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Friday, June 28, 2013


As it says in Acts 20:24, "But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace." When a witness testifies in a trial, that person simply describes what they experienced... what they saw and heard with their own eyes.

With that on my mind, I want to testify as to what I have seen of God's goodness this week, framed by Psalm 146.

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

May I never tire of thanking God for another day of life, for a roof over my head, for a full stomach, for a great family full of friends and fulfilling work, for faith itself.

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
    on that very day their plans perish.

This is a summer filled with conversations about career and future and identity as I work with college-aged interns... I regret the many years I spent in putting my "trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help." I believed the lie of this world, that we find security in material wealth, power, status and success, that who we are is what we do. Rather, I rejoice that these young adults are trying to figure out how to put their faith wholly in the Eternal One. They spur me on with their earnest questions and open hearts.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
    who gives food to the hungry.

This week my home group was with our friends at Laundry Love again. I never fail to be humbled by the hardship of their stories and struggle. Too often we characterize folks like these as "bums" or "lazy." They are now individual people to me, not without fault certainly, but I cannot walk by them with a brush of the hand or an averted gaze. I am learning how to listen, how to care, how to pray and encourage.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
    he upholds the orphan and the widow,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

I spend time each week working with pastors all over, in various contexts and with a wide variety of experience. This week, I met with a married couple who are leading a Free Methodist church where there are services conducted each week in three separate languages. If that is not amazing enough, they were contacted by six international students from a local seminary who heard about their church through Yelp (God bless 21st century social media) and want to join their congregation because they love the diversity of their body and the united focus on Christ. As I spoke with this couple I felt like I tasted eternity: where prisoners are free, the blind regain sight, the hurting and lonely find homes, where there is no longer division and hate... instead, where shalom exists in fullness and there is wholeness and reconciliation.

The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

May your eyes and ears be attentive to the many blessings around you. Testify.

Monday, June 24, 2013

What is Leadership? Part Two

I have no plans of posting a series titled What is Leadership? but sometimes I get inspired by something I read or experience, so I'm back at it.

This morning in Acts 15-16 I came across four quick snippets of leadership that made me smile and nod my head in affirmation. In Acts 15:36-41, we see disagreement between leaders:

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

I sure have been in this situation a time or twenty... two strong-willed leaders hold their ground, and have to part company. I love this because first of all, it's in the Bible. This isn't a glossed-over, everything-was-puppies-and-rainbows-all-the-time story about how the church began. We see things as they happened. Secondly, it's an example of how many of our decisions as leaders do not fall within a zero-sum, black-and-white-, right/wrong construct. Here we see there were two different views of what to do with Mark as a leader; Barnabas (who had the gift of encouragement) wants to give Mark another chance, and Paul has had enough. So they part ways, and take the gospel in different directions.

Next, in Acts 16:1-5 we meet Timothy for the first time, who ends up being mentored by Paul. Again, I like what we see here about leadership:
Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.

In keeping with the unlikely profiles of the disciples as leaders, we meet Saul (later Paul) in Acts 9, and here we meet Timothy, who is a Jew because he has a Jewish mother, but a sort of "half-breed" as well by having a Greek father. My friend Christena Cleveland wrote articulately about the varied cultural understandings of leadership, so I don't need to really expand on that. Suffice it to say, Timothy isn't a "superman" sort of leader. Nevertheless, he was "well spoken of by the believers." A crucial element of leadership that I look for is confirmation of calling by the community. Far too often I meet people who essentially self-appoint themselves as pastors and leaders. Not so fast, tiger. If someone approaches me and tells me they feel called to be a pastor (this happens fairly often, believe it or not), the first thing I ask is "Great. Have you started any Bible studies?" They don't have to be Joe Charisma, but they need to understand the consistent, hard work it takes to make stuff happen ~ and have others confirm that they have the gifts and graces to continue.

What follows soon after is one of my favorite stories in scripture. In Acts 16:11-16 we read of the conversion of a businesswoman and God-seeker named Lydia:
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

In 2005 I visited the site outside of Philippi where this supposedly happened. My heart swelled with joy and no small amount of pride at "meeting" a woman whose legacy I carry on some 2,000 years later. Lydia went on to host the nascent church of Philippi in her home. Let's not forget that this was the first church in Europe. Whenever that lovely conversation bubbles up about whether or not women can be leaders in the church, I point to this passage as one of my favorite examples of how it has happened from the beginning.

What can I conclude from this section? That leadership is human, but infused with God's Spirit. It includes disagreement, no easy answers, and possibilities for anyone. Recently I plugged the word "leadership" into Amazon's search engine, and over 100,000 titles came up! But the world's understanding of leadership is not the template we blindly follow as we lead God's church. May we follow the Spirit first and foremost, in small and consistent ways, as we press forward.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Though I didn't intend this to happen, June has ended up being a whirlwind for me so far. Since June 4th I have been to Azusa, Seattle, Santa Monica, Rancho Cucamonga, and Lake Elsinore for meetings and speaking commitments. Yes, I am tired. (Though after 10 comatose hours of sleep last night, I'm feeling much better.)

I am especially grateful for all the dear people I met along the way. After all these years, I still never tire of the experience of walking into a room for a message or meeting (knowing almost no one) and after spending some time together, leave knowing I have made some great new friends.

This was especially the case after this weekend, where I was with a great group of women who had invited me to speak for their women's retreat. As I started putting together my four messages, I realized I could string all my points together using words that started with F. Yep -- that's cheesy, maybe even gimicky. But honestly, I think it worked out, in that it helped each of us to better remember the things we talked about:

  • How did the disciples Follow Jesus?
  • What does this look like for me as a Female?
  • How am I held back by my Fear of Failure?
  • What does it mean to be a Friend of God?
  • As we build our friendship with God, we receive the Fruit of the Holy Spirit, out of which ministry flows.
  • When we discover this way of life, we are truly set Free to live life the way it was intended.
Admittedly, I had some fun with them as we kept talking about these "F words"! But it was also a great privilege to speak and then lead discussions with the entire group as we listened and learned from one another. I was blessed by everyone's authenticity and earnest desire to grow, and even more, by their willingness to be pushed hard in our last meeting, where I left them with the simple question: "What is keeping you from this freedom?"

Though not initially in the schedule, I felt it imperative that we follow up this poignant question with some prayer ministry, where individual women could share their response to this question with someone whom they trusted, who would then in turn pray over them. I cannot deny that my heart ached as I heard struggles and tears reverberate through the room. We had just spent time in the whole chapter of Galatians 5, and I kept thinking of verse 1 over and over as I heard women whisper words of prayer, pain and fear:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. 
Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

We ended up our time with an absolutely lovely time of prayer and consecration, where women could come forward for a blessing and anointing, each receiving a large and colorful pashmina, symbolizing the "mantle of leadership" being passed on to them. The lead pastor blessed each woman with these words: "May you follow Christ as a female, without fear of failure, instead pursuing friendship with God, out of which fruit will come as you freely lead." 

Earlier in the day, the director of the women's ministry reminded us of the quote I have posted on this blog, which was entirely appropriate to our time together: "What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been!" The longer I live, the more I hear of personal and corporate suffering, and I am so grieved. So many are abused, oppressed, wounded, addicted, misled. Thankfully, I rejoice in the healing power of the gospel, as described by the Apostle Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. (vss 8-10)

How grateful I am for these opportunities to serve and lead others into true freedom. Sure, I am tired after all of these travels, but I am also so Fulfilled.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Doubt and the In-Between

I love listening to a variety of podcasts when I ride my bike: great storytelling, fascinating journalism, round-the-horn discussions on politics and trending topics, long and probing interviews, new music... and truth be told, a little sportstalk too.

This one caught my attention the other day: "This hour, we walk the tightrope between doubt and certainty, and wonder if there's a way to make yourself at home on that razor's edge between definitely...and not so sure."

It followed the story of a geologist who had to face the fact that one day it hit him: "I don't believe in God anymore."

This didn't scare me. In fact, I have variations of this conversation quite frequently. As a pastor friend of mine put it recently in an email exchange: "We increasingly are doing ministry in a place where the people are interested in Jesus but not that interested in the traditional ways churches have expressed their service to Him.  This requires new thoughts and new methods as we bring the holy love of God into the world." Amen to that.

I won't give away the story told in the podcast - it is definitely worth a listen. But I'm not giving anything away by saying it follows the winding road of someone's journey with doubt. I mentioned in the post previous to this one that I am reading a fascinating book by Christian Wiman on this very topic. I read this passage this week:
Honest doubt, what I would call devotional doubt, is marked, it seems to me, by three qualities: humility, which makes one’s attitude impossible to celebrate; insufficiency, which makes it impossible to rest; and mystery, which continues to tug you upward— or at least outward— even in your lowest moments.
He contrasts this sort of authentic searching with "an almost religious commitment to doubt itself, an assuredness that absolute doubt is the highest form of faith," which he describes as "static and self-enthralled." I like the way he describes that, because when I have conversations with people who have many questions about faith and meaning of life and suffering and grief and all that, I engage with them according to the posture they take. If people want to banter and debate about the unknowability of such questions, I do not linger long. The abstractions of such talk does not interest me all that much, and experience has shown me that they are not really looking for conclusive answers.

But hear me out: I am not saying that I only want to nail down hard and fast explanations either, because I think those are hard to come by as well. I like the way Wiman puts it -- "honest doubt" keeps drilling down for adequate insight into the big questions of life. It cannot rest. Rather than enjoying the sound of its own voice as it rattles off quotable and snarky quips, honest doubt wrestles with questions. I can remain in those conversations as long as people want to talk.

I think Jesus did too. This week, as I was reading in the Gospel of John, I came across this seemingly insignificant detail. Jesus has been crucified and is dead, still hanging on the cross:
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. (John 19:38-39)
Nicodemus! I flipped back to chapter 3, where this Jewish leader comes to Jesus under cover of darkness, with his questions and doubts, after having heard Jesus teach in public earlier. Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus is some sort of wise teacher with a new authority, and Jesus responds with some enigmatic words about being "born from above" (where we get the all-too-abused phrase "born again") and Nicodemus is baffled: “How can anyone be born after having grown old?" Jesus says some more strange and exciting and disturbing things and Nicodemus responds with a simple question: “How can these things be?”

This strikes me as an example of the "honest doubt" that Wiman describes. And when I came upon this lovely little detail in chapter 19, where Nicodemus came to bury Jesus' body with Joseph of Arimathea, "who was a disciple of Jesus," I immediately thought, "how I wish I knew the story in between!" Wouldn't you love to know more about Nicodemus' journey of questions, doubt, and faith between chapters 3 and 19? It reminded me that we are all on a long and winding road, and I have learned that the story isn't over when someone expresses some life-altering questions and concerns. (Here's another plug for listening to that podcast on doubt -- it captures this process really well.)

May we be patient listeners, and always keep the "in-between" in sight. I am partnering with a great group of people to think through how we meet people where they are, in their skepticism and frustration, rather than write them off as "lost." Instead, we want to join people in the journey of honest doubt.