Category Archives: Church

Day 10: Rest Days (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Image Source: Unsplash

Image Source: Unsplash

All my life, I heard about the importance of a Sabbath rest – a weekly day set aside for rest, but I never regularly experienced this bliss until just over a year ago.

We started going to church on Saturday nights, something I previously thought would feel weird. I was so wrong. It was the complete opposite of weird. It was perfect.

What used to happen was that Saturday was for catching up on all the things that hadn’t been done all week: grocery shopping, house cleaning, errand running, etc. Then, Sunday was spent at church. And then it was Monday, and I was constantly tired. Maybe church is restful for some people. I don’t know. And I’m not suggesting that I didn’t like going to church. But it was a scheduled thing, somewhere you needed to be, and in my case, a place where I still had responsibilities and expectations to meet.

All that shifted for us when we went to a church with a Saturday night service. Saturday mornings, I did the grocery shopping, midday I took care of things around the house, in the evening we went to church. And Sunday? We rested. We played. If we felt like it, we did a project we’d been trying to get to. And by the time Monday rolled around, I was refreshed. I stopped dreading Mondays. Who knew?

We’ve moved now, and we need to find a new church. There seems to be a shortage of Saturday night services in the area. And we’re trying to figure out what to do.

But something is different for me. And the issue isn’t really one of whether Saturday or Sunday services work better. The real issue is that I’ve discovered the bliss of an entire day set aside to rest every single week. And I’m not going back to the way life was before. Whatever day of the week it has to be we’ll have to figure out. But this is the simplest, yet most profound truth I know right now: Rest is everything. It is essential. It’s worth fighting for. It’s worth saying no to things for. It’s worth whatever you have to do to make space for it in your life.

Do yourself a favor, and schedule some regular rest into your week.

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Filed under 31 Days of Simple Truths, Change, Church, Rest

But Who Will Pray for Palestine?

Image Source: CreationSwap

Image Source: CreationSwap

Note: I am taking a slightly different direction today, looking at an international affair. I know it’s not what I normally write in this space, but I invite you to stick with me and linger here today. These words have been burning in me.

The news has been full of the escalating violence between Israel and Hamas. It’s an intensely volatile situation, as most situations in the Middle East usually are.

Calls for prayer, email alerts, memes, profile picture changes, social media activity from high profile spiritual leaders all seem to have a common thread; the dominant Christian response I have seen is “Pray for Israel.” I’m sure there have been other responses, but they are not as visible, at least not in my corner of the world.

I will be clear: with all my heart, I believe in praying for Israel. I believe Scripture instructs us to pray for Israel. There is no question that the existence of this nation is continually threatened, that her enemies make no secret of wishing they could wipe her off the face of the earth. You cannot ignore the significance of such a tiny nation being the constant center of global conflict and concern. Obviously, Israel matters.

But so does Palestine.

Palestine matters because there are people there. People with hearts and souls and dreams and thoughts. People with hopes for their future and aspirations for their children. Some of them are innocent; some of them are not. Some of them have been deceived by Hamas; some of them wish they could be free of Hamas. Some of them have no idea of the global significance of the horror they are facing; they are only concerned with surviving another day.

But they are people. And they matter to God.

I attended Christian school growing up, and I can always remember shaking my head at the irony of student athletes praying for God to help them win their game. As if the other teams at the other Christian schools we were playing against weren’t praying for the same thing. How does God decided whose side to take? And I realize the attacks and violence happening are on a totally different scale, and I realize Israel is God’s chosen nation – but I don’t think that always means what we think it means. I don’t think the sides we begin to draw up and take always represent the way He is seeing the situation.

I am not here to debate theology or politics or global issues. Ultimately I’m less concerned with what I think or anyone else thinks, but I am very concerned with what I know.

And I know with unshakeable certainty that God loves people. All people. His heart breaks over lives taken and lives broken. All lives.

So please – please do pray for Israel. But don’t pray one-sided prayers. Don’t add on, “And help Palestine too” as an afterthought. Pray for Palestine too. Lives are hanging in the balance on all sides – lives that are precious to God. Lives that are worthy of our prayers and our awareness and our voices speaking on their behalf.

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Filed under Church, Prayer

A Fierce Love (Guest Post)

I’m so excited to host my first ever guest on this blog.  Jen Bradbury is a story sister, and her words here are full of truth and depth.  I posed the question, “What is the most important thing you want your kids to know about the love of God?”  Her response touches a particularly special place in my heart as a former youth ministry person myself.

Image Source: CreationSwap.com

Image Source: CreationSwap.com

Recently, a student told me this story:

A Sunday School teacher shows her class a picture of a squirrel and asks “What is this?” A child responds, “Well, it looks like a squirrel but I know the right answer is Jesus. The right answer is always Jesus.”  

 As a youth worker, I fear this story is all too true. We’ve conditioned our church kids to know the right answer is always Jesus; Even when they cannot actually see Jesus.

 In the same way, when we talk of God, we’ve conditioned them to know the right answer is always love.

 When I ask church kids, “What’s God like?” most will say, almost reflexively, “He’s loving.”   

 To some degree, this is good. I want the students with whom I work to know, without a doubt, that God is loving.

 However, my fear is that because this is our conditioned response, most kids don’t really understand what this means; Most kids don’t really know how God’s love differs from the love of others. And because they don’t, I worry that our constant association of God with love actually has actually reduced God into something he is not: A wimp or a doormat who we can trample over.

 For this reason, as a youth worker who’s not yet a parent, there are two things I most want my kids – the students with whom I have the privilege of working – to know about the love of God.

 The first is that the manifestation of God’s love is Jesus. I want my students to know without a doubt that they don’t have to guess what God’s love looks like; It looks like Jesus.

 I also want my kids to know that God’s love is fierce.

 Take, for example, the love of God we see in Jesus’ interaction with the adulterous woman in John 8.

 In this story, love compels Jesus to stand in the gap between this woman and her accusers; To recklessly pursue the unworthy; And to offer this woman unmerited grace. Beyond that, however, the fierceness of God’s love demands the best from this adulterous woman, that she “Go and sin no more.” In the process, it changes her, giving her a new identity.

 So it is with God’s love with us.

 Its fierceness pursues us into the depths of our pain and sorrow, into the places we’d rather it not go; Its fierceness demands our best, not out of fear of punishment but in response to a love so much greater than any we have ever known; It lavishes us with undeserved grace and in the process, it changes us.

 Ultimately, I don’t just want my students to know love is the right answer to questions about God’s character.

 Instead, I want them to have truly experienced God’s love. Beyond that, however, I want my students to have been changed by God’s love so that they, in turn, can radically love and change others.

 Wimpy love will never do that.

 But a fierce love manifested in Jesus will.

 

jen headshotJen Bradbury is a career youth worker with a diverse spiritual heritage that makes her uniquely qualified for youth work. Jen currently serves as the youth director at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, IL and writes for Youth Worker Journal and the Christian Century. She lives in Glen Ellyn, IL with her husband, Doug, and blogs at ymjen.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Church, Love

Healing the Race Wounds

Not too long ago, I was sharing with someone about the church my husband and I were at for 16 years before we moved.  It wasn’t perfect because there is no such thing as the perfect church, but there were some significant areas where this church got it very, very right.

The one I perhaps miss the most is that it was a dazzling kaleidoscope of color, so racially diverse.  And I’m not talking about a church that’s like 80% white with a few token black and Hispanic families thrown in so they can pat themselves on the back about being multiracial.  Not even close.  This was the real deal – a congregation with a strong African-American presence, a strong Hispanic presence, a strong Caucasian presence, plus a smattering of all kinds of other backgrounds and nationalities along the way.

I remember once hearing our pastor there mention how other pastor friends had commented on this characteristic and wondered how on earth we made it work.  And I remember thinking, “Why on earth would it not work?”

The context of this conversation was set against the deep racial wounds being exposed by the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial.  Truthfully, the depth of it all surprised me.  Not because I’m so naive as to think racism no longer exists in this country, but because I forget what a unique thing it is to grow up in an environment where racial differences were secondary to shared faith and purpose, where friendships were forged by what we had in common.  And when challenges did arise, they were navigated in the context of covenant relationships – we were committed to each other no matter what.

I have been blessed with friendships where we could frankly, lovingly and respectfully discuss issues of race – challenge each other or repent to each other when necessary.  We were able to say to each other, “Help me understand.”  We could face the hard things and walk away, not divided, but further unified.

I’ve had parents say to me, “Would it have been easier to go to an all [insert ethnicity or color] church?  Maybe, but I don’t want my kids growing up that way.  They would miss out on so much.”  So they made a deliberate choice to enlarge their boundaries.

This is the world I grew up in.  So yes, I forget that it’s not normal.  I said as much and the response I got was basically, “Yeah, you really need to get in touch with the rest of the world.”  And for a moment, I felt shamed and guilty, like I had done something wrong.

But the more I thought about it, I’ve concluded perhaps it would be more effective if the rest of the world got in touch with the reality I experienced.  We can stand in our monochromatic corners all day and shout, “Racism!” from afar at each other, but in the end, we will accomplish nothing.  There is no law, no trial verdict that can fix this.

The only way barriers come down is when we refuse to be contained by them.  If we actually want to mend this wound, we have to stop coming at each other insisting on being understood and instead lean in towards each other with a desire and willingness to understand.  And we absolutely must leave our all-(choose-your-color) corners of the universe and do life alongside each other.

And yes, I get that this is easier said than done.  It does get bumpy and difficult sometimes.  But it’s worth the effort and the messiness.  We have to stop imparting to our children the messages that “they’re just too different from us” or “they’re out to get us” or “they’ll never understand us” if we ever expect to make progress.  Instead the message needs to be, “There are people who are different from you, and that may be hard sometimes, but you will be wiser and better and richer if you will soak in everything they can teach and show you about the world.”

I’m crazy enough to believe this is possible.  Because I’ve lived it.  One person, one choice at a time, we can see this wound healed.

 

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Filed under Church, Faith, Healing, Pain