Love Comes First

I was raised in a Christian home and was in church from the time I was four.  I grew up in a small Southern Baptist Church in the DFW area and, although I know that everyone has a different experience of church – no matter the denomination, my experience in church was overall a very positive and affirming one.  I was loved, cared for, taught and encouraged.  I was also admonished when I needed to be, but with love and kindness.  When I think back on my experience in church growing up, I feel very blessed.  The people of my church were my family.  They taught me things.  They helped me become who I am.  Without them I cannot imagine where I’d be.

Richard taught me how to love people no matter what they looked like by loving me just as I was and no matter how I dressed.  Nita and Ginger taught me about missionaries and what it looks like to serve God in other places.  Johnny taught me about worship and later he and his wife, Leona, taught me about marriage and parenthood.  Miss Rose taught me about Jesus.  Miss Bessie taught me about faithfulness.  My friend, Chris, taught me about loyalty and about unconditional love.  Paul taught me about evangelism and his wife, Christy, taught me about modesty.  Pattie, though she may not know this, inspired my dream of becoming a worship leader.

Later in my life and ministry Eric and Paul Michael taught me about what ministry really looks like and they both encouraged me and believed in me enough to help me find my own.  Dennis taught me about myself, who God made me to be, and that I didn’t need to be afraid of it.  After over ten years of ministry in churches, I’m still learning from the people who I serve with.  Lee is teaching me about grace – not only through his words, but mostly by his example.  Rachel is forever teaching me about forgiveness and courage.  Amy is teaching me about joy and friendship.  I cannot count the number of people who have spoken love and life to me over the years.  These people are all church people.  These people are all my people.  We speak the same language.  We think the same thoughts.  We have the same burning passion for Jesus and for people to know Jesus.  Church is meaningful to me.  Church people are meaningful to me.

I never understood the enormous difference between my experience with church and the experiences of the people around me that seemed to be so negative.  That was, until I had some negative experiences of my own.  It’s amazing how completely oblivious we are to the world around us until we get a taste of it ourselves.  I have been deeply hurt by church people, too.  I carry deep scars that may never fully heal from people who follow after Jesus.  And I’ve left scars of my own too.  And I think that’s the part that hurts the very most.  Church is supposed to be a place where broken, hurting people can come to be healed and loved by Jesus and supported and encouraged by each other.  And sometimes we’re great at that.  But sometimes we’re not.  Sometimes I think we’ve missed the point entirely.

Christians spend so much time trying to stand out from the world as “holy” or “set apart” and that’s exactly what we should be.  But I often wonder if we’re trying harder to ACT holy than we are trying to BE holy. 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”              – John 13:34-35

Love comes first.  That’s how they know that we follow Jesus – by how we love each other.  Christian to Christian.  Christ follower to Christ follower.  Believer to Believer.  How we love each other matters to the people around us.  When they see us bickering over stupid things, arguing over theology, fighting over semantics it makes it look as though we hate each other.  The world is having a hard time believing that following Jesus is worth anything because even His followers can’t get along.  Forget about how we treat the rest of the world – although that’s enormous too – we can’t even get along with each other!

Think about that.  We’re part of a family that has something incredible to offer.  We desperately want the world to know what we have to give.  What we have to give is good and real and life-giving and FREE!  So we stand up and start telling everyone how wrong and stupid and awful all our family members are.  Then we tell all of those people how horrible and unlovable they are too.  And we cannot figure out for the life of us why they aren’t interested in our offer.  It’s ludicrous.  It really is.

The world needs Jesus.  Desperately.  He is the source of love, peace, mercy, grace, forgiveness, healing and everlasting life with a perfect, holy and loving God.  But the world won’t ever see Him in bickering Christians, or prideful pastors.  When we spend all our effort and energy on “defending the Gospel” instead of living the Gospel we’ve entirely missed the point.  I don’t believe that the Gospel needs defending anyway.  What if instead of boldly proclaiming the truth (as we understand it) we were graciously living the love of Christ?  Instead of boldly proclaiming … graciously living.  Wouldn’t that make the world stop and take a look?

In his book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians debate, Justin Lee said this: “Jesus radiated grace and compassion in such a way that people came to him to hear his views on things.  By contrast, we Christians were so focused on preaching our views on things that we were driving people away, turning them off to church, Jesus, and everything we had to say.”

I believe that the way that we treat each other as Christians greatly affects the way people around us view Christianity.  I know that it is such hard work to find common ground with people you vehemently disagree with, but if we are to be Christ’s love to a hurting world we have to try.  We have the ultimate common ground: grace.

“Grace sees people for what makes them uniquely beautiful to God, not for all the ways they’re flawed or all the ways I disagree with them.  That kind of grace is what enables loving bridges to be built over the strongest disagreements.  Gracious dialogue is hard work.  It requires effort and patience, and it’s tempting to put it off.  All of us have busy lives and a lot of other issues to address.  But for anyone who cares about the future of the church, this can’t be put off.  The next generation is watching how we handle these questions, and they’re using that to determine how they should treat people and whether this Christianity business is something they want to be involved in.” – Justin Lee (Torn, pg 252)

I couldn’t agree more.  If the world is ever going to care what we have to say, they need to know how much we care about them – and how much we care for each other.

Love comes first.

 
PS: If you’re at all interested in helping to bridge the divide between gays and the church, please go buy and read Justin’s book. It affected me deeply.  You can also find his blog here.

 

21 Seconds to Change Your World – A Book Review

Restore your soul through prayer.  Those are the words on the back cover.  I have to admit that I went into this book a skeptic.  I expected something along the lines of Prayer of Jabez or some other rote prayer that claims to bring you health and wealth.  That is NOT this book.  21 Seconds to Change Your World, by Dr. Mark Rutland, walks through the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 in an exegetical fashion, comparing the words, thoughts and intentions of the authors of each text.

The Book is broken up into three parts: The Journey Begins, which explains the intent of the book and the importance of these two prayers; The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23, the meatiest section in which both of the prayers are examined thoroughly and compared to one another; and the third section, To Change Your World, gives the reader ideas and thoughts about how to use these two prayers to your personal benefit and to impact the community and world around you.

There are so many things about this book that make it worth reading.  First, the unpacking of both the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23.  I have both of these prayers memorized and have for most of my life.  However, after reading the chapters in the second section of this book, I have a much deeper understanding of the intentions of their authors and a much greater appreciation for the beauty of their words.  The author is obviously very knowledgeable and well-studied on the topics, but he is also so humble and kind in his style of writing.  I felt as though I was listening to my own pastor, whom I thoroughly love and respect.  Another reason this book is worth reading is the last few chapters.  These chapters are the “what to do next” chapters.  After studying the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 in the previous 19 chapters, the last five chapters gave me some practical ways to use these beautiful, Biblical prayers to help me in so many different ways – inner healing, intimacy with God, deliverance from temptations, just to name a few.

Over the last week or so since I finished this book, I have been reciting the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 regularly (21 seconds a day) and the impact in my own heart and life has been real and measurable.  I am more calm.  My priorities are easier to determine.  My fears have been more manageable.  My stress is lower.  I have even been able to walk away from temptation multiple times a day (I have a massive addiction to soda and sweets).  This book is not a magic formula in and of itself.  But it does have wonderful instruction on how to use scripture to become more committed to Jesus, more in tune with the Holy Spirit and more effective in life and in ministry.  I whole-heartedly recommend that everyone read this book!

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book through Baker Books Bloggers.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.

Fear and Loathing in My Driveway

A few nights ago I wasn’t feeling well, so my sweet husband took all five of our kids out to dinner and to the grocery store so I could rest in peace and quiet. (Have I ever mentioned that I am married to the most wonderful man in the entire world?) Since I very rarely get the opportunity to be alone, I thought I would take advantage of it and watch something on TV.  So I turned on a new show that I heard would be really great to see if I would like it.  Trying out new shows is very stressful for me.  To me, it’s kind of like watching a movie that I’ve never seen before.  I know that seems weird, but remember how I struggle with guilt?  Well, watching movies feels like a long time to be away from my never-ending to-do list and so I very rarely watch movies.  I feel the same way about new TV shows.  I mean, what if it’s terrible and I just wasted thirty minutes or even an hour of my precious time (that could have been spent on any one of a thousand other important things) on a show that I am now dumber for having watched.

However, despite my very logical (certifiable) issues with new TV shows, I turned one on.  It was not at all what I expected.  I was expecting funny but instead it was intense, weird, uncomfortable and a bit creepy.  I don’t do well with creepy – especially when I’m by myself.  So I’m all alone in an empty house that is eerily quiet, it’s getting dark outside and I’m not more than 15 minutes into this creepy weird show when I hear a big thud coming from one of the back rooms.  I immediately jumped up, grabbed my phone and keys and ran out of the house in 5 seconds flat.  I jumped in the car, turned it on and sat there.  FOR FORTY-FIVE MINUTES!  Not kidding.  This is what I actually did.  I didn’t even lock the door behind me.  Just ran and sat for almost an hour until my husband could get home and clear the house of whatever made the scary noise in the first place.  He’s so used to my weird fear-based shenanigans that he didn’t even laugh, or say anything other than “it’s all clear” after walking through our entire house (including closets) to make sure that there was nothing that could “get” me.  My prince.  My hero.  I don’t have any idea why he puts up with me.  Fear makes me do nutty things.

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The next day, when I finally had my wits about me again, I was reflecting on my ridiculous evening of fear and loathing in my driveway and I was reminded of the story of Gideon.  Remember the story?  It’s found in Judges 6-8.  In Israel at that time, the Midianites would come through the area where Gideon lived every year for seven years and steal their crops and livestock so that the Israelites had no food for themselves.  The Israelites were terrified of the Midianites. When we first meet Gideon he is hiding in a winepress, threshing wheat so he could keep it from the Midianites.  The angel of God comes to him and says, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!”

In the middle of his fear and hiding, God reminds Gideon that He is on his side – that He is with him.  Sometimes I forget that God is on my side.  Life is so very much harder than I thought it would be and I often feel all alone in my struggles. I feel all alone in my soul.  In his little book “How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit”, A.W. Tozer writes, “There is a spiritual loneliness, an inner aloneness, an inner place where God brings the seeker, where he is as lonely as if there were not another member of the Church anywhere in the world.  Ah, when you come there, there is a darkness of mind, an emptiness of heart, a loneliness of soul, but it is preliminary to the daybreak.  O God, bring us, somehow, to the daybreak!”  If A.W. Tozer felt this loneliness of soul, if the mighty warrior Gideon felt it, I think it’s safe to say that we have probably all felt this all alone feeling at one point or another.

I don’t particularly like my alone time.  That’s when my thoughts and fears get the best of me.  I wouldn’t have ended up in my car for an hour hiding from the big noise of the falling shampoo bottle if someone had been with me.  I might have been able to gather the strength to go and find out what made the scary noise in the first place if I had had back up.  What if I were able to be close enough to God, sure enough of Him, that I considered Him to be fully present in my every situation?  What If I remembered that God is with me and acted accordingly?  I don’t think there is any other way that I will be able to face the ridiculous fears that plague by head and my heart.  I think I understand the lyrics to one of my favorite hymns a little better after this experience:

The author of this song is a woman named Annie Hawks.  She was a housewife and mother and was two years older than I am now when she wrote this song.  I feel a kinship to her when I read her words and imagine that she felt then similarly to how I feel now over a hundred years later – that without the nearness and very presence of God I cannot make it.  Here are her beautiful words.  They will be my prayer today.

I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.

I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby;
Temptations lose their pow’r when Thou art nigh.

I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;

Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;

Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

 

 

Breathe In, Breathe Out

I read a book last year that took hold of me and started me on a journey to a different kind of thinking.  I cannot tell you how profoundly this book impacted my heart.  The book is Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle.  Father Boyle is a Jesuit priest and the founder of Homeboy Industries in California.  His book is about grace, redemption, love and life.  I urge you to go read it.

I was flipping back through it this morning, reading all of the things I highlighted and underlined.  As I was reading through his chapter called Gladness, I felt compelled to share a bit with you.

“Jesus says, “My ways are not your ways.” but they sure could be.  In the utter simplicity of breathing, we find how naturally inclined we are to delight and to stay dedicated to gladness.  We bask in God’s unalloyed joy, and we let loose with that same joy in whoever is in front of us.  We forget what a vital part of our nature this is.” (p150, Tattoos on the Heart)

“We breathe in the spirit that delights in our being – the fragrance of it.  And it works on us.  Then we exhale (for that breath has to go somewhere) – to breathe into the world this same spirit of delight, confident that this is God’s only agenda.” (p151, Tattoos on the Heart)

I must have read that last sentence a dozen or more times.  Even now as I read it, I feel so affected by the truth of the statement that it brings tears to my eyes.

We breath in the delight of God and it works on us.  Then we breath out that same delight to the people around us.  This is God’s purpose for us.  To breathe in His delight – His pleasure in us – His love for us.  We breathe in His love and we breathe out His love.  Inhale and exhale.  Delight in, Delight out.  Acceptance in, Acceptance out.  Grace in, Grace out.  Peace in, Peace out.  Love in, love out.  That is our greatest purpose.  I truly believe it is that simple.  We are to be instruments of His love, His peace, His grace, His mercy, His delight.  God’s love for us, His delight in us fills up our lungs and our hearts and our minds and we breathe it back out into the world.

Father Boyle says, “We have grown accustomed to think that loving as God does is hard.  We think it’s about moral strain and obligation.  We presume it requires a spiritual muscularity of which we are not capable, a layering of burden on top of sacrifice, with a side order of guilt.  (But it was love, after all, that made the cross salvific, not the sheer torture of it.)” (p155, Tattoos on the Heart)

We make loving people and loving ourselves so complicated.  We have all these prerequisites for worthiness.  When really there are none.  It’s not complicated.  It may not be easy, but it’s not complicated.

Breathe love in.  Let it work on us.  Breathe love out.

Inhale.

Exhale.

My prayer for you this week is that you breathe in the incredible love of the Father who delights in your very existence.  That you let that delight work on your heart until you understand how very enough you are – how very loved you are.  That you exhale that same love, grace and compassion to the people around you.

Love you guys!

Kim

 

 

 

A Deeper Faith

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I was married six months after I turned 18.  I was desperately in love with a boy and couldn’t imagine being apart from him.  My mother said that if we couldn’t be apart then we had to be married.  So we married.  12 1/2 months later, our first child was born.  I was 19.  Four months later (about a week before I turned 20), my husband was diagnosed with leukemia.  I was 19, a newlywed, a new mother and now the wife of a cancer patient.  I knew nothing about leukemia except that it killed people.  I was terrified.  I remember so clearly that first week in the hospital.  We were so young, and so clueless and so completely and horribly scared of our future, or whether or not we even had one together.  You need to understand that I was (and still am) completely and totally madly in love with this man.  He was my whole world.  He made me feel whole and was the only person who made me feel like I made any sense at all.  And I thought I was losing him.  My first response was anger at God followed closely by paralyzing fear. But I knew there had to be something God was going to do that required this of me – of us.  I believed God was who He said He was still. 

During the first week that Ricky was in the hospital, we decided to attend a chapel service.  We were so desperately searching for God’s assurance or guidance or something that would help us to process and understand this terrible thing that was happening. The chaplain preached a message out of the book of John.  He said that sometimes God uses sickness, pain or death to teach us, to grow us, to move us to greater faith.  He read through the story of Lazarus in John 11 and talked about how everything that happened allowed God’s glory to be revealed and proclaimed.  I read John 11:4 that said, “This sickness is not unto death but that the glory of God may be revealed.”

I spent a lot of time over the next several months processing that scripture.  I prayed desperately for a miracle.  I knew that God was calling me to a deeper faith.  Calling me to trust Him with the thing that meant more to me than anything.  Calling me to a faith that could survive losing my husband.  Lazarus died after all.  He was brought back to life, but first he died.  I knew it was a possibility – a strong one – that my husband wouldn’t win this battle – that I would lose him.  I felt a bit like I was wrestling with God.  I was begging Him for assurance that I wouldn’t lose my husband, begging Him for a miracle.  He was telling me that I had to let go, and was asking me to trust Him for the outcome.  Ultimately I did.  I chose trust.  I knew there was nothing I could do but trust and obey and believe Him to be faithful.  Not long after, Ricky went into partial remission (although they don’t use that word with leukemia quite yet).  After about five years he went into further remission and now, over fifteen years since the initial diagnosis, there is still no sign of leukemia.  Although we know that it could return at any time, we both have a deeper understanding of what it means to trust God with the impossible.

Not long after my husband was diagnosed with leukemia, he entered a medical trial for a new drug that was supposed to have a dramatic impact on his specific type of leukemia.  It was not FDA approved yet, and there were a lot of unknown factors.  His doctors believed it was his best option (I truly believe it saved his life) and so we agreed and signed the million page document that told us all the things he couldn’t do while on the medication – such as other medications to avoid, foods to avoid, etc.  One of these things was that we shouldn’t conceive any children while he was on the drug since there could be no way of predicting what affect, if any, it would have on a developing child.  Keep in mind that I was 20 years old, newly married with a newborn baby girl.  We, of course, agreed and began to take every precaution to prevent pregnancy.  Although I knew it was the only option, I was still very sad and disappointed.  At the age of 20 I knew that I would never be able to have another child.  It was a terribly sad time for me.  I grieved for several years and even begged God for another child, even though I knew it was a crazy request.  For over five years I grieved over the children I would never have.  I eventually had to come to a place where I trusted God with my grief and with my dream as well.  I had to let it go to Him and trust that He knew what was best.  I had to give up my dream of having another child.

Less than a year after that moment of surrender, I became pregnant despite two forms of birth control.  I still don’t know how it happened.  It was a miracle of God. After five years of praying for another child, God had heard my plea.  He had answered my prayer.  He had fulfilled my wildest dream.  God does that.  Sometimes He does that.

In each of these situations, God answered my prayer.  Both times He fulfilled my deepest desire.  But also, both times He required me first to let go of that which meant the most to me.  There’s a pattern here that can’t be ignored.  Remember the story about Abraham?  Where God asked him to sacrifice his only son?  Let’s go back a bit farther.  This is before the ultimate sacrifice was asked of him, before the promise was fulfilled, before his son was born, before his name was changed to Abraham.  Here he was known as Abram.  This is such an important part of the story, so let’s go back to Genesis 15:1-6:

“After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.’  But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’  And Abram said, ‘You have give me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.’  Then the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.’  He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.’  Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’  Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

God promised Abram a son.  More than that, though, he promised him a legacy.  He promised that his offspring, his lineage, would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.  He promised him a hope and a future. That future – that God himself planned and promised – hinged on Abraham having a child, a son.

Fast forward to Genesis 21:1-5 where God fulfilled His promise to Abraham:

“Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.  Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.  Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.  When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him.  Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.”

Abraham obeying God’s command to kill his son, Isaac, is a story of sacrifice.  However, in light of the original promise in Genesis 15 it is the very ultimate sacrifice.  God wasn’t just asking Abraham to give up his son.  He was asking him to give up the son that he had prayed for, begged for, dreamed of and on whom his entire future was depending on.  He wasn’t just asking him to sacrifice something of significance.  He was asking him to sacrifice that which held the very most significance to him – that which he couldn’t imagine his life without.  He wasn’t interested in some sacrifice.  He desired all, everything, the very most and nothing less.

He asks the same of us.  To let go of that which means the most to us, to give it to Him.  To sacrifice our own desires, dreams, hopes and futures in order to love Him more fully and trust Him more deeply.

Sacrifice requires trust.  Trust that God will keep His promise.  Trust that God will come through.  Trust that no matter the outcome, He is working it out for my good and for His glory.  Deep abiding trust.

Deeper faith begins with a deeper trust.  You cannot believe God will come through if you don’t first trust that He is ABLE to come through.  You cannot expect His faithfulness unless you first believe Him to be faithful.  Abraham trusted God.  He would never have made the trek up the mountain to sacrifice his one and only son if he didn’t trust that God could and would find a way to bring him back to life.  “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  Abraham trusted God’s faithfulness because He knew God’s character.  Abraham trusted God’s promise because He knew Him to be trustworthy.

And He is.

He is so faithful.

 

Every Little Thing – a Book Review

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Sitting down with this book by Deidra Riggs is like sitting down with an old friend.  It’s like sitting down with Deidra herself.  I cannot tell you how warm and inviting her words were in this little book.  I felt a connection to Deidra and her sweet and sassy style of writing from the very beginning of Part One: Knowing Yourself.  It felt as though I was sitting down with a wise friend who was sharing her own story and who was equally invested in my own.  It felt almost like a pep talk.  She said things like, “God loves you and me, just the way we are – prone to wander and all the rest.” (pg 40) and “You’ve forgotten that fear doesn’t disqualify you from the thing God is calling you to” (pg 58).

I loved the author’s analogies and stories about her journey, and felt so very encouraged and inspired by her own personal lessons learned.  I especially loved the chapter titled “Breathlessness” where she talks about Abram and Sarai.  She talks about the faithfulness of God and our own trust and surrender to His purposes.  She says, “God is God, and he is faithful regarding the promises he speaks over us and into us” (pg 108).  She also says, “When we search for significance outside of surrender to God, we create our own version of God’s plan for us, and it rarely measures up” (pg 110).

In the final section of the book, Taking the Next Step, there are so many “quotables” that I nearly highlighted an entire chapter!  She talks about the Gospel needing to be lived and how the Gospel doesn’t actually need defending but rather needs to be lived.  “The gospel of Jesus does not need us to make it right or true, or worthy of our attention or devotion.  It does not ask us to draw lines of division or to build walls of separation.  It doesn’t need a new wardrobe or a new method of delivery.  It doesn’t need to be timed or altered or picked at any more.  The gospel needs to be lived” (pg 139).

While I LOVEDthis book, I loved its author even more.  I loved her wit and wisdom and her love for the Gospel and for her reader was so very evident and encouraging.  I am excited to recommend this book for anyone who just needs a good friend and encourager and I eagerly await another book by Deidra Riggs!

 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Short Answers to BIG Questions about God, the Bible & Christianity – A Book Review

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I was really excited about this book as a resource for helping to answer questions that I get asked on a regular basis.  The authors, Clinton and Jeff Arnold, attempt to answer 50 of the most asked questions about God, Christianity and the Bible.  The book is divided into 9 sections, each with 3-8 questions relating to the topics of the Bible, life after death, the supernatural, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and several other topics.  Each of the questions is answered in only a few pages and includes key scripture passages and discussion questions.

I believe this book was intended to help new Christians or those curious about Christianity to find brief answers and scripture resources for general questions about Christianity.  For this purpose, it’s not a bad resource.  I do believe that the authors probably bit off more than they could chew in that many of these questions couldn’t possibly be answered properly in only a few paragraphs.  For example, the second question in the book is “Are there errors in the Bible?”.  The authors attempt to answer this by giving only a few examples of seeming contradictions and refuting them by saying that they are simply not contradictions.  There is very little explanation.  There is actually more intro and opinion than actual answers in most of the chapters.  While I do agree with the authors, I wish they had chosen to answer fewer questions with more in-depth answers.

I do, however, love the discussion questions and key passages attached to each question and believe this to be the most valuable part of this resource.  I also love that they addressed questions that the church doesn’t often talk about, such as “Why are there hypocrites in the church?” or “Does God hate sex?” or even “Why does God feel distant?”  There are several very good discussions that could be started by the questions in this book.

While I’m not sure this book actually answers all of the questions it poses, it might be a great resource to at least begin the discussion.

A Book Review – The Road to Becoming

road to becoming

Every so often an author comes along that speaks your language.  You know, that book that, as you read it, you find yourself wanting to speak it out loud to an audience so that you can say, “See!  Here it is!  This is exactly how I feel!  This is exactly right!”  This was that book for me.  I have read several really great books this year and could (and probably will) write about how each one encouraged, inspired or moved me.  However, Jenny Simmons’ book, The Road to Becoming, is a book that I’ll remember for a very long time.  Jenny Simmons is the front woman for former band, Addison Road.  I have always been a fan of their music (especially the song, Hope Now) and you know I love a good female-led band, but I have to say that what Jenny pours out in this book, for me, is her very best and most important work so far.

The book is a memoir of sorts, taking the reader through the author’s own journey to becoming.  From her earliest memories and dreams, through the heartbreaking end of her band, through a period of waiting and eventually to a beautiful rediscovery of her purpose and calling.  It’s so obvious that Jenny (that’s right, we’re best friends now) is a songwriter and lover of lyrics as her writing feels very poetic and artistic throughout the book.  Every word seems carefully chosen and thoughtfully written in a way that only an artist could do.

I felt an instant kinship with Jenny from the very beginning of the book, especially when she describes her connection with music.  She writes, “Sometimes people ask me when I first started singing, or how I knew I wanted to be a musician, as if you can name when you started existing.” (Ch 2, pg 25)

Do you remember that scene in The NeverEnding Story, near the end, where Bastian is reading the story and suddenly realizes that the narrator is talking directly to him?  And then he freaks out and throws the book down until he can gather enough wherewithal to pick it back up again?  This is exactly how I felt reading that chapter.  Jenny Simmons was talking directly to me!  Felt a little spooky if I’m being entirely honest.  As she is describing her own dream, it felt as though she was describing mine as well.

“Dreams rarely just appear out of thin air.  They are built over our lifetimes, taking root inside of us when we first begin to walk, talk, tinker, and explore.  They grow, stretch, develop, change shapes and sizes, and bubble underneath us – springs of living water yet to be fully unearthed.  We are the guardians of our dreams.  Those long-festering voices that continue to ring out from deep within us and are woven into the fabric of our stories; we care for them as only we can.” (Ch 2, pg 29)

As Jenny begins to describe the death of her precious dream, I felt another NeverEnding Story moment.  She says, “The hardest part of suffering is that the rest of the world keeps going like nothing has happened.”  Then, “..my weary soul wanted the whole world to just stop.  Everything in my soul wanted to beg the world around me for what it could not possibly give.  Just give me a minute to grieve – to wrap my mind around this – please just stop with me.  But the world can’t stop for every heartbreak.  If it did, it would never start again.” (Ch 8, pg 57-58, emphasis mine)

I wish I could describe how I felt reading those words.  I think mostly I just felt that I was not alone.  For the very first time it felt that someone had put words to my own thoughts and feelings about grief.  This is so very true and right!

In another section of the book, she talks about seasons of lostness.  Here is one part that I found to be so very beautiful.

“Following Him in the dark places is scary, but not paralyzing.  He knows when we should make a trail and where to pitch the tent.  Where the next stream of life-giving water is and what the village on the other side of the mountain looks like.  He sees what I cannot and illuminates the path.  Not running ahead of me, not forcing me, but side by side, as trusted friends, we walk in step.  And I realize I am walking on holy ground.  My lostness is made holy, my journey is made bearable, my unknowing state becomes fully known as God journeys deep into the dark places with me.  He is the treasure.” (Ch 15, pg 112)

I could talk for days about the truth in this book.  I always say that the mark of a good book is what I call “quotables”.  Take a glance through any book I’m reading to see how much hi-lighting or underlining I do and you’ll know if it’s a good book or not.  There are “quotables” in every chapter of this book and on nearly every page.  There is so much to take in that it often felt like I needed to slow down and make note cards just so I could really absorb all this book has to offer.  The themes of purpose, grief, resurrection, hope and grace fill the pages.  I was moved by the stories, encouraged by the lessons learned and inspired to take every bit of wisdom offered here and apply it to my own story.

“The end of the story is about something more rich and beautiful and constant than dreams, which are here today and gone tomorrow.  The end of the story is about living whatever the story is well.” (ch 30, pg 223)

Whatever season you find yourself in, this book will be an encouragement along your journey.  You will find comfort for a grieving heart, grace for a worn out mom, hope in your season of lostness or waiting, and a few funny stories along the way.  In the prelude of the book Jenny writes, “If nothing more, I share my story to remind you that you are not alone in yours.” (p12)  That is exactly what this book does.  What a treasure!

You can find The Road to Becoming on Amazon by clicking on the picture below:

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Teaching Kindness to Kids

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One of the most important qualities we can teach our children is kindness.  It’s the quality that I appreciate in others more than almost any other quality.  Kindness speaks to our hearts and soothes our souls.  A word of kindness at the right time can heal a wounded heart or encourage a broken spirit.  Kindness is not usually the natural way of people.  It’s certainly not always the easiest way to go.

Chuck Swindoll once said, “Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it.”  This is probably the most significant quote I have ever read and I teach it to others often.  I have found (in my enormously long life) that life is hard and that people are mean.  The only way to make it through it is to choose how to react to it.  Take back the control.  Treat other people differently than they treat us.  Choose to see other people through the eyes of compassion.

I want my kids to be kind kids who grow up to be kind adults.  But how do we accomplish this?  We have to be intentional about teaching our kids to be kind.  Here are some ways we can do that…

MODEL IT IN YOUR HOME.  In our home, we try to be very careful how we speak to each other.  We don’t use rude words.  We don’t yell.  We try to model kindness in our speech.  We use the words ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ – even when asking our kids to do something – even if they’re making us crazy.  This may seem simple, but I promise it will rub off more than you can imagine.

We also fight fair.  We don’t yell or scream at each other (it’s kind of a rule in our house).  Sometimes we mess up, of course – but when we do, we apologize and forgive.  We want our kids to know how to talk to each other in a kind way.  Even when they disagree.  Even when they’re hurt.  We always say “you can be mad, but you can’t be mean.”  I think it’s such an important thing for all of us to remember in relationships – you can be mad, but you can’t be mean.

MODEL IT IN COMMUNITY.  We want our kids to see people as people.  Not as cars.  Not as objects that are in their way.  We want to see people as people – people with a family and a story.  We talk kindly to people we meet and encourage our kids to be kind too.  We open doors for people.  We drive kindly (this is a big one for me – you are not a kind person if you drive like a jerk!).  We also want them to think about other people’s feelings, so we talk about it a lot.

When my oldest was in elementary and middle school (back when they were in public school), she always made friends with the ones that were ignored by everyone else or the ones that were picked on for whatever reason.  Her heart is a kind heart.  She sees people as people.  She is never rude.  I learn so very much from her desire that all people are loved and accepted.  Truly.

ENCOURAGE IT BETWEEN SIBLINGS.  When my girls argue, it is almost always because someone is being selfish or thoughtless.  When they bring the dispute to me (which they almost always do – and in the most dramatic fashion) I always ask 2 questions: 1) Are you being kind?  2) Are you thinking of yourself or others?  They always answer honestly and they almost always immediately apologize to each other.  I’m sure this won’t always work out this way, but for now I am treasuring it.

A former pastor of mine taught us a phrase once that I have often used on my own kids.  Whenever his kids would say “I didn’t MEAN to!”  He would reply, “You didn’t mean NOT to.”  Relationships require intentionality.  Communication requires intentionality.  We have to be purposeful and careful with our words to each other.  Kindness is not always our natural, go-to reaction to other people – we must be intentional about kindness – especially in families!

CELEBRATE IT IN OTHERS.  Whenever we see someone being kind, we acknowledge it.  We want our kids to see how much we value kindness by celebrating it in other people.  I am privileged to work with some incredibly kind people.  Often I will come into my office and find a vase of flowers, a card, a gift, or a note of encouragement from either a co-worker or a ministry volunteer.  I cannot tell you how much these acts of kindness mean to me.  Every time it happens, I can’t wait to show my kids!  I want them to see how the kindness of others has blessed their mom.  I want them to see kindness as a gift so that they will want to give that gift away to others too!

REMEMBER THAT KINDNESS IS FOR EVERYONE.  I’m still learning this.  I think I will always be learning this.  There are always moments when I want to fight for my own rights rather than extend grace, compassion or kindness to others.  I want to be kind, until fear or prejudice or selfishness gets in the way.  I think everyone is able to be kind to people who are just like them – that’s easy.  But what about those who are different?  Or those we disagree with?  Or those who have hurt us?  That’s when the real work of kindness begins.  I think sometimes that our kids understand the “no-matter-whatness” of kindness better than we ever could.  Perhaps we could learn from them what it looks like to be the same kind of person to everyone we come across – regardless of our differences.  We need to pursue the kind of kindness that will help us to see people – all people – through the eyes of a loving Father.

If we want to teach kindness to our kiddos – we have to start by teaching kindness to ourselves.  Let’s model it in our homes.  Let’s model it in community.  Let’s encourage it among siblings.  Let’s celebrate it whenever we see it in others.  And most importantly, let’s remember that kindness is for EVERYONE!

“God is compassionate, loving kindness.  All we’re asked to do is to be in the world who God is.”

“Compassion is always, at its most authentic, about a shift from the cramped world of self-preoccupation into a more expansive place of fellowship, of true kinship.”

– Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart

The Fullness of His Love

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“An infinite God can give all of Himself to each of His children.  He does not distribute Himself that each may have a part, but to each one He gives all of Himself as fully as if there were no others…   His love has not changed.  It hasn’t cooled off, and it needs no increase because He has already loved us with infinite love and there is no way that infinitude can be increased…

He is the same yesterday, today and forever!”

– A. W. Tozer

As a mom of five, I find this quote to be so very beautiful.  I very much desire to give each of my children all of myself every single day of their lives so that they will never want for motherly affection, understanding or attention.  I also know how incredibly difficult it is to feel that there is enough of me to go around sometimes.  As a parent, I have to prioritize the needs of my children in order to make sure everyone gets taken care of.  I have to actually spend time figuring out how to “fit it all in” every single day.  I don’t want any of my children to ever feel neglected, ignored or less important than anyone else – although I’m sure that from time to time they do.  Although I LOVE being a mother and having a large family, I have to admit that I often feel ill-equipped for the task.

Thankfully, the same is not true of God.  He does not have to split His attention between His children. He never has to sacrifice time with one child in order to spend time with another one.  He does not ever feel stretched, spent, tired, weary or unable to “fit it all in”.  Tozer said, “…to each one He gives all of Himself as fully as if there were no others.”

Ephesians 3:14-19 says:

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

That we may be filled with ALL the fullness of God!  What a beautiful thought!

There is a song by John Legend that I cannot seem to stop singing lately.  I love the lyrics of this song.  It, of course, was written for his wife but the words of the chorus are such a beautiful picture of love with a whole heart – love to the fullest.  I wonder if this is at least a small glimpse of the way that God loves each one of us – deeply, unconditionally, fully as if there were no others.

“Cause all of me loves all of you

Love your curves and all your edges – all your perfect imperfections

Give your all to me, I’ll give my all to you

You’re my end and my beginning – even when I lose I’m winning

Cause I give you all of me – and you give me all of you.”

I hope you’ll take a moment today to reflect on the way that God loves you – the fullness and sufficiency of His love.

Rest in His infinite love today – He is more than enough for you!