More Reflections on Living a Simplified Life

A few days ago, I shared three guaranteed steps that will help you live a simplified life: Pursue Justice, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly with your God (Micah 6.8). What do these things look like?

Pursue Justice: For me, seeking justice means overturning systems of injustice. It means putting an end to the oppression and exploitation of the marginalized in our society and in our world. This oppression manifests itself in different ways but includes human trafficking, poverty, hunger, genocide, infanticide, rape, lack of food access, high rates of unemployment relegated to a given community, and subprime lending – just to name a few.

Although marginalized communities look a little different around the world, they most often represent persons of color (or ethnicities other than European), women and children. These groups suffer from exploitative systems at rates over and above those who are not in this group. Pursuing justice for these persons and these groups in the way that God requires involves challenging the systems, institutions and governments that allow them to persist. It will be uncomfortable and will demand a huge sacrifice on the part of those who are doing the challenging – but the world is longing for a people of God to step up and do the messy work.

Love Mercy: As humans, we are so prone to give to others what we think they deserve. We want to make sure that criminals are put away, disobedient children are chastised, cheaters punished, and those who scam the system through fraud and tax evasion made an example of, lest they repeat their offences again. And I think that there is an element of truth to these actions, but sometimes I wonder where is the place for mercy? Where is the opportunity to treat people not the way their actions deserve, but the way that Jesus did. With the woman caught in adultery, mercy (John 8), with the sinners and tax collectors, mercy (Luke 15.1, 2), with the Samaritan woman at the well with WAY too many husbands, mercy, with the thief who hung next to him on the cross, mercy (Luke 23. 39- 43), with all of humanity, mercy (Romans 5.8)

If Jesus could demonstrate such great acts of mercy to us, when we wanted nothing to do with him, and took  all of our sins upon himself, how much more us? We have received so much, let us give of the mercy we have received – in spite of whether we think those we are giving it to deserve it.

Walk Humbly with Your God: Walking in humility is not easy. So often we pride ourselves in our accomplishments and our abilities, and putting those things aside for the sake of knowing God is not very appealing. Yet, the apostle Paul, someone who I feel had a right to brag of his credentials, found a way to put all of those things away and instead choose to identify with the resurrection and suffering of our Lord. Compared to Christ, Paul considered his accomplishments rubbish, dung in fact, so that he could be found as one who walked with God. If Paul, someone who upheld the Jewish law, was righteous by the standards of his day, and highly educated, understood that what he possessed was nothing, we would be wise to see our lives and our successes in the same vein.

For me, this is what Micah 6.8 looks like and is thereby what God requires of us. Although these things are not easy to do, I believe that if we can grasp hold of them we will find our lives not only more simplified, but more fulfilling. I believe that any purpose or calling of God on our lives flows from these three things here, in that no matter what we are doing or profession we are in, God asks justice, mercy and humility from us. I would strongly recommend us to re-evaluate our lives if we find ourselves in professions, lifestyles or situations that do not model these things.

The One Thing You Will Never Lose

After a long but rewarding afternoon, I finally sat this evening to pray. And no sooner than I had, my daughter who should have been sleeping started to cry. And then I started to remember all of the things that I had to do, the lists that I told myself I would accomplish before the weekend was over – checks to balance, things to write, floors to clean and so on the story goes.

Instead of tuning into God, I was quickly losing focus. But just before I started to feel overwhelmed, a favorite passage of mine came to mind in Luke 10.38-42. Those who are familiar with the story already know that this is the passage about Martha and Mary. Martha is going about busily doing her housework while Mary opts instead to sit at the feet of Jesus. A very upset Martha begs Jesus to have Mary pick up the slack but instead of appealing to her, Jesus responds:

Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part which shall not be taken away from her.

Let me tell you, I have read this passage dozens of times, but today I was struck by it a little differently. Usually, I find myself getting caught up in the fact that Mary chose to sit at the feet of Jesus, and that I should likewise choose, more often than I do, to do the same. But today, I realized, that Mary’s choice was something that would never be taken away from her, that it was always guaranteed. Her decision to worship God and thereby enter into his rest was something that at the end of the day she would still have, no one or nothing – not death, sickness, or even Martha’s mouth could take that away from her!

And when push comes to shove, all of the things that I have to do and that you have to do, will someday disappear. The house that I feel needs to be cleaned, the bank account that needs reconciling, the work that I really should do so that I can continually prove myself worthy in my profession will one day disappear – such is the nature of life. But one thing that will not, is my worship of God. I will always have that, both in this life and in the next.

Coincidentally, I was listening to this song, Secret Place, by Karen Clark Sheard at the same time that I was reading this passage. It is a wonderful worship song. I encourage you to take a few minutes to put down whatever it is that you are doing and come sit at the feet of Jesus, like Mary did, and worship God from the very depths of your inner being.

Let us remember to consistently pursue the presence of God. The busyness of life so often competes with the one thing that is not only necessary, but the only thing that we can hold on to. Carry this with you into your week, and every time you start to feel a little overwhelmed with the lists and needs of life, put them on pause and come sit at the feet of Jesus. He will be waiting for you!

Measuring the Impact of Our Lives

What will people say about you when you are gone? What will be said about your life, your family, your ministry, your church, your organization in its absence? Will people and the communities that you lived and worked in every day notice that you are no longer there? Will they sense and understand all too well what your not being there means for their lives moving forward?

I am reading this awesome book by Matt Brown, Revolutionaries (side note: if you want a good read about Church History that is practical and lively, get this book)! In it Brown, describes the life of the early apostle, James, the half brother of Jesus. This is what is said of James:

“Because of his holy life, James was called ‘The Just’ and ‘The Safeguard of the People.’ Considered a just and perfect man, James governed the church with the apostles. He drank no wine or any strong drink, ate no meat, and never shaved his head. He was the only man allowed to enter into the holy place, for he never wore wool, just linen. He would enter into the temple alone, fall on his knees and ask remission (forgiveness) for the people, doing this so often that his knees lost their sense of feeling and became hardened like the knees of a camel…He prayed so much that when he was martryed the early church could feel the effects of his missed prayers.”

I was absolutely blown away as I read that last sentence, and thought to myself how amazing it was that one person could have so much impact on an entire church community. James’ impact was so great that when he was no longer around, people recognized the spiritual void that had resulted. I wonder if the same can be said of us and so I pose this question – does what we are doing right now matter? I mean, seriously matter in the grand scheme of things? Are we doing good things or are we doing great things that will have  a profound impact on the lives around us and ultimately history?

Most of us will probably never be a James (I mean, he was the half-brother of Jesus – come on!) However, we can still be effective and powerful in the settings that God has placed us. I believe that it all comes down to doing what we know in our hearts is right – even if it costs us. Such will undoubtedly call us to take the road less traveled by others around us – family, friends, and colleagues. But remember we are not going after conventionality here, but that which makes a difference!

The apostles are great examples of people who were change makers. They rejected the status quo, held to their convictions and did what they knew was right! But history is replete with men and women of God who acted in a similar manner and we are still feeling the impact of their actions today.

So where do you stand? And what will you be remembered for? Will you stick with the status quo, and ignore your convictions? Or will you be a catalyst for change in your world? I hope that we all choose the later.

Is God a Man or a Woman?

I started writing this post nearly two years ago. But then my daughter was born. I came back to it shortly thereafter but could not figure out where I was going with it and then abandoned it altogether. It was only recently, last week actually when I read Mimi Haddad’s post, Worship a Male God, that I realized that I had to come back to this. Hopefully with a much clearer thought process now that the Percocet is completely out of my system!

I have noticed over the last five or so a trend in many theological circles to move toward an identification of God other than father, or for that matter, masculine. I remember the first time I heard someone refer to God as ‘Our Mother and Our Father.” I found it odd and honestly, heretical because up until then I had only thought of God in masculine terms. I mean, the Lord’s prayer starts out ‘Our Father’ and the Bible teaches us to put our trust in this father times without number. I wondered what was going on! Yet I began to see and understand why there was a move in this direction. For many people, men and women alike, the term father carries a lot of negative baggage that they do not necessarily want to associate with. As a result, many people who struggle with this term are reluctant to come to faith in God, someone who personifies everything that they despise as a result of abuse that they have endured, oppression, exploitation and so many other forms of injustice.

And I get that. As a woman, who is a person of color living in a society that is full of injustice, I understand the desire for people to want to embrace this shift. I mean, if the masculine identity of God poses a barrier for people, remove the barrier and either refer to God as a woman, or refer to God as a deity who represents both. Problem solved, right?

Not necessarily. You see, I think we tread a fine line when we start relating to God out of our own presuppositions and biases. We, as a people, reach an unfortunate point when we start to view God in light of our experiences instead of seeing God higher and above our experiences. In my own life, I wrestled with this for a long time. Growing up, I felt like I had to always prove that I was worthy – in my family, in my school, in society at large in order to be rewarded. And if I messed up, I often feared that whatever I earned through all of my hard work would be taken away. Unfortunately, in many instances it was: love, affection, acceptance – the whole nine yards. It led me to constantly seek the approval of others; without that approval, I was a mess.

As I began to grow in my relationship with God, I began to project these very experiences and tendencies on to him. I felt like I had to be on my p’s and q’s in order to win his affection, his love, and I feared what would happen if I ever screwed up. Time and a whole lot of grace has shown me that this is not who God is at all. In spite of my experiences, God is the loving, ever understanding and merciful parent, who delights in me regardless of what I do. God was not waiting for the first moment that I screwed up to punish me or take away any blessings; no instead, God was waiting for me to trust in him the very way that a daughter trusts in her mother and a son trusts in his father.

This is not to say that referring to God in any other way besides masculine is wrong. In all actuality, the Bible tells us that God is Spirit, (John 4) and so that means that God is neither male nor female. In our humanness and inability to understand something so infinite, we ascribe to God these human characteristics. There is nothing wrong with that – we just must realize that he is more than that!

And God is also more than our experiences! This is why we cannot use those experiences to determine how we will relate to God nor can we use those experiences to determine who God is. In fact, we must allow God to redeem these experiences to bring about his glory and his goodness in our lives.

You can read more about my own experience in Dancing on Hot Coals.

Just for Today: My Life’s Theme Song

Have you ever had a song that keeps ringing back in your head no matter what situation or circumstance that you find yourself in? I mean, it doesn’t matter if you are happy, sad, floating on cloud nine or feel like you are sinking in Lake Michigan – this song just keeps coming back to you, encouraging your spirit and giving you the resolve to face whatever comes at you in the next moment, the next breath, the next day?

For me that song is Just for Today by India Arie. Granted I love just about everything this girl puts out, her lyrics are so deep, but this song in particular really moves me admonishing me to not only take risks but be comfortable with life’s uncertainties. Check this:

Nice, right?

So what is your life’s theme song? Feel free to share it with me in the comments below. And if you don’t have one, you can borrow mine until you find one that works for you!

What a Little Oil Could Do For You

When prompted to do something, we all have a tendency to tell God and others that we do not have enough resources to do that thing instead of reaching out and taking hold of it. If we are starting a new project at church, wanting to reach those in our community, we tell ourselves that we do not have enough money. If someone is asking us to volunteer our time and give energy to something that we have been praying about for years, we tell them that we do not have enough time, enough knowledge or enough people to be able to make a difference. If we have visions and plans for a business venture that will supply food for millions, we complain that we do not have enough education or charisma to do that. We always look at what we do not have instead of what we do, and instead of moving into our destiny, we stay imprisoned in our situations.

Now a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant, my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD, and the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” And she said, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil” (2 Kings 4.1, 2, NASB).

This woman had next to nothing and was in great need because of the loss of her husband. She went to the prophet Elisha asking him to help her out in some way as she was about to lose the little that she still had to the creditors who had a claim on her life. Elisha could have asked God to rain down manna from heaven, or could have prayed that her house would be miraculously paid off. If he would have done those things it would have been sufficient, and the widow would have left satisfied and blessed. And yet, Elisha turned to her and asked her what she had in her house.

If I were this woman, I think I would have grown a little frustrated with Elisha and looked for another prophet to go to-did she not just tell him that she was dirt poor? With sarcasm she told Elisha that all she had was a jar of oil, just to reiterate the fact that she did not have anything. However, what she had was of great worth and Elisha pointed that out to her in verses 3 and 4 saying: “Go borrow vessels at large for yourself from all your neighbors, even empty vessels; do not just get a few. And you shall go in and shut the door behind you and your sons, and pour out into all these vessels, and you shall set aside what is full.”

This is wonderful stuff! Elisha recognized that she did not need a lot to make a big impact for her family. All she needed was to capitalize on what she possessed, and therein was her salvation, her miracle. God equips us all with varying degrees of gifts, talents and resources, and what he desires is that we make use of those things instead of pining after what we do not have. What is in our house, in our life, in our community that we can use? No matter how seemingly insignificant that thing may be, when we place it in the hands of the Lord, he is able to feed multitudes and change nations with it. That is exactly what God did for the widow. The story concludes:

So she went from him and shut the door behind her and hers sons; they were bringing the vessels to her, and she poured. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not one vessel more.” And the oil stopped. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debt, and you and your sons can live on the rest” (2 Kings 4.5-7, NASB).

What a powerful ending and an even more valuable illustration. Like this widow, I believe that all of us alike, need to stop focusing on what we do not have. Although it would be so great if we had all of the resources in the world at our disposal to do as we please, God just does not work like that. He gives us one, or two, or three things that we can use and stretches them farther than we can ever imagine when we place our full trust in him, instead of resources.

Excerpt from Dancing on Hot Coals. If you have not read it yet, make sure you get your copy on Amazon.com. And if you have read, I appreciate reviews!

Life Transitions When You Don’t Think You Are Ready

This past weekend, my 20 month old daughter decided to do something she had never done before – climb out of her crib! I mean I had seen her try to in the past but never in a million years did I ever think that she would actually do it. When I got up to get her Saturday morning, I found her standing at her bedroom door which left this strange feeling in my stomach. After processing what happened and thanking God that she did not hurt herself, I immediately went into solution mode – it was time for her to transition into a toddler bed.

Now, I did not think that she was emotionally ready for this. I mean she is a very smart girl with lots of vocabulary, who is quickly learning to express her needs and wishes at an alarming rate. But could she handle being in a bed with no boundaries? I hardly let her stay in a room by herself for too long without running in after her to find out what mischief she has caused. But 10 – 12 hours, during the night, a lone. Seriously, I did not think she could handle it.

Neither did I think I could handle it. Besides waking up to whatever mess she created as a result of this new found freedom, this transition was really about my baby growing up to be a big girl! I mean, soon she will stop breastfeeding, then she will be potty-trained, then, well I do not know what significant milestone comes next but I do know that eventually this toddler of mine will turn into a self-assured preschooler and on and on the cycle continues.

As I reflected on all of this, I realized that this happens to everybody throughout many stages of our lives – we are constantly transitioning! Some transitions are expected, some like the one I encountered are not expected, at least not when we thought that they should be. When we face these unexpected life transitions, our natural inclination is to scream at the world, God and perhaps even ourselves that we are not ready for them. We are not ready to move, not ready to grow, not ready for that new job, not ready to wrestle with unemployment, not ready to deal with this tragedy, not ready, not ready, not ready. And so we fight to make sure the transitions do not come, failing to realize that life is all about transitioning.

If we are still and we pay close attention to what God is doing in our lives at any moment, we will see that he is trying to prepare us for the transitions that come upon us. The frequently quoted text of 1 Corinthians 10 is true – he will not allow us to be tempted or tested beyond what we are able but when we are tested, he will provide a way out so that we can endure it! God is ever faithful and so we can rest assured that when a trying life transition comes our way, if we are not ready for it, he will help us get ready! Sidenote: my daughter is sleeping wonderfully away in her bed as we speak.

Stop by Amazon.com to buy my book, Dancing on Hot Coals today!