Does the God You Follow Look Suspiciously Like Santa?

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Have you ever thought about all the images of God you carry around in your head and heart without even realizing it? From time to time, I reflect on whether any false or lesser images of God have crept into my psyche. During one of these reflections a while back, I discovered that my image of God looked more like Santa Claus than I would have believed. It seems ridiculous, I know, but let me show you what I mean.

Santa relates to the children of the world based upon their behavior—whether I’m good or bad determines his view of me. If I’m good, I’m placed on the “nice list” and I get good things. If I’m bad, I’m placed on the “naughty list” and I get a lump of coal as a sign of my depravity. And, by the way, the standards about who makes the nice list and who makes the naughty list are not public so none of us even know how to qualify. It’s all pretty arbitrary. We don’t know for sure until we open our eyes on Christmas morning and see what he brought. So, if you’ve done some bad things here and there (and I’ll just speak for myself, when I say I have), you’re on pins and needles for the whole month of December. Plus, Santa only comes around once a year. He’s not involved in the day-to-day matters of life. He’s more absent than present. When you send him a letter, he doesn’t write back and you’re never sure whether he gets your mail. Finally, Santa has no power other than to fly with reindeer, mobilize magical elves to make toys, and squeeze his body into chimneys. This is all sweet, but once you’re about 15, or if your life isn’t picture-perfect, it seems a bit irrelevant. His power doesn’t heal sickness and he doesn’t provide long-term hope.

This analysis led me to ask myself these questions: Are you unsure where you stand with God? Are you hoping that at the end of the day, your good outweighs the bad? Do you find yourself “good binging” to make up for the bad you’ve done hoping to even out the scales? Do you pray not knowing whether anyone actually receives your pleas or is interested enough to listen? Is God more absent than present? Do you believe God is unable to empower you and supply you the courage, wisdom, and grace you need to live a full life?

If my answer to any of these questions is yes, then I have replaced the actual living God with someone who looks a lot like Santa. And God is not at all like Santa. With God, in Christ, I know exactly where I stand—blameless, saved, secure. I have no work to do; no good-binging is required to restore me to His good graces. God receives every prayer, whether I utter it or not. He knows the deepest parts of my heart. God is actually within me—more present to me than any other person or thing in all of creation. And nothing can separate me from His love.

What false or lesser images of God do you carry around with you without even realizing it?

Just Wondering: Some Questions for My Christian Brothers and Sisters

I’m having such a hard time these days with social media and the news. Hatred, anger, and fear underlie almost every post and report. I have been especially surprised by the reactions and comments of Christians.

I haven’t been a follower of Jesus for that long—just since 2008—and I admit I follow him quite imperfectly. So perhaps I’ve missed something. But to my understanding it is love by which he said his followers would be known. (Jn 13:35) He didn’t say go out and be right. He said go out and be love. And he didn’t just say to band together and love each other. He said to love our enemies, to bless them, do good to them, and pray for them. (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27–28) He said to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. (Mk 12:31) He said to welcome the stranger and visit the prisoner. (Mt 25:34–40) And he said “do not judge others.” (Mt 7:1)

These days, it seems that what we Christians are looking to do is correct behavior instead of love. Before we love you, we want to know whether you are a practicing Muslim or if you are just a Muslim by culture and in name. We want to know whether you are practicing homosexuality or if you’re just attracted to someone of the same sex. We want to know what crime you committed and whether you’ve actually repented. We want to know whether you’re addicted to alcohol or drugs before we buy you a meal. We would rather talk with you about your behavior than lavish you with love. We would rather pass judgment than extend mercy.

I guess I’m just wondering why we do this. What are we afraid of—that Christians will get a bad name? That we will be known as lovers of Muslims, homosexuals, criminals, or addicts? I thought that’s what we were supposed to be known for. No? Or are we worried that being right on certain issues is the thing that ultimately saves us? I thought we were saved by our faith and trust in Jesus. No? And, by the way, why are we afraid anyway? I thought we believed that Jesus has overcome the world and that our hope is in him, not our country, political leaders, or the Second Amendment. No?

Just wondering.

A Way to Pray for the World

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Every news publication posts pictures daily that capture the horror (and beauty) of the human experience in this world. The temptation for me is to scroll through these pictures for information alone—to know what is happening in the world, to see it with my own eyes. But I’ve started to wonder what good it is to know these things. Is it so I can speak intelligently at dinner parties or with colleagues at work? So I can debate what governments should and shouldn’t be doing? So I can feel sadness or compassion or anger? So I will grow in fear about the evil and brokenness I see? Of course, some pictures move me to action—to protest, spend my money differently, donate to a particular organization that is doing good. There is only so much I can do, though, and I am inclined to withdraw instead and ignore the world.

Withdrawing from the world is not Jesus’ invitation to those who follow him. We are to engage the world, be light, offer hope, and pray—without ceasing, on all occasions, with all types of requests. What good is it to be inundated with pictures of the pain and horror in the world? To pray. To pray for the men and women and children who bear God’s image and who are loved deeply not only by God, but also by mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, siblings, husbands and wives, and friends.

We can pray without pictures. But with pictures, something changes. The Syrian refugees are not just a mass of people without names. In pictures, we see their faces and their eyes. Peace in the Middle East is not something that would be nice one day so we can stop hearing about it on the news. In pictures, we can see the urgency because of the faces terrorized by constant threat and the lack of stability and freedom. Black men killed by gunshots are not statistics. In pictures, we see they are bodies and souls made in God’s image, carefully crafted, formed for a purpose. The victims of natural disasters are not just numbers. In pictures, we can see their faces, their eyes, their hands, their feet. Our political candidates are not just platforms, ideas, and caricatures. They are people, made in God’s image, loved deeply. Concepts, numbers, and statistics are easy to ignore. Faces and eyes are not.

Here’s a way I’ve been praying for the world.

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Father in heaven, I hold every face and soul in this picture in the light of your love and grace and hope. I pray for the mother and son in the foreground. May they feel your presence and love today. Have mercy on them. I pray for all the families and souls that are not shown in this picture, but who are experiencing something similar. May your kingdom break through in the midst of such pain, displacement, and violence. Guide the hearts and minds of government leaders who are making decisions about the broken systems that stand behind what is happening in this picture. May your peace be known.

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Lord, it’s hard to know what to say. There is so much pain represented in this picture. I pray for Laquan McDonald’s family who are mourning the loss of their son, brother, cousin, nephew. Bring them your peace and comfort. Have mercy on them. I hold them in the light of your presence and love. I pray for Jason Van Dyke. Have mercy on him. Forgive him. In your grace, illuminate and heal whatever caused him to act the way he did. I pray for his family and all they are experiencing as a result of his actions. May your kingdom break through in the midst of the pain, the broken systems, the racism and hatred that is triggered or lies under the surface. Guide the hearts and minds of government and community leaders who are making decisions related to this incident and the systems that allow these shootings to keep happening. May your peace be known.

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(Clinton Photo; Trump Photo)

Father, I pray for this woman and this man, made in your very image, and so loved by you that you gave your one and only Son to give them eternal life. I hold them in the light of your presence and love. May you guide their thoughts and words. I pray for every political candidate in the upcoming 2016 elections. May your kingdom break through in the midst of the divisive, vitriolic atmosphere that characterizes politics in our country. Let me be an example of love and kindness so that all will know I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.

May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

A Thanksgiving Day Prayer

Father in heaven, thank you for your transforming presence in my life and in the world. Without you, I could never live in the ways you are calling me to live. My own instincts lead me to hold grudges, seek vengeance, complain, criticize, and yield to fear. My heart, left alone, wants to pick fights, build walls, and be right instead of loving. Help me, by your power and grace, to see my family, friends, community, and the world with your eyes and perspective. Give me the courage to love, build up, forgive, rejoice, pray, give thanks, and hold on to what is good.

May it be so.

A More Intentional Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving Table
For years I’ve longed for a more intentional experience around the Thanksgiving table. Of course, catching up and telling stories can be meaningful and create long-lasting memories. But often, conversation devolves into politics, sports, and gossip about neighbors, co-workers, or other family members. We lose sight of why we’re gathered and who it is we’re thanking.  This year, I created (with some design help from my friend Jenna) a Thanksgiving table liturgy to help frame the table experience. The idea is that beautiful things can happen at the table when friends and family are gathered, but we often don’t know exactly how to turn our hearts to God or create a space that allows us to express our gratitude to Him and those gathered. The thing is, you don’t have to use the whole thing, you could just select the parts that you think will help those gathered with you–maybe just the discussion questions or the practice. Or maybe you are just looking for a Thanksgiving prayer. Anyway, to get the liturgy, just hit the link below, print out the document, and fold both pages in half.

May your Thanksgiving table be one at which holy and beautiful things happen, your friends and family leave feeling built up and encouraged, and our loving, gracious God is honored.

kellye

Thanksgiving Table Liturgy

Come to Me

Come to Me

Come to me.
Here I am.
Here is my burdened heart.
Here are my weary hands.

I will give you rest.
Carry me.
Breathe my breath.
Relieve this weight.

Take my yoke upon you.
Attach me to you.
Make my steps your steps.

Learn from me.
Open my eyes.
Show me how.

I am gentle and humble in heart.
Soften my edges.
Break down these walls.
Loosen my grip.

You will find rest for your soul.
Ease the anxiety.
Banish my fear.
Cover these wounds.
Unleash your love.

Practicing Bravery

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I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:3–6

Growing up I received the message that it wasn’t okay to say how you were feeling, when you were hurt, or what made you angry. This was all to be stuffed down to maintain a fragile peace and to ensure that you would continue to be loved. This approach to feelings has spilled over into every relationship I’ve ever had. About a year ago, God showed me that He longed to heal this wound in me. And as in all transformation, my participation was required. So, I began practicing bravery in relationships—sharing when I felt hurt, overlooked, undervalued, or angry—every now and then. “Practicing” because I wasn’t sure I could do it or that I’d like it. This practicing is one of my biggest life battles because God is asking me to do the thing that, for me, is the hardest thing.

This weekend while riding in the car, I off-handedly told my 15-year old daughter that something another person said had annoyed me. Even as I said it, I knew there was more to the feeling, but I left it at annoyance. By some miracle, she has not inherited my stuff-it-don’t-say-it philosophy, so she proceeded to tell me it annoyed her that I was so annoyed. She said she couldn’t understand why it mattered so much to me that the other person said what they said. He was just expressing his opinion.

I felt stung and like I was 12 again and my feelings were not valid and shouldn’t be shared. My face burned and my gut tightened.

My daughter’s words hung in the air between us, waiting for a response. Everything in me demanded I not speak and the more time that passed, the more hostile the silence became. I know this kind of silence well; it has been a pillar of my relationships. A full five minutes went by and the silence felt like being in the presence of an old friend. I could wait out the awkwardness and then move ahead as if this moment had never happened. I’d done this all my life. I had a bottomless storage tank in my heart for unexpressed feelings.

I glanced over at my daughter in the passenger seat looking out the window. I know she sensed the tension in this silence and probably began to believe that she had done something wrong—that she shouldn’t have shared her feelings with me. But she could not have known the battle raging in my mind and heart. It started to feel cruel not to say anything even after the hundreds of seconds that had passed since she spoke. It was an act of aggression to shut down. Panic rose in the back of my throat as I considered responding. I prayed, but not in words; it was mostly just silent heart groans.

I breathed deeply, kept both hands firmly on the steering wheel. “Here’s why what he said mattered so much to me: When I was a kid…” I recalled what had happened at least 25 years earlier and the feelings that had been triggered. She listened with all the love she has in her, which is enough to fill an ocean. She asked a soft question and when she did, relief rushed over me and light filled my soul. I did it! And I was okay. I was safe. She still loves me.

We have no idea the battles being waged in the hearts and minds of people around us. May we be gentle and gracious with each other. And may we be brave and open as God heals our wounds.

Words for Our Daughters and Sons

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Before your first breath
God planted deep within you
a longing to bring forth into the world
his goodness and grace,
crafted as you were by the hands of the master.

Oh, you must know that
before the foundation of the earth,
you were assigned the eternal task
of reflecting the beauty and life
that is yours alone in Christ Jesus.

Let it sink in –
you have a song, buried deep within
which was readied for release before you
knew the notes so the wondrous treasure
of the composer’s love would sound and stir
and move among the trees.

Release all your fear,
for you are God’s masterpiece–
his most beloved creation–
designed to breathe your unique version
of his love and compassion into a waiting world.

Out Wandering

Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.
(John 1:3-5, MSG)

Yesterday afternoon I went for a walk to get my body moving and clear my head. I’d spent five or six hours writing and needed to be outside in the air. I would never want to waste a moment, though, and so I scrolled through available podcasts to find a 30-minute talk. This way I could learn something along the way. Thirty minutes would amount to four laps around the neighborhood pond at a good pace.

About three minutes into my walk I did something I’d never done. I veered off the paved path into the damp grace and down to the reeds lining the water. From a distance, the pond seemed choked by dull browns and harbingers of winter—my least favorite season. But as I got closer, I discovered movement and breath and life. My eyes could not hold it all in a single glance. Every little detail demanded my attention—cottony puffs sprouted out of large seed pockets, tiny flowers peaked from seemingly dead stalks, golden grasses bent in the wind, a pocked beetle tiptoed across a tree stump, and wispy snowflake blossoms bathed in sunlight.

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I couldn’t help but touch these fall textures and as I kneeled to run my fingers along a prickly shoot, a grasshopper leaped across my hand, startling me to laughter. In that moment I realized how long it had been since I’d been out wandering, without a plan or stopwatch. I’d forgotten to be a stroller, or as the French would say, a flâneur—someone who wanders to notice the small and hidden wonders. Instead, I’d been walking on the path, trying not to get my shoes muddy. I’d been on a schedule, accomplishing things. I started to consider what else I might have missed, in my daughter’s eyes, a friend’s voice, or within my soul.

Oh, may we not forget to go out wandering to delight in the small and hidden wonders. Not one of them came into being apart from the divine hand. And may we not fail to notice His whispers within and between us for all the big things we are accomplishing.