Behold, Another Review

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“Here’s the bottom line: Jesus loves lost people. He wants us to love lost people too.

We worry about trying to build intentional relationships with non-Christians: Will we understand one another? Will we offend them? How uncomfortable will it be?

“Jesus regularly ate with sinners—people in need of God, just like you and me. Why? Because Jesus longed to eat with them in heaven.

The incredible journey of following Jesus involves sharing who he is while sharing our lives with others. Over food and drink, through conversations filled with stories and insights, people come to know the love of God and the hope of salvation.

Eats with Sinners shows you how to let down your guard so God’s love can flow through you and get across the table to your non-Christian friends. They’ll taste and see that the Lord is good as you invite them to one day feast with Jesus in heaven.”

The book Eats with Sinners by Arron Chambers is a story-based expository work in the genre of Christian Ministry and evangelism. It pursues the themes of the example of Jesus’ ministry, His outreach to the lost and lonely of the world, and of how He’s called Christians to follow in His footsteps today. Chambers addresses the pitfalls of modern Christianity, and seeks to highlight ways in which Christians can more wholeheartedly live a life of loving the lost.

A couple of things that made this book enjoyable for me as a reader:

The first thing is the message. The message of the book was, as per the synopsis, “Jesus loves lost people, and He wants us to love lost people too.” Chambers presented a very uncomplicated approach to loving the people who have not excepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and sought to challenge the reader to pursue this approach: invite hurting people into your life, and love them, and God will do the rest.

The second thing is the applicability. Chambers’ message made its way into my day-to-day thinking and applied to my immediate circumstances, and as I read I began to look for and find ways to be friends to the people in my life in desperate need of Christ. This has been very freeing, and has reminded me of how I am merely meant to be a conduit through which God works in the lives of others, and I am not God Himself.

And the final thing is the testimony of it all. Chambers bases much of his book off of stories of how people came to Christ, how God has used his life and the lives of those in his church to bring people to Christ, and illustrative stories from the news and from personal experience that provided both humor and relatability.

A couple of things that made this book difficult for me as a reader:

The first thing is the structure of it all. While the message was important, the purity of it felt hindered by the way the book was set up. Chambers included block quotes that often disrupted the flow of the book, and even the way the stories were inserted to prove his point sometimes made the point difficult to follow. Many people can read past a convoluted structure to see the true message, absolutely, but the book would’ve been all the more enhanced if the writing itself had been more organized.

The second thing is the delivery. This seemed like much more of a frustrated rant as opposed to a thought and pointed challenge. Chambers often pointed out how the church has failed in loving lost people, and he often seemed like he was puffing himself up and not showing the reader the personal ways he has failed on his journey to love people, which was certainly not the intention behind his writing the book, and he sought to make the disclaimer of not hating the church, etc. Unfortunately, I don’t think the disclaimers did anything to soften the tone, or to communicate humility. So, Chambers desired to challenge people to love lost people, but his tone and the way he said things as though they were obvious made it difficult not to judge or criticize his method and lose the message altogether.

The third thing is the range of depth. I feel like so many of the points made by Chambers could’ve been expounded upon so much more. I feel like he tried to communicate so many big things in  such a small space, and yet I also felt like, after the first three chapters, he was saying the same thing, simply in different ways, and part of me felt like I’d understood the crux of the book halfway through it. That being said, the conclusion could have been stronger as well. I kind of felt like the book just ended, like it was getting too long and needed to end and didn’t have room to properly climax and then leave a strong impression on the reader in its descending points.

Despite the criticisms, the message is seriously important, and is something I don’t think Christians can hear enough, or, I certainly can’t hear it enough. I would recommend this book to you if you’re particularly desirous of changing how you follow Christ, getting outside of your comfort zones, and learning what it looks like to eat with sinners.

About the Author:

ARRON CHAMBERS is the lead minister of Journey Christian Church in Greeley, Colorado. He is a contributing editor for Christian Standard, a coach, an inspirational speaker to thousands of people each year, the husband of a lovely wife, and the father of four beautiful kids.” (From the back of Eats with Sinners).

“Who is Arron Chambers? Lead Minister of Journey Christian Church in Greeley, Colorado, Author, Husband of a Lovely Wife, Father of Four Kids, Evangelism Champion, Leadership Consultant, Marriage Coach, and Blogger.”

Also, if you’d like to know more about Arron Chambers, behold, I present thee with the links to both his blog and his church website 🙂

Blog: https://mylordandmyblog.wordpress.com/

Church: http://journeychristian.org/?view=mobile

 

*A complimentary copy of this book was given to me by Tyndale Press.

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The One About Pre-Deployment Leave…

Jake was given seventeen days of leave before deployment. We’d spent six days at my family’s house, and then six days with the proper Brocks, all in Central NY.  The final five days we spent in Oak Island, NC, in a rented beach house only an eighth of a mile from the Atlantic Ocean.

The time in New York was a test for me, but a really relaxing one, if that makes any sense. Basically, God was challenging me to love. That sounds weird, but what I mean is that He was challenging me to not take control, to not try to challenge or fix people, but to just serve, love, and submit to them as to Christ…And it felt really good. There were a few difficult times of doing so, like when my little brother Jimmy fought with Mom over something, and I wanted to jump in and mediate and instruct, and was led to instead let Mom be the mom. But most of the time, God brought about deliberate and challenging conversations without my even trying…imagine that. God also answered a prayer I had prayed while at my family’s house, for God to help me to not think poorly of someone else just because they were different than I, or because they don’t socially fit in to the mold of the world. And then a conversation on the front porch of the proper Brock house with Aunt Lori and Uncle Doug broke me down, and made me realize that half of my problem lately is that I have not yet really been vulnerable with the people around whom I live my new life.

This past Sunday was our final day of leave. We cleaned up the beach house, packed, and checked out. And then we headed down the road for church.

So, church this Sunday was different for me and Jake. When we’d initially driven through Oak Island, we saw a white church labeled as “Evangelical Presbyterian,” and it piqued our curiosity, though I don’t know why. The idea of denominations has been the thing that’s burdened and confused me most lately about the Church, and the thing that’s caused the most “disturbance in the force” of my mind concerning unity. Why are there denominations? Are they necessary? Do they represent disunity? Or is it something else? If we’re all following Christ, then is it possible for us to be ultimately united by the Gospel and not pay attention to all of the other differences, but still have denominations?

My conclusions are slowly moving in the direction of the last statement…but I have not yet arrived.

Anyway, Jake and I wanted to see what this was like. The only experience I have of the Presbyterian denomination is when I attended a few services and even debates held at Tim Keller’s church, Redeemer, located in Manhattan, New York City. The service at Redeemer was typically more liturgical than I was used to, but not unbiblical. Edward, one of the people with whom I attended, mentioned that the main doctrinal issue with the Presbyterian denomination was their belief in the baptism of infants and the practicing of “reformed faith.”

Jake and I parked in a shaded area away from the main lot, so that our black car wouldn’t fry in the sun while we were inside. We were early, and so we sat there for a few minutes in silence. I already felt a spirit of judgment, criticism, and pride creeping into my heart. Regardless of the denomination and their biblical stance, there’s no place in God’s Word that says He accepts or caters to those attitudes. He is in fact opposed to the proud (James 4:6).

I realized then that I had not yet prayed for the service I was about to attend. A couple of months ago, I was convicted on not praying for the service and instead judging the things I believed to be wrong with it. Since then, I’ve been praying for the service each Sunday before the service actually happened, whether it’s at All American Chapel, First Baptist Church of New Berlin, or even this Evangelical Presbyterian service. So I started praying aloud.

Immediately the desire to judge and criticize was gone, and half of the things I was thinking about that caused me to feel judgmental evaporated. I could finally focus. I should be pursuing unity with all eagerness (Ephesians 4:1-3). Though this doesn’t mean I turn a blind eye to false doctrine, it does mean that I learn to distinguish between things that are actually wrong and things that are merely matters of conviction, preference, or interpretation.

Jake and I walked between the tall white pillars outside the church and into the red-carpeted foyer, the red stretching further into the wide and spacious sanctuary. The walls were all white, like the exterior, and at the front of the sanctuary, behind the elevated pulpit, was a choir loft. On either side of the choir loft was an organ (to the left) and a grand piano (to the right). The sanctuary was small, about the size of and with a layout similar to that of my hometown church.

When I saw the organ, I swallowed hard. Out of all of the instruments created by the hands of man, reflective of the genius and creativity of their Maker, the organ is my least favorite…to me it’s overwhelming, overbearing, and painful to listen to. Thankfully, this distaste for the poor instrument has never prevented me from truly worshiping God, since it is, after all, merely an instrument, and it is, after all, merely my preference.

We sat in a pew about four rows from the front, among a few elderly couples. We would quickly see the sanctuary fill up with the same sort of people, all of whom would be dressed in pastels, mostly browns, purples, whites, and yellows. We soon learned that the pastor’s name was Walter Taylor, the pianist/organist’s name was “Squeaky,” and the sermon was on Romans 6:15-23.

The hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” was accompanied by the organ, and then we all recited the Lord’s Prayer. This was followed by a recitation of what this congregation called “Confession of Sin,” and is basically exactly what it sounds like. The confession was printed in the church bulletin.

The first part of it cut me to the core as I spoke the words, simultaneously praying through their meaning and what they mean to the people around me, and if all of what we’re doing was doctrinal, biblical, right, and good.

“O Lord our God,” it began, “we remember our sins before you; we cast ourselves upon your compassion. Be merciful to us sinners. We have not loved you, our Father, with all our heart; we have been unfaithful to our Lord Jesus Christ, our Shepherd and Head; we have grieved the Holy Spirit, the guarantee of our inheritance. We have not been pure and holy; we have not been faithful and true; we have been entangled in the world and overcome of evil.”

Woah…ouch…I mean, yeah, this is true…O Lord, yeah…”We have not loved you…we have been unfaithful….we have not been faithful and true…” Granted, my state before God is secure, and my adoption into His family for eternity has not changed and never will, but I still sin, and there is no room for me to defend myself against these confessions. At some point, during some time, I have not loved God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Thankfully, the second part of this “Confession of Sin” brought my attention back to my complete redemption, forgiveness, and guaranteed place in the affections of my Father.

The line in the second half that took me out of the moment of confession, however, was a line that echoed David’s cry to God when he’d sinned with Bathsheba, “take not your Holy Spirit from us,” (Psalm 51:11). While I know I’ve had times of darkness when, out of ignorance, I’ve begged God for this same thing, God does not take His Spirit from people any longer. The Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14), or, to put it in Jess Snyder terms, the Spirit is God’s engagement ring, given to us as a promise of marriage. God will not take His Holy Spirit from the one He’s now saved and claimed for the rest of eternity.

I don’t know if the intent of this cry to God was meant to suggest that this body believed the Holy Spirit, our Engagement Ring, could be taken away from us because of sin. It could have been written in there for the exact reason I might ignorantly and emotionally and fearfully pray for the same thing. Or, maybe they do believe this, which could, maybe, kinda sorta be a big problem.

 

I won’t go deeply into the rest of the service, but (excuse me while I start going deeply into the rest of the service) I will say that the sermon was challenging, and God used it in more ways than one to clear up a lot of confusion that I hadn’t recognized as confusion. Like, the Westminster Shorter Catechism that reads “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” As I’ve come across this again and again, I’ve seen it as somehow incomplete. During this sermon, since it came up as Pastor Taylor spoke on “You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody,” I think I concluded my thoughts on it: I’d only been looking at the statement through a filter of how it could be abused to be stagnant and not actually pursue glorifying God at all. If I were to use it as an excuse to be stagnant (i.e., not pursue obedience, or follow God, etc. and just do what I wanted to), then I don’t really understand what it means to glorify God in the first place. But if everything I do and think and say and feel is filtered through “does this glorify God? Does this encourage me to enjoy and better understand Him?” then I have the entirety of Scripture summarized in a single sentence. God does call me to love Him will all my heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-38). This calls on my internal self to be so in line with and sold out to God that I am loving nothing else, and so therefore my actions follow suit. I cannot glorify God without enjoying (loving) Him, and I cannot love (enjoy) God without glorifying Him.

….Hopefully all of that makes some kind of sense. It felt like a big deal to me 😛

After church, Jake and I walked around Southport for the afternoon, going into different shops and gazing through store fronts. The sun brightened as the afternoon came to replace the morning, and a spring breeze broke the heat every now and then. We bought a porcelain mug with a blue crab painted on the front from a store called “Duck, Duck, Goose,” and I found myself thanking Jacob for loving me.

We eventually stopped at a bistro called Deborah’s Place. Stepping through the door, we were met by a cool darkened room with a bar to the right and a glass-tabled seating area to the left. Our hostess had long beach-blond hair with the salt water waves to boot, draped over a white peasant blouse and black slacks. We were seated in the back of the restaurant, near the kitchen. Each of the tables had a piece of a world map squared off and pressed between the table surface on the bottom and a glass square on the top. Our piece of map was Afghanistan.

Our waiter came up to us, and I felt immediately thrown into battle mode. Now, this isn’t to say that I felt the need to fight the waiter, or really to fight anyone except the enemy. Our waiter’s name was Cameron, and he spoke in a masculine-toned voice, but as if he were a woman. He used mannerisms and language that echoed of Southern hospitality, though typically from southern belles. Yes, our waiter was transgender, and trying very hard to interact with us as if he were a woman.

So, when I said “battle mode,” the suggestion was not that this person was my enemy, or that I must now fight the sin in him. For me, it was more a realization that God loves this man, and He desires that his identity be found in Him, and not in his gender…But the temptation was to be so appalled by the sin that the sinner was virtually invisible, and therefore unlovable. And the enemy came in immediately to throw hate at this person loved and meant to be purchased by the blood of the Son. And as the hatred of sin and the sin of pride met in my heart, I struggled a lot.

I remember back in Brooklyn, when Kat, Bree, and I were consistently meeting up with the Navigator ministry over at NYU, that this topic of LGBT came up a lot, specifically the question of how we love them without compromising the truth. Where is the line between not causing unnecessary offense and accepting/condoning practices that God doesn’t agree with? Do we call them by their pronouns/desired gender names, or do we call them by the names on their birth certificates and by their actual gender? And how do we help heal the injuries inflicted by other Christians, saying that God hates them and will never accept or love them because of this choice?

Jake and I interacted with Cameron out of love, smiled and treated him as if he were any other person. God worked out the kinks in my heart and overcame the lies. The food was delicious, and we were served very well. We talked more about the sermon, about Jesus, about deployment. We made sure to tip well, as we always try to do (We think it’s a bad testimony to have conversations about Jesus in restaurants and then tip poorly). And then we left.

We ended our time at a coffee shop called Port City Java, where we read Deuteronomy together, and I prayed over the thoughts God brought into my heart from the sermon, from the time at Deborah’s Place, and from all the things He’s pulling at, moving, and bringing about.

Leave is over now, and there’s only about a week and a half before Jake deploys for nine months…Yes, I am a mess, and I’m feeling very pathetic. But this is not without hope, without excitement of all that God is going to do through us, in us, and around us, as we try—pathetically and quite clumsily—to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

“The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted, you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.” (Psalm 10:16-18)

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This Is That Book Review I Told You Was Coming…

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“WHAT HAPPENED TO BRIGITTE BERTHOLD?

The question has haunted Daniel Knight since he was thirteen, when he and ten-year-old Brigitte escaped the Gestapo agents who arrested both their parents. They survived a harrowing journey from Germany to England, only to be separated upon their arrival. Daniel vowed to find Brigitte after the war, a promise he has fought to fulfill for more than seventy years.

Now a wealthy old man, Daniel’s final hope in finding Brigitte rests with Quenby Vaughn, an American journalist working in London. He believes Quenby’s tenacity to find missing people and her personal investment in a related WWII espionage story will help her succeed where previous investigators have failed. Though Quenby is wrestling her own demons—and wary at the idea of teaming up with Daniel’s lawyer, Lucas Hough—the lure of Brigitte’s story is too much to resist. Together, Quenby and Lucas delve deep into the past, following a trail of deception, sacrifice, and healing that could change all of their futures.”

The novel Catching the Wind by Melanie Dobson is a historical fiction novel with strong themes that speak of the Christian romance genre. This book mainly addresses the heart-wrenching aches of abandonment, and seeks to satisfy the longing for redemption, reconciliation, and reunion.

A couple of things that made this book enjoyable for me as a reader:

The first thing is the plot structure. I really appreciated how the different threads woven throughout the story ended up being connected in the end. While it seemed too neat of a connection at times, I still think it’s cool that there were no loose ends, every puzzle piece fit at the conclusion, even though the threads all seemed separate in the beginning.

The second was that there was heartache, scandal, and pain. What I mean by this is that there is sometimes a stereotype of Christian fiction that it presents itself as unrealistic: the stories aren’t as messy as real life. And yet Dobson did a brilliant job of including broken marriages, affairs, unforgiveness, betrayal, and other difficult themes to give the story the depth of reality.

The third thing was the history. The historic aspects of the story were really educational. I learned a ton about the London Blitz and about the tragedy faced by so many during the war. I was totally unaware of the existence of Hutchinson Camp, smack dab in the middle of Douglas, on the Isle of Man. Throughout my primary education, I hadn’t been really informed of all of England’s part in the war, and Dobson successfully piqued my interest in this part of world history.

A couple of things that made this book difficult for me as a reader:

The first thing was the writing. There was a lot of telling but not a lot of showing. I didn’t feel like I had to work to figure out the story because all of my questions were answered for me through Dobson’s exposition laid out in Quenby’s mind. I think that if Dobson put more of what Quenby was thinking into dialogue with the other characters, it would’ve been a more challenging read. As in, I would be having to figure out Quenby’s wounds and difficulties and values instead of her just telling me everything, and in the end, when Dobson would seek to expose big things about Quenby, I would’ve either enjoyed my success at “figuring out” Quenby, or I would’ve grown through my misinterpretation. There were also several times when the point of view shifted that were awkward and distracting because the shift was inconsistent.

The second thing was Lucas and Quenby’s relationship. I don’t feel like two weeks together was enough time for them to bring in romantic love, at least not when it seemed like Quenby was meant to seem so averse to getting close to anyone…I feel like Lucas would’ve had to work a lot harder. Also, there were times when Quenby thought through how she didn’t care about Lucas’s opinion, or stated that he’d have to gain her trust, or mentioned that he was annoying and that there was nothing between them, and these thoughts came up really often, as if Quenby were convincing herself of them as well as trying to convince the reader, when, in reality, the very fact that convincing was needed suggested that the opposite was true: she likes Lucas from the beginning, she doesn’t find him annoying, she’s trusting and depending on him already and freely.

The third thing was the presence of faith. I don’t feel like faith carried as much weight in the story as Dobson desired. While the gospel of Jesus Christ was brought in at both the most heart-wrenching and the most casual of moments in the book, faith didn’t really seem that important to any of the characters. Brigitte seemed to be the most faith-driven character in the book, and yet we’re not privy to her relationship with Jesus before she gets to England. I feel like for some characters the presence of faith in their lives could’ve been removed and nothing would have changed. If Dobson’s intention was to make faith central to the book, then I would’ve appreciated seeing more of the small ways Quenby and Lucas operated out of their relationship with Christ, and more of the big ways they sought to obey Him. I think I wanted their faith to be central to their lives, when it didn’t seem that way at all, but came off more as seeing Jesus as their Savior, but not necessarily as their Lord.

Despite the criticisms, I would recommend this book if you’re looking for a wild journey through the history of friendship between two old souls, for a realistic look at the suffering of war victims, and a walk through the transformation of being wounded and then finally, after so long, being healed.

About the Author:

“Writing historical and time-slip fiction is really just an excuse for Melanie Dobson to explore ghost towns, interview fascinating people, and spend hours reading old books and journals.

Melanie is the award-winning author of fifteen historical romance, suspense, and contemporary novels. Three of her novels, Chateau of SecretsThe Silent Order and Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa, have received Carol Awards, The Black Cloister was named the ForeWord Religious Fiction Book of the Year, and Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana won best “Fiction of Indiana”.

Melanie met her husband, Jon, in Colorado Springs, but since they’ve been married, the Dobsons have relocated numerous times with Jon’s work including stints in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Colorado, Berlin, and Southern California. Along with their two daughters, Karly and Kiki, they now enjoy their home in the Pacific Northwest. The entire Dobson family loves to travel and hike in both the mountains and along the cliffs above the Pacific, and they enjoy serving together with the orphan care ministry in their church.Melanie received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Liberty University and her master’s degree in communication from Regent University. Prior to her writing career, she was the corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family and the owner of Dobson Media Group.

When Melanie isn’t writing or playing with her family, she enjoys teaching fiction writing, line dancing, and reading historical novels.”

If you’re interested in knowing more about this author, behold, I present thee with a link to her blog 🙂

http://melaniedobson.com/blog/

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Die to the Bench to Walk on the Sidewalk

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:16-18)

Jake and I attend All American Chapel on post at Ft. Bragg. This is has been a really cool experience thus far 🙂 Because so many of the members of this congregation are constantly moving, adapting, and cycling through because of the uncertainty of military schedules, it is a great challenge to get to know the people around me before they leave, or even before I might leave. It’s also big…or, it’s bigger than my small town church growing up 🙂 Jake and I have a personal challenge of getting to know one new person each Sunday, and we’ve met, been challenged by, and been able to challenge and love several people we might not have interacted with otherwise.

Another cool thing that has come of this was a challenge to actually pray for the service. So, I’d already been praying for the chaplains, but there was one Sunday where the congregation was challenged to pray for the whole service. That convicted me; I’d been coming in on Sunday mornings, struggling with judging people (as I wrote last post) for whatever reason, and not really knowing how to combat the false perceptions. Oh, right, I can pray for the actual service. Instead of judging the people around me, I can bring them and their work in the service before God and trust that He’ll change my heart towards them as well as enhance the entire service. How cool!

What I have found as I’ve spent the last few months taking time to pray for the services, is that my heart has changed, so that worship is more valuable and more fulfilling, so that finding application, challenge, and encouragement from the sermons is much more at the forefront of my mind, and it’s much easier to be eternally-minded towards the people I talk to after the service, whereas before I struggled much more with judging them for not being exactly like me. It is easier to love those in the service and the congregation for who they are now, as opposed to waiting for them to become what I desire them to be.

Right now the chaplains are taking the congregation through the book of James. I’ve never done a study of James before…I’ve certainly read through the book, but never quite studied it. At the end of last Sunday’s service, the chaplain gave us homework. Yes, gave us homework (It was so exciting :D). It was this:

  1. Pull out a commentary on James
  2. Look up the song “I ask the Lord that I might grow”  (This is really cool…basically, we often ask for God to grow us by way of giving us rest from our sins, but it’s often the case that instead of giving us rest from our sins, He makes us painfully aware of just how sinful we are, so that He can get us humble enough to actually grow…dang)
  3. Pray for the chaplains

But all of this is merely to introduce you to why I started out this post with James 3:16-18.

The context of the passage is “I (James) know you know, but do you (the twelve tribes) practice it,” which I think (I think) means that the readers are understood to already know what “wisdom from above” looks, now the challenge is for them to live like they have that wisdom. And that’s really the push throughout the book of James: don’t just sit on the comfortable bench of knowledge, but walk on the sidewalk of works, of action, of obedience. In 3:13 it says “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” The rest of the passage all the way to the end of the chapter draws a line between what is wisdom from above, and what ways are “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (v.15).

When I first started memorizing and meditating on James 3:16-18, the circumstances of my life suddenly made a ton of sense. I was acting from a place of jealousy and selfish ambition, which OF COURSE brought about disorder/confusion/chaos (every vile practice wasn’t necessarily present, but it could’ve gotten there eventually). Now, as we’re walking through James in chapel, the relevance of the passage has not changed. And the characteristics listed after introducing “wisdom from above” were what I wanted. I wanted and still want to know what it means to be “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” The three things that stick out to me the most are being “open to reason,” “full of mercy,” and “impartial.”

“Open to reason.” In my own life, I’m looking at this as how I handle emotional situations. This is a constant battle for me, and is always a way for me to practice and train depending on the objective Truth of God’s Word, of God’s desire, and depending on my relationship with and standing before Him. It is an exercise in discipline for me to push aside emotions, no matter how well-founded or valid I believe they are, to actually see what’s going on. “Open to reason” sounds a lot like not being beside myself with emotion or blinded by my own pride or naivety, but instead being sober-minded, and able to take criticism for what it is, able to see the logic in godly matters, and able to hear the wise counsel of others.

“Full of mercy.” There are a lot of times when my critical spirit gets in the way of genuinely loving other people, both inside and outside the Church. Mercy is not getting the punishment (esp. that of the eternal nature) what you deserve, or not giving someone what they deserve (concerning punishment). First of all, there’s a struggle of self-righteousness and judgment in my heart, where I play God and determine what is right and what is wrong. Which of course in and of itself is wrong. On top of being anti-gospel, this mindset leaves no room for mercy, no room for grace or a willingness to pardon or discerning wisdom to figure out which situations require mercy as opposed to punishment. Now, there’s the other extreme (opposite to constant criticism and judgment) of being a pushover, and allowing fallacy, deceit, and other things that are meant to be addressed to instead go by without question, which is unhealthy for both me and whoever is stuck in the fallacy etc. But I think “full of mercy” is listed as characterizing the “wisdom from above” because wisdom involves some level of discernment, so that someone who is full of mercy is always ready to give it, but knows when it would be more beneficial to hold it back.

And then finally there’s being “Impartial.” This one I think is and will be the most difficult, because it’s the one that I’m least aware of. Preferences and biases are so ingrained in me that I can’t often sift through what is preference and what is actual principal, or Truth. These would be the methods, visions, traditions, ways of teaching, ways of learning, etc. that I mentioned in my last post. Thankfully, however, I do have Christ, who is impartial, objective, and completely right. The idea, as I believe He designed it, is that as I learn to be loved by and love Him evermore completely, I become more like Him, less partial and stuck in my own preferences, and able to instead discern between what is a hard and fast Truth, and what is merely what I’m used to.

Speaking of Jesus 🙂 It was a while ago that I realized I could give all of my emotions over to Christ and He was able to balance and had always wanted to be the One to balance out my emotions. He has always been the objective, constant point in the midst of the chaos of my mind to hold me fast and bring the world back into focus. The best thing about being convicted by this passage is that it also comes with hope, hope for change in myself that God has promised. He has not started changing me simply to leave me where I am. His intention is to lovingly and thoroughly make me like His Son (2 Corinthians 3:18), and He will complete that work (Philippians 1:6).

I wonder what I will look like as I grow in these things, wonder how they’ll change how I see my God, and I wonder how they’ll affect the Christians around me. I wonder, as I seek to walk with God in these things that I think I understand and that I desire my heart to be characterized by, what will come up. It will be cool 🙂

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

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Don’t Stop the Madness

 

As I sit down to write this post, I’m mentally running through how each group of people reading this may or may not respond to whatever I write. Some of the imagined responses contribute to my pride. Others contribute to my fear. The extent to which this process of thinking affects my actions is deep enough that some people would say I have anxiety…frankly, it’s not anxiety; my thoughts go to this place because I’m selfish, overly-concerned with what people think to the point of being tempted to compromise truth, namely truth about God and about how He sees me, and because the enemy is taking a desire to humbly consider others and twisting it.

I want to talk about confusion, and how the enemy uses it to divide, enslave, and brew chaos in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:33, Ephesians 4:11-16, 5:6).

I want to talk about the need for unity in the Body of Christ, not just the local assemblies, but the universal Church…all of it (John 13:34-35).

I want to talk about the problem of selfishness that all humans are inclined to struggle with until we live in eternity with Jesus (Numbers 15:39).

And I’m frustrated because there will be many readers who’ll read whatever I say on those topics and think, “Amen! That really does need to happen!” all while they sit in judgment and unnecessary criticism towards their brothers and sisters in Christ over traditions, methods, experiences, ways of learning, ways of teaching, worship, communion, vision, and a host of other things that ought not to be issues in the Body…and, if they are issues, they ought to be handled in love and out of an eagerness to maintain and pursue unity, of course not at the cost of compromising the Truth of God’s Word, but yes at the cost of compromising preferences.

*Face turns red from embarrassment; gets down from soap box*

And then I’m here, struggling through the same difficulties of loving my brothers and sisters in Christ because of those same things. I know that some of the things I’m holding to are preferences, and I am learning to sacrifice them in pursuit of the Truth, but there are still some things that I believe are true but that I can’t totally justify through Scripture. And then there are things numerous Christians describe with such conviction and overwhelming emotion but with hardly any biblical basis and yet I feel helpless to challenge or question them because of my own insecurity about my knowledge and understanding of the Bible. When did ministry become so absolutely messy?

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

“Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

“Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.'” (Mark 10:29-30)

…Well, okay, sure, Jesus promises a whole lot of persecution and messiness from outside the Church, but what about inside?

“So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.’ But Peter began and explained it to them in order….’If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?’ When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.'” (Acts 11:2-4, 17-18)

“John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will not be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.'” (Mark 9:38-40)

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)

The New Testament is full of challenges posited to believers in their interactions with each other (Philippians 2:1-4, Ephesians 4:25-32, Hebrews 10:24-25); God knew that, as we love each other, as we get into each other’s lives, even confess our sins to one another (James 5:16) things are going to get a little messy.

And yet, it’s okay…

“What? How can all of the nonsense you just listed be at all good? It sounds exhausting, dramatic, stupid, and frustrating, as you said.”

Yeah…It certainly seems like loving the world is easy (I can’t believe I just said that), but loving my brothers and sisters in Christ is difficult, simply because of my own pride, selfishness, and struggle with judging others. And yet, I don’t know the world…we don’t have the same Father. But I know the people in my family…I know their sins, their struggles, their joys, their pitfalls, their spiritual giftings, their personalities, their internal reactions. I cry with them, I laugh with them, I eat with them. The real stuff comes out when you actually live life with people. I get to see their bad side. I am privy to the hard stuff in their lives, and they’re privy to that of mine.

And so, while the beginning of this post started out as a rant, as a desperate plea for it all to stop, I’m actually really thankful for it. I’m thankful for the privilege of all of my struggles being known by them. I’m thankful for the opportunity to love them and be loved by them in spite of all the garbage we carry around with us until we see our Father in eternity. I’m thankful that the goal in our relationships with each other is to continue loving, forgiving, challenging, encouraging each other towards Christ, who binds us together. I’m thankful for the work that it takes to push past my own emotions and selfishness to really have relationships with people following Christ and that it’s a value of God’s that we actually have relationships with each other, especially in a world where superficiality and false friendship is often the order of the day. I’m thankful for the work ahead, in myself and in the world, concerning uniting the Body of Christ, regardless of how impossibly divided it seems.

I am thankful for the mess.

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:27)

PS: Not to freak anyone out, but there will soon be a post on here that reads very much like a book review…because it is. I’m not intending for this blog to turn into a review blog, but there will pop up a review every now and then…that is all.

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Sometimes To Stay Alive You Gotta Kill Your Mind

 

I slung the diaper bag over my shoulder, along with my ebony Guess purse, the double set of straps weighing on my arm. James, the toddler Jake and I were babysitting over night, was all set and ready to be taken to gymnastics. Jacob was waiting for Matt, one of the guys living in the ministry bachelor pad down the street; the two of them were heading out to help a gentleman named Fernando, who had recently been evicted from his apartment and was looking for a new home. And so we were dividing and conquering.

As I rushed out the door with only fifteen minutes to get to the rumble and tumble gym for small children to which I’d never been before, my arms full of bags and my hands full of small fingers and car keys and my mind full of pressure and want for control, I wondered with no small amount of insecurity if this is what I would look like as the mom of a toddler. I shivered at the thought as I strapped James into his car seat, and buried the image in the back of my mind as Jacob hugged and kissed me goodbye.

As I drove James to gymnastics, the word “helicopter mom” flew across the screen behind my eyes, and I became painfully aware of my constant struggle against control, and fell back on my godly desire for joy emanating from deep trust in Christ. Fears of the future piled one on top of the other as I drove and talked to James, who grinned at me from the back seat.

We walked into a place called The Little Gym, and I looked through a wall of glass doors, gazing at them like TV monitors as they revealed a bunch of toddlers maneuvering all sorts of padded blocks and arches, rings, balance beams, and trampoline-like mattresses, all primary colors.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3-5)

I sat down on one of the little blue chairs facing the wall of doors, putting both of my bags in my lap while trying to help James take off his shoes and jacket. 

“Are you with James?”

I looked up to see a tall, lanky African-American man wearing a bright blue pull over and black trainers. He addressed me kindly and smiled at James, like he was seeing an old friend. Apparently, a class had just ended, and the gym was now empty, and prepared to receive a new wave of toddlers, one ripple of which would be James.

“Oh, yes,” I finally said.

“Okay,” he said. “You have to come in with him.”

I had expected this, so I slipped off my flip flops and stuck them in the diaper bag along with James’s shoes and jacket. There were cubbies a few steps away, so I claimed two and filled them with our things. 

As I walked into the gym, now full of new little ones, a thought from my neighbor came into my head. Her name is Kathi, and we get together almost weekly and talk about what God is doing in our lives, what we’re struggling with, how we can pray for one another, and so often we pray throughout, and it’s always a refreshing and sweet time. She was talking to me once about how much influence a mom has in the lives of her children. She’s the one who spends most of the day with them, and will be the example of adulthood and general functioning personhood that they see most often. Building a functioning human out of a small child is a demanding job, and it is of the utmost importance. 

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

As I watched James run around, and as I ran around with him (the parents and babysitters—that would be me—were instructed to help their kids learn the basics of baseball, starting with illustrating the concept of running around the bases, starting at home plate), I think I caught a small glimpse of the importance of being a parent, and a good one at that. 

I had been struggling lately with selfishness and anxiety about the future, particularly concerning parenthood (I am not pregnant). Selfishness, because of how I was perceiving all of Jacob’s actions (and I do mean all) as being against my own. Thankfully, God made me aware of my tendency towards control and selfishness before we got married, so that the pattern of perception was a war, and not merely my submitting to being a victim of temptation. Anxiety about the future, because of how it seems like motherhood consumes a woman’s identity, and leaves no room for her to be a real person anymore, which, as I’ve spent time with the godly moms around me, who are joyful about having children and discipling their kids, is one of the biggest lies with which I have warred. 

“Think of what you know of God through the gospel, says Paul, and apply it. Think against your feelings; argue yourself out of the gloom they have spread; unmask the belief they have nourished; take yourself in hand, talk to yourself, make yourself look up from your problems to the God of the gospel; let evangelical thinking correct emotional thinking.” —J.I. Packer, Knowing God

That same day, when James and I returned to my and Jacob’s house and I fed him lunch, Jake came home emotionally exhausted. Spending hours with Fernando had drained both he and Matt. For a year, God has been using Fernando to challenge both of us, though mostly Jake, to love the unlovely, and to reach out to and serve those who don’t always fit our mold of “worth loving.” This was how we were figuring out what it truly looked like to love the least of these, and the process thus far has revealed many flaws in the intentions of our hearts, and challenged us to genuinely and sacrificially love those who do not love in return and cannot repay us. It has been harder than either of us had expected.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40)

Needless to say, we were both struggling. We were struggling with correcting our perceptions of each other, with the lies we knew the enemy was throwing into our relationship, and with our own pride and selfishness. 

Jake went back out in a couple of hours to help Matt and Fernando again, trying to secure a mobile home for Fernando. I stayed at the house while James took a nap. It would be another three hours or so before Jake and I reconvened. It would be later that night, after putting James to bed, when Jake and I could sit down and debrief. 

It would be emotional. It would be frustrating. It would be full of my talking too much. It would be us making sure we’re physically touching each other to reinforce mutual support and a desire for unity. It would be full of affirmation and honesty. It would be hard and uncomfortable. We talked about the struggles we could see ourselves experiencing when we became parents. I talked about my parents and sought to identify where I was projecting my understanding of what a father looks like onto Jake. It involved my having to confess my own critical spirit to Jake, as I had already confessed it to the One who was faithful and just to forgive me, and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

And I was internally confronted with how little I’ve let God as my true heavenly Father affect how I see fatherhood here on this earth. Yikes.

This whole experience felt like the deep cleaning of a room that had been molded over and matted with cobwebs for years, hidden from sunlight and fresh air through a bolted door. It seemed like marriage continued to do that for me; God used Jake and our circumstances, our desire to figure out how to partner in ministry together, how to sharpen one another, and how to be united though we’re so different, He used all of these things to reveal more and more sin in my heart, more that needed to be confessed, more that needed to be surrendered. Oh, it was work. Spiritual warfare takes place on the battlefield of the mind.

And this time of considering parenthood has been one big struggle on top of the struggle of deployment. I think I had been in some kind of deep denial, or maybe just ignorance, when Jake first told me a little over a year ago that he’d be deploying in June of this year. I don’t know if I really understood what that meant. And yet this past week has been full of breakdowns, random crying fits, and a surfacing of deep insecurities and fears, all of which have been desperately poured out to my Father.

I feel like I’m talking about a lot of big and complicated things all at the same time, but I want to share with you just how big God is, though my words will fall short and my experienced is still so limited. These things sound despairing and difficult and heavy, and yet there is peace in all of it. How thankful I am for the Sword of the Spirit and its effectiveness against the desires of my own flesh, against the distractions of the world, and against the lies of the enemy. How thankful I am for the body of Christ and how He’s designed His community to operate, to mutually sharpen, encourage, challenge, and build up one another. And how thankful I am for God Himself, for His desire to see my desires match His, and for the fact that He is not against me when I ask Him to make me less selfish, less prideful, and less anxious about the future. How happy I am that He has been waiting for my admittance of my weakness, so that His grace might prove sufficient.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

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A Family Affair

“In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:4b-6)

So, when I originally sat down to write up this post, I was going to go through all of the dark and confusing feelings that I’m struggling with, and talk about how I don’t understand how I could feel all of these things when I have Jesus.

But as I’m sitting here at my laptop, after spending a day of crying out to Him while doing household chores and tackling the “To Do” list that seems to keep growing, I have learned the same lesson I seem to be learning over and over again: His grace is enough.

I’m currently reading “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer, and I recently finished his chapter titled “Sons of God,” talking about what it means for us to be adopted by God.

“Adoption,” Packer writes, “by its very nature, is an art of free kindness to the person adopted. If you become a father by adopting a son or daughter, you do so because you choose to, not because you are bound to. Similarly, God adopts because he chooses to. He had no duty to do so. He need not have done anything about our sins except punish us as we deserved. But he loved us; so he redeemed us, forgave us, took us as his sons and daughters and gave himself to us as our Father.”

I hadn’t realized it, but I’ve been struggling with the insecurity that I am an utter disappointment to God, that, in this striving to be like Jesus, my constant failure and fearfulness and fragility of emotion has caused my Father to look down on me with great sorrow. And yet there is meant to be such great security in God’s love for me, that pleasing Him and obeying Him, however imperfectly, can be characterized by joy and contentment, not desperation, fear, and insecurity. And it’s in my understanding of what it means to be adopted by God that affects my feeling of security before Him. One aspect of being adopted by God that I’d never really considered was (this is going to sound weird) thinking of myself as Christ’s sister. 

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers…Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:10-11, 17)

There has been this struggle, particularly when reading the Gospels, with wanting to be like Jesus but feeling helpless to do so.

“If only I could apply this verse to my life and be disciplined and consistent in it, then I’d be perfect, and I’d get that aspect of Jesus down.”

“If only I could have the perfect eloquence and quick responses that Jesus had with the Pharisees, or if I could only come up with the parables that He does, then I could actually teach people things in a way that makes sense to them.”

“If only I were virtually homeless and spent all of my time witnessing to people, then I would be like Jesus and God wouldn’t be disappointed in me.”

Here I am competing and comparing myself with my Brother to gain the affection and attention of my Father, who, because of Christ’s death on the cross for all of my sins against God, sees only Christ when He looks at me anyway. There is nothing left for me to do to gain the approval, love, affection, attention, protection, comfort, or provision of my Father, because my Brother has done so much; He has taken care of everything. All that is left for me to do is be, and get used to living like the royal daughter of the High King. I am adopted, and I will not be cast out.

This is not to say, of course, that I’m not supposed to seek to do good, to be holy, and to please my Father with my actions before the rest of the world. After all, Jesus does say, “‘Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.'” And God does desire that I be like Him, but not by my own way and through my own efforts. So, the brotherhood of Christ towards me now intersects with the 100% divinity of Christ: He is my Brother; He is also my Lord.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

It is the Spirit that sets me apart as God’s adopted daughter, and it is the Spirit that seals me for eternal life. This is the finalized adoption document, signed by the Judge, fought for by the Lawyer. I am His by the Spirit. So, the inward change concerning me, in living this life that I have now been given by my Father, is begun by the Spirit and through the Spirit. This process of my internal sin being revealed the more I grow in Christ is painful and ongoing, but not without security and purpose.

“In this world, royal children have to undergo extra training and discipline which other children escape, in order to fit them for their high destiny. It is the same with the children of the King of kings. The clue to understanding all his dealings with them is to remember that throughout their lives he is training them for what awaits them, and chiseling them into the image of Christ. Sometimes the chiseling process is painful and the discipline irksome; but then the Scripture reminds us: ‘The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons…No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it’ (Heb 12:6-7, 11).”  —J.I. Packer, Knowing God

But then there’s this thought of not understanding grace if I mourn over my daily sins, if I’m aware of how it displeases my heavenly Father, and if I come broken before Him in confession. But this is in and of itself a misunderstanding: It is true that I do not have to do good works or keep the law in order for my sins to be justified, nor do I have to keep the law as a way of gaining eternal life, but being royally adopted implies gaining both position and the responsibility of keeping the instruction and the rules laid down by my new Parent. The law is now no longer here to condemn me, but rather to instruct me.

And so the feelings of being a disappointment, of guilt, of failure, are all rooted in lies external to my actual identity in Christ, before God. I am His daughter, who is unable to be snatched out of His hand, and He is pleased with me. He has already won, so I therefore cannot fail. Will I be disciplined? Yes, but not as a result of my Father’s disappointment, rather as a result of His love.

“…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might…” (Ephesians 1:18-19)

I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Savior is my brother; every Christian is my brother too. Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning, last thing at night, as you wait for the bus, any time when your mind is free, and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it is all utterly and completely true. For this is the Christian’s secret of—a happy life?—yes, certainly, but we have something both higher and profounder to say. This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life, and of a God-honoring life, and these are the aspects of the situation that really matter. May this secret become fully yours, and fully mine.” —J.I. Packer, Knowing God

 

 

 

 

 

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