Monday, April 14, 2014

I would NEVER... unless of course I would

By Elisa Morgan

I like to think of myself as one who dwells on the mature side of life choices. You know, I would NEVER steal, hate, lie etc. After all, I've been a follower of Jesus for some - what - forty years? I remove my hand from the bag of chips. I zip my lips on a snide comment. I muster up the guts to apologize to my husband for the more-than-tacky comment I do let escape. Through this, that and the other kind of mess, I've learned to scoot over and make room for what Jesus wants.

Yup - that's me. I would NEVER...unless of course I would.

Same for Peter who swore his loyalty to Jesus one night in a garden: "Even if I have to die with you, I will NEVER disown you." (And by the way, all the other disciples said the same in Matthew 26:35.) Later that very night - in the wee hours where nothing good happens - Peter's "I would NEVER" becomes his "...unless of course I would."

Peter denied Christ. Not once. Not twice. Three times.
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I can remember my first jaw-dropping pass in this text in Matthew 26:69-75. What? Such a lack of self-censorship! What weenie faith! What fear. In the very guy who Jesus said would be the rock of his church. Loser.

Then flipping to John 21:15-25 where Jesus "restores" Peter, I'm stunned that somehow Jesus still thinks him leader-worthy. Even today, I go to the text expecting Jesus to wag his finger and pronounce Peter a screw up. Instead, Jesus invites Peter to believe that Jesus loves him - not once, not twice, but three times - and to demonstrate that Peter believes this by loving Jesus back.

In recent years, I've come to recognize - and embrace - the very real presence of my own "...unless of course I would" soul holes. I'm broken. I mess up. I sin. Even
BOB
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after walking with Jesus for nearly a lifetime. Over and over again.

And every time, Jesus invites me to believe that he loves me - and to demonstrate my belief in who he is and what he says by loving him back.


Elisa Morgan, MDiv, (www.elisamorgan.com) is the author of The Beauty of Broken: My Story, and Likely Yours Too, a speaker and the publisher of FullFill (www.fullfill.org).

Monday, March 31, 2014

Honestly Broke


 By Caryn Rivadeneira 

After a writer-friend read early drafts of my book, Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed About God's Abundance, she emailed a note of encouragement. "It's beautiful," she said. "And funny." Then she added that she understood being broke. My friend and her husband were in the midst of a similar financial struggle: wondering how a mortgage would get paid, wondering how big the debt might grow, wondering why God wasn't working the miracles for them he seemed eager to weave for others.

"But," she concluded, "I'll never write about this. I can't."

And I understood that too. It isn't easy to tell the world that my once well-heeled and still well-educated husband and I spent years hovering dangerously close to that poverty line, that the debt incurred from uncovered medical expenses and a sinking business threatened to suffocate us (still does!), that during all this I not only doubted God's goodness and faithfulness, but his very existence.

 
Debt
Have you read "Four Letter Word: Debt" from our issue Courage?
It's-gulp-humiliating.

And yet, I can't not write about this. Not with what I believe to be true of my calling as a writer. Not with what I believe to be true of my calling as a leader.

I write not only because it feels great (it's so freeing; it's when I'm most alive!) but because using this gift honors God.

Especially when I lean into the "prophetic" calling I cling to as a writer. Writers are called to voice what others are afraid to, to bring to light what others want to keep in the dark. We are called to be vulnerable, to be open. Even when it's humiliating. Especially so.

But writers aren't the only ones who share this prophetic calling. Anyone who'd been given a leadership position-whether leading other people, whether leading in the home, whether leading with our thoughts or words-is called to risk this same humiliating vulnerability.

And it isn't just because it ultimately feels good (and it does-really! What a relief to get rid of those masks and veils of shame!). We're called to vulnerability because it is honors God. Because in sharing our greatest weaknesses, in sharing our humiliating
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secrets, in dragging those skeletons right out of the closet for all the world to see, we're also showing what God has done. Is doing. And we're sharing hope for all he
will do. 


Caryn Rivadeneira is a writer and speaker and serves on the worship staff at her church. She's the author of five books including her latest, Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed about God's Abundance (InterVarsity Press, 2014) and Known and Loved: 52 Devotions from the Psalms (Revell, 2013). Caryn lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband, three kids and rescue pit bull. Visit her at www.carynrivadeneira.com. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Dry Season

By Joanna Foote

When I first arrived in a rural region of Puebla, Mexico in December, it was the beginning of what people there called "la cuaresma." The official translation for that word in Spanish is "Lent," but for the people who I met in Puebla, cuaresma also meant the dry season.

As I continue to journey through Lent, I remember this linguistic connection and wonder what it means to look at Lent like the dry season. In regions such as Puebla, the almost complete lack of rainfall for 6 months of the year has striking effects on the landscape. There is almost no vegetation. The few trees that I could see didn't have leaves. All the grass on the hills was yellow. Fields without access to irrigation lay barren.


Valleys
Have you read our Valleys issue?
 Similar to the barrenness of the dry season, Lent is a reminder of when the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert for 40 days before being tempted. Jesus neither ate nor drank and was stripped away from worldly contact as he prepared himself for his encounter with the tempter. Lent in Christian tradition is recognized as a time of fasting and prayer as we intentionally strip away the greenery that the rainy season brings. Now, part way through the Lenten season, is a good time to reflect upon how our Lenten sacrifice, if we chose to make one, is helping us or could help us grow closer to God.

In Puebla, the visibility of the dryness has other impacts, namely economic. In the dry season, only the few farmers with access to wells can plant. So most of the men do not work and live day to day, trying to scrape by to at least provide food for their family until the rainy season.

This reality of the dry season has two implications for us in Lent. First, just as those families hope and pray that God will provide for them in the dry season, the barrenness of Lent calls us to cultivate a deeper reliance on God. Second, in consideration of those who live without the security of savings or steady income, Lent is a particularly appropriate time to live in generous solidarity with those who do not have economic resources. In fact, in Christian tradition, almsgiving is a part of the Lenten season.

The beauty of cuaresma, whether Lent or the dry season, is that both are only seasons. We see the dry grass but know that as soon as the rains come the
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countryside will be lush again. We accompany Jesus in the desert, and afterwards in his suffering and death, but know that soon we will be celebrating his resurrection and the promise of eternal life. As we continue a Lent where we fast, pray, and give
to those in need, we do so because of the great hope we have in the goodness and abundance of our God.


Joanna Foote is a recent graduate of Georgetown University who is currently spending a year in Mexico with a Fulbright grant to research the reintegration of deported and returned migrants. She has previously journeyed with immigrants in the US and recently deported migrants on the US/Mexico border. Her thoughts on migration, Mexico, and faith can be found on her blog: fromlafrontera.wordpress.com.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Trash Day

By Ceil Ryan

I was sitting at my dining room table, paying bills.

As I licked the last envelope, I heard the familiar rumble of the garbage truck, driving slowly down our street. House by house, the truck tipped the contents of oversized cans into its front loader. In one motion, the garbage was gone.

As I thought about how good it feels to have all that refuse removed, I started to wonder about my own life. Over time, I collect refuse in my mind and heart too. I need to get rid of it, just like my kitchen garbage. So who are the "Trash Collectors" in my life?

All week, I am faced with busyness, the family schedule and hard choices. All the stress piles up, like so many scraps from lunchboxes and dinner plates, in my heart. If my burdens aren't emptied, I'm not going to function very well. Something's bound to get rotten, and I'm not going to be very fun to be around.

I know that Jesus is the ultimate restorer. But I am so thankful that he also sends us people to help haul away all the pent-up frustrations we hold so close to our hearts.
Friend O Mine
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Although I have several people in my life that I can rely on, I have one special friend. I can tell her anything that's on my mind and heart. We say we're "having coffee," but you know what really happens when we meet?

We sit down at the little table with our paper cups of coffee, and it begins. I start backing up my truck. (Can you hear it beeping?) A few sentences into the conversation, and my hopper is at full tilt. There I am, dumping all my troubles and stress from the week into her peaceful, non-judgmental lap.

I thank God for her. When I am done talking, I feel so emptied and clean. It's such a wonderful feeling. With my stress meter on zero, I can enter the new week with renewed joy and energy.

She says I do the same thing for her. We are honored to be "Trash Collectors" for each other.

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So the next time you hear the familiar racket of the garbage truck on your street, do me a favor. Allow that sound to prompt you to thank the people in your life who listen when you unload your troubles.

Those people are peacemakers. They are your special gift from God.



Ceil Ryan is a writer, blogger, mom and "nana" living in the Midwest. She is trying to see the work of God in all the places of her life. Ceil blogs at www.ceilryan.com.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Dare Mighty Things!

By Halee Gray Scott, PhD

Christian women have been shamed into a corner. Many have bought the lie that they are the second sex-they do not matter and they are not gifted, at least not in the ways that matter most. They got the message that they need to limit their horizons, temper their ambitions. They are leaving. Research shows not only are there are fewer women in church, there are fewer women going to seminary. Women's advancement in leadership has altogether stalled, right along with the wage gap. Women, especially Millennial women, see this lack of progress and start to
wonder if leadership is even worth it. So they look for "the good life" elsewhere. As
the French say, "Ça ne vaut pas la peine." It is not worth the pain.
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It isn't enough for me to simply tell you the stories of Christian women who are daring mighty things and outline the challenges you will face, so let me tell you this:

Your life matters. We can learn from Christian women who dared mighty things and brought about massive cultural reform. It was not too long ago that women in the nineteenth century, women with far more limitations than we have today, worked to abolish slavery, alcoholism, poverty, illiteracy. They created legislation to prevent women from being sexually exploited by men, built homes to keep them safe, and provided aid to immigrants.

You are gifted and called. The Lord can do more than you can possibly imagine through your life.

You are needed. The same problems that confronted the women of the nineteenth century confront us today. Women are still exploited by men. Slavery is not abolished for all. Fifteen million children go to bed hungry every night in America alone. We can find the good life by daring mighty things, by overcoming our personal challenges in order to make a good life for others.

God is working through Christian women. The first challenge for most Christian women? Believing you are a leader at all. Believing you have gifts. Believing that God wants to use your life as a force for good. Not every woman is called to be a pastor, a minister, or a CEO of a non-profit. Some women are called to lead in other
ways-leading an at-home Bible study, starting a food pantry at their church-but these women are leaders, too, and their contributions have been minimized for far too long.

Sometimes the mightiest thing you can do is to do that which seems very small-dare
Halee Scott
Watch Halee's video from our issue
Stretch!
to dream big dreams. Dare to believe that you can make a difference. Dare to believe that overcoming obstacles and facing challenges is worthwhile. That is where you start.

           
Halee Gray Scott (PhD, Talbot School of Theology) is an author of
Dare Mighty Things, scholar, and global leadership consultant. She teaches seminary courses in spiritual formation, theology, and leadership in seminaries across the country - while mothering two little tykes and remaining "present" to her husband. Her writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Christian Education Journal, Real Clear Religion, and Relevant.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Motivation of Our Giving

By Kiara Jorgensen

At the end of what has seemed like winter in perpetuity, we're leaning into a new season, Lent. Historically the liturgical season of Lent has involved something about giving up. Many of us say so long to chocolate, shopping or Facebook for the season of Lent.

The process of release, far from merely a cultural legalism, can be a transformational one. For when we give up - our time, our indulgences, our anxieties - the fullness of Christ can become more real in our lives. Biblical scholars refer to this paradox of dying into life as kenosis, as exemplified clearly in the Christ hymn of Philippians 2, where Christ ...

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himselfand became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-7)

As women, we understand sacrificial love. We often give deeply to those we are in relationship with at all levels. If we are moms, we hand over our rest, autonomy and waistlines to our babies. We give our clean kitchens and time alone to our children. And this isn't 40 days out of the year. No, in family relationships we enter into a
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brand new way of life, the kenotic way. So beyond typical Lenten messages of giving up, perhaps what we need to hear isn't about giving more, but our motivation for giving.


Let's be honest, there is a big difference between surrendering oneself out of fear and giving of oneself in faith. For to those of us living in the realm of the former, too much credit is given to us as individuals, as if the very fabric of our relationships depends upon our sacrifices. When we live in this place we give to avoid crisis and chaos. We give to keep our lives steady. In short, when we give as if such sacrifice is simply business as usual, we try to give to our closest relationships that which only God can give.

In contrast, a Christ-like, kenotic giving of self is an act of faith. Here we give to be used by God, all the while trusting that God will provide for our family and closest relationships. We resist the temptation to be all things to those we love best. This kind of giving often requires us to attend first to our own fears and anxieties. For as Paul reminds us in the Philippians text, Christ actually gave up his position in his sacrifice for us, trusting in the power of his relationships to the Father and the Spirit.

Stretch
Read "Untamed Hospitality" from our issue Stretch
In this Lenten season may we see our sacrifices not as ends in themselves, but rather as opportunities to release ourselves and those we love to God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.



Kiara Jorgenson is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. She lives in South Minneapolis with her husband and 2 yr. old daughter and regularly attends a local chapter of MOPS. Her occasional blogs about motherhood and Christian academia can be found at: www.mammademia.blogspot.com.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Outcome vs. Output



February Webinar
By Janis Kugler

Etched on Michael Jackson's tombstone is a list of his accomplishments: songwriter, singer, producer, dancer, choreographer, humanitarian, Jackson 5 member, soloist, 13 #1 singles, 13 Grammys, 197 awards and 37 top 40 hits. A large tombstone! This epitaph looks like output to me-success as measured by activities rather than purpose and impact. While it sounds impressive because we understand all the money and power that came with Michael Jackson's career, what if we measure life by outcome and not output?

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What are we ultimately about in our personal and professional lives? And how do we know if we're successful? Is our end result about output or outcome?

Most of our day-to-day activities measure output. Output relates to "what we do" and is measured in activity and metrics. What have you done for me lately and how can we see quickly and tangibly that we're making progress? In business, we measure activity and widgets produced or if we're in ministry we measure the three "B's"-butts (attendance), bucks (financial giving), and baptisms (conversions). While these are all good things, they aren't necessarily the full measure of personal or professional success.

Outcome refers to "what difference is there" and is measured in impact, transformation and purpose. Outcome focuses on the big picture of what matters most. Feedback isn't immediate and results may take a lifetime. Take mothering for example. It is all about outcome and the long-term return on our day-to-day investment of time and energy. In ministry, outcome is defined by how people's lives are different because they have intersected with our organization.

When I think about my life and my eventual epitaph, I want my husband, daughters and grandchildren to talk about the difference I made in their lives. I want co-workers to talk about the way I challenged them to be more and to live out their God-given purpose. I want people to understand that I lived out God's purpose for my life. Like David, I want people to say that I served "God's purpose for my generation." (Acts 13:36) That sounds like an outcome. When we live a life of purpose as evidenced by outcome-or maybe even fruit-as Jesus called it, we've been
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personally successful.

Jesus was all about outcome. His earthly ministry wasn't about the number of people
he came in contact with, but rather it was how their lives were different because
they had been with him. He wasn't interested in outward appearance but o
nly what had transpired at a heart level. Jesus' outcome was a changed heart and life.

What's ours?


Janis Kugler is President of Facet Consulting Group. She consults with a variety of non-profit organizations, specializing in strategy and resource development. Prior to launching her consulting business, she served for 12 years with MOPS International in the areas of development, marketing, strategic planning and organizational research, learning and innovation. Visit www.facetconsultinggroup.com for more information.