Just Us

God blessed me with an amazing opportunity to start sponsoring a darling little girl through World Vision this week. I’ve been having a hard time deciding how to start this post and I think that’s it – the good that God creates where I cannot find any. There is a girl, a family, a community who will be shown the love of Christ through tangible good deeds and I get to be a part of that. I am amazed at how great He truly is and I think that’s what I am coming here with, what I am placing on the table to share, and what I am keeping all at the same time: He is good.

This post feels late to the party and I’d like to start off by saying I’m okay with that. I needed to take some time to process through the events of this week before sharing my thoughts with you. I think that’s fair. This is not me jumping on some sort of bandwagon. This is me still trying to fully understand what I am feeling and being vulnerable in sharing those feelings with you, so bear with me, please.

Earlier this week World Vision released a statement saying that they would not take a side in the Homosexuality vs. The Church issue and that they would allow their American branch to hire employees in same-sex marriages. I think that sounds completely reasonable. The evangelical world, however, was up in arms. It was deemed unfair for World Vision to do this to their sponsors. People began pulling sponsorships left and right and well known evangelists rallied for others to join them in doing so because heaven forbid we serve alongside people with whom we disagree. Thousands of children who were counting on these sponsorships for various life necessities were caught in the middle of a battle that shouldn’t exist in the first place and is in no way their fault. That is not fair.

Like the few other bloggers I have been able to find that are on the same page as me, I feel like I am reading a different Bible than these people. My Bible teaches unconditional love and faithful giving and it is so much better than what I am reading online this week. It brings a hope so much stronger than I think people are willing to share.

When did homosexuality become the end all be all of sin? That’s a boat I don’t recall getting on and I want off. I’m not even convinced it is a sin, but that is almost irrelevant at this point. The point is that there is no such thing as a sinner that cannot be redeemed, there is no such thing as a sin that Christ did not die for. The point is that this is not an us vs. them issue. At least, it shouldn’t be. This should be an us issue. That’s it, just us, because there is no them. This should be us, the Church, reaching out to the world and welcoming it with open arms, welcoming the world, the whole world, to be a part of the us.

Here’s my hope in this: God is unchanging. He knows every single person who has become involved in this issue – the people pulling sponsorships, the people adding sponsorships, the children they’re impacting, you, me – and He is working in all of our lives. I truly believe that.

He sent His son to die specifically for this issue. He died for the people on both sides and those caught in the middle. I truly believe that.

He brought His kingdom down to us so that we may have hope. He is good and loving and faithful. I truly believe all of that.

So this is not me abandoning my faith in any way. I want to make that clear.

I want the evangelism described in my Bible. I want the Church coming together, through disagreements, to reach the world, the whole world. I want us to work as one body to expand our family in Christ. I want to see people remembering who and what God died for. I want to see myself remembering that. I want to see myself actively praying for those who make me so angry. I’m at fault here, too, after all.

If this is how we’re going to react when we disagree, I’m not sure that’s something I can be a part of. If we are going to isolate people, if we are going to look past or over someone because we disagree with who they are, that’s not something I could ever be okay with. If we are going to continue to create a them where there isn’t one, I no longer want to be a part of the us.

I want off of this boat; I feel like it’s going under and I hate the ocean. I’m getting on the boat my Savior is steering because I feel safe in His control and this can’t be it.

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“The Bible” when translated from its original Greek literally means “The Books.” These are the books, the ultimate books, the ones that define the heavens, the earth, and everything in between. These are the books that define me, that have my name written between the lines because they were written for me. These are the books that, together, make up the ultimate love letter. I can’t imagine better words; I don’t know why I ever tried.

I don’t strive to even touch the beauty of the words that reside in that love letter, but I dream of God taking my hand and using it to build worlds. I want to write something that matters. And there was a period of my life when that was all I wanted to do. I loved writing and I got a lot of praise for it; it was just good. I auditioned for a creative writing program in my city. Long story short, I didn’t get in. And that was it, I was done. The negative thoughts began to creep in.

I am a failure.

Why did I think I would be good at something? It didn’t matter that, for years, people had told me my writing was good. It didn’t even matter that I had liked my writing before this point. That one rejection letter was a tangible reminder that I had failed. It didn’t matter that I had pretty much no control over the situation.

Abram’s wife, Sarai, tried for years to give him children. It wasn’t until she was ninety years old when God finally told them that she would bear a son. And she laughed. I imagine it was, at least somewhat, a nervous laughter. It was too late. And I imagine that she had shared my negative thoughts all those years in between.

I am a failure.

I based a lot of my value on the things I can’t control.

I had writer’s block for the next four years. I would take pen to paper, I would stare at it for a couple minutes, and I would leave it blank. I had lost my ability to even try and it was absolutely ridiculous. Staring at blank journal after blank journal – the ones that lined my desk because people thought I would use them – I looked into my inability to try and there it was again.

I am a failure. I think I’ll always kind of regret those blank years.

When Abram took his wife with him to Egypt he made her tell the Egyptians that she was his sister. Pharaoh took her to be his wife and when he realized what Abram had done he sent them away. At this point, if Abram and I were anything alike, he would have thought about how stupid he had been. And he, too, would have shared my negativity.

I am a failure.

I based a lot of my value on my mistakes.

When I finally could actually think of words, I wrote them down. But it wasn’t the same. I couldn’t share these words. If people read them, surely they would also realize I had failed. I have journals – a lot of journals – filled with thoughts that will never be shared, locked away by my fears. The same fears that accompany the negativity that has haunted me all these years.

I am a failure.

When Peter started to, by the grace of God, walk on water, he got scared and started to sink. He had one simple task, Take courage! Do not be afraid. But he wasn’t able to rid himself of the fear that comes from trying to remain in control. I imagine that after this experience Peter thought about renaming himself Simon because I imagine that he, at least for a minute, also shared my negative thoughts.

I am a failure.

I based a lot of my value on my fears.

But I am not defined by my struggles, my mistakes, or my fears. I am not defined by my failures. I am not defined by the pain of this world, but by the Kingdom that is coming down to it. And it’s that Kingdom that is helping me trade out those old thoughts for new ones.

I am loved.

I am beautiful.

I am worthy.

I am His.

There’s a lot I still don’t know. I don’t know why one letter held the ability to knock me down so far. I don’t know why I can’t do some things. I don’t know why I still have fear lingering in my mind, just waiting to attack. I still don’t completely know all of whatever lesson I was supposed to learn from all this.

God renamed all of them – Abram, Sarai, and Simon [Peter.] He redefined them according to what he saw in them. And he’s doing the same for me. There’s no turning back, even if I don’t exactly know what it will do to me.

I don’t know my name, but right now, that’s okay.

 

Blue

I have an unwanted talent of making everything way more complicated than it needs to be.

I don’t understand Abram. I don’t understand how he was able to make the things that are so complicated for me seem so simple.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go…” So Abram went.

That’s it. The Lord had said to Abram “Go,” so Abram went. He didn’t stop to pray about it or ask God if He is sure.

I can’t decide what color the sky is. I have this need to choose a specific shade of blue, as though it’s even my decision to make.

I’ve always been a little colorblind.

I am jealous of Abram. It doesn’t feel right. It stings my soul and it terrifies me, not because it turns me into someone I’m not, but because it shows who I am in my most broken state.

God says “Go,” so I stop. I look up at Him and plead “Are you sure?”

Go. But will you be there?

Go. But will you remember?

I have set my rainbow in the clouds.

A rainbow could not be a rainbow without all of the colors. It’s big and bright and always just out of reach. And when God set the rainbow in the sky that was life. It was big and bright and always just out of reach. We took away some of its colors – all of its colors – until it ceased to be a rainbow.

When God set the rainbow in the sky He promised to remember us. He will remember; I will forget.

I’ll look at the rainbow God has given me and I’ll take it. For a while I’ll try to keep it safe, but then I’ll let it get ripped apart. I’ll strip it of its color, of its beauty. That precious rainbow will be no more, murdered at my hand, and I will always need my Daddy to put it back together. The rainbow can’t be trusted in my hands.

When it breaks, I break. When its colors are stripped, so are mine. The rainbow cannot be when I am the one attempting to place it in the sky. That’s why I need You.

I need You to recognize the difference between who I was and who I am. I won’t always see it.

I need You because You know who I am and I don’t.

I need You because you love me when I don’t even understand what love means.

I need You because I have no words and you write them for me.

I need You because I will always forget and You will always remember.

I need You to paint the sky with your majesty. I need You to paint me like I never could.

I’ve always been a little colorblind.

The Tower of Babel

They said to each other, “Come.”

The world’s people, all moving as one, came together and they built. They built their own thrones.

Then they said, “Come.”

They named themselves. They defined their very souls. They reached and they reached and they reached. The sky seemed like it was always getting closer, as they made themselves higher. It was beautiful, right?

The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” – Genesis 11:6-7

Come, let us go down and confuse.

Why?

That’s where I always get stuck.

Why?

Why was it necessary to tear down the tower we built for ourselves? Why erase the beauty we created?

Because maybe there is some truth in a few cliches. Maybe beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe in a world full of blackness any shade of grey would be blindingly bright, but that doesn’t make it the sun.

They said to each other, “Come.”

But there was no movement. They didn’t come together, they were stuck together, and they attempted to piece together Comfort and Joy where they were foreign. They built their own thrones out of the golden lies that sheltered their childhoods.

Then they said, “Come.”

They defined themselves by who they were, not who they were meant to be. They never knew a difference. And I think that alone answers any why.

I build my own tower and He knocks it down before it’s tall enough to fall and hurt me. I get angry. I build it again. He knocks it down again. Again, I am furious. I question Him, “Why do you do this?” And he answers, “They never knew.” I realize the difference between them and me: They never knew.

They never knew the peace that is sitting in the arms of Someone enthroned in Truth.

They never knew their souls were called beloved.

The sky never moved for them, they just couldn’t comprehend its vastness.

And they never knew because they never questioned.

There it is. A question. The one thing we were never meant to have to face, that now guides us through every darkened alley. We were created in a world full of answers – a world full of so much truth the questions didn’t need to be. Sometimes I forget that things can be better, that things are supposed to be better. Sometimes I forget I’m not home.

How do I go home if I don’t know I’m gone? I don’t.

He comes to me and invites me back, but I stop to question Him before I go. “Why are you here? Who are you?”

That’s a question they never knew they could ask. They never knew their Savior; they never knew their way back home. They never went with Him because they never understood they were lost.

Confusion stops to greet me and I try to ignore it. It seems a little rough around the edges and I wonder what it wants with me. I expect it to attack me and it doesn’t, but it also doesn’t leave me alone. With every wrong turn I make it is there, pestering me Where are you? Confusion never seems content until everything lost is found.

We are beings made in a world full of possibilities, yet lost and wandering through the dark. Maybe, in this house we have built for ourselves – the one we forget isn’t home – confusion isn’t something God did to us, but rather something God did for us. Because He didn’t just leave it on our front porch and run.

No, the Lord said, “Come.”

The Olive Branch

In the same way the ocean’s waves don’t make it new but they drastically change the way we experience the waters, God’s word is never changing but it is always moving. That’s the amazing thing about God’s word, it is actually His living, breathing Word. God is always giving us something new to see and as I am rereading through Genesis, the beginning, I am experiencing a new beginning for myself and as much as this kind of terrifies my introverted, human heart to say, I cannot walk this journey alone. I am understanding things I never understood before. I’m seeing one God move throughout time and space, never contained and never changing but always moving.

I just read through the story of Noah’s ark, a story I thought I knew backward and forward. I mean, this is basic Sunday school stuff, right? Yet God still found something new to show me. I don’t know why I’m surprised when He does this anymore. I am like some of the smalls I work with – He could write my name over and over and I would still be amazed at the sight of the letters. In fact, God has written my name over and over. It has been written in His heart, in Heaven, in the book of life. And that will amaze me every time I think about it. It’s not that I see myself in this story, it’s that I see God working in my life. It’s that I see God caring about my name, about who I am.

Today, as a I read this passage, God kept bringing me back to one verse – Genesis 8:11:

When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.

Have you ever seen a tsunami? The way the waters are carried in and everything in its path is destroyed. Entire trees are knocked over. The floods in this story were great enough to destroy every human and animal on earth. It is greater than any tsunami we could ever imagine which means this: The amount of water that covered the earth should have destroyed plants along with everything else. I think it’s important to note the exclamation point in this verse because this truly is something worth exclaiming: That olive branch was impossible, yet there it was!

Hebrews 5:7 says this:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

The word supplication in its Greek form, ικεσίες, carries with it the meaning of extending an olive branch. I don’t think God would have used the same symbolism in both of these verses if they were not somehow related, so I have to assume that they are.

The olive branch symbolizes peace, specifically the peace offered to us by God. In the story of Noah it represents the mercy God had on Noah. It tells him that he is safe, that he can be at peace. It foreshadows what Jesus did on the cross for us and in Hebrews it reminds us of who we are in Him: An heir to the Kingdom, a child of God. He died so that we may have peace with the Father. He, the Prince of Peace, became the olive branch that extends between the heavens and the earth – between our brokenness and His perfection. The olive branch is there, waiting where the waters have receded for us to find enough faith to pluck it and know that we are safe.

Freedom

There are 25 verses in the second chapter of Genesis and I have been stuck on one word: free. There’s a truth in that one word I never noticed before.

When God created man, He created him to be loved. He created him to be cared for. He created him to have life abundant. When God told Adam to eat from any tree in the garden – except from the tree of knowledge of good and evil – it wasn’t just permission, it was a blessing. “You are free…”

In the New Testament the word “free” is used to describe the life of people who have accepted the Holy Spirit into their hearts. Here are some other verses about freedom, or being free:

John 8:32 – Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Romans 6:18 – You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

2 Corinthians 3:17 – Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Freedom in the Bible is associated with knowing God and having life abundant.

I think it’s interesting that this is the only use of the word free in the Old Testament. Because soon after we were given this freedom we turned away from it. We turned away from the life that can only be found in walking with God. We were no longer free to live because we turned our backs on the only source of life. We stayed enslaved to our ways – to our sin – until God came down to Earth to offer us freedom once again.

We were created to be loved. We were created to be cared for. We were created to have life abundant. That never changed. God has always wanted us to have all of that. And He came down from Heaven. He met us where we were and died so that we may live. He took on the debt needed to bring us out of our own enslavement so that we could be set free. That’s the Gospel found in that one word that God spoke in the beginning of life and He brought back the same Gospel to us thousands of years later with that same word.

Freedom. That’s what we are being offered. That’s what God has always wanted for us. And there is only one way for us to experience that freedom: Accepting Jesus as Savior, letting Him set us free. We were always meant to experience God. Let Him break our chains; we never needed them but we’ve always needed Him.

We are truly free when we are alive in Christ.

Thoughts on Lent

I know a lot of people fast from something during Lent and then proceed to tell the world about their decision. It seems almost like they’re bragging, that somehow by them giving up that one thing they have become better than those around them. But your fasting and your discipline to follow through does not somehow remove your human condition. You’re not better than anyone else. I’m not better than anyone else. I forget that sometimes.

Whatever I chose to give up is irrelevant. There are things I put before God. One of my favorite pastors says “When good things become ultimate things, ultimately good things become destructive.”  And I think that speaks a lot to why I participate in Lent – because in my human condition, I make good things destructive. While I fast from one thing I easily find something to replace it. Something that isn’t God. Giving up seems like such an easy concept that I cannot achieve on my own.

Actually, the fact that I chose to give something up at all has very little relevance. The first year I chose to give something up for Lent I did so because when I looked around me it seemed like that was what I was supposed to do. It had no meaning, no good purpose really. And even though I did it alongside others, I tried to succeed on my own and failed. When I rely on God rather than myself, that’s when I make it through.

And that makes sense. Lent really isn’t about what I can do, it’s about what He can do in my life. I didn’t die on a cross so that every single person who has ever and will ever walk this planet could be saved, He did. As much as I would love to be able to say that I would have, it’s just not true. I am not strong enough. I am not perfect enough. But because of his strength and perfection I am enough. I think that’s the point – not to prove my strength, but to demonstrate his and to walk in the light of His perfection.