What Legos Taught Me.

Well, besides “everything is awesome.”

For better or worse, I’ve never been the type of babysitter that could remove myself from the play. I find it makes one frustrated kid and one long day. So as a college educated twenty-six year old, I spend most of my days having tea parties with a fake British accent, constructing blanket forts, and challenging my mind with 24 piece puzzles.

But let me tell you, I am daily challenged (No, not by the puzzle. How dare you think it).

I recently started watching a couple of other kids once a week and each time I do, we make our rounds through the various categories of toys in the house. And any time we come to the duplos, construction gets really serious. We’re obviously going to build a big building and the engineering falls to me. If we want this thing to stay together, the pieces I use matter.

I lay out a square frame with the long pieces.Then I look for pieces that will connect the disjointed first row to the second layer of “bricks”, overlapping the seams. Individual blocks? Get outta here.

You see, the pieces matter because each layer is so fragile and wobbly unless bound to it’s neighbor of every possible preposition.

But last week, a game changer was introduced to our Lego playing.

exhibit a: The baseplate….

lego2304_2

Where had he been all of those houses and skyscrapers earlier?! With this guy, the pieces I used no longer carried such great significance to the structure. It didn’t matter if the whole first row was all individual bricks. Their stability and cohesiveness as a house weren’t dependent on who or what they were. It all hinged on what they were built on.

You picking up what I’m putting down?

As followers of Christ, we can put such effort into building the body of Christ in our image. The person sitting next to me needs to look like me and sound like me and think like me. We need to have lots in common, be in the same place in life. Without these things, there can be no harmony or stability. It all depends on the bricks we’re working with.

But In Ephesians chapter 2 has something else to say entirely:

“19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.”

And also,

“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 3:11

Yes, we still seek to build community and strong relationship. But we don’t have to base those on our interests or skin color or music preference or worship style. Christ himself is the glue. The Cornerstone. The bumpy green baseplate.

“14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

17He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.”(Ephesians 2:14-18)

Our churches and communities don’t need to be about us or look like us. They need only to be built on our shared foundation, Christ. Steadfast, immovable. Destroying barriers and boundaries. Overcoming differences and difficulties. If he is our focus instead of each other, we will become unified naturally by becoming like Him. The goal has never been to become like each other.

 Happy Building, y’all.

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Tokyo Drift

Jeremiah 6:16

This is what the Lord says: 

Stand at the crossroads and look;

ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, 

and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.

 

We’re a culture (all humanity, always) of fads. Always new, ever onward. I look at an outfit I thought was so cool two years ago and I cringe. Or how about some great 1980’s wood paneling or decor in that fixer-upper you just bought? Or wait, is that cool again…

This perpetual cycle of more and newer is exhausting and unfulfilling. 

My husband Luke forwarded me an article this week about about marketing campaigns churches were doing to pull larger crowds for Easter. And it was all about being cool and trendy. Giveaways of Starbucks gift cards, flat screen TV’s, iPads. All tables Jesus would have flipped, I honestly believe. 

Sometimes when “new” is all we want, the steady, constant “old” is all we need. We don’t need an epic sermon series, a new marketing campaign, the newest devotional or prayer acronym or church model. 

 I love the simplicity of what the Lord is speaking here in Jeremiah 6. It’s like standing in the middle of Tokyo- flashing neon lights all around- “stand at the crossroads and look…” so much begging for our attention, our participation. But we’re told to “ask for the ancient path”- to look for the dirt road. 

The Way is simple. Paul dared not even use fancy words, lest the cross be “stripped of its power”. The message of Christ doesn’t need to be beefed up or incentivized. That screams that what Jesus did wasn’t enough. 

Deep down, truly, we know what to do, how we ought to be living. Soaking in His presence. Making Him the most important thing. Loving Him with all our HEART | SOUL | MIND | STRENGTH. Loving others. 

This simplicity and consistency will lead us to personal rest and others to personal relationship

The Glue

I’m certainly no expert chef, but my domesticity has increased significantly thanks (in equal parts) to becoming a wife and watching the Food Network. I love planning our meals and piecing grocery lists together like a jigsaw puzzle. 

Tonight as I was driving home from the zoo that is Trader Joe’s, I started a random train of thought about the almonds I had just picked up. I was debating whether I had made the right choice to buy them raw because I’m a big fan of salt. Somehow this led me to thinking about how they get the salt to stick to the roasted ones. If you take a bowl of raw almonds and throw salt at them, it’s not going to stick, clearly. You need something to bind the two together. A “glue”, if you will. Like honey in granola bars, or egg when you’re breading chicken, or the heat of the oven.  

And THIS, naturally, got me thinking about community. You can’t take a bunch of random people, throw them together and expect them to stick. Merely being around each other in the same bowl isn’t enough to make a complete dish. We can’t go to church on Sunday and have the same surface interaction with the person just close enough to our regular seat to greet and expect growth to happen. We can’t speak to the people in small group that time we get together once a (week, month, etc.) and believe that true transformation is going to result. 

We have to be committed to being a transforming community. And part of that is being in the same mixing bowl and getting a little messy. You have to be seasoned with salt and thrown into the fire. We have to yield a little of our autonomous selves to become the unified whole. But just like the almond is not diminished by being roasted with salt, neither will we lose our identity in this yielding process. 

We come as raw parts and we need a shared experience to make us a new thing together. 

I have seen, in my life, NO ONE more committed to this process than my husband. Truly. And I can give you countless stories, continually cropping up, of people who have benefited from that and then carried it on in their own lives.

As a rule, our culture promotes really unhealthy levels of busyness. So sometimes, we (I) hit that point where we throw up the walls and say, “this is all I can invest. It’s all I can afford.” But if there’s an area you’re going to skimp on, don’t let it be this one. True community, while it takes effort, is always fruitful and life giving (to you or someone else). I believe that. This always elusive “me time” is as unfulfilling as the 15x I hit the snooze button on my alarm each morning. I never feel more rested.

I’m not saying that rest or boundaries are a bad thing. God commanded us to take a Sabbath for a reason. I’m merely suggesting that this one area is not the one that you ought to give up on. Everything that God commands us to do involves others. Our whole lives are to be about them, and helping them know Him. Pastor Judah Smith said that life is like a group project. Sometimes it might seem easier to take it all on ourselves and do it alone, but that’s not how it was intended to be, nor is it sustainable. We’re in this together. 

So let’s stop slighting ourselves and each other with half-ditch efforts at loving. Let’s go all in- truly investing ourselves – and just see if we come out a little more cohesive and delicious. 

growing where you’re planted

As I sit down to type this, I find myself cycling through emotions of brokenness, awe, hope, and determination.

The first time I was really exposed to the concept of human trafficking was in 2010 prior to going on the World Race. And the most in depth discourse I heard on it was in Ukraine in 2012 (see “Moldy Sponge” blog). Upon realizing that slaves existed in my day and hearing the staggering accounts and stories, my heart was broken and the problem seemed insurmountable.

But a couple of hours ago, Luke and I sat watching C-SPAN coverage of a Senate Committee hearing on Human Trafficking. The hearing had two panels of witnesses, one of a bureaucratic nature and the other of a more “civilian” nature. These witnesses as well as the three Senators who led the hearing discussed the reality of this evil, it’s presence in our nation, who is at risk, what we’re doing to combat it, and so much more.

In his opening statements the Chairmen of today’s hearing, Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware), quoted Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew saying, “whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me” and cited this as proof of a moral obligation to act. We stared at each other like, did that just happen? 

When I learned about human trafficking, my heart broke for the people around the world being enslaved, but this is not merely an international problem. Rough numbers suggest over 100,000 enslaved in the United States! The term “trafficking” not being limited to the movement of people, but also the exploitation of them within their own cities. And to this and much more information learned today I was ignorant and subsequently grieved.

Believe it or not, we don’t typically watch C-SPAN (shocking, I know). The reason we knew to watch for this today was because of one of our close friends from church. Recently Marty told us about a  friend of his in New Jersey. As a middle school teacher a few years ago, his friend Daniel was talking about slavery (think Abe Lincoln times) and made a connection to the epidemic of slavery rising in our nation today. These students were so moved by what they heard, that they knew they had to do something. So with Daniel, they began Project Stay Gold as a means of informing fellow students and people in their communities, encouraging them to action.

Not long after Marty mentioned this to us for prayer, he learned that his friend had been asked to testify at a Senate Committee Hearing on Human Trafficking, indeed the very one we watched today. Daniel Papa was on the second panel of witnesses and shared some amazing insights and hopeful things about the progress they have seen in their work. He and the other panel members talked candidly about the scope and depth of the problem and gave the government very real ways to get involved and put the right things in place to see this eradicated in our time.

I still cannot get over so many things about what happened today! How monumental it was. And at the close of it, Senator Carper talked again about his faith very plainly and honestly as he casually mentioned a prayer meeting that he attends with other Senators across party lines. I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears! I was so encouraged to hear people in leadership in our Nation speaking such incredible faith so boldly.

But one of the most powerful things I took away from this hearing was the importance of being exactly where you are. God has called each one of us to impact change where he has placed us!! Age, experience, title…none of it matters more than obedience. God takes our small efforts and circumstances and accomplishes his will through them! Christine Caine (founder of A21) references the five loaves and two fish in her book UNDAUNTED to make this very point! God takes what we have and does with it what we cannot! Five loaves of bread and two fish feed 5,000 men with plenty left over? That’s our God. And that’s the very picture of obedience.

I might “just” be a nanny, but God has called me to this place, to this position to impact the moms at preschool, the family I work for, the people I meet at the grocery store, and whoever else he places in my path. Daniel Papa was “just” a middle school teacher. And then he was just a middle school teacher with a non profit. And today he influenced our government. Jesus was “just” a carpenter. People in his hometown couldn’t accept his miracles or teaching because they couldn’t get past his small beginnings. If the Savior of the world didn’t allow titles or societal limitations to stop him, why should we? Where are the Gideon’s? Where are the Joshua’s and the Caleb’s and Esther’s and Deborah’s who will rise up and be the voice of a people? Normal, less than average people doing amazing things. Why? Because they grew where they were planted. They invested what they had. They were obedient.

Today’s hearing was pushed for (and partially led by) two Senators. And as Senator Carper brought the session to a close, he thanked them for their work in this matter and their strong push for this to happen. He then mentioned that they were both “relatively junior” in their positions, meaning they are new to this role! But they too did not let that hinder them from being persistent and passionate and using their influence for good.

So where can you start? Not just with the problem of human trafficking,in which I believe we can ALL do something, but also in the community of people in which God has placed you. Right now.

sloppy seconds

Think about the kinds of gifts we give people, especially important people or the people we love most. We take time carefully planning and picking them out. We make sure it’s absolutely perfect! Then most of us go to great lengths to even present it in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing and thoughtful. 

Unless it’s a “white elephant” gift exchange, we typically don’t take some ratty old thing we already had to give. But this is what the people of Israel were doing in Malachi and I fear we are guilty too. 

Malachi 1:7-8

“You place defiled food on my altar. But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

By saying the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you bring crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty. 

What exactly do we think of God that we give him our broken leftovers, as if we aren’t happy to be rid of them? What kind of sacrifice is that? The Romans 12 offering he requests is us. But we give it to him half-heartedly, sloppy. We call our own attempts at honoring and serving God our “best”. 

I’m not referring to those new to faith in Christ. Those he welcomes just as they are (as he did with us). But we whom he has already mended should not continue to live in our old ways. (Romans 6:2)

These empty sacrifices are not what God desires of us. 

“Oh that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 1:10)

 

God doesn’t want mindless religious action. He desires transformational relationship!

“My name will be great among the nations from the rising to the setting of the sun . In every place incense and pure offering will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 1:11)

 

God desires and is worthy of the BEST we have to give. If we have better but give lesser, he knows. 

“Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.” (Malachi 1:14)

It is not only our reputations that suffer when we fail to live in a way that brings glory to God. It is far too often we give cynics the excuse to say they might be a Christian if they ever saw one. It’s time to stop living beneath the calling! Paul pleaded this with the Ephesian Christians,

“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.” (Eph 4:1)

Romans 12:1-2

“And so, dear brothers and sisters,[a] I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.[b] 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

It’s not that we don’t have better, it’s that we don’t choose to give it. And therefore, we profane the Name of our great king among the people dying to know him. 

All of this begins with daily renewing of our minds. We must daily reset our thoughts and actions on Christ. In every moment that we are tempted to act as we once did, we must remember what it took to save us from there. We can’t mend our actions without removing the source of them. No amount of personal effort will be enough. But when we endeavor to honestly walk with Christ and in godly community, the more we know him, the more we will begin to look like him and become willing to let go of the parts of ourselves that don’t do him justice. 

 

 

Gas Cap

Luke typically doesn’t work on the weekends, but last Saturday morning he had to. Since I was off and it was only for a few hours, I went along with him (if you didn’t know, we are currently both full time nannies).

We had taken one of the kids out to a golf lesson when the gas light came on. No big deal. We dropped him off and then drove over to a nearby gas station to remedy the problem. Like most cars these days, the “nanny car” has a button you push to open the gas tank cover. Luke pushed the button and then walked over to begin fueling. But the tank hadn’t opened. Walking back around to the door, he tried again. But we heard no response from the gas tank no matter how many times he pressed the button.

Ok, NOW we’re starting to get a little nervous. There was no way we would make it home without filling up again. No amount of prying or pushing or hoping were making this door pop open. It seemed there was no way to get what the car desperately needed.

Since we couldn’t fuel the car, we took a break to fuel my stomach. As I emerged victorious from Taco Bell (healthy, I know), I found Luke reading the manual. It was here that he learned we had an alternative. In the event that the button didn’t work, there was a lever in the trunk that would cause the compartment to open. And thus, the day was saved.

And this incident got me thinking. So often in our lives, things run smoothly and we don’t appear to need a lot of assistance. But when things DON’T go as planned or as usual, when our system of believing or operating fail us, we feel we don’t have an alternative. When our way of feeling full and satisfied breaks down, do we know another way to go on?

God, much like the maker of the car, provided us with a manual and an alternative. But you have to read it and apply the information for it to be helpful.

I think both Christians and non Christians can experience this dilemma. Maybe you have never depended on God or acknowledged him in your life. Yet all along, in the pages of your life there has been an answer. All along, in your very “car” there has been an alternative you didn’t know existed, waiting to be discovered.

Or maybe you are a believer in God, but like many, you have packed your spiritual glove compartment with a lot of restaurant napkins, books, and junk and the owners manual has long been out of reach. Maybe you have been trusting other sources for the operating of your vehicle and aren’t able to separate the actual intended practices from the ones you’ve come to adopt. “Who says I need to rotate my tires or change my oil?”

My mom made this comparison the other day…You could say “I’m not paying for gas. I want to fill my gas tank with kool-aid.” You could do that. But you car wouldn’t run on it. The maker didn’t design to run that way. So you only hurt yourself.

God did design ways for us to live our lives, but they are not to control us or make us miserable, they are to make us run smoothly- not without troubles, but with the tools to overcome them.

Don’t believe the fear that you have to run on empty. There is a true, dependable alternative to relying on yourself. There’s a warranty that doesn’t expire and a roadside assistance package that will meet you wherever you are. And it’s all free through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

A Declaration of Dependence

For most of us, yesterday was all about celebrating our freedoms. Spending time with loved ones, eating hot dogs, donning red, white, and blue in every way possible. It’s a time for reflection and gratitude and fireworks. Celebrating the spirit of a nation and a people’s independence.

But for others, July 4th was a declaration of dependence, a surrendering of the freedoms the rest of us were relishing. Yesterday four new squads of World Racers embarked on their eleven month journey into the nations. 

One such brave adventurer was a girl from our church! Ms. Sarah Briggs! It was late last Fall when I met Sarah for the first time. A big group of us had gathered for a worship night when she came up to me and said, “you did the world race, right?” and following my gleeful reply, she began to tell me my own story of being called to the mission field, only it was hers. I could hear the excitement and fear in her voice as she uttered a variation of those words I feel all Racers must have said at some point…”It’s crazy, but I know I have to do it.” Then and there, I knew she was in! And my spirit rejoiced at the courting process I was witnessing. I was getting to be an observer to the very steps God walked me through two years ago. 

Over the next few months, things progressed rapidly. And inevitably, challenges arose that made leaving all the more difficult. Selling all her possessions, leaving a stable career, saying goodbye to her godly man to heed God’s call on her life. All the while, Luke and I prayed for her and cheered for her. Not because the World Race is a perfect organization, but because we saw the pull of God on her and knew obedience would be the toughest, but only thing she could do in response. And we both knew what a difference that year made in my life. Teaching trust, faith, and utter dependence on God and his children. 

This process is so humbling at so many levels. Sarah has already begun to learn the humility of support raising. And I often remind her, as I was reminded, that you are not asking for YOU. For many people, service projects are maybe monthly or missions trips yearly. It is difficult in our culture to commit much more of our time. But every day for the next 11 months, Sarah and her fellow Racers will be volunteering. And support from those of us who can’t be there enables her to serve the least of these. 

As adults, we often become pretty self reliant. We work, we pay our rent, we make our meals, we plan. But on the Race, things change. You surrender that autonomy for real, raw community and often, someone else plans your meals, schedules your day, arranges your accommodations. Most days you have NO IDEA what’s going to happen. And it’s a beautiful thing! 

But the most important part of this journey is the absolute dependence you have on God. For protection, provision, energy, strength, words, wisdom, love to break open your heart for the margins only to have to pack up and leave to do it all again. This is a lesson you cannot put a price tag on. 

Luke and I couldn’t be more elated for Sarah and the journey God has begun with her and the others like her! If you believe in what God did in my life through this trip, please join us in cheering Sarah on til the end (which is really just the beginning…)! Here’s how you can help:

1. Sign up to receive her blog (see the left hand side to subscribe via e-mail!)

2. Commit to praying for her and her team regularly.

3. Send her a quick e-mail or word of encouragement via her blog! (it meant so much to me!)

4. Support her financially. She is still only half way there, but ANY amount helps! Even $5/month for the 11 months! Pray about what you can give. 

Sarah’s team name is Oaks and they got it from Isaiah 61:1-3 which says:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.”

Those incredible words are what they pray this year that they may be used in every way for God’s glory! Will you partner with them?