Thursday, December 19, 2013

You Keep Using That Word...

...I do not think it means what you think it means...

This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my all time favorite movies, and it just happens to fit this blog post perfectly.

I promised a blog post a couple weeks ago about my Christmas pet peeve. I fully intended to write that post, but time and other stressors prevented me from getting that post out on paper, or at least virtual paper. So, given the fact that it is now less than a week from Christmas, I am ready to reveal to you my biggest Christmas pet peeve. Are you ready? Here it is:

Merry X-Mas!

Now some of you may be thinking of course, she hates the way that businesses and even private citizens remove Christ from Christmas, literally by X-ing him out of the very word. If you are thinking that, you would be wrong. My pet peeve about this is the ignorance among so many Christians about its true origin. Western Christians are often very quick to pass judgement and complain about persecution and censoring of our religious beliefs. The problem is, if we really understood the history of our faith, we would not be so quick to be offended. In reality, the X is not crossing out Christ, it is representing him, in the most authentic way. It represents the Greek letter Chi, the first letter of Christos, the name for Christ found in the original language of the New Testament.

In much the same way, many Christians are misinterpreting the Constitution. As I scroll my facebook feed, I am being bombarded by posts in support of Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty, many of them making the claim that his "freedom of speech" was violated. It wasn't, plain and simple.

There is an episode of one of my favorite TV shows, 7th Heaven, in which the oldest son gets a job. His father makes a bet with him that he will not last one day because he doesn't yet understand what it means to have a job. When the son loses the bet, he admits defeat, then asks his father what he meant by that. The dad looks at his son and says, "Whatever the job, the number one thing is to make your boss look good."

At least in the opinion of A&E, Phil robertson did not make them look good. The constitution protects freedom of speech from government censorship. It does not in any way prevent a private company, such as the owners of a cable TV station, from distancing themselves from the personal views expressed by one of its "stars" if they feel those views reflect badly on them. It is the equivalent of a professor for a Christian school signing a contract which states that he must portray a certain standard of behavior in public, in keeping with the image of the institution. Then he is caught at a bar drunk, cussing, and generally making a fool of himself. That professor is going to very likely be suspended, if not fired, because his behavior reflects on more than just himself. It reflects on his employer.

The fact is, most Western Christians do not know persecution. I heard a missionary to China once tell me that the Chinese Christians pray for persecution of the American Church. Why? Because persecution is what makes Christians become more like Christ. Persecution is what is faced by millions of believers around the world who are cut off from their families because of their faith. Persecution is what believers are faced with in countries where their faith lands them in prison, such as Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran. Persecution is what early Christians, such as Perpetua, and even the Apostles faced when they were tortured and killed for following Christ. Persecution is what Christ himself faced when he was beaten and mocked before hanging on the cross.

Face the facts. Phil Robertson was not imprisioned for his faith. He was not investigated or interrogated or tortured for his beliefs. He was not sensored by the government, and he was not even put under house arrest or warned by some government agency to stop stating his opinion. He was simply repremanded by his private employer who felt that he was not making them look good. That is not persecution, and it is not a violation of his constitutional rights. If he is that passionate about his point of view, then, much like the response of the son from the TV episode I referenced above, maybe next time Phil should be more careful about who his "boss" is.

And, even it if were some form of persecution, as followers of Christ, should we not respond to persecution the way He did? He did not fight it, He understood it as part of the suffering that comes with laying down one's life. He told Peter to put down his sword. Isn't it time we are more concerned with following Christ's commands to reach out to the poor and the needy, and to make disciples of all the nations, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and love The Lord our God with all of our being, and less concerned with standing up for our "rights" as US citizens? I don't know about you, but I am first and foremost a Citizen of Christ's kingdom, where the first are last and the servant is King.

I want to wrap this up by bringing it back to my "Pet Peeve." Christians need to stop giving Christ a bad name out of their ignorance. Learn what words like "persecution," "constitutional right" and "freedom of speech" mean before we use them. Learn the historical and theological significance of something before we dismiss it. Most of all, let's all remember what real persecution is, and pray for the millions of believers around the world who experience it every day.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year! We celebrate this as the "Holiday Season" or more specifically for many Christians, the "Christmas Season." It is the time to "Deck the Halls." We string lights, sing songs about Santa and Reindeer and the magic of a Christmas snow, and we set up displays of the stable where "the newborn king" would rest in a manger full of hay. We spend hours, not to mention dollars, buying gifts for everyone from our children to our best friends. We have parties, bake cookies, and plan a huge holiday feast, and then, the next thing we know, it is Dec. 26th, and it is all over, as quickly as it began. It is easy to get caught up in the tinsel and the excitement, and then we burn out. The excitement fades, and the new stuff we thought was the greatest gift ever becomes just another thing on a shelf collecting dust, or gets broken and thrown away within a few weeks. But, hey, that's what this season is all about right? And of course, we will put away all the decorations and then take them out again next November and do it all again.

Have you ever wondered if we are doing it right? Are we really doing justice to celebrating the birthday of Emmanuel, the one who would be God with Us? While all those around us want to get caught up in Christmas, perhaps we need to step back and remind ourselves that this season is not a season about what is, it is a season about anticipating what is to come. It is the season of Advent that we celebrate. It is the time of year when we look forward with great anticipation and hope, to the coming of Messiah, Emmanuel, Christ, both his first coming as a humble babe in the manger, and his second coming, when He will return in all his glory. 

At this time of year, we need to remember that as Christians we have a hope that the world does not understand, it is a hope that carries us beyond December 25th. We have peace that comes from within us, peace that is able to carry us through the toughest storms of this life. We have joy that is unspeakable. And of course we have love because He loved us first, and choose to come. These are things that are not meant to be present only in the season and be thrown away with the wrapping paper or be packed away until next year. They are meant to carry us through, year after year, season after season, until the day of the Second Advent, the day our faith will become sight. 

And what of the day, December 25th, you may be asking. Well, that day should be more than just a single day of celebration. In the early church tradition the season of Advent, or anticipation, led to a celebration which lasted for a full 12 Days known as Christmastide, or "The Twelve Days of Christmas." It is when carols should be sung to Christ the King, it is the time when gifts are given to commemorate the Epiphany, or the day the wise men saw the star and found the Child. So, let's take our time to anticipate the coming, enjoy the fullness of celebration of the King, and continue to carry the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love to a world that has been shrouded in darkness, as we bear His light. Celebrate from Advent to Epiphany, and beyond, until He comes again.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Crazy Facebook Contest

I hear people talk a lot about how social media has replaced genuine community, and in many ways I believe it to be true. People can have entire relationships without ever seeing the one another face to face, or even hearing the other's voice on the other end of a phone, but last night proved that, though there are a lot of potential pitfalls, social media can also bring communities together.

Back in July, a major Christian music label held a "Search for a Song Contest." It was designed to give local worship leaders who have written amazing songs for their congregations the chance to have their songs be heard world wide, and the competition was built around Facebook "likes." The five songs that received the most "likes" over on to the judges for the chance at an amazing prize. Unknown to one another, two worship leaders from Fayetteville, NC, Giles Blankenship and Jeremy Fisher, both entered the contest. And then the fun began. Facebook friends from the churches as well as friends from school, and even friends of friends began working hard "liking" and "sharing" the link, and in the mean time having fun and learning some things about one another. Community was forming around the contest and long time friend and complete strangers began to share prayer requests with one another, reveal silly and fun facts about themselves to each other, and just spend time "together" from the comfort of their own living rooms.

Then the article came out in the paper, another song writer in the top five was from the same town. The two gifted worship leaders were not only from across a river, but across denominational lines. By the end of the contest, the two churches, Snyder Memorial Baptist Church and Stedman Pentecostal Holiness Church, two groups of fans, were working together to keep both before the judges. New Facebook friends were made. Community was formed around a Facebook contest, but more importantly around the One who united us through his death and resurrection 2000 years ago. Many of us had not met in person, but we were connected as the body of Christ.

The two churches came together for an amazing Night of Worship (You can watch the video of the service by clicking the link). Friends who had met through social media finally met face to face. There was instant recognition of new friends. There were hugs and prayers. There were songs and amens and "Holy Hushes." Most of all, there was a real presence of Christ that was felt throughout the place. Say what you want about Social Media, but last night I experienced the beauty and majesty of God that came about through "a crazy Facebook contest."

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Heart of Worship

This morning for worship, we did something a bit different. Instead of putting a great deal of emphasis on music, we chose instead to focus on silence, rest, and stillness. The service was inspired by the summer of favorite hymns, and by one of our favorite "Hymn Stories," the story behind Matt Redman's "Heart of Worship." Here is the Hymn story as I read it this morning in service. 

People come to church for a lot of different reasons.

Some come to be seen, they believe it is good for their reputation.

Some come because that is what their family has always done, it is routine.

Some come because they want to feel superior to someone else, they may think, "So-and-so really needs to hear that sermon," but never apply the messages to themselves.

Some come to socialize. Singles may even come to find a "Good Christian spouse."

Some come expecting worship to make them feel good, a "God-fix" to get through the week.

Some come to be entertained.

There may be many other reasons people come. Not all of them are bad, but many still miss the point. They show apathy toward worship, and little regard for the object of our worship. 

Such was the case in our hymn story this morning. Unlike many of the other stories we have heard this summer as we looked at our favorite hymns, this last story is a contemporary one. It takes place in England in the early 1990s in a large, contemporary church. The church was going well from the outside. The numbers were up. The praise band was amazing. But the pastor began to slowly realize something wasn't right. The congregation had become apathetic toward God. They were there, much like Grandpa Walton on one of my favorite TV shows, "For the singing." 

So, this pastor along with his staff, did something radical. They took away the band and the music. At first the void was filled with silence. Now, Mother Theresa was once quoted as saying, "God's first language is silence..." And I love that quote. Silence is often where we can meet God. It is where He speaks in the still small voice. It is where our faith is challenged, and where we find ourselves in awe of His creation and provision. However, in our Western, Evangelical church tradition silence is often awkward and uncomfortable, especially when we are gathered for worship. And so it was for this church, at first. 

Then God began to move. He began to open people up to new and creative ways to fill the silence. The congregation began to offer up new prayers, new forms of art and poetry, dramatic readings, and eventually even accapella hymns as genuine offerings to God. It was a moving and growing time for the entire congregation, including the worship leaders. At the end of the experiment, one of the leaders, Matt Redman, penned the words to the song "Heart of Worship," which we will sing later in the service. The song says this:

When the music fades, and all is stripped away, and I simply come
Longing just to bring, something that's of worth, 
That will bless your heart
I'll bring you more than a song,
For a song in itself is not what you have required
You search much deeper within through the way things appear
Your looking into my heart

I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about you, it's all about you Jesus
I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it
When it's all about you, it's all about you Jesus

What have you brought to Jesus today? What do you need to let go of to focus on Him? How can moments of silence bring you back to the voice of God?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I Have a Dream

It was a beautiful day. Though both the calendar date and the green trees surrounding the outdoor chapel reminded everyone it was summer, the weather made it feel more like fall on the mountain. My husband and I were blessed with the amazing privilege of doing something not many couples get to do. We were officiating a wedding together. The setting was perfect. The ceremony was unique. The couple was beautiful as they began the new adventure of life together.

Being asked to be a part of this celebration was an affirmation of calling and purpose for me. It was also an opportunity for my husband and I to reflect as we prepared for this ceremony. We reflected on our own beliefs and understanding about marriage. We also reflected on how those beliefs have changed as we have journeyed over these last 11 years together.

We both grew up in traditional conservative churches and so, the predominate teaching that we heard was about "spiritual leadership" and "spiritual submission." It was "God's design" for marriage for the wife to submit to her husband and the husband to take the lead. I even remember one particular statement from the pulpit during a Mother's Day message, "Ladies," the pastor said, "I know this is hard because many of you are much smarter than your husbands, but God still calls him to take the lead and you to submit, even when you know his plan is doomed to fail."

Moving away from home to the campus of a conservative Christian college where I met my my husband, this teaching of "biblical submission" became even more problematic for me. I began to hear things like, "Learning to be a submissive wife is the only way to be truly happy in marriage." The understanding across campus among single and married women alike was that if God's plan for a woman includes marriage then she must give up any ambition of her own in order to follow her husband's wishes. He came first. His career, his needs, his classes were always more important and if I, as a wife, was not happy and fulfilled in this life of submission, then there must be something wrong with me. After all, women are Created to be His Helpmeet according to the book that was sweeping the campus.

The loud and clear message was that, because I was not satisfied and fulfilled in this role, I was not yet truly "broken" in my relationship with God. I needed to repent, both before God and my husband. Of course, this message was completely supported by scripture and I believed it. I even tried to live up to it. And I was miserable.

I would realize what a horrible wife I was. I would beg God for forgiveness. I would return to the scripture and seek out how I might try harder to do better. I would realize that it was "the sin of my pride" that caused me not to be content, so I would seek humility, and I would fall further into depression. A vicious cycle that I was stuck in for years.

I was surrounded by a "biblical worldview" that said there is no other way to live right according to God's Word. As long as I was surrounded with this "complementarian" interpretation, I was doomed to believe that something was wrong with me. The harder I tried to fit in to the mold, the worse things got. I fell into deeper depression and my relationship with my husband became more strained.

Finally something changed. Right when I needed it, right when I was at my breaking point, God planted my husband and I in a place called Buies Creek at at school called CUDS. We would meet people there who had great passion and respect for God and for the Bible, but who understood it, believed it, and lived it differently. We studied scripture not only in the original languages, but in the context of the original hearers who lived under Roman rule. We learned that some considered Christianity a "woman's religion" because more women than men had chosen to follow Christ. We also learned of the many women who are listed as leaders in the church alongside men, including "Junia" who is listed as "chief among the apostles" by Paul. Later scribes changed the name to the masculine "Junius" presumably because they believed Paul would never name a woman as an apostle. (This is not something commonly taught in Sunday school in a conservative evangelical church! It was eye-opening to me!)

Studying the beloved household codes in the original language changed everything. Ephesians 5:22 is a particular favorite, often quoted verse by complementarians to support this idea of submission. "Wives, submit to your husband as to the Lord." For many this is a clear, cut and dry command, straight from the Apostle Paul himself. It was a verse that often haunted me in my days of trying to fit into a mold that made me miserable. Then, I studied Greek.

I realized quickly that the chapters, verses, and headings in the English translations of the Bible that I had been reading my entire life, are not original to the apostle's letters. Parchment and paper was scarce and not to be wasted in the days of Paul. Letters and words were written with no spaces, no paragraph breaks (something else I was never taught in Sunday School) and sometimes translators even add in words to the text that are not there "to clarify" meaning. Every translation is on some level an interpretation.
Even the placement of a comma or a period change the meaning of a text.

How does this apply to Ephesians 5? One of the words that has been added "for clarity" to verse 22 is the word "submit." It is supplied from verse 21, "Submit one to another out of fear of Christ." Not only was the word added, but a verse, a paragraph break and a heading were also added between verses 21 and 22. In the original, however, the sentence starts in verse 18, the paragraph even before that. The entire passage is filled with Paul's radical instructions on how to live as "wise men" who are "filled with the Spirit."
His radical instructions include mutual submission, an idea foreign to the patriarchal household codes of the day. This mutual submission includes not only submission of wife to husband, but also of husband to wife, instructing him to love her sacrificially and treat her as his own body (this sounds an awful lot like respect to me!) It includes submission of slave to master and radically of master to slave. It includes submission of child to parent and respect of father toward child. Ultimately, it is a reminder that all are to be in submission to Christ, and that we are all to follow His example.

And what about that pesky word "helpmeet" from Genesis 2? Does that not indicate Eve was a subordinate to complement Adam? Is she someone who is meant to serve him meals and do his laundry so he can focus on "more important" tasks? This is what I had been taught to believe for a long time, until I studied Hebrew. That is when I learned that the same word from Genesis 2 is found other times in the Old Testament, and in many of these references it refers to God as "helper" to man.

This brings me back to the wedding. Two things from this passage always stand out when preparing the ring ceremony of a wedding, and my husband and I always point them out to the bride and groom. The first is that God used a rib, from Adam's side, to demonstrate that woman was to be man's equal. The second is that the term that is most often applied to God, is used of Eve here. I do not believe it was a word chosen by accident. I believe it was meant to remind man that, just as he was created in God's image, woman was as well. It was to remind them both that, just as the trinity exists as equals in perfect communion and mutual submission to one another, so they, as husband and wife, are to reflect in marriage that type of communion through mutual love, respect, and submission, as equal partners.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the famous, "I Have a Dream," speech. While there are still pockets of this country where Dr. King's dream is not yet realized, I believe that we have come a long way in the last 50 years toward the reality of that dream. Today, I have a dream of my own.
I have a dream of a church where women are not treated as inferior simply because of their gender. I have a dream of marriages where mutual respect and mutual submission eliminates domestic violence. I have a dream in which marriage becomes about two whole people allowing God to make them one, instead of two people being broken by being forced into someone else's mold. I have a dream where wives can use their strengths to complement their husband's weaknesses without husbands being branded as weak and wives being told they are stepping out of their place. I have a dream where marriages are healthy, children are healthy, and relationships within the Kingdom are healthy because we all, "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." I have a dream where it is not shameful for a Christian couple to seek help with their marriage, but where it is celebrated, expected, and accepted within the church. I have a dream...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dinner and a Movie?

Most marriage experts, including counselors and pastors will give any couple getting married this advice, “Don’t ever stop dating your spouse.”

Dating is essential for a healthy marriage. It provides the opportunity to connect to one another. It is even more necessary after a couple has children or when both spouses have demanding, high stress jobs. It is an opportunity to rekindle romance, to talk about serious issues, or just to spend time laughing and enjoying one another. The problem is often that the more a couple needs this precious time, the less likely they are to have, unless they have help. Ministers are no exception to the need for this intimate time or to the difficulty in finding it. In fact, often we have the most difficulty with this essential element of a healthy marriage.
As a minister who is also married to a minister, my husband and I are great examples of this struggle. As ministers and, before that, divinity students, money to pay a baby sitter is hard to come by. On top of that, we often find that since we need to find sitters for work related tasks, finding someone to keep the kids for a night out proves even more difficult. Sometimes we have to improvise and turn work into a date. Here are just a few of the most unique dating venues that we have utilized as a ministry couple.

Worship Services

Believe it or not, for us at least, attending worship together, without the kids, in a place where neither of us has the responsibility to lead, makes a great date. This is especially true when the service includes communion or some other form of congregational participation.
Recently we had a friend offer to keep our children overnight on the first night of a denominational conference. Even though they joined us at the hotel the next day, having the opportunity to attend the worship service on the opening night and then get a late night snack afterwards was priceless. 
I remember one particularly stressful semester of Divinity School. Brian and I were both doing our Supervised Ministry in two different churches and taking full time classes in addition to homeschooling our three kids. Chapel worship followed by a quick lunch in the cafeteria at school was our only chance to connect as husband and wife during the week.
The most unique “worship date” as a ministry couple was also while we were Divinity Students. As a requirement for a World Religions class, we attended the worship service at a Jewish Synagogue. We got a sitter for the occasion and following the service went to a nearby restaurant to get a bite to eat. What was on the menu? Pork of course! We still laugh when we think about our very un-Kosher meal following the Jewish service.
Hospital Visits and Funerals
Imagine your spouse coming and telling you he has found a baby sitter for a wonderful surprise date. You get showered and dressed and he even blindfolds you so that you will be completely surprised by the mystery destination. When you finally arrive and he removes the blindfold, you find yourself in a hospital parking lot, or, better yet, outside the funeral home! Romantic right?

Well, maybe not, but the fact is that sometimes we have to make a date out of whatever circumstances present themselves. It is easy for ministers to take on the hurts of others as their own, but it is not healthy. Taking time as a ministry couple to debrief over French fries and a frosty, or even a simple cup of Starbucks coffee, after an emotional task can make for a good opportunity to lighten the mood, maybe even find a way to laugh before returning home to our children. It also gives a much needed moment to connect as a couple.


While such joyful occasions may seem like “no-brainers” as romantic occasions and ideal dates, often church members do not realize that, for the minister, weddings are still work. Pastors are responsible for premarital counseling, planning the ceremony, leading the rehearsal, performing the ceremony, and sometimes helping to calm the fears of the nervous bride and groom. On top of that, while most people can blend in to the crowd and enjoy the wedding reception, that is difficult to do for the ministers, who constantly have guests recognize them and compliment them on the “beautiful service.” Imagine the scandal in some churches if the minister were caught dancing, or heaven forbid, sipping champagne!
For us as a clergy couple, taking the time to drive over early in the day to an out of town wedding gives us the opportunity to remember our own vows so that we can truly help the newlywed couple make their vows meaningful. Even though technically “on the job” we sometimes have no other opportunity, we have to take dates where we can get them!

Trainings and Other Community Events

As clergy, we are often invited to special community events and whenever possible we try to attend. While most couples go to dinner and a movie for Valentine’s Day, my husband and I had a most romantic afternoon! We attended a minister’s training on soldiers with PTSD. We felt privileged to attend and the event was most helpful and informative, however, it required a sitter for the day, leaving us unable to have a traditional Valentine’s date.
Another community event that was turned in to a date happened while we were still Divinity Students. As guests of one of our professors, we were invited, along with several other students, to attend a dinner honoring leaders in the community. The dinner, held in early December, was a lovely event. The two of us were surrounded by school principals, mayors, and even representatives from the governor’s office. It was indeed an honor. The gathering, however, was in a most unusual location for two Baptist ministers. The venue, beautifully decorated with hundreds of Nativity sets from all over the world, was a Mormon church.

Minister to Your Minister

I say all of this to say this. Your Pastor needs those who are willing to minister to them too. One of the best ways to minister is to volunteer to give them an evening out. It is good for their marriage. It is good for their children. It is good for their ability to do their job and minister to you without burning out! It is great to find unique ways to work in family time while “on the job” at a convention or conference, or work in a “date” after a hospital visit. But sometimes ministers just need to have a normal date. Give them dinner and movie once in a while. I promise, they will appreciate it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Albert Einstein once said this, "There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." I love this. It is inspiring, but how far does it really go? Does it include seeing ourselves as miracles?

I had two people who know some of the deepest, darkest parts of me say these things to me a few weeks ago, within 24 hours of one another: "It is miraculous that you are sitting here..." And, "You are a walking miracle..."

Children who are born after years of infertility hear words like these, or those who have survived some near death experience, especially as a young child. Babies who are born extremely premature are often referred to as "miracles." We often think of miracles in this way, as the happy ending of some extreme medical difficulty, but there are many types of miracles, not all defy the scientific odds.

It is still odd and uncomfortable to hear the term applied to me. When I look at my life I don't see "miracle." I see messy! I see someone who has been abused. I see a life that has suffered losses so deeply that fear of losing anything else is paralyzing. I see someone who has never felt good enough to do anything worthwhile. I see someone who doesn't feel pretty or lovable. I only see someone who is wounded and dirty.

And yet, I know that I am a miracle. Many who have been through what I have been through find themselves dropping out of school, struggling with addictions, abusing others, continuing to be abused, or being reckless and promiscuous with themselves and their bodies. I know. I watched it happen to many people in my life. It was part of what motivated me to be different. I have even wondered if my miracle came at their expense. Of course there was divine intervention as well. God placed many people in the right places at the right times to make the kind of impact that led to the "miraculous" in my life. There were those who encouraged me, challenged me, and demonstrated God's love to me. Ultimately, though it was God's presence and power that produce the miracle that is me.

The fact is, no matter how battered and damaged we may feel, no matter how many mistakes we have made, or how much trauma we have endured, we are still dearly loved by God. There is nowhere we can flee from His presence, not even the depths of Hell, literal or figurative, of our own making, or brought on through no fault of our own, is beyond the reach of God's hand.

We are all miracles, fearfully and wonderfully made in God's image.

A friend of mine, Giles Blankenship, wrote a song titled Image of God that speaks to me. The first time I heard the bridge it brought tears to my eyes. Speaking of Jesus the song says, "He says it long and it loud and you can hear Him crying out, 'This one's mine; yes that's my child; I'd do anything...Oh I'd even give my fix every broken piece inside..."

The question is not whether God can make your life a miracle, or even whether He wants to. The question is, what are you going to do with your life when He does? He comforts us so we can comfort others. He heals us so others can have hope when they see our scars. He encourages us so we can build up another. He reaches out and picks up the broken pieces of our lives and then expects us to go, and do likewise.

I'll admit it, it isn't easy. The prospect of helping someone else when I feel incapable and unworthy is scary. Sometimes the voice in my head that I hear loudest says, "Who are you to reach out to someone? You aren't good enough."I have to find ways to hear another voice, the voice that says, "You were bought with a price and you are Mine! Created in my image, precious child, live out the miracle that I have done in you."

Sunday, July 7, 2013


According to my Facebook newsfeed at least, today is Chocolate Day! I don't know about you all, but I LOVE chocolate! While milk chocolate and white chocolate (yes I know white chocolate is not really chocolate) have always been my favorites, as I have matured over the years I have grown a deep love and appreciation for the much richer (and arguably healthier) dark chocolate. I have a weakness for the candy isle and especially for chocolate pies and cookies as I walk through the grocery store, and it is indeed rare if something of the chocolate variety doesn't find its way into my cart. My chocolate addiction comes at a cost, however, and I have come to learn that it is much bigger than just the cost of my waistline.

In America, we often see a product on the shelves and do not think about what goes into it. That is what happens in a consumer driven society. We are blinded by large companies creative and tantalizing advertising campaigns with their catchy slogans and eye catching packaging. What we don't see are the deplorable practices behind the products.

You see, most of the world's cocoa is produced in some of the poorest countries in the world. Companies seek out the cheapest price and so large farmers compete to underbid one another. Unfortunately, the only way they can do that is to use slave and child labor to work their fields, while large corporations turn a blind eye. It is a sad, but true fact that every time you and I grab a candy bar at the checkout counter we are supporting these outrageous practices in poor countries in Africa and other parts of the world.

Fortunately, there are alternatives. The Baptist Fair Trade project, among other faith groups dedicated to improving the lives of farmers and their families seek to make a difference. Through partnering with Equal Exchange groups can promote products that are not only good quality, but also help small farmers by paying a fair price for the products produced, illuminating the need for slave and child labor. These groups also lead in educating consumers on fair trade products.

We just celebrated the Forth of July here in the US, so for many the words, "Liberty and Justice for ALL," are fresh in our minds. Think about who "all" should include. Does that justice apply only to the privileged who live in this country? The biblical understanding of the word justice is about doing what is right by other people. It is about caring for the orphan and the widow and the underprivileged and outcasts of society. Making just choices should include making the choice to end slavery, child labor, and oppression. For us, that may mean indulging in a little more chocolate today. Here is a link to get you started! 

Friday, July 5, 2013


Growing up, the Fourth of July was one of my favorite holidays. I loved the BBQ, the pool time, but most of all I looked forward to going to the lake front and staking out a spot in the grass with a few snacks, maybe some playing cards while we waited until dark, and then...BOOM! Some years the show was spectacular as it lit up the sky, reflecting on the water, other years it was a dud, but none the less I always looked forward with great anticipation to the show.

I admit it, as an adult I am a bit of a fireworks snob. The best fireworks shows I have ever seen of course were Disney productions. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a bit of a Disney fanatic and, growing up in Central Florida, Disney often sponsored shows in either Orlando or my hometown of Sanford. The shows were perfectly choreographed to a musical score broadcast on a local radio station. Everyone brought their portable radios to tune in. It is pure magic when what we see and hear match perfectly. Unfortunately, life does not always reflect Disney Magic.

There are moments when life seems perfect, only to be interrupted by tragedy. What we see around us hasn't changed, but we hear on the news of bombings, or children being killed or wildfires destroying homes and taking lives along with it. The peaceful neighborhood we live in has been invaded by news hundreds if not thousands of miles away and we begin to live in fear that it COULD happen here. We go overboard with precautions and we panic about every possibility of tragedy.

Brene Brown talks about this in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. She recounts the story that many of us have lived out as parents watching their sleeping children, on the edge of embracing the joy when suddenly the fear of losing it all grips us. In reflecting on that experience she says this, "Until we can tolerate vulnerability and transform it in to gratitude, intense feelings of love will often bring up the fear of loss."

The fact is yes, these things could happen anywhere, but Jesus warns us against panicking over that. "Do not worry for tomorrow," He tells us in Matthew 6:34. Enjoy today, take pleasure in the blessings right before your eyes instead of allowing the soundtrack of potential tragedy take away from the beauty that is right in front of you. Be thankful. Let gratitude, thankfulness, and joy be the soundtrack for today, instead of the trauma that might happen tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sticks and Stones

This was the alternate post to the last one I posted. I wrote this one first and then decided that putting the same thoughts in story form had more power. I wanted readers to feel the weight of the words and I thought that could be done better in a narrative. I would love to hear thoughts of comparison between the two posts.

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

Most of us grew up learning this little rhyme, but the problem is it could not be further from true. Words do hurt. They can be as painful and destructive as a machine gun randomly fired into a crowded room.

"You are such a mess."
"You are hopeless."
"You're not good enough."
"I give up on you."
"You are just like...(fill in the blank with any number of hurtful comparisons)"

Words like these stick. They get lodged in a person's psyche, slowly leaking their poison over time. Sometimes they are so loud nothing else can get in as they eat away at self-worth, and confidence, and block out feelings of love and acceptance.

Thankfully, the opposite can also be true. Words can heal. The right word, spoken in the right way and at the right time can be as precise as a surgeon's scalpel.

"You are loved."
"You didn't do anything wrong."
"I believe you."
"You can do it."
"You are a miracle."

These words are sometimes painfully true in the moment they are spoken, especially when spoken into the heart of one who has been poisoned by the opposite. The bad stuff is often easier to believe. However, when we give these positive messages the chance to sink in, when we really allow ourselves to sit and dwell with these things long enough, they become the antidote to the poison. Slowly, over time, we can find healing. It is not a magic formula for healing overnight, but it can happen.

Ultimately, there is one word that is able to heal over all others. The Gospel of John tells us about that Word. It is the Word who was God that became flesh. Jesus, the Incarnate Word came to bring the ultimate healing for forgiveness and abundance. Listen to a few of His words.

"Your sins are forgiven."
"Arise and walk."
"My peace I give to you."
"Come, follow Me."

We have the power to choose the words we abide in and the words that come out of our mouth. Will we choose words of destruction, or words of promise? Will we choose words of pain and hurt, or words of hope and healing? Will we abide in the words of our own flesh, or the Word which became flesh for us? Words are powerful. Choose them wisely.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Words Have Power

 I do not write a lot of fiction these days. In fact, the last fictional short story I wrote was for Dr. Tony Cartledge's Ministry of Writing class several years ago. It is not that I do not still love to write stories, but simply that I do not often find time and opportunity to craft a good fictional story. I want everything I write to convey important message and meaning for people. The following story is a fictional account, but it is one that, given the number of victims of sexual and physical abuse, could have been played out very similarly in many lives. If you have been touched by abuse in some way, I hope the words of this story are healing to you. Even if you have not been effected personally, I hope that you can learn something from this story. Trigger Warning: Sexual and Physical abuse are discussed in this post.

"You didn't do anything wrong."

The words were almost painful to hear because of their truth. It was even harder to believe. They were as precise as a surgeon's scalpel, penetrating through years of hurtful and abusive words and actions. They were words that, as she would allow herself to dwell in them would allow for healing.

Only one other time had words penetrated so deeply and so accurately into Carlie's painful past. It was in the arms of her husband one night that he uttered the words, "You are loved." Though she knew that Philip had spoken, she felt as though the words came from God directly. It was the first time she ever felt truly loved, truly worthy of love.

Though these words were spoken to a grown woman, married with children of her own, she did not hear them that way. She heard them as a little girl, abused and neglected. The memory that stood out most was when she was nine years old. She told her parents what had happened only to be met by a silent, disapproving glare from her mother. Later she listened as her parents fought over her. Clearly her father believed her, but her mother refused to. She heard her mother call her names that she could not reveal to anyone, or even repeat in her journal. Nevertheless, she did believe the things her mother said. Mothers are supposed to be right after all, and they are supposed to be believed. "I must have done something wrong," she wrote in her journal the next morning after the yelling had stopped. "I brought this on myself and and I really am the whore my mother told my father I am."

Carlie was nine years old on the night she wrote that journal entry, but the abuse began long before that. She was abused sexually by her uncle, physically by her mother, and emotionally by her mother, grandmother, and even her older brothers on occasion who were constantly critical of everything from her appearance to the way she walked and talked. The years of abuse had damaged her self worth, and her ability to feel loved.

When Carlie became a Christian as a young teenager, she thought she had found a way out of the criticism and abuse. The promise of "all things becoming new" meant that she had a chance of escaping the labels that had been put on her. For awhile it helped a little for her to feel better about herself. Eventually she even enrolled in a Christian college where she caught the attention of Phillip, a young man studying to be a pastor. The two were engaged within a year.

When they returned home to share the news, the nightmare began again. Her mother found her alone and began her attack. "What makes you think you're good enough to be a pastor's wife? You are too selfish and spoiled. You'll never be good enough."

Those words would haunt Carlie. They opened the door and brought back all the insecurities and pain from childhood. The physical abuse from her mother and the sexual abuse from her uncle all came flooding back, as did the feelings that it was her fault because of the words which served to constantly tear her down. Words hurt. They can tear into the heart and mind of a person like a machine gun carelessly fired into a crowded room, and they are much more difficult to remove than a stray bullet. They stay lodged in, slowly and steadily leaking their poison into the soul.

Words can also be the antidote, but only when the poisonous words are quieted enough to hear the healing ones. "You are loved," penetrated into the soul of a little girl who felt unlovable. "You didn't do anything wrong," spoke directly to a five year old who could not say "no" to an uncle who was much bigger and stronger than her, and to the eight year old who was slapped around and called names by her mother.

Words have power to wound and to heal. Sometimes we use too many words, and they lose their power. My hope is that this story reminds us all that we are responsible for what comes out of our mouths. We never know what another person has endured. The Bible tells us that, "Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." I hope that my mouth overflows with words of healing, restoration, and peace today.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Steal Your Life Back

Donald Miller posed this question on his twitter yesterday, “How can the suffering you’ve experienced become an unintended blessing? What is good about the pain you’ve known?”

As I read that tweet, I thought, “I could write a blog, no make that a book, on this question.”

The problem is, so often people think the best response to pain is to ignore it, avoid it, bury it, and most importantly hide it from the rest of the world. We all tend to put a show on for the world of our perfect life, hiding our scars, and especially our gaping wounds, as much as possible, whenever possible. We think, “As long as everything looks good from the outside, I can ignore what is happening on the inside and it will just go away.” I am just as guilty of feeling and thinking this way as anyone else out there.

I am learning, however, how crippling and foolish it is to try to bury the painful things in our lives. Keeping our pain secret is like having an infection that could be cured with simple antibiotics, but we refuse to take them. Instead, we let it spread and grow until we cannot bear the symptoms any longer, and by then it is going to take a lot more than a simple pill. It becomes exhausting as it eats us away from the inside out. We end up suffering from even more things we try to hide like anxiety and depression.

When we reveal our wounds, admit our struggles, and drop the charade of perfection, only then can we begin to heal. Do we need to be careful who to reveal our pain to? Of course we do, especially at first, while the wounds are still gaping and the infection is still raging. Healing comes from sharing with those who can offer empathy and understanding, not those who are sympathetic and withdraw.

Once those open wounds begin to heal, they become scars. Our scars are beautiful. They become our strength, and they can be used to strengthen others. Our scars say to others, “You are not alone.” Sympathy says, “Oh, you poor thing, I am so sorry for you. I will never understand.” They say with genuine empathy, “I have been where you are and I know it hurts, but I am with you.”

None of our scars are exactly the same, but all of us have scars. The good comes in using our scars to help others. The good comes in being transparent, real, and authentic. The good comes when we realize that pain is a part of what binds us as humans. The good comes when we remember that God himself took on human flesh, including its pain so that he could understand and empathize with us. The good comes when we realize that by His stripes we are healed, because his scars let us know we have a God who can accept us, scars and all. Is it scary to let others see our scars? Yes. Am I completely there yet? No, but I am working on it, and I am finding my wounds healing and my scars making me stronger, more confident, and more compassionate every day as I walk the journey.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Conforming Corporations or Transforming Lives

I have a confession to make. Since I finished Divinity School I have become a read-a-holic. This new addiction actually started the summer before my final semester of Divinity School, but since completing the final assignment for school it has taken on a new life. I am not only addicted to reading books, some of which I may blog about in another post. I am addicted to following and reading blogs by many of my favorite authors/bloggers including Rachel Held Evans, Donald Miller, Brene Brown just to name a few. I am also addicted to reading articles that many of my friends are posting on Facebook and Twitter and the comments that are often generated by such articles. Today has been a day full of interesting posts.

Two posts in particular, and the debates they generated, caught my attention. Both centered around one of my favorite places to pull through to get a Grande White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino, you guessed it, Starbucks! The question of the day appears to be, "Should Christians Boycott Starbucks?" and apparently my friends are answering with mixed reviews. Seeing the popularity of this conversation today, I felt compelled to weigh in with my opinion, which I am certain will be met with mixed reviews as well.

I am disturbed by the fact that being right, and believing right has become the most important thing in some Christian circles. I am disturbed by the fact that some Christians feel it is more important to the Kingdom of God to take a political stance, and to make a power play with a company than to reach out and love people. I am disturbed by the fact that we are more concerned with the moral rightness of same-sex marriage than we are with the moral wrongness of childhood sexual and physical abuse. I am concerned because I don't believe any of these things are consistent with Jesus' teachings or the Kingdom of God.

Jesus was never concerned with politics. In fact, when the religious leaders tried to engage him on matters of politics, he replied by saying, "Give to Caeser what is Caeser's and to God what is God's." When the children were brought to him and the disciples tried to send them away, he took them in his arms and blessed them. When he encountered a woman with a questionable past in a land that Jews simply avoided because of prejudice, he offered her love, grace, and life, not condemnation. When Jesus rode in to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the people wanted him to take his rightful place as king and leader, instead he took the place of a criminal and bore the cross, "despising the shame." Many times Christians want to heap that shame on others, shame that says, "You are not good enough, you will never be good enough." The truth is Jesus is the only one who was good enough, and he hung out with those who were constantly excluded from society.

The Christian life is not about making the world, or the government, or major corporations conform to our standards, morals, or beliefs. The Christian life is about transformation of lives of people who God calls us to. Paul says, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable." He goes on to say that if anything that we, as mature believers, do causes a weaker brother or sister to stumble, we should not do it. He also takes this one step further, he says if anything we do causes the gospel to be hindered, we should not do it either. If my attitude towards a particular company causes me to not be able to share Christ with the young college student who has to work there because it is the only job she can find, then it is my attitude that needs adjusting. The Gospel is by definition "Good News" but the goodness can be drowned out by our attitudes and actions as Christ's ambassadors. We are called to be servants of the least of these, not leaders of the privileged. Are we about forcing companies to conform or helping lives be transformed?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Beauty for Ashes

My family and I always enjoy interactive museum exhibits. We love hands on activities involving building things, playing with magnets, and even touching animals of all kinds. Such displays make for great opportunities for learning. Once, while exploring a museum in Washington DC, we came across just such a display for hands on learning. The display highlighted American inventions, and one of the things highlighted was synthetic rope verses it's predecessor steal cable. The interactive learning experience showed how the lightweight rope was not only lighter and more pliable than steal, but it was also safer, stronger, and more durable. Steal cable is strong, no doubt, but it is susceptible to developing rust and kinks that weaken the structure, and when it snaps, it is quite dangerous and potentially destructive to anyone or anything that might be nearby.

Have you ever met anyone whose faith is like that steal cable? Their faith appears strong, rigid, and unshakable. They never bend or waiver in what they believe. There is a problem with faith like that. It doesn't stand up to the wear and tear it comes against. Often this type of faith is the kind that has to have an answer for everything. if something bad happens, there must be a reason for it, someone's sin must be to blame. This is the kind of faith the Pharisees had in Jesus' day. There was no room in their faith for someone to say, "You have heard it said...but I say to you..." When they brought a man born blind before Jesus, they asked, "Whose sin is to blame for this?" They had no room in their system of belief for suffering without sin. Faith that appears rigid and unshakable is sometimes so weakened by the kinks and rust that all it takes is one good wind for it to snap, and when it does, it is not easily repaired.

The stronger faith is the one that is more flexible. Like the newer skyscrapers that are built in areas of the world where earthquakes are common, it will sway, but not collapse easily. It is a faith that can allow for difficult things to happen, even when there is no good explanation of why. It is a faith that is okay with the answer, "I don't know, but I still trust in God." Casting Crowns is one of my favorite groups, and they have a song entitled, "Love Them Like Jesus." The song tells the stories of people who find themselves in situations that could be devastating to a person's faith. One of my favorite lines in the song says this, "You don't need the answers to all of life's questions, just show that you love them and stand by their side. Love them like Jesus."

How strong is your faith? Is it strong enough to endure the loss of a loved one? Is it strong enough to not be broken even when your prayers aren't answered the way you want? Is it strong enough to obey God, even when your friends and family question your decisions? Can it absorb the impact of a life-changing 7.0 earthquake, or would it crumble into rubble with a quake half as strong? Do you always have to have an answer? I encourage you during this season of Lent to reflect on the things that could shake our faith. Reflect on the things for which we may not have an answer, and remember that we do not have to explain why the ashes were created. Sometimes we just need to go to the tomb to weep, like Mary and the other women, without hope, without understanding why, only to get there and discover that God has turned the ashes into something beautiful.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Human Connection

My family and I went to dinner a few nights ago and we were disturbed by something that seems to be becoming a trend in American families. It was like a scene from a bad science fiction movie. You know those movies where the aliens plant some device into the culture that gradually eats away at the higher reasoning of the people, in an effort to take over the world and enslave all humanity...Well, maybe it isn't quite that bad, but sometimes is feels that way.

The restaurant was crowded, being the weekend before Valentine's Day, and like many other parties, we had to wait for a table. As we were waiting, we began to notice others around us. One family in particular caught our attention. It was a family of three, a mom, dad, and son, who were seated on the bench near the door of the restaurant. The reason this family caught our attention was because, unlike the other parties waiting who were noisily chatting away, this family was quiet. They were not talking to each other or to anyone else. The son was on his personal tablet, playing video games, lost In his own world. Mom and dad were no better, lost in their own smart phone worlds, paying no attention to one another.

This prompted me to look around some more. The party sitting on the other side of me were talking together, while at the same time having their eyes glued to the screen of their own mobile devices. I even noticed a couple, clearly on a date sitting alone at a nearby booth, who appeared to be texting rather than talking to the person across the table.

Now I will grant you, I am guilty as well. I occasionally find myself more focused on a screen than another person. In many ways these mobile devices are meant to connect us. They allow us to stay in contact 24 hours a day. Facebook and Twitter even allow us to find and reconnect with old friends who we had long ago lost touch with. However, I am finding myself more and more wondering if the value of such things outweighs the cost.

If the price we are paying is face to face conversation, the smiles and giggles of our children, and the joy, peace, and comfort that can come from actually looking into the eyes of the one we love, is it worth it? I am not saying, or evening implying that we should give up technology all together, but maybe we should think before we mindlessly answer a text or check our Facebook page during dinner. Maybe we need to start being intentional about operating, or even turning off our mobile devices instead of letting them run our lives every minute of every day.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Obeying God, Not Man

As a lifelong Southern Baptist, I was taught certain principles. For example, I was taught unapologetically that faith in Jesus is the only sure way to heaven. I was taught that every believer is responsible to share the love of God with the entire world. I was taught that as a Baptist I was to have a great deal of reverence for the Bible as the inspired Word of God. I was also taught about the priesthood of the believer, a doctrine that says each believer has opportunity to go directly to God for help, has the responsibility of reading, studying, and interpreting scripture, and is commanded to serve in the church and world in the way that God has called and gifted them to do so. I cherish many of the things that Southern Baptists have taught me, and I especially have embraced the passion for missions that is such a rich part of my Southern Baptist heritage.

Unfortunately as a Southern Baptist, I was also taught things that always troubled me because they did not seem to fit with the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. I hold a very high view of the Bible, but I believe that God used the personalities and experience of the writers, allowing them to choose words that would speak to the people in their own context. However, if my understanding or interpretation of a particlar passage differs from the pastor or Sunday school teacher, or curriculum does that make it misguided and incorrect? Does God's inspiration only apply to the writer of scripture, and not to the reader also? Understanding how only certain people's interpretation of scripture could be correct has been one of my struggles for I find that there is no ONE  way to understand all scripture passages. Instead, I think God speaks through scripture in multiple ways, and the tension and diversity of scripture has power.

When we select only certain stories to be read and leave out other stories or aspects of stories, we are specifically promoting a particular view point. Selective reading does make it easy to create a "biblical" argument for just about anything. For example, a Bible study on the early life of Jesus from Luke's gospel that highlights Simeon and Zacharias but overlooks Anna and Elizabeth makes a statement to girls that their role is unimportant. I find that troubling.

The Bible has been used in this way in many churches, teaching girls that, though they are equal in salvation, they are not equal in the church. Just because I was born female, I could not be called by God in certain tasks. I am not seeking to argue a biblical case even, though I know some of you will want to engage me in such a debate. I could give scripture after scripture and example after example from the Bible to support my beliefs,  and many of you could do the same, but I do not want to debate. Instead, I want to share a personal struggle, and how I have come to terms with it.

For much of my life as a Christian, I have been caught between the person that my imbedded theology told me to be and the person I believe God called me to be. My Southern Baptist heritage has told me that my goal in life should be to glorify God as a wife and mother. I could work with children, sing in the choir, and make a divine casserole dish for homecoming supper. Maybe, once in a while, I could pray in church, or sing a solo. When I showed promise as a writer and better than average skills at studying the Bible, I could be encouraged to write a study for women or lead a youth Sunday School class. Certain things, however, I was not allowed to even consider, including preaching or teaching a mixed group of adults. I most especially should never aspire to be ordained. For years I tried to fit in to this mold. I suffered from severe depression in part because I never experienced peace. I never felt satisfied with the roles I was given.I never found contentment but instead was miserable. So I begged God to help me love my life.

Over the years, I also felt that God had called me and gifted me for something more than what I was allowed to do. As much as I tried to fight it, I knew I wanted to preach. As difficult and nervous as it was for me to speak in public, the Holy Spirit inside me compelled me to want to teach, and much like Jeremiah I felt the Word of God as a fire in my bones. The harder I tried to hold it in the more miserable I became. I also felt a call to do more than preach and teach. I felt a call to reach out to others with the presence of God in the midst of their hurts. Along with all of this, I felt God’s leading of me to be ordained, to be recognized and set apart by the church as having a call from God in my life.

I believe that God can use anybody and can and does call whoever God wills. My job, our job, is not stifle the Holy Spirit, but to live in the call. The road has not been an easy one for me, or for my husband, who is also a called, ordained minister of the gospel, but God has now put us in a place where we can both work out our callings and giftedness.

I have determinded that from this point forward in my life I will not try to fit myself in the mold some would try to place on me of "biblical womanhood." Instead I will celebrate the woman that God called me to be, happy in Jesus as I trust and obey.As of today, I am making the official announcement. In addition to my other titles of wife, mother, daughter, friend, sister, neighbor, I am adding one other: Reverend.