Take chances. Abandon all the rules. Ditch the recipe. Color outside the lines.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Chick-fil-a Chats and An Uncomfortable Calling

One of the side effects of being a passion driven person, such as myself, is a drive and pursuit of learning when it comes to what you are passionate about.  That coupled with my slightly stubborn personality makes it a rare occurrence when someone truly challenges my beliefs or way of thinking.  I am confident in what I believe about grace and, in turn, who I believe God to be, that core will never be shaken because I know it to be truth.  There are, however, rare and beautiful times when I find myself in belief challenging conversations.

Now, when I say belief challenging it’s important to know what I don’t mean by that.  I don’t mean discussions in which one side is attacking the other due to a difference of beliefs.  I don’t mean a discussion where one or both parties call the other names (i.e. heretic, blasphemer, or sinner).  I definitely don’t mean conversations in which the Bible is used to beat down instead of build up the other person.  Those are not belief challenging conversations those are dysfunctional conversations where God accomplishes nothing and Satan accomplishes everything.

I crave belief challenging conversations.  Ones that are filled with extreme thoughts and new outlooks.  Ones that make me go home and comb the tattered pages of my Bible researching.  Ones that leave me without a definite answer. Ones that end in hugs and thankfulness for differing opinions.  Oh, how I love those discussions!

I felt so privileged to get to have one of those very conversations this weekend with some, much smarter than me, fantastic people.  We sat around the table at Chick-fil-a talking about deep subjects that none of us agreed on and all tried to figure out some of the more mysterious things about God together.  None of us gasped at the others’ crazy statements about God.  No one was aghast at someone else’s challenging comments.  We all left with new things to think about and we all left just as loved by the others as when we sat down. 

I drove home that night pensive and excited; I had so many new things to learn about.  That’s one of the wonderfully frightening things about God, I think:  That there is always more to learn about Him and that He never chastises the one who comes looking.  I really love that about Him.

I want desperately for everyone to experience that, for everyone to have their thinking about God challenged and their passion for Him awakened.  The uncomfortable side to that is hearing His voice, once again, call me to be the one who creates spaces of learning for others around me.  We’ve been in this ongoing battle, me and Him, as He beckons me to ministry.  The struggle of wanting everyone to experience exciting conversations about grace and God but feeling inadequate to initiate them rages within me.  Usually our conversations go something like this:

GOD: “Hey, Jess, let’s go do this thing!” 
ME: “Umm.. no thanks.  I’m not really qualified for all that leading people and teaching them about You stuff.”
GOD: “Sure you are! You’ll be great! Do you want me to like knight you or something? I can do that.  I’m God.”
ME:  “No thanks.  Besides, women aren’t supposed to be pastors and leaders and such, didn’t you read that part in Your book?”
GOD: “You never were very good at following the rules.” 
 ME:  “I have NO idea what you're talking about! *ahem*  I don’t know… I feel like people wouldn’t really want to have me as a leader, I’m kinda a mess!
GOD:  “I’ll bring some towels.”

So it goes, the epic standoff.  The truth of the matter is that I have plenty of good excuses but not really any good reasons.  My head knows that He’s got it all taken care of, that He knows what He’s doing calling a mess like me to be His voice.  The truth is I’m just afraid. 

Afraid of not being very good at it but still loving it.

Afraid of being so excited to lead that I turn around and no one is following me.

Afraid that I’ll build and ark and none of the animals will show up.

It doesn’t make much sense really, God has a pretty good track record when it comes to putting butts in the seats.  I think it might be about time that I stopped doubting my ability and start trusting His.  Wow, I squirmed in my seat a little just typing that.  What kind of person would I be, after all, if I called others to bravery while I cowered away from my calling?  The kind of person I really dislike, that’s who!

So… with shaking hands, witnessed by all you wonderful people who read my ramblings, I am jumping onto this crazy ride without seat belts.  I think it’s time I saddled up even though I’m scared to death (John Wayne would be proud).  It’s time to forsake my comfort zone for a new adventure.  Anyone wanna tag along for the ride?  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas from the Grinch

Those who know me know that I am not a big fan of the whole Christmas holiday.  My friends jokingly refer to me Grinch as my annoyed groans quickly follow the start of Christmas music.  The moment the Christmas spirit fills the crisp winter air, I can be found shivering in the corner with my “Bah Humbug” attitude in full swing.

It’s not that I totally hate Christmas; I just dislike most things associated with it.  The rampant consumerism that terrorizes malls across the country, leaving retail workers exhausted and unappreciated, makes me frustrated.  Those with less are looked upon with pity rather than empathy. 

Christmas is also the time of the year when Christians get especially territorial, making sure to correct anyone who might let slip a “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”  After all, keeping the Christ in Christmas was one of Jesus main preaching points.  I’m pretty sure it was in the Sermon on the Mount somewhere. 

Then there is the element of family time at Christmas.  Though, I dearly love my core family unit of four, the holiday season requires venturing to the extended family territory which is not always exciting.  The family dysfunction found on both sides of my family brings me sadness as I watch those who have forsaken peace for bitterness and attention lifted up and people, like my parents, who have sacrificed more than anyone knows, trampled under their feet.  Any time we have to spend an extended amount of time in places of turmoil it makes me seriously wonder why I ever gave up drinking.

Those are the main reason why I tend to be more Scrooge like around the holidays, but this year has been very different.  Someone asked me a strange question recently that has been on my mind ever since, “Jess, how does it feel to be so loved by everyone?”  I didn’t really know how to answer that question because I had never really thought about it.  Admittedly, I am one who is quicker to see where I am rejected than where I am accepted. 

It’s also a new thing for me, to be so loved.  Most of my life any of the popularity I possessed was due to my successfulness as a conman.  Never before have I been seen in the authenticity of who I am and loved completely as I am by so many. 

The Christmas season has made me more aware of how beautiful a reality it is, to be seen and loved, faults and all.  I don’t know why it came as such a surprise to me, how much it made me love Christmas, because, really, unconditional love is what Christmas is about. 

Truly unconditional love; one that motivated a God, who had nothing to gain, to sacrifice all He had so that we could have everything.  The breathtaking scandal, that He would put on the fragility of humanity, coming in the most vulnerable of forms, and make us fall in love with Him as only a baby can. 

This God who knew from the moment of the first breath out of His infant lungs that His purpose here was to die, gladly came to be our Savior.  And He came not in strength and power but as a child, unable to do anything for Himself. 

How beautiful a love is this.

Then this precious baby, the illegitimate son of an unwed teen mom, lived and died for me.  To offer me complete forgiveness, acceptance, love, and righteousness, all while I was hanging Him on that cross. 

How beautiful a love is this.

So often we confuse Jesus and Santa Claus, in the church.  We make God out to be this watchful old man who checks His list to make sure we are measuring up before we get any blessings from Him.  We forget about that dysfunctional night in a manger that smelled of animal dung and wet hay, when God gave us the only gift we could ever need, without us ever earning it.

How beautiful a love is this.

This year, I have been showered with love by my friends, my church, and my family, though I feel as if I haven’t done much to deserve any of it.  I find myself overwhelmed at this very tangible reminder of that baby who came to give me righteousness in the midst of my brokenness. 

Remember that baby, not just this Christmas, but every day.  His grace and love for you is yours in every moment, not just the ones decorated with red and green.  Remember you are loved, my friends, live out of that truth today.

And to all the wonderful lights of love in my life, the Whos in my Whoville,  thank you.  For all that you are to me.  I am truly overwhelmed by the depth or your love for a tattered soul like me.  This Grinch’s heart grew two sizes this year. 

Grace and Peace to you always, my friends!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

4 Reasons Why I'm a Heretic

I have encountered quite a few opposing people along my radical journey of grace.  Of course, I know they exist, but it still never ceases to surprise me that not everyone is quite as excited about this whole liberty and full favor through Christ thing as I am.  To some degree I understand their opposition.   I preach a message that is different; one that is seldom heard, foreign, and new to them.  It makes sense that not all would be accepting of it. 

As with most things that we don’t understand, people find comfort and control in labeling me.  I have been called by many names; the recently trending name seems to be “Heretic.” 

Heretic is kind of an odd word.  It’s one of those words that only church people use, like you never hear one biker dude call another a heretic because they disagree on what motorcycle brand is better.  So, I had somewhat of an idea what that word meant but I wanted to know the exact definition of what a heretic really was.  *cue theme music* Good ole Webster to the rescue! *applause*

Heretic [herÉ™tik] [n.] 
1:  a dissenter from established religious dogma; especially:  a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church who disavows a revealed truth
2:  one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine.

Well, if we go with the first definition any member of the protestant church would be a heretic so for the sake of this discussion let’s just use the second one, shall we?

“One who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine.”

Yeah, that’s a pretty accurate description of me I’d say!  Confused?  Here are four reasons why I’m a heretic:

(1) I believe God sees me and relates to me as completely holy.

The common belief and teaching in the church today is that, though Christ’s death results in eternal security, God still sees us unholy because of our sin.  We must, therefore, try hard to progressively get better thus becoming more holy in His eyes.  I believe that Christ’s sacrifice covered ALL of my sins, even those I haven’t committed yet.  That means that when God looks at me He sees my oneness with His Son, making my holiness before Him solely dependent one Christ’s holiness before Him. 

(2) I believe that good works come after receiving blessing, not before.

I hear, quite often, within the church this idea of God’s blessings being linked to how well we have lived within our religion.  This creates fear that if I don’t behave, serve, or do enough then I will miss out on receiving His blessings.  I believe that, because I am a child of this world, birthed of the flesh, and driven to depravity, anything good, lovely, selfless, and charitable that comes out of me is only as a result of Christ making over my spirit.  I desire to do good things because ALL His blessing, love, and forgiveness has been poured on me and ignites that desire in me.  Blessings first, obedience second. 

(3) I believe that God shouldn’t be limited by our religion.

Let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of the universe, we are pretty small minded beings.  We cling desperately to what we think we can control as we draw lines and build walls around people and things in our lives that we wish to limit so they can be understood.  Of course, we are no different when it comes to our God.  We use our religion to water down who He is so that He is easier to drink in.  God is so much bigger than our expectation of Him.  He is the master of coloring outside the lines we draw around him and is much too big to fit inside the box we try to cram him into.  I learn new and exciting things that challenge what I believe about him daily.  If religion means I have to forsake the waterfall of God for a stream; I want no part of it.

(4) I am a Jesus follower.

Do you know what Jesus was killed for?  Do you know what the charge against Him was?  It was blaspheme.  Jesus was a heretic.  He stood in opposition to the religion of His day.  He offered hope, peace, and love in a world of regulation and rule keeping.  He dared to show a God who partied with prostitutes and counted thieves among His friends.  He showed deity as washing the feet of confused fishermen and befriending the unclean.  He was truly a dissenter of the accepted belief of His time.  I want to be who He was.  I want to love when it’s not easy.  I want to embrace the abrasive.  I want to befriend the unclean.  I want to eat with the outcasts. 

If my decision to be who Jesus was makes me a heretic; I gladly plead guilty to that accusation.  The God of grace is hard to take in especially for those who have found such comfort in the god that they have shoved into their comfort zones.  I will joyfully live life sharing the sentence of Christ and continue to spread my heresy to all who will listen.  I hope one day you will join me.

Grace and peace with you always, my friends!