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I drove my seventeen year old to school the other morning. I haven’t been able to do that since she got her driver’s license so it was a nice reminder of how life used to be. About a mile from the school we saw the banners reminding us that going to school is not a casual event for us anymore. It’s a blessing we will no longer take for granted.

Dozens of signs on long stretches of highway lined the road reminding us we are strong. Marshall Strong. We need to see and hear that because there have been many times over the past several weeks when we certainly haven’t felt it. I pulled in and slowed down, not at the usual spot I had for her freshman and sophomore years, but at the place where all students will now be entering for bag searches and metal detections. As I drove away, I prayed for her and every person whose life has been terribly changed just by going to school.

A few miles later, I parked at another school. This time for work. I turned the music down and thought back over the last couple of weeks. The frantic phone call from my oldest child, trying to process the words “active shooter”, the call to my youngest child and the terror at the realization that it could make her phone ring and let a gunman know where she was hiding, the flood of tears at that moment (and this moment as I type that and remember the feeling), the sleepless nights that came later, the traumatized faces both young and old as we tried to make sense of something impossible to comprehend, the questions, the guilt, the grief over losing friends, and the fear. Not your average, run of the mill fear, but a fear I had never come face to face with before. A fear that, if given too much space and power, could ruin my life. I thought of the school administrators, teachers, and staff who, out of concern for the children they worked with, ran toward the gunfire not stopping to consider that they could be running to their own death. I thought about the great love they had for these children. For my child. I thought about the things they saw and heard and how they entered a chaos so dark and unknown to help, console, and save and then I realized this is how every Christian is to live. We are called to run into darkness and terror and help even when we’re terrified. And then I cried. Just sobbed tears of grief, exhaustion, and the reality that this is our life now and this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

I dried my tears, grabbed my things, and jumped out of the car. And then as I made my way across the parking lot I heard the church bells ringing throughout the city. I hear them every time they are played but today was different. This morning they sounded clearer. More intentional than ever and I was reminded of something better. Something eternal. Something strong enough to get us through the nightmare in which we were living. A call to worship in the very face of fear and grief.

I wish there was an easy explanation for why our society seems to be crumbling and a quick fix for it, as well. I don’t have a perfect answer but maybe it has to do with the fact that we glamorize violence and drama. Our nation, including our children (even our young children) are drug addicted and dependent. Mental illness is rampant. Family values are on the extinction list. We say we’re a Christian Nation, but we don’t take care of our poor or oppressed. We aren’t a champion for the least of these, either. We put more faith in Washington, DC than we do Jesus Christ. Our church pews aren’t filled and even if they are on Sunday mornings, our neighbors aren’t being served or loved the rest of the week. Just ask the local waiter or waitress on Sunday afternoon if we’re really the people we claim to be on the pew. We’re mean to each other on social media. Read the comments on news stories and bullies are the ones speaking the loudest. Comments on religious articles show another group of bullies. Church bullies. They’re the worst and they’re raising children to treat others just the same. We have problems. We have a society problem, a mental illness problem, a heart problem, a gun problem, a discipline problem, a government problem, a drug problem, and a respect problem. Our culture is diluted with problems. But God has not left us. If we would turn down the noise of our hectic lives we might hear the faint call to worship playing as a soundtrack to our lives.

Church, it’s time to step up. I know you’re struggling with life. I agree that it is ridiculously hard and at times, terrifying. I know some of you are stressed over your finances or with your marriages. Maybe you’re struggling as a single parent with the ex, with visitation, with child support, or the lack thereof. Maybe you’re totally completely on your own and feel so alone.

I know we all want to be loved and accepted. I know we are broken and hurt and sometimes don’t even feel like we are worthy to call on the name of Jesus let alone understand and believe it when we’re told we are the temple of God. I know we’re wrestling with the sins we’ve committed in the past and the sins we’re in the middle of right now. I know there are days we don’t even want to get out of our own beds. I know we’re busier than we’ve ever been and feel like we get nothing accomplished. I know we struggle with feelings of worthlessness, with insecurity, and with doubts. I know our children, parents, jobs, and churches can be exhausting. I know we wrestle with pride, selfishness, and gossip. I know there are times when we just want Jesus to come back so all this hurt will be over. But I know and believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that we love the children deeply and will do anything for them. So I challenge us all today to be the spiritual leaders they need. To encourage them to love God and love their neighbors. To rise above the drama and darkness that plagues us on social media platforms and in our communities. To turn off the news and open our Bibles. To return to God and commit our children to him. To encourage them to join youth groups and to get back into a church group ourselves.

Please quit believing that the government can fix all of our problems. And please quit arguing about it on Facebook. Refuse to listen to a world that tells you you’re not worthy to follow the Christ. Believe the God of Heaven and Earth when he calls you holy, chosen, and dearly loved. Shock people with your compassion and grace. Realize your neighbors need you. Your church needs you. Your children need you. They need you to speak words of light and love. They need you to model forgiveness. They need your peace and joy.

We need our people on the pews of our churches and we need our people on the curbs of our communities. We are missionaries. We are ambassadors. We are servants of the Christ. Our children need to see men and women of honesty and integrity who are preaching the name of Jesus. They need you. Yes, you! Stressed out, run down, overwhelmed, fed up, messy, broken you. Be the spiritual leaders that the children deserve. Show them that even when we’re tired and afraid, we can still be active in the work of the Lord. Rise up, bow down, and worship.

The next time someone tells you God isn’t allowed in schools, remind them of the men and women who ran towards the gunfire.

The next time someone says love can’t fix this world, remind them it already did. Now, it’s our move.

The next time someone wants to argue on Facebook, pray for them, and move on. You have better things to do with your life.

The next time someone grieves over this world, grieve with them but tell them about hope.

The next time life terrifies you, remember that it’s normal to be afraid but fear doesn’t get the final word. It doesn’t get to direct our path.

Regardless of this life and it’s trials we will refuse to let fear have the upper hand. In faith, we will radically love our families, our communities, our churches, and our enemies. We will rise above the terror. We will speak love and grace into the fire. We will refuse to stir the flames of drama and discord. We will humbly accept the mission to proclaim the name of the one who has called us out of darkness even when darkness arrives on our doorstep.

Evil may have its moments but its days are numbered. It may consume our nights but it will not win our hearts. Our God is faithful. Our God is redeemer. He is our strength, our King, and our comforter. We will endure. We will believe. We will worship.  

 

 

A young woman preaches grace and truth and receives death threats from other Christians.

College students are hurt by their school and then wounded even more on social media by other Christians.

A preacher spends weeks agonizing over a sermon, praying it will bring glory to God and encourage the Kingdom only to be criticized, isolated, idealized, or treated as an office manager or building keeper by other Christians.

We wonder why we’re losing our children, why no one wants to talk to us about religion, and what we can do to make things better in this world. Maybe we need to take a long look in the mirror.

We are the holy people of God which means he should be influencing our actions, reactions, and words regardless of whether they are spoken or typed.

What does holy look like when you’re faced with someone who doesn’t interpret Scripture the way you do? It looks like laying down your stones and choosing grace instead. That may mean withdrawal but it never means cruelty.

What does holy look like when someone has been offended? Regardless of your opinion on the subject, holy looks like listening and trying to understand someone else’s viewpoint and story.

What does holy look like for a church and her minister? It looks like an adequate salary for the vital role served. It means making sure they can afford quality health insurance for them and their family. It looks like good communication from and with the leadership. It means walking alongside them in their work for the Lord and not expecting them to carry the entire congregation. It means friendship, encouragement, and love.

In every relationship holiness looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It’s thinking Jesus and inviting him into every situation.

Church, it’s time we step up. We are God’s people. We know holy. Let’s start living it. The world is watching.

 

 

 

I received this note from a kid at school the other day. I especially like the second line. “I love God and Jesus so you have to love God and Jesus.” I can hear her attitude loud and clear and it cracks me up. This sweet, innocent child of God has some bad theology to sort out. But don’t we all?

I hope a kind soul gently breaks it to her someday that not everyone is going to love God and Jesus. I hope they go on to tell her that regardless of what others choose to believe about God (even choosing to live against God) doesn’t negate the way God expects her to respond to them. She still has to be kind to them. Still has to protect them, go the extra mile for them, feed them, visit them, walk alongside them, and help them. She still has to show them Jesus even if they refuse to see him because loving someone doesn’t mean accepting the choices they make, it means accepting the Christ and his wildly, radical call to love your neighbor.

I hope someone opens a Bible and shows her that Jesus died for us while we were still enemies so we have no excuse to exclude or mistreat ours. Maybe they’ll also show her the Gospels and she’ll realize that our Savior built a church on relationships not rules and regulations. Maybe she’ll strive to be a friend to others regardless of how or what they choose to believe. Maybe she’ll be so moved by the way Jesus loved, healed, and associated with sinners that she’ll eagerly welcome them and do the same. Maybe she’ll be so busy she won’t have time to protest, oppress, or ignore others made in the image of God.

I hope she chooses not to listen to some in the church when they say love is a nice idea but won’t work in the real world. Jesus certainly thought it would. I hope she sits with the outcasts and hears their story. She might find out they loved God and Jesus all along.

More than anything, I hope someone gently teaches this sweet kid that loving God and loving other is what we have to do and we have to do it in a way so genuine, others might even decide to love God and Jesus, too.

 

Rooting Yourself in Belovedness

 

I struggle with perfectionism; not so much that life needs to be perfect, but moreso that I need to be. I’m not really sure when or where it all began, but somehow someway I developed the mindset that my worth was directly connected to my ability to be “good enough”.

However, ‘enough’ is a dangerous standard to strive for because it’s unattainable. The reality is that there is always room for growth (and that’s not a bad thing). But when you begin to equate your value based on your performance, an unhealthy cycle begins. You are constantly striving, always desiring the approval of others, and when you fall short you feel like a complete failure. I’ve lived in this charade for a lot of my life and it’s exhausting. I’ve learned time and time again that in my effort to portray my life is perfect, I am confronted with my inescapable and undeniable brokenness.

Have you ever seen a cat chase after a laser light? It’s hilarious. No matter how many times you wave the little red light around the ground, the cat can’t seem to understand that it can’t actually catch the light. Yet it still tries, over and over and over again; that’s why it’s so funny. What isn’t so humorous is the reality that many of us play the same game. We spend our lives chasing the illusion of perfection only to realize that it’s something that can’t be caught. So why do we continue to chase it?

If my worth is not contingent on my performance, how then do I find my value? As always, we must look to Jesus.

If you think about it, Jesus never really met society’s standards of being ‘enough.’ (Let’s be honest, He still doesn’t). People were so fixated on who the Messiah was supposed to be that they didn’t even recognize Him when He was in their presence.

  • The crowds were often so hungry for a miracle or a sign that they missed His teachings entirely
    • Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent (Matthew 11:20)
  • The religious leaders often discredited Jesus and His teachings because He didn’t seem worthy of being the anointed one of Israel.
    • Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves,  “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! (Mark 2:6-7)
  • His family considered Him crazy
    • When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)
  • His disciples often struggled to fully live out their faith in Him because they were crippled by their own fear
    • “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

If Jesus Himself didn’t meet the standards of being enough, then why do we try so hard to? And if we don’t find our worth in people, then where we place our value?

It’s simple (but so hard): in the Lord.

I am convinced that it was through Jesus’ close intimacy with the Father that He was able to walk in full faith and full confidence into the person God created Him to be. In Matthew 3, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (v. 16-17). Before Jesus began His public ministry, before He chose His disciples, before He went into the wilderness to face temptation, God spoke His words of Jesus’ ‘enoughness’ over Him. And I believe it was this declaration that Jesus rooted Himself in so that He could fully live out His faith without worrying about being enough for others. He was enough for God, and He knew that is all that matters.

Jesus’ ability to love others fully was embedded and birthed from the truth that He was fully loved by God. If you’re constantly seeking to make people love you, you will never truly love them well; there are selfish motives involved. To love someone well is to love them with the love of Jesus and you can only do that if you claim the love of Jesus over yourself.

The best thing you can do for yourself, the best thing you can do for your family, the best thing you can do for your faith, your ministry, your life, is to deeply root yourself in the unconditional love of Jesus.

Do you know that you are God’s beloved? Do you know that your ‘enoughness’ is based entirely upon who He is? It’s unconditional love. It is strong, it is deep, and it is all consuming if you allow it to be. Despite the broken narrative you’ve believed, you don’t have to earn it. You can soak in it. You can rest in it. You can believe in it. You can walk in it. It is because of His bold, audacious, unwavering love for you that you don’t have to strive for His love or the love of others. You can boldly claim it and proclaim it. And that’s where the adventure begins.   

 

“That’s where ministry starts, because your freedom is anchored in claiming your belovedness. That allows you to go into this world and touch people, heal them, speak with them, and make them aware that they are beloved, chosen, and blessed. When you discover your belovedness by God, you see the belovedness of other people and call that forth. It’s an incredible mystery of God’s love that the more you know how deeply you are loved, the more you will see how deeply your sisters and your brothers in the human family are loved.”

-Henri Nouwen, Moving From Solitude to Community to Ministry

 

Check out Christina’s Spoken Word here:

 

 

Christiana Muir is a follower of Jesus in Nashville, TN. She graduated from Lipscomb University with a degree in Theology in Ministry and is currently church planting among refugees in her city.

A global conference to bring Churches of Christ together to focus on more effectively reaching our world for Jesus Christ.

A global conference to bring Churches of Christ together to focus on more effectively reaching our world for Jesus Christ.

By most estimates, there are nearly 3 billion people in the world today who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ. There are 87 countries in the world where less than 2% of the population is Christian. And here in the United States, the opportunities are plentiful to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who are currently unreached. The question many Christians ask, when faced with this great need is – how can our churches more effectively advance domestic and global outreach?

One way that Churches of Christ are addressing this need is the tri-annual Global Missions Conference, held in Memphis on October 16-18. Led by a steering committee of missions leaders from across the nation, this Conference will feature: international presenters; practical missions sessions; missions exhibits and networking; and the World Missions Workshop for college students.

John Reese, Conference Steering Committee member and President of World Bible School said, “Churches of Christ are one of the largest missionary-sending organizations in the nation. In several respects we have performed well in our evangelistic outreach, yet the world is growing faster than our efforts. How can we deepen our biblical underpinnings, improve our strategies, concentrate our efforts and communicate more effectively with one another?”

The Conference will consist of 13 Workshops, each consisting of four classes, offered for those serving in various aspects of missions. Each workshop will be spread over the two conference days.

Reese added, “This conference will enable Churches of Christ to be more intentional in work worldwide in reaching the lost; to strengthen the central role of the local church in global missions; to practice better stewardship; and to work side by side with others all over the world in reconciling people to the Lord.”

Conference Tracks include:

  • Short-term Missions – coordinated by Mark Woodward
  • Missionary Care / Family Track – coordinated by Beth Reese
  • U.S. Missions – coordinated by Stan Granberg
  • There will also be a special track with workshops for university students and teens

Other Conference features include special interest sessions, breakout sessions, interest groups and the plenary sessions with the keynote speakers.

Special Interest Session: America Is Calling – The Whites Ferry Road Church of Christ from West Monroe, LA will share their story of how the people of America are coming to them, seeking spiritual answers. Several of the leaders will have a conversation about their experience and what they are doing about it.

Breakout Sessions – There will be approximately 20 different breakout sessions to discuss positive ideas that work. Some of these discussions will be about advancing the gospel in specific geographical locations, and other discussions will be about types of work or methods to use.

Interest groups – These groups will enable people to learn from some different ministries that make their focus to reach people around the world. Participants will be given the opportunity to learn from these ministries and discover ways they can partner together.

Plenary Sessions – The keynote plenary sessions will focus on major themes around missions, whether through the local church or non-profit ministry, or on the mission field. Keynote speakers include: Machona Monyamane, John Reese, Gary Jackson, David Duncan and Monte Cox.

Register Today! – There are still openings available for more participants, but now is the time to register if you plan to attend, as registration will fill up soon. Visit www.globalmissionsconference.org for all the information on registration, lodging, directions and conference details. Online registration is open until October 1st, so register today!

“No matter whether you are a missionary or missionary candidate, an elder, missions committee member, campaigner, Bible school teacher or simply a person interested in world evangelism, there will be workshops tailored to meet your needs,” stated Beth Reese, Conference Steering Committee member.

This year’s Global Missions Conference will be held at the Goodman Oaks Church of Christ in Southhaven, MS just south of Memphis, TN. Lodging and transportation options are available. More information can be found on the Global Missions Conference web site.

“The heritage we carry as the Churches of Christ is that we have evangelized, built schools and become a global movement of God, and now God is calling us to collaborate in order to respond to His call for redeeming the world in which we each live,” Reese concluded.

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