If Peter Jackson can milk “The Hobbit” into three parts consider my pail almost full.
When I start writing I have a general idea of what I want to say, but until I actually get started and uncork my brain I don’t realize how much is bottled up inside me. Aren’t you thrilled for me to pop a cork on some more topics? I’m so very sure you are.
The message of God’s upside down kingdom is so life changing that I have a hard time not going on and on. It is the cornerstone of my theology and really the lens in which I see the meaning of this life and especially relationships. We have all been given charge of our own little kingdoms. My kingdom is called “Kelly” and in my kingdom things are extremely ordered, calm, quiet, everything has a place, everyone around me is like minded and witty, my world is esthetically pleasing, and I decide the order of my day.
I birthed three kingdom Kelly destructors. Their unbridled kingdoms continually bump into and threaten to destroy my kingdom almost on a minute to minute basis. I have to tell myself each day that they don’t wake up setting out to thwart my kingdom, even though it feels that way. Alas, they seem to be armed with tiny little needles that continually poke holes into my air tank and slowly deplete me of all defenses. I’m fairly convinced they actually put together a plan of attack every morning around 6:15am. Now if I were managing my kingdom as God would run my kingdom of “Kelly” then I would counter these attacks and assaults with a mature, gracious, calm, loving and positive response. That is the goal each day…respond as Jesus would. Sometimes I am in the spirit, but truth be told 9 out of 10 times I seem to respond like a numb nut. 100% reactive. So I fail and try and fail and try and slowly I gain ground. I am not without hope. I’ve seen progress in me, be it ever so slowly.
Every day we encounter countless other kingdoms. The person driving 10 below the speed limit, the coffee barista that gets our order wrong. Let’s be honest. NOBODY gets my coffee wrong in my kingdom. The slow check out clerk. In my kingdom I get the shortest line, the most cash register savvy associate and heck, I even get an unexpected discount on something. But as we all know the reality is you tend to get the person in front of you that needs a price check or the “trainee” cashier that is beyond flustered or my favorite, the super chatty cashier that’s in NO hurry and hell bent on being your new BFF. Our patience and grace begins to get tiny little air holes. Tssssssssssssssssss……..the air hisses forth. Sure, we put on a nice fake smile the first time the cashier nervously glances at us or we humor the chatty cashiers first couple of personal questions… I mean, we are a Christians, and isn’t that what we do? Bless us! No, bless you! (wink and a nod)
Eventually, we shuffle our weight back and forth, maybe add a subtle sigh or make a show of looking at our watch. Passive aggressive is a much more noble road to take. We subconsciously set a magical time limit on our outer patience. Our kingdom can only take so many assaults, only so much air can be lost before we retaliate. I mean didn’t you know I only planned seven minutes for this quick milk and bread run? Don’t you know that I don’t care that you bought these same razors with a coupon last week when they were on sale? Don’t you know that you are taking precious time from my kingdom agenda? Don’t you know??? How we grossly misread people. How little grace and time we are willing to invest in others when we’ve set a different agenda.
True confession. I try to get up five times a week at 6:00 am to have a quiet time. (blows hot puff of air on the back of finger nails and rubs on shirt) Now, don’t be too impressed, it only took me 35 years before I committed to a regular quiet time. Remember my three little kingdom wreckers? We will protect their identities and call them “Shmoe, Kennett, and Zhett” so nobody will know who I am referring to. Well ever since we moved “Zhett” into a big boy bed and out of the crib he has turned our mornings upside down. He’s popped my little morning bubble and gotten the other two in on his scheme. He looks so irresistibly sweet right? Don’t let those giant eyeballs fool you. He’s a professional kingdom wrecker.
Imagine me curled up in my favorite chair, white fuzzy blanket draped over my lap, sipping amazingly strong coffee in my favorite mug, the “Word” open. I’m in the zone. Above me I hear all the signs of “awakeness”. The noise machine goes off, little feet start milling around and sooner, rather than later, the first argument of the morning begins. God help us for the emotional, don’t back down boys we’ve been given. They love hard and fight hard and nary in the middle.
I calmly but firmly shout up the first warning from my chair. “Guys, find something to play with and don’t fight.” (we have a rule that no kids can come downstairs before 7:00am, we are tyrants, we know) Some mornings we might get another 10-15 mins before the next fight. Mostly, they seem to wake up with both fists in the air having their own kingdom clashes. In “Kennett’s” kingdom he should be able to wake up and play Legos in bed for awhile without a pesky little brother ruining EVERYTHING!!! Yeah Kennett, do me a solid and maybe your brother will do one for you!
Next thing I know I have read the same verse 10 times because Im getting drawn into their arguments. My blood pressure is pulsing through my temples at a rapid rate and now I am full fledged screaming from my “spiritual chair” all sorts of crazy threats and punishments while trying to separate fights from a floor away. The sleeves roll up, I slap the Bible down and stomp louder than I need to go upstairs and start regulating.
“MOMMY IS TRYING TO SPEND TIME WITH JESUS!!!!!!!”
I’m probably scarring them for life. They can tell their therapist some day how every time their mommy read her Bible she got angry. Oh man, sad but true. So, a little glance into our “perfect” family. A kingdom reaction fail on my part. I know this is a phase with the kids getting up so early and I’m sure in a blinks time we will be dragging them out of bed and yelling at them for sleeping too late but for now….we are struggling people and they have us bested most of the time. I will say, the other morning alternative is them all lined up on the staircase with their faces poking through the rungs staring at us all horror movie creepy like. It’s alarming to be silently stared at while you read the Bible.
Where am I going with this? Good question. This is the “wrap up” post, right? I am going to put this topic to rest today. I talked about Spiritual disciplines and how those brought me and continue to bring me into a much deeper and richer relationship with Jesus. They also laid the foundation for me to understand Christ’s greatest message of the kingdom and how it is here and NOW and we choose to live it out or not. We can stagnate each day depending on if we decide to hold the reigns of our life, or hand them to Jesus. Through His transforming power we are able to continue to move forward and mature in the kingdom, love others more than ourselves and take ordinary opportunities and turn them into extraordinary moments. Life in the kingdom is so good, but beware….it will change you. I talked about missions, and in particular Mexico and Cuirim House. It is such a perfect picture of how simple it is to live like Christ. To love the unlovely, the marginalized, the invisible of the world. At first all you’re thinking is “Look what I will do for you” but what you don’t see, because it’s so sneaky, is that YOU are the one that gets changed and blessed. You are the one transforming through this process of loving others more.
The men and the women I was blessed to rub shoulders with over my week in Mexico left me awestruck. I know people get all enamored with celebrities and athletes. They study them and look up to them and for the life of me I don’t know why. They aren’t “heroes” like I would define a hero worth emulating. Let me show you some giants of the faith.
They serve and serve and serve and serve some more, for the joy set before them. I was so blessed to spend a few days of my life ministering along side of them.
This is the kids cafe.
Oscar and Ana’s church
Finally this is Carlos. I want to write a whole post on him, his story. He deserves a book about his life. He has overcome alcoholism, their family was homeless, and about 18 months ago they buried their only son, David, who died of cancer at age seven. This family has known the bondage of addiction, the fear of homelessness and unemployment, the joy of coming to Christ and the devastating loss of a child. They so fiercely cling to Christ regardless of circumstances. They claim God’s goodness and are dedicated to serving the unlovely of the world. They do this with JOY in their hearts. Their three daughters are passionate followers of Jesus. Carlos is HILARIOUS!! Seriously, if you are funny, you have my heart. Cuirim wouldn’t be the same without Carlos and his family.
On our final night at Cuirim a “restaurant” was set up in the upper chapel to serve Brian and Kirsten, Oscar and Ana, and Celiaa and Carlos. A formal dinner. Afterwards our team prayed over them individually. Finally, Carlos brought the thunder with his prayer. It was powerful and extremely emotional. I couldn’t understand what he was saying but there is no mistaking passion, conviction and urgency. The wives of these men were weeping. This is one of those moments in my life I will never be able to recreate and I do not know why the Lord allowed me the privilege. It is a frozen moment of awe to be singing “Be Thou My vision” in a Celtic Monastic chapel in the center of a slum, while laying hands on the matriarchs and patriarchs of the gospel of Nogales. My hand is on the shoulder of a hero.
I just attended the “IF GATHERING“. It was so incredible and encouraging. There were approximately 12 speakers. One of my favorites was Jen Hatmaker. She spoke about the transforming power of “mercy” when you open your life up to extending mercy. She also ended with this simple but perfect illustration. We’ve all been given an instrument to play in this life. Mine is different from yours, yours from mine. It’s made up of our gifts, talents, passions, burdens, life story, spheres of influence, unique family compositions and calling God has put on us. You DO have a calling and a ministry whether you have a “title” attached to it or not. Nobody is exempt from service in God’s kingdom. She called these our “instruments”. If you play your note and I play mine, and she plays hers, and he plays his, and on and on we play our notes…we will make up the song of the kingdom. We will be the ones changing the world together in our Judea’s, Samaria’s and beyond…. BUT YOU HAVE TO PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENT. Too many of us live in fear, bondage, uncertainty. We clutch our instruments with an iron clad grip, we don’t eve attempt to even puff a feeble breath of air into it. We live life seemingly “safe” and controlled, yet sadder in complete selfishness. I’m learning to blow harder into my instrument, to make my note storm the gates of heaven for the lives of those around me. Will you play with me? Will you play your note next to mine? Will you manage your kingdom like Jesus would and love others more? Are you willing to live differently?
Hey you’re back! Great!!! It’s me, the one trying desperately to be succinct in her writing. I mean the topic on the table is THE KINGDOM OF GOD. If Dallas Willard needs 288 pages in his book to explain it I may be justified in having monster posts. Even then, I am just hitting the high points.
We are talking about Christ’s greatest message preached in his three years of active ministry. Parable after parable, sermon after sermon, proclamation after proclamation “The kingdom of God is like this….”. He talked about the kingdom of God being here…like now…not 2000 years from now…but NOW. With him and through him we have the ability to live in reality of the kingdom of God. It is available through relationship with Jesus regardless of your circumstances. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN or better yet does it mean what I think it means???
Seriously, I am no theologian. People start using big $5.00 words and my eyes glaze over and carnival music plays in my ears. I’m not dumb but my brain does not compute a lot of what I hear explained and debated. I’m highly visual and kinesthetic. My faith has always been rooted in my experiences. I KNOW them to be true and real and unshakable but I’m pretty sure Peter meant what he said in I Peter 3:15 “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” I had the revering down, not so much the giving an answer part. And so I continue to muddle through my learning on how to articulate kingdom living.
The prevailing thought of Jesus’s day (and really nothing has changed much) is that those that had wealth, power, beauty, health….well those people were obviously “blessed” and God’s favor rested on them. They had the finger on the pulse of God and he lavished them with good and abundant blessing because of it. The thing with Jesus and his upside down kingdom is when he stepped into the Synagogue or stood on a mountainside the proverbial record scratched. In one of his most famous messages, more commonly known as The Beatitudes or Sermon on the Mount, he drops an atomic bomb on the status quo of that day. (Matthew 5)
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
“There is no human situation that excludes one from being blessed in Jesus. The world and its evaluation of who wins and who loses will not have the final say. In Jesus, God has the last word. These pronouncements of grace. announce that:
those who have little or no hope,
those who appear to have little to offer to the world,
those who are on the fringes of society (and religious society in particular),
those who live in ways that the world considers weak, unproductive, and unsuccessful,
those who are considered the “losers”
God’s blessings may be yours in Jesus! No human condition, no matter how hopeless it may appear, no matter how despised by the world, no matter how “unsuccessful” or insignificant others may deem it, disqualifies anyone from God’s grace in Christ. Those who follow Jesus may participate in that new creation reality now, no matter what their present condition. God’s grace is available to all. All are welcome. All may come. The blessings are here for you in Jesus.
The only thing that transforms us spiritually is the action of following Christ. You seek to follow, you fail and you learn. But in order to engage in following, you have to have a clear understanding of life in the kingdom of God; that you are accepted by the grace of God in Jesus and that lays the foundation for as much true doctrine as you can manage and as much manifestation of the Spirit as you can stand.”
THAT is the kingdom message. That is the reality we can live out of. THAT is the welcome mat to our freedom.
Now I may be showing images from our Mexico trip last summer but these words ring true not just for those obvious suffers of our world, the invisible and the marginalized. Christ came to FREE THE CAPTIVES, that excludes no one.
That’s you, the one that’s addicted, the one with the secret wound that paralyzes them in fear and unforgiveness, you who are wealthy and deeply unsatisfied, you who are starving yourself or purging food in a desperate attempt to control or be thin, you who are SO busy you stay in a constant state of numbness to your pain, you who are sipping your $4.00 coffee judging everyone in the coffee shop, you…you who are despairing about your future, agonizing about your past, you are racked with jealous, pain, and emptiness. You who are tired and the thought that nobody knows your pain is crushing and defeating you. The kingdom of God is here, it is available. This is good news. This was my good news many years ago. It’s still my good news as I break free from other areas of bondage.
For so long because of the types of churches I grew up in and the university I attended, by no fault of their own I promise you, I understood the words of “service” and “ministry” to define only those that were up front leading, in charge of things or perhaps overseas as a missionary. THOSE are the people in ministry, serving in the kingdom. The rest of us…well we are NOT doing ministry. We are helpers of sorts to those doing the real thing. It kept me in a very “us and them” place in the body of Christ. I kept thinking that until someone would slap a title on to what I was doing and it had a clear classification endorsed by a church or organization. I wasn’t doing ministry in the kingdom. How sad for me. How I missed it.
So living in the reality of the kingdom means that when we begin our relationship with Jesus we allow him to rule and reign in our life. This is the process that allows us to make changes that conform us into his image in thought, action and deed. He taught us how to live this new life by the way he lived His life on earth. The expectation is that we would do these things because that’s how we become more like Christ. Well that makes living in the kingdom very simple. Do the things that Jesus did because Christ dwells in you and has giving you the power to accomplish these things and knowledge of how to do them. Do we all agree that Christ lived by one rule and one rule only. Love others more. LOVE them. JUST STINKING LOVE THEM! This is not rocket science. This is not hard. It just takes you setting aside YOU.
“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’
This is why Ryan and I went back to Cuirim House in Nogales, Mexico along with part of our small group. This post would be a novel if I took the time to explain what Cuirum House is and the BRILLIANCE of Brian and Kirsten Donohue to start this ministry in the slums of Nogales, Mexico. Cuirim is gaelic for “incarnation”. This is a VERY incarnational ministry. Brian is one the the first true mentors in my life since 1995. His life message to everyone who comes to work at Cuirim and to the people of Nogales is the kingdom message of Christ. They LIVE it out every single day in the most basic and simple acts of love and giving. Cuirim is a tiny plot of land in the hillsides of Nogales in the forgotten slums where squatters come to try and stay alive and usually never leave. Cuirim is a beacon of light on the hill.
Brian and Kirsten Donohue singing together before chapel at Cuirim House
I can sit here and tell you what all the Americans did when they came to poor, 3rd world Mexico. We did do those simple kingdom acts that Jesus says “do in MY name.” Part of me can get snarky because I’m protective of this ministry. I don’t want it to come across like “look at these noble acts us Americans did for one week of our life.” I also don’t want to take away from the fact that the BEAUTY of Cuirim is that you see how BARE BONES kingdom work is and how insanely impactful it can be. WE did help multiply the efforts of Cuirim while we were there but as much as we gave the receiving was ten fold.
We fed the hungry.
Kids Cafe feeding over 100 kids EVERY day and sharing the good news of the kingdom.
We played with children who are barely looked at and touched let alone played with. The abuse level is astounding in the slums. Unemployment and alcoholism rule the households there. The kids are left to wander the streets most days, many of them put in charge of tiny babies.
We had the honor of helping one family dignify their home by coming and painting the interior and exterior of their three bedroom shack. Don’t ever call yourself “poor” because you can’t go to full priced movies or eat out every weekend. You don’t know poor. If you are reading this entry on a computer or smart phone. You aren’t poor. You just aren’t. This woman, Charo, allowed us to come in her home, move her precious belongings and paint. WHAT BLESSED ME TO THE POINT OF TEARS is when I looked outside and saw her sitting there fanning her newborn reading her Bible out loud to him. Periodically, she would look up and flash us a huge smile and say “gracias”. Thanking me? Oh no, this was my blessing. Her kitchen is an “after” shot. We were told that the blessing of having a home that is painted on the inside is so they can spot scorpions and centipedes so they won’t get stung. It’s just scrap wood and plywood houses but some how that fresh paint made it look pretty. You could see her joy and pride about her home. Just took a few of us a few hours.
One of my favorite things that Ryan and I got to do was offer a simple gift. A portrait. We have been praying about how we can use our photography for more eternal purposes and not for profit. You never realize what a luxury a photo can be. Everyone seems to have smart phones or digital cameras at their disposal and pop off more photos than you could ever begin to use. A photo is a record or time. Many of these families left all their belongings and traveled to the border to try and cross and never made it. They have no images of their children, nothing to pass on, no record of time or place. It was too simple not to do it.
Ryan took our Instax to the Kids Cafe one day to take polaroids of the kids. You would have thought we gave them a sack of gold. They were going crazy when they realized this white rectangle we handed them turned into an image of them within 60 seconds. It was precious. I only wish we had thousands of rolls of film to shoot.
We also began wandering around with a translator door to door to see if anyone would want a family photo. People were leery at first but over a few days we started to see them come around and agree to let us photograph them. One family held up their finger for us to wait while one of the men ran into the house and out he came carrying the matriarch of the family. They told us she was 100 years old. WHAT AN HONOR to photograph her and her family. Multiple generations together.
I can hardly stand to look at this next image Ryan grabbed because it makes me well up. The joy when people see their picture on the back of the screen. She told her best friend after she saw this image “Girl we look good!” How sweet is that?
That was not a sacrifice and therefore we want no kudos. It was a super easy and obvious way we could be a blessing and give something from the resources we have been given.
GOD BLESS you if you are still reading. Would you believe it if I were to say there is a Part 3? Well there is. I know, I know…put a sock in it Kelly but I just can’t. I need to bring this back around and that will happen next.
I watched my brother’s roommate, BJ, zip up a backpack stuffed with a water bottle, snack, bible and a few other little things. “Where you going?”
“Just driving out to the parkway to spend the afternoon in solitude and hike.”
“Really? By yourself? How come?” says 22-year old me. The Kelly that couldn’t stand to be alone in thought for more than a millisecond.
“To spend time with Jesus, be in nature, slow down for a little bit, pray, get some exercise, hear from the Lord. You should do it Kelly. It’s so good.” Off he went and there I sat.
GO ALONE…..TO THE WOODS….FOR SOLITUDE??? A dueling battle between fear of aloneness and yet a strong desire to understand solitude began to rage inside me. Can fear and curiosity coexist together? They seem to be at odds.
I don’t think BJ will ever know that he was the one….the one that gave the final shove to the boulder of Kelly that had been sitting on a spiritual plateau. A safe, perfectly manicured, legalistic, narrow minded, swiss cheese theology little cliff. He pushed my rock off and started it rolling in a direction I could never have imagined.
I went to a pretty famous Christian (read Baptist) University back in the mid/late 90’s. Maybe you’ve witnessed my awesome profile and my adorable third born on one of their commercials.
Oh yes…that’s me picking up Rhett from the crib and playing peekaboo at the end. We’re adorable. Also my beautiful sister-in-law is the lady on the couch with the laptop. Our five minutes of fame was a family thang! Seriously, after all the filming they did that’s the part that made it. One of my major insecurities…my profile. It’s like Jesus made me accept it because it was playing on ESPN, FOX, Food Network and all sorts of networks daily. YOU WILL ACCEPT YOUR CHIN KELLY!!!!
Anyways, I’m not bagging on any denomination or my crescent moon profile in this post. The fact is I had heard the term “spiritual disciplines” somewhere along the lines of getting my religion degree but I had no idea what it meant and that it was an expected and GLORIOUS part of the believer’s life. I was SO missing out.
I’m incredibly thankful that starting my sophomore year of college I began attending a little church plant, about 7 years old at the time, called Grace Evangelical Free Church. It’s really where I got my spiritual sea legs. It’s also where I was introduced to authors like Dallas Willard. He is one of the most gifted men of our time on teaching “kingdom living”. Did you know the greatest and most often taught message of Christ in his three years of ministry was on the Kingdom of God? Did you know that it is here, available, and begins at salvation? We can live in the reality of heaven on earth by being disciples of Christ, by taking steps to live our lives as Jesus would if he were in our shoes. MIND BLOWN. This took me many years to truly understand what kingdom living really is but I can go back to certain tipping points in my life and nod my head up and down and say “YES…YES that’s when I started to move in the right direction in understanding.”
Solitude was one of the first disciplines I ever stepped out in a conscious manner and executed all because BJ said “Do it.” It wasn’t BJ though, it was Jesus readying my heart to go the next level with him. So I did it. I grabbed my backpack, (gotta look the part of an “outdoorsy” person after all) put snacks and drink, bible, journal, fun pen, camera and drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is before I had a cell phone (can you EVEN imagine??? The depravity) In all honesty I was terrified and if my mom had known I drove to the woods alone I would have probably been made to watch some horrible 48 Hours episode about girls being abducted. I’m not making light…these things happen but still… I was heading for a very public, park-like setting. Baby steps to solitude in the woods.
I made sure I was in screaming distance of the visitors center but I remember doing a little bushwhacking to get to a flat rock that overlooked the James River. It was a warm, sunny and gorgeous fall day. I carefully laid out my journal, bible, and pen (at perfect space intervals like a good OCD person would) and there I sat. I was waiting for my lightning bolt to strike. Maybe God needed a little more time to show up. I grabbed my disposable camera which happened to be a B&W roll because I was SUPER artistic and nothing says artistic like B&W. I’m embarrassed to say that I took a picture of my hand on the rock with the river in the background…hahaha. I’m dying laughing even writing about it because I probably thought it was so DEEP at the time. Eeesh…Kelly!
After my little photo shoot was done I sat on the rock and let myself finally just think. I honestly can’t remember what I started thinking about because this is literally 16-17 years ago….but I do remember just staring at the water below and my mind slowly started to clear and I began to journal. This was at a point in my life that I was struggling deeply with past wounds, in a very sinful relationship with a guy, had a paper thin theology on who God was and what life was about, was thoroughly confused on what I was doing now that I was a big, bad, college grad. The gentleness of the Lord is astounding to me. No matter where we are at, no matter how infantile our theology, our misunderstanding of His character, our poor choices and secret sins…God is there, meeting us where we are at, communicating, wanting to be found, standing like any parent does when their child is hurt…arms wide stretched with love and compassion in their eyes. My Abba, my heavenly Father…he was with me on that rock and he dipped his finger into my soul that day and like a paint can that’s settled and separated he began to stir me round and round. My no substance, no depth, no color paint can. God had plans for me, plans I could never dared dream of. Round and round I needed to go. A little light was ignited in me and I tasted and I saw, like Psalms 34 tells us, that the Lord is GOOD and I wanted more.
I think I spent a few hours just sitting, praying, thinking, journaling, reading my Bible and then I got this WILD thought. I mean it was WILD because Kelly at 22 was packing some serious extra weight on herself. I was a good 40 lbs. overweight and I did not exercise. All of a sudden I wanted to run. RUN I SAY. I still don’t understand it myself. I don’t know where the stamina came from but I got up, put my back pack on and I started running down a trail, then another trail and another trail. Soon I was well in to the woods (sorry mom, it just happened), drinking in the colors of the leaves, exploring a cool little cave, another small stream, an old wooden bridge, on and on it went. I felt alive.
Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Eph. 5:14
I wish I could say that that was the day I turned my life around but it wasn’t. In fact it was another six dark, heart-wrenching years before my true emancipation from sin and my past happened. What did start that day was me taking steps towards truth and light. Just one practice of a discipline led to me trying the next discipline. Regular scripture reading and memorization, worship…like REALLY worshipping (my hands were up baby!) tithing, fasting, etc… I wanted more of Jesus.
My favorite area that God blew the doors open on was missions. I went on my first missions trip to the slums of Nogales, Mexico in July 1999 as a senior high youth leader. Everything changed, all bets were off on what I “thought” I wanted to do with my life after that trip. After I went to Mexico the next year was Kazakstan for a some total of about six months of my life. I also served on a short term team to North Cyprus and have since visited multiple other countries. I got the bug to go and serve out of the US and it was the greatest gift the Lord could have given me. The photos peppering this post are from a return trip back to Nogales, Mexico last summer with Ryan.
Fun fact…did you know that the United States makes up just 4% of the world’s population? That means 96% of the world lives VERY differently than us in America. NINETY-SIX percent, people. Get out of your own way and realize that we are a minority. If you only experience God and church in the US then you are missing out. I learned more about the Lord from watching other people in 2nd and 3rd world countries abandon EVERYTHING for Jesus, than I ever could have learned in the wealthiest nation on earth; my country. God LOVES the world, He loves diversity, He loves hearing his name sung in every language. He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. It has been my PRIVILEGE to hold hands with people from all over the world and listen to them sing from their toes worship songs to the Father. There are not enough words to describe that honor. It is my picture of heaven that I have tucked into my heart.
My sweet, sweet Anna. How we wept when we said goodbye. What a woman of God and faith!
This post comes from a fire in my belly. It’s long…I’ve just resigned myself that all of my posts are going to be long. This topic of service in the kingdom is my greatest goal and passion while I live and breath on this earth. I’ve misunderstood it and overcomplicated it for far too long. Let me give you a little taste of Dallas Willard.
The enemy in our time is not human capacity, or over activism, but the enemy is passivity – the idea that God has done everything and you are essentially left to be a consumer of the grace of God and that the only thing you have to do is find out how to do that and do it regularly. I think this is a terrible mistake and accounts for the withdrawal of active Christians from so many areas of life where they should be present. We all know that Jesus said, (in John 15) ‘without me you can do nothing’. We need to add, ‘if you do nothing, it will be most assuredly without him.’
We are a glutinous people group. We are consumers and takers of “stuff” and this translates just as much to the church as it does to people, places and things. Our churches are full of metaphorically fat, unhappy, overly-critical, self-indulgent, pessimistic, lazy, takers. Am I being too harsh? I’m not trying to be, I’m really not. The most available statistic on church MEMBER giving is from 2011 where members give on average 2.3 of their annual income. Chew on that. Does that make you sad? It makes me sad.
To quote Ghandi. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians, your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
There is hope and it comes from living in God’s upside down Kingdom. This is for Part Two.
Who doesn’t love a kid that is all ready for bed? Clean jammies, little minty fresh mouths, and soft blankies pulled up around them. Sweet voices uttering phrases like “Night night mama, I love you”. It’s AHHHH-DORABLE. The problem is that sweet little scene doesn’t come about easily. It happens after a series of repetitive battles that only parents can commiserate with. What should take a child five minutes to accomplish stretches out painfully to 15-30 mins. most nights. I do not understand how single parents do it, I have SO MUCH respect for them. If I didn’t have Ryan to either be the hired gun or at least make sarcastic comments with me so we can make “light” of this frustrating end to our day….well I just don’t know what I’d do. Probably punch a kitten. (I’m kidding cat lovers….or am I??”)
You would think it is a child’s first time EVER getting ready for bed. LIKE EVER. It’s like they have no idea what to do or what is expected of them. AT ALL! I mean Rhett’s ONLY had three years of bedtimes to practice and Bennett has ONLY had 5.5 years of bedtimes to learn and Chloe has ONLY had seven years of bedtimes to master this. Can you tell we are a little over bedtime shenanigans? Nobody wants to end the night with spanks, it just feels wrong but if you sit in the other room and listen to just what the parent says you realize how foolish they sound.
“Brush your teeth! Don’t forget the ones in the back, no all the way in the back….yes up and down not just side to side. Guys stop talking and BRUSH YOUR TEETH. Well that’s the only flavor toothpaste we have so deal with it. I’m sorry Chloe they only had Spiderman toothpaste, I’ll get a girly one next time. Who cares if it’s a superhero…it’s TOOTH PASTE. Just put it on your brush and BRUSH. Why is this so hard? Well you cry if I do it so either do it right or I am going to do it myself. I’m serious….if you don’t get the ones in the back then I will do it for you! Stop talking and brush your teeth. Please share the stool. Why is it so hard to share a stool with your brother? Then take turns. No he was on it first. I don’t care if your foot was touching it first, he was standing on it first. You know what….NOBODY gets the stool you can stand on your tiptoes. If you can’t be kind and share it’s gone. Did you rinse your brush? Please spit all the way into the sink I know it’s you that lets it dribble down the cabinet. LEAN OVER!!! Well I took the stool away so do the best you can. Forget it, just swallow it. Come on let’s get on jammies.”
End battle one.
Enter the next arena…pajamas. Same song, second verse.
“Stop jumping on the bed and take your clothes off. STOP JUMPING ON THE BED AND GET YOUR CLOTHES OFF…are your ears broken? Wear the jammies from last night they are still clean. NO…no new jammies I don’t want to do that much laundry. I’m serious…close the drawer and grab your jammies off the hook. Rhett you can’t just wear just a diaper to bed, put on your jammies. Stop crying, it’s just pajamas. You want your rock star ones? How bout the raccoon ones? You love the raccoon ones, see the little car? Then the jungle ones. Why not? Just pick one please, I need to get Chloe ready. GUYS…stop jumping on the bed and get your pajamas on, final warning!” I assure you we are not “push over” parents. There are punishments dealt swiftly at our house but after pulling a 13 hour day with kids and getting only 6+ hours of sleep as apposed to their 12+ hours, the odds are clearly in their favor. Once, just once I want to see ticker tape fall when I walk down the stairs after we get the kids in bed. No… I take that back… can you imagine the mess? Anal Kelly will have none of that!
It’s so our reality and even though we want to put our head through a wall many nights doing this little song and dance it does, somehow, someway, end up where our kids are snuggled in their beds looking adorable, cuddly and sweet.
The arguments of the last 20 minutes begin to fade into the background and through some miracle of grace we finally make it to bedtime prayers. Although “weather” tends to get top billing most nights on the Thankful Chart, sometimes our kids really blow us away with what they will pray for. Seriously….why are kids so thankful for the “nice day” or “beautiful weather”? Maybe it’s just our kids that are a broken record about the weather. Ryan and I often stifle laughs when our kids thank the Lord for the “beautiful day” as we glance out the window at day three of rain. Me thinks our kids might be on prayer autopilot.
A few years ago when Chloe was about 4.5 and Bennett three years old we had one of those proud parent nights.
Sometime earlier that week Chloe had seen an ad in a magazine I was flipping through about Operation Smile. This is an awesome organization where doctors provide free surgeries to repair cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities for children around the globe. The ad had a picture of a child with a severe cleft palate and Chloe was fascinated and confused. This led to a really good conversation about what these doctors do and how it changes the lives of children not only aesthetically but functionally. We talked about being thankful for being born without a deformity and we should pray for these children and doctors. Coincidently, that same week, my kids were at my parents house and my mom had the news on which had a story about twins conjoined at the head. Again, Chloe’s morbid curiosity gripped her, and my mom talked her through how they were born and what the doctors were going to do to help them become separated.
So back to our proud night. We were in their rooms wrangling them into bed per usual. Bennett volunteers to pray first. Of course he thanked God for the beautiful weather, I’m sure a few friends were thrown in, favorite toys and usually Ryan and I make the cut. Next, Chloe began to pray. What left her mouth was nothing short of beautiful. Words and thoughts far above her four year old pay grade. With deep sincerity she began praying for the children with clef palates, she prayed for the hands of the doctors preforming the surgeries, she prayed for the conjoined twins and for their doctors. On and on it went. I welled up with tears at the deep and empathetic nature of her prayer and that what stuck with her wasn’t that these kids looked different but that they needed PRAYER and HEALING.
Wanting to seize the moment when she was done I began to praise her. “Chloe I am so proud of you for praying for others in need. That is called intercession. This is how God wants us to pray thinking of others before ourselves! I’m so proud you remembered about the doctors and you also realize only God can truly heal them.” She received our words with joy and satisfaction.
Soon a little voice pipes up from across the room. “I want to go again.” Bennett obviously wasn’t so moved by Chloe’s prayer as much as he liked the attention she got. Move over weather…..there is a new song in Bennett’s heart and it went like this.
“Dear God, please help the kids with the funny mouths and the stuck together kids. Amen.”
There he sat proudly waiting for his words of affirmation. It took everything in us not to die laughing. There was no mincing words, there was no finesse, no doubt that he was gunning for the praise that surely awaited him at the end of the “Amen”. Not wanting to disappoint we offered him a few words of watered down praise. We left their room so we could finally bust a gut. Kids provide endless entertainment for us. That’s why they survive those annoying nighttime dramas. TRUTH!
As funny as that was I often act like Bennett. I offer up my words, I do something, I create something, I experience something, I learn something and I feel satisfied. BUT then I start to look around and I sense that others are doing more, are better than me, are getting more praise, are farther ahead, have more stuff, are happier, thinner, wealthier, more spiritual, more accomplished, etc…. A little voice pipes up inside of me that says, “I want to go again.” I let discontentment and comparison kick the door down of my life, my mind, my heart and my soul. What I found great joy in creating now feels simple and amateur. What I saved up for and finally bought WITH CASH…feels second rate….not good enough. My house that I work so hard on and I love so much…suddenly feels generic and uninspiring. That really great lesson I learned or bible study I finished that worked me over and taught me so much now feels like a sunday school lesson for toddlers. What a trap, what a senseless cycle. It’s the hamster wheel of crazy that we eagerly wait in line with our ticket to board. Theodore Roosevelt nailed it when he said “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
“I want to go again.” Why?
But what if we weren’t aware of everyone’s highlight reel. What if we aligned our life with what 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 says. What if….
9 Now you do not need anyone to write to you about brotherly love, since you have been taught by God to love each other. 10 In fact, you are showing love to all the brothers throughout (insert your own city), but we urge you, brothers, to keep on doing this even more. 11 Also, make it your goal to live QUIETLY, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may win the respect of outsiders, and have need of nothing.
So God taught us how to love and we are doing that in some ways but we are urged to do this EVEN MORE.
In searching deeper through a commentary The “even more” refers to:”in showing love to the brethren; which may be done both by administering to them in things temporal, by assisting them in distress, by sympathizing with them, and by giving them counsel and advice; and in things spiritual, by bearing their burdens, forbearing with them, and forgiving them; by admonishing them in love, by stirring them up to love and good works, by praying with them and for them, and by instructing and building them up in their most holy faith”. Do you set out each morning to do these things?
LIVE QUIETLY: “To live peaceably in their own families, and to give no disturbance to other families, by talebearing, whispering, and backbiting; to behave with quietness in the neighborhood, town, or city, they dwell in, and to seek the peace thereof; and to lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty, in the commonwealth, and under the government to which they belong; and not to create and encourage factions, divisions, animosities, and contentions, in their own church…”
MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS: “not thrust himself into other families, and officiously take upon him, under a pretense of zeal, affection, and friendship, to inspect, direct, or manage the business of others: in short, he should not meddle with other people’s business…”
Work with your own hands and the byproduct of this is respect of others and having need of nothing or, I love the Latin for this “that ye may not desire anything of anyone”; as the slothful man covets greedily all the day long what is another’s, and this desire kills him”
Whooooooo!!!! Are you drinking from a firehose of truth right now? Digesting ten steaks perhaps? It’s a lot to take in but man does God understand the human condition. He understands the peril we put ourselves in when we center our lives around comparing what others have, are doing, have accomplished. How can good fruit come from this? How can we possibly cultivate a thankful spirit, contentment, joy, and peace when we are rubbernecking, adding our two cents, spending countless hours keeping track of others?
One of the main reasons we moved out to the country 18 months ago was so we could take a deliberate step back from being available. We wanted to slow our lives down, be home a lot more and start to invite people IN to sharing life with us. Our very simple life. It was one of the best things we’ve done for our family. It was right for us. My tendency was always to “overbook” the calendar and be available for anyone, anytime because it was quick to scoot here and there when I lived in town. Now we have to turn down more than we can accept. We have had to see our home as our place of ministry and seek the Lord for how he wants us to use it. I can not believe how much my spirit has come to rest by moving outside the city. If you had asked me three years ago would I be willing to move out to the country I would have laughed in your face. Oh how the Lord is gentle. He brought me/us to this place where not only was I open to it, I desired it above all else.
I have not conquered comparison. In my teen/early adult life it ruled my thoughts and was the motivating force for my decision making, spending, and time (mis)management. Now it is something I wrestle with but the Lord over the last few years especially is showing me ways to live that QUIET life which immediately slays the comparison dragon. It’s a molting process that at times is painful but mostly its just freeing. Maybe it’s because I am getting older but I truly just don’t care about most of what was SO IMPORTANT when I was in my 20’s. As the one line in the song “Hosanna” says
“Heal my heart and make me clean, open up my eyes to the things unseen, show me how to love like you have loved me, break my heart for what breaks yours, EVERYTHING I am for your kingdom’s cause. As I walk from earth into eternity.”
Most people won’t understand your desire to simplify and lead a humble and quiet life. Everything, and I mean everything, in our American society paints “normal” as the acquisition of stuff. Live big, live loud, tell everyone about it and don’t be left behind. Nothing could be farther from the TRUTH. Start to live differently, start to live kingdom-minded, let God break your heart for what breaks his. People are always going to question what goes against society. Just show them this….