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Friday, October 10, 2014

Do you know what the Bible says about same-sex relationships?

My state is balancing on the edge of legalizing gay marriage this week. I thought for sure it would happen yesterday, honestly.

I've been really struggling with what the Bible says about gay marriage for the past year or so; really wrestling with the Bible, reading commentaries, books, articles on all sides of the issue. I have not taken this lightly, I promise. And I have prayed. For wisdom, for clarity, I prayed particularly hard that I would not only see what I wanted to see. I wanted to know, really know what the Bible says (not just accept what we've traditionally believed the Bible says).

And so I thought I'd share some thoughts from my journey with y'all, as we stand on the brink of history in NC.

The first thing I realized is that we need to separate being gay from acting on same-sex desires. Our best research has concluded that being gay is just who you are. Most gay folks tell us the same (I'd assume they are the best experts). Just talk to the countless gay Christians who went through "Reparative therapy" to try to change their orientation. It didn't work. They begged God to change them and it did not happen.  It is not changeable. Being gay is not a sin. Just as I did not choose my opposite-sex attraction, my gay brothers & sisters did not choose their same-sex attraction. We are the way we are.  So it's pretty important if you want to love gay people to acknowledge that gay people are not sinful for their sexual orientation. Who they are at their core, is not unacceptable, not an abomination.

So please stand with me there, Christians. No matter how you feel about gay marriage. Let's please not condemn others for the way God made them. We have zero evidence that people can change their innermost desires, even when they really really want to. And when the Church has (sometimes lovingly, sometimes not-so-much) tried to encourage gay people to change their orientation, the "fruit"of those endeavors has been depression, turning away from the Church, drug use, suicide. Good things don't bear bad fruit. If telling a gay person that they are sinful or evil at their very core pushes them to turn towards those things instead of granting them peace and hope in Jesus, we have done the wrong thing.

Can I tell y'all something? I believe what the Bible says is true. I really do. But I think we humans are prone to error. I think we sometimes interpret the Bible incorrectly. We have certainly gotten it very wrong in our history. We used to think it condoned slavery. We used to think it condoned spousal abuse/dominance. We used to think it told us the Sun and all the planets revolved around the Earth.  But as we have gained more knowledge and leaned more heavily on God to help us know him more, we have changed our standards on all of those things. And every time we've changed our widely accepted ideas of what the Bible says it's been a BIG DEAL. Lots of struggling, disagreement, desperate prayer.  It is okay for that to be a big deal. None of us are going to interpret the Bible exactly correctly every time.  We have to do the best we can, with humility, and be ready to acknowledge when we've gotten something wrong. Then regroup and try to do better.

So today I ask the Church to consider a big job: to look at the Bible again. REALLY look at it. Look at the original language, look at it through cultural lenses (huge pet-peeve of mine: to interpret the Bible for today's culture without taking into account the culture in which it was written). Because one way I trust an interpretation of the Bible is to see if it actually can be true across time, across cultures, across socio-economic lines. If it can't be true for everyone, we must not have interpreted it correctly. Because God was pretty clear that his message is for EVERYONE.

I'm not asking Christians to accept same-sex relationships today. I'm asking you to take a fresh look. Read commentaries, books, articles on BOTH sides of the issue. Read books you think you'll agree with and then read some that you know you won't.  Pray about it. Pray that our hearts will be open to the PEOPLE who are gay. Because they are people who are dearly loved by God. Jesus would have come and died for each and every one of them, even if the rest of us were never called into existence. They are beloved. And they've been mistreated as a whole by the Church at large. I think this issue is important enough to merit this kind of attention and study. Because how it's being handled right now is causing pain on all sides. Let's be open and loving. Let's talk to our gay neighbors and friends and say, "let's figure this out together because I know we aren't supposed to be enemies." You cannot speak truth into someone's life until they know how much you love them. I cannot tell someone how much Jesus loves them if they don't know how much I love and respect them first.

It is time to look at original language, to look at the culture in which different parts of the Bible were written. It is time to learn and listen with fresh eyes and open hearts. The Bible is our message from our Creator. It can hold up to scrutiny. And the more I read the Bible, the more it makes me wrestle with tough issues and then I doubt. But then the more I lean on God for answers, the stronger my faith becomes. I can stand firm in my faith when I've really wrestled with it, when I've doubted and read and prayed over things that bother me.

I have a feeling we may come to different conclusions after doing such research. I think it's interesting when that happens. That's how we have differences between denominations. I wonder if, when the Church as a whole isn't provided absolute clarity and unity on something if that means it's not supposed to be a major issue.  Could it be that there is room for churches who love gay people and acknowledge they are acceptable to God for who they are yet still believe God does not affirm same-sex relationships and walk with their gay church-members on a journey to live a life of celibacy AND for churches who openly affirm gay marriage as Biblical and walk with gay members as they live a life with a partner? And then, if someone is gay, he or she can lean on God to find which church is best for him/her? Some gay people have wrestled with the Bible and come out believing God would not bless a same-sex relationship. Some have wrestled with the Bible and come away believing that he would. Given that this is not a particular issue I struggle with, I do not feel that I should be the one to tell them which one is right but I would always extend the hand of friendship to figure it out together. The Church already disagrees on so many other issues that are not central to the gospel. Whether you love a man or a woman has nothing to do with Jesus dying on the cross. It is not central to the gospel.

Right now, the Church as a whole doesn't have clarity.  For me, when I'm unclear on something, I just go back to what I am clear on: I am to make disciples (that means relationships with others that bring them closer to God), to love, to fight oppression and injustice, to love the unlovable, to put myself last and others first so that they may feel the love of Christ.

May we hold that dear as gay marriage becomes legal in NC.


Are you in? Are you ready to wrestle with the Bible and learn more? Here's a good place to start:

First, learn about "Side A" (God does affirm same-sex relationships) and "Side B" (God does not affirm same-sex relationships). Read The Great Debate (links to essays on each PLUS a link to an interview with Tony and Peggy Campolo on how Christians from both "sides" can stand united)

Read "Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs Christians Debate" by Justin Lee (this book in the end affirms same-sex relationships but is written with grace and respect for those who believe the Bible does not affirm). It's kind of a Side A and Side B with more Side A leanings kind of book. :)

Read this Q&A with a gay Christian who has chosen celibacy rather than acting on same-sex attraction (Side B): http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/ask-a-celibate-gay-christian-response-2

Read: "God and the Gay Christian" by Matthew Vines. This book presents a look at Scripture as God-breathed and true AND supportive of same-sex relationships. "Side A"

Read "Washed and Waiting" by Wesley Hill. This is a "Side B" book written by a celibate, gay Christian.

And PRAY. Pray for wisdom and clarity, for understanding for those who have also dug deep and researched and have come out with different ideas.  Pray for unity for the Church on this issue (unity doesn't always mean agreement). Pray for blessings upon our gay friends, pray that the God of peace would make himself overwhelmingly felt right now, pray that our actions would inspire others to run to Jesus.

Friday, October 3, 2014

If:Greensboro



If God is who he says he his, then what? What do we do? How do we live out a life of faith? And how can we, as women, allow God to use us?

Y'all, God does big stuff. He just does. And he could just do it himself but for reasons beyond my wildest imagination, he uses us. He allows us to be part of his plans. Those giant, God-sized plans? We could be part of them. That's amazing. I, for one, do not want to miss out.

And I have seen how God works through women. I'm excited to be living in a time when the Church is acknowledging more and more that women are valuable to the Kingdom of God, that women are (and always have been) used by God to bring peace, to love others, to restore justice. We are not secondary players.

Last year I had the absolute honor of leading a small group of women to do an If:Local Gathering. Along with more than 44,000 women we joined (via webcast) the If:Gathering in Austin, Texas. We listened to women like Jen Hatmaker and Ann Voskamp, authors who inspired and encouraged us. We heard from Christine Cane and Annie Lobert who work tirelessly because of their love for Jesus to bring women and children out of the modern-day sex trade. We heard from women who identified themselves as conservative and from those who identify as progressive, all calling us to put down our measuring sticks and focus on how we can join together.  Most importantly, we spent time together being honest and vulnerable, struggling with how we felt God calling us to be bold. We laid down our differences and realized that our small group of women could do some amazingly big things together.

No wonder I can't wait to host If:Greensboro this year!

Our plan this year is to rent a house (or two) on Ocean Isle, NC. To get away for the weekend, away from distractions and worries and responsibilities, to focus on how we want to live as women of faith.  It is going to be an incredible weekend of gathering together, for women from different churches and backgrounds, to worship and learn, and be encouraged to run boldly after God.

In order for me to ensure we have enough room for all of us, please register by October 31st. Once I know how many women we'll have, I'll book us a place. I'm working hard to keep it right around $100 per person for lodging.

Registration is here: https://ifgathering.com/gatherings/5113/

Click for some more info on the If:Gathering



Monday, September 29, 2014

Everything happens for a reason...



Except I don't believe that. I really don't. It sounds nice and I think those are supposed to be words of comfort. And maybe if I gain all God's wisdom after I die, I'll look back and understand all the reasons for things. But right now, I don't actually think everything happens for a reason.

At least not a good one.

I have folks around me suffering.  People I know and love are fighting cancer and disease, losing children, being abused, starving to death, falling into the disease of addiction. I lost my dad to a couple of those things just a few short months ago.

The only reason I can come up with for that is that this world is broken.

But don't get me wrong. I believe God can use all things for good. And that's why I have hope in the midst of this messed up, wrong world.  I don't believe God's will is for mothers to lose babies, for women to be raped, for children to be abandoned, for the disease of addiction to tear families apart. But he calls us to love - to love the mothers who have lost children and to grieve with them; to fight for the oppressed and help abused women regain their sense of value, to be families for children who need them, to extend a hand to the addict to help them to recovery. To be the hands and feet of Jesus.

I think our calling to be peace-makers and justice-fighters and care-givers doesn't provide the reason why things happen. It just tells us what to do in the face of such brokenness.

So while I don't believe everything happens for a reason I do have hope. I have hope that when things go awry in my life I know the One who can bring peace. I have hope that when I visit starving families in Swaziland that they can know the One who brings them joy.  I don't serve because I think I can fix all the problems. I do it because one day there will be no hunger, no despair, no fear, no sickness. Every time I feed someone who is hungry or grieve with someone who is suffering I proclaim the day when that will no longer happen, when God returns and everything is restored.

Maybe everything doesn't happen for a reason, but I can be a reason there's a little less suffering in this world. And right now, that's enough for me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

God's Not Dead and Why We Need to Stop Defending the Gospel

In the very beginning of God's Not Dead, Josh Wheaton says, "I feel like God wants someone to defend him." For me, this was the moment in which the movie started to go awry.

Christians, we do not need to defend the Gospel. We do not need to defend God. God is GOD. He is all-powerful, all-sovereign, the Alpha and the Omega. Jesus defeated death and rose from the grave. He does not need a 17 year-old college freshman to defend him. Or a 35 year-old mostly stay-at-home mom either (did I say 35? I'm sorry, I meant 29). Honestly, y'all, I'm not worried about that Kingdom falling down out of the sky.

In all seriousness, here's exactly why we shouldn't defend the gospel: Because when I do that, I take my precious gospel, my good news, my hope and I ball it up and stick it behind my back. And then I turn and face anyone who doesn't value it like I do with my fists raised, ready to fight. I have just laid the lines clearly for "us" vs "them."  I plant myself firmly between "them" and God, barring their way. And in the process label "them" (anyone who is not a Christian) as the enemy.

I cannot simultaneously defend the gospel and share it. It ceases to be "Good News" when I have drawn lines in the sand AGAINST others.  I cannot defend God AGAINST someone and at the same time send them the message that God is FOR them. It is impossible.

But what about what the Bible says. Doesn't the Bible tell us to defend?

"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil." 1 Peter 3:14-17 (ESV)

Look closely - it says be prepared to "make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." That means that if someone asks me why I live my life the way I do, I make no secret that I am who I am and I live how I live because Jesus has filled me so full of love that it can't help but spill over. I cannot help but be worried about the poor, fight for the oppressed, visit the imprisoned, and love the neglected because Jesus has made my heart like his. I can't help but love my neighbors, I want to be the best friend I can be because I know that's the best way for me to love others like Jesus.  And in order for anyone to have cause to ask me, I need to be living my life in relationship with other people. I can't have only Christians in my circle. I must be living a life so full of hope that someone notices and pauses to ask me why. It doesn't say I should start an argument, nor does it say that I should "fight fire with fire."

And did you notice? When I tell them about my hope, I am to do it with gentleness and respect.

I feel like God's Not Dead missed a beautiful opportunity. It could have been a movie that opened up lines of discussion, that sent a message to the masses that God is FOR you, that tore down the lines of "us vs them." But instead it built them up. Instead, it sent a message to anyone who doesn't identify as Christian that Christians don't think very highly of them.  Think about it - every single nonbeliever in this movie was not just someone who didn't love Jesus, they were horrible people. The plot was so unrealistic it that I had to set the storyline down to even think about underlying issues.  The only likable character was Josh Wheaton. 

We need to listen to the response to this movie, Christians. I spent hours researching the movie online, reading reviews, I talked to many friends who watched the movie. Then, instead of watching it alone, I invited three of my close friends to watch it with me (none of whom identify themselves as "Christian.")

So what did I find when I listened? I heard some Christians tell me they were uplifted, that they loved the movie, that it was inspiring. But from people who don't identify as Christian? They said they felt offended, devalued, that the line between "us" and "them" was strengthened (and that they had been relegated to "them"). Worse, I read reviews from Christians online that celebrated the movie because "it sticks a thumb in the liberal’s eye and finally turns the tables on them, in that it portrays them as the evil ones as opposed to Christians and conservatives." (from a post here that goes on to poke fun at negative reviews others left about the movie.)  And while that seems to be an extreme quote, I saw plenty of other reviews in that same vein.  I fail to see gentleness or respect there. 

I'm not saying it's not okay to make a movie "for Christians." I suppose that's fine. And I am going to assume that the intentions of the producers of God's Not Dead were good. I'm not sure I even fault them for making the movie. What upsets me is the culture in American Christianity that teaches it is okay to view non-Christians as the enemy, that it is a positive thing to defeat another person, that it's okay to portray people groups as stereotypes if they aren't Christians.  A culture that says "my Christian preferences should trump yours!"  I hear you saying, "but that's what they do to us!"... I acknowlege you. Yes, that happens, but look back at 1 Peter 3:9: “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing.”

And when Christian morale-boosting happens at the expense of the people we are supposed to love, we need to take a good hard look at the results of our actions. I want to point people towards Jesus because he's my hope; I want to point people toward Jesus because I want them to know that God loves them, that he accepts them just as they are because Jesus died for them long before they were born.  And if a movie that makes some Christians feel good about themselves makes non-Christians feel devalued, we have missed the mark.

And my friends who watched the movie with me? These women I trust, women whose opinions matter to me, women who are open-minded and intelligent, who are part of my Mom-Network and are helping me raise my kids to be good people - - they found the movie offensive.  Honestly, so did I. We had a lengthy discussion after the movie was over. Our main consensus was that it made the lines between "us" and "them" very clear and strengthened stereotypes about people groups (Muslims, women, Asians, atheists). I asked them if the movie made them feel any differently about God. The answer was a resounding no. Instead, they said that the movie made them want to distance themselves from anyone who would defend the movie.

And then they offered me a beautiful gift. They told me that they don't judge all Christians because of this movie. They said they know I respect them. They offered me grace, even though people from "my group" made a movie that was offensive to them.  They commented how they liked the part in the movie where Josh Wheaton confirms that we all have a choice.  They were the ones who pointed out to me that Josh Wheaton was a likable character. These friends of mine are a blessing. 

I believe we can be united and respectful together. My most positive take-away from this is that my friends agreed to come watch this movie with me even though I told them I was afraid it might offend them. They were willing to hang out and talk about matters of faith and issues of divisiveness.  They know that I believe Jesus loves them. I know that they respect my beliefs, just as I do theirs.  Our relationships will continue. I see God in those friends. He has used them to help me be a better mom, to help me grieve the loss of my dad, to help me try to make sense of injustices. God has blessed me through those relationships.  My life would be worse if these ladies weren't in it and I can't even imagine them being a "them."  God doesn't love me more, doesn't give me more, doesn't value me more than he does them.  We are an "us." 


**semantic disclaimer (that my husband told me I need to include): when I say "defend" I don't mean saying, "this is what I believe to be true and here's why..." No problems there. I mean "defend" in terms of pitting yourself against another in order to prove them wrong. When the point is to win, we've already lost.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why I'm sad and that's okay.

Grief sucks.

That's my main thought on how I feel sometimes. Y'all, I miss my dad. Terribly. Every time I have some paperwork to fill out or decision to make about his estate, it makes me so sad. I don't want his money, I don't want his stuff. I just want him to still be here. And then there's all the milestones - his birthday, a new school-year starting, all three kids have had birthdays since he passed away. He'll never see them be 8, 6, and 4. My birthday is coming up and he always made an effort to be in NC with me on my birthday. I always thought it was silly, since I'm not a big birthday person but now I'm dreading this year's birthday without him.

But that's all okay. I'm not upset that I'm sad. I'm just sad. I am supposed to be - I've lost someone I dearly love.

We live in a culture that tells us we are supposed to be strong, that we are supposed to move on, carry on. Facebook is full of "inspirational quotes." Avoid anger, sadness, frustration. Those are bad things.

But you know what? Those are emotions. Emotions are healthy. When unjust things happen, I should be angry. When sad things happen, I should feel sad. When frustrating things happen, I should feel stressed-out. I don't have to stay that way, and I certainly don't like it, but feeling how I feel is part of being healthy.

I'm not saying we should get bogged down in that stuff. I'm a huge fan of focusing on the positive, of choosing good over bad. But right now... I'm sad. And that's okay.

So if you're sad today, that's okay. I'm sad with you. We'll feel better later.  And my joy is that much sweeter when I've walked through pain. God doesn't abandon us on days we aren't feeling strong. It's not a failure to feel sad. He's just going to have to carry me today until I'm strong again tomorrow. And that's okay too. I can glorify him in my weakness just as I can in my strength.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

When your joy is forever tangled up in someone else's grief

Today is a precious day for our family. Not only is it my oldest child's birthday, it is also the day that I walked out of the orphanage with my youngest child in my arms, bringing him with me to the guest house in Ethiopia where we'd live until we were given clearance to come home to the US and to the rest of our family.

We don't really do anything to "celebrate" this day. We have so many dates related to Amani joining our family: the day we received our referral and first learned who he was, the day we first met him, the day we passed court, the day he left the orphanage to live with me in Ethiopia, the day we finally landed at the Charlotte airport and came home to live all together as a family of five. And, of course, we celebrate Amani's birthday.


Riley first met Amani in Ethiopia in July 2011 when we were there for court
Allyn didn't meet him until we landed at the Charlotte airport in Oct 2011.
Her first big sister kiss!

So why is it hard to celebrate? Well, every step of that process is not only about our joy from adding a child to our family. It is also the tragedy and trauma of my child's life. It is the steps taken for him to lose his birth parents and his birth country. It's the terror he experienced when he was taken from the orphanage - the only place he knew as home - and into the arms of a strange woman who didn't speak his language, who didn't know how he liked to be held, or how to prepare the foods he was used to.

It is impossible to celebrate without acknowledging the loss. And not fair to my child to pretend that adoption is just joy. He has gained much in our family, of course, but that doesn't change the fact that he has also lost much.

So we don't over-celebrate adoption stuff. Of course we are overjoyed that Amani has joined our family. We just aren't overjoyed about why it had to happen and what he had to go through.  I will never forget that my joy is tangled up in another woman's grief.  As a mother, Amani's birthmom is on my mind all the time. Especially on days like today.

So, dear Birthmom. We love you. We love your boy. So much. He's growing up and loves to dance and play games. He loves his school and his friends. And everywhere we go, people tell me that his smile lights up the room. I imagine that same smile across the ocean on the faces of his birth family. Our boy embodies joy. And we will always honor you on days that we honor his adoption.  You will always have a special place in our family and in our hearts. Grace and peace to you, mama. Rest your heart, your boy is well loved.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Uh Oh Game

We've been playing a lot of this game lately and I can't believe I haven't shared this with y'all yet!

Let me introduce you to the greatest game ever invented:

The Uh Oh Game!

I don't honestly know where this came from or who made it up. A friend of mine told me about it (kind of by accident, which is a funny story) and Amani LOVES it.

The Uh Oh Game is perfect for preschoolers who need a little help working on letter recognition but you can use it for anything: math facts, number recognition, colors, words in other languages, animals, shapes, whatever.

It is genius, I tell you.

Here's the game:


No lie. This is the whole thing. I cut up scrapbook paper into small squares, wrote letters on them, crumpled them up and stuffed 'em in a plastic container. 

Two pieces of paper have the words "uh oh" on them with a smiley face. You'll see why.

How to Play
Start by letting your child dump all the papers on the floor (this is fun already, right?)

Taking turns, one player picks up a crumpled piece, uncrumples it, and reads the letter. 

If he/she gets the letter correct, he/she gets to toss it into the plastic bin (we experiment with holding it up high, putting it far away, standing up over it and dropping the paper) and you do lots of celebrating.

If the player can't identify it, work together to come up with the answer but it doesn't go in the bin, it goes back onto the floor (so it will be picked up again later). I often have Amani trace the letter with his finger, while we say the letter or while he thinks about it. And we say words that start with that letter too.

If you pick up the "uh oh" card - your child gets to dump the bin and the fun starts all over again.

Not hard to see why this is the greatest game ever.


Notes
We started with 10 letters or so, most of them being letters he already could recognize. The key is for your child to have LOTS of success playing the game. For example, he was great at recognizing the letters in his name, so I started with those and then added in two letters he had trouble with. And as we played, if it seemed like he was struggling with a particular letter, I'd add in another paper with that letter on it, so he'd come across it more often. I really try to make it so that there aren't more than 2-3 new letters in the bin at a time but each of those might be in there twice or even three times.

The "uh oh" cards don't go back onto the floor. Once one is found, I keep it next to me (otherwise the game would be NEVERENDING). That way, the game can be over once the bin is all full. Of course, you can always choose to keep playing.

Y'all. This game is so fabulous. Amani loves it. His older brother & sister love helping him play. And it REALLY helped him with letter recognition! You could even use it with spelling words for an older child (you uncrumple the paper and he/she has to spell the word to you).

And now your life is better. You are welcome.