Tag Archives: faith

Renaissance.

I guess I’ve always assumed God didn’t care one way or another about my body. Certainly, we can only delight in each other if I’m alive, but, past that very low bar, I pictured him opinion-less on other corporal issues, assuming him to be more the heart-and-soul kind. Plus, this body – flesh, to echo the Apostle Paul – only gets me in trouble anyway, right? In a Flesh versus Spirit contest, we’re always pulling for Team Spirit.

So in January of this year when God kept whispering to me about a renaissance, I assumed we were talking “spiritual awakening.” I kept my eyes open for when he might show me something new or arrest my attention on my drive to work and dissolve me into a puddle of tears.

Didn’t happen. At least, no more than usual.

Which means I didn’t even recognize it as “spiritual” the first time I looked at my toddler’s face last winter and audibly gasped at how jaw-droppingly much she looked like me at three years old. It was almost spooky – you pull that girl’s bangs back and voilà! It’s little Amie, but with lighter hair.

Other people noticed too. I began hearing the clichéd “mini me” stuff. We ran into one of my former professors who said, “Well, didn’t your mama just spit you right out?” (My daughter, confused, said, “No.”) Luckily, though, she takes this as a compliment and even asks me regularly, “Will you put my bangs back so I can look like you?” (Tears!)

That’s when I began to understand. I don’t have to lose weight to be a better mom. My being overweight does not consign her to a life of the same. She is not me, and her life experiences will differ from mine. BUT if her appearance is constantly equated with mine and I’m constantly talking about how I don’t like the way I look, she’s going to absorb this about herself. I knew this already, but I began to grasp the urgency. When you’re three, if Mama says it, it’s true. If Mama says it enough, it becomes your bedrock belief. Whatever I uploaded to her about myself, she would compute as a message about herself.

This revelation fueling me, I made excellent health choices for a few months. I felt wonderful about how I was treating my body and what I was teaching her about hers. Then in mid-March, I was hurled into the dark canyon of postpartum depression, about six months after giving birth to my younger daughter. Postpartum depression for me is a ravenous, chilling, inky black that seeps into my brain and consumes all light. I didn’t know it had been crouching in the shadows, waiting for a vulnerable moment, nor did I know when I’d be able to wrest myself free. I felt angry and helpless and feral. And for the record: I don’t feel one ounce of shame over the way I ate during that period. There are times I believe we must simply survive, even if it means allowing the better angels of our nature to hibernate.

But, three months later, I resurfaced. I remembered watching a boyfriend run a 5k on Thanksgiving a decade earlier, noting with surprise the varied sizes and shapes of the runners. I remembered the urgency I felt to raise more body-confident girls than I had been. I remembered the maternal care I had solemnly promised to give myself when I started my weight loss journey in 2011. I remembered the merlot-colored leather pencil skirt and chic black sweater I wore at my 28th birthday dinner. I remembered the feeling of blowing a kiss to the mirror in the morning after I finished my makeup. I remembered, in short, who I was.

That’s when God’s promised renaissance sparked. In July, we moved into a house with a pool. I got in every time I wanted, in a swimsuit without a T-shirt, no matter who was around. I realized my body was swimsuit-ready and that I had to show my daughters regularly that theirs are too. In October, I started running. In November, I ran my first-ever 5k with my sister. For my birthday, I got my ears re-pierced and sayonara-ed everything in my closet that made me feel ugly. This month, I established myself with a primary care physician for the first time since my childhood. (I used walk-ins for a couple of decades since they don’t weigh you.) I’m halfway considering springing for an Infinity Curl Pro with any Christmas money I might receive because I love curly hair. I’m eating well 80% of the time, which is the least strict and most committed I’ve ever been. Weight is coming off, slowly, but speed is no longer my focus.

I’m coming around to my body; we are on speaking terms now. I’m not trying to destroy it with sugar or punishing workouts. I’m not holding it to an impossible standard and then berating it when it can’t keep up. I’m trying to get to know it, care for it, and do with it what I hope my girls will do with theirs: show it respect. This is completely foreign to me, but I’m only 33. I’ll get there. And as best as I can, I’m going to raise this firework to keep dancing in tulle-skirted princess dresses with superhero capes because that is one thing these bodies were always designed to do.

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A Thrill of Hope.

If you think God doesn’t want you, you’re precisely the one he wants.

In church yesterday, Pastor Mary highlighted God’s track record of coming down to us. Jesus arrived from heaven down to earth. The Holy Spirit “descended” on him like a dove. The veil in the temple ripped from top to bottom when Jesus was crucified. The New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation comes out of heaven to settle on our planet. God sent his Spirit from on high down to us humans waiting here for his return.

Not only does he physically meet us in our lowly condition, but he also reaches right past middle- and upper-class, white Westerners to get to the stepped on and forgotten castes in our modern societies. His pattern is so beautifully consistent, even when it comes to the grand entrance of his only Child. All the people he chose to immortalize in this miraculous story are the ones we in contemporary America tend to think of least – and think the least of:

  • Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents of John the Baptist, were elderly.
  • Elizabeth, for her own part, was infertile.
  • John the Baptist was an insanely weird hippie who feasted on bugs and lived in the desert.
  • Mary was a pregnant teenager who, theologians think, became a widow early on.
  • Joseph was a blue-collar carpenter.
  • Mary and Joseph became political refugees when Herod began the infanticide.
  • The shepherds, invited by angels to the birth of the Son of God, were impoverished.
  • The Magi, who came to visit Jesus in his toddlerhood, were pagan astrologists.

And if you go back to the lineage of Jesus, you’ll also find a prostitute, a woman who pretended to be a prostitute, and a pair guilty of adultery. Not a single one of these groups are esteemed, or even respected, by most middle- and upper-class, white Westerners. In fact, they’re all the crazies, the useless ones, those helplessly and forever stained by sin and misfortune.

But for God – they are the chosen people.

The chorus they comprise sings the truth of Luke 1:37: “For nothing is impossible for God.” He went to such lengths to prove his point as to make an old woman pregnant with an infant who would become a penniless desert preacher, shouting about repentance. That guy wouldn’t get much airtime in the city where I live, unless he was used as a headline for The Onion. God also made a teenager pregnant before she could even get married to a much older, poor carpenter, with whom she would end up running away in the night to escape an evil ruler who wanted to kill their brand-new son. God also handed out invites to his Son’s birth only to the most impoverished, worst smelling men in the country. That is who our God is. That is who he wants on his team.

Funny, because I was once rejected from a seminary’s application process just for being divorced. And yet God keeps choosing people exactly like me – weird, heartbroken, sinful, awkward people – to do the storytelling when it comes to his love. I’ve said and done terrible things. I’ve hurt, disrespected, and rejected others with my actions. I bear the scars of people doing the same to me. All stories for some other day that’s not Christmas. But based on the cast of Luke 1, looks like I’ve got a pretty fair shot at being used by God to show other people what his grace feels like. All those weird, dirty people in Luke 1 had enough goodness in them, enough light and hope, that God chose their weird, dirty selves to bring about his kingdom.

That’s just exactly the kind of God I can worship. At Christmas and all of forever.

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Sermon: Meekness

My family and I are in the middle of a move – as in, this time last week we were scrambling to find boxes holding church-appropriate clothes. My daughter showed up in a tank top and rainbow shorts, so we only partially succeeded. As of Tuesday morning when it was time to leave for preaching team, we had one house key and one garage opener. I asked my husband for the key – he was standing right in front of me with it – and he said, “Will you take the garage opener? I’ll need the key when I come back this afternoon.” That would’ve been fine if the garage opener had worked. As fate would have it, he had driven away by the time I discovered the door wouldn’t shut, with our open garage housing literally all our things. And already I was running late because I couldn’t find anything I needed. I did what any reasonable spouse would do and laid into him over text before driving to preaching team, seething.

“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”

Since “meek” is a word used to describe Christ, it pretty clearly doesn’t mean “weak” or “spineless” or “impotent” because that is not our God. In fact, the Greek word is praus, a military term denoting horses trained for battle. Without robbing them of their strength or power – since these qualities are vital in warfare – trainers prepared them to unflinchingly face weaponry, torches, and exploding cannons. They were taught to use their strength in response to their rider. They controlled their power. They were called praus, meek.

These horses exhibited a balance between aggression and passivity: they used their full power at the rider’s command. They submitted their strength. They didn’t get hot under the collar or act based on what they saw. They employed the extent of their might at the will of the one in control. They were secure in their role in relation to the rider; they were meek.

One way to look at biblical meekness is that it is power under control. It characterizes those of might, strength, and influence. So as citizens of the wealthiest country in the history of humanity, meekness is a relevant topic for everyone in the room.

Jesus responds to the Father the same way throughout the Gospels. Jesus – who turns over tables the Temple, constantly befuddles church authorities, heals every kind of physical and spiritual ailment, and speaks to crowds of thousands – obviously lacks no power. But in John 5:19, Jesus makes clear how he uses it: “The Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” And another example: his heart-wrenching prayer prior to his betrayal and consequent death sentence: “If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Matthew 26:39). He controls his power, using it at the will of the Father. He doesn’t defend himself or get angry during his supremely unfair trial. As he awaits his punishment from the high priest and Pontius Pilate, he is pelted with insult after insult – from a mob, no less. He’s accused of what he hasn’t done, and misunderstood for what he has. But he remains silent, feeling no need to defend himself because he trusts the Father. He is gentle; he refuses to retaliate because he is meek. His power is under control. That takes a kind of courage unfamiliar to most of us.

This is not natural human behavior. Jesus’s course of action runs in the opposite direction of contemporary American culture. Corporate culture, in particular, writes us off as “weak” if we behave submissively, gently, and preferentially to others. As a result, most of us have learned that you really can get ahead by controlling, manipulating and scheming your way to the top. It seems that it’s not the meek inheriting the earth; it’s the aggressive, it’s those attempting to take advantage of other people before they can do the same us. And this is all reinforced by a zeitgeist that constantly asks us, “Have you received what you earned? Have you achieved enough? Are you enough?” It is exhausting.

I think Jesus’ heart is breaking for us when he says, as we sing every Sunday, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…Let me teach you, because I am meek and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-30). We will find rest in meekness, in trusting our strength to God, in finding our security not in our own power but in our identity as his so deeply loved children that we’ve been promised we’ll inherit the earth.

And the secret is the meek are already inheriting the earth. The ones who trust God’s goodness enjoy every gift he sends, rather than trying to leverage it for something always beyond reach. The ones who use their power at the command of their God are guaranteed victory, rather than having to scheme and hustle for it. The ones who wait for God to act on their behalf can rest in his wisdom and his sloshing-over-the-sides-of-the-bucket love, rather than taking matters into their own hands.

And so, after showing up at preaching team last Tuesday morning infuriated at my husband for a broken garage opener – sitting there self-righteously miserable in my anger – I was administered a discussion about how we’re secure in God and are therefore released to be meek. Using my strength to push against my husband wasn’t necessary or even helpful. Relinquishing it meant being able to trust that God’s plan of me preaching today couldn’t be foiled by a garage door that wouldn’t shut. I decided, after two hours’ worth meekness talk that it was the best route. Instead of spouting off at each other all day, when I backed off and chose not to keep defending myself and trying to exert my rights, my husband and I were back to being a team.

Meekness requires a posture of peaceful obedience coupled with ultimate trust in God’s wisdom and strength. In your everyday routines, what causes you to react with quick anger? Where do you feel inferior? Where do you feel misunderstood? Where do you feel a need to prove yourself or justify your actions? Where, ultimately, do you find your peace? These answers might show you where there’s work to be done toward increased meekness.

It’s so hard to choose this path, but so worth it. A weight is finally lifted, and we are set free. Our meekness comes from from the Holy Spirit, the very essence of God that God promises to all who come to Jesus. So, Mission Chattanooga, come to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, our love, our worth and value, our holiness…and our meekness. Come to Jesus! Amen.

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Adventure.

One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers – Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew – throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him (Matthew 4:20, NLT).

I wish I had that kind of pull with my toddler. “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to thoroughly clean up your own messes.” And she would leave Elsa’s ice castle at once and follow me.

Ahh, a mama can dream.

But in fact, when I invite her away from what she’s invested in to do something different, she’s usually dubious. “I just want five minutes longer,” she says. (She comes by negotiation honestly. I’ve seen my man haggle over prices at Walmart.)

She also says a lot of, “Why?” No surprise there; she’s three. And human. “Make it worth my while” is a refrain we’re probably all familiar with, regardless of age. Why should we drop what we love for something we’re not sure about?

It’s hard to get too frustrated with her in situations like this. (Actually, no, it’s not. Because TODDLERS, MAN.) I do exactly the same thing when God asks me to do something I’m unsure about. It’s been happening since last July. He’s asking me to take what feels like a running leap from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other and just trust that he’ll be there.

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I’m all like, “I just want five minutes longer.”

But look at the model of Peter and Andrew. They hear the voice and Christ and, boom! In the next sentence, they’re dropping their nets “at once” to follow him. No hesitation, no questions, no “Did he say what I think he said?” is in the text.

They didn’t negotiate with him. “We’ll leave if you’ll prove we’re going to be successful.” “We’ll leave if you promise it won’t cost our safety.” “We’ll leave if you pay our wages to our families while we’re away.” “We’ll leave if you let us secure our boat in the marina first [or whatever is the culturally appropriate version of a marina].”

They didn’t try to take the lead. “Okay, but let us show you the best spots.”

They didn’t try to get Jesus to join them instead. “Hey, if you want to hang, you’re welcome out here on the boat. We’ve got plenty to eat.”

Without any assurance from Jesus of anything, they let the Holy Spirit whisper in their hearts that he wasn’t fooling around, that he meant business, and that he wanted them in on it if they could be bothered to join. And they dropped the nets and went after the Stranger.

I bet they didn’t look back.

Will I?

For that is what God is like. He is our God forever and ever, and he will guide us until we die (Psalm 48:14, NLT).

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grace > ice cream

She’s just so crazy about her dad that I said, “How about I take the baby on home while you guys finish up here?” I knew she’d love to be alone with him for a while, her princess status unshared with mom and sister. I was right: she glowed at the suggestion and gleefully laced her fingers with his as they took off to collect the rest of the groceries.

What surprised me was when I put her to bed that night and asked, “What was your favorite part about your date with Dadoo?” (That’s what she calls him, Dadoo.) I expected to hear “When we had ice cream” or “We sang the whole ride home” or, as she once said with a sigh, “He’s just so beautiful.”

ice-cream

Instead, she beamed and said, “He told me it was 100% not a big deal.”

Intrigued, I asked, “What was 100% not a big deal?”

She said, “I thought he’d be mad, but he wasn’t!”

Still I had no idea what we were talking about, so I tried again: “What happened right before he said that?”

She replied, “The thing that wasn’t a big deal!”

I know better than to attempt to pull something from a three-year-old – odd, ultimately frustrating verbal judo inevitably results – so I asked her dad later. “She says her favorite part of tonight was when you said, ‘it was 100% not a big deal.’ What happened?” He looked a bit mystified and told me about something gross she did that he corrected. When her eyes filled and chin wobbled, he said, “Don’t worry. It’s 100% not a big deal. Just don’t do it next time.”

Her favorite part of the night was grace.

During this Lent season that we just finished, I felt strongly as if God were dealing with my pride. An occupational hazard as a counseling graduate student is hearing stories of some of the worst things people do to each other, especially to children. I ended up developing this righteous anger that somewhere became unrighteous, thinking, “If I could just get ahold of those child abusers / rapists / neglectful parents / the ones who inflict fates worse than death, I’d fix them once and for all.” I had no trouble imagining them at the Good Friday scene: throwing stones at Jesus, screaming for his death. Bad, bad people. I’ll show them.

Here’s the problem. As a sinner, I was there too. Also throwing stones. Also screaming for his death. Also committing sinful acts that nailed that perfect man to the cross. Because that is what sin does (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8-10). We are the same, the “bad people” and me. We are all bad people without Christ.

If I want him to show me grace, I can’t keep it from them. If I don’t want him to give me what I deserve, how can I turn on them, hoping they get what they deserve?

And my favorite part of my story with my Father is grace. When they make their way to him, I bet theirs will be too.

My daughter already knows this, even though she’s only lived three and a half years. In Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God,” she always replaces the second word with “grace.” You can correct her all you want, but she stands her ground. (Believe me, I’ve tried.)

But there’s something that rings very true when you hear a toddler singing her lungs out:

How grace is our God!
Sing with me, how grace is our God!
And all will see how grace, how grace, is our God!

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What devotion looks like.

Having grown up in church, I’m sometimes guilty of parroting words and expressions I haven’t thought through. “Surrender to Jesus,” and “Put God first,” are excellent examples. I know they’re true, I just don’t know what they look like in practice. But true to God’s nature, when you ask for understanding, you get it (see Luke 8:10).

My most recent “Aha!” came with the word “devotion,” which has largely come to mean “time spent reading the Bible and praying,” an unfortunate reduction of a strong term originally derived from “to consecrate,” or “to make sacred.” What does “making oneself sacred” mean exactly? We’re instructed in Titus 2:12 to do just that in order to live in an evil world, so how do we do it? I found a simple, beautiful picture of devotion in Mark 16, a picture that’s worth hanging onto.

On Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome (the disciple, not the scary one) famously went to Jesus’s tomb to anoint and care for his body. On the way, they discuss a problem: an enormous stone bars them from Jesus. They even ask each other as they walk, “Who will roll away the stone for us at the entrance to the tomb?” (Mark 16:3, NLT).

Get this: three women – Jesus’s mother, at least, would be in her forties by now; I’m not sure about the others – encumbered with spices and oils, are headed out to anoint a corpse blocked by a huge stone.

empty-tomb

They know there’s an obstacle. They know they’re physically incapable of the task they set out to accomplish. In case we’re missing it, verse 4 epithetically points out, the stone “was very large.” But nothing was going to keep them from their Lord. They physically can’t do what they’ve set out to do and they know it, but they packed up their oils and spices and hit the road anyway. And their devotion to Jesus affords them the greatest blessing in all of history: they’re the first to witness the fact that he rose from the dead. When they make it to the tomb, the stone is already off to the side. An angel is waiting for them and says, “He’s alive! Here’s proof!”

Devotion results when nothing keeps you from loving Jesus. It doesn’t matter to you if showing your love for him sometimes seems useless or even laughable. It doesn’t matter to you when obstacles are in your way. It doesn’t matter to you if it’s just you and a couple other people who seem as weak or broken as you are, you’ll do whatever it takes to get to him. Devotion doesn’t care about drawbacks and impediments. Devotion says, “I’m on my way, and I’m trusting you to move the stone when I get there.” Devotion remembers that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

The faith these three women showed is what gets us through our evil-occupied world (Titus 2:12). When matched with enormous stones that can keep us from Christ – stones like addiction and other sinful patterns, dubious track records, pain you’ve caused, pain you’ve experienced, or any other thing that worries you or brings you shame – devotion says, “I’m coming anyway, Lord.” That’s the kind of devotion I want.

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Sex Scandals Got Jesus Here.

In my Human Sexuality course last spring, I wrote a paper outlining my personal theology of sex. In it, I discussed the mysterious beauty of the act and how it reflects a unified, three-in-one God by unifying a two-in-one marital relationship. But I also spent one paragraph’s worth of space on its misuses because of the clarity and severity with which the Bible condemns certain sexual practices. Spoiler alert: it is grave. First Corinthians 6:18 implies the disease associated with sexual laxness. Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 warn that it precludes inheriting the Kingdom of God. Mark 7:20-23 labels it a “defiler” of the heart and mind. Hebrews 13:4 cautions that it ushers in the judgment of God. Revelation 21:8 identifies death as its natural consequence. God is relentless on this point: misuses of sex will never create joy for you. It will bring pain, destruction, and perhaps disease, but never joy.

But this is not an essay on poor sexual choices. This is about how big God’s grace must be because three kinds of sexual immorality are in his own genealogy. If stronger evidence of John 3:17 – that God came into the world not to condemn it but to save it – exists, I certainly don’t know where it is.

The first woman listed in the genealogy of Jesus is Tamar (Matthew 1:3), whose story is found in Genesis 38. She needed to produce an heir for her in-laws but found it impossible. Her first husband died, her second husband was deceitful and died as a result, and the third husband she was promised was never given to her. With a ticking biological clock, she dressed as a prostitute, knowing her father-in-law would proposition her. It happened, she got pregnant, and that boy ended up in the genealogy of Jesus.

The second woman listed in the genealogy of Jesus is Rahab (Matthew 1:5), whose story is in Joshua 2. She was an actual prostitute, not just for Halloween, who hid two of God’s men and saved them from certain death. After talking with them on the roof while they hid at her house, she declared her faith in Israel’s God. Her son is also an ancestor of Jesus.

The fourth woman listed is Bathsheba (Matthew 1:6), whose story is in 2 Samuel 11. By far, she has the most soap-operatic story of them all. King David sees her bathing and wants her immediately. They end up pregnant, which is a problem because Bathsheba is married. So David arranges for her husband to be killed in battle. A child resulting from their union, Solomon, is also in the messianic line.

Even more interesting: women just weren’t included in Jewish genealogies. Inspired by God, the author of Matthew went out of his way to make sure you know about Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba and their place in the line of Jesus.

So it’s true that sinful uses of sexuality are some of the evilest, gravest sins a person can engage with. But in Jesus’s own line, there is incest mixed with deceit; prostitution; and adultery mixed with murder. This is how God chose to get Jesus to us. There’s no way around the fact that sexual immorality leads to death. But when given to Jesus, even sexual immorality can result in life and hope and grace.

Furthermore, as serious as all sins are, God’s grace is even more serious about rescuing you and cleaning you out. God’s grace is serious about setting you free and filling you up with joy. That’s a force to carry you through anything, even the pain of turning to him after sin.

May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. — Ephesians 3:18-19

Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 8:38-39

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