Category Archives: Following Jesus

NorthStar – Day 10: Outgrowing Jesus

I meet lots of people who used to believe.

They used to put their hope in something bigger than themselves. They once followed a path that gave them answers, made sense of life’s nonsense and gave them a deep well of joy and purpose. These friends once believed in Jesus.
But something changed. Somewhere along the way, the wear and tear of growing up and facing more complicated issues, wrestling with deeper struggles, and enduring more profound loss caused the fire of that faith to be smothered. And even if they desperately want to believe, they have forgotten how to live in that belief.

Just a few days ago, I heard Where are You Christmas? as How the Grinch Stole Christmas played in my living room. I’m a lyrics girl, so I’m always listening to what the song is trying to communicate through the music and the words. As I listened to the child’s voice ask the searching questions, it dawned on me that in most places of this song, you can replace the word “Christmas” with “Jesus.” Take a second to listen to the song as Faith Hill sings it and insert “Jesus” wherever you hear “Christmas”:

That might be the faith heartache of your life. Where are you Jesus? Where are you when I have so much to face. Why did you go away? My life looks very different from the days when it seemed easy to believe and follow you. Things have been turned upside-down in my life. I’ve got a lot more questions than answers, now. Does that mean all that I had hoped in gets turn upside down, too?

For some of us, maybe the questions of the next verse sum it up. Where are you Jesus? Do you even remember me? I’m not the same as I was – I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Is that why it feels like you’ve let me go?

It’s almost as if we are supposed to outgrow believing in Jesus, just like we eventually stop believing in Santa Claus. Many give up on the childlike notion that God could love us no matter what, meet us wherever we are, accept us regardless of what we’ve done, heal the wounds that have been inflicted upon us and be big enough to answer our toughest questions.

It is an absurdity, I’ll admit. It doesn’t make much sense to the logical mind to believe in Jesus. Just like the story of Santa is rooted in the real life events of the amazing St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra who lived around the 3rd century, it would make more sense to acknowledge that yes, Jesus was real person, and a great one at that, but that his redemptive story of saving us with a not-of-this-world kind of strength that actually brought him back to life, really just became a part of the sweet children’s tale that evolved about him through history.

Here’s the catch though. All those fun details of Santa’s sleigh and reindeer and red suits and of course, the supernatural ability to get around the entire world in one night, well that’s all folklore that’s been added by us, the people who love the story. And, many of those details have been added as recently as the last few centuries.

But, the miracle of Jesus being “God with us”, healing people from miserable diseases, feeding crowds of thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread, dying on the cross for us and then kicking death in the pants so he could come back for us, and offering to be our way, our truth and our life – all those were real-life God-powered events that people really saw over and over again. The details of his life were written by those who actually knew him or lived as a contemporary of him. And even more amazingly, things like where he would be born, how he would die and the kind of power he would have were all foretold and written about long before he even lived. His life story needed no magical embellishments. This real life story has been retold not because of how much people loved the story of this man, but because of the outrageous way that this man loved us.

The truth is that Jesus is here. He hasn’t gone away. He hasn’t let go…and he won’t. He knows your life is different – and by the way, he does recognize you. He misses you and would love nothing better than for you to embrace your belief again, realizing that a whimsical story cannot outlast childhood, but the extraordinary, living, breathing hero of the story can withstand whatever doubt or circumstance you face.

We may outgrow a limited understanding of who Jesus was and still is, but he will never grow out of his persistent desire for us to know him in deeper ways, and still see him with the strong, believing eyes of a child.

The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name. John 20:30-31

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NorthStar: Finding Our  Way Home to God: Day 9

No Matter Who You Were Before

For anyone who has read the first chapter of the book of Matthew in the Bible, you might be perplexed by a very long list of names. In the King James Version, you even get to read words like begat over and over.  The list is similar to many genealogies listed in the Old Testament, which trace the generations of history and purpose for the Jewish people.

Matthew 1:1-17

If you play the game “Which one of these is not like the other?” with the names in this particular genealogy, you’ll discover that within these 17 verses of endless names are five that stand out from the rest.  ln verses 3,5,6 and 16, are the names of 5 women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. This is remarkable because …WOMEN WERE NOT USUALLY INCLUDED lN JEWISH GENEAOLOGIES!!

These women were also unique in that all except Mary were foreigners who had married into this Jewish lineage, and each had a healthy dose of scandalous history attached to their names. Tamar tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her.  Rahab was a prostitute.  Ruth was an outsider who worshipped ancestral gods. Bathsheba had an affair with King David and got pregnant, then the king had her husband killed in battle.  And Mary, was the young, unwed, teenage mother of Jesus.

But it is not their histories that earned them a spot in an all male geneaology.  It was believing God could do something with the little they had to offer.  Tamar’s actions cannot be condoned, but her motives to not remain a childless widow in a world where much of women’s worth and rights were found in bearing children, can be understood as noble and strong.  Rahab sheltered a group of spies from Israel at the risk of her own life, and then eventually married one of those spies.  Ruth was also a widow who courageously worked the fields in Bethlehem at the risk of being harassed for being a foreigner.  The land owner, Boaz, witnessed her resilience and determination to carve out a life as a widow and stranger in her dead husband’s homeland.  Bathsheba moved beyond her infidelity and raised Solomon, her and David’s son, to know and follow after God, and who became known as the wisest of kings.  And sweet, young Mary was strong and wise in the face of whispers about her pregnancy before marriage.  Scripture does not say she was perfect, but she trusted God with her whole heart even when it cost her a good reputation.

In these women’s stories, God reminds us that He can do amazing, powerful things through us no matter where we come from, what we’ve done or what we’ve lived for – even make us a grandparent of the Savior, 34 generations removed, or better yet – the mother of that baby who would change history.

And he reminds us that he is not looking for the wisest, the most religious, the most beautiful, the most admired or the most successful person.  He is looking for the woman who will say “yes” when he calls her name. He is looking for the man who will give up his old life and take hold of the new. No matter what your history is, no matter what a hypocrite you’ve been, no matter what people will say about who you were–all that matters to God today is who you can be if you’ll give him the chance to show you the possibilities!

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Who Is My Neighbor?

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Something wonderful has occurred in the 10 years since my family moved into the area of town known as South Tulsa. Our community has become a more diverse residential gathering of ethnicity, economy, and faith. There are many contributing factors to this development. First, a variety of residential space is represented with apartments, condos, small homes, medium houses, really big homes and a few sprawling estates; all sharing space in our four square miles of the zip code. Second, folks from a lot of different ethnic and racial backgrounds are coming to the area for the same reasons we came: to get their kids a great education. Lastly, Tulsa’s little part of the world has had a surge in Hispanic and Burmese immigrant populations during this last decade. There is an abundance of students in our area for whom English is a second language and who play the role of interpreter for their parents.

People don’t typically think of Oklahoma as a melting pot, but I remember the first time I witnessed a fairly even percentage of Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, and Asian children in my daughter’s elementary class. I was so excited to think she would be growing up in her friendships, faith and identity looking through a wide demographic lens. I knew that environment would help define her understanding of the question asked of Jesus in Luke 10, “Who is my neighbor?”.

Jesus’ response comes not too long after he sends out the twelve to share his message in towns and communities. He tells the story of the only traveler to stop and be a neighbor to a Jewish man who has been robbed, beaten and left to die. And that’s the one person who is most different from the Jewish man–the Samaritan. Their differences have separated them in culture and community, but now their journeys intersect and the Samaritan man does not hesitate to delve in and share with this stranger.

Many of us naturally gravitate towards characteristics in people that are familiar to us–probably because in our overbooked, overwhelmed pace of life, it’s easier to enter into relationships that require less time and energy. But in my family and ministry, God keeps intersecting the journey with souls who are so different from us. Most live within 3 miles of our driveway. This new normal has allowed us to deliver groceries to folks who are very hungry, without access or transportation to a food pantry. Friendships have grown out of the willingness to start a conversation and take time to understand people’s stories. We have less assumptions about poverty and more conviction about our own stewardship. And, we’ve realized how much more God has to show us when these neighbors show up to worship with us.

It’s just a beginning, and Jesus’ words to emulate the actions of the Samaritan, “Go and do the same”, continue to resonate and interrupt our plans. My prayer is that we do not hesitate.

“…and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.”   Isaiah 58:10

 

If you’d like to help love our south Tulsa neighbors with a few bags of groceries, join us the last Sunday of each month! Visit South Tulsa Compassion for details.

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January 25, 2015 · 7:00 am

Chalking it up for Worship

A few weeks before school was out, we had our annual outdoor chapel. We added chalkart as a worship activity and our school sidewalks were completely transformed with scriptures, drawings and words of hope. I was so moved by the outpouring of our students’ hearts, I continue to go back and reflect on their artistry. Here’s a short slide show with a sampling of our first ChalkART experience with a little Big Blue Sky by Bebo Norman in the background.

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Filed under Adolescence, faith, Following Jesus, Music, Reflections on Life

The Hope in Me

(one of the first songs I wrote – just the lyrics here)

Hope is what I’ve always longed for

Hope that is complete

To know that I am not alone

A wanderer in need – something more…

     Love that’s so amazing that he

     cradles suns and moons

     And at the same time he is reaching

     down from heaven’s room reminding me that

I know one who knows me

And I can see him clearly

In rain that tumbles down

And sunsets on the sea

In autumn reds and browns

He’s the hope in me

There are no questions without answers

Just some beyond my reach

Worlds of wisdom cannot fathom

The simple mystery – about the one

     Love that’s so amazing that

     He knows my deepest need

     He is my peace, my joy, my rescue

     And still he is the king

I know one who knows me

And I can see him clearly

It’s blazed upon the stars

It’s burning in my heart

He’s never very far – away

He’s the hope in me

     Hope is what I’ve always longed for

     Hope that is complete.

-dm 1998

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Pride Fall

Labor Day weekend, 2009, we were at Devil’s Den State Park in northwest Arkansas—one of our favorite places to traipse around God’s creation.  It’s nestled in the folds of the Ozark Mountains and offers miles of trails that wind through crevices, bluffs and gorgeous views of the old mountains.  Our kids love the kind of hikes that include climbing up and down rock formations, so this was a great holiday adventure.

One of the crevices is about 30 feet in depth and about halfway down has a narrow slab of rock that you have to walk across like a balance beam to get through to the other side of the crevice and climb out.  If I remember correctly, the vertical slab is about 8-10 feet off the ground,  and below it is a bed of sedimentary rocks in the darkness.

I have crossed this stone balance beam before and remembered that to go across, the first step requires a shifting of weight from one foot to the other and swinging around a slight bulge in the crevice wall.   Once that maneuver is successful, it is an easy walk across the 6” wide slab because the crevice walls are within reach to keep one’s balance.

This time, Lanie and I were exploring the crevice while Gary and Garrison waited up top for us.  Since it was her first time to tackle this crevice, she was a little uneasy about shifting her weight around the bulge.  So, being the “expert” (I’ve done it two times before!), and wanting to show my daughter her mom’s outdoorsy abilities, I did the “step aside, honey and let Mom show you how it’s done” move.  But, evidently my show-off mode wrecked my balance, because I overcompensated on shifting my weight to the slab and lost my footing.  The next thing I know, I’m falling off the slab and through the 2 foot opening between it and the crevice wall down into the cave.  On the way down, I hit my head on the crevice wall, hit my back on the slab, landed on my upper thigh and tore up my right leg on the bed of rocks in the darkness below.  My leg felt warm with a strange pain that pulsed much deeper than a typical scrape.

I stood up pretty quickly because I could hear Lanie panicking above me—fearful that I was unconscious since she couldn’t see me in the dark.  Someone met me at the top of the bed of rocks and helped me climb out of the opening.  As I stood back up in the sunshine, there were a few gasps from onlookers.  Evidently that warm, deep pain was where a sharp rock had punctured the side of my leg.  I was bleeding more than I had ever bled in my life.  By the time a park guide had tied some cloth around my leg and we had hiked the 1/4 mile out of the park (it was early in the hike!), my shoe was so soaked in blood that a small pool of it had accumulated in the cushion of my tennis shoe.  I had to throw it away and buy some flip flops later that morning.

As I limped around for a few weeks with an incredibly sore leg, battled an infection around the wound and winced every time I sat down from a bruise on the back of my thigh that was about a foot in diameter, I knew that this experience was a humbling lesson to me of how sometimes I let pride lead in my life.  There is still a scar on my leg that often reminds me of where pride can literally take me down.

Pride for me is:

  • often quiet and patient—I don’t think I have a constant prideful demeanor, but rather my pride waits in seclusion for a prized opportunity to make an entrance.  Then it pounces on the moment.
  • sometimes disguised as humility—Not always, but there have been times that my willingness to serve or sacrifice was really a facade for wanting to get noticed or get the credit for something.
  • a confusion between confidence and performance—This isn’t to imply that to be a performer is to be vain.  Some of the best performers I know are incredibly humble and tend to retreat away from accolades.  For me, though, I have to ask myself if I’m performing for acclamation or leading from a deep sense of purpose and confidence.
  • a subtle inability to let go of my own wants—This happens when I don’t want to wait for something or disagree with someone else’s plan that impacts me!  I can find myself trying to maneuver situations to my liking when things don’t go my way.

It’s just another part of the self-awareness campaign God is working out in my life.  Often, as adults, we correct our children and the adolescents in our lives for being selfish or prideful, but the reality for me at least, is that I’ve perfected the art of disguising and diverting attention away from my pride so that I won’t be accused of such a thing.  There is just as much pride in this human heart as there was 25 years ago; I’ve just tried to unconsciously master it.

I think it takes a good, hard, pride fall that leaves a mark in order for us to see that we are being prideful.  I’m hoping that scar on my leg never goes away.  Not only will it be a good test for my vanity on physical appearance, but the scar tissue goes deep enough to caution my motives when I only want others to see the me inside of me.  Letting God clean house on my pride is about getting out of the way so others can see the gracious Creator, Author of Life, and Redemptive Father at work in me.

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Back from a long journey away

A few weeks ago, I stepped back onto a familiar road.  I parked my car on a  Thursday morning and walked across a parking lot, up a walkway and through the doors of Metro Christian Academy in Tulsa, OK.  For the next five hours, I met faculty and staff, started setting up my office and enjoyed watching students pass in the hallway each time the bell rang.  Working in a school might be a very new geographical location  for me to be in ministry to kids, but still the world of students has remained sweetly familiar terrain.

With twenty-some days down now as Metro’s Spiritual Life Director, I’m already realizing notable changes that have occurred in my own life  in the four years I’ve been away from daily vocational ministry:

  • family picI’m a little older.   No news there!  The last time I was up in front of  students and families every week, I had a kindergartner and was 7 months pregnant.  Now that I’m knocking on the door of age 40, I have a 5th grader and a preschooler.   These few years have given me greater appreciation for the daily joys and struggles of parenting.
  • I understand myself a little more.  It sounds a bit funny, but I really do think God used the last few years to help me grow up a little more in my identity.  There were so many things I did not recognize about myself until I stepped back from ministry for a while—1) I have some strong ADD traits that truly shape how I function in life and relationships, 2) I have a natural passion to help people lead well and 3) I find tremendous clarity and soul-centering in putting my words to paper.
  • I’m a little healthier.  Two years ago I got a reality check of arm pains during my runs, pretty high blood pressure and cholesterol levels that quickly reminded me to take better care of myself and not take my health for granted.
  • I’ve climbed two not so little mountains.  At a point in my life standing at the keyhole of long's peakwhen I had plenty of fears about life changes and future possibilities, Gary and I started hiking on our vacations.  The feeling of standing at the keyhole of Long’s Peak in Colorado surrounded by the tips of the Rockies was the triumph I needed to tackle some emotional mountains that threatened my hope and confidence.  Last year, we drove out into literally the middle of nowhere in Wyoming with literally no one around for what seemed 50 miles and hiked Laramie Peak just before my 20 year high school reunion.  That climb was memorable because it took me to the top of the world that I called home for most of my childhood.

I’ve also reflected on joys that have not only remained constant, but have dug deeper roots into my soul:

  • I still love spending my days with youth.   denise with her girls It doesn’t matter where I am or how much time has passed since I officially worked with students—their stories, their struggles and their spiritual growth is where I’m drawn.  If they are aloof,  I’m patient.  If they don’t trust adults, I work to earn that trust.  If they are exploring their abilities, I want to give them a place to practice and shine.  If they have questions, I want to be a safe person to come and ask.  If they don’t know how much God loves them, I want to make sure they know. 
  • More than ever, I want to live in the legacy that’s been given to me.  So much of my story is rooted in the lives of people like my parents who opened their home for 20 years to foster children with no where to go.  And, it’s rooted in the ministry of people like my youth pastor, Jeff Mugford, who modeled what it looks like to follow Christ in the real world.  I want to continue to be faithful to the good work God began in my life through them and I want to be faithful to how God is urging me to live out that legacy today and tomorrow.
  • I love words spoken, written and sung.  From my son’s well timed one-liners, to my daughter’s wonderful prose, to my own addiction to my Ipod Scrabble game, I cannot get away from the joy of communicating with just the right word.  I want every article I write, every song I sing, and each prayer I lead to guide people to a fresh, new place in their thinking.    As this desire grows stronger, I strive to minimize the moments where I waste my words on futile endeavors like complaining, gossiping or boasting.  Oh, that I could conquer that struggle for good!

So, I feel as if I have just returned from a long journey away—one that I needed to take in order to be ready to travel this road with students and families once again.  I am so grateful for this beautiful wilderness that lies just behind me.  It was not easy, but it was worth it.

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Filed under Adolescence, Following Jesus, Leadership, Youth Ministry