Embracing our Story

We are about to enter a New Year. And there is a temptation to treat this as a blank page, completely re-writing our stories. We want to shed all that makes us ashamed and seek after that which might make us more confident. And while it is good to start fresh and new, and I am certainly planning on doing so, how can we enter into this year while embracing where we are and how we got here? 

I was asked to blog this weekend, and it ended up being the same weekend that my husband Tom was scheduled to preach. I started this post while on a retreat in July, and since it ties in to Tom’s message, I decided to edit and post it for the blog. Below is a snippet of our infertility and health journey. I pray that it helps you contemplate and feel more comfortable within your own story.

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It was 2008, and we were living in Pasadena, California. Our ministry in Texas had fallen apart, and we had moved to California so Tom could attend Fuller Seminary. Everything had fallen into place with our move, but I was still bitter. Bitter that our friends back in Texas were able to carry on with their lives while we had to start from scratch. They were able to settle down and buy houses within a familiar community, while half my paycheck was going toward the rent on our tiny lopsided home on Rio Grande Drive. This wasn’t supposed to be a part of our story; our dreams had foreseen something different. I now think back fondly to our precious little house on that sunny street, but it wasn’t the story I would have written for myself.

Rio Grande Drive, Pasadena, California

We were walking through the mall one day, and Tom said to me, “If I can’t lose this weight, I think I should have weight loss surgery.” This irritated me, because of course he would lose the weight. He was strong and disciplined and he was excelling at his classes at Fuller. Of course he could figure out a way to lose the weight! And so I responded with something I knew would affect him in the same way his statement had affected me: “I think we should see a fertility doctor.”

It worked. Tom was sure we didn’t have fertility problems. We hadn’t been trying very long, we weren’t even really trying– we were fine. But just like he knew that weight loss would require more than diet and exercise for him, I knew we weren’t going to get pregnant easily. Yet neither of us were willing to admit that this sort of medical intervention would be part of our story.

Tom and me in Santa Monica, 2011

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In February of 2015, we had our daughter, Abbie, the result of a year of fertility treatments. And the next month, Tom underwent gastric bypass surgery. As he was about to go under the knife, he wasn’t concerned about the fact that most of his stomach and about a foot of his large intestine would be cut away, he was just worried that it wouldn’t work. What if this was just like all the other diets, the diets that, despite our initial optimism, only got him so far in his weight loss journey?

Tom and Abbie

But 230 pounds later, Tom is now training for his second half marathon. In November, he ran the Monumental with team World Vision and actually enjoyed it. While he trained for it, we would load Abbie into the jogging stroller and go on a family jog (or GOG, as Abbie calls it). And as we jogged, I would think about how impossible this would be without the medical intervention we received. We are jogging with our daughter!

Monumental Half Marathon

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While we hope our stories will be more simplified and our miracles more instantaneous, they often aren’t. Tom and I have not entered many life stages with ease, and I am often jealous of those who seem to breeze through life, easily obtaining what we climb over mountains to find. And yet our story has made us who we are. We are very different people than we were in 2005 when we married, wiser and more refined, more hesitant to claim the answers to every problem. Our story has shaped us into more compassionate people, more attuned to the struggle and suffering around us.

Our stories never feel as refined or beautiful as those around us, but they are our story. A story meant to be lived and embraced and shared. And I want to wear my story well. I want to sit in it and know it and be comfortable in it. And I want to be able to hear other stories and receive them with joy and grace, without feeling the need to compare them to my own.

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It’s often not until we embrace our story that we can find our redemption. I pray that we would all embrace our place in life and strive to do our best with the tools we’ve been given. May we begin this new year in a state of willing receptivity to all He has prepared for us, embracing both our past and the possibilities for our future.  

He Shall Be Called…Prince of Peace

Peace. A state of mutual harmony between people or groups. The normal nonwarring condition of a nation, groups of nations or the world. State of tranquility or serenity.

xmas-star-peace-on-earthThat certainly doesn’t describe the state of the world I see. War upon war, rape, genocide, the slaughtering of innocent men, women and children all in attempt to fill an insatiable lust for power. Aleppo. The images, too much for the human heart to bear. We were not meant for this. The prophet Isaiah prophesied that peace would come. The Jewish people longed for it. Jesus offers it. Our world is desperate for it. So, where is this peace, where is peace for Aleppo, where is peace for the abused, where is peace for the persecuted? Where is the peace for the average joe trying to provide for his family while taking financial hit after financial hit? Our desire for peace in a turbulent and violent world can leave us confused and frustrated. But God is always with us and he is faithful to help us walk with him and trust him when we are disheartened by the rampant evil around us. We will not find peace in the things that are seen. No, we find peace in the shadows of the things unseen.

There is a tension between the peace Jesus talks about and the lack of peace that is experienced in our broken world. This tension exists because our King is present but not fully crowned and only part of God’s peace is available to us in the present. By faith, because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, we have been made right with God. (Romans 5:1)  This is the peace that we get to experience on the present earth. We know that while things around us are not as they should be, it truly is well with our soul. But there is another element of Jesus’ peace that will be realized as God’s Kingdom advances and is fully consummated at some point in the future. This is the peace that promises a full restoration of all creation, a future time when the world will enjoy the harmony it had before sin entered.

In my own personal walk with Jesus, I am discovering another layer in celebrating Advent and Christmas. God is teaching me to celebrate the Incarnation as an event that marks the arrival of a Kingdom that is in the process of being fully consummated.  He is teaching me a hopeful anticipation of a coming Kingdom reigned by a Righteous Judge who will rule the nations justly. A time when nations will no longer war against one another, but will live in peace. (Isaiah 2:4) This Prince of Peace will not stop until justice prevails throughout the earth, even the most distant lands will wait for his instruction. (Isaiah 42:4) At this time, even the animal kingdom will be completely transformed and restored as sins’ curse is removed. (Isaiah 11:6) There will be no sickness and no more pain.  A glorious future is, indeed, in store and Christmas is the perfect time to reflect on this future. It is in these kinds of reflections that I find hope and peace for the refugee, the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry, and hurting. Everything is not okay as it is right now, but I believe in Jesus’ promise that someBlueNativitySceneday, it will be.  This is part of the peace alluded to in the message of Christmas.

As we reflect on the name Prince of Peace, do not loose heart that all is not peaceful in our world but rather take courage and hope in the peace that will surely come. As Christ’s ambassadors we have a responsibility to advocate for peace in our own little corners of the world. I love the Jewish word Shalom. It is a packed word that has to do with a sense of wholeness, fullness, peace and harmony. Because of Christ’s power and love in us, our lives can be a healing salve of Shalom to a hurting world. As we near the end of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, take some time to slow down and savor the goodness of the Lord’s promise to bring peace. Let the reality of what is to come sink in a bit. If we allow that promise of peace to form how we invest our time, money, and hearts, we can join in God’s restorative work in the world. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the birth of Jesus than to commune with Him, enjoy Him and join Him. May you be blessed this Christmas season with His love and comfort. I pray that as you are filled with his wonderful Spirit, you would be moved to join God in his restorative work as you seek to bring God’s love and peace to those around you.

Merry Christmas

Tracy

 

And He Will Be Called…Mighty God!

There’s a picture of a castle on my desk. I visited this place a long time ago. It makes me think back to stories I’ve heard about kings and queens and the mighty men who pledged allegiance to fight and protect their leaders and their country.

Images of might remind me of Braveheart and Gladiator and someone tall and strong, with bulging muscles, standing, one foot slightly in front of the other, ready to run toward the fight. A face, fixed with determination, eyes clear and focused, even as evil circles all around. There is only one thing to do: run to the danger, moving quickly and forcefully. And in the end, when all seems lost, a victorious warrior emerges, the battle won, the enemy defeated. This kind of might would do nothing less than die for what is right, for honor, and for the protection of others.

These are stories from long ago, and it seems as though that’s where they’ve stayed; in the ancient past.

It seems hard to find, someone who is truly willing to fight for us, for what is right and good and pure. It seems much easier to see those who are looking out for themselves, for their own good, whatever it takes. The fight looks different these days, not with sword and stone but with guns and bombs. Yet, we fight about the same things: preferences, ingnorance, power and inequality.

These are the battles that make our news feeds and the headlines. But some of us are in emotional battles that seem even more overwhelming than the physical.

The good news? We have our Mighty God, Jesus.

He is the One who is ready, one foot in front of the other. He is the One with a clear and focused view of us and all the evil that surrounds. He is the One who moves with force, relentlessly pursuing until the battle is won.

Can you see him? He is our warrior, our champion, our hero. He is relentless in the fight for us. He simply won’t ever stop coming for us. He is our Mighty God.

Take time to stop and look for your warrior, the one who is on your side. Take time to lay your battles down and let him fight for you. Take time to notice him championing your day, your family, your life. He’s there, fighting for you in everything.

And although Jesus’ story is from the ancient past, it never grows old. He’s continually teaching us something that is brand new. Look! Our Mighty God has already won the battle, and he longs to see us emerge, victorious, standing beside him.

Our Wonderful Counselor, our Everlasting Father, our Prince of Peace, our Mighty God.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

As we enter the Christmas season I always seem to enter a more reflective state of mind. It is common to look back at the year that was and wonder, have I lived a life centered around God? Have I served those around me well, but better yet have I served Jesus well? More often than not, for me the false steps seem to stick out. Failures may float to the forefront of our thought but we are also given glimpses of the times when Christ was most brightly reflected in us. We are energized by the times when Christ seems the most alive in our lives and reminded of his goodness and grace. We are encouraged to go deeper seeking more of God in every way. Rather than growing discouraged in our mistakes we are able to turn to His word and see the promise fulfilled time and time again amongst his people. We are awakened once again to a season of hope and promise, buttressed by a history in scripture that speaks to truth, and we begin to prepare for the coming King.

If left unchecked, I can tend to be a little short-sighted in my thinking from time to time. Forgetting the outcome of a situation in the fairly recent past often hampers trust and a willingness to move forward if we are not careful. It is when we stop and think to the ways that God has answered prayer in our lives that our resolve is strengthened. But we also see God’s promises kept and answers to prayer throughout the entirety of scripture. The countless stories and prophesies that came to pass help to grow our faith. These prophesies and the love letter that is the Bible as a whole help to grow our faith in the one who created them. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the many prophesies that speak of the coming Christ in the book of Isaiah.

In Isaiah Chapter 40 we see words that serve as a distant precursor for the words used by John the Baptist. “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3   John knew what he was saying. Every time I read these words I am reminded of God’s promise to provide a way back to him. I am reminded to always be prepared for what he would have me do. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by calling for repentance and baptism of the Jewish people. The prophets of the old testament repeatedly spoke of what was to come to prepare the people for the coming of Christ. So how do we prepare the way for Christ’s return? As we celebrate his birth, we focus on just what his birth, life, death and resurrection mean. The hope that it brings for all mankind. We share this hope with others. We serve as he served. We forgive as he forgave. We try to love others as he has loved us. We attempt in many small ways to bring just a small fraction of the joy Jesus has brought into our lives. We run to him and prepare our hearts for his birth.

My favorite time of day is when I return home from work on day shift. Most days, as soon as I open the door leading from our garage I hear the word “daddy” shouted that signals that a very lanky little girl has already begun to leap towards me so I have less than a second to get my arms out to catch her. This is followed by a waddling little man with outstretched arms and a big toothy grin. That is how I want to always respond to Christ. I want to always be ready for him at any moment.  I want to always be prepared.

 

 

 

 

Thankful

As I write this, we are coming off of a wonderful weekend of worship that concluded with the Alanna Story concert on Sunday evening, November 20th.  As I reflect, I can’t help but feel so overwhelmed with gratitude for the many worship team members who put in so many hours making sure the concert was as professionally done as it was.

“Worship Team” is anyone who serves in a musical or production role at White River.  This could be a vocalist, band member, camera operator, graphics operator, lighting operator, etc.  Each one of these positions are crucial when it comes to creating an environment that attempts to create a distraction-free environment for worship.  Our vocalists and band members want to remove distractions as they lead by having a heart that John the Baptist spoke of – “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:30)  Our production team strives to make sure what they do is distraction free by limiting mistakes that would take people’s attention off of Christ and the moment being created to honor Him.

Each weekend, over 30 worship team positions are needed to do a Thursday evening service, two worship center services and two cafe venue services.  For those who help set the sound/lighting/video up in the cafe on Sunday, that is a 6:15am start time.  I mention this because on a Sunday with a concert like Alanna Story or a Night of Worship, this is a very long day for everyone.  I think of one particular team member yesterday who helped set up cafe tech at 6:15am, served in a morning position, grabbed some lunch, came back around 1:00 for a 2:00 Alanna Story rehearsal start time that lasted until 5:30, served in a position for the 6:30 concert that lasted until 8:15 and was still at the church serving at 10:00 as the band was loading their gear.

I am so thankful for the team that I have the privilege of serving with.  Each member gives so much of their time and talent to put a smile on the Lord’s face and so that those the Lord brings through our doors can say, “God is truly here among you.” (1 Cor. 14:25)

Paul was right when he wrote about the Thessalonica church in 1 Thessalonians 2:19&20 – “19 After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! 20 Yes, you are our pride and joy.”

The Path of Humility

The last few weeks we have been in a series called mind games. It has been a thought provoking series exploring how different attitudes affect the way we think and live. This week we’re exploring the attitude of humility and how it can lead us into a more abundant life. If we want to travel the path of humility, we must fiercely uproot the footing of pride. God’s view of pride is close at hand since he has so graciously revealed truth to us through His word for our good and His glory. Scripture tells us that pride is a trap (Psalm 59:12). Pride should be offensive to us, as it is to the Lord (Proverbs 8:13). Pride is a destroyer (Proverbs 16:18). Eventually, it will humiliate you (Proverbs 29:23). Pride is not a new temptation. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

humility

Pride begins as a small seed, almost completely undetectable, but over time, if it is cultivated and nourished in the heart, it will eventually hijack a life and forces it to dwell in the dirty, desolate shack of spiritual poverty. There is wickedness lurking in a prideful heart that will rip apart a life, shred a family to pieces, and devour anything sacred that gets in its path.

CS Lewis poignantly describes pride as, “…one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. […] There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves.[…]The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility.”

The antithesis of pride is humility. God is pleased by a humble heart. He is attentive to the desires and needs of the person who humbles himself. I believe one reason God honors the humble but opposes the proud (Psalm 18:27, 25:9, 138:6, James 4:6) is because humility leads to a place of unity and pride leads to disunity. You would have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the deep divides being spawned by political tensions. A mix of social media and dishonest journalism added to an already highly individualistic culture, with an increasing tendency to only “do life” in homogenous communities has only fanned the flame of disunity.

Followers of Christ are called to something very different. We are called to a life of love, humility, and unity as we engage with a very diverse world. We are called to freedom.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:13-15)

If we want to experience Chriimages-1stian unity, as God intended, we have to understand that, first and foremost, we are united by Christ. We are not united by race, social justice issues, national identity or political party. We are united by the blood of the one through whom and for whom all creation was brought into being. As Christian brothers and sisters, we have two life changing realities in common. One, we are all sinners in need of grace and two, our sin can lose its power through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. If we fully grasped our reality, maybe we would not “bite and devour one another” so readily and be more willing to seek freedom through living life in a community that is based on the common ground of Jesus Christ.

Please don’t mistake what I am describing for a group of humdrum Christians all singing the same old song. God did not create a creepy group of clones, all living identical lives. He created a vastly unique group of people who he calls his own. In God’s economy there is room for differing opinions, there is room for conversations and room for processing through beliefs. Sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong. But here’s the catch. Jesus challenges us to not live and die in the disagreements but he beckons us to push through and find the place of unity that He has already prepared for us. This unity is not based on anything devised by human hands, it is based on what has been given by God’s generous, loving hand. Through His son, God has so richly blessed us in the heavenly places with every spiritual blessing, how can we not give our Father the gift of unity that is so precious in His sight? This is what Paul describes in Philippians 2 and I believe that this is what God longs to see lived out in the church. “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same lovåe, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Humility is a struggle because it involves trust. We have to trust that we will be okay, even if our position is not understood immediately. A spirit of rivalry can rear its ugly head in all of us when we seek to advance our own agenda. But as we become more conformed into the image of Christ, humility will call us to lay our own agendas down for a minute so we can listen and serve one another well. I pray that in my own life and in the life of White River Christian Church, we would cultivate a gentle spirit of humility that would be a sweet aroma and a most pleasant sacrifice to the Lord. Lord, may you bring a spirit of humility into our hearts to create a sense of unity in Christ and an intentional love with one another that cannot be broken.

Blessings,

Tracy

 

Sharing your witness…

I’m not sure any other phrase in the Christian church can send people running faster.  Our relationship with God is personal. Religion is politicized. We don’t want to offend anyone. We want to respect their beliefs. We don’t want to be the card carrying Jesus Freak preaching in the robe on the corner. Words like testimony and witness scare some of us. Others of us shake our heads in agreement and start to hum an Amen at the sound of the words. We are ready to proclaim the good news for all to hear. You can recite scripture, the top ten sins and exactly what others are doing wrong in the eyes of Jesus at a moment’s notice. You’ve got your baptism story and the transformation that followed in to a nice, neat three minute speech so you can win souls for Him.

Honestly, I am not sure either of those outlooks connect lives to Christ. I think connecting lives to Christ requires our lives to be our witness and our attitude to be our worship. It takes vulnerability. For most of us, that’s not easy but if we are to show how the love of Jesus has changed or impacts our lives, we must share our lives with others. For someone to see the power of God in my marriage, they must know a little bit about my marriage. For someone to understand the impact the mercy and grace of Jesus had on someone’s overcoming addiction, they must first learn they were an addict. To see the healing power of Christ one must first see the sickness. It is impossible to share the heart of who God is if we refuse to show our heart to others. Yes, our messy, imperfect, sometimes sinful heart.  Our need for a Savior is directly related to our desire for one. If I don’t think I need a Savior, then what role does Jesus play in my life? I have to be willing to share why I need Jesus.  People will relate to my why. Not just the unbeliever but to encourage the believer as well. My failure, my doubt, my insecurity, the burdens of my past, my poor choices, my predicament, struggle, my health, my crisis, my sin. When we can share our why, people start to think about their own. We must authentically, imperfectly, be ourselves.

Romans 1:12 – That is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.

1Corinthians 2:1-6 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. …

In sharing our lives with others we must be careful not to be boastful or prideful but to point to Christ through the fruits of His presence in our lives. The good works we do, the faithfulness and patience we have, the gentleness and love we share…the peace and joy in our hearts and the self control in our lives…We must share our story not for our own edification but to the glory of God. Sharing our story is how we share Jesus. Sharing our lives and living out the Gospel in our daily lives is the most effective way to change hearts for Christ.

John 15:8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Matthew 5:15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

1 Peter 3:15 – But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

Just as important as the why is the heart of why we share. You see, it isn’t our responsibility to convince others of who Jesus is. He can do that. It isn’t our job to save people from the fires of hell. The Holy Spirit will work in the heart of that individual. God instructed us to show them the love of Christ.  Our goal in sharing our testimony should be to share the love of Jesus with others, to tell them the Gospel story of how it is available to us all and to do so because we are so overwhelmed with His love and goodness for us that we want everyone to know the treasure we have found. Not to be right. Not to be above. To love. Christian witness absent of love is no witness at all.

Colossians 4:5-6 – Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone

John1:6-8 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.

Romans 8:16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God

The impetus has to be on the love of Jesus. Not the convincing, the persuading, the saving….when we share the love of Jesus with others well….the Holy Spirit does the work. He’s the one with the power. We don’t save people. God does. We are just here to show them who He is.

He is the guy that loved His neighbors. He is the guy that sat with the outcast. He is the guy that took the nails for us. The guy that hung on a cross for people that wouldn’t even acknowledge who He was. He was the guy that offered grace and mercy and understanding. He is the guy that knew his buddies would betray him, the guy that knew we would fail again and again and he is the guy that chose to love us anyway. The guy that gave us another chance, another new day. He is the guy that Peter could confess to and that helped the leper and the lame. He is that guy. He is the guy that cried out in the garden for there to be another way but embraced his own suffering for others to have the love of Christ. We have to strive to be that. The guy that looks different than culture. The guy that didn’t argue His rightness but bathed in His Truth. The guy that loves with abandon. The guy that shared His life with us and welcomed us in to His family. The guy that laid down His life for you and me. That is the Jesus we need to be. That is how others will come to know Him. Can I get a witness?

 

~Jen Harris

The Kingdom

There are times in life where it is easy to become scared. We fret over a current situation or aspect of our lives. And then, in a blink of an eye that situation passes. We wonder why we may have been so scared to begin with. We are able to take a deep breath and reflect, and we understand that God has led us through once again. We realize that when our eyes and hearts are focused on God, that these seemingly huge events that are outside of our control truly are. He lovingly lifts our faces toward him and we are reminded that we do not belong to this world. We belong to him. We are given a glimpse of his eternal glory and unending kingdom. We understand that we are a part of this kingdom that is, and was, and always will be. And in light of this we live our lives in obedience to the one who has brought us out of the dark and into the light. This shapes how we live each day and nothing can take that away from us.

The weeds seem exceedingly high this year. It is very easy for us to get lost in them. With the constant barrage of information from every angle twenty-four hours a day it takes a huge amount of work and diligence to find the truth in any topic. Most of what we come across is mostly thinly veiled opinion with very little fact behind it. If we are not careful these opinions can shape how we view a certain subject or even more how we view the world. We lose sight of who and what shapes how we should view the world. We can lose sight of who provides our every need as a loving father. We become jaded by current circumstances and events that, don’t get me wrong, have far-reaching consequences, but pale in comparison to the eternal kingdom we belong to. This is not to say that these decisions and events don’t matter. They matter very much so. But as long as we are living our lives in light of the gospel, loved by God, allowing his word and worldview to shape us on a daily basis we need not fear. We need not be swayed by the opinions of others because we are in tune with the one opinion that matters most.

The Psalms remind us of the kingdom we belong to. “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.” Psalm 145:13   When we grasp this and hold onto it we realize that there have been countless turbulent times throughout history but God’s kingdom has always stood. We are comforted in knowing that we are not the only ones to experience darkness but that God’s kingdom has always prevailed.

We see once again in the very words of Jesus where our worldview stands. “Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” John 18:36  

So this raises a question. What should we strive to fight for in light of the kingdom we belong to? I like to think that we aim to live each day sharing the grace that has been given to us. We show Jesus to those around us with our actions in our communities, schools and places of work. We become the light that God has asked us to be, not reveling in judgement but pointing to the grace we have received. We fight to become the Church that God longs for us to be, so overflowing with him that others are drawn to him. We continue to live our lives in view of the kingdom we serve hoping to share that with others. When we make the effort to give a glimpse of God’s everlasting kingdom to others the current darkness fades and hope abounds. We know who we belong to and where we stand.

 

Swallowing and Spitting

“Struggle challenges me to trust, but when I do eventually surrender, it means I’ve entrusted my life to God. And every time I do this, I’m heartened by the knowledge that God is eternally capable.”

 – from Teach Us To Want, by Jen Pollack Michel

It’s a classic kid’s tale from ancient days, and for some us who are aging, it feels like another lifetime when we first heard the words of our Sunday School teachers and were mesmerized by Jonah being swallowed up in the belly of a large fish for days.

In my young mind, I loved this story. It seemed impossible, but with my little mind and little heart, I believed it because it came from the Bible. In those pigtailed and patent leather shoe days, the story centered around the swallowing and the spitting out of a man. Yes, yes, I did remember the part of Jonah not wanting to go somewhere and getting on a ship for someplace else, but the swallowing and spitting was what I was after. This was good stuff!

As much as I enjoyed this story as a child, I resist it today. As much as I wanted to be picked to move a piece of the tale around a flannel board, I don’t want to touch it today. As much as I don’t want to admit, it is because this story is about struggle and surrender.

We are afraid of this. If we’re honest, we are afraid of this. To surrender to something or someone means we’ve let go, means we’ve admitted we can’t do this by ourselves, means we’re not enough and that maybe someone else knows what’s best.

As Christians, we know this is true. We’re not enough, only Christ is. And yet we struggle to surrender, even in our knowing.

But the Bible is full from beginning to end with struggle and either a surrendering to God or not. The struggle leads to surrender, but we don’t naturally want it. We don’t naturally embrace the hard things of life. We want something else, we want what we think is better, easier, sometimes never tasting what is best.

Looking back, though, I can see myself in the characters of God’s Word. I can see myself living in the in between places of God’s Word says it and I believe itand that settles it, right? Not really.

Without the struggle, the turning over of something, the prayer on my knees, asking, questioning, bare before the Lord and honest with my emotions, there can be no surrender. I will still try to manipulate or find something of God’s word to justify my desires.

And what God wants to do is better.

He wants to meet me on my knees on hard wood floors. He wants to hear my cries. He wants me to see Him. He wants to surprise me with his best, and it’s always more than I could have imagined.

Swallowing the struggle, learning to trust Him in it. Spitting out prayers of surrender, taking steps forward, knowing He is able.

 

Integrity…Hope For A Lost Art.

Integrity. Who are we when no one is looking? How do the hidden scenes of our story actually play out in the theater of God’s drama? What seeds are we sowing in the unseen furrows of our lives? How can the practice of integrity change how we enjoy this life? Integrity is what will lead us to abundant life and a lack of integrity will drain us empty. A lack of integrity will eventually rip through the life of an individual, their family and any other innocent bystander who happens to cross paths with the offender. And the worst part is that I see these integrity issues in my own heart, and it scares me enough to cling to Jesus.

Integrity:

“Having integrity means doing the right thing in a reliable way. It’s a personality trait that we admire, since it means a person has a moral compass that doesn’t waver. It literally means having “wholeness” of character…”

Let’s think about a compass for a minute.  First, we know that the purpose of a compass is for navigation. Second, when we think about a compass, we should think about a magnet. In a most simplified definition, the Earth is a magnet that interacts with other magnets. The north end of a compass magnet is drawn to align with the Earth’s magnetic field. As we ponder this compass symbolism, we can think of our own moral compass as a magnet that interacts with the magnetic field of God’s cosmic activity. God designed the world to work in a very particular way, and the wise align their lives with God’s particular way. And third, a compass gets us to where we want to go. And for the follower of Christ, the place we want to be is an abundantly lived life as we wait for Christ’s final redemption. Ephesians 5:9 calls us to “walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true). Our moral compass should continually draw us to walk in the light.

But sin. Sin messes with our compass. As a follower of Christ, there is an overwhelming tension between the integrity we aim to practice and the sin that is constantly trying to reign in our hearts. This very real human struggle was not lost on our beloved Apostle Paul. He laments in Romans 7:18-22 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Paul is not trying to absolve himself from his personal responsibility to fight sin. He is emphasizing the power of sin. I cannot recall many people who have been more changed by the love of Jesus and more committed to the cause of Christ than Paul and if he recognized this internal war within his members, than we would be wise to follow suit and recognize the same war in our own hearts.

America is in an integrity crisis. I love living in America. I am thankful for all of the opportunities and safeties our family enjoys and appreciate those who have fought to protect that freedom. However, two concerning western attitudes are pragmatism and entitlement. Are these attitudes part of what is leading to this breakdown in integrity? Let’s start with our pragmatic ways. We are practical and productive. Our pragmatic ways have led to great success and fortune. As wonderful as that sounds, a danger lurks on the pragmatic road. When we become obsessed with being productive, integrity is at stake. The pragmatic sojourner will inevitably reach a fork in the road. A wide gate will lure such travelers. If the wanderer succumbs, he will eventually find that this well-worn trail that strays off the path of pragmatism leads to malfeasance, exploitation, and misconduct. How, you ask? Because of sin. Sin will take something that is in of itself a good thing, and corrupt it. To many of us pragmatism means profit, which is a good thing right. Nothing wrong with financial gain. However, when profit becomes the end itself, integrity is put on the back burner. Here’s how that might play out. A company produces clothing so the company finds a place where they can discreetly pay an appallingly low wage to children to produce clothing at an obscene profit to everyone except those producing it. Lack of integrity. A CEO who uses a legal method such as mark to market to hide losses and make the company look more profitable than it actually is, only to bankrupt the company and completely annihilate the retirement of its hardworking men and women who built the company in the first place. Lack of integrity. Unfortunately, corporate America and our government is riddled with such stories and the regular folk are the ones carrying the brunt of these scoundrel’s misconduct.  These examples involve the powerful and wealthy but the average joe is vulnerable to these temptations as well. If we could slow down enough to learn contentment, the risks of our pragmatic ways would contract.

What about entitlement? We have become so accustomed to our comforts that we forget that never before in human history have people enjoyed the luxuries we do. And it’s clouding our vision. Entitlement is dangerous because it feeds us the lie that we deserve to be comfortable, healthy and happy. But we don’t understand genuine happiness. We equate the adrenaline rush we get from material goods, new cars and bigger houses to being authentically happy. Our greed has become insatiable. We believe we are entitled to everything but the genie in the bottle never got that message and so we take matters into our own hands. Our spouse is not enough, so we take someone else’s. Lack of integrity. Our houses are not big enough, we mortgage more than we can afford, so we spend every cent we earn on ourselves, leaving nothing left to give to the those in need around us. Lack of integrity.  If we would spend less time thinking about what we want and more time in communion with the God who created us, we would be ushered into a place of peace.  Peace with God, peace with those around us and peace with ourselves.  True integrity is rooted in peace with God.

Integrity is not about maintaining appearances through a list of rules.  Integrity is about maintaining God’s justice when we have no worldly gain.

If there is to be hope for us, we must give the gift of integrity to the next generation. Perhaps this starts by changing our focus a bit. Maybe we teach our teens about the plight of the working poor, the widow and the orphan as much as we do about the dangers of alcohol.  Maybe part of the alcohol and drug crisis families are facing is happening because our young people don’t have a holistic picture of the redeeming work God is up to in our world. They have not received the invitation to the adventurous, purposeful, spirit-filled life God is calling them to live in order to bring that redemption back to creation. Along with presenting our kids a list of rules like don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal (all very valid requests, of course!), we teach them to use those energies to be a voice for the voiceless and protectors of the weak.  These are all integrity issues our kids have to learn if they are to walk in God’s ways.  I understand it is not that simple, but it could be a start.

Integrity is at the heart of the Christian’s call in this world and I hope that through the words on this page I was able to bring some less thought about integrity issues to your hearts. We are called be a people who love differently, serve differently and live differently than the world around us. A life of integrity should spring forth in response to God’s lovingkindness and grace. The world sends a loud message that we should live however we want, but God warns us “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) When we allow God to direct our moral compass, our life will be blessed by Him. It will not be easy or perfect, but He promises to be with us when we walk in the humility of His ways. And that is enough for me.

Blessings,

Tracy