Happy Holidays… Not so much.

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Just about the time my heart gets excited about all that Christmas holds and the celebration of Jesus, Christians everywhere ruin it for me. See, instead of rejoicing in the holiday, we make it a war against words and hatred of tradition. I’ve seen just as many rants in the last few weeks as I do during election time. Suddenly we pride ourselves on being better, more attuned, and more sincere than others and because we do it in the name of Christ we consider it okay. We start a holiday jihad and anyone who doesn’t stand with us is a religious terrorist. How does that look to a world that is looking for hope? How does that settle in the hearts of those hoping to be proved wrong in their evaluation of us? How does that look to our forefathers in the faith that sacrificed everything for us to have the freedom to share the gospel? How does that answer a call to love our neighbors? We look like self-righteous, joy squashing, peace stomping hate mongers.

I know I’ll get grief from this blog. But before you take me out to the woodshed and rake me over the coals of faith and the gospel, I want to point to these words:

I am a free man, nobody’s slave; but I make myself everybody’s slave in order to win as many people as possible. While working with the Jews, I live like a Jew in order to win them; and even though I myself am not subject to the Law of Moses, I live as though I were when working with those who are, in order to win them. In the same way, when working with Gentiles, I live like a Gentile, outside the Jewish Law, in order to win Gentiles. This does not mean that I don’t obey God’s law; I am really under Christ’s law. Among the weak in faith I become weak like one of them, in order to win them. So I become all things to all people, that I may save some of them by whatever means are possible. All this I do for the gospel’s sake, in order to share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 GNT)

Paraphrase: By whatever means possible, I become subservient to those around me, not to bombard them with my beliefs but to win them to the love of my Saviour.

I ask you, what part of this holiday battle is based on servanthood? Because I see it more like feigned humility and exaggerated worship then about winning the lost to Christ.

In a culture where “bullying” is defined as using “superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants” – we are dangerously close to that in our religious expectations. And the sad thing is, we don’t just turn our anger outward to those who don’t believe, but we accuse our own of hypocrisy because they choose to do things differently. We make “believing in Santa” akin to worshipping the devil. We refuse to appreciate the tradition in our angst over the commercialism. I confess, it is upsetting that consumerism has threatened the sacredness of the celebration, but is it my fault? Is it the fault of my unbelieving neighbor? Is it the fault of the story of Santa and his elves.. Some of which make daily journeys to our homes to observe our kids? No. It’s the fault of the almighty dollar… Which we don’t seem to be warring against, and I don’t suggest boycotting Christmas like we have Disney (since that was so successful) or JC Penney (which was equally so), because those actions aren’t making a difference except to further paint us as prejudiced elitists.

So what is my suggestion?
Love.
I’m not saying give in and give up, but you can lovingly disagree without looking self-righteous and judgmental. Loving your neighbor should be most significant this time of year. It should be more than giving others gifts or helping out hurting families. It should include putting your differences behind you, reaching out a hand of love that says, “I love you and no matter what you believe or what you don’t, I will put aside my preferences to make sure you know that this season is about grace. This holiday is about a God that loves you and whether you know Him or not, nothing can change the fact that He paid a price that you could never pay, and gave a sacrifice you could never make, not so I can lord my beliefs over you but so that you might know love and have life.”

After all, if restraints and laws could change hearts, Jesus would never have had to be born. His advent ushered in Love, Joy, Peace… And requires our patience. So, let’s be Christ this Christmas – Ambassadors instead of Gestapo. The Angels declared it best, “Fear not. I bring you good tidings of great joy. A Saviour has been born to you, He is Christ The Lord.” Good tidings. Great joy. A Saviour. THAT is the reason for the season. We would do well to live up to that, humbly. All year round.

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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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I wear a Scarlet letter “A”

It was affixed to me a few years ago. I didn’t willfully walk into the title, it had searched for me for a long time. Exposing itself to me in childhood, beckoning to me in adolescence, and dangling just above my heart in my young adult years before solidly sewing its flimsy fabric over my heart.

Ironically, I didn’t set out to be an adulteress, in fact, this side of it all, I never was. I was a loving, passionate soul desperate to see a life find hope and help in what I was led to believe was a bleak world. I saw a hurting brother, and well, I don’t care to imagine what he saw. Mostly he saw a vulnerable woman that out of fear of failure refused to say no.

I did some stupid things. I’m not gonna lie. I cringe when I remember some of those things, but I could never paint as devastating a picture as he painted of me, broad red stitches on an already weathered and tattered soul. I felt like a pawn. Used and manipulated and set aside to try and figure out what had happened and where it had begun. And here is the thing about sin being turned from, it always comes back for one last play.

Luckily, Daddy God had gotten ahold of me. He had led me to confess and seek counsel and to expose the darkness… And just in time, because I didn’t realize how dangerous the game had gotten, and how vulnerable I had become. God only knows what I was spared that fateful night, but I know it is far worse than I ever suspected.

But, this blog isn’t about that night, or that sin exactly… This blog is about the freedom that broke through as I began to be honest about my journey. Even now some people will read this and say “There she goes again, whining about her story.” But those people don’t know me… And they don’t understand my purpose in this life much less this blog. Probably because they too wear the Scarlet Letter “A”.

“Afraid.”

They are scared to share their pitfalls and their failures because to do so will somehow compromise their righteousness. But this is what I found in my pit of self abasement, I was not alone. In fact, so many of us were held up in that tiny, airless, dark space we barely saw the others standing beside us. Our guilt and our shame was so thick, our letters sewed on so tightly we couldn’t make out anything. Some still linger there. Holding onto that last thread, allowing the enemy to label them and devour them with his lies, refusing God the ability to overcome them with love.

“Perfect love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”
(1 John 4:18 NLT)

So I’ve risen from the pit, not perfect, but loved. And because I have been there and witnessed the lies – the pastors caught in adultery, the Bible teachers in homosexual relationships, the deacons dealing with addictions, and the heartache of a Christian mom of four still mourning her teen abortion, I can say with certainty, there is hope! We have wrestled the letter off of us and thrown it into the arms of our Daddy God and said “You saved me from even this!” You see, we know what others won’t dare to acknowledge, we are not perfect. We no longer look down from a pedestal of righteousness and offer grace, we jump in the pit, not afraid of the muck and the mire, no longer covered in shame, and we reach past their offenses into the hearts that just need mercy and grace and above all transcendent love. And they find it, not in our disdain but in genuine understanding, in words that say, “My sin may not look like yours but it is no less staining.”

So, I wear a Scarlet Letter “A” only because it is my ticket to help those who need it most… A ticket I paid dearly for, but one that Jesus paid in full. And, the crimson that covers its frame, removes my shame.

Touchable God

I remember the first time I heard about the intimacy of Christ. I was sitting in a pew in a tiny Southern Baptist Church at a revival no less. The preacher was talking and I was doodling until God pricked my ears. It was like I knew I needed to pay attention. I had missed the first part of the story, something about a man and he was “simple” and he had been invited to stay at the pastor’s home…but it was this part that changed my life forever:

It wasn’t long after we had headed off to bed, and my wife and I heard commotion coming from the guest room. Our guest was obviously talking to himself, and periodically we would hear the furniture move. My wife was nervous and asked me to check things out. As I got closer to the door, it sounded like the man was in an argument with himself. Literally fighting. Icould hear him on the floor moving around, and the more I lessoned the more I wondered at this man I had invited into our home. Hearing a chair fall and what I wasn’t sure was either laughter or groaning, I resolved that he must surely be mad. With gusto I opened the door prepared for whatever I might see, but this…this large, tall, full grown older man, curled up in a ball, laughing uncontrollably. I just stared for a minute until he said, “I’m sorry, did we bother you?” I looked around – “we” was there someone else there? He picked himself up and righted the chair and said, “Jesus and I were wrestling, and he pinned me.”

Honestly, I have no clue what else the pastor said, how he addressed that situation, or how it ended. I watched other people’s faces. Their awe and disbelief, and the few that muttered, “Bless his simple heart.” And everyone laughed. But I wasn’t buying it. I loved that story. In fact, it thrilled me! To know that I had a Savior that would not only take my sin upon Himself so that I might live but would also wrestle a grown man to laughter?! This was beautiful. I wrapped my thirteen year old heart around that nugget and treasured it as Truth – God was not only loving, but He was touchable.

I need a touchable God. If we are honest, we all do. But it’s strange, isn’t it? People who feel Him and wrestle with Him and dance with Him are strange. Ahhh. The blessing of the simple. It is in simplicity that God meets us. I love His word that says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” We see because we believe. We believe because we know, and we know because we Trust.

He is touchable.

Where do you need Him to touch you? Now is not the time to be shy or ashamed. Now is the time to look for Daddy God in the place you need Him most. Where is that place? Let go of all preconceived notions and every “appropriate interaction.” Cast aside all fear of what others think and get real with God. Only you know what that looks like. It could be a wrestle, it could be a kiss, it could be a duet, it could be a dance, it could be ANY activity that frees your heart before Daddy God and feels His love and His willingness. Bear witness to that Truth, hide it in your heart and feel it for yourself – God not only loves us, but He is very touchable.

We just have to let go and reach out.

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Buried Treasure

From my journal:

“I’m emotional. It’s only our first full day at the home and I’ve cried almost all day. I cried through my testimony with my team and every time I behold the girls in their beauty and innocence. I’m so grateful for Prince of Peace – for those who saw the need and fulfilled the vision.”

That first day we worked. We painted two rooms start to finish, and my friend Donna and I were assigned edge work, cutting in around corners, and carefully framing the ceiling. I don’t have to tell you that is HARD work, but I couldn’t have been happier. The girls would peak in and out and smile at us…that was a reward worth more than any check! To know that you are helping, to feel that as little as the task you are doing seems, it is one more thing to make their surroundings inviting and feel more like a home, even at the school! There is no menial task, no small service in the kingdom of God. Every contribution counts. But it’s more than a pat on the back that you did a good thing, it’s more than feeling good about yourself because you did good for others, it’s the understanding that all that you are doing isn’t in your name or the name of America or the name of your mission, it is all for the glory of God. With every brushstroke I felt His hand replace mine.

We were rewarded for our labor with an invitation to eat with the girls, in their homes. You’d have thought that we were invited to attend a banquet with the King, only it was a feast with His princesses. There were two houses to choose from, the two houses that house the younger girls. (The older girls are in independent living houses down the hill – This is where Lucy lived and about 20 other precious teens.) We chose the house that Ann and Yolanda were going to (two interns with the Go 2 Nations Mission – amazing girls that you will hear more about), selfishly because I knew that they would translate and I could watch them interact.

Of course, the minute we sat down to dinner, I cried. It was so much. The girls were chattering and talking and giggling and teasing, it felt like a family meal. It was. The Tia (or aunt and supervisor over the house) sat next to me. She smiled and watched their interactions, careful to rein them in if needed. But, it was loving, inviting and beautiful there. I smiled at her a lot and said “Gracias” and looked around us. I’m sure she knew that I wasn’t just grateful for the meal. She was a treasure. I wanted her to know that she was appreciated. Ann had told us that it is hard for them to keep good Tias. It requires them to leave their families and raise a house full of girls. It must be seen as a ministry or the ladies won’t be able to handle it and leave. This one woman had left for a while but felt so strongly that this was her calling that she came back. She saw them as her family.

One thing became more and more certain as we watched, joined, and understood their surroundings, they were loved and cared and provided for, perhaps the best that they had ever experienced in their lives, and they knew it. One little girl took me by the hand and with a grand gesture said, “Welcome our home!” And welcomed we were. Sarai entertained us by singing Justin Beiber and doing a break dance for the video that one of our team members, Christine, was making. We were trying not to laugh. She was intensely serious about her performance. 😉

I listened as Yolanda read “Aladdin” to the girls and then Donna and I sang “A whole new world” to them, mostly just to feel included. They were so polite listening as we sang, and they told Yolanda “They have pretty voices.” I felt like I had performed for the President and received a standing ovation! Their smiles were like roses thrown onto the stage. Bringing them delight was a blessing. We didn’t want the evening to end. We could have stayed and laughed and played with them all night, but they had school the next day and whether we liked it or not, our bodies were growing tired from the day’s work.

At some point during the visit, we were gifted. Christine was given a yellow rose – ironic since she is from Texas and one of the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. Then Velveth, a very quiet and sweet spirit came and placed something in my hand. It was a coin purse, a simple pink coin purse made of plastic, with a pirate face on the front. But, it was the words that caught the emotions in my throat and pushed them into my heart, “Buried Treasure.”

I was pierced. I felt God was sending me a message, “My love, these girls are MY buried treasures. Cast aside by everyone that SHOULD have cherished them, misused and abused by those that should have been the FIRST to show them love, discarded as a piece of plastic in a trash heap, but I have rescued them. I have brought them here to protect them and to treasure them for they are worth more than gold!”

The stars above winked at me in the night sky, and I felt the Father smile. The Lover of my soul, my First Love, had given me a most beautiful gift. Me, the girl that had chosen to stay away and let the girls be- not wanting to cause them any undue pain, He had arranged a date for us, and, Valentine’s Day was still a day away!

Is this thing on?

I could totally be the “bullhorn guy.” Sometimes I am so filled with love and amazement and passion, not just for my Creator but for His creation, that I want to grab a megaphone, pull up a box (or a stand in a truck bed), and yell at the top of my lungs, “He loves you! He loves you! He loves you!” I’m tempted. Often.

The minute I stepped onto Guatemalan soil that is exactly what I felt. Love. Palpable. And the invitation that Father God placed in my heart echoed with each face I saw. I asked, “Is this Your child? Are these Your children?” And His answer resounded, “All of this is Mine!” Psalm 24:1 spoke into my spirit: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Everyone, everywhere, without exception.

The streets were at once strange and familiar. Growing up overseas, the scene that met us outside the airport wasn’t too different from the bus stations in Korea which I had frequented. There were vendors and beggars and the man without legs scooting himself along on a cart. (This man is in every third world country!) I loved him at once, and the woman with the baby strapped on her chest, the woman trying to get me to buy her handmade necklaces, as well as the indigenous people in their colorful garb and the westernized people in skinny jeans carrying cellphones. I loved them, and I wanted to smile at them and hoped in some supernatural way that God’s love would transfer in that smile to heal their hurt, and calm their fears, and meet their deepest needs!

I don’t know what my face was doing, but my heart was smiling so big I thought it might crack. The fatigue from all day travel and the dull throb in my ever-aching back disappeared with the expectation of what God was going to do! I was believing Him for some big things, and I was hopeful that I would be used to do His work in a mighty life-changing way. My expectations…of what I wanted Him to do…so selfish in retrospect.

As we made the drive to the Prince of Peace girls’ home, I watched the world around me- the busy streets, people walking, traffic crawling, at eleven o’clock at night. The team asked questions about our surroundings some fearful of the violence and the crime, but all the while I had a feeling that this was familiar to me, almost welcomed. I had no idea where we were going or what awaited us at the Girls’ Home…I just knew that God was calling me to an adventure, a journey, and I was selfishly thinking it might be about me. I wanted to see His works displayed! I wanted the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the dead to rise! I wanted to see His love pour forth and ignite us all and for lives to be forever changed! Again I prayed, “Daddy, use me! Show me your might and your glory, come out of the box that I’ve put you in! I want to experience you in your fullness!”

And, pulling up to the gates of the home I heard His unmistakable voice, “I AM not the one in the box.”

God’s lessons were beginning, and the megaphone was positioned straight at my heart.

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!