What is a Strong Woman?

A strong woman feeds the hungry, gives to the needy, and visits the sick and imprisoned even when it’s unpopular and uncomfortable.

She accepts her body, her age, and her shortcomings with dignity and gives herself permission not to be perfect.

She speaks, tweets, texts, and posts words of grace from her pulpits and playgrounds knowing that words matter and people are listening.

She knows that building each other up is vital and eternal.

She realizes that the older she gets, the less she knows and she’s ok with that.

She has learned that love is a choice filled with action and the more difficult it is to give, the better it is for her and those she loves.

She’s a game changer and a trailblazer but above all, she is a peacemaker. But don’t be fooled, as a warrior of God, she will fight injustice, oppression, apathy, and hatred for the poor and marginalized. She’ll approach any action needed in a godly manner knowing she will be held accountable to the Creator.

A strong woman handles her grief and fear gracefully and refuses to let either define her.

She is a friend who will love you to your face and behind your back.

Strong women know that strength doesn’t always mean force. Sometimes it means silence.

Strong women realize that even if we vote, love, look, protest, or worship differently, loving our neighbor doesn’t come with conditions.

Strong women know that our strength isn’t our own.

I hope you have a lot of strong women in your life. I hope you mentor one. I hope you love one. I hope you are one.

 

 

Powerful

Every year around January, I have friends ask what my word of the year is and I never have one. I’ve always thought it was a neat idea but I never really got into it. But in the fall of 2016, I started thinking about and looking for my word for 2017. Something I could meditate on and gravitate to. A word that makes me think Jesus and move closer to who he wants me to be. 2016 had some great moments but hurled some big stones, too. There were many times throughout the year I was reminded how little control I have over this crazy life and it was in those moments when my word came into view.

Life is great at making us feel powerless, isn’t it? Dealings with work, family, and even church can lead to an abundance of stress, jealousy, fear, and fatigue. When we look around, we’re almost certain that everyone else has life figured out. Our inner voice bullies our struggling heart and we are left drained.

I love Peter especially in Luke 5. He’d been fishing all night and his workday had been disappointing, at best. The nets had continued to be empty regardless of the times he tried. He was tired, frustrated, and probably ready to go home when Jesus enters the picture.

After speaking words of grace and truth to the people, the King of kings, disguised as a typical Jewish rabbi, suggested Peter lower his nets once again. He knew about the previous night’s heartache but it was leading Peter to something powerful. Jesus could have filled the struggling fisherman in on how this was all going to play out. He could have shown him the thousands responding in Acts 2 or given him an aerial view of Vatican City. He could’ve have shown him the sprawling cathedrals in Europe or the thousands of church buildings sprinkled across our country today. But instead he spoke a few words, “Drop your nets” and Peter’s future was now in the choice of what he would do next.

Have you ever tried to tell Jesus how disappointed he was going to be? Maybe you told him that you thought he was cool but his people were a mess so you’d worship on your own or hang out in nature. Maybe you feared a political candidate so much you lost sleep. Maybe you turned up your nose and started avoiding that person who is living in sin because you’re positive they would never become a disciple. Maybe you slandered the church down the road because they didn’t do church like you. Maybe you chided the poor for wrong decisions instead of helping them or refused to give money because they might use it inappropriately.  Maybe you thought someone was so messed up, Jesus couldn’t help them anyway.

We tend to want to advise the creator of the world from time to time, don’t we? Peter wasn’t any different. He had no qualms about letting Jesus know how his night had gone. “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” Doing life on our own always works out that way. When I focus on what’s going on around me I only see the empty nets, the disappointment, the drama, and darkness. Autopilot kicks on and I start to worry. I struggle with jealousy, pride, apathy, and lust. I battle moments of insecurity, defeat, bitterness, and a whole lot of nothingness. I need Jesus to encourage me to try again because when he’s in the boat, life changes. Suddenly, life is doable. Not perfect, but possible.

Too often, we struggle through life with overwhelming feelings of powerlessness. We’re tossed from here to there in situations where we have no control. Fear reigns and dictates how we respond but God has called us to something powerful. We may not be able to control someone else’s action but we can certainly control our reaction.

We were given a spirit of power! Power to love the unlovable. Power to be joyful, peaceful, and patient in a world that isn’t. Power to be kind and good regardless of where we are or what we’re faced with. Power to have faith and to share it with others. Power to be gentle and the power to control ourselves in a world that says we don’t have to.

Power by Heaven’s standards isn’t what the world would classify as real power. The world will tell you that power is doing something great but God defines power as doing something good. Paul tells Timothy that God gave us a Spirit, not of fear, but of power, love, and self control. Power lacking love and self-control is not Godly power.

Peter pulled that net up and felt the tension immediately. There were so many fish, the nets began to break. Fish that weren’t there a few hours ago and a fisherman who began to realize that the man sitting in the boat next to him wasn’t your average teacher. I love what Peter did next. He didn’t immediately worship Jesus. He didn’t immediately follow him. First, he feared him. “Go away from me, Lord. I am a sinful man!” Peter was out of his comfort zone and we always find out who we are when we are.

We are in a brand new year. We can allow it to tell us how powerless we are or we can remember that God has made us powerful. We have the strength to make a difference in the lives of those we encounter because of Jesus. We have the power to resist temptation and live through tragedy. We have the power, through Christ, to survive.

Rise up, children of God. Claim what’s yours. Strength in moments of weakness. Love, joy, and peace in the face of adversity. Grace in a time of grief. God has made a way. You are powerful.

The Truth About Millennials (and Why the Older Generation Needs to Shut Up)

Hey 40-somethings, 50-somethings, 60-somethings. All you guys closer to my age than my kid’s age. We need to have a chat. Get off the young people’s backs. Quit using the word millennial as a derogatory term. Stop it. Stop sharing articles about how terrible they are. Stop criticizing your younger brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a sin and Paul warned Timothy about people like you (I Timothy 4:12).

If you really care about the church and want to help the next generation win, then go out and meet them. Have a cup of coffee with them. Hang out with them, mentor them, and love them. Let them see how much you love the Lord. Get out of your comfort zone but be advised, we find out who we really are when we do and that may scare you a little bit but that’s a good thing.

The millennials I know are in places you wouldn’t even dream of going telling others about Jesus. They are on the front lines of this Kingdom, courageous, and on fire for the Lord. They don’t have time to criticize the other generations because they’re too busy making a difference in theirs.

I really don’t understand how we can treat a group of people the way we have and then turn around and wonder why, in some places, they’re leaving the church. So stop that and start sharing the love of Christ.

The church has enough criticizers. Be one of her cheerleaders. Quit complaining about others. Quit pointing fingers and start building bridges. We’re all in this together.

Who is my Neighbor?

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I was trying to get the attention of one of the kids at school the other day but the student wasn’t responding. At first, I thought he was in his own little world. Then as I said his name a bit louder, I decided he was flat out ignoring me. As I got even closer I wondered if something was wrong. Maybe he wasn’t ignoring me. Maybe his hearing needed checking. I was growing concerned. After all, this kid was one of the sweetest in the class. As I repeated his name, another teacher asked who I was calling. She laughed when I told her and then offered his correct name. It wasn’t that he hadn’t been listening. I had been calling the wrong name the entire time.

That story came to mind while I stood in the parking lot of the Pulse nightclub in downtown Orlando recently. The scene where 49 people were killed is our country’s deadliest mass shooting. Surrounded by the memorials left by friends and family, I fought the feeling that kept rising in the pit of my stomach. A feeling of despair and heartache; a feeling that, although evil’s days are numbered, it had won a battle that night. I thought of the mothers who had buried their precious children. The kids who would never again hear the sound of their parent’s voice. The siblings who would tearfully stare at the empty chair this holiday season. The loved ones who, with broken hearts, would never forget. I read the notes pinned to the fence that had been put up around the gray building. I stared at the pictures and the smiling faces now gone and it dawned on me that as a church we haven’t always done a good job of loving our neighbor. We do alright with the neighbor who looks, votes and lives pretty much the way we do. However, some neighbors don’t always fit the mold we have created. They love, live and sin differently. We aren’t nearly as brave as the expert of the law in Luke 10 when he asked Jesus point blankly who his neighbor was. Maybe we’re too afraid of what Jesus would say.

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Empathy begins when we agree to meet others in their darkness. It flourishes when we refuse to cast stones and instead listen and care even when we don’t understand. It changes lives when we share our hope in Jesus as we call people by the name God bestowed on them. A name of love. A name of worth. A name God gave to the world long before the world had the inclination to rebel. A name spelled out in John 3:16. One given to all creation but especially to those created in his image. It was echoed again in Mark 12:30-31 when Jesus instructed those who were listening and those who would someday read. How often we forget that loving God and neighbor are also acts of salvation.

Jesus never said we would be known by where we stand on issues, how well we debate, boycott, vote, quote Scripture or lambaste those who live differently. As the bride of Christ, he instructed us to love so powerful and purposefully that it will become the very definition of who we are and why we’re here. We will be known by how well we love or by how well we don’t.

God wasn’t in our empty church building that Saturday night twiddling his thumbs waiting for our decent and orderly worship service the next day. No, he was in a Florida nightclub comforting those he had watched take their first breath. He loved them, wept for them and held them as they took their last.

If we want to change the world for Christ, then we need to be telling the world who they are. They are loved. They matter. They were made for a purpose. The one who is calling them is bigger than the lies and brokenness of this world. They were made in his image and he gave his only son so that they may have life. He will never leave nor forsake them. He will never disappoint or discourage.

People will never listen to us if we continue calling them by the wrong name. They know where we stand on issues. Church, let’s show our neighbors how well we love.

 

Love Trumps Issues

 

Can you imagine Jesus meeting the woman at the well, telling her he was the Messiah, healing this outcast of outcast’s brokenness, allowing her to bring her entire community to him and then a few years later starting a church where she wasn’t allowed to speak about any of that?

You may think this is going to be an article about issues but it’s not because honestly, I’m more concerned with how you treat someone who reads that passage and walks away with a different reaction. Because it’s not about on which side of the issues we find ourselves. It’s about how we treat those who see it differently.

Whatever your thoughts on this topic or any topic, be patient and kind towards those who see the Bible differently. Don’t judge their hearts. Don’t call their worship service a talent show. Don’t castigate with violent words. Don’t throw each other under the church bus.

May we, as followers of Jesus, hear the Apostle Paul when he says in Romans 14 to make every effort to lead peaceful, encouraging lives. We have a responsibility to love and serve each other especially within the household of faith. Even to those who worship or read and apply Scripture differently.