Monday, March 29, 2010

Emily's Rules for Witnessing, Well, more like guidlines, suggestions really.

A big part of our faith is witnessing, sharing the good news with those around us. For many Christians this is the most daunting task we have to face, and the reason is most of us don’t know how without ending up in an argument.

It is no secret that most of my working life has been spent in what most would consider rather worldly situations. I have spent a lot of time listening to the stories of those who have never heard about God’s love, heard distorted versions of it, or even been burned by the Church. During that season I learned a lot about talking to those who live outside our Christian bubbles, but more than that I learned the importance of listening to them. I learned many of the things that turn them off and keep them from hearing what we have to say. I also learned how engage them in conversations that help them move a little closer to God.

I wanted to write this post not as a way to brag on my abilities, but rather to share some of what I have learned. Hopefully, I can save you a few steps, and maybe you can avoid some of my mistakes.

Rule #1 - You have to keep the conversation going. You can’t share our message with someone who won’t listen to you.

Rule#2 – Conversations stop when you start being confrontational. We can’t force someone to believe what we believe, even if we know we are right. The shields go up, doors close, and all chances of having an important conversation are lost, sometimes for good.

Rule #3 – Correction is reserved for those who proclaim to share our faith. Anyone outside the Church or does not profess a relationship with Jesus is off limits. Jesus’ words of correction were reserved for those who proclaimed to know the law, not the Roman Centurion, not the woman who anointed His feet in oil.

Rule #4 – Listen. Listen. Listen. Chances are they already know the plan of salvation. You would be surprised at the number of people sitting around a bar who can quote chapter and verse better than most regular church goers. You are not there to fix them, you are there to show mercy and compassion to a world in need. You start by learning their story.

Rule #5 – Acknowledge their wounds, even those caused by sinful behavior. The pain is real, and dismissing it, or worse proclaim it as deserved, says we do not value them as a person. Remember Jesus never kicked a leper, nor did He beat the woman caught in adultery. We should follow His example.

Rule #6 – Answer questions about your faith as they arise. People will tell you what they are ready to hear, and if you don’t know an answer, don’t try to bluff them. Say you don’t know and offer to find out, and then do it. Most people appreciate knowing you cared enough to address their questions in a sincere and thoughtful manner.

Rule #7 – Never compromise your faith by engaging in behavior that negates your words, and if you do, acknowledge it. This is a great time to talk about God’s gift of forgiveness to you, and the experience of conviction over your sin. Remember this conversation is all about you, and not the unbeliever.

Rule #8- Don’t say things like, “Thank you, Jesus” when you have a flat tire. It comes across as insincere. Although you may mean it, no one will believe you, including me. Acknowledge that you are upset, and it really did nothing to brighten your day. Acting sanctimonious says either you aren’t human or you are hiding something.

Rule #9 – Make friends with nonbelievers, and don’t have an agenda. Trust me they can tell when you are plotting something. Get to know them because they have admirable traits, everyone has one, with some people you just have to look a little harder.

Rule #10 – If they are passionate about something and it violates no Biblical principle join them. You can learn some really amazing things this way, about their interests and about them as a person. You don’t need to teach them the Roman Road to salvation every time you see them, just hanging out is okay.

Rule #11- Know your limits. Going out into the world to share our faith is dangerous, know when to retreat, and have a plan in place for those times when things get outside your comfort zone. Usually a simple “time for me to go” is sufficient. Don’t try to explain why you need to leave, just firmly but gracefully make your exit.

Rule #12 – THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FOR YOU! Establish a network of mature Christian friends to hold you accountable. Make sure they are the type of people who will ask you the hard questions and make you answer. If they say get out, get out.

The most difficult thing in this approach is learning how to have the conversations without compromising your position. It helps to use “I” statements, and avoid accusations. Pick your battles wisely, in this era of open mindedness and tolerance we can state what we believe as long as we aren’t forcing down someone’s throat. Most people love to talk about spiritual matters if they know they won’t be attacked. There may be times when you have to take a stand, but I have found all but the most belligerent of people don’t want to fight. More can be accomplished by giving them room to wrestle it out than trying to force a situation to a head.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Christian Phrases that I Hate, yes Hate.

Now I know that none of you have ever heard another Christian say something that just sets your teeth on edge, but I have. Maybe I am being a bit too persnickety, but there are a couple of phrases that are floating around in our Christian vernacular that drive me up one wall and down the other. And every time I hear them I have to weigh whether or not to address the situation. I am sure that you have heard them, may have even said them. I know I have.

But sometimes it is a good idea to sit back and really think about the words that come out of our mouths, even those words used by “good church folk.” Honestly, I don’t believe that most of us mean them the way I hear them, but I have heard them one too many times today, so I have to speak up.

One saying that is troubling me so is, “and God used me.” There are lots of variations to this one, “I was used of God,” “God will use you,” and my all time favorite is the plea that God will use one in His service. Why, you ask, does this bother me so? Allow me to explain.

It irritates and offends me on two levels. The first is, since when is it alright or commendable to use a friend or loved one? And if any one of our friends ever intentionally used us, would we really be okay with it? Would we brag to our other friends that we were used? Would we declare it among large groups of people? Wouldn't sense of trust fly right out the window?

I don’t know about you, but the last friend who “used” me isn’t a friend anymore. There is the implication that we are only as important to God as we are useful to Him. So when you cease to be useful, you cease to be valuable. People are not tools that are used to accomplish a task and then put aside. In healthy relationships, we rely on each other, help each other, and even sacrifice for each other, but when we start using each other the relationship ceases to be healthy. As a matter of fact we have a term for relationships where one party uses the other, it’s called co-dependent. And I have a really hard time seeing God that way.

On the second level is the feint fragrance of arrogance. It is the man standing at the street corner declaring his humility. There is the taint of self importance, the idea that God somehow needed us to do whatever He needed to be done. I hate to break to you, but God is capable of doing whatever He pleases, whenever He pleases, to and with whomever He chooses. Any part we may play in the things He is doing is negligible at best and completely superfluous most of the time.

This is the beautiful part of being allowed to participate in His activities. The fact that He doesn’t need us makes the fact that we got the invitation that much more wonderful. If we could wrap our heads around the idea that He desires to spend time with Him, not because we are so gosh-darn indispensable, but rather that He loves us we might have a little better perspective of our place in this world.

Maybe I am taking things a bit too far here, but I believe that our thoughts determine our language and our language helps shape our thoughts. And maybe, just maybe, the fact that we have run around all these years somehow thinking that God needs to use us has made us forget how powerful He really is.

One thing that makes me think this is another overused Christian phrase, “I am defending God, my faith, etc.” Really? How might we be accomplishing such a feat? By picking fights with others, by getting caught up in useless arguments and debates? If I remember correctly, Paul had something to say about that, and I believe it was “don’t”. And I also seem to remember Jesus saying something about presenting the message and walking away if it was not received.

You see, my God rained fire and brimstone down on a place that wasn’t living up to His standards. He did not outfit an army with flame throwers, He did not send in a squad with napalm. He didn’t even send someone to shout warnings on the street corners. He handled it, alone. And when Abraham tried to interfere, God listened but carried out His plans anyway.

I believe that God doesn’t need to use us to defend Himself. I think He can handle just about anything us humans can throw at Him, and maybe if we stopped trying to take credit for stuff that really is none of our concern we could focus on what is important. Things like loving our neighbor, showing compassion to the hurting, and walking in deeper relationship with Him. I have to believe that the world could be changed if we stopped worrying about being used and simply lived a life that was joyfully transformed by being in His presence. I have to hope that if we loved our enemies, instead of trying to protect God from them, they could witness His grace and mercy, and find a desire to know this God who loves us so.

Monday, March 22, 2010

When God Does the Dishes

Waiting makes me sick, not in some abstract way, but in a very real gut wrenching, stomach twisting way. I am not talking about waiting in line or waiting on traffic. I am talking about waiting to see how things are going to turn out, how things are going to be accomplished. I want all the facts in my hand, and I want to arrive at a brilliant conclusion.

It’s the limbo that drives me crazy. It is what keeps me awake at nights and causes me to say and do stupid things. I have this thing in my brain that says if you talk about a problem long enough it will all work out. The thing is sometimes I just need to shut up and see how things are going to turn out. But like I said, I hate waiting. Talking seems to offer me at least the illusion of being proactive in the situation, (that should be read as “in control of the situation”, the other way just sounds better), when all I am really doing is muddying the waters.

Now God is faithful, and He has a way of taking our flaws and working them over. Usually this means He is going to provide us with lots of opportunities to get it right, which really means He is going to give us lots of opportunities to fail. And I tend to make the most of these chances, which means I usually fail in creative and new ways.

I am having to learn that God’s time is not my time. I keep telling Him if He would speed things up a bit I could get so much more done, but He has yet to take my advice, go figure. I know that is Sunday School lesson 101, but there is a huge difference in remembering and knowing. I know that He has it all under control and He will take care of me, but I hate the fact that His perfect way of doing things means I am left twisting in the wind a little too often to suit my tastes.

Honestly, it is probably a good thing that I was not one of the people walking around the walls of Jericho. I don’t think I could have kept my mouth shut for seven days. About the third time around, I would have been looking for a pick axe because I would have been sure that Joshua misheard the directions and we needed to be busy doing something more productive than waiting on God. By the fourth time around, I would have probably trying to get Joshua to stop and explain all that nonsense to me one more time. And the fifth time, I would at least be sure that I was scuffing away little more sand from the base of wall with each step, if I hadn’t decided to wash my hands of the whole thing.

Fortunately for me, God hasn’t called me to undergo such a grueling ordeal. Right now we are working on the small stuff. I let Him dry my dishes. He takes forever, but eventually He gets the job done. And let me tell you it is torture. No matter how much I nag Him, He never picks up the pace, but I am getting better.

Learning to wait isn’t about trying to slip into some comatose state of being. It is about finding out how deep your trust really goes. It is about learning how to separate the things you are responsible for from the things that you aren’t. It is about finding that balance between sheer laziness and finding peace in the midst of the unknown. It is about acknowledging He is God and you aren’t.

For me it is the ultimate position of surrender. It is not restful or serene. It is an act of sheer will most of the time. Not because I don’t think God can handle it, but rather I think I can handle it better. I don’t like turning loose of control, real or perceived. I like to think that my actions are what affect change, that somehow God can’t get it done without me. It is a time where I have to put down my pride and my own sense of accomplishment. At these times I have to lay aside all the attributes that my friends usually praise me for so that He can receive the glory.

I have to step out of the spot light for a moment and stand in awe of Him. I need to experience the wonder of what He can do apart from me, and if the Grand Canyon is any indication He’s got it covered in ways that I can only begin to imagine. And if I need to talk about it that’s okay too, as long as I take my conversation to Him. He understands I am impatient, and sometimes I think He even finds the quality a little endearing, but He knows that I need to learn how to simply be with Him. Because that is right where He wants me, there at His side witnessing what He wants to accomplish in my life.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Junk Sale!!! Anyone looking for a Bargain?

Anybody want to buy some of my junk? I have a few love letters that would have been touching, had they ever been written. In the box in the back we have some great romantic evenings, if we had been. On the table in the front are some beautiful engagement rings, that are stunning if only in my mind. And I will make you a special deal on the house with the green shutters and the white picket fence, that was never built. Over to your left, are few photos. Oh, they are real enough but the smiles are fake. In that basket are some beautiful handcrafted holidays, that no one bothered to finish. And on that chair is the man who I created out of bits of daydreams and glimmers of potential, I’ll throw him in free if you are willing to pay full price for the broken promises and disappointed hopes.

I know they don’t seem like much to you, but once upon a time they meant everything to me. But that story never got written, at least not how I intended it to be. Reality looked a lot different than fairy tale ending I had hoped for. You see in fairy tales, there is only one dragon to be slain before the happily ever after can begin. In real life, many must be defeated, and even then there are no guarantees.

So I am packing it all up and hauling it to the curb if I can’t find any takers. Not because they aren’t beautiful fantasies any more, but because that’s all they ever were, fantasies. The finest quality a girl can dream up, but there comes a time when you have to turn it loose. When you have realize what dreams aren’t going to come true, because if you hold on to tightly you will drown under them

The problem is that without them my house is going to look bare, and I am not for sure if I will feel at home here any longer. Maybe that is not a bad thing. Maybe we all need to clear out some room in our hearts and minds for the next big adventure. Maybe who I was when I wove the threads of this dream together isn’t who I am today. Maybe , just maybe, I out grew them.

It is hard to know which is the greater act of faith. Turning loose or hanging on. If I turn loose am I saying that God has failed to act on my behalf, that He did not hear my prayers? Am I admitting that I just don’t have the faith for Him to perform a miracle in my life, that He can’t resurrect a dead dream? Or maybe it is the turning loose that shows faith. Faith that God is not bound to my ideas of how my life should look. Maybe faith is surrendering to a greater vision of my life, one not conjured up by outdated fairy tales, but one that He has dreamt for me.

Can we trust Him with our future? Even when it doesn’t look like we planned? Can we lay aside those things we once thought we believed would make us happy and wait to experience something new?

There are times in this life when we need to stop and reevaluate the furniture of our hearts and minds. Maybe we need to do more than clear away the cobwebs and just get rid of all the junk. It doesn’t mean that we stop dreaming or hoping. It means that we learn to dream with Him, and let Him dream through us. We need to make room for the things He wants to bring into our lives, and that we turn loose of all the stuff that clutters up our hearts and minds.

We often wonder what is holding us back, why we can’t seem to take the next step forward, even when we have the desire, but so seldom do we stop look at the things that are holding us in place. The dreams that once defined us, who we thought we should be becomes weight upon our shoulders, silently condemning us for having never achieved what we somehow believed to be our right. We see ourselves through the lens of those dreams, and until we turn loose we will never be able to see the possibilities that lay before us.

So I am having a junk sale. Learning to turn loose of the stuff I really don’t need. The things that I will no longer allow to define me. I am clearing away the rubbish and making room for new treasures, because sometimes moving forward means turning loose of the past.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Halt the presses! I made a mistake.

Yes, go on and enjoy it. It may be the only time you see or hear those words from me, but I did. I made a mistake.

Well over a year ago, a cowboy walked into the place where I was working. I looked him over and sized him up pretty quick. He was quiet, took some care in his appearance, and used the word “ma’am” when he spoke to me. All in all a nice guy, who was able to carry on an amusing conversation when he came in. I liked him, but he was a little too clean cut for my tastes, a little too nice. But through a weird series of events, I found out that he isn’t quite what I thought he was. Amazing how quick a Harley can realign your perception of a fellow.

Now we all know that it isn’t right to label people right off the bat. Our mama’s taught us different, or at least she should have tried, but we do. And if it is not bad enough that we do it with people, most of us have a tendency to do it with God. He shows up at the church we attend. He’s kinda quiet, he wears a suit and tie, and he says “ma’am” when he speaks to us. We smile and nod when he talks. His conversations are amusing, entertaining even. He says and does nothing objectionable, but we can’t really work up any type of real excitement about him either. He is just too nice, a little too clean cut, but let me tell you right now, if that is how you see him, you have made a mistake.

You see we think we know this guy called God. We gave him the once over at the door, and we thought we sized him up right. We’ve thought we figured him out. We know how to describe Him. God is love. God is good. God is kind, forgiving, and a million other things made up of puppies and rainbows.
But let me tell you a secret, the person you have figured out is the most boring person on earth. There is no fascination to be found in them. You can’t get excited about who they are and what’s left to discover about them. And until you realize that there is wonder and beauty in walking through the mystery you just won’t take the time to get to know him better.

So maybe it is time that we stopped “knowing” who God is. Maybe we should take a moment to develop a relationship and see what he has to show us. Because he is so much more than our clich├ęs, and he is so much more interesting than the person we thought we knew. It is what makes him infinite. There is always something new to discover, some new exciting bit of information waiting to be revealed, but as long as we are content with our definitions we fail to see how amazing he truly he is.

For some of us, the idea that we may have made a mistake is scary. We like the nice guy God who fits well into our boxes and categories. There is no risk, no danger, and no adventure waiting to be experienced. It is how we protect our hearts, pretending like we know it all, putting nice neat little labels on him so we know the proper response without ever having to feel the emotion. Because a God who can stir our hearts, arouse our passion is a God who can compel us to move in ways that can be terrifying.

Knowing him changes us, because as we realign our understanding of him we have to realign our understanding of who we are. We have to admit that we made a mistake when we sized him up too quickly. We have to confront the reasons why we dismissed him out of hand, and learn some things that aren’t always too pleasant to learn about ourselves. This is the purpose of knowing him, to become more conformed to his image, to be who he created us to be, people full of life, ready to live an adventure shared with him, but we can’t do that until we are realize that he is the adventure.

Does mean that God isn’t loving, kind, good, or compassionate? No, it just means that all of those things go beyond our definition and understanding. He is all of what we know him to be, but he is so much more. So we get the chance to know him, and that only comes through experiencing him. And each experience we share should challenge us to greater levels of faith, deeper expressions of love, and leave us standing in awe of who he truly is.

So the next time you start feeling comfortable with God, maybe even a little bored by him, you might want to take a peek into the garage, because there’s a sweet Harley waiting to be taken for a ride and who knows where it will take you.

Monday, March 15, 2010

When I'm just not feeling it.

There are few things harder than acting like a Christian when you don’t feel very Christian. Now, I am not for sure exactly what a real Christian is suppose to feel like, but I always imagined it was somewhere between cotton candy and bunny fur. And truthfully, I feel more like a porcupines and electric fence, sometimes.

I think many people would be surprised at how seldom I feel Christian. Usually I am so busy trying to act Christian that feeling anything other than frustration would be miraculous. I know there must someone out there who manages to feel Christian. I mean I have always assumed that those people at church who always greet you with a big smile and a “God bless you” must feel Christian, at least on Sunday mornings.

I just don’t know how this feeling of being occurs. I have tried, but so far nothing has really worked. I don’t know if just didn’t get the secret decoder ring, I missed that particular sermon, or no one hit me with the right amount of fairy dust. I have been prayed over, anointed, and once pastor tried to shove me to the floor – but I was between him and the doughnuts. I mean if someone were to ask me how I felt right now, I would have to say I am vaguely grumpy and rather gloomy. Definitely not feeling Christian.

We all know that true Christians, or at least mature Christians, don’t have bad days. They smile all the time. They know the answer to the world’s problems and they would rather be caught without their underwear than without the right Bible verse for the occasion. They have sparkling smiles, well mannered children, perfectly groomed spouses, and they breathe in peace and exhale joy. They look forward to their turn in the church nursery, and they can whip out a casserole for the church potluck faster than I can sneeze. And I know that they act this way because they can feel just how Christian they are. They charming, gracious, and we all try not to hate them. Or maybe that’s just me, because the more I am around these people the less Christian I feel.

You see, I have bad days and a messy house. My car is never clean and my kids fight. I have a hard time remembering my phone number, let alone chapter and verse for anything. I can’t cook and when my car breaks down I don’t respond with a “thank you, Jesus.” I can be mean, jealous, and petty. I love a good fight and will sometimes start an argument just to have one. Sometimes I enjoy scowling at the world and I am a bit of a snob. I have kicked my dog and yelled at God when things haven’t gone my way. I don’t always feel Christian, so I don’t always act Christian.

The good news is that being a Christian isn’t based on my feelings. It is even based on my performance. It is something that goes beyond what I get right and what I do wrong. Being a Christian is not found in someone else’s perception of who and what I should be, or what they think I should be doing. Being a Christian is the result of a relationship, one that affects how I behave and changes who I am, but I don’t always feel it like I think I should feel it.

Sure I want to do better, but not because it makes me any more or less Christian. I want to be better because I want to the world to see the how knowing God has changed me. I want to please him in my deeds and words, even my emotions, but I have to wonder if we have gotten confused about the process of being conformed to the image of Christ. If somewhere along the way we began to think that being holy meant that we denied our emotions and suppressed our quirks so that we could become conformed to our ideas about what a Christian should feel like.

You see, being a Christian doesn’t mean that my miraculous transformation short circuited my mind or desires. My transformation began when I understood that my mind and desires don’t always agree with where God would have me, and confronting me where I am, as who I am. It is me being honest enough to say I have a bad days and I don’t feel like loving my enemies or even my friends all the time. It is me being willing to go to him when I am grumpy and asking for help, wrestling through the gloom with him, and not hiding from him until I feel right. Because the truth is on my own I will never get it right, I will never be good enough to feel Christian how I think a Christian should feel all the time.

I might be able to fake it on Sunday mornings. I might even hold it together for a Sunday night service, but by Wednesday afternoon, forget it. I am right back into the mess of me. Beaten up, cast down, and overwhelmed by all the things I do that don’t measure up to whom I think a Christian should be, and all my feelings say I will never make it, that I should just give up.

So if you are like me. If you ever have a bad day and wonder why you even try when you know all you are going to do is fail, take heart. You are not alone. We all have those days, and we all feel like we are failing sometimes. The question is what you do with those feelings? Do you let them dictate who you are? Or can you let your heart find hope and strength in God says you are? Because he loves us, even on grumpy days, sad days, and days we totally mess up.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

So tell me a story!

Deep down inside of each of us is a craving to basic that we often fail to recognize its existence. A need so basic that we gratify without a second thought as to why we need or what we need. We fulfill this need in our children almost through instinct and yet it is considered a basic trait of a good parent. We have turned the fulfillment of this need into a billion dollar industry, and stores across the globe cater to it. Grand halls have been erected to service this need, products in all forms have been created in its honor, we have developed easily transported means to feed this desire, and yet, most of still fail to identify it as need. At best it is an indulgence or entertainment, but hardly ever deemed a necessity.

The need is simple, tell me a story. I need to hear, to see, to experience a time and place that I never inhabited. I need the chance to be a part of something greater, grander, or even more terrifying than the life I live. Tell me a story, be it a fairy tale, a romance, a thriller, or just how you took out the garbage this morning. Tell me a story, your story, another’s story, or one simply imagined.

There is power in a story. The power to influence my perspective, the power to teach, the power to inspire, and the power to destroy. A power so great that lives can be changed, nations moved, and eternity envisioned. Maybe this is the reason that God chose to reveal Himself first in a story. His first words to humanity are not rules, but a narrative of how He desired to create the beings He loved. He tells us of the men who served and failed Him and His unrelenting desire to redeem. And only after He tells us the stories of the first people to know Him does He take us deeper.

God knew that we would learn more from the stories than we would if confronted with rules alone. He understood that we would see the sins of Adam and Eve and know the brokenness of relationship to Him. He knew that if we could see the Ark floating upon the waters we have some idea of His greatness. He showed us how the devotion and heart break of Abraham could inspire us to faith more effectively than a mere command. In Moses, we experience his mother’s agony and grief only to be surprised by God’s grace and protection. In their stories we begin to know the God who is at once holy and loving in a way that only a story can convey.

Today we think of stories as something that belongs in other books, as if the pages of the Bible are too sacred to be read as a thrilling tale, but that is exactly what it is the most thrilling tale of how the creator of the universe chose to be a part of the lives of everyday, flawed people. And it is a story we long for, the one we want to be a part of.

We have tried telling it countless ways. We may replace the names of Scripture with Aragorn or Rooster Cogburn, but it is the same story over and over again. It is the story of people, or single person, who needs a hero. It is the princess in the tower who cries out to heaven praying that someone will come and rescue her from the dragon. It is Tyler Durden trying to make sense of the senseless, and Rigeletto playing the fool while hiding his treasure. No story we tell exists apart from our need to know THE story.

We search out the next big movie, and allow ourselves to know the story for an hour or so. We read a book, and get lost in the flow of words. We listen to the latest gossip, because even a dubious story is better than no story at all. Something inside of us tells us we need the story, so we seek it out, immersing ourselves in stories of all types because we don’t forget the story we are looking for is the one He wrote for us.

And unfortunately, we as a society and culture have forgotten the ability of a story to teach.We began to believe that stories are meant for entertainment. We think of them as amusement, and fail to grasp the significance of this great event. Our ancestors knew different, don’t believe me? Read the original fairy tales, before they were Disneyfied to make the audience feel good and were used to scare children into good choices. Or consider the fables which taught a moral.

Think for a moment of the parables Jesus used to teach, and how His stories reveal to us a Savior’s heart. He knew the value of a story and lived one so that we might know Him better. And He told us that our stories have power and that through our stories the world could come to know Him. So being good Christians we fancied it up a bit, not believing it could be that simple, not having faith in His words or example, we throw around phrases like “sharing our testimony” and lost sight of the fact that our testimony is nothing more than our story. That means that the enemy is overcome through our story, yours, mine, and all who have come before living a life of faith and struggle.

So tell me a story. One that is true but still has room for magic. One where there is still a man on a white horse, wielding a sword, coming to defeat evil. Tell me a story about how God was there in your life, how you came to know Him, and how He has demonstrated His love. Tell me a story that inspires me to keep pursuing Him, and tell me a story where love does conquer all. Tell me your story. I need to hear it because I need to hear His.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sex !!! Now that I have your attention. . .

Recently the topic of many of my conversations has been about sex, from discussions with friends to my brother texting me to complain about how the subject was handled on Christian radio. It seems there are a whole lot of people out there trying to formulate a Christian perspective on the topic, and a whole lot of them are confused. Sex is one of those topics many good Christians shy away from, treating it as if it were the toxic by-product of our existence. Somewhere along the line many of us seem to have forgotten that God created sex, and what’s more He even created the means to have sex.

What I find both amusing and frustrating (depending on my mood) when discussing sex with a fellow Christian is that we often make the “don’t”s the center of our conversation. Don’t do that. Don’t do this. And by no means should you ever even think of that. I’ll let you fill in the blanks, whatever you can think of, it has probably made the list. The reason this is so frustrating is that when our vision becomes this myopic we tend to forget what we should really be talking about – personhood.

My sexuality is part of who I am as a person. There is no divorcing my intellectual skill, emotions, or world view from the fact that I am a woman. It is part of how I was created. It is hardwired into every bit of my DNA, and there is no escaping or denying the defining elements of my sexuality. The same holds true for each of us. Just listen to the descriptions we give of each other, “She was a blond.” “The man in the red shirt.” “The boy with the ball.” “The girl in pink.” Each one betrays our sexuality, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is simply an acknowledgment of how God created us.

So why are we so embarrassed by the topic? Since when did sex become a four letter word, and when did shame enter into the equation? (Yeah, I know the whole Garden and Snake thing, but could we be giving that old serpent just a little too much control over our live?) Don’t get me wrong, sex is an intensely private and intimate act, but when we focus on the act instead upon the person we forget the most important aspect of the conversation.

It is no coincidence that God chose to use the metaphor of marriage to describe His relationship with His people, and no, it was not some gross oversight that allowed Song of Songs to be included in His Bible. It is our sexuality as a part of who we are as person that sets the tone for how we have relationship. It is our biology that allows us to physically take part in intimacy. God figured this one out all by Himself, and He is bold in His speech about His desire to be intimate with His people.

I have this crazy theory wherein I believe that knowing God as a person leads to healthy perspectives and choices regarding sex. Sure some of us need some guidance on what is and is not appropriate, and we need it put in concrete forms, but what if a person was able to see themselves the way God sees them? What if young women were able to realize that God made them beautiful for a purpose and presented their beauty in manner that showed pride and reverence for the one who made them? Do you really think we would have to measure the length of skirts at summer camp? What if young men understood that God has empowered them to protect and revere the beauty that God placed in young women? Do you think they just might want to be the men God created them to be?

Okay, sure, not everyone is going to get the concept, but what about those of who do? Shouldn’t we be teaching the ones who look to us for guidance to deepen their relationship with God and not just harp on how they are going to get it wrong? Should those in leadership be reaffirming the value of who our brothers and sisters are, and God’s desire to have relationship with them? Maybe if we stopped talking about sex in a way that brings shame for how we were made these young people (and some of us older ones, too) could realize that their sexuality has value. Because it is the things of value that we fight to defend, that we only share with those who are able to appreciate its value.

I have to wonder if our culture’s casual approach to sex stems less from ignorance of what is right and wrong, and more from the degrading manner in which we present it. And make no mistake, we as Christians degrade sex every time we present it as something shameful. We degrade ourselves when we approach our sexuality as a source of shame. In this we contradict God by declaring that His creation is no longer good and placing our judgment above His, and act that causes me to tremble in fear of our arrogance.

You see, a lot of people have figured it out, even if they lack the words to articulate it. If my sexuality is bad then I as a person am bad. People often live up to our expectations of them, and our culture is doing precisely that. Maybe it is time we stopped striving so hard to teach everyone the rules and work a little harder at reminding that God values their sexuality. He created it for a purpose, and He delights in who we are as His creation. He loves us enough to seek relationship with all aspects of who are as a person, and He is not scared of physicality. Maybe then we could empower people to reclaim the value of all of their personhood, and show them beauty of a relationship that redeems the whole of who we are.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Ripple Effect

Last week as we were preparing for the Splendor and Holiness Worship Seminar, we received word that a friend of ours had died. The news was upsetting and bewildering. In reality, I can’t say that I knew him all that well. I had spoken to him a handful of times, listened to him preach on a few occasions, spent an evening at his home, and had the opportunity to paint at his church once. We were by no means the best of friends, there is much about him that I did not know, but he was one of those people who you always wanted to have one more conversation with. Someone you wanted to get to know better, and suddenly the chance is gone.

Death has a way of putting life into perspective. As one writer put it, “Death does not negate life, but defines it.” Death leaves the living to put into words what this person meant to them, who we thought they were, and reveals who they truly were.

If I were to compile a check list of facts that I knew about him, they would be few, trivial really. His name, his wife, and a few kids, I vaguely remember. His conversion story was unique and I retain merely a hazy recollection, not enough to retell, but it is not my story to tell anyway. As I consider this man, a man that some may say I only knew superficially, I can’t help but think of the ripple effect of his life. I him met in a time when I realized that Christianity as I knew it was insufficient to meet the needs of my life. A time when I was being forced to reconcile who I was as an artist with who I was as a Christian. It was a time when I was being led away from mere head knowledge of God into an experience that my traditions had not prepared me to face. It was a time of great questioning and learning.

The pastor of my church had visited this man’s church and saw the artists who worshipped through their painting. When he returned he told me about the painting that happened in this other church and extended the invitation for me to do the same in ours. It was a life changing experience, and continues to be.

Later, Nathan and I traveled to Dallas with our friend Craig Conaway to visit with this new type of preacher. The conversations we had with our friend were way over my head. Terms like post modern and emerging church were thrown about, I was lost but I did my best to keep up. I met Justin and Kelly Nygren that night, and years later still value their friendship. I cannot even begin to quantify the world that opened up for me that night, but I do know it is one I would come to love.

With Justin, Kelly, and Craig, the conversation from that night continued. Nathan and I were introduced to new ideas and concepts that led us to the creation of Pagus. Our friend may not have been physically present for these discussions, but his influence was keenly felt. I have a feeling it will be for a long, long time.

Ripples. We all make them. You can’t step into the water without making your presence known. We see the light breaking off the water around our feet, dancing away from our legs as the river accommodates our presence. The small waves finally dissipating into the distance, and we begin to believe that the water forgets that we disturbed its easy flow.

The thing is you never know where the ripple you make will break, pushing along a lazy leaf, lapping against a dry land, or causing the cattails to dance. We lack the sight to see how our lives push against another, shaping them, stirring an idea, awakening a dream all from the ripples of our lives. A single step into the water may be the thing that nudges another into a current, propelling them towards their dream.

I regret that my friend did not know how his life rippled across mine, and now yours, but his death makes me wonder if the ripples of my life bless those around me. In the end, I would like to think that when I disrupted the water’s flow a few of you were nudged deeper into your purpose, into your dream, or that I at least made the cattails dance in the wake of my existence. The water never forgets that we are there, it is only we who forget. Don’t ever lose sight of the power of your life to influence change in the life of another. It may only be the slightest ripple but sometimes that is all it takes to correct a course and urge someone deeper into their destiny.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Putting it all Together – Part 12 Failing and Winning, and Gold Medal Performances

This past weekend was the Splendor and Holiness Worship Seminar in Muskogee. For those of you were not there we missed you, but for those of you who were able to make thank you for choosing to spend the afternoon with us. And lest I forget, for our readers and fans in the Norman, Dallas, and Tulsa areas, we will be in your area soon.

Nathan, Micci, and I spent a great deal of time Saturday night and Sunday discussing how the Seminar went. The largest portion of the discussion was about how you rated such an event. Do you go by attendance? People’s comments? Set up and tear down went phenomenally smoothly? Barbie did a great job MC-ing? The food was great or the technology worked? The fact that I did not fall flat on my face as I stepped onto the stage? Nathan wasn’t grouchy?(He gets that way when he doesn't get fed regularly.) The answer is yes.

The problem is what point value do you give everything.

If you looked at attendance, we would have hoped that more people would have turned out, but we were greatful those who did attend. And we have to believe that those who should have been there were the ones that God directed there. We also have to factor in that we are not the well known yet, and that we did not have large a church backing for this event. We did all through the graciousness and willingness of those few people who believed enough in our vision to get on board and help. There was some supernatural provision that we were humbled to receive.

This is, for the most part why set up and take down went so well, and the technology worked. It is why the food was delicious. People jumped in and did what they could, and it was sufficient for the need. In fact, it was greater than the need.
Some things did not surprise us. We knew that Barbie would be the perfect host for the day. She has a gift as a speaker and she presented our vision well. Not to mention that she presented Nathan and me well. (In fact, she played up my strong points so nicely that I am considering taking her dates so that she can tell my suitors just how amazing I am.) We also knew Sarah would shine as the official Pagus chef, and she did. (I am even greatful for leftovers, they made a nice lunch today.)

We knew Laurie and Tammi would pitch in and keep the behind the scene stuff rolling smoothly. We knew Calen and Crystal would do anything we asked and then some. I have yet to see the photos of the day, but I have no worries that David and Patricia will make us look good. Even our collective kids jumped in where they were needed to fill in the gaps. And good friends loaned us things like video cameras and tripods when we needed. It was truly the result of united hearts, united in vision, purpose, and love for God and his truth.

A unified people is a powerful people, able to make the impossible possible, and we did that Saturday. It was moment when we were able to operate as Christians should operate. Focused on the greatness of our God and a desire that we share our revelation of him with others.

Last night was the closing ceremonies for the Olympics, and as I consider the roller coaster ride of the last week, I think it was fitting that our timetables collided. The games are time when people who share a passion and drive come together, yes to compete, but also in celebration of the disciplines by which they live their lives.

The passion that drives them is rewarded, not always with a medal, but with the cheers of others who believe in them.

This week there was a stir about the Russian figure skater who was the only one able to jump the quadruple axle. The strength and coordination needed for that is staggering, but as impressive as it was, one great jump did not compare the artistry of the American skater. Both men competed for a medal, but as I watched their faces, I realized that one competed only for a medal. He had lost the joy and the beauty of his sport in the quest. The other man still knew the value of bringing excellence to each aspect of his program. In the end, all the nuances he brought to his performance outweighed the power of his competitor, and he walked away with the Gold.

And maybe Pagus can’t jump a quadruple axle yet, but hopefully we make up for it in our artistry. We may not have the skill or means to do it all, but what we do do, we do well.

So once again, thank you to everyone who helped make Splendor and Holiness Muskogee possible. Remember us in your prayers as we prepare for Metamorphosis – Norman on April 17, 2010. The adventure is just beginning.