Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I'm Sorry

So, I was reading Morning & Evening by Spurgeon tonight.

Ok, maybe I should explain that.

My husband has a penchant for dead guys. And by "dead guys" I mean old theologians. Comes with the territory of being reformed and a pastor I guess. He loves Spurgeon and Augustine ad Luther and Lloyd-Jones and M'cheyne. And if you know who half those guys are, kudos! And since he loves them so much, I get to love them too. Meaning of course, that he buys me beautifully bound copies of their works for my birthday. So I have a beautiful copy of Morning & Evening Daily Readings by C. H. Spurgeon that I use in my devotional time.

 Turns out its quite convicting.

So, never one to be constrained by calendars or schedules (I'm a free spirit people, trapped in a mom's body who has to have routine or my kids will mutiny), I tend to fall "behind" sometimes (a lot). So, I was actually reading yesterday's "evening" reading this afternoon. And it was a doozy!

Spurgeon was elaborating on the man from Mark 9 who approaches Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son. He cries out in desperation "if you can do him." Incredulously, Jesus retorts, "'If I can'? All things are possible for one who believes!" And the father yells, "I believe, help my unbelief." This passage has had a special place in my heart since Sophomore English class when Dr. Weathers had us read Shadow and Light, in which was included an essay by Flannery O'Conner. She references this passage (wrongfully attributing it to Peter instead of the desperate father of the sick boy) and calls it the "foundation prayer of faith". That has been above all helpful to me as I have walked this path of faith in an age so ready to dump it all: That doubt is the starting place for true faith. That gave me permission to struggle with Jesus without letting go, clinging to him as Jacob until he blessed me and crippled me, which was itself the blessing.

Spurgeon had a similar message: that the "if" of the mans cry was at the wrong point. Not "if Jesus can" but "if we believe". Again, very encouraging. The power is not in question, but our faith in the power. Praise God! He doesn't waver or grow weary.

But again, not what really drug me to my knees in repentance tonight. Rather it as Spurgeon's description of the father:
The father, having seen the futility of the endeavors of the disciples to heal his child, had little or no faith in Christ, and therefore, when he was bidden to bring his son to Him, he said to Jesus, 'If Thou canst do anything...'"
That broke me: "the futility of the endeavors of the disciples". It is so often ME that causes those around me to have "little or no faith in Christ". I know that it is Jesus who calls, the Holy Spirit who convicts, the Father who chooses. I know I'm not THAT powerful to be the one and only source on whom any person's salvation depends. I'm not taking that on. But I am realizing that my fumbling, arrogant, blunders can put a roadblock in people's way to faith. I know they HAVE. I know I have made it harder for people to approach Jesus. I know I have at times made it easier to walk away. Those disciples were trying to serve, but they were doing it on their own power. I have been guilty of that time and time again. It has been the Jennifer show. All about me!

And for that I am so sorry.

I'm not apologizing for the Gospel. The truth of Jesus Christ is absolute and along with Paul I say, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it the power of salvation to everyone who believes" Romans 1:16.
But I may have shared the Gospel in a way that was too tinged with my own broken humanity.

 I'm not apologizing if I have pointed out sin, but I may owe you an apology for HOW I pointed out sin.

I'm not apologizing for going where God has called me, but I may owe you an apology for HOW I went.

 I'm not apologizing for teaching the truth, but I may owe you an apology for tacking on my own opinion and distancing you.

I'm apologizing for not serving when you needed me, for not answering when you called, for not acknowledging your feelings and listening to your heart.

 If you are one that I have made faith hard for; if my loud mouth has over stated my case or hurt your heart; if I have voiced my opinions instead of the Gospel when speaking over you; if my hurt feelings have caused me to lash out and wound you; if my mishandling of truth has made it more difficult for you to believe: I AM SORRY.

I invite you to contact me and allow me the grace to repent to you personally.

Please do not judge Jesus by His followers.

 We need Him too!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Coming Humble

My kids each have their very own, very unique personalities.

Judah is my deep, systematic thinker who will grow up to be a preacher or theology prof. No pressure, that's just his bent. At 5 he asked me why if Jesus was God and knew everything, he still picked Judas to be his friend. Standard answer to Judah's queries: "Ask your Daddy!" 

Gideon is very practical and all efficiency. He figured out a long time ago that the faster you do your schoolwork, the faster you get to play. And he's always angling for a better advantage. But he's also totally Eeyore. "Oh poor me...everyone is loved more than me". 

Elijah is...well, to be frank, Elijah is our odd duck. But it's always an adventure.

Levi is perpetually happy. All. The. Time. Until you tell him no. Then he pokes out his bottom lip and flops down on his bum and wails. Which is just hysterical because as cute as he is it still doesn't get him his way.

And Josiah gets a pass because he's only 4 months old.

Nothing brings out their personalities more than school time and chores. School time shows who's willing to work hard and who's lazy, who's in it to win it and who's in it to get out of it. And school time shows my character and personality too...embarrassingly most of the time. My impatience, perfectionism, judgy-ness, fear of man...all revealed in the 3-4 hours a day I attempt to teach my children. And it gets all Lord of the Flies up in here sometimes. If you don't believe in total depravity, have kids. If that doesn't convince you, homeschool them. Then let's talk about sin nature...just saying.

But the other day I was totally convicted about not only my child's arrogance, but by relation my own during Bible time during school.

I read the boys the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. That's one of my favorites and one of only a handful found in all 4 Gospels. I like the John version because it has the little boy offering up his lunch. In the 3 other versions, the food just appears with no mention of where it came from, but John says a little boy offered it. After reading it, I ask the boys some questions to make sure they were awake and end with the classic: What did you learn about Jesus in this story?

Judah, ever the deep thinker, replies, "That Jesus will always provide for me and I don't need to worry." Now if he can just believe that for the rest of his life, he will have it made. Alas, I know he won't. But he gets it for this one second.

Elijah, eager to have a right answer pipes up, "That Jesus loves me." Thank you pastors kids. You get the award for "generic right answer" today.

Gideon, however, with exasperation declares, "Umm...I've heard this story a lot, so I've already learned everything I can learn about it a long time ago and didn't learn anything new today."

First, let's talk about "a long time ago" for a seven year old! Ha!

Secondly, we're going to have to work on arrogance and pride with this one! Yikes!

Thirdly, I was totally convicted because I often approach life and Christ with the same attitude. I mean, he gets it from his mom! I already know this one. Yawn! Throw me a curve ball! Instead of approaching the scriptures humbly, asking to be changed, I assume I've got it down. What a mistake. When I come humbly, even to a passage I've had memorized from birth (and that's a lot because I grew up Church of Christ and we memorized stuff), I am blown away.

My husband and I have talked a lot lately about standing above scripture or a book or a sermon and judging it, versus sitting under it. One takes on the attitude that you already know everything and are acting as the critic; the other comes as a humble learner to be broken, changed, transformed. Now, I'm not advocating blindly buying everything you read or hear. I believe we live in an odd age where anyone who has access to a computer can publish and put in writing whatever thought pops into their head. And as a pastors wife, we listen to hundreds of sermons. You have to have a filter. You have to be aware of wolves in sheeps clothing, or just simple, unintentional false statements. Don't buy it wholesale. But having a filter and being a critic are different. The pastors I like to listen to call it, "letting the Bible read you."

When we come letting the scripture or sermon read us, we are changed.

 As I read the story of the feeding of the 5000, and believe me I've heard it a few more times than Gideon, I was struck by the little boy. He was the only one with food in a crowd of close to 15,000. His Momma had packed him a lunch. He could have eaten it. But instead he gave it away. To Jesus. He trusted Jesus enough to hand over his food. He didn't know what Jesus was going to do with it, but he seemed to know Jesus was good. Instead of hoarding his food, or only giving what he didn't want to eat, he gave it all. And because of that, he got it back AND everyone else got to eat, AND he got to be a part of Jesus' miracle of provision.

How many times do I, fearful there won't be enough for me, hoard the things I have instead of freely sharing, trusting Jesus to provide not only for others, but for me as well? I think if I give away my time, I won't have any time for me. But Jesus multiplied the boys lunch to the little boy as well. He got to eat his fill too. He didn't get less because he trusted Jesus, he got much more. And Jesus didn't demand his lunch. But he offered him an opportunity to participate in what Jesus was about to do! Being there in the moment of a miracle, knowing you didn't perform it, but you got a front row seat to see it...that's a blessing I don't want to miss. Not by being stingy and not by being "above the lesson".

Please be present.

Be present when you read.
Be present when you hear.
Be present to give what Jesus asks you to give so that you can get more than you could ever ask or imagine. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pet Sins

Okay, truth or dare:  What's your favorite sin?

I don't mean the one you struggle with, the monkey on your back you're ashamed to even admit is there because you want rid of it so badly. That's not a pet. That's a curse.

No I mean the one you don't want rid of at all! The one you aren't one foot into, but both feet jumping in. The one that while you may acknowledge it's a sin in theory the command to stop can't really apply to you, you enjoy it too much!

I think we assume gossip is it for most women. The scene from Steel Magnolias comes to mind (excuse me while my Southern is showing again), where Olympia Dukakis says, "If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me!" Exactly! Give me the dirt!

For men, maybe the love of money and all the evil that springs from that root. Chasing the dollar-god, making a name. Making a living. Getting a head. That sort of thing. Go big or go home!

Maybe it's pride. You're just the smartest person you know and you're surrounded by idiots.

Maybe it's selfishness. It's just all about you.

Maybe it's____________. You fill in the blank.

Whatever it is, it feels good when you do it. It feels right. And that niggle of Holy Spirit that tells you "Hey, it's YOU He's talking about" on Sunday mornings when the preacher preaches on that, is easily shut up by a loud round of justification.

You all need to REPENT! ;)

Well, in the spirit of being honest, I'll tell you mine: reviling. Or to be specific: reviling in return

What the heck is reviling? Well, Mr. Webster says it's:
to criticize in an abusive or angrily insulting manner.
Yikes. That's pretty bad right?

 I mean, I could gloss it over by saying "I have a temper" and there's no denying that. My Irish background and red-hair would let you in on that tidbit if you've known me for 2 seconds. But it goes beyond a simple "losing my cool". And it's not gossiping either. I like to be nosy like everyone else, but that's not my Achilles heel. No. What really gets my Irish up and makes me let loose in the most satisfactory ways, is when people start talking badly about me or mine.  I just want to give it back to them in spades! And not only that, but it feels good when I do. I don't want to give that up.

And let's tell the truth and shame the devil, Facebook is either my best friend or my worst enemy. The reviling that goes on in the name of "personal status" sharing would make your head spin.

Or maybe not.

Maybe Facebook is your favorite soapbox. Maybe you like to get on there and wave your opinion around like a mace bashing people in the face with it. It's not like you're actually telling it to their faces! I mean come on! And there-in lies the problem. People say stuff on Facebook they would NEVER say to your face. But while I'm not very prone to share my opinion (we have a Facebook policy in my house: Facebook is for sharing your life not your opinion----because after all, no one has ever been converted to your way of thinking by your witty Facebook status), I'm VERY prone to wanting to respond to other people's Facebook statuses. Boy do I! Especially when it's something inflammatory, insulting and (most importantly) wrong!

The problem is 1 Peter 2:23

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
That one gets me EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
Jesus wouldn't respond. Not with anger. To all the business that gets said about Him on Facebook. He wouldn't "revile in return" those who have said nasty things about Him and His followers.

And that means I can't either.

I'm simply not under the same standard of judgment as the average person on social media. I do not simply post for Jennifer Hartnagle. Everything I post comes back on Jesus Christ, whom I claim to follow.
And while that's never going to be easy, the last part of the verse offers some comfort. I trust God who judges justly. It will all come out in the wash (oops, there's my Southern again).

Does that mean I can't get mad at people's blatant abuse of me in particular, Christians in general or Jesus personally? Of course not. Anger is a very natural emotion when you've been insulted. But how we handle that emotion will tell you exactly how much you trust Jesus to take care of it.

And I admit, I don't have it all worked out what the right response is to "friends" who say derogatory things about you in a passive aggressive way on Facebook OR think they aren't directing them at you when it's obvious you're in that category. One shouldn't be allowed to be a bully on Facebook and not have consequences.

But I do have some advice to those claiming the name of Christ:
1. Please watch what you say. People are reading that business. You actually want them too or you wouldn't post them. Blanket statements about this group or that group are never going to go over well, unless you live in a vacuum with only people who agree with you.

2. Don't engage the war. As a Christian, don't return insult for insult. Or passive aggressive Facebook message for passive aggressive Facebook message (in this example). Jesus actually does not need me or you to defend Him. As crazy as that may sound, He's the King of the Universe, and doesn't need puny me fighting his battles for him on Facebook. This just in: in the big scheme of eternity Facebook is not that powerful, and He promises we will give an account for every word we type (well, technically, in the Greek, I believe it's "Speak" but that's relative right?).

3. There's a BIG difference between sharing what you're for and bashing what you're against. You can share posts, blogs, and articles all day regarding things that you are passionate about without getting much backlash. But when you start sharing things that degrade or insult or offer loud opinions why the opposite view is wrong/bad/failing/ridiculous, you will get a response REALLY quickly. For example, "I love dogs more than cats" may get a few likes. But "All cat lovers are ridiculous needy people who need therapy" will get you 357 responses from all your cat-loving friends and even those who don't like cats but have a mom/sister/grandma/best-friend/uncle who owns 5 and is their favorite person in the world. So be "pro" what ever you want, but be careful with your "antis". Savvy?

So I urge you, and mostly me, to put the gloves down. If we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, it cannot be hypothetically. It has to be for real-sies. In real time. Right now. Even on Facebook?

Cause people, what would Jesus do? (probably not have a Facebook account...ouch)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Radio Silence Lifted

I started this blog years ago in order to chronicle our journey through the vast expanse of church planting. And have manged to successfully post, on average, one blog post a year. Just a shout out to let you know we're still alive. Whether that's terrible testimony or accurate portrayal, I will leave up to your judgment. I will say, there have been long stretches of such great chaos, that even if I'd found the time to write, I wouldn't have know what to say. And other stretches of such monotonous trudging that I also would not have known what to say. So, here I am striking out again in an attempt to show a real picture of the process of birthing a church. 

Our fifth (and please dear Jesus) last child was born 16 weeks ago. By golly, if we can't grow this church one way, we will grow it another! Another boy. Of course. Cause that's all we know how to make. And he's precious and beautiful.

 I was struck again by the beauty of the picture of pregnancy and labor being the illustration of creation waiting for the children of God to be revealed. And I still believe it's a better term for starting a church then "planting". What we are doing is not so simple as putting a seed in the ground and praying for rain. Though I don't fault Paul for his analogy of farming. He's a dude. What does he know about growing a baby? 

But that's the exact way church planting feels. We conceived this idea, through no real skill on our part. The Holy Spirit quickened it and it began to grow. There were months of nausea and restlessness as we realized there was no going back, but also nothing to show yet. There was a fun season of beginning to really plan and excitement building. Then a seemingly endless season of sleepless nights, discomfort  and increasing pressure to produce. Finally, through less than lady-like effort, we began life as a church and started meeting. And there was beauty and joy in that initial plunge. The first awkward weeks of gathering on Sunday, not quite sure what to do but just really happy to be doing it! 

However, as with real children, the newness, baby-moon feeling wears off and you enter an interesting time of constant vigilance, dedication, and urgent care. Nighttime feedings and diapers changes have their place in the analogy as we had plenty of late nights nursing this infant church along and plenty of what can only politely be described as cow dung issues to clean up. And just so much of it required direct and intense care from us as it's "parents". So much more work than you really think it should take. And right in the middle of life happening all around us. 

Now our baby church is 15 months old and that's about accurate for our analogy as well. Taking its first few wobbly steps without our carrying it. It's forming a new identity, not entirely dependent upon us, not wholly derivative of us. It's been fascinating and painful, rough but threaded with joy. I am immensely grateful for this honor of seeing Redemption church of Temple being revealed. And I know it really has nothing to do with me.  This, after all, is not my church. This is Jesus' church. As head shepherd and Sovereign King, he is raising his church up. And it is beautiful!