Jesus for the politically weary

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Gospel of Matthew 5:44-45

There are some things I want to say. Things I’ve put off saying because I’m convinced many won’t listen. And then there comes a point where it doesn’t matter anymore, when the words come floating up whether you like it or not.

“…Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). So here is my heart:

I am deeply concerned that we have let bitterness and division overtake our souls, to the point that there is little room for Jesus. I am worried we have forgotten our first calling as Christians–to love one another and sacrifice for the good of the gospel.

I am not going to tell you to stop being angry and just trust God. That’s good advice for the comfortable, the privileged, and the impatient. I have no interest in ignoring anyone’s sincere pain, as so many have taken to lately.

Instead, I want to call us back to Jesus. That same Jesus who has bound up our wounds and given us power through the Holy Spirit to forgive and fight for what is right. Sure, I could compose a good political rant (just ask my husband), but where would that leave us? We can throw witty come-backs at each other all day and still get no closer to the truth.

With this in mind, I’m offering up the first of several devotionals in response to our current spiritual and political climate. I hope this series can be a space for you to talk, argue, cry, and/or worship. I’ll be including some practical advice from my own experience, but the focus should be on finding peace with God. He is the one you will ultimately answer to.

Day 1 – Forgiveness

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22

Many of us lament the “us vs. them” mentality of our nation, though are we really willing to take the first step toward healing the divide?

I’ll spare you the Hallmark card cliches and simply remind us all that forgiveness is an act of obedience toward God, a freeing of the soul from a dark room without grace. It doesn’t require us to forget, agree, or cease political action (I’ll speak more about necessary action and activism in my next posts).

Until we learn to speak to one another without throwing proverbial shoes at one another’s heads, our nation doesn’t have much hope. Our churches will suffer and the gospel will suffer as a result. So let’s take stock of the bitterness welling up inside us, for all the times we’ve been told we’re too young, too old, too naive or too stuck in our ways. For the times no one has listened. For the condescension, the name-calling, the ignorance, and the simplistic answers to serious problems. Now’s the time to throw it down the gutter, like that long-dead squirrel on the side of the road. (Forgive the crude image, but I think that’s what our bitterness would look like in physical form. A twisted and rotting reminder of something sad.)

And so today I’m praying that God would give me the strength to let go of this anger–of all the hateful things I wish I could say to those who use political difference as a weapon, or an excuse to treat those I care about as less than human. Let’s all pray this prayer and never stop until our hearts are truly free to love the people who oppose us.

Some things we might consider:

What would it take for you to love and listen to someone who stands against most of what you believe in?

Whom do you struggle to forgive for their political words or actions? Make a list, and pray for each person on it. You might find yourself praying some snarky prayers, but do your best. End with a prayer that God would help give you peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7).

In my own struggle to love better, I often find myself meditating on 1 Corinthian 13. Paul’s words, despite our culture’s tradition, were not actually written to describe love in marriage. They were written to confront an immature church whose members struggled to remain unified:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

don’t do it yourself

There’s a principle in economics called “comparative advantage.” I think it’s just brilliant. Basically, it explains why the world is better and life is easier when we trade goods and services. If you’re a really good accountant, for example, it makes sense to earn money that way and then pay someone else to bake your cakes and mow your lawn. If you’re an exceptionally skilled baker, however, you might earn your money with cakes and pay someone else to do your taxes. In the end, the baker and accountant are better off trading with each other than trying to do it all themselves.

As women (and humans), we seem to take a lot of pride in doing things ourselves. Whether it’s making our grandmothers’ cookie recipes from scratch or painting the spare bedroom, “I did it myself” sounds much nicer than “I paid someone to do that for me.” For many of us, DIY is simply a reality of circumstance, when our day job doesn’t pay enough for the luxuries of eating out or hiring a house cleaner. And sometimes we just feel like trying something new. It is empowering to see all we can accomplish with a few supplies and a YouTube tutorial.

On the other hand, it’s exhausting! To come home at the end of a long shift (or a day full of child rearing) and expect ourselves to take on 5 other jobs as well…this is not a recipe for health and success.

I think it’s time we learn a new motto: Don’t do it yourself.

Consider: if you are a Christian, your entire future is secured by something you could not do yourself. No one could pay the penalty for sin but Christ, and so we put our hope in God and not in our own strength.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

We see this idea picked up in one of my favorite worship verses, from “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.

In a culture where it is normal to boast in our talents and strive to DIY, I love the promise of these words. When we boast in nothing but Christ, we let go of so many expectations and pressures that weigh us down. We are free to do our best and know that is enough, because Christ will always have grace to meet us.

What have you been trying to do yourself that just isn’t working?

Whom can you ask for help? Friends and family? Paid workers? God? Ask away!

Is there anyone in your life whom you could help with your skills and talents? Take some time right now to ask God to bring a specific person to mind who needs your help and/or encouragement.

As for me, I’ve ditched my craft supplies but kept my baking cabinet stocked in case someone is too busy to make themselves a cookie (this happens all too often). May God bless you as you let go and trust in His unconditional love this week. 🙂

these times they are a-changin’

I thought I’d take a break from devotionals today to share a bit of a life update. I generally stay away from getting too personal on my blog, though I’ve realized this has more to do with my aversion to over-sharing on food/mom blogs than any real reason. I know God can work through our stories, so here’s the story of my filled-to-the-brim month of April. May it give you some peace as you begin another week.

Spring and Fall are my favorite seasons, mostly because I love change. I find myself pulled toward it with excitement, anticipation, and the firm conviction that better things are yet to come. And lucky me, life has a habit of changing on a consistent basis.

We announced a couple months ago that we were making a career change. My husband and I have been involved in college ministry since becoming Christians in our late teens, and now, almost a decade later, God is showing us a new passion. It took some time to admit it to ourselves, and then again to each other, but it was clear that a change was coming swiftly on the horizon.

As always, I focused my energies on anticipating The Great Change, which in this case meant selling everything we owned and moving across the country for grad school. As it turns out, we’re moving to an in-state school, just 3 hours away. We’ll likely move again in two years, once Taylor has his Master’s in history, and my appetite for change will again be satisfied.

It’s not that I won’t miss the people or places I leave. I just won’t realize it until I decorate the new apartment, find a new Thai restaurant, and relish in the newness of it all.

April was much too full to mourn, anyway. I signed up for 30 days straight of hot yoga (for the 2nd time, and no regrets!..except that I haven’t had time to cook a normal meal in a month, and I have a running list of things I should talk with my husband about if I ever get around to seeing him…but overall, a great experience). I also had my first stint on jury duty. I learned that justice is hard work, but at least they give you donuts.

​My most important discoveries this month, however, were:

1. The beauty of habits
Whether it was running off to yoga, sitting down to tea, or pressing “play” on Ezekiel (see below), my month was full of daily habits. I think we ought to pick these habits wisely, because when we do, life becomes more full — in a good way. What habits can you ditch this month to make room for good ones? Make a list and remind yourself daily.

2. The NIV UK audio Bible
Who knew that the secret to daily time in God’s word was finding a narrator with a fun accent? No joke, my Bible reading (well, listening) hasn’t been this consistent in years. I like to think that Jesus had a fun accent, too. You should probably go download the Bible Gateway app and check out this goodness for yourself.

I think I’ve said enough about myself, and I look forward to sharing another devotional soon. For now, bon voyage as you navigate the ever-stormy and most-majestic seas of life.

why we trust

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,

    for to you I entrust my life.

Psalm 143:8 (a psalm of David)

The Christian life is a life of uncertainty. We always seem to find ourselves looking up, asking God to show us which way to go.

The Christian life is a life of certainty. We may not know which way to go, but we know who to ask.

Today, like many days, I was struck by how many things I don’t know. On a broader level, I was struck by the general ignorance of those around me. Earlier, I was walking through the city when a man attempted to give me spiritual advice. He spoke very fast and I just kept thinking–how do I explain to this man that his paths to God will only lead him to dead ends? How do I tell the world to stop seeking spiritual advancement and start seeking God Himself? What do I know, anyway?

I know quite a few things, to be fair, though I am horribly human like the rest of us. As Isaiah prophesied:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

There comes a point where we must know why we trust God, or we will stop trusting Him. God will continue to do things we don’t understand, in ways we don’t necessarily agree with. People will continue to be stupid (or simply misled). We must know that God is still faithful. We must know that God is alive and at work in His Creation. That He has not abandoned us, and He never will.

Do you trust God?
     Why or why not?

With this in mind, read Psalm 143 and Isaiah 55 (both in their entirety).

Consider: David waited for the dawn to bring news of God’s unfailing love for him. Isaiah 55 points to the fulfillment of God’s “faithful love promised to David” (v. 3). In case you didn’t notice, it’s pretty amazing.

If you answered ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ to the first question above, ask God right now to show you His faithfulness in your life. Continue this prayer each morning (maybe write it on a slip of paper on your bedside table) and dare to hope that God would show Himself to you. 2 Timothy 2:13 says: if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. You may want to read some scripture while you’re at it. 😉

If you answered ‘yes,’ take this time to meditate on God’s faithfulness in your life. Pray about something you’ve been anxious about lately, and allow God this opportunity to give you peace.

I’m excited to talk about trusting God on a more personal note soon. For now, I’m going to read Isaiah 55 and be happy. Wooooooo.

You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,

    that will endure forever.”

Isaiah 55:12-13

Pinterest and the Proverbs 31 woman

Like most people I know, I made fun of Pinterest before discovering its usefulness. After all, if you’re going to spend a few hours on the internet, Pinterest wouldn’t be the worst choice. Most times I scroll through my feed, I learn something new.

Still, Pinterest has demonstrated a unique ability to make women feel inadequate. Let’s consider what would happen if I accepted the manicured reality that Pinterest serves me each time I log in. I’d be under the impression that most other women spend their days sporting buoyant curls and cute heels while chasing after absurdly fashionable children, stopping on occasion to bake a peanut butter truffle cheesecake or build an authentic farmhouse table. And don’t even get me started on those weddings…

While musing on the mythical creature that is The Pinterest Wife, Proverbs 31 came to my mind. Perhaps the most referenced passage when seeking to understand biblical womanhood, Proverbs 31:10-31 is a piece of poetry dwelling on the attributes of “a wife of noble character.” I remember reading this passage in college, and even though the first line points to the woman’s inner self, I imagined her much as I now imagine The Pinterest Wife – a woman who can do everything, whose identity seems suspiciously tied to her status as wife and mother.

Today, I want us to shift our focus. I want us to consider what it really means to be a free and fabulous woman. And I think Proverbs 31 can help guide us there. Read the following, but do not focus on what the woman does. Instead, ask yourself: what is in this woman’s heart as she goes about her day?

A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Proverbs 31:10-31

Here, I see a woman who works hard because her heart is full of love and hope. Love for her husband and children, yes, but also for the unwanted and oppressed. Hope because she knows God and reveres Him enough to also trust Him with her future. She does not waste her time with things that don’t matter (though we must remember that as an Israelite, she would have honored the Sabbath and taken time to rest). This woman has servants and yet seeks to serve them herself. She has callused hands, sore feet, stretch marks – but most importantly, love for someone beyond herself.

Consider the poem’s concluding verses: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised….”

What are you seeking? Can it be sustained? Take a few minutes to journal about your motivations when you use Pinterest (or read Cosmo, etc.). Yes, we all know the difference between Pinterest photos and messy reality, but just as we laugh at these mythical women, we must ask ourselves how such images of “perfection” really influence us. When you dream of your future self, what do you notice about her? How she looks?…how her house looks?…or how she honors God?

Now let’s try something. Go to Pinterest. (Or your women’s website of choice.) As you scroll through the pretty photos, mom blogs, and cat memes, talk with God. Pray that He would be with you and guiding your thoughts as you consume social media. This is my prayer for us – that in the middle of a generation who seeks to find gratification through social media, we would instead seek God’s purpose. May we go about this week with charm, poise, and beauty, all the while counting these as nothing when set beside the love of God.

With love and hope,

social media detox, part 2

Today we’ll continue exploring how social media shapes our lives.  A verse to get us started, from one of Paul’s letters to Christians in Corinth:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12 

Paul is discussing sexual immorality here, though in doing so, he has gifted us with a great principle to apply in all areas of our lives. Something doesn’t have to be sexual or taboo in order to have an unhealthy influence over us. Rather, our culture’s acceptance of frequent media use makes it all too easy to stare at our phones all day while ignoring opportunities for in-person relationships.

A great way to test your dependence on something is to give it up for a while. Ever try fasting? You quickly learn how much your life revolves around food. Other times, we may choose to fast from something and find we never really needed it at all.

Take a few minutes to consider the following:

– If you were to delete all your social media accounts tomorrow, what would you miss most? Be as specific as you can.

– Have you spent significant time away from social media in the past 6 months? If not, what might it look like for you to fast from facebook, Instagram, etc. this week?

While many of us use social media thoughtfully and responsibly, I’d venture to say that few of us find it deeply fulfilling. We each have our reasons for using it, but we are frustrated by our growing dependence on it. We know it isn’t evil – but is it beneficial?

This week, we’ll search for the balance between cutting all ties to social media (though this is an option) and allowing it to master us (which is not an option). If you care to join me, here’s what your week might look like:

Monday – Fast from social media. Turn off notifications on your phone, or delete apps you don’t need (the facebook app is a great example – you can just use your browser in the future). Pick something to do whenever you feel the nudge to see what everyone else is up to online. Pray for a friend, think about what you’ll make for dinner, or contemplate the miracle of existence. At the end of the day, take a few minutes to journal about your experience.

Tuesday – If you found yourself struggling yesterday, consider fasting a few more days to more deeply understand your dependence on social media. Use this as an opportunity to address problems you may have been ignoring, whether social anxiety or a need for validation. Be honest with yourself and what steps you can take toward freedom. It could be as simple as grabbing coffee with a friend and asking for accountability. Or it could mean deleting your facebook. Pray about it.

If you did just fine without your news feed, congrats. But if you’re like me, you may still want to set boundaries to keep yourself from investing too much time online. Check out the tips at the end of this post.

Wednesday – Set up a Skype or phone date with a faraway friend. Or ask for their address and write a letter!

Thursday – Check your community newspaper or website for events this weekend. Make a habit of this, since empty weekends can be a recipe for Netflix binge-watching and way too much time on the internet. 

Friday / Saturday – Finally, consider these tips to keep social media from taking over your life:

1) Log out of your accounts on all devices and delete your password history. Pick a specific time or day of the week for checking social media intentionally, not brainlessly.

2) Change your password to something really obnoxious to type in. For every 1 time this is annoying, there will be 10 times you find something better to do.

3) Let your friends and family know you’ll be online less often so that they know to text, call, or email if they want to reach you.

4) When you are browsing facebook or twitter, start unfollowing people if their posts don’t mean much to you. Start following people or pages that post interesting articles or encouraging messages instead.

Next week, we’ll be talking about Pinterest, self worth, and what it means to be a woman – oh my! 😉

social media detox, part 1

Lately, my husband has been joking that I broke my facebook account.

It all started with a conversation with a friend about the prospect of deleting all forms of social media and living purely as our non-digital selves. It seemed radical, a small protest against our social networks. Did we dare demand that our friends relate with us in phone calls and personal visits? I wasn’t quite ready to take the leap, so I compromised by unfollowing almost all of my facebook friends. (Unfriending seemed mean, and I liked the idea of occasionally browsing old friends’ profiles even if I didn’t need to see daily photos of them eating french fries or sipping fancy lattes.) I left only posts from friends I had intentions of spending real time with in the future.

Turns out, facebook wasn’t designed for such a minimalist news feed. Most of my close friends post sparingly, so the site’s algorithm has resorted to posts liked by friends of friends of friends. Bleeeeehhh.

Grumblings aside, I achieved something by making my facebook feed so boring. By denying myself the voyeuristic pleasure of scrolling through the adventures and offspring of former acquaintances, I was forced to find other ways to occupy my restless brain. I started thinking about how to create space for the people I care about most or want to get to know better. I thought about how I could use those 5-minute lulls in my day to read The Economist or send a friend an encouraging text.

​When we start thinking in terms of real relationships, it becomes easier to use social media in a healthy way. We see it as a tool for building community rather than a distraction to make ourselves feel better.

As I’ve been reflecting on my use of social media, this verse came to mind:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Hebrews 12:1a

No, I don’t think social media is sinful – but it is a great venue for sin. In this next series of devotionals, we’ll be having an honest conversation with God about the way we use social media. We’ll confess our mixed motives, our insecurities, and pray that God would use our digital lives to further His Kingdom rather than hampering it. As a start, take a few minutes to consider the following:

-How does my time on social media help me?

-On the other hand, how does social media hinder me? What are some ways I allow it to “entangle” my life?

-Do I see the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, self control, etc.) in myself when I use social media?

​We’ll discuss some practical ways to create boundaries on our social media use next week. For now, begin thinking critically about your online habits. Become aware of the emotions that lead you toward mindless scrolling, and challenge yourself to turn your brain on in the face of endless news feeds. Most of all, take time to share your thoughts with God before you share them with the entire world. He might just teach you something. 😉