Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Thoughts

This year, I have stood by hospital beds watching cancer and strokes and heart disease touch the lives of loved ones. I have watched friends walk the painful road of losing a parent. I have witnessed friends whose dream of holding their new son never came to be because the birth mother vanished. I have felt the heart ache of friends loose their battle against addiction. I have witness the embarrassment of a veteran who no longer had use of his hands. I have cried for those who had a second chance, but now face another time behind bars. I have shared tears with those who feel rejected by their own faith community. I have seen friendships crumble. I have helped carry the burden of infidelity and divorce of friends who never saw it coming. I have prayed for those who left the hospital and returned home to a nursery that would remain empty.  I have listened to conversations of frustration and self-hate with men who call the streets of Richmond home. I have been on the sidelines of friends who month after month long to hear the words "you're pregnant" verses "I'm sorry, not this time."

I could go on.

It's not challenging to find gratitude as you prepare for a wedding, or in Sunday morning baby snuggles, or in nights spent around fire pits with friends. But in times of loss, fear and loneliness it's easier to question a God who is suppose to be good and we often find ourselves wrestling with counting it all joy. This afternoon, as my soul finds silence, it's the faces and the stories of those above that have over-flooded my heart with thanksgiving for a God who is faithful and who is good.

Through walking the rocky roads with these loved ones, I have witness unshakeable faith. I have felt the presence of a faithful God. And I have seen my own faith deepened. It's the funerals that have challenged me to live a life that selflessly serves others. It's in hearing the prayers for that birth mom, that have challenged me to live a life of forgiveness and grace. It's been in those dreadful moments of rejection, that I have been reminded of God's unconditional love and acceptance. It's in the lost battles of addiction that I have remembered God's timing is not my own and to pray with expectation, to pray without ceasing, because God is a God who breaks unbreakable chains. It's watching a family serve only two weeks after burying their new born, that reminded me that God's strength is made perfect in our weakness. It's in the uncertainty of a healthy future, that has shown me what trust in God should look like. It was in the eyes of that red headed veteran, that reminded me God's love overcomes all disabilities and differences. It's in those crumbled friendships and in those failed marriages that I have seen God make beautiful things out of brokenness and be the Healer of the hurt.

It is now Thanksgiving Day as I try to wrap up these thoughts ... everyone is sleeping, the dog is snoring at my feet and I sit here in the dark letting these words pour out from a soul that longs to thank Him. A soul that is grateful for the many extravagant blessings that have been lavishly poured into my life... but perhaps even more so for the faces, the stories, and their testimonies that have guided my soul to go deeper, to lean more into His faithfulness and to remember that even in the shadows of this life He is a good God and He is forever with us.

What a Mighty God we serve!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The church isn't perfect

The church isn't perfect. But sometimes we have expectations that it will be, don't we? We yearn for it to be. We hope that the church would live up to its claims to love unconditionally, to show grace mercifully, and to be the hands and feet of Jesus. But it gets messy. Instead of finding this community that lives in perfect unity, we find hands that do not offer healing, but that cause hurt. Instead of unconditional love, we see a love that demands conditions. And we often exchange His radical grace for judgmental righteousness.

I've been reminded recently of how easily we lose sight of our story, our calling, of who we are...more importantly, whose we are.

In the opening acts of Genesis, we are told the story of Adam and Eve. They are living in perfect community in a perfect world; with each other; with God. But they are faced with a choice: to continue in this perfect harmony or partake from the forbidden: the tree of Life and the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The goal and the obstacle. And just like Adam and Eve, we, the church often confuse our goal as Christ followers with the obstacles of this world.

Like Eve we get tripped up, tricked by the questions "Did God really say...." and forget, first and foremost, we are His chosen people through whom God is looking to reveal His character, His mission, and His radical love story.

In the New Testament we read that Jesus prays for His disciples to be one. That we would be a people known by our love, united in Christ. In all honesty, at times, we as the church do so poorly with this. I, do so poorly with this. As the family of God grows, we see it diversify. We all are created uniquely different from one another. We all come from various walks of life, and instead of this serving to unify us and to strengthen our claims of Christ, it has turned messy. The family of God gets broken. We split, we argue, we point fingers, name each other's sins, condemn each other to hell. We drift apart and become inclusive to those who look, think and live like us. We become unfaithful as a people to God, forgetting that we have been called not to defend Him and His character, but to reflect it.

It has been sobering this week to be reminded that even though we, the church continue to miss the mark, God continues to be faithful. God continues to be Sovereign.  No matter how pure or noble our intentions are, at times, we get it wrong. The church isn’t perfect. But God is.

In Matthew, Jesus says that He will build His church, and not even the gates of Hell will overcome it. I can't help but think, if the gates of hell cannot overcome it, then the recklessness of men cannot overcome it, the pride and insecurities of our church leaders cannot overcome it, the unorthodoxies and hypocrisies of us who claim to love the church will not overcome it. What a humbling reminder that God's faithfulness always trumps ours.

Despite our hiccups, our wrong turns, our hurtful words, and our forgetfulness...God keeps building His church, and continues to ask us to be a part of it. We won't get it right on this side of His Kingdom. We, as a messy people, will make---do make God's church imperfect. But perhaps by refocusing our eyes on the goal, not the obstacles, by keeping in mind our promised future--an eternally perfected community living in the presence of our Almighty God, and becoming more mindful that it is our calling to reflect His character and not to defend it, we will be able to find unity in Christ and will become a people know by our love.  

Today I am humbled by a perfect God who continues to call this imperfect woman, to serve, to love, and to be an active member in His church, proclaiming His remarkable story of redemption and faithfulness to the ends of the earth.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Holy Opportunity

110 days!

It will not be long now, before we board our train, step out in NYC and make our holy covenant of marriage in Central Park.

A holy covenant.

It’s territory uncharted for us both.

A promise to not only one another, but to God.
A promise to express the unbreakable bond of love between Christ and His people.
A promise to live a life of ministry that brings glory to God.

This seems to be the “culture war” of the day. You can’t read social media or turn on the news without hearing another state deeming same sex marriage as a legal right to it’s people, and in return, there is almost always someone throwing God’s words and judgement right in behind.

I remember growing up... tattoos, men with long hair and woman leaders were the culture wars of the day. Funny how now, in our culture, we do not bat an eye at such things. Nor do we hear teachings from the pulpit that tattoos are unholy, that men with long hair are not choosing God’s best, and that woman leaders are being disobedient to God’s law.

I cannot tell you how many sermons I have heard telling me that my marriage will not be scared. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard from friends how they cannot find God’s blessing on my marriage or that I am not walking in God’s will or that my lifestyle is detrimental to the definition of biblical marriage and what a Godly family is suppose to be.

And as much as their words hurt, and as much as I wish their theology was different, I have learned that it’s ok to disagree. It’s okay to land on opposite sides.

After years of wrestling with this particular topic, I have found peace in believing that God will bless my marriage. I believe that my covenant will be sacred. I believe that on our wedding day we will be standing on Holy Ground—in the presence of God.
And I believe that He will show up.

Perhaps pastor’s will not change the message that has been preached for generations about  homosexuality or same sex marriage, but perhaps their messages will begin to open up doors of communication, dialogue, and the opportunity to sit across from one another, to hear one another’s story, and to wrestle together over God’s Holy Word together.

You see, gay christians are still very much a minority in the mainstream Christian church, but (and I hope this comes as no shock to you) we are there. We sneak in and sneak out before anyone notices us. We have been coming for months and long to get involved, but are too scared that we won’t be accepted once we are known. We join small groups and only share our “public persona” each week because rejection gets old. We come in, unashamed of who we are because we have found peace in the presence of God. We are even serving on ministry teams and maybe you just don’t know our story yet. . .never the less, we are part of this story too. We are part of what God is doing, a part of His Holy people.

Perhaps it is in these moments where we are giving the opportunity to wrestle in His truth together, to seek God’s face with one another and to learn to radically love each other in our differences that Christ has the chance to be most beautifully seen.

May we all find grace and mercy when those opportunities are laid at our feet.