My Friends and Family Wouldn’t Get It

IMG_0386This is the second fear my friend identified as we talked about why the idea of becoming a follower of Jesus scared her:  her friends and family wouldn’t get it and she’d be alone.

The best response to the fear “my friends and family wouldn’t get it,” is: “Yes, that’s true.  Most of them won’t.  Some of them will distance themselves from you.  And it hurts.”  To say otherwise would be false.  The next question, quite naturally, is: “Then why would I do it?”

The only way I can think to answer this one is to explain why I did.  The truth is that for me, becoming a follower of Jesus did not originate with the thought that I had offended God and needed a way back to him.  I suspect this is true for most people today.  It did not cross my mind that I was separated from God because God was not my frame of reference.  My frame of reference was what the world taught me equaled success: a husband, a child, a house, cars, money, approval, gadgets, elite airline status, good wine, and a New York Times subscription.  Upon acquiring each of these, though, I became increasingly aware of their inadequacy to still me, and their tendency to create a craving for more.  I didn’t know what to do with my dissatisfaction, and so I unknowingly slid into a years-long period of disintegration and darkness.  There were still moments of light and laughter and hope, but really, I was lost, bouncing from one thing to another to fill my time and thoughts.

Eventually, I began to doubt that what I had been told by watching the world was true.  I could see that no matter how much I tried to love my daughter, and how many new things I acquired, trips I took, bottles of the best wine I drank, or men I loved, I still had a gaping hole inside of me.  I knew in the depths of me that my purpose could not possibly be to make money, acquire stuff, take some cool trips, and then die.  My purpose could not be just to give birth and raise my daughter because she would grow up and move out, and there I would be.  I also knew that my purpose could not be just to enjoy life because I had the sense that I was made to do something that mattered.  It crossed my mind that loving people could be my purpose, but I had not done that very well so far in my life and sometimes, I didn’t feel like loving people.

I became a follower of Jesus because I needed him.  I needed him even more than the acceptance, approval, or affection of my friends and family.  Still do.  In him, I found my purpose.  In him, I found eternal, unwavering, unconditional love.  In him, I found the power to love well and the ability to be still and content.  In nothing else could I find any of these.

So, knowing my friends and my family might reject me, why did I still decide to follow Jesus?  I needed to.  I lost some friends and some members of my family don’t get me or my decision.  But I’m not alone.

If someone asked you why you decided to follow Jesus, what would you say?

Did you know some people you cared about might turn their backs on you?  Then, why did you do it?

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Life This Week

IMG_1669I spent this last weekend on a mini-retreat with God.  I have been working in my new position in ministry for several months now and it has been the most rewarding, powerful, grace-filled, exciting experience I’ve had.  I don’t think I’ve talked to as many people collectively in my whole life as I have in the last month.  So, this weekend was me reading Scripture, listening for that still small voice, journaling, writing, being in God’s presence, believing God’s promises, remembering where God brought me from, and learning some new things about his purpose for my life.  In other words, God was filling me.  Some big things came out of this retreat.  Here are some things I’m doing this week as a result:

IMG_1654I’m memorizing Hebrews 12:1-2a:  I need Scripture in my mind, in my heart, and in my mouth.  So, I’m memorizing these verses: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

I’m journaling and praying that I will have clarity about what my race is.  God has marked out my purpose.  He has known it since before I was created.  In my purpose, I will be my most authentic self, the one God has always seen in me despite the ways I have strayed and settled for less.

I’m seeking God’s help in identifying every thing that hinders me.  I want to persevere in the race God has marked out for me.  And so, I need to identify what is holding me back, what is weighing me down.  I’m talking about the stuff that is not sinful, but it is holding me back.  Once I identify those things, I’m praying for strength and courage to throw them and any sin off!  Then, one by one, I’m doing it.

I’m reminding my daughter (and myself) that God loves her no matter what.  One of the very clear promptings from God that came out of this weekend was his desire that I tell my daughter every day that as she grows up she may do things that will lead her to feel disappointed with herself, but she needs to know that nothing she does…nothing…will change the way he sees her or loves her.

I’m saying, “I love you too” to God.  I learned something in a new way this weekend from the amazing Beth Moore.  I want to love God with all my heart, strength, soul, and mind.  Every day, I want to love him more.  But I can only love him because he loved me first.  (1 John 4:19)  He is the initiator.  So, every instance I think to tell him “I love you, God,” instead, I’m going to say, “I love you too.”

What are you doing this week to stay close to God?

Is there a passage of Scripture you could memorize so that it’s in you?

Is there someone in your life that needs to be reminded or told that nothing they have done or will do changes or will change the way God sees and loves them?

I’m Kind of Screwed Up and Don’t Think I Qualify to Be a Christian

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I could not come up with anything that describes the fallacy of the thought: “I’m kind of screwed up and don’t think I qualify to be a Christian” than the story below, by Philip Yancey:

A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan.  Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts.  They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside.  “I hate you!” she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times.  She runs away.

She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play.  Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid detail the gangs, the drugs, and the violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her.  California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.

Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen.  He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, arranges a place for her to stay.  He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before.  She was right all along, she decides: her parents were keeping her from all the fun.

The good life continues for a month, two months, a year.  The man with the big car – she calls him “Boss” – teaches her a few things that men like.  Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her.  She lives in a penthouse, and orders room service whenever she wants.  Occasionally she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe she grew up there…

After a year the first sallow signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean.  “These days, we can’t mess around,” he growls, and before she knows it she’s out on the street without a penny to her name.  She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don’t pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit.  When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores.  “Sleeping” is the wrong word – a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never relax her guard.  Dark bands circle her eyes.  Her cough worsens.

One night as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different…God, why did I leave, she says to herself and pain stabs at her heart.  My dog back home eats better than I do now.  She’s sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home.

Three straight phone calls, three straight connections with the answering machine.  She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Dad, Mom, it’s me.  I was wondering about maybe coming home.  I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow.  If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.”

It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan.  What if her parents are out of town and miss the message?  Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them?  And even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago.  She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.

Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father.  “Dad, I’m sorry.  I know I was wrong.  It’s not your fault; it’s all mine.  Dad, can you forgive me?”  She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them.  She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years…

When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, “Fifteen minutes, folks.  That’s all we have here.”  Fifteen minutes to decide her life.  She checks herself in a compact mirror, smoothes her hair, and licks the lipstick off her teeth.  She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice.  If they’re there.

She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect.  Not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepare her for what she sees.  There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and a grandmother and great-grandmother to boot.  They’re all wearing goofy party hats and blowing noise-makers, and taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a computer-generated banner that reads “Welcome home!”

Out of the crowd of well-wishers breaks her dad.  She stares out through the tears of quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry.  I know…”

He interrupts her.  “Hush, child.  We’ve got no time for that.  Not time for apologies.  You’ll be late for the party.  A banquet’s waiting for you at home.”

–from What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey

***

If you are screwed up, there is a banquet waiting for you if you turn to Jesus in the middle of your screwed-up-ness.  No need to wait until you’re all cleaned up.  You’ll never get there.  Jesus said about as clearly as is possible, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”  Luke 15:7

Life This Week

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Today I watched a movie called “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” which is about the last 16 days before an asteroid hits the earth and destroys everything, but really it’s about love and forgiveness, and how we forget over and over and over and over what matters and what doesn’t.  I sat there watching this movie, thinking, I would never want to cram all the loving, forgiving, and gratefulness I am capable of into the last 16 days of my life.  So, here’s what I’m doing this week because I want to live fully right now:

I’m noticing.  I want my senses to be open to what’s around me: the shapes and color variations of the clouds, the smell of the summer wind and hot dogs grilling on back patios, and the feel of my daughter’s hand in mine and her smile when I pick her up at camp.  When I notice these things, I pray that I gasp, smile at their beauty, and thank God for his imagination and creativity.

I’m loving lavishly now.  There is just no reason to hold back.  I’m walking away from any pride or fear and loving lavishly, extraordinarily, when it’s hard, and when it takes time.  Part of loving lavishly, though, is allowing people to love me, so I’m also dropping some walls and taking some risks to go ahead and let somebody in.

I’m not complaining, I’m resolving.  I guess there are always things to complain about especially when things are new or different and the temptation is often to complain first and then seek to resolve.  But this is really useless except maybe to prop up my own ego because I noticed the problem first.  Anyway, this week I’m praying for wisdom to be a restorer, a resolver, a builder, and an encourager.

I’m praying about forgiveness If I scroll through my mind quickly on my way to do something else, I can’t really come up with anyone I need to forgive or seek forgiveness.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone.  Hurt and wounds like to hide and I wonder if the way I feel things, understand feelings, and love might be impacted by continuing to hold onto old stuff.  I need to ask God to go ahead and shine his light on those old hurts so he can heal them and I can love more and better.

What are you doing this week?

Are you storing up all your loving, forgiving, and gratefulness for some later date?  Why?

What Are You Afraid Of?

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Not too long ago, a friend of mine told me over dinner that she was afraid I might try to convert her.  When I asked her why she thought that, she explained that whenever we were together, I seemed at peace, told stories that sounded like miracles, and listened to her without judging.  I asked whether these things seemed inauthentic to her, but she said no, they seemed perfectly authentic.  I was stumped.

“So, you’re worried that if you ‘converted,’ you might be at peace, experience miracles, and be able to listen without judgment?” I asked, smiling.  “Really,” I said, “what are you afraid of?”  She smiled back and we spent the next couple hours talking about her fears, which had at one point been my fears:

  • I’m kind of screwed up and I don’t think I qualify.

  • My friends and family wouldn’t get it.

  • I don’t know enough.

  • I don’t want to give up stuff I love.

  • What if the whole thing is a sham?

  • I don’t really think I need it.

  • Christians I have encountered are hypocrites.

  • I have tried reading the Bible, and I don’t understand most of it.

After this conversation, I realized how important it is to remember that I had these same fears and questions, and I struggled with them.  These fears are real and deeply held because they get to the core of who we are and how we are.  As I look back, becoming a Christian was a little like walking off a 9,000 foot mountain into the sky wondering if the parachute would really work.  I also realized how important it is to be clear about how to respond with love and with truth, but also with the acknowledgment that I don’t have it all figured out, and probably never will in my lifetime.

So, for the next several weeks, I’m going to explore how I respond to these fears and questions, how they manifested themselves in me or in people I’ve talked to, and how to seek God’s guidance in responding with his heart and his words.  I would love for you to join me and to let me know what you’re afraid of or how you respond to these fears and questions.

Life This Week

When summer begins and school is out, something happens: the routines and rhythms we have been operating under for months, sometimes without even noticing them, come to an end. Summer adds uncertainty and playfulness to the mix: it stays light later, it gets warm earlier, and suddenly, you remember people live in your neighborhood.  Most churches experience a “summer slump” in giving and attendance.  And, I think the reason this happens is that many of us go through a slump of our own, abandoning the ways we connect with God because we are out of our routine.  Our small groups break for summer, we sleep in a little and miss our time with our Bible, and our bodies are tired from sun and play so prayer time slips away.

I love the flexibility and freedom of the summer, but if I’m not paying attention, it will be mid-July and I will be wondering why my soul is tired and restless.  I also know that I cannot put any plan into place for the whole summer because it’s too big of a chunk of time for me.  So, I’m just focused on this week:

I’m reading Scripture outside.  In the mornings, I want to be outside and drink my coffee.  I’ve been waiting for this all winter.  I read One Year Through the Bible each day and about 7-10 verses in Ephesians.

I’m listening to sermons while I drive.  I do this most of the time anyway, and it really keeps me connected to God.  But, in the summer, I like to drive with the windows open, so I often think it’s too loud to listen.  This week, I’m just turning up the volume.  I listen to Steven Furtick sermons using the Elevation App for my phone.  One not to miss: The Worst Greatest Story Ever Told (Feb. 9, 2013). 

I’m saying this prayer every day: God, please renew my mind today.  Let me see you in every place and every face.  Help me not to worry about tomorrow, but to be fully present in the moment I find myself.

What does your week look like? 

Can you avoid a summer slump?

Can You Still Play Golf and Drink Scotch?

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The third question a friend asked me when I told him I had become a Christian was, “Can you still play golf and drink scotch?” This one threw me. I hadn’t considered that. Could I? Did Jesus have something to say about golf? Scotch? But what my friend really meant was, “Can you still have fun, or have you signed up for a lifetime of boring?”

Boring? Since becoming a follower of Jesus, I have gone to Africa twice (soon to be three times) to spend days with HIV/AIDS orphans, long-haul truck drivers, and pastors who have devoted their lives to serving and caring for people who are dying of starvation and malaria. I have never felt more alive or more whole. I helped start a legal aid ministry that has served nearly 4,000 people who have stories I can hardly take in as I listen to them. I have never had more nights where I sit down on the couch and shake my head in awe of what happened that day. One of my closest, most faithful friends is a homeless, Marine veteran. I have never had closer friendships. I have never laughed harder. I have never felt more purposeful, valued, and driven. I have sat in church and sobbed with joy watching people get baptized. I have never taken more relational risks. I have overheard my daughter pray for her friends and sing Amazing Grace in the shower. I have never been more present. I just left my 13-year career as a partner at a law firm without having another job lined up first.

There is nothing boring about following Jesus. It is the adventure of a lifetime. I have never experienced anything that even compares. Yes, I can and do still play golf and have a glass of scotch from time to time, but this adventure I’m on makes golf and scotch seem like sitting in front of the television watching the home shopping network. When someone I know tells me they have decided to follow Jesus, the only thing that comes to mind is, “Fasten your seatbelt and hold on tight. You’re in for the ride of your life. God will do more than you can ever even imagine.”  (Ephesians 3:20)

Have you ever been bored following Jesus?