An Open Letter to Rita

letter 1

Rita, I hope this letter finds you well. It has been a little over 24 years since I have seen you last. I was young in so many ways. Young in years. Young in character. And young in the faith. You took a chance on a broken, baby Christian and hired me to work in your Christian daycare. I look back at that time and think I should have been paying you.

seed 1

You taught me much about marriage, parenting, faith, and life. And it was almost exclusively by example.

You were one of the most observant people I knew. Your social awareness was admirable. I remember the notes you would leave in our employee boxes. You took notice of the times we made an extra effort in our work and you thanked us for it.

You often sat near the employee log-out book to thank us for coming to work. Who thanks their employees for coming to work? In the last 24 years since I left? No one.

seed 2

You were a person filled with grace. It was a perfume that lingered when you left the room and it inspired others to rise to the challenge. You found a way to bridge the sacred and the secular and modeled the incarnation in profound ways.

In the years since I left your employment, I have thought of you often. You were a shepherd to children and broken people and your tenderness abounded.

tree bush

Your life and your witness gave me hope. It gave me hope that even a broken, lost soul like me could find my way. And I did. Most importantly, I found The Way. Christ before me. Christ behind me. Christ beside me. Christ within me.

Twenty-four years ago, all those souls I was praying for? Almost all of them have found Christ, too.

I am confident it was God’s providence that caused our paths to cross. Today, that broken, floundering, baby Christian has grown to lead many to faith in Christ. My husband and my children know the Lord. I planted a church. And I teach others about marriage, parenting, faith, and life.

bird

You poured into my life and you need to know that your mustard seed of faith has grown into a large tree where even the birds can make their home. May Grace Christian Learning Center continue to produce a harvest 100X its size. May God’s blessings rain down on your family. And may you have confidence you have been the hands and feet of Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Sincerely,

One no longer broken

Jesus told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet, when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.  – Matthew 13:31-32

Advertisements

When Life Tries to Swallow You Whole

ocean 5

But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good.I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’ [Jonah 2:9]

Jonah is a Hebrew prophet. You can read his story in the Old Testament portion of the Bible. Some may only know the children’s version of a large fish swallowing Jonah up.

Several years ago I preached a message on the story of Jonah. It was a two-part sermon and at the end of part one, I left Jonah in the belly of that large fish. Someone in the congregation, who had never heard the story, asked me later what happened to Jonah.

ocean 3

I was thinking about that conversation again this week and the story of Jonah. It is a short book of the Bible and it covers only a few months of Jonah’s life. Yet, it is the only thing we really know about the prophet. One vignette and a few months of his life shapes our entire perspective of Jonah.

And just like that, I felt compassion for him.

The book of Jonah doesn’t really paint a pretty portrait of the prophet. He is disobedient and obedient. He is angry and fearful. He is judgmental and gracious. He is faithful and unfaithful. And the story ends unresolved.

ocean 1

It made me think of another conversation I had this week. A friend encouraged me to give someone another chance. And I thought about Jonah and how hard we, the Church, are on this prophet. We come to an opinion about him with nothing but a three-month window into his life.

I think there are seasons in our life that mark us. Seasons we may not be proud of. Seasons that haunt us because we were not living up to the standard God has called us to. They were seasons of fear or anger or desperation or pain. They were seasons that corrupted our souls and the lives of those we encountered.

Often times those seasons of our life require God to send a large fish to swallow us whole. At the time it feels like God is punishing us. But, just like the prophet, we see in hindsight that God was rescuing us from ourselves. He allowed us to look into the abyss with the purpose of extending us grace upon grace.

ocean 4

Sometimes it seems like life is swallowing us up. Here’s the good news. It is only for a season. You have been given grace upon grace to mark your life with better days.

And we have also been given the grace to extend to the “Jonah”s in our life. We are reminded that, like us, those moments and seasons do not represent the broader scope of one’s life. Our experience may have left things unresolved, but God is the One who resolves all things in the end.

For Jesus said, “Take heart! I have overcome the world”.

How to Eat an Elephant? We’ve Come this Far

elephants

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: holiness!

It’s a journey. It’s a mystery. It’s a God thing that seems to have nothing to do with us.

For the last few weeks, we have been discussing holiness in our current sermon series. In week one, we recognized that we broke God’s trust when we sinned against him. We failed. All of us. And the first step in repairing our relationship with him is to admit that we failed.

During our second week of exploring this journey toward holiness, we talked about the past and the future. We recognize that we have spent too much time, an unhealthy amount of time, lamenting the past. The best way to eat this elephant called holiness is to break from the past. We cast our anchor into the future and secure it to Jesus who draws us forward. We are no longer sinners saved by grace. We are children of God being transformed by grace.

Sierra Exif JPEG

In week three, we were confronted with holiness beaconing us to be different.

Holiness is terrifying, overwhelming, and incomprehensible which is why we do our best to ignore it. God’s grace has given us freedom. And, while everything is permissible, not everything is beneficial. Yet, when we talk about holiness, we are not talking about preference or gray matters. God is calling us to be different; godly, holy.

St. Paul tells St. Timothy that in the last days…

“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power.”

light 5

Paul is not talking about the world or non-Christians. He’s talking about the Church.

We [the Church in the U.S.] spend all of our time talking about those things that are “permissible, but not necessarily beneficial”. And we should be spending our time cleaning our house. Until we are walking in holiness, we have no authority with the world to comment on things permissible, but not beneficial.

Last week we left the discussion with unresolved tension. And it’s exactly where we need to be. We need to allow ourselves to feel the tension so that it can do its work in us.

On Sunday, we will work to resolve the tension. We will talk about bicycles, butterflies, and how to eat an elephant! We will work to answer the questions: what does it look like and how do we get there?

Sunday at 11AM