Thursday, January 28, 2016

This is Jenn

One of the things that people seem to love about FaceBook is the quizzes that tell them something about themselves. This past week, my FaceBook page was covered by short stories accompanied by a little stick figure. The stories varied from person to person, and some were somewhat true. I clicked on the link and got this story:

This is Jenn.

Jenn doesn't play games on FaceBook.

Jenn is smart.

Be like Jenn.

Well, it is true. Mostly. There are a handful of you who know that I actually do play Words With Friends, but I just don't have it linked to my FaceBook account, so FaceBook doesn't know. FaceBook can glean a lot from what I post, but FaceBook is not omniscient.

And yet, these types of quizzes are amazingly popular!

"Which Disney princess are you?"

"What Bible character are you?"

"Who should you marry?"

"What does your color preference say about your personality?"

And we click, and we click, and we click. We click knowing that it's just a game. That it isn't real. That the results may not even be close to true. But the quizzes keep coming, and we keep playing. And suddenly, this week, I realized why.

We long for someone to tell us our story. We long to find our truth, to know our song, to become our real selves.

FaceBook tries to fill this need, but fails. FaceBook doesn't really know you, FaceBook only knows the face that you have chosen to show to the world. FaceBook cannot speak your truth, sing your song, or tell you something about yourself that you don't already know. But there is someone who can.

There is someone who can tell you your story, sing you your song, show you your real self. He can do this because he wrote your story, composed your song, knitted your body.

And the amazing thing is this: He loves you.

(I hate to tell you this, but FaceBook doesn't love you.)

What if we stopped clicking on quizzes and started seeking our Truth from the One who knows it? It takes a lot more energy and intentionality, but it produces real and satisfying results.

The thing is, the western evangelical church has long "pooh-pooh-ed" the idea of self-awareness, lumping such a pursuit into the categories of self-seeking, self-serving, and self-centered. But this is wrong! We were created with a deep desire to be known, and we cannot experience the intimacy of being known if we do not know ourselves. The very thing that people are seeking by engaging in these FaceBook quizzes is actually a holy pursuit. A sadly misguided, but holy pursuit. The longing is holy, but as is often the case with humans, the means of seeking to fulfill that longing is profane.

So here's an idea. My friend and colleague Dietrich Schindler is a leading church planter in Germany. He noticed this reality--this basic desire to discover one's story--a while back. He also saw it as a possible means of helping people discover the Greatest Story Ever Told! So he created a discovery Bible Study that speaks to this desire. It's called "MyLife Workshop" and it has already been translated into several languages, including English and French.

Our church is going to start offering "MyLife Workshop" for those who want to learn more about their own story through the lens of the Gospel. It's a six-week evangelistic study that invites people to see their stories as part of a bigger story.

Is this something that you could do? Yes! There is some training involved, but it's available online. Clearly, people are hungry to know their story. So hungry that they will settle for a silly FaceBook quiz. What if you invited your friends and family (those who do not know Jesus!) to join you for a real-life experience where they can discover their real-life story? It is such an easy bridge to the Gospel, and one that speaks to a need that FaceBook has helped to expose.

This is Jenn.

She wants to help people discover their real story.

She knows Jesus is the author of that story.

Jenn loves Jesus and people.

Be like Jenn.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Watch and Pray

Sometimes (and I hate to admit this), but sometimes I doubt the goodness of God.

I know that God is good, and believe it on an intellectual level. But at a heart level, I can be overwhelmed by the suffering, the evil, and the insurmountble challenges that we face as a society. I can start to wonder why a good God would allow such tragedies to unfold, seemingly silent.

And when I look at my own life, small and insignificant as it is, I also have deep disappointments with God. Hopes have been dashed, questions unanswered, desires unmet. I'm not talking about my desire for a Porsche. I'm talking about my desire to see people come to faith, to be healed, and to grow in grace. Why would a good God let those desires languish?

Then, as if to give the lie to my own sentiments, this God in question throws me a lifeline.

One of my professors from George Fox (MaryKate Morse) was a speaker at Urbana this year, and because I appreciate her wisdom and spiritual insights, I watched her message on YouTube. She was speaking to this very idea, and she based her insights on the story of Jesus and his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane.

There, on the eve of what must have been the discples most disappointing day ever, Jesus gives them these instructions:
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”
 In the face of questions, doubts, and general bewliderment, the discples were told to do two things. Watch and pray.

As I listened to MaryKate and considered these instructions, I realized that when I watch, I am not trying to fix or control, but I am expectant. I watch because I believe the story isn't finished. I watch because I think something is going to happen. Watching is a way of hoping, and hope is the opposite of despair.

Next I realized that when I pray I am not turning a blind eye to the problems of this world, but I am engaging them. I pray because I believe Someone will answer. I pray because I know a God who is able. Praying is a way of choosing faith, and faith is the opposite of doubt.

The reason that Jesus asks his disciples to watch and pray is NOT so that their circumstances change. The reason Jesus asks his disciples to watch and pray is so that they will not fall into temptation.

And what is that temptation?

MaryKate suggested that it is the temptation the believe that God is not good.

The things that the disciples would witness over the next few hours were going to put them to the test. They were going to question everything they thought they knew about God. And in that dark and desperate place, they would face the same temptation that I face when evil and suffering abound. They would be tempted to question the goodness of God.

Watching and praying...putting hope and faith into action, are antidotes against such a temptation.

And so this is my new routine, my firm decision, my resolution. I actually made a list of the places in my life where I long to see the goodness of God. And as those things creep into my mind, usually in the form of disappointment or doubt, I choose to watch and pray. I do not know what God will do, or how he will answer. I'm sure that Friday night, as Jesus hung on the cross, the disciples probably felt like their watching and praying had been for naught.

But did they keep watching and praying anyway? Even when all seemed lost? Did they hold on to the two final instructions that Jesus had given?

I want to hold on, even when all seems lost. And I think I can, because I know something that the disciples didn't know.

I know what happened on Sunday.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Selah

This weekend we actively pursued Selah. At a spa.


We did not take a vacation in 2015. Not one. Not even a weekend away. We failed in our scheduling and in our budgeting, and we have only ourselves to blame. We worked 60 hours a week, and we ended the year tired, hopeless, and a tiny bit grumpy.

And so, as I feel called to a year of Selah, to a period of slowing down and reflecting, David and I decided that rather than simply hoping vacations would happen in 2016, we would take a proactive stance where rest was concerned.


Our Christmas gift to each other was a three-day weekend at a spa in the resort city of Annecy, complete with massage treatments and some of our favorite meals. We also committed to spending the time away working on our 2016 family budget and putting vacation dates down on the calendar for the rest of year. We had deep and important spiritual conversations, and time to reconnect relationally in much needed ways.


We accomplished all that we set out to accomplish, and came home today refreshed and ready for the days and weeks ahead. We have a family vacation scheduled for this summer. And another weekend getaway planned for November. We have a tricky Spring, as all of us have different Spring Breaks; however, we are committed to finding a weekend of rest that will work for all us this Spring as well. The budget has been adapted to account for these vacations.

And I am grateful. Rest is a gift, but one I often miss. In 2016, I'm not gonna miss it.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dealing with Feelings

How often the Pslamist questions his own soul.

"Why so downcast, Soul?" he asks.

The psalmist is engaging in Spiritual Formation, that long and arduous process of taming the soul. The psalmist doesn't ignore feelings or explain them away. The psalmist is not rationalizing emotions, but attending to them for the hope of tranformation. The psalmist is being made into the likeness of Christ, and emotions play a role.

What? Wait a minute...aren't emotions suspect? They can't be trusted. They lag along as the caboose of the train--it's facts that fuel the engine of faith. At least that's what the tract taught me.

But the psalmist disagrees. The Psalms are laden with emotion, full of desire, anger, joy, disappointment, fear, doubt, and love. Passionate, crazy love. These emotions are given voice, processed, analyzed, and incorporated into the spiritual journey.

Reason and logic came to rule in the time of the great Greek philosophers, and in some ways, they are still ruling today. Believers have bought into these ideas to the point where emotions are no longer allowed to do their work in us, and this, my friends, is a shame.

Sure, emotions must be redeemed through the faith journey--they are far from pure and holy in our broken and fallen state. But neither are our thoughts, reasonings, or knowledge pure and holy apart from God.

Like the psalmist, I am learning to address my emotions, to invite them into the conversation, to ask God to shine His light on them and refine them in His fire, that they, too, might be subject to His rule and useful to His Kingdom.

"Why so downcast, Soul?"

When I am sad, I listen to my soul. Sometimes the sadness reveals an inordinate attachment, a misaligned love, or a selfish longing. I give those to God, and He helps me to reorder my affections. But sometimes the sadness reveals a holy longing, a divine grief, or a righteous desire. I give those to God, too, and He helps me to move forward in faith.

"Why so happy, Soul?"

When I am happy, I  also need to listen to my soul. Sometimes the happiness reveals an inordinate attachment, a misaligned love, or a selfish longing. I give those to God and He helps me to reorder my affections. But sometimes the happiness reveals a satisfaction in Christ, a celebration of beauty, a righteous longing fulfilled. I give those to God, too, and He helps me to move forward in faith.

The thing is, if these emotions are left unexamined, they can become destructive rather than constructive. Not all positive emotions are good, and not all negative emotions are bad. Discernment is critical to the process.

One thing I've noticed since I started paying more attention to my emotions, is that Jesus was often led by his emotions. More often than anything, Jesus is moved to heal or to help by compassion. Not reason. Not justice. Compassion. The only holy, perfect human was led by holy and perfect emotions. As we become more like him, might we also be able to let emotions have a greater bearing on how we live, on what we say, and on what we do?

I think that we live in a time when we NEED to feel more. And I think that until the church learns to let spirituality infuse reason and emotion, we will not be able to love and care for each other as God intended. We were made in the image of a passionate God. I want to be a person who rightly reflects His passions.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Selah

 For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said,
“In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength.”

But you were not willing..."
Isaiah 30: 15
Selah
Repentance: noun

1. deep sorrow, compunction, or contrition for a past sin, wrongdoing, or the like










  

Selah
I've been taught that repentance, in biblical texts, means to turn 180°. It probably does. But while I am quick to turn, always eager to get back on track when I've gone astray, I don't spend too much time in deep sorrow, compunction, or contrition over my sin. Evangelicals don't encourage such things. We're more focused on "moving forward." In fact, I think we (okay, I) might even equate compunction and contrition with "wallowing in sin." 

"You're forgiven, already! Get over it."

For my class in Missional Leadership, I read a book called A Failure of Nerve. It was a great book, where the author analyzed  the root causes of leadership failures. One such cause is the need/desire/impulse to rush to a solution. Because I don't like the messiness of problems, I will often opt for a quick, albeit less-desireable, outcome rather than wait for the highest and best.  

Is my rush to forgiveness and redemption actually limiting the quality of both? Might I experience a deeper forgiveness and a more complete redemption if I allowed repentance to do its work?

I like the idea of Selah in comfortable a cozy places. But will I learn to pause for reflection in the uncomfortable, even painful places? Can this, too, be a part of Selah?  

Lord, teach me to grieve my sin. Help me to feel the weight of it. Let me see your sorrow over it. I don't want to lightly gloss over misspoken words, wayward thoughts, selfish behaviors, and nasty attitudes. I don't want to overlook my pride. I don't want to cherish my self-righteousness. I don't want to ignore my carelessness. I want to discover true repentance, that I might more fully know your grace. Make me willing. 

Note: I plan to meditate on this verse all year. This is my  Selah passage--so there will be more to come from Isaiah 30:15. Much, much more.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Selah: My word for 2016

I live life at a pretty fast clip. And I like it like that.

I was made to run hard and fast--I am a high energy (read: driven), high capacity (read: achiever) person who likes to have a full agenda and fall into bed dead tired every single night. This is my M.O. This is my norm. And mostly, it works for me.

But as 2015 drew to a close, I found myself longing for...less. A strange longing for a glutton like myself. And so I began a conversation with the Lord about this desire. Am I getting soft? Lazy? Old? Complacent? Or am I, maybe, looking to match my stride to His? Am I maturing to the place where I care more about the direction of my steps than their number or pace? Might I be heeding a call I've long ignored?

Photo Credit: Luc !
I do have some healthy patterns in place when it comes to rest. Each week, I enter into a day of Sabbath with the same enthusiasm that I give to my work. I have learned the unforced rhythms of grace when it comes to Sabbath. But I have a long way to go when it comes to weaving rest into the way that I work. That is to say, I trust too much in me, and not enough in Jesus. And so I sense a call to learn to live in that place of rest. To push the "pause" button more and more often so that I allow dependency to be my new M.O. My default has been to run ahead...I want to recalibrate to a new default. A default of Selah.

Photo Credit: Luc !
Selah is a Hebrew word found in the Psalms, though it is not a part of the Psalms. It is a direction, helping readers know how to read the Psalm. It means, "pause for reflection." In other words, Selah says, "You just read something profound! Don't just breeze through it! Stop and think about that for a minute. Take it in. Savor it. Linger there."

I think my days are full of unappreciated God-moments. Beauty missed because of busyness. God is calling me to a year (a life?) of Selah.
Photo Credit: Luc !
Selah is my word for 2016. I want to be intentional over the next year to practice Selah, and I think that it will involve:

Stillness--choosing to STOP moving for a few moments each day. To be still and know the He is God.
Expectation--believing that God has something He wants me to notice, and looking for it.
Listening--allowing quiet spaces and silence so that I might hear from God and others.
Attentiveness--observing the world around me with care and interest.
Hope--anticipating a new experience of God's goodness.

Now to put the practical pieces out there--this is where the rubber meets the road. These are the specifics to which I want to be accountable:

  1. I want to implement a daily examen--a time each evening before bed when I will take 10-15 minutes to reflect on the day. This is something I have wanted to do for years, but have never implemented. I believe now is the time.
  2. I will use my blog as a means of recording what God is showing me through my attempt to live into restfulness. Each week, there will be a "Selah" post. It might be wordless. 
  3. We did not take a single vacation in 2015. We did not spend enough time together as a family. We are going to put a family vacation for 2016 on the calandar (and in the budget) by the end of January. 
  4. Furlough: we have been on the field for over 5 years and we have not yet had a furlough. This is a HUGE faith issue for me! It is so hard to leave on-going ministries and it feels like a major interruption to life and projects! But both David and I feel like we want and need to take some time to reconnect with our base, to see our loved ones in the States, and to take a break. I don't yet know how or when, but we sense that God is asking us to take a short (three month?) "Selah" from ministry in 2016. We hope to begin planning this time soon. Pray that we will find the right time and place for this "pause."

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ten Totally Trivial Tidbits--Family Holiday Edition


  1. On Christmas Day, some dear friends arrived at our apartment in Lyon for three days of fun and festivities. This isn't the first Christmas we've celebrated together--and something tells me it won't be the last.
  2. I'm reading fiction for the first time in months--oh the JOY! Truly, I love seminary, but I miss reading "n'importe quoi."
  3. We visited the plateau above our neighborhood and took in a lovely view of the city.
  4. We are hoping to spend a day skiing in the Alps--an easy day trip from Lyon. The problem is a lack of snow. So we're praying for snow and begging Chandler to do his snow dance (which always yields positive results). Maybe next week.
  5. This is the first time we've all four been together as a family in 2015. I'm soaking in every minute. We're also making sure that the same thing does not happen in 2016. Which means summer plans are being set in motion.
  6. My mother-in-law sent me some mint m&ms for Christmas. Oh, the JOY! 
  7. We finally visited the beautiful (Free!) Lyon Zoo. The red panda put on quite a show, but these monkeys were my favorites:
  8. By the way, cotton candy is called La Barbe à Papa or "daddy's beard" in French.
  9. We watched all six of the Star Wars movies (one per day) before going to see the new one in the theater yesterday. Such fun! We all loved the new movie.
  10. We got a new game for Christmas--new to us, anyway. It's called Carcassonne. We've played it several times already, and I think we're getting the hang of it. 


 
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