My Write 31 Days Project - DevoPod

For my third year participating in Write 31 Days, I'm going to do something a little different. I'm going to launch a new podcast. I'll be writing devotional content for each of the podcast episodes so just because I won't be typing out words here on the blog page, that doesn't mean I won't be writing my little heart out.

The introduction episode and today's episode, day one,  is now on my website if you'd like to listen to them both. The links are below. I will continue to add links to this page as I release episodes each day this month. 

You can listen to the DevoPod on iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play.

DevoPod is a daily devotional in podcast form. My goal for the podcast is to make taking time to really be in God’s Word easy for listeners. Each day this month, the podcast will lead the listener through a short Scripture reading straight from the Bible, a prayer, and a question so that you can make His Word personal in your heart and life. The episodes will be about five minutes long.

We will be concentrating on a different Beatitude each week; week one will examine, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Links:

 

Introduction:

Day One:

Poor in Spirit; 2 Corinthians 12:5-10

Day Two:

Poor in Spirit; Philippians 2:1-11

Day Three:

Poor in Spirit; James 4:1-10

Day Four:

Poor in Spirit; Eph 4:1-7

Day Five:

Poor in Spirit; 1 Peter 5:6-9

Day Six:

Poor in Spirit; Matthew 11:25-30

Day Seven:

Poor in Spirit; Luke 21:1-4

Day Eight:

Day one of Those Who Mourn; Romans 8:38-39

Day Nine:

Day two of Those Who Mourn; John 11:17-27

Day Ten:

Day three of Those Who Mourn; John 11:28-37

Day Eleven:

Day four of Those Who Mourn; Romans 5:1-5

Day Twelve:

Day five of Those Who Mourn; John 14:1-4

<<< a song for you >>>

Introducing Myself

I am off to a writers conference in just 10 short days.  I will be attending the Declare Conference in Dallas, Texas, and I'm introducing myself for a fun pre-conference blog link-up.

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Whether you are a conference attendee or just reading my blog, I have now recruited you as a friend and you should know some things.

When did you feel called to be a digital evangelist, what’s your main medium (podcast / blogging / books / speaking / social media / etc.), and how long have you been doing it?

I fell in love with writing while blogging about a mission trip to Ethiopia in 2014.  I had been blogging about our adoption experience before that, but this was a whole new heart-tug to write about so much more.  I have written two eBooks, Faith Adventures and a new eBook I will be releasing this month titled Paper Tigers and Impressing God: How To Be a Doer Who is Free.  I have dabbled in the podcast world, and I have a new podcast on the horizon.

 

What is your life scripture?

"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." 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

 

What are your passions?

Encouraging you to put hands & feet to your discipleship, so you can seek justice while you grow spiritually, is what delights my heart.  I'm passionate about the Great Commission, loving my husband, and loving my 3 (soon to be 4 through adoption) pretty great kids.

 

What is your favorite candy and / or food?

Dark chocolate, it's like normal chocolate at prescription strength.

 

Where is your happy place and what’s it like?

Standing in front of a stage, hearing live music. My brain is alive, and it is marvelous.

 

Are you working on any exciting projects that you can share about? If so, please share!

I have signed up for Write 31 Days, which begins October 1st, and I am using the challenge to launch a new project - a devotional podcast called DevoPod.

 

How can we pray for you as you prepare for this year’s conference?

Pray for my anxiety.  As an introvert/people pleaser, I get nervous!  Instead of being in my head, I want to be present and open to new opportunities and friendships that God will lead me towards.

 

Your turn!  What are you passionate about?  I'm dying to hear! Please comment & Let me know.

      A song for you as you go.

Meet Hezekiah - Adoption Update

It has been months since I’ve posted anything about our adoption on my social media or blog.  I apologize for keeping quiet.  

I have some news I’d like to share with you.  We have been referred a sweet 2-year-old boy.  He is not yet ours, but we are doing everything we can to get a chance to go to court in Ethiopia and make him our son.

MEET HEZEKIAH

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HERE’S THE SHORT VERSION, THE ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS I GET ASKED MOST OFTEN.

We don’t know when our court date might be.  The most likely guess is sometime between December and March, but it could always be longer because we are dependent on the Ethiopian government and that is unpredictable.

We have paid all of our agency fees.  We were able to fundraise and save all $26,000 we needed to pay our agency.  There were so many people who gave generously to our adoption.  Our adoption wouldn’t be happening without those donations and the provision of our Faithful God.

We still will need to pay for our travel.  When we travel for court, that expense is completely up to us to provide.  We estimate that it will cost around $8,000.

We will be able to bring Hezekiah home when we travel for court.  Whenever we are finally able to travel, we will be bringing our son home with us when we come home.  We will need to be in Ethiopia for three weeks.

This little boy is not the same 4-year-old boy, “A”, that we were hoping to adopt at Christmastime.  You can read more about that below or in our last blog post.

Thank you to everyone who has prayed for us, shared about our adoption, let me know you were praying for us, donated to our adoption, or participated in one or more of our bazillion fundraisers.

I really am appreciative.

HERE’S THE LONG VERSION OF THE STORY, FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO LOVE MORE DETAILS.  

The weekend after Thanksgiving, we were driving home from visiting my family in Ft. Worth when I pulled up a waiting child list and saw a precious little face.  The waiting child list was on a private webpage and it included children that they had not been able to find a family for from among the families adopting through their agency.  This little boy was just the age we had hoped to adopt, and we knew we could be a home for him.  We emailed the agency (which was a completely different adoption agency that had been using and paid all of our fees to) to see if this little boy still needed a family.

A week later we had found out that this sweet little boy was still waiting for a family, and we were trying to make the difficult decision of switch agencies to try to adopt him or stay with our agency with no end in sight to our waiting.  The biggest factor was money.  We had paid our current agency about one-third of the money required for an international adoption, and we wouldn’t get any of it back if we switched agencies.  Also, we would need to pay over twice the amount we had paid thus far and pay for yet another home study for the new agency.  It was money we didn’t have, and we would have to trust God to provide it.

We took the leap.  I have the conviction that God does not view money the way we people do, and I never want to make a ministry decision based solely on money.  We switched agencies and began fundraising.

From the first week of December until the last week of February we fundraised like mad people.  We did bake sales, present wrapping, garage sales, barbecues, craft sales, and online auctions.  We downright asked for handouts.  We made a video asking everyone to give $2 and invite 10 friends to do the same.  Our Paypal account was flooded by generous people.  After a few months of constant fundraising, we were still about $7,000 short of paying all of our new agency’s fees.  Paying off those fees would allow us to sign the contract that would make sure that we would be the family that would adopt this sweet boy.  We were so sure that this was the boy God had in mind for our family.

One afternoon the last week of February, I was pulling into the craft store parking lot.  I was in the middle of making more crafts for yet another fundraiser, and my phone rang.  It was our new social worker on the phone.  She had some tough news to share about “our boy.”  My first thought was that he was sick or worse.  She shared that without their knowledge, the remote orphanage that our sweet boy was at had contacted a different agency to advocate for finding a family.  Another family had stepped up to adopt him through another agency.  They had already completed their home study and all of their paperwork.  This family had paid all their agency’s fees and signed a contract of adoption with the orphanage.  All of this had been done weeks ago without our agency’s knowledge, and the orphanage had decided to let this other family proceed with the adoption.

This news was devastating.  I mourned this loss hard.  In the middle of grief was tremendous guilt.  Wasn’t I happy that he was still healthy and still was going to be adopted into a family?  Hurt mixed with guilt is a recipe for some awful thoughts about yourself.  I felt so selfish for being so upset.

I just kept thinking, but we had worked so hard.  We had spent every free moment for months fundraising, working on our new home study, and rebuilding our adoption paperwork from scratch, every single paper had to be resigned because our old paperwork was too outdated.

I was also so confused by this news.  We had felt so sure that this boy was the reason our family had been called to adoption.

It took a few weeks before the hurt began to subside in my heart.  We could have easily walked away from the idea of adoption after this huge disappointment, but we didn’t.  Both my husband and I had seen the faces of children in the orphanages we had visited.  We had held the babies and played games with the children.  We knew we had to keep going.  We had to trust God that He still had a plan.

About two months later, we received the phone call I had been dreaming about for four years.  Our new agency called to say there was a little boy they would like to refer to our family, meaning that if we were ready to adopt him, they would help us do it.  She didn’t give us any details about the little boy, other than his age.  She said that the agency would email us his file in a few days that would have all of his pictures and information.

We were so anxious to receive that email.  Two days later, we received the email.  We were blown away at how precious this little boy was, and we were in shock that we were going to get to adopt him.  Our giddiness lasted only a few hours because by that evening we had learned that the Ethiopian government had suspended international adoptions with no reason given or timeline for the suspension to end.

It was the 21st of April, and the spring and beginning of summer is a blur of setting in my backyard trying to focus on anything besides the adoption suspension.

I’d like to tell you that during that season, I completely leaned on the Lord, but many times I leaned on Dunkin Donuts frozen coffees.  Worry was so present in my mind those days that it would completely fog my brain, and the only thing that seemed to make me feel like a human was a big dose of sugar and caffeine in the form of a blended corporate concoction.  It was also clear to me that my vitamin d levels were suffering from the inside life I lived all winter.  A typical day this spring included me doing the minimum school work to finish up our home schooler’s first-grade year while taking every opportunity to refresh my email, search keywords “adoption and Ethiopia” on Twitter, and stocking all the adoption Facebook groups for any clue of what was going to happen with our adoption.

By the time James came home from his work at the church, I was a mess and we would get in the car and get our frozen coffee fix for the day.

Sure I prayed and I would tell you that God was in control, but if someone else said that God’s timing was perfect one more time I would have thrown my frozen coffee in their face.

Would God give us a picture of a beautiful boy who needed a home and then tell us our adoption journey was done?  I honestly didn’t know.

I kept telling God that this whole adoption was His idea, not mine.  Why would He give us this calling, allow our hearts to be fully devoted to the idea of bringing an Ethiopian child into our family, and then threaten to let us fall on our face?

The hard questions weren’t just directed at God.  I accused myself of not really caring about this adorable little boy but really being upset because I would look like a failure if this adoption I had so publicly pursued would end without success.

I spent a lot of time in my Bible that spring reading the words of the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah.  God’s promise of redemption through His Son was centuries away from those generations, but God was determined to give His people hope.

I needed hope more than frozen coffee.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
— Isaiah 30:18 ESV

I hit some real low points in my faith life during that season.  I feel shame for these low points asking ugly questions about God and doubting His sovereignty.  I also feel thankfulness for these low points.

I was completely empty.  I was completely powerless.

I had nothing but Jesus to hang onto because each of those low points let me see God better.  The answers would come with tears and the Spirit.  God was loving and sovereign.  God was present in my troubles.

As the calendar turned to July, we began to see the light at the end of our waiting tunnel.  Good news about the future of Ethiopian adoptions began to trickle in, and we were able to continue on our journey.

Our newly redone paperwork was sent to Ethiopia on August 17th, and our last immigration application was received by Homeland Security on September 7th.

The application process with immigration will take about 3-6 months.  Along with this approval from the US government, we are waiting for an approval letter from the Ethiopian government too.  There is no estimated timeline for that letter.  We are just hopeful that we will receive the letter in the same 3-6 months that the immigration approval will be approved.

There is a decent chance that this could happen, but there is also a chance that we could be waiting longer than that.

We definitely need prayer.  Continue to pray for our Hezekiah and our family.

I will update the blog as we know more, but it could be months before I have anything to post.

Thank you again!

Adoption Update - He Restores Our Soul

We have some disappointing news about our adoption.  Monday we got a call from the case worker at our new agency.  She called to let us know that because of the breakdown in communication in rural Ethiopia, something unexpected had happened.  Because little "A" that we had been working towards adopting the past 3 months was on the waiting child list for so long, the orphanage directors had reached out to other adoption agencies to advocate for him.  One of those agencies found a family wanting to adopt "A."  This family already had their dossier complete and updated, and they had all their agency fees paid and were able to sign an official referral with their agency.  It had already been two weeks before our agency knew this had happened.  Our agency told the orphanage that we were working hard to adopt "A" and very, very close to having our dossier (fancy word for official adoption paperwork) updated, but the orphanage made a judgment call.  The orphanage decided to allow this other family to proceed with adopting "A."

This isn't something that happens often in Ethiopian adoptions.  These were unusual circumstances, but after visiting orphanages the last three summers, I could see how this communication breakdown could easily happen.

We were very disappointed to hear this news Monday, and it has been a rough week dealing with all the feelings that bubbled up after hearing this news about our adoption.

We know we cannot give up, and we are not supposed to quit trying to adopt from Ethiopia.

Our friends and family have been so generous helping us raise money to pay the adoption fees to adopt "A."  We were so very close to having all of our agency fees paid.  We have raised $20,600 since the last week of December!  We were only short $7,000.  That is amazing!

Our home study should be finalized any day now, and our dossier only lacks our final home study copy and about 5 other documents.

Being so close to having everything we needed to adopt "A" made it really hard to accept that we were not going to be able to adopt him.

We are honestly happy that "A" will have a forever family.  He will have a home.  That is what we wanted for him all along.  We are just disappointed that home won't be our home.

All of the money we raised and work we have done updating our home study and dossier can be used to adopt a different child through our new agency.  Our agency has given us a time line that we can expect to be matched with a new child in the next 6 months.

We are going to continue to gather the last of the paperwork needed to complete our dossier, and we will continue waiting for the child God has to place in our home.

It has been hard finding our confidence that the Lord has a plan when we felt so sure that "A" was the boy God had chosen to add to our family.  But God has been slowly speaking into our hurting hearts this week.

On Monday, when I got the heartbreaking call from our agency, I was sitting in the Michael's parking lot about to buy paint.  The plan had been to make as many wood signs as possible this month to sell at a craft show this weekend.  I had just started a new sign.  I picked a Bible verse completely randomly.  I was looking for a Bible verse that was universally loved.  I didn't even think about what the verse or sign said on Monday when I started making it, hoping to make several to sell at the craft show.

On Tuesday, when all I wanted to do was watch mindless television and eat Captain Crunch, I realized that God had given me this verse that I would need before I even knew I needed it.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
— Psalm 23:1-4 ESV

God is restoring our soul.  God is planting dreams in our hearts and reassuring our family that He is leading us.  He has a plan.

4 Books I Loved in 2016

I shared a list like this at the beginning of 2016, and it was fun.  When things are fun, sometimes you do them again.

The hero of this list is the Amarillo Public Library.  Of my four books, 3 of them were checked out from that wonderful place.  In fact, of the 54 books I read last year, 30 of them were loaned to me, physically or virtually, from the best-we-spend-taxpayer-money-on-in-my-opinion, the public library!

I said virtually in that sentence because, miracle of all technological miracles, I can check out e-books AND audio books on my iPhone.  Thank you Uncle Sam AND Steve Jobs!

The other hero of this list is the webpage Goodreads.  I love my little Goodreads app where I can keep track of what I read, because I know I wouldn't have remember all 54 of those books.  It helped tremendously in making this list.

I love me some goals, and Goodreads has an annual reading challenge.  Last year I set my sights on the goal of reading 52 books, and I crushed reading in December and surpassed my goal by 2.  Go me!

Here's 4 books that really got me in the gut, mind, or heart.  These books changed me a little, and I think they are well worth your time.

1.  Unashamed by Lecrae

 

I was touched by Lecrae sharing the truth about his childhood. I've been working in inner-city ministry for about 20 years. When you've had a middle class upbringing, you might read Lecrae's story and assume that he is the exception or unique. I think most of the kids I've encountered in our ministry would relate to Lecrae's early years, the physical abuse, the sexual abuse, being handed off to grandparents for months, the hurt of being fatherless, and/or the pressure to find your place in a violent culture. There are kids just like Lecrae in your cities and towns, with just as much potential!

I also admired Lecrae's honesty about his early Christian years, becoming very legalistic. I recognize myself in that struggle. It just took me longer to figure out I couldn't be good enough, because I am such a good girl. 

I had made the same mistake a lot of Christians make: I saw my connection with God as a contractual relationship, rather than a covenantal relationship. All contracts have terms, but covenants don’t. They last forever. In a contractual relationship, you’re always worried about breaking the rules. In a covenantal relationship, you’re only concerned with loving the other party as much as you can.
— Lecrae Moore, Unashamed

I think the reason Lecrae has found an audience is because we all feel like an anomaly, we all don't fit in on this Earth. I look forward to Heaven, when we will all be fully ourselves and fully the Bride of Christ. On that day, I'll be happy to stand beside brothers like Lecrae as well as brothers and sisters from every nation and worship The Lord as one. Until then, we can learn so much from audio-biographies like this one that help us understand cultures different from our own. If you had a childhood similar to Lecrae, this story can help you process your own grief, but if you didn't it can bring you understanding. Either way, this book can lead us to be a better version of His Church while we are here on Earth.

2.  Falling Free by Shannan Martin

 

I thought I knew what to expect from this book because I had read quite a bit of Shannan's blog and listened to interviews from Shannan, but this book surprised me in all the best ways.  I didn't expect to be so challenged.  I had to rethink some ideas that I thought I had already pushed so close to Jesus, they had to be right.  Shannan's stories draw me even closer to that every pressing goal of thinking, talking, acting, and living more Christlike.  She shows the grey, the not easy, in the pressing on and pressing in.  All of this idea-wrestling is done with lovely, kind, poetic, beautiful words. Her book is a friend that isn't afraid of the hard days.

Shannan's writing is relatable, kind, interesting, inspiring, and down-right challenging.  If you read it, like I did, I know you will love it.  My copy is getting a good re-read, as currently I am going through this book with a group of ladies who are meeting monthly to discuss it.  In re-reading this, the Lord has already used Shannan's words to push me farther into freedom and trusting Him.  

The chapter that has really was a lifeline for me during this crazy time of trying to climb the mountain of international adoption is chapter four, Unplan.  Listen to this quote.

He (God) chooses discomfort, challenges common sense, and promises pain in exchange for our very lives and all they harbor - our dollars, our hours, our homes, our families, our closely held dreams of a rosy future. This is the God we say we love. This is the God we signed up for. He kept nothing from us, made no false claims, hid zero agendas, and we said yes. We said we wanted the life he had to offer, and that we would follow wherever he led in order to find it. And yet we often feel all baited-and-switched when those dusty roads don’t lead us back to ourselves as planned.
— Shannan Martin, Falling Free

Yep.  That's truth right there.  And thank the Lord that he doesn't just lead me back to myself.  I would make an awful, horrible, no-good god.

3.  The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

 

This book pushed me WAY out of my comfort zone, but I will never look at this country of ours the same again.  I thought the constitution protected our citizens.  Now I know it doesn't.  I know that sounds dramatic, but there is great misuse of the 4th amendment and abuse of the 13th amendment in our country right now.

I think stories speak louder than political debates, so I will share this quote with you.  It is a long one.

Imagine you are Emma Faye Stewart, a thirty-year-old, single African American mother of two who was arrested as part of a drug sweep in Hearne, Texas. All but one of the people arrested were African American. You are innocent. After a week in jail, you have no one to care for your two small children and are eager to get home. Your court-appointed attorney urges you to plead guilty to a drug distribution charge, saying the prosecutor has offered probation. You refuse, steadfastly proclaiming your innocence. Finally, after almost a month in jail, you decide to plead guilty so you can return home to your children. Unwilling to risk a trial and years of imprisonment, you are sentenced to ten years probation and ordered to pay $1,000 in fines, as well as court and probation costs. You are also now branded a drug felon. You are no longer eligible for food stamps; you may be discriminated against in employment; you cannot vote for at least twelve years; and you are about to be evicted from public housing. Once homeless, your children will be taken from you and put into foster care. A judge eventually dismisses all cases against the defendants who did not plead guilty. At trial, the judge finds that the entire sweep was based on the testimony of a single informant who lied to the prosecution. You, however, are still a drug felon, homeless, and desperate to regain custody of your children. Now place yourself in the shoes of Cliffard Runoalds, another African-American victim of the Hearne drug bust. You returned home to Bryan, Texas, to attend the funeral of your eighteen-month-old daughter. Before the funeral services begin, the police show up and handcuff you. You beg the officers to let you take one last look at your daughter before she is buried. The police refuse. You are told by prosecutors that you are needed to testify against one of the defendants in a recent drug bust. You deny witnessing any drug transaction; you don’t know what they are talking about. Because of your refusal to cooperate, you are indicted on felony charges. After a month of being held in jail, the charges against you are dropped. You are technically free, but as a result of your arrest and period of incarceration, you lose your job, your apartment, your furniture, and your car. Not to mention the chance to say good-bye to your baby girl. This is the War on Drugs. The brutal stories described above are not isolated incidents, nor are the racial identities of Emma Faye Stewart and Clifford Runoalds random or accidental. In every state across our nation, African Americans - particularly in the poorest neighborhoods - are subjected to tactics and practices that would result in public outrage and scandal if committed in middle-class white neighborhoods.
— Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

If these heartbreaking injustices don't hit close enough to home, I was not surprised to see that the Tulia drug bust debacle was mentioned on the first few pages of The New Jim Crow.

I know the idea that our wonderful, glorious country could have such a huge flaw in our justice system is extremely uncomfortable.  I know as a white girl, I have the luxury of ignoring the problem or believing the criminalization of people with brown skin is warranted by bad decisions and actual criminal activity.  It isn't always true.

I pray that our justice system becomes more just.  I pray we all will get past our preconceived ideas and just try to understand the ideas in this book. 

4.  The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

 

Ok.  That last book was intense.  Here's some fun, easy, enjoyable fiction.  I had way too much fun reading this.  I especially loved that the author cashed in on the nordic obsession starting to find its way into our culture (Ikea, hygee, biking, danish food becoming more mainstream.)

To be honest, this wasn't the best fiction book I read last year, but it was the most fun.  Sometimes when the world is a little dark, fun is just what we need.

I love ports. I love the smell of tar and sea air, and the scream of the gulls. Maybe it’s years of taking the ferry to France for summer holidays, but a harbor gives me a feeling of freedom in a way that an airport never does. Airports say work and security checks and delays. Ports say... I don’t know. Something completely different. Escape, maybe.
— Ruth Ware, The Woman in Cabin 10

I hope you found a book you want to add to your "to-read" list from my list.

If not, I'm on Goodreads updating what I'm reading all year long.  I'd love for you to be my friend on Goodreads.  Click here to view my profile, and click "add as a friend."


My favorite band had just released a new album when I did my "4 Books I Loved in 2015," and now one year later, they have another new album.  It feels like the happiest of accidents or just a mid-level band with incredible work ethic.

Hexagons, IF, and Faith Adventures

This weekend was the IF:Gathering, and like the previous two years, leading an IF:Local in my city kind of took over my life.  I know that sounds like a bad thing, but it really isn't.  I love serving my city and the women in my small church that get to attend our big event in this way.

This year's IF:Gathering decor was full of the hexagon pattern.  It became so much a part of my life, as I built big hexagon art for the stage and stamped programs and table runners, that my son was convinced it was my favorite thing.  Like this SAT analogy:  my son Gabe is to Star Wars as mom is to hexagons.  Monday was my birthday, and at the dinner table, Gabe wanted to know why everyone in the family hadn't drawn me a hexagon picture.

The truth is that Gabe isn't wrong.  I have been a little in love with the hexagon shape for a while.  I even used hexagons in my writing when I wrote my eBook Faith Adventures last year.

I want to share the chapter with my hexagon scripture analogy.  Here it is, my chapter on the Great Commission.  Enjoy:


GREAT COMMISSION

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
— Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

When my father-in-law was on his deathbed, I was pregnant with my youngest son Gabe.  The hospital had us put on paper scrubs and gloves because Don had developed a virus.  All garbed up, I went into that room to say goodbye to this man who had been such a huge part of my life.  What do you say?  I’ll tell you what we said.  “I love you.”  He was very weak, but we knew what was important.  We both wanted to make sure we knew that there was nothing but love between us.

Last words are important.

The words Jesus gave us before He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, those words are crucial.  We call those words, the Great Commission.

These words are our parting instructions and our biggest job as the church.

There are a lot of action words in this command.  Sometimes we can get bogged down on just one of them.  

This is not unlike when I ask my son to do multiple chores at once.  Sometimes his ears hear only one command.  I'll say, “Take these dishes to the sink, rinse them off, take the trash out from the kitchen and from the bathrooms, and put new trash bags in.”  Ninety-nine percent of the time, what happens is the dishes are sitting on the counter not rinsed off and the trash is in the dumpster, but there is no trash bag in any of the trash cans.

It isn't because my son is a bad, disobedient kid.  It's because our kid ears don't always input information in.  (Unless it has to do with cheat codes to video games.  Then our kids become Rain Man all of the sudden.  Unfortunately, there are no Rain Man powers for our dishes.  Just once, I'd like my son to walk up and tell me, “There are 32 clean dishes put up in the cabinet, and I put 8 cups, 5 plates, 9 forks, 2 bowls, 6 spoons, and one knife in the dishwasher that I added soap to and started.”  If that happened, I might faint.)

I know about this kid ear problem because I remember having it.  My parents would give me instructions, but I would be busy being glued to a tv set watching something like Small Wonder or Pee Wee's Playhouse.  I wouldn't hear one word.

The genius comic strip writer Charles Schulz nailed it when he coined the adult to kid, “Mwa-Mwa-Mwa” muted trombone sound.

As we look at all the verbs in the Great Commission, let's try our best to not tune out any of the command.  He tells us to go, make, baptize, and teach.

The second thing that my human immaturity sees as I look at that list, is time.  I start to think what a long term project this sounds like Jesus is calling us to do.

But we aren't alone in this endeavor.

Jesus promised to send a helper, the Holy Spirit, to never leave us and to dwell with us.  The greek word Jesus actually used was parakletos which means “comforter” or “counselor.”

My brother-in-law Donnie Lane often points out that we get our word for parrot from the same greek word parakletos.  The same way a parrot would sit on its owner's shoulder and come along for his day of pirating or whatever else parrot owners do, the Holy Spirit comes along side us while we live this life of faith adventuring.

In my kids' home school co-op, this amazing, creative mom planned a whole class math and science that involved a weekly bubble station.  I was unsure of how we were going to play with bubbles all year long and learn math and science, but I was excited about it.

Guess what.  I did learn something.  One lesson in particular stuck with me.  We learned about bee hives by playing with bubbles.

I had always kind of wondered why and how bees make their hives into those perfect little hexagons, but I had never been curious enough to research it.

Maybe my kid brain thought bees could count to six, and that they liked making little line patterns with their wax.

Hexagons are actually a naturally occurring shape in nature that forms with flexible circles are pressed into each other.

In the bubble station we did this experiment.  We took two 10” x 12” pieces of plexiglass that were fashioned together with an inch gap between them.  Then we took a plastic straw and blew bubbles to fill the space in between the plexiglass.

As the space filled up with bubbles and room became precious, the packed in bubbles pressed against other bubbles and began to become hexagon shaped instead of circles.  Each circle was pressed against six other circles, and the slight pressure of competing for space formed a side, which means that each bubble had six sides.

The bubbles naturally did this as they existed within the group of bubbles.

As the church, we are in community together trying to fulfill this Great Commission that Jesus left us with.

As we gently press into each other, we form one united thing, His church.  As we work together, sharing the space God gives us to do His work, we all become shaped a little different.  We all become a little more like Him.

As we look into a beautifully formed beehive with hexagons brimming with sweet honey, I think that is a picture of what His church can be.

I pray we press into our place in His Church and appreciate the sweetness of unity.

The command of the Great Commission is a little less overwhelming when I know I have the Holy Spirt and my fellow believers working together to accomplish it.

Lord, help us to feel the importance of your command in the Great Commission.  Help us to constantly see ways we can do every verb in that command: go, make, baptize, teach.  Thank you for sending the Holy Spirit to help us, comfort us, and counsel us.  Give us ears to hear His promptings.  Lord, help us to remember that you have made us Your temple.  Help us to be unified with other believers so that we can be the one church, one, body, one bride that you intend us to be.  Help us to have grace and love as sweet as honey towards our fellow church members.  We long to work together to accomplish your commission.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

 

Reflection:

  1. Which verb in the Great Commission have you put the most focus on?  What would it look like to concentrate on actively follow through with Jesus' whole command?
  2. How has the Holy Spirit been a helper to you in the past?  Has he ever helped you as you made disciples?
  3. Have you thought of the global church as one item, like one beehive, before?  How can you bring more unity to your local church and/or the global church?
  4. How have other Christians pressed into you and caused you to look a little more like Jesus?
  5. Read the Great Commission again.  What is the Holy Spirit prompting you to do right now, this week?

The following chapter was an excerpt of the eBook Faith Adventures by Jennifer L. Lane.  It can be purchased on Amazon for just $2.99.


I loved singing this with our IF:Local, IF:Amarillo, this weekend.

My Word of the Year: Confidence

This week I posted that I was having trouble deciding on a word for 2017.  I made a cute, helpful worksheet for you and I to use in deciding on our word.  (Just subscribe, and I'll email it to you.)

Well, my worksheet worked.  I picked a word using my worksheet this morning, and I'm thrilled.

My word is confidence.

It's beautiful because it has two meanings that fit perfectly with the two big themes I see emerging for my life this year.  Let me explain.

First is this definition:

Confidence (n) 1. belief that one can rely on someone (GOD); firm trust

There are so many things that God is doing that I have no control over.  

We are in the process of raising $27,000 to proceed with an adoption of a little boy who is 8,000 miles away, who we've never met.  We have so little control over whether or not this adoption happens, but we are putting every bit of energy we can spare into making it happen.  We have 1/3 of the money we need so far, and we are filling out more paperwork and grants.  We are planning fundraisers and doing everything we can to adopt our little "A."  It is ultimately up to God.  He is going to have to provide financially, emotionally, and spiritually for this adoption to happen.  At any moment, the Ethiopian government or the regional government where he is from or the United States government could stop this adoption for whatever reason.  At any moment, our health or financial situation could change and put a halt to this adoption.  At any moment, a number of things that I can't even think of could stop this adoption.  I am going to have to trust and trust hard on the God who called us to adoption years ago.  We have been faithful to His call, and He is always faithful, more faithful than I could even imagine.  I will need to have confidence in Him or I might lose all my marbles this year.

I have other things in my life that are going to require trusting the Lord.  I've got a daughter graduating high school and going off to college this year.  No big deal.  I'm not freaking out about it at all.  Yeah right!

The second definition of confidence is this.

Confidence (n) 2. Feeling of self-assurance from one’s appreciation of one’s abilities or qualities.

There are a couple things I wrote down for things that make me come alive.  I wrote teaching about Jesus and writing.  These are things that God has gifted me to do, and if I don't have confidence in my ability to do them (because of His strength), then I won't be able to try all the things that I want to try this year.

I had a dream the other night that I was getting up to teach a room full of women.  I was so terrified and so moved to be authentic in my talk that I cried all my make up off, frantically searched for my Bible, and then got up to teach.  It was the most frightening and exhilarating dreams I've had in years.  When I finally began my talk, it all came together.  I could have woke up from that dream, got up to a podium, and gave that speech.  I know exactly what I would say because God has been building this message in my heart for years.

This dream may never come true, but I'm going to keep on writing and teaching just like it is going to happen tomorrow.

What about you?  Have you chosen your word for 2017?  Do you have dreams and struggles coming up this year and need some focus?  Comment below!  Sign up to receive my worksheet by email if you need a little help finding your word.

Some verses about confidence.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
— Philipians 1:6 ESV
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
— 1 John 5:14 ESV
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
— Hebrews 4:16 ESV
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.
— Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV

A song for you today.

What's Your Word of the Year?

Last year was the first time I participated in the Word of the Year.  I found my word reading a book about Alexander Hamilton, and I knew it was something I needed in my life.

I love the idea of picking a word for the year.  It helps you focus your goals and actions all year long.

This year I am having trouble deciding on a word, so I created this nifty 2-page worksheet to help you and me decide on a word for 2017.

All you need to do is subscribe to my blog, and you can download the worksheet that will take you through 6 steps to finding your word.

If you've already got a word for 2017 or if my worksheet helps you discover one, let us know by commenting below.  We can cheer each other on as we find our focus for 2017.

I'm going to post my word on Thursday, and next week, I'll be sharing some things I learned because of my 2016 word.


Once you've found your word, there are so many ways to display your word to keep it on your mind.  

Fun word display ideas:

  • A Giving Key - Custom words are free right now (regularly $5.)  They give meaningful employment to homeless individuals in California.

  • Get yourself some marquee letters & spell out your word in your home or office.

  • Check Amazon for your word.  They may have vinyl wall stickers or metal wall hangings with your word that would look just right in your home.


Join the fun.  Find your word.  Go ahead and enter your email to subscribe to my blog, and I'll send you the Word of the Year Worksheet right into your inbox.

Peace this Christmas

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
— Romans 5:1 ESV

Due to the cold war and hippie movement of the last mid-century, our view of the word peace has been skewed.  The word most associated with peace is war.

When Jesus was born in that stable 2,000ish years ago, the world did not automatically become war-free or even conflict-free.

King Herod sat on his throne and commanded assassinations and massacres, and Ceasar Agustus still commanded the roman military forces.

War has just got uglier as history and science progressed.

Unfortunately, the hippie version of peace was not what Jesus came to bring us.  Fortunately, He instead was born and died to bring us peace with God.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’
— Luke 2:13-14 ESV

We can have peace with God.  Because of Jesus, we can be right with Him.  Through faith, and faith alone, we can be justified and we can be someone that God is pleased with.  Because of Jesus, God can be pleased with us and at peace with us.

Glory to God in the highest!

This is the gift that Jesus lived and died to give, peace with God.

We cannot earn this peace and rightness with God.  We are unable to deserve this gift, and righteousness with God depends on faith in Christ.

Merry Christmas this morning.  This is the good news of the gospel: you can have peace with God!  You can feel the glorious grace and none of the shame that would keep us from entering a relationship with our God.  Because JESUS!

Advent: Great Joy

I've been waiting for joy.  Patiently searching my heart and my life for a tangible picture of joy or even an overwhelmed heart to tell you about here in these words.

Advent the expectant waiting for the arrival of a noble person and preparation for celebration.

I've been expectantly waiting for joy.  I prepared my heart for it.

Joy came on my cell phone yesterday in the form of a message, of which I cannot share a single detail.  It was a message full of the most beautiful good news interwoven into a story of heartbreak.  It was a message of answered prayers that was so unexpected it took time to sink in what had even happened.

Joy might be the fullest human emotion we can ever experience.  It is complete goodness amid the constant struggles of this human life.

And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’
— Luke 2:10-11 ESV

Joy is a savior laying in a manger as a baby with all the needs of a newborn and a mother recovering from childbirth among the hay and animals.

Joy is an answered prayer that has an answer that looks completely different than you could ever imagine.

Joy is complete surrender to the Lord who knows you because He made you.

Joy is a new liver while retaining the virus that killed the first one.

Joy is never doubting your brother is in Heaven but still missing him here on Earth, wishing His life could have been different.

Joy is when God asks you to do something that requires finances completely out of your means.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
— James 1:2-4 ESV

I am full of joy this Christmas Eve, and just like Jesus's birth, it came unexpectedly from the last places I would have ever imagined.

Let us be thankful that we serve a God that isn't limited to our solutions or imaginations.  Let us enjoy the joy brought to us this day, wherever that joy springs from and however that joy is intertangled with our human condition.

Put on the Full Footie PJs of Advent: Love

Last week I wrote a post about how much I needed to let my armor down, have a soldier's reprieve, and slip into the warm, comfort of advent.  I want to bask in who Jesus is and long for His coming.  I wrote about how much we need hope and how God gives us hope, even though we don't deserve it.

Today I'm going to talk about love.  We need love, and one of the greatest challenges of our Christian life is oftentimes loving other people.  People can make it easy not to love them.  We can sometimes make it easy not to love us.  Why do we do it?  Why is accepting love often harder than giving it?

I believe that it is easy to slip into the human, fleshly belief that we don't deserve love.  If it wasn't, suicide wouldn't be the second leading cause of death of young people aged 10 to 24.

I know everyone reading this has had that moment or several moments in their life where they didn't believe they deserved to be loved.  I know I have.

This is the worst lie the devil has up his sneaky sleeve, that we are not loved.

 

You are loved.

You are loved

You are loved.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.
— 1 John 4:16-19 ESV

Fear can easily turn into my main mode of operation, as a mother or just as a human.  This time of year, I see more car accidents and people honking than all year long.  I just want to yell at people to go home and drink some hot chocolate.  Whatever they are rushing to can't be worth it.

Fear is the easy voice to find in your head.  It's loud and urgent.

Love is there too, speaking softly.  If we push it away and decide we are not worthy, it gets so muffled that we can barely hear it.

Guess what?  We aren't worthy, but God loves us anyway.

We aren't worthy, but our family loves us anyway.

Your kids aren't worthy, but you love them anyway.  (If your kids are new and still smell like a mix of baby powder and Heaven, just wait.  They will do something you don't approve of in a blink.  You'll be disappointed, but then you'll love them through it.)

Love isn't about earning.  Love is freely given and never deserved.  And God's love is the best.  It's top-grade, pure, and good to the bone.

It is hard to believe that we are allowed to receive the pure, unconditional love of God.  But He gave it to us before we could even know to ask for it.  He gave it to us before our cells formed into the DNA that makes you, you.  He loved you first.

The sending was from this love.

Jesus came to Earth only because of this love.

Receive it.  Come to Him as a child and hold onto it with confidence.  Hear it.  Keep it close.

We share it all year round.  Just for a moment, get cozy with that overwhelming love that only God can give.  Savor it and know that this love was poured out just for you.

Put on the Full Footie PJs of Advent: Hope

I don't know about you, but this Christmas I need a little extra focus on Jesus.  I need Him close.  I want to wrap myself in those four advent words:  hope, love, joy, and peace.  I want a grown-up sized footie pajama of hope, love, joy, and peace to step into and zip up.  Life as a Christian isn't usually cozy.  We spend it putting on our full armor, which also includes those boots of peace, and fighting the spiritual battles of our lives.  

Just for this time of year, I need a soldier's reprieve.  I need to retreat, put on the full footie pajamas of advent, dust myself off, warm in the glow of His hope, fill up in the fullness of His love, bask in the completeness of His joy, rest in the goodness of His peace, ready myself for another year of the ongoing war.

I'm going to post an advent post each of the next four weeks.  Today's topic is hope.

How much do I need some hope today?  I can't even measure it.

The Old Testament ends with prophet Malichi's words.

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts. Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.
— Malachi 4 ESV

I'm sure every Israelite read those words and was completely ready for His healing wings.  They probably wanted Elijah to start ushering that day in right away.  These passages bring a promise, a promise that gives hope.  But oh how God takes His time!

Four hundred years pass.  Four hundred years!

It feels like four hundred years since we started this adoption journey.

I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that waiting does not naturally produce hope.  Waiting produces a lot of things: impatience, discontent, second-guessing, frustration, anger, and even numbness.

Standing in the Hobby Lobby line yesterday, I knew that I was going to need to just shut off my brain and wait or I would be downright angry about it.  I went numb and studied their candy collection.

If I'm honest with myself, I know I have let myself grow numb at times over our 3 years of waiting for our adoption.  Numb seems much better than anger, easier to hide in.  It doesn't stand out in a church service or Bible study like anger would.  I thought I was doing everyone a favor by choosing numbness.  The problem is that numbness is no more holy than anger, discontent, or impatience.

I need some hope.

I know there is something in your life that is a source of suffering that could easily produce anger or numbness.  We all have some kind of struggle we are dealing with.

How is this hope produced?  Romans 5 gives us the formula.

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 ESV

Hope isn't made by losing our temper or numbing out.  Hope is the reward for enduring the struggle.

Numbing out will never produce hope.

How easy is it to numb out in our culture?  How easy is it to numb out in our churches?

This advent we get a short cut.  We get to come to Him and get all the hope our little hearts can carry.  He's not checking our endurance cards at the door.  Because guess what?  Jesus is all about short cuts.  He came died and rose again to give us the biggest short cut this world has ever seen.  We cannot earn our place in Heaven, but our citizenship stamp was given when we accept His free gift of forgiveness.

Jesus isn't worried about whether or not we have persevered like an Eye-of-the-Tiger champ.  Jesus isn't going to quiz us on the ratio of time spent on our knees versus time spent in front of Netflix.  Praise Jesus!

This advent we come empty handed to the beautiful story of His birth.  The birth that was anticipated for not just four hundred years, but for all time.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
— Galatians 4:4-5 ESV

Come.  Accept your gift of hope as a son or a daughter.

We have done our best to preservere during those heavy struggles this year, but we don't always get it right.  We take some hope today anyway.

Let the glow of His hope warm your weary hearts.  Lord knows we need it.

A song for you today.

Shop Sweet 4

The last three years I have posted great ways that you could spend your Christmas money in wonderfully sweet ways, supporting vulnerable communities near and far.  I've got a new list for Christmas 2016 that includes ideas from fair trade companies, give-back companies, and supporting missions.  

Your dollar can be powerful.  The average household spent $830 on Christmas gifts last year.  If we all took a  percentage of that chunk of money and purchased from places that make a difference in our world, imagine the good that could be done.

I am continuing my conviction to make my dollars count in a more meaningful way.  I'm going to buy many of my Christmas gifts from companies who employ under-resourced workers, companies who cycle profits into vulnerable communities, retailers making a difference, local small businesses, and from families raising money for international adoptions.

Before you head off to the mall this Christmas, consider purchasing some of these gifts that will give back to communities that need our support.

Bonus sweetness:  When you buy a present from Amazon (most of us will), use AmazonSmile.  All you have to do is click a link to AmazonSmile before you shop, and a percentage of your purchase is donated to the charity you choose to support.  Personally, I have been supporting our adoption agency AWAA who needs funds to continue caring for orphans in their transition home in Ethiopia.  This is link to support AWAA through AmazonSmile.  Use the link every time you shop at Amazon this holiday season.

You can find adoption fundraisers to support this Christmas by searching "adoption fundraiser" on Etsy or you can join the FaceBook group "Gifts for Adoption."

2016 gift ideas:

1.  Horn Vessel - Dark Horn Vase, $68, ravenandlily.com, empowering women in Kenya.

2.  Vintage Gold Leather Bucket Bag, $159, ssekodesign.com, empowering women in Ethiopia.

2.  Phrase Necklace, $48, livefashionable.com, personalize it - which is so in right nowcreates sustainable business opportunities for women locally and globally.

4.  Colornation Gloria Tote, $145, manoszapotecas.com, handwoven, fair trade, handmade according to time-honored traditions by Zapotec weavers in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. 

1.  Great Expectations Necklace, $58, noondaycollection.com, empower women in Uganda, photo from @msrachelhollis's instagram, contact Nikki Pool.

2.  Trade T-shirt, $15, fairtradefriday.club, support the women Mercy House supports around the globe.

3.  Nautical Fringe Hook, $25, part necklace/part scarf/all cute, banded2gether.com, provides 3 meals in Uganda.

4.  Love God & Serve Others Raglan, $42, persimmonprints.com, small business, gives a percentage back to the good shepherd agricultural mission.

1.  Bethlehem Nativity, $35, marketcolors.org, handmade in Kenya.

2.  Slate Stone Serving Board, $28, tenthousandvillages.com, Authentic Fair Trade Product. Ethically sourced. Handcrafted in India.

3.  Hope Bowl, $26, Trades of Hope, contact Rachel Clark, women who make these beautiful bowls are able to earn an income to feed their families and send their children to school.

4.  Charcoal Soap, $20, theadventureproject.org. Buy a charcoal soap for your loved one, and one woman in Kenya will receive a new charcoal-efficient stove.

Dudes:

1.  PowerLight Bundle, $79, bioliteenergy.com, reinvests funds to bring clean energy to the world.

2.  Wooden Earphones, $15, youwood.org, percentage given to feed hungry, free slaves, and care for the orphan.

3.  Toiletry Bag, $15, carry117.com, empower women in Ethiopia.

4.  Waxed Canvas Tool Bag, $180, kithandkinshop.com, local, small business.

Kiddos:

1.  Rainbow Fish Zooties, $25, cometogethertrading.com empower communities in Kyrgyzstan.

2.  Be a Nice Human Kids Tee, $17, unlockhope.com, supports Think Humanity, an organization that runs a hostel in Hoima, Uganda for young refugee girls from all across Africa, many of whom are orphaned.

3.  3-Car Garage, $30, thehungersite.greatergood.com, funds 50 cups of food.

4.  The Hoot, $28, krochetkids.org,  supports sustainable cycle of employment and empowerment in Uganda.

1.  Take a Walk in My New Shoes children's book, $10, solehope.org, supporting hope, healthier lives, and freedom from foot-related diseases through education, jobs, and medical relief in Uganda.

2.  Bear Felt Rug, $76, globalgoodspartners.org, made by formerly trafficked women artisans in Nepal.

3.  Reading is My Favorite Youth T-Shirt, $20, readerlyshop.com, portion of profits go to eradicate human suffering caused by illiteracy.

4.  Stuffed Alpaca Hammerhead Shark, $32, globalgoodspartners.org, empower women in Peru.


HAPPY SHOPPING & MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

Don't forget about AmazonSmile!  Use it every time you shop at Amazon.

This is the link to support America World Adoption Agency.  

 

Other places on my blog to find gift ideas:

2015 Shop Sweet list

2014 Shop Sweet list

2013 Shop Sweet list

I like to include music with my blog posts.  This week we lost Sharon Jones.  She had an amazing voice.  I had a chance to see her sing once, and it is a beautiful memory.  You will be missed, Sharon.

Church, Balk about Bannon

Saturday night, I read that president-elect Donald Trump was considering naming Steve Bannon his chief of staff, and I wrote emails and tweets to Trump, Pence, and Paul Ryan voicing my disapproval of this possible choice.

Why did I care?

Steve Bannon has been strongly linked to the alt-right group, which is just a coded name for white supremacy.  (The fact that white supremacy is being veiled and normalized is just one problem I have with the media coverage of this story.)

Sunday afternoon it was reported that Trump named Reince Priebus his chief of staff, but Trump named Steve Bannon his senior counselor and chief West Wing strategist.  It is telling that Bannon's name was listed first, top billing, in the official announcement from Trump's transition team, above chief of staff.

I believe Trump was sending a message to his other appointments to defend Bannon.  He's at the top.  Fall in line.

I also wonder if Trump isn't throwing this out there to see what sticks.  Are the Christians who turned out in big numbers to vote for him going to balk?

Church, we need to balk!

There isn't some video of Bannon admitting to believing alt-right, white supremacist views I could show you.  He is too smart for that.  He wouldn't have a promised job at the White House if he admitted such views publicly.

Just because there is not one single, infallible piece of evidence against Bannon does not mean he is fit for this appointment.

I will tell you the exact moment in my mind that Steve Bannon became unfit to serve as a staff member of the West Wing; it was 14 days after the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015.

Watching the news coverage of that shooting was as traumatic and heartbreaking as any other terrorist attack I've lived to see covered on television.

It was personal.

I spend more days in a church than I spend away from the church.  I even lived in our church building when we were first married and planting our church downtown.  During worship on Sunday mornings, I look out at a sea of faces that are all shades of brown and pink.  If there is anywhere I long to be most free from the fear of shootings, it is when I am with my body of Christ that I love dearly.

That church shooting was completely heartbreaking for all Christians, not just for African-Americans.

Steve Bannon ran the "news" site Breitbart from 2012 to 2016, and just 14 days after the church shooting he ran the headline, "Hoist it high and proud: The Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage."

You can feel any way you want about The Confederate flag, but this headline was run during a time when the news was still full of photos of the shooter Dylann Roof squatting in his backyard holding a Confederate flag.

It was despicable, and it isn't the only disgusting headline Breitbart has published; hateful is their specialty.

Non-white Christians feel hurt that 4 out of 5 white Christians voted for Donald Trump, and Steve Bannon is one big reason for that hurt.

I didn't cry whenever Trump got elected.  I tell you when I cried.  I cried on Wednesday night when I was driving to the gym after reading a Facebook post from a Latino missionary we support financially and through prayer.  He posted that he was hurt that his Christian friends had not only voted for Trump but were on Facebook gloating and celebrating that Trump had won.

This is a missionary that I have shared meals and prayers with.  He moved his family of three to a third-world country to work with people who identify with a different religion than Christianity, a dangerous assignment.

I mourn with my brother in Christ.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
— John 13:35 ESV

White Christians, we "held our nose" and elected Trump.  We have a responsibility to speak out about actions that go against our beliefs.

Do I even have to say that white supremacy goes against our Christian beliefs?

I have 613 Facebook friends, friends who are almost 100% Christian, and only 4 of my friends responded to my pleas to contact their representatives about Bannon's appointment to the president-elect's White House staff.  I've had friends and family tell me be careful where I get my news from.  I had one of the members of Trump's Evangelical Advisory Board email me back to tell me that I need to stop listening to liberal media.  That email was crushing because of the 27 names on his advisory board, he was the one I respected the most.

I understand how much of the media's trust has eroded over decades of skewed reporting and assaults on Christian values.  That is why I am not asking you to believe anything that is being said about Steve Bannon by the liberal media.  Judge him by his hateful words and shameful reporting as head of Breitbart.  Or if you are willing, listen to Glenn Beck's opinion of Bannon.

Christians have done a good job the last 8 years praying for our president, praying for our country, being aware of what is going on, and holding people in government accountable.  We cannot quit this oversight just because a Republican is in the White House.

Donald Trump has made this staff appointment to see how the Christians who turned out to vote for him will respond to it.  Are we just going to fall in line or are we going to refuse to sit quietly by as Bannon takes this job in our capital?  We have to make it heard that we will not allow someone to work in the West Wing advising our president that has spent the last 5 years peddling hate.

Please contact president-elect Donald Trump, vice-president-elect Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, and your state's two senators.

A quick phone call has the biggest impact.  Few people take the time to call, so it holds more weight than an email or a tweet.  So far, I found calling to be very quick and easy.  Most offices have an automated answering machine that allows you to leave your opinion on any issue and have your voice heard.

Church, let's pick up our phones and balk.

Here are the numbers you can call:

  • Donald Trump (646) 736-1779 (Note:  the ability to leave messages has been disabled.  This is not ok because it sends the message that the president-elect does not want to hear from his constituents.  You have to email info@donaldtrump.com.)
 
  • Mike Pence (317) 232-4567  (FYI, a real person answered when I called.)
 
  • Paul Ryan (202) 225-0600 

If you live in Texas, you can contact the following senators.  If you live in a different state, you can find your senator's info here.

  • Ted Cruz 202-224-5922
 
  • John Cornyn 202-224-2934

Just a few moments on the phone could change the way our country is run the next 4 or 8 years.

 

 

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
— Galatians 6:2 ESV

Book Review - The Gift of Second

In the summer of 2010, I lost my youngest brother to suicide.  That moment changed my family's life forever.  I have felt compelled to share about my experience of losing my brother in order to encourage people who are struggling with a similar loss.  I also have hoped to bring some understanding to my brothers and sisters in Christ who haven't dealt with this type of loss.

For the past year, I have had the privilege of writing a few blog posts for the website The Gift of Second.  It has been a great outlet for me to share some of my story.

I am thankful that Brandy Lidbeck began The Gift of Second as a safe place on the internet for survivors of suicide to connect and be encouraged.

Now Brandy has taken her own experience after losing her mother to suicide, her knowledge as a licensed therapist, and her observations found through running the site, and she has put all of this wisdom into a book also called The Gift of Second:  Healing From the Impact of Suicide.

The Gift of Second released on Amazon in mid-October, and I was so glad to read Brandy's kind and refreshing words around the subject of suicide.

Remember, there is no timetable or limit to grief. Be kind to yourself. Do not compare your grief to others’, as each individual person grieves each individual relationship differently. It is unique, and to shame yourself for not being ‘farther along’ in the grief process discounts the genuine feelings you have. Suicide is tragic, and we need to give ourselves permission to feel the enormity of all the emotions as they present themselves.
— -Brandy Lidbeck, The Gift of Second

Brandy writes about grief, guilt, shame, trauma, finding the right therapy, how to talk about the loss, and forgiveness.  As I read, I was so impressed how comprehensive Brandy's book was.  I couldn't think of a subject pertaining to suicide that was not covered.

After losing my brother, I read a half-dozen books related to suicide loss.  I was dismayed to find that many of the books were just plain weird.  Some of the books were overtly gory in the details they shared.

Brandy is very cautious about not sharing details that could trigger anyone into feelings of post-traumatic stress.  Her book is a safe place to process your feelings, and it is written in the voice of a sympathetic friend with professional, sound advice for healing.

I think we sometimes hold on to the guilt as our last sort of connection to our loved one. We often have a false belief that if we stop feeling guilty for not preventing the suicide, then we, by default, consent to it. It is simply not true.
— Brandy Lidbeck, The Gift of Second

If you have suffered a loss in your life through suicide, I whole-heartedly recommend this book.  If you know someone who has experienced this type of loss, this is a suitable, comprehensive book to gift them.  If you are on staff at a church, I would highly recommend keeping this book on your shelf to give families who come for funerals or counseling after a suicide loss. 

I would love it if you would comment below if you decide to purchase Brandy's new book and any thoughts you have about it.

I know this book will impact many lives, and I thank God that He lead Brandy to create it.


Day 31: Conclusion

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

Today has mainly been focused on life after #write31days.  Completing this big writing challenge was really cutting into our wearing clean clothes and having groceries in our cabinets.  Today I did laundry, ordered groceries, and did a full day of home school work with my 1st grader.  

I wrote about 20,000 words this month.  That's an accomplishment.

Even better is the fact that I feel much more confident in my understanding of this topic.  This topic isn't just some facts or trivia.  This topic is at the heart of my identity in Christ.

I feel more sure about my relationship with God after thinking through and writing this series.  I pray this series has helped your relationship with God as well.

Thank you for reading along!

 

Day 30: Running the race

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
— Philippians 3:12-16 ESV

I started this series with these wrong ideas (taken from my intro):

  • I thought I could impress God by being good and doing good.
  • I have been working my head off serving in ministry, and I felt like God would be disappointed in me if I didn't do well.

Here we are at day 30.  Have I achieved my goal of understanding how wrong these statements are?

I look at this verse in Philippians, and it is full of verbs that my try-hard, do-good heart loves.

  • press on
  • straining forward
  • toward the goal
  • hold true

Am I wrong to think we should let go of the striving?  Just look at this persuasive call to action?

My goal of this series was not to prove that we could stop doing things for God; it was to change the attitude of the doer.

Here are the things I wanted from this series (taken from my intro):

  • a clearer understanding of our relationship with God
  • a truer understanding of the God who created and loves us
  • a sounder theology
  • a humbler position
  • no longer driven to earn God’s approval or love
  • and no longer driven to impress God

I think if we look back a few verses in Philippians, we can see how these ideas are met before all the action takes place.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
— Philippians 3:7-11 ESV

Paul is saying that His righteousness only comes through faith in Christ.

In order to run the race, pressing on and straining forward, we must first know this truth.  Knowing this truth deeply, down in your bones, only comes with maturity as a Christian.  Maybe that is why verse 15 says, "let those of us mature think this way."

I pray that my striving to impress God has come to an end and that I can continue my race, maturely knowing that my righteousness only comes through faith in Christ.

I cannot earn a right standing with God through good works or good behavior (the law).  Faith in Christ is the only option.  As scripture says, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

 

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And a song...

Day 29: Commissioned

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

I, Paul, and my companions in faith here, send greetings to the Galatian churches. My authority for writing to you does not come from any popular vote of the people, nor does it come through the appointment of some human higher-up. It comes directly from Jesus the Messiah and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. I’m God-commissioned. So I greet you with the great words, grace and peace! We know the meaning of those words because Jesus Christ rescued us from this evil world we’re in by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins. God’s plan is that we all experience that rescue. Glory to God forever! Oh, yes!
— Galatians 1:1-5 The Message

As we come to the end of our series, I want to go back to the very beginning of Galatians.  (Yes, I know that is backward, but so much of studying the gospel is the opposite of the way the world works, so it fits.)

Paul lets the church at Galatia know where his authority for writing the letter, that is the book of Galatians, comes from.  The English Standard Version phrases it like this, "not from men nor through man."  The Message version takes a more poetic approach.  It says that it doesn't come from popular vote or higher-up appointment.  

Our media has been overly obsessed with popular votes and the appointments that the vote winner will have the authority to make.  Neither of these man-made authorities is necessary to have God's authority.

Instead, Paul's authority comes directly through Jesus.  The Message version says that he is God-commissioned.

Here's some good news.  You are God-commissioned too.

You have been commissioned with His authority to go into all the world proclaiming His message.

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
— Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

This is The Great Commission, and it is a calling we are all commanded to fulfill as a Christian.  In this commission, Jesus promises to be with us until the end of the age, basically FOREVER.

He is with us as we fulfill this mission.  We are not alone.  It is God's will that everyone should hear the gospel, and when we go, making disciples, we are joining the work God is already doing here on earth.

Here are some facts that might erase the fear you might have of being commissioned:

  • You are not alone.  The Spirit is with you.
  • You cannot mess up the job of making a disciple if the Holy Spirit is the only one who can draw hearts to God.
  • You cannot impress God by making a disciple because Jesus is the one who actually brought that sheep to Himself.
  • You cannot disappoint God when someone rejects God.  God knows everyone's heart already.
  • You are obeying God's call making disciples.
  • Your obedience pleases God.
  • God loves you no matter what.
  • Our relationship with God is only based on Christ, nothing else.

So go!  Make disciples!  Help others come to know Him.  Help others know Him more.  You are God-commissioned.

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And a song...

Day 28: Goodness

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
— Romans 8:28-30 ESV

This verse is a comfort as we abide in Him and live out the calling He has placed on each of our lives.  Whatever comes our way, every single thing, can be used for good.  We were chosen by Him, and we are called by Him.  We are made right with God, just as if we had never sinned through His blood, and some day we will be glorified in Heaven with Him.

God's Word also tells us that everything that is good is from God.  The absolute only way to have goodness in our life is to receive that goodness from Him.  Abiding in Him guarantees that our lives will be filled with His goodness.  Anytime bad things creep into our lives, God has the ability to make those bad things work for good, whenever we are called according to His purpose.

As we stay living His calling and abiding in Him, we allow Him to bring His goodness into our lives.

This all sounds so simple, doesn't it?  My work-hard, try-hard, striving nature causes me to worry that I'm not doing the right things to abide in Him.

What if I skip my Bible reading time too often?

What if I am mistaken about my calling?

What if I'm bad at remembering to pray?

All of these questions come from a place of fear, fear of not being "good enough" to be in a relationship with God and fear of not being "good enough" to be used by God.

We have to realize we have been justified by Christ.  Our faith in Him is what makes relationship and calling possible.  We don't have to be "good enough."  Jesus was perfect.  He is all we need.  We are justified.  

Our flesh want to lean into following rules and check boxes that will tell us that we are "good."  God just wants our faith.  We show that faith when we lean into Him to be our justification.  It was Abraham's faith that made him righteous.  It will be your faith that will make you righteous.

Because God offers this righteousness to us through His Son Jesus, we know God is so good.  Not only that, but everything God created is good.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.
— 1 Timothy 4:4-6 ESV

God invites us into good teaching and sharing the Good News with our friends and family by receiving goodness with thanksgiving.  This is our calling.  We have all been called in the Great Commission to make disciples.  We make disciples when we share the goodness of God's Word with the people in our life.

We will not be perfect disciple-makers; we are not Jesus.  But as we lean into abiding in Him, having faith in Him, sharing the truth of the gospel, and knowing we don't have to be "good enough," He will be faithful to bring goodness.

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Here's a song for you today.

Day 27: Abide

Paper Tigers & Impressing God

A Write 31 Days Series

I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.
— John 15:1-4 The Message

Abiding in Him.  It is the key to everything we have been talking about.

If we live our live making our home snuggled down into Christ as our identity, as the Holy Spirit dwells inside us, just like the Holy Spirit dwelled inside that ark, inside the Holy of Holies, inside the tabernacle, then we will naturally avoid these paper tiger pitfalls we've been discussing.

It sounds impossible, but our goal is to live a life where you really can't tell where you end and Christ begins.  We live as heirs to the great inheritance.  We live as sons and daughters adopted into His family.  We live as servants, laying down our life for His will.  We gain life as we respect and submit to His will, following His example of servanthood.

Abiding in Him makes good works possible, and when we realize that we can do nothing on our own, we know our works can never impress God.  The work was always His.

I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.
— John 15:5-8 The Message

Abiding in Him is how we bear fruit.  We don't just behave ourselves, we actually have unnatural, unconditional love for our fellow humans.  We have joy on our worst days.  We have peace when the world is spinning out of control.  We have patience when we cannot muster it on our own.  We are outlandishly kind when the flesh wants to lash out.  Goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness become how we relate to our fellow Believers and the world.  We have self-control when our flesh is weak.

I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.
— John 15:9-10 The Message

We are not on our own trying to avoid the fear of failing others and trying to avoid people-pleasing.  When we remember love is the goal, we know we should treat others with grace and truth, just as Jesus came and lived His life.  Grace and truth are only possible through abiding in Him.

We are not on our own hoping that our good works, our service in His Kingdom, will succeed and please God.  If we join in His work, as a friend and co-worker, we don't have to worry about pleasing Him.  He is pleased with His work.  His work succeeds, maybe not by worldly standards, but by Heavenly standards.



I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.
— John 15:11-15 The Message

 

 

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A song for you.