May 31, 2012

God's Will & Our Assignments: Servants Aren't Celebrities

These days I often hear "It's not about me; it's about him." It's still a popular, over-used, even if well-meaning, Christian slogan. It has become cliche. But recently, this cliche has burrowed into my soul. As I considered my desires about where I want to end up, I had this thought, "If I am to be a servant, then I must do the master's bidding, not my own." God's will, his cosmic plan, isn't all about me. It's about him and his kingdom. It's about us and all of creation. We can verbally assent to the idea, we do all the time, but do we know what it means?

God has many things in mind as he brings forth his kingdom. He is redeeming all things. I am included in his kingdom coming, in his redemption. I am a beloved daughter. As I obey him, his life-giving waters flow through me into the lives of others. But his kingdom coming and my definition of personal, even kingdom success, are not always the same. Nor are they always at odds.

God isn't careless towards me or about me and my desires. He often blesses me by granting my requests. However, sometimes he and I might interpret blessing differently; sometimes he'll bless me differently than I'd bless myself if I were he because I am not. And who is wiser? Me or him? I am a small, yet intrical and infinitely loved part, of his family, of his kindgom, of his living story.

Of course, I have my own ideas about the part I want to play in God's story. But he's the author. My job is to serve him--to obey the assignments or part he gives me, even if it is a bit part. I am to be a his faithful servant and the servant of all. I can't wander off and do my own thing. I can't rewrite or edit the story. If I try, not only is it is to my own detriment and destruction--it is destructive to my brothers and sisters, to the kingdom.

And the thing is, I can barely conceive of the grand scheme of things--the story. I just can't imagine it. Oh yes, scripture tells us how it will end. It gives us some of the cosmic highlights. However, scripture doesn't give us a detailed description of how God's will, his story, will unfold in our lives.

Are we content at playing the minor roles? Will we be faithful to what we are called to do when life doesn't pan out the way we think it should? Or will we throw in the servant's towel, exchanging it for mastery of our own lives?

Servants are often overlooked, invisible, underappreciated, and mistreated. They are to work hard for the master's will, not their own. They are to respect the master and not talk back. They're obscure.

Servants aren't celebrities.

God's great reversal is this: whoever is greatest in the kingdom of heaven will be the servant of all--not a servant of herself or himself.


the last shall be first.

Originally, posted 2.2.11

May 28, 2012

Surrender the Outcomes to God: Rob Bell via Cathleen Falsani

I think about this topic a lot. We're tempted to make something of ourselves even as ministers (whatever form your ministry takes).

I happened to read this great report that Cathleen Falsani submitted about a talk and Q&A featuring Rob Bell. Here's an excerpt from the article (you can read the rest here: 'Surrender The Outcomes')

“Surrender the outcomes of your presence, your influence, your work, your leadership,” Bell said. “They may drink the coffee. They may not. That’s just how it is. When you come to terms with this, then you’re actually free."

In other words, it’s not about you.

"If, as a pastor, parent, or person, if you do what you do because you’re called to do it — without expectations, without needing a particular response, without hitching your wagon of joy to someone else’s reaction (or lack thereof) — you free not only yourself, you liberate others as well.
A pastor who needs the constant approval of her or his congregation isn’t free. And neither is the congregation."

“But you know, if they have found joy simply in doing the work, when they have found their center and their joy…you know it’s a gift with no strings attached. They are free and you are free,” he said. “It’s intoxicating."

Eugene Peterson goes into a pastor’s convention and just slays it,” he continued. “You’re like, ‘What was that?!’ You know why? He doesn’t need you to like him. He doesn’t need anything from you. And that’s why you want to hear him over and over again.”

Yes. But innovators such as Peterson come under unbelievable criticism. Where do you put that?
“Pioneers are crucified,” Bell said.

One of the men in the audience interrupts: “How do you know whether you’re being crucified because you’re a pioneer or because you’re just wrong?”
Bell smiled.

“If you’re being crucified because you’re wrong, I wouldn’t call that crucified. I’d say that’s just really sharp critique,” Bell answered.

May 27, 2012

Justice, Peace, & Joy in the Holy Spirit

Earlier this morning, I shared, via Twitter and Facebook, one of my favorite verses about the kingdom of God. It's Romans 14:17b: The kingdom of God is justice (righteousness) and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Our friend and New Testament scholar, Michael Pahl, asserts that the following might be a better translation:

Love the "justice" for dikaiosune  - given the collective (and not individualized, privatized) nature of Paul's statement there, I wonder if a good translation might be something like, "The kingdom of God is justice and reconciliation and celebration in the Holy Spirit." Now that sounds like a kingdom, and a kingdom worth seeking first.

I really like Michael's translation and commentary. May God's kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. And may Pentecost remind us of what an inestimable and never fully comprehensible gift the Triune God has given us: life--the eternal kind of life.

May 25, 2012

Spectrum of Suffering, Communal Comfort & the Divine Conspiracy of Goodness

"She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me,' for she said, 'I have now seen the One who sees me.'  That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered." Genesis 16:13,14

I am waiting for our second, much-prayed for baby girl, to come. Though I know not the day or the hour, it is the season and she can come any moment. Somehow, I am managing to write, right now.

I know not everyone that desires biological children can have them. My friend, Anna Broadway, reflects on this from the perspective of a single woman approaching "late maternal age" in her article, "Banking on God Alone: Why I Won't Be Freezing My Eggs."

Shawn and I were told that we probably couldn't have another child either (see my review of Jennifer Grant's book: Love You More for further details).

Each of us goes through different wildernesses of suffering throughout our lifetimes, and we often feel all alone. God and friends may seem cruel, distant and uncaring. Sometimes with the loneliness there's a loud silence that threatens to drown out our very being (Lesa Engelthaler has a great article on Growing in the Darkness and God's silence). I've felt lonely even in my much-prayed for pregnancy, because for most of it, I've been sick and immobile and isolated  (though I live on a college campus) and unable to write much (even on this blog). Thus, the fewer posts. Do forgive me.

This experience though has led to me some of these thoughts:

It is true: wilderness (there is a spectrum of suffering within it) is often isolating and alienating. I am not saying that God causes the suffering, only that he can use it, even suffering we've brought upon ourselves. And while no one can really go through sickness and disease or depression or divorce or loss or unfulfilled dreams for us, we can lovingly come alongside one another and offer the comfort of our gentle presence. And that we must do. When we are in a bad way, almost paralyzed by suffering, every second can seem like an eternity. That's why we need one another.

Here are some good resources written by those who have suffered in various degrees. Perhaps they'll come alongside you in this moment:

1. Ellen Painter Dollar's work and reflection on love, disease and suffering 

2. Amy-Julia Becker's reflections on suffering: disability and downsyndrome and perfectionism

3. Elizabeth Corcoran on divorce/loneliness

4. Ed Dobson facing death and rethinking what it means to be a Christian

5. Trina Pockett on finding out during her fourth month of pregnancy that she had cancer spreading throughout her body

6. Jenny Rae Armstrong's Christian Primer on Emotional Abuse

7. Ben Witherington on losing his daughter

8. My reflection on the death of a dream

9. Amy Simpson on being real when we are in pain

10. My reflection on depression and depression among college students

11. Judy Douglass on "Conversations With My Prodigal"

Though we'd never wish our suffering upon someone else, there is some comfort in knowing that we alone do not suffer and that God can and does and will redeem that suffering. That myth, that we alone have gone or are going through this, often keeps us from sharing and sometimes ends in suicide because of the despair we spiral into when we believe there is no hope. (If you are reading this and are in such a state, I beg you to reach out to another person. God deeply loves you and will move heaven and earth to show you--often through the aid of others.)

Not everyone is in the wilderness of suffering; but there are all sorts of people in it at the same time and unaware of the presence of others. Sometimes, we have not the energy to get up and offer the little yeast, oil, and water that we have left to these other travelers. We can maybe pray that someone else will be generous with what they have when we are curled up, expecting to die where we are. Sometimes we can't even pray that because we don't have the energy.

But if God has not appointed us to physically die in this moment and thereby enter the eternal rest in the rest of eternal life, it might be that we just need to rest from our toil and striving (I will soon post my friend Natasha Robinson's post about wilderness rest). We need to let God take care of us and he will, as I've said before, send ravens, perhaps in the form of people or even angels, to minister to us. It's okay to rest and to be--even if our souls are sour and in despair. God remembers we are human.

I believe this is true, even for those who are in the most impoverished and loneliest of places and circumstances. Did not God alone come to Hagar and Ishmael when they were expecting to die all alone in the desert, with no one else around (Genesis 16) ?  God hears and sees those who cry out to him.

Often I pray for those somewhere in the world who are all alone, in pain or despair, being abused, crying out to God. I pray that he would hear them, that he would send angels or others to minister to them. That good would overcome evil. If I see them in person, I try to do what I can--though I know that in this too I fall short of the glory of God--of what Christ calls me to do. I fail often. God, forgive me.

Even now Lord, please, through me or others, send your help because you are the God who sees!

A person obviously need not be a Christian to do good unto others. God uses all sorts of people to overcome evil in the world. Remember Cyrus in the Old Testament? God's attitude and actions in overcoming evil with good in this world is what Dallas Willard calls The Divine Conspiracy (one of the best books I've ever read and will have to reread about ten times). God calls us to join the divine conspiracy and if we're honest, we are daily recipients of this conspiracy. Christians should be leading the way in goodness so that all might glorify our Father in Heaven and perhaps turn to him. If we're able, while we're in the wilderness, let us give of what we can and also receive what is given to us. Let us not hesitate to take the rest we need or to enjoy what comes our way. Such things are good gifts of God.

The Lord bless you and may you receive his comfort. And perhaps in this suffering you can manage to, what my friend Caryn calls, Grumble Hallelujah. If you cannot, remember, God knows we are human and he will not kick us when we are down or condemn us. A bruised reed he will not break nor a flickering wick will he cruelly (or at all) blow out (Isaiah 42:3).

*In the following weeks, I'll be posting some guest articles from friends who have gone through one wilderness or another.


May 19, 2012

The Blessing of Being A Needy Child of God ~ Like Baby Birds

I read this beautifully insightful reflection by Amy Kemp. It was very encouraging to me and so true. I had to pass it along to my own readers and anyone who stumbled upon this blog. Let us, like baby birds, open our mouths wide and receive from God. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

May 10, 2012

Considering Adoption?

I'm  due to have our second child, a little girl, within the next few weeks. It has been a hard pregnancy. Not on the baby, but on me, mama. And if my delivery is anything like last'll be a long road. For the first five months of this pregnancy, I was terrifically ill. So ill in fact, that I had to have a twenty-four hour Zofran drip attached to me for a good while along with at home nursing care. Zofran is used to alleviate nausea for those undergoing surgery and cancer treatments. It is also used for pregnant women who are really sick. The Zofran drip kept me from throwing up, but I was still extremely nauseous and suffering the side effects that resulted from the Zofran. I did very little for five months and got off of it as soon as I could.

But still, our family is grateful that we are pregnant! Just last July 2011, I had exploratory surgery. The doctor was checking to see why we hadn't been able to conceive again. My daughter, Iliana, was four years old. The doctor wasn't sure if the problem was with me or my husband. He had used the word "secondary infertility" with us. Meaning, we've been able to have one child, but could not conceive another. Those words were hard to hear.

Already, I had started identifying with Hannah in scripture. We have one beautiful daughter (so in that way I am not like her) and I thought having a second child would come easily. It didn't. There were nights when I cried and cried and pleaded with God to give us another child. My husband, daughter and I prayed together, too. Iliana ofted asked us, "Why is God taking such a long time?" She had no doubt that he'd answer. We had no doubt that he'd answer, either. Iliana would have a sibling whether biologically or through adoption. After a while, we gave up hope of conceiving and decided that we would adopt a baby--something I've always desired to do.

But we were scared. Horror stories about adoption abound. We were scared because we didn't know if we could handle a child with severe physical or behavioral problems although we wish were the kind of people that possessed such capabilities. Yet these are the very children who need parents the most. And we were hesitant to wait too long because our daughter was getting older day by day and we desperately wanted her to enjoy her sibling, to not be so far apart that they lived different lives. We felt pressure and we felt rushed. Moreover, we wondered about finances. We are still paying off undergraduate student loans, so we'd be limited in adoption options (or so we thought).

Not long after we started seriously contemplating adoption and before I found out I was pregnant, I received a copy of Jennifer Grant's book, Love You More: The Divine Suprise of Adopting My Daughter. It was a Godsend.

While skillfully weaving together her adoption story (from the perspective of an adoptive parent with three biological children), Jennifer also takes a tender, yet realistic look at adoption.

This book has so many insights and is so well-written that it has been hard to select what I want to highlight. But I'll give it a try.

In chapter five, Jennifer says something stunning about those contemplating adoption, something that I've never heard:

"...I hope they come to adoption because they want to grow their families, not because they want to save the world. If your desire is to save the world, adoption is quite possibly one of the least effective ways to do it."

She goes on to say that there are more efficient ways to help the world's poor than adoption:

"Seventy percent of the world's poor are women and their children. Empower them with microloans, education, a farm animal, or job training and you will see whole communities rise from poverty....To make the world a better place invest in charitable organizations that equip women in resource poor settings to succeed."

I had never heard it put quite like that. Part of the reason I've wanted to adopt is because I feel that adoption is a way of fulfilling God's command to care for the orphan. And I want to obey the Lord. I often think about the children in the world, including those in my local community, who don't have mommies and daddies, or healthy mommies and daddies, or parents who can holistically provide for them. And my heart aches. So I frequently ask myself, "What is my role? What would God have me do?"

After reading Grant's work, I am reminded that there are many good ways to care for orphans and to help children flourish. That's not to say that she lets me off of the hook; she only says that adoption might be the least efficient way to help these children.

But then what about adopting children with a variety of special needs including physical limitations and behavioral/mental problems or those who have HIV? There are so many and these are the children least likely to be adopted.

Through storied observation, Grant reflects on the lives and personalities of those who adopt special needs children-- without idealizing such parents. No, these people aren't saints, there are very hard days, but the best have systems of support and realize that they are making a commitment for the long haul. For the most part, they truly take joy in their children instead of seeing them as burdens.

Honestly, I don't know if we are cut out to adopt a child with severe special needs. I have some friends who adopted children with special needs. It has been difficult and will be a life long commitment. I think God has a special place in heaven for them, a great reward, and I am sure they'd say that they've depended on the love of God to love their children well, even when they've had to call the police to get a child under control because of mental illness and behavioral problems.

So why do I further appreciate this book?

First, Jennifer Grant considers the moral and legal dilemmas surrounding adoption and even how the problem of evil plays into this whole situation. Not all adoption agencies are upstanding. Some children are kidnapped in order to be sold into adoption. Adoption has a dark side because sometimes neither biological nor adoptive parents have any idea that they're being exploited--along with the children.

Secondly, it is a well-written and informative book because it interweaves Jennifer's family's personal slice of life story of adopting Mia (the joy, the pain of waiting, the pain of other people's comments) with global considerations and practical advice for those interested in adoption. In reading this book, one truly gets the big picture, not just Grant's story. Being the good journalist that she is, she has done her research.

So whether you just want to learn about adoption or are considering adoption, I highly recommend Love You More: The Divine Suprise of Adopting My Daughter by Jennifer Grant.  Moreover, if you know of those hoping to adopt, I highly recommend passing this book along to them. It is quite a gift. 

While we are not going to adopt right now (I am about to deliver our second child), it is something we'll continue to consider. But also, I'll keep in mind the insights I gathered from Jennifer about helping the world's poor and/or orphaned children. No, that's not right. I won't just keep in mind these insights, but translate my knowledge into action.

I received this book from Thomas Nelson to review (and I am glad I did!).

May 9, 2012

What Flows From Your Pain?

This is a wonderful post by Angie Mabry-Nauta:

"The place where your pain lives is the same place from which your empathy flows, he explained. Because you hurt, you understand and can feel compassion for those who feel similarly. Out of your pain your call is born, in essence; just as out of Jesus’ death came new life."

Read the rest of the wonderful post here:

May 3, 2012

Anxious Person/Artist? Listen.

This is a beautiful meditation by renown artist Makoto Fujimura. He recently spoke at Biola's chapel service. If you are anxious and looking for the beauty/goodness of God, take some time to listen to these words for your soul:
Resurrecting Lazarus Culture: Mako Fujimura

May 2, 2012

Are you a blessing or a curse?

Here is a link to some ideas I expanded upon. My friend Judy posted it on her Kindling blog. Her blog is a fantastic blog by the way!

Are you a blessing or a curse to others?