Embrace Holy Interruptions & Be Gracious

This past Sunday, I had been asked to preach at a local Methodist church (due to my Lay Servant School training) while they transition to a new pastor. Fortunately, my own church meets early, and since the churches are in the same small town, I got to attend my church before giving the sermon at the other one.

The lectionary this past week featured Mark 5:21-43, which tells of Jesus’s encounters with Jairus and an unnamed woman as He and the disciples travel through a village. Jairus’s daughter is sick, so beckons Jesus for help. The unnamed woman also seeks healing, but rather than throwing herself at Jesus’s mercy, she simply finds Him in the crowd and touches His garment.

My pastor spoke about “holy interruptions,” which I thought was an intriguing takeaway. These stories are technically interruptions to whatever Jesus and His disciples had been on the way to do. If we look outside of ourselves and take the time to really see people and situations around us, and if we actively try to follow the Spirit, we might find that God constantly throws “holy interruptions” in our path–conversations and actions we didn’t intend/expect to have/take…but they were meant to be. Another word that’s often used for these instances is “divine intervention/interaction.”

I think of the good samaritan story here. The priest and the Levite missed the holy interruption God put before them because they were in a hurry…because they were putting their convenience before others’ suffering…because they were too stringent about the rules/laws.

It’s perfectly possible to justify their actions by pointing to said laws. Yes, it’s true that one would be ceremonially unclean for several days if they touched a dead or dying person, which would be especially inconvenient for a priest or Levite. But there are also laws about caring for your neighbor. God had already modeled unconditional love to them. So, to me, it’s a matter of discretion. They should’ve known helping a neighbor in dire need would be worth not being allowed to enter the place of worship temporarily.

We, too, often lack discretion…mostly out of selfishness or short-sightedness. The combination of those qualities causes us to lack generosity with time, money, grace, love, patience, peacemaking, forgiveness, etc.

I’m not going to call my grandma back because she’ll keep me on the phone an hour (But once she’s gone, will I lament how I clung so hard to my time instead of sharing it with her?) That friend hasn’t apologized, so why should I be the one to initiate reconciliation? (But once they’re gone, will I regret holding that grudge?) My fiance always leaves the coffee table a wreck, and the fact that I have to straighten it up makes me naggy and resentful. (But in the grand scheme of things, is it reallyyy THAT big of a deal? If he got in an accident tomorrow, would that matter to me anymore?)

Remembering that we all die and life is short, fragile, and unpredictable grounds me. Be joyful, be generous, love hard, forgive swiftly, all that jazz. Easier said than done, but yeah, worthy goals.

Anyway, my pastor also talked about peace. When Jesus tells the woman to go in peace, He doesn’t just mean to be well and be blessed. He means, “go in salvation.” Jesus offers peace that passes understanding. In my message, I discussed how Jesus offers HOPE to hopeless and desperate people.

It was an emotional morning. I got teary-eyed several times during my home church service and rode on the verge of choking up through my sermon. To me, this is one of the most stirring stories in the Gospels, period. And it’s ripe with important lessons on peace, hope, faith, mercy, healing, compassion, and more.

I’m thankful for that beautiful story and thankful I can write out my thoughts on it. Writing is a therapeutic exercise in reflection. I needed a little break, to remind myself that this is a hobby instead of a job–I’m not obligated to post week unless I want to–but I’m happy to be back.

In honor of today’s topic, shalom!

P.S. Check out my YT channels! 🙂

Is Christianity Superficial & Arbitrary?

Those who’ve read the Bible and/or had God set their hearts on fire for mission and ministry know the answer to this question. In case it wasn’t obvious…NO! But I have to remember that many people did not grow up in church (or didn’t grow up in a church that was actually passionate about meeting people’s physical and spiritual needs and also exemplified grace within its walls). For so many, ideas of Christianity as a religion, Christians as individuals, the purposes of church, etc. stem from bad experiences, sterotypes, etc. But you know what’s the sad part?

We did that!

Generally, the responsibility for distorted views on these subjects lies with Christians and the church.

The Christian who walks in a grocery store without a mask and harrasses the cashier about going to hell may be the only “Jesus” that person ever meets.

When sects of the church turned sexual purity into an idolatrous obsession or fixated on the blasphemous horror of R-rated films and secular pop songs, they sent out the message that Christianity’s main purpose was to dictate people’s lives.

When certain mega churches opened their doors to preach a prosperity gospel yet closed them to the hungry, freezing homeless people outside, they demonstrated that religion is only needed when it can be manipulated to support capitalism and the status quo.

Maybe that ruffled your feathers if you believe R-rated movies and secular pop songs are sinful. Self-control, wisdom, discernment, and conviction are integral to the Christian life. And if a song or movie or whatever else makes you feel uncomfortable or promotes wrong choices, don’t partake in it. I know some things convict me waaayyy more as I’ve grown closer to God. For me, it’s more often things like “the harsh words I said to a loved one in a moment of impatience” or “an instance when I could’ve witnessed but was afraid.”

But, I digress…

Here’s the point: Christianity is about being reconciled to the God of the universe, who created all things and loves us dearly, through Jesus, who died and was resurrected to defeat sin and death. The Holy Spirit guides us through life in pursing God and following Jesus, and this relationship with the three-in-one God gives us a life abundant in love, joy, hope, peace, and strength; we’re driven to share these things with others.

THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS. It’s sooo much more than the “rules to follow for a ticket to heaven” box in which we want to confine faith.

This week’s video briefly delves into this topic. Amazingly, what I wrote here isn’t even part of it; I just said a prayer before opening this blank post and word-vomited everything above as fast as I could type it. Divine guidance or the heretical musings of a misguided woman? You can decide. 😉

If you have five and a half minutes, I’d so appreciate a watch. Also, hit the like button and subscribe if you enjoy it. Thanks so much for watching and/or reading!

What Is God Preparing ME For?

On the second Sunday of Advent, most of us heard sermons based off Mark 1:1-8 in which John prepares the way for Jesus. He beckons the Israelites to repent of their sins and receive a baptism by water, symbolically cleansing their spirits. Jesus would follow John and baptize with the Holy Spirit. Just as John prepared the way for Jesus, I’m reflecting on what God has been preparing me for in 2020.

In the last few years, He’s done a lot of work in me. Though I grew up in church, I don’t think I had my own faith, which is normal for a kid. Throughout my early college years–surrounded by different influences from those of my comparatively-sheltered adolescence–I grew lukewarm. That changed when I took an English course in which we studied the Bible. In that time, I read more scripture than I ever had, which sent me on a new trajectory of rejuvenation and rediscovery. Over the following years and up to now, I devoutly read the Word and prayed fervently. For the first time, I actually pursued God. And it changed my heart and life.

The pandemic has transformed the way we conduct our church services. I had taught one Sunday School class beforehand (for approx. 2 years) with 5-10 attendees each week, and we always did book studies. Now, since we meet outside, it’s more practical for everyone to be in one SS class together. Also, so we don’t have to sanitize books and so no one feels behind if they miss a week, I am conducting SS straight from the Bible. Each week, I study the upcoming sermon passage then find another passage (from the Gospels, unless the sermon will be from the Gospels) to compare , contrast, and discuss. Between my college training as an English major (analyzing themes, symbols, etc. is my jam), my God-given spiritual gift of teaching, and His guidance, we’ve had enriching lessons and conversation each week. I love that by connecting and finding the parallels between different parts of the Word, we are deepening our understanding of the ethics, will, and heart of God.

Since corporal singing is risky with regard to spreading germs, my mom and another lady named Cindy at church perform a handful of songs during the worship service. They study the sermon passage together to coordinate music that aligns well and reiterates the scripture’s themes. Like me, their biblical interpretation abilities are being pushed and tested. Since my mom and I play huge roles on Sunday mornings, we now spend time each week discussing the sermon passage, SS passage, and potential song choices. This new habit has been beneficial for my mom and me’s relationship; the times we passionately discuss and dig into scripture are when we synergize best. In the last few months, she’s become a spiritual confidant to me. I’m grateful for this new facet to our friendship.

Other spiritual relationships are strengthening, too. Before my mom and Cindy select and practice their songs, they spend an hour or more grappling with the scripture before deciding on the most fitting ones. I talk with my pastor for about half an hour each week once I solidify my SS lesson; I run the gist of it by her, and she tells me what she plans to focus on in the sermon. She bolsters me with encouragement, and we help each other by sharing ideas and interpretations that hadn’t occured to each other.

2020 has been an extremely difficult year for many people. I found out around Thanksgiving that my sweet Aunt El in Arkansas (my dad’s home state) contracted COVID in a nursing home and passed away. I count my blessings every day that I or a close loved one haven’t contracted it yet, and due to my privileges and blessings, I have not faced the turmoil of financial strain, homeschooling children, relapsed alcoholism, and countless other issues. Let us always be cognizant and compassionate to the suffering of our neighbors!

This year has challenged me to grow in discipleship and leadership. The last few years have all led to this point, today, as I type these words. Here I am now, nursing the strongest spiritual bonds of my life and leading about 20 people each week in the cutting, dissecting, and consuming of the Living Word. The Lord is refining me, and some of those around me, like silver (Zech 13:8-9). What does it all mean? What does the future for me, our church, our community, America, and the world hold?

Who knows. But it will all be used to further the kingdom of God, which brings good news to the oppressed, binds up the brokenhearted, and proclaims liberty to the captives (part of Isaiah 61:1).

The OT prophets cried out to the Israelites to turn back to God–“so He could give them mercy” (part of Isaiah 55:7). John does the same, urging them to repent of their sins; he would baptize with water, but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. And salvation–the hope, peace, strength, grace, joy, conviction, and sanctification offered by and through Jesus–would be opened not just to the Hebrews but to the whole world. We who lean into our calls to discipleship are preparing the way for His second coming and, in the mean time, doing the work to bring hurting, imperfect people (all people) to the really, really GOOD news of Jesus.

Thanks for reading!

John 15:1-8: Abiding in Jesus & Bearing Fruit

It’s been a while (too long, really) since I dove into a passage of scripture. Let’s discuss John 15:1-8 and why it’s important all the time but particularly now. The gardening imagery and symbolism gives us a lot to chew on–bearing fruit, being pruned, growth in general, abundance and vitality (the abundance of God’s grace and blessings, how the Word is refreshing and rejuvenating), simply being alive (and how cool it is that nature is technically alive), appreciating the inexplicable wonder and beauty of creation (and how God values us more than all that), etc.

A few words on the Book of John

The Book of John stands apart from the other gospels in a couple ways. Mark is the shortest gospel with a handful of parables and the most crucial details of Jesus’s ministry. Though Matthew and Luke each have some passages unique to their books, they are basically two sides of the same coin. Oversimplifying the contrast a bit: Matthew was a jew speaking to jews, and Luke was a gentile speaking to gentiles. Hence, we see a greater emphasis on “outsiders” in Luke and more references to Israel in Matthew. There’s more to say on their differences and what they imply, but perhaps I’ll make a post on the gospels someday. For now, let’s get back to the point–

Unlike Matthew and Luke, John is not chocked to the brim with parables, yet it’s not as short as Mark. So, what’s taking up all the space? John is a very ‘spiritual’ book. It starts of with those cryptically beautiful sentiments that in the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The book contains a lot of theology on the relationship between God and Jesus and also great images that are unique to John–Jesus as the great shepherd, the true vine, etc. Some stories like Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and praying for them only appear in John.

Jesus=the vine, God=the gardener

In John 15, Jesus calls Himself the true vine and God the gardener. The gardener cuts off every branch that doesn’t bear fruit and prunes those that bear fruit so they can do so more effectively. We must stay connected to Jesus, the vine, so we can continue to grow.

Of course, this is all symbolical, so what does it mean? When the phrase “bear fruit” is used in scripture, it refers to leading lives that reflect our beliefs. If we claim to love God and follow Jesus, do our actions and heart reflect that? Look at the mission and ministry of Jesus. He reached out to the marginalized–the orphan, the widow, the poor, the sick, the sinners. He modeled a posture of humility and servitude. He said that we need to take up our crosses and follow Him–not just go through the motions but make sacrifices and take risks. He calls us to forsake idols like materialism and detrimental qualities like pride and idleness. He was repulsed by arrogance, injustice, and hypocrisy. He urged people to turn away from selfishness and evil ambitions to seek true salvation through Him.

So, considering those standards, how much fruit are we bearing?

And in case we needed further clarification, Paul literally lists out “the fruits of the Holy Spirit” in a letter to the church at Galatia.

If we are connected to Jesus, the vine, we bear fruit; in other words, He guides us through the Holy Spirit to have traits like generosity, love, humility, empathy, meekness/peacemaking, patience, etc. Through the process of sanctification, we will improve upon those traits with time. God, the gardener, trims back the fruitless branches. Though we will never be perfect, He can help us become less bitter, less judgemental, less gossip-y, less lazy, less cold-hearted, less rash, less petty, less self-centered, etc.

Abide in Jesus

Jesus goes on to instruct the disciples: Abide in me.

Especially now, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and the American presidential election, we must abide in Him. If we abide in anything else–anxiety about the future, hopeless anger, a superiority complex against those we disagree with, our possessions and privileges, etc.–we can’t bear fruit, so we can’t be the light the world needs every day but especially today. Also, we won’t have that inexplicable strength and peace Jesus offers. If I get busy and don’t make time for God several days in a row, there’s a definitive difference in my spirit. I’m more easily riled up, I’m more easily stressed out. But when I abide in Jesus, I can live into His strength and peace and continue acting as the hands, feet, and face of Jesus in a divisive, uncertain environment.

Thanks for reading! Do you have anything to add about this story, the Book of John, nature imagery in scripture, etc? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. Here’s my latest video; thanks in advance to anyone who watches! I pull in so few views that I get excited about each individual one, haha.

Who Are “the Orphan and the Widow” Today?

Throughout the Bible, God, Jesus, Psalmists, prophets, etc. refer to God’s compassion for the orphan and the widow. From a modern standpoint, one might wonder why these two constantly go hand-in-hand. Understanding what they represent helps us fathom God’s heart for the marginalized.

In the patriarchial times when the Bible was written, a person without a father, husband or son did not have a caretaker. Hence, widows and orphans were basically helpless and at the mercy of others’ charity. Again and again, God commands the Hebrews to care for them and reiterates His love for them.

Thanks mostly to our government programs, widows and orphans are not the most pitiful people in society anymore. If the events of scripture unfolded today, these two group names would surely be replaced. Some options might include old folks with no family or a family who doesn’t visit…those addicted to hard drugs that have/will ruin their lives…those serving prison sentences…those who are homeless or living in extreme poverty…immigrants…women and children being abused…the list goes on. It’s also the people we avert our eyes from, hoping they won’t come close to us or talk to us–those who look dirty, sketchy, “not all there.”

Some may take issue with my “modern conversions” because of the implications. Orphans and widows faced their circumstances through no fault of their own, whereas most of my examples played a small or large role in their own outcome. Here, we reach an impasse where many Christians draw a line and justify apathy or even contempt. “That person chose to stick the needle in their arm; that person could pull themselves up by the bootstraps; let them lie in the beds they made. God helps those who help themselves.” Many more Christians never see–I mean, really SEE–the marginalized clearly enough to even have those thoughts. The groups I mentioned, along with all the others in our world suffering from pain, oppression, and dire need, struggle for acknowledgement in the tiny boxes that hold the contents of our self-absorbed minds and quaint lives. In many ways, in many places, the rough edges of prophetic Christianity have been filed down to leave a pretty religion that only requires church attendance and tithes (or, for some, saying a prayer over Thanksgiving dinner and holding some vague belief in God).

Pursuing God’s heart, following Jesus, and living in the Spirit means going above and beyond–above and beyond ourselves to really see our neighbors, including and especially the marginalized–going above and beyond our superiority complexes and judgement to realize others are not unworthy of our help and love–going above and beyond our lives of comfort and privilege to make a Kingdom-shaped difference in our communities. We must go above and beyond the motions.

Jesus, the embodiment of God, also ministered primarily to the marginalized. And unlike the widow and the orphan, many of them were lying in the beds they made. Jesus had mercy for the Hebrew collecting taxes for Rome and likely skimming off the top, the woman who had married five husbands, the woman caught in adultery. He had little patience, however, for the religious elites. The main thing about them that was so repulsive to Jesus was their condescending arrogance. They knew the letter of the Law of Moses but disregarded the spirit of it; they were adamant about rules and regulations but had forgotten the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” and God’s preference for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the foreigner…and, of course, the orphan and widow. Some of us Christians resemble the religious elites far too closely–caring about our religious traditions more than our fellow human beings.

I’m thankful God’s grace doesn’t carry the footnote, “*Unless the person screwed up of their own accord.” I’m thankful He doesn’t make us lie in the beds we make. And I’m thankful that He always has and always will care for the marginalized, whether it’s orphans, widows, or anyone else in need.

Thanks for reading! What groups do you see as modern day orphans and widows? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. I have a YT channel with two videos, and I’m editing one today to go up this weekend about the letter vs. the spirit of the Law. The last video is on my homepage and posted below. It would mean so much to me if you watched and/or subscribed!

The Pharisees Aren’t the Bad Guys & the Disciples Aren’t the Good Guys

Pharisees, scribes, chief priests–these are the bad guys in the story of Jesus’s life and death. And the disciples, who followed Jesus throughout His ministry, are the good guys. Hmm…is that true? I wonder if we are drastically oversimplifying both the gospel and human nature by viewing these characters in a black-and-white manner. Today’s post explores the nuance in the Pharisees, the disciples, and people in general.

Antagonists: religious officials (?)

Repeatedly throughout all four gospels, Jesus expresses disdain for the Jewish religious officials of the time. He is grieved and repulsed by their cold-heartedness and hypocrisy, which He boldly calls out and condemns. They care more about their social status than their neighbor; they cling to the letter of the law (Law of Moses) while disregarding the spirit of the law. Back before the Babylonian Exile (long before Jesus is born), God speaks through the major prophets of the Old Testament, insisting that burnt offerings mean nothing if people’s hearts are far from His.

The Pharisees Question Jesus by James Tissot, late 1800’s

Scribes knew the law well enough to contract legal documents (marriage, loan, inheritance, etc.). Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, formed after the Exile referenced above and the later return to Jerusalem, were comprised of men who wanted to “return to the law.” This goal is noble in light of the idolatry and injustice that had incurred God’s wrath. Essentially, they wanted to repent, be reconciled with God, and follow Him.

Had they followed the spirit of the law as well as the letter (boils down to being just and loving with everyone, especially the poor and needy), the religious officials SHOULD & WOULD have served as great allies in the gospels. They were more committed to God and His ways than anyone in society…”on paper,” as they say. However, those serving these roles succumbed to corrupt motives and bankrupt morals. A very gradual perversion must’ve happened over the course of generations, as memories of the Exile faded into the past. [Reminiscent of what kept happening with the Hebrews through the entire OT, eh? I wonder if the whole “gradual perversion” concept applies to American politicians…ahem…back to the topic at hand.] By the time Jesus came, religious officials had risen to a great position in society with much privilege, power, and glory.

Christ Accused by the Pharisees by Duccio di Buoninsegna, early 1300’s

I think we should approach our understanding of the religious officials with nuance. Yes, they are generally antagonistic in the gospels…but we should acknowledge that, at least theoretically, they are very knowledgeable of and loyal to God. And, as much as I’ve used the pronoun “they,” I hope there were outliers–people who worked for/in the temple because they genuinely loved God. As I read Mark 12 the other day, I looked on a certain exchange with new eyes. A scribe asks Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus tells him to love God and his neighbor. The scribe replies, “These commandments are greater than all the law put together.” Jesus proclaims, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Protagonists: disciples (?)

The disciples are Jesus’s most faithful followers during His life. Giving credit where credit is due, it’s amazing how they drop what they’re doing and go when He calls them. [Irony: the religious officials reject Jesus, yet uneducated working-class people follow Him.] Up to the crucifixion, they stick with Jesus through all His travels and teachings–even that one time in John 6 when He tells people to drink His blood and eat His flesh to receive eternal life (spoiler alert: it wasn’t a popular statement). 😉

I can’t categorize the disciples as “the good guys,” though. Through much of the gospels, their heads are thicker than molasses. They don’t intuitively understand Jesus’s mysterious, holy words and actions; they need parables explained to them, they illustrate lack of faith several times, and they cannot comprehend His foreshadowings of the future. Those shortcomings could all be chocked up to their lack of education, but there’s more…

Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet by Ford Madox Brown, mid-1800’s

Amazingly, the disciples actually have something in common with the religious officials: vanity. After the disciples witness so much of Jesus’s miracles and teachings, in which He helps helpless people and preaches humility and generosity, the disciples have the AUDACITY to argue with each other about who is the greatest among them…after Jesus outright says/demonstrates, multiple times, that the first will be last. Seriously?! As most of us know, one of the disciples, Judas, lights the match that starts the ticking time bomb to Jesus’s death. Peter, the rock of the early church in Acts, denies Jesus three times as He’s on His way to be tortured. Gah! It’s borderline comical how seemingly unworthy the disciples are. But Jesus chooses these hard-headed, flawed men to be the apostles. [What do you think that says of God’s ability to use each of us? And don’t even get me started on every other character in the Bible.]

Take-aways

The religious officials are flawed men, and so are the disciples. The religious officials are supposed to follow God but fall prey to pride and greed. The disciples are supposed to follow Jesus but can’t wrap their minds around His purpose and message. God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit are the good guys; Satan/death/sin are the bad guys. And the others in the story, just like us today, are just guys–with potential to be good, bad, and usually some of both.

As we appreciate the shades of grey in the gospels, may we acknowledge the shades of grey in ourselves and others. Maybe we view ourselves as good–but no one is perfect. Maybe another person did something bad–but they can still repent and change. And, as the featured image depicts, we can all be pig’s butts sometimes (extra grace required).

Thanks for reading! What’s your two cents? Have you learned something or seen something in a different light after reading this? Do you appreciate the ridiculously flimsy connection between the post and the featured image? Let me know in the comments. 🙂

P.S. It’s hard to buy into notions that the Bible was “made up” because, if it were only written as “a tool to control people” or something similar, why in God’s name would someone write the story and the characters to be so morally complex? Ha! Really, though.

God Spoke to Me, an Eerily Prophetic Quote from Dr. MLK Jr. & Attending a Mega-Church Virtually

Though the lack of Sunday worship services during Lent makes it feel less real, today is Good Friday. As we remember Jesus’s great sacrifice for humanity this Easter weekend, I wonder how the church will stand against injustice as Jesus did. Whether we choose to be counter-cultural or comfortable will determine our ability to follow Jesus, make disciples, and transform the world (The Great Commission).

God spoke to me this morning

As I type this rough draft on April 6, 2020, I just finished my prayer + Bible reading time. [See last week’s post to learn more about how this looks.] In my prayer, I specifically asked God to “speak to me in ways I can understand, which is mostly through what I read.” Also, I had this vague, nagging feeling that a post idea was on the tip of my fingers as I prayed; I even paused and blinked for a minute, tried and failed to grasp it, then reverted back to my prayer.

When I got to my reading, I *just so happened* to be on Psalm 112. As I read it, I found comfort for uncertain times as I read of the righteous: “Their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord. Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid.” Amen! I went on to read 113 and 114, and what do ya know? The footnote says Psalms 113-118 are considered “Hallel” because of their association with the Jewish Passover…which *just so happens* to directly correlate with Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, when Jesus entered Jerusalem FOR THE PASSOVER CELEBRATION (and His impending murder).

Then, I skipped forward to Isaiah, which I’ve been chipping away at for months. I *just so happened* to be on chapter 52, and some of you may know where this is going…the servant song of chapter 53. Holy wow. Some read it as a prophecy of Jesus, while some simply see Jesus reflected in it. Either way, the passage provides a stirring picture of sacrificial love.

Finally, I read my NT passage for the day, which was the last chapter of Romans. As Paul spoke of UNITY in the church, I was reminded of a prophetic–even to the point of disconcerting–quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Perhaps this is the post idea I felt tingling on my fingertips. God moved me to write this immediately.

Jesus wasn’t status quo; what about the church?

martin luther king arrested in birmingham
Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rev. Dr. King being arrested on April 16, 1963. Photo from a TIME magazine article covering this story when it happened.

When Dr. King was arrested during a peaceful protest in 1963, a group of white evangelical leaders came together to write him a letter discouraging his “untimely and unwise” fight for equal rights for black people. His response to them, jotted in the margins of a newspaper article about the letter along with pieces of paper smuggled in to him, articulates grace along with biting truth. Some of that truth disturbs me in its continued significance. Or, in 2020 vernacular: I’m shook. The letter is long, and even this excerpt is lengthy, but I feel compelled to share this:

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Ouch. The truth hurts. Has the body of Christ become weak, ineffectual, defenders of the status quo? Have we become an irrelevant social club? Are young people so disappointed with us that they’ve become outright disgusted?

I find these premonitions scary. Why? The fact that churches are dying all around us and suffering from a lack of younger demographics shows many have worsened rather than improved with the symptoms Dr. King identified almost 57 years ago.

Lessons learned from attending a mega-church virtually

Yesterday, I attended a virtual church service through Elevation Worship, one of those sometimes-vilified mega-churches that is growing while so many others sink. Even I have pointed out issues with mega-churches, such as lack of intimacy, which is still a fair point. However, as I watched the service, God opened my heart. [Sidenote: I’ve also prayed God would continually sanctify me and make scales fall from my eyes.] I realized people–even myself at times–miss the full picture when we say things like, “Young people just want a big concert!” Yes, the praise music was led by a band on a stage. But the sermon was fantastic…which, ironically, dug into a Psalm (I posted about Psalms last week).

Throughout the service–the music, the message, a video they showed praying with teachers in this pandemic, everything–I felt the Spirit moving. I realized young people want to be where the Spirit is. Oftentimes, sadly, people who have been set in their ways a long time reject new ideas, mission projects, etc. and exclude the Spirit from their churches.


The Spirit moves people to have compassion, love justice, and be bold. We absolutely need to be unified in these traits to bear fruit; otherwise, God might just curse our fig tree. Remembering the incredible sacrifice Jesus made for me, I want to be courageous for Him. I’m thankful for opportunities in my local church and at the district level to really step out in faith, especially through United Methodist Women, a mission organization that is authentically counter-cultural.

I pray we will remember all these things as we move into the future. Who will we be and what will we stand for? Also, as an excerpt from my Psalm reading today says: This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Thanks for reading. 🙂 Have a wonderful Easter weekend.

How Reading the Psalms Transformed my Prayer Life

Prayer, as I once heard in a sermon, is an area of religion/faith “where we could all stand to improve.” Today, I want to share how reading the Psalms has improved my prayer life.

Here are some (loose) categories of how a person’s relationship to prayer may look

  1. Doesn’t pray at all
  2. Only prays in a dire situation, such as when a loved one becomes seriously ill or when one wants a work promotion, etc.
  3. Prays more frequently but tends to be rote, vague, and/or lack vulnerability
  4. Prays frequently with fervor, with humble confidence, with honesty, with worship and reverence

Just a gander, but I’d guess most people fall in category #2. Though the last category is the most ideal, let the record show there is not a ceiling of perfection with prayer; one can always pray more often, for longer, for more people and situations. Still, I’m happy to report I have moved solidly from category #3 to category #4. I will share the role the Psalms played in that. First, I need to give you a brief timeline of my faith journey/prayer life

  • 1993-2008–lifelong church-goer, too young to understand much (cat. #1)
  • 2008-2017–old enough to understand more, thought I was a Christian but was really riding on emotions and traditions (cat. #2)
  • 2017–read most of the Bible for a college course; had a spiritual transformation (still cat. #2)
  • 2017-2019–God sanctified me and made scales fall from my eyes daily; for the first time in my life, I genuinely “hungered and thirsted for righteousness” (cat. #3)
  • 2020–(going to) read entire book of Psalms; established a new method for praying and reading scripture (cat. #4)

As of April 3, 2020, I’ve read over 100 Psalms (about one third of the book left to complete).

The Intersection of my Prayer Life & my Devotions

As you see, during the heavy sanctification period, my prayer life began shifting into the right gear. But I needed to go through some trial-and-error. Praying at night before falling asleep worked for a while, but I kept dozing off before finishing. Praying before I got out of the bed in the morning worked for a while, but there were a few issues. Firstly, my still-sleepy brain kept wandering off from Lord, guide the doctors and scientists researching Friedreich’s Ataxia to find treatments and an eventual cure to I wonder what I should wear today? I need to email my boss when I get up. Secondly, I didn’t really like lying in bed for an eternity in the mornings, yet I didn’t want to cut my prayers short. Ugh, such a dilemma! Meanwhile, I was reading my Bible at some point throughout the day on the couch. The lack of routine made devotional time easier to skip. Oops, I just had way too much to do today…never mind the fact I’m not making it a priority…

Sooo. I began to read my Bible and pray at my desk in the mornings after breakfast (stringent back support=less temptation to get comfy and groggy, easier to write in my Bible; consistent routine=more likely to do it). Around that time, I began digging into the Psalms. Though I read several of them (and even paraphrased one!) during the life-altering-college-course, I’d never read the book straight through, start to finish. So I figured this might be excessive but what the heck and dived into it.

My Reaction to “Psalm Submersion”

WOW! The Psalms are incredible. They provide countless examples of praying with equal parts BOLDNESS and FAITH. I have actually been taken aback at times by how blunt and direct some of the Psalmists are–even to the point of DEMANDING that God hear their desperate cries, save the oppressed, enact justice, scorn their enemies, etc. But that element of boldness is balanced by unshakably high levels of AWE and WORSHIP. Even in the midst of pain, suffering, and feeling forsaken, these Psalmists still praise God for creating everything, having steadfast love and mercy, being a refuge for the needy, etc.

As I read these Psalms, I was inspired–even convicted–to start imitating them. I was ready to take my prayers to a new level. It also “came to me” (thanks, Holy Spirit) that I need to start praying OUT LOUD. [Boy, you realize pretty quickly how mealy-mouthed your prayers really sound when you hear the words.]

Praying out loud with the inspiration of the Psalms has pushed me to be more real, more specific, and more intentional. Getting distracted while praying is a problem of the past (praying out loud, while sitting upright at my desk, helps me focus). Hearing the words somehow makes it feel like an actual conversation with God. Speaking the words aloud helps me explore and embrace the most intimate parts of my heart and share with God how I truly feel, what I truly need, etc. The Psalms have informed my prayers by their AUDACITY to plead with God UNASHAMEDLY. And now, I find myself making similarly audacious prayers…

Lord, You created the heavens and the earth, and You created each and every person in Your image. Scripture tells us You are the refuge for the poor, the weak, and the needy. Father Almighty, in Your sovereignty, help Your children who are suffering from oppression and injustice. Free those who are imprisoned by prejudice, by persecution, by human trafficking, by domestic and child abuse, by homelessness, by the sex industry, by mental and physical illnesses, by unsafe and unfair working conditions, in war-torn nations. Lord, be their refuge, please! Give them their daily bread–peace, hope, strength, courage, perseverance, healing, or whatever they need–to help them get through today. Guide them to connect with resources to get food, shelter, and their other physical needs. Lord, I know You did not create us to suffer. Bless all those who are suffering today. And guide Your disciples to have open hearts, open eyes, and open ears to see the needs around us. Draw us near to You and help us grow individually so we can act collectively. Give us all the tools we need–boldness, unity, creativity, vision, wisdom and insight, spiritual gifts and interests, strength, faith–so we can understand how to meet those needs and turn our thoughts into actions. Lord, help us plant seeds that grow up to bear fruit–fruit that makes disciples and transforms the world. We cannot do these things alone. Let Jesus be our head so we can be the body of Christ.


Perhaps this priming of my prayer life is happening “for such a time as this.” I hope you will join me in audaciously bold and faithful prayers during these uncertain times…for those with the virus, for their caretakers and loved ones, for essential workers, for those out of work, for small business owners, for those with children, etc…

Thanks for reading! If you don’t mind sharing, which prayer category do you fall under? Do you ever pray out loud? How are you doing, really? Let me know in the comments.

Three Reflections from Reading the Old Testament for ~1.5 Years

Hi, friends. Click this post if you want to read about the good, bad, and ugly (or more like the strange, inexplicable, and wonderful) things about reading the Old Testament. 😉

In this time frame, I’ve read:

  1. Genesis
  2. Exodus
  3. Numbers
  4. Deuteronomy
  5. Leviticus
  6. Joshua
  7. Judges
  8. Ruth
  9. I & II Samuel
  10. I & II Kings
  11. I & II Chronicles
  12. Esther
  13. Ecclesiastes
  14. Job
  15. Some Psalms & Proverbs
  16. Some of the minor prophets
  17. Isaiah (currently reading)

I embarked on this journey for a couple big reasons:

  1. I wanted to pursue God and learn more about my religion (Christianity).
  2. Most criticism or misunderstandings about the Bible stem from the OT, so I wanted to dive into it for myself.

Below, I share three of my takeaways from my experience so far (still have a few books to chip away).

The OT is the predecessor of the NT

I’m stating the obvious here, but I think a lot of modern Christians (like me for most of my life) don’t understand the story of our faith. Jesus was not just a great moral teacher who randomly popped up in the middle of history; His timing, His message, His ministry, and everything about Him finds its source and meaning in the narrative of God’s chosen people that leads to Him. I now understand Christianity in an comprehensive, “A to Z” way I never did in the past.

The Delivery of Israel out of Egypt, Francis Danby, 1825

God promised Abraham he would eventually bless ALL nations, which happened when Jesus came to earth. In significant ways, the exodus mirrors the mission of Jesus (God releasing “His people” from an outside, oppressive, evil force…first, freeing the Hebrews from the Egyptians…later, freeing all people from sin and death). The propensity of the Hebrews to stray from God throughout the OT echoes humanity’s gravitation to pride/selfishness/rebellion (which is also illustrated through Adam and Eve) and demonstrates the need for Jesus to come and do exactly what He did (and, if analyzed deeply, reveals why Jesus subverted messianic expectations). Reading “the beginning” of this epic story brings “the ending” into full perspective.

Pursuing God leads to wrestling with God

Balaam and the Angel, Gustav Jaeger, 1836

To be absolutely blunt, there is so much in the OT that unsettles me…some (many) of the laws of Moses, a talking donkey in Numbers, the mass murdering in Joshua, the story of the virgin from Judges, extreme wrath in the prophets’ books, and the list goes on. [Granted, there are a few disconcerting things in the NT (not a big fan of the Ananias and Sapphira story), but still.] The margins of my Bible contain plenty of confused question marks and shocked exclamation marks. This is when it’s easier to be the Christian whose knowledge of the OT is limited to the creation, flood, and exodus…or, better yet, the Christian who just inherited their parents’ religion, never chewing on the meat, content with milk.

I don’t have a million justifications to plaster over every questionable story or rule; I could rebut some but certainly not all of a skeptic’s criticism on certain passages. I’ll let you in on a secret, though: wrestling with God lines up more with the Bible’s overarching message of loving humility than arrogantly believing you have all the answers. Hey, at least I’m pursuing Him hard enough to have questions and concerns at all! 😉

God & Jesus & the Holy Spirit have the same heart

This statement may initially seem redundant, but I find it extremely necessary, if not urgent, to clarify this. Many people–Christian and non-Christian–believe an over-simplified misconception that God is “the strict one” and Jesus is “the compassionate one.” Gah, the cognitive dissonance! But I discovered as I read the entire history of God and the Hebrews for myself that God exhibits the same heart for the poor/oppressed/helpless, the same mercy, etc. as Jesus does in the gospels.

Baptism of Christ, David Zalenka, 2005

While the law of Moses contains a loooot of tedium (and musings on the purpose of those rules is better suited for a separate post), God also mandates the Hebrews to care for the lowly (especially in Leviticus 19). I mentioned how the Hebrews repeatedly stray from the path in the OT, and neglecting care for the lowly plays a major role in that. In fact, most of the coming wrath displayed in the books from prophets is directed towards greedy, powerful people who exploit and neglect the lowly, while refuge is promised to the poor and needy.

So God sent His son Jesus, who has the heart of His Father, to reiterate the spirit of the law and extend it. The Holy Spirit is simply the spirit of God and Jesus, which guides us and stirs our hearts. If the three members of the trinity aren’t united in grace and truth, the whole concept makes no sense. As my blogging buddy Mel once said so profoundly, Jesus is the lens through which we should view God.


Reading the Old Testament full-force has somehow simultaneously challenged and strengthened my faith. Despite all the things I don’t comprehend and that stumble me up, I’ve felt God working on me through this process.

Thanks for reading! How much of the OT have you read? What’s your two cents? Let me know in the comments.

The Horror of Death, Hope in Jesus & Making Every Day Matter

Hi, friends. I usually sit on drafts for a while before polishing and posting them; however, this week has been too extraordinary for me to stick to the normal routine. So, I write this post Sunday as I anxiously await news updates.

Waiting for a Loved One to Die

Noah and his dad, Robert

On Oct. 31 in Oak Ridge, NC, an 11-year-old boy was hit by a car while crossing the road during a church trunk-or-treat. When I read the headline to the breaking news, I felt shocked and saddened. A few hours later, as I scrolled through Instagram, I came across a post from an old friend whose brother grew up with me in youth group–a picture of his young son with a caption asking for prayers. I realized with horror that the 11-year-old victim was Noah Chambers, a boy whose family I knew well. As I type this rough draft, Noah is unresponsive in ICU, and several brain scans over the last couple days showed no activity. As I try to go about normal life, I keep picturing the scene unfolding in the hospital, and my heart aches for them.

Jim and his wife, Mae

You see, up until recently, I never knew the experience of waiting for a loved one to die…but in May, my boyfriend’s grandpa became deathly ill, and we sat in the hospital room for a full day. He had fought a long, hard war with cancer for several years, and though he’d been admitted to the hospital before, this time was different. Those of us camped out in the room cried for a while, calmed down and distracted ourselves with idle conversation, then broke down and cried some more–back and forth, over and over on an emotional roller coaster. Each time a new visitor entered the room, it was inevitable that we’d all be in tears again. Meanwhile, his grandpa never stirred; he somehow looked pitiful and peaceful simultaneously. The object of all our sorrow was both in the room with us and a million miles away.

Now that I’ve gone through that process, I can better sympathize with others going through it. As I edit this draft, Noah has been taken off life support. Showcasing the positive side of social media, friends and strangers alike have showered the family with prayers, messages, and donations. Now that they’ve officially lost their baby, they need that encouragement more than ever.

The Horror of Death & Hope in Jesus

I realized a few things at the death of Grandpa Jim and again now.

[Trigger Warning: these are the kind of musings that can lead to an existential crisis.]

For one, death is absolutely devastating. About 95% of the time, we think real life is jobs and houses and cars and holidays and the news and all our silly hustle and bustle. But when I attended Grandpa Jim’s funeral, the tense, irrevocable, heavy sadness in the air was palpable. This was part of the 5% when real life feels way too real. In those 5% times, the world keeps turning, but we feel paralyzed, distanced from the hustle and bustle that was so important yesterday. In those 5% times, I see with stark clarity how little almost everything I care about actually matters. In the face of death–of a loved one, of soldiers at war, of civilians during war, of the victims of genocide, of children with leukemia, etc.–who cares that my blog post got less stars this week, or I got a B instead of an A on my exam, or I need to get a new wheelchair that isn’t squeaky, or I got this shirt on sale for $10? Grandpa Jim is gone. Little Noah is gone.

In those 5% times, I’m glad I have hope in Jesus Christ–hope that He will return to the earth and we will rise up, restored in “spiritual bodies” on a transformed earth. This morning, as I read verses which refer to that future, I feel consoled. O, grave, where is your victory? O, death, where is your sting? Jim and Noah are not gone; I will see them again.

Making Every Day Matter

The second point is oft-repeated enough that it may fall on deaf ears, but I’ll declare it anyway: every day matters. We need to visit that person we’ve been meaning to visit, call that person we’ve been meaning to call. Life is just too fleeting to count on tomorrow. Grandpa Jim had been sick for a long time, and Noah was just a normal kid last week, but no one was prepared for either of them to leave us when they did.

We need to glorify God with our lives and be His disciples in this world. Pray, read scripture, engage with mission work. Forgive those who’ve wronged us and meet people where they are with mercy and grace. Both Jim and Noah are remembered for the incredible people they were and the light they brought to the world; I want to leave a legacy like that.

The other day, a friend made the comment to someone else, “Can I just work for a few more years, THEN I’ll go back to church?” He turned to me and clarified that he was only joking…

But this is how people tend to think–always planning around a hypothetical, uncertain future. We should stop “putting off to tomorrow that which can be done today” (Benjamin Franklin) and start making a difference right here, right now. Also, we should remember that the hustle and bustle is not actually that important, and we need to turn our eyes up to the eternal.

Please pray for God to surround each member of Noah Chambers’ family with strength to carry on, peace that surpasses understanding, and the grace of Jesus, which supplements our weakness.

Thanks for reading. Have you ever had the tragic “waiting for a loved one to die” experience? What is your outlook on life and making every day matter? Let me know in the comments.