we're building quickly (and noisily).

This spring I've been reading about Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, and I've seen in these guys something that I long to see in myself more and more: a love of the work over a love of the results from the work. They kept right on building the wall, teaching the Law, and restoring the temple through exhaustion, threat of attack, discouragement, accusation, and apathetic people. In all that, I'd probably be questioning my calling, pouting, or looking around for a pat on the back, certainly not emboldened to continue. But those guys listened and believed and acted on what God told them. They fulfilled Zechariah's prophetic words:

"For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the Lord, which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth." Zechariah 4:10

To me, it seems that's what pure ministry is all about: not despising the day of small things, being willing to lay brick upon brick in the hot sun, to labor among rubble and discouragement with God's vision of what could be in mind, to consider only that the eyes of the Lord are watching and not the eyes of others. Ministry is day-in, day-out faithful building over a long period of time. There is absolutely nothing glamorous about it. If it wasn't glamorous for Jesus, it certainly won't be for us.

What if, as leaders, we really got this? What if I really got this? We'd quit chasing silly things, struggling with discontentment in our ministry, and believing that there should be something in it for us. Instead, we'd be characterized as suffering servants like Jesus was. We'd be looking for ways to go to the bottom rather than the top because at the bottom we'd have more people to serve. We'd be perfectly content being invisible in our labor because we'd trust that the eyes of the Lord are scanning to and fro, and that He sees what we do in His honor.

This is the trajectory I hope for the church and her leaders, that we quit shouting to be the loudest and most admired, that we not despise the day of small things, and that we stoop lower to lay brick upon brick of grace and truth and good works. This is how we best proclaim the Suffering Servant to one another and to the world around us, and this is how we love the work over the results of the work, and this is how we honor our God.

Have you believed that ministry or church planting should be glamorous? How has God taught you otherwise? 

April 1, 2014

Engage (A Lesson in Contentment)

I live in one of the most beautiful places in the United States, and I should know because I've stepped foot in most of our states at one time or another in my life, thanks to generous grandparents and lots and lots of road trips.

Charlottesville is one of the East Coast's destinations for high-end weddings and, because of our native son Thomas Jefferson and his famous home, a magnet for tourists. We've got it all: mountains to hike, four seasons to enjoy, great music, art, and locally grown food to devour. Virginia is for Lovers precisely because we have whatever anyone loves, and Charlottesville typifies that more than most anywhere else in Virginia.
When we first moved here to plant a church, however, I was an outsider, so I noticed everything that was different than Texas, and each little difference got under my skin a little bit. And church planting was just plain hard, so I often entertained the idea of heading back home and setting up shop in a rocking chair on the wrap-around porch of my make-believe home in the Hill Country. Where I didn't have to do anything hard or uncomfortable. And the bluebonnets were perpetually in bloom. And the unfamiliarity of Charlottesville faded quietly (and quickly) into the past.

Sometimes the beauty of this place was the only thing I could point to as a reason to stay and plant roots. Every time I'd turn into our neighborhood and get a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I'd thank God for the simple grace of living in such a place that makes me think of Him. That view led me to choose this place and choose to embrace God's will for me again and again and again.

Slowly, Charlottesville became more than just a beautiful face. Her rhythms and seasons and cares became my own. By engaging the city and seeking to know her, I discovered her secrets, her history, her unique story. But most of all, I began to love the people. Her people became my people, and I settled in to a familiarity that has served me well.

Until this year.

This year I've become too familiar with Charlottesville, too familiar with her beauty and her rhythms and her beauty. I've become so familiar with her that I haven't seen her at all. Like I do with my children and my husband when I'm busy or distracted, I have forgotten to really look at her and take her in and enjoy her. Her people have become muted and almost like a backdrop, because I haven't engaged them as I used to.

I started noticing a discontent in myself about being here, and it didn't take long to connect the dots back to my disengagement. I had forgotten what I love about this place. I'd forgotten her secrets and her needs. I'd lost the fire-in-the-belly with which we moved here, to be honest. This has all taught me an important lesson about contentment in ministry: If I don't engage, I won't love, and I'll struggle to embrace where God has me.

Once I realized this, I started looking and actually seeing, just like I do when one of my boys crawls in my lap and actually sits still and I take in every breath of that moment. There is, of course, the view of the mountains that always reminds me of God's grace in bringing us here. But it's the people that I see most: the girl at the grocery store's register every time I come through, the parents of my children's classmates, the neighbors, the college students rushing around everywhere.

As I engage my heart and my eyes, I find myself much more open to engaging people and praying for God's kingdom to come in Charlottesville. Always, there is a residual effect in my heart. Joy wells up so high I think I might drown in it. I feel purposeful and as if I'm actually doing the gospel work the title "church planting wife" suggests. And, most of all, there is contentment, knowing that I'm exactly where God wants me.

What about you, dear reader? Wherever you are is where God has you, no doubt about it. Are you living with purpose and joy where God has you? If not, how might you engage the people and the place with new eyes? Perhaps that engagement in His name is the very key to your contentment.

March 27, 2014

Who Are Your People?

Friendship and ministry. It's the combination that leads to the conversation I have with ministry wives everywhere I go. Do you have friends? Do you have friends within your church? How do you develop friendships? How much do you share with women in your church? 

It seems to me that this is an issue that all women wrestle with, so it's probably not just me or you or us. There is simply an added complexity to friendship for ministry wives that is just, well, difficult to put to words. 
Yep, I'm friends with Princess Lea. I'm cool like that.
With a friend over lunch, I tried to share how I wrestle with relationships, and I stopped in the middle and said, "I feel weird talking about this." Because it sounds like self-pity, but it's really just that I want to do relationships well, and I don't always feel like I'm doing them well. Relationships in ministry are constantly evolving, and it's just so hard to pin down.

Our church, almost six years old, is at a stage where I've really had to sit myself down about friendship. I have relationships that have been around since the beginning of the church and most of those have shifted and evolved in some way. I have relationships that started a few years in to the church plant, and many of those are still finding their way and making themselves known for what they will be. I have relationships with those I've invested in through discipleship, some that have become friends. And there are also always new folks added to our numbers that I want to get to know. Somewhere along the way this year, I looked at all those relational plates I'm spinning, and I just stopped even trying I got so overwhelmed. 

That's why I have to have a sit down with myself, so I can say this:

"Christine, it's not possible to spin all those plates. It's not possible to have all those relationships, unless you're just going to go wide and never deep. It's not possible to know and be known by everyone, even though you really, truly want to."

And then I have a sit down with the Lord, and I ask Him a simple question:

Who are my people?

He's led me to ask this question over and over as I've wrestled with friendship and relationships in our church. What it means is this: 

Who are my primary people? This is easy: my husband and kids. I'm not to forget that they are my most important ministry.

Who are the people God is calling me to invest in? For me, this includes girls I'm discipling, staff and elder wives, and women I'm in community with. These women should get the most of my time and energy, and writing their names down helps me remember to be purposeful in that way.

Who are the people who are my friends (where I live)? Because there is a difference between ministry-related relationships and friendship. Unfortunately, the lines can get really blurred really fast. And sometimes people say stuff that's just not helpful, and the paranoia sets in, and I seriously question if it's OK for me to pursue friendships rather than pursuing everyone, and it just stops me dead in my tracks. 

But I've decided that every girl has got to have friends, even (especially?) if that girl is a ministry wife, which is why God always leads me back to that question.

Who are my people? 

My friend-people are women who are life-giving, who I would let see me cry, who I can be honest with, who aren't afraid of saying things that need to be said, and who encourage my faith. Those are pretty good parameters for discerning who my friends are, and God typically points people out pretty quickly that I should continue to pursue for friendship.

But sometimes I am so busy in ministry-related relationships that I neglect time with friends. Without fail, then, something interesting happens: I forget who my friends are. And I start to think I don't have any. And I panic a little. 

I've simply learned to go again to the question, turn it over in prayer, and let God answer it for me:

Who are my people?

Your turn: Do you feel like it's hard to discern sometimes who your friends are? How have you learned to delineate between ministry relationships and friendships? 

March 25, 2014

Growing Younger Everyday

When I was a kid, I played a game called Fast Food on my Atari. With the joystick, I moved a chomping mouth around the screen, attempting to scarf down french fries and soft drinks while avoiding the big, green pickles. As the game progressed, the food flew at my "mouth" at greater and greater speeds until finally I succumbed to one fast-flying pickle too many. 

Sometimes I feel like I am in a real-world game of Fast Food: the years are moving so fast that they're blurring on the screen, and I feel like I'm often just reacting to the present responsibilities whizzing by.  

I feel myself getting older. And I see it too: the creases beside my eyes are deeper, for one. My energy levels tank faster than they used to, and my knees actually ached from sitting too long on the airplane coming back from Africa. 
Sometimes I look forward to growing older. Older means, God-willing, getting to watch my children come into their own. Older means reading glasses, which I kind of like. Older means experience and wisdom, at least I hope. Older means, God-willing, more years of marriage under our belts. Older means a better understanding of myself, at least that's what I'm counting on.

But sometimes I look in the mirror and cringe, because I don't want to get older. It feels so very permanent for a non-Botoxer: once your face cracks, you can't go back. But getting older is more than wrinkles, of course. I've watched my grandparents lose friends and family to death. I've watched my mom lose her parents. I've seen failing health and cancer scares. I've seen how the wisdom of old-age is often hard-won. 

Getting older just seems so permanent. And inevitable. 

But is it? In the physical sense, most definitely. Our bodies remind us which each passing year that we're a part of a broken world and that we're headed, like all before us, to the grave. 

But in the spiritual sense, if we are in Christ, we're actually getting younger. With each passing year, while our bodies decay, our souls are moving closer and closer to the beginning of life--eternal life. True, unadulterated life in Christ will only begin when our bodies give out. Each day that we live, each day that we look at deepening wrinkles in the mirror, we're one day closer to our birth into a kingdom that will never end, one day closer to being made new. So what, I ask, is really permanent? 

Our world directs our attention to the body and either mourns its decay or tries to stop decay's advance. As Christians, we can celebrate our own aging as a march-step to new life (and a new body!) This truth also directs us to highly value the inward man, the part of us that will live forever in Christ, and to present our hearts for renewal in Christ each day.

Pauls gives us words to face aging with:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

It seems to me that our aging bodies, while increasingly frail and broken, can actually serve as an encouragement, a truth-telling about the brokenness of the world and our need for a resurrecting Savior, and a reminder of the new birth to come.

I never want to Botox that away!

March 18, 2014

His Love Knows No Boundaries

My Bible, I discovered early this morning, smells like Africa. I dropped it in the red dirt of Ethiopia one afternoon as I sat in a circle of missionary wives under the shade of a tree, and I suppose I brought a little of that red dirt home with me on the edges of its beloved pages.

The reality is that I brought a whole lot more home with me than a little dirt. I brought intangible memories of people and images and once-in-a-lifetime experiences home too. Africa and its people have settled into my heart.
I went with a team from our church to serve at Soddo Christian Hospital. We have developed a partnership with the international doctors at the hospital, who train Ethiopian doctors and nurses so that they can stay in Ethiopia and care for their own and who work tirelessly to provide medical care for those who would die otherwise. The mission of the hospital is to care for both physical and spiritual needs, and many are coming to faith in Jesus through the words and deeds of both the international and national staff. Our team's goal was to use our skills to assist the hospital and to care for the caretakers. (Here is a post specifically about this that I wrote for the hospital's blog.)

I saw so many things that are now imprinted in my mind. I interacted with the international doctors and their wives and observed lives that have challenged my own. And I experienced it all in a way that has shifted my worldview and put a mirror to my perspectives.

That's what I realized this morning as I opened my African-scented Bible: this is an experience that isn't just one in a long line of experiences. This is an experience that will jut up against all the others and against my worldview in uncomfortable ways.

May I share that with you? At the risk of a banal slideshow of experiences that mean little to you, may I take you back with me so that I might also speak to where we are?

Last Wednesday, our team ate lunch in the home of an Ethiopian family, headed by Barnabas and Garinet. Garinet and her neighbor spent six hours preparing a traditional Ethiopian Christmas meal for us, an enormous amount of food served with great care and joy. Afterward, we stepped outside the back door to see the kitchen in which it was prepared: a darkened shack-type hut with a burning fire on the ground and hay for their cow to sleep on at night. We realized the enormity of their efforts on our behalf: six hours hovering on a wood fire, six hours preparing Garinet's home for our arrival, six hours of anticipating our reaction to the traditional food. They lived simply; they had little in terms of material possessions, but what they had they shared joyfully with us.

After we left, our team talked about the experience. We recognized that all of the Ethiopians we met were intently focused on relationships over activity, joyful, and quick to help and be helped. We realized that, as Americans, we are painfully focused on productivity, efficiency, individualism, self, and accomplishments. We are more likely to pretend that we know what we're doing than to ask for or receive help. There is a hardness and cynicism we have that is probably more detrimental to our Christian lives than we realize.

I realize that many people serve or travel internationally and then turn a critical eye on their own culture. That's not my intention. As I've processed my experiences, I've simply realized that my faith and my beliefs about who God is must be able to transcend generations and cultures or it's likely not biblical. How silly my legalist tendencies look in light of Christianity in Ethiopia!

How do I think God works in this world? Think suffering, healing, provision. That belief should be able to cross socio-economic gaps.

What do I believe about the works that come from faith? Think personal convictions. Those works must be able to be done across all cultures.

What do I believe about church? Think buildings, instruments, and roles. They should be able to be practiced in all places, among all people.

The list could go on and on: What do I believe about what I'm promised? What do I believe about the nature of God? Do I truly believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Because all of these things do (and should) have cultural implications, no matter what culture we're in.

These questions beg the most important, the one we processed together as a team after leaving Garinet's house: How much of my culture's pursuits influence my idea of who God is and what He wants for and from me? Privately I considered how much my heart is hardened by materialism, leisure pursuits, cynicism, pride, superiority, entitlement, the pursuit of accomplishments, the collecting of experiences (to post on Facebook), and the American Dream. Although some of these are ingrained in the human heart, some are beliefs specific to culture. They can't be practiced in all cultures, so they can't be from God.

What can cross cultures and generations?
Working joyfully in what God has given.
Pursuing God.
Recognizing and acknowledging God in everything.
The gospel.

It seems to me that these are biblical priorities, and I can instantly think of countless verses directing us toward these ends. It seems to me, then, that these should be what characterizes our lives. I look at this list and I realize that I have so far to go, but at the same time it provides a sense of relief. In God's eyes, we aren't our accomplishments. In God's eyes, we're allowed to be dependent and needy. In God's eyes, we are asked to place priority on what is in the end most life-giving.

All of this says to me how good and gracious God is. He made a way for both an American and an Ethiopian to know Him. He made it simple and accessible to all, whether rich or poor, black or white, old or young.

His love knows no boundaries. It is truly cross-cultural.

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