An Easy Answer

I want to share this (rather long) reflection from one of my recent seminary seminars. We had the privilege of listening to Dr. Leonard Sweet for two days. His message, and mind, are gifts from God and if you haven’t yet read this book, “I Am a Follower” I would strongly recommend it.  This reflection is personal and I pray that all of those who have lived life with me will  take heart that I speak to the corporate church as a whole, but still let the Spirit challenge when needed. Grace and Peace

There are three times in my life Jesus showed up in a very physical way and said, “Follow me.” Remembering these times isn’t out of the ordinary for me. I think about these moments anytime I question why God has chosen me to love. What I realized this time; however, was just how easy it had been to say yes to Him. The first request to follow was when I accepted Christ. The last request was my call into ministry. The second time? It came at the end of the ugliest day of my life.

Of course, Jesus is asking me to follow Him every day. What is unique about these times is the added glory of a more physical presence to abide in. Since reading “I Am a Follower” by Dr. Leonard Sweet over a month ago, I have been struggling with my reaction to the book. I have read it a few times since, in hopes of changing my initial review. What was causing me to struggle was the fact that this topic seemed too common sense for me. The issue of leadership within the church is a deadly one, no doubt. The focus on attendance, number of salvation prayers repeated, and the resulting pastoral pride should be a place of shame for the church today. The fact that the average Christian looks nothing like the “Big J”, let alone a “Little J” is disheartening. And then something occurred to me, I was being naive.

As we sat around in our Spiritual Formation group and everyone was talking about how moved they were by Dr. Sweet’s message, I felt almost embarrassed in not sharing in their same sense of excitement. Graeme Seller (our previous instructor) had left me in a state of shock and awe, but Dr. Leonard Sweet speaks and I come away almost shrugging? So I reflected more, re-read parts of the book, looked at the seminar notes, and it finally started to make sense.

Being a Christ-follower first, faithfully, and fervently has been completely missing from my church experience. I identified this issue of lack of “follower”ship a few years ago and studied it in depth. The notion of being a “Christ-follower first” shaped and moved me deeply during that time. This seminar hadn’t challenged me the way it had others, because the story was already deep seeded within my heart. The seminar, and reflection on it, did wake me up to something very important. I can’t let the extraordinary in my life become ordinary. If a fellow Christian’s passionate work changes me to my core, I owe it to the Spirit to continue to fan the flames on my own heart so others might catch on fire too.

The church continuously drove me away during my life due to the issues addressed in Dr. Sweet’s book. I wanted to conform to Christ, and found myself instead conforming to the leaders in the church (who looked little like Jesus from where I was sitting). I wanted to do the things Jesus had created me to do, but I ended up just doing what the rest of the body was doing (which was often what the rest of the culture was doing). I wanted refinement, but was given no safe place to share my confessions. I wanted healthy community, and I was given social cliques. How can I expect to help make the changes I believe God desires to see in the church if I have already chalked these failures up to common knowledge?

It is an honored blessing that we serve a God who shows up in our lives and says, “Follow me.” My calling and salvation prayer are two of those times that embodied His beautiful presence. But as a church, are we allowing Christ to step in at times when it could be us? The ugliest day of my life, as I described it, came during a great time of depression. I was around the age of 23. I was just recently out of rehab for drugs, and I was using again. I had moved three states away from my family, despite their desperate pleas for me to stay. And that’s just the surface of the darkness.

On this day, I was crouched in the fetal position on the floor of my empty apartment. I was begging for an answer from God. I was begging for help. I had no one, and I knew I couldn’t go on. And right then, I heard Him. “Get up. We’re leaving.” I looked up to see Jesus Christ standing there beside me. His hand was reaching out to mine. He was inviting me to follow Him. I said yes to his request that morning without hesitation. I said yes as if I didn’t know that following Him meant doing the most difficult thing I’d ever done before. It was 4 a.m. and by 11 a.m. we—Jesus and me—had packed as many of my belongings into my car that would fit, called my mother to tell her I had relapsed, and drove back home to Minnesota. I experienced, for the first time in my life, complete surrender. I left behind, what I believed, was everything true in my life without as much as a goodbye. I even remember the moment that the palpable presence of Jesus left my car. It was as we crossed that last state line; as if He knew that was my point of no turning back.

Although in some ways I cherish that morning, I have always thought Jesus would have rather shown up as an embodied Christ follower. The Christian should be the place to break strongholds—pride, greed, consumerism, judgment, shame, lust—but too often it is what contributes to them. I want to be a Christ follower first. People say this, and when they do I become to think believers are aware of the problems we’re facing, even when that isn’t the truth. When saying yes to the church’s request to “Follow us as we are following Christ” becomes the easiest yes a person will ever utter is the moment at which we’ll know we’ve finally figured it out. And until then it is up to me [us] to remain actively passionate about the Spirit’s desires before allowing anything so extraordinary to become ordinary ever again.

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You Can’t Handle the Fruit

The creation story was opened up to me in a new way this week.  In particular, the very source of original sin; the fruit … the tree.  In my life, I’ve pondered how Adam and Eve were suddenly shamed by their naked bodies.  I’ve tried to imagine the fear they felt as they hid from God.  I’ve lived through the curse of painful childbirth … twice.  But up until this week I hadn’t given the name of the tree as much weight as I should have.  I don’t know how I could have missed this, or how in the 32 years of my life (on and off) in the church this has never been exposed in a more deliberate manner.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

This fruit gave them wisdom to [believe they could] know between light and dark.  The incite to [think they could] see what was right and wrong.  The [in]ability to lean on their own understanding of sinful nature.  Adam and Eve literally ate the obsession to bring justice.  They tasted shame, fear, and judgment.  It wasn’t just Adam and Eve though; we are still eating the fruit.  We are ignoring the origination of sin … taking it upon ourselves to play God, to determine, to decide another’s fate.  We have pridefully had the audacity to pretend to know another’s heart condition.

The first thing our gentle, loving creator asked of us was to leave this in His hands.  He knew – as He still knows – that when we feebly attempt to pass judgment, the result will always be the same …. our own further separation from Him.  And worse still, the separation of God from others.  Those people that we should be directing towards Him, not leading away.

Who have I steered away from God?  Who have I led astray because I felt complied to determine their shortcomings?  Upon understanding the depths of this truth, what must it feel like to be a priest in a confession booth … determining the weight of each and every sin, then handing out the answer for forgiveness?  How could a Christian resist repentance in the light of this? What actions have I taken part in that may have drove others away? All due to selfish fear, pride, and this fruit; this fruit which leads to the [mis]understanding that we know what only God can fully know?

Lord, help me to avoid ignoring your first request of us.  A request made out of Truth, out of love, and out of sympathy for our weak minds.  Open my eyes to see when I fall into the sin of desiring to judge another’s life.  Allow the Holy Spirit to refine the sin in my own life.  And give us all the faith to let the Spirit refine sin in the hearts of others as You see fit.

Holidays are Hard

I bawled in church today like a little girl who just got her pigtails pulled.  Jesus is risen.  Happy Easter.  Holidays are hard.  It’s hard to set out Easter eggs, watch the kid’s excitement in the morning, and not feel overwhelmed that Matt isn’t here to experience it with us.  It doesn’t help that I’m wading through my own messy depression, but reflecting on the mourning of Christ’s death just seems so much more understandable after grieving my own loved one.

Since posting last night, four things have happened that have made me decide to change directions in my writing.  These occurrences have given me a glimpse of the clarity I have been praying for.  The first thing that happened was I listened to a Rob Bell sermon from the 2011 Lent season.  I had started on the sermon series about a week ago.  When I came to this particular sermon I decided to wait before listening; somehow knowing it was going to have an impact on me.  The sermon contents, which did impact me greatly, brought me to the next thing.  I realized I wasn’t putting my trust in God as I have before, and I wasn’t doing this because I was being discouraged by lies from something ugly.  As far as I know, these are new lies, with a new message, that are being whispered to me … which I suppose is why I had so much trouble identifying them as such.  They twisted the truth so that it appeared … well, true.  The third thing?  Illumination Church this morning.  The worship, the resurrection, the sermon, my church family … the whole experience gave me the opportunity to open the flood gates I had been holding back for far too long.  And finally, a conversation with my ever gentle and loving Brad that helped me to more clearly state the feelings I was having, and some ideas on where to go from here.

I think where I am headed is to define who I am in Christ.  I want descriptive, colorful, and hopeful words on which to look to when the lies are whispered.  I’m going to the Bible, and I’m going to find and dig deep into these words.  There is solid ground on which to defeat these lies, and by the grace of God, I’m off to find it.  I want to lean on my risen Savior this Easter and remember His reply to Satan, when he quoted Deuteronomy out in the desert.  Jesus said to him “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  I am trying to live on bread alone.  I love God, I worship God, I look to God for answers, and pray to Him everyday.  But when the sunsets on another day I – far too often – think the results will need to come from me.  Nothing comes forth from me that isn’t of Christ, and I am making myself available to the Holy Spirit to write this truth on my heart.

I wish you all grace and peace on this beautiful Easter!

The More We Love, The More God Exists

“The more we love, the more God exists” Peter Rollins

For those who may be uncomfortable with the above quote, I apologize.  Not because it makes you uncomfortable, but rather that it does so at all.  Understanding the depths of what it means to love each other here on this Earth, and how much that love will impact the will of God, takes courage.  Over the last year of my life I have had a chance to experience what Pete meant by this quote and I’m overjoyed to share this with all of you.

Last Saturday my boyfriend, Brad, proposed to me.  I said yes.  I am so very blessed.  God is so very good.

And so, it is worth looking at why I attribute goodness to God.  It is not because over the last year He has appeared to me – cash in hand – when financial relief was needed, or because He sent an angel to hold me close when I was certain death was my only option in the face of Matt’s own.  Rather, God aroused the Spirit within each of you.    In the people at my church, at my work … my family and friends … and, at times, even in strangers.  He even aroused the Spirit within those in my life who wouldn’t attribute their acts of love to Christ.

God aroused the Spirit in Brad.  Brad has listened, been patient, been faithful, and been a true Christ follower in his venture to follow his heart and capture mine.  There were moments when we first started dating, and my own wounds were still so fresh, that just his presence brought me the kind of comfort I’ve only ever felt in the presence of Jesus.  He was walking as Christ was calling him to.

There have been moments in my life where God has physically shown up, relieved me, held me, and comforted me.  If the people given to me in my life over the last year, including Brad, had been absent I don’t doubt the power of God to provide the same blessings we have received.  I am, however, fully convinced that the Spirit that dwells within each of us is a vital lifeline to those around us.  Do not shy away from the prompting to love one another, even in the most difficult of circumstances, because we simply cannot know our part in God’s will for others.

I am so excited to marry Brad.  I am so excited to continue to heal and grow as a family, with him by our side.  And I am continually and forever grateful for those of you who have reached out, in love, to my family and me.  We love you.

Gummy Worms and Serving Each Other

I had some moments collide this week, in a way only the Spirit can direct them to, and I’m feeling called to share.  About a week before the anniversary of Matt’s death, some friends from church asked what they could do to help ease this time for me.  I initially declined the offer to be part of a meal train since I felt it was too much of a burden on those delivering meals in light of my situation.  After some prompting I agreed, but I still felt some guilt over the service.

So last week a wonderful woman, I feel honored to call a friend, brought over tacos.  Since it takes the three of us a good amount of time to eat all the food brought over; we had our last round of Mexican last night.  As I was bringing out all the containers of toppings thinking of what a blessing the meal was upon my week. I noticed the container that was holding the chopped tomatoes.  It was a container that once carried gummy worms from a local grocery store.  I thought for a moment and then become just a bit teary.

It was about six months ago that I was feeling completely swamped down with life in the midst of grief, when I was asked by a friend to be part of a meal train for a couple at church.  At the time the couple was still in the beginning stages of grief and hadn’t shared their story with others yet, so they requested to not have their name shared.  They simply requested we bring them sweets.

There I was that day at the grocery store.  I was running late to pick up Evie and feeling rushed.  The store was filled with people and the lines were long.  I picked up a basket, instead of choosing a cart, and my arm was loaded down and becoming sore.  I was on the phone, although I can not remember with who, I do remember the conversation being stressful.  All at once I felt annoyed by serving someone I didn’t know, at a time in life that wasn’t easy on me, in the midst of a troublesome day.  I pulled myself together that day; I found my heart for serving, and followed through.  I was glad I did.  I was even more grateful when I later learned who I was serving and why.

So here I was, feeling grateful and guilty, because of those who had made the decision to take time out of their busy lives to serve my family when I caught a glimpse at the Spirit’s work.  In a fleeting moment of clarity I saw into the Spirit-lead, circle-of-favor we get to take part of on this Earth.  I had felt led by the Spirit to serve this couple friend, and despite myself, I did so.  And here I was witnessing the very source of where my service for them began, their service for me was handed back.

It was a small reminder of the huge impact the Spirit can have in our lives if we so allow Him to.  I am so grateful to be part of a community that respects and honors that impact the best we know how.  My encouragement for you is to follow the promptings of your heart.  Do not doubt.  Do not quit when your own shortcomings try to hold you back from that calling.  And when offered service?  Take it with grace and humility.