The rain falls

You’ve heard it, right?

“The rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

We quote it quite often to imply that bad things happen to good people, but do we possibly have it backward? Rain could mean blessings, after all it takes rain to grow a crop and to provide a break from the drought. In fact, with the exception of the flood, rain is not depicted as a bad thing. So what of this verse? Well, let’s start by reading it in context.

“In this way you show that you are children of your Father in heaven. He makes his sun rise on people whether they are good or evil. He lets rain fall on them whether they are just or unjust.” (Matthew 5:45)

Why is Jesus having this conversation? What is He teaching? He’s teaching about love. More importantly, He is talking about loving your enemies. See, we are an “either/or”,” this or that” society and culture. But Jesus was in an “either/and” as well as a “this and this” culture. Many times in order to emphasize something it was said a multitude of times, three times would be the ultimate number of repetitions. In this moment with the disciples Jesus is in the process of telling them and retelling them that God provides blessing (the sun rising) and blessing (the rain fall) on the just and the unjust. That’s important!

This same conversation is recorded in Luke, and He words it a little differently (and since He’s a doctor, maybe a little more intellectually.)

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

Ahhh. The and with the and. “He is kind (the sun shines, the rain falls) to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Wait. Matthew puts the “unjust” in there, but Luke says overwhelmingly, “the wicked.” We know it is the same conversation, the same teaching.. So why the different verbiage? Maybe it has more to do with the writer than the Speaker.

Who is Matthew? A formerly, notoriously unjust man, a tax collector. He is there as Jesus is sharing this story about loving your enemies (of which he knows he was one) and as He speaks, Matthew is experiencing blessing! Not only was God kind to him, He had chosen him as a follower and cohort and put him in charge of the money! Okay. That’s like the the alcoholic being keeper of the wine for the Lord’s supper. That is a responsibility not just of trust but of proof of redemption! Matthew is hearing this through the ears of a formally publicly condemned sinner, and in his interpretation Jesus might as well be pointing at him, “See? I bless and hang out with those you’ve condemned.” Luke on the other hand didn’t have that lens, he heard Jesus say that God is kind to those we might consider wicked, enemies of our souls. Both men share the same message of Jesus to love those who do evil just as God does, but in their interpretations based on their personal experience, we hear how that message affects each one! But, the message is the same, “God who loves and is kind to those who hate him, asks the same of you.”

I can’t help but think of Christians and our wrestle with the LBGTQ community. So many call them on sin saying they are sinners, stopping short of calling them wicked (or some out and out doing so), but if that’s the case, God is kind to them. He chooses to bless them and give them good things, regardless. So “Love your enemy” looks more like be kind to your enemy and bless your enemy… And enemies look like those we don’t agree with who commit actions that we think are evil or against God’s plan. Ahhh. And, they are entitled to the sun and the rain just as the Godly are, without prejudice or bias or judgement. That looks different, that feels different, that steps on the toes of the righteously political. But, that’s what loving our neighbor looks like – Doing for others not because they deserve it or because they are worthy, but because we recognize we aren’t, and, as much as it may pain us to speak it, God desires to see them blessed.

Crazy, this God Who loves us – ALL of us! And the rain falls equally across the landscape of humanity.

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Facebook Fast

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Okay.. It wasn’t a fast. I straight up wanted out. Out of the drama. Out of the posts that were less than authentic. Out of the arguments. The back biting. The passive aggressive warfare meant to injure with wit and snark and the ever revealing emoticons. Off the breeding ground for competition.

So, I got off. No explanation. No “don’t you wish you were this pious” statements. I just left. Status hanging in mid air, comments left unmade, posts unliked and liked. I agree that originally my emotions led the choice, but my mind kept the commitment. And it was hard… At first.

I felt out of the loop.
People would text me and say “Did you see such and such?”, and I hadn’t. People would start conversations about something they saw in a status and all I could do was listen and silently agree or disagree. Articles posted would be fodder for discussion, and I wouldn’t have a clue.

I felt isolated.
Here is the sad truth of it, most of my friends stopped communicating with me. Not sure if it’s just more convenient to chat through Facebook or if it was an “out of sight, out of mind” thing regardless, my phone stayed silent.
A lot.

I felt limited.
Take this blog for instance… You either stumbled upon it by chance, saw it on Pinterest (because let’s be honest what woman can live without that!!?) or happen to already follow me. There is something about having a cyber megaphone. Those lessons become group sessions and those words of hope become anthems! But, without Facebook, my ability to project was severely limited. I felt like a lion who suddenly became a tiny mouse. Where was my voice?

But, despite those inconveniences, here is what I found.

Time to read.
My Bible Study time increased exponentially. I’ve always been a reader and studier but now I was reading and studying simply for me.. Not to share a scripture or what God was teaching me. My lessons became truly my lessons not rolling through a Rolodex of names thinking who would benefit from my study.

I found more time for my girls to play or to talk or just to enjoy a movie or show on Netflix without interruption. It is amazing how much more “quality” that time becomes when half of it doesn’t consist of scouting out “I need to put this on Facebook” moments.

I came to appreciate Silence.
I realized that without a half dozen notifications popping up on my screen every 30 minutes I could actually set my phone aside. Like, in the back bedroom, far from my sight and from my ear. I actually missed texts! Can you imagine!? Remarkably, the world did not end.

I found less need for validation.
Did you know that research has found that the endorphin rush of getting a “like” on social media is akin to an addiction? Test yourself. Do you find yourself constantly checking likes, shares, and comments and feeling extreme disappointment when they don’t show? You might have a problem. Suddenly what we liked and what we need is based on what everyone else thinks what we should like and should need. Approval is a drug. And I can be an addict.

I faced Reality.
There was no hiding behind poignant posts to mask my feelings. Talking to my soul became quiet.. One on one.. And I found my soul without the encouragement of the Body, was significantly less empowered. There is a reason why God said it isn’t good for man to be alone, and whereas Facebook has it’s major hang ups and distractions, it can also be a beacon of hope to the desperate the discouraged and the hurting. Reality bites. It’s good to have those who recognize that taste.

I will find my way back to the Book of Faces in a few more weeks, but I am wiser having released myself (even if momentarily) from it’s hungry grasp. I challenge you to try. Break free. See what you’re missing and return with a purpose for being there.. Because it isn’t there to create a pretend life, it isn’t there to take out your anger based on insecurities on those who would be exposed, it isn’t there to aid you in posting pictures and being validated and bragging on our kids (which certainly impacts them more if we SAY it not tag it), but it IS about belonging, finding a place to share your voice, to grow in faith and understanding. If you’re a Christian, it’s a place for ministry and mission work. Just don’t get lost. Because in a world of faces, we need to see more of you… Literally.

Magnetic

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As a teen, I wondered what would make me more attractive to those around me. I knew I wouldn’t be the most beautiful or the most talented or even the most talkative (shocking, I know!), but I wanted to be someone who stood out. I struggled to feel important and even necessary at some points. I wondered why I struggled so much even as I believed in Christ – that should be the answer right? And He was, but I didn’t know what that looked like for me or to those around me.

The struggle was real.

Recently, I was given a book to read that really put those questions in perspective. Here I am 38 (gasp!) years old, and I still find myself struggling to be seen or to be attractive. So much for “it won’t matter when you’re older.” It matters. And even more so, it matters to all of us girls – young or old, ancient or adolescent. We all want to know we are contributing beauty to the world we live in and when we are gone will leave a void where our shining light used to be.

“Magnetic – Becoming the Girl He Wants” by Lynn Cowell ties all these thoughts together and provides a blueprint to help you get there. Sounds too good to be true?… Well, it depends on which “he” you want to get! Galatians 5:22-23 gives us a list of characteristics that will lead us directly to becoming a person of influence. They are called “Fruits of the Spirit” and each one of them are pleasing and attractive to those that are affected by them and infected with them. (Infections aren’t all that attractive but for the sake of poetic license just go with it.)

Cowell takes each fruit and defines what they mean translated into day to day life. It may be a book written for teen girls, but each issue addressed can carry over into the life of any woman struggling to be more. She gives practical advise to rethink how you deal with the world and circumstances around you and pushes it through the lens of the Holy Spirit, Who alone has the power to transform your mind and your life! The point is to establish a sweeter character by changing the way you act and react – whether it’s love and understanding that love is compassionate, or peace and bringing His peace to those around you, or self-control and taking reign over that little two edged sword the tongue! Ultimately, incorporating these characteristics affects the world around you, sets you apart as someone of grace, and this will make you stand out like a candlelight in a darkened room.

The beauty that Lynn tries to portray is this … You aren’t worthless or unlovely or unimportant, but as you live in the power of the Holy Spirit, He attracts the right people to you! This is important to teen girls as they desire to attract teen boys, but good boys that don’t need sex to spell out love or arm candy to parade around to his friends but sincerely desires to find a girl who loves him for him and who challenges him to be a better man and most of all recognizes and admires the character of Christ in her. Because if you have ever seen a magnet line up with other random metal objects, it is the magnet with equal or greater strength that is most powerfully attracted to the first!

I presently have an 11 year old girl and a 13 year old girl, and I will give them this book to read because it’s important. I want them to seek to be His not just be popular or the best. It is my heart that they will establish these characteristics into their own lives and not see it as so much a struggle but a challenge. I want them to gain the right attention and to be treated the right ways, and perhaps more importantly, I want to see them treat others the right way. I want them to know that they are enough and Christ in them makes them MAGNETIC!

Do your daughters, nieces, granddaughters or Goddaughters a favor and buy them this book! I assure you, as one who has a decade of experience ministering to broken hearts and hurting souls, you will be making an investment in their future.

Order yours here 🙂

Little Orphan Annie

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The other day at the movies, we saw a preview for the new Annie. I’m going to have to see more than that one trailer to judge whether or not I’m going to see it. You see, “Annie” holds a special place in my heart. The roles played by Carol Burnett, Albert Finney, Bernadette Peters and Tim Curry, in my mind, can’t be replaced with a newer, fresher face. It was my go to movie as a kid. I would watch it over and over, and imagine that I, too, was the fortunate child that was adopted by Daddy Warbucks.

I smiled as the awkward and seemingly uncaring man became a slightly more awkward deeply caring father. The unlikely and outwardly appearing ragamuffin Annie got the gift of a lifetime simply by being bold and confident, and by convincing Grace, Warbuck’s personal assistant, that she was the orphan perfect to spend a week with the billionaire.

Got to love a kid with pluck!

It is the gift of a lifetime! A reserved theatre all to herself, an indoor swimming pool, and all the amenities any kid would give anything to enjoy! But, something in Annie had never given up on her family, her dream of a mom and dad that loved her and longed for her so regardless of the gift, she chose instead to use his resources to find what she had forever dreamed of… And his love was great and despite his own affections, Warbucks set out to give her what her little heart desired.

Enter the enemy.

When Rooster and his voluptuous lover saw what money could be had if they could convince the world they were the long lost parents of the orphan, the plot thickened and love was tested. So, desperate to believe that she could be a part of the family she had dreamed of, she fell for the lie and embraced the deceiver, saying goodbye to the man who desperately loved her, loved her enough to let her go.

Almost immediately she sees the mistake. It was a lie. She was tricked, and her dream life looked like her greatest nightmare. As strong and independent as she was, there was no escaping without help. And, the same man who moved heaven and earth to give her what she wanted, moved them again to see her saved! And she at last realized, that she had a family, that her dreams could never have captured her reality, and finally she was loved and felt like she belonged.

Our life in Christ isn’t much different. Too often we are adopted children of the Living God living like scrappy orphans. Whether it is because we have been independent so long we don’t know what it is to have support or a Father watching our back, or if it’s that deep down inside we can’t believe that we were chosen, the deceiver uses these insecurities against us to hold us back from our family and to keep us from our Father’s arms. But, just like in the movie, that’s where Grace steps in. But, unlike the movie, Grace doesn’t have to convince the Father, He sent Jesus to adopt us all. We fail to realize is that He moved heaven and earth to save us once, and daily He moves them to bring us closer to Him. Only, unlike Warbucks, He didn’t have to learn to love us, we didn’t soften Him or have to earn that love (though we live like it), instead He loved us first, had His eyes set on us (not a boy, or a more fitting guest as in Annie’s case) and knew from the beginning of time that all time would be spent gathering His kids and bringing them home. He has given us more than a locket, engraved with His name. He has engraved our names on the palm of His hands! Each one of us, no one neglected or singled out, everyone that desires has the right to be a child of God!

So come on, orphan Annie’s, let’s start living like children of the Best Dad ever! 🙂

Beauty and The Beast

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“Let’s just go.”

She said it with a voice of defeat, tears on the verge of breaking free. We had been in the same store for almost an hour trying on outfit after outfit. On the hanger they looked cute, anything hangs beautifully on air and wire, but on a real body fabric pulls, and hugs, and stretches making the wearer feel as if there is something wrong with her and not the size 2 fashion.

We left the store in silence. She walking two steps ahead head down, unwelcoming. I walked a protective two steps behind cursing super models and anorexic-sized media stars that made my daughter feel somehow less than. On the verge of tears myself, I started the car while she sobbed quietly beside me.

Lost. Helpless.

Those are the two words that annihilated my heart.

Fat. Ugly.

Those were the words echoing in hers.

“Why do I have to be so fat?”

And, what do I say? From the time she was born she was solid. The doctors would be surprised when they weighed her, people would be caught off guard when they tried to pick her up, by the time she was 8, I could barely lift her. But she wasn’t obese, not to the naked eye, but according to the charts and standards not based on anything I can see that is healthy she’s classified as “overweight.”

I knew the second part to that question, “…when you’re so small?”

To make matters worse, I’m small without trying. I always have been. In the way that she feels unattractive because of her weight, growing up, I felt unattractive because of my lack of shape. Strange. Mother and daughter, battling how we were created on two different sides of the scales.

I did what all good mothers do. I addressed her beauty. Her flawless complexion, her smooth skin, her sparkling eyes, and her hands that could easily be used for modeling expensive lotions, but no matter what I point outed, she reminded me, “But, it’s just not fair.”

And it’s not. Body shape isn’t fair, but more than that, it’s a beastly battle that every woman faces at least in some season of life, if not everyday. Whether it’s an addiction to food or an obsession with body image, we find ourselves on the verge of self-destruction more often than satisfaction.

“My friends laugh at me because I eat all my food at lunch.”

I almost spit out, “Then, they aren’t real friends!” But that wouldn’t help matters, she already feels like she is friendless. So I find myself holding onto the only two words I can safely say, “I’m sorry.”

And I am. I’m so sorry that she has to grow up in a world where size 0 and size 2 classify as beauty and health and girls who wear a size 9 or size 13 are judged as slobs and lazy. I’m sorry that her friends feel the need to judge her for her appetite when they skip meals and gorge on snacks. I’m sorry that they make clothes that hang beautifully on wires but aren’t made to fit a frame with curves. I’m sorry that she can’t see her beauty because it doesn’t look like every one else’s. I’m sorry that as a mother I can’t do anything to help her but to do my best to point out her positive attributes and pray that someday soon it sinks in. I’m sorry that all too often numbers on a scale or the digits on a tag have the power to destroy a girl’s confidence. And most of all, I’m sorry that I can’t relate because maybe if I could, she might see that I don’t just say these things because I’m her mom but because beauty is deeper than fashion and her soul is more attractive for its perceived flaws than her desired perfections.

“It’s okay, mom.”

And it will be. The storm has passed and miles away from dressing rooms, I begin to see her perk up a bit. And, for the moment, life seems fair again.

If the shoe fits…

Dreams.

They hold so much meaning, and God-given dreams have the power to impart knowledge, wisdom, and determination where you might otherwise be lacking. There are a few dreams I have had in my life that have in seasons sustained me, but the most remarkable one, the loudest speaking, the most powerfully compelling one I feel the need to share.

As I opened my eyes to a sun washed yellow morning, the bed seemed crisp and cozy. I liked it there, it was where I wanted to stay, covers over my head, snuggled into a pillow, blanketed in peace. But something urged me to sit up, so I stretched and smiled and let my legs dangle to the side of my bed. Immediately, I saw them. Big black men’s shoes several sizes too large. I was confused. A Father figure stood beside me beckoning me to put them on.

“No.” I didn’t actually say it, but my body language communicated it.
Silently, I argued and pointed dramatically, “Do you see the size of those?!”

He merely smiled and with gentle authority pointed towards the shoes.
I looked at the shoe and pulled up my foot, inspecting the difference in size, thinking to perhaps show Him that there was no way my small foot would fit. He wouldn’t have any of it. He coaxed me off the bed and onto the floor. I stood still, frozen, staunchly unmoving. He wasn’t deterred, nor did He wait. He placed me in the shoes. I looked back at Him helpless, watching how the shoes engulfed my foot. Not only did they not fit, I could have fit a whole shoe-clad foot inside them!

“Walk.”

Did I hear Him correctly? He pointed ahead of me and urged me forward.

“But, I’m gonna stumble! I’m gonna fall! I’ll walk right out of the shoes! They do not fit!” I was crying and pleading, I could not do this thing!

“Walk it out until they fit.”

Those words encouraged me. Something broke within my spirit and I found myself moving forward. He walked behind me and assisted me each time I stumbled and fell and all the while encouraged me onwards.

That seems crazy huh? That we could actually walk something into fitting us? But, there are things in my life that I have been led to do that just don’t fit. They don’t feel right, they aren’t looked at favorably, and they just leave me scrambling for that big, sun-soaked bed.
And I’ve been tempted to throw the shoes off, move away from anything resembling a life-form to an island where I can declare a law which states, “No shoes allowed!” Only, I can’t. Because the minute I reach down to release myself from their burdensome awkwardness, His gentle voice speaks, “Walk it out until they fit.”

“But you don’t understand!” I wail. “They look at me, they don’t like my shoes, and question where I bought them or if I should wear them at all! And they have another pair, they say they are the ones You intended for me, and the thing is, Daddy, they fit!”

He is silent.

“Wouldn’t it be easier, Daddy? To wear the shoes they have? Wouldn’t it be easier, more comfortable to just put these clodhoppers in the closet and run instead of stumble all the stinkin’ time!”

Then He speaks, “Easier? Yes. Comfortable? Yes. Would it make them happier with you, less unsure of Me in you? More favorable toward you and My work through you? Yes. But, will it strengthen you? Will you trust me as much? Would your faith believe the impossible and your heart hear My voice beyond the noise? Would you be empowered to stand for Me against the flow no matter how the great the cost? No.”

“So what You’re saying is…?”

“Walk it out.” Oh, that smile. Oh, that overwhelming peace that outdoes the purest yellow light of any sun-washed room! Oh, that loving glint in His eyes that undoes every fear in me.

Maybe this is you… Maybe the shoes He has for you are a little clunky, or maybe they are tight and uncomfortable and need some breaking in? This I know, you alone know the path He’s asked you to walk, and in the end, it isn’t about what others thought or what they believed, it is completely about your obedience – to the hardship, to the pain, or to the rejection. Allegiance requires big steps, unashamed trust, and a heart that only needs One yes.

So, if you see me stumbling a little, wearing shoes that aren’t trendy or anything YOU would ever wear, understand that you aren’t meant to, because I’m wearing the footwear my Daddy picked especially for me!

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Something to talk about

Teen ministry is hard. Not that every other form of ministry is easy just that with all the issues this generation is dealing with, temptations they are bombarded with and lies that are so deeply ingrained in our culture, it is really hard to get through to them…or to get them to feel like we even know what we are talking about.

I was once told that what ever it is that breaks your heart and takes you to throne of God in passionate intercession, this is where He has called you. Daily I throw myself at the feet of God on behalf of this generation. Daily I shed tears for their burdens, and daily I shake my fist at the devil and tell him his time is coming and for every child that he deceives that is another child that Jesus will take for His Kingdom! Nothing infuriates me more than seeing them coated in lies and believing them as truth.

Lately, I had the pleasure of reviewing “Answers Book for Teens: Your Questions God’s Answers” by Bodie Hodge, Tommy Mitchell, and Ken Ham. I say pleasure because for the first time I came across a book that speaks to the issues that teens face in a way that makes sense and speaks at a level of explanation that they can understand. I have read through many resources, and decoding the language took more time than the lessons I needed to teach! Finally, there is a resource available for teachers and parents in a format that I think even teens would find informative and engaging.

It is really hard to answer questions about the age of the world and the way that science is pitted against the Bible (when in actuality the one supports the other), without boring a room of teenagers that are more interested in the next text message! It is also difficult to address homosexuality and bisexuality in an age of anything goes and if you don’t let others do what they want then you “hate” them. The book explains why we have to have a standard of right and wrong, and how God is that authority. It takes a look at the “function” of sex and it’s purpose and why (as hard as it is to stand firm in the face of so much negative reaction) marriage was created by God for a man and a woman.

But, what I really like about this book is that it addresses these issues with grace and patience. It takes into affect that the teens might be dealing with these issues and treads decisively but lightly on issues that every adult finds VERY difficult to talk about. The beauty of the book is that it offers hope even in its declarations of sin and failure. It offers the rescue and redemption that is found in Jesus Christ, how God pointed to His plan all along and that despite what it might look like He truly is long-suffering (patient beyond comprehension) and all-loving (without condition or expectation).

I encourage any youth leader, parent, or teen to read this book. If you have questions, there are answers…rooted in God’s Word and backed up by science and history. It isn’t easy to minister to this generation, but it is possible, and they are worth it. They have within them an incredible desire to be loved and the amazing potential to catch onto that and change the face of organized religion and thus evangelize the world!