Tearing Down Idols

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“When you work on your book proposal, stop reading.”

These words of wisdom were spoken to me by an author I admire during a coaching call. A coaching call that I had prayed about as the scheduled date grew near. A coaching call that I was so excited for that I struggled to fall asleep the night before. A coaching call that melted away my fears about writing my first book and caused faith to well up inside of me. I felt like my life was changing in that hour and I was ready to take all her words and run with them. At least, I thought I was. But amidst all of the wonderful things I didn’t expect her to say, she said the thing I really didn’t expect her to say: “When you work on your book proposal, stop reading.”

I panicked. What?!? Stop reading? What am I going to do? How am I going to make it through a season of high pressure writing if I can’t find rest in my books? I don’t know if I can do it! I need my books!

And that’s when I realized that my books weren’t just objects I loved; they had become an idol.

Books are good. They allow me a chance to be taught by great minds. They give me an outlet to rest and use my imagination. They help me grow as a communicator, artist, and Christian. Books make me a better person.

But at times, I allow them to take too much of my time (and money). I’ve been guilty of turning to a book for help before bringing my problems to God. It’s so easy for me to find my rest in books in place of being still in the presence of the Refuge Himself. And for a brief moment during my coaching call, books were more important to me than being obedient to God’s call on my life.

In the Ten Commandments, it’s not an accident that the first command, “You shall have no other gods before me,” is immediately followed by the command forbidding idols. God is to be first and most in our lives, but we have a knack for turning literally anything into something that dethrones Him from first place.

Where I am living now (a small city in Midwest, USA), carved idols aren’t paraded on the streets like other places I’ve lived. Our idols are more subtle, subjective, personal. Idols can be anything.

“…we do not usually make little statuettes of gold and silver and then worship them. But idolatry knows no cultural or temporal barriers. We have four-wheeled idols whose worshipers spend all their effort and money polishing them and driving them faster and faster. We have three-bedroomed idols, whose devotees have to keep them spotlessly clean in case visitors should come. We have square idols with silver screens. Some of us have well-bound idols with pages and dust jackets.”

(N. T. Wright, Small Faith, Great God)

“We love so many things more than we love our holy and fearful God. We love sports, our stuff, our churches, and our rules. We love our friends, our kids, and our reputations. We love creativity, our homes, and our opinions more than we love God. Ladies, I’ll give it to you straight. Some days I feel like the candles in my house get more praise and devotion and thankfulness than my God gets.”

(Jess Connolly, Wild and Free)

Like my books, it’s so easy to justify our idols, to use their usefulness for good to conceal what we have allowed them to become. But when we peel away the mask, their ugliness comes to light and we see why God would be hard on His people when it comes to idolatry. There is so much God wants for us, but idols get in the way.

Idols are unable to redeem people and situations, to turn mourning into dancing, to make dry bones walk. They keep us from being able to fully experience the Giver of Life and from experiencing the abundant life He intended for us.

Idols cannot answer our prayers, cannot be with us everywhere we go the way God can. God hears and listens to us when we cry out to Him. Even when He is silent and works in ways that confound us, He is still with us, still listening.

The devotion we give to idols robs us of opportunities to hear the voice of God in our daily lives, reminders of how He loves us, divine whispers of ways we can show His love to others.

The things or people we turn into idols are too small to be worshipped. Only the One, Living God is worthy of worship because He created the universe and everything in it; He keeps the Earth, sun, moon, and stars in motion; and He is the One who holds all things together. He cares so much about us that He knows the number of hairs on our heads, keeps count of our tossings, and puts our tears in His bottle. And He loves us so much that even though He knew our hearts would be prone to wander far from Him, He shaped the narrative of the world so that at the perfect time and place in history, He could redeem us. And His history shaping work is nowhere near done. We still have yet to go further up and further in!

When we look at who God is and what He has done, it seems ludicrous to treat Him like He is anything less, to give Him any other place in our lives than first.

So how do we tear down our modern-day idols? By spending more and more time gazing upon the wonderfulness of God.

A Woman’s Highest Calling

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She ran to me after church, beaming with excitement. “I wanted to tell you before I told anyone else…I’m pregnant!” (Insert squealing, and hugging, and a flood of happy tears.) This sweet friend of mine had walked the painful road of infertility and made my journey through infertility less lonely. I had prayed desperate prayers for her—the words were easy because I had prayed them so many times for myself—and God heard. She was no longer barren. Now she is a mother.

As I walked out of the church building, the happy tears were no longer happy. Buried emotions welled up inside of me and grief took over. I know that God has been overwhelmingly good to me and has filled my heart with beautiful Kingdom dreams. But during that car ride home, I felt like I had gotten a bad deal. My dreams paled in comparison to the dream of motherhood, and I felt ashamed of them.

As I type this, the absurdity of these words is glaring. The Kingdom dreams bestowed upon me by the Almighty God and Creator of the universe seem like a bad deal compared to motherhood? Absurd.

Struggles with infertility are excruciating. I’ve spoken with women who know pain and hardship, and who speak of how the pain of infertility are greater than anything else they’ve experienced. Infertility crushes dreams and mocks our desires. This is hard enough, but it’s made harder still by a lie that we were taught when we were still young:

“Motherhood is a woman’s highest calling.”

“I see women believing and repeating the lie that motherhood is the highest calling for all women. Did you know that’s nowhere in the Bible? The only reference to a chief call on anyone’s life is found in Matthew 6:33: Seek first the Father’s kingdom and His righteousness. We watch as that lie discourages those who are unable to be mothers and immobilizes those who love their children and still feel called to serve in other contexts. I see broken women believing the only role for them is quiet service and the only pace is nonstop. They exhaust themselves as they serve out of obligation, not worship. I see women believing it’s brash and wrong to seek the wisdom of God, waiting on others to intercede and teach them the Word rather than seeking first the kingdom themselves.”

(Jess Connolly in Wild and Free)

Motherhood is NOT a woman’s highest calling.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my mama friends! Motherhood is an amazing calling—mothers shape the world!—but it is neither the highest nor only calling for a woman. And when we reduce women to whether or not they have children, we minimize the potential God has for their lives.

The world needs mothers.

And the world needs women who are not mothers.

Let’s stop reducing women’s identities to motherhood and empower them to be all that God has called them to be: the daughters of the Almighty God, called to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and to fulfill big, beautiful Kingdom dreams!

Singing My Theology, No. 2

pexels-photo-92083.jpegI’m a bibliophile. I live in a house that is overflowing with books. One of my favorite genres? Theology. Aside from the Bible, wanna guess what my first theology book ever was? Not some masterpiece by Augustine, Bonhoeffer, or even C. S. Lewis.

My very first theology book was Wee Sing Bible Songs…complete with a cassette tape. I acquired this priceless gem around the first grade. I had never heard of the word “theology,” yet deep theological truths were sinking deep into my heart as I sang along with the cassette tape that played over and over and over again in my parents’ car.

Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so. Little ones, to Him belong. They are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes Jesus loves me…

God is so good. God is so good. God is so good, He’s so good to me…

I’ve got peace like a river. I’ve got peace like a river. I’ve got peace like a river in my soul…I’ve got joy like a fountain. I’ve got joy like a fountain…

The songs we sing matter. I don’t remember any sermons from the first decade of my life, but the songs I sang are still imprinted in my memory.

In the months that led up to my lupus diagnosis, my body was frail. I couldn’t keep down food and lost about 20 pounds in two and a half months. (If you don’t know me, I’m 4′ 10″, so those 20 pounds were significant.) I couldn’t get out of bed or squeeze a tube of toothpaste on my own. Simple things like walking and playing the piano were excruciating. This is when I truly began to understand: They are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me…

At first, I was hopeful that it wasn’t anything serious, and even if it was, certainly God would heal me soon. But as time went on with my health getting worse and no answers from the doctors, I felt like my time in this world might be coming to a close. And one evening, I asked my husband sit beside me as I lay in bed. Through tears, I let him know I loved him and told him my dying wish. I was sad at the thought of leaving him behind so young, but I was no longer afraid of death or what the future may hold. I had peace. I’ve got peace like a river. I’ve got peace like a river…

I remember wanting to read my Bible, but my fingers were too weak to hold such a bulky book. So I spent a lot of time lying in bed, alone with my thoughts. Nothing to distract me from the tender voice of God. I still cherish those moments. Yes, they were excruciating, but God’s presence was so sweet. I prayed with rawness and honesty; I didn’t have the energy to offer dignified prayers. And as I silently poured out my heart, God wrapped me in His loving arms. God is so good. God is so good. God is so good, He’s so good to me…

Someone once told me that there’s something about suffering that changes a person; suffering refines us. It is suffering that has taught me the depth and richness of the words I sang as a girl. And as chronic illness brings pain and challenges to daily life, these songs keep my mind fixed on the God who is strong and good, who loves me, and who fills my soul with peace and joy.

 

Yet

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One of my favorite words in the Bible is “yet.”

yet

ADVERB
Up until the present or a specified or implied time; by now or then.
Still; even (used to emphasize increase or repetition)
In spite of that; nevertheless
CONJUNCTION
But at the same time; but nevertheless.
These three letters are easy to miss. We rush past “yet” to find the “good stuff,” not realizing that “yet” is the good stuff.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.”
“O you hope of Israel,
its savior in time of trouble,
why should you be like a stranger in the land,
like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night?
Why should you be like a man confused,
like a mighty warrior who cannot save?
Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us,
and we are called by your name;
do not leave us.”
“Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.”

God doesn’t stop being who He is just because life becomes hard. Darkness and suffering don’t negate God; they provide the canvas to make His light and goodness more visible.

So let’s make “yet” part of our anthem:

  • Though what I’m going through is hard, yet God is still good.
  • Though my heart is heavy and I don’t know how I’m going to make it, yet I will live with joy because God is my hope and my strength.
  • Though God seems distant and His silence is drowning the sound of my prayers, yet He is near, He hears my cries, and He’s working in ways my eyes cannot see.
  • Though my life is hard and messy, yet I will keep praising God, holding onto Him, and trusting in Him because He is still an amazing God who loves me and is able to accomplish infinitely more than I ask or think.

“Yet” is the kind of word where the tension between theology and real life thrives. It does not deny the reality of what we’re going through, but it chooses to focus on a bigger reality that our human eyes cannot always see. This word changes our perspective, taking our gaze off ourselves and lifting our eyes to the Almighty God who holds all things together and has the power to redeem people and situations.

 


 

Weep With Me,” by Rend Collective

Weep with me. Lord, will You weep with me?

I don’t need answers. All I need is to know that You care for me.

Hear my plea. Are You even listening?

Lord, I will wrestle with Your heart, but I won’t let You go.

You know I believe. Help my unbelief.

Yet I will praise You, yet I will sing of Your name.

Here in the shadows, here I will offer my praise.

What’s true in the light is still true in the dark.

You’re good and You’re kind and You care for this heart.

Lord, I believe that You weep with me.

Part the seas, Lord, make a way for me.

Here in the midst of my lament I have faith, yes, I still believe.

You love me. Your plans are to prosper me.

You’re working everything for good even when I can’t see.

Turn my lament into a love song. From this lament raise up an anthem.

Yet I will praise You, yet I will sing of Your name.

Here in the shadows, here I will offer my praise.

What’s true in the light is still true in the dark.

You’re good and You’re kind and You care for this heart.

Lord, I believe that You weep with me.

 

A Name with Dignity

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What do you call a woman who is married, but has no children?

No, this isn’t a joke. This is a question that darkened my thoughts after the disappointment of my last pregnancy test. Where do I fit in society? Where do I fit in the Church? Is there a place for someone whose category doesn’t have a name? For a long, painful season of my life, I was in identity limbo. I was a no one with no place.

I wrestled with this question more intensely when I talked to the head of the women’s ministry at my church. “We have so many groups for moms, but I don’t fit anywhere.” She was all for me starting something, but neither one of us knew what we could call it.

There were plenty of names that I played around with, but I kept coming across a problem: every name I could think of had a negative component. “Women With No Children.” “Married Without Children.” Even “Infertility Support Group” felt negative, like there’s something wrong with us. I scoured the internet and couldn’t find a term that was any better.

So what do you call a woman who is married but has no children…a name that is positive and can give her dignity?

I mulled over it for many months. I even prayed for God to give me a name. After some time, I gave up.


Names matter. They matter so much that throughout the Bible, we find God renaming people.

When God established his covenant with Abram, he said, “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” (Genesis 17:5)

When Jesus called Simon to be His disciple, “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter).” (John 1:42)

God doesn’t just give new names to individuals, but also to entire peoples:
“And they shall be called The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord;
and you shall be called Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken.” (Isaiah 62:12)

Names affect how we look at people—how we look at ourselves. And how we look at ourselves permeates the way we live our lives.

So if the name you’ve given yourself is “Barren” or “Infertile,” it’s time to give yourself a new name.


In a moment when my mind was busy with other things and far from the subject matter I’m typing about at this moment, God answered my prayer and gave me a name.

Her name is Priscilla.

Priscilla (or Prisca) is mentioned five times in scripture. Before I describe her, I’ll let you read about her for yourself:

“After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.” (Acts 18:1-3, written by Luke)

“[Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18:26, written by Luke)

“The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.” (1 Cor 16:19, written by Paul)

“Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.” (2 Timothy 4:19, written by Paul)

“Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.” (Romans 16:3-4, written by Paul)

At first, when referring to this couple, Paul listed the husband’s name first. But after he got to know them, he went against convention and listed her name first. This is a big deal! Priscilla didn’t hide in Aquila’s shadow; her worth was not based on who her husband was and what her husband did. She held her own! When people got to know this dynamic couple, they learned that she was the powerhouse! And for the record, Aquila held his own, too. It takes a strong man to empower his wife to be strong as well.

(By the way, for anyone who believes that the Bible puts down women and is against women in ministry, just point them to Priscilla.)

So what does all of this have to do with my identity as a non-mom?

There is no mention of Priscilla and Aquila being parents. It’s possible they had children, but if they did, it wasn’t in their biography. I know it can be dangerous to jump to conclusions based on silence, but here’s my point:

Priscilla’s identity and usefulness for the Kingdom of God wasn’t dependent on whether or not she was able to bear children.

In a society that was male dominated, she worked alongside—not under—her husband. She was intelligent, capable of teaching leaders. She had an influential role in shaping the early Church. And she was courageous, risking her life for the people she loved.

This is the kind of woman I want to be.

So the next time someone asks me, “Do you have any children?” I’m going to respond with a smile on my face and my head held high, “No, and it’s okay. I’m a Priscilla.”

Questions for Discussion and Contemplation

Is there a name or label that I call myself that is negative or discouraging? Is there a positive name or label I can use instead? (If you can’t think of any, ask God to give you one.)

How can I preach truth to myself in a way that speaks life and gives dignity?

Do I put negative names or labels on other people? How can I speak truth to others in a way that speaks life over them and gives them dignity?

What Does Faith Look Like?

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“You need to have faith.” Most of the time, I hate these words. It’s not that I don’t have faith or that I have anything against encouraging others to have it, but it’s the context in which these words tend to be spoken to me. When I’m going through a hard season or feel like I’m walking through the great unknown, the words, “You need to have faith,” don’t fill me with faith at all. They make me think, “Isn’t that what I’ve been doing this whole time?” and then I start to feel like I’ve done something wrong. I don’t walk away from these conversations feeling encouraged and empowered. Instead, I walk away feeling deflated and slightly condemned.

Chronic Illness

A few years before I was diagnosed with lupus, I was given a smaller diagnosis. Like most diagnoses, it came at an inconvenient time. I was living in the Philippines and had just been accepted into a graduate program to study piano performance in the States when I found out I had carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis in both of my wrists. Over and over again, people told me, “You need to have faith.” What they meant was, “If you want to keep playing the piano and get a Master’s in piano performance, God has to heal you.” I prayed for God to heal me. He didn’t. And I did get a Master’s in piano performance.

It took faith…

  • to pursue a graduate degree in piano performance with carpal tunnel and tendinitis.
  • to choose my repertoire and practice every day.
  • to keep going and not quit when it got hard.

I know that God could have completely healed me and it would have been great, but my 70 minute recital with carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis was no less miraculous, no less glorifying to God. But didn’t that make it harder? Yes. I’ll get more into that later, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

When I was diagnosed with lupus, I heard it again: “You need to have faith.” What people meant was, “You need to be completely healed of lupus to be able to fully live your life. And if you aren’t healed, then you must not have enough faith.”

It takes faith…

Speaking of the future…

A Dream Delayed

Ever since we were in college and still dating, my husband and I have dreamt of moving to Japan to start a church. It’s something we feel God has placed on our hearts. But even though we’ve been on a missions trip to Japan, we have yet to move there. There are things that we feel God has asked us to accomplish first—that’s why we moved back to the States—but lupus has caused those things to take much longer than we anticipated.

It takes faith…

  • to keep moving towards this goal, even when things feel slow.
  • to keep studying Japanese.
  • to remember that God was not surprised when I received my lupus diagnosis and knew about it years ago when He placed the dream for Japan on my heart.
  • to trust in God’s perfect timing and to rest in the fact that He is in control.

Unanswered Prayer

I’ve spoken about my infertility in other posts, so I won’t retell those stories here. What I will say is that unanswered prayer—no matter the subject matter—is painful. It fills us with the darkest of doubts and questions. Why didn’t God answer my prayer? Did I do something wrong? Does God really love me? Is God really who I thought He was? It’s in the midst of unanswered prayer when people’s statements of “You need to have faith,” are most painful to hear. Haven’t I been having faith all along?

It takes faith…

  • to hope and pray when the doctor says words like, “zero percent chance.”
  • to pray to God after being wounded by unanswered prayer.
  • to continue to believe that God is good and that He is not withholding good from me.
  • to choose to live with hope and purpose when you feel like your hope and purpose have been crushed.

The Truth About Faith

“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:32-40)

Did you catch that? Hebrews 11 has been nicknamed the “faith chapter” of the Bible. If you want to know what faith looks like, this is where you look. So. Many. Miracles. And also weakness. And torture. And imprisonment. Oh, and also people who were destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The life of faith isn’t as neat and tidy as many would have us think. In fact, if faith were easy, it wouldn’t be faith at all.

We do need faith, but not because God has called us to a life of comfort and ease. We need faith because life is hard.

So let’s get real for a moment. When the object of our faith is faith itself, it falls apart when things don’t go our way. But when the object of our faith is the God who is sovereign, loving, and good, then it can be subjected to hardships and still continue to stand.

Before you keep reading, I want you to pause and ask yourself this question: Is your idea of what faith looks like so narrow that it leaves little room to be surprised by God and to notice when He works in mysterious ways?

Too often we try to make the works of God fit into a box too small to contain Him. We think that when faith looks like x, God will do y. God’s ways are too creative and too wonderful for our preconceived ideas!

The God Who Can Do Anything. Literally.

Could you imagine what would happen if we believed God could do anything?

Let me give you an example of what I mean by anything.  Let’s say someone you know is sick. Do you believe God can do anything so He can heal them? That’s great! But believing God can do anything doesn’t stop there. He can heal how He wants and when He wants, and no matter how God decides to work, it’s going to be good and amazing, and even if He chooses to wait and doesn’t heal someone on this side of eternity, He can make them strong out of their weakness and use them to be the catalyst for a myriad of more amazing miracles that can change the course of history. God can do anything!

I hope that you’re getting really excited right now because I’m getting excited just typing this! If we can live with this kind of faith, can you imagine the kind of faith we can inspire in others? When people spend time with us, instead of walking away feeling discouraged about their lack of faith, they could walk into the great unknown full of faith, believing and expecting God to do anything!

So enough with telling people, “You need to have faith.” Let’s fill people with excited expectancy and say, “What if the God who is sovereign, loving, and good—the God who can do anything—is preparing to do something infinitely more amazing than we can imagine?”

This is the kind of faith that can change the world!