Listening to Reconciliation Voices

Last year, I felt God whisper to me in one of my inward moments of self-reflection.  I was having a conversation with God about the meaning and purpose of some of my deepest hopes and dreams- that are not currently reality. God whispered,

it is not what you have to say that others need to hear, it is what others have to say that YOU need to hear.

I spent the early part of 2014 asking God,

what am I listening for?

It was only this December, when school was over, the Christmas tree had been taken down, after months of lamenting Michael Brown, and wondering what God was asking me to do in response to the brokenness I and my community were struggling through, as I was preparing to spend some time listening for a new word or theme for 2015.  This thought dawned on me, (I am slow sometimes!) my place in the work of reconciliation, begins with this very idea: listen to those around you.  I have spent my life listening only to certain voices. Those that tell me I am a child of God. Those that tell me that all people are equal in God’s eyes. Those that tell me that I should feel bad about what happens to people of color in my community, but I can’t really do anything about it. Those that tell me that reconciliation is only possible when Jesus comes again.  Those that tell me it’s not my problem.  Not all those voices have been good.

In reconciliation work, I must first take a posture of listening.

The voices to whom I listen to, matter.  I am continually reflecting on my role and responsibility in the work of reconciliation in my family and community context.  I desire to be more deeply connected to what God’s word says about reconciliation, identity and being the family of God. This is an area where I need to grow, to focus, and to pay attention. I study and dialogue and engage; taking faithful and brave steps to be involved in God’s work of reconciliation in my neighborhood, community and even world (that sounds big, because it is!).

It can be as simple as pointing other people to credible witnesses in our communities that are important voices which need to be elevated.  So this is what I do.  I share the men and women I am learning from, inspired by, and listening to.

Whose voices are you listening to, learning from and encouraged by?  What steps are you taking to resist the urge to ignore our communities needs for confession, repentance and restored relationships between cultures?

Change the Narrative: With Books

How do we help our kids seek to love other people, no matter what?  It begins by changing the narrative in our home.  If this thought overwhelms you, try some books.  Reading opens doors for conversations, thoughts and ideas.  Reading gives us opportunities to learn new things about people who are different than us.  We can change the narrative with books.  Start while your kids are young. Here are a list of Quest favorites and some websites to do your own exploring.

Everybody Cooks Rice  Dooley, Norah
My Family  Kinkade, Sheila
Black, White, Just Right   Davol, Marguerite W.
I’m Like You, You’re Like Me – A Book About Understanding and Appreciating Each Other  Gainer, Cindy
Every Child Everywhere!  Anderson, Debby
God Knows My Name Anderson, Debby
God’s Dream and Children of God Storybook Bible Tutu, Desmond
Shades of People Rotner, Shelley
The Skin You Live In  Tyler, Michael
The Colors of Us  Katz, Karen
All Kinds of Children  Simon, Norma
These Hands  Mason, Margaret H.
Boycott Blues – How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation Pinkney, Andrea Davis
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match  Brown, Monica
My People and I, Too, Am America Hughes, Langston
I Love Saturdays Y Domingos   Ada, Alma Flor
I Am Latino: The Beauty in Me  Pinkney, Sandra L.
The Other Side   Woodson, Jacqueline
Efraín of the Sonoran Desert – A Lizard’s Life Among the Seri Indians  Astorga, Amalia
Dear Juno  Pak, Soyung
Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding  Look, Lenore
Horace  Keller, Holly
Pablo’s Tree  Mora, Pat
Star of the Week – A Story of Love, Adoption, and Brownies With Sprinkles  Friedman, Darlene
My Two Grannies  Benjamin, Floella
Black Is Brown Is Tan  Adoff, Arnold
Separate Is Never Equal Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation  Tonatiuh, Duncan
Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence  Woelfle, Gretchen
I Am Mixed Beauvais, Garcelle
I Am Your Peanut Butter Big Brother  Alko, Selina
With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built A School  Slade, Suzanne
I Am An American: A True Story of Japanese Internment  Stanley, Jerry
We’re Different, We’re the Same (Sesame Street)  Kates, Bobbi
Dumpling Soup Rattigan, Jama Kim
Mama, Do You Love Me?   Joosse, Barbara M.
My Parts Equal Me! Beverly C. Heath
Please, Baby, Please!  Lee, Spike
Peace is an Offering, Annette LeBox

Childrens Books Infographic 2015

websites for more ideas

 

Favorite Books on Parenting

There is no ‘one size fits all’ model for parenting.  The Bible does not outline ’12 steps to successfully raise a child to be a follower of Jesus’.

The Bible does offer us insight and instruction, wisdom and guidance that informs who we are (identity), how we are called to live (mission), and what we invited to do (share the gospel, love people, be kingdom builders, pursue reconciliation).  There are wise people/authors, not perfect people/authors, who provide some suggestions too.  So there is no prescription.  But there are supports as we find our way.

Here are a few books that I’ve enjoyed along the journey, learned from and recommend to families at our church.

  • Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus, David M. Csinos & Ivy Beckwith
  • Sticky Faith, Kara E. Powell & Chap Clark
  • Theirs is the Kingdom, Robert Lupton
  • Spiritual Parenting, Dr. Michelle Anthony
  • Boundaries with Kids, Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
  • The Five Love languages of Children, Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell.
  • How Children Raise Parents: The Art of Listening to Your Family, Dan B. Allender
  • How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
  • Siblings Without Rivalry, Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
  • Grace-Based Parenting. By Dr. Tim Kimmel
  • Power of a Praying Parent, Stormie O’martian
  • Raising Your Spirited Child, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
  • Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, John Gottman
  • Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey: Nurturing a Life of Faith, Catherine Stonehouse.
  • Parenting is Your Highest Calling and 8 other Myths that Trap You into Guilt and Worry, Leslie Leyland Fields
  • Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, Kevin Leman
  • Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Child into the Joy of Worship, Robbie Castleman.
  • Parenting is Heart Work, Dr. Scott Turansky & Joanne Miller.
  • Raising Kids Who Care: About Themselves, About Their World, About Each Other, Kathleen O’Connell Chesto.
  • Raising a Modern-Day Joseph: A Timeless Strategy for Growing Great Kids, Larry Fowler.
  • The Blessing: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance, John Trent and Gary Smalley.
  • Real Kids, Real Faith: Practices for Nurturing Children’s Spiritual Lives, Karen Yust and Eugene Roehlkepartain

Why Reconciliation and Family Ministry?

Two things in ministry have deeply impacted my life and calling as a pastor to kids and families.  I feel a deep sense of personal conviction to Reconciliation and Family Ministry.

Art Easter 5AMy journey of reconciliation began in my first year in college.  I was 17, excited to leave home and discover what God had planned for my life.  I took courses my freshman year that turned my life upside down and shifted my whole perspective on culture, faith and ministry. I was suddenly face to face with Jesus, in the midst of personal pain and trial, feeling called to global and urban cross-cultural ministry.  Through God’s nudging, my tripping, and the prodding of people who loved me, I developed a new lens by which to view my faith in light of God’s multi-cultural kingdom.  I took steps forward and began a new season of listening and learning and responding.  I developed an awareness of privilege and power and discovered in new ways Jesus’ love of the poor and marginalized in our world.  It was a time to pay attention to the world around me and be attuned to God’s work- reconciling, redeeming and transforming people.  I noticed this in friendships, through listening to other people’s stories; in what I read, in the conversations I had, in the people and places I felt called to serve.

As I sought to live into this new perspective I found my self developing new relationships with people who were different than me; involved in homeless ministry; getting to know my city in new ways, exploring churches and discovering the rich cultural diversity of Seattle; leading a campus worship ministry; serving in inner city Philadelphia, traveling to the Yucatan to learn and serve alongside the people of Merida, Mexico.  In this season I met my husband and got to know his bi-cultural Lebanese and Dutch family.  Along the way I learned a lot about myself, my family and heritage, and my own identity as a white female who was called to multi-ethnic children’s ministry.  What I began learning about myself and others so many years ago, I am still learning.

Faith in my youth years was about personal devotion time, faithfully attending church, participating in worship and serving my church and community.  It was about praying and reading the Bible and memorizing scripture and telling others about Jesus.  All good things.  Overtime though I have seen that all these things- apart from understanding God’s work of reconciliation in my life and our call, as believers, to the ministry of reconciliation- had meant my faith was about me.  It was individual and in many ways self-gratifying.  If I do the right things, say the right things, pray the right prayers, I’ll be good with God.  But if I am truly following Jesus, then I will be not only spending quiet time with God in the early hours of the morning, and participating in the life of the Church every week, but I will be seeking out ways to love those our society rejects, to clothe the poor and feed the hungry, to give shelter to the homeless and seek the welfare of our city.  I will be speaking out against the injustices of our culture- these are things that Jesus did and I want to follow his footsteps.  This is radical kingdom faith that is not only about my personal relationship with Jesus, but my faithfulness and obedience to a life of radical kingdom living.

Reconciliation is a transforming journey of confession and forgiveness with God and between people that restores broken relationships, social structures and systems.

This is the life of devotion I have been invited in to.  And so I began asking new questions. What does it mean to trust God when there is no hope? What does faith look like in the face of cancer?  How can I walk along side brothers and sisters of color who face micro-agression, racism, and prejudice daily? What does it mean to truly listen to someone and love them as Jesus would? How do I offer a Jesus-size measure of compassion, mercy and justice in the world? How can I praise God joyfully and still lament with others when confronted with pain, loss, violence, abuse, issues social injustice, racism, and human trafficking?  What does it mean to have a teachable spirit? What bold, brave and courageous steps is God calling me to, as I seek to be faithful to God’s mission in the world- to see all of creation redeemed, restored and made new?  What am I to stand up for, who am I to stand in solidarity with?  How can I be a better listener?  Whose story am I invited into- to hold with dignity, value and worth?  These questions have formed me, and continue to be a part of my journey of transformation.

This transformational faith is simply about reconciliation with God and reconciliation with others. God invites us into a personal relationship with Him, be we are also invited into the Covenant community of God.  This is holy ground. Mercy, compassion and justice are foundational in this place.  So how do I live it, teach it, preach it?  I am reconciled, and I am called to be a reconciler in the world.  This is both terrifying, humbling and awe-some.

Family Ministry is my jam. I love working with kids.  But I do not do kids ministry in a silo.  Not only do kids need a village of people surrounding them, the village needs our kids.  We know that parents are the primary influence on a child’s faith, and that faith that sticks in a child’s life is faith developed in community.  I dream of the day that children are seen as full participants in the church.  As I have learned over the years, my job is to teach kids, but more than that I believe we are called to create space for kids to learn about and explore their faith.  They practice worship expressions and they “do/live/experience” worship, they ask questions, they provide thoughtful answers to questions.  They play, they laugh, they cry, they sing and pray.  They struggle.  They have hope.  Family ministry is about laying a firm foundation and allowing kids to experience their faith in the safety of the church community, and go out into the world to practice it and live it out.

I also am called to the multi-ethnic or multicultural church.  I see the multi-ethnic church as  joyful expression of God’s love for the world and the Church.  We more fully reflect God’s kingdom when we worship God together- all ages, all ethnicities, all abilities.  This is the beauty and gift of the family of God.  There are many barriers in the US to multiethnic ministry, but Jesus came to break down those barriers.  Jesus is our role model in this.  Jesus did not only heal the most faithful, Jesus did not only teach the teachable, Jesus did not only minister to the religious people.  Jesus loved those whom no one else wanted to love.  Jesus invited the “sinners” to a life transformed.  Jesus praised the sacrifices of those who had little.  Jesus reached out to the poor and called them faithful.  Jesus honored the faith of those who genuinely desired to believe, even when they struggled to believe.  Jesus broke down cultural, social, ethnic, gender and ability barriers.  Jesus invites us to follow Him.

If we are to follow Jesus, then reconciliation must be woven into the fabric of children, youth and family ministry.  What it means to be reconciled to God and the people must be taught, practiced and lived out in our homes and churches. Intentional conversations, awareness of our cultural identity and faith identity, how we treat other people, how we grow and learn from those who are different than us, how we listen and give dignity to people’s lives and stories, and the ways we live out the gospel; all of these are transformational and faith shaping.  I am learning how to be a practitioner of these things.

My hope and prayer is to see children and families wholly reconciled to God and other people, participating in the whole mission of the church; as a community sent by God.

5 Websites For Great Kids Ministry Resources

Here are my go to websites for resources these days, in no particular order.

  1. Key Ministry– an amazing resource for churches and families who want to be well equipped to serve every child- seriously, go check it out today.
  2. Kidzana Ministries– helping churches pay attention to the global need for outreach to children.
  3. Childrens Ministry Magazine (online)- they’ve been around forever…
  4. Ministry to Children, Tony Kummer- my favorites are the coloring sheets, lesson ideas and vbs reviews
  5. Pinterest– for craft ideas and anything (WARNING: It can be overwhelming to navigate, ask a friend for help if you find yourself freaking out)

Bonus: Check our your denomination’s website for resources.  The Evangelical Covenant Church has tons of great stuff.

Things to watch out for:

  1. Is the website just trying to make you buy more stuff?
  2. What’s the message behind the resources?  Is it about loving, serving and equipping kids, parents and volunteers to live as faithful followers of Jesus? Or is it about “building a program”, enticing people to come to “your church”, growing “your ministry”, or “convincing people they need Jesus”?  These things are not primary.  I am convinced that better programs, church attendance growth, and increased numbers of people in your community coming to faith in Christ should be an natural outflow from faithful, genuine and authentic ministry for your context; that meets your community’s needs and invites them into a life of discipleship to Jesus. Period.  People will want to be a part of that if the Holy Spirit is working.
  3. Do these resources take into consideration our need to be a church community that reflects the diversity of God’s Kingdom- ethnically, culturally, socioeconomically, and in gender, ability and age?

Including Kids in Worship

Children are an important part of the body of Christ.  We believe children are not the church of the future, they are the church of today.  A child’s place in the church should be acknowledged and his or her presence valued.  We must lead the children, but we can also learn from them.

In Matthew 18:2-5 we read, “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’.”

Jesus said in Mark 10:14, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.”

God designed all of his creation to worship him, Psalm 8:2, “Out of the mouths of infants and children, you have ordained praise.”

God instructed Israel, as a whole community in Deuteronomy 6:5-9 to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.”

Simply acknowledging God’s presence in our daily life and modeling a life of worship is a greater example to our children of our faith in Christ than our words could ever be alone. But how do we do “church” together”?  We invite kids in.  We let them sing, sit, observe, respectfully ask questions, and we talk them through what they see, hear, and feel.  We help them feel included by teaching them the songs we sing, letting them put the tithe in the offering basket, participate in communion or receiving a blessing. No one says this will be easy.  Kids are noisy, they stir and move and rustle, they speak too loudly during quiet parts of worship, they need to go the bathroom or get a drink of water at the most inconvenient moment.  They cry as if on cue during silence or hide under the chair of the person next to them, complain of worship being too loud or not knowing the words.

“Part of your duty as a parent is to spend a few years sacrificing your own quality of worship so that you can teach your little ones to worship”- Elizabeth Sandell

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Tips for parents as you prepare for worship:

  • Make the “decisions” Saturday night: the decision to attend worship, the decision to get up at a certain time; decisions of what to wear and have for breakfast, what you need to bring with you.  This will help Sunday mornings run a little more smoothly.
  • Talk to your child about what to expect at church the night before, let them know where you will be and what you will be doing.
  • Arrive just a few minutes early so your child can be a part of the beginning of the service.
  • Find a seat in the sanctuary where your child can see, but is also comfortable and will not be too disruptive (for your sake) when the move around (they will move around!).
  • Give your child an opportunity to use the restroom, get a drink of water before service begins.
  • Help your child understand.  It is okay to whisper quietly to your child about what is going on or what is coming next.
  • Model prayer, singing, closing your eyes and clapping with and for your child.  It is good for your child to notice the different ways people express themselves in worship at church.
  • Do not assume that your child is not gaining anything from the service if they appear to be bored or not paying attention.  We do not always know what the Holy Spirit is doing in a child’s heart.
  • Sometimes a move to the back of the sanctuary or a trip to the drinking fountain helps a child re-focus by stretching their legs and moving their body their mind and body can be ready to participate again.
  • Talk with your child after service about the things they saw, what they observed or thought about the service.  Ask you child what was their favorite part, or what was most difficult for them.  You can even ask them what God spoke to them during the service or how did they see/feel God’s presence.
  • Pray for you child and their friends; that God will speak to them during the service.  Encourage your children to listen for God’s voice.
  • Allow your child to participate in communion (see our “how to prepare for communion” ideas!) either by taking communion with you or receiving a prayer of blessing from a pastor.  Remind your child what communion is and why we do it.

Advent: What Holy Message?

Advent is a season of waiting. Advent is a season of yearning, hoping and expecting. The Israelites waited hundreds of years for God to restore them to a right relationship with their Creator. We have the aid of history on our side today. We spend the season of Advent, not wondering what good news will come at the end of the season, but slowing down the rush to the manger scene. During Advent we wait with anticipation, for the coming of Christ. We wait with hope and expectation to see and hear the good news of God’s Son, the Messiah who arrives on earth to reconcile the world; to restore hope and healing; and who proclaims the kingdom of God breaking in to the world. Advent is a time for the church to remember the light and love, joy and peace that Jesus brings into a broken and deprived world.

We too are like the Israelites and wait in lament and experience the weight of God’s silence in the midst of oppression. We witness illness and death and injustice. We stand with our Latino brothers and sisters who wait for fair immigration reform, or for our black brothers and sisters who face crushing pressures daily through racism, micro-agression, and an unjust criminal system. We sit with those who are homeless, fighting cancer, or battling depression. Their pain becomes our pain. How does the message of Jesus Christ, born in a lowly manger, startling the world with such subtly and humility rather than grandeur and the pomp and circumstance of royalty speak to lament, pain and suffering? What majestic and holy message do we find in the filthy, fetid manger scene? Where does heaven meet earth? God is an out-of-the-box God. God’s glory and presence appears out on the fringes, in the fields with the “least of these”.  Where does Jesus light shine brightest? In the churches, temples and sanctuaries? Or in the depths, the darkness, the corners of the world, with the rejected and outcast. Advent is a season to be reminded of our sin and depravity and brokenness and how God’s light pierces through the darkness, illuminating, healing and strengthening the family of God who is the body of Christ.

Seminary Life- Adjusting

Every couple days someone asks me “how is school?” I am not always sure how to respond, it just depends on whom I am speaking to. Adjusting to seminary life as a working mom has been exhausting and exhilarating. I wake up most mornings at 5:00 and quietly tiptoe past my children’s rooms to the office downstairs. It is dark, but not yet cold, though I know winter is coming. Some mornings, I awake with a heart and mind full and ready to take on the day, other days I wake up overwhelmed by all there is to do and see and listen for and tasks to complete in a day’s work. My goal is to begin each day with prayer and scripture (and coffee). Some days, the two hours I have of quiet is not even enough space to complete my studies or morning prep for the day ahead of me, so I skip the reflection and go straight to work. I have always wrestled with the guilt of making decisions that don’t always reflect my truest, deepest yearnings- out of response to what feels like my most basic felt need. I am learning to accept grace in these spaces that God has for me.

Even something as simple as, what do I put my mind to when I first wake up?, is a very real question I ask myself. In these places where I am tempted to feel guilty about what I am not doing, I aim to remind myself of God’s presence with me in all things. The heart of the matter is where do I place my hope and trust? Is it in my own abilities to accomplish what needs to be done that day? Is it to succeed at doing my job, my role, my position whether that be as wife or mother, pastor, student, or even friend? There are times I am keenly aware that I am striving out of my own efforts, and other days that I sense God’s spirit urging me to press on, sustaining me when I can’t imagine how I will be able to complete a task or finish a day well.

This week, my sister called me from Portland and asked if she could come to Seattle for 2 days. I knew the reading and writing for school that needed to be done. I knew about a very heavy work load at church that I was facing. But after not spending time with my sister for three years as she has traveled the world with YWAM, I knew I had to say yes. We had two awesome days together, though far too brief. When she left however, I was overwhelmed with all I needed to do and I wasn’t sure how it would all get done. My nights were long and my mornings were early, but as I pressed on, taking things a day at a time, by God’s grace, again, what needed to happen, happened. What did not need to be, was not.

The wisdom comes in knowing what it is that does not need to be in that moment or day. Sorting through what is important and what is priority is what I find myself doing these days. My values are right in front of my face, brushing against me like branches of a bush on a nature walk deep in the forest. I cannot get away from them. Does this matter? How am I caring for my children? Does this lead me to a better place in my relationship with my husband? Does this help me connect with people? Does this help me prepare for a day of worship with the church family? Is this life-giving, or energy draining? These questions help form and shape my day. In these questions, God’s spirit speaks and encourages me; and challenges and chastises me.

The choice I made to respond to God’s call and take courageous baby steps of faith by applying to grad school, came with a cost. There is much sacrifice and compromise and giving up of former personal ways of being. The ways I am present for people are different. I can’t host a community group, I can’t volunteer at my kids’ school, I can’t read novels in my free time, the dishes are left in the sink for far too long, but this is only temporary. The gains outweigh the perceived losses. Spending time in scripture, reading, reflection, sharing with other students on the seminary journey, learning from amazing men and women who love God and are serving God through instructing, is just so amazing. I feel the weight of the privilege- and also the joy of responsibility- to soak this season in, and let seminary inform my ways of being. Ultimately it is God who is doing the forming and shaping, and I believe God will use seminary in powerful ways in my life. I will continue to seek quiet space, to receive grace God extends through my own personal acceptance of it, and to ask God for an abundance of hesed– steadfast loving kindness, as I navigate the day-to-day joys and trials of life as a mom, friend, wife, pastor and seminarian.

Seminary LIfe- New Beginnings

bookI have begun classes at Seattle Pacific Seminary.

Everything started at the beginning of this month.

I packed my kids backpacks full of school supplies, arranged childcare and meals and headed off on a ferry to Whidbey Island.  I was excited, exhausted, sick (stupid cold!) and curious as to what I might discover at the beginning of this new chapter. Friendships. Insights.  Reflections. Heart-stirrings.  God did not disappoint.  I missed my son’s first day of kindergarten and husbands 34th birthday but in the midst of a very full week for my family God remained present.

I spent this month working, helping kids adjust to a new school schedule, reading and I did a lot of writing.  Reading, writing. Reading, writing.  More reading and more writing.

A magical transformation is taking place.

My basement office has become an early morning refuge and sanctorum (I use this latin term for Holy of Holies rather loosely).  I pray and meet God for my day in that sanctified space (if you know me, you know I have a thing about space and place to call my own!).  I have cried and lamented and been confused and frustrated and exhausted and happy and thankful and amused in this space.

I want to write more about what God is teaching me and what I am hearing from the people around me, but I don’t know when to write. How much to write. How much to process out loud and how much to keep between God and I.  As new ideas and thoughts are stirring within me, there is much that is swirling around me.  Painful stories of broken relationships, and financial hardship, racism in the U.S., divisiveness in the church, evil in the Middle East, atrocities to believers and young children. Earthquakes, starvation, lack of clean water, children running for their lives from Central America only to be detained in the US and labeled as “unwanted illegal immigrants”. Oh the pain.  As my heart is stirred with joy for new beginnings, my heart is also broken.

My mind and heart of full of many, many things, but one in particular stands out like a crack of light through a long dark tunnel.

Mercy. The word mercy.  I am a theologian because I study God’s word, but I feel like a beginner, and sometimes like a poser. But with courage I share my thoughts anyway.  Growing up in the church I always understood the word mercy as God’s forgiveness.  It was like grace, but a little different (I didn’t always know what made it different).  Sometimes described as not getting what I do deserve (i.e. punishment).  Whereas grace was getting something I didn’t deserve (forgiveness).  But mercy means so much more.

In Hebrew the word mercy is hesed.  It can be basically translated as steadfast, loving kindness.  Ah, a breath of fresh air. Steadfast. Loving. Kindness.  This word hesed has been rocking my world for two years (I first learned of it in the book, The Gospel of Ruth by Carolyn Curtis James) and it’s breathing life into me right now.

It shifts the way I say: Lord, in your mercy hear my prayer.

It deepens my understanding of Micah 6:8 to love mercy and act justly.

It enlightens my understanding of what it means to show mercy to the people around me.

It transforms how think about God’s mercy extended to me.

I am sad for the state of the world we live in. I am impassioned to discern how God is calling me to respond to the pain and brokenness in the world.  I acknowledge my fears and yet embrace courage as a way of being- daily.  I cling to the hope of God’s mercy promised.

Luke 1:78-79
Because of God’s tender mercy,
    the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
  and to guide us to the path of peace.

God that your steadfast, loving kindness would break through our hardened, fearful, doubting hearts.  To transform the way we see ourselves, our friends, our enemies, the poor, the marginalized, the hurting.  We cannot say it better than the prophet Zechariah, that you would ‘give light to those who sit in darkness and guide us to the path of peace.’  This is my prayer. Lord, in your mercy

 

Joy, Prayer & Thankfulness

20100130-IMG_2415Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

1 Thessalonians 5 does not mince words. We are instructed to do three things:

1) be joyful- always
2) pray continually
3) give thanks in all circumstances

Really God? Always? Continually? In everything?  So many thoughts flood to mind when I read this passage, which is pretty straightforward yet so seemingly impossible!  I can respond a few different ways to this instruction.

I can ignore it. [word of advice: not a good idea.]
I can try my hardest to follow it. [enter: possibility of striving, best intentions, guilt for “not quite living up to expectations”]
I can submit myself to trust Jesus and lean on verse 24 which says, “the one who calls you is faithful and he will do it“.  [I’m pretty certain this is the route I want to take!]

This joy, this prayer, this thankfulness is not about me.  It’s not in my own strength that I could be joyful in the midst of pain and heartache.  It is not of my own ability that I could utter a prayer every second of every day when perhaps I’m cursing under my breath; exasperated by any number of situations that occur on a daily basis.  And thankfulness in all circumstances?  By my standards or the world’s standards this is just impossible. 

It’s not about my abilities or giftedness or spiritual up-right-ness.  This instruction is not given to make you and I feel bad, fake a prayer, falsely put on a joyful facade, or lie about feeling thankful. As we seek a genuine, authentic and real relationships with our creator- there is room.  Room for tears. Room for sadness and grief and feeling overwhelmed.  There is space to doubt and question and yell at God (yes, God is big enough to handle my temper tantrums!).  Space to search and wander and wonder and to feel frustration and confusion and experience mystery.

In this passage Paul was speaking to a young church in Thessalonica which was in need of some encouragement and comfort and hope.  Paul did not say these things so they could pretend to have it all together.  Paul did not say these things to give them a “to-do list” for spiritual formation.  He was speaking courage over the people.  He was giving hope to the people.  He was challenging their doubts that God is able.  He was calling them to reach out to the One who rescues and redeems and restore and reconciles and makes right the world unto God’s being.

Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all things.

Paul was not calling them to perfection.  He was calling them to a posture of trust and love and encouraging the Spirit at work within them to come alive.  Let the Holy Spirit live and breathe through you.  You don’t feel like being joyful? That’s okay- take a posture of joy and let God fill that space you might think is empty.  Don’t feel like praying?  Take a posture of openness to listen to God or honestly share what you are thinking and feeling. Let God in to that space. Let the Holy Spirit do her work of taking your thoughts and prayers and rants and tears to the feet of your Maker. Don’t feel like being thankful?  That is okay too.  Allow God to fill that space of gratitude for you. Take a posture of thankfulness and watch the Holy Spirit move and stir.  Faith does not need to be based on your emotions, I have struggled to learn that my whole life.

Have hope that Jesus will return. Hope that the resurrection is real and life after death is possible.  Hope that Christ is faithful in the midst of everyday life. Hope that the Holy Spirit really is alive and at work.

The instruction to be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all things is only possible when we surrender our own ability to Jesus, acknowledge that we certainly can’t do it alone, and invite Jesus to lead the way.

The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it- 1 Thessalonians 5:24

This is my prayer; one I hope transforms my way of being; to that of gratitude and humility and shalom.

Jesus be my joy when I struggle to feel joyful. Jesus hear my prayer when I have no words to utter what I am thinking or feeling. Jesus be my thanksgiving when I cannot seem to remember what I am thankful for. Your joy is my joy. Your prayer is my prayer. Your song of thanks is my song of thanks.