Sin much? Love much.

“You need to start praying that God will show you the depth of your sin.”

Her words hung in the air for a moment. It didn’t sting like it does when someone boldly calls you out—at least not at first. It was a conversation with a mentor, my mom, and her delivery on this kind of thing is always gentle. But gentle with conviction.

And wisdom. It is one of many conversations that I play back over and over, even years after the fact. I’ve got dozens of these little gems, life lessons, that I can trace back to coffee and a chat with my mom.

When I did feel the sting, it wasn’t because she was calling me out for being a sinner. She was telling me I was a Pharisee.

At the first of the year I began reading through the New Testament, but lately I’ve been on a quest to understand worship. Everything I read gets filtered through that lens.

Church culture has staunchly settled on 20 minutes of music selections on Sunday mornings, calling that worship. But if we even bother to attend physically, we may check out spiritually. There continues the ubiquitous dispute over what we have labeled worship style. Does those two words together sound contradictory to anyone else? No? Just me?

But, if you go looking for guidance in the bible, worship in scripture can be perplexing. Often the word appears with little detail except, “And he bowed and worshiped.” In other places the word is used when a biblical figure makes a sacrifice, as when Abraham prepares to offer Isaac and tells the company with them, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” (Genesis 22:5, ESV)

Huh. I’m not much further along than I was when I started this whole worship quest thing.

Then my morning reading brought me to this story. Jesus has dinner at the home of a Pharisee—you knew I’d get back to the Pharisee thing, right? A woman with a bad reputation found out where Jesus was, and her arrival at the feast made Simon the Pharisee indignant. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and her hair. She kissed His feet and poured perfume on them.

“He can’t be a prophet,” Simon thought. “If he were, he would know all about her.” I can just see Simon rolling his eyes and exchanging looks with other Pharisees at the table. In that age, in Simon’s world, the touch of such a woman—even a loving gesture on your nasty stinky feet–would be repulsive.

Never fear, folks. Jesus set the man straight. And true to form, He used a parable to illustrate His point. Rather, He used a parable so that Simon could make His point.

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Luke 7:40-43, ESV

See what He did there? He set this up for Simon to expose his own hypocrisy. From the parable, it may sound like this woman who seemingly had morals like an alley cat owed a bigger debt because of her sin. But if you read the gospels, a lot—an inordinate amount, really–of harsh words and stern warnings are reserved for the Pharisees, the supposedly less sinful.

John the Baptist kicked off the show by calling them a “brood of vipers” and talked about the coming judgment (Matthew 3:7-12). Later Jesus would soundly castigate them with words like “blind guides” and “hypocrites” because, among other reasons, they slam heaven’s door in the face of genuine seekers. And, oh yeah, the Pharisees are not actually entering the kingdom, either (Matthew 23:13-14). Then He would call them sons of the devil because—guess why?—they don’t love Jesus so there is no way that God can be their Father (John 8:42-44). Those two things—loving Christ and being God’s child—are irrevocably connected.

Here’s what it boils down to. Judgment is the same for anyone who does not respond to the invitation of the grace and forgiveness of Christ. When He separates the sheep from the goats, there are no sub-categories. There’s not a special place for those who didn’t quite make it to heaven but aren’t so bad that they should go to hell. Either you enter the kingdom or you don’t.

Furthermore, the price for the woman’s sin and the price for the Pharisees’ sin is exactly the same—it cost the Son His life. Period. He didn’t have to give an extra sacrifice because these sins are worse than those sins. There’s no special negotiation that took place for those whose behavior serve as a cautionary tale trumpeted by the self-righteous.

What is so special about this woman is her worship. One difference between her and Simon the Pharisee is she knows the depth of her sin. Another is the depth of her love. Remember, loving Jesus and being God’s child are connected.

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”  (Luke 7:44-48, ESV)

Worship encompasses a lot of things. There are many examples in the bible that don’t look like this one, and we won’t always engage in such an emotional display of affection for the Lord. But I still feel there is a model for worship in this story that is important. Worship should always be more than a passive deference to God. I became His child because I love Jesus. It should be evident in my worship.

If I want my worship to be a genuine act of love for Christ, I need to understand the depth of my sin. I come back to that conversation with my mom often. That sting I felt for the exposure of my hypocrisy is not at all a bad thing. It makes me thankful for a rescue I don’t deserve, and for the enormous worth of the Savior whose life paid for that rescue.

For those who are in Christ, our sins, which are many are forgiven. We should “love much.”

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:9-10, ESV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bought With a Price

Years ago at a bible study, I learned something about Jesus’ last moments on the cross that I had never heard before. Jesus’ declaration moments before death, the Greek word tetelestai or “it is finished”, was a business term. It appeared at the conclusion of documents showing that a transaction had been completed—like a receipt or invoice showing that no more payments are required.

Think on that for a moment. In the agony of His last few moments, how did Jesus choose to proclaim that the work was done?

All accounts are settled.

The cost is covered.

The debt is paid in full.

I’ve always loved that little nugget. Every time I hear the cross preached, I hope to hear it included but never have. It makes that term redemption sink in a little deeper for me. I’ve always associated the word redeem with coupons. Present a coupon, get a dollar off or something of that ilk. But our redemption didn’t come with a discount. The price was not slashed to 50% or offered as a ‘buy one get one free’ bargain. We cannot fail to miss this important point about our rescue. It was costly—enormously so. God paid for me with His Son’s life, and His suffering and blood are the currency.

But I ran across something else today that provided even more insight. I began reading through the gospels at the first of the year. You know how bible reading plans can be—miss a couple days (or a week, maybe two), get a little behind and give up. This reading plan is self-imposed, though, which helps curb the power of the nagging perfectionism that makes me want to quit if I fail to keep up. I’m not following a prescribed plan; I just read until I’m done—and how far I get each day boils down to time constraints and my ability to concentrate. Some days I get very interested and do a lot of flipping to different chapters, other gospels, chasing down some of the scriptures that are cross-referenced. Lately I’ve been in Luke, and, in deference to that pesky perfectionism, I started doubling up so that I could land on the events of the crucifixion for Good Friday.

The verse that got my attention this morning was this—

“When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” John 22:53 (ESV)

This isn’t the first time that verse has held my attention. It’s always impressed me that Jesus tells them straight up that they are on the side of evil. But this morning I did my flippity-flip routine, looking to the other accounts of Jesus’ arrest. It benefits me to layer this scripture with others.

We have this from the Last Supper in John’s gospel, hours before Jesus is arrested–

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.  One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” John 13:21-27 (ESV)

And this account, also from John, which includes other details of Jesus’ arrest–

Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” John 18:4-8 (ESV)

It is Jesus’ authority, and how He wields that authority, that gets my attention. First it is absolute, and second, it is accompanied with absolute power.

Jesus tells Judas, and Satan who had just entered him, to make arrangements for His arrest. Does that even sound reasonable? Jesus tells Satan, the enemy, what to do, and the enemy complies. Not only does He tell Satan to handle a few details, He is sending evil off to make arrangements for His own murder and, if that’s not enough, to be quick about it.

Later in the garden, though Judas had a plan to identify the Lord for the party of soldiers, Jesus willingly identifies Himself. And not just with a casual, “OK, guys. You got me.” He uses God’s name, the divine declaration I AM. And just look at the power of those words when spoken by the One who has authority to use them. The mob’s reaction is to fall on their faces. Each time I read it, I find it even more surprising. It’s like Jesus has to tell them, “So if that’s why you’re here, then arrest me already.”

John’s account makes Luke sound a little understated. “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.” But in all three scriptures, I see the tension between His authority and power, and humble obedience to the Father and the task He’s been given. In fact, I wonder if Jesus’ statement in Luke isn’t meant to imply something like this, “Didn’t you notice that you weren’t able to lay a hand on me in the temple? Remember all the times I simply passed through your midst? But this is why I’m here. OK, now you can do your thing.”

I’m sure these soldiers, the priests, Judas, every one involved, believed that they were exacting some sort of payment. This payment could only be collected by demands and threats and violence. They wanted revenge, and the cost of revenge was Jesus’ life. They were sure that His death would settle some account, one where they have to force payment in blood, one in which they believed they were justified.

But the payment isn’t forced at all. He willingly gave Himself for us. In power and authority and obedience, Jesus steps aside and lets darkness have its day.

What a beautiful redemption–

The power of darkness did not steal the payment in an act of revenge.

It wasn’t given up because of demands or threats.

It wasn’t on sale, nor was it at all cheap.

Jesus did not bargain shop for the reduced price of buying us back from evil. When He knew that He had fulfilled all that was required, He rightly declared, “It is finished.”

When those who are in Christ stand before God, they bear the seal of the Holy Spirit. We carry the receipt. Paid in full.

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. I Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)

 

That’s the devil’s game.

bible picI had a revelation this morning when my Bible fell open to this page. I shared with my small group last night that I’d been angry with God since we lost the baby. I knew the anger was there. In fact, I’d kind make a joke out of it and my prayers would sound like, “I love you but I’m a little ticked. I’ll get back with you.” Only I never did and just drifted and drifted for months until I was sick of myself–exhausted from trying to heal without the Healer.

Anger is a normal, necessary stage of the grieving process, but I can’t forget the One who walks through my grief with me hand in hand. When I saw the note on the top margin where the devil tempts Jesus, all the dots connected. Satan places conditions on Jesus, tries to strike a little bargain with the King of Kings. Huh. What a dangerous game–to attempt to thwart the plans of someone who is in complete authority over you, the Living God. But now I realize that this is the place where my anger has taken me. I’m not going to pray, or study, or worship right now. I’m angry! Fix it, and then we’ll talk.

But Jesus doesn’t play. When I enter into that negotiation, I’m playing the devil’s game.

Last night at Bible study we talked about obedience. When God tells you to do something, you do it or you sin. No two ways about it. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t simultaneously holding your hand and heart as you grieve. And just like I draw so much support, affirmation, and comfort from unpacking my grief with my sisters in Christ, conversations with the Father have all of that to offer and MORE.

My act of obedience today will be to bring my grief to worship with me. I think Jesus is eager for us to unpack this together. Here’s a verse I’m meditating on: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…” II Peter 1:3

If you’ve lost your way in the grieving process, I invite you to come with me to the Father and claim this promise. Wait expectantly for His divine power to heal your broken heart.

 

Following Makes the Follower

I’ve just read another article defending school teachers. It’s the millionth  (probably zillionth) published, rapidly going viral, well deserved justification of my profession. Really, there’s so much written which credits teachers as heroes that I’m having trouble figuring out who the villains are. Exactly who is panning American educators, laying the blame squarely out our feet for the very downfall of Western Civilization? Admittedly my research on this topic is grossly limited because no one is liking and sharing the blog posts which bemoan teachers for being lazy freeloaders.

Teaching wears me out. It’s hard work. And ladies and gentlemen, I am not lazy. Here’s a little known fact that I always want to scream from a rooftop when I hear teachers criticized—the skills, people. It takes an unbelievable amount skill to deliver a lesson well. Communication, intuition, classroom  management, on your feet decision making, maintaining discipline—SKILLS. And that’s just the delivery of a lesson.  That’s not to mention the interpersonal skills it takes to develop relationships with  your students and create a welcoming atmosphere for each class, even though at times you’re met with fierce resistance.

Now, how about planning? When I first switched from teaching English to history, I sat at my desk and cried because I had no idea where to start. I’m not sure about other teachers, but I do a fair amount of research for history presentations. It’s very time consuming. Then, you have to be creative, even a little artistic at times. Technology? Heck, yeah. You better be on top of that.  Time management? Indispensable. Planning is just a fraction of what a teacher does in the mislabeled “planning period”. Teachers act as their own personal assistants. We type, copy, distribute, and file every document ourselves.  In 45 minutes, I may have a stack of papers to grade, a couple of tests to run through the copier, an assignment to type, and five or so emails to answer in addition to all the research and lesson planning. Then there’s the matter of personal business. More than once, I’ve spent the bulk of a planning period playing phone tag with my doctor’s office.

But here’s the kicker, folks. You can’t simply have nominal familiarity with each skill. To be the teacher that apparently we are all expected to be, you have to master all these skills.  What’s a perfectionist like Mrs. Beasley to do? Well, let me tell ya. I feel a lot of pressure. All the time. At least once every school year, I have something like a nervous breakdown. The kids know I’m a basket case and discuss it when I’m not around. It’s embarrassing. I thought it would get better when I left public schools for Christian education, but I have a unique gift for not letting things go.

All this pressure has given me mixed feelings about my career as a teacher. I love planning (the creative part, not all the clerical stuff) and presenting. I truly do. I enjoy my students. But my heart’s desire was always to be a stay at home mom.  As a young adult, I never envisioned my children in daycare, or in full-time pre-K classes, all so that I could put in my time teaching other people’s children during the day and have nothing left over for my own in the evenings. I thought it would get easier when my children got a little older. They’re in the first and fifth grades now, and I chase my tail now more than ever. I’d love to quit my job, run my household, be more available to my husband and children, and write.

I’m sure that sounds cynical, but I promise this post has a happy ending. I’ve returned to teaching several times because of circumstances. It took a lot of years for us to finally have a family of our own. Every year that I returned to school in August felt like a slap in the face. I simply wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t miscarried. Those years were long and bore the ever present specters of brokenhearted loss and freaking out over test scores. Public school, I don’t miss you.

For a few years after we first adopted, I quit teaching and worked part-time. This I could manage. But, Todd’s call to plant a church is my call to plant a church. It’s that one flesh thing, I think. The first time that he suggested I go back to teaching school full-time so that he work on a church plant, I lit into him. It was not my finest hour as a wife, I confess. Amazingly, the Lord went to work on me, and I’ll never regret the decision to move, go back to work, and plant Renew Church. I might choose an easier schedule, but I love my school and I love my students.

Unfortunately, my spiritual gift is wearing my feelings on my sleeve and blabbing my thoughts and opinions to anyone with ears, so it’s no secret how hard teaching full-time is for me.

Luckily, my principal and I have a good working relationship, one characterized by my frank admissions that teaching wears me out and I’m pretty much always overwhelmed. He knew the day he interviewed me that I’d hoped to move on from teaching eventually. That he still hired me is better than any trust building exercise. Over time, I’ve conveyed my deepest concerns about my employment without holding much back. I’m a better wife and mother when I am not obligated to a full-time job. It plays on my conscience to be deprived of the time and energy that I’m sure should go to my family. Recently, he waved me into his office to ask me how I’m doing. I had a miscarriage a couple of weeks before school started. It’s been a hard year.

We had an honest conversation. We always do. He knows that I would like to be at home more and have time to write. He knows that I have to work to support us while we plant the church. He knows that more than anything, I wanted my baby. I assured him that, as worn out as I get, I’m all in. “I know,” he said. “You’re committed to these students.” Thank you for that, Mr. G. I’d like to think that each and every nervous breakdown has been for the greater progress of the gospel.

Then he said something that I wasn’t sure I could accept.

“You’re going to have to be OK with the fact that God called you to teach. I know it’s true because He’s using you here.”

See, this is a problem because that was a really nice thing to say, and I can see that you’re my biggest fan, but that’s not what I wanted to hear.

Also, that’s the second principal who told me that I’m called to Christian education. It’s the second time that I doubted (and resented) this assessment of God’s will. That conversation has hovered over my thoughts since that day. Honestly, it depressed me a little. And irked me a lot. I’d like to determine what God’s telling me to do, thank you very much.

A few weeks ago, I was writing a bible study lesson for my small group when God placed a startlingly simple truth under my nose. What makes a follower of Christ? It’s the following.

In order to disciple, we teach all these different facets of the Christian walk—pray, study, worship, serve. Don’t conform. Be transformed. We flesh out all those simple truths into a litany of specific obligations. Attend church—be there. Join a small group—get real.  Sing in the band—serve in the way that gives you joy. Teach Sunday school—volunteer when no one else will. Go on a mission trip—stretch yourself. Surrender to the ministry—make church your job. Plant a church—even if it’s crazy. Surrender to missions—go where no one else will.

So much stuff. Am I simply picking what works for me and my situation? Why do some women get to stay home but I have to work? And, how do I know I’m not called to something even bigger, like foreign missions? And, if I have a passion to write and it is really fulfilling to me, can that be my call?

A week or so later, I was teaching European imperialism to my 9th grade history students. The presentation includes details of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion between 1899-1901. As we discussed the massacres of foreign missionaries and Chinese Christians, I told the students that one question plagues me every time I teach this unit.

Why does God call some to all that hardship—in this case to be the victims of unthinkable atrocities– but He called me to Baptist Prep?

Funny. Those words—called me to Baptist Prep—that actually came from my mouth. OK, it’s true. If I felt that God had some other plan, that’s what I would do. Also, in comparison to martyrdom, teaching seems so easy. Even funnier, the next thing to tumble from my lips was that startlingly simple answer. What makes a Christ follower is the following. He leads. You follow. Period.

I have a friend who might have made an awesome school teacher, but she is now a missionary in Ecuador. She’s single. Her heart’s desire is to take God’s Word to women in the jungle. He led her there. She followed. It never crossed my mind that God might ask me to follow Him, as a single woman with no children in my future, into missions.

I have a another friend who would much rather be a missionary in Africa than teach school. She owns a salon, her day job, if you will. But she’s also  fundraising for African Christian Outreach for no pay at all. Someday, she’ll be in Africa full-time. She can’t wait for the day that Jesus leads her to Kenya for good. I’ve always been kind of relieved that He never led me to Kenya.

I have another friend who works in a nursing home and I can tell that those patients are richly blessed to have her there. She is amazing, so compassionate and genuine.  Me? I’d rather teach school, or go to Africa, or to a jungle, or teach school in an African jungle, than work in a nursing home. I kind of have a phobia of nursing homes. Please God, don’t lead me there!

What those women do seems so difficult to me. Yet, I’ve heard from my friends again and again, “I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t work with kids every day.” They might be really relieved that God didn’t call them to teach writing to eighth graders (which is hard, I can tell you).

The strongest spiritual influence in my life, my mom, was a teacher for a short time. I’m sure she believed when she was in college that she would teach for a lot of years. But God led her to Bible Study Fellowship International, and she followed—first as a class member, then in leadership in the children’s program, and finally she became a teaching leader. I’ve always been astounded at the influence she had because of BSF.  When I was a kid, I just thought she gabbed on the phone with her leadership circle a lot. Years later, I realized  that it was her ministry which she conducted over the phone, in leaders’ meeting, and giving her lectures. She taught hundreds of women over the years, but also personally mentored many of her leaders. She also mentored me. Things would have turned out very differently for a lot of people if my mom had gone a different route.

Jesus led my husband to plant a church. Todd followed—and brought his family along! Jesus led me back to teaching. I followed. I’m going to trust Him that our choice to make our lives here will turn out for the greater progress of the gospel—that a lot of lives would turn out differently if we weren’t following where He leads.

In His authority, God carries out His plan. Maybe where He leads you is where you will have the most influence—where your presence will turn out for the greater progress of the gospel. And guess what? That’s hard work, no matter what it is. Going to China or the jungle, teaching or a nursing home—if you’re there to proclaim the gospel, it will never be easy. What is it that Jesus said to do before you follow? Oh, yeah. Deny yourself. Take up your cross.

 

 

 

 

 

Katie Revisits Pain and Purpose–or, She’s Back in Black

I shocked myself a little bit this week when I realized I hadn’t published anything on this blog since February. FEBRUARY. Dang. Where’ve I been?

It’s not that I haven’t written at all. I’m working on a bible study that I hope to have published. My biggest obstacle is deciding when I’m done with research and can actually write. I’d like to have it done by the first of the year. Don’t hold your breath, though. I sure won’t.

We launched Sunday morning services for Renew Church in February. It was awesome. Euphoric. What a joy to see it all come together! After all those years of wrestling with God’s call to move and plant a church, we now see a long inspired vision spring to life. My insight into this rather lengthy test of faith was that God indeed has a plan, that the plan is most often challenging if not downright painful, and that the pain of the plan puts me on my knees. I get to be a part of what God’s doing, and it draws me to Him like a gravitational pull. The more challenging the test, the stronger the pull.

The church launch was the last time I wrote for this blog. Since then? More of the same. Husband, kids, teaching, church plant.

Oh yeah, and then I got pregnant.

You’ll find these two principles sprinkled throughout my blog: God has a plan, and God gives me more than I can handle. Then there’s a third principle—that the first two are for my benefit (among many other things). What follows here is more of more than I can handle.

When I found out I was pregnant, I almost didn’t react. Back in the day, when getting pregnant made sense, I would stand over the little pee stick and wring my hands in anticipation. A positive test would be met with squeals and then a high five to the good Rev. But this?

Unplanned. Unplanned for a 45 year old. Unplanned for a full-time working momma and wife to a bi-vocational pastor. Unplanned after many miscarriages had gone before.

One time in all our pregnancies we heard a heartbeat, but it was still so early that there was nothing to see on the scan. All we knew is that the baby’s heart was beating. Back then, I thought a heartbeat meant that everything would be okay. But four weeks later I was bleeding.

Last summer, we allowed ourselves to get excited when we saw our 8 week ultrasound. With this scan there was more to see. Peanut had a head and body. There was a picture of a little person there.  I knew that we weren’t out of the woods.

Two weeks later, I went in for another scan. There’s a horrible moment when the tech doesn’t say anything. Just tick, tick, tick on the keyboard, and you know that it’s bad news.

Loss is not uncharted territory to me. I’ve done this many times. But it’s doing a fine job of wrecking me.

My husband took my girls on a trip this weekend, so I’ve been alone. It’s actually been really good for me to have a couple of days to reflect. People have a great capacity to sweep grief aside in order to perform. The only way for me to function was to put this loss on the proverbial backburner. Day in and day out, I had this peculiar feeling that there’s some loose end that needed attention, but I couldn’t bring myself to face it.

Since Friday night, I’ve been facing it. What I’ve found out is that when I can assign a purpose to my pain—when I see how it figures into God’s plan—I go straight to Him with that pain. But when I can’t figure any way that He can use it? When it seems purposeless? I bolt.

All my planned pregnancies, and subsequent miscarriages, led me to something. They led me to adopt. They taught me about His authority. They strengthened my marriage. They deepened my empathy and provided me with an avenue to minister to others. I see their purpose.

But not this time. I got nothin’.

As I took all this to the Lord this weekend—finally—I realized that my obscured view of His purpose is the purpose.

If “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”, then certainly I must apply faith to this situation. I can’t see his plan. I don’t know His purpose, and yet it is my deep hope that He has one. It’s the lack of understanding—or perhaps the lack of accepting—His purpose that is the opportunity to build my faith.

Before I found out I was pregnant, I read a blog which asserted that everything doesn’t happen for a reason. It bothered me. Maybe we’re splitting hairs here. Maybe you say God doesn’t have His reasons yet still believe that He will “cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” The writer who published that blog contended that Romans 8:28 does not mean that everything has a purpose, but that I can choose a response to my circumstances that benefit me. The obvious question here is, what if my response is wrong? What if I make the wrong choice? And I definitely chose wrong in the past. In the beginning of our miscarriage journey, I chose anger, and it got me absolutely nowhere.

I say that interpretation of Romans 8:28 makes too much of me and my ability to respond and not enough of God. He is bigger than my ability to make the right choice. His Word declares that God Himself makes all things work together for my good. I believe it, and yes, believing it is a choice.

Picture this. You take your last breath. Your spirit departs your body. You hear ethereal singing and the Holy, Holy, Holy of the creatures around the throne. You see Him—complete with the holes in His hands that are now reaching to embrace you. When you pull back from the most heavenly of hugs, He offers to answer your most disturbing question.

Why did I suffer? Why did I have so many miscarriages that I lost count?

“Oh,” says the Word, who has been with God since the beginning, “no reason.”

No. That can’t be right.

I choose faith—the assurance that though I can’t see or understand His purpose, He has one. When I ask Him why I suffered, I believe He will point to my participation in the work of the kingdom, to others who were moved by my testimony, and to how my suffering was the gravitational pull that put me before Him and kept the cross before me.

For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’

Isaiah 46:9-10

Before a launch, you gotta yield . . .

Tomorrow we will open Renew Church’s doors for our first ever Sunday morning worship service. Actually Renew Church’s doors are really the doors of the Boys and Girls Club of Saline County, AR. After 18 months of bible study in a living room, it’s time to launch.

Church plant!

Church plant!

The vision for this ministry prompted us to leave comfort and security in Texas and trust God to provide all our needs in coming to Arkansas—when Todd told the church staff in Texas that he was resigning, neither of us had jobs. When we rolled up to our rent house for the first time in Benton, Arkansas, we had one part-time job between us. I can’t claim that I had faith through all of this; I was simply too afraid to not take that leap.

God began working in Todd years ago, first with this little whisper plant a church, plant a church, plant a church which gradually increased in volume and intensity. Then finally in 2012, we catapulted into this wild free fall of faith—if God is saying go, I’m afraid to say no.

So, here we are.

It is glaringly obvious that the Lord went ahead of us and put each piece in place. In the beginning, I was concerned about basic needs and where the money would come from so that we could survive. Looking back, what is most impressive to me is not really about money, but more about comfort and sustenance. It’s about how he drew us into relationships with godly friends who also have visions for ministry that seem impossible. But God builds the ministry and nothing is impossible for Him.

With all this awe and gratitude bubbling over in my heart, I am especially aware of the years God has spent preparing me for this.

Me. The one who said rather pointedly, “I will not go back to teaching school so that you can plant a church.”

Me. The one who scoffed at the idea of leaving Texas for Arkansas. Plant a church? In Arkansas? Psssh. Try that one on your second wife.

Evidence of changes that would come are found in the notes I jotted down in my bible over the years. There are many, many references to God’s authority scribbled in the margins. Even this morning as I read about Jesus’ baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit, I wrote, “Jesus—God and sent by God—demonstrates submission to God’s authority. Does this demonstration of submission and willingness open the door for the power of the Holy Spirit?” Looking back, I see that pattern played out in me. At each milestone as I yielded more to God’s authority, I experienced His power to change me.

This morning I also ran across an old note on the first page of I Thessalonians. Sometime in the last few years I wrote this–

            Faith–>Work

Love–>Labor

Hope–>Endurance

Serve the living God and wait for His Son.

Then on the opposite page, I added later—

            Share the gospel and your life. The fruit of the ministry is your joy and crown.

Faith compels us to work. Love for the Savior inspires us to labor for His purpose. Hope of seeing Him face to face creates an indomitable endurance. And all this happens by the power of His Spirit as we yield to His authority.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that I’m teaching school in Arkansas to provide for our family so Todd can co-pastor a church plant.

The woman who wrote all that down is so drastically different from the 26 year old who naively vowed to be joined for life to a minister. Want to know something funny? For the first few years I toyed with the temptation to walk away from this marriage. What a dumb kid! I would have missed out on all this JOY.

A healthy fear—or reverence, if you prefer–of God’s authority has made all the difference. It prevented us from ending our marriage. It guided us through miscarriages to adoption. It prompted us in the very decision that brought us to Arkansas. It instigated all the changes that make us want to fulfill our purpose. I’ve seen something good born out of every instance where we yielded to His authority.

Church, we must stop dodging God’s authority and looking for loopholes in the things He expects from us. It is a gigantic obstacle to fulfilling our purpose in this world. Don’t hesitate to yield. By the power of His Spirit, good things will come.

I’m pretty excited to see what’s next.

ADVENTures Day 22–Dark Games

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

I come from that generation who played outside until dark. “Be home when the street lights come on!!” my folks would say, and mostly we obeyed. This is a bit of a problem since, well, it’s fun to play in the dark. Every once in a while, in the wintertime when it is dark by 5:15, we would stay outside and play and play until someone stepped out and called us in.

We made this a habit during Christmas break, and I think my mom would let us get away with it just to keep us out of her hair. I understand this, now that I have my own two bairns–my two sweet little angels who woke me up on the first of my 10 vacation days with loud shrieking and the unmistakable sounds of trading punches. Sigh. Peace on earth.

One year during Christmas break, we took to playing hide-and-seek in the dark. I. LOVED. IT. No one could beat me. I had the very best hiding place–right on the front porch. This would be the proverbial hiding in plain sight strategy, except I could just step back into the shadows and no one knew I was there. The biggest danger is giving yourself away by laughing. Someone would come so close, even look directly at that dark corner and never see me.

We were out there until someone called–someone with authority called me by name out of the darkness .

My life before Christ was a little like this. I was a good kid–mostly, but some things about the darkness I found hard to resist. Generally I wanted to be obedient, stay out of trouble, and stay safe. But I held back a little darkness here and there, because it was fun–exciting even. It was obvious from watching the people around me that the darkness–as attractive as it seemed–was truly dangerous. After seeing one or two lives in shreds, I worked at maintaining a balance between light and dark.

But it doesn’t really work that way. You can’t love the light and flirt with darkness.

‘It can be bright with joy if you will do what you should! But if you refuse to obey, watch out. Sin is waiting to attack you, longing to destroy you. But you can conquer it!” Genesis 4:7 (TLB)

And this . . .

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. I Peter 5:8 (NLT)

God had allowed Israel to be devoured by the nations around them. He spared a remnant, brought them home, and promised them a Savior. The Lord had to teach His own people not to love the darkness–that they couldn’t be His chosen people and sprinkle in practices from pagan religions. What a treacherous, painful lesson for all those people. Yet, we repeat that pattern, don’t we? Isn’t it all too frequent that those who claim Christ as Savior are holding a little bit of darkness back for themselves?

That was my life for a number of years. I had made the decision to follow Christ, but I tried to bring the darkness with me. The Lord in His mercy knew that I had to be taught just how dark the darkness is. I love Psalm 110:75, “I know, O LORD, that your judgments are right, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.”

My husband’s testimony is a dramatic example of being rescued from darkness. He would tell the story better, but in a nutshell, he made a decision to follow Christ as a kid. When he grew older, like so many of us, he rebelled because he loved to play in the darkness. One night as he was out with some friends, God simply spoke to him. Clearly, Todd heard Him speak. “You don’t need this anymore.” I love this story. I’ve heard him tell it so many times that I knew there was a specific spot on a particular street in Marion, IL, where my husband heard and obeyed the voice of the Lord. When we went home for Thanksgiving, I asked him to take me there and I snapped this picture.

Boulevard

That night put my husband on a collision course with so many things that followed–a call to the ministry, college, seminary, me. I’m so grateful. He shook us both loose from the darkness so that we would be ready for each other.

God, in all His authority, has stepped out of Heaven and called you home. He gave us Jesus, the Light of the world, so that we would have no fear of being devoured by the darkness. If you have received the gift of the Lord Jesus, then you have so many things to praise Him for this Christmas.

If you are still flirting with darkness, are you tired yet? Maybe your life is in shambles because sin has devoured you. It’s not too late. Light has dawned on those living in deep darkness. He has done all these great things for each of us–and yes, also for you! Don’t refuse His gift!

Leave your darkness and run home to the light.

Merry Christmas.