Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Searching for Sunday -- Why So Many Are Looking and Why Evangelicals Needs to Listen

Searching for Sunday -- Why So Many Are Looking and Why Evangelicals Needs to Listen

“Wrapped now in flesh, the God who once hovered over the waters 
was plunged beneath them at the hands of a 
wild-eyed wilderness preacher.”

She got me at the beginning with the sheer beauty of that sentence and never let go. Rachel Held Evans, in her new book Searching for Sunday (out today), calls the church to regain its sacredness, passion, and yes, even its weirdness. As an evangelical who dearly loves my tradition and (usually) its people but has her eyes wide open to its harmful aspects, I breathed this book in. I live her frustrations and her passions about the church.

I don't always agree with Ms. Evans. But I always love her humor, her willingness to “go there” on tough issues, and her heart for God. This book is no exception.

This book is above all a call to listen to, respect, forgive, and love beyond all of our abilities and even preferences for the greater reason that there is a Kingdom at stake, and we are spending too much of our time arguing over who should be in it and far too little making it look like Jesus.

We spend a lot of energy, time, and research in pinpointing why younger generations are leaving the evangelical church. I know I do. It's a writing project I'm working on now, plus a topic dear to me as the mother of three in that generation and a former high school teacher with an unaccountable enjoyment of young adults. Yet the church tends to get defensive whenever someone actually tells them the truth about they 'whys' we wring our hands over.

Ms. Evans tells the truth. Her voice speaks for thousands who are feeling the same doubts, concerns, and fears but who simply leave without voicing them. Of course, “simply” is a poor word choice, because that decision is often anguished, never simple.

An excerpt of that truth in her own words:

“I was recently asked to explain to three thousand evangelical youth workers gathered together for a conference in Nashville, Tennessee, why millennials like me are leaving the church.

I told them we’re tired of the culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power. Millennials want to be known for what we’re for, I said, not just what we’re against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff—biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice—but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.

Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.”

To flesh this out, she discerns our sacred need through themes such as baptism, communion, confession, and marriage. In each section, she poetically, theologically, and compassionately examines why we find these sacraments meaningful. What attracts Christians through the millennia to these same rites, these same words, these marks of Christ in life?

And how can we come to them trying to bring reconciliation and renewal to a church that desperately needs to see and hear those who don't feel welcome in its doors?

In the chapters on baptism, for example, I love the bottom line truth of what it stands for that we can and should all agree on, whether or not we agree on dunking, sprinkling, or just about anything else.

“Baptism declares that God is in the business of bringing dead things back to life, so if you want in on God’s business, you better prepare to follow God to all the rock-bottom, scorched-earth, dead- on-arrival corners of this world—including those in your own heart—because that’s where God works, that’s where God gardens.

In the ritual of baptism, our ancestors acted out the bizarre truth of the Christian identity: We are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare them powerless against love.
There’s nothing normal about that.”

The book is a cry to the church to stop trying to fix people or give them checklists to make them 'OK' before God (and more importantly, before us). It's a call to come beside people and hear their faith cries. It's a passionate request to be with God being with people, not over them.

Searching for Sunday should be read by anyone in ministry, and there are many definitions of that, whether or not the reader is an Evans fan. In fact, I'd say especially if not. If a person truly wants to be a minister, he or she needs to delve into the truths of how the next generation (and many above it) are feeling about church and all its baggage. We dare not ignore the warnings that people are giving up on the institutional church (and their faith). We cannot pretend the reasons behind it have no basis – not if we say we are people of the Word who speak and believe the Word. We need to have the courage to listen.


Searching for Sunday is an informative and beautiful step in doing that.

I have been privileged to be on the launch team for Searching for Sunday, and I am lucky enough to have read its words before everyone else. But now -- you no longer have to wait.

Find it on Amazon now.


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Monday, April 13, 2015

Do It Again


A week ago was Easter. Today is Easter. Every day is Easter, from my point of view (and the point of view of some pretty reliable historic sources). True story. Because if what the Christian church says happened on Easter really happened, then every day after that is a repeat celebration. An encore. One more chance to stare up into the heavens in what really should be daily freaked-out surprise and say, "I can't believe you did that for me!" 

If Jesus truly--physically, spiritually, historically, existentially, and any other 'ly'--was dead and then wasn't anymore forever,  then today is still Easter. And that needs to mean something. Quite honestly, if such a thing happened, and you don't think it merits more than one day's notice in 365, you're not taking this whole life and death thing we're all in very seriously. 

At one point in my life, I did look at that cross in freaked-out surprise and say, "I can't believe you did that for me." I cried, right there in front of late night TV. No one had ever told me about Jesus, but somehow I knew. It happened when I was watching the movie Jesus Christ Superstar. Not a conventional conversion, I admit, but a fact. It took a few years of being around better people than I to realize exactly what that belief meant. I'm still working on it.

One thing a conviction that Easter is a daily celebration means is that we face those days with anticipation, not fear. My personal ministry revolves around helping people be freed from fear. Easter is the ultimate release from fear. Without Easter, I'd have nothing to say about fighting fears. I might try, and I might unleash all kinds of pop psychology to make you feel better temporarily, but really, without Easter, I've got nothing.

On Easter, it seems appropriate to point out that fear comes from somewhere. It was never innate to human nature. Humans started this gripping emotion called fear by running away from God in the Garden of Eden. Why? Because they knew they had messed up, they knew He knew it, and they didn't know what He was going to do about it. 

It's the same basic principle that caused me to hide in my closet when I was eight and I skipped out on dishwashing duty to go out and play even though I knew that my name was clearly on that chore chart and my mom would find me. No one who knows in her soul that she has deliberately opted to go against the established order of rightness feels good about that choice for long. We may go through all kinds of emotional gymnastics to pretend and believe we do, but eventually that delusional behavior bites us from behind. How long we choose to run from it depends on how stubborn we are. 

We don't like accountability for our actions. We don't like the notion that any behavior could actually be wrong. (It's just different.) And we certainly have lost all enchantment with the word 'sin.' It's quaint but irrelevant. 

Except no matter how far or fast we try to run away, we have soul-deep-knowledge of a variety that won't be suppressed that there is wrong; that in fact, there is wrong in us, and it scares us. We hide, because our Parent might notice our name on that chart at any minute and realize we aren't doing our job.

Then hiding hits the blinding light of Easter, and it has to make a choice. Run farther into that dark closet, or stare at that cross in the morning sunlight and surrender to the inconceivable surprise that it happened because I couldn't stop hiding. And now I don't have to. 

Personally, I've come to realize that hiding in the closet because I'm afraid of the consequences of my own behavior comes with a few problems:

One, the anxiety about what my parent might do imprisons my soul. I could just go and find out and get it over with. But why do that when I can spend hours imagining it? Or a lifetime. (God's reply--“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6.23)

Two, It locks my relationship into the realm of fear, when it could be transformed into the heathy thing it was meant to be--a parent and child teaching and growing. (Which is what God wants, too. “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, 'Abba, Father.' For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” Romans 8.15-16)

Three, hiding becomes my default whenever I don't want to face something, robbing me of experiences outside the closet. (Which is not what God wants. “The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?” Psalm 27.1)

Four, it's really hot and stuffy in an upstairs closet in a century-old house with no air conditioning. I think this may have been the beginning of my claustrophobia issues.


It's Easter. Still. Running was never part of the nature God intended for us. He proved it by walking straight into the consequences of our behavior, facing the terrors there, and blasting them to bits with one shove of a stone away from a tomb and a sunrise beyond our craziest dreams. Today, instead of turning around and going about your day like it's a normal day, look up. Stare into the sky. Say in freaked-out surprise, "I can't believe you did that for me." Yell it if you want to. Then close your eyes, and let the Easter light do its freeing work.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Would You Rather--Tend a Grave or Hold a Spider?

These guys?
I am fascinated by insects. Yes, I like them. They are interesting to watch, amazingly varied, and just plain cool. You know the odd thing, though? Add two legs and subtract one body segment, and what does that make an insect?

A spider.

They are awesome.
And they are decidedly not cool.

I cannot explain this.

All I know is, there is family lore about me involving a bathtub, multiple shoes, and one large spider. Also another involving me and a spider on the shower wall and a subsequent non-family-friendly dash through the house, but that is another story . . .

I do not like spiders. I used to hyperventilate going down the aisle in Petco where I know they are kept. Actually looking in the aquarium would have required an EMT situation.

So what, oh what, could have ever inspired the picture below? (Warning—graphic picture below. No, not of the shower dash. Worse.)

A refusal to give in to fear.

Not. So. Much.
I know I've told the tarantula story before, and some of you have read it. But there's more. We need to know the power of fear to take our identity from us and keep us from moving toward growth.

We fear too many things that steal our identity.


I forced myself to stop in front of the tarantula cage one day and allow that nice young man to put a spider in my hand because I knew my fear would hold me back from being what God wanted me to be. It sounds silly, I know, to say that fear of spiders can get in the way of being used by God. But whenever fear, whatever the fear, controls your choices, it blocks who you were made to be.

In this case, it would control my choice to lead a team to Costa Rica to minister. In the middle of convincing other team members to cast off their fears and go for the trip, I had to face mine or be a hypocrite. After all, they grow some big spiders in Costa Rica. (I never actually saw one in two weeks there. Only a hole where the tour guide told us we could see one if we looked. I did look. I didn't see.)

The older I get and the more I go through, the more I am adamant – I do not want to give control over to anyone but God. Certainly not an eight-legged critter with a brain the size of . . . I don't know . . . do spiders have brains? Conventional ones? No clue. But I do know they have to be smaller than human brains, based on fundamental laws of physics.

“Get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike 'What’s next, Papa?' God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.” (Romans 8.14-15, The Message)

What do grave tenders do? They make graves neat and lovely. They ensure pretty, clean plots. Over dead things. Past things. Things with no life and no future. I don't want to be a tender of dead things. I want to live adventurously expectant.

So why don't we? Why don't we feel like we are created for incredible purpose? Why don't we wake up every morning asking, “What's next, God?” Why don't we expect wonder?

Because we fear. Rather than jump into our days, we dread them. We look at our lists and groan. We plan our next escape. We're terribly afraid to step into identity as those children of God, because it might mean risk, conflict, change. We may dread mornings, but at least we know them. Being God's representative – Stepping into our identity as His children and taking on whatever that means? That's a scary unknown. It could involve things I'm not ready to give up, risks not I'm ready to take, changing values and ideas I'm not ready to reexamine.

Look what I might have missed in Costa Rica?
It could involve holding that spider. And we hyperventilate at the thought.

Sadly, I could not get over fear of spiders by thinking about them. Pondering their purpose. Looking at photos of them. I just had to jump in and face that stupid fear head on. It's the only thing that works. And it's in doing that we realize the anticipation was far worse than the actual execution.

We're more afraid to start than to follow through. So just start.

Observer or Participant?


Jesus said, “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” In is fullest definition, “rich and satisfying” means “over and above, more than is necessary, exceedingly, abundantly, supremely, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon, beyond imagination.

Wow. That's a whole lot of satisfying.

So the question as we work through Lent and prepare to jump into the power of Easter is: Do we want to observe an extraordinary, uncommon, abundant life--or do we want to participate in one?

If the latter, how are you being a timid grave tender today? How are you listening to voices that steal your identity by telling you to be less than extraordinary? (Extraordinary is not, by the way, always newsworthy and show stopping. Extraordinary is simply getting yourself off center stage and looking for all kinds of ways to love like Jesus loved.)



God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!





Monday, March 16, 2015

Multiple Pesonalities





One of the interesting things I've read in all my study of the Millennial generation is the idea that they can comfortably live with multiple personalities. You can be one person with friends, one on Facebook, and another at work or at home. Personality is fluid, and one adapts to one's surroundings. Like being a human chameleon. I have to admit, it's one aspect of the generation I do not understand. I'm trying.

One thing I know, however, is that doing this in one's spiritual life is not confined to any generation. It's too often the default in Christian life.

I'll be a Christian at church.But at work? Well, there are decisions that have to be made there. Sometimes they can't be made with all that love and honesty stuff. That's real life.

With friends? I try, but sometimes, they need me to go along. Do what they want to do. Agree with what they believe. It makes everyone happier.

In politics? Hey, I know Jesus said to love my neighbor. But I have to protect myself. And I have a right to say what I want to say, regardless of those other idiots.

Problem: 


So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them. (Genesis 1.27)

If I am created in the image of God, that's who I am at my core. Portraying that image full time was put into my being from the beginning of the universe. It's what was placed in my heart as my purpose for existing. If I'm trying to do that gig part time? No wonder I'm confused.

It's like trying to split an atom. We all know what happens when matter is split at its very core. Explosion. Big explosion.

Why do we think it will be any different when we try to split our being into “here I'll be God's person” and “here I'll be something else”?

If I'm fighting who I am at my core, no wonder I can't commit to being or doing anything long term. No wonder I can't reach, or even figure out, my goals. No wonder I have no idea what I truly want. I have tried to take apart who I am. And what I'm left with is a messy explosion.

Part Time Identity?


Imagine telling my daughters, “You know, I'm just not feeling the mom thing today. Can I take a break from that and maybe come back sometime later?” Now, I know that occasionally, all moms want to do that. But however we are tempted, it will not change the facts. We are moms. We will still have that relationship, even if we check out of it. It will be really messed up, but it will still be true.

We can't show up to work as we feel the spirit. We can't be someone's child every other Tuesday. We can't be a real friend only after 8pm.

We can't be a real image of God because we press 'like' and 'share' for a picture of Jesus, then go back to gossiping about or downright insulting other people.

We need to be whole people. Only whole people really know who they are. Only whole people can sleep at night without the restless conflict of knowing they were not who they believed themselves to be that day.

Not that we are always what we want to be. There are cringeworthy moments in everyone's day. But when we seek to be one, whole person in all situations? We're a lot more likely to act consistently. It's just easier. Less to remember, which, for me, is a huge incentive right there.

Who Am I?


Image of God. 
Ambassador of God. 
Friend of God. 
Child of God. 

I am all those things. Trying to be some of those things some of the time? Big, explosive mess.


Trying, however imperfectly and slowly, to be that in all places, with all people, at all times? Big, cool breeze of relief. The pieces come together. The purpose appears clearer. When we're being who we were meant to be, through and through from our core out, that's peace.  [tweet this]. 

Peace or pieces? I know what I choose.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Historical Fiction without All the Calories

Hello and welcome to an uncharacteristic Friday post!

I am privileged to be a part of the launch team for a powerful new novel that you might want to hear about. 

I rarely read fiction. Most of you know by now that I'm a theology/sociology sort of girl here with a dash (OK, a huge bowl full) of Tolkien and Austen thrown in there for fun.But I read this one -- and stayed up far too late for this lady two nights in a row. That's when you know a novel's got me.

Mercy's Rain is tough stuff. It is not your standard Christian fluff novel. And for that, I am thankful.  I said "without the calories" because of the absence of empty sweetness. It is sweet -- in the sense that truth and love always win -- but not in the sense that they win effortlessly.

Mercy has suffered unspeakable abuse, and her story doesn't sugar coat it. It does, however, offer hope for healing. Cindy Sproles tackles terrible circumstances and barefaced evil without flinching. I appreciate her willingness to look hard at issues most of us avoid.

I love that Cindy fearlessly deals with issues that were real then (it's historical fiction) and are still so very real today. I love that she admits they exist in the church and that there is where we need the courage to stand against evil of our own. It's a raw honesty that rarely exists in Christian fiction, and I find it refreshing and releasing for those who, like Mercy, live in great pain. The path Mercy takes is also honest--broken, difficult, back and forth, and victorious in the end. 

It's perfect that she tells it in first person, as the reader gets the real sense of what she thinks and feels, something that could never come through as well in another voice. The author portrays both the evil and the atmosphere of redemptive love in this book clearly and believably. A debut novel worth a follow up!

You can find Mercy's Rain here

And more about its author here

Monday, March 9, 2015

Going Backward: Getting Our Identity By Doing Instead of Being

I took up the clarinet in 5th grade. My parents probably wished I hadn't. I did want to learn—really. But how many times can you play “I Love You Truly” in the expected half hour practice before you start to get a little . . . creative? Or a lot bored.

I don't remember the teacher at all. I don't even know if it was a man or a woman. Clearly, I was not inspired. As a result, I was also not very good.

Enter 6th grade and Mr. Leafblad. I don't remember him ever telling me my playing stunk. (It did.) I don't recall being bullied, or patronizingly cajoled, or shamed into practicing. I do remember practicing. He had such enthusiasm for leading us. (How anyone manages that in a junior high band I will never, ever comprehend.) He had endless encouragement that I could get better. And I did. In fact, I got to be the best clarinet player in junior high.

I became what I was meant to be, a much better player, because the one in charge accepted me as I was, encouraged me, and saw me as a whole human, not a kid with a clarinet I did, or did not, practice often enough. The desire to do the right thing grew out of love for the person asking it of me.

One of the biggest mistakes we make in trying to figure out our identity in God is to do things that make us acceptable. We hope beyond hope that in doing things we can figure out who we are.


We do too many things that offer us identity.


It worked in school. We figured out early where we fit in. We became the smart one, or the good one. Maybe you were the funny one, the pretty one, the social butterfly, or even the victim. Regardless, we learned that if we kept doing the things that made us whatever we were (getting straight A's, cracking jokes in class) we had an identity. We were secure.

I spent years proving I deserved my spot in the universe by being the smart one. If I dared let it slip, if (when) I found someone smarter than I was, I would have no idea who I was. It was terrifying.

Don't we do that in church, too? Don't we often—usually--approach God that way?

I'll obey God's rules. I'll go do that service project. I'll come to church, take communion, even go all out and volunteer for children's church. If I do all these good things for God, I'll be a good person. That means I'll know who I am. God will accept me.

You want to know something crazy? Jesus doesn't call me or you to be a good person. Jesus calls us to be His person.  [tweet this].To get our identity from belonging to him, not from doing good things. 

Mind. Blown.

We do this thing backward.

Once we know who we are because of who He is and what He already calls us, we will want to do good things out of pure love and gratitude. When we try to reverse that? Try to obey in order to force-feel acceptance? We get so messed up.

People who try to do this identity thing backward are the ones you meet who are always right. They know what is and is not “approved.” No one else can do it right. Everyone else is a little bit wrong. They are Never. Satisfied. Why? Because we only know who we are--we only feel accepted ourselves--if we're better at doing good, being good, or toeing line of truth closer than the other guy. If we have to admit we don't know, that the lines may be more fuzzy than we thought, then we are no longer the best at doing, thinking, and being right. We don't know who we are.

People who try to do this identity thing backward also become addicted to approval, doing more and more and more, until they burn out. How many of those have we seen? How many have we been? I see that hand. I raised that hand.

There is another way.

Go the right direction. Take our identity from God, freely given, first. We are chosen, beloved, accepted, known, adopted, and so much more. Then, move into obedience. Let the love for the Great Encourager be the motivator to be what we were meant to be. Not the fear that we'll let Him down.

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled everything to himself.

He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth 

by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, 
separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 
Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. 
As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, 
and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. 
But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. 
Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News.” (Colossians 1.19-23)

God is not that teacher who won't ever give the A. He's not the boot camp sergeant. He's the one who sees you as what you will be--without fault. Do you really want a label? Try the ones mentioned above: Blameless. Loved. Reconciled. Friend of God. (Because if you're no longer an enemy, you're a friend.)

I'll never get my identity from doing things. Things are things. They can't offer anything to my soul. Only a person can do that. The Person—the one who asks us to follow, listen, live in the identity we've already been given and let good things flow out of that.


What things are you putting before just knowing God? How might you have to look at those things differently?




Monday, March 2, 2015

Handle with Care

Today, please take a hop over and check out the blog I posted Friday on another site. How much do the words we communicate matter? Is anything ever "only a story"?

When there are logical consequences to our words, how much guilt should we take on? Tough questions that are only going to get tougher in a world where moral boundaries are shifting with the wind. Please share your opinion!

(And share the blog on your social media sites, if you want.)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Four Questions To Ask the Voices in (and outside of) Your Head





This summer, three of us girls had our own version of manic Mondays. It was the “last hurrah” of a mom and two daughters before the final one left the nest.

One of those took us on the train to downtown Chicago, always a good place to encounter the unexpected. While sitting down to rest, I noticed something odd about the two young men we had just passed. They left the corner they had been standing on to sit down about ten feet to our right. Then, one of them picked up his things, crossed before us, and sat down about ten feet to our left, nodding to his friend and looking over us.

Mom radar beats NORAD every time. Very quietly, I said to the girls, “We have to go. Now.” Without hesitation or question, they got up, and we stepped quickly to our destination. End of questionable scene.

I would like to say that in all their 18 and 22 years that has always been the response of my children. Instant, unquestioning obedience. I would also like to say that I am on the short list for the next Pulitzer Prize in Literature. There would be equal validity in both statements. So why the compliance then? Because they knew the serious mom voice. And they knew to follow it.


We've been talking for several weeks now about identity. Who ar we? Who were we born to be? Today, let's turn a corner and talk about a new question.

Why are we not being that?


Here's a recap in case you're joining the story now.

We are people created in God's image to enact his character, cast his vision, and work under his authority to release His kingdom around us. Part of that character is absolute respect for his image in others and in ourselves.

But what makes that so hard to put into practice? Why do we wake up ready to “be all that we can be,” only to go to bed wondering what the heck we were?

(OK, full disclosure. I never wake up ready to be anything. It requires a full hour at least and one cup of Earl Grey before that is even thinkable. But some of you manage it. Kudus to you.)

Why don't we hear the voice of our parent every day and instantly follow? What keeps us from hearing the voice of God and saying, I know that voice. I love that voice. I trust that voice. I'll follow that voice? What about understanding our identity as images of God would take down our barriers to living out that identity with purpose and passion in this world?

Well first, I think we need to be able to recognize the voice.

Four years ago, we spent six weeks riding the rails of Europe. (Yes, we like trains. Trains are cool.) Usually, it was a blast. Sometimes, it was a confusing mess. You haven't lived crazy until you've stood in the middle of a train station listening to speakers blare at you from five different directions, informing you of this destination, that track, those trains. Add to that scenario the fact that all the German I know I learned form Hogan's Heroes reruns growing up, and you get the picture. Confusing. Easy to listen to the wrong thing and get on the wrong train headed for the wrong place. There are simply too many voices telling you where to go.

Same goes for life with God.

We listen to too many voices that tell us our identity.


I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.” (John 10.1-5)

What's the first thing we get from Jesus' words here? He's plainly telling us—there are thieves. They're out there. And they want you. They will sneak in and and they will look good, sound good, and try to confuse you completely. They don't want you to know who you are. If you know who you are, you have power, and the thieves don't like that. They prefer you powerless and willing to listen to anything. Jesus clearly warns--don't be surprised when thieves try to steal who you are. It happens.

How do we know who is a thief and who is not? How do we know which voices to listen to?

There are a few questions we can use to make it easier.


  • Does this make sense? Really, would an intelligent person believe this? You are an intelligent person. I know you are, because only intelligent people read my blog :)
One of my pet peeves is when people post a story on Facebook and then preface it with, “I don't know if this is true or not, but . . .” Um, if you don't know, how about don't post it until you do? Put it through the “does this make sense?” filter. And Snopes. Please.

But you, my friend, are smarter than that, and you know that if something looks too good to be true, it's probably been photoshopped. Question everything that tries to tell you who you are or should be with a simple—Does this make sense to a sensible person? You'd be surprised at how many ideas that boots out right away.

  • Does it appeal to making me feel good? And the corollary--are they trying to sell me something? Thieves make their livelihood from our willingness to listen to them. Of course they tell a story we want to hear. Of course they appeal to our sense of well being, adventure, rebellion, power, happiness, whatever. How else will they convince us to empty our wallets into theirs? Sure, sometimes what people are selling is a good thing. (Um, I write books and speak for a living. I would prefer to sell some. Yeah. It's kind of how that eating and heating the house thing works.) But think about the answer. What does this message appeal to and why?
  • Will it really be good for me? Like long-term good. Not short-term happy happy joy joy. Real, like “don't text and drive is a pain when I want to communicate now but saves my life long-term” good.
  • Does the Bible agree? Why is this the most important question? Because this is the plan laid out by the only one in the entire universe who has never tried to sell us anything. In fact, it's the word of the one who gave us everything instead, up to and including his own life.


Jesus says his own hear his voice. They can distinguish it. They know the good voice from the many, many competing ones. They will get on the right train because they are concentrating on the right destination.

Jesus said that He gathers his flock and leads them—that means he goes in front to see any danger, to clear a path, to lead to food and water and all kinds of nourishing things.

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10.10)

Which voice do you want giving you an identity? The thief or the shepherd? Who are your thieves?


Monday, February 16, 2015

One Shade of Love (But Four Imposters)


I know, I know. Everyone else has already jumped into this party. I'm a tad late. And no one wants to read anymore about Fifty Shades of anything. (Although, in fact, I'm not late. I was early, a few months ago with this previous post. This is merely a follow up to me being ahead of the game. Truth.)

But we must, because this thing is not going away. I want so badly to say it's just a movie and three terribly written books. I want to believe it will fade quickly. I want not to offend my friends by telling them they are wrong to consume and advocate for “Hey whatever you prefer as long as its not hurting anyone” media.

But I can't. I'm a mom, and a pastor, and in neither capacity can I afford a don't rock the boat stance on this one. Because I don't believe it's going to be a one night stand of a movie with our culture or our young women. I believe it's a barometer of what's already there and a bar setter for what we believe about relationships.

I have to at least tell the young people I love that that bar is at a level they can't live with. Literally. And that they can totally change it if they choose. So here, young women I know and any I don't who give me the honor of reading this, are the things I want you to know as the amazing women you are.

To my daughters (literal and otherwise),

1. You are not responsible for making another person happy. 


This is true in any relationship, not just a romantic one. If a parent, child, friend, or partner pins all his or her happiness on your actions, that's not adoration. It's manipulation.

You may feel adored. It feels beautiful, and powerful, to believe you alone can make him smile, and only you can fulfill his dreams. But think about that. Do you really want someone who cannot find it in himself to be happy and fulfilled without relying on you? Would you want to be a person who could not find joy apart from a specific relationship? How limiting is that?

Is there nothing in the entire rest of his life? If not, that's kind of scary. Maybe there's a reason for that. It sounds quite romantic for a man to tell you you're the sole reason for his existence. But really? Maybe you don't want to be that. It's a lot of pressure.

And, more importantly, what happens when he's not happy anymore? Because anyone who has no sense of who he is outside of you has no capacity to be happy, long term. Eventually, there will be chinks. Cracks where dissatisfaction leaks through. Big, gaping holes where you were supposed to make his dreams come true and you failed. And then what?

Don't mistake those feelings of power for feelings of love. A real relationship is never about power. It's about mutual, loving care.


2. You cannot rescue anyone. 


For this Fifty Shades thing, millions of women are excusing what in any other context would be rape and torture because, in the end, the guy is “redeemed.” It really is a love story, see, because he turns out great in the end. Never mind the means taken to get there.

So, it's OK for a woman to submit to any sort of violation of her dignity, physically and emotionally, if it all turns out well in the end. Not only OK, it's a good idea. Go for it. You won't be sorry.

Except not.

Hear one woman's story on this topic, one woman who was nearly killed by the man she would redeem: “I never once thought of myself as a battered wife. Instead, I was a very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man, and I was the only person on Earth who could help (him) face his demons.”

That's the fantasy. Young women buy into it every day. Usually young women who themselves feel powerless, unremarkable, even unloved. The needy but otherwise awesome boy chooses them, and they will rescue him.

I'm a mom. I've read the stories. They are horror stories, every one of them, to a mother. I can't tell you how many times I've seen the stories in the news. Girl gets new boyfriend. Girl spends all her time with him. Girl drops all other contact in order to keep the boy she plans to “save.” Girl goes missing. You know the end.

Young women, it's a lie that you can save someone from himself. Only God can do that. You're not God. You are not even close to the pay grade. A romantic relationship is a terrible arena for helping someone who needs counseling. It is never OK to submit your dignity and well being for any reason. No one who asks that of you short term has your long term good in mind.

Being a friend to someone in pain? Pointing a person to help? Supporting a troubled soul? Yes—those are things worth spending your time on. But not in a relationship that hurts you. Not in a way that makes you the only one who can help. Leave the salvation to Jesus. He's good at it; we're not.

3. You are not responsible for the actions of any man. 


Period. That goes from the way you dress to the plans you make for your future to any words you speak. You are responsible for your actions, he for his. In a documentary on domestic abuse, I recently heard one woman, who declined to press charges on her boyfriend for punching her against the wall. Her reason for his behavior? “I just kept running my mouth. I shouldn't have done that.”

Her mouth didn't force his fist to hit it. The laws of physics argue against that.

Young women, you are brought up to believe this bullcrap. And yes, that's what Im calling it. There are not fancy words for it. If a man chooses assault, abuse, or any other behavior, he chose it. You did not entice it. You did not bring it on. You did not ask for it. 

Can I get you to believe one thing today? That's it. Please believe that. You make your choices, and I know some of them are lousy ones. I know, because some of mine are. But you don't make choices for anyone else. Good grief, your own are enough of a load to bear. Don't take on someone else's, too.

4. You are not meant to be the center of anyone's world. 


See #1 above. When God created human beings, indeed he did say that it was not good for man to be alone. He created woman to be his partner, his equal worker in this thing called life. But there is a difference between being a partner and being an idol.

The first step in any relationship that is headed for abuse is for the abuser to tell her he loves everything about her. She is the most important thing in his world. If she ever left he would be destroyed. He'll make a million Facebook posts about how perfect you are. How could anyone that adoring be bad?

It can be bad because it's setting you up to feel responsible for his welfare. And women, we eat this up. We like to feel responsible. We love to feel that able to heal and nurture and make someone whole. We love to be told we are the center of someone's universe. It makes us feel like, maybe, we are valid human beings ourselves. If another person feels that way about me, could I deserve to be loved after all? So this must be love.

Fact—if a man is telling you this, you are not the center of his universe. He is. There is no room for anyone else in his universe who is not willing to be controlled and used to make him feel better. He's making you responsible for his life, because he knows that will make you stay.

You are not responsible. Step out of the center and off the pedestal, no matter how heady a feeling it is to be put there. The fact that someone put you there should be a hint right away. Never agree to go where you didn't put yourself.

I said at the beginning of this post you could totally change things, didn't I? So don't leave on a note of discouragement.

Young women, you are the ones targeted by this nonsense you are told is empowering. But I know a secret. I know it, because I gave birth to three girls I have watched grow into truly powerful women. I know you are smarter and stronger than that. I know you can see through the bullcrap. And I know you can end it.

"In the United States, women ages 16 to 24 are three times as likely to be domestic violence victims as women of other ages, and over 500 women and girls this age are killed every year by abusive partners, boyfriends, and husbands in the United States."

Your population is the one most affected. So you are the ones who can stop it.

If you've read any recent posts on this blog, you know I've been running a series on identity. It would have continued today, but I thought this was more important. Yet, it is also part of the same topic. The truth is, if you, young women, know who you are, you are not going to fall into the lies about who you should be. You will not accept the role of being responsible for someone else's dysfunction. You will stand up and tell other young women to truth and help them out of this cycle. But you have to know.

In order for you not to be enticed by the power, the pedestal, the attention disguised as love, you have to know without doubt that you are already loved. You are already powerful. You are already chosen and destined and accepted. You are already enough. If that goes deep into your soul? You will recognize the false love when you see it.

So today, I'll leave you with this. It may seem like an easy out, to quote Scripture and just say “that's all folks.” Sometimes, it is. But this time, I believe it says all it needs to. More than I could. Will you allow these verses to sit in your soul? To bury deeply into whatever scars you have? To not let go of you until they have wrestled through whatever lies you have believed about what you need to do to be good enough or accepted and loved? That's all I want for you, my daughters.


O Lord, you have examined my heart

and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.




You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!



I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!

If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.




I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.


You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.




You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.


How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.

They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!