Tuesday, October 3, 2017

We Need to Stop Dismembering God

Are you wondering where I am going with this post after reading the title? Me too. I hold to the belief that everything good, true, and pure comes from God. Yet we fixate on parts of God's character & worship it instead of Him. Worshiping anything, even a part of God Himself, instead of all of God, is idolatry.

Our minds don't like paradoxes, so we pick and choose which traits to focus on. We downplay or ignore traits that our cultures don't value, that make us uncomfortable, or that seem to contradict other parts of God.

So we are essentially dismembering God. We take His love, cut it out, place it on a pedestal, worship it, and condemn others for not doing the same thing we are.

God is loving, but He is also wrathful.
He is jealous, but God is also compassionate.
God shows mercy, but He also exacts judgment.
He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, but He is also the Lamb of God.
God offers grace, but He also demands holiness.
He is the leader of a heavenly army, but He is also the Prince of Peace.
God is to be feared, but He is also our hiding place.
He is the Eternal King, but He is also the Suffering Servant.
He told us to put away our swords, but He also told us He would bring divisions.

Some of these are easy to accept, but others are a challenge. We cannot only choose the traits, characteristic, and aspects of God that we like best, but rather we are to study all of Him, even the difficult bits. To worship God, we need to worship all of Him.

But we need to go further than simply recognizing and worshiping all of who God is. We need to be able to see Him in His creation as well. We like things to be clear-cut, tidy, and black & white, so we paint things and people with very broad strokes. We are all good. They are completely evil. Our political party is godly, but theirs is practically demonic. We don't see the good in "others" (whether we're talking about a political party, religion, nationality, or any other division of us vs. them), because we don't look for the good in them.

I say again, anything good, true, or pure comes from God. Anything that causes us to think about or remember God and worship Him is both sacred and godly.

This doesn't just apply to our group, but to every group in the world. Anything good comes from God. Anything that rings of divine Truth comes from God. Anything so beautiful that you breath a prayer of thanksgiving to God, comes from God.

There are snippets & fragments of God's Truth all throughout the world, because all good, pure, lovely, true things & values are God's. Even in other cultures or religions, we can find Truth that points us to God.

Parts of God's heart, but not ALL of God's heart, can be found in political party platforms.

Some of God's Truth, but not ALL of God's Truth, can be found in good art, books, and even other religions. This is not to say that all religions are equally good or all religions lead to heaven, but rather that anything good in any religion comes from God because He is the true source of all good.

So look for the godly, the Truth, glimpses of the divine everywhere and you will not be disappointed. Most of the time, we look for the good in our group and the bad in the groups of others...and we find it. Then we puff ourselves up while criticizing the faults of other groups. If they dare to suggest that our group has flaws...well, we deny, cast blame, or point fingers. This is a wrong focus.

If we look for the bad in our group and the good in others' groups, we will find it. We criticize ourselves for the past sins of our group, mourning the mistakes made by Christians long ago. We polish the best traits of other groups and put them on a pedestal, and lament that we are not better. This too is a wrong focus.

Instead, we should look for God in everyone and everything. Then give thanks to God for everything good that reminds you of Him. We should look for godly traits not only in our friends, but also in our enemies. God cares for the poor, the marginalized, the prisoners. He also cares for the rich, the powerful, and the oppressors. He wants to see everyone come to repentance. Remember that every good (godly) value comes from God. Just because someone else values something else does not automatically mean that they are valuing something evil. First look at what they are valuing and ask yourself if it is godly. We serve a complex God. Anything that rings of truth or focuses your eyes heavenward or causes you to think of the Creator, comes from God because apart from God, there is no other source of truth or goodness.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Looking for Christ in Others

This is the end of my series on the factions in Roth's books. The rest of the series is herehereherehere, here, and here.

Every person has things & ideals they value. Frankly, we value some things & ideals so much that we not only idolize them but vilify others who dare to value something else more. My friends, this is not a good thing to do!!

In the Divergent world, the five factions clash a lot. If they were in our world, they'd be making social media groups where they agree how awesome they are & how blind the other factions are. If they formed denominations, they'd be questioning the others' salvation.

Let's play out a few scenarios to see how the factions would attack each other:

Abnegation would ask the others how they could be so selfish!
Amity would frown over the divisiveness of that statement.
Candor would own its selfishness and be ready to point out your flaws as well.
Dauntless would scorn their perceived meekness as a sign of a weak character.
Erudite would either be too deep in a book to care about Abnegation's statement or would be utterly outraged when Abnegation suggested that their book fund should be donated to the poor.

Amity would ask why it was necessary to be divided into groups. They would suggest a cookout.
Abnegation would agree...if the factionless (poor) were invited too.
Candor would ask why they should spend time with you, since they don't like you. See the truth hurts.
Dauntless would come for the food and then start competitive games of strength.
Erudite would come if there was a quiet corner to read and skip the small talk. It is logical to eat when it is offered.

Candor would tell you your faults & strengths
Amity would ask Candor why it was so negative & fault-focused. People already know their flaws and need encouragement.
Dauntless would punch Candor for criticizing them.
Abnegation would revive the unconscious Candor.
Erudite would ask Amity why they wanted to live in ignorance, even as a dazed Candor asked why it should hide the truth.

Dauntless would ask why people did not want to know, face, and overcome their fears.
Abnegation would shake their head at the self-centered focus of knowing my fears, facing my fears, and overcoming my fears. If we forget ourselves, won't that erase our fears?
Amity would point out that people's fears do not lead to peace or harmony, but division & hate. In the ideal world, people would overcome their fears, but Amity would struggle with dredging up the worst in people in the process of overcoming fears.
Candor would claim that they do know their fears because they are honest, but they don't face them as thoroughly as Dauntless.
Erudite would ask and see if they could study people in their fear scenarios and write a paper on it.

Erudite would ask why people didn't study or learn more.
Abnegation would tell them that serving the poor is more important than knowledge.
Amity would tell them that living in harmony & peace is more important than knowledge.
Candor would tell them that speaking the truth at all times is how people learn about themselves and others.
Dauntless would show Erudite that they had learned the practical skills: fighting, defending, mastering their fears. What else is needed?

There would be bickering, insults, and fighting if these factions lived in our world. But we fight among ourselves even without factions like Roth's.
"How could someone who values ______ be a Christian?"
"How could someone not value ______ like I do? Don't they read their Bible?"

Now please listen...er read...carefully: everything good, every pure ideal & value, all beauty comes from God. Jesus would not be placed in a faction, political party, or even church denomination because such a narrow, human construct could not contain all of His goodness. So we dismember Jesus. We build walls around our group, effectively cutting off parts of Jesus' nature that don't fit in or mesh well with our beliefs, that make us uncomfortable. To accept all of Jesus is to look for Him everywhere, even in other groups or across the aisle. Then we will be more Christ-like instead of trying to form Jesus in our image.

Then we can say to Abnegation: I see how you strive to be selfless like Jesus. Jesus does value selflessness.
Then we can say to Amity: I see how you surrender your preferences & submit to the group like Jesus submitted to His Father's plan. Jesus does value peace & harmony.
Then we can say to Candor: I see how you strive for honesty because Jesus is the Truth. I see how you speak hard truths like Jesus spoke hard truths to the religious leaders. Jesus does value truth.
Then we can say to Dauntless: I see how you strive to protect the weak like Jesus did. Jesus proclaimed freedom to captives and release to prisoners.
Then we can say to Erudite, I see how you strive to be a good teacher like Jesus..the Good Teacher. I see that knowledge can point us to God. Jesus taught the crowds and His disciples.

Once we can see Jesus' traits in other groups, we can start to pray to be fully Christ-like.
Lord, may I be selfless like you. May I be friendly, peaceful, and harmonious like You. May I be truthful like You. May I be courageous & defend the weak like You. May I seek after You, to know you more.

Once we can do that with fictional divisions, we can look for the real divisions in our world and do the same thing.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Erudite in the Christian Walk

You can check out the rest of this series hereherehere, here, and here.

Today's musing is based on the Divergent series' faction of Erudite and what godly traits can be seen in their faction. Once more, I wonder what Bible verses, books of the Bible, and people in the Bible would be favored by Erudite folk. What songs in the hymnal would they be drawn to? Let's jump right in.

Erudite's Favorite Verses:
Theme Verse: Proverbs 18:15 the heart of discerning acquires knowledge and the wise seek it out.

They would also like these verses:

Psalm 119:66 teach me knowledge & good judgment because I trust you. This would be their prayer.
Proverbs 13:16 the prudent act with knowledge, fools expose folly.
Hosea 4:6 People are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
1 Peter 1:5-8 Add goodness to faith & knowledge to goodness & self-control to knowledge & perseverance to self-control & godliness to perseverance & mutual affection to godliness & love to mutual affection. Possess these qualities to be effective & productive in the knowledge of Jesus.
1 Corinthians 13:2 You can have knowledge without love, but you are nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:12 In the future, I will know fully even as I am fully known.

Their favorite book would probably be Proverbs for its pithy wisdom or any of the history books because yay learning!!

Erudite's favorite person in the Bible would have to be Solomon as the wisest king of Israel. They would also like Jesus because He is the great Teacher who makes you think through your faith. He knows all things.

When it comes to their favorite songs (from the Nazarene Hymnal Sing to the Lord), I imagine Erudite liking the following songs:
Tell the Blessed Story (#695)-Teach me & I will teach.
I Love to Tell the Story (#696)-Teach me & I will teach.
We've a Story to Tell the Nations (#698)-Teach me & I will teach.
Tell Me the Story of Jesus (#205)-Teach me & I will teach.
Apostle's Creed (#8) & Nicene Creed (#14) These are statements of belief to study and learn. Who needs songs?

A Erudite Prayer: May I seek to learn more of You, myself, & Your world. May I apply what I learn of You & keep on studying. May I obey Jesus, the greatest teacher who lived.

I look in the Bible and I do see how the wisdom that Erudite values can be a godly trait. Maybe I should join them in their prayer to be discerning & knowledgeable like Christ.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Dauntless in the Christian Walk

You can check out the start of this series herehere, here, and here.

Today's musing is based on the Divergent series' faction of Dauntless and what godly traits can be seen in their faction. Once more, I wonder what Bible verses, books of the Bible, and people in the Bible would be favored by Dauntless folk. What songs in the hymnal would they be drawn to? Let's jump right in.

Dauntless's Favorite Verses:
Theme Verse: Psalm 82:3-4 Defend the weak, fatherless, poor, oppressed. Rescue the weak, needy, and those who need delivered from the wicked.

They would also like these verses:
Deuteronomy 31:6 calls for people to be strong and courageous. They should not be afraid or terrified because God is with them & will never leave or forsake them.
Romans 14:8 outlines how we should live for the Lord & die for the Lord and either way, belong to the Lord.
1 Corinthians 13:7 Love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.
Ephesians 6:10-17 The armor of God passage calls for people to be strong in the God's mighty power and to struggle against the forces of evil.
1 Timothy 6:12 Paul tells Timothy to fight the good fight of faith.
2 Timothy 2:3 Paul tells Timothy to endure hardship like a good Christian soldier.

Their favorite book would probably be Joshua or Judges since it records Israel conquering its land.

Dauntless's favorite person in the Bible would have to be the mighty men of the Old Testament like David, Sampson, and the others. They would also like Jesus because He did clear the temple and He gave His life to save us. He did not fear death, but rather, he conquered it.

When it comes to their favorite songs (from the Nazarene Hymnal Sing to the Lord), I imagine Dauntless liking the following songs:

Onward Christian Soldiers (#644): enough is said in the title. no explanation is needed

Soldiers of Christ, Arise (#629): see the explanation above

Victory All the Time (#648): It sets up the fight between right & wrong. It calls for people to fight the devil's forces.

Give of Your Best to the Master (#540): Yes, Abnegation would also like this song, but so would Dauntless. They would like to give of the strength of their youth. They engage in the battle for truth. Jesus is their example because He was dauntless, young, and brave.

A Dauntless Prayer: May I be a brave defender of the oppressed. May I be strong so I can defend the weak. May I follow Jesus' way as He bravely laid down His life to save us.

I look in the Bible and I do see how the courage that Dauntless values can be a godly trait. Maybe I should join them in their prayer to be brave like Christ.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Candor in the Christian Walk

You can check out the start of this series here, here, and here.

Today's musing is based on the Divergent series' faction of Candor and what godly traits can be seen in their faction. Once more, I wonder what Bible verses, books of the Bible, and people in the Bible would be favored by Candor folk. What songs in the hymnal would they be drawn to? Let's jump right in.

Candor's Favorite Verses:
Theme Verse: 1 Corinthians 13:6 "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth"

They would also like these verses:
Psalm 25:5 Guide me in truth and teach me. This would be their prayer.
Proverbs 12:12 God detests lying lips, but delights in the trustworthy.
Proverbs 27:6 We should trust wounds from friends, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
John 8:31-32 Hold to his teaching and know truth. The truth will set you free.
John 14:6 Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

Their favorite book would probably be Ecclesiastes for saying the hard truths about meaningless life or any of the prophets for speaking the truth.

Candor's favorite person in the Bible would have to be any prophet for speaking God's (unpopular) truths, but at the same time, they would love Jesus because A) He called out sins in the lives of the religious hypocrites and B) He literally said "I am the Truth."

When it comes to their favorite songs (from the Nazarene Hymnal Sing to the Lord), I imagine Candor liking the following songs:

I Know Who Holds Tomorrow (#612): This song speaks the truth of not knowing the future or understanding tomorrow.

The Solid Rock (#436): Lean on Jesus (the Truth). Stand on Him. All of ground sinks. Put your hope in Him (the Truth).

Where He Leads, I'll Follow (#481) He is our example and pattern, so  we should follow Him.

A Candor Prayer: May I be honest and truthful. May I be known to have Your integrity. May I follow Jesus' way since He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I look in the Bible and I do see how the honesty that Candor values can be a godly trait. Maybe I should join them in their prayer to be truthful like Christ.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Amity in the Christian Walk

The first part of this series is here and the second part is here.

Today's musing is based on the Divergent series' faction of Amity and what godly traits can be seen in their faction. Once more, I wonder what Bible verses, books of the Bible, and people in the Bible would be favored by Amity folk. What songs in the hymnal would they be drawn to? Let's jump right in.

Amity's Favorite Verses:
Theme Verses: Romans 12:13-18 This passage commands believes to share with those in need, practice hospitality, bless cursers, rejoice with rejoicers, mourn with mourners, live in harmony, associate with all regardless of position, and live at peace. It fits their ideals quite well.

They would also like these verses:
Psalm 119:63 talks about being a friend to those who fear God & follow His laws.
Psalm 122:8 says that for the sake of family and friends, they say peace be with you.
Proverbs 17:9 says that anyone who would foster love covers over offenses. If someone repeats a matter, it can separate close friends.
Proverbs 17:17 says that a friend loves at all times (but a brother is born for adversity).
Proverbs 18:24 says that unreliable friends lead to ruin, but there is a friend that is closer than a brother.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5 says that love is patient & kind. It is not envious, boastful, or self-seeking. It does not dishonor others, get easily angered, or keep a records of wrongs.
1 John 4:11 says that God loves us, so we should love each other.

Their favorite book would probably be Ruth. She's loyal & stays with Naomi. Both women give up their preferences for social harmony.

Amity's favorite person in the Bible would have to be Jesus. He was called a friend of sinners and welcomed diverse people into His group.

When it comes to their favorite songs (from the Nazarene Hymnal Sing to the Lord), I imagine them singing these songs as they harvest their farms together:

For the Beauty of the Earth (#776): This is a song rejoicing in creation as they farm & celebrate relationships.

For the Fruit of All Creation (#773): This is a song that is thankful for the harvest & farming process. They help their neighbors and share the harvest.

All Creatures of Our God & King (#77): This is a song that celebrates with creation and calls for us to forgive others.

An Amity Prayer: May I yield my desires to the group. May I seek unity & harmony over being right or having it my way. May I follow Jesus' way of friendship with and compassion for the lost.

I look in the Bible and I do see how the harmony that Amity values can be a godly trait. Maybe I should join them in their prayer to be a friend like Christ.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Abnegation in the Christian Walk

The other day, I gave a brief introduction to the Divergent Series in addition to musing why I believe that every problem in the world can be traced back to selfishness. You can read that post here.

Yet, as I reflected more on each faction, I realized that each faction has some (but not all) godly traits that Christians should strive to implement.

When I think of the faction Abnegation, I can see Christ-like values in them. I let my mind wander and imagined what their favorite verses, books of the Bible, and people in the Bible would be. I imagined what songs they would pick out as their theme songs if they had a copy of a Nazarene hymnal (Sing to the Lord published in 1993).

Abnegation's Favorite Verses:
Their theme verse would be Philippians 2:3-4 where Paul talks about valuing others above ourselves and looking to the interests of others. This describes them to a T.

They would also enjoy the following verses:
John 15:13 They would lay down their life for their friends, because that is truly selfless.
1 Cor. 13:4-5 Love is patient & kind. It is not envious, boastful, or self-seeking. It does not dishonor others, get easily angered, or keep a records of wrongs.
2 Cor. 9:7-11 They give generously and cheerfully. They give gifts to the poor.
James 3:14-16 To justify their worldview, they would point to this passage to say that we shouldn't boast about or deny having envy or selfish ambition, because these traits lead to disorder and every evil practice.
1 John 3:16-18 They would remind each other to lay down their lives and keep sharing their materials possessions with those that do not have any. If they have stuff and do not share, how can they have God's love in them? They would like the practical side of loving in action and in truth.

I think their favorite book would be James. They would like the tying their faith to their actions, as well as James' critique that selfish ambition leads to evil practices. It is so practical and concise that it fits their priorities.

Their favorite person in the Bible would have to be Jesus. I mean He was the servant to all. He helped the poor and the marginalized. He even gave up the glory of heaven for a time to save us. He is the ultimate example of selflessness.

If they had access to the Nazarene Hymnal, I think they would love the following songs:

Make Me a Blessing (#533): This song has the prayer of "make me a blessing". It talks about how giving as given to us and asks for people to be a helper to helpless.

Make Me a Servant (#535): This song has the prayer of "make me a servant." It extols virtues like humility and meekness. It wants the singers to lift up the weak.

May the Mind of Christ, My Savior (#483): This song asks for peace so that they can be calm to comfort the sick & sorrowing. It wants people to exalt him (Jesus), even as they seek to abase themselves, because that is the way to victory. Their goal is to win the lost and for the lost to forget the channel (us) so that they only see Jesus.

Give of Your Best to the Master (#540): This songs calls for people to give the Master (Jesus) our strength, ardor (passion), and the best that can be offered. It wants people to follow His example and serve Him.

Take My Life & Let It Be Consecrated (#455): This songs encourages people to offer Him their moments & days. It asks for hands that move for Him. Throughout the song, it tells the Lord to take the person's riches, will, and self.

These songs have the theme of selflessness and service. So they fit in the Abnegation box pretty well.

An Abnegation Prayer: May I forget myself in serving You and others. May I become less so You may become greater. May I follow Jesus' selfless way.

I look in the Bible and I do see how the selflessness that Abnegation values can be a godly trait. Maybe I should join them in their prayer to be selfless like Christ.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

It All Comes Back to Selfishness

This post requires a little back story, so bear with me. There is a book series by Veronica Roth called Divergent. The books in the series are Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant. This distopian series is set in Chicago's future where everyone within the city walls is divided into one of five factions. When people come of age at 16 years old, they have the choice to remain in their faction of birth or choose another faction. Each faction was originally formed based on what people viewed as the principle problem of humanity.

Some people looked at the world and viewed selfishness as the root of all problems. So they strove to become selfless. They formed the Abnegation faction where they strive to forget themselves in service to others.

Others decided that the lack of friendliness is the root cause of evil in the world. So they strove to maintain group harmony and friendliness. They formed the Amity faction and are this society's main farmers.

Still others viewed dishonesty as the world's greatest problem. So they decided to be completely honest, no matter the cost. They formed the Candor faction and serve as judges.

Some people viewed cowardice and fear as humanity's principle problem. So they strove to be brave and fearless. They formed the Dauntless faction and serve as the city's police force.

The last group of people viewed ignorance as the main problem of the human race. If people just knew more about the world and the people in it, there would be less problems. So they seek after knowledge. They formed the Erudite faction and serve as the city's teachers and researchers.

So those are the five factions and a nutshell summary of their worldview & jobs.

Do any of these resonate with you? Do you view selfishness, lack of friendliness, dishonesty, cowardice, or ignorance as the root of the world's problems?

I believe that selfishness is humanity's primary problem. 
Why do we hurt others? Because we want our way. 
Why do we sin against God? Because we want to do our own thing instead of submitting to His plans. 

As I kept thinking about this theme, I realized that selfishness is the underlying root of the problems of all five factions. Let's look at them again through the lens of selfishness. 

Why are we (as humanity) selfish? We put our needs and wants before others' needs. We are more interested in making sure we get our "fair share" than fairly sharing with those around us.

Why are we not friendly? We put our preferences over group harmony and are willing to fight for our rights instead of submitting to the group's wishes.

Why are we dishonest? We value our reputation and safety more than releasing the truth that could help someone else. We want more resources and are willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get them.

Why are we cowardly & fearful? We value our safety over opening our lives to those who need protecting. We do not defend the weak because we might get attacked along with them. 

Why are we ignorant? We do not want to learn about those who are different. We do not care to stay informed about how we can make a difference for those who are struggling. If we keep the poor and foreigners as nameless statistics, we do not have to care. 

So I view all of humanity's problems as stemming from an innate, carnal selfishness that we are born with and must fight against every day we are alive. But I am not ending this post with the depressing fact that we are selfish. Now we will look at ways to be selfless and, may I be so bold as to add, more Christ-like.

Let us ask ourselves what areas can we cut back in so that we can help our local and global neighbors more.
Let us make the choice to dress simply, modestly, and practically so that we remind ourselves through our clothing choices that we are not the center of attention.
Let us be prepared to care for those on the margins of society who need extra help.

Let us ask ourselves when can we yield our preferences to the group's decision because we do not need minor divisions to further fracture us.
Let us make the choice to submit to each other as much as possible instead of fighting for our rights at the expense of our fellowman.
Let us be prepared to be the ones to yield time and time again because we love others well and we put them before our preferences.

Let us ask ourselves if our reputation should be more important than speaking the truth.
Let us make the choice to honestly give our opinions and share hard truths that help us grow as humans.
Let us be prepared to be purposefully misunderstood by those willing to lie to get ahead even as we become known as people of honesty.

Let us ask ourselves who are in need of defenders and commit to both speak up for them AND intercede for them. (The poor, the foreigners who struggle to express themselves in their 2nd, 3rd, or 7th language, those preyed upon by the system).
Let us make the choice to refuse to participate in oppression in any form and to speak out against it.
Let us be prepared that some of our choices will draw negative attention and hate towards us for standing up for those on the margins of society. Let us count the cost and be protectors.

Let us ask ourselves each day what can we learn about our local and global neighbors so that we can understand them instead of fearing them.
Let us make the choice to study and develop good, helpful things for our world instead of destructive things.
Let us be prepared to continue to learn more about ourselves, our neighbors, our world, and our God as we better understand each person and thing in our lives.

It all comes back to selfishness, but there is a way to move past selfishness and choose selflessness. We can choose the Way of Jesus.

Monday, September 11, 2017

An Open Letter: To the One Who Stayed, From One Who Went

We attended church together. Living life with one another. Participating in church activities and other events. Until one day, when I announced that I would be going forth into the world for ministry. I was so excited to prepare for this mission God laid on my heart, so I shared my news with you. Yet some of you did not share my joy and the fire in me dimmed a little.

I know that you are a loving, sincere, godly person, which is partly why I was so blindsided that you weren't sharing my joy. Your words, regardless of the good intentions or playful banter you meant, carried far more sting that I think that you realized. Your smile as you spoke those words did not remove the barb your words placed in my heart.

Sadly, when I talk to others called to missions and ministry, they have encountered similar words with all-too-familiar barbs wounding their own hearts. This is coming from someone who went out into missions. I want you to know that these are NOT words support the missions-minded people in your midst.

What I Heard: God is telling me that you are supposed stay with us.
What My Head Understood: The speaker is going to miss us a lot & is not looking forward to us leaving.
What My Heart Felt: God speaks with one voice and the speaker is trying to play the "God card" to guilt me into staying instead of going where God is leading. This call is new and scary for me, and now I am doubting the Spirit's leading.
My Final Thoughts on This: Your message from God and my message from God are contradicting each other. They both cannot be true. Can I be honest? Your message sorta deflated me. It stole part of my joy of my calling. Your jest caused me stress and doubt. I'm sorry I didn't laugh much and that my smile seemed a bit forced.

What I Heard: Don't worry. They'll be back [to our church]. They are just doing what they feel God is telling them to do.
What My Head Understood: The speaker sees that God is calling us to missions, but hopes we will return.
What My Heart Felt: How sweet! The little child thinks God is calling her to missions. Don't worry. It's just a phase and she'll soon be back never to leave.
My Final Thoughts on This: Your message did not tell me that I am a fellow believer who is capable of listening to God's call and obeying. It is more patronizing and condescending than helpful. I feel belittled and written off. I am hearing the unspoken ending of your comment: I'm getting this call wrong because we "feel" God is calling us...but you don't think He really is.

What I Heard: You didn't ask me for permission to go to <place>.
What My Head Understood: You are sad that we are going and maybe a little hurt that we announced our plans instead of consulting you.
What My Heart Felt: Should I be conducting a survey before I do what God is calling me to do? Pardon my bluntness, did I need your permission?
My Final Thoughts on This: You're right. I didn't ask your permission. Because I don't need your permission. Frankly, I need very few people's permission to follow where God leads.

What I Heard: Let's pray that the doors don't open for this journey to happen. (i.e. house to sell, funds to be raised, etc.)
What My Head Understood: They are sad that we are leaving and don't want us to go.
What My Heart Felt: Are there people praying that hurdles will be raised between me and this ministry? Isn't fighting the devil's forces enough? Must I fight the church's "prayers" too?Our prayers are conflicting each other. God cannot answer two opposing prayers at the same time. Why aren't you praying that I follow God's will? Why are you trying to up the cost of following Him?
My Final Thoughts on This: You can pray prayers like that...but it doesn't mean that you should. Honestly, it hurts to feel that some people at my own church are not supporting me in this mission. It is much more necessary to have prayer warriors praying for us and the real challenges we will face instead of people praying against us.

I do understand the point the speakers meant to make in these examples, but I doubt that they realized how much more difficult my transitions were for me, because of these words. When I was preparing to uproot myself from my family, my home, and my 'normal life', I did not feel supported and encouraged by some within the church community. The church is supposed to be a sending agency, so freely send.

Now all that being said, our parents and many wonderful, loving people were awesome with our move into missions. They were excited for us and they sent us on our way with promises of prayer and support. They prayed for us, encouraged us, let us store things in their homes, supported us financially, and sent us on our way with blessings. That is an image of what the church is supposed to be. In fact, the previous post is all about those highly helpful & encouraging messages we got from many of you.

I hope I wasn't too harsh here. Hearing others in ministry around me receive comments like these still causes my heart to throb with pain even though it has been years since I first heard these comments and began the forgiveness process. So please carefully weigh your words. See Proverbs 12:18Ephesians 4:29, and Proverbs 18:21.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

An Open Letter: To the One Who Encourages, From the One Who was Sent

As you know, God calls people into missions and ministry with Him. We who are called share this announcement with you, our families and church families. So many of you responded with overwhelming love and support as you prepared to send us forth. Thank you.

I'm not sure if you realized how much your words and gestures meant to us as we prepared to go and as we went where we were sent. So I will tell you now those things that you said and did that meant so much to us.

Some of the comments we received from others carried a hidden barb, but your sweet words helped carry us through moments of doubt, exhaustion, and trials on our way to the place of our calling. Your words helped us endure while we were there.

-We're praying for you.
-Let us know how we can pray for you.
-You are in our prayers.
All of these promises and sentiments bolstered us. You let us know that you would be interceding for us on a regular basis. Thank you for your prayers.

-We have seen this call on your life for a long time.
-We affirm this is God's call drawing you.
-I knew you would be a missionary for years.
Sometimes we doubt our call. We wonder if we are projecting our desires and wishes onto our plans. We want to confirm that we are interpreting the Bible, the Spirit, and our experiences correctly. Your confirmation reassured us and spoke against our doubts. Thank you for your confirmation.

-Please give me your address so I can write you.
-Can I send you care packages?
-Got an e-mail address that I can write to?
-Can you put me on your newsletter list?
When you wrote or sent us care packages, you sent the message that we were not forgotten even though we were out of sight. Getting letters of encouragement or care packages with things that were hard to get or expensive in our neck of the woods (but cheap in the US) meant to world to us. How much did it mean to us? Think "Wall of Encouragement." I put your letters, drawings, and pictures on our wall to encourage me and bring a smile to my face every time I walked past it. Thank you for making the effort to stay connected despite the distance.

Speaking Engagements
-You are "our" missionaries at our church, featured on our missions wall!
-Come to our church and speak in Sunday School or in an evening service. I know you haven't left yet, but we want to hear about what you expect to be doing.
-You are invited to come back after your trip and tell us what happened. Pictures are appreciated.
People love to speak about things they are passionate about. We are very passionate about missions. Thank you for showing up to listen to us talk about missions and for asking questions. We are excited to talk about where God is leading us and about a people you may not know, but whom God loves deeply.

A Listening Ear 
-Please post lots of pictures of your life in the new place.
-When you come back, I want to hear the long version of your trip.
-The more photos the better.
-Tell me about your trip.
Those of us who go on mission trips soon learn that when we return, most people want the short summary or the one sentence synopsis of our trip. To find someone who wants to hear all about our trip: the highs, the lows, the challenges, how we saw God move, where we plan to go from here, etc., that person is pure gold. Thank you for listening to us ramble, even when we have trouble explaining what we have experienced.

Those of us who have been sent out by God to new fields thrive on your encouragement. Thank you for being willing senders of missionaries, pastors, and workers into the harvest field. In my next post, I will be looking at some of the phrases that discourage those of us being sent out for missions, but I wanted to thank you for your love before looking at a few phrases I pray people will stop saying to those called to missions.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

God Make America into a Place You Desire to Bless

I see it all the time on social media, "God Bless America." It's a song. It's a prayer. It's a slogan. Instead of scrolling past the sentiment, I paused and considered it more fully. I had the distinct thought pop into my head as it blatantly challenged the status quo, "Why *should* God bless America? We aren't doing what He commands."

I look at our culture and ask myself why should God bless America?
Why should God bless a country where abortion has been legal for 44 years?
Why should God bless a country that idolizes the rich, the famous, and the sexy?
Why should God bless a country that over-consumes the world's resources and underpays its workers?
Why should God bless a country that preaches to "follow your heart" and "be true to yourself"?

I think about these actions that are in direct opposition to God and His commands. Perhaps like Jonah, I want to write off this country as undeserving of God's blessing. And you know what? I am right. America does not deserve God's blessing because no one does. I do not deserve God's blessing and neither do you. A blessing by its definition is a favor or gift of God, which therefore cannot be earned or bought.

So America does not deserve to have God bless it, but as the Weeping Prophet reminds me (Jeremiah 29), we are to seek the welfare of cities we have been placed in exile. Pray for the welfare of the cities & countries we are placed. May we pray, as citizens of America and citizens of the world to become a place that God desires to bless, a place that walks in obedience to His commands and seeks His kingdom before its own.

Let's zoom into a passage of the Bible that most of us have heard a thousand times: Matthew 5:3-12. This passage is commonly referred to as the Beatitudes. Let us see how America is doing with the Beatitudes and pray that God will make America into a place He desires to bless.

Verse 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Is America poor in spirit? We are rich in wealth and consumerism, pride and rationalization, but we are lonely, lost, and isolated. I guess we are poor in spirit after all. Bless us, Lord, for we are poor in spirit.

Lord, we are poor in spirit. We are a culture of instant gratification and technological marvels, but all the things in the world cannot fulfill or stifle our need for you. We may have things, but we are lonely, anxious, and depressed. We have money in our bank accounts, but we are poor in spirit. Cultivate in us a desire to seek Your kingdom first. Bless us, Lord, for we are poor in spirit.

Verse 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Is America mourning? We mourn for the ever-elusive "good, old days" when things seemed simpler and slower. We mourn for those we have lost to sickness, to murder, to the gods of our culture: Money and Consumerism. I guess we do have reason to mourn. Bless us, Lord, for we are mourning.

Lord, we are mourning. We have lost favor, as Christians, in the eyes of our culture and we mourn. We see a rapidly changing world that spurns the things You have taught us to value and we mourn. We have suffered loss and face new diseases and threats we never imagined would exist one day and we mourn. We are in need of Your comfort today. Bless us, Lord, for we are mourning.

Verse 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Is American meek? We are bold, brazen, prideful, arrogant, and proud. We trample the meek in our quest for more things, either by depriving them of adequate resources to survive & thrive or by paying them poorly in the quest for bargains. We have valued ourselves more than others as we have labeled meekness as a trait of the weak. Bless the meek, Lord, for we have dealt poorly with them.

Forgive us, Lord, for we should be meek.

Verse 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Does America hunger and thirst for righteousness? Do we eagerly seek to live rightly with You, with our fellow countryman, and with our global neighbor? Or do we thirst after the gods of this world: Fame, Fortune, Power, and Greed? We have reassured ourselves that our motives are pure and the end will justify the means, but we have forgotten that You have called us to be holy. Bless those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Lord, who desire You more than anything else in the world.

Forgive us, Lord, for we do not hunger and thirst after righteousness. Awaken in us, Lord, the hunger and thirst for righteous living.

Verse 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Is America merciful? We have taken revenge and dressed it up as a poor farce of justice. We cry out for blood and retribution after bombings, shootings, acts of terrorism, threats, and even perceived slights. We preemptively strike our enemies before they attack us. We take a life for a life instead of turning the other cheek. We hit back twice as hard when we get struck. Bless those who show mercy, Lord, even when they are hurting from wrongs inflicted on them.

Forgive us, Lord, for we are not merciful. You have shown us mercy, but we are like the unmerciful servant in Jesus' parable. You show us mercy (that we do not deserve) and yet we exact the full payment we are due from others. Teach us to be merciful. Please.

Verse 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Does America have a pure heart? Do we avoid the sinfulness saturating our culture? Do we give up our right to watch & read what is popular, because it does not bring You glory? There is a lot of mud and slime coating the entertainment of this world. We compromise and slowly slip down a slope where we impress worldly things on our hearts. Bless those who have pure hearts, Lord, and purify our tainted hearts.

Forgive us, Lord, for we have sullied the hearts You placed in us. We have dabbled in things that create callouses and hardened hearts in us. The mud of the world clogs us ears so we do not hear Your Spirit's guidance. Create in us a pure heart, Lord, for ours have been tainted by the world and its entertainment.

Verse 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Is America a peacemaker? A peacemaker makes peace wherever they go. A peacekeeper enforces peace through the threat of violence. A soldier or military force can maintain or restore peace by the presences of weapons, but a peacemaker tries to make peace through reconciliation of quarreling groups. We have assumed that these are the same thing because they both start with peace, but You have called us to be peacemakers. Bless those who are peacekeepers, Lord, and give us courage to follow Your path to peace.

Forgive us, Lord, for striving to be peacekeepers. Grant us the courage to be peacemakers in our homes, communities, countries, and world. Help us to let go of our weapons we use to have control in a frightening world.

Verse 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Is America persecuted because of righteousness? We are challenged because we have been enforcing global peace at the end of a gun. We are challenged because we care more about good deals and low prices than human lives. We actually have become a place that persecutes the righteous as intolerant, bigoted, hate-filled, hypocritical, self-righteous, pompous fools. Bless those who face persecution, Lord, and give us the courage to stay true to You no matter the cost.

Forgive us, Lord, for crucifying those who attempt to follow Your commands. Grant us courage to obey You no matter the earthly cost. May we seek Your Kingdom and Your righteousness before all other things.

Verse 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Verse 12 Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Is America insulted, persecuted, and falsely & evilly slandered because of Jesus? Can you imagine the complaints? "How dare you feed our people suffering from famine!?!" "How dare you spend your defense budget on a global clean water initiative!?!" "How dare you refuse to bow to my gods!?!" "How dare you say I am a sinner, a bad person!?!" "How. Dare. You." What started off as humorous complaints, quickly grew more serious. The world will insult those who follow Jesus. The world will persecute those who follow Jesus. The world will slander, libel, and smear those who follow Jesus. Our motives will be questioned. Our routines will be turned upside down. Our very lives may be forfeit. Bless those who pay the cost of following Jesus, Lord, and may we be meek peacemakers in the face of persecution.

Sometimes, Lord, we have gone from the persecuted to the persecutor. We jump on the bandwagon of roasting leaders and the famous for failing to do things we are not doing either. Forgive us for trading insult for insult, persecution for persecution, and spoken evil for spoken evil. May we rejoice in persecution because it increases our heavenly reward, even as it burns off the impurities in our earthly lives.

This post turned out much differently than I expected. I was knocked off my high horse of scornful judgment rather forcefully. I looked in the mirror and saw Jonah staring back at me. I saw Jeremiah shake his head as I was too busy judging and condemning to apply his message. I call myself a foreigner, exile, and ambassador of Christ, but I forgot how exiles are supposed to live in the place God has placed them.

Forgive me, Lord, for I have too swiftly acted as judge and jury. I have written off an entire country as undeserving of Your blessing. I have desired Your judgment and wrath to be poured out in condemnation of a nation. I did not take the time or make an effort to reach out to these people I wrote off long ago. You long for them repent and draw near to You, but I long for their judgment, knowing full-well what the outcome should be. Thank You for Your grace, Your gift I could never earn or buy. Thank You for Your mercy, even though I fully have earned the punishment Jesus took on Himself. Forgive me, Father, for I had forgotten to be merciful. May You make America into a place You desire to bless and may You use me to be a blessing in this place. Amen.

Maybe I cannot fully pray "God bless America," but I can pray "God, make America into a place You desire to bless" and that, at least, is a step in the right direction.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Not My Vice

In the life of each individual, there are certain weaknesses and struggles that each person will have over the course of their life. However, weaknesses, struggles, and vices can vary from person to person.

For me personally, I am not addicted to coffee or pop. They are not my vices. I rarely ever want either beverage. Other people really struggle with limiting their intake. I shouldn't judge them for their struggles and expect them to overlook my different vice.

We run into problems in the church when we vilify a person who struggles with certain sins, because it isn't a sin we ourselves struggle with.

For example, we silently judge the homosexual or unwed mother in our community, because "how could they so blatantly break God's law?" while we help ourselves to the third plate of food at the church dinner.

Yes, the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin and sex outside the bounds of marriage. Gluttony is also a sin and so is pride.

If we thank God that we are not like the _______ sinner, then we are being like the Pharisee instead of the tax collector in Luke 18.

God doesn't have a point system to get into heaven. He doesn't rank them and have a list of the worst and least bad sins. He doesn't say that cursing is -10 points, but pride is -30 points. There is a line on the ground. If you have sinned, you are on the far side of the line, separated from God. Thankfully, God offers mercy to the repentant sinner. If you submit to the Lordship of Jesus, His blood covers your sins and allows you to cross the line.

So maybe it is time that we stop silently judging those who struggle differently than we do. Maybe it is time for us to say, "You struggle with X. I struggle with Y. Let's challenge each other to cast off our sins by God's grace."

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Loving the Other Side

When something controversial hits the news, every few days, I sometimes break my rule of internet-ing and read the comments to an article. Why do I read the comments? So much hate. So much scorn. So much anger.

As a Christian myself, my thoughts are directed to the other Christians commenting and posting about the controversy at hand. Instead of holding criticism of Christianity up to show how persecuted* we are in the U.S., I challenge believers to surround the controversial events in prayer.

-Pray for Christians to have discussions that are both loving and gentle. Pray for Christians to live 1 Peter 3:15-16. (Discussion means that you hear what the other side says, not use the time when their lips are moving to think of more arguments).
-Pray for people to have open hearts & minds as they learn about world events and discuss them.
-Pray for Christians to meet hate with love, anger with peace, intolerance & mockery with prayerful answers.
-Pray for God to use these events to draw hearts closer to Him.
-Pray that these events doesn't alienate & turn off those who are not Christian, but lead to more discussions characterized by compassion.
-Pray that God will raise up Christians to *know* what they believe, *why* they believe it, and how to lovingly *share* their views without hate or judgment.
-Pray for those who suffer persecution and who face beatings, threats, death, loss of property, and more around the world.

Christians, may your words be steeped in 1 Peter 3:9, 13-16 as you respond to people about the latest controversy and at all times.

9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. ... 13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

 New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

*As a side note, I recommend that American Christians who talk about persecution in the U.S. read about the persecution of the early church (beatings & death) and the persecution of believers in other nations (described by organizations such as the Voice of the Martyrs). Remind yourself what the Bible says about how we our to treat our persecutors and what our response to persecution should be. Pray for places where persecution goes beyond hateful words and financial repercussions. Pray for places where persecution is rampant due to owning a Bible, having or attending a house church, or converting a local. The mood in America has changed, but then again, the Church does not always display the love God asks us to show, the Church does not always reflect the attitude of the early church believers who rejoiced in their ability to suffer persecution for Jesus' sake.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I'm Offended! Therefore I will Dehumanize the Other Side

"...the eyes of the Lord [may] range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him..." (2 Chronicles 16:9), "...but the eyes of humans range throughout the interwebs, searching for something to be offended at." (2 Opinions 2:18)

Every so often, a terrible outrage makes itself known on the interwebs, and people get offended. These outrages go viral, typically summed up in a pithy remark, to dehumanize the "other side", the "them" to our "us".

Because our communication through the interweb is digital, not face-to-face, we have an implicit understanding, that we can be rude, we can be critical, we can say anything we want, because we are interacting with a thing, an object, not a real person. Yet we are interacting with real people. The comments we write on youtube are read by those who post the video. Our comments build up or tear down these people. We have seen them, at least electronically, but we say things we would never (I hope!!) say in person.

The other side is made up of real people. They feel real emotions including fear and hope. They have priorities and beliefs that may be different than ours, but are important to them.

Would our comments on the internet be different if we recite, meditate on, and live out Ephesians 4:29 (Liz edition) before we go online:"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths [or be typed by your fingers], but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

God, may our spoken and written words be pleasing to You. Amen.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Do You See the Other Side?

There are hot button issues out in the world, but we don't seek to reach a consensus with those on the other side. We seek to alienate, shame, mock, and humiliate them.

Sadly, there is this trend even in the American church.
"How can a *Democrat* be a *Christian*? They are supporting x, y, and z."
"How can a *Republican* be a *Christian*? They are supporting a, b, and c."

Democratic Christians care about helping the poor and seeing justice given out. These are Biblical desires.
Aren't you glad that God is liberal with his grace, mercy, and forgiveness?

Republican Christians care about being good stewards of riches and moral commandments. These are Biblical desires.
Aren't you glad that God is conservative with His judgment, wrath, and condemnation?

There is one God, one Church, one Body/Bride of Christ.
Many times, our identities are not rooted in our faith first, but in our political party, job, family, nationality, etc.
We are Democratic Christians, Republican Christians, <job> Christians, parent Christians, American Christians, <nationality> Christians.

What would happen if we listened, really listened, to the other side? Are we afraid that our belief in <whatever theme> is so weak that if we even *listen* to another perspective, we will change our minds? People want validation. They want to hear, "I may not agree with you, but I can see why you would reach that conclusion. I can see how a logical, rational person can believe the way you do." It's not signing up for their side, but it's treating them like a human being.

Do you see the other side as human beings?
Do you see them as brothers & sisters in Christ?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Maybe the Simple Things Are the Great Things

When it comes to studying the Bible and applying it to our lives, sometimes we go after the big, flashy tasks. We want to do great things out of love for God and this isn't a bad thing in and of itself.

However this is an example of our culture bleeding into our faith. Society, as shown by a popular pinning website, values the showy acts of devotion. To society, love is a carriage ride in the park as a musician serenades your love with a song you wrote. A big act of love.

Yet love is also in the smalls acts of devotion. Buying a favorite snack for your honey. Doing the dishes. Helping around the house. Giving a back rub without any strings attached. Small acts of love displayed in daily life.

This spurning of the small acts to go after the big, flashy acts did not originate in our culture. In fact, a similar story is recorded in 2 Kings 5. In this story, Naaman came to Elisha to be healed of leprosy. He expected a showy display from Elisha or some great, heroic act to get well, but he is told to dunk himself in a dirty river.

In our faith, we want to wow the socks off of God in a large display of valor, but we sometimes neglect the small acts of daily obedience and daily dying to ourselves. We want to do miracles, cast out demons, or prophesy, but it is harder to daily love your neighbor/enemy, to forgive your brother, and to turn the other cheek.

Yet, Jesus taught, in Matthew 25, that if we are faithful in the small things, we will be given bigger responsibilities.

We lament to God that we aren't skilled/talented/trained enough to do a big act of devotion, but we aren't obeying His commands like He instructed, each and every day.

God instructs His people to keep His commands multiple times in the Old Testament: Leviticus 22:31, Deuteronomy 5:29, Proverbs 3:1, Proverbs 4:4, and Proverbs 7:1-2.
Jesus repeats that instruction another 3 times, showing that when we keep His commands, we show that we love Him and we remain in His love: John 14:15 and John 14:21 and John 15:10
Jesus even taught that disregarding His commands (and teaching others to do likewise) would make you the least in Heaven. Matthew 5:19
Paul reiterates that keeping God's commands is what counts. 1 Corinthians 7:19
To say that this is important to John is a bit of an understatement: 1 John 2:31 John 2:41 John 3:221 John 3:241 John 5:21 John 5:3, and 2 John 1:6

We don't have to have theology decrees and understand everything in the Bible before we put His word into practice. We can read a passage or passages until we get to a part that requires obedience and a response...and then do it.

Far too often, we take the clearest, most practical verses and write them off as inconvenient and impractical in our day, age, and culture. So we don't actually do what God is clearly requiring of us. Or we put the command into a solely spiritual context. We make loving our enemy a spiritual, mental act, but we fail to show that love with an action that costs us something.

So, will you join me in camping out in the Bible-in the Gospels to start with-as we search for clear instructions to apply to our lives?

Be warned, the clearest instructions will have a high cost-they will require dying to ourselves daily to live for Christ.

It's the simple things that turn out to be the great things in the end.

Friday, August 4, 2017

We are Connected

Back in 2014, I took a personality test called Strength Finders. After I took this long test, it told me my top 5 strengths and their summaries. It covered what they looked like at their best and their worst. I understood my top 4 strengths easily enough.

Then my fifth strength was "connectedness." As I read through the traits associated with it, I wondered why I got this strength. I wouldn't describe myself as spiritual or the holder of a strong faith. I'm still a sapling growing into a full-grown tree. I get caught in the details instead of looking at the big picture. I don't help others see purpose. But when I read the traits of my strength at its worst, it started to resonate with me. People call me naive and idealistic. That's me! In the summary for connectedness, it mentions the links between different events. Events happen due to reasons impacting it. There are few coincidences. Finally I start to relate to this odd-ball strength of mine.

The books I am drawn to start to make sense in light of this strength. Living More with Less. The More with Less Cookbook. Almost Amish. Seven. They all teach that we should live simply so others can have the resources to live.

It is easy for me to get frustrated when I read statistics about the American lifestyle versus the lifestyle of the majority world countries. Americans consume so much of the world's resources that if everyone on the planet lived like an American, we would need over 4 earths to support the world's population.

I don't like hearing comments along the lines of, "Well, I worked hard for my ____. If other people want ____, they should work as hard as I did." Except, when we are over-consuming, it is physically impossible for everyone else to get all the same ____ as we have when resources have finite limits.

Imagine there is one apple in a group of ten people. You get a quarter of the apple. That leaves 75% of the apple for 9 people. That means that you have 25% of the apple and if everyone else if fair, they would each get 6.75% of the apple. If other people tried to get a share like yours, then only 4 people could have the apple and 6 people would have nothing. For everyone to get a share like yours, there would need to be 2.5 apples instead of the one. The earth is a finite resource. There are limits to what it can give. When we consume more than our fair share, it is like we are stealing from the world's poorest populations.

Sadly, I am not over-exaggerating how much we consume.
"The United States, with less than 5% of the global population, uses about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources—burning up nearly 25% of the coal, 26% of the oil, and 27% of the world’s natural gas." Source

Even worse, we aren't even using everything that we buy. We buy food and then throw it in the trash because we do not use it in time.

  • Americans throw out 200,000 tons of edible food daily. Source
We grow plenty of food...for animals. Instead of focusing on low cost crops to send around the world to end malnutrition and starvation, we grow crops only animals can eat, so we can eat those animals.
  • Eighty percent of the corn grown and 95% of the oats are fed to livestock. Source
  • Fifty-six percent of available farmland is used for beef production. Source

Earlier this year, I watched a movie that had one line that really struck a cord with me:

"You've got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation. Explain that one!" -Nix in Tomorrowland

Unfortunately, this statistic is true. "An estimated 65 % of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, leading to an annual loss of 300,000 lives and at least $117 billion in health care costs in 1999." Source

People around the world are starving because they do not have adequate access to food, but here in America, almost 2 in every 3 Americans are either overweight or obese. We have Americans dying because they are eating too much while others in the world are dying because there is not enough to eat.

Don't worry. I will not leave this post without practical tips to change the future into a more positive future.

1. Focus on eating right: the right foods in the right amounts. Source 1 and Source 2 clearly outline the ideal servings of grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, and sweets in a day. When I started tallying how many servings I was getting in each category, I was surprised to learn that if I don't pay attention, I tend to skip vegetables!! Eating the proper servings of fruits, vegetables, and grains do help you to feel full and it is good for you to boot!!

2. Buy local and in season. Did you know that there are spring vegetables, summer vegetables, autumn vegetables, and winter vegetables? Buy local produce will direct you to the seasonal vegetables that are fresher, ripen naturally, and don't spend a lot of time/resources in transportation.

3. Buy enough, but not too much. Reduce what you buy and use what you have. This is the key to not throwing away food.

4. Prepare food quickly for convenience. On shopping day, I leave my produce on my counter as a reminder to wash and prepare my fruits and vegetables. When I take the time to wash, peel, chop, and slice my produce, I don't reach for convenience foods because I made the healthy food convenient!

5. Make it yourself instead of buying a pre-made version. It costs extra, both in money and resources to pay for pre-made convenience foods. I have seen pre-peeled oranges that you can buy in plastic containers...or you can buy your own oranges and peel them yourself.

6. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Reduce the resources you consume. Find ways to reuse things you already have. Recycle your paper, glass, plastic, and tin.

7. Buy global. Liz, Tip 2 was buy local. Yep. And now Tip 7 is to buy global. Yep. Instead of buying the cheapest products that are made in sweatshops, buy fair trade items. Sometimes the cheapest item supports oppression and the pricier item pays a fair wage to the worker. Research fair trade companies and splurge from time to time on the quality pieces and foods you find there.

8. Try to eat like someone from a majority world country. (The phrase Majority World Country is replacing Third World Country since highly industrialized countries are not the majority of countries in the world). Research how someone from Sudan, Guatemala, or Thailand would eat. Then try to eat like them for a week.

9. Cut something out of your lifestyle AND use the money you would have spent to do good. Cut out carbonated beverages from your life. Spend the money you would have spent on carbonated beverages to help build wells in majority world countries. Cut out the majority of sweets from your life. Spend the money on projects that support sustainable agriculture.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Preparing to Teach Truths

My husband and I are preparing to be foster parents.

We could parent boys or girls.

As we have been preparing for this monumental change, I've been examining our lives and the lessons we may impart. I was surprised by a couple silent messages (lies) I found in my life.

Message #1: Failure is Unacceptable.

Somewhere along the line, I bought into the lie that in all things, at all times, I must strive for perfection in everything I do. Failure was not an option for me in my book. I have slowly been working on this one for quite a while now. Somehow I forgot that failure is a normal part of human life and it is the path through which learning occurs. But, by trying to avoid the sting of failure, I isolated myself from the thrill of a hard-earned victory after multiple attempts.

Message #2: Self-Limits are Acceptable.

In order to avoid failure, I began to slowly limit myself and stop doing things that were not my strengths. I told myself that it was better for me to play to my strengths and outsource things that were my weaknesses. When I tell myself that I am not good with tools, computers, math, or any other difficult project, I was not allowing myself to thrive in new settings.

Message #3: I Can't.

Before I even tried new things or difficult projects, I would give a knee-jerk reaction of "I can't." I would not try because I was afraid that I could not.

So what does this have to do with fostering?

As we are preparing to foster, we are working to get our house up to the CPS-level standards necessary to be entrusted with a child. We are moving things, rearranging items, installing stuff, and other such fixings.

I found myself removing doorknobs and reinstalling safer ones. With my husband's guidance, I installed and moved/installed smoke detectors. I was sorting, organizing, and securing tools in multiple toolboxes. I hooked up my own computer and less than a week later, I swapped desks with my husband (he was on board with it too), prompting me to switch & hook up two computers.

This was when I realized that to change the messages I send to our kids, I would need to first change these messages in me as I replace lies with truth.

Truth #1: Failure is How We Learn:

I realized that I did not want to teach our kids that they should not go to bat because they were afraid that they might strike out. Instead I want them to know that failure is normal and a learning process.

Truth #2: Growing and Challenging Myself is Acceptable:

I did not want our kids shying away from Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math because it is hard or too boy-dominated. I want them to try, struggle, fail, struggle, and finally succeed because that journey has made them into a person who does not give up at the first sign of potential trouble.

Truth #3: I am capable:

I did not want our kids to not even try because their inner voice was telling them that they can't. But rather, I want them to have truth rooted so deeply in them, that whenever a voice of society feeds them lies, the truth will speak out. People do not have to play dumb or play stereotypes to fit the world's molds. Girls can reinstall doorknobs. Boys can do laundry. We can make a difference in the world.

We just have to try.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Accepting ALL of the Body of Christ

I was reading a book recently on communion that spoke of the body of Christ. It proposed that when we reject others in the body of Christ, we are rejecting Christ Himself.

I once heard someone say that when we insult the Church, we are insulting the Bride of Christ. I doubt many husbands would take a friend's remark kindly if they said, "Don't get me wrong, I like to spend time with you, but I don't like your wife & don't want to spend time with her." Yet that is the equivalent of what we say to Jesus when we spurn His Bride.

But what if the insult is deeper, is much more personal than not liking your best friend's spouse? Christ is not just the Bridegroom of the Church, He is also the Head of the Church. So when we tell Jesus that we don't want to spend time with the Church, we are essentially saying that we only want to spend time with His face, not His hands, feet, or body.

Can you imagine that conversation?

Jesus: Hey, man! Wanna hang out with Me later?
Human: Sure thing! You know how much I like to spend time with You.
Jesus: Sweet! I think we could feed some homeless people, donate things we no longer use to a thrift store, volunteer at that new soup kitchen...Wait, you don't look too thrilled anymore.
Human: Well, it's just...hmmm...I don't know how to put this...Your body stinks, Jesus. I mean, I don't mind hanging out with Your head, but the rest of You stinks. Part of You are dirty and I don't want to touch them. How can you expect me to give You a hug when Your arms haven't touched water in who knows how long? And look at Your leg! It is bloody and all gross-like!!
*Jesus looks at the human in disbelief.*
Jesus: Do you want to remove My head to take Me with you for coffee?
*Human looks relieved and pulls out an ax.*
Human: And here I was worried that You wouldn't understand. Is there a tree stump around somewhere to make this easier?
Jesus: My body goes where I go. It may be a different color than you. It may be messy, dirty, and stinky. Parts of My body have problems & injuries, and is hurting & troubled, but this is My body, that was broken for you. You don't get to choose which parts you like best or which parts make you the most comfortable.

How does Jesus feel if we just want to hang out with Him & not the rest of His body because it's...
...a different color (or from the wrong side of town)?
...struggling with problems?

When we don't want to spend time with a fellow follower of Christ, it is more than not liking our brother or sister. It is more than not caring for your friend's wife. It is shunning the body of your Savior. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

It's Time to Put Down Our Stones

I saw the video going around of the news interviewee having a live interview in his home when his children burst in his office and he brushed them back without even looking at them. What surprises me most about this viral video is the reactions of Christians.

Instead of Christians walking alongside this man in the valley of his internet humiliation, we are sitting on our high horses judging him for his parenting fails. Or if we are reveling in his humiliation and mocking him. We should be extending our hands of compassion to him, maybe even giving the internet some perspective by sharing a story of our own parenting fails that just never went viral. We should be known as merciful and gracious people, because we know that we have been shown loads of mercy (not getting what we do deserve) and grace (getting what we do not deserve and could never earn).

So maybe you never face-palmed your kid while in an international live interview, but we have fallen short of the Father’s ideal of parenting. If we are not parents, we could be aunts, uncles, babysitters, or nursery workers. We have all interacted with children and we all have regrets for how we treated them at some point.

As Christians, the core question that we ask should be “How would Jesus have reacted in this situation?” or “How would Jesus have me to react in this situation?” It is not incredibly difficult to know how Jesus would react in a situation like this, because Scripture recorded a similar story. No, there were not internet and viral videos back then, but a crowd of righteous people indignantly dragged a sinful adulteress before Jesus, tossing stones in their hands, prepared to stone her for her sins. And Jesus even gave permission for her to be stoned, IF the one without sin threw the first stone. Stone after stone left the hands of the righteous, falling harmlessly to the ground, because they knew they had sinned. Jesus and the women were left alone; her accusers were gone. The Sinless One did not condemn the adulteress, but sent her away to leave her life of sin.

Christians, it is time to get off our judgmental high horses and learn to walk alongside people in the valleys of humiliation. It is time that we learn to extend mercy and grace instead of condemnation. It is time to put down our stones, and offer the hand of friendship.

Speaking of which, I will get off my high horse now. :-)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Freezing the Refugee Program, Breaking My Heart

So many emotions are whirling through my head as I search for facts on various news websites to piece together what Friday's executive order really means:

I feel anger at the withdrawal of support to refugees,

I feel frustration at my inability to do something about this situation,

I feel grumpiness at the slowness of WhiteHouse.Gov in posting the executive order on its site so I can read it in full to better understand it,

I feel pity for those stopped at the border in mid-travel by this order and those delayed for a minimum of 3-4 months,

I feel resignation because I really should have expected this based on our President's campaign trail,

I feel joyful satisfaction that Canada's Prime Minister Trudeau's reaction to this order is "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada",

I reject a bit of sarcastic snarkiness bubbling up inside me at the how ill-fitting the Statue of Liberty's motto now is for the US,

I feel sadness because America's acceptance of the tired, poor, huddled masses was one of my points of pride in my country, The ideals of my country are swerving away from the instructions of my faith. Will I support the killing of my enemies or will I fight to love them and pray for them? Will I choose to reject the foreigner, the alien, the widow, the orphan, the least of these that my God commands me to love, serve, and help? Will I choose America First or valuing others above myself?

I feel fear as read a book on Bonhoeffer that discusses Nazi Germany's restrictions on Jewish freedom and then read news stories on the freezing of the refugee program,

I feel hope as Christian refugee resettlement agencies are reaching out to those who are delayed by this order and are speaking out against this freeze,

I feel sadness because I work with refugees, I serve refugees, I live among refugees. I welcome refugees because of my Christian faith.

So many emotions battling inside me at this news, but sadness overshadows the rest. My heart is aching, it is breaking over this news and its ramifications.

I turn to this subject in the Bible for direction. I know that Jesus identifies with the stranger, the hungry, the imprisoned in Matthew 25. Peter in 1 Peter 1 wrote with the instruction that "Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear" and Paul told believers in Philippians 3 that "our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."

I am a foreigner. My citizenship is in heaven. I stand with refugees. I stand as a foreigner in my homeland.

Friday, January 20, 2017

What Should I Pray For Myself?

Have you ever examined why we do or say a particular thing in our Christian walk, and then wonder why we do a certain thing? Or do you read a passage in the Bible and wonder why we do not do a certain thing? I do wonder and question sometimes.

I was reading Acts 4, the passage where Peter and John are brought before the Jewish council and told to stop speaking and teaching in Jesus' name. They refused, because they must listen to God over man. After this encounter, Peter and John went back to the rest of the believers to fill them in. Then they started to pray. They realized that the Psalms predicted Jesus' betrayal by several groups. Next, they made their petition of God.

"Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”" (Acts 4:29-30)

This prayer blows me away. Why? Because they know that persecution is coming. They have been threatened. There are many things that they could pray for: laws to protect them, safety for believers, a speedy second coming so they can skip the persecution. But they prayed for boldness in speaking His word.

My top prayer for myself is not for my safety. It is for effectiveness and faithfulness in serving my Lord. I do not needlessly take risks, but I cannot pretend that my top goal is safety. When I look at Jesus' life and prayers, He prayed for God's will to be done, even at the cost of His comfort and very life. My example in living is Jesus. If the One who I follow cares more about God's will being done than His own safety, why should my life be any different?

I do pray for the safety of the persecuted church, but my top prayer is for God's glory to be seen and for the persecuted to remain faithful, even to the point of death. I know that if the choice has to be made, I earnestly want them to refuse to recant their faith, even if they are executed.

I humbly submit that we the church in the US needs to be less concerned with its rights, its comfort, its safety, its separateness, and more concerned with boldly speaking God's Word (in love-Ephesians 4:15), serving the least of these (because in serving them, we serve Jesus-Matthew 25:31-end), and remaining faithful to the end.