Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

If you’re gonna shout, let love be the cry

There’s a popular Christian song called “Bleed the Same” by Mandisa and Toby Mac that has this line: “If we’re gonna fight, let’s fight for each other. If we’re gonna shout, let love be the cry.”

There’s a lot of shouting and fighting that takes place these days. Oh sure, it’s not usually actual shouting and arguing, person-to-person, although that definitely happens. Instead, it’s shouting in the form of firmly worded Facebook posts painting clear pictures of right and wrong. It’s arguing in heated Twitter exchanges complete with name calling and derogatory insults at individuals and entire groups of people. And the worst part about all of this shouting and fighting I see? It is often coming from fellow Christians.

I’m a firm believer in standing up for what you believe in. After-all what is the point in life if you can’t find something to really believe in? But where I see a problem is the use of verbal absolutes on internet-based platforms that do not lend themselves to real conversation and understanding. When sharing our values in 150 characters or less we draw a line in the sand that says, I’m on this side, if you disagree, you are on the other side.

Me versus you.

Us versus them.

And I’m pretty confident no one ever changed their mind by being called a “them”.

It’s the main reason I shy away from controversial topics on my blog because I know that I cannot enter into meaningful dialog with anyone via WordPress comments or Facebook posts. It’s very hard for me to listen and hear another person’s heart from this side of my computer screen. And if I’m gonna talk about the hard stuff, the ugly, messy stuff, then I want you to hear my heart, and I need to hear yours in return. It’s the only way we will ever take steps toward each other and maybe begin to erase that line.

Interestingly, I find that often the issues that people shout the loudest about are the ones they have never had to struggle with. It’s easy to identify sin that we ourselves have never been tempted by or struggled with. It suddenly gets a lot trickier when it’s something we are battling. I think that’s why so many Christians are able to take a hard stand on issues like abortion and gay rights. Yet, I rarely see Christians picketing outside a divorce attorney’s office or courtroom to let the world know that divorce is a sin. I’ve never seen bumper stickers on cars that say “You can’t be Christian and covet my Mercedes”. And no one I know has said to me, “I’m voting for the candidate that is pro-sabbath.”

Why? Because over 50% of Christians have been divorced, and more of us touched by it in our families. Because I think it’s safe to say ALL of us have desired things that another person has; and find me the person who doesn’t want Chick-Fil-A on a Sunday after church.

We’ve cursed, we’ve refused to forgive, we’ve disrespected our parents, we’ve gossiped, we’ve not observed the Sabbath, and a million other sins every day. It’s a lot easier to have compassion for others struggling with these sins because we have struggled with them.

We live in a day and age where most of us would be outraged if a church refused to allow a divorced person to worship within its doors, and an entire day of rest and spiritual study is a “nice to have”, when the kids don’t have a soccer game and I don’t have to go grocery shopping, that is.

And let me be very clear here, I’m not pointing fingers or judging ANYONE here. Quite frankly, I have enough of my own sin to worry about fixing, I don’t have time to be pointing out other’s.

My point is that we seem to have arrived in a place where there are certain topics it’s OK to take a stand on — publicly, loudly, boldly –with the foundation that as Christians we have a duty to point out sin and fight for Truth. But I think we need to ask ourselves whether we’d be just as willing to publicly, loudly, and boldly take a stand on some of the many other sins listed in the Bible — the ones we struggle with every single day.

Or maybe the better question to ask is, would we better serve God if the only thing we were quick to post on public forums was that we serve a loving God? What if the truth we were loudest about was that none of us are worthy, and yet we have been forgiven? What if the message we shared boldly was that of grace?

What might those statements do for the church? How might they draw people to Jesus instead of turning them away? Would it allow for real dialog and conversation?

I can’t say for certain., but I do know this: Jesus didn’t gain followers by standing on a street corner and shouting his beliefs. He sat next to the people who were different from him and asked questions. He ate with them and visited their homes. He looked them in the eye, saw their pain, and loved them. He invited them to walk with him.

And in the end, his final cry was that of love.

Friends, my plea is that before you decide to share that article that labels others, or condemns someone under the veil of “Christian family values” and sin, ask yourself what sin you are struggling with and whether you are willing to post about it to social media just as boldly. Or perhaps, instead, ask yourself if maybe social media isn’t the right place to be having these conversations at all. And then seek out someone who thinks differently from you, invite them to lunch, and open your heart so that you may hear theirs.

 

But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23:12

Thirty-one days of seeking peace – A free gift for you

Most of my life I have believed that peace was something that happened based on circumstances. I thought that while I could try to create peace by eliminating unnecessary stress, noise, or chaos, more often than not, peace was something that was the result of (or not the result of) things outside of my control.

But after studying Galatians 5 earlier this year, I started to discover a different view of peace. Galatians 5:16-25 tells us peace is a fruit of the Spirit.  It explains that if we have chosen to be followers of Jesus then we should leave behind the worldly things that tempt us and distract us and live by the Spirit. Which means that these fruits are not just nice-to-have personality traits or warm, fuzzy feelings. It means we are called to live out each day practicing these fruits, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

When we consider peace in that context, then we must now recognize that peace is not just a result of our circumstances —it is a calling, a choice, and a requirement for living a life guided by the Holy Spirit.

To have real Godly peace in our life we must seek after it , not just wait for our circumstances to deliver it. In fact, Psalm 34:14 says, “Seek peace and work to maintain it.”

But how do we do that? How do we work to maintain peace in our lives? I believe that it all comes back to God’s word. His word lights our way (Psalm 119:105), and provides nourishment for our soul, the way food nourishes our bodies (Matthew 4:4, Psalm 1:2-3). If we are seeking after peace and not relying on God’s word to guide us, it is like we’re stumbling around in the dark, depleted and hungry.

I don’t know where each of you are in your walk with God. I don’t know if His word is the first thing you read each morning, or just something that you go to on occasion. I can tell you that I go through periods in my life where I am in the Word every day and others when I am not. And during those periods when I am not in God’s word every day? I do not have peace. In fact, usually I am struggling to feel joy and even to love those around me (both also fruits of the Spirit, by the way).

So I created this calendar of 31 different verses related to peace as a way to help keep me focused on seeking and maintaining peace in my life. And now, I’d like to share it with you.

This calendar is a tool to help you start on your journey to peace by relying on God’s word. Each day includes one-to-three verses to read on a specific element of peace. You can start small and just read the verses on the calendar, or you can expand your reading to include the full chapter. How long you spend reading is up to you, but try not to skip a day.

After reading and meditating on the daily scripture, spend a few minutes in prayer. Invite God into your life — messes and all — and ask Him to give you peace, instead of relying on your circumstances.

31 Days of Seeking Peace

It is my fervent hope that this calendar is just the beginning. A place for you to start, giving you the basic tools you need to actively seek peace and maintain it. At the end of the thirty-one days be sure to drop me a note and let me know how God has spoken to you through His word, and where you are on your journey to peace.

Click here to download your free 31 Days to Seeking Peace calendar.

 

photo credit: amseaman Grandma’s Bible via photopin (license)

I am qualified

Qualified.

This is my word right now. It’s the word I chose to stand under for the whole of 2018. Because the truth is most days I feel pretty unqualified. Unqualified to raise these three humans entrusted to me. Unqualified to lead by example, to teach them how to build a strong marriage rooted in love and honesty and forgiveness; teach them how to put Jesus at the center of their lives.

I struggle to claim words like “writer” and “ministry leader” because don’t you need to have a diploma with these words on them or get a paycheck for doing them before you can be them? I don’t, so I am unqualified.

I struggle to claim the words instructional designer or teacher when I’ve been developing curriculum and delivering training professionally for 2 years. Because it’s not what I went to school for, I am unqualified.

But then I realize the truth is that even with a Master’s Degree in Marketing and 15 years experience building and managing websites, I never felt completely qualified to call myself a subject matter expert in online marketing.

I could spend hours trying to figure out why I struggle to claim these things. To feel qualified. But the bottom line is we all know that God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

So right now I’m working to claim it. To own my calling and lean on heavenly qualification.

God gave me these three children to raise and love and teach. I am qualified to be their mother.

God brought this man into my life and called us into marriage. I am qualified to be his wife.

God gave me words and a deep-seated desire to write them down and share them with others. I am qualified to be a writer.

God gave me a heart for women, for leading retreats, and speaking truth and hope and light into other’s lives. I am qualified to lead a ministry.

God led me to a second career as a training designer and manager, a job I love and work at every day. I am qualified for it.

And whatever is next. Whatever God whispers to my heart and guides me toward. I will be qualified. Not because of what I’ve done, but because of Who does the qualifying.

What’s your word?

 

photo credit: IRRphotography A Writers Desk via photopin (license)

 

Is there a reason for everything?

When I was in college at Appalachian State University, I was super involved with the campus Lutheran Student Association (LSA). It was the first group I joined when I got to school and in many ways the friends I met in that group were a life-line during those four years. They were my people and they helped me get closer to Jesus. I loved being a part of the group and the larger church community that supported them.

Each year I became increasingly more involved — serving on leadership, helping to plan and lead events, mentoring other students, etc. By my senior year it came time to hold elections for the group’s leadership and I decided to run for president. There was another girl who was younger, had not been a part of the group for as many years, who also decided to run.

I remember sitting in the fellowship hall of the church after the voting process and hearing the announcement that the other girl had been elected. She had won and my heart sank. I won’t lie, my ego was bruised, but I also felt like the group that had been “my people” had turned away and said, “you’re not the one that we want, we choose someone else.”

I know a leadership position for a campus church group doesn’t sound like a big deal or something to get upset about, but at the time I remember feeling devastated, hurt, even cast-out.

However, I’ll never forget that moments after the results were announced the pastor of the church and leader of our campus group — who had become a great mentor and surrogate father to me during my time at Appalachian — came over and rested his hand on my shoulder, leaned down and whispered in my ear, “I really wanted that for you.” Then he gave my shoulder a squeeze and walked away.

In that moment it was like he said, “I see you. I see what your heart desires, and because I care about you, I want you to have it.”

I’ve thought about that moment a lot over the years and what it meant to know that someone saw me and saw my heart.

A lot changed for me that year. Partly because of the hurt I carried from that event, I pulled away from LSA and church. Some other really hard things had already been happening in my life and it became a bit of a perfect storm. I slipped into a deep, deep depression my senior year. I didn’t go to class, I started getting migraines and had to be taken to the emergency room because of one that was so bad I couldn’t stop vomiting. I even contemplated suicide at one point. As my friends struggled to understand what was going on with me and how to be around this changed person, I withdrew from them. I was angry, I was lonely, and I was scared.

But during this time I stayed in touch with that same Pastor. Even though I wasn’t going to LSA meetings or to church much, I would stop by his office every week and we would talk. He would encourage me and pray for me. In many ways he was the life-line that kept me from completely severing my relationship with God.

************************************

We often say, “everything happens for a reason.” I have said this frequently over the years. But as I get older I’m starting to question if that’s true, or is it just a nice platitude we tell ourselves? Does everything really happen for a reason? Is there a reason a mother has to bury her child? Is there a reason a husband and father would lose his entire family in a car crash? Is there a reason the young, healthy newlywed gets a cancer diagnosis on her 26th birthday?

Do I believe God creates good out of every situation? Absolutely, without a doubt I do. I have seen it time and again where beauty has risen out of the ashes and joy and love have transformed the ugliest, darkest situations and sorrowful times. But that still doesn’t mean those things — those desperate, break-a-person-in-two things — were ordained by God and happened for a reason.

Of course God can make something beautiful out of life’s ugly, and create strength and redemption from weakness and brokenness. In the midst of tragedy He can bring together people who otherwise would not have come into each other’s lives. But I cannot sit here and say God caused a tragic accident so that He could do those things. Or that there is some bigger purpose for a mother and father to bury their child. The reality is that sometimes hard, devastating, crappy stuff happens.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to compare me losing some silly election for a college student group 25 years ago to these other real-life tragedies. But I can look back and tell you that I don’t see any reason why that happened. I don’t see any reason why God would have created that situation, with a darkness already looming in my life. But I often wonder how or if that year would have been different had I not pulled away from my friends and from church. Had I not felt a little bit cast-aside.

And yet, I do see where God made sure there was someone there in the midst of that who said, “I see you.” And that created a life-line for me to get through a really difficult time.

***************************************

Recently my daughter had a pretty disappointing thing happen to her. Something she wanted badly and had worked hard for, and due to a simple mistake — a forgotten deadline — she lost the opportunity. When she came home in tears my heart just broke for her.

Being a mom I wanted so badly to look for the reason. I wanted to say to her, “there must be a reason, let’s look for it together. What’s the good that can come out of this, how is God going to use this?” But I couldn’t bring myself to say it because the truth is, I don’t know if there is a reason. Maybe it’s just a really crummy thing that happened.

Will she learn from this experience and never miss a deadline again? Maybe. But I’m not sure that her feeling badly about herself and the sense of failure and disappointment she is carrying were intended for some loftier purpose.

So instead of pulling out the mom advice on what’s the big lesson we can learn here, or what’s God’s reasoning, I was just honest with her and said, “You know what honey? This sucks. I know it hurts and you’re disappointed, and I’m so sorry. I really wanted this for you. Because you wanted this, I wanted it for you.

I see how hard you are working and what you’re working towards. I see you. And I want you to know that.

*******************************

There’s probably someone in your life who, right now, just needs to be seen. Maybe it’s one of your kids. Maybe it’s your spouse. Maybe it’s a sibling, a parent, a friend, or a co-worker. Maybe a teacher or a next-door neighbor. But I want you to find that person. Find someone who is going through something really crummy and please don’t give them that sad, old platitude that everything is happening for a reason when they start to pour out their heart to you. Instead, just come alongside them and simply say, “I’m so sorry. This sucks and I wanted better for you, because I care about you. Because I see you. I see your heart and I see that you’re hurting.

Maybe if we spend more time seeing each other and loving each other rather than trying to put quick fixes and patches on everything, then instead of wasting so much energy trying to understand why tragic things happen, we can simply be a beacon of light and love in the darkness.

Matthew 25:35-36

photo credit: alexandermazilkin Moscow’s summer via photopin (license)

Join Our Summer Women’s Bible Study

Dear friend,

As a reader of Neither Height Nor Depth I want to invite you to join me for a free online Summer Women’s Bible Study I’m hosting. Beginning in July, each week I’ll send out an email with a brief lesson/story and list of daily scripture readings and prayer prompts. Then at the end of the week I will be hosting a Facebook live where we can all come together to discuss. But don’t worry if you can’t make it, the discussion will still be active after the “live” portion so you can read other’s thoughts and comment with your own. And if you’re not on Facebook, that’s OK, too! You will still receive the weekly email, allowing you to dig deeper into the Word this summer.

Our summer study will last 5 weeks, and it’s designed to be flexible, allowing you to study when and where you can!

If you’d like to join us, you can sign-up here.

And if you haven’t already done so, be sure to “like” Neither Height Nor Depth on Facebook so you can join the online discussion.

All my best,
Jelise