Tag Archives: faith

Why the Church Needs to Throw More Parties

I have been curled up in a coffee shop for most of the morning. I have a list of things to do: thank you letters to write, papers to grade and emails to respond to. Each task warrants my attention, but the truth is I am distracted. My heart and mind feel mixed up and overwhelmed, like a dryer that keeps spinning around the same wet mess of clothes all jumbled up and intertwined. I have all of these ideas cycling through my head, but I can’t make sense of them yet.

Conferences have a way of doing this to me. They suck you in with thousands of great ideas and inspirational thoughts and then spit you out to sort through them all. blah.

Sorting Through

So now I am doing the sorting through, processing and thinking about. I spent two full days last week at Catalyst, a conference geared for church leaders, pastors and directors of non-profits— none of which entirely define me, but all which deeply affect me.

Perhaps the best part of the conference was that these people- these pastors, authors, media analysts, creative visionaries, artists and non-profit directors believe that there is hope for this next generation. They believe that the church has to change. And that excites me.

Hope for Change

I have been in the church for most of my life, but I have probably struggled more in the past year to fit in at a church. I sometimes wonder where is there room for a left-leaning, creative, passionate follower of Christ who wants to engage in dialogue not doctrine, and whole-heartily believes that we should spend more time loving people for who they are than lecturing them about right from wrong.

I confess: I know that I am young and I have a lot to learn, but I am seeking to understand and live like this man named Jesus. I am trying to make sense of this radical, subversive man who honored and acknowledged women in a culture where they lived as second-class citizens, who sough out and actually chose to spend time with the tax collectors, the sick and the marginalized. Jesus’ harshest judgments and warnings were for us; for me, the Pharisees, the church goers. What does that mean for me? For you? For the church?

Called to Love

I believe somewhere we have inadvertently taken authority to be the judge of people and society. I can’t remember where I read or heard this (so forgive me for not giving credit where credit is due) but it went something like this: God’s job is to judge, the Holy Spirit convicts and we are called to love. That’s it.

Andy Stanley, one of the speakers at the conference, challenged a room full of 3,000 leaders of this next generation, What if we lived this out? What if we embraced and preached and acted upon Jesus’ command to “Love one another.” In John 13 he says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” I have heard this passage numerous times, but I have never let it resonate and ring so clearly. Imagine if people knew Christians because of our love? I mean really imagine it–Imagine what our world would be like if people thought…hmm, I want to be a part of that church because they are so loving. Or imagine if people thought…wow, that person doesn’t agree with me, but they really love and care about me. This is radical. And it was radical back then in Jesus’ day and it still is 2,000 years later.

Reggie Joiner, the founder and CEO is of reThink Group, a organization that helps churches connect with this next generation, reminded us that the church is called to be like the father in the prodigal son story. Our job is welcome people, embrace them and shower them with love and forgiveness. This is where people meet Christ and this is how people change. People don’t change by shame and guilt, they change through relationships and love. He left us with this question: Where will people go when they have wandered away from the church? He added, “It’s not if, but when. Because the truth is we all know people who will or already have wandered away from church. It’s part of this generation’s process. But he challenged us “You want to be sure that they can wander back to your church to be welcomed and embraced.”

Just like the father in Luke 15 who when he saw his son far off he was “filled with compassion [so] he ran to him [and] threw his arms around him.

And then…

the story says that the Father threw his son a party. Yep, a party.

My hope is that church can throw a lot more parties in the years to come.



Filed under Faith & Culture

letting go and hanging on

Last night I celebrated the end of 2009 with my two, wonderful sisters, all dressed up and out for a night on the town. So it seems quite appropriate that I welcomed the beginning of 2010 with a lazy morning in my uggs, all curled up on the couch with absolutely no plans for the afternoon.

I am convinced that one of the reasons this time of year with all of its’ fancy festivities and holiday traditions is so hard for many people is because it comes with a lot of expectations.

Sometimes there are expectations that I call the “keep it the way it is” expectation. These are the desires to keep things the way they are simply because this is the way it’s always been. These are the people who hang on to the tradition and the routine just because. It’s seems a bit ironic, but expecting things to stay the same, the way they’ve always been, is still an expectation.

And then there are the other kind of expectations, the kinds that hope and imagine what it could be like it if only…(fill in the blank). I call these the “wouldn’t-it-be-great-if-it-could-be-like-this” kind of expectations. These are the people (ahem, yes me) who constantly are on the lookout for how to make things better or improved. These are the expectations that long for something new, something different.

But regardless of which camp you fall in, the reality is when there are expectations, there are also disappointments. Expectations lock you into a stand still and don’t leave much space for change or flexibility or…surprises.

I have been thinking a lot about expectations lately. I have always been one of those people that holds high expectations for myself, my job, my family and basically, for everything else in life. But often these expectations leave me just a tad bit disappointed and discouraged because nothing seems to quite measures up to my expectations, even myself. I honestly think sometimes it’s easier to go through life without having any expectations— and then anything that happens is better than you expected!

But I know it’s not quite that simple. At least not for me.

A friend of mine gave me this passage a few weeks ago. It’s an excerpt from Helen Cepero’s book Journaling as a Spiritual Practice. She describes the tension and limitations with expectations far better than I can:

“Understanding the difference between hope and expectation is critical if we are to allow our future to be shaped by God. Hope longs for good but is able to be flexible about how that good might appear. Expectation grasps at solutions and becomes easily attached to outcomes. When we are hopeful, our imagination and creativity flourish. But when we are locked into expectations, it is easy to turn our pictures of the possible future into an idol.”

“Expectations assume that everything will turn out as predicted…but sometimes our expectations must die in order for us to live in hope. When our expectations are dashed our prayer then needs to look toward the God who is not only with us but also is in front of us, forming a future that we cannot yet imagine happening out of our own effort”

I have started to ponder what expectations in my own life need to die in order for me to live in hope. It’s a humbling process, but one that I want to embark on during 2010.

This is my prayer for the year:

Lord, in my pride and insecurity I often take matters into my own hands. I try to create and build my future by my own effort, littered with my own expectations. I can become so attached to specific outcomes that I miss your mysterious presence walking with me in the process. I want my expectations to die, so I can live in hope.

May you too live in hope during the coming year.

Happy New Year!

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Tree Stumps

I went to a memorial service today for a friend’s dad , who died tragically in a plane crash earlier this week- absolutely, horrible. And then I got an email from another friend whose dad passed away just 10 days after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 33 days before her wedding. oh. These kinds of events leave me feeling raw, and heavy-hearted and sad. I think I naturally have lived with a life-works-out-for-the best-kinda-attitude, but sometimes it’s hard to see the best in situations likes these.

When you’re in your mid-twenties you don’t expect to have to bury one of your parents. Obviously, death seems untimely almost whenever it hits, but there is a kind of childlike faith and beauty about holding on to the belief that your parents are strong, brave and maybe even, slightly invincible. But that notion seems to fade away when you lose someone, especially a parent. Something changes when you are hit over the head with the sobering, shocking and surreal notion of loss.

I haven’t lost a parent, so I won’t even begin to explain the array of feelings that comes with that. But I know what it feels like to walk through the loss of a grandparent, and a dear friend that was taken too soon, or a lost hope or expectation. I’ve learned that you can’t qualify or quantify loss. Some loss is tragic and catastrophic other loss is daily agony and pain. You just can’t compare the two.

Jerry Sitster, wrote an incredible book about his own journey of loss and grief, called, A Grace Disguised. After he lost his mother, wife and two kids in a car accident he says, “Loss is loss, whatever the circumstance. All losses are bad, only bad in different ways. No two losses are ever the same. Each loss stands on its own and inflects a unique kinds of pain. What makes each loss so catastrophic is its devastating, cumulative, and irreversible nature.”

I left the memorial service thinking, now what? This is only the beginning- a memorial service is the first painful step in acknowledging the loss, but there are still months and years ahead of grieving a wonderful husband, a loving dad, a trusted doctor and a beloved friend.

I can’t but help think of a tree stump. When you lose someone it’s like a part of your life, maybe a part of yourself, has been cut down. It’s like all of the sudden part of you is missing. Almost as if there was this big, strong tree in your life and now you’re left with a stump. In the book, Sitser explains that every time he looked out into his garden all he could see was this stump that reminded him of what had been once there, and reminded him of who he had lost. And he says that the stump never goes away. The place that person had in your life and in your heart will remain. The challenge comes in the process of healing and rebuilding. How do you let the stump be there- naming the empty, longing and grief that accompanies it, but all the while trying to began to live life again? What does it look like to plant flowers of grace, hope and beauty around the tree stump that is loss?

There is not a simple answer. But maybe, just maybe there is some kind of grace that begins to grow out of our deep hurt and pain. I guess I have to put hope in the God whom I believe in, the God who weeps and hurts with us, and yet also wants us to experience His grace in unexpected ways. I wonder in pain and suffering and loss is there such a thing as A Grace Disguised?

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Searcing for God Knows What?

I don’t always finish the books that I start. (see previous blog confession) However, I just finished a reading a book that struck something inside—this delicate chord that sways between who I am and who I want to be. It named something for me that I have been wrestling with and questioning.

I have grown up surrounded by Christians. I have gone to church for as long as I can remember. I am a person of faith and I continue to learn what it means to be a follower of Christ. My faith has shaped who I am and how I think about the world and my place in it. I am nothing but grateful for my parents and siblings and friends and professors who have loved me, prayed for me, challenged me and graciously, given me room to change.

In recent years, especially since college, I often come back to this question “What does it mean to claim to be a Christian in a society where the word “Christian” often has such a negative connotation?” I sometimes sit and cringe when I hear certain right-wing political commentators claim to know God’s agenda and I am often embarrassed by televangelists on TV who profess this cheezy, game-show host kind of a God. I don’t know these men and women personally, so maybe they really love God and love people, but sometimes I am sad that they become the image that people conjure up when thinking of a Christian. And I get angry when Christians spend the sum of their energy talking about the two hot-button issues; gay marriage and abortion. I don’t understand how Jesus’ message of “love God with all of your heart, soul and mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself” gets reduced so quickly to two issues. I just don’t get it. I write hesitantly on this topic, because I know it can lead to heated arguments with pointed fingers and hurt feelings, none of which is my intent. But I write, nonetheless, to acknowledge what I am learning and thinking and to be true to who I am. It feels a little risky because I know some may misunderstand me or misjudge me, but I guess that goes with the territory of publicly posting your personal opinions on the internet : )

Donald Miller articulates it better than I can in his book, Searching For God Knows What? He writes, “The person who believes the sum of his morality involves gay marriage and abortion alone, neglects health care and worlds trade and the environment and loving his neighbors and feeding the poor.”

When I read parts of the gospels and look at the life of Jesus, I am continually amazed at the life he lived- he was a radical, who believed in peace and truth and not buying into the expected norms of the day. He spent time with the marginalized and the poor, he ate with prostitutes and tax collectors. He challenged the Pharisees and the religious leaders. He loved people—all people. It wasn’t about “us” versus “them,” or proving people wrong. He asked questions. And listened. And loved.

In church today my pastor spoke from a passage in John 11. It’s a story that most people at some point in life can identify with; it’s a story about two mourning sisters and a dead brother. It’s a story of pain and grief and of a God who offers healing and hope. One of the most poignant verses is verse 35. “Jesus wept.” It’s so simple and yet I sat in church, filled with emotion, and thought what would happen if our society saw this Jesus- a Jesus who weeps with us in times of pain and grief, a Jesus who empathizes with our longings and desires and more than anything wants to bring us healing and hope and redemption. I started thinking what would happen if as a Christian, I truly lived a life where I wept and empathized with people.

Some of the men and women I admire most in this world are not famous authors or speakers or Nobel Prize winners, but they are family and friends, who have chosen to live how Christ lived.

One of my friends shares a meal with homeless men and women while they get access to medical care every Wednesday night. Another friend has chosen to not to raise her standard of living, so whenever she gets a raise at work she gives that money away. I have been inspired by a family who recently planted a city garden and are now advocating for more sustainable food sources in our city. I’ve watched a dear friend who spends time with an international student to help her feel welcomed and comfortable in a new country. I have a friend in law school who is studying Spanish and pursing her law degree so she can advocate and defend immigrants and minorities who are treated unjustly. And I could go on…

These are people who call themselves Christians. It almost seems too simple: they love God and love people. I sometimes wish that when our society heard the word “Christian” they would think of these men and women. People aren’t perfect, no one is. Christians, Muslims, Agnostics, Catholics, we are all bound to make mistakes. But I am learning that if I claim to be a Christian, someone who wants to follow Christ, then I want to be someone who tries to live generously and patiently, someone who is quick to forgive and willing to listen, someone who takes care of creation and advocates for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

As I continue to struggle to keep this at the forefront, to make it not just an ideal but an actuality, I am reminded of a verse in the book of Micah:

“And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

This is my prayer for today.

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