Sunday, March 30, 2014

Valiant Warrior? Really?!?

Gideon was shaking in his boots.

He'd lived most of his life under the oppression of the Midianites, an enemy who exploited Israel at every turn. They swarmed through villages, and like locusts, they consumed all of the Israelites' crops.

All Gideon wanted to do was survive. He had no visions of grandeur, no plans for greatness. He was just trying to get by. So he hid himself in a wine press, where he was trying to squirrel away a few meals. As he prepared his meager portion of wheat, the angel of the Lord appeared to him, saying, "The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior!"

I love the irony. The Lord greets the cowering Gideon by calling him a valiant warrior. And since I do not believe that God is mocking Gideon, I have to wonder why he chose such a salutation. Is it possible that God saw Gideon as he could be rather than as he was? Is it possible that God sees me the same way?

And Gideon's response? He's not buying it. He doesn't take issue with the "valiant warrior" piece; rather, he questions the assertion that the Lord is with him. He's been beat down for too long. He's been struggling just to survive. He feels abandoned and afraid. He does not believe that the Lord is with him, even though, in that instant, the Lord was literally WITH him.

Yeah. I get that. Too often it seems like my circumstances contradict God's word. That's because I find it easier to have faith in what is seen than in what is unseen. I trust my senses more than I trust his truth. And my flesh grows weary from the waiting. So weary that when the Lord finally shows himself to me, I don't believe my own eyes. I question him.

It's funny, really. The Lord calls the fearful Gideon a "valiant warrior." Gideon, who is face to face with the Lord, denies his very presence. God sees what CAN be. Gideon cannot even see what actually IS.

So if the Lord were to visit me today, how would he greet me? What does he see in me that I cannot see in myself? And what would I refuse to see, even if it were plainly revealed? Because the truth is, I'm a lot like Gideon. I can't be bothered with calling and destiny until I'm convinced that the Lord is actually with me. I need to know him before I can become what he created me to become.

But once I am sure of him, I'll do whatever he asks. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why I Write

Seven Steps...Five Ways...Ten Types...So many bloggers out there offer solutions to your problems, answers to your questions, pathways to success. Sorry, friends, no such revelations here. I don't give advice, I'm just here to share my journey, hoping to make a few friends on the way.

But as I move toward the possibility of writing a book, my approach has fatal flaws. Publishers look for something called "platform." In order to build platform, I have to garner a massive audience, and according to those in the industry, the best way to do that would be to establish myself as an "expert" in a certain field.

But I'm no expert. 

I'm a stumbling sojourner, making my way towards Jesus one flawed step at a time. I don't have an area of specialized experience, a unique strength, or a single subject matter about which I blog. And I don't think I ever will. 

What's a blogger-wanna-be-book author to do? I just don't see myself as the kind of person who writes from a place of expertise. I don't set myself up as a person who gives answers, I prefer to ask questions, engage in dialogue, and share musings. My voice does not say, "Here's what you need to do." My voice says, "Let's look for Jesus together." But apparently publishers like authors with answers.

So I've been wrestling with God, wondering if maybe I'm not meant to write a book after all. God's not letting me off the hook. Just when I thought that I'd convinced him that I don't have a book in me, he spoke loud and clear.

I was at church, trying to explain once again that I was not qualified to write a book, when we began singing a French worship song. In the midst of the chorus, I began to weep. The words that I sang with my mouth, the Lord spoke directly to my heart:

"Peuple de Dieu ouvre ta bouche, Dieu veut parler"
People of God, open your mouth, God wants to speak!

The book is not meant to come out of me, but through me. I am the vessel, the envelope, the messenger. He is the message.

So I'll write the book. Even though I don't have platform. Even though it may never get published. Even though I may be the only person who reads it.  Yes, I am compelled to write it so that I might know Jesus better.

In the next few weeks I am going to do something I have never done before. I am going to go away by myself for ten days to write. And to tell you truth, it scares me a bit. I'm scared I'll write my words instead of his. Fleshy words. Worthless words.

But I'm going to write it anyway. Because maybe...just maybe if I open my mouth, God will speak.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Can Women Preach?

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? I Corinthians 14:34-35

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. I Timothy 2:11-12

Last Sunday I preached.

Please do not imagine that I did so cavalierly. Please do not think me ignorant or dismissive about what the Bible teaches about women in the church. Please believe that any time I open my mouth to teach from the Word of God I do so with great reverence and respect. I do not take exception to these passages. But neither do I choose to understand them apart from their context and the entirety of scripture. I do not wish to over complicate nor oversimplify the challenging passages, but attempt to understand them with care and discernment, that I might rightly handle and apply their truths. 

And so I have dug deeply and wrestled greatly with these texts. Though they were written by the hand of Paul, I believe them to be inspired by the Spirit of God. So if this is true, how in the world do I stand up in church and preach, actually believing that God both called and equipped me for the job?

I will admit up front that while I have made peace with some of the ways that my calling seems to contradict scripture, I am open to the very real possibility that I am mistaken. So as I share a bit of my journey and my understanding of these challenging texts, I hold that understanding lightly, keenly aware of the fact that I could be wrong. And I seek the Lord earnestly and regularly on this issue, never assuming that my current understanding is my final destination. 

First of all, most scholars believe that Paul is generally advocating for women. At the time, it was typically men who had the privilege of education. During church services, women, who had not been allowed to study, would have questions about what was being said. In a desire to understand the message, they would ask their husbands for clarification. This would get disruptive, and so Paul tells the women to save their questions and ask them at home. Some believe that it was extremely affirming of women that Paul encourages the husbands to educate their wives, which would undeniably empower women as never before.

This explanation makes much more sense than the idea that Paul is forbidding women from ever speaking in church. In fact, just a few chapters earlier in the same letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that women can pray and prophesy during church as long as they do so in a respectful and orderly fashion. As praying and prophesying are verbal activities, it is illogical to conclude that Paul is insisting on silence at all times.

One of the more widely accepted explanations of these verses is that Paul was speaking to specific churches within specific cultural contexts, and that his words were not meant to be universally applied throughout time. For example, Paul also tells the Corinthian women that they must keep their heads covered and the men that they cannot have long hair. Most Christians today do not believe those instructions to be prescriptive for their lives. In his letter to Timothy, Paul says that he wants all men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer. But most churches don't insist that the men raise their hands when they pray.

I find that both camps (the complementarians and the egalitarians) acknowledge that not all of Paul's instructions are to be applied word for word in our modern context. The difference is in which verses are interpreted as timeless instructions and which verses are tied to their original cultural context.

I am indifferent to preaching. I can do it. I don't have to do it. So the question is this: Is God calling me to preach? Me, a woman?

***This is last week's sermon--in French. I know--for most of you, it means nothing! But might be fun for my francophone friends. Thinking of you PG, KK, LM :)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Let the Little Children Come

I was seven years old when I first heard his voice.

I knew his name, I'd heard most of the stories in his book, and I understood that without him I'd be lost. I loved him and I somehow knew that he loved me. But I had so many questions.

My Sunday School teachers had faithfully explained that in order to go to heaven, I had to invite Jesus into my heart. So every night, before I drifted off to sleep, I prayed a Sinner’s Prayer. It wasn't that I didn't trust Jesus to respond to the prayer--I knew that he was always good. But even at the ages of 5 and 6 and 7 I was aware of depravity in my own tiny heart. Each time I prayed that prayer I questioned my sincerity. Did I really mean it? Was I truly sorry for my sins? Had I used all the right words? How could I be sure that my prayer had worked? These questions haunted me most nights as I anxiously hugged my pillow.

Then one weekend I was invited to go to a friend's lake cabin. I have no memories of that time at the lake except the conversation that took place in the dark room as we slowed our breath and waited for Mr. Sandman. When my nightly questions came, I spoke them out, posing them as if, perhaps, my sweet friend might also have the same questions. Though I imagined I was speaking to her, she never replied. Eventually her gentle snoring indicated that she had already succumbed to sleep. But my questions kept surging on, like a tide that could no longer be restrained.

Do you believe in Jesus? Was he really the son of God?

Do you know that he died on a cross? That was almost 2000 years ago, but somehow it still matters today. Why does it matter?

They say he came back from the dead. That part is important. But why?

I think he loves people. I think he even loves me. I think he loves me even though I’m wicked. Is that true?

The questions came in their regular way, but on that night, the strangest thing happened. Each time I asked a question, an answer was spoken to my heart.  Satisfying answers, which I repeated aloud so that my ears could hear what my soul finally understood.

I did not know at the time from where the answers had come. They came from inside of me, and yet they were separate from me. But I knew they were right and true. It was only years later, as I told this story during a Bible study, that I realized that the Lord himself had spoken.

I never prayed the sinner’s prayer again. I slept that night with assurance.

I went home and told my dad that I wanted to be baptized. On Father’s Day 1978, wearing a white eyelet dress with a red satin sash that was sewn by my mother, I made a public profession of my faith—a faith born out of questions.

As I grew in knowledge and understanding, I found that the scriptures actually confirmed what I had experienced. For Paul wrote in Romans 10:9-10, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

Being born into a Christian family, there wasn’t a day in my life that I didn’t know the name of Jesus. I believed before I could understand the significance of my belief. But in speaking out my belief—in confessing it, even to a sleeping friend—my salvation finally became a reality to me.

In his grace, Jesus revealed himself to me. He promises to be found by those who seek him with their whole heart; I sought him with my whole seven-year-old heart. It was an earnest quest, and Jesus showed himself faithful. Which is why I am especially moved by the Biblical accounts of Jesus welcoming the little children. I know from personal experience that Jesus still speaks to children.

I may not have understood everything at the age of seven, but Jesus made sure that I understood enough to not only be saved, but to certain of my salvation. He has proved faithful to me ever since. I am not saying that my faith walk has been flawless, but it has been consistent. I've had many questions and doubts along the way, but those no longer scare me, for my faith was made sight in a night of questioning. 

The difference is now I recognize his voice when he answers.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ten Totally Trivial Tidbits

  1. I have been having some weird dreams. WEIRD! And normally I don't remember my dreams, but these ones have been sticking with me like a stamp to a letter. They include me falling off a dam that was spilling contaminated water, getting overwhelmed in a mini-mart when there were only two things on my shopping list, and taking a shower in a stall so tiny that the shower curtain was clinging to my fully-clothed (but not wet) body. Any dream-analysis-specialists want to tackle those images? The good news? Dreaming = Sleeping.
  2. The animals still have fleas, but I think they have fewer fleas than they used to. Either that, or I'm no longer noticing them as much. Should I be happy about that?
  3. Chandler just got his grades for the second trimester and he is NUMERO UNO in his class. While he has the highest overall average, his Spanish grade is not so bueno. Fortunately, High School level classes in France are weighted based on one's major. Since Chandler is working towards a Science major, his math and science classes have a coefficient of 6 or 7, while classes like Spanish and PE have a coefficient of 2. Thus, he can basically flunk Spanish and stay in first place for his overall average. On the bright side, he's not only acing Math and Science, but English and PE as well!
  4. David invented a recipe that consists of meatballs on a nest of green beans drizzled in a soy-ginger sauce. It's De-Lish! He's been trying to come up with a clever name for it, but so far he is striking out. Any help?
  5. In all of my crazy dreams, I do NOT need reading glasses. Which is one thing I really like about my dreams because, sadly, this is no longer my reality. 
  6. I'm preaching this week on the book of Judges, talking about the cycle that is repeated at least 8 times in that old testament book: Idolotry-->Slavery-->Cry out to the Lord-->God sends a deliverer (a judge)-->a few years of peace-->Idolotry, and the cycle repeats. It strikes me that idolatry always leads to slavery. Always. So be careful what you worship.
  7. When I reviewed my sermon with my language helper she only found 24 errors. I know that sounds like a lot, but there used to be like a million, so 24 is not so bad. UGH! Actually most of the errors were really teeny-tiny mistakes. But still. I'm just sick of making mistakes in French; Sick. Of. It. So I'm spending an hour day studying French right now, expanding my vocabulary, memorizing which prepositions go with which verbs, and brushing up on definitive articles. Fun stuff.
  8. I bought Tulips at market last week, and they make me really happy. Tulips are the heralds of Spring!
  9. Read the WOOL series by Hugh Howley. It was a fun bit of science fiction, definitely kept my attention. I am now reading a piece of French contemporary fiction called The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Totally different style of fiction and just as compelling. Dark, cynical, yet funny. I'm only a few chapter in, so I can't recommend it, but I'm enjoying it. I'm also in the middle of a book called The Jesus Model which is by Dietrich Schindler, a German church planter. He presents a church planting model based on what Jesus did. Very good read, and lots of great information for anyone involved in discipleship at any level.
  10. I think I need a new cell phone. What's the average shelf-life for a mobile phone? I've had mine for three and a half years, and it mostly works fine, I'm just sick of it. Must I wait for it to die? 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Leader Limps

I clicked, "send" when I should have clicked, "delete."

An irretrievable e-mail  zoomed through cyberspace, it's stinging remarks hitting their target. The nasty words, typed by my own hand, revealed some of the ugliness that lives in my own heart.

The recipient thanked me for my "candor." Clearly, he's a bigger person than I. In my apology e-mail I wrote, "What you graciously called 'candor', I would call 'being snarky.' Please forgive me." And he did.

While forgiveness frees me from the guilt of my sin, I do not want to forget the deep sorrow I felt for having needed forgiveness in the first place. That sorrow reminds me of my own weakness--a tendency towards self-righteousness--and I believe the Lord can use it to rub off some of my sharp edges. The pain of having fallen leads me to be more careful in my steps.

It's no fun to blow it! But when I do, there are only two possible responses. I can admit my wrong and ask for forgiveness, or I can try to justify myself, choosing excuses over apologies. The first response flows from humility, the second from pride. Confession makes me vulnerable since it exposes my weakness. It also makes me more self-aware and more God-aware--two qualities that are essential to good leadership.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Jacob wrestling with God. Jacob had spent his life tricking people to get his own way. First he stole his twin brother's inheritance and then he cheated his father-in-law out of hordes of livestock. In order to avoid the wrath of his father-in-law, Jacob flees with his wives, his children, and his flocks. But as he's running away from one adversary, he discovers that he is running towards another. Pinned between his angry father-in-law and his estranged brother, Jacob tries to get some sleep to figure out his next steps. But sleep proves evasive, as a man--the angel of the Lord--comes to him and wrestles with him throughout the night.

I believe it was a literal wresting match, but the event stands as a rich metaphor as well. Jacob's sin had finally caught up with him, bringing him into direct conflict with God. Often, when I have been made aware of sin in my life I, too, wrestle with the conviction. I struggle to find the easy way out. God, in his mercy, won't let go. He holds on until the transformation is complete.

Finally, the angel of the Lord asks Jacob, "What is your name?"  It's no coincidence that the name "Jacob" means, "dirty, rotten thief." In pronouncing his own name, Jacob confesses his own sin--for they are one in the same.

"My name is Jacob."

"My name is thief."

Genuine confession makes room for eternal transformation. In that instant, God gives Jacob a new name and a new identity. "You will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel."

Then the angel of the Lord touched his hip, and from that day forward, Jacob walked with a limp. A blessed limp. His limp reminded him that he was broken, his new name reminded him that he was being healed.

Up until this point in his life, Jacob believed in God, but he referred to him as "the God of my father" or "the God of Abraham and Isaac." But after his wrestling match, Jacob refers to God as "MY God."

That is the type of self-awareness and God-awareness that enables a leader to be both humble and hopeful. When conviction comes and says, "What is your name?" I want to be aware enough of my weaknesses to own my sins by name. I want heartfelt confession to leave me broken and limping, so that I can embrace forgiveness without forgetting the lesson from my fall. And I want transformation, so that I am free from my old identity and able to live into my new identity in Christ.

Leaders limp. They have wrestled with God and owned their mistakes, and they are changed because of it. They rarely tell their war stories, for they are not proud of their mistakes. But neither do they conceal their limp, for they know that their limp is the evidence of God's victory in their lives.

So after last week's e-mail, I'm limping a bit, and for that I'm grateful. My limp slows me down so that I think twice before I open my mouth or hit "send." It keeps me leaning hard on Jesus, keenly aware of how quickly I fall when I think I can make it on my own. It reminds me of my own fallibility, helping me have grace for others. In my weakness, he is strong. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014


No one asked for his help. No one invited his input. He intruded on their grief.

Jesus and his disciples and a whole other bunch of tag-a-longs came upon the gate of a city just as a funeral procession was passing by. The whole town seemed to be in mourning for the young man who had died, but one woman's wails pierced through the other sounds of sadness. No mother should live to bury her son. This mother was a widow. Husband-less, and now child-less, her future was bleak, for there was no one left to provider for her needs. Her son's death may have well been her own.

Yet, if I know anything about a mother's heart, this woman was not weeping over a loss of means, she was grieving a loss of love--the greatest poverty of all.

The disciples stood by solemnly, accepting the finality of the situation. After all the guy was dead. There was nothing left to do but dig a grave and sing Amazing Grace. 

In his ministry up to this point Jesus had healed paralytics and lepers. He'd given sight to the blind. He'd exorcised demons. Everywhere he went, Jesus was being asked to do miracles. But here in the town called Nain, everyone simply bowed their heads, respecting the dead. No one asked Jesus to do anything because they knew that nothing could be done. Healing is one thing. Dead is dead.

As the crowd processed, propelled by grief, Jesus approached, compelled by compassion.

He goes to the mother, a woman who was probably about my age, and he says, "Don't cry."

Pause. Time out! As a frequent crier, nothing irritates me more than the words, "Don't cry!" Well meaning people who often fail to accurately assess the source of my tears typically say, "Don't cry!" because my weeping makes them uncomfortable. They prefer a stiff upper lip. But Jesus, a man acquainted with grief, was not put off by the woman's tears. Tears are undeniably appropriate in the eyes of a mother on the way to bury her son. His words are not a reproach, they were a reason to hope.

Hope for what? Dead is dead.

As the mourning mother wipes her tears, Jesus stops the processional--the death march halts and the dirge dies down. In an awkward stillness, Jesus speaks to a dead man.

"Young man, get up."

I love how Jesus doesn't mince words. But I wonder what the disciples were thinking, or the crowd, or the mom. Was there a holy hush? a pregnant pause? or a huff of disbelief?

The dead man got up and started talking, and Jesus gave him to his mother, whose eyes were surely brimming with fresh tears.

Dead is not dead. Not for Jesus.

Oh, but I forget. So I pile my disappointments and dire circumstances up on a bier and march them toward their graves. I don't bother to cry out for help. Smug in my sadness, I cling to the finality of death.

Uninvited, the healer comes. Compassion fuels his efforts still today. He dries our tears, and with the power of his word, he brings the dead to life. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Letting Go of "Why?"

So our house flooded again. No, I mean AGAIN again. Like for the second time in three weeks, the third time in 25 months. The fourth time in 8 years. At least no one was living there this time.

But it sort of makes one wonder what God is up to.

I mean, to quote two songs with differing but pertinent perspectives, he's got the whole world in his hands YET his eye is on the sparrow. In other words, while the great and glorious God of the universe is concerned about global issues, including war in Ukraine and human trafficking and the national debt, he is also mindful of every detail of our lives, including inclement weather, late-night trips to urgent care, and a soggy-little house in Spangle.

He knows my house flooded again. He knew before I did. I didn't have to notify him of the problem.

But a heart-cry question clamors to be quenched, the ever-present poser that accompanies every human tragedy: "Why?"

Have you ever noticed that God rarely answers "WHY"?

Perhaps "Why?" is the wrong question.

Maybe the better question is "Who?" Who will help me? Who will lead me? Who will show me what to do?

Or how about "What?" What are you teaching me? What are you accomplishing? What are you redeeming?

Then there's "How?" How can I trust you more? How can I praise you better? How can I experience your grace?

There's an animated version of the story of Joseph called Prince of Egypt, and when Joseph is falsely accused and imprisoned for a crime that he didn't commit, he, too, was tempted to ask, "Why?" He sings his solution to this age-old question, declaring, "You know better than I. You know the way. I've let go the need to know why, for you know better than I."

Trusting in the one who knows best, can I let go of the need to know why? Because honestly, I have seen that question destroy people. I have seen that question torment people. I have seen that question imprison people.

I'm not saying I shouldn't ask the question. I am saying that I shouldn't demand an answer. I can trust God in the midst of not knowing.

And God does not demand a blind trust, because my trust is not in his willingness to explain himself to me, my trust is in the constancy and perfection of his character: He is good. Always. He is faithful. Always. He is kind. Always. He is just. Always. He is able. Always.

Because I know my savior, I can let go of the need to know why. He knows better than I.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


I've spent the day translating French documents for a grant and now, with time to blog, I find myself at a loss for words.

If I weren't out of words I might tell you why I failed at doing Pilates this morning.

Or maybe I'd share my new Beef with Broccoli recipe.

Perhaps you'd read about the latest developments in our flooded house saga.

If I had any words left in my brain, I might possibly spend them whining about the weather or telling you about the book that I can hardly put down or sharing my thoughts on Nehemiah.

But you see, I've got no words to spare. My verbal bank account is officially overdrawn.

And now I just want chocolate.

Maybe I'll find some words tomorrow.