More Than A Party Line: A Love That’s Real

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“Do you love soccer?” she asked leaning towards me. “The only way you will be good at soccer is if you love it!” She looked at me waiting for an answer.

I mumbled, “Yeah. I love it.” Obviously disappointed with my lackluster response, she got up and repeated her spiel to more enthusiastic members of our soccer team. To be fair to myself, I had only been on the girls college soccer team for a few days, and I had only played intramural soccer before this. I really hadn’t played soccer long enough, or well enough, to say I loved it.

However, this isn’t the whole story with me. If I’m honest with myself, I struggle to “love” things like others do. I don’t care much for sports, or stores, or celebrities, or specific groups of thought. Whenever I’m interested in something, I will always try to learn what I can. But a few steps before I enter the inner circle of devotees, something inside of me asks, “Does this really even matter?”

That is the question that ends it all for me. Do sports have very valuable and helpful attributes for individuals and society? Yes, I completely agree. Does it really matter though in the overall picture of the world and time and meaning? Well, no.

This same line of reasoning applies to just about everything I’ve ever been interested in from English literature to essential oils.  I can only go in so far before I have to admit to myself that what I’m doing is only valuable in a superficial way. This is a real buzz killer. 

The closest I’ve ever been to accepting the party line is with my faith in Christ. To me, the question of “does this even matter” is answered with a resounding yes!  However, when I became a believer in college, I had no idea that in the Christian world, there are many party lines. There is the Calvinist party line, the retreat from the world party line, the inclusive party line, the theologically accurate at all costs party line, the charismatic party line, the environmentally friendly party line and the list goes on. I’ve tried various hats on along the way–wildly enthusiastic for a while until a door is cracked open into another Christian paradigm and then I question everything.

This plethora of viewpoints, within the greater vision of faith, is overwhelming and oftentimes discouraging because each group believes unequivocally that they are correct. There is no room for error. Much like the polarizing debates of politics unfolding in our country, the arguments over needle-fine points of theology are weaponized.

My own experience within the various Christian groups is that sometimes underneath the veneer of righteous indignation one can find a cesspit of pride and self-worship.  A perusal of a Twitter feed should prove that point. Since pride and self-worship are anathemas to the true worship of God, we must ask ourselves what we love more–our opinion or our God?

This has led me to crazy conclusion that it’s ok if I am wrong about lots of stuff. My political leanings could be wrong. My understanding of the trinity is most likely weak. My belief about the best kinds of worship music is tainted by my own desires. It isn’t until I admit that I could be wrong or, at least, acting on my thinking in a wrong way, that I can be teachable.

We Christians are afraid of being teachable. We are so scared of falling off the theological train to heaven that we forget that theology doesn’t save us. In fact, theology’s only purpose is to introduce us to the Savior, whose job it is to do the work of salvation. Great doctrine will not save us–only Jesus can. I take comfort in this.

In addition, learning from people who are different from us doesn’t put us in danger of compromising our faith. It may cause us to question some things and even reject points, but we shouldn’t fear different viewpoints. I am friends with believers who hold wildly varying beliefs: those who oppose female leadership, those who are female pastors, those sympathetic to the plight of immigrants, those in opposition to immigrants, those who are angry at the LGBTQ agenda, and those who embrace them. 

I do know though that the Jesus I see in the Gospels is often surprising. He values things that are different. Rather than preferring theological astuteness, he encourages persistent, unabashed, humble faith. He turned conventional teachings on their heads–focusing on the inward gauge of spirituality rather than the outward discipline. He tells stories of surprising heroes, a God zealous for reconnection, and a cost of discipleship that goes deeper than religious acts.

In my Christian faith, I do not need to follow a party line. I need to follow Jesus. This is exciting because he is exciting. He shows up in random places, reveals things I never would have seen if I stayed safe in my theological bubble. He challenges me, never letting me get away with the Sunday school answer.  He digs, however painfully, until we get to the marrow and then He does his amazing, transforming work of changing my heart and not just my mind.

Now this is something, someone, I can follow.  I can throw my whole lot in and answer without reservation–I love Jesus. He truly is worthy of our love and worship. Let’s rediscover him, not in books written about Him but from his own words. Open up the gospels, observe this strange man who seemed to move to a different cadence than the rest. Listen to his words, sit as His feet, and see what He has to say to you too. You may find then that the clamorings of opinions that before seemed so convincing and right, no longer mean as much as they used to. Instead, maybe we can be so trained to the shepherd’s voice that His will be the one that matters most.

Not So Toxic Masculinity–Men, We Need Your Strength

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I explained it to my husband like this: when I am walking down a narrow street and a man calls out to me, I am instantly afraid. He may have no ulterior motives except to compliment me, but I don’t know him. I only know that we are alone, and he is stronger than me, making me vulnerable. I don’t intend to judge every man I meet as a possible attacker, but I am foolish not to think there is a possibility. Every woman can attest to that undercurrent of fear.

That being said, I also believe that most men coming upon a woman being attacked would use that same strength to protect her from harm. I have seen it happen many times. My own husband has stepped up many times to protect those who are weaker and, for that, I am very grateful.

Using Strength to Help

I remember one strange scenario where he was driving down the road and a woman fell out of a car as it turned the corner. My husband got out of the car to see what was happening. The woman lay unconscious on the ground. The male driver got out and started dragging her back to the vehicle. Many times he dropped her, so that her head hit the ground. My husband was furious and got between the man and the woman, keeping the man from reaching her again. He warned the man that he would hurt him if he tried to touch her again. He then waited until the police showed up.

I am proud of him for doing that. I am proud of every man who uses his strength to protect another from harm. This is the kind of masculinity that we appreciate. While we might want our men to curb any acts of aggression believing it leads to toxic masculinity, I disagree. I want my husband to aggressively defend me and my three children.  I need him too.

Faith Moore in an interesting article called “The Prince Is a Letdown: Why Women Love Monsters (And What that Says About Masculinity)” explains that women are drawn to the monsters in stories–the beast in Beauty and the Beast, Edward Cullen in Twilight, and the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera.

But, of course, men who behaved in real life like the way these monsters do in their stories would not be the kind of men we’d want to associate with…But the stories deal with that too. The moment that Belle begins to fall in love with the Beast is the moment in which he uses that brute force and rage to protect her. Edward’s appeal lies largely in his struggle to keep his monstrous urges at bay for the sake of his love for Bella. When the Phantom murders Piangi we know, in our hearts, that Christine can never be with him because he’s shown he can’t channel his urges for good….It’s the way the monsters channel and control their overwhelming urges in response to the love they feel for their partners that really seals the deal for us.

Whether most women would admit it or not, there is an attraction to strength. However, it isn’t the presence of it that is so appealing–it’s the control of it. Why is the image of a strong, muscled man holding a baby so beautiful? It is the perfect image of strength under control–for the sake of love.

Read the rest here.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

Worshipping with Ordinary Lives

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As a college student, I wanted to emulate the great heroes of faith whose stories I treasured–Hudson Taylor, William Carey, Amy Carmichael, Keith Green, D.L. Moody. In honor of them and seeking my own story of faith, I took opportunities to serve in China, Papua New Guinea, and Bolivia. In each location, however, I was surprised to find, not a life of adventure and purpose, but a life of mundane tasks made more difficult.

Every day I still had to eat, and, over there, this process was often complicated by non-potable water and unusual cooking appliances. I had to share space with others who made messes that I was used to having cleaned by a gracious father. My story of faith was more a battle of my flesh. Also, opportunities to be a witness were not as often or meaningful as I hoped.  The pressure to do something amazing for God sat like a mocking parrot, reminding me that time was running out.

A Change of Plans

When I got married to a man also passionate about missions, I imagined a future of serving amongst tribal people. However, though he loved traveling and sharing the gospel with those of different cultures, he did not feel called to be a missionary–at least not yet. I was content to bide my time. We went to seminary, and I got pregnant. For several years, children were my passion and my sole mission. Initially, I did not begrudge the daily, menial tasks included in taking care of them. However, years have gone by, and now I feel time is slipping away, yet I am still doing the tasks of life.

I pack school lunches.

I prepare meals and wash dishes.

I do the daily maintenance of my body–brushing teeth, bathing, etc.

I grade assignments and talk and encourage students.

I make beds and tidy things a million times.

I pick kids up from school, manage their technology time, and help them with homework.

Every day, I do these tasks and more.  And still looming over my head is this condemning voice--what is your life about? What great things will you do for God?

I am no longer sure that this is the point anymore. Maybe God is more interested in who I am than what I do for Him. Because of this, He humbles me with routine and physical activities knowing my pride disdains them. Instead of a ministry adventure of tribal missions, I am a mother, a teacher, and a writer with no more acclaim than the millions of believers before me who lived with quiet faithfulness.  

I cannot do great things for God, but He is doing something great in me. He is transforming me in quiet, small ways that no one else can observe but that I feel so deeply. My job is just to cooperate.

The Words I Wished I Said

I used to teach at a wonderful Christian school.  One day, we had a chapel service where students were encouraged to come up and share from their hearts. One student bravely shared his struggles which started a string of students confessing sins.  They wanted to be changed people–those who sought God with all their hearts and did great things for Him. Many were thrilled as they listened to these kids make promises of life change, but the longer I sat there the more weight I felt upon me. I knew I should stand and say something, but I felt odd as the teacher. I regret to this day that I did not speak.  If I did, I would have said this:

Our goal as believers is to be like Jesus. What did Jesus do? He simply did God’s will. In John 5, Jesus tells us that He only does what He sees the Father doing. Sometimes, Jesus did some weird stuff. He slept during storms. He made mud to heal one man but with others spoke a word. He offended the religious leaders with his apparent lack of deference to God’s law. If we want to be like Jesus, we must not try to fix ourselves. We must not make great plans. Instead, we need to watch Jesus. We need to know Him and the evidence of His presence, so we can follow.

I wish I had said these words to these young men and women. I wish I had said them to myself.

We want big, showy lives, but maybe we can find our simple lives amazing. Instead of thinking that only tasks that are spiritual are pleasing to him, we can worship him as we live these physical lives filled with physical tasks. I can honor him as I work and clean and sit quietly before Him. We can let him shape us and form us and use us as He plans, not as we dream.

Tish Harrison Warren notes in her article “Courage in the Ordinary” a similar idea:

But I’ve come to the point where I’m not sure anymore just what God counts as radical. And I suspect that for me, getting up and doing the dishes when I’m short on sleep and patience is far more costly and necessitates more of a revolution in my heart than some of the more outwardly risky ways I’ve lived in the past. And so this is what I need now: the courage to face an ordinary day — an afternoon with a colicky baby where I’m probably going to snap at my two-year old and get annoyed with my noisy neighbor — without despair, the bravery it takes to believe that a small life is still a meaningful life, and the grace to know that even when I’ve done nothing that is powerful or bold or even interesting that the Lord notices me and is fond of me and that that is enough.

A Deeper Fire

The flame of my youthful faith was bright and showy, but it was not that effective. Instead, the slow, hot burn of my faith over the years—through the drudgery and difficulties—is the kind of faith that resists the dampening effect of rain and stormy winds. This faith keeps on smoldering no matter how impossible it may seem. It does not look impressive, but this kind of fire transforms from the inside out.

There is freedom in allowing God to shape our destinies, to wait and see what He is doing. We can worship Him with our ordinary lives trusting that something beautiful, outside of our vision and understanding, is occurring within in us and around us.

Photo by Peter Conlan on Unsplash

Mysterious Gospel

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Have you ever wondered why there is such a thing as day and night? We could have had perpetual daytime if God so pleased. Instead, He decided that (even before the Fall) times of sight and times of hiddenness were necessary. Perhaps part of it was to ensure we would take the rest we all so need and rarely take. It could also have been a reminder of our general neediness–the fact that without light, we are blind and helpless, plagued by fears.

I like to think there is one other possible reason–to remind us that there is much that is hidden from us.  In fact, the greatest works of God are often the ones impossible to see. A great example is conception. Life could have been created in many different ways. We could have laid eggs like the amphibians and fish. Instead, “you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…my frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139: 13, 15 ESV). The greatest physical miracle on earth happens in secret, only the recent ultrasound breaking into this world. And, even at the beginning of a pregnancy, there isn’t much to proclaim to the world what amazing works are taking place within.  

The Hidden Kingdom


Jesus spoke of hidden things in his parables concerning the kingdom of God. There are two in Matthew 13 which address this–“The Parable of the Hidden Treasure” and “The Parable of the Pearl of Great Value” (vs 44-45 ESV): “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all he had and bought it.”

In both situations, the kingdom is something hidden that is found and deemed to be the most valuable thing they have ever encountered, worthy of selling all they have in order to gain it. This is not a treasure out in the open to be admired and that brings fame and recognition. Instead, it is something kept from sight.  This hiddenness though does not diminish its value.

This is not the only place where Jesus compares the kingdom to something unexpected.  He also speaks of tiny mustard seeds that burst from the ground to become towering trees and places of refuge for birds and of the diminutive leaven that is worked throughout the whole dough. In both, the kingdom is something small, hidden even, that changes the environment in a dramatic way.

A Mysterious Union


Paul also discusses the mystery of the Gospel. He uses the Greek word mysterion meaning “what can only be known through revelation” (https://biblehub.com/str/greek/3466.htm). He uses this term in reference to the Gospel multiple times in the New Testament (Colossians, Ephesians, 1 Corinthians, and Romans).

In Ephesians 5, Paul discusses the marriage relationship and states, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31-32 ESV italics mine).  There are many interpretations of this particular passage. He speaks in this passage about the roles of husband and wife, but earlier in the book, he uses the word mystery to describe the Gospel. It is possible he is comparing the hidden intimacy and union of man and wife with the mystery of God’s union with humankind.

That reference is challenging for us though because our culture no longer sees the union between a man and woman as something mysterious. Movies display this act with detail and realism.  Though this is meant to be something private, we have all become voyeurs. Even with all this exposure though, we must admit to ourselves that the act of sex is still a mystery to us because the results continue to surprise us. We are realizing that there is something profound going on, helping us to begin to understand why the hookup culture brings depression and sexual abuse brings such pain. When a man and woman come together, something occurs that is bigger than they are individually. In some way we cannot fathom, this is also a picture of the work God does in the hearts of those who have chosen a relationship with Him.

A Mystery Unfolding

God has graciously invited us into the mystery of the Gospel relationship. Hannah Anderson in her book Humble Roots explains it this way:

We want to walk into our local grocery store any time of the day, any day of the week, and pick up a red tomato. We want the certainty of knowing that a tomato is always within reach. In much the same way, we want the certainty of knowing that the answers to life’s questions are always within reach. When a problem or choice presents itself, we don’t want go through the growing process; we want an answer immediately. So just like we’re content with mealy, prepackaged tomatoes because they’re easy and readily available, we’re also content with mealy, prepackaged answers because they’re easy and readily available. But humility teaches us a better way. Humility teaches us to wait for God for answers. Humility teaches us to let knowledge ripen on the vine.


God does things in His own time, revealing and keeping hidden what He chooses. Even Jesus Himself acknowledged that He did not know the day and hour of the second coming.  He did, however, trust the one who does know. There is much more hidden from our finite minds about the world and how God is working within it. We should grasp with delight and reverence what has been revealed but also admit that there is so very much that we don’t know. Moses spoke beautifully when he said, “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever…” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

We are so very fortunate to be living in a time of revelation that even angels desired to see. Our job now is to share this revelation but to do it with such humility, realizing that we can only see dimly on this side. I look forward to a day when we will see fully, eyes no longer veiled to the truth of who God is. For now, I will cherish every glimmer I see, knowing that I will never exhaust the boundlessness of who He is or what He has done for me. For this reason,  I am filled with wonder and gratitude.

Photo by Hans Veth on Unsplash

The Dignity of Suffering

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For the most part, if we were to gaze upon the annals of historical achievement, weaknesses and examples of suffering were discussed only in terms of the vanquished foe. Except perhaps in communist movements, there have not been many times when people bragged about their suffering.

That isn’t the case today.  In fact, one way to gain street cred is by having a horror story of a home life. This is seen in the media, but it has trickled down even to elementary schools. My daughter states that compared to everyone else, her life is boring. She isn’t being raised by her grandparents. Her parents are married and neither of us are drug addicts or mentally ill. She is loved and taken care of but not spoiled. In her world, this means she has no street cred–she is on the outside looking in.

I find it weird since I experienced the opposite problem as a kid. My parents were divorced, I spent time in foster care when my mother was institutionalized for being mentally ill, and I lived with my grandparents for a time until my Dad was able to take care of us. During my childhood, my experiences put me on the outside looking in.  

It’s a strange thing what suffering has become. Ironically, if we are honest, we know that suffering in itself has no redeeming features, except to dig down to the roots of a person. Suffering can only reveal our character–to do the work of refining requires the person’s participation.

Suffering Differently

Viktor Frankl wrote a lot about this in Man’s Search for Meaning which he completed after spending years in concentration camps during the Holocaust. As a clinical psychologist, he noted the reactions to the horrible and intense suffering of those around him. He saw people make choices that were totally normal in the circumstances in order to survive at any cost. There were some, though, that chose to respond in a strange way–instead of focusing on surviving, these few still lived. They noticed the sunsets. They were not afraid to cry.  In these places, where they had no control over any area of their daily lives, they made a choice.

Frankl notes, “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

He discusses that it takes courage to suffer–to not just numb yourself to life and your surroundings. This is the battle we all face, too, with our varying degrees of suffering. We all choose our method for coping from seemingly innocuous things like sleep and watching TV to the dangers of drugs and drunkenness. In our own way, we are all running away, rather than facing our pain with courage.

Frankl says instead of numbing ourselves, we need to ask ourselves the hard questions:

It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

It is in this moment that we who have suffered much or suffered little are no longer victims. He spoke these same words to his fellow prisoners in the concentration camps.  These very words inspired them and gave them back control over their lives. Suffering had been dealt to them–the question was now what they would do with it. They were empowered to stand with dignity and suffer courageously without backing down.

These are the true heroes of the world, and we must look to them to learn how to suffer. And learn we must because, like it or not, there is no avoiding the suffering of this world.

All Life Includes Suffering

M. Scott Peck in his book The Road Less Traveled explains:

Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

We spend a great deal of time and energy trying to convince ourselves that life isn’t or shouldn’t be difficult. We peruse Instagram and Facebook and are convinced we are the only ones who aren’t living the dream life. We fear that we are missing out. This lie is the one tempts me to walk away from social media. We are not okay. We all hurt. We all struggle.

We Must Choose

We must decide what we are going to do with this strange life we have been given. God does not make promises of ease, only of His presence.  It is His presence that gives us the courage to suffer with dignity and hope. Because He lives, I know I can face tomorrow, the chorus goes.

It’s not just for us. As parents, we have a job to help our kids learn how to suffer. This doesn’t mean of course that we intentionally harm them.  Life is hard enough–none of us is smart enough, good-looking enough, or strong enough. We must help them learn not to numb the pain, but to stand like Job did and be questioned. We need to empower them to cry and hurt and still get up with confidence. This is the gift of suffering in dignity.

It’s not about comparing hurts like our culture wants to do. Instead, it’s about deciding how we will respond to the hurts that come no matter who we are. Choosing to be brave helps us model the Proverbs 31 woman who “ is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future” Proverbs 31:25 NLT). Once we see that suffering has dignity, we won’t fear it anymore.

Photo by Jonathan Rados on Unsplash