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Archive for the ‘Growing Faith’ Category

Sometimes life happens and I don’t make the time to write – even during a challenge. The next several posts are me catching up on the writing challenge with my friends who are linked at the bottom of the page. I’m not giving up and I’m glad you didn’t either. 🙂

At least one of my fellow challengers will roll their eyes at who I chose to write about for this one. We joke about being Jesus-juked, but I promise that’s not what this is. This has been a month of reminding myself who I am and why I am the person I am – the person I choose to be, and no one challenges me to be who I am more than Jesus and those who choose to follow Him. Please don’t stop reading this if you don’t identify with being a Christian or if the only Christians you know are jerks. This is not a ploy to shame you, guilt you, or convert you. It’s a short explanation of why I am who I am.

There’s a lot of discussion going on right now regarding how to handle the refugee crisis, who Americans will choose as our next president, what to do about gay marriage and transgender issues, and a whole slew of other hot topics. In every discussion, there are Jesus followers who are planted firmly on opposite sides of the issue. They hold their convictions in both fists, ready to use the power of the Lord to slay their perceived giants across from them…their brothers and sisters whom they’ve chosen to break fellowship with over differences of opinion and lack of decorum. It’s not safe to be close to people who don’t believe the same things you do…“Bad company corrupts good character” and all that. (Some would know that is a quote from Corinthians in the Bible, but it was actually the apostle Paul quoting a Greek playwright, not Jesus.)

“Don’t let anyone into our country from the Middle East because they might be terrorists. Fight Islam because they want to kill all of us ‘infidels’.” “Vote for ____ because we need to return to being a Christian nation.” “Shut out the gays and shun those who consider themselves transgender because the Bible contains verses regarding such filth and we need to stand on the Truth.” I have heard and read these asinine statements all over the internet in recent days. But that’s not me. That’s not Jesus.

love-one-another-john

Jesus challenges me to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. Jesus doesn’t endorse a certain candidate for the presidency. Jesus calls me to love everyone regardless of who they are, how they choose to live, what gender they identify with, who they are attracted to and love, what shameful things they’ve done in their past, or how harsh of a person they are now even though they wear the name of the most revolutionary pacifist in history. He calls me to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, and take in those in need of shelter. I do all of those things not because of some future reward, but because of the reward I get now – the deep satisfaction of knowing that the space I occupy on this planet is better because I’m in it. I make a difference in THIS world. Who, where, what, why, and how I love makes a difference. And I am who I am because I follow Jesus.

love2

My fellow Christians challenge me to be who I am because I deeply love people on both sides – the ones who are ruthless in their “truth-telling” and the ones whose every move is motivated by a gentle love. I have been both. If I’m honest about it, I am both. I tend to save my ruthlessness for the J-holes who are the squeaky wheels in all the worst ways. It’s so much harder to love them when I want to slap them, but I’m learning to temper my fury as I remember they are not my enemy. Most of the time I am motivated by the gentle, forgiving, love-people-right-where-they-are kind of love I see Jesus expressing. This is the quote at the top of my Twitter page:

love people

I love people. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. I am a warrior and a child. I am fierce and a force to be reckoned with when the need arises – I fight for others, but I am also like a kid in a sandbox – that person you meet and become instant friends with after a brief chat.

I am challenged to be who I am by Jesus and how He loves me…how He loves everyone, including Christians who are so unlike me and people who don’t identify with Him at all. I want to love like that. Jesus said that’s how people will know I follow Him…by my love…and that is who I am.

Check out my fellow challengers:

Don at https://donhillson.wordpress.com/

Beckie at http://free2b2much.blogspot.com/

Tracy at https://countyroadchronicles.wordpress.com/

 

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It’s been a hard week, and it’s only Tuesday! My friend Heather called late last night and I shared a bit of my funk with her, but I still went to bed unable to escape the feeling of being crushed. People have failed me this week. I’ve failed myself. I’ve failed others, and it sucks. Like lava flowing through my veins, my anger has been an internal companion lately. I find myself getting irritated by things that wouldn’t bother me if I was feeling like myself, which I’m not.

Is this an identity crisis? Do I need to just pull up my big girl pants and get over myself?

I’m reading Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. I think she’d tell me I’m not being kind to myself. I wonder if I’m experiencing my mid-life unraveling? She describes it as a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re “supposed” to live. I’m doing heart and soul work and like Brene describing her own journey, it’s a bit like slogging through mud on my journey to living wholehearted.

I’ve been focusing on all the times I HAVEN’T kept my word, said or done the kind thing, loved someone well, served with compassion, finished what I started, and lived like I wanted to. I’m caught in the sinkhole of wanting what I won’t ever have and feeling sorry for myself. But it’s not just a pity party; it’s a deep grieving for an impossible relationship. Most of the time it’s emotionally manageable, but in my current state, it cements me in the bottom of the sinkhole. I need a rope.

I woke up this morning to a text from my friend Cherie. As we messaged back and forth, she made me laugh and I felt a little sun. I shared a bit more of my funk with her, and she spoke my name back to me, reminding me who I am. I lay in bed for a while, crying to God about my life and the uncertainty I’m feeling. Pete must have crawled in our bed after Benny left for school this morning because he was curled up asleep on Benny’s side. As I was wiping my eyes, his little voice said, “What’s wrong mommy?”

“I’m just sad right now and I’m talking to God about it.”

A minute later, my phone beeped. It was a Facebook message from an old high school friend. Stephen shared a video of his lesson from last Sunday, telling me that somewhere in the middle of his talk about Grace, he told the story of a time in high school when I called him out. It’s a story he has shared several times because for him it was a rooster’s crow…a call for a new beginning. A call to remember the grace we live in. He thanked me again for allowing God to use me to get through to him. I cried some more. The year I met and knew Stephen, my senior year, is one I’ve always referred to as my year from hell. But God used me in that hell and He gave me a few good friends. Stephen reminded me of that today of all days.

I guess that’s three rooster crows. Heather. Cherie. Stephen.

I’m still in my pajamas, and I may stay that way today. That’s okay. In my core, I know who I am. On the outside, sometimes I forget. My face is dry now, but my heart still hurts and I’m crying out to God. He’s the only one who hears the things I don’t feel safe enough to share with other people. He doesn’t hand me my big girl pants and tell me to snap out of it. He’s the one who sends three friends to speak life to me and remind me who I am, and then He holds me while I cry.

Watch the whole thing, but minutes 16-20 are about the rooster crowing. Good stuff! Here’s the link:

Undeniable Grace

P.S. My memory surrounding the letter I gave to Stephen is a bit hazy. I’m a wordy girl, so I’m sure the song lyrics weren’t the only thing I wrote, but I can’t remember what else I said. I only remember how nervous I was giving it to him, prepared for the possibility of it being the end of any friendship we did have. Lucky for both of us, we weren’t close enough friends for me to make him a whole guilt-inducing mix tape. Imagine slogging through that! 😉

And Stephen, if you read this, I’m humbled I’m part of your story. My heart is the same, but my methods have changed, and like you, I’m all about God’s grace! Thank you for messaging me today. Your timing was perfect.

I shared some thoughts a few months ago on Peter and the rooster crowing:  Jesus, Peter, Me, and the Number Three.

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“I don’t want to do it.”

“It’ll be okay. This is the next step for you. Trust me.”

“But I waited a long time to get away from my childhood of rough people and hopelessness. I thought those days were behind me. Now you want it in my face every day? Why, Lord?”

“Do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord. You know I love you.”

“Then feed my sheep.”

“But what does that even mean? Aren’t I already feeding your sheep? Isn’t that what we’ve been doing for the last 9 years in youth ministry?”

“I have a different flock in mind for you. Trust me. Do you love me?

“Yes, of course I do. You know that I love you.”

“Then tend my lambs.”

“But Lord, I’m not sure I can. I’ve never been homeless. Why would they listen to me? What if I say the wrong things?”

“Do you love me?”

“Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Feed my sheep. I chose you for this moment. You have what it takes, and I went before you and prepared the way. Just follow me.”

 

I lived this conversation nine years ago, before leaving traditional youth ministry. Like Peter falling back on fishing, youth ministry was my place of relative comfort. I knew what to expect. I was familiar with the tug of the net and the weight of a good haul as well as the frustration of being…fishless.

Oh yes, I get Peter. He and I have a lot in common.

I’ve gleaned many truths from the Bible story in John 21:

  • When we throw our net in where Jesus tells us too, even working as a team we won’t be strong enough to pull in our catch, and our net won’t rip. I like the sound of that.
  • Sometimes we provide the catch and sometimes Jesus does. (He was already cooking fish and bread over a fire before the disciples reached the shore and He asked them to bring more fish for the meal.)
  • When Peter saw Jesus, he jumped in the water to head for shore. I’m guessing he was still trying to get his head around Jesus’ resurrection and was eager to be with Him as much as possible. I wonder if just for a moment, he thought it a second chance to walk on water. Would I?
  • At the end of this passage when Peter asked about Jesus’ plan for John, Jesus told him not to worry about anyone else, just to follow Him. Now there’s a lesson I need to embrace!

Here’s my favorite part of the story:

The Bible tells us Peter was hurt and probably frustrated when Jesus asked him the same question three times. Yes, it takes some of us longer to catch on than others, but I think it was more than that. Three is one of the numbers that repeats throughout the Bible, especially in Peter’s life:

  • Peter spent three years with Jesus before this story takes place.
  • He was one of the three people in Jesus’ inner circle, and present at the transfiguration.
  • He had denied Jesus three times.
  • Jesus came back to life three days after His death and Peter was one of the first people He pursued.
  • The fishing story in John 21 was the third time Jesus had appeared since His resurrection.
  • Going back to the beginning, the third day of creation was when the water parted and earth rose up creating land. That same day there was vegetation (growth) and it spread. Can you see the parallels between creation and the resurrection?

I’m fascinated by numbers – it’s no accident that our ministry is called SEVENS. Numbers create beautiful patterns and focal points to help us understand order and importance in the stories of our Christ, the Bible, and our lives today.

Like my friend Chris pointed out in his post on Sacred Margins earlier this week, Peter’s job changed when Jesus took him from being a fisherman to being a fisher of men. Peter owned a fishing business, which means the man had skills and potential, a mighty combination which Jesus used to plant and grow His Church. He still works that way, you know.

It wasn’t Jesus, but Peter who needed this confirming conversation of the triple confession of love. Jesus knew who Peter was and where he was headed, but I think He also knew that in the back of Peter’s mind, he hadn’t let go of the triple denial. By asking about his love, it made Peter think a little and open himself up for healing of that wound. It was further confirmation that Peter was getting a second chance. It also provided an opportunity for Jesus to give him his mission, not once, or twice, but three times.

I too required more than one charge about the mission Jesus gave ME to feed His sheep. My concentration was on the flock of teenagers in my life and God moved me, literally, changing my flock to the homeless, broken-hearted, and captives in the Denver and Boulder area. New flock, new mission, new confirmation that Yes, I love Jesus and He’s building something with me. I’m part of His plan. He’ll keep welcoming me back when I drift and doubt, giving me direction…as many times as it takes.

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I love people. Gay, straight, Bi, Transgender, whatever. I am also a Christian. Some of my friends think that is a contradiction. I can’t do anything about that. I have spent a lot of time on my face before the Lord on this and every other subject I have questions about. All I can say is that I KNOW that I am a lover. It is who I am created to be. I said in my last post that I do so clumsily and with abandon. My goal with this post today is to show you why and how I live and love the way I do, and why I think it’s part of being a Christian, not in opposition to it.

I went to a small Christian college in Nebraska. It was there that I learned not everything has to be a fight, that Jesus is so much better than I ever could have imagined, and most importantly, that I can love people who aren’t just like me, and Jesus is proud of that. I met so many of my life-shaping friends there, including Beckie, who has been posting our conversations on her blog this week.

When I arrived at York, I met and fell in love with an amazing boy. We were inseparable. Best friends. We were so different, but it didn’t matter. We had the same heart. We connected and talked about everything and loved each other deeply. While navigating through our feelings, we decided to give dating a try. That’s when people started telling me how dumb I was that I couldn’t see he was gay. It was so obvious to them, and was I really that blinded by my love for him that I couldn’t see the truth? I didn’t know what to do with that, so I loved him anyway. Our dating was short-lived, and our friendship was awkward for a long time after that, but I still loved him. I still do love him. He is still amazing. I haven’t seen him since college, but we pop in on each others Facebook pages now and then. If we could sit across from each other today, we would have a million things to talk about and I believe that deep love would still be there. Is he gay? I don’t know. Yes, I think so. I’ve never asked him. I don’t care. I love him because he is an amazing person, funny, charming, generous, and he loves Jesus as much as I do. I would love him even if he didn’t.

Let me tell you about my other college friends. I have friends who’ve had affairs, gotten divorced, and were arrested for breaking the law. I have friends who are so against Christianity now that I’m one of the few Christians in their life. I have friends who are preachers, teachers, camp directors, photographers and the list goes on and on. I love them all: the boys who broke my heart, the one who threatened me, the girls I competed with and against, the girl I hated then but is my dear friend now. They’re all just my friends, not my cheating friends, my divorced friends, law-breaking friends, etc.  I learned how to love people no matter how private or public their sins were. It’s where I learned forgiveness, both as the giver and receiver. I have been reconciled to these people who hurt me, and chosen to love them, and they love me. Loving my gay friends who didn’t hurt me has been so much easier.

They weren’t pulling me aside for private chats about my need to gain approval from men, my promiscuity, or my out of control anger. I wasn’t going to pull them aside to tell them how much I disapproved of their lifestyle. Why? Because their lifestyle was MY lifestyle. We were students at a Christian college, trying to figure out life apart from our parents and who we were now that we could decide for ourselves. We were insecure and scared but heading into the future together. We sat in classes together, held hands during devotionals, shared a few thousand meals, wrote each other encouraging notes, attended banquets, and skipped to the mail room together. We hugged and wrestled, held each other when we were sad, celebrated together, studied and did community service together. They encouraged me when I met Benny, and they rejoiced with us at our wedding. Not once did I feel the need to ask them if they were gay, or have them explain and defend their feelings or beliefs. I suspected, and with a few of them I KNEW, but I just didn’t see them as any different from me. I saw them as friends. Nothing more. Nothing less. All of us with sin in our lives. All of us loved by God. My being straight and them being gay didn’t define who we were. It still doesn’t. I don’t get all caught up in vocabulary either, like calling it a lifestyle.

What does the gay lifestyle look like exactly? My friend is a teacher. He gets up in the morning and spends his days helping children learn the basics of what they’re going to need to succeed in life. He comes home and does laundry, hangs out with friends, goofs around on Facebook, and goes to bed. I just described MY lifestyle. Oh, and he’s gay. He doesn’t ask me what Benny and I do in the privacy of our bedroom, and I don’t want to know the details of his sex life either. My sex life is not my lifestyle. Who I am married to is not my lifestyle. You don’t know my level of kinkiness in the bedroom and you wouldn’t dare ask me because sex is not something we talk about. You don’t think my bedroom is your business and neither do I.

Some of my straight friends are concerned about my acceptance of sin and don’t understand why I wouldn’t do everything in my power to make sure my gay friends know what the Bible says about homosexuality. (Trust me, they know.) They don’t understand why I would be in community with people so blatantly going against God’s word. (Don’t I do that sometimes too? God’s word is where I got my example of loving others. Others=sinners=me too.) They are using words and phrases like “condoning behavior” and “justifying sin” and they want to know where I draw the line. They believe that my lack of calling people out on sin means I have no standard at all…anything goes. A certain Bible story about rock throwing comes to mind. (John 8)

I am the woman caught in adultery, naked and humiliated, waiting for my life to end at the hands of my indignant neighbors. I am the man hiding in the crowd as my lover bears the brunt of the crowd’s wrath. I am the religious leader who planned this little scenario to trap Jesus and trick him into contradicting himself so I can kill him. I am the woman holding a stone, not sure I should be here, but thankful that it’s not me in the middle of the circle. I am Jesus, more loving, clever, and merciful than everyone else there.

What did he draw in the dirt? Was he drawing the proverbial line? Because the words he spoke drove the crowd away. Whichever one of you is without sin, go ahead, throw your rock at her. He didn’t say she wasn’t sinning. He didn’t condone her adultery. He wasn’t showing his lack of conviction or unbelief in the seriousness of God’s word. He just loved her.

Here’s my line in the dirt: I am all about love. The pursuit of it, the immersion in it, and the outpouring of it, to ALL who cross my path.

1 Corinthians 13 (The Message)

The Way of Love

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. 3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. 11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. 12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! 13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

Read it in whatever translation of the Bible you prefer. The message is the same. If I do not love, I am nothing. Will I love perfectly? No. I don’t have to be perfect because Jesus is. I call myself a sinner, but guess what? He doesn’t. He calls me sister. I know what sin is, recognize sinful behavior, and I draw the line before that point. I love the sinner.

I don’t focus on hating sin. I focus on loving people. That’s my line.

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I am a clumsy lover.

Benny and I stayed up talking late into the night about yesterday’s post. He wants you to know that he sacrificed sleep for this conversation. 😉 He challenged me to be clearer in my thoughts instead of using broad strokes and lumping people together in categories – something that annoys me when other people do it. He said my examples were extremes and that we know lots of people who can and do love people and still hate the sin in their lives, including us. Let me paraphrase a 3 hour conversation in a few lines:

Benny – “Niki, isn’t that what we’re doing with SEVENS? Isn’t that who you are when you love _______ (our drug addict friend) but cry over what the addiction is doing to her body, and refuse to give her money for her next fix? You’re loving her, but hating the consequences of her behavior.”

Me –  “But my point was that I’ve experienced so many people using this phrase to justify their hateful behavior towards others whose sin looks different or is more public than their own. It’s stupid and unfair and looks nothing like love. And I know others who think that love is pointing out everyone’s sin, convicting them of how bad they are so they’ll see their need for Jesus. That’s not what I read in the Bible. I’m calling them on it.”

Benny – “But when you say it’s impossible to separate the two, you’re lumping me and a whole bunch of other people into that category, and I think I do a pretty good job of loving the sinner but hating sin. ”

Niki – “So what’s your point? I should retract what I said?”

Benny – “No, a lot of it was good, but you were still not as calm as you think you were. Some of your wording was confrontational and I think you need to spend a little more time thinking through what you really want to say. And by the way, you’re not a sinner; you’re a new creation.”

Niki – “I know. That was going to be part of my next post.”

~sigh~

He’s right, and I stand corrected. Perhaps I should have thought through this a little more. I am a clumsy lover. I don’t always love people well. I fall into unloving behaviors too easily, especially when it comes to what I refer to as “church sign/bumper sticker theology.”

I’m not retracting what I said because I know a lot of people who don’t seem to be able to love others because they are too busy showing disgust for others sinful behaviors. I don’t think that is loving at all. It’s possible they just don’t know how. I’ve been there – wanting to love others but failing. Yes, I’m very clumsy indeed, even in my blogging.

I want to answer my questions at the end of the last post.

Why should we waste time hating behavior when so many people are desperate for our love?

I don’t think we should. Like my friend John said, if my kid has cancer, I don’t have to be reminded to love my kid and hate the cancer. I hate the effect of the cancer, but I focus on loving my kid. The loving gets my time and energy, not the hating.

What does condoning behavior look like?

Using the example Benny gave me, if I know my friend is a drug addict and I give her money so she can buy her drugs, then I am condoning her behavior.

How is it different from loving behavior?

If I know my friend is a drug addict, I don’t give her money to buy drugs and I hold her hand while she’s suffering, maybe help her find the help she needs.

I think my identity plays into this discussion as well. I am a shield. I am built to stand fearless on the front line. Sometimes I get a little over zealous in how I choose to walk that out.  I’ll be talking more about identity in the coming days, but for this discussion let’s just say THAT is my problem with sin in a person’s life. It blinds them from understanding and walking in who they are, and creates a residue that mucks everything up.

One of my friends spoke to loving the sinner in the mirror. In my experience, it’s a short walk from hating the sin in my life to hating myself for not being able to immediately change it. I appreciate my friends who worded this phrase to me in a way that made me think longer and harder on what I posted. I’m still thinking.

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If you’re new to this blog, or we’ve never met, then you need to know some very important things about me:

  1. I love Jesus. Completely. Unswervingly. And I know He’s crazy about me.
  2. I love people. More than animals, nature, philosophy, and chocolate.
  3. I am falling in love with Jesus’ bride, the Church. Choosing to be in love is probably more accurate.
  4. I have the privilege of friendship with thousands of people of every age, gender, nationality, religious creed, and sexual orientation.

I need you to know these things to set the context of what I’m about to say.

I’ve sat through amazingly frustrating conversations with friends whose hearts are golden. They love Jesus and strive to please Him, but they have swallowed so many platitudes over the years that they can’t even see how offensive they have become with their thoughtless comments like the first part of this post’s title, which is a thought from Gandhi, not the person of Jesus Christ.

As a young, zealous Christian, I used this phrase repeatedly, and I truly meant it. It made me feel good and holy to say it, like I was rising above something. But I’ve learned to be honest about my faith, and now I groan in frustration with this noble sounding garbage. I understand that it is an attempt to articulate that we’re supposed to love everyone, including the people who do bad things and are stuck in bad habits or addictions. Love the person, but hate what they do. Please, tell me how it’s possible to separate the person from their actions. I’ve never met anyone who HATED a behavior but still truly LOVED the person stuck in or choosing to participate in said behavior. When you hate something, you can’t help but feel negative emotion towards the person attached to it. It gets personal. Here’s a truth for you:

I am the sinner, and I am crushed by those who want to love me but can’t reconcile their hate for some of the things I believe and do. Sometimes it paralyzes me – the hate wearing a mask of love.

I have been bullied and abused by people in the name of “love” because in their minds, that is better than letting my flesh melt off in the fiery pit of hell for all eternity. I’ve been called all kinds of names and accused of denying the Bible as Truth, because I have tattoos, I don’t think ass is a cuss word (and I used the word bullshit in my title for this post), I shop at stores that support issues I don’t agree with, I love homosexuals, the name on my church sign doesn’t match theirs, and I don’t have a meek and humble spirit. I’m not a Proverbs 31 woman, and I don’t care. I can’t live up to the hype. But I am madly in love with Jesus, and He’s equally smitten with me. Every day I have to look to Him for my worth, because I’m not good enough for me, let alone anyone else. So I believe I am built to offer that same courtesy to others; See them as better than me rather than the other way around. Is that easy? Hell no!

I am a sinner, I’m not sin.

How about others? Be honest. How many rapists, child molesters, murderers, and genocidal dictators to you love? You hate their sin, right? Do you love them apart from their actions? How about liars, cheaters, and thieves? That feels a little more doable, doesn’t it? What say you about bullies, drug dealers, and pimps? Love them? Hate them? How about politicians whose personhood agendas differ from your own? Or your neighbor who leaves her neglected children at home so you have 3 extra kids to feed and feel responsible for? How about your friend’s sister who is an angry, belligerent lesbian? Or the televangelist who had a very public affair? Or the man who beat on you so many times you chose to run away? Or the Christian who feels justified in their hatred towards others? Where is the love for them as people?

Jesus has yet to say, “Niki, I am going to fill your life with people who are hard to love, and I want you to love them with everything in you, but still hate the things they do. Good luck with that.”

Love the sinner. That means EVERYONE. Forget the hate part and focus on the love part. I’m not saying we should accept, approve, or condone bad behaviors. They are destructive and anti-relationship, but don’t kid yourself thinking this is a holy statement and pleasing to Jesus. He was the one hanging out with loose women, cheating tax guys, common fishermen, and being accused of being a drunkard and glutton. I can’t find any examples in my Bible of Him loving broken people while showing disgust for what they do. (Lets save the Pharisees for a later discussion.) It wasn’t apparent by any of His actions, so was He condoning their behavior? No.  Jesus  loved people right where they were, and they were changed by being with Him.

THAT IS WHO I WANT TO BE!

Why should we waste time hating behavior when so many people are desperate for our love?

What does condoning behavior look like? How is it different from loving behavior?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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My cousin Janet sent me this necklace when I was nervous about my trip to Wisconsin in April. I wore it or carried it in my pocket the whole week I was there to remind me of her, and that I never walk alone. It really did give me courage, and I love her for it! But my story doesn’t begin there. We have to back up a bit.

Several years ago I read the book Captivating by John & Staci Eldredge, and fell in love with the idea of being a warrior princess. It was the strong women in movies, books, and the Bible that drew my admiration. Ezer Kinegdo. (A rough Hebrew translation: a desperately needed companion, or a life saver who comes alongside you. It was only used to describe 2 people in the old testament- Eve, when she was created, and God himself.) I want to be THAT. Reading that book changed my life. I felt understood, accepted, and encouraged. I asked God to show me who I am, and for the first time, I knew that I wasn’t ever going to be dainty and God was okay with that. He confirmed that I am a warrior princess. That played out for me in a very tangible way about a year later.

A good friend of mine had to appear in court. It was a pretty big deal. When I told him I wanted to be there with him and his wife to cover them in prayer, he reluctantly agreed. I prayed for the whole 30 minute drive to the courthouse. I asked God to give me the right words to encourage them. I prayed on the armor described in Ephesians in the Bible. I prayed for protection and wisdom. But I was still surprised when I got out of the van and felt 10 feet tall and invincible. I was a giant going to battle and I knew I was not alone. I was completely fearless, and that was just the beginning.

It was the last night of our SABBATH week with Trevor’s youth group, and we wanted to send the teens off with a blessing. We had them stand in a circle with Benny in the middle and me on the outside. We didn’t have a plan. We just wanted to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. As I began to pray, I could feel the enemy pressing in. I prayed for protection and got an image in my head of my hands lifted and a large bubble descending over us. I knew that I was shielding the group from the enemy while Benny blessed them. Later that night, I told Benny about it and more importantly, I asked God about it. Was this a piece of who I am? Pictures while I pray isn’t the norm, but I knew it was an important vision for me.

I’m a crier. I am not afraid of tears, and God uses that. When I am touched on a deep spiritual level (I call it having a Holy Spirit moment), I cry. But the tears in those moments are from a different place inside of me than my tears of joy, grief, and anger. I don’t question it because it’s always been that way with me and God. He moves me.

When I read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and watched the movies, Eowyn resonated with me. She gave me hope and courage to step more fully into who I am. In one of my favorite scenes in The Two Towers, Aragorn reminds Eowyn that she is a daughter of kings – a shield maiden of Rohan, and I wept.  Someone left this comment on the YouTube video:”It is amazing the way hope rises when fear is engaged with the truth of who we are and who we belong to.”

I once heard a pastor teach a lesson about every player on a football team having a specific job to do and the importance of each teammate playing their position to the best of their ability. I cried. Over football! I am not a quarterback, I’m the woman standing between the quarterback and the opposition. I am a shield.

I was stunned when I read Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer and she described Bella’s gift. The imagery used was the same as my vision of the bubble of protection I had prayed over the teens a few years previous. She was Ezer Kinegdo. And I cried, because I am a shield.

When Will moved in, I gave him this necklace. It’s a Telmarine shield from the movie Prince Caspian. I saw them a few years ago and was so moved by them, that I bought four. I didn’t know why since I only have three children. Now I know.

You still with me? Here’s where it gets weird…and very cool.

A few months ago, I was praying over someone at church and my hands were raised when I felt a tingling in my right shoulder that traveled across to my left shoulder and down my left arm. I told Benny about it and that I thought there should be a name to describe it, but I didn’t know what it was. It has happened many times since then – always when I was worshiping or praying over someone.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at breakfast with one of our SABBATH groups when a song from Benny’s iPod began to play. (Make War by Tedashii.) It’s not really my style of music, but this song grabs me. At the lyrics, “Stand fearless on the front line,” my shoulder and arm began to tingle, and I froze. Everything I just told you played through my head like a movie flashback, or beads of mercury drawing together to form a puddle. Completely stunned, I looked at Benny and said, “I am a shield! I know why my arm is tingling!”  Because I had been sharing this stuff all along, he just smiled at me and said, “duh,” then googled arm/shoulder armor and came up with this picture:

I found this one:

THAT is what I feel when I pray! It’s called a manica, and it’s my spiritual armor.

I am a shield.

I fight for people. I protect them. I stand between them and the enemy.

When I walk in my identity – who I truly am – there is no fear.

Do you know who you are? Are you walking in your identity? What’s your story?

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