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How Your Identity Helps You See Mine

I’m back from maternity leave, and boy, what a maternity leave it was. 

I stepped back right at the beginning of this whole pandemic and clearly the world did not stop and wait for me. While I snuggled one of the cutest little boys that you could ever hope to see things kept changing hard and fast in our world. It’s left me with more than a little bit of whiplash, and maybe you too.

There’s a lot to sift through, and in almost all the debates I’ve come across I think the best answers lie in hammering out a new middle way together. It’s a lot of work, and it’s all been pretty exhausting for me. Maybe you too. I feel like the whole world has turned into “Captain America Civil War“ which my least favorite Marvel movie because everyone is fighting, even among people who should be allies, and it just hurts my heart. I just want everyone to get along.

And so, when I got back to work and opened up my content calendar and saw that I had scheduled the month of July for content about identity I chuckled to myself. You all are probably getting tired of hearing about all the ways that God has shown up for me specifically in the plans we made together for this year, but he did it again. In the midst of all this uncertainty, strife, and unrest he is calling me to talk about the unchanging truth of who we are.

I wrote a lot about identity last summer. There’s some great posts on the blog with my musings from a year ago. But this year and last year are not the same for many people, me included. 

Right now, I feel like it is absolutely essential that we not only remember our own identity as children of God, but everybody else’s too. 

Even people that are wrong.

Even people that perpetrate evil.

Even people that sow insurrection and unrest.

Even people threaten peace. 

Even people that lash out in pain.

They are all children of God.

And so I think the only way that our human feebleness can grapple with that fact is to enter into life from a place of utter stability in our own identity in Christ. We can’t defend a position of weakness, which is where we find ourselves if we hang our identity solely on any one of the hundred things that are constantly in flux right now. 

In a world of crazy, or even more perhaps in world with an illusion of societal peace in this life, only God is constant.

I invite you to observe yourself this week. Notice when you feel afraid, uneasy, insignificant or insufficient. And then take a short break to breathe – before internalizing the feeling, before commenting, before lashing out.

Instead, think or say to yourself “I am a child of God.“ 

Then take another breath and, if another person is the cause of your uneasy feelings, remind yourself that they are God’s child too.

See what that does for your week.

I love ya.

Free for What?

Free for What?

Last week we quoted the verse “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” but how much do you really understand what that means? 

First of all, how did Christ set us free? 

And secondly, what is the freedom that he set us free for? 

Let’s take the questions one at a time. 

First of all – how did Christ set us free? The simple answer is through his death on the cross. In that act he challenged death to a duel and won when he rose on Easter morning. After he had passed through that gauntlet as true God and true man he brought the rest of humanity into that victory with him. No longer was death the end of the story for humanity because we have a champion who had defeated it. All of the sudden our fall into sin was not the end of the story. 

We have been set free from the ransom of sin, which is death.

So then, next question, for what freedom did he do this? What was he seeking for us in defeating death? The opportunity for us to do what we feel like? That seems woefully inadequate. We more or less already had that freedom, unless it was infringed upon by social or political groups that happened to be in power at the time. 

There wasn’t really anything supernatural holding us back from doing what we wanted though – that was pretty much the norm of life shackled by sin. I think it is clearly reasonable to insist that there must be a deeper, better freedom which he was seeking for us in setting us free from death.

The freedom to join him. 

The freedom to do what we ought and therefore come into the glory of Heaven alongside him. That seems more worthy of his sacrifice. As Christians, we should never seek the freedom to just do what we feel like or just not have anyone interfere in our lives. We should never seek freedom from God as so many do in our culture today, but freedom for God – freedom to be able to love and serve Him the way He desires us to. And like we said last week, the primary thing that keeps us from this freedom is sin.

Sin is a dirty word in our culture. Some would argue that the concept of sin is completely lost and I would likely begrudgingly agree. 

(In fact, equally sadly and hilariously as I am writing this email, the autocorrect on my computer continues to change the word sin into other words, as if even my computer itself is saying, no no, you can’t possibly mean to be talking about sin. That doesn’t exist.)

But it does. We know it does. 

And it, sin, not rules or regulations, is our greatest obstacle to freedom.

Christ died and rose to bring us into this freedom from sin – so what should our response be to that?

What do you do with this freedom Christ purchased for you? What can you do this week to more completely embrace the gift of freedom you have been given?

Who Knows What Freedom Really Is??

Who Knows What Freedom Really Is??

Like so many topics that we discussed together, freedom is incredibly fraught with misunderstanding. If you live in the United States like I do then you’re likely very aware of our colloquial understanding of freedom as “the ability to do what we want.“ 

(I can’t say that I know much about the way freedom is understood in the rest of the world, so if you have insights from other continents I would be extremely interested in how your culture views freedom, so hit reply and let me know if you have thoughts to share!)

But it’s also an often quoted scripture verse that says “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free”– so is the idea that God came to let us simply do what we want

That doesn’t seem quite right – does it?

So what the heck is freedom really? 

The freedom Christ desires for us is not simply the freedom to do whatever we want, but the freedom to be able to do what we ought. 

The main thing that keeps us from being truly free is sin – not undo oversight or pesky laws. When we find ourselves in an endless loop of doing something that we know we shouldn’t, repenting, and then doing the thing again much to our dismay, we have found an area in our lives where we are not terribly free

It is up to us to turn those things over to God and focus on them and our moral and prayer lives so that we can finally, once and for all, find freedom from those shortcomings.

It is a favorite image of mine that I heard from a preacher once that it is not freedom to sit down at a piano and bang away with no knowledge of how to play. It is true freedom to be a master pianist, free to combine notes and techniques and styles with grace and eloquence. 

It is not freedom from rules that makes us free, It is in excellence in application of those rules, God’s laws for our lives, that makes us truly free. So that’s what we’ll be talking about the rest of this month – what it looks like to be free as a Christian and how that freedom manifest in our lives. 

My hope is that this will be a meaningful month of meditation for you, especially if you live in the United States like I do, as we lead up to our national holiday at the beginning of July – often associated deeply with the freedom that can come from living in a democracy.

I’d also ask that wherever you live you offer up a short prayer for the United States right now, as we head into fall elections and continue to struggle to best protect and care for the most vulnerable in our country.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Some Thoughts on the Sin of Racism

Racism is evil, and racism is sin.

There’s no getting around that.

And though, as a white woman, racism is not an area of expertise for me (I deeply encourage you to head to @beabridgebuilder to learn and listen because their curation of resources is so much better and more comprehensive than anything I could put together and what I am using myself to learn) I do know something about spiritual warfare and dealing with sin. So that’s what I’d like to talk about today.

Because, since racism is sin, the devil loves it.

He is the Divider, the Accuser.

He loves it every time we dehumanize each other, whether because of skin color, differing politics, social status, or shirt size. It doesn’t matter to him – he’ll take it all.

And that’s why I think it’s worth it to take a beat in the midst of all the other important conversations going on right now and remember some of the spiritual realities we’re dealing with.

First of all, we have to start from a place of seeing the Image of God in everyone we interact with – black people, as that is the primary issue at hand, but also people who are a part of the problem – bigots, people hardened in sin, deniers. We can’t trade one hatred for another. 

Secondly, we aren’t all called to do the same work. We have to resist the urge to judge others based on what we personally see them doing, because we might not be seeing the whole picture in dealing with this sin, just as in many others.

As St. Paul tells us there are many gifts and many callings that flow forth from the One Holy Spirit. If a friend is seeming “silent” on social media they might still be living in their own calling and indeed doing their part to uproot this sin, perhaps to fasting and prayer or action in a bodied way. They also might not, but there’s no way to know. We can’t judge the movement going on in their heart and mind.

If we feel the need to speak to them about their effort in fighting racism, I think it’s most helpful to point out ways we may see their specific gifts serving the pursuit of racial justice in a way that encourages them to get involved and doesn’t accuse them (let’s leave the accusations to the Accuser). 

Thirdly, we can’t end sin under human power. We need Jesus. And just as we can’t use this as an excuse not to do the work that needs to be done (the quote from the Talmud comes to mind: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”) we also need to remember that better social systems won’t end sin.

We need a Savior for a reason. As long as people are working under their own power they are limited. It is only in God that all things are possible.

And lastly, we need to both acknowledge where we are right now and where we desire to go, both personally and as a society, accepting that there is a distance between the two and that distance will not close overnight.

What we are facing right now is not a sprint, but a marathon. Just as the systems that perpetuate racism were developed over time, it will take time to disassemble. Emotions burn bright, but typically the flames do burn well enough to support a long campaign. It’s not healthy emotionally or spiritually for any of us to work in frenzy. Our light will quickly be exhausted. 

And so in the midst of this work, whether you are black, brown, or white, it’s necessary to rest. Rest is only possible in God. Hell is an existence of no rest, no peace, no joy, and no God. We can not live truth from a place like that. Rest doesn’t mean abandoning the work and it doesn’t mean complacency. It means we are letting ourselves be fed by God so we can continue the work.

I have seen many people in the last few weeks faulting those around them for not speaking quickly enough or with the length and clarity desired. And though some of those criticisms might be valid–I don’t pretend to know the motivation of others speaking or not speaking–speedy response for its own sake is not the best goal.

I would argue that the best goal is for each of us to ask the Holy Spirit to show us how this particular sin is nurtured in us and then invite that same Spirit into the work of uprooting it. That might be a public process, and it might not. It might be tangled up with other sins and we might find ourselves, regardless of our race, fighting some deep demons.

Those demons need to go, for sure, but it might take some time. 

And I guess, at the end of the day, that’s what I feel most moved to say – time is necessary and God is necessary. We need time to learn, time to listen, time to let God move in our hearts. We need God to break into our hearts and help us change.

I’ve seen so many of the devil’s fingerprints on my own reaction to everything going on – urging argument, urging hard-heartness, urging pride, urging speed, urging frenzy that comes from anxiety and not the swiftness that is of God. I’m a broken, sinful, messed up human being and this situation seems to be a powder keg of everything I don’t want to face about myself.

I think a lot of people are feeling that. And we don’t WANT to feel that.

It hurts to see how much sin still flourishes in us, especially when we deeply love Christ. The climate of my heart is still way too amenable to the growth of everything that hurts the heart of Christ.

We all have work to do to uproot sin – racism, pride, anger, lust, and many more – and it’s going to take the rest of our lives. I see many people already starting to ask if all the people posting black boxes on their Instagram are still going to be around in 3 months. As Christians, it should be the expectation that we are in it for the long haul because we know that sin isn’t going to stop when fighting it in this particular inciting incident stops trending.

Fighting sin takes endurance that only comes from being fed by a relationship with God. We can’t go on solo offensives no matter how noble. We will be beaten and we will be broken even more. (ask me how I know…)

So for what it’s worth, my goal has become to simply walk with God in this situation. I don’t have the answers, but He does. We absolutely need to listen to our black sisters and brothers right now, but we also need to listen to God. Only He can help us faithfully navigate our hearts out of sin and into the light. 

God bless you.

A Brave, Modern, Christian Life

A Brave, Modern, Christian Life

Courage is trendy right now. 

Any secular decor store is full of plaques that say “be brave” or “live with courage.” And so often things that are immoral are pointed to as expressions of bravery simply because they have not been the norm in society before. 

But this is definitely not the real meaning of courage. 

Courage means doing what one ought to do, regardless of one’s feelings and the consequences that may come. 

It is not the absence of fear, nor is it foolhardiness that rushes into dangerous situations without a care. 

Courage is a concerted choice to do the right thing, even knowing that you may be mocked, ridiculed, ostracized, or even killed for your actions. It’s not a trendy, sentimental little thing. It’s the foundation of facing life like Christ, who spoke the truth in love no matter where he was even with the full knowledge that he would ultimately be killed for his efforts. 

When we need a strong example of bravery we need look no further than Christ.

Last month we talked about the courage needed to embrace Hope in the face of a culture that treats it with skepticism at best and hostility at worst. But this doesn’t just apply to Hope. There’s a whole range of Christian virtues that take a great deal of courage to live out in the modern world.

Christianity is countercultural right now, and therefore requires great courage to live. There’s a whole range of topics, from objective truth, to morality, to simple application of virtue, that we as Christians profess that make our culture extremely uncomfortable. 

We refuse to fit conveniently into the nice little box of relativism that they have made for us. 

We refuse to believe that truth is decided by majority vote. 

We refuse to “modernize” beliefs that are timeless as the God revealed them to us. 

And so we find ourselves squarely in the middle of a new kind of era in the church – one not necessarily marked by violence in the physical sense (at least in my country of the United States), but definitely violent attacks in the verbal and emotional sense. People appeal to emotion to make it seem as though Christianity is heartless, when nothing could be further from the truth. 

Christianity holds the heart of God, the fulfillment of all human desires. But unfortunately the truth that our culture embraces about things like weight loss or climbing the corporate ladder (that there is no quick and easy solution and you will have to go through the pain and dedication if you’re serious about it) the same culture refuses to embrace about spiritual health. We can’t simply do what we want without any consequences. Spiritual health flourishes in discipline and rightly ordered living, just as weight loss flourishes in discipline and rightly ordered diet and exercise. 

It takes courage to be a part of this culture without becoming representative of the culture. It takes courage to keep persevering in virtue when the people around you don’t see the point. It takes courage to stand in the gap and listen without letting the voices around you sway you from the truth.

And so you, fellow Christian women, I salute. We walk a hard but incredibly worthy the road. And I could not be happier to share the road with anyone else. 

We are in each other’s story because we need each other to continue to be brave.

With joy!

Jill

 

Who’s Afraid of a Little Bit of Hope?

Who’s Afraid of a Little Bit of Hope?

Have you ever met anyone (or maybe you recognize yourself in this a little bit) who is afraid of hope? 

Why would someone be afraid of hope? 

In the religious sense I struggle to understand this viewpoint because hoping in God has been such a constant in the experience of my life. But I do understand being skeptical of hope on the human side of things, which is so many peoples’ frame of reference in dealing with God. 

People have been let down by other people, and when God is simply viewed as the biggest person around (which He is not) then it makes sense that it would be hard to hope. 

I think this is the prevailing atheist viewpoint – that God is just like a big guy in the sky they could choose to help you out or not, love you or not, follow through or not, with all the capriciousness of the Greek and Roman pantheon, who exemplified the worst of humanity in so many ways. 

God is not trustworthy when we just make him another person. 

But God is not another person. 

He is outside of time, outside of the limitations of a created being. What he is he always is, because he is eternal and so he cannot, by definition, love us in one moment and reject us in another. His love, mercy, and justice are not swirled together with any kind of faults the way that our human versions of these virtues are. 

God is all good, all the time. 

But they remain many who are afraid of hoping in God because their hearts bear such wounds from hoping in humans. Their souls grow scaly and impenetrable and they begin to find it virtuous to not allow oneself to be hurt by hoping again. A shuttered heart seems like a safe heart. So they close up the blinds and post a sign like so many homes have to brush off solicitors: “No hope needed here. Move along.”

Sometimes it can feel like virtue to protect ourselves from truly hoping in God because then we cannot be hurt. It’s one of the many challenges of applying what we know from relationship with humans to our relationship with God, and one of the places where the comparison breaks down. 

There are absolutely times when it is vital to our health and safety to cease to hope in another person, but such a time will never come with God. He is incapable, by definition of who he is, of being unworthy of your trust. 

If he is ever worthy of your hope he is always worthy of your hope. 

With joy!

Jill