Friday, July 31, 2015

Au Revoir

On Monday, if all things go as planned, David and I will make a five hour drive to Lyon to sign a lease on our new apartment. We won't move until the middle of August, but between now and then we will go to a conference in Germany, and so next week will be our last full week living in the Loire Valley.

As part of our farewell tour, we're going to some of our favorite spots. Yesterday we went to the château and gardens at Villandry.

David and I enjoyed the shade of the grape leaves...

...while Selah (a friend from the States) and Chandler mimicked the silhouettes on Grecian urns. 
We ended the morning with a picnic in a nearby park. It was a lovely day!

We also went to the nearby town of Amboise this week for some of our favorite gelato. They always make the cones look like flowers, which makes this a treat that is tasteful in every way!

I'm so thankful we have Selah here because she is giving us a wonderful excuse to visit all our favorite spots one more time before our move.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Spiritual Formation Exercise from 2 Timothy 2

I am doing a slow and meditative read through 2 Timothy 2 this summer. Here Paul writes to his spiritual son, Timothy, to encourage him in his work as a minister of the Gospel. Paul's words are also an encouragement (and a challenge) to me. I find in this one chapter at least 25 different charges, each one critical to a fruitful and faithful ministry. Each day I am considering one or two of these exhortations and reflecting on how it applies to my life and ministry. Some give me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, others are deeply convicting, and a few are simply raising my expectations or increasing my vision. Today I just want to share with you the list of Paul's insights and the questions that I am asking myself in response to what Paul wrote. In a later post I will share some of my personal realizations as I answered my own questions. I think I will make this an annual exercise as a means of evaluating my ministry. 

I'd like to invite any of you to go through the exercise as well. It’s best to just do one or two a day, but reflect deeply and sincerely on the verse and the questions that the verse stimulate. Feel free to add your own questions to the mix as you follow the leading of the Lord. If you do this exercise, will you please give me feedback on how it went? Tell me what was useful and what didn't work as well. I'd like to refine and use it in some future ministry endeavors, so your input would be greatly appreciated. 

Photo Credit: Jordan Egli Photography 

(Scripture is in bold, italicized purple and quoted from the ESV. My questions are in blue.)

2 Timothy 2 Reflection Exercise:
2:1 be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus
Paul wrote this to Timothy in light of other who had fallen away from the faith. How are you being strengthened by grace?

2:2 what you have heard...entrust to faithful men

What is the message that has been entrusted to you? With whom are you sharing that message?

2:3 Share in suffering

Suffering is a given. But it is also to be a shared experience. What hardships are you currently suffering? Who is sharing your burden? And whose burden of suffering are you helping to bear?

2:4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits 

What entanglements do you need to avoid?

2:5 An athlete...competes according to the rules

What rules do you need to follow? What rules are you tempted to break?

2:6 the hard-working farmer...ought to have the first share of the crops

Are you doing ministry in such a way that you are growing as much as those whom you are serving? Do you benefit from your work in healthy ways, or is your work simply a drain on your resources?

2:8 Remember Jesus Christ

How is your relationship with your First Love? How do you keep Jesus at the center of your life and ministry?

2:10 endure everything for the sake of the elect

What are you currently enduring for the sake of those who have not yet heard the Gospel? What are you unwilling to endure? Have you put a limit on how far you would go for the sake of those to whom Christ has called you?

2:14 charge them...not to quarrel about words

What words are you tempted to quarrel about? When and with whom are you most likely to become quarrelsome about words? How would God have you to respond?

2:15  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approveda worker who has no need to be ashamed

Are you doing your best? Does God approve of you and your work? Do you have any reason to be ashamed?

2:15 rightly handling the word of truth

Do you know the Word of God? Can you apply it rightly to life? Or are you careless, using verses to support your own agenda, irrespective of genuine meaning and intent?

2:16 avoid irreverent babble

What types of words come out of your mouth? Is your speech polluted by foul language or disrespectful attitudes? 

2:21 if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use

Are you clean? Do you keep short accounts when you wrong someone? Have you been taking regular spiritual "baths"? Is there any unconfessed sin in your life?

2:21 set apart as holy

Do you blend into the world, or are you different? Where are you tempted to "take part" rather than be "set apart"?

2:21 useful to the master

Whose kingdom are you building? Are you devoted to the service of the Master? Do you remember who's the boss? Are you learning, living, and leading in ways that God can use?

2:21 ready for every good work

Are you willing and able to do anything and everything the Lord asks? Is there any job that you consider to be beneath you?

2:22 flee youthful passions

What are your immature wants/desires? What steals your gaze from Jesus? How can you flee from those things?

2:22 pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace...

What are you doing to seek hard after righteousness? Do you live a life that is above reproach? How do you build and strengthen your faith? Do you leave too much to chance? What are you doing to act in love towards those around you? Are you intentional about this? Are you person who seeks peace? Where are you called to be a peacemaker?

2:22 ...along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart

The Christian life is a team sport. How are you building and living in community with others?

2:23  Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies

What foolish controversies tempt you? What would it look like to ignore them? Why do you feel drawn to participate in such controversies?

2:24 the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome

The Christian church today is marked by quarrels. We are known by our disputes. How are you contributing to this reputation? What arguments do you actually take delight in?  What fights do you pick? When must you be right?

2:24 be...kind to everyone

Are you kind? To whom do you find it difficult to be kind?

2:24 able to teach

What are your competencies? Are you equipped to pass them on to others?

2:24 patiently enduring evil

How do you respond when you have been wronged? 

2:25 correcting his opponents with gentleness

Can you confront others gently? Or are you harsh? Will you sacrifice the Truth to avoid a needed confrontation?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Out of Balance

Yesterday I learned something a little disturbing about myself: I'm lopsided.

An x-ray revealed that the cause of my hip pain is a 1.3 cm difference between the height of my hips, which may in fact be related to a car accident that I was in over a year ago. While trying to avoid hitting the car that suddenly stopped in front of me, while my right foot was firmly tensed up pressing the brake pedal, I was rear-ended. My hip took the shock, and got a little boost in height.

I need to go back to my doctor to discuss treatment options, but the radiologist suggested that it could be as simple as putting inserts in my left shoe to even me out. This would then relieve the extra pressure that my hip is bearing trying to compensate for the imbalance, and theoretically, the soreness should go away.

Isn't it interesting how a small problem can create intense discomfort? How a hidden injury can go unnoticed for months, and then seemingly suddenly become a major pain? Our bodies aren't the only things in our lives that must be balanced to be healthy. So as I sit here (probably at a slant!) I find myself wondering if I might be out of balance in other ways.

When work overtakes me and rest escapes me, I get out of balance.

When playing golf on the PlayStation replaces my daily walk, I get out of balance.

When FaceBook connections get more attention than family relations, I get out of balance.

When worries about moving occupy more of my thinking than the joys in the moment, I get out of balance.

When expenditures surpass income, I get out of balance.

When administrative tasks absorb the time that should be given to creative endeavors, I get out of balance.

Summer is a great time to take an X-Ray of my life to see where I may need to make some minor adjustments. Most committments are on "pause" and so I have the opportunity to evaluate where I need to put more weight, and where I need to lighten the load. It also gives me a chance to consider where I have had a sudden jolt that may have produced a hidden injury and caused me to compensate in unhealthy ways.

David and I usually take time around our anniversary (August 22) to do that very thing. It is a time of reflection and recalibration so that we can make needed course corrections for the coming year. David makes a chart (of course he does!) that helps us to identify our major role/activities and take stock of where we are and where we would like to be. We look at both individual pursuits and things that we do together. We actually give ourselves and each other "grades" in each arena so that we can easily see where things are going well and where we need to do some work.

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Hebrews 12: 12-13

What do you do to "x-ray" your life and make needed adjustments so that you don't get out of balance?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Good News/ Bad News

Good News: I finished my summer term of seminary, and I now have a break until September! I am eager to read FICTION, get back into a regular rhythm of blogging, and begin working on plans for a new ministry endeavor that I have brewing in my head.

Bad News: Our third application for an apartment in Lyon was denied.

Good News: Some very dear friends have offered to be co-signers for us, so our next application has a fighting chance!

Bad News: I (who almost NEVER play video games) have become addicted to a Play Station game called Hot Shots Golf. No, I don't golf in real life. But I'm beginning to understand the attraction. I'm having to self-impose limits on my gaming time, and while I can stick to my limits, I'm amazed at how confining they feel. And for the record, I totally blame Chandler, who had actually started praying that we would find a video game that I like to play.

Good News: I'm getting good at Hot Shots Golf. Yesterday I even beat David. I shot a -11 on 18 holes in Okinawa.

Bad News: My hip, which started hurting back in October, has worsened. I'm going in for an x-ray next week.

Good News: A hip x-ray in France costs 27,50€. That's a little over $30 with today's exchange rate. For reals.

Bad News: If the x-ray shows any sign of arthritis (which my doctor says is unlikely given my age, but still a possibilty) I will have to stop running.

Good News: If the x-ray shows any sign of arthritis I get to stop running!

Bad News: We won't be taking a vacation this summer--moving is our big splurge.

Good News: We still have some time off in August, which we will (hopefully) be able to use to get settled in Lyon. And exploring our new city will feel sort of like a vacation! Except the packing. I hate packing.

Bad News: I need to pack.

Good News: When all things are offered up to the Lord, bad news is made good. That's the gospel, Friends. Beauty from ashes. From video games to x-rays to packing--I rejoice, for my redemption draws near.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Bac Results

French Bac results are posted on the door of the main office of the Lycée, and since we live right accross the street from the Lycée, we have witnessed the excitement of this day every summer for the past four years. Students arrive, nervous. Then they quickly scan the pages, looking for their name. Chandler's school has a 97% pass rate, so for the most part students are not too worrried about passing, they are curious to find out if they received a "mention," which is what I think Americans would call an "honor."

The grading system is a complex formula that assigns varying coefficients to each subject matter depending on the chosen major of the student. For example, as a Science Major, Chandler's math, biology, and Physics/chemistry exams had the highest coefficients, while history, philosphy, and languages had lower coefficients. The highest possible grade is 20/20. A student must acheive 10/20 to pass. Honors are given for 12-14/20 ( Assez Bien or Satisfactory), 14-16/20 (Bien or Well Done) and 16-18/20 (Très Bien or Very Well Done). Anything over 18 is extremely rare, but when it happens the student receives a Very Well Done plus the congratulations of the jury.

This year, the event had personal significance, since Chandler's results would be posted on those doors. It's a quintessentially French moment...there are no graduation ceremonies, no caps and gowns, just the day of results coupled with millions of text messages offering congratulations (or condolences, as the case my be). Once the students see their posted results, they can pick up their official results in the office, which gives the breakdown of their perfomance in each subject area. Then they gather with their classmates and compare notes. Here you can see Chandler (in orange) consulting with his friends.

Chandler passed with a "mention Bien," which is signified by the B after his name in the photo below. (By the way, that is a reflection of our house in the photo, Chandler's name written on our roof!) Professors also gather at the school to congratulate students on their results. Chandler's professors were pleased with his results, some were clearly emotional. They have watched him fight these past four years, having to learn French while preparing for this major exam. Their respect for what he has accomplished and their delight in his success was was evident in their words and demeanor. 

Chandler's overall score was 15/20, but he was most pleased with his score on the Math section--a perfect 20/20. For us, the greatest achievement has been his perseverance, his resilliancy, and his faithfulness. He has done a really hard thing with amazing tenacity and a brilliant attitude. We couldn't be more proud. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

High Anxiety

I'm not much of a worrier, or so I thought, until last year when I suffered through a season of panic attacks. Apparently, I simply repress worry until the worry stages a revolt, demanding to be heard through a racing heart beat, sensations of sheer terror, and shortness of breath. Suddenly Cool Jenn was outed by Freaked-Out Jenn. Worry was winning and I had to find a new way to cope.

Over the past year, the Lord has done deep and important work, gently inviting me to cooperate with the process, but clearly leading the way. I'm learning to face my fears--which means I have to admit they exist in the first place, darn it! Because the scary thing about fears is that they reveal root sins like a lack of faith, inordinate attachments, a need to control, and pride. God is teaching me to name these little buggers, confess them as sin, and find freedom. And I am being transformed by this process.

But over the past week, I've started feeling the flutters of anxiety once again.

We need to move to Lyon, but we are having trouble finding an apartment. Even though we meet all income requirements, our applications are being refused because we are foreigners and we don't have a co-signer. We have faced this monster before, and God always makes a way, but I'm feeling pressures of time. I know this is not a life or death issue and I know in the end it will all work out. But today? Today I'm struggling to find peace. My mind knows the truth, my soul stands firm, but my body is starting to revolt.

Providentially, I've been slowly working my way through the Sermon onthe Mount, and I recently came to section on anxiety.

Consider the lilies of the field....

Lilies don't work. They don't try to control or cajole or manipulate. They bloom in their season, tall and bright, clothed in glory but seemingly unaware of their own splendor.

Consider the birds of the air....

Birds don't worry. They don't wile away their summer wondering what will happen in the fall. They sing the glory of their creator, confident of His unending care.

And I serve a God who invites me to engage life like a lily, like a bird.

Jesus, help me to turn my impatience to praise, and my anxiety to "amen." Let me rest in the blessed assurance that you who clothe the lilies and feed the birds will not fail to meet my every need. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Dog Fight

The religious men were right.

They caught a woman in the act of adultery, and they brought her to Jesus looking for a pronouncement of judgement. Just in case Jesus had forgotten the rules, they quoted their Bibles:

"In the law Moses commanded us to stone to death such women."

The religious pick up rocks, but Jesus begins to write in the dirt.

His quiet response unnerves them. Can't this so-called prophet see that Israel is going to hell in a handbasket? So they keep on pressing. Each of them making a case against this woman with the hashtag #Truthwins.

But Jesus didn't need reminding of the truth. There, in the public arena, Jesus makes the poignant choice to hold his tongue.

And the crowd closes in. They have the right to thow their stones, and they want Jesus to validate their actions. But Jesus doesn't give them what they want. When he senses his silence is not being heard, he finally speaks. But his  judgement is not against the woman. Instead, he simply says, "Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her."

And he went back to writing in the dirt.

One by one, beginning with the oldest, the people began to drop their stones.


Not so fast. Once the crowd had gone, Jesus kindly confronts the woman whose life he just saved from the religious right. There is no condemnation, but there is a word of loving truth. "Go and sin no more."

As I watch the debate over gay marraige unfold in the new public arena of social media, I wonder if we don't have a lesson to learn from Jesus.

Many seem to believe that speaking out against sin in the public arena  is a demonstration of faith. But Jesus refused to get into the fray EXCEPT to protect the sinner who was being attacked.

Others seem to think that there is never a time to pass judgement or confront sin. But Jesus refused to turn a blind eye to sin. The difference is that Jesus confronted sin personally, after having demonstrated a love that put his own reputation at risk.

In fact, in the public arena, Jesus was much more likely to confront the religious for their sin, than those who had no knowledge of the law. We seem to get it backwards. We confront sin in the pulic arena and coddle it in the church. I've heard very few sermons in the church on greed, even though the average Christian gives less than 2% of their income. I've only ever heard one sermon on gluttony, even though the church is full of people who are in bondage to that sin.

So we keep pretty quiet about sin in the church and get vocal about it in the world.

And I can't even imagine how it must grieve our Father in heaven that we have thrown Truth and Love in the ring to fight it out like dogs. Then we go to the public arena and cheer for our dog with hashtags.

Both Truth and Love belong to Jesus, and one can't win at the expense of the other. Before we start declaring who wins, maybe we better asks who loses.