For College Students in Christian Community

My husband and I lead the college and young adults ministry at our church. We love the students we get to hang out with. The majority of them are students at a Christian university where they have required chapels and dorm devotions, a required number of Bible classes regardless of the degree they’re pursuing, and a plethora of Christian teachers, leaders, and mentors speaking into their lives. It blows our minds that they STILL wake up early on Sunday mornings and come to church an hour and a half before service to be at a small group they’re not required to come to! (No judgement if you’re a college student who comes to our church but doesn’t wake up early to come to small group. Seriously, if sleep is what you need, then we want you to sleep! No guilt! However, no coffee or donuts either. Just sayin’. Well, okay, you can still get coffee in the church lobby. But the donuts—you gotta come to small group for those.) This post is for all the students who find themselves in a strong Christian community—whether it’s in a Christian university, a Christian organization on campus, or even a local church you call home (or home away from home). 

There are some things I hope you learn from us and carry with you long into your future. This is one of them:

Following Godly instruction is not the same as spiritual transformation.

There’s a story in 2 Chronicles about a king named Joash.

2 Chronicles 24:2 says, “Throughout the time of the priest Jehoiada, Joash did what was right in the Lord’s sight.”

When this story is told in 2 Kings, it says, “Throughout the time the priest Jehoiada instructed him, Joash did what was right in the Lord’s sight.” (2 Kings 12:2)

Under Joash’s leadership (and Jehoida’s instruction), the people of Judah abundantly donated silver to pay for the temple of the Lord to be repaired.

“The workmen did their work, and through them the repairs progressed. They restored God’s temple to its specifications and reinforced it. When they finished, they presented the rest of the silver to the king and Jehoiada, who made articles for the Lord’s temple with it — articles for ministry and for making burnt offerings, and articles of gold and silver. They regularly offered burnt offerings in the Lord’s temple throughout Jehoiada’s life.” (2 Chronicles 24:13-14)

The people of Judah worshiped the Lord while Jehoiada the priest was alive and influencing the king. But after Jehoiada died, the story took a turn:

“However, after Jehoiada died, the rulers of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them, and they abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and served the Asherah poles and the idols. So there was wrath against Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs.” (2 Chronicles 24:17-18)

Something that strikes me when I read the books of Kings and Chronicles is how incredibly gracious God is. Even when people have turned their backs on Him, He still beckons them and provides a path of repentance and restoration. In this chapter in 2 Chronicles, as soon as we see the people turn from God, we see God’s graciousness in the very next verse: Nevertheless, he sent them prophets to bring them back to the Lord…” God isn’t quick to pour out His judgement; He’s quick to forgive and shower people with His grace…“but the people would not listen.” (2 Chronicles 24: 19)

In His graciousness, God reached out to them, but they wouldn’t listen. Ooph. And what happens next is heartbreaking:

“The Spirit of God enveloped Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood above the people and said to them, ‘This is what God says, “Why are you transgressing the Lord’s commands so that you do not prosper? Because you have abandoned the Lord, he has abandoned you.”‘ But they conspired against him and stoned him at the king’s command in the courtyard of the Lord’s temple. King Joash didn’t remember the kindness that Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had extended to him, but killed his son…” (2 Chronicles 24:20-22)

Joash didn’t just turn away from the Lord and lead the people in idolatry. He forgot about the man who invested so much into his life, the man who was responsible for all his success. And he murdered his son. Wow.

Things didn’t turn out so well for Joash in the end. (You can read about his assassination and sub-par burial in 2 Chronicles 24:25-27.) His life was a tragedy. He had so many good things going for him before his mentor died. When he had someone in his life who gave him godly instruction, he did great things. But that’s not enough. Not for Joash. Not for us.

Seek knowledge, but don’t stop there.

Strive to follow godly instruction, but don’t stop there either.

It’s easy to follow God when you’re immersed in a spiritual community where you’re regularly receiving godly teaching.

But what’s going to happen after you graduate and you’re no longer part of this community in the same way? What’s going to happen to your relationship with God when you don’t have regular chapels, small groups, or Bible studies anymore? What’s going to happen to your faith when you no longer have people checking on you, pouring into your life, and encouraging you to engage in spiritual things on a daily or weekly basis?

The challenge right now is to make sure you’re going beyond just following godly instruction. Knowledge and godly instruction without spiritual transformation is unsustainable.

If there isn’t spiritual transformation that’s happening in your life in this season while you’re immersed in godly community, then your chances of continuing to follow God when you’re no longer part of that community aren’t very high. One day you will leave this community—the people and activities that come with it. You may find yourself in another strong, Christian community. But you may also find yourself in a place where you are standing for God alone, called to be a light in a dark place. The kind of relationship with God you foster while you’re in this community will go with you. And if you foster a relationship with God that is dependent on other people and a set of activities, don’t be so sure your faith will stay intact when those people and activities are gone.

Go deep—where the Spirit of God can transform your heart, soul, and mind. In these years while you’re under the covering of a strong Christian community, learn what it means to be with God. And after you graduate, when you branch out from this community that has spiritually nourished you for the past four (or however many) years, continue. Yes, continue to seek knowledge and continue to follow godly instruction. But more than that, continue to go deep with God. Seek Him. Cling to Him. When things are hard, wrestle with Him. And allow Him to daily transform you from the inside out.

This is my prayer for you:

May you continually experience the transformation of God and become like trees planted by streams of water. And may streams of living water flow from deep within you and into the world around you. Amen.

A Rule of Life

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For some time, I’ve been feeling a need for a shift. 2020 has an increase of activity in store for my husband and me and I’ve been stressing about how to make everything fit. I know God’s capacity will make up the difference for the capacity I lack, but I can sabotage myself by living in a default of unhealthy rhythms. So this year I’m cultivating a rule of life—daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms of spiritual disciplines.

Because I’m entering a new normal of increased activity, a lot of these rhythms are practices of being with God over doing for God.

This isn’t something I’m entering legalistically. None of this is set in stone and I’ll periodically adjust it as my life rhythms change and as my soul and spirit needs. But for this season, here’s my rule of life:

Daily

Morning hour of solitude and quiet:

  • A time to quiet my heart, soul, and mind so God’s voice can become clearer and louder.
  • No to anything that pulls my focus away from God.
  • Yes to getting ready for work, tuning my heart to God’s through prayer, Scripture, writing, driving to work, music, and planning for the day.
  • Inspired by Jess Connolly, I ask God this question: God, what have You ordered for me today?

Wash off the day:

  • When I get home and don’t plan on going out for the rest of the day, put on some relaxing music or a fun podcast, wash my face or take a long shower, and put on pajamas. This is a moment to transition from a mindset of activity to rest.

Evening 15 minutes of quiet:

  • No to devices.
  • Yes to free thinking, journaling, and prayer.

Weekly

Sabbath: (Thursday evening to Friday evening)

  • No to striving.
  • Yes to rest, play, and worship.

iPhone / social media break:

  • I’m ashamed of my addiction to my phone and social media. At the same time, these things are important tools for my work and ministry. So I need this weekly break to keep my phone and social media in their place.

Monthly

One fun thing: This is one of my goals for the year because taking time to have fun is hard for me.

  • No to anything that involves striving or productivity.
  • Yes to…well…something fun.
  • This is worship!

Yearly

Family vacation

  • “change of pace + change of PLACE = change of PERSPECTIVE” ~Mark Batterson

Monastery retreat

So how about you? What are some of the rhythms you’re cultivating this year? I’d love to hear them!

My Goals (and Un-Goals) for 2020

The approaching of a new year means new beginnings and new goals. I have the amazing ability of getting stuck in a rut and judging myself harshly for it, so January 1 is like my grace and hope filled reset button.

I didn’t complete every single goal I set out to accomplish in 2019. But I did complete a good number of them. And for the ones I didn’t complete, I’m definitely much farther along from a year ago. I’d rather set a goal and have progress than not set a goal and not move forward! To help me make progress this past year, I tried out Powersheets from Cultivate What Matters. It’s a tool that helps you articulate and track your goals. I loved it so much I’m using them again this year.

My Goals for 2020

1. Cultivate a prophetic ear + a rule of life.

This is what everything else in my life will flow from.

(If you’re wondering what a rule of life is, it’s simply a plan for spiritual disciplines within daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms. If you want to know more about a rule of life, you can learn more about it in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero and Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton.)

2. Love my people and the people in my circle of influence well.

This means meals, coffee dates, hospitality, and life in the mundane.

3. Save, spend, and give money meaningfully.

Track my spending and create a budget!

Buy no more than 10 clothing/shoe/jewelry items…the whole year.

4. Send my book proposal to a literary agent (or 20).

This means I have to finish writing my book proposal!

5. One fun thing every month.

What is fun? Nothing that involves striving or productivity, and not something I do every/most weeks.

This is a goal I’m bringing back from last year because it was so life giving and I want to keep growing in this area. (And the fact that I have to make fun a goal in order to do it lets me know I still have a lot of growing to do!)

7. Project Dream Room: make our home library beautiful.

This is another goal I’m bringing back from last year. I made some baby steps, but our home library still looks like a disaster.

8. Love my body.

Take care of it. Nourish it. Make it strong. Be grateful for it.

*****

Un-Goals

It’s a great practice to have positive goals where we want to accomplish things or make changes in our lives, but we can’t do that if we’re just adding more and more things to our to-do lists. There comes a point where we can’t add anymore. We have to say “no” to things so we can say “yes” to the things that matter most.

So here are a couple of my Un-Goals for 2020:

1. Read less books and read slower. (My Goodreads goal: 5 books) Don’t read out of obligation or self-imposed pressure. Don’t let books clutter my mind.

2. No buying any bags or pouches. I’m obsessed with bags and bags I can put in bags! I have enough. So unless someone breaks in our house and steals every bag and pouch I own, I’m not buying another one for at least a year.

*****

When I get to the end of 2020, I don’t want to be full of guilt and regret. I want to know I lived the abundant life God ordered for me.

So let’s do this! Let’s enter this new year (and decade!) with expectation, intention, and a whole lot of grace!

Books I Loved in 2019

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After my post about my year of 100 books, people have asked me what books I enjoyed in 2019. Listed in the order that I read them, here’s a list of my favorites—the ones that moved me, the ones that opened my eyes, the ones I can’t stop recommending, and the ones I want to read again and again.

1. The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, by Maxwell King

Mister Rogers made a huge impact on my life. So of course, I couldn’t pass up the first full-length biography of one of my childhood heroes. Bonus: the audiobook is read by LeVar Burton, another one of my childhood heroes!

2. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

I believe reading novels is important. They make us more empathetic, creative, and articulate. This one made me cry!

3. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, by Jonathan Haidt

Wanna understand Gen Z? This is the book to read!

4. Come Matter Here: Your Invitation to Be Here in a Getting There World, by Hannah Brencher

This book challenged me with Brencher’s vulnerability about depression, loneliness, and the struggles of adulthood.

5. Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt, by Austin Fischer

I couldn’t stop highlighting as I read this book. If you’re struggling with your faith, battling doubt, or feeling disillusioned by Fundamentalism, you want to read this book!

6. The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, by Jemar Tisby

This book is a must read. It hurts in all the right ways! In addition to being a hope-filled vision for the Church in regard to racial issues, it is a beautiful example of how to dig into history and also how to properly interpret Scripture.

7. Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering, by Makoto Fujimura

Wow. This book is about art, literature, culture, suffering and trauma, Japan, the gospel…Almost every page in my book is marked. I had high expectations before I began reading it and it exceeded them.

8. Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess, by Janet Hill

This is a picture book. It’s ridiculous and I love it!

9. The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide, by Jenna Fischer

This book is for aspiring actors, but it has so much wisdom for anyone wanting to go into an artistic field. Also, the audiobook version is fabulous.

10. Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram: A Handbook for Harmony and Transformation, by Adele & Doug Calhoun and Clare and Scott Loughrige

This book goes beyond knowledge about the Enneagram and delves into how we can partner with God to do the transformative work in our lives.

11. You Are the Girl for the Job: Daring to Believe the God Who Calls You, by Jess Connolly

This book is for anyone who has doubted themselves or is struggling to take the next step (or even first step) in what they feel called to do. The author packs this book with so much practical advice, wisdom, encouragement—and no fluff!

“We are the girls for the job because of the God of all capacity who not only calls us but equips us, and dwells within us, enabling us to carry out His plans. We are able to live, to love, to move, to repair, to receive, to heal, to hope because of Him. We are the girls for this job, for this season, for this life, for the joy and blessing of those around us at this appointed time because God has placed us here. He’s called us to be his ambassadors, and he doesn’t make mistakes.”

This book will fill you with a fire and give you tools to move forward and run on mission.

12. Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, by Ruth Haley Barton

I needed this book. It has shifted my prayer life, my daily and weekly rhythms, how I view my body…It challenges you to go deeper into spiritual disciplines while breaking them down to make them practical and accessible.

What I Learned in My Year of 100 Books

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One of my goals for 2019 was to read/listen to 100 books. I was able to achieve (and surpass) this goal by carrying a book with me everywhere I go and using Hoopla, an app that allows you to borrow audiobooks from your local library.

Here’s some stuff I learned from my year of 100 books:

– I enjoy listening to audiobooks when I’m in slow moving traffic.

– 100 books is too many books for me in the span of one year. I often found myself hurrying to gulp down books to achieve my 100 book goal. And the hurry took away the joy and my ability to think about what I had read. Many books are like a hot cup of tea; they need time.

– I want to listen to more podcasts.  There are some podcasts I started listening to, but I’m way behind because there are only so many hours in a day when I can read and listen to audiobooks. In my year of 100 books, podcasts were too hard to fit.

– A lot of book titles are better than the books themselves.

– Not every book is worth my time. Before this year, I wanted to read all the books. I still love books, but I no longer want to read all of them. I want to read all the good books. Life is too short to waste reading books that don’t challenge, or grow, or delight me. On a related note…

– It’s okay to not finish a book.

– I need quiet in my life. And books—even though you can have quiet while you’re reading—can be noise for my mind. Yes, there are books that are a welcome escape. But sometimes my mind doesn’t need an escape; sometimes my mind needs to be present in this very moment.

So what’s my reading goal for 2020? To read less. That’s right. I want to read less. If I read 5 good books in 2020, that’s enough for me!

My Hair Story

When lupus entered my life, I lost half my hair. At first the hair loss was due to discoid rashes on my scalp that caused my hair to fall out in clumps, leaving behind bald spots. After starting treatment, even more hair felt out. Because of scarring on my scalp, the doctors weren’t sure if all my hair would grow back. So I asked all my friends to pray for me. It seemed like a silly thing to pray for, but God didn’t think my request was too silly to grant.
Tiny hairs began peeking through the bald patches on my head that were once scarred. (Read that sentence again! Hair grew back where there were scars! That’s not supposed to happen! It was a miracle!) The budding hair throughout my scalp made me brave. And inspired by Anne Hathaway in Les Mis, I went to the salon and asked them to to chop it all off so I could start over.

For the past seven years, I’ve been growing my hair out again. Each new inch has been a sign of grace, a reminder of how God has walked with me through every part of this journey. At the start of this year, I decided I wanted to pay it forward. One of my goals for 2019 is to donate healthy hair. And this weekend, I took the plunge. It was all the feels! I don’t know that I could say I’ve had a worshipful experience during a haircut before, but that’s what this was. Joyful, thankful worship.

The Organization I’m Donating My Hair To:

“Children With Hair Loss is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization that provides human hair replacements at no cost to children and young adults facing medically-related hair loss.  When a child’s hair is lost due to Cancer treatments, Alopecia, Trichotillomania, Burns, etc., the painful effects are far deeper than just cosmetic.” (from Children With Hair Loss website)

Read More »

Advent

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Advent is a time of expectation and hope, but the beauty of this season gets overshadowed by busyness, rush, and consumerism. Art has a way of quieting the noise and helping us be attentive to the profound things of life.

May this piece of poetry open for you a small space when the noise of your life gets a little softer and the whisper of God gets a little louder.

 

Listen

 

I groan

—a prayer too deep for words—

as I fight to hope and believe

I will hear Your voice again.

 

The Lord hears

—the Word becomes flesh—

four hundred years of silence

broken by a Baby’s first cry.

 

What the World Sees

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I think too often, we miss it. We miss what it means to be a Christian in a world desperate for light and hope. We miss opportunities to live out Jesus’ words. We miss chances to speak life.

A friend of mine said, “Remember that the world will know we are Christians by our love. Currently, it seems that the world knows us more and more by our dogmatic stances on social issues.” How tragic these words are. I wish I could say they’re a lie, but it only takes a few minutes on social media to see they’re true. I’m not saying we shouldn’t stand for truth, but when the Church is known as a place where people will be met with judgement and condemnation, and when people feel that love can only be found outside of the Church, then something has gone horribly wrong.

What if we cared about people more than issues? What if we loved people with the audacious love Jesus showed in the Gospels? What if when the world saw us, they saw something remarkable, something beautiful, something they want to have and be a part of?

The world needs to see something different in us:

  • Less fear; more hope rooted in trust in a sovereign and good God.
  • Less anger; more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
  • Less self-righteousness; more humility.
  • Less of us using the Bible primarily as a tool for making a point or developing an argument; more of us being grounded in truth, reading the whole of scripture with the intention of getting to know our Savior and share His love.
  • More of us believing God is who He says He is and can do what He says He can do.
  • Less of us focusing on the circumstances we can see right now; more of us fixing our eyes on the eternal Kingdom of God.
  • More of us seeing people the way God sees them, each person made in the image of God and a life for whom Jesus died and resurrected.
  • More of us living in the recognition of the extravagant grace that is daily given to us and, in turn, extending extravagant grace to others.
  • More of us seeking first the Kingdom of God and being motivated by the desire to please Him in all we do.
  • More of us making our voices heard in Heaven before making our voices heard on social media or in conversation with others.
  • More of us making room for the Holy Spirit to move in and through us and to interrupt our day with beautiful and wonderfully messy opportunities.

This is the kind of Church that will change the world, the kind of Kingdom God is wanting us to be a part of, the kind of culture He wants us to start living in the here and now. We can do this! Who’s on board?