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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Harry Potter's Love

I've been spending a lot of time with Harry Potter lately.
If I could live in any fantasy or fictional world, it would be at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as one of Harry's pals. A part of that comes from my hidden childhood desire to attend boarding school.. but add wands and magic and a sport played on broomsticks? I think I would excel there.

I'm currently rereading Harry's sixth adventure: the Half-Blood Prince. If you haven't followed HP's tale, he's the boy who lived. He survived the killing curse as an infant and he is learning now, as a seventeen year old, that it is his responsibility, his fate, to defeat this same villain. In a crucial scene, his headmaster Dumbledore is desperately trying to get Harry to understand that, despite Harry and the villain Voldemort's connections, he has something that Voldemort doesn't have, will never understand, and in the end will be his downfall:
"You have a power that Voldemort has never had.. Yes, Harry, you can LOVE.. You are protected, in short, by your ability to LOVE!"

HP and Voldemort have a bond, a fateful connection, that gives them many similarities. Their minds share thoughts (literally) and they have many of the same gifts. Yet one will save all of the wizarding world and the other is of the most evil. And what sets them apart, the biggest difference, is LOVE. Harry can love. His mother died to save him: her sacrifice has given him protection from evil. Love, which Dumbledore calls 'the most powerful of all magic,' is what separates Harry from his evil counterpart. It sets him apart and it saves him.

And that got my wheels turning.

I want Christianity to stand out: and sometimes I feel like it doesn't. Sometimes I feel like it just blends in with the rest of the world's religions. We sound like all the other followers of all the other beliefs: they're passionate about they believe in too, they're fervent: I wonder how to tell the difference between them and us. How do you keep Christianity from just becoming another idea of where we go when we die? How do we stand out?
I've learned and experienced and been redeemed lately to know there are tremendous differences: but it frustrates me when I feel like I can't articulate it. How do you convince someone that what you passionately believe in is, in the end, way better than what they believe in? What's the difference between us and them? How can I make us stand out?

And what I'm learning the answer is, what it always comes back to, is Jesus Christ.
The Gospel.

His love.

His sacrifice.

No other religion has that.

And that makes the articulation of what sets us apart simpler to overcome. Because that is our difference: He is what makes us stand out. David Chadwick puts it this way: there are only two world religions: DO and DONE. Other religions preach that we've got to do, do, do.. and then do some more.. and there's still a pretty good chance we'll never reach that standard of perfection. But Christianity.. is GRACE. It's what Christ has DONE. David says it's either we do it on our own through our own righteousness OR God does it for you through the Cross. It's your choice.
And that choice comes in accepting Christ as Savior and standing out.

That Love and Grace are what separates us. And that can be easily shared (with the convincing not left up to me, but to the power of Christ): my story of how I've experienced and seen Christ work. The story of how I've made the choice and continue to make it every day.
The story of Christ.

It's as simple as that: Jesus. Just talk about Jesus.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I looked 'rejoice' up in the dictionary and it means "to feel or show great joy or delight." In "Counterfeit Gods," Tim Keller gives this definition: "to rejoice is to treasure a thing, to assess its value to you, to reflect on its beauty and importance until your heart rests in it and tastes the sweetness of it. It's a way of praising God until the heart is sweetened and rested, and until it relaxes its grip on anything else it thinks that it needs."
(Doesn't he just say things so much better?)

I've never been a good rejoicer.
I think it comes with grappling with self-centeredness.
I let things affect me more than they probably should and I'm not a big picture kind of person. I feel things and I don't stop feeling them until I've thought them over. That can take a while. So rejoicing hardly comes as my first response. It's hardly even my second. It's after I've thought through everything and come to some conclusion that I think it's time to rejoice.
But I've felt some freedom in knowing that rejoicing doesn't mean being happy all the time. It's so much more than an emotion.

I just finished "Counterfeit Gods" (I think TK should just sponsor this blog) and like always, he blows me away. He writes about counterfeit gods and idols and reminds readers that they're almost always good things: what a great word that idols can sneak up on you. His answer for dealing with them is to replace them with the Gospel and here's how he says to do that: "Setting the mind and heart on things above.. means appreciating, rejoicing, and resting in what Jesus has done for you."


My sister is currently living in Africa for her second straight year. She's living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is the poorest country in the world. She teaches students at the local university and knows Swahili fluently. It really is just as awesome as it sounds.

She knows what rejoicing is. She's seen it firsthand.

Here's my favorite African story. When my parents went over there with a team to visit my sister and her team, they bought a motorcycle for a man at the university. A motorcycle was his only way of transportation (besides a long trek on foot). His motorcycle had been broken for a while and it was affecting how he got around and, in turn, was affecting how he lived his life. So the team bought him a new one. And my mom tells it that as soon as he saw the motorcycle, his gift, immediately after he saw it, he collapsed to the ground in worship. Head on the ground, weeping, praying, REJOICING. And my mom nails it when she said that he didn't go to the motorcycle first, ride it around, and thank God when he went to bed that night.
He rejoiced. Right away. He rejoiced despite his circumstances.

His first response was praise. He "treasured, assessed its value to him, reflected on its beauty and importance until his heart rested in it and tasted the sweetness of it." And I think the sweetest part of the story is that he treasured and reflected and his heart rested in God.. and not his gift. Not the motorcycle.
Because he rejoiced, because he knew to rejoice, he can loosen his grip on anything else he may think he needs. Like that motorcycle.

TK writes this: "It is when we rejoice over Jesus' sacrificial love for us most fully that we are most truly convicted of our sin."

Did you get that?

It is when we REJOICE over Jesus' sacrificial love for us most fully that we are most truly convicted of our sin.

It's when we stop thinking about ourselves. Stop thinking about what we've done or will do to make up for our sins or to prove our worth. It's when we fix our eyes on Jesus, on His cross, and think about what He's done. What He continues to do.

It's when we stop focusing on the motorcycle and start focusing on Who gave it to us.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


A good friend asked me recently what I was thinking about. "What do you think about on any given day?" he asked.

The real question is what don't I think about.

I think about jobs people have. I think about the impact Robert F. Kennedy's assassination had on our nation. I wonder why traffic lights are red, yellow, and green. I wonder what it's like to live in Africa. I think about prisoners. I think about the Taylor and Kanye saga and what it would be like to be a Kardashian. I think about parenting. I think about books, books, and more books.
I think about my life. The good and bad choices I've made. The people in my life. The ones that were in my life. The ones that could be in my life. What I'm going to do for the rest of my life. If I'm doing enough. My brain is a never-ending cycle of constant incessant thoughts. I'm an analyzer and I'm a thinker. It's a blessing and a curse.

And what often comes with a dangerously running mind.. is a dangerously running mouth. If I don't practice the discipline of taking my thoughts captive, it's harder to take my words captive. The filter of recognizing my choices becomes foggier and foggier. Every thought becomes accepted: starts to be believed: becomes reality. And then I act on it: lie or not.
Because when I don't filter, when I don't cement 2 Corinthians 10:5 into my normalcy, my thoughts develop a superiority. I'll assume I'm right, I'll know I'm right, and I'll tell you I'm right. My thoughts lie to me and tell me I'm in control. And like I said, I'll act on it: lie or not.

The mind is where it all begins.

In Beth Moore's study "Living Free," she calls the mind the primary battlefield. When satan wages war, that's where the battles are. She nails it when she writes: "If our thoughts aren't like God's, we can bet our ways, paths, and routes won't be either."

At Advance, we've been talking about satan and the different ways he lures us: but ultimately how he lost all rights to authority over our lives when Jesus died for us on the cross. Gossip is one of the ways in which satan rejoices and one of the ways in which my thoughts jump start my words: unfortunately negative. It's the game my dangerously running mouth loves to play. But from the stage tonight, words were said that my dangerously running mouth needed to hear:
Just stop talking.
Just shut your mouth.

That's a call to give up control.

It's a call to choose obedience. To recognize humility. To surrender. To memorize Scripture. To remember the transformation by the renewal of our minds.

To bow down to the Cross Jesus died on.

And that's simplicity. That clears my mind.

Frank Turek once described God like this: "Do you want to know who God is? Remove all the limits from your mind. That's God." And that literally BLOWS ME AWAY. If there were no limits to my mind!?

Think about it.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Community Saves.

Have you heard of Mary Winkler?

She shot and killed her husband, who was a pastor, one night in 2006 and made national headlines when she tragically disrupted their seemingly perfect marriage. The picture of her and her sweet little family was plastered on every magazine cover in America. Heard of her?

I'm addicted to stories like this. I once read every book I could find on the JonBenet Ramsey murder and wrote the lead detective every thought I had on the case (yes, he wrote back. Yes, we're friends). I guess I'm most intrigued by the human element: what makes people do the things they do, how they get to where they are, what they were missing that led them to those choices. I would describe it as a passion.

A lot of thoughts ran through my mind while I watched Mary's story on Dateline NBC Friday night. It really was beautiful because there was a lot of forgiveness: her daughters forgave her, her husband's parents forgave her and are a part of her life now: there was a lot of grace shown.
But what my mind keeps coming back to is: community.

No one ever knew the real story of their marriage (no one) and Mary suffered because of it. Her husband died because of it. If there's ever a story about the importance of community, this is it. We can't ever live life alone. Ever. Maybe if Mary had told just one person that her husband was controlling, domineering, mean, physically and verbally abusive, forced her to have sex, that she walked around on eggshells: maybe all of this could have been stopped.

We're forgetting what community means.
We feel alone because that's where we're finding ourselves more and more. We strive so hard to be independent and to not seem needy or selfish that we're forgetting the essential: we're not wired to be alone. We're relational beings. We need each other.

My friend Marri tells the story of a painting she loved (still loves) that hung in the waiting room of her pediatrician's office. It's a painting of ten children of all different diversities holding hands and an array of brightly colored kites. She loves it so much: she describes it with such passion. She says it makes her feel cozy. She says it reminds her of the connection we all need.
She writes: "I wanted to hold hands with ten friends and fly kites. I wanted a spot on the wall where I belonged so that if I ever got lost, the yellow and black and transparent kids would point to the blank spot between their hands and say 'Right here- you belong right here!' And if you asked any person on the street- if you went down to Wall Street and asked the harried stockbrokers or the old people in the nursing homes or the Goth kids with black eyeliner and clicking piercings or the Real Housewives of Atlanta- if you asked them if they would rather do anything in the world or have ten friends to hold hands and fly kites with, I guarantee they'd jump into that painting with me."

Wow. You know she's right. We all want hands to hold. We all need hands to hold.

Meet Kathy.
Kathy was one of Mary's only friends. She attended Mary's husband's former church, but was never really friends with the soft spoken Mary. After the arrest, though, she visited Mary frequently in prison and the two became good friends. Kathy even offered to let Mary live at her house while she waited for her trial to start.

That's love winning. In the battlefield of our sin nature and the Spirit, that's choosing the Spirit to win. That's Kathy imitating Christ.
She's building Mary a community. She holding her hands out and giving Mary a kite to hold. She's telling Mary she belongs.

Kathy teaches me that when I become angry and bitter and impatient and resentful of the choices the people in my life make: who are the Marys in my life who could just use a little community of grace? Someone who doesn't need to be shunned for their mistakes or ignored to get a point across: but who can just imitate me as I imitate Christ?

God gave us community to remind us of who we are. Of where we belong. Of Who we belong to. Marri says too that we can spend our whole lives chasing that cozy feeling she gets when she looks at that painting. And she's right: that can be a desperate fruitless chase.. if we don't know where to find it.

We find it in the cross Jesus died on, in His resurrection, in His promise of new life.

"This is why God gave us community: because when we are left to ourselves, pride and self-consciousness set in at dark extremes, and we need community to shed light on them, to burn off the fog of seclusion. To remind us that we are neither better nor worse than everyone else."

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Transformation Baptism

I got baptized yesterday!!

By two of my favorite people and in front of my family and friends, I took the plunge.
And after a conversation with my friend Heidi later on yesterday, I started thinking about my story and what led me to that baptismal pool and what it all meant. She described her own baptism as "a fresh start" and I thought that was a lovely and refreshing way to describe it.

I've been reading Tim Keller lately and it's been a little like having my life turned upside down.

He continuously points back to the Gospel. Everything leads back to what Jesus did. The Gospel is the only way we grow. Reading Keller has been an incredible reminder of what I so often missed before and how far I've come.

In "Prodigal God," Keller digs deeper in the story of the prodigal son. He compares and contrasts the two brothers and shows how incorrectly they both lived: following the desires of your heart, like the younger brother, or doing your moral duty out of obligation, like the elder brother. Finding the balance between the two is finding Jesus.
"We will never stop being younger brothers or elder brothers until we acknowledge our need, rest by faith, and gaze in wonder at the work of our true elder brother, Jesus Christ."

He also says this: ""The choice before us seems to be to either turn from God or pursue the desires of our hearts, or repress desire and do our moral duty. But the sacrificial, costly love of Jesus on the cross changes that. When we see the beauty of what he has done for us, it attracts our hearts to him."

The whole time, in my 23 years, I missed that beauty. I missed that attraction. I learned about it for so long, it never clicked about what it all meant. I was an ultimate elder brother: I did everything I was supposed to do. I've gone to the same church my whole life. I learned the right things, sang the right songs, I was good. I believed in everything Jesus did and said and who God was: oh yes I did! God was automatic: my answer when things seemed confusing, when I felt guilty, when I felt like it had been too long since I remembered Him. I thanked Him for my day, for the food I ate, for the game my softball team won: yes, I believed.

But what I was missing was the hunger. The thirst. The Gospel. Jesus.

About six months ago, some friends and I started a discipleship booklet that went through the Christian faith in depth. And I remembered having the worsttt attitude about it: I already knew everything, thank you very much (hahaha). But that booklet changed my life!! Those friends changed my life!!
Because it hit me then: that's what Christ did!? And He knew that we would just keep sinning day in and day out but He did it anyway? That's what grace is!? How do I ever pay Him back!?

And the eye-opening started and I began feeling things I never felt before. And my transformation was underway.

Francis Chan said that once you've decided to follow Jesus, all hell is going to break loose. You didn't have an enemy before. And he's right: my life feels harder now. There are more challenges, I feel the weight of more things, I think about things that actually matter now. And I've never been happier. I've learned so much! My life has purpose now, has meaning, I've decided to live for Someone other than myself. It's just way, 100 times, better.

So that's kind of where I am. And kind of where this blog is. Me singing my new song. I'm knee deep in this journey, in this rediscovering, in realizing how much worse I am than I thought, how I saved I am, what Titus 3:3-7 really means. I'm imperfect and I'm humbled and I feel free: and that's proving to be way better than acting like I had it all together.
My baptism yesterday was my statement: my outward sign that it's a process and I've got a long way, but I've started. It was my public proclamation of who Jesus is and how desperate I am for Him.
Thanks for helping me celebrate my transformation!!