Looking at Tough Issues as Citizens of the Kingdom of God

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I have a confession to make: I went to Bible college, I have a master’s degree, my husband’s in seminary and I read the books assigned for his classes…and I don’t have all the answers.

And you know what? There are topics in which the more I research and the deeper I dig into what the Bible says, the more questions I have and the more nebulous my stance becomes. Does this mean my theology is shaky? Absolutely not!

In the Christian faith, there are non-negotiables:

  • There is only One God.
  • Jesus is fully God and fully man.
  • It is only through Jesus and because of His death and resurrection we can be saved.

There are more non-negotiables, but I think you get the idea. If you call yourself a Christian—regardless of your particular flavor of Christianity—these are not gray issues. There are things all Christians can all agree on. And when it comes to non-negotiables, I’m confident that I’m prepared to give an answer for the the hope that I have (1 Peter 3:15).

But there are other topics that are a bit more, um, controversial. I’m not taking a relativistic stance and saying there’s no right and wrong, but some things aren’t as simple as we’d like them to be. I won’t name any of them here because my goal at this moment isn’t to debate any issues; it’s to challenge how we deal with them. We need to rethink how we wrestle with tough issues in our minds and hearts before we ever discuss them in conversation, and especially before we type our thoughts on social media.

Many people base their opinions on the ideologies of political parties, denominational affiliations, or any other sort of shared-commonality group. I’m not trying to disparage any of these, but it’s so easy to turn our brains on auto-pilot and start believing things just because someone in our circle said that’s how we should believe. This is intellectual laziness. We need to diligently test and evaluate everything we hear (1 These 5:21).

Some people’s opinions are based on problems they have with the vocal portion of the people who sit on the other side of the issue. It’s important to remember that the most vocal do not represent everyone. Tough issues represent a wide spectrum of beliefs and opinions. In fact, I’ve often found individuals “on the other side” that I agree with more than with those on “my side of the table.”

I wish we could get rid of “sides” all together and begin looking at issues as real people with faces and hearts. Until you take the time to get to know a person, you don’t know the things they’ve experienced that have shaped how they believe. I’m not saying that if you get to know their story you’ll change what you believe, but maybe the nuances of your stance will change. And oftentimes it’s those nuances that make the difference from us being perceived as “angry Christians” to becoming the salt and light of the world. But more on that later. I’m getting ahead of myself.

There are also those who have a stance on an issue but later change it because “It’s the 21st century,” or, “It’s [insert whatever year it is].” These are not good enough reasons to alter our theology or doctrines; we shouldn’t change what we believe just to keep up with the culture. At the same time, current events have a way of bringing to light misinterpretations and misapplications of scripture. And when these issues come to light, it’s an opportunity for the Church to stop fighting to defend “the way it’s always been,” and start humbly seeking “the way it was meant to be.”This is what living as citizens of the Kingdom of God looks like.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

(Romans 12:2a, NLT)

So how do we allow God to transform our minds and start looking at tough issues as citizens of the Kingdom of God?

keeping a high view of Scripture +  listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Keeping A High View of Scripture

Now, I’m going to say something that might sting a bit, but hear me out. Some people say they have a high view of Scripture, but when you listen closely to the words they say, it sounds more like they have a high view of their interpretation and opinions of what scripture says. This isn’t the same as a high view of scripture.

A person with a high view of scripture is someone who never stops studying, digging deep, and doing the work of theology.

What’s the point of regularly reading scripture if we don’t allow it to transform our lives? This transformation is for our words, actions, thoughts, and even our opinions. Because we’re fallible humans, we must ask ourselves, Do I have a higher view of scripture or of my opinions about scripture? This is an internal battle we must fight again and again, and as we do, we must realize that we can’t do it alone.

Listening to the Voice of the Holy Spirit

Humans get things wrong. We need the Helper, the Holy Spirit to guide us and give us wisdom as we wade through difficult issues.

Before moving on, let me be clear: God does not change and His voice will not contradict scripture. He can, however, contradict our interpretation of scripture, and this is where we need to have an open mind and heart.

I’ve learned some things over the years:

  • The Holy Spirit can speak to me.
  • Just because the Holy Spirit speaks to me doesn’t mean He tells me everything. It’s okay for me to not have all the answers. He’s God and I’m not.
  • The Holy Spirit can speak to someone else.
  • When the Holy Spirit speaks to someone else, He doesn’t have to tell me what He tells them. Again, He’s God and I’m not.

Keeping a high view of scripture and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit are things we must do. But here’s the thing: tough issues matter only because the people they represent matter. And people are complicated and messy. So if we stop at what we think and believe, then we’re not taking it far enough.

What do people need?

“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

(Matthew 7:16-20, NIV)

“…for a tree is recognized by its fruit.”

(Matthew 12:33b, NIV)

The thing that marks us as Jesus followers—the salt and light kind and not the “angry Christian” kind that makes people want to run in the opposite direction—is the fruit we produce. I’m not just talking about results; I’m also talking about the fruit of the Spirit flourishing in our emotions, words, and actions.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

(Galatians 5:22-23)

If we want to change the world, then we need to be less concerned with having all the right answers and more concerned with bearing good fruit in our lives. Don’t forsake study and the work of theology, but do it in order to continuously produce good fruit. Good fruit is what builds the Kingdom of God.

When people are processing and trying to figure out where they stand on tough issues, let’s show them grace (Jude 22). God is patient with us; let’s be patient with them. And instead of tearing them down, let’s come alongside them as they find their way.

And when we disagree, let’s not fight the wrong fight. There’s evil in the world—very real evil—and we should fight it. But we must remember that we’re not fighting against flesh and blood. Our fight is not against people; it is for people—people made in the image of God, people Jesus loves so much He died on a cross for them, people God compels us to love.

Fighting evil and loving people is complicated. How do we do both in the face of injustice? I don’t have all the answers. But I’m becoming increasingly aware that the world needs good fruit more than it needs my right answers.

One last thing: There’s a big difference between discussing a tough issue in theoretical terms and looking into the eyes of a person sitting in your living room as they tell you their story, experiences, and struggles. We must wrestle with tough issues, not for the fun of debate, but because at the heart of them are real people whose lives hang in the balance.

Redeeming Our Full Schedules with Sabbath

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I wear a lot of hats. Not literal hats; metaphorical hats. I’m a wife, friend, professor, pianist, mentor, writer, volunteer at my church, and occasional speaker. And then there are my hobby hats: reader, hand letterer, Target deal finder…I think you get the idea. I love to do things, and when I’m not doing things, I’m doing other things.

How do I get it all done? My favorite two words are “productivity” and “efficiency.” I don’t procrastinate or dawdle. I manage my time and focus. I carry around books and things to work on in my purse. I stay busy.

Busyness is like a security blanket for me.

But a life of busyness isn’t sustainable. Without rest, busyness ceases to be productive. The quality of our work diminishes, our efficiency wanes, our relationships suffer, and our souls begin to feel empty. I don’t want busyness; I want abundant life.

We are to be productive with our lives, but we aren’t made for constant work and no rest.

“We can squander today by feeding two different sins: laziness or busyness. Both the lazy person and the compulsively busy person subtly reject the God-ordained boundary of time…Busyness believes that the time God has given is not adequate. We must redeem the present by leaving time to observe the practice of stillness and precept of Sabbath, taking on the trusting posture of one who sits at the feet of her Lord.”

(Jen Wilkin, None Like Him)

Keeping the Sabbath is number four in the Ten Commandments.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

(Exodus 20:8-11)

But even before the Law, Sabbath was built into creation.

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

(Genesis 2:2-3)

Jesus modeled rest—He even slept on a boat in the middle of a storm!—and taught His disciples the importance of rest.

“The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.’ He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone.”

We need Sabbath to be a regular part of the rhythm of our lives just as music needs rests in order to have breath and movement.

When we don’t observe Sabbath rest,

  • we decrease our productivity and efficiency by wearing down our bodies and minds,
  • we neglect our emotional health,
  • we cease to produce good fruit,
  • and we miss opportunities to experience the presence of a God who loves to show off, to hear His voice, and to enjoy His creation and beauty.

Now, there’s something a bit sticky I want to address:

Jesus got into trouble with the religious leaders of His day for healing people on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14, John 5). Most of the times when I’ve heard these passages preached, the message is that we shouldn’t use the Law as an excuse to not help people. I totally agree with this. At the same time, if the speaker isn’t careful, they can give the impression that the principle of Sabbath rest is outdated and unimportant. No wonder so many pastors and church volunteers easily get burned out!

So let me talk directly about Jesus healing on that Sabbath. I believe one reason Jesus healed on the Sabbath is simply because that’s what God does: God heals on the Sabbath. He heals our weary bodies, stills our unsettled minds, and soothes our raw emotions.

In another passage where Jesus came into conflict with the religious leaders because of the Sabbath, he said, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, NLT)

The heart of the Sabbath is not a law to bind us. The Sabbath is a precious gift from the God who loves us and cares about the big and small details of our lives.

If you’re feeling drained, maybe the solution isn’t to quit. Maybe you need to rest and make Sabbath part of the rhythm of your life.

Redeeming Our Full Schedules

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I recently wrote about needing a nap in the midst of a very busy season, so I wanted to bring balance to the conversation and discuss full schedules.

Being busy isn’t necessarily bad. If we’re pursuing God-sized dreams, we can expect our schedules to be full. The problem comes when we’re so busy it depletes us and flows out of a dependence on ourselves instead of God. He is our true source of energy, ability, and resources.

On the other hand, I’ve seen what happens when people prioritize rest without prioritizing work: things don’t get done, deadlines get missed, those who pick up the slack get stressed, and things that could be excellent don’t reach their potential.

Work and rest are meant to go hand in hand—not one or the other. We can redeem our full schedules by cultivating Christ-centered rhythms and using our time well.

How can we do that?

Let’s start with my favorite word: efficiency. I remember a day when my husband and I were watching The Biggest Loser and there was a challenge where each team had to unload big bags of something-or-other from a truck and carry them to the other side of the field as fast as they could. (As you can see, I remember every detail impeccably.) The team that ended up winning had people in the truck placing the bags on other team members’ backs. The other team threw the bags on the ground to unload the truck, leaving the team members who were going to run across the field to first bend down and hoist the bags onto their backs, using up more energy and tiring themselves out faster. My husband laughed and said, “If you were their team leader, you would have started yelling, ‘What are you doing?! Why are you being so inefficient?!'”

If you can work more efficiently, you can get more done with less energy and in a shorter amount of time, thus giving you margin to rest, thus giving you the energy to continue to work efficiently! If you want to get a lot done in a way that’s sustainable, efficiency is the key. 

So let me give you a glimpse of how I make my work efficient:

I pray over my schedule. Yes, that’s right. Author and pastor, Mark Batterson, often says, “Pray like it depends on God, and work like it depends on us.” So I pray for God to help me to be productive and efficient and for anointing in each task I do.

Create momentum. I love to-do lists, but sometimes my lists can be daunting. When I feel overwhelmed, I start with small tasks to get a feeling of accomplishment and create momentum. No matter how large some of the items on my to-do list are, a shrinking to-do list is always encouraging. Some people prefer to do the opposite: complete the largest task first so the remaining tasks seem less daunting. Either way, start with something and shrink your to-do list.

Arrange the puzzle pieces. I think of each item on my to-do list as a puzzle piece. If I place them wherever willy-nilly, they won’t all fit. Just as we need to budget our finances (allotting set amounts from our paychecks towards groceries, bills, gas etc…), we need to budget our time (allotting time for each item on our to-do list).

  • Before the week begins, I write down what my puzzle pieces are—what I want to accomplish by the end of the week. As I do this, I’m mindful of what’s most important to me. Is this worth my time? Is this keeping me from fulfilling my Kingdom dreams? (And a word of caution: I don’t believe that God is against fun. He wants us to experience enjoyment, laughter, and beauty. These things feed our work, creativity, and even our worship. So if you’re the type that works constantly without regularly experiencing these things, I highly recommend finding ways to add fun to your rhythm.)
  • Next, using my planner/calendar, I decide when the best times to accomplish those tasks are. I use pencil because I may have to rearrange later. It’s typical for me to rearrange as the week progresses because…well…life happens. (No guilt!)
  • When possible, I group puzzle pieces according to categories for efficiency. For example, if I have multiple tasks that require me to drive to a certain part of town, I plan to do them in one day so I’m not making multiple trips. If I have multiple tasks that require the use of my computer, I try to accomplish as many of those tasks as possible in one sitting.
  • I don’t evenly distribute tasks throughout the week. I put a heavier load in the beginning of the week so that I have more room to work with later when unexpected things come up throughout the week.
  • I leave time open later for make up work. It’s important to be realistic and to plan for imperfection. Things happen. Computers crash, traffic backs up, cold and flu season hits, lupus flares…If I set up my schedule so there’s no room for error, I’m setting myself up to fall behind. (The great thing is that if I write in time for margin and it ends up being open, I can rest, get ahead on work for the next week, or do something fun.)
  • I don’t budget minute-by-minute; I budget according to segments of the day. (Examples: morning, afternoon, evening; before classes, after classes, after dinner.) Appointments need specific start and (usually) end times. But when it comes to tasks to be done, minute-by-minute rarely works simply because it isn’t realistic. And when my plan for the day doesn’t work, it has a way of making me feel guilty…and guilt is not very helpful for productivity. In fact, guilt has a way of slowing us down.
  • I budget time for rest. We’re more productive and efficient when we’re well rested. Chronic illness has made rest a non-negotiable for me, but as I look back to my life before lupus, it’s clear I was in desperate need for rest long before I got sick.
  • Procrastination is not an option; rearranging my schedule is. I don’t assume I’ll have time to complete something “later.” Some projects take longer than expected. Emergencies and interruptions happen. If I have time to do it now, I do it now. If, however, I end up not being able to complete a task when I wanted, I don’t get guilty; I get proactive. I simply make the adjustments necessary to get it done.

One last note:

I don’t let other people dictate how I manage my time. At the end of the day, I’m the one who is accountable for how I spend my time and what I accomplish.

Embracing What God Says About Us

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Last Friday, I performed a concert at a women’s event and spoke about the lies we believe about ourselves and that if we want to flourish in our lives, then we must drown out the lies with truth by embracing what God says about usOne of the pieces I performed was Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor, WoO 80. Beethoven thought so little of it that he didn’t allow it to be published with an opus number. As I played this piece, projected on the screen behind me were the lies that we believe about ourselves and the truths of what God says about us:

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When Beethoven overheard someone playing this piece, he said,

“Such nonsense by me?”

Truth

The 32 Variations in C Minor quickly became popular. It is a masterpiece that is still performed over 200 years later.

Lie

My worth is dependent on how I compare to other people.

My worth is dependent on my performance.

I’m worthless. The world would be better off if I didn’t exist.

I’m not enough.

Truth

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Eph. 2:10 NLT)

Lie

I’m ugly.

I’m too fat. / I’m too skinny. / I’m not the right size.

Truth

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

(Psalm 139:14 NIV)

Lie

I am defined by my accomplishments.

Truth

I am defined by what Jesus has accomplished.

Lie

I am defined by my past.

Truth

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

Lie

I’ve messed up too badly. My sin is too big.

Truth

No one is un-redeemable. No sin is too big for the grace of God.

“This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.” (Colossians 1:21-22 NLT)

Lie

I’m too young. / I’m too old.

Truth

Miriam (Moses’ sister), David, and Mary were not too young to be used by God for great things.

Abraham and Sarah, Elizabeth, and Anna the prophetess were not too old to leave their mark on history.

Lie

Because I’m a woman, I’m less than a man.

I’m overbearing. My emotions are too much.

I’m bossy./I’m not assertive enough. My personality isn’t right.

Truth

I am created in the image of God.

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

(Genesis 1:27, 31 NIV)

“The Creator of the universe didn’t just love and speak us into being. He also called us good–the same word He called the massive, majestic oceans and the sun that lights our solar system and keeps us all sustained. (Jess Connolly, Wild and Free)

Lie

I’m not lovable. I don’t deserve God’s love.

Truth

I am loved.

God loves me so much that He died for me.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)

Lie

“But I’ll only be loved if I add value/have something to offer.”

Truth

Love is not about merit; love is about grace.

“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins…Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.” (1 John 4:10, 18-19 NLT)

Lie

God has overlooked me. I’ve been set aside.

Truth

I am handpicked by God. I am chosen. I am set apart for a purpose.

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5 NLT)

Lie

I am insignificant and have nothing of value.

Truth

I am an heiress. (Titus 3:7; 1 Peter 3:7)

God is for me. (Romans 8:31)

I am part of a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9)

Lie

I’m not important.

Truth

I’m God’s ambassador.

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT)

“We have been given great authority through Christ! We’re called to action! And that passage says it’s as if God is making His appeal through us! Ladies, you are not called to sit on your hands in silence. You are called by our great God to run wild into our culture, calling out an incredible message of life: ‘God loves you! World! God loves you and made a way for you! Come with me! You don’t have to live lost and alone! My Dad has a place for you! He sees you as His ultimate treasure!” (Jess Connolly, Wild and Free)

Lie

God doesn’t hear me when I pray.

Truth

“I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.” (Psalm 77:1 ESV)

“Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven.” (Daniel 10:12 NLT)

Lie

“Am I doing a good enough job at everything I’m doing? It needs to be perfect or else it is not effective. I’m not good enough.” -college student

“I struggled for a long time believing that I was unintelligent. It doesn’t seem to matter how well I did in school, I always felt like I was just getting lucky, or had to work too hard to “get it”, or that I was just a fake.  -a high school teacher who has a PhD

I’m not creative / inspiring / smart / strong enough.

Truth

“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses…For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT)

Lie

I just can’t do what God is calling me to do.

Truth

“My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2 NIV)

Lie

I can’t take the next step until I have everything figured out and can see the entire path ahead of me.

Truth

God lights our path one step at a time. He reveals His way as we step out in faith. If you want to see what’s farther ahead, you have to take the next step.

Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters— a pathway no one knew was there!” (Psalms 77:19 NLT)

Lie

“God doesn’t see me.”

Truth

I’m God’s treasure, the apple of His eye.

“Our standing has never wavered with our Father. Though the world has twisted what it means to be a daughter, His stance and His position toward us has absolutely stayed resolute.” (Jess Connolly, Wild and Free, p 33)

“I will be a Father to you,

and you will be my sons and daughters,

says the Lord Almighty.”

(2 Corinthians 6:18 NIV)

I am a daughter of God.

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Resources to Help You Preach Truth to Yourself

This devotional:

Always Enough, Never Too Much: 100 Devotions to Quit Comparing, Stop Hiding, and Start Living Wild and Free, by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan

This book that inspired the above devotional:

Wild and Free: A Hope-Filled Anthem for the Woman Who Feels She is Both Too Much and Never Enough, by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan

This little book you can carry in your purse:

Garden of Truth, by Ruth Chou Simons