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Friday Benediction

October 17, 2014

May we proclaim Jesus as Good News to those in need of good news, welcoming the unwelcome, eating with sinners and outcasts, and blessing those that the world has deemed unworthy of God’s blessing.

May we not seek power, prestige, or wealth. As new creations, may we seek the power of the Holy Spirit, the status and reward of being known by God, and may we pursue generosity and a store of treasure that cannot be stolen or destroyed.

May we serve one another, as well as the poor, the powerless, the least in our world, just as Christ came not to be served, but to serve.

May we throw off the weight of selfish ambition and vain conceit, following Jesus into a life of humility, sacrifice, and obedience even to the point of death, that the extraordinary power of God might be displayed in these jars of clay.

May our unshakable hope remain in Christ, whose sufferings we share, whose comfort and mercy is abundant, and whose power raises the dead.

Go in peace.

(Written for my local church for Anabaptist Core Conviction #4: “The frequent association of the church with status, wealth and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness. We are committed to exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless and persecuted, aware that such discipleship may attract opposition, resulting in suffering and sometimes ultimately martyrdom.”)

Friday Benediction

October 10, 2014

May our allegiance be to our Lord Jesus, who has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and has brought us into his own kingdom of light.

May we walk by faith as aliens and foreigners in this world, following Jesus’ example as we love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and pursue peacemaking in a world that has not yet seen the Prince of Peace.

May our citizenship be as members of God’s household, His chosen people, His royal priesthood. May we direct one another to Christ, rejoicing with those who rejoice, grieving with those who grieve, and bearing the burdens of one another in the love of Jesus.

May we proclaim Christ’s life, death, and resurrection as faithful witnesses in the power of the Holy Spirit, imploring every tribe, tongue, and nation to be reconciled to God.

May our lives bring praise to God, who in his great mercy, has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.

Go in peace.

(Written for Anabaptist Core Conviction #3 for my local church: “Western culture is slowly emerging from the Christendom era when church and state jointly presided over a society in which almost all were assumed to be Christian. Whatever its positive contributions on values and institutions, Christendom seriously distorted the gospel, marginalised Jesus, and has left the churches ill-equipped for mission in a post-Christendom culture. As we reflect on this, we are committed to learning from the experience and perspectives of movements such as Anabaptism that rejected standard Christendom assumptions and pursued alternative ways of thinking and behaving.”)

Toddlers and Change (Lord Help Me)

October 8, 2014

Parents of toddlers know this one thing: you can’t easily change anything.

Sure, it’s 90 degrees tonight, but you better have those fleecy pi’s with the lions on them clean and ready to go.

Yes, you’re out of cereal because you need to go to the store, but cereal is the ONLY acceptable breakfast this morning. Make it appear in that pantry or suffer the consequences.

Or, my personal favorite: I wanted a WHOLE banana, but because I insisted on peeling the thing myself, it BROKE IN TWO PIECES! 

Now, for me, multiply that by two (I have a 3 and 1 year old), subtract verbal skills for one, and add explosive anger for the other, and that’s my toddler situation. Joy. (It really is, but such hard days sometimes) So now, here we are, selling nearly everything we own and preparing to move to Colorado in October, then overseas in December.

With two toddlers.

Mayday! Mayday! S.O.S.!

As we sell each piece of furniture, poor Kian sees his very life slip out of his control. He expresses his sadness and loss of control as rage and extreme stubbornness. Suddenly, it takes upwards of an hour to coax him into his clothes in the morning. It takes hours to lay him down at night. He refuses every task he used to happily do. On top of this, he knows how to push the buttons of the people he knows, and he has set the crosshairs on me.

I’m a sinner. It hasn’t been pretty.

Last week, after an entire day of catering to all the needs of an extremely fussy (teething?) 18-month-old, a stubborn and whiny and disobedient 3-year-old, and a very whiny, needy 5-year-old…and hearing “I hate you” yelled at me by these little ones…I just sat on the disaster of a kitchen floor after bedtime and stared at the cabinet. Nothing left. No energy, no ideas, no hope left for myself and quite sure I’d made a mistake by becoming a mother.

I’ve written before that these kids are my living parables, that God teaches me about Himself…and myself…through them, even while the intensity of this season keeps me from long “quiet times.” (QUIET?!)

And so as I stared at those cabinets, I saw myself in little Kian, with life feeling out of control and just digging my fingers in and flailing about, hurting everyone in my wake. I wonder how often I’m so sure the Lord is doing something to me, leading me places I don’t want to go, when His heart for me is good and He is reassuring me that He will be there even when the world is falling down all around. Teaching me that quiet trust is a safe place to be, though everything else is changing.

It’s actually very humbling how much I see myself in my toddlers. How I respond to change very much like them.

There are ways we’re making our family a “safe” place for our kids as everything around them changes. It’s hard work and we aren’t great at it yet. But even as we respond to violent outbursts with gentleness, to proclamations of hatred with promises of love, with a caring firmness and careful teaching that is for their good…I see the Father in it all and I want to be like Him.

The Power in Smallness

October 6, 2014

This year, it seems the world has unraveled a bit, with the atrocities of the Syrian civil war, the rise of ISIS, the Ebola outbreak  threatening to collapse West Africa, Boko Haram’s kidnappings.

I get overwhelmed with the needs of this world, ripping apart at the seams with evil and injustice. There are too many things to care about, pray for, take action. I care that so many do not have clean water and die of things like diarrhea and dysentery. I care that far too many girls and women are victims of sex trafficking, genital mutilation, child marriage, sexual assault, and abuse. My heart breaks over the evil of ISIS and the persecution and chaos they leave in their wake. I care about buying fair trade so that farmers can have living wages and that I would reduce my contribution to worldwide slavery. I care about the homeless here in Dallas, the cycles of poverty that can be so hard to break out of. I care about the billions around the world, looking for the things that the Kingdom of God is about–life, healing, justice, dignity, love, provision–and no one to announce the Good News there. I care about those in my own midst, hurting and transitioning and struggling.

Didn’t Jesus come for these? Didn’t He come to announce Good News to the poor? To those in slavery? To those oppressed?

And I look around at a church culture that is Good News for the wealthy, the Haves, the middle class. Here, have a latte and a Bible study. I see the great disparity between Jesus’ life and American church life, and I feel so powerless and little to change anything.

I ask for more power, more influence, more resources, more time, to pour into these causes because they are close to the heart of God. And I find I have very little power, that I cannot afford fair trade everything, that few people listen to this little young housewife, and even this blog is pretty small potatoes. I want to do everything, but find that I am limited. It turns out, I am human. And my power is very small.

What hope do I have?

Jesus turned the powers of the world upside down. He was born in scandal to young Mary, shepherds (outcasts) were invited rather than kings to bow down. He was raised in a Nowhere town called Nazareth (what good could come from there?). He was rejected by his own hometown, rode a donkey instead of a regal horse or camel. He had a following of lepers, tax collectors, women, children, and fishermen. Victory was gained in the most unlikely way: a death on a cross. What appears more powerless than that?

The way of Jesus is stooping low, of humility and serving often without reward, appreciation, or notice. It’s a way of closet prayer and calling on the Almighty to intervene. It’s taking up a cross, which may result in actual death, following in the footsteps of the Suffering Servant. It means doing little things that I can do instead of lamenting the Big Things I cannot do, praying that the Lord would make any of it matter.

And it means because I am limited, I must listen to the voice of God to tell me where and who to serve. I truly cannot do it all. Even my ability to care is subject to compassion fatigue and overwhelm. Maybe I can give time and advocacy for this, $25 per month for that, knee-scraping praying for this, go to these people in this particular location. Maybe I can be encouraged and encourage those I see in the Body of Christ lifting up the causes I cannot, trusting that God’s Spirit is carrying them to do what must be done.

But what is not acceptable is doing nothing simply because my somethings are small and not world-changing. 

So until Jesus rides in on that horse, dispensing justice and wholeness and the Kingdom we long for, we take up our cross and our wash basins. May we serve in our small ways wherever we are, following the Lamb wherever He goes.

Friday Benediction

October 3, 2014

May we submit our lives to the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, who is the reflection of God’s glory, and who sustains all things by his powerful word.

May we seek and find understanding of the Law, the Prophets, and all of Scripture in Jesus, the promised Messiah, the mediator of the better covenant.

May we listen to one another as we study the revelation of God, allowing the message of Christ to dwell richly in us as we teach and admonish one another.

May the Holy Spirit empower us to follow Jesus faithfully together, built up in love with Christ as our cornerstone.

May we hold our doctrines, dogmas, and creeds with humility and meekness, seeking unity among all believers as we pursue truth together.

May we cling to Jesus with hearts of obedience and trust, following him though it may seem risky, naïve, and foolish to the wise of this world.

Go in peace.

(Written for Anabaptist Core Conviction #2: Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centered approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.)

Friday Benediction

September 26, 2014

I had the very great honor of writing benedictions this past summer for my local church. Our pastor was preaching over the seven Anabaptist Core Convictions, so each benediction corresponded to the conviction discussed each week. I had never done this kind of writing before, and found that I truly loved it.

So I’d like to offer my benedictions here each Friday – the first seven will be the ones I wrote specifically for the Anabaptist Core Convictions (though they are based heavily in Scripture, so could be used in any denominational or non-denominational setting).

These benedictions are my prayers for the Church, my hope for us all as we follow Jesus together, from meditations on the Word of God. If you are a church leader, please feel free to use them. If not, I hope you’ll pray them with me.

(Anabaptist Core Conviction #1: Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church and our engagement with society. We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him.)

 

May we fix our eyes on Jesus, the image of the invisible God, the author and perfecter of our faith.

May we graft our lives into His life, the abundant vine, keeping his commandments and bearing fruit through his love.

May we follow Jesus closely, listening to him with ears willing to hear, watching him with eyes willing to see, and may our feet be ready to go wherever He leads.

May we take up the cross and follow the Lamb of God even to death, rejoicing in the great honor of suffering for him, and holding fast to him as we grieve in hope.

May we be formed into the image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, imitating his humility, mercy, and grace.

May we go out into this world as ambassadors of our risen King Jesus, proclaiming his reign and calling all creation to worship Him.

Go in peace.

Church that Looks Like Jesus

September 24, 2014

The Christian life often feels horrendously complicated. It feels like events you show up to: Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, potlucks and “fellowships” and fundraisers for the next camp. Between Sunday School, the ladies Bible study, the MOPS group, the small group, and the preaching, you get Bible-studied to death. You start getting cross-eyed every time someone says, “But in the Greek it really means this…” and the Bible you thought you were reading sounds so far and inaccessible to little old you. It always seems like someone is asking you for something: serve in the nursery, teach this class, bring donuts at this time, give money to this or that cause. You feel like a human on tap, but the well is running dry.

The goal of this church is simply to get people in the doors, often by gimmicks. We serve lattes! Look at our McDonald’s play place for your kids! We have bouncy castles and a Bible study class for the whole family! Look at how God is blessing us and we are growing! (Nevermind that new members are most often Christians coming from nearby churches, rather than new believers)

Add to the events calendar the emotional pressure of Plastic Church. Look how Jesus fixes everything so magically! I’m not struggling at all, I’m trusting him so hard! Bless your heart, I will pray for you! Church is far too often the last place broken people want to be.

Church becomes this juggling act, on top of your other commitments, slowly draining the life out of you. It’s often multiplied if you actually work for the church, because you are expected to start, carry out, and finish all of these events.

Most of the churches I’ve been part of have followed this same broken pattern above. And they seem to have the same underlying idea about what church is for: getting people to become Christians who then go to Bible studies to “grow.” And the people who are most “mature” are those running ragged from ministry to ministry within the church.

This model is exhausting because it makes you spend a whole lot of time around church people rather than the rest of the world. And when church people are habitually closed off from the rest of the world, it becomes very easy to become obsessed with dissecting the Greek participles in the parable of the sower rather than searching for good soil. It’s easy to pour more and more theology into your head through Bible studies, while keeping a cool distance between you and the radical Jesus you’re studying.

Do we teach the Bible but fail to encounter  the risen and living Jesus?

Because if we know Jesus well, suddenly his life–not just his death–becomes very important to us too, because we want to be like this Jesus. We see Jesus feeding the hungry with actual food, healing people of physical diseases, caring for the oppressed and the dishonored in society and raising up their heads. We see him stooping low with humility, washing dirty feet of those who would abandon him. We see Jesus, the image of the invisible God. We see him with all the wrong people, doling out grace. We hear him crying out, “This is what the Kingdom of God is like, and it’s breaking in! Turn to God, receive this life!”

So how is it that Jesus looks like this, but church so often looks like the model above? 

A friend recently described our church as an embassy of God’s kingdom. When you go to the British embassy in the U.S., you are on British soil, you’ll hear British accents, you’ll see British flags and drink high tea. It looks, smells, tastes, feels like England.

When you meet with a group of believers, it’s the embassy of God’s kingdom, and Jesus showed us what it looks like to have the Kingdom break in. It looks like the broken coming for healing, the hungry coming for food, the oppressed finding compassion, the enemies becoming reconciled to God. It should look, smell, taste, feel like Jesus. And He filled us with the Holy Spirit so that we could imitate him for the sake of the world, for the glory of our merciful God. Church suddenly becomes not a building with many events to get people into, but a people who care for one another and the world in the power of God. It becomes an honest place to struggle because we all know the Kingdom is breaking in, but is not fully here, and how can we show you Jesus while we sit with you in the darkness?

When a church looks like this, it becomes life-giving, because it is imitating Jesus and Jesus is life. When a church looks like this, the members aren’t perpetually exhausted from serving the saved; they are energized by the Holy Spirit, and by seeing God at work in the Lost. And sure, we still need people in the nursery and to pick up the trash after the service and clear the stage. But a church that looks like Jesus looks like servants, because nothing was too low or mundane or too little for Jesus, the foot washer. You find you can be generous with your time, your money, your energy, your love, because Jesus was the most generous and His riches supply our needs. We are no longer humans on tap, we are gloves on the hands of a living, moving God.

I’m not telling you Bible studies aren’t important. They are.

But I’m asking you to consider whether they are making you and your church like Jesus, who is the Word made flesh. I’m asking you whether church life is meant for you to grow in knowledge, or whether it is the Body of Jesus participating in the Mission of God.

The world has had enough of Christians who are right, who know the right answers. They’ve have very little of Jesus.

(And if you are in the DFW area and exhausted by church, I’d love for you to know about Providence Community Church, a small, beautiful, missional community of imperfect people that has helped us heal from complicated church life, and who have walked alongside us with Jesus.)

 

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